Senators Puts the Screws to NSA Chief

Much to the displeasure of Feinstein and Graham


The Senate Appropriations Committee, which last week raked Attorney General Eric Holder over unlit coals while asking softly if it might get him a lemonade, today turned its sights on Gen. Keith Alexander, the NSA's U.S. Cyber Command Director. The senators were warned that the hearing — the first post-leak appearance by the high-profile head of the heavily criticized agency's online efforts — was not meant to focus on those heavy critiques after a week of cyberspying leaks. This shouldn't be a surprise; two of the foremost defenders of the NSA's behavior, Senators Dianne Feinstein and Lindsey Graham, sit on the commitee with its chair, Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland. But some senators weren't feeling at all obliged to be so nice.

It's only fair to note that the hearing wasn't scheduled to be a discussion of the newly detailed NSA surveillance programs. The hearing, titled "Cybersecurity: Preparing for and responding to the enduring threat," was meant to discuss the government's investment in tools to stop cybercrime and cyberattacks. Mikulski, who introduced the topic supposedly at hand, repeatedly came back to this point, saying that the goal was to defend "our dot-mil, dot-gov, and dot-com domains," and to avoid "techno-boondoggles." (She used this last expression three times during the hearing.) The commitee's goal wasn't to look at "every program from the NSA," she said, but cybersecurity, because "we are already under attack… we are in a cyber war every day." Anyway, she announced, Feinstein was holding a hearing on NSA surveillance on Thursday.