Opening Remarks of NSA Director, General Keith Alexander
Continued Oversight of U.S. Government Surveillance Authorities
Senate Judiciary Committee
December 11, 2013
Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 226, 2:00 p.m.
Chairman, thank you.
And, I’ll keep my opening remarks short. But I would like to hit a few key things.
First, NSA is a foreign intelligence agency. Those acts and tools that we do are to connect what we know about foreign intelligence to what’s going on here in the United States.
We need tools to bring that together. I want to talk briefly about some of those tools.
And some of those tools, like Section 215, in my opinion, and I think in the court’s, are constitutional. We’re authorized by Congress. They’re legal. They’re necessary. And they’ve been effective.
From my perspective, the threats are growing. When we look at what’s going on in Iraq today, what’s going on in Syria, the amount of people killed from 1 September to 3 December is over 5,000 from terrorist related acts in Iraq, Syria and several other countries around the world.
In Iraq alone, in 2012 the total number killed was 2,400. From 1 September to 3 December, that has risen to 2,200 plus in a three-month period.
It’s on the verge of a sectarian conflict.
The crisis in the Middle East is growing. And the threat to us from terrorist activities or safe havens and those being radicalized are growing.
What we found out in 9/11 — and I go back to Senator Grassley, your comments, we can’t go back to a pre-9/11 moment. Sir, I absolutely agree with that. So we have to find out what is the right way for our nation to defend ourselves and our allies and protect civil liberties and privacy.
I think the way we’re doing Section 215 is actually a good model, not just for our country, but for the rest of the world. It has the courts, Congress and the administration all involved.
Why do I say that?
The reason is, if you look at all the information that is out there, the billions and billions of books of information that are out there, there is no viable way to go through that information if you don’t use meta data.
In this case meta data is a way of knowing where those books are in the library, and a way of focusing our collection the same that our allies do to look at where are the bad books.
From our perspective — from the National Security Agency’s perspective, what we do is get great insights into the bad actors overseas. Armed that information, we can take the information, the to-from and what I do is I put that on a little card. It says from number, the to-number, the date, time group of the call and the duration. That’s the element of information we use in the 215.
There is no content.
There are no names.
No e-mail addresses.
From my perspective, that is the least intrusive way that we can do this.
If we could come up with a better way, we ought to put it on the table and argue our way through it. The issue that I see right now is there isn’t a better way. What we’ve come up with is can we change one?
But, Senator Grassley, you brought out a great point, 9/11 we couldn’t connect the dots because we didn’t have this capability to say someone outside the United States is trying to talk to someone inside the United States …
Well, we also had people in the administration that refused to listen to FBI agents who had picked up on what was happening here in the United States, when they were told it’s not important even though anybody with a brain in their head would have known it was.
But go ahead. I understand your point. And let’s stick the facts. We’re not talking about a library. I had my first library card when I was four years old. I understand libraries, but let’s talk about the NSA.
Well, I think the important part for us, Mr. Chairman, is how do you know — how do you bring information that you know from outside the country to that which we have inside? How do you connect the dots?
And that’s the issue with the metadata program. There is no other way that we know of to connect the dots. And so that’s gets us back to do we not do that at all? Given that the threat is growing, I believe that is an unacceptable risk to our country.
So what we have to do is can we do more on the oversight and compliance and there are things that are being looked at. But taking these programs off the table, from my perspective, is absolutely not the thing to do.
I do agree with this discussion with industry as well that you brought up, Chairman. Industry ought to be a player in here. They have been hurt by this and I think unfairly hurt.
We ought to put this on the table from two perspectives. Industry has some technical capabilities that may be better than what we have. If they have ideas of what we could do better to protect this nation and our civil liberties and privacy, we should put it on the table.
And I think we should have a way of bringing government and industry together for the good of the nation and we ought to take those steps.
So, Mr. Chairman, I just want to end with this statement. We’re a foreign intelligence agency. Our job is to figure out what’s going on outside the United States and to provide that level of information to the FBI and others who are operating inside the United States.
To date, we’ve not been able to come with a better way of doing it. I’m not wed — I don’t think anybody at NSA or the administration is wed to a specific program, but we do need something to help connect the dots, something that can help defend this country. And I think these programs have been effective.
That’s all I have, Mr. Chairman.