back to article NSA headman: 'Don't worry, our watchful analysts TAKE EXAMS'

NSA head General Keith Alexander believes the NSA's data-slurping programs should "be something we put forward as an example to the rest of the world," due to the oversight afforded by the courts, Congress, and the administration. The spy chief made his remarks at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday, …


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  1. Don Jefe


    Is it 53 or 300 terror related things prevented by the programs? If they're going to bullshit us they could at least show us enough respect to keep it consistent.

    I guess that's what I get for being a mere peasant. I shouldn't expect my democratically elected representatives to respect me, or anyone else I guess.

    1. An0n C0w4rd

      Re: Huh?

      The only thing democratically elected representatives care about these days is the size of your donations, or how many kiddies will be affected if they don't change the law to protect them and therefore generate positive press. I think the era of caring about the electorate is over, if it ever existed.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Huh?

      300 phone numbers, 53 "terror-related activities" .... one statistic leads to the other, they are not the same nor do they state they are..... state intelligent things are you may get more respect, idk.

    3. peyton?

      Re: Huh?

      Whether its 53 or 300, to me the irony is, the more they downplay its use, the more they affirm that it's not worth the price.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Here is Keith Alexander explaining...

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    time for some serious declassifying, Keith.....

    You've lost control of the narrative, Keith. Time to come clean on all your programs that potentially target Americans so that we can make intelligent decisions on what should be kept, what should be tossed and what oversight and protections should be going forward.

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: time for some serious declassifying, Keith.....

      Forget Americans. Time to come clean on NSA activities that target citizens and legal residents of the USA's so-called "allies." A Canadian or Australian should no more be subject to warrantless (or rubber-stamped) scrutiny than an American.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: time for some serious declassifying, Keith.....

        Don't leave the GCHQ out of this discussion, Trevor. I've been reading that the GCHQ offshore net-trawling of all of Europe makes us Yanks look like rank amateurs.

        1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

          Re: time for some serious declassifying, Keith.....

          Them too...but my theory is that if popular uprising can tame the NSA the GCHQ will crawl back under it's rock for the next 30 years or so before trying anything overt again.

          1. Anonymous Coward

            Re: time for some serious declassifying, Keith.....

            Unfortunately, people living outside the U.S. or it's territories have no legal standing under the U.S. Constitution. As long as we don't terror bomb London or Melbourne or start shooting Canuck kids taunting our soldiers, you won't get any help from U.S. law. If you read that XKeyscore PowerPoint preso on the Guardian, you will see that basically you can enter some multisyllabic justification for why you want to surveil someone outside the U.S.--and then it's off to the races.

            Wish I had better news for you, but I am sure that the rest of the 5 Eyes plus our other allies treat U.S. residents the same way.

            Still, if we can put a crimp in the NSA, the other countries may think twice before going full Orwell.

  4. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Less than 300?

    Surely he means 'fewer than 300'?

    1. DarrDarr

      Re: Less than 300?

      Nope... he meant it was less than the movie 300.

  5. channel extended


    If the NSA can track all of our phone calls? Lets turn them lose on those annoying robocalls that wake me up at Oh God in the morning to try and sell me Satan's latest "As See on TV!!" special.

    In the US, the FCC claims it does not have the technology/brains to be able to track those unwanted callers. However the NSA claims to have stopped (the number changes!?) many terrorist attacks just by using metadata. If this is so perhaps we could turn the surveillance over to the FCC?


    if( (Secret Prisons == CIA) && (Secret Courts == FISA) ) then Secret Police = ?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Robocalls?

      Secret police could be either the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service, DEA, Bureau of Alcohol, Tabacco and Firearms, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or Treasury agents, depending on what they want to nail you with when they cart you away.

    2. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      if( (Secret Prisons == CIA) && (Secret Courts == FISA) ) then Secret Police = ?

      In a nation where money is the goal of all (wo)men the secret police is the IRS.

  6. Vimes

    'We stand for freedom'?

    These are the same sort of people that were saying ''It became necessary to destroy the town to save it'' during the Vietnam war. And with about as much credibility too...

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Hey! I resent the accusations of Vietnam-era insincerity!

      After all, they really did blow the crap out of the village in question. What's an overzealous forward spotter got to do to get some credit around here!

      Icon chosen for resemblance to napalm strike.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yeah, right

    Such warm and honest words. I love the fact that the folks working with the data they slurp off 7 billion people are not just some knuckle-draggin' bozos but actually qualified personel. I feel much better already.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    'Alexander said "We stand for freedom."

    'A member of the black-clad, security-aware audience, however, took issue with that assertion. "Bullshit!" he shouted...'

    ... and was promptly arrested as a terrorist suspect...

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: 'Alexander said "We stand for freedom."

      "... and was promptly arrested as a terrorist suspect..."

      ...but on his way to court, he was offered a job as an NSA contractor at a $10,000 a year premium over his current cybersecurity job, and he took it in a heartbeat...

  9. Mephistro
    Black Helicopters

    The cheek!

    "... NSA's data-slurping programs should "be something we put forward as an example to the rest of the world," due to the oversight afforded by the courts, Congress, and the administration."

    The bloody cheek!

    Secret Congress Committees, secret budgets, a secret court, secret laws and gag orders. Yeah! A fucking huge load of horseshit oversight, there.

    Now, I totally agree that this should serve as an example to the rest of the World, but IMHO it should be a negative example.

    I've been scoffing at conspiranoics for decades, and now it turns that they were understating the situation!

    I'll go quietly and perform Seppuku now...

    1. ecofeco Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: The cheek!

      >I've been scoffing at conspiranoics for decades, and now it turns that they were understating the situation!


      But wait, there's more... (no joke)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Black Helicopters

      Re: The cheek!

      See, you've screwed up on two points here.

      First, the Congressional committees aren't secret, they just can't tell us (or somewhere in the high 90th percentile of the rest of Congress) what they hear about the goings-on at the NSA/CIA/DIA/DNI, etc. At least not without getting arrested for leaking classified info. So basically they can offer oversight, but if they want to warn the public they have to drop cryptic hints about how the public might want to consider that someone might be monitoring their communications, as Senate Intelligence Committee member Ron Wyden has been doing the last couple years.

      Second, bad idea to suggest that you will commit seppuku. Tomorrow, if they find you in a pool of your own blood, the CIA/DIA/MI5 can come forward and say "Hey, it wasn't us! The guy said he was suicidal only a few hours before!"

      Remember, you're not paranoid, you're just uninformed about what is really happening!!

  10. Wokstation
    Black Helicopters

    "Only 35 analysts within the NSA", ok, cool. Now how about those contractors who aren't within the NSA? People like Snowden..?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't like people reading my email. When I send a message to someone; that should be purely between me and the other party.

    Just because some cunt legislates themselves the right to read it doesn't make it right, fair or justified for them to do so. There are no excuses; it;s an exercise of power.

    1. tom dial Silver badge

      You may not like people reading your email, but unless you encrypt it, you are sharing your thoughts with every admin of every router or email transport agent that handles it on the way to its recipient - and possibly the NSA, if you say anything interesting to them. You might as well put it on a postcard.

  12. BornToWin

    Here's a clue

    Other countries do exactly the same monitoring as the U.S. It's a necessity to maintain world peace and reduce terrorism and crime. Just because the assembled masses are clueless doesn't mean there is anything wrong with this surveillance.

    1. Frallan

      Re: Here's a clue

      Ohh GTFO of here!

      Other countries that are trying to do the same but failing due to lack of tech or money include North Korea, Cuba, China, to some degree UK and its on the wish list of politicians in Australia. So the company the US keeps are about the same places that have not signed the delarations of human rights - ohhh wait the US have not signed that one either...

      Gettin my coat

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Example to the rest of the world" - Read this General Alexander!

    "Journalist Duncan Campbell has spent much of his life investigating Echelon. In a report commissioned by the European Parliament he produced evidence that the NSA snooped on phone calls from a French firm bidding for a contract in Brazil. They passed the information on to an American competitor, which won the contract. There's no safeguards, no remedies, " he said, "There's nowhere you can go to say that they've been snooping on your international communications. Its a totally lawless world."

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Spying Nation - All it takes is for a person with access to abuse the system

    Even if oversight worked and lets take the great job banking and data protection regulators do, there is always room for 'interpretation of the rules'. Sprinkle in a few rogue operators to the system, and this guy's assurances aren't worth a ****! This is from yesterday, its about old school spying, but its relevant to Prism because there will always be those that abuse power....

    News - CCTV operator quits after alleged voyeurism

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I took classes/exams similar to what he's talking about - they're crap

    While I didn't have anything like the clearance Snowden would have had, I did hold a Secret level clearance. After they cleared me, but before I could actually access the data covered by that clearance, I had to "take classes and exams" like he said. Basically you view Powerpoint type presentations that tell you the rules for accessing data, what you can do with it, etc. and then are given multiple choice questions at the end. One could probably get 50% just applying common sense to the exam questions, the rest is just memorization of the right answer to questions that look like they might have multiple valid answers, plus getting down the terminology they use.

    I'd say it compares almost exactly with taking the written portion of a US driver's license test, if they used different terms for things like traffic signal, stop sign, etc. The classes/exams I was required to take would guarantee people followed the rules almost exactly as well as passing the written portion of a driver's license exam guarantees you'll follow the rules of the road. Thus, in both cases, effective policing is necessary - and Snowden's claim was that this was not done very well (or) at all. If you think people around you drive poorly now, imagine how they'd drive if they told you the roads were heavily policed but everyone knew there were no cops at all on the road.

    When I had my clearance I assumed they were actually monitoring things quite closely, not that I was ever exposed to anything most would consider to be worthy of clearance. My understanding is that that at the "Secret" level they don't protect individually sensitive stuff so much as things that could be sensitive when taken in aggregate or when viewed through a specific lens. Thus, a database showing toilet paper deliveries to military bases around the world might be tagged 'Secret', or possibly even 'Top Secret', because if you became aware of a large increase in the amount being shipped to the base in Riyadh, you might infer some sort of major military offensive in the Middle East was coming.

  16. Frallan

    Or paraphrased that would be:

    "The tools and things we use are very much the same as the tools that were used by Stasi or KGB but we have automated them," Alexander said.

    What used to be "Home of the brave and the free " is now Home of the supressed and watched. Orwell anyone?

    Gettin my coat...

  17. DarrDarr

    All about 'the' Benjamin

    Those who would sacrifice liberty for *promises* of security deserve neither liberty NOR security.

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