NSA Bosses Mantra: Who Cares What The Law Says, 'Collect It All'

from the law-enforcement's-job-isn't-supposed-to-be-easy dept

The Washington Post has a profile of NSA boss Keith Alexander in which they make it clear that his passion is to "collect it all" when it comes to data.
“Rather than look for a single needle in the haystack, his approach was, ‘Let’s collect the whole haystack,’ ” said one former senior U.S. intelligence official who tracked the plan’s implementation. “Collect it all, tag it, store it. . . . And whatever it is you want, you go searching for it.”
Others have certainly reported on this before, including long-time NSA watcher James Bamford, but more and more people are realizing how the NSA functions these days. Combine the "collect it all" mentality with the fact that Alexander is the head of both the NSA, which is supposed to do signal intelligence, and the US Cyber Command, which is supposed to handle cyber security, and you have a clear conflict of interests that can lead to some sticky situations.
“He is the only man in the land that can promote a problem by virtue of his intelligence hat and then promote a solution by virtue of his military hat,” said one former Pentagon official, voicing a concern that the lines governing the two authorities are not clearly demarcated and that Alexander can evade effective public oversight as a result. The former official spoke on the condition of anonymity to be able to talk freely.
Remember how we just had the talking points that the NSA used with the media concerning the Utah Bluffdale data center. In those talking points, the NSA played up the US Cyber Command aspects, and how they were "partnering" with tech companies for that purpose. They left out almost entirely the surveillance side of things. And that's the problem. The NSA under Alexander can hide under the claim that they're trying to "protect our networks" allowing them to avoid admitting that they're collecting everything and spying on everyone.

Furthermore, the moral panics and FUD that Alexander spews to make his job easier is really quite sickening:
“Everyone also understands,” he said, “that if we give up a capability that is critical to the defense of this nation, people will die.”
You can't have perfect security, and there are serious tradeoffs that Alexander doesn't seem to care about in collecting all data. There's little actual evidence that these activities have really prevented anything serious that couldn't have been prevented via more traditional means.

Furthermore, there's a key point in all of this that often gets ignored: the US Constitution was put in place, on purpose, with the idea that "making law enforcement's job easier" is not a valid excuse. The whole point of civil liberties is that we recognize that we give people more freedoms and that means law enforcement's job is harder. But we think that's a good thing, because we trust that on the whole, keeping the innocent from being spied upon and accused is much more important that stopping every possible crime or finding every criminal. But, General Alexander and others in the NSA appear to want to flip this concept on its head. And that's incredibly dangerous.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Jul 15th, 2013 @ 3:04pm

    Oh, let's name "tech companies", starting with Google.

    And see how much help it gets:

    NSA is quietly writing code for Google’s Android OS

    http://refreshingnews99.blogspot.in/2013/07/nsa-is-quietly-writing-code-for-googles.html

    US blocks crackdown on tax avoidance by net firms like Google and Amazon

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2013/jul/14/us-tax-avoidance-google-amazon

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 15th, 2013 @ 3:05pm

    '“Everyone also understands,” he said, “that if we give up a capability that is critical to the defense of this nation, people will die.”'

    Yes, I do understand that. But, two things:

    1) I dispute that the phone metadata for the entire country is "critical to the defense of the nation".

    2) People MAY die, but sometimes that is the tradeoff. Perhaps fewer people would die if police were allowed to put people in prison without all the proper evidence. If the NYPD could just imprison some of those young black males instead of merely frisking them... why, the murder rate probably would drop. The police often know who the gang members are, after all. But I think we can all agree that this would NOT be an acceptable thing to do, even if it would save lives. Lives saved are important, but sometimes liberty is more important.

     

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  3.  
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    RD, Jul 15th, 2013 @ 3:05pm

    if you collect the whole haystack and *then* go looking for the needle, you are going to find needles everywhere you look.

     

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  4.  
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    Mark Murphy (profile), Jul 15th, 2013 @ 3:25pm

    Re: Oh, let's name "tech companies", starting with Google.

    As I wrote previously:

    The code in question is SE for Android, an Android-specific derivation of SELinux. SELinux has been part of mainstream Linux distros for a decade. While the NSA did contribute code to SELinux, SELinux is a standalone open source project with many contributors, and, more importantly, reviewers. Ditto for SE for Android.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 15th, 2013 @ 3:25pm

    It's not that people "may die", we all have that debt to pay at some point in our life. Question is when, not if.

    This is not a valid reason to violate the Constitution to generate a Stazi government. This whole spying business is out of hand.

    The problem with hunting haystacks for needles is the same one that the Stazi had. We're collecting their data so they must be guilty of something. After all we took the time to collect it. Add to this secret government laws no one knows about but those involved with this spying arm and suddenly you are up for charges you never knew existed. That's not what democracy is about.

     

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  6.  
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    Bryan (profile), Jul 15th, 2013 @ 3:33pm

    Typo

    "...including long-time NSA watcher James Bradford..."

    I think you mean James Bamford.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 15th, 2013 @ 3:42pm

    Somebody's been playing too much Pokemon.

     

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  8.  
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    jupiterkansas (profile), Jul 15th, 2013 @ 3:43pm

    If you let manufacturers sell hundreds of thousands of firearms, people will die.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous, Jul 15th, 2013 @ 3:45pm

    Re: Oh, let's name "tech companies", starting with Google.

    Is Mike mentioned in OOTB's post? No. Is Techdirt mentioned? No. Is this particular post from OOTB a smear or attack on anyone here? No. Once again it seems a post is flagged for simply being from OOTB, not because of its content.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous, Jul 15th, 2013 @ 3:47pm

    Re:

    Especially if those firearms are purchased by the cops and the military.

     

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  11.  
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    apauld (profile), Jul 15th, 2013 @ 4:14pm

    Re: Re: Oh, let's name "tech companies", starting with Google.

    Google and Amazon are not mentioned in this story; and as such OOTB's comment is off topic.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 15th, 2013 @ 4:15pm

    Effectiveness

    “Everyone also understands,” he said, “that if we give up a capability that is critical to the defense of this nation, people will die.”


    Anyone who understands data analysis realizes that collect everything will swamp the available analysts and police officers, and people will die because of the 'terrorists' that get to carry out an attack. I.e. Boston.

     

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  13.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Jul 15th, 2013 @ 4:23pm

    This week on Hoarders...

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 15th, 2013 @ 4:36pm

    isn't that qoute about Iraq, not that it makes it better

     

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  15.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jul 15th, 2013 @ 4:40pm

    Re: Re: Re: Oh, let's name "tech companies", starting with Google.

    And not just offtopic, but since OOTB makes these off-topic comments on pretty much every article that appears, it's spamming.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 15th, 2013 @ 5:00pm

    Every once in a great while, ootb accidentally gets outside his envelope and actually posts regarding the topic with a rare sensible reply.

    The majority of the time, it's off topic, rants and raves having nothing to do with the post, totally without reference to anything he claims beyond his wild imagination, even when called on it, and frequently dealing with his man crush over Mike.

    It pretty much guarantees all his posts will be reported to hide the village idiot.

     

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  17.  
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    out_of_the_blue, Jul 15th, 2013 @ 5:15pm

    Never off topic

    I'll have you know I have a script to post to specific articles! And since text in this post matched my script it's ALWAYS on-topic just like DMCA takedowns!

    Try to explain that away, MIKE!



    (Did I sound enough like the real ootb? Or do I need to add the "loopy tour" sig?)

     

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  18.  
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    RD, Jul 15th, 2013 @ 5:15pm

    Re: Re: Oh, let's name "tech companies", starting with Google.

    "No. Once again it seems a post is flagged for simply being from OOTB, not because of its content."

    This is not a bug, its a feature.

     

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  19.  
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    shutslar (profile), Jul 15th, 2013 @ 5:19pm

    Some things are worth dieing for.

    “Everyone also understands,” he said, “that if we give up a capability that is critical to the defense of this nation, people will die.”

    Americans throughout history have been willing to die to protect our constitutional freedoms. We'll even die to help protect the freedom of others in foreign lands. I think the government is making a huge assumption (Ass U Me) that we are willing to give up those freedoms for safety.

     

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  20.  
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    Eponymous Coward, Jul 15th, 2013 @ 5:34pm

    Hold on a minute...

    “Everyone also understands,” he said, “that if we give up a capability that is critical to the defense of this nation, people will die.”

    So with enough capabilities of the US goverment we can live forever? Sorry guys, I used to be on board and against these spying programs too, but with this new revelation I'm now down for the cause! Spy on me all you want good guy NSA, wait... is the S for the Singularity?

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 15th, 2013 @ 5:36pm

    I think the government is making a huge assumption (Ass U Me) that we are willing to give up those freedoms for safety.

    So far they've not seen evidence of it from us, have they?

    "So what if they collect all my data-I have nothing to hide!"

    That's the collective mantra of most people in this country.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 15th, 2013 @ 5:46pm

    Re:

    Who said they need evidence from us? We're not the people. "We the people" means only the people on top. Serfs aren't people, remember. They're a labor allocation in a Sid Meier game.


    I wondered what that dream of a giant pink cube descending on me meant...

     

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  23.  
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    Bengie, Jul 15th, 2013 @ 6:04pm

    Ummm

    “that if we give up a capability that is critical to the defense of this nation, people will die.”

    I would like to counter with

    "Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death"


    Talk about pissing on everything the USA was founded on.

     

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  24.  
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    AC Unknown (profile), Jul 15th, 2013 @ 8:22pm

    Re: Never off topic

    Close. Needs more insanity and Google-hate, though.

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 15th, 2013 @ 9:54pm

    Re: Never off topic

    You neglected to brag how that script checks for freshly posted material on TD every 15 seconds in order to always be first to respond to Mike.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    apauld (profile), Jul 15th, 2013 @ 10:25pm

    Re: Never off topic

    sorry to techdirt; but I am going to be that ass**le that does this:

    +1

     

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  27.  
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    bytes (profile), Jul 15th, 2013 @ 10:53pm

    They probably are

    Look at the whole picture. They have phone records, and internet data from different sources. There is not one reason I can think of -as to why they would not be collecting bank records, credit cards records, and I bet you they have travel records as well like where you went how long you stayed etc. They could probably be looking at all of your purchases and rentals too. It's not far fetched just remember what Snowden said; "If he released just half of what he has it would be enough to start a revolution."

    The US Constitution may be the law of the land but they have broken the rules of the US Constitution so many times to where that you can find articles, videos, and the like of people running the Government making jokes of it, and even calling it just a #$%$#$@ piece of paper. ...and the American people continue to ignore what is going on.

     

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  28.  
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    Mega1987 (profile), Jul 16th, 2013 @ 5:07am

    Pokemon mode?

    O_O

    Pokemon mode?

    As it gotta catch 'em all?

    good luck containing all of these data in a second by the thousands, if not millions...

     

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  29.  
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    The Real Michael, Jul 16th, 2013 @ 5:36am

    Re:

    Our Constitutional rights are the only thing standing between us and an abusive government. If the government wishes to violate our rights, there can only be one reason: they want to control us.

     

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  30.  
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    The Real Michael, Jul 16th, 2013 @ 5:40am

    Re: Some things are worth dieing for.

    It's not that they're making a huge assumption but rather making excuses in order to justify abuse of authority.

     

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  31.  
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    Ninja (profile), Jul 16th, 2013 @ 5:42am

    Re: Re: Never off topic

    Asshole? Let me join you.

     

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  32.  
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    Pragmatic, Jul 16th, 2013 @ 5:43am

    Re: Re: Oh, let's name "tech companies", starting with Google.

    ...and unfortunately were ignored because the Crazy Copyright Lady doesn't inhabit our reality.

     

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  33.  
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    Pragmatic, Jul 16th, 2013 @ 5:44am

    Re: Re: Oh, let's name "tech companies", starting with Google.

    Resorting to sock puppetry, are we, Cathy? I see what you did there.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
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    The Real Michael, Jul 16th, 2013 @ 5:50am

    Re: They probably are

    "It's not far fetched just remember what Snowden said; 'If he released just half of what he has it would be enough to start a revolution.'"

    Interesting. Why not go ahead and release it then? I'll go ahead and borrow the NSA's excuse: We have to know what the government is doing in order to keep them safe.

    After all, we're supposed to feel safe when they spy on us, so they shouldn't take issue when the shoe's on the other foot.

     

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  35.  
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    jilocasin, Jul 16th, 2013 @ 6:11am

    to paraphase... badly

    Rookie NSA Analyst: "Sir, how can we make sure we only collect authorized, legal, information on non-US citizens?"

    NSA boss Keith Alexander: "Collect it all, let God...um...FISA...um.. someone sort it out."

    NSA boss Keith Alexander: "On second thought, let just keep it."

     

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  36.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2013 @ 7:23am

    Maybe if the NSA had just focused on the needle instead of the whole haystack, they could have prevented the Boston Marathon bombing. I'm sure they had fun sifting through all of those cat pictures from Facebook though.

     

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  37.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2013 @ 7:31am

    Re: Some things are worth dieing for.

    As Americans, we are founded on the belief that it is better to die free than live under tyranny.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2013 @ 10:12am

    Re: Oh, let's name "tech companies", starting with Google.

    Why was this flagged?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2013 @ 10:13am

    Who cares about copyright law? Just download them all!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
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    Zeissmann (profile), Jul 16th, 2013 @ 1:53pm

    Aerys Targaryen

    "Collect it all"? Keith Alexander sounds a bit like Aerys Targaryen, the Mad King. Who does that make of Ed Snowden?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
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    T, Jul 17th, 2013 @ 6:14pm

    The CONstitution, lol. Were they supposed to follow that? They don't so you can wake the F up now and smell the coffee.

     

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  42.  
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    bytes (profile), Jul 17th, 2013 @ 11:59pm

    Re: Re: They probably are

    You know I somewhat agree with you, but at the same time I get this queezy feeling in the pit of my stomach. Not because of what the Government would do... but because of what the American people won't do. Track record so far for all of this spying is Gov=1 People=0. The people don't care enough, or they are too involved in their gadgets to even care about what is going on around them.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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