Former NSA Chief Says the NSA Doesn’t Gather U.S. Data. Ron Wyden Promptly Fact-Checks.

The Oregon Democrat took to Twitter to chastise Gen. Keith Alexander’s appearance on the premiere of John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight.”

National Journal
Dustin Volz
April 29, 2014, 1 a.m.

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Keith Al­ex­an­der might not be run­ning the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency any­more, but that doesn’t mean he’s about to have an easi­er time jus­ti­fy­ing its mass sur­veil­lance pro­grams to any­one.

The re­tired gen­er­al ap­peared Sunday on the de­but epis­ode of Last Week To­night, comedi­an John Oliv­er’s new HBO series, to at­tempt an­oth­er de­fense of the em­battled spy agency. Oliv­er earned praise for his sharp and sur­pris­ingly ag­gress­ive ques­tion­ing of Al­ex­an­der, which in­cluded a brain­storm­ing ses­sion on how the NSA could rebrand it­self as a cute kit­ten named Mr. Tiggles, “the only gov­ern­ment agency that ac­tu­ally listens to you,” or as a slightly less re­viled brand, such as the Wash­ing­ton Red­skins.

Oliv­er also levied a series of sub­stant­ive cri­ti­cisms at Al­ex­an­der, but Sen. Ron Wyden con­tin­ued the as­sault on Monday. The Ore­gon Demo­crat and vo­cal NSA crit­ic is­sued a series of tweets ques­tion­ing the vera­city of some of Al­ex­an­der’s late-night claims, such as “we’re not just out there gath­er­ing U.S. com­mu­nic­a­tions, listen­ing to their phone calls or col­lect­ing their emails.”

Oliv­er, for what it’s worth, also fact-checked Al­ex­an­der on that point, not­ing that “you are out there do­ing that. You’re just say­ing you’re not then read­ing [those emails]. You are gath­er­ing that data.”

That forced Al­ex­an­der to pivot and say, “In terms of go­ing after U.S. in­fra­struc­ture or “¦ A and B talk­ing in the United States, we aren’t col­lect­ing that.”

Wyden, who serves on the Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, again dis­agreed.

Wyden has made a habit of go­ing after in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials, but he was con­demned by some anti-sur­veil­lance act­iv­ists last week for not do­ing more to re­veal the NSA’s pro­gram be­fore Ed­ward Snowden’s leaks began sur­fa­cing last June. Since then, he and oth­ers have been more openly crit­ic­al of in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials and the NSA’s sweep­ing sur­veil­lance pro­grams.

Sunday’s in­ter­view was Al­ex­an­der’s first since step­ping down from his role at the head of the NSA in March.

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