NSA chief to face skeptical, tech-savvy crowd at annual Black Hat hacker convention in Vegas - Macleans.ca

NSA chief to face skeptical, tech-savvy crowd at annual Black Hat hacker convention in Vegas


LAS VEGAS, Nev. – The head of the U.S. National Security Agency has faced Congress and presidents in the past, and isn’t expected to budge from the position that his mission is to stop terrorists and that his agency’s surveillance program is critical, even amid a room full of hackers Wednesday at a conference in Las Vegas.

Army Gen. Keith Alexander has been unapologetic during recent public appearances about the NSA collecting “metadata” to, in his words, “connect the dots” and “go after bad guys who … hide amongst us to kill our people.”

“Our job is to stop them without impacting your civil liberties and privacy,” Alexander told a July 18 audience at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado. “We don’t want another 9-11.”

Alexander has said his agency’s ability to dip into what he characterized as a “virtual lockbox” and compare collected email and telephone data helped thwart 54 plots against targets in the United States and some 20 other countries.

He pointed to a failed plot in September 2009 against the New York City subway system that he said could have been the worst terror strike in the U.S. since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Another example he offered was a plot to bomb the New York Stock Exchange.

At Aspen and at a June 28 appearance before the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association in Baltimore, Alexander said his agency dipped into the metadata database fewer than 300 times in 2012.

He insists it wouldn’t be physically possible and is “flat not true” that the spy agency is listening to people’s phone calls and reading their emails.

But the Black Hat conferees that Alexander will face Wednesday are a skeptical and tech-savvy bunch — attuned to news about former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden leaking classified documents last month and the conviction on Tuesday of U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning on 20 espionage, theft and other charges that could get him life in prison for giving military secrets to WikiLeaks. Manning was acquitted of the more serious charge of aiding the enemy.

“We’re hoping he’ll be addressing current issues head-on,” said Meredith Corley, spokeswoman for the 16th annual Black Hat conference at Caesars Palace. Alexander’s keynote speech was expected to draw most of the 7,000 registered attendees, Corley said.

At Aspen, Alexander unveiled measures including a “two-person rule” to thwart leaks like the disclosures by Snowden, a former computer systems administrator in Hawaii now living at a Russian airport while he seeks asylum in several countries. The rule would require two people to be present when key national security information is accessed or moved.

Alexander also talked in Colorado and Baltimore about creating a 4,000-person “Cyber Command” of offensive and defensive teams — both to protect Defence Department systems and launch cyberattacks against enemy networks under White House orders.

“We’ve got to have this debate with our country,” the eight-year NSA chief said in Aspen. “How are we going to protect the nation in cyberspace?”

But, “there is risk in having a debate on a national security issue,” he added. “The adversary will learn what we’re trying to do.”

NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines in Washington, D.C., declined Tuesday to provide advance word about Alexander’s speech in Las Vegas. Vines wouldn’t say whether a conference that attracts cyberspace explorers could serve as recruiting ground for the NSA.

But the spy agency chief’s comments are expected to spur lively discussion among government workers, corporate systems analysts and freelance hackers both at the Black Hat events, and at DefCon, a somewhat more counter-culture conference that opens later this week, also in Las Vegas.


NSA chief to face skeptical, tech-savvy crowd at annual Black Hat hacker convention in Vegas

  1. “The adversary will learn what we’re trying to do.”

    The US is fighting phantoms again.

    • Yep, and bankrupting USA to do it. USA spends more on CIA/NSA/military than the other top 25 nations combined as if at war with the world.

      But it is bankrupting USA to do so. Bernanke electronic counterfeit fiat money print for debt pyramid scheme isn’t going to work forever. In fact the currency devastation of this practice kicked off the depression….but I think media has been told not to talk about the fraud of “QE” and $85 billion/month currency dilution:

      America is being destroyed from the inside out. America’s biggest enemy is political corruption from their own governments and US Fed. As Bernanke is operating a ponzi debt fraud scheme.


      The above chart is a nasty secret US politicians want all media to ignore, the fail of value on the USD. They fail to realize people with less value money get less goods and services, and that means less jobs and less pay for those that have jobs. A problem that perpetuates itself like a hungry snake eating its own tail.

      • Ahhh more plots.

        All money everywhere is fiat money, and inflation hasn’t occurred, so there isn’t too much money in the system.

        The US didn’t cause the 2008 ‘depression’…..the housing crash was a sympton, the auto crash another…but they were last straws, tipping points.

        Two things……globalization and a change to a knowledge economy will cause a lot of problems before it settles down…..and by that time, you won’t recognize the world.

        • Inflation pressures are high. But doesn’t mean you see them instantly. If people have no more money inflation can be contained through economic depression that we are in. But any real recovery is going to come with huge inflation.

          Right now the best indicator of recovery is oil prices. If a small mini recovery occurs, oil goes up then recovery falls back. To save costs companies lay off expensive people, unemployed many and replace them with lower value wage positions. This reduces the middle class and thus reduces demand for goods and services for even less jobs.

          So in part you are right, but like a pressure cooker the inflation pressures are mounting and the G8 currencies are devaluing. At some point, hyper-inflation or collapse is inevitable. And inflation in property taxes, utility taxes, taxes hidden and real are going up. People just don’t have economic value to fuel a sustained recovery.

          So in time, the economy will devalue and the standard of living will decrease. Greece can’t print money, so the effets to us will be slower by we can’t escape reality.

          • We have low inflation because we’ve had low rates for years now.

            That’s not likely to change, and what we’ll have is stagflation

            Greece was a financial mess even before the Euro….because Greece doesn’t actually have an economy. Some ships, lots fewer tourists than they had…..local shops, small farmers….that’s it.

  2. The frightening thing about this entire issue is that President Obama is being advised on privacy issues related to snooping by his handpicked Privacy and Civil Liberties
    Oversight Board as shown here:


    Unfortunately, it would appear that none of the five members took a meaningful stand on the NSA’s powers during their confirmation hearings.

    • Governments #1 priority is to preserve itself and its bloat. Even it it costs the American dream. NSA is about power over people and dirty politics. Spy on everyone, get the dirt and use it not for justice, but for political extortion.

  3. The big question is: Who is watching the watchers? With the unfettered ability to snoop, even if only metadata, they may decide to use that knowledge for purposes other than the purported hunt for terrorists – blackmailing politicians to get certain bills passed (or to get them to “retire” or to stop someone from becoming a candidate); or even simply padding their retirement packages via blackmail or other misuses of data.
    We are handing a lot of power to unelected people who may not always have our best interests in mind (it’s happening here too). We really need some checks and balances – you know, basic things like the need for warrants…