Gen. Alexander Can’t Access Daughters' Emails, Says NSA Only Interested in Terrorists

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Joe Franscella


Las Vegas - Black Hat 2013 – On Wednesday, National Security Agency (NSA) Director General Keith Alexander informed a rather tame crowd (with the exception of one or two hecklers) that his agency isn’t interested in phone or other digital communications unless they impact foreign intelligence gathering or involve known or suspected terrorists. He emphasized that congressional oversight, court rulings and regulations stop even him – a four-star general – from reading average Americans’ emails or listening in on phone calls. “I have four daughters, can I go and intercept their emails … no,” quipped the general to a chuckling crowd which applauded his organization’s activities at the end of his presentation.

As part of his opening-day keynote, he emphasized that over the past couple of years legal mandates giving his organization the authority to intercept and review communications have stopped upwards of 57 planned terrorist activities against the US and its allies. In all cases, operatives involved handled intelligence gathering under strict oversight, which includes a lengthy audit trail and multiple “permission” layers, said the NSA’s head.

He further justified the NSA’s digital intelligence gathering through a slide deck showing that since 2012, the NSA has only focused on 500 telephone numbers and calls that it believes were/are linked to threats against the US.

“We don’t go after everything,” said Alexander. “We just want to find the terrorists among us.”

Not more than two in the standing-room-only audience of more than 3,000 attendees heckled and jeered the general with challenges to NSA programs they described as “Bullshit.”

“Read the Constitution,” exclaimed one of the hecklers.

“I have, you should too,” responded the general.

A day after Alexander told the Black Hat audience that the NSA isn’t interested in the day-to-day digital activities of Americans, The Atlantic Wire broke a story about a husband and wife whose home was raided by a gun-wielding anti-terrorism task force after each had searched “backpacks” and “pressure cookers” on Google. Although the article did make it clear that there are specific boundaries the NSA says it must operate within, it was not clear how or why the task force received information about the couple. You can read the article here.

Joe Franscella’s (@joefranscella) articles typically include Twitter account links, however, neither General Alexander nor the NSA have official Twitter accounts.

Related ReadingNSA Director's Black Hat Talk Draws Mixed Reviews (SecurityWeek)

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