Really Weird Keith Alexander Interview

Comedian John Oliver interviewed now-retired NSA director General Keith Alexander. It's truly weird.

Posted on May 1, 2014 at 2:01 PM • 45 Comments

Comments

AnuraMay 1, 2014 2:47 PM

Today I learned that if you break the law but admit it, then you haven't done anything illegal.

John RMay 1, 2014 3:09 PM

I liked this part of the article...

Keith Alexander:
But you see, we're not just out there gathering U.S. communications, listening to their phone calls, or collecting their emails. But that's the first thing that people jump to.

The quote from New York Times:
The N.S.A. is not just intercepting the communications of Americans who are in direct contact with foreigners targeted overseas, a practice that government officials have openly acknowledged. It is also casting a far wider net for people who cite information linked to those foreigners, like a little used e-mail address, according to a senior intelligence official.

SkepticalMay 1, 2014 3:30 PM

Iraq context for "Collect It All"

Interesting item at around the 5 minute mark, when Alexander notes that the phrase was used with respect to Iraq in 2006.

I'm not sure we had that context before, though perhaps the flood of "the motto of the NSA is 'Collect It All'" lines had simply drowned it out.

uh, MikeMay 1, 2014 3:41 PM

When the going gets tough, the tough get weird.

Just the right level of weirdness stimulates creativity, but that's a local maximum.

Neff LesMay 1, 2014 3:45 PM

It's truly weird, I've seen humor used as a way to criticize the current ruling party as a soft way of getting the point through.

Looking at this I'm not sure whether this is trying to point out the issues or covering them up with humor.

AnuraMay 1, 2014 3:48 PM

So if the GCHQ targets and collects data on Americans, and then makes that data all available to the NSA, does the NSA count that as the NSA targeting and collecting data on Americans?

BenniMay 1, 2014 4:20 PM

German government does not want to allow Edward Snowden to be questioned by the parlamentarian investigation comission in germany. It says this would be against germany's interests, since the goverment fear that the nsa would stop sharing its data with the german secret service BND:

http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/edward-snowden-befragung-durch-nsa-untersuchungsausschuss-a-967144.html

They say that Snowden is not a political refugee, but a criminal and therefore would have no right of asylum in germany.

They also say that members of parliament could be prosecuted by US law if they question snowden in russia.

Well, because of this reaction, one might ask oneself:

What information could Snowden have on the german secret service BND that is so important that the german government reacts like that?

And by the way, the fact that snowden would not be granted asylum in germany is almost meaningless. We have a law in germany, that says nobody can be extradited because of political crime. And no judge in germany would disagree that snowden did political crime since this is defined by leaking espionage documents from a foreign service to germany. So if Snowden would come to germany, he would not get asylum status, but a so called "acceptance to stay", since he just could not get extradited.


BenniMay 1, 2014 4:22 PM

German government does not want to allow Edward Snowden to be questioned by the parlamentarian investigation comission in germany. It says this would be against germany's interests, since the goverment fear that the nsa would stop sharing its data with the german secret service BND:

http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/edward-snowden-befragung-durch-nsa-untersuchungsausschuss-a-967144.html

They say that Snowden is not a political refugee, but a criminal and therefore would have no right of asylum in germany.

They also say that members of parliament could be prosecuted by US law if they question snowden in russia.

Well, because of this reaction, one might ask oneself:

What information could Snowden have on the german secret service BND that is so important that the german government reacts like that?

And by the way, the fact that snowden would not be granted asylum in germany is almost meaningless. We have a law in germany, that says nobody can be extradited because of political crime. And no judge in germany would disagree that snowden did political crime since this is defined by leaking espionage documents from a foreign service to germany. So if Snowden would come to germany, he would not get asylum status, but a so called "acceptance to stay", since he just could not get extradited.


Rick HansonMay 1, 2014 4:35 PM

Oliver (at 6:55): What would you like Snowden to know right now, other than "significantly less"?

Alexander: I would like to set him down in a classified setting and say, "You wanna see the damage you've done?", and lay that out on the terror side and others, so he knows, in his heart, and he would have to live with that the rest of his life.

Oliver (does a facepalm): But you're giving information to the one man on earth that's guaranteed to leak it. Is it any wonder that Americans are concerned about your judgement regarding their data?

Hehehehe. This reminds me a bit of an exchange in the movie Happy Gilmore between the characters Shooter McGavin and Happy.

Shooter: I eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast.

Happy: You eat pieces of shit for breakfast?!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3LAnmnS0-9g

:)

neil21May 1, 2014 5:04 PM

I`ve always assumed JO asks related, but more sane-sounding questions, and then they edit something sillier on top (knowing post hoc what the response language is). e.g. Alexander never says the word Pinterest, or the words farmers wife. Which you might expect him to in the context.

z May 1, 2014 7:12 PM

I don't see what is so surprising about Alexander denying everything. That information is still Top Secret, whether it's leaked or not. He could be prosecuted for revealing/admitting it to the public, so of course he'll deny it.

TIMMay 2, 2014 1:46 AM

@ Benni

As far as I heard, the members of parlamentarian investigation comission could get in trouble themself, of they would come to know of state secret by asking Edward Snowden.

This would be a kind of (second hand) spying without the risks of getting caught.

In Germany the members wouldn't have to fear problems, but if they would travel to US territory, they could get incriminated.

I think this decision is a kind of personal self-defence of the members and Dr. Merkel don't want to stress the friendship (USA Germany) to be still supported with important informations to institutions like BND in future.

RolfMay 2, 2014 3:46 AM

Come on: Sure it is commercial damage for Germany - mostly for the bilaterale relationship and therefore a critical situation when Snowden will be interviewed by german politicial about "details". The BND calculated the commercial damaged for the german industry, if this will happen. Ok this is one thing... But: Ben Scott (ex Consultant of Hillary Clinton) and the US lawyer Harris (based in Washington - he made a expertise which has been released on 24th April to Merkel and Co - this expertise will be public next Friday btw) told also the German Government that every person who will interview Snowden will be violate against US laws. Technically it makes no differences if the interview with Snowden will happenin Russia, Germany, Switzerland or Iran or wherever it is on this planed.
Fact is: Once a German person (political or not) would be interview Snowden, he would be arrest once this person enter US ground. That's the fact about the laws in US. The good news here is, we know already what Snowden know - not officially but who's care.

Bob S.May 2, 2014 5:38 AM

I wonder if Gen. Alexander is indeed the villain or simply a visible cog? In other words, are there thousands more like him we don't know about?

His recent performances and the lack of appropriate reaction in Washington is telling.

BuckMay 2, 2014 8:23 AM

Also his appearance...

Is it just me, or does it look like the stress from the job has really taken its tole on him in the last year?

DBMay 2, 2014 2:03 PM

@ Anura

No, the GCHQ spying on Americans, then forking that data over to the NSA, does NOT count as the NSA spying on Americans, according to US law. Thus, you have discovered the great "loophole" that the five eyes have perpetrated against each other. It's designed so that no amount of "fixing" our own national laws will slow them down in the slightest! This loophole will still be there! They'll still be spying on every American, via this loophole.

The only way to fix it is to actually make it illegal to spy ON NON-AMERICANS TOO! But sadly, very few in America care about that. This is a Nazi-like mentality, where nobody cares what human rights are broken, as long as it's "not to me or my kind." But this always comes around to bite you in the ass every time, just look at history.

BenniMay 2, 2014 5:50 PM

Regarding the interview: I find the questions way too soft.

When Alexander says that he would be "the greatest advocate of freedom in the networks", then one should have questioned him about the nsa directives of "owning the internet" and "information superiority over the world" or the order to the nsa to prepare and get ready for making destructive cyber attacks against other countries by 2013. All this is in the spiegel book "the nsa complex" and it runns contrary to freedom of the internet. Hayden said that the us airforce also wants air superiority, and that this would not mean that it is a threat. But the distinction is, that the us airforce certainly does not aim at air superiority in german aerospace. If it would want that, it would be a treath. In contrast, Alexander says in the interview the nsa only collects metadata when you make a phone call or transfer data completely within the united states (i.e. if you and your partner and the data transfer all remains in the us), but they collect the content, if you communicate with someone abroad. So the nsa is wanting superiority over foreign networks, in contrast to the airforce, which remains within in the us.

Nick PMay 2, 2014 6:19 PM

I laughed my ass off at how John Oliver flipped Alexander's statement on him at 7:13.

For more practical matter, do we count his statement on content vs metadata as a lie given leaked powerpoints? Or are we still hung up on the meaning of "collect" there?

yesmeMay 2, 2014 6:31 PM

@ Benni

Of course, the US is still fighting "the war on terror".

(And if it is any successful as "the war on drugs" we should all be pretty worried.)

The war on terror is a global thing so they (the NSA) needs to have access to all information available. (just kidding here)

However I wonder what's the scope of the war on terror. Is it to prevent terrorism on the US (or other 1st world countries) only or on the entire world?

Because if it is the latter then why the drone strikes? Isn't that an act of terror by itself?

It reminds me of the Billy Joel song "Goodby Saigon"

And who was wrong? And who was right?

It didn't matter in the thick of the fights

The thing is that it is easy to start a luxury war. But the US still hasn't learned that you can only "win" a necessary war. And the worst thing of all is that the fuckers who started these nonsense wars got away with it. All of them.

But the US still has millions of people behind bars because of their criminal silly games, called "wars" and millions of people spying others.

Shawn SmithMay 2, 2014 7:40 PM

Umm Benni, perhaps you are unfamiliar with John Oliver's work. He is a comedian and satirist, not a reporter. I would not expect the questions to be "hard," except by accident. Additionally, he still only has a green card and could get deported if he really pissed off the wrong person.

SkepticalMay 2, 2014 8:53 PM


Thought experiment:

Try to imagine a recently retired head of Russian signals intelligence submitting to an interview like that.

Okay, now try to imagine a Russian immigrant feeling secure enough to host an interview like that.

The West has lots to work on, but it's okay to occasionally glance around and realize that, warts and all, the system isn't all that terrible.

I thought Alexander played gamely along as the straight man, but Oliver seemed strained at points to get to the joke. A few moments were quite funny though, including the point Nick mentioned.

Incidentally, while I found Oliver's twist on the point to be quite humorous, Alexander seems convinced himself that Snowden likely doesn't realize the extent of the damage he's done. It would indeed be poetic if Snowden could face the damage he has done (of course there is an obvious pushback available to Snowden).

@Benni: I'd be cautious in how you interpret terms like "information superiority." Depending on context, that may have a much narrower meaning than you think. And context is often missing in these documents (making careful journalism all the more important, and there have been outstanding exemplars of such journalism in the Snowden docs reporting, but I've occasionally seen some sloppy work there as well).

DBMay 2, 2014 9:29 PM

@ Nick P

Regarding his statement being a lie about metadata:

The NSA's special dictionary definition of "metadata" includes so-called "metadata" that's buried inside the content. For example, if they have flagged a certain "keyword" like someone's email address... they search the To, From, AND THE CONTENT for that keyword! They DO NOT just completely ignore the content, they collect and search that too (for such so-called "metadata"). There has been plenty of evidence supporting what I'm saying, just most people gloss over it, even though I'm sure Skeptical will pop a vein over what I'm saying.

Therefore, they can claim to not technically be lying using their special NSA dictionary, but they are clearly misleading everyone because nobody else uses the same dictionary for common english words. This misleading is intentional, that's the whole purpose of inventing their own dictionary that contradicts common meanings of words. With such intent, it's lying by our normal dictionary definition of lying too. This is par for the course for them.

FluffytheObeseCatMay 2, 2014 9:41 PM

Thought experiment:

Try to imagine a recently retired head of America's security apparatus not rolling into an over-funded sinecure at either a "think tank" or SAIC/BAH/KBR.

Okay, now try to imagine an America where consummate insiders are not quite as shamelessly glib & cocksure as Gen. Alexander (ret.).

The West has lots to work on, and it's okay to occasionally glance around and realize that, warts and all, it's our system to critique, to inveigh against, to rule as free citizens must.

Nick PMay 2, 2014 11:17 PM

@ Skeptical

"Alexander seems convinced himself that Snowden likely doesn't realize the extent of the damage he's done. It would indeed be poetic if Snowden could face the damage he has done"

There's a difference between what he believes and what is happening. The people behind efforts such as NSA spy programs believe they absolutely have to spy on everyone all the time. We got through the world a long time with mere targeted intelligence gathering stateside so I doubt that. If someone believed as they did, then they would also believe Snowden did plenty of damage [to their mission]. People on the outside would see him as doing a service to his country, doing some damage, or being a traitor depending on perspective.

That all people in intelligence circles say the same thing about him, often with similar lines, says more about them than him. I recall them doing the same thing about WMD's being moved all over Iraq with splendid results for those that trusted them.

JardaMay 3, 2014 12:49 AM

One doesn't become a director of NSA without being sufficiently sleazy. And being that sleazy one doesn't speak straight. So what's so weird about this interwiew?

SkepticalMay 3, 2014 6:14 AM

@DB: For domestic -> domestic traffic, I doubt it. I think what you're saying is possible for domestic -> international traffic in some circumstances, though I don't believe this would be called a metadata search. Do you have a document in mind that says otherwise? Always happy to reconsider a guess on my part.

@Fluffy: I have no problem with highly accomplished people, upon retirement from government service, finding good work at think tanks. Good for them if they do. I just found myself contrasting the manner in which Russia handles "disrespectful journalism" and the manner in which the US does. As I said, this doesn't furnish an answer to any policy questions, but the contrast is a decent way of ascertaining where the US stands in the world.

@Nick: The people behind efforts such as NSA spy programs believe they absolutely have to spy on everyone all the time.

No one has said that, nor do I see any indication that anyone believes that. "Spy on everyone all the time" would mean a bug in every bedroom, and as far as I'm aware no one at the NSA or any other government agency wants to turn the US into North Korea.

We got through the world a long time with mere targeted intelligence gathering stateside so I doubt that. If someone believed as they did, then they would also believe Snowden did plenty of damage [to their mission]. People on the outside would see him as doing a service to his country, doing some damage, or being a traitor depending on perspective.

You're too knowledgeable about security to believe that Snowden's damage is limited to mass surveillance programs.

Snowden didn't just carry out documents about mass surveillance. He carried out numerous documents containing the details of targeted operations directed at specific entities abroad, ranging from legitimate foreign intelligence targets like Mr. Putin to legitimate counter-terrorist targets. He has refused to provide the US with any type of list concerning what he took. All of the documents he may have taken must be presumed compromised. That, in itself, constitutes massive, massive damage. We don't even need to get to the question of whether certain mass surveillance programs abroad have been useful.

I said that Snowden has an obvious pushback to this, which is to claim that the damage is worth it. But someone who ripped the number of documents he has (apparently ~[80k, 1.7*10e6]), with little regard for the damage that taking them would do (other than seeding them to journalists and hoping that journalists would do right by them), either didn't think through the implications or didn't grasp the impact of just taking them.

That all people in intelligence circles say the same thing about him, often with similar lines, says more about them than him. I recall them doing the same thing about WMD's being moved all over Iraq with splendid results for those that trusted them.

The Intelligence Community didn't all say the same thing with regard to WMDs in Iraq. There were considerable differences of opinion on the strength of the evidence. And that's despite what has been reported as deplorable treatment of the IC by some of the neocon hawks who believed they knew the truth already and found objective analysis to be a personal affront.

I think the one space for reasonable debate concerns Snowden's disclosure of the Section 215 program. On everything else, unanimity of opinion would be unsurprising.

Let me put it this way:

Who here wants to bet his life that a document distributed to journalists around the world, and of great interest to skilled foreign intelligence services, has not been compromised?

No raised hands, anywhere, is why the IC likely has a unanimous opinion concerning the damage Snowden caused.

yesmeMay 3, 2014 6:26 AM

@skeptical

How many options do you think Snowden had? And what were these?

He went to his direct chief, multiple times. Even Obama didn't mention how Snowden should have come out with it. He only mentioned that he should have done it different.

What else could he have done?

yesmeMay 3, 2014 6:36 AM

@skeptical

And let me remind you, it's not Snowden who has been lying. It's Alexander who lied in front of Congres, it's the entire Bush administration who has been lying, it's Obama who has been lying.

How can you come out when the chiefs in charge are lying?

GeorgeMay 3, 2014 10:16 AM

A self-righteous megalomaniac in charge of a surveillance dragnet exempt from legal and constitutional constraints is bad enough. A self-righteous megalomaniac with no sense of humor is dangerous to the extreme.

ERMay 3, 2014 11:03 AM

@Bob S.
I wonder if Gen. Alexander is indeed the villain or simply a visible cog? In other words, are there thousands more like him we don't know about?

Most likely he is just a cog. It is a larger process that involves the cooperation of more countries than just USA. Which is why e.g. Germany both 1) likes to act like they are affected and outraged (this is for the public) and 2) doesn't really want to do anything to change the processes.

Not sure how many like him are involved in that, however.

The Manhattan Project involved thousands of people but yet most of those would not have known enough to release information revealing the entire project.


Nick PMay 3, 2014 12:04 PM

@ Skeptical

"No one has said that, nor do I see any indication that anyone believes that. "Spy on everyone all the time" would mean a bug in every bedroom, and as far as I'm aware no one at the NSA or any other government agency wants to turn the US into North Korea."

A logical fallacy as there will always be limits & their existence doesn't negate my point that the spy agencies want as much info as possible. And that requires as much spying as possible. And they want it stateside.

Of course, there has been a comment showing willingness to push the envelope on collection:

“Give me the box you will allow me to operate in. I’m going to play to the very edges of that box.” (Hayden, former NSA Director)

Add to this attitude a continually expanding technical capability and legal permission to use it, you have exactly what I said. Of course, it's not debatable as the types of data they intercept is in the leaks & doesn't match public claims.

"He carried out numerous documents containing the details of targeted operations directed at specific entities abroad, ranging from legitimate foreign intelligence targets like Mr. Putin to legitimate counter-terrorist targets."

I wouldn't support Snowden releasing those without good reason. It would make sense to grab them as an insurance policy given US's aggression toward leakers. The best model is Wikileaks [later] approach where they got the leaks, then worked carefully through the documents to redact anything that would cause harm. Only then did they release documents. It seems Snowden could've done this as well. His strategy of just getting rid of the documents entirely (and to many journalists) doesn't seem like the smartest option for a number of reasons. He might have partnered with responsible journalists, though, like Wikileaks did for their redaction process.

Yet, without his work, we wouldn't know about the extent of the subversion and activity. We'd be relying on public statements that say they don't collect data on Americans unless it's metadata. And they only spy on foreign targets to protect the U.S. And it's mainly to stop terrorism & it's great at that. Snowden's leaks disproved each claim & there wasn't anyone else giving us concrete evidence. That means he served the greater good in showing our intelligence agencies were extremely powerful AND systematically deceiving the public. A much greater threat to a democracy than terrorism as Hoover showed.

As such, I'd either give him immunity or a light prison sentence.

Nick PMay 3, 2014 12:12 PM

@ Bob S and ES

Alexander is definitely a cog, like many before him. Remember that the military industrial complex is a huge institution with its own rules, processes, and goals. These are a combination of visible and hidden. There's also plenty of limited access programs, joint work, contracting etc. The point is that the thing took a life of its own as far back as Eisenhower. That any one person can control this is hard to believe.

Certain positions, like NSA director or SECDEF, give more privileges that can affect the process for sure. However, making huge changes takes many people working together. Most of them were all for both more intelligence collection and more sharing. The 9/11 situation was a catalyst that both made this happen and eliminated obstacles like strong accountability in the process. The Director's were likely picked in part for their willingness to make this happen. Many have come and gone in senior intelligence positions yet little has changed. Goes to show how much inertia is in the system that leaves the individuals having little effect most of the time.

SkepticalMay 5, 2014 5:34 PM

@Nick P: As usual, your responses were thoughtful. I give my own responses below, but I'd like to start with a remark about whistle-blowing and journalism in general.

Journalists aren't simply whistle-blowers, which is to say that they are in the business of publishing everything that they think is "newsworthy" and not simply whistle-blowing material. Responsible journalists make exceptions in some circumstances, but in general the question for a journalist is not "does this expose wrongdoing" but rather "is this news".

So when Snowden handed over vast reams of materials to journalists, he wasn't doing so with an eye towards the public reporting of only material that reveals wrongdoing.

He was doing so with an eye towards the public reporting of anything newsworthy in those many documents. And newsworthy includes perfectly legitimate operations.

He knew that the standard for publication would not be whistle-blowing, or even the good of the public. He knew that there would be competitive pressures among outlets to push the boundary of what even they considered responsible to publish. He knew that by handing the material to different journalists he would be creating incentives biased towards publication.

A whistle-blower hands over information necessary to reveal wrongdoing. The person who just pumps information into the public domain is doing something quite different. And Snowden's actions are much closer to the latter than the former.

---"No one has said that, nor do I see any indication that anyone believes that. "Spy on everyone all the time" would mean a bug in every bedroom, and as far as I'm aware no one at the NSA or any other government agency wants to turn the US into North Korea."

--A logical fallacy as there will always be limits & their existence doesn't negate my point that the spy agencies want as much info as possible. And that requires as much spying as possible. And they want it stateside.

My point isn't that there are limits to the amount of information that can be collected, but rather that afaik no one at NSA desires to put in a bug in every bedroom and a wire in every washroom.

--“Give me the box you will allow me to operate in. I’m going to play to the very edges of that box.” (Hayden, former NSA Director)

The full context of that quote is that he was asked by Charlie Rose about whether he would be "comfortable" with whatever decision might be made as to the bounds of NSA operations.

In response, he said yes, that he would play to the limits of the bounds that are set, but no further, and that he and the Intelligence Community recognize the importance and legitimacy of such bounds.

So far from advocating for the erosion of all limits on intelligence gathering, he was explicitly acknowledging the importance and legitimacy of limits in his full remarks.

---"He carried out numerous documents containing the details of targeted operations directed at specific entities abroad, ranging from legitimate foreign intelligence targets like Mr. Putin to legitimate counter-terrorist targets."

--I wouldn't support Snowden releasing those without good reason.

But he did expose them when he handed them to journalists around the world. And he's done so in a manner that seems calculated to tilt heavily towards public reporting.

--It would make sense to grab them as an insurance policy given US's aggression toward leakers.

If you mean "make sense ethically" (I'm not saying you do), then I can't agree with this. Part of the responsibility of being a whistle-blower in a democratic society with a legitimate government is facing the possible legal repercussions of one's actions. That responsibility is a component of one's integrity as a citizen and as a member of society. Threatening US national security as a means of avoiding those legal repercussions is unethical and dishonorable.

And while I can understand the very normal and very strong human motivation to avoid such repercussions, I have no sympathy for the method he has chosen, which is simply that of a thug. Threatening a nation with the prospect of exposing vital national security secrets to its enemies is no less hostile than threatening a nation with outright force.

--His strategy of just getting rid of the documents entirely (and to many journalists) doesn't seem like the smartest option for a number of reasons. He might have partnered with responsible journalists, though, like Wikileaks did for their redaction process.

Whistle-blowing in the context we're talking about entails the public exposure of actions that shock one's conscience.

In other words, the causal chain should be:

Snowden sees policy that should be exposed to public -> Snowden exposes information revealing such policy.

The causal chain should not be:

Snowden exposes huge amounts of information -> journalists examine that information for "newsworthy" material.

--Yet, without his work, we wouldn't know about the extent of the subversion and activity. We'd be relying on public statements that say they don't collect data on Americans unless it's metadata.

Or it's incidental collection, or it's authorized by a court, or it's in a communication that the NSA is otherwise authorized by law to intercept. All of these things were known prior to any leaks.

That's not to say the leaks haven't changed public awareness of various specifics, some important, or that it did not raise the profile of a broader security question regarding our communications.

And they only spy on foreign targets to protect the U.S.

What other purpose has been revealed by the leaks? There's zero evidence of commercial espionage. In fact the leaks have bolstered reasons for believing that the US does not engage in it.

And it's mainly to stop terrorism & it's great at that.

Signals intelligence seems to have been quite effective as a tool in counterterrorism, however.

Snowden's leaks disproved each claim & there wasn't anyone else giving us concrete evidence. That means he served the greater good in showing our intelligence agencies were extremely powerful AND systematically deceiving the public. A much greater threat to a democracy than terrorism as Hoover showed.

Corruption in general is a threat to democracy, but we didn't need to Snowden to be reminded of the need to ensure intelligence agencies are well-monitored and not used for corrupt ends.

As such, I'd either give him immunity or a light prison sentence.

Let's grant everything you've said above as true. Unfortunately for Snowden the following would still remain the case:

He could have exposed what you say he has without doing the massive damage that he has almost certainly done. There was no need to take the number of documents that he did. The compromise of legitimately classified information was not necessary to a whistle-blowing mission. Nor, given the amount of time he had, was this compromise inadvertent, a regrettable accident while rushing to accomplish his good deeds.

Very little of what he has taken seems to reveal illegal or unethical actions or policies (even sticking to the assumption that everything you've said is true).

He's shown no remorse for any part of his actions, and he's shown no willingness to help mitigate the damage caused by his actions.

Deliberate wrongdoing + massive harm + no remorse + no attempt to mitigate = no leniency

There may be facts not yet revealed that provide reason for leniency. Perhaps he was not the sole actor involved, and was to some degree misled; perhaps he'll demonstrate remorse for some aspects of what he's done; perhaps he'll take steps to mitigate damage. But at present, those factors are not present in the equation.

yesmeMay 5, 2014 6:35 PM

@skeptical

What do you want to gain?

Even your last post is just repeating everything you said before. Even I, with limited knowledge, can debunk almost all of your arguments with relative little ease.

The only thing I do agree with is this statement:

"Threatening US national security as a means of avoiding those legal repercussions is unethical and dishonorable."

But I haven't seen anything from Snowden nor Greenwald that support this remark. In fact, the opposite is true. Just think about the destroyed servers of The Guardian and the holdup of Glenn Greenwalds partner.

You also haven't answered my previous remarks in this thread.

So I ask you again: What do you want to gain?

65535May 5, 2014 6:46 PM

I am at the bottom of the thread so I’ll make my observations short.

“Today I learned that if you break the law but admit it, then you haven't done anything illegal.” –Anura

Good point, Alexander using double standards. If the Average Joe tried that at a police station he would be in the clanger. Yet, Hyden and Alexander go unpunished when they lie to congress.


“The N.S.A… is also casting a far wider net for people who cite information linked to those foreigners, like a little used e-mail address, according to a senior intelligence official.” -John R

That point is well known. To get the metadata you basically have to get the entire conversation. Even Alexander, made a direct quote about keeping recorded communication of Americans "in a lock box" during the slanted Feinstein hearings.

“I wonder if Gen. Alexander is indeed the villain or simply a visible cog?” – Bob S

Yes, a cog but a big one who has managed to scam congress into ever increasing budgets.

"…the GCHQ spying on Americans, then forking that data over to the NSA, does NOT count as the NSA spying on Americans, according to US law. Thus, you have discovered the great "loophole" that the five eyes have perpetrated against each other…” –DB

Yes, it’s a huge loophole. I also suspect it profitable and politically helpful when dirt on other politicians is needed.

“When Alexander says that he would be "the greatest advocate of freedom in the networks", then one should have questioned him about the nsa directives of "owning the internet" and "information superiority over the world" or the order to the nsa to prepare and get ready for making destructive cyber attacks against other countries by 2013.” – Benni

Alexander is polishing his slick lies. He is very good at the game.

"For more practical matter, do we count his statement on content vs metadata as a lie given leaked powerpoints?" -Nick P

Alexander is collecting it all and storing it the Utah facility. Your other points are on target.

“…perhaps you are unfamiliar with John Oliver's work. He is a comedian and satirist, not a reporter. I would not expect the questions to be "hard," except by accident. Additionally, he still only has a green card and could get deported if he really pissed off the wrong person.” -Shawn Smith

Good point. JO is no match for the practiced debater Alexander.

“One doesn't become a director of NSA without being sufficiently sleazy. And being that sleazy one doesn't speak straight.”

Yes, Alexander is a practiced lair.

“…it's not Snowden who has been lying. It's Alexander who lied in front of Congress…” -yesme

I concur; Alexander has a history of deception. His list of deceptions to so long it is trailing smoke.

"...Alexander is definitely a cog, like many before him. Remember that the military industrial complex is a huge institution with its own rules, processes, and goals. These are a combination of visible and hidden. There's also plenty of limited access programs, joint work, contracting etc. The point is that the thing took a life of its own..." –Nick P

I agree. The quickest way to stop this behavior is to significantly reduce the budget money given to these spy entities. I would suggest a 30% to 50% reduction is in order!

SkepticalMay 6, 2014 11:10 AM

@yesme: What do you want to gain?

Clearly I post comments here for profit and glory, like everyone else.

Even I, with limited knowledge, can debunk almost all of your arguments with relative little ease.

Okay.

---"Threatening US national security as a means of avoiding those legal repercussions is unethical and dishonorable."

--But I haven't seen anything from Snowden nor Greenwald that support this remark. In fact, the opposite is true. Just think about the destroyed servers of The Guardian and the holdup of Glenn Greenwalds partner.

We were discussing the possibility that Snowden took so many documents with him for leverage. These documents are only leverage against the US in the context of a threat.

You also haven't answered my previous remarks in this thread.

All right, let's see. Do you mean this remark:

What else could he have done?

At a minimum he could have fled the country only with documents that he believed exposed wrongdoing and were necessary to publish.

So I ask you again: What do you want to gain?

What do you want to gain by asking me what I want to gain?

yesmeMay 6, 2014 1:11 PM

@Skeptical

Well, maybe gain isn't the correct word, I meant: What is your motivation?

So I am curious. That's all.

"At a minimum he could have fled the country only with documents that he believed exposed wrongdoing and were necessary to publish."

That's actually a good answer. Of course it still would have meant stealing the documents and betrayal. And who says he didn't? Glenn Greenwald still doesn't say how many documents he has. So it's quite possible that he only has a few and Snowden did filter the documents. But this is purely speculating.

On the other hand, if he did have all the 1.7 million documents, it's probably an insurance policy. But still I don't think they will play the "threatening US national security" card. Glenn Greenwald is too clever for that.

Anyway, nothing personal, but I am getting tired talking about this subject. It is taking too much energy.

CatMatMay 7, 2014 4:56 AM

@Skeptical: At a minimum he could have fled the country only with documents that he believed exposed wrongdoing and were necessary to publish.

This made me think of an another aspect of Snowden's actions that doesn't seem to get discussed much. Think of this message: "These are the kind of documents I was given access to as an outside contractor. I was not the only contractor, just the only one to go public."


VatosMay 7, 2014 8:00 AM

The idea that Snowden should simply have selected those documents he absolutely needed, does not strike me as a good one.

For all he knew, he had to grab as much as he could so that they would be available for scrutiny later on. He presumably would not be able to go back for more.

JerryHMay 8, 2014 1:37 AM

Shocking! The NSA mandate is to exceed its mandate.
The NSA is out of control? Golly, who knew?

Was the article in Wired about Alexander a month
after Snowden left his job a coincidence? It was
probably done long b4 & rushed to publication.
Did it mention Snowden? Of course not.

(Remember John Ashcroft saying he didn't
remember or denied ever saying to the acting FBI
director b4 911 that he would fire anyone who
mentioned the word terrorist? And no Ashcroft
didn't plan 911, Cheney didn't either...but Ashcroft
probably did say that but all he had to do is deny
and lie & who is to say otherwise besides the FBI guy?)

Did the 800, 000 private corporate contractors
(like Snoden)
hired post 911 know about the the fact that private &
public security were out of control? Well yeah, they
did which is why he got posted to a facility that hadn't
yet updated their internal security. He was also
in touch with Greenwald a month before he even got
the job at Booz Allen.

And no, Snowden wasn't in touch with foreign agents.
If he had political backing from politicians in this country
before hand we will never know about it but we might
see major headlines from Snowden before either the
2014 or 2016 elections & we might see him back here
as a martyr to civil liberties.

Private armies? The additional army of DHS, FBI,
NSA that were hired in addition to the above 800,000
in an unofficial stimulus to the southern economies
of Virginia, Maryland & DC. Was that plus tax cuts
during 2 wars designed to bankrupt the country or
at least crowd out everything else?
Yes it was. That's the 1st time the entire cost of
war was past into future budgets. Like Obama's for
instance.

I feel like expressing false outrage. But I would only
do so if I were MIA from reality since 2000. I would
do so if I thought for a second that PRISM, restarted
2007, was the worst thing perpetrated by private &
public security on average ppl in the US. PRISM is
laughable but it keeps ppl distracted. The IRS?
A non-story. Something "small Gov. conservatives"
like Pat Buchanan would laugh at when fondly
remembering his Nixon days when the FBI was
authorized to harass journalists like Daniel Shore.

And how much of all of it is just political theater
with the NRA going crazy with lines like, "are we
gonna let them shove this threat to freedom & liberty
down ah throats?" Or Ron Paul's line applied to
everything, "are we gonna just lay back & take it?"
Something you'd expect from a fake actor Alex Jones.

Nick PMay 8, 2014 11:45 AM

@ JeffH

NSA isn't exceeding their mandate: their mandate is so large it implies they should do everything they're doing. I wrote about that, how it developed, and what it takes to deal with here. Spoiler alert: none of it is NSA's fault as they're just doing what they were expected to do. Change their requirements, incentives and amount of accountability, the other stuff will change naturally (or can be forced out). So far, the public and Congress have either pushed them toward or accepted every step on the path that led to all this. So, I blame them & say both should vote us out of this problem.

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