The NSA Director’s Passion to ‘Collect the Whole Haystack’
As the Washington Post article mentions, his successes “have won accolades from political leaders of both parties as well as from counterterrorism and intelligence professionals,” but his controversial approach has also “drawn attack from civil rights groups and a bipartisan group of lawmakers.”
His supporters portray him as being “animated by a spymaster’s awareness of serious, overlapping threats arrayed against the United States.” Included in those threats are foreign and homegrown terrorists and “a host of adversaries who are constantly probing the country’s cyber defenses, looking for opportunities to steal secrets or unleash mayhem by shutting down critical infrastructure,” according to the Post.
His critics see him as head of an agency “so enamored of technological prowess that they have sacrificed privacy rights.” According to Thomas Drake, a former NSA official and whistleblower, this man “is absolutely obsessed and completely driven to take it all, whenever possible.” Drake adds, according to the Post, that the continuation of this man’s policies would result in the “complete evisceration of our civil liberties.”
Of course readers realize by now that this patriot or, in some minds, “overzealous” man, is General Keith B. Alexander, whose title reads, Commander, U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) and Director, National Security Agency/Chief, Central Security Service (NSA/CSS).
His official biography says, “as Commander, USCYBERCOM, he is responsible for planning, coordinating and conducting operations and defense of DoD computer networks as directed by USSTRATCOM. As the Director of NSA and Chief of CSS, he is responsible for a Department of Defense agency with national foreign intelligence, combat support, and U.S. national security information system protection responsibilities. NSA/CSS civilian and military personnel are stationed worldwide.
As Commander of USCYBERCOM Alexander also has the task of conducting cyberattacks on adversaries, “when authorized.”
Whether one approves or not of the job Alexander is doing, the Washington Post article provides an interesting glimpse into the mind-set of a man whose “sensibilities were shaped by a series of painful intelligence lapses leading up to the 9/11 attacks,” sensibilities like those of many national security officials of his generation and a man who very likely was motivated by the carnage he saw in Iraq in late 2005, when “Iraqi roadside bombings were nearing an all-time peak…and were killing or wounding a dozen Americans a day.”
Read here how the then-new NSA Director devised a plan that rather than looking “for a single needle in the haystack” collected the “whole haystack” — a plan that “would play a role in breaking up Iraqi insurgent networks and significantly reducing the monthly death toll from improvised explosive devices by late 2008.”
The same plan also “encapsulated Alexander’s controversial approach to safeguarding Americans from what he sees as a host of imminent threats, from terrorism to devastating cyberattacks.”
Read more here about how Alexander, just as in Iraq, remains fiercely committed to the belief that “we need to get it all,” but how he is also mindful to “do everything you can to protect civil liberties and privacy,” with the warning: “Everyone also understands that if we give up a capability that is critical to the defense of this nation, people will die.”