In a spin-heavy interview with the Department of Defense’s “Armed With Science” blog last week, embattled National Security Agency head Gen. Keith Alexander said that Americans concerned about the NSA’s tactics are exaggerating, he denied that the NSA is involved in “spying” and he accused journalists reporting on the NSA of “selling” NSA secrets.
Alexander, in defending his agency’s practices, parroted many of the refrains officials have used repeatedly to justify the government’s actions following whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA’s data collection programs.
“When you look at the 9/11 commission, it faulted the intelligence community for not connecting the dots. We didn’t have the tools,” he said. “These [programs we have now] are tools that help us connect the dots. We have learned that lesson once. We all vowed this would never happen again. We should commit to that course of action.”
Later in the interview, Alexander and his government paid interviewer both conceded that the NSA is not involved in “spying” at any level.
Via “Armed With Science”:
So let’s take a look at some of the recent foreign intelligence programs that have been getting a lot of attention lately. You know the ones. You may have seen them in the news, often mislabeled as “spying programs”. Gen. Alexander is quick to correct this misnomer.
“They aren’t spying programs,” he says directly. “One is called the Business Records FISA Program, or Section 215, and the other is called the FISA Amendment Act 702 or PRISM.”
The business records program, or Section 215, is probably the most misunderstood of the two programs. The metadata program takes information and puts it in a data repository. Metadata is the phone number, the date, time, group, and duration of the call.
“That’s all we have,” Gen. Alexander explains. “We don’t have any names or any content.”
The second program is the PRISM program or FISA Amendment Act 702. PRISM is a little bit different. PRISM is a content program. The program legally compels service providers to supply information to the government if there is an appropriate and documented foreign intelligence reason and the subject of interest is believed to be outside the U.S.
It also has to be one end foreign, not on U.S. persons, Gen. Alexander explains. This, of course, requires a lot of management and review. A lot.
While Alexander contended that the public has no reason to be outraged because the NSA is simply protecting the Nation from another 9/11, he certainly is not interested in Americans learning anything more about how the NSA operates. In fact, he said that he wants “courts and policymakers” to come up with a way to keep journalists from reporting on the NSA.
“I think it’s wrong that that newspaper reporters have all these documents, the 50,000 — whatever they have and are selling them and giving them out as if these — you know it just doesn’t make sense,” Alexander said, referring to the trove of NSA data made public by Snowden.
“We ought to come up with a way of stopping it. I don’t know how to do that. That’s more of the courts and the policymakers but, from my perspective, it’s wrong to allow this to go on,” the NSA director continued.