NSA's Alexander defends surveillance, but calls for better cybersecurity

The NSA director says the agency is doing what the US residents want it to do

NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander and other U.S. officials testifying before Congress

NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander and other U.S. officials testifying before Congress

U.S. National Security Agency director General Keith Alexander has called on Congress to pass new legislation focused on protecting the country's cyber assets while at the same time defending his agency's cybersurveillance programs.

Alexander told members of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday that the lack of new cybersecurity legislation, presumably focused on crafting new standards for some businesses, may be hurting the country's cybersecurity defense efforts.

"I am concerned that the lack of legislation will impact our ability to defend the country," said Alexander, testifying in his dual role as director of the NSA and the cyber-defense agency, U.S. Cyber Command.

Alexander faced few tough questions about NSA surveillance programs during the hearing. He defended the NSA's efforts, although he seemed to soften his previous stance about the NSA's need to collect U.S. phone records in bulk. Following President Barack Obama's proposal in January to change the NSA surveillance and data collection programs, Alexander said Thursday that one option for the phone records collection program would be for his agency to collect a more targeted group of records.

Alexander and other administration officials have previously defended the bulk collection of phone records, saying it was necessary for the NSA to hold those records as a way to track the past activities suspected terrorists.

Asked by Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, about the impact of leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Alexander said he's concerned that terrorists have learned too much about the agency's surveillance practices. "I am concerned that they are learning how we stop them, and they're going to get through," he said.

McCain gave Alexander time to respond to critics who say "we're invading every home, every individual, we're gathering all this information."

NSA employees are "doing quietly what our nation has asked them to do," Alexander responded. "The nation has to have NSA -- working with foreign partners -- to ensure that wars don't go on in the Middle East, that we stop terrorist attacks, and that we protect this nation."

It's a "true tragedy" that the media has portrayed NSA employees as villains, Alexander added.

While some senators defended the NSA during the hearing, Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, questioned if it was appropriate to keep secret the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court's interpretations of the Patriot Act that led to the bulk telephone records collection.

Udall, a long-time critic of NSA surveillance programs, said he continues to be concerned about the legality of the programs. "Secret laws undermine trust and authority," he said. "When the public learns that government officials have been rewriting the law in secret, confidence is undermined, and that makes it more difficult to do the job you want to do."

Committee members also asked Alexander about the U.S. government's efforts to deter cyberattacks from other countries. Officials are still developing a deterrence policy, he said.

"I think we need to evolve a deterrence strategy to draw some lines on what is acceptable in cyberspace and what actions we'd take," Alexander added. "That does not yet exist."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags U.S. Senate Armed Services CommitteeJohn McCainKeith AlexanderU.S. National Security AgencygovernmentBarack ObamaExploits / vulnerabilitiesprivacyMark UdallU.S. Cyber CommandsecurityEdward Snowden

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?