back to article Chatting to Al Qaeda? Try not to do that – Ex spy chief defends post-Snowden NSA

You have nothing to fear from the NSA: that is unless you're from outside the United States, or you arouse the agency's suspicion by chatting to Al Qaeda. "Try not to do that," was the advice given. The warnings come from former NSA chief General Keith Alexander, who told delegates at a security conference that the National …

  1. Semtex451

    "If you don't want to you should either,"

    Words to live by.

    1. PleebSmash

      "Wars come and go, but my soldiers stay eternal. The only thing America respects is power and power concedes nothing. I'm a reflection of the community. Only God can judge me. Let the Lord judge the criminals. Support me... If you don't understand me don't write about me. I was raised in this society so you can't expect me to be a perferct person cause Ima do what Ima do." - Keith Alexander

      1. BillG

        To shore up his argument, he recapped the US's scuppering of a 2009 terrorist attack on the New York subway and the arrest of lead suspect Najibullah Zazi

        Hasn't it been proven that Zazi was captured purely by good police work, without any help from snooping Feds?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          > Hasn't it been proven that Zazi was captured purely by good police work, without any help from snooping Feds?

          Not entirely proven but looking quite likely, yes:

          "But British and American legal documents from 2010 and 2011 contradict that claim, which appears to be the latest in a long line of attempts to defend secret programs by making, at best, misleading claims that they were central to stopping terror plots. While the court documents don’t exclude the possibility that PRISM was somehow employed in the Zazi case, the documents show that old-fashioned police work, not data mining, was the tool that led counterterrorism agents to arrest Zazi."


  2. SolidSquid

    Firstly, these noble people were also the ones using the data for the whole LOVEINT thing.

    Secondly, how are people sitting in a secure facility in Utah with a job far more stable than anything available in the private sector sacrificing their lives? Sounds like they're still trying to equate NSA employees to soldiers in the hopes the good will people have towards soldiers will rub off

    Thirdly, wasn't it something like 3 degrees of separation you had to worry about with regards to talking to an Al Quaeda operative? So if you'd talked to someone who talked to someone who talked to an operative who was most likely undercover and they might never have known then your records are suspect

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      how are people sitting in a secure facility in Utah with a job far more stable than anything available in the private sector sacrificing their lives?

      These are IT workers, so perhaps he meant their personal lives?

    2. tom dial Silver badge

      LOVEINT: A dozen or so individual employees misbehaved in a reporting periof of 6 or 8 years, were found out by their own admission or NSA internal reviews, and were punished, mostly or entirely by discharge or forced retirement. Not good, but also not enough to rubbish the entire agency, which probably employs several ten thousand or more analysts at any given time.

      The Bluffdale, Utah data center is largely a lights out operation. At completion, the local newspapers reported that ongoing employment would be in the neighborhood of 200. The analysis is done elsewhere.

      The three deep contact chaining limit probably represented a pragmatic compromise between missing significant intelligence and producing so many results that anything of significance was obscured by noise.

      Those who start with a presumption that the true purpose of the government is to control the citizens and suppress dissent as much as possible might conclude that all government surveillance is illegitimate and should be ended. Those who think the government has a proper role in trying to anticipate what can go wrong and prepare to oppose it might conclude that things like surveillance cameras nearly everywhere and databased communication metadata have a proper place in supporting that role but require close supervision to prevent misuse. In the US, at least, the overwhelming majority of police power misuse has nothing to do with mass surveillance or targeted communication surveillance and much to do with inadequate training and tactical misjudgments by police officials, and self-promotion by prosecutors. Most of this occurs at the state or local level of government, where internal controls tend to be more lax and less uniform, but they occur at the federal level as well (e. g., Ruby Ridge, Branch Davidian, Aaron Swartz).

      It strikes me as inconsistent that we seem to acquiesce in, or even demand, handing over to our government immense power to do good (provide medical care, ensure full labor employment, for example) and tend to oppose vehemently granting it powers arguably connected to ensuring public safety, which many would agree is a core government function. One might argue that the surveillance fails a reasonable cost-benefit analysis, but that differs from the usual argument made, that the surveillance, along with the capability to do it at all, is intrinsically illegitimate.

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        SNAFU, FUD Rules and Leads in the Chaos of Madness and Mayhem where CHAOS Reigns and Plays*

        The ongoing deepening problem and present future trouble which guarantees disruption and dissent and increasing sophisticated and more accurately targeted virtual assault and destruction of prime sub-prime movers and shakers in the government systems which you appear to be defending and applauding, tom dial, is that they are trading fraudulently and operating deceitfully and outsourcing all of the functions they are thought by the masses to be providing to the private profit seeking commercial sector. And are therefore held easily captive to rogue renegade demands from internetworking service providers.

        Money and dodgy businesses rule and are the legitimate targets for all opposition which be parties aspiring to free from excessive and repressive burden/increasingly costly product. Parliamentary type governments are the jokers in the pack of cards and just as useful and important in the big scheme of things as they are in a game of poker?

        In Blighty you only have to know of the spreading chaos of the last number of years to know the truth in all of that?

        *Clouds Hosting Advanced Operating Systems

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just Don't

    Don't join political parties.

    Don't join unions.

    Don't join any group.

    Don't volunteer.

    Don't give charity.

    Don't go to church.

    Don't go to any religious ceremonies.

    Don't believe.

    Don't write down your ideas.

    Don't publish anything.

    Don't travel to the axis of evil.

    Don't travel to any foreign countries.

    Don't travel.

    Don't surf the web.

    Don't blog.

    Don't talk about what you think.

    Don't talk to activists.

    Don't talk to strangers.

    Don't talk.

    Don't use credit cards.

    Don't use telephones.

    Don't be human.

    Just DON'T.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Just Don't

      Well, that's all a bit negative. Why not put it positively, eh? More friendly, like.

      I suggest we take this old motto for a spin instead:



      1. Vic

        Re: Just Don't



        I guess not everyone read 2000AD...


        1. solo

          Re: Just Don't


          Sorry, just couldn't hold myself WRITING.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Just Don't

      "Just DON'T."

      But there's undoubtedly a watch list for those who don't do all those things because they're obviously trying to hide.

      That's the great thing about mass surveillance. If you do something then you're guilty by doing it, and if you don't do something you must be guilty because you're trying to keep your head down. What a fine, liberty loving place the US is these days.

      Maybe they could coin a term for it: Liberty-lite, anyone?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Just Don't


        1. Graham Marsden
          Big Brother

          Re: Just Don't

          > New-Liberty

          Double-plus good, Prole!

  4. JimmyPage Silver badge

    Sigh ...

    it's not todays spooks we need to worry about.

    It's tomorrows.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Here's another one of those non-rotten people at a university careers fair

  6. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Snake Oil and Bullshit are of the same lame vein and fool nobody smarter than Joe Average

    "Nations act in nations' best interest ... we at times want to make sure a war doesn't break out [and] it is important that our political, military leaders know what is going on."

    He added pointedly: "Somebody has to be in charge”.

    Dear Keith Alexander,

    Welcome to the 21st century where persons acting as if nations act in personal best interests.

    And who is it exactly who provides persons political and military acting for Uncle Sam with the information and intelligence for charge and direction of that which is going on?

    The posit here is that they/he/she/it be MIA and AWOL and presumed dead …….. based upon all available recent past and present evidence.

  7. Schultz

    All those selfless people sacrificing their life for the noble cause

    Wait a moment, sacrificing their life? That sounds a bit too fanatical to me. Here I thought that we enlightened westerners don't do that anymore.

    But then it looks like they try to emulate their opponents to make sure they don't have an edge. - - we have to close the suicide bomber gap, we have to close the evilness gap, we have to ensure the survival of civilization. Hello Mr. Strangelove.

    1. Psyx

      Re: All those selfless people sacrificing their life for the noble cause

      "Wait a moment, sacrificing their life? That sounds a bit too fanatical to me. Here I thought that we enlightened westerners don't do that anymore."

      He was lying for the sake of hyperbole?

  8. Someone Else Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Sounds just like...

    ... that Brit wanker Keith Bristow who wants to insure that his NSA-equivalents can tromp all over the Brittish "subjects" with impunity.

    And then, there's this:

    [Alexander] said NSA bods were dedicated individuals who shirked higher pay packets for careers spent "protecting the nation".

    Yo, Keith! (Both of you Keiths!) Do you really want to protect us? (Of course you don't, but humor me for the sake of this discussion.) Then protect us from those who would want to steal our rights, and subjugate us under the thumb of the State. You can start by protecting us from the alphabet soup that includes: NSA, GCHQ, FBI, and NCA (for starters).

    But then, how would you feed your maniacal egos?

    1. Sanctimonious Prick

      Re: Sounds just like...

      Don't forget us at the ass end of the planet... ASD, ASIO, GCSB, NZSIS.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Sounds just like...

        I thought he mentioned the arse end…

  9. Someone Else Silver badge

    From the blowhole that passes for Keith Alexander's mouth:

    [...] ... we at times want to make sure a war doesn't break out [...]

    But, of course, now isn't one of those times....

  10. Raumkraut

    Alexander urged the security faithful to unite, even calling for banks to operate out of a united facility to harden the nations' financial capabilities.

    Having everyone's financial data stored in a single place? How very... convenient.

    1. codejunky Silver badge

      @ Raumkraut

      It does sound a bit like the plot from die hard 4.0

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I agree that NSA staff aren't all "rotten people":

    He said NSA bods were dedicated individuals who shirked higher pay packets for careers spent "protecting the nation".

    He probably doesn't realise it, but that's a perfect description of exactly what Ed Snowden did.

    He does have a point though. The real problem is the corruption of directions and policy coming down from the criminals at the top of the organisation more than the implementation of those policies and directions by the grunts at the bottom of the hierarchy.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mr Alberto Qa Eda.....(call him Al for short)

    Whenever i skype with an old friend from Spain, i notice my hard drive light flickering away like mad and my network activity spiking......i do have anything to worry about?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Somebody has to be in charge"

    I guess he was saying that to Angela Merkel: Don't worry about your illusion of sovereignty, we know what's best for you and will act accordingly behind your back.

  14. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Call me Al Qaeda

    With apologies to Paul Simon

    If you'll be my bodyguard

    I can be your long lost pal

    I can call you Betty

    And Betty when you call me

    You can call me Al Qaeda

  15. Anonymous Coward

    "Asked by El Reg through a vetted question system what he most regretted about his time at the NSA, Alexander said it was the media's representation of the NSA's activities as conducted by "rotten people". He said NSA bods were dedicated individuals who shirked higher pay packets for careers spent "protecting the nation"."

    Or perhaps they kind of get off on being able to bend the rules and participate in digital voyeurism. Quite frankly, the whole NSA enterprise is so secretive that we really have no idea why NSA employees serve and are given such power.

  16. Desidero

    Awful to give this guy a soapbox with no doubts about his spurious claims.

    Yeah, wow, questions vetted like "do you own a dog or a cat? how deeply do you feel you saved humanity from its suffering? should we put your picture on the 3-dollar-bill or the WTC memorial?"

    suck, suck suck

  17. Inachu

    I chatted with snowden before I knew he was snowden on a web forum dedicated to nerdy IT geeks.

    It was an unusual forum in which you must give a reason why you like to join and have certain cred in both the IT and hacker community. After a week they let me and and I went right to the forums and it was there snowden was bragging that he is getting background check and it was his main goal while working there to squeal like a pig if he found anything that might construe very bad morals to America.

    Everyone warned him not to do it as insider would easily find him and could kill him.

    Reminds me of the nerdy redheaded afro geek who did Unix support for the Pentagon and oh well better not go there.

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