NSA at RSA

I was going to write a commentary on the RSA Conference keynote speech by General Alexander, NSA Director. But he didn't actually say anything.

Does anyone have any other opinions?

Posted on April 21, 2009 at 6:20 PM • 23 Comments

Comments

JeffApril 21, 2009 7:16 PM

Perhaps you should write about the revelation that the NSA was snooping on congresswoman Jane Harmon's phone calls instead...

spaceman spiffApril 21, 2009 9:00 PM

If anyone from the NSA said anything of substance in public, they would probably lose their clearances. So, that he said substantially nothing in his keynote surprises you?

Nicholas WeaverApril 21, 2009 9:51 PM

That the NSA had a WARRANT for survelance that involved Jane Harmon, and that Gonzalez torpedoed any investigation...

AnonApril 21, 2009 10:02 PM

I can't read the speech, but I'm interested in it more as political positioning than for any new information it reveals.

(If notes or the transcript are posted, I'd love to see.)

Is NSA trying to say they're prepared to shift emphasis to security at the cost of their own intel operations? That they may have split loyalties, but it's a scary world and they're the only competent shop in business? That you may not like your new NSA overlords, but you better get used to them (and not drop the soap)? None of the above?

And yeah, Harman's story is pretty creepy. Have to wonder if it was blackmail or revenge, or at least not nearly as innocent as NSA suggests. Separation of powers!

AnonymousApril 21, 2009 10:36 PM

>> And yeah, Harman's story is pretty creepy. Have to wonder if it was
>> blackmail or revenge, or at least not nearly as innocent as NSA suggests.
>> Separation of powers!

Pretty creepy? If I was involved in something that required a tap on my telephone, do you think that the Santa Clara police would call the NSA for implementation of that WARRANT? That seems unlikely, though perhaps I am just naive about that.

Jeff

IlyaApril 21, 2009 10:47 PM

I've nothing to say on the subject but this is so sweet of you to promote Lieutenant General Alexander, Bruce.

trsm.mckayApril 21, 2009 10:58 PM

I had a couple of thoughts during the speech. The first was "how close is this to the "talk" that upstart congressmen get when they start getting in the way of what NSA wants". The other was this was going to be a speech where what was not said was going to be more important than what was said.

Here is the short summary for those who were not there:

NSA has great people (repeat).
NSA keeping secrets is good, protects US and allies.
NSA occasionally makes mistakes but always fesses up to its watchdogs (repeat).
Token nod to civil liberties.
NSA is not taking over cyber defense but would like to consult if it can figure out what can be revealed (repeat).

Note that anything noted as "repeat" was repeated at least three times :-)

AnonymousApril 22, 2009 2:59 AM

Ilya,

It is common to provide officers with a "courtesy promotion" when using junior titles.

Lieutenant Commander to Commander
Lieutenant General to General

And so on. The actual rank remains clear to any military personnel in the room.

AnonymousApril 22, 2009 6:40 AM

Why should Gen Alexander be any different from the other keynote speakers?
I attended the first session of keynote speakers yesterday and all I really heard was "collaborate" and "standards."
Wow - earth shattering.

lorenzoApril 22, 2009 8:24 AM

The fact that he did not say anything is a message in itself. It means that he knows things he cannot say.
Or perhaps he does not know anything, but we do not know that, so he's posing as somebody who knows what he cannot say but in fact he does not...

AnonymousApril 22, 2009 11:59 AM

Look on the bright side. He didn't continue the overuse of the words "ecosystem" and "cloud computing". (There's apparently marketing mileage to be gained by painting security as "green").
I'm looking to see if we can't stream the Wednesday/Thursday keynotes to the Thirsty Bear (1/2 block east of Moscone) and sponsor what will likely be a delightful marketing jargon drinking game...

Joe BuckApril 22, 2009 2:55 PM

The warrant wasn't to tap Harman's phone. Rather, the lobbyist/alleged spy who called Harman was the one whose phone was tapped, and there was a warrant for this wiretap.

Jane Harman has lobbied hard for the right of the NSA to tap every American's phone without any warrant whatsoever, so it's odd to hear her complain now.

OttoApril 22, 2009 11:18 PM

2 comments.

The lt general said way more than the woman Obama appointed to write recomendations on cyber space. She was for the most part worthless and said nothing.

The lt general said we should trust the NSA and it's recommendations, but why?

JoeApril 23, 2009 5:24 AM

The reporters that actually checked their facts found out that this was a "standard" counter-intelligence court ordered warrant that DOJ and FBI put through and executed against the lobbyist, not the congresswoman. Those that immediately cried "NSA big brother spied on Harman without a warrant" embarassed themselves. This was a domestic counterespionage case done by the agencies charged to investigate such things. Too bad there isn't accountability in the media for those that don't do their homework. Congrats to those that were professional enough to do the research.

BobApril 27, 2009 12:44 PM

They were on a recruiting/branding mission... If he told it like it is on the recruiting side anyway: Want to get paid less than market value, be trapped in a SCIF all day, have to live in DC area, and muck around in a govt bureaucratic boogeyland where you have to deal with a bunch of DC idots who can’t find their…head… with both hands, then when something goes wrong you can be pulled in front of a grand jury wiping out your meager life savings trying to legally defend yourself…. Yea, sounds nice!!! Where do I sign up for NSA or CIA?...

cynicalMay 18, 2009 9:29 AM

I just hope that the lack of substance in the talk doesn't mean that he isn't knowledgeable in the subject matter. Unfortunately, and not just in government, there is a tendency to believe that managers do not need to know about what they manage.

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