The United States is one of the best in the world at protecting civil liberties, Gen. Keith Alexander, USA, director of National Security Agency (NSA) and commander of the U.S. Cyber Command said at the AFCEA Cyber Symposium in Baltimore.
Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who leaked reams of data about NSA monitoring activities to the press, has been called a hero whistleblower by some, but Gen. Alexander contends that the employees at the NSA, FBI, CIA and Defense Department, who protect the nation while protecting civil liberties, are the real heroes.
As he has before, Gen. Alexander said the leaks have done irreparable harm to national security. “Public discussion of the NSA’s trade craft or the tools that support its operation provides insights that our adversaries—to include terrorists—can and do use to hide their activities. Those who wish us harm now know how we counter their actions. These leaks have caused significant and irreversible damage to our nation’s security. Historically, every time a capability is revealed, we lose our ability to track those targets,” he said. “What is going on with these leaks is unconscionable in my opinion.”
Gen. Alexander pointed out that approved processes exist for whistleblowers to express concern, and he pointed out that Snowden leaked information to the press rather than following those approved processes. “There are lawful and legitimate mechanisms to raise concerns about these programs. The NSA, the Defense Department and the director of national intelligence all have investigator generals who are in a position to do this. An individual acting nobly would have chosen one of those to voice his concerns,” he declared.
He also repeated claims that the monitoring programs have helped protect the United States and its allies on 54 occasions. He added that a recent oversight report found zero instances where the monitoring programs led to civil liberty violations.
Gen. Alexander reminded the audience that the monitoring programs have oversight from all three branches of government and said that because of concerns expressed by President Barack Obama, the NSA actually strengthened privacy protections.
In addition, the general offered the following statistics about the 54 events prevented: 42 involved disruptive plots; 12 involved materiel support to terrorists; 50 led to arrests or detentions; 25 events occurred in Europe, 11 in Asia and five in Africa.
Gen. Alexander indicated that the NSA took immediate steps to prevent future leaks and is cooperating with the FBI investigation. While he didn’t go into specifics about the preventive steps taken, he assured the audience that, “We’re doing this exactly right.”