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!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags governmentprivacyBarack ObamaJohn McCainExploits / vulnerabilitiesU.S. National Security AgencyU.S. Cyber CommandKeith AlexanderMark UdallEdward SnowdenU.S. Senate Armed Services Committee

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

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?