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.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Pixelation, May 8th, 2014 @ 9:01am

    I bet he wishes those darn terrorists wouldn't hide among women and children too. oh well, collateral damage and all that.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 8th, 2014 @ 9:19am

    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

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 8th, 2014 @ 9:28am

    I fear the NSA more than alQaeda.

     

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

  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 8th, 2014 @ 9:33am

    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. militaryís radar as a possible terrorist threat."

    http://www.ibtimes.com/bitcoin-terrorist-threat-counterterrorism-program-names-virtual-curre ncies-area-interest-1579699

     

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  5.  
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    American Patriot, May 8th, 2014 @ 9:36am

    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!"

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 8th, 2014 @ 9:36am

    Where do I vote?

    And when do I get to choose security over privacy for myself?

    I think I'd have to go with privacy, because at this point, the NSA doesn't make me feel any safer anyway.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 8th, 2014 @ 9:37am

    Re:

    Oh thanks... so now if I wear a red headband, I'll look just like the bad guys? Sounds like profiling to me.

    I think your law is no better than theirs.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 8th, 2014 @ 9:40am

    Re:

    Who says some of the terrorists aren't women and children already...

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 8th, 2014 @ 10:04am

    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.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 8th, 2014 @ 10:07am

    Never knew that waving a white flag while lashing out on your own people is a valid counter-terrorism measure. Thanks Keith...



    ...thanks for nothing.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 8th, 2014 @ 10:12am

    Re:

    Yeah, how dare they hide in their own homes!

     

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

  12.  
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    James T, May 8th, 2014 @ 10:22am

    ROT security

    The NSA prefers ROT-26 encryption wherever possible.

     

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  13.  
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    AjStechd (profile), May 8th, 2014 @ 10:23am

    How about we take a vote in the U.S.? We'll just see how many are willing to take their chances with a handful of actual terrorists from time to time OR continue having government protect us by stripping away freedoms, money and dignity.

     

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  14.  
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    zip, May 8th, 2014 @ 10:23am

    Re: These NSA jack-holes and their bosses...

    It was the terrorism that almost wiped out a company. Pace picante sauce had one of the most successful ad campaigns in the country, and Bin Ladin had to go and ruin it.

     

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  15.  
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    David, May 8th, 2014 @ 10:24am

    Fourth amendment anybody?

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

    Which include all purported terrorists.

    So
    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.

     

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  16.  
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    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), May 8th, 2014 @ 10:32am

    Re:

    +1.

    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.

     

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  17.  
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    Gneral Keith Alexander (profile), May 8th, 2014 @ 10:37am

    Re: Fourth amendment anybody?

    David,

    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

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 8th, 2014 @ 10:47am

    The only way the world will have true peace, is when all of us humans are dead. The NSA , every other spy org, insane government lobbying people, ALL need to be nuked.
    Does being in politics and power make almost all these chaps go crazy, or what?

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 8th, 2014 @ 11:06am

    From Orbit

    Let's just take off and nuke the site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    zip, May 8th, 2014 @ 11:06am

    "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.

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 8th, 2014 @ 11:15am

    Re: From Orbit

    Ironically, I suspect the U.S. government has considered this as their contingency plan in the event that terrorism (i.e. revolution) breaks out domestically all over the country.

    Perhaps at least the government officials will survive the attack, well, the ones that matter anyway.

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 8th, 2014 @ 11:16am

    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.

     

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

  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 8th, 2014 @ 11:21am

    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.

     

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  24.  
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    limbodog (profile), May 8th, 2014 @ 11:39am

    Question

    At this point, does anyone believe that the NSA works against terrorists and isn't just an arm of the corporate copyright/patent espionage service?

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 8th, 2014 @ 11:50am

    Re: Question

    No, but only because of their very flexible definition of terrorist.

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 8th, 2014 @ 12:13pm

    Re: Re:

    Get out your magnifying glass and go over that post you answered to very carefully. I mean look at it really, really, really, closely. You might find there was a /s in the end indicating that it was sarcasm. I'm sure you must have missed it.

     

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

  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 8th, 2014 @ 12:16pm

    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 donít.

    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 gmail.com 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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  28.  
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    Anonymous, May 8th, 2014 @ 4:36pm

    By golly, whatever they're doing is working. No terrorist has bombed, shot, or gassed me through the internet yet. Keep up the good work, fellas!

     

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  29.  
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    McCrea (profile), May 8th, 2014 @ 8:38pm

    If they claim it's for our protection, then it would follow that after they break the current latest technology to harm their enemies, that they would implement newer bleeding-edge technology for the citizens they are purporting to protect.

     

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  30.  
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    Wig, May 9th, 2014 @ 12:45am

    When will the NSA itself be considered a terrorist organization by other countries?

     

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  31.  
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    Lurker Keith, May 9th, 2014 @ 1:18am

    Classified

    They most likely already are, but that designation has been Classified - Top Secret by them all.

     

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

  32.  
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    Informed Citizen, May 9th, 2014 @ 12:15pm

    Re: Traitor Really

    He has devoted his life to defending America so Jack Ass like you can have the freedom to say what ever kinda crap you feel like. Gullible maybe, Traitor no way!

     

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

  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 9th, 2014 @ 10:56pm

    Re: Where do I vote?

    You don't get to choose. You, like everyone else, are government property (see the PP-ACA). The only differentiation is which government.

     

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


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