Leaks from former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden have generated a much needed debate about surveillance even though his disclosures have jeopardized national security, America's spy chief said Thursday.

"As loathe as I am to give any credit for what's happened here, which is egregious..." said National Intelligence Director James Clapper, "I think it's clear that some of the conversations that this has generated, some of the debate... actually probably needed to happen."

Clapper, speaking at a conference in Washington, said the public discussion examining the balance between spying powers and privacy rights "perhaps" should have taken place earlier.

"So if there's a good side to this, maybe that's it," he said of the Snowden media leaks.

His comments were the first time a senior US intelligence figure had portrayed the leaks as sparking a useful debate, as officials previously have labeled Snowden a traitor who endangered America's interests and spies in the field.

He predicted there would be more revelations coming from Snowden, and said he was worried about the effect of the leaks.

Clapper, who oversees all 16 US intelligence agencies, said he was concerned about "the impact, frankly, on our national security and the damage caused by these continuous stream of revelations."

But he said the intelligence community had to be more transparent and more open, even if that meant taking more risks, to ensure that Americans and their representatives in Congress had trust in the spy services.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]