NSA Chief: “No Other Way” But To Keep Up Massive Surveillance

Credit: US GOVTCredit: US GOVTAt a congressional hearing yesterday, National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander offered his views about the role of massive domestic surveillance in a free society. Unsurprisingly, he voiced support for keeping up with the controversial and rights-compromising work conducted by his agency.

The four-star general came before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was discussing the USA FREEDOM Act. The bill aims to end bulk meta-data collection and establish checks on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court. Alexander issued grave warnings about the dangers such a law would pose to America, and even attempted to elicit some sympathy for the NSA's methods. USA Today reports:

"There is no other way to connect the dots,'' Alexander told the Senate Judiciary Committee in a renewed defense of NSA surveillance programs whose details were disclosed this year by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. "We cannot go back to a pre-9/11 moment.''

Alexander said the national security threat has been mounting in recent months, and the "crisis in the Middle East is growing.''

"Taking these programs off the table is not the thing to do,'' Alexander said.

It isn't Alexander's first time defending the agency's domestic spying. But it is interesting, because for years he made many public claims (some of which have been called into questionto give the impression that no such surveillance of American citizens happened on his watch. 

Deputy Attorney General James Cole also testified. He expressed doubt about whether the bill would have any impact. Significantly, The Guardian points out that this “was the first time the NSA or its allies have suggested that its dragnets on American phone data might not be stopped even if Leahy's bill... passes through Congress.”

Several senators criticized the NSA's action during the hearing. Judiciary Committee Chairman and sponsor of the USA FREEDOM Act, Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), questioned, “Do we really need to collect so much data on Americans? Just simply because you can do something, does it make sense to do it?”

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said recent disclosures about the scope of the NSA's data collection “call into serious question whether the law and other safeguards currently in place strike the right balance between protecting our civil liberties and our national security.”

Legislators aren't the only ones pushing for greater constraint on the NSA. As Reason's Ronald Bailey highlights, major internet companies recently wrote an open letter to President Obama calling for reforms.  

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  • ||

    There is no other way to connect the dots

    Which dots are those, asshole?

  • Surly Chef||

    Until he has all the dots he can't be sure how to connect them properly, for his own benefit that is.

  • Invisible Finger||

    The more dots, the more possible ways to connect them.

    False-positive dots can't possible interfere with effectiveness and efficiency, all that means is they need more money and power.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    Just imagine, for example, an FBI agent in Minnesota, or wherever, discovers some guy is taking big jet flying lessons without landing instruction. FBI agent finds this odd and files a report about it. Then the fellow crashes a plane into a large building.

    The NSA needs to be there to monitor that the report was filed and ignored so that it can be deleted in the case of a follow-up investigation.

  • Raston Bot||

    He means those little colorful ones you peal off paper and stick to ginger bread houses. And "connect" is just a euphemism for sticking up his ass.

  • Quixote||

    Why, he must mean the dots of power; and he is right that no "law" will prevent those who have the power from doing whatever they like with it. In fact, it's clear from everything we've learned that anyone posting critical comments here concerning the NSA should be deeply concerned about the personal consequences for them and their friends and families. You post, you become a target. It's that simple.

    Above all, satirically inclined people should be very careful to avoid posting any deadpan parodies in Alexander's "name." The intelligence community will certainly have you hunted down, arrested, and charged with "identity theft" or the like. The First Amendment is not a defense to this crime. Indeed, "neither good faith nor truth is a defense," as a court specifically ruled in the leading academic whistle-blower case in New York. For documentation, see:

    http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

    So people, fellow Americans, just face up to it: the government is now carefully watching over everything you do and say. Just learn to adopt. It's actually quite easy to do, it just requires a little bit of mental adjustment and an understanding that certain inappropriate words and actions will be met with arrest and prosecution. The best is not to get carried away and spout off with ambiguous terms like they do in Brazil, because that could land you in big trouble. Just go about your lives as if nothing had happened, and everything will be okay. Have a great Christmas!

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    Are they going to institute those sworn oaths to the Constitution for contractors that Judge Andrew Napolitano made up this morning?

  • tarran||

    Isn't General Alexander and Airforce Academy Grad?

    What happened to not lying, cheating, or stealing? What happened to not tolerating those who did so?

    If I were to become president, I would love to recall him to active duty, and charge him under the UCMJ for perjury. Losing his pension and rank might encourage the others to not fuck around like he did.

  • Pelosi's Rabbit||

    That's it, I'm not voting for him next time he's up for reelection.

  • PapayaSF||

    Here's my non-purist take. On the one hand, I think much of what the NSA does in the US counts as a "general warrant," forbidden by the 4th Amendment. They shouldn't be able to just ask for and get "all Verizon phone records for these three months." It's far too general.

    But they do have a role in looking for actual terror threats. I strongly suspect that much of their overreach comes out of pure political correctness: asking for the Verizon phone records of only Muslims might be seen as a worse civil liberties violation. And who knows if they might miss something? So they ask for everything "to be safe."

    Let's face it: the terror threats the US faces are almost exclusively from Muslims. Yes, there are many innocent ones, but (with rare exceptions) it's pointless to spy on non-Muslims when you're looking for Muslim terrorists. Muslim terrorists are a subset, but they are a subset of a relatively small US group. So if the NSA stuck to snooping on other countries (their original mandate) and on Muslims in the US, I'd probably be OK with that.

  • Raston Bot||

    I'd be okay with Americans just accepting that thousands of us will be murdered by acts of political violence every year and that's the price to pay for living in a free and open society.

  • Calidissident||

    I don't think NSA stooping is preventing a 9/11 a year. Is there any other year where Islamic terrorism has claimed even 100 lives in the US? Or any form of terrorism, excluding the year of the OKC bombings?

  • Calidissident||

    Do phone companies keep records of their customers' religion? Honestly, your proposal is so ridiculous on so many levels that I'm not even going to respond beyond that question (I believe I actually did respond to this once before. IIRC you posted it a while back).

  • PapayaSF||

    I'm sure that the NSA has the resources to figure out who most of the Muslims are in the US, simply from census records, mailing lists, and so on. It would be trivially easy to crosscheck that data with phone company records.

  • Calidissident||

    Well that's reassuring (for the record, the Census doesn't collect information on religion, and not all Muslims have Arabic names, nor are all people with Arabic names Muslim). I'm 100% confident that the government would never misuse these powers against other groups. And as long as they're only misused against Muslims, well everything's just swell, right?

  • PapayaSF||

    I'm sure that with the resources they have, the NSA could quickly identify and pinpoint 99%+ of the Muslims in the US. Might they misuse that knowledge, then or later? Sure, but it depends on what you define as "misuse."

    I think national security is a legitimate function of the federal government. (One of the few.) And it's silly to ignore the fact that one of the major threats to the US (if not the major threat) comes from members of one particular religion. And given that that religion has members here, and that it's undeniable that some of them have already proven to be terrorists and terror supporters, well, it seems obvious where to look. If you know some of your apples are poisoned, you don't waste time checking out your milk or your salt. Yes, in a sense it's "unfair" to the innocent apples, but that's the breaks.

  • Calidissident||

    "I'm sure that with the resources they have, the NSA could quickly identify and pinpoint 99%+ of the Muslims in the US."

    And I think that's a problem. You apparently do not (also, even if they could pinpoint 99% of Muslims, that doesn't mean they also wouldn't include millions of people who aren't Muslim, but would be targeted due to ethnicity, name, former religion, etc.).

    "Might they misuse that knowledge, then or later? Sure, but it depends on what you define as 'misuse.'"

    What a copout. After all of the abuse of civil liberties done by the government over the years, not to mention the absurd incompetence they've shown in everything else they've done, such as Obamacare (which has exceeded even your expectations), how can you possibly trust them on this? Damn, I guess "MOOOOOSLIMMMMZZZ!" is a pretty effective propaganda tool.

    "I think national security is a legitimate function of the federal government"

    So do I. I don't think that justifies violating the rights and liberties of millions of people without probable cause.

  • Calidissident||

    "And it's silly to ignore the fact that one of the major threats to the US (if not the major threat) comes from members of one particular religion."

    Who said anything about ignoring it? Your entire argument is based on strawmen and non-sequitirs. Apparently, if you don't support NSA surveillance of all Muslims, you support ignoring Islamic terrorism. Great logic there.

    "And given that that religion has members here, and that it's undeniable that some of them have already proven to be terrorists and terror supporters, well, it seems obvious where to look"

    Change two or three words, and this could apply to almost any group with regards to some sort of crime or subset of crime.

    "Yes, in a sense it's "unfair" to the innocent apples, but that's the breaks."

    You gotta crack a few eggs to make an omelet, right? That's totally not the justification of every statist solution to every problem ever.

    You're like the progressive caricature of a libertarian that only cares about the rights and freedoms of WASPs.

  • Invisible Finger||

    asking for the Verizon phone records of only Muslims might be seen as a worse civil liberties violation.

    Even if it wasn't a worse violation, it STILL means they really don't know what they're looking for.

    But I doubt it's for the reason you state. After all, a Mulsim terrorist COULD change his name to "Van Jones" and then getting just the phone records of people with Mulsim-sounding names would miss out.

    By increasing the amount of data to sift through, they will be less effective at their jobs. That means they will need a budget increase and more power.

    Bureaucrats do not give a flying fuck about civil rights, all they care about is increasing their budget and their sphere of influence. The surest way to do that is with marginally-effective results at their assigned tasks. A slight increase in results means they should be rewarded with raises and possibly increased scope, a slight drop in results means they must be given larger staffs. Zero results "might" raise eyebrows, frequent game-changing results will raise even more.

  • Calidissident||

    But it's much easier to blame political correctness, so why don't we do that? The poor bureaucrats are just trying to be polite when they spy on us

  • PapayaSF||

    Bureaucrats do not give a flying fuck about civil rights, all they care about is increasing their budget and their sphere of influence.

    I agree with the last part, but not the first. They might well "care," but only for the reason that "profiling" might get them in trouble with their political masters.

  • Calidissident||

    Yeah, government agencies don't ever engage in profiling. They certainly draw the line at that.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Were you expecting some other answer from them?

  • An Innocent Man||

    Fuck you, cut spying.

  • Wintermute||

    This bastard needs to be fired for un-American activities. If the FBI, CIA, and NSA had done did their jobs right and talked to each other, 9/11 wouldn't have happened.

  • RishJoMo||

    lol, US POlitics, best Politics money can buy!

    www.Privacy-Planet.com

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    I had never heard of Gen Alexander before I saw him speak at Black Hat's keynote address, a few weeks after the Snowden leaks. I thought he gave a very good speech, and presented a plausible explanation that reconciled the material from the leaks with the idea of a very restricted data collection program. A couple of weeks later more info came out that destroyed that plausibility, and it seemed clear he was just another BO administration liar.

    But here he goes continuing to defend the program... I don't think he's an Obama-type or Clinton-type liar, who runs away from the lie or tries to "clarify" the lie once caught. He really seems to believe his lies, and probably goes home at night wondering aloud why all these people are so difficult with him.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    I had never heard of Gen Alexander before I saw him speak at Black Hat's keynote address, a few weeks after the Snowden leaks. I thought he gave a very good speech, and presented a plausible explanation that reconciled the material from the leaks with the idea of a very restricted data collection program. A couple of weeks later more info came out that destroyed that plausibility, and it seemed clear he was just another BO administration liar.

    But here he goes continuing to defend the program... I don't think he's an Obama-type or Clinton-type liar, who runs away from the lie or tries to "clarify" the lie once caught. He really seems to believe his lies, and probably goes home at night wondering aloud why all these people are so difficult with him.

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