NSA chief’s demand for total information awareness

The Washington Post has a profile of NSA Director Keith Alexander: To some of Alexander’s most vociferous critics, Snowden’s disclosures confirm their image of an agency and a director so enamored of technological prowess that they have sacrificed privacy rights.

“He is absolutely obsessed and completely driven to take it all, whenever possible,” said Thomas Drake, a former NSA official and whistleblower. The continuation of Alexander’s policies, Drake said, would result in the “complete evisceration of our civil liberties.”

Alexander frequently points out that collection programs are subject to oversight by Congress as well as the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, although the proceedings of both bodies are shrouded in secrecy. But even his defenders say Alexander’s aggressiveness has sometimes taken him to the outer edge of his legal authority.

Some in Congress complain that Alexander’s NSA is sometimes slow to inform the oversight committees of problems, particularly when the agency’s eavesdroppers inadvertently pick up communications that fall outside the NSA’s legal mandates. Others are uncomfortable with the extraordinarily broad powers vested in the NSA chief. In 2010, he became the first head of U.S. Cyber Command, set up to defend Defense Department networks against hackers and, when authorized, conduct attacks on adversaries. Pentagon officials and Alexander say the command’s mission is also to defend the nation against cyberattacks.

“He is the only man in the land that can promote a problem by virtue of his intelligence hat and then promote a solution by virtue of his military hat,” said one former Pentagon official, voicing a concern that the lines governing the two authorities are not clearly demarcated and that Alexander can evade effective public oversight as a result. The former official spoke on the condition of anonymity to be able to talk freely.

Alexander himself has expressed unease about secrecy constraints that he says prohibit him from fully explaining what the NSA does. But just as in Iraq, he remains fiercely committed to the belief that “we need to get it all,” said Timothy Edgar, a former privacy officer at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and at the White House.

“He certainly believes you need to collect everything you can under the law,” Edgar said, “and that includes pushing for pretty aggressive interpretations of the law.”

Alexander maintained in a speech last month that he is mindful to “do everything you can to protect civil liberties and privacy.”

He then added a warning: “Everyone also understands,” he said, “that if we give up a capability that is critical to the defense of this nation, people will die.” [Continue reading…]

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2 thoughts on “NSA chief’s demand for total information awareness

  1. delia ruhe

    I taught in the area of Cultural Studies for years, and from 2006 to the time of my retirement, I tried to get students to revise their understanding of the Cyborg to accommodate a transition to the metaphor of the Cognisphere, using Bush’s warrentless wiretapping program as an example of one aspect of the Cognisphere. I’m not sure my students quite grasped it, but I’ll bet many of them are now thinking back on that particular aspect of the course content in response to this NSA scandal.

    For anyone who’s possibly interested in the theory of the Cognisphere, it originated with Katherine Hayles’ article “Unfinished Work: From Cyborg to Cognisphere,” available as a pdf download at:


    Alexander’s idea “collect it all” shows an understanding of the Cognisphere, even though he may not be acquainted with the word.

  2. BillVZ

    “He remains fiercely committed to the belief that “we need to get it all” that if we give up a capability that is critical to the defense of this nation, people will die.”

    Thousands of years ago it was written that all political regimes (especially empires) will fall. Our human experience as well as history confirms this. Recognition of this condition is accompanied by fear -which in turn, cause those in fear to do anything and everything to prevent or at least put off such a conclusion.

    NSA Director Keith Alexander, as a special representative working for the continuation of the U.S. Empire, himself out of fear, fiercely believes that the need to get all the information and the capability to do so, is what he and the NSA will provide to not only subdue that fear but prolong the existence of the Empire not to die. Such expression of commitment on his part may be commendable but he, like must of us bury the reality ‘what begins-ends’; ‘Empires –die’…..

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