NSA Chief Suggests Limited Data Collection

Gen. Keith Alexander said the agency would give a proposal to Congress in coming weeks.

General Keith Alexander, Director of the National Security Agency, testifies before the House Select Intelligence Committee June 18, 2013 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony on the topic of 'how the disclosed NSA programs protect Americans from terror attacks on US soil, and why the disclosure of that classified information aids our adversaries.'
National Journal
Jordain Carney
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Jordain Carney
Feb. 28, 2014, 4:57 a.m.

The top of­fi­cial at the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency sug­ges­ted that the scope of its con­tro­ver­sial phone-data col­lec­tion pro­gram could be lim­ited to keep only in­form­a­tion re­lated to ter­ror­ism.

“I think there’s yet an­oth­er op­tion where you look at what data you ac­tu­ally need and get only that data,” NSA Dir­ect­or Keith Al­ex­an­der said, testi­fy­ing at a Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee hear­ing Thursday.

That op­tion, he ad­ded, as­sumes the U.S. can “come up with a cap­ab­il­ity that just gets those that are pre­dic­ated on a ter­ror­ist com­mu­nic­a­tion.”

Al­ex­an­der’s com­ments are a stark con­trast to the NSA’s bulk col­lec­tion of phone metadata that pri­vacy ad­voc­ates, and some mem­bers of Con­gress, have cri­ti­cized. As a former seni­or in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial told The Wash­ing­ton Post last year, the NSA wanted to col­lect “the whole hay­stack” rather than “a single needle in the hay­stack.”

Al­ex­an­der said a pro­pos­al will be sub­mit­ted to Con­gress “over the next sev­er­al weeks.” Each of the op­tions un­der con­sid­er­a­tion to modi­fy the pro­gram has its pros and cons, he said, adding that of­fi­cials are fo­cused on how the pro­gram’s “agil­ity” would be ef­fected.

A pan­el com­mis­sioned by the White House sug­ges­ted last year that phone com­pan­ies or a private third party should hold the metadata, but the in­dustry has shown little in­terest or sup­port for that pro­pos­al. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is cur­rently weigh­ing four op­tions on what to do with the pro­gram.

Al­ex­an­der, who will re­tire this spring, and the NSA have been un­der near con­stant cri­ti­cism since June, when me­dia out­lets began to pub­licly dis­close U.S. in­tel­li­gence-gath­er­ing pro­grams, largely us­ing doc­u­ments provided by former NSA con­tract­or Ed­ward Snowden.

Al­ex­an­der stressed throughout the hear­ing that the Amer­ic­an people need to have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of what the NSA does, and that a “re­set” is needed.

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