Edward Snowden. WikiLeaks. The National Security Agency.
Media around the world has targeted the NSA for years now, and nearly all of the coverage has been negative. Newspapers and headlines tout data monitoring and privacy violations as the American manifestation of a surveillance-state, with critics crying “Big Brother” quicker than you can say national security.
But the Australian Financial Review recently interviewed Keith Alexander – the retired four-star general who served as the Director of the NSA for almost a decade before leaving in April, and his testimony regarding the NSA and its duty to the American people is a must-read for anyone participating in our nation’s current security/privacy debate.
General Alexander’s reason for providing the interview? “… because I fundamentally believe that what the nation has asked the NSA to do – to defend our country, our allies, and our forces abroad while also protecting our civil liberties and privacy under the most comprehensive intelligence oversight regime in the world – is something that, contrary to much reporting, the NSA and all our people have faithfully executed.”
The interview provides rich insights into the Director’s feelings and thoughts regarding many cybersecurity trends. General Alexander argues that surveillance of the American public pales in comparison to surveillance in Asian and European countries, and he maintains that objective analysis corroborates his claims regarding the NSA’s respect for American privacy. He recognizes the significance of Stuxnet as the harbinger of a future increasingly shaped by cyber attacks and counterattacks, and he defends NSA counter-encryption efforts – “NSA is a cryptographic agency that has had a responsibility for making and breaking codes since WWII. This is what NSA does.”
Recognizing the growing importance of information technology security, General Alexander acknowledges cybersecurity vulnerabilities as the biggest threat facing Western allies. “What concerns me the most are the terrorist and cyber-attacks. Those are the two threats where adversaries can reach far into the homeland and really hurt populations.” In a society of digitalization, digitalized attacks present the biggest threat to the United States.
I strongly recommend reading the interview in its entirety. The media’s vilification of the National Security Agency has proceeded largely without obstruction, but General Alexander provides a strong defense of the actions of the NSA. His interview suggests that the people of the NSA take their responsibilities to the American people seriously, and all Americans would benefit from reading the General’s testimony – for its insights regarding both our technology and our country.