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Gen. Keith Alexander On Metadata, Snowden, and the NSA: "We're At Greater Risk" 238

An anonymous reader writes with some snippets pulled from a lengthy Q&A session at The New Yorker with former NSA head Keith Alexander, in which Alexander defends the collection of metadata by U.S. spy agencies both abroad and within the United States: "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? [..] These aren't my stats. The University of Maryland does it for the State Department. [...] 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. It means that the intel community, the military community, and law enforcement are going to work harder."
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Gen. Keith Alexander On Metadata, Snowden, and the NSA: "We're At Greater Risk"

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  • probabilities? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by iggymanz ( 596061 ) on Friday May 16, 2014 @01:03PM (#47018817)

    why is this shithead talking of probabilities? let's talk about REAL attacks. Like the one where the government of an immigrant called our Homeland Security morons and actually warned us about someone. And our Homeland Security statsi did exactly nothing. Then, the person who was the subject of that call blew up the finish area of the Boston Marathon. For that matter, what about 9/11, our intelligence and national police watching those Saudi terrorists for years to see what they would do; well, we saw what they did.

  • Had to check (Score:4, Insightful)

    by lagomorpha2 ( 1376475 ) on Friday May 16, 2014 @01:09PM (#47018877)

    If you go from just eleven thousand to twenty thousand, what does that tell you? That's more. That's fair, right?

    Given who is speaking I had to do some fact checking before accepting it as truth.

  • No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 16, 2014 @01:10PM (#47018883)

    It means that the intel community, the military community, and law enforcement are going to work harder.

    No. It means that your efforts are turning more and more people against the United States of America. It means that your actions have made people hate you more. Rather than putting more efforts into improving people's feelings towards America, you're turning more people against you.

    And it should be noted that it's no longer just foreign individuals who are growing to hate you - your efforts are making more and more Americans hate you too.

    Maybe - and this is just a wild idea here - you should stop being complete asses. You know, stop treating everyone in the damn world like the enemy. Maybe, just maybe, that might help make people hate you less which will probably help reduce the number of actions against you.

    But, let's be honest here, that's not what the power brokers want. The power brokers want to clamp down a polio state upon America and the world at large and the only way to do that is to foster the hate and continue to make America the victim of increasing hostility from malicious interests. You're fostering the hatred because it makes it easier for you and your ilk to justify strengthening the police state that you so dearly want.


  • by mtrachtenberg ( 67780 ) on Friday May 16, 2014 @01:11PM (#47018897) Homepage

    A spymaster asserts spying is important! Details at 11.

  • by alphatel ( 1450715 ) * on Friday May 16, 2014 @01:13PM (#47018919)
    If you own a clothing store and want to prevent theft by increasing security you can:

    Add metal tags to clothing
    Hire more security guards inside the store
    Install cameras in the ceiling and watch shoppers

    The NSA opts instead to
    Ask shoppers to wear metal tags
    Hire agents to follow them after they leave
    Install video cameras in their homes

    And now we call it "America"
  • Irrelevant data (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Friday May 16, 2014 @01:16PM (#47018947) Homepage
    Look, there is no question that spying on people will reveal some crimes.

    There is also no question that spying on people will damage our society. Some innocent people will have their non-criminal secrets revealed, damaging their lives beyond reason. Some innocent people will be falsely accused of crimes they did not commit - perhaps even going to jail or being killed by a drone. Certain people will become accustomed to violating the law for valid reasons and will start to violate it for personal reasons - the cases where US intelligence agents spied on ex-lovers are just the start.

    The question is, is the damage done greater than the damage prevented. From the huge and vast history of spying, we also know that we can not simply take the government's word. Even if they start good, they too often end up going too far.

    So we set up a system that is supposed to not only prevent the worst damage done by spying, but to prevent even the APPEARANCE that that damage might be occurring.

    General Keith Alexander's article talks a lot about the damage the spying prevents. It totally ignores the massive damage he and his ilk does.

    As such it is not convincing at all. It's like a gold miner talking about how much gold they are going to get out of the mountain without even mentioning the massive amounts of toxic materials he is dumping directly into the town's reservoir.

  • Re:probabilities? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Friday May 16, 2014 @01:19PM (#47018983) Journal
    If you had as little to show for your handiwork as he did, and what you did have was as dire as it is, you'd be speaking as vaguely as possible as well...

    The results that the NSA has achieved, apparently a hilarious variety of diplomatically touchy shenanigans extending throughout our alleged allies, are the ones that they just dig the hole deeper by talking about. They blew the pretense that they were playing defense for us and offense only against commie-nazi-fascists ages ago, so any talk about actual examples of competent work just makes them look creepy (and, unfortunately, they are pretty good at mass spying; but they apparently can't turn that into useful results, and their only plan is even more massive mass spying...)

    In the area where they could earn back some PR karma, they basically have fuck all to show, only vague handwaving about how their surveillance could have been so super effective that it stopped attacks before they even became visible, even as it repelled elephants. Unfalsifiabile; but even less satisfying than the assorted 3rd-string idiots the FBI has managed to perp-walk after foiling some pitiful little scheme that they had to be coached through.

    What the agency is good at are mostly things that they would just dig the hole deeper by talking about, and it's what they aren't good at that people would actually want to hear. So, we get vacuous nonsense.
  • by rogoshen1 ( 2922505 ) on Friday May 16, 2014 @01:27PM (#47019043)

    I'd rather take my chances and live in a free society with some "risk" than in an oppressive nanny state that feels the need to increasingly monitor every aspect of my life.

    That's what he's missing, the 'risk' he's talking of is the price to pay for living in a free society.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Friday May 16, 2014 @01:28PM (#47019053) Journal

    We are less likely to be attacked on our own soil right now than we were at any point in the preceding two centuries. That likelihood hit a plateau in the 1970s. The World Trade Center collapse was a statistical anomaly.

    It looks even worse if you consider mortality generally not just the (admittedly emotionally salient; but still just another way of dying) flavor caused by overt enemy action. Even if you entirely disregard the corrosive effects of having a wildly unaccountable intelligence apparatus, which are massive, the NSA's case is pretty tepid even in purely financial terms. If you want to allocate a given dollar to reducing American morbidity and mortality, or increasing American prosperity, you have a pretty strong list of contenders ahead of the various black budgets.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 16, 2014 @01:30PM (#47019059)

    We are less likely to be attacked on our own soil right now than we were at any point in the preceding two centuries. That likelihood hit a plateau in the 1970s. The World Trade Center collapse was a statistical anomaly.

    I was surprised to see Gen. Alexander trotting out the "a life is a life. How many does it take to make it worth it?" fallacy. Amusingly, the General brings up the story of Enigma; it might have saved just one life with regards to the ethical question raised by the semi-apocrypal story of Coventry in WW2.

    When we were up against the Russians, it was "better dead than Red." We were taught not that Communism was evil because it came from Russia, but because Communism requires a system of government that requires pervasive surveillance and monitoring of dissidents.

    There was a time in which Russia and China had more prisoners per capita than America. I remember reading about it as part of a lesson on why parliamentary democracy and representative republics were better than communism.

    There was a time in which the KGB and the Stasi (and their Maoist equivalents, and the events of Tienanmen Square, and even as recently as the Great Firewall of China) were held up to Americans as examples of what not to do.

    "Better dead than Red" is overstating it, and to take such a principle on an absolutist basis would have resulted in MAD over Korea and/or Vietnam. But by that same token, an absolutist adherence to the fallacy of "because it just might save one life" is not an acceptable reason transform the land of the free and the home of the brave into a panopticon, General.

    P.S. When we consider that a single attack that did about $1-2B in damages prompted us not only to disregard our civil liberties, but also to expend multiple trillions of dollars in order to defend against things as banal as plane crashes? A politician might make that tradeoff, because our underinformed electorate tends to fall for "if it saves just one life" at any cost - particularly when a successful attack might result in the loss of a politician's ability to get re-elected. For someone holding the rank of General, he completely fails to understand the principle behind asymettric warfare. And that is why, 13 years after 9/11, regardless of whether we won or lost the battles of Afghanistan and Iraq, we still lost the war.

  • Re:No (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 16, 2014 @01:30PM (#47019061)

    How does this intelligence gathering turn people against us? Everybody in other countries with an ounce of brains in their heads could reasonable assumed that this is going on, and everybody in America with an ounce of brains can reasonably assume that other countries (including our allies) is either doing the same thing or trying to gain the means to do so. The revelations by Snowden only serves to rile up those with their heads in the sand (and inflate his sense of self-worth), but serves little other useful purpose.

  • by stink_eye ( 1582461 ) on Friday May 16, 2014 @01:35PM (#47019109)
    Rather than taking actions that short cuts the Constitution of the United States and infringes the rights of the citizen populace you claim to want to protect. Guess what, if the people of the US have lost faith and trust in the Military, Judiciary, Executive, and Legislative branches, as well as in Law Enfiorcement there is a reason for it. It's not some mass hallucination or mob mis-perception. The US Government has undermined the trust of the populace and now it is reaping the consequences. Don't bitch that the job is now harder because of infringements caused by corruption and incompetance within the highest corridors of power within the U.S.
  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Friday May 16, 2014 @01:37PM (#47019139)

    Well, let's take what he says at face value for a moment.

    Basically, he is arguing the ends justify the means. There's nothing in the US Constitution to support that, though, so it's an invalid argument. The Constitution states - pretty much as absolutes - what our rights as citizens are. There's no "well, you can have this freedom only if it doesn't make things too hard on the police" clause... as far as I can tell, anyway.

    He also says that, because of the Snowden revelations, "the intel community, the military community, and law enforcement are going to work harder." Well, good! If the threat is indeed growing, they *should* work harder. To stop threats against the country and its citizens, they should use every tool that's available to them within the law. But what they *shouldn't* do is violate the constitution or civil laws in pursuit of those goals.

  • A Fair Trial (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AndyCanfield ( 700565 ) <andycanfield@yandex3.14.com minus pi> on Friday May 16, 2014 @02:24PM (#47019637) Homepage
    Some people ask whether Edward Snowden can get a fair trial in the US. The real question is whether Keith Alexander can get a fair trial in the US. He was the head of an organization which was doing illegal things. Will he get a fair trial? Will he get a trial at all? No.
  • by swillden ( 191260 ) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Friday May 16, 2014 @02:38PM (#47019753) Homepage Journal

    I'd rather take my chances and live in a free society with some "risk" than in an oppressive nanny state that feels the need to increasingly monitor every aspect of my life.

    That's what he's missing, the 'risk' he's talking of is the price to pay for living in a free society.


    One of my favorite revolutionary war-era quotes is Jefferson's "What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it's natural manure."

    Normally, we think -- as did Jefferson, I'm sure -- that the "blood of patriots" mentioned is that of citizens fighting to throw off an oppressive government. Sometimes we also think of it as the blood of soldiers defending against tyrannical forces threatening to invade. But it's equally valid to think of it as the blood of innocent citizens which is shed simply because freedom and safety are sometimes at odds with one another. Sometimes, the only way to be safer is to give up some freedom...and it's often not worth it.

    I say "often" because this isn't a black and white issue. There is a balance that has to be found, a balance that takes into account the relative harms and the numbers of people. In this case, I think the right of 300 million US citizens[*] to live free of spying by their own government is really, really big. Moreover, it's also really important to our continued freedom in all areas that we be comfortable speaking our minds, and government spying directly damages that freedom. For example studies have shown that the NSA's actions have had a chilling effect on what reporters are willing to talk about. That's very, very dangerous.

    9/11 was tragic, yes. We should try to avert future large-scale terror attacks, certainly. But against the scale of the nation as a whole, 9/11 -- the largest, most successful terror attack ever -- was a flea bite. It killed fewer people than die on our roads every three weeks, and did less property damage than a major hurricane. We could survive a 9/11 every year and not really feel the pain (as a nation -- obviously the people directly impacted would suffer greatly). And I reiterate that 9/11 was the largest, most successful terror attack ever. That's not the kind of thing that's easy to repeat, or, therefore, very likely to happen again.

    Another serious consideration is that if we allow our government to obtain too much power over us then we might arrive at a point where we need to refresh the tree of liberty via Jefferson's method. That would be far deadlier than a few terror attacks, even big ones.

    We need to accept that we can't have perfect safety. Hell, we can't have it even if we're willing to give up all freedom. So we should accept that part of the cost of freedom is a few lives, and we should honor those people as heroes who unwittingly sacrificed for the freedom of the rest of us. That's a far more effective way to preserve freedom than spending the lives of soldiers in foreign wars while voluntarily giving up the freedoms they're supposedly dying to defend.

    [*]Yes, I realize that non-US citizens also want to live without being spied upon. That's a valid issue, but separate from the point I'm making.

  • by dave562 ( 969951 ) on Friday May 16, 2014 @02:39PM (#47019763) Journal

    The government does a great job of keeping the conversation focused on "terrorism" and the inevitability of it.

    They never allow the dialogue to shift to the causes of terrorism. We never see discussions about the specific foreign policy elements that generate the hatred and anger that leads to people getting to the point where they are willing to sacrifice their lives to inflict harm to the American economy and way of life.

    Until people begin having real conversations about what we are doing, why we are doing it, what the benefits of doing it are, and what the risks associated with it are, this is going to continue.

    Unfortunately it seems that any sort of multi-faceted conversation like that is not of interest to most of the population. Those who are interested in having those conversations have already had them, and decided that the benefits outweigh the risks. Money in their pockets is worth the cost of a few lives and civil liberties.

    It all comes back to the 1%. There is a small portion of the population that is gambling with the lives of everyone else. Everyone else is too disorganized to remove the 1% from power.

    Until people get to the point where they are willing to publicly stand up and say, "I am tired of living in fear for my life so that WE can make money at the expense of the rest of the world." Nothing is going to change. And that is the truth of it. On some level, all of us, ALL OF US, benefit from the current system and are too comfortable with it to do anything more than whine about it online.

  • Re:probabilities? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 16, 2014 @03:31PM (#47020291)

    Our entire economy is debt, to the degree that there is no money which is not owed to someone else.

    Spoken like a true twatbag that doesn't understand how economies work or get bootstrapped.

    1) The government has nothing, no money, no infrastructure, no military. So the government prints up some IOU's (the first of which go to the printer and paper manufacturer), then they use those IOU's to "buy" other stuff on credit, which they use to build their military and public infrastructure.
    2) People trade IOU's around like they're worth something. Anyone holding an IOU is a government creditor, and the government is indebted to them. This means that IOU's are worth exactly what the government's ability to continue functioning is worth.
    3) The government points out how much military protection and public infrastructure they've built, and periodically calls in their IOU's and destroys them. They call this process "taxation". They, of course, print more for future "buying" (a.k.a. borrowing against civilization).

    Now swap out "IOU" for "dollar", "euro", "pound", "ruble", "yen", "yuan", "renminbi", "rupee", etc.

    Now shit yourself when you realize how much of every economy is composed of debt. (Hint: 100%.)

  • Re:probabilities? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Solozerk ( 1003785 ) on Friday May 16, 2014 @06:33PM (#47021979)

    Leaving out the value part is where the system broke down.

    What's the value all of the US's cities ? all the buildings, the infrastructure, the work of arts, the land itself (and its capacity to provide food, minerals and resources in general) ? for that matter, what's the value of the people in the US - builders, farmers, doctors, scientists ?

    This is what the currency is backed by: the value of the country itself. The US government represent all the people in the US and all those valuable things - land, buildings, etc.... It emits currency and pays with it; that says to the people accepting the currency: yes, we represent all those valuable things, and worst case scenario if we cannot pay you back then we have collaterals - you can take a bit of land instead, or our scientists will work on your project for N years, etc... and it will sure help you more than some gold.

    It's not perfect but it sure seems to me that it makes more sense than backing the currency with big lumps of yellow metal with relatively limited uses.

  • Re: probabilities? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tom229 ( 1640685 ) on Saturday May 17, 2014 @10:03AM (#47025049)
    There's more to it than that. These libertarians all circle jerk each other over a revelation that money equals debt and inflation is a hidden tax on the people. It likely all started with the zeitgeist movement, which is merely an extension of the wild ramblings of Acharya S.

    What all these new age libertarians fail to realize is that for most of history the world ran exactly how they are advocating. The invention of "easy credit" isn't a genius conspiracy perpetrated on the people by shadowy unknown figures, but rather an attempt to empower the common man with privileges like land ownership, and starting his own business. Banks, or anyone for that matter, wouldn't lend you hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy property if it had to come out of their own pocket. This means the only people able to buy land, would be those with the cash on hand, or more accurately, the rich. History is full of elite aristocracies of business' and land owners that existed actual tyrants over the common man. I don't think anyone really wants to go back to that times.

    That being said, the banking system certainly isn't perfect. Allowing a private entity to have so much control over our money supply is probably a bad idea. At the very least the central bank should probably be government controlled and not for profit, with the sole ability to lend money through brokerage arms. Private banks would thus have to become brokers for the publicly owned central bank. Of course, given the titanic industry that is private banking, it would be a massive and messy undertaking to make a change like this.

Mathemeticians stand on each other's shoulders while computer scientists stand on each other's toes. -- Richard Hamming