Keith Alexander: We Need More Spying In The Future Because All Of Our Previous Spying Has Only Increased The Number Of Terrorist Attacks

from the No-Such-Agency:-no-such-thing-as-'too-much-surveillance' dept

The New Yorker has published excerpts of a lengthy interview with retired NSA head Gen. Keith Alexander. Along with the usual defenses of the surveillance apparatus he ran for eight years (with his fiery "collect it all" attitude), Alexander makes the case for continued pervasive surveillance while admitting the last decade-plus of spying hasn't made the US -- or the world -- any safer.

[T]hink about how secure our nation has been since 9/11. We take great pride in it. It’s not because of me. It’s because of those people who are working, not just at N.S.A. but in the rest of the intelligence community, the military, and law enforcement, all to keep this country safe. But they have to have tools. With the number of attacks that are coming, the probability, it’s growing—

- I’m sorry, could you say that once more?

The probability of an attack getting through to the United States, just based on the sheer numbers, from 2012 to 2013, that I gave you—look at the statistics. If you go from just eleven thousand to twenty thousand, what does that tell you? That’s more. That’s fair, right?

- I don’t know. I think it depends what the twenty thousand—

—deaths. People killed. From terrorist attacks. These aren’t my stats. The University of Maryland does it for the State Department.

- I’ll look at them. I will. So you’re saying that the probability of an attack is growing.

The probability is growing. What I saw at N.S.A. is that there is a lot more coming our way. Just as someone is revealing all the tools and the capabilities we have. What that tells me is we’re at greater risk. I can’t measure it. You can’t say, Well, is that enough to get through? I don’t know.
Alexander says the world is less safe despite the NSA's nearly completely unchecked programs, but he still insists more spying will make us more safe. This follows shortly after Alexander rehashed the same, provably-wrong story that the nation's surveillance and investigative agencies simply didn't have enough "tools" to prevent the 9/11 attacks.

And as for those ultra-scary terrorist attack numbers, a little context goes a long way. Marcy Wheeler at Emptywheel notes that these rising numbers are concentrated in the areas of the world where terrorist attacks are simply part of everyday life.
Although terrorist attacks occurred in 93 different countries, they were heavily concentrated geographically. More than half of all attacks (57%), fatalities (66%), and injuries (73%) occurred in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. By wide margin, the highest number of fatalities (6,378), attacks (2,495) and injuries (14,956) took place in Iraq.
This isn't the US becoming less safe thanks to increasing terrorism. This is about areas of the world where the US has inserted itself -- via concentrated surveillance efforts, military intervention, drone strikes, etc. -- and managed to make the situation worse for the residents of those countries.

What Alexander points to as evidence that spying should continue unabated is actually an implicit admission that the War on Terror has been lost. This has been the nation's primary focus since 2001 and the number of violent acts only continues to increase. But Alexander feels these numbers point to a "failure" on the NSA's part -- but that "failure" is chalked up to a lack of "tools," rather than an admission that mass, untargeted spying is rarely useful.

Alexander bemoans the "harm" done by the Snowden leaks while simultaneously laying bare the failure of the US government to do anything more than exacerbate existing problems. He seems to think we're due for another attack. If the past is any indication, all the spying in the world won't prevent it. It didn't prevent the 2001 attack. And having every program in place, combined with a decade of technological advancements, didn't prevent the Boston Bombing.

If this seems worrying coming from someone who just exited the Head Spy job, just think about what this mindset means for Alexander's future endeavors. Here's Wheeler:
We shouldn’t be surprised that we’re losing a war fighting which Alexander was one of the longest tenured generals (though I don’t think he bears primary responsibility for the policy decisions that have led to this state). After all, last year, Alexander said that also under his watch, we had been plundered like a colony via cyberattacks. He seems to think he lost both the war on terror and on cyberattacks.

Which, if you’re invested in Wall Street, ought to alarm you. Because that’s where Keith Alexander is headed to wage war next.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    silverscarcat (profile), May 20th, 2014 @ 6:42am

    Of course it hasn't made us more safe.

    If it did, then it couldn't expand further.

     

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    BentFranklin (profile), May 20th, 2014 @ 7:21am

    Terrorism is the use of fear to affect policy. General Alexander uses fear to affect policy.

     

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      mcinsand, May 20th, 2014 @ 9:10am

      terrorism goals

      Furthermore, terrorism in current contexts is usually about using fear of an attack to force societies to give up the freedoms that we in the west have generally taken for granted: freedom to educate women, freedom from oppressive/intrusive governments, privacy. The Patriot Act was the greatest victory ever handed to any terrorist organization, since it explicitly undermined the Fourth Amendment to the constitution, as did the following actions by the NSA and FISA. Those that furthered those actions, those attacks against our Constitution, need to be treated as Al Quaida's accomplices.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2014 @ 10:38am

        Re: terrorism goals

        In fewer words...

        The American Government is the #1 Terrorist that Americans need to be concerned with!

         

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    TheResidentSkeptic (profile), May 20th, 2014 @ 8:13am

    The root equation for all government "speak"

    FUD = FUNDING

    Until this is changed... nothing will change.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2014 @ 9:24am

    Evidence of likelihood of domestic attacks...

    Looking at history, what was the cause of Oklahoma City? Government abuse of citizens in Waco. More government abuse increases the likelihood that someone will strike back in retaliation. By all accounts government abuse of the citizenry is at an all time high making the likelihood of retaliatory strikes much higher.

     

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    kenichi tanaka (profile), May 20th, 2014 @ 9:31am

    "Our previous spying has increased the number of attacks"? Seriously? Keith Alexander is a complete moron.

    First, previous spying has increased terrorist attacks? I want to know where. The moron who tried to set his underwear on fire? The moron who tried to turn his car into a bomb and then locked his car keys in his car, which he was caught when he tried to retrieve something from his car? The moron who tried to set his shoes on fire?

    Second, the previous attempts in which his agency was caught spying on terrorists in the first place?

    The whole of spying on someone is NOT TO GET CAUGHT DOING SO. If Keith Alexander's agency got caught spying, the it's obvious that his agency is not very good at it.

    I repeat, Keith Alexander's agency spying on terrorists, they're not very good at it if they caught spying in the first place.

    LOLS

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2014 @ 9:38am

    Lets see, you use drones to kill suspected terrorists. You zoom in on the GPS of the cell phone to locate. You don't know that the terrorists have caught on and have mixed up the chips in the phones so it no longer reports accurately who has what phone.

    Then you send a missile to take out that target and instead take out a wedding party or a funeral possession that had nothing to do with terrorism. Or send a missile into a house that only innocents are there and kill them.

    In an effort to cover your tracks you claim everyone over 16 years old is a terrorist whether they are or not.

    When the UN decides to investigate over war crimes you refuse to provide that information from the drone cameras.

    In the end the collateral damage you have created with people hating you for killing innocent victims turns into a recruiting theme for the terrorists.

    Surely it's just spying that is causing an increase in terrorism, uh? We don't have to talk about how willingly blind the government is officially to the public about this.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2014 @ 9:38am

    who knows, perhaps not pissing off just about every country on the Planet with the attitude the USA government and security forces have, the 'we can do whatever we want, period, but you can only do what we allow' could lead to less terrorism? maybe giving it a try may prove worthwhile, although the terrorist attacks would definitely ramp up. all you need to do is ask the same forces that are supposed to be protecting us!!

     

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    tomczerniawski, May 20th, 2014 @ 9:42am

    This is precisely what they want.

    More terrorism = more NSA funding.

    More NSA funding = more terrorism.

    NSA and Al-Qaeda, sitting in a tree...

    (There's a reason why, as we speak, the CIA is arming and funding Al Qaeda in Syria. They're courting another repeat of 9/11. All it will take to silence USGov's critics, and turn Americans into unquestioning patriots for a few more years, is another spectacular terror attack on US soil. Then the NSA and CIA will have free rein for another while, to expand their powers, until their momentum is once again undercut by the sheer number of atrocities they commit.)

     

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      Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2014 @ 11:55am

      Who needs patriots?

      Honestly, I don't get why they're so incredibly skittish. The public has been reading leak after leak for months now, and what have the repercussions been? A jet deal got canceled, some diplomatic meetings became highly awkward; nothing behind-the-scenes powermongers should care about.

      Really, why aren't they going all-in? Sending hit squads to execute world leaders in broad daylight; declaring martial law and a new world order, that sort of thing. After all this time, what repercussions could they possibly still be afraid of?

       

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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2014 @ 9:47am

    This is like using the argument:

    " - You see that rock in your yard?
    - Yeah, I do.
    - Have you ever had a death in your family since that rock was there?
    - No, I didn't.
    - See! That rock has been protecting you against the evils of the world all along!"

    It's a BS argument with no basis in reality and no proof to back it up. If all of their spying would've worked, then we would see stopped terrorist plots in their documents. But we saw none.

    Stop lying NSA. Nobody believes you anyway.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2014 @ 9:50am

    Sir, the fire we set isn't putting out the fire.
    Obviously less fire isn't working; ADD MORE FIRE!

     

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    Trevor, May 20th, 2014 @ 10:02am

    Um...

    Hail Hydra?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2014 @ 10:07am

    Anything to keep the machine running ey?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2014 @ 10:09am

    This also gives an entity the ability to do shit like never before and have a higher degree of getting away with it, on "metadata" alone

    This is a TRUST issue, in the same vain as "if you have nothing too hide", well,"if you dont have the fucking tools"

    Oh!Governments, treaties....if you have nothing to hide???
    Works both ways, except, you hiding something affects a hell of alot more folks, you, with out a doubt, are a MUCH MUCH more higher priority in disclosing, it stupifies me that it is reversed, makes me godamn suspicious

     

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    Vincent Clement (profile), May 20th, 2014 @ 10:17am

    Oh, I don't know, bringing your troops back to USA soil would save more lives and save more money than increasing spying. But that is too simple of a solution.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2014 @ 10:26am

    Why does Keith Alexander hate America?

    20K dead? Pfffft. A pinprick. Unimportant. Negligible. That's a tiny price to pay for freedom, liberty, privacy and the rest of the Constitution -- and I would think that someone who taken the military oath of service would realize that. Maybe slinking, lying, miserable coward Keith Alexander is afraid -- but those of us who are proud and patriotic Americans are not.

     

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    gorehound (profile), May 20th, 2014 @ 11:16am

    The US Government is fully corrupt, is a bully to other Nations, spies on the World, breaks our 4th Amendment among other things..............here's hoping that they really feel the heat.I hate this Government ! Fuck the US Patent Office too and the USTR !!
    Fuck em' all !
    Hope to see more Tech start overseas in more friendly Nations.Hope to see more Nations give the MAFIAA the two fingered salute too.

    These spying supporters have told so many lies.And so many fools have ate those lies and come back for more food off the table of their masters.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2014 @ 12:27pm

    "The probability of an attack getting through to the United States, just based on the sheer numbers, from 2012 to 2013, that I gave you—look at the statistics. If you go from just eleven thousand to twenty thousand, what does that tell you?"

    That the policy in place (adding more surveillance) isn't working.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2014 @ 12:29pm

    Keith Alexander is garbage who is only interested in his pocketbook.

     

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    Michael, May 20th, 2014 @ 12:37pm

    If you go from just eleven thousand to twenty thousand, what does that tell you?

    That we need to work on adding basic statistics to our education programs?

     

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    tomczerniawski, May 20th, 2014 @ 12:44pm

    Hey Keith?

    It's great that your NSA purports to stop terrorists. But the moment I begin suspecting your NSA of conducting total surveillance, your value as terror-stoppers ceases to exist, and you become a source of terror yourselves. Terrorists, at best, kill thousands. Fascism kills millions.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2014 @ 1:14pm

    Alexander says the world is less safe despite the NSA's nearly completely unchecked programs, but he still insists more spying will make us more safe.


    You just don't get it. If we put the last straw onto the haystack, it will break the camel's back and then Al Qaeda will have to walk.

     

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    Zem, May 20th, 2014 @ 5:45pm

    So what he really is saying. We spied more. There were more terrorist attacks. Therefore in the future we should spy even more. qed even more terrorist attacks.

    Who's bloody side is he on?

     

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    Mr Big Content, May 20th, 2014 @ 11:34pm

    Our Freedoms Are Safe Here In The USA

    Our freedoms are safe, not like in these foreign places. You know why? Because of the Second Amendment. The Government knows, if it ever tried to trample on any of our IMPORTANT rights, our guns would be out and trained on them like a ton of bricks.

    So don't sweat the small stuff. We can sleep safe at night, with that ultimate guarantor of our rights close at hand, under that pillow.

     

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    David, May 21st, 2014 @ 5:49am

    Humph.

    Although terrorist attacks occurred in 93 different countries, they were heavily concentrated geographically. More than half of all attacks (57%), fatalities (66%), and injuries (73%) occurred in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

    Well, drone attacks on sovereign ground with civil casualties certainly count as terrorist attacks, so I expect a lot of those additional casualties to be directly accountable to U.S. killings.

    Of course, those trigger sentiments that then result in combat activities against the U.S. state-driven terrorism, leading to further casualties for which the U.S. is ultimately responsible.

    And the answer is to heap more manure on human rights and civility.

    The U.S. has grown into a nation of savages.

     

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    John Moore, May 21st, 2014 @ 12:05pm

    This article is just wrong

    I can't join the NRA jeering crowd here in the comments. The article simply misstates what Alexander said. Go some place reputable and read the whole interview.

    First, Alexander did not say that NSA had made no difference. In fact, he pointed dozens of cases where it had. The US was safer due to these programs.

    Second, he demonstrated clearly how this program would most probably have prevented 9-11.

    Finally, it would be preposterous to believe that such a program did not add to safety. If it is strong enough to worry people about privacy, then it is strong enough to detect terrorist plots. Contrary to fictional portrayals, terrorists aren't supermen or evil geniuses. They are, however, not completely stupid, which is why they have changed their encryption since Snowden let them know how they were being tracked.

     

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      Anonymous, May 21st, 2014 @ 4:29pm

      Re: This article is just wrong

      What's the NRA got to do with it?

       

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        Pragmatic, May 22nd, 2014 @ 8:16am

        Re: Re: This article is just wrong

        It's all right-wing crapola, and the alphabet soup of abbreviations all mean the same thing; "Violence is awesome and due process gets in the way of getting $hit done."

        That's what the NRA has got to do with it. John Moore sides with Alexander because he's identified himself with the True Patriots - you know, the kind who cheerlead drone strikes, etc.

         

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