Shut Down CyberCommand — US CyberCommander Keith Alexander Doesn’t Think It’s Important

Back on March 12 — in the same hearing where he lied to Ron Wyden about whether the intelligence community collects data on millions of Americans — James Clapper also implied that “cyber” was the biggest threat to the United States.

So when it comes to the distinct threat areas, our statement this year leads with cyber. And it’s hard to overemphasize its significance. Increasingly, state and non-state actors are gaining and using cyber expertise. They apply cyber techniques and capabilities to achieve strategic objectives by gathering sensitive information from public- and private sector entities, controlling the content and flow of information, and challenging perceived adversaries in cyberspace.

That was the big takeaway from Clapper’s Worldwide Threat Assessment. Not that he had lied to Wyden, but that that cyber had become a bigger threat than terrorism.

How strange, then, that the US CyberCommander (and Director of National Security) Keith Alexander mentioned cyber threats just once when he keynoted BlackHat the other day.

But this information and the way our country has put it together is something that we should also put forward as an example for the rest of the world, because what comes out is we’re collecting everything. That is not true. What we’re doing is for foreign intelligence purposes to go after counterterrorism, counterproliferation, cyberattacks. And it’s focused. [my emphasis]

That was it.

The sole mention of the threat his boss had suggested was the biggest threat to the US less than 5 months earlier. “Counterterrorism, counterproliferation, cyberattacks. and it’s focused.”

The sole mention of the threat that his audience of computer security professionals are uniquely qualified to help with.

Compare that to his 27 mentions of “terror” (one — the one with the question mark — may have been a mistranscription):

terrorists … terrorism … terrorist attacks … counterterrorism … counterterrorism … terrorists … counterterrorism … terrorist organizations … terrorist activities … terrorist … terrorist activities … counterterrorism nexus … terrorist actor … terrorist? … terrorism … terrorist … terrorists … imminent terrorist attack … terrorist … terrorist-related actor … another terrorist … terrorist-related activities … terrorist activities … stopping terrorism … future terrorist attacks … terrorist plots … terrorist associations

That was the speech the US CyberCommander chose to deliver to one of the premiere group of cybersecurity professionals in the world.

Terror terror terror.

Sitting among you are people who mean us harm

… US CyberCommander Alexander also said.

Apparently, Alexander and Clapper’s previous intense focus on stopping hacktavists and cyberattacks and cybertheft and cyber espionage have all been preempted by the necessity of scaring people into accepting the various dragnets that NSA has deployed against Americans.

Which, I guess, shows us the true seriousness of the cyber threat.

To be fair to our CyberCommander, he told a slightly different story back on June 27, when he addressed the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association International Cyber Symposium.

Sure, he started by addressing Edwards Snowden’s leaks.

But then he talked about a debate he was prepared to have.

I do think it’s important to put that on the table, because as we go into cyber and look at–for cyber in the future, we’ve got to have this debate with our country. How are we going to protect the nation in cyberspace? And I think this is a debate that is going to have all the key elements of the executive branch–that’s DHS, FBI, DOD, Cyber Command, NSA and other partners–with our allies and with industry. We’ve got to figure how we’re going to work together.

How are we going to protect the nation in cyberspace? he asked a bunch of Military Intelligence Industrial Complex types.

At his cyber speech, Alexander also described his plan to build, train, and field one-third of the force by September 30 — something you might think he would have mentioned at BlackHat.

Not a hint of that.

Our US CyberCommander said — to a bunch of industry types — that we need to have a debate about how to protect the nation in cyberspace.

But then, a month later, with the group who are probably most fit to debate him on precisely those issues, he was all but silent.

Just terror terror terror.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

13 replies
  1. Joe says:

    Well duh — if he started reminding people that he’s concocted nuclear-plant-disrupting cyberwar capabilities, that would just make everyone more scared OF him and his programs

  2. peasantparty says:

    Alexander is the Real-real home grown in the Homeland.

    Seriously now: Notice he not once said he needed to address Congress on this, nor the most important party to his cyber warring which is the AMERICAN PEOPLE!

    Living in the South, I’m always alerted to the signs of home grown. That is a sign of purity, goodness, and someone not trying to shake you down. Alexander and his crew has ruined that forever and hooked it right up to the Nazi Homeland meme.

    15 years ago people sitting and watching that behavior on stage would have laughed themselves into a bladder leak. Now, it’s not funny. The terror I feel is from my own government allowing this type of psychotic personnel to head up a protection agency. Especially one that blatantly lies to Congress, which is a federal offense!

  3. peasantparty says:

    @peasantparty: And while I’m on that subject of the types that are running and heading up important agencies in our government, (little g) can I just point out to those that have not noticed the military in charge?

    Why do we not have black-hat types working for us the people to keep us safe? EW, you asked the perfect question and stated the obvious. Those in the know with the skills to do it are not even in the running for a real conversation.

  4. peasantparty says:

    @peasantparty: And just one more thing before I go.

    Why the HELL do we have Contractors in charge of everything? Why does our little (g) government think they are saving dollars by out sourcing what they should be doing? Is Congress willingly letting go of control and oversight? Yeah, people. Get the conversation going because at this point in the game we have nothing left but talk.

  5. orionATL says:

    from an observer with a ring-side seat – rep. rush holt, formerly of the house unintelligent committee:

    “… Holt, who previously served on the intelligence committee, represents the most sceptical wing of Congress. “I learned that the heads of the NSA and other intelligence agencies are schooled in secrecy and deception. You can’t always believe everything they say,” he said…”

    wider quote from the guardian containing that quote:

    “..Most of the efforts focus on constraining the NSA’s ability to spy on Americans. There is less congressional support for limiting its spying on foreigners’ internet communication. One major exception is a measure introduced by House Democrat Rush Holt, that would repeal both the Patriot Act and the Fisa Amendments Act of 2008, two legislative pillars of post-9/11 surveillance.

    Holt, who previously served on the intelligence committee, represents the most sceptical wing of Congress. “I learned that the heads of the NSA and other intelligence agencies are schooled in secrecy and deception. You can’t always believe everything they say,” he said. “They say these have stopped 50 attacks or something like that, and though I’m not on the intelligence committee right now, and I can’t speak item-by-item, I can be pretty sure that there’s probably not too much truth to it.”

    from:

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/02/congress-nsa-legislation-surveillance

  6. JohnT says:

    Somebody in teh twitterverse is 20 Committee?

    Is that like half as smart (or just dumb, depending on your perspective) as the 40 Committee?

    (it’s hard to read teh twitter, so I don’t know what the convo is about)

  7. orionATL says:

    @Joe:

    future scenario, compelling political ad:

    “elect me, general alexander kyrie, your prez. i can prevent the release of radioactive material from both your operating and moth-balled nuclear power plants.”

    isn’t this just too silly?

    well, i ain’t laughing.

  8. What Constitution? says:

    He said it wrong. It wasn’t that “sitting among you are people who mean us harm,” so much as he should have said “standing in front of you is a person who means you harm.” Fixed that for him and his audience.

  9. greengiant says:

    Alexander playing the terror drum is the focusing of government violations of the constitution on the occupy movement, Swartz’s, Hastings, Snowden’s, Mannings, environmentalists, and anyone else who comes along to challenge the bankster fortune 500 corporates and their managed puppet hacks who we elect to office in the US.

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