Transcript: NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Oct. 2, 2013

Partial transcript of testimony of Gen. Keith Alexander, Director of the National Security Agency (NSA), on the oversight of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the National Security Agency (NSA). The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing was held on Oct. 2, 2013:

…From NSA’s perspective, this has impacted us very hard.

We have an amazing workforce. When I look at what our folks are capable of doing, we have over 960 Ph.D.s, over 4,000 computer scientists, over 1,000 mathematicians. They’re furloughed.

Our nation needs people like this and the way we treat them is to tell them, “You need to go home because we can’t afford to pay you. We can’t make a deal here.”

From my perspective, the impact – what Director Clapper points out – is we went to the most specific threats against our nation. This doesn’t apply to all the threats against our nation. We can’t cover all of those.

So what we’re doing is we’re taking the most significant counter-terrorism and other threats that we see and the support to our military forces in Afghanistan and overseas. That’s the priority in what we’re doing. That’s the way the law has been interpreted, and that’s what we’re doing.

From my perspective, it has had a huge impact on morale.

…I’m privileged today to represent the dedicated professionals at the National Security Agency who employ the authorities provided by Congress, the federal courts, and the executive branch to help protect the nation and protect our civil liberties and privacy.

If we are to have an honest debate about how NSA conducts its business, we need to step away from sensationalized headlines and focus on facts.

Our mission is to defend the nation and to protect our civil liberties and privacy.

Ben Wittes from the Brookings Institute said about the media leaks and specifically about these two FISA programs: “Shameful as it is that these documents were leaked, they actually should give the public great confidence in both NSA’s internal oversight mechanisms and in the executive branch and judicial oversight mechanisms outside the agency. They show no evidence of any intentional spying on Americans or abuse of civil liberties. They show a low rate of the sort of errors any complex system of technical collection will inevitably yield. They show robust compliance procedures on the part of NSA. And they show an earnest ongoing dialogue with the FISA court over the parameters over the agency’s legal authority and a commitment both to keeping the court informed of activities and to comply with its judgments on their legality.”

Today, I’d like to discuss the facts and specifically address who we are in terms of both our mission and our people, what we do, adapt to technology and the threat, take direction from political leadership, operate strictly within the law and consistent with explicit intelligence priorities and ensure compliance with all constraints imposed by our authorities and internal procedures, and what we have accomplished specifically for our country with the tools we have been authorized and where do we go from here.

First, who we are. Our mission. NSA is a foreign intelligence agency with two missions. We collect foreign intelligence of national security interest, and we protect certain sensitive information in U.S. networks – all this while protecting our civil liberties and privacy.

NSA contributes to the security of our nation, its armed forces and our allies. NSA accomplishes this mission while protecting civil liberties and privacy because the Constitution we are sworn to protect and defend makes no allowance to trade one off for the other. NSA operates squarely within the authorities granted by the President, Congress, and the courts.

Who we are. Our people. I’m proud of what NSA does and more proud of our people. The National Security Agency employees take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. They have devoted themselves to protecting our nation.

Just like you, they will never forget the moment terrorists killed 2,996 Americans in New York, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon. They witnessed the first responders efforts to save lives.

They saw the military shift to a war time footing. They committed themselves to ensuring that another 9/11 would never happen and that our deployed forces would return home.

In fact, they deployed with our armed forces into areas of hostilities. More than 6,000 have deployed in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. 22 have paid the ultimate sacrifice since 9/11. Sadly, I’m adding to a list of NSA/CSS personnel number over 170 killed in the line of duty since our formation in 1952.

Theirs is a noble cause.

NSA prides itself on its highly skilled workforce. We are the largest employer of mathematicians – 1,013 – 966 Ph.D.s, and 4,374 computer scientists and linguists in more than 120 languages. More patents than any other intelligence community agency and most businesses.

They’re also Americans and they take their civil liberties and privacy seriously.

What we do. Adapt to technology. Today’s communications system is literally one of the most complex systems ever devised by mankind. The fact that over 2.5 billion people all connect and communicate across a common infrastructure is a tribute to the ingenuity of mankind.

The stark reality is that terrorists, criminals, and adversaries make use of the same infrastructure. Terrorists and other foreign adversaries hide in the same global network, use the same communications network as everyone else, and take advantage of familiar services – GMail, Facebook, Twitter, et cetera. Technology has made it easy for them.

We must develop and apply the best analytic tools to succeed in our mission: Finding the communications of adversaries while protecting those of innocent people regardless of their nationality.

What we do. We take direction from political leadership. NSA’s direction comes from national security needs as defined by the nation’s senior leaders. NSA does not decide what topics to collect and analyze. NSA’s collection and analysis is driven by the national intelligence priorities framework and received in formal tasking.

We do understand that electronic surveillance capabilities are powerful tools in the hands of the state. That’s why we have extensive mandatory internal training, automated checks, and an extensive regime of both internal and external oversight.

What we do: We use lawful programs and tools to do our mission. The authorities we have been granted, the capabilities we have developed, help keep our nation safe.

Since 9/11, we have disrupted terrorist attacks at home and abroad, using capabilities informed by the lessons of 9/11.

The business record FISA program, NSA’s implementation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act focuses on defending the homeland by linking the foreign and domestic threats.

Section 702 of FISA focuses on acquiring foreign intelligence, including critical information concerning international terrorist organizations by targeting non-U.S. persons who are reasonably believed to be located outside the United States.

NSA also operates under other sections of the FISA statute in accordance with the law’s provisions.

It is important to remember that in order to target a U.S. person anywhere in the world, under the FISA statute, we are required to obtain a court order based on probable cause showing that the prospective target of the surveillance is a foreign power or agent of a foreign power.

NSA conducts the majority of its SIGINT [signal intelligence] activities solely pursuant to the authorities provided by executive order 12333. As I’ve said before, these authorities and capabilities are powerful; we take this responsibility seriously.

We ensure compliance. We set up a Director of Compliance in 2009 and repeatedly trained our entire workforce in privacy protections and the proper use of capabilities.

We do make mistakes. The vast majority of the compliance incidents reflect the challenge of implementing very specific rules in the context of ever-changing technology. Compliance incidents, with very rare exceptions, are unintentional and reflect the sort of errors that will occur in any complex system of technical activity.

The press claim of evidence of thousands of privacy violations – this is false and misleading. According to NSA’s independent inspector general and the vice chairman have brought up the 12 cases, so I’ll just go through that quickly. There were 12 cases of willful violation. All of those were under executive order 12333. None of those were in the business record FISA or under FAA 702.

We hold ourselves accountable everyday. Most of these targets involved improper tasking or querying regarding foreign persons in foreign places.

I’m not aware of any intentional or willful violations of the FISA statute.

Of the 2,776 incidents noted in the press from one of our leaked annual compliance reports, about 75% are not violations of approved procedures at all but rather NSA’s detection of valid foreign targets that travel to the U.S. in a record that NSA stopped collecting in accordance with the rules. We call those “roamers”…

Let me also start to clear the air on actual compliance incidents. The vast majority of the actual compliance incidents involve foreign locations and foreign activities as our activities are regulated by specific rules wherever they occur.

For the smaller number that did involve a U.S. person, a typical incident involves a person overseas involved with a foreign organization who’s subsequently determined to be a U.S. person. All initial indications and research before collection point the other way but NSA constantly re-evaluates indications.

NSA detects and corrects, and in most cases does so before any information is ever obtained, used or shared outside NSA.

Despite the difference between willful and not, we treat incidents the same. We detect; we address; we remediate, including removing or purging information from our databases in accordance with the rules; and we report.

We hold ourselves accountable and keep others informed so they can do the same. On NSA’s compliance regime, Ben Wittes said at last Friday’s intelligence committee hearing, “One thing we have learned an enormous amount about is the compliance procedures that NSA uses. They are remarkable. They are detailed. They produce data streams that are extremely telling and, to my mind, deeply reassuring.”

We welcome an ongoing discussion about how the public can going forward have increased information about NSA’s compliance programs.

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One Comment on “Transcript: NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Oct. 2, 2013

  1. Pingback: Transcript: Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Oct. 2, 2013 | What The Folly?!

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