Transcript: NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander’s testimony on NSA’s surveillance programs before the House Intelligence Committee on Oct. 29, 2013

Partial transcript of National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander’s testimony on NSA’s surveillance programs before the House Intelligence Committee on Oct. 29, 2013:

…I have a prepared statement but many of you know I’m not going to be able to read it as well as I can just tell you what’s on my mind. So I’m going to talk from the heart so that you know what we’re talking about here from an NSA perspective is what I think you and the nation needs to hear.

First and foremost, I’ve had 8 plus years at NSA. They are among the finest people in this country.

What they do everyday for this nation is unheralded. We don’t get a lot of fanfare on it but it’s absolutely superb.

Saturday I had the opportunity to work – again, which we’ve done every weekend since I’ve been there – to support our troops in Afghanistan who were under threat of an attack. We do that all the time. Our people were in there, supporting our troops, supporting the military operations.

In the 8 plus years, not one person has ever come up to me and said, “I have to work tonight or the weekend.” They always come in; they protect our troops, and they protect this country.

They’ve taken an oath to defend the nation and to protect our civil liberties and privacy, and they do that better than anyone I have ever seen. It is a privilege and an honor to work next to them everyday.

What I want to tell you about is how did we get here, talk about the business record FISA. I want to give you some insights to what we see going on worldwide. I want to talk a little bit about the compliance, and how do we protect these programs and where we need to go in the future…

First, how did we get here? How did we end up here? 9/11. 2,996 people were killed in 9/11. We all distinctly remember that. What I remember the most was those firemen running up the stairs to save people, to there themselves lose their lives.

And we had this great picture that was created after it of a fireman handing a flag off to the military and I’d say the intelligence community, and the military and the intelligence community said, “We’ve got it from here.”

We deployed our forces to Iraq and to Afghanistan. NSA has deployed 6,000 plus people forward. 20 have lost their lives in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in the war on counter-terrorism. And they know what they bring to that fight helps bring back more of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. You only have to ask people like Gen. Dave Petraeus, Gen. Ray Odierno, Gen. Lloyd Austin. They will tell you our people were there every step of the way.

But while we were there, while we are there and what we learned about the threat is something that is necessary and important to the defense of this country. We see the threats that come into this nation. We see what a foreign intelligence agency is expected to see.

Prior to 9/11, we had no way of connecting those dots. NSA would see one side; FBI the other. And so the question is how can we connect these dots of what you’re seeing and do it in the least intrusive manner.

And thanks to you, the Senate, the executive branch, and the courts, we have programs to do that…

And I would tell you that every person at NSA and in the military still remembers that day and our commitment to those people that we will not forget. But that doesn’t mean that we’re going to trample on our civil liberties and privacy. So the issue is how do we do both? Because that’s the Constitution that we all swore to uphold and defend, and that’s what we’re doing.

Look at the program that we have. We – as American citizens, everyone at this table is also an American citizen – have agreed that we would take our personal data and put it into a pile – a lockbox – that would only be looked at when we had reasonable and articulable suspicion that we had connection to a foreign Al Qaeda or related terrorist group and look into that box.

In 2012, we had 288 such selectors that we could go and look into that. That’s it. Of the billions of records, only 288. And with that, we’ve had tremendous oversight.

When you look at the amount of oversight from this committee alone and from others from within the DNI, the Department of Defense, with our own Director of Compliance, with our own general counsel, with our own IG, and with all our compliance individuals at every level. Everything that we do on this program is audited 100% on the business records FISA. 100%.

The data is kept separate from all the other data that we have and I think it’s important to understand that the leaker did not have access to this data. Period. The technical safeguards that we have there ensure that no one else gets access to it and that no one can get a query unless it goes to one of the 288 numbers or the numbers that are currently on the list. Only 22 people at NSA are authorized to provide numbers, to approve numbers, and about 30 are authorized to look into that database and that’s it.

When you look at the number that we have and the oversight and compliance that we have on this program and what it does to protect our civil liberties and privacy, we couldn’t think of a better way to do that.

Now, let me give you some thoughts here because I think this is important for our country to think about this. If you look at the trends in the CT arena, in 2012 it was the highest globally than it’s been ever. Over 15,000 people killed. In just this last month, 2,336 people were killed, 1,510 were injured in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Nigeria. And yet, there has not been a mass casualty here in the U.S. since 2001. That’s not by luck. They didn’t stop hating us. They didn’t say that they were going to just forget this. They continue to try.

It is the great members in the intelligence community, our military, our law enforcement that has stood up and said, “This is our job.” And we do it with our partners and our allies, and it has been a great partnership.

When you look at the numbers that we gave you early on about the number of terrorist-related events that we’ve helped stopped, recall that 13 were in the U.S., 25 were in Europe. They are closer to the threat. It’s easier to get to Europe and they’re going after them. And I think it is a privilege and honor from the United States’s perspective to know that we have helped stop incidents there.

As Congressman King said, one incident was called 9/11. We call that one incident. That should never happen again. That’s what we’re about here. That’s what we’re trying to do.

I think it’s also important to note that we’ve asked industry’s help. Asked? Okay, more accurately, we have compelled industry to help us in this manner by court order. And what they’re doing is saving lives and they’re being penalized because they’re helping to save lives and our way of life so that people sitting behind me can express their feelings. That’s something that we all stand up for so that they can say what they believe. We think that it’s important that they have the facts.

Industry has helped because they were compelled to help, and I’ll tell you there are a lot of patriots out there that know that what they’re doing is saving lives not only here but in Europe and around the world, and it’s the right thing to do and it’s done under court order. I think it is absolutely vital that we understand that.

So where do we come from? 8 plus years. We’ve been a team for 7 plus years. This is the greatest workforce I have ever met. These are patriots who everyday come to work saying, “How can we protect this country and protect our civil liberties and privacy?”

Nothing that has been released has shown that we’re trying to do something illegal or unprofessional. When we find a mistake – a compliance issue – we report it to this committee, to all our overseers and we correct it.

In the business record FISA and in the 702, there have been no willful violations. Under our executive order 12333, there have been 12 over a decade. The majority of those were done in foreign space on foreigners. I think that’s important to understand. For our foreign partners and our allies, we hold ourselves to that same standard no matter if we’re operating here or abroad.

If we do something that does not fall within an intelligence requirement, it is wrong. We report it. We hold our people accountable. If they did that willfully and disobeyed orders, then they are held accountable. And most – all of those people are gone. Three of them were military; two of those were given a court martial, reduce in rank, half a month’s pay for two months, and 45 days extra duty. So we hold our people accountable and we report to this committee everything that we’re doing.

As we go forward in the future, one of the things that we talked about this is a tough time for NSA, where everybody says, “What are you doing?” or “Why are you doing it?”

But here’s what we do when we get together, we don’t whine – well, maybe a couple of times we whine. But we actually say it is much more important for this country that we defend this nation and take the beatings than it is to give up a program that would result in this nation being attacked. We would rather be here in front of you today, telling you why we defended these programs than having giving them up and have our nation or our allies be attacked or people killed.

And the interesting part is we’ve shown we can do both – defend the country and protect our civil liberties and privacy.

Chairman, Ranking Member, it’s been an honor to work with this committee even though at times you wirebrush us. You know that we’re going to tell you the truth, the whole truth, and everything that we know every time. That’s our commitment to you, and that’s our commitment to this country.

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11 Comments on “Transcript: NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander’s testimony on NSA’s surveillance programs before the House Intelligence Committee on Oct. 29, 2013

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