Black Hat heckles NSA head

SUBHEAD: NSA director heckled at Black Hat conference as he asks for security community's understanding.

By Andy Greenberg on 31 July 2013 fo Forbes -

Image above: From ().

When NSA Director Keith Alexander appeared at the Las Vegas security conference Black Hat Wednesday morning, he hoped to mend the NSA’s reputation in the eyes of thousands of the conference’s hackers and security professionals. It didn’t go exactly as planned.

Alexander was about a half hour into his talk when a 30-year-old security consultant named Jon McCoy shouted “Freedom!”

“Exactly,” responded Alexander. “We stand for freedom.”

“Bullshit!” McCoy shouted.

“Not bad,” Alexander said, as applause broke out in the crowd. “But I think what you’re saying is that in these cases, what’s the distinction, where’s the discussion and what tools do we have to stop this.”

“No, I’m saying I don’t trust you!” shouted McCoy.

“You lied to Congress. Why would people believe you’re not lying to us right now?” another voice in the crowd added.

“I haven’t lied to Congress,” Alexander responded, visibly tensing. “I do think it’s important for us to have this discussion. Because in my opinion, what you believe is what’s written in the press without looking at the facts. This is the greatest technical center of gravity in the world. I ask that you all look at those facts.”

Alexander’s talk had begun with a plea for the hacker and security researcher community to reconsider the NSA’s role in the wake of a still-unfolding scandal revealed by the classified leaks of former Booz Allen contractor Edward Snowden. “Their reputation has been tarnished,” he said, speaking of his NSA staff. “But you can help us articulate the facts properly. I will answer every question to the fullest extent possible, and I promise you the truth: What I know, what we’re doing, and what I cannot tell you because we don’t want to jeopardize the future of our defense.”

Alexander’s talk focused on the oversight placed on the NSA by Congress and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which must approve the NSA’s surveillance in any case where it might target Americans. The FISC, which hears the NSA’s arguments without any opposing counsel, has been accused of offering negligible oversight of the Agency’s work. The FISC stated in April that it had received 1,789 applications for electronic surveillance, of which 1,748 others were approved without changes and only one was withdrawn.

“I’ve heard the court is a rubber stamp. I’m on the other end of that table, against that table of judges that don’t take any—I’m trying to think of a word here—from even a four-star general. They want to make sure what we’re doing comports with the constitution and the law,” Alexander said. “I can tell you from the wire brushings I’ve received, they are not a rubber stamp.”

Alexander also cited a Congressional inquiry into the NSA that found no evidence that it had engaged in any illegal use of its spying powers. But the NSA has come under continued Congressional scrutiny, including in a hearing Wednesday morning in which the Senate Judiciary committee grilled members of the intelligence community, including NSA deputy director John Inglis, over the mass collection of Americans’ cell phone records. Also Wednesday morning, the Guardian published new documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealing yet another NSA program known as XKeyScore, a tool that allows the broad search of millions of individuals’ emails and browsing history.

In his Black Hat talk, the four-star general presented a timeline of terrorist attacks around the world, from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing to the Boston Marathon attack. He told the story of Najibullah Zazi, a terrorist accused of plotting an attack on the New York subway whose plot was foiled by the NSA’s surveillance, particularly the PRISM program that allows the NSA access to user data from Google, Microsoft, Apple, Skype, Facebook and other tech firms.

Alexander also noted the 6,000 NSA cryptologists who have deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, 20 of whom were killed in the line of duty according to Alexander. “Think about people willing to go forward to Iraq and Afghanistan, to make sure our soldiers, airmen and marines get the intelligence they need,” he said. “I believe these are the most noble people we have in this country.”

“We get all these allegations of what [NSA staff] could be doing,” Alexander added. “But when people check what the NSA is doing, they’ve found zero times that’s happened. And that’s no bullshit. Those are the facts.” The crowd responded to that line with loud applause, as Alexander asked the press not to quote his swearing, noting his 15 grandchildren.

“The whole reason I came here was to ask you to help you to help us make it better,” said the general. “And if you disagree with what we’re doing, you should help us twice as much.”

“Read the constitution!” shouted McCoy in one last heckle.

“I have. So should you,” responded Alexander to another round of applause.

After the talk, I found McCoy in the crowd and asked him about his not-so-friendly debate with the general. “His speech was pretty canned,” said McCoy. “It’s anything you can see on Fox News any day. We’re in danger, we have to get rid of your freedom to keep you safe.”

“Everyone’s thinking this, but no one’s saying it public, so everyone thinks they’re alone,” he said. “Ninety-eight percent of society has issues with this…But no one speaks up.”

No comments :

Post a Comment