Former NSA Director: ‘An Attack Is Going to Come’

Keith Alexander sees poor PR, not illegal surveillance programs, as the agency’s biggest failure.

National Journal
Kaveh Waddell
June 6, 2014, 1:10 a.m.

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Keith Al­ex­an­der blames the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency’s poor com­mu­nic­a­tion with the pub­lic for the loss of trust and tar­nished im­age it has suffered since the first Snowden leaks ex­actly one year ago.

“We’ve got to have a way of put­ting the facts out so that the Amer­ic­an people know,” the former NSA dir­ect­or said in an in­ter­view with CNN’s Chris­ti­ane Aman­pour on Thursday. “Be­cause I do think an at­tack is go­ing to come and hit us or Europe, and then people are go­ing to swing this right around.”

Al­ex­an­der said that the NSA “got way be­hind in the me­dia on this.” But he said his former em­ploy­er is not the only one at fault. “The me­dia took off with a lot of in­form­a­tion that wasn’t fac­tu­ally cor­rect,” he said.

The former dir­ect­or sug­ges­ted a “re­set,” but cla­ri­fied that he’s not pro­pos­ing chan­ging NSA policy. “I’m not talk­ing about tak­ing the pro­grams off the table. I think what we’ve done a ter­rible job in is ex­plain­ing what those pro­grams do.”

A bill to re­form the NSA that has passed the House would cur­tail NSA op­er­a­tions by end­ing bulk col­lec­tion of Amer­ic­ans’ metadata, lim­it­ing elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance pro­grams like PRISM, and al­low­ing com­pan­ies to dis­close gov­ern­ment re­quests for their cus­tom­ers’ data.

Al­ex­an­der warned against any move that would dis­mantle the NSA’s struc­ture.

“There are a series of pro­grams; each of those help us build the pic­ture. And if you start tak­ing some of those off the table, the ques­tion is, when does it be­come too dif­fi­cult for the ana­lysts to con­clude what happened? That’s how 9/11 oc­curred.”

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