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9/26/2013
03:58 PM
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NSA Chief: Don't Dump Essential Security Tools

Gen. Keith Alexander defends National Security Agency practices, argues for advances in cybersecurity cooperation.

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The head of the U.S. Cyber Command had come to talk about the state of cybersecurity in America. But Gen. Keith Alexander, who also directs the National Security Agency, took the offensive, delivering an impassioned defense of NSA practices Wednesday, in the wake of recriminations over the agency's collection and handling of Americans' phone records.

He also asked government and industry executives, gathered at a cybersecurity summit in Washington, for their support in maintaining the NSA's data-collection and surveillance efforts.

"In the last week, over 950 people were killed in Kenya, Iraq, Yemen" and elsewhere in the world as a result of terrorist attacks, he said. "We've been fortunate to have avoided that in the U.S., but it's not just because of luck," he added, referring to the work of analysts and agents at the NSA, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies.

Alexander said the data gathering and analytic tools the U.S. intelligence community has assembled since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks have been instrumental in averting at least 54 terrorist attacks in the U.S. and overseas. But in light of growing demands by legislators and privacy advocates to end the NSA's data collection practices, he acknowledged, "We're going to have a debate in this country on do we give up those tools. I'm concerned we're going to make the wrong choice."

[ Is the NSA tapping your smartphone? Read NSA Vs. Your Smartphone: 5 Facts. ]

The NSA director tried to dispel what he called sensationalized media reports about the NSA's activities, explaining that when the NSA collects phone records, it only sees the phone numbers, time of day and duration of each call. "There is no content and no names," he said, insisting NSA analysts are not collecting the content of America's communications.

"We'd need a warrant to do that," said Alexander, pointing to provisions in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), authorized in 2008. Warrants are issued when Americans are shown to be in contact with foreign targets overseas, and that occurred fewer than 300 times in 2012, he said. Alexander acknowledged that NSA analysts had made technical and operational errors that counted as conduct violations, but insisted that over the past decade, "we've had only 12 willful violations" where individuals used NSA systems wrongfully, mainly in pursuit of foreign nationals, and "we held them accountable."

Information released by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has exposed the NSA to criticism that NSA analysts have been able to skirt FISA rules. Lawmakers, including Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), have introduced legislation that would end the program that allows the NSA to collect domestic phone records.

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WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/1/2013 | 8:02:01 PM
re: NSA Chief: Don't Dump Essential Security Tools
One wonders whether we may be on the path to -- or citizens need to star - a revolution that leads to us individuals having the rights to the data we generate. The notion that humans are merely sources of data to be exploited is a discouraging thought about how data, like wealth, is bringing power to a few, instead of the many.
Greg MacSweeney
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Greg MacSweeney,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/30/2013 | 11:28:08 AM
re: NSA Chief: Don't Dump Essential Security Tools
Alexander says "we are going to have a debate." But we can't have a debate about this. The NSA won't say what it is doing, how it is doing it or what information it is collecting (of course without Snowden's documents, the NSA would say it isn't doing anything that may skirt the rules). Right now it is a one sided debate: the only information is coming from Snowden.
Faye Kane, homeless brain
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Faye Kane, homeless brain,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/28/2013 | 9:58:11 AM
re: NSA Chief: Don't Dump Essential Security Tools
==-
"The loudest sound in the world is the last heartbeat."
GBrueghel, in Headroom

I had a friend who's father died of a heart attack and it occurred to me that his family could get a display of his final heartbeat like in Kubrick's 2001 when the hybernauts died.

Now I see that they couldn't have, because his last heartbeat is owned by a corporation.

Even though we have huge flat TVs on the wall, The Future sure didn't turn out to be like on The Jetsons. It turned out to be like on Max Headroom.

-- faye kane
Faye Kane, homeless brain
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Faye Kane, homeless brain,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/28/2013 | 8:57:34 AM
re: NSA Chief: Don't Dump Essential Security Tools
==-
There's a logical exception to Goodwin's Law when it's not hyperbole in a discussion of drug laws, but refers to an extant secret police doing the same illegal things and telling the same lies about it as Nazis, the Stazi, or the Red Chinese.

-faye kane G girl brain
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/27/2013 | 9:07:42 PM
re: NSA Chief: Don't Dump Essential Security Tools
Absolutely. People are always amazed when I tell them about the patient who had no right to the data generated by the smart pacemaker installed inside his own body. Even though the pacemaker was simply measuring and transmitting what the patient's body was doing, those measures belonged to the pacemaker manufacturer. That's nuts.

I've actually heard a few execs at very big companies suggest that all this health data could lead to a health care system in which each patient is assigned a rating that dictates how much he or she pays for services. Sort of like a credit score for you health. It's one of the most dystopian things I've ever heard.
WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/27/2013 | 8:42:09 PM
re: NSA Chief: Don't Dump Essential Security Tools
You right on both counts: The stakes (and the pressure to connect the dots to counter terrorism) are incredibly high; and government's record of program abuses has engendered little reason for trust.

But if American's are so upset with their government, they might also reserve some of their anger and angst at the vast amounts of information that the private sector routinely vacuums up about most citizens in this country. I would bet that what marketers know about me, or the mosaic version of me, is arguably more extensive and even less transparent than what the analysts at Ft. Meade know about me.
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/27/2013 | 1:50:50 PM
re: NSA Chief: Don't Dump Essential Security Tools
Whenever we play the Hitler/Nazi card, we've abandoned the ability to talk about matters reasonably.
dbtinc
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dbtinc,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/27/2013 | 1:17:34 PM
re: NSA Chief: Don't Dump Essential Security Tools
This from the american version of the KGB and Abwehr of old ... wake up citizens! Our government is in the control of the special interests, robber barons and banksters. Look around and if you are satisfied with what our government does both domestically and internationally you may retreat back to your cocoon.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/27/2013 | 7:32:40 AM
re: NSA Chief: Don't Dump Essential Security Tools
"We're going to have a debate in this country on do we give up those tools. I'm concerned we're going to make the wrong choice." This strikes me as a sentiment that a number of the the Founding Fathers would take issue with.

I can appreciate that when you're discussing terrorism, the stakes are so incredibly high that guys like Alexander are always going to err on the side of more surveillance and less transparency. I have no doubt that more than a few in the top-secret intelligence community consider the stakes so high that the people simply cannot be trusted with the decision. They see what happened in Kenya and wonder when the same thing, or worse, will happen somewhere in the United States. That's the vibe I get from Alexander.

But even if Alexander's motivations are pure as snow, programs like this don't have a great track record. They almost always escalate, and they always give unethical people - something we have in great supply - an opportunity to do unethical things.
Railroader
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Railroader,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/27/2013 | 12:46:20 AM
re: NSA Chief: Don't Dump Essential Security Tools
Hitler and the SS Said they needed to do what they did, in the interest of Security.

Benjamin Franklin's warning: "Those who can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
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