Keith Alexander: NSA Makes The Entire Internet Weaker To Protect You From Terrorists

from the those-codes-are-our-codes dept

We’ve had plenty of discussions about how the NSA has weakened our infrastructure and put us all at much greater risk. A big part of the problem, we’ve noted, is the dual role of the NSA and US Cyber Command, in which there’s a combined offensive and defensive role to crack the technologies that “bad guys” are using… while (they tell us) protecting the technologies that we’re using.

In a new interview, former NSA boss General Keith Alexander attempts to defend this weakening of internet security — and, instead, proceeds to explain why it’s such a huge problem:

“When the government asks NSA to collect intelligence on terrorist X, and he uses publicly available tools to encode his messages, it is not acceptable for a foreign intelligence agency like NSA to respond, ‘Sorry we cannot understand what he is saying’,” Alexander told the Australian Financial Review, which he inexplicably granted a 16,000-word interview. “To ask NSA not to look for weaknesses in the technology that we use, and to not seek to break the codes our adversaries employ to encrypt their messages is, I think, misguided. I would love to have all the terrorists just use that one little sandbox over there so that we could focus on them. But they don’t.”

Here’s the problem with that statement though. In admitting that the NSA has to “seek to break the codes our adversaries employ to encrypt their messages,” he’s admitting that they need to do the very same for us. Because the problem for the NSA is that we’re all using the same damn technology. He’s right that he’d prefer it if the “bad guys” used different technologies. But they don’t.

The major issue is that Alexander sees this as an excuse to make everyone less safe. Others who understand security recognize that the cost associated with that is much larger than any benefit. Alexander is admitting that he’d prefer to keep us all less safe if it means being able to read one terrorist’s email. I’m not sure that’s a worthwhile tradeoff, and I’m almost certain that it reflects the opposite view of what the 4th Amendment of our Constitution was designed to portray.

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Comments on “Keith Alexander: NSA Makes The Entire Internet Weaker To Protect You From Terrorists”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

This is a bit off topic, but I recall stories my dad would tell, if he got drunk enough, of how he would have to shoot women and kids in Vietnam because some of them were strapped up with explosives.

I’m not sure if you were being sarcastic or not, but women can be terrorists, and kids can be used as terrorists. This can happen not only through someone being an enemy from the getgo, but also from us CREATING enemies.

Anonymous Coward says:

Gen. Alexander (who is no longer head of the NSA since he retired) has been stated to get what he wants from laws and the like. Here’s a suggestion for him since that is the case.

Let’s get him to make a law that all terrorists have to wear a red head band. That way he can identify them.

Online his law can be they have to put in bold letters no smaller than 10 points that they are a terrorist.

This should take care of his concerns. /s

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Re:


In general, people are really bad at assessing risks from uncommon events.

You’re much more at risk of injury/death from an accident in a car than from a plane crash. But the news for a month and a half has been about a plane crash, so people are more scared of flying and sometimes choose to drive instead. They’ve made themselves less safe in traveling.

Historically, people are far more at risk from their own government than an outside group. Governments already have a large degree of control over their citizens, so even the slightest abuse can cause massive harm. We’re also far more at risk from criminals stealing money via data breaches and identity theft than we are from terrorists.

I’m not at all worried about terrorists encrypting their communication, since the likelihood of myself or the people I know being hurt in a terrorist attack is vanishingly small. But I am worried about the government having too much control and abusing the citizens they’re supposed to be protecting and who the ones they’re supposed to be answerable to (in a western democracy at least). And I am worried about my bank account or credit card information leaking from poor security and unfixed flaws, since it is more likely and will cause me far more hassle.

Anonymous Coward says:

terrorism: the new witchcraft

Those pesky terrorists again. If not for them, we almost wouldn’t even need a government (as governments have always existed to protect us from some dreadful evil – often an exaggerated, imagined or even supernatural one)

Terrorism will also be the US government’s likely “justification” for destroying Bitcoin:

“After attracting attention from law enforcement, financial regulators and old-school Wall Street investors, bitcoin is now on the U.S. military?s radar as a possible terrorist threat.”

American Patriot says:

These NSA jack-holes and their bosses...

…remind me of those old Pace Picante sauce commercials.

Where the cow pokes are all sitting around and the cook is discovered to have used salsa from New York City…

And the offended look around and finally realize the solution to their problem is at hand.

“Get’a rope!”

Anonymous Coward says:

Gen. Alexander is an actual traitor to the US.

Remamber that part of the Oath of Office that people take:

…To defend the United States from enemies, foreign and domestic…

He has obviously forgotten the domestic part, otherwise, had he looked in the mirror, he qould have seen what he had become.

David says:

Fourth amendment anybody?

It’s about hard limits for the government’s access to its subjects’ assets.

Which include all purported terrorists.


To ask NSA not to look for weaknesses in the technology that we use, and to not seek to break the codes our adversaries employ to encrypt their messages is

not, as Alexander states, “misguided” but the law. Fingers off.

Where we are talking about the communications of somebody in particular, where there is probable cause as required by law, one can get a court order to retain the respective communications and/or records.

Without a probable cause certified by court order, it is fingers off. That is the law and the constitution that Alexander has been sworn unto, and if he considers it “misguided” to keep his oath and tells others to break theirs, he is an enemy of the United States and is aiding and comforting enemies of the United States, telling them it is ok to break their oaths and become enemies to the constitution they have taken an oath on.

Gneral Keith Alexander says:

Re: Fourth amendment anybody?


Thank you for declaring your self-radicalized, domestic terrorist status. I’m dispatching the FBI and US Marshalls to collect and subject you to extrajudicial custody and interrrogation.

By the way if you go all Cliven Bundy on us and call your fiends to defend you from us, your government representatives, you have been declared an enemy combatant and should prepare for immediate MQ-1 Hellfire delivery.

Respectfully submitted,

General Keith Alexander

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

–Does being in politics and power make almost all these chaps go crazy, or what?

Well some people do like to play God and having power over others is one way to pretend you are God.

Imagine a setup like Star Trek NG where a machine can instantly produce whatever you want and you don’t even need money. Place todays politicians there and they would be conspiring on how to restrict the use of replicators for some subset of the population so they can gain control over others.

zip says:

“since the likelihood of myself or the people I know being hurt in a terrorist attack is vanishingly small.”

But “likelihood” has no relationship to government spending to try to reduce that likelihood. The US taxpayers’ “terrorism tax bill” for the last dozen years works out to at least a billion dollars for every person killed by terrorism in the last hundred years. And about half of that amount related to the ridiculous Iraq war (much of which won’t be billed for decades to come).

Conversely, the government did absolutely nothing about the greatest dangers to life and health — smoking and (seatbelt-less) cars — for most of their history. Ideally, the cost of prevention should be proportional to likelihood. But the difference in government spending on a per-person-killed basis is astronomical.

Anonymous Coward says:

I would love to have all the terrorists just use that one little sandbox over there so that we could focus on them. But they don?t.

I would disagree.

When I want to find the newest [file sharing] /[pron] / [social media] website, I search news sites for that information. I don’t know it. But – the newest isn’t what I am using.

So, the terrorists are probably not using the oldest – they would probably be using the newest since it is still unknown.

I mean – I haven’t heard of the USPS distributing terrorist instructions for a while…and don’t remember the last time a account was used for bad (other than nigerian emails)…but i do know that Lababit was turned off…and I didn’t know who they were until it was too late.

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