NSA director General Keith Alexander spent some time explaining the necessity of the NSA's surveillance programs on Wednesday. And while the director's answers at to the assembled lawmakers were low on specifics, it seemed to boil down to two implied words: trust me.
"I would rather take a public beating, and let people think I'm hiding something, than jeopardize the security of this country," Alexander told a group of somewhat testy legislators at a hearing that wasn't intended to address the NSA leaks. He did, as we noted earlier, confirm some details, for instance, that NSA phone data records are cleared every five years. He also said that "dozens of terrorist events" have been prevented with the data tracking programs, but didn't name specifics.
So, don't know much about Alexander? You're not alone. Fortunately, Wired posted its extremely well timed new cover story, by NSA chronicler James Bamford, about the director Wednesday night, which frames the NSA story within his seemingly never-ending quest to gain more and more reach into the world's data flow:
"In his telling, the threat is so mind-bogglingly huge that the nation has little option but to eventually put the entire civilian Internet under his protection, requiring tweets and emails to pass through his filters, and putting the kill switch under the government’s forefinger. “What we see is an increasing level of activity on the networks,” he said at a recent security conference in Canada. “I am concerned that this is going to break a threshold where the private sector can no longer handle it and the government is going to have to step in.”
The piece even contains a well-done, yet obligatory damnation by physical description:
"He may be a four-star Army general, but Alexander more closely resembles a head librarian than George Patton. His face is anemic, his lips a neutral horizontal line. Bald halfway back, he has hair the color of strong tea that turns gray on the sides, where it is cut close to the skin, more schoolboy than boot camp. For a time he wore large rimless glasses that seemed to swallow his eyes. Some combat types had a derisive nickname for him: Alexander the Geek."
Alexander will be before the Intelligence Committee again tomorrow, this time specifically to address the NSA leaks. We'll have to wait and see what information the NSA will drop next in its defense of the program. Meanwhile, the New York Times had some interesting details late Wednesday on what's next for the agency's recovery from the past week. They note that the agency will conduct a four-month review of the programs, to determine both a "cost-benefit analysis," and to look at how potential terrorists change their online behavior based on the intelligence leak.