Keith Alexander’s Bubble Floats into the Sunset of Defense Contractor Sinecures

Screen shot 2013-11-27 at 11.11.07 AM

In a training program developed in 2009, the NSA itself identified abuses it likened to Projects Shamrock and Minaret.

Today, LAT has an extremely friendly exit interview with Keith Alexander that nevertheless depicts the now-retired General as hopelessly lost inside a bubble far removed from those who paid his salary. It depicts Alexander confusing objections to what NSA’s leaders have ordered with what the presumably honorable people who implement those decisions.

But something else seems likely to shape the legacy of the NSA’s longest-serving director, who retired Friday: something that Alexander failed to anticipate, did not prepare for and even now has trouble understanding.
Thanks to Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor, the world came to know many of the agency’s most carefully guarded secrets. Ten months after the disclosures began, Alexander remains disturbed, and somewhat baffled, by the intensity of the public reaction.
“I think our nation has drifted into the wrong place,” he said in an interview last week. “We need to recognize that those who are working to protect our nation are not the bad people.

I find it particularly troubling that Alexander sees in skepticism about authority the nation “drifting into the wrong place.”

The profile goes on to convey Alexander’s laughable belief that what has been depicted since June is the model of oversight.

When Snowden’s disclosures began, Alexander and his deputies knew they were in for a storm. But they felt sure the American public would be comforted when they learned of the agency’s internal controls and the layers of oversight by Congress, the White House and a federal court.
“For the first week or so, we all had this idea that we had nothing to be ashamed of, and that everyone who looked at this in context would quickly agree with us,” Inglis said.
Instead, polls show, many Americans believe that the NSA is reading their emails and listening to their phone calls. A libertarian group put an advertisement in the Washington transit system calling Alexander, a 62-year-old career military officer, a liar. U.S. technology companies are crying betrayal.

Side note: it would be useful if LAT noted that in fact the disclosures do show that the NSA is conducting warrantless back door searches on US person emails, rather than using the conjunction “instead” suggesting this impression is false. And that’s all before you get into the vast collection overseas and upstream for which NSA refuses to count US person data.

I’m particularly interested in Alexander’s attempt to distinguish this scandal from the scandals of the 1970s.

He sees a fundamental difference between the intelligence abuses uncovered by Congress in the 1970s — including revelations that the NSA spied without warrants on domestic dissidents — and the programs exposed by Snowden.
“What the Church and Pike committees found” nearly 40 years ago was “that people were doing things that were wrong. That’s not happening here,” Alexander said, referring to the panels headed by Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) and Rep. Otis Pike (D-N.Y.) that examined intelligence-agency activities in that era.

As I have noted repeatedly, 4 years into Alexander’s tenure, the NSA itself likened some of its abuses to Projects Shamrock and Minaret. So perhaps Alexander should at least cede that under his leadership, the NSA was also doing things that it itself considered to be analogues to those earlier scandals (and yes, they violated the law and limits of the programs in question).

Even the LAT conducts a soft fact check of Alexander’s claim that the President’s Review Group and PCLOB found a model of oversight.

Outside reviews, including one released in December by a presidential task force, he said, found that “lo and behold, NSA is doing everything we asked them to do, and if they screw up, they self-report.”
The task force reported it found “no evidence of illegality or other abuse of authority for the purpose of targeting domestic political activity.” But it also noted “serious and persistent instances of noncompliance” with privacy and other rules. Even if unintentional, those violations “raise serious concerns” about the NSA’s “capacity to manage its authorities in an effective and lawful manner,” the report said.

I’d go further, too, and point out that this self-reporting only came with the greater involvement of DOJ’s National Security Division, after years of NSA not reporting these violations. Even months into one of those incidents, the NSA was failing to report its violations to the FISC without NSD involvement.

But perhaps the most egregious example of Alexander’s bubble comes in his assessment of the Snowden leaks themselves.

The ease with which Snowden removed top-secret documents also embarrassed an agency that is supposed to be the first line of defense against cyberattacks.
In July, Alexander offered to resign, but the White House turned him down, he said. He didn’t think holding other senior officials accountable would be right because a massive theft of documents by a systems administrator could not have been foreseen, he added.

Are you kidding me? First, how is it that the NSA couldn’t anticipate the large scale exfiltration of documents via removable media in the 3 years after Chelsea Manning did so? And why didn’t NSA comply with requirements to implement software to prevent just that, the kind of software Alexander insists his agency should have on our private communications? But note what else doesn’t get mentioned, as Alexander rides off into the sunset of generous defense contractor sinecures? Not only didn’t Alexander hold his subordinates responsible, but he didn’t hold Booz responsible, the company under whose lucrative eyeballs Snowden did this work.

As of Friday, the Bubble General is gone into retirement. While I fully expect soon-to-be Admiral Mike Rogers to be just as aggressive in hiding the scope of his programs and doing what he can because he can, I do hope he is not this detached from the reality in which he works.

11 replies
  1. JTMinIA says:

    Maybe I’m making too much of one word, but the part of the Alexander quote that stands out to me is “drifting.” I can understand how someone like him might object to the push back from those who think of the Bill of Rights as something more than gloss or toilet-paper. But to see it as “drifting” is a whole ‘nother level of utter cluelessness.

  2. orionATL says:

    assuming his puzzlement is genuine, general alexander displays here the kind of blinders-on, true-believer thinking that could impell him to lead or to support a military coup.

    it is freightening that such a personality could have risen so high in our military command structire.

    doubly-freightening that he was placed in, and then left in, command of the most destructive security bureaucracy a democracy can create.

  3. Frank33 says:

    It depicts Alexander confusing objections to what NSA’s leaders have ordered with what the presumably honorable people who implement those decisions.

    The Universal Dragnet by presumbaly honorable people who spy on the American people, did not begin on Sept. 11, 2001. It began before 1947, before the creation of the American Gestapo also known as the CIA and NSA. Even then the American Secret Government was opening all, ALL, foreign mail to and from American citizens. They were keeping files of citizens who were “associated” with Communists.

    They were even monitoring motion pictures that mildly criticized our wealthy oligarchs, such as “It’s A Wonderful Life”. The FBI used fascist foreigners such as Ayn Rand to help the FBI spy on American citizens and their motion pictures .

    Maybe some of the Nazis who were brought secretly to the United States by Operation Paperclip, also brought their Gestapo tactics and skills to assist the Secret Government.

    In the the 1960’s, the Secret Government employed esionage tactics, even violence against anti Vietnam War activists and any other activists who promoted peace and freedom. The Media Pennsylvania liberation of FBI documents showed this was a permanent secret war to disrupt and destroy dissent. COINTELPRO was particularly vicious against African American leaders such as Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

    We should assume that the One Percent now more than ever, uses the Secret Police to maintain their corruption and oppression. We should assume that opposing Fossil Fuels, opposing Nuclear pollution from Fukushima, opposing Ukrainian Nazis,and of course opposiong the never ending wars by the US Government, makes citizens fair game to be spied upon. The only honorable people at the NSA are the ones who reveal the crimes of the NSA.

    I have noticed that President Obama never uses the word “citizens”. We are just “folks” to him. Citizens have Constitutional rights but folks, not so much.

    • chronicle says:

      @frank33… Bravo. Ditto. Indeed. One only need read the Central Intelligence Act and the National Security Acts to discover a level of unprecedented legalization of unaccountability. It will astound you. To this day, these acts are what have led to a transfer of power to the CIA and NSA that even Senator Church was astounded at the depth of depravity the CIA had reached. To this day also, his prediction of the abyss is staggering in it’s truth. As anyone with one neuron between their ears can see, the current fight between Feinstein and the CIA SHOULD result in a complete annihilation of the CIA/NSA and prosecutions of biblical proportions. Unfortunately, it ain’t gonna happen. I now believe Jim Garrison was right. …
      quote:”Its origins can be traced in the tremendous war machine we’ve built since 1945, the “military-industrial complex” that Eisenhower vainly warned us about, which now dominates every aspect of our life. The power of the states and Congress has gradually been abandoned to the Executive Department, because of
      war conditions; and we’ve seen the creation of an arrogant, swollen bureaucratic complex totally unfettered by the checks and balances of the Constitution. In a very real and terrifying sense, our Government is the CIA and the Pentagon, with Congress reduced to a debating society. Of course, you can’t spot this trend to fascism by casually looking around. You can’t look for such familiar signs as the swastika, because they won’t be there. We won’t build Dachaus and Auschwitzes; the clever manipulation of the mass media is creating a concentration camp of the mind that promises to be far more effective in keeping the populace in line. We’re not going to wake up one morning and suddenly find ourselves in gray uniforms goose-stepping off to work. But this isn’t the test.The test is: What happens to the individual who dissents? In Nazi Germany, he was physically destroyed; here, the process is more subtle, but the end results can be the same. I’ve learned enough about the machinations of the CIA in the past year to know that this is no longer the dreamworld America I once believed in. The imperatives of the population explosion, which almost inevitably will lessen our belief in the sanctity of the individual human life, combined with the awesome power of the CIA and the defense establishment, seem destined to seal the fate of the America I knew as a child and bring us into a new Orwellian world where the citizen exists for the state and where raw power justifies any and every immoral act. I’ve always had a kind of knee-jerk trust in my Government’s basic integrity, whatever political blunders it may make. But I’ve come to realize that in Washington, deceiving and manipulating the public are viewed by some as the natural prerogatives of office. Huey Long oncesaid, “Fascism will come to America in the name of anti-fascism.” I’m afraid, based on my own experience, that fascism will come to America…

      in the name of national security.”unquote
      Indeed. In the name of NATIONAL SECURITY . godbless Alexanders peepicken heart..after the cocksucker is dead.

  4. lefty665 says:

    Alexander had the approval of two presidents and a predecessor for everything he did. Duhbya and Hayden turned NSA inward after 9/11. You can bet that Alexander got the job because he enthusiastically embraced the perversion of NSA’s mission. O has doubled down on that. The rot starts at the top. Sedition ranks right up there with torture as an act that cries out for prosecution. But look forward, always look forward.

  5. Don Bacon says:

    “I didn’t fire him [General MacArthur] because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that’s not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three quarters of them would be in jail.” — Harry Truman

  6. Snoopdido says:

    This is off topic, but just up on their site now: From Greg Miller, Adam Goldman and Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post – CIA misled on interrogation program, Senate report says –

    “A report by the Senate Intelligence Committee concludes that the CIA misled the government and the public about aspects of its brutal interrogation program for years — concealing details about the severity of its methods, overstating the significance of plots and prisoners, and taking credit for critical pieces of intelligence that detainees had in fact surrendered before they were subjected to harsh techniques.
    The report, built around detailed chronologies of dozens of CIA detainees, documents a long-standing pattern of unsubstantiated claims as agency officials sought permission to use — and later tried to defend — excruciating interrogation methods that yielded little, if any, significant intelligence, according to U.S. officials who have reviewed the document. “

    • Snoopdido says:

      As you read the that Washington Post article, it sure seems clear that somebody, probably Greg Miller, got to read that 300 page summary at the very least, and take some fairly detailed notes.
      Such as:
      “Classified files reviewed by committee investigators reveal internal divisions over the interrogation program, officials said, including one case in which CIA employees left the agency’s secret prison in Thailand after becoming disturbed by the brutal measures being employed there.”
      “If declassified, the report could reveal new information on the treatment of a high-value detainee named Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, the nephew of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks. The Pakistanis captured Ali, known more commonly as Ammar al-Baluchi, on April, 30, 2003, in Karachi and turned him over to the CIA about a week later. He was taken to a CIA black site called “Salt Pit” near Kabul.
      At the secret prison, Baluchi endured a regime that included being dunked in a tub filled with ice water. CIA interrogators forcibly kept his head under the water while he struggled to breathe and beat him repeatedly, hitting him with a truncheon-like object and smashing his head against a wall, officials said.”

      • orionATL says:

        thanks for these cites.

        u.s. citizens who see too many misleading movies and teevee shows need to be reminded in specific, graphic detail of the techniques which an american president, george w. bush, authorized our american paramilitary army, the cia, to use to torture possible opponents in violation of both american and international law.

  7. Shwell Thanksh says:

    To the extent that appointing Rogers’ replacement is viewed as a rare chance for Boehner to exercise his beleaguered role as GOP leader in charge, the oft-reliable Eli Lake seems to conclude that Boehner’s BFF Nunes has the edge going in. Because, Behghazi. Which, amusingly, is the same reason that Peter King’s star is tarnished.

Comments are closed.