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NSA Chief Keith Alexander Takes His PRISM Pitch to YouTube: "It's Like Taking a Bath"

Enjoy this new and rather weird interview with the NSA director, produced by the DOD.
October 26, 2013, 7:10pm

The United States Department of Defense's press office was kind enough to put this interview together so that we can know the real story of the NSA’s surveillance and cybersecurity programs. There’s definitely something goofy about the video’s wan attempt at looking/sounding like a NOVA episode (the music, why?), but even moreso, Keith Alexander, director of the NSA and commander of US Cyber Command, comes off as a weird dude and, you know, a literal tool.

Alexander, who defended the agency at Black Hat this summer and recently announced his retirement next year, takes care to emphasize the agency's privacy compliance precautions and oversight. "We have not had any willful or knowing violations in those programs," he says referring to sections 215 and 702 of the Patriot Act, which relate to the telephone metadata and PRISM programs respectively. "There have been [violations] in other programs, but not in those two."

Still, documents show that the NSA did violate privacy protections for Americans, and two lawsuits claim that the agency violated the constitution. "You know we're taking this beating in the press," he acknowledges. But "despite what the papers say, we do it better than anyone. The papers convolute these stories."

"You call them spying programs," he says to the Pentagon reporter, who is represented only by text on screen. "People say 'they're spying on Americans.' That is absolutely wrong. We are going after terrorists with those programs. So the question is, it has been successful, but can somebody come up with a better way of doing it? We haven't been able to come up with [a better way], so we've been working with Congress and the courts."

Here, he deploys a curious metaphor for large-scale secret metadata collection: “When you're younger, as a boy, you say, I don't wanna take a bath... You say, isn't there a better way? No, so we take baths, or showers. And what about here? What's the better way to stop terrorists?"

Later, he adds that the NSA tracks "any violation we do in any place, foreign or domestic" and that "these programs were started to defend this country. If we have a better way, let's discuss it."

Reform to Alexander does not mean increased transparency, which he argues would jeapoardize the central premise of the NSA's surveillance: that it has and will stop terrorist attacks. He cites figures about thwarted "terrorist-related activities" (13 in the US, and 41 overseas, including 25 in Europe), repeating oft-cited claims that were fact-checked this week by ProPublica and found to be conflicting and lack evidence.

His attack on Edward Snowden is precisely what one might expect from the director of the NSA in a video produced by the Dept. of Defense. “When people die, those that leaked information should be held accountable... I think there’s irreversible and significant damage to this nation. The people who are protecting us, those people of NSA and cyber command, they're the heroes and they're the ones that deserve the kudos from the American people.”

I don’t actually think those people he mentions deserve quite the villain status bestowed on them by Greenwald, but twitchy, obvious propaganda isn’t going to win many hearts.