North Texas Daily

Former NSA head speaks at Hyatt

Former NSA head speaks at Hyatt

Former NSA head speaks at Hyatt
November 05
23:06 2014

Rhiannon Saegert / Senior Staff Writer

Former National Security Agency director Gen. Keith Alexander discussed terrorism, data breaches and Edward Snowden Wednesday at the Hyatt Regency Dallas as part of UNT’s Kuehne Speaker Series on national security.

About five minutes into the speech, a protester disrupted the presentation by slipping into the event and shouting accusations that Alexander is a war criminal and a terrorist. He and several other protesters were escorted out of the hotel and the ballroom doors were locked to prevent more interruptions.

Art senior Jonathan Adams was also there to protest the event.

“Students don’t want our money being spent to host warmongers like Keith Alexander,” Adams said. “UNT needs to stop giving these Bush-era criminals a platform.”

UNT has also hosted Condoleeza Rice and Bush himself as speakers.

Alexander spoke about the distributed denial of service attacks on Estonian websites in 2007, which stalled or stopped Estonia’s parliament, banks and media by flooding the sites with more data than they could handle.

“It stopped Estonia, who banks online, votes online, is the most Internet-connected nation in the world with about 1.4 million people,” Alexander said. “They had to drop their Internet connection to stop them. It lasted for a couple of weeks.”

He cited the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia as another example of an attack on a country’s existing network.

“In October of 2008, NSA was responsible for protecting our national security system, but at that time were not authorized to go in and look at our [Department of Defense] networks,” Alexander said. “But we saw stuff in foreign space and we said, ‘That’s a problem.’”

He said later that month, 15,000 pieces of malicious software were found on the DOD classified network.

“There’s not two networks. There’s not a cyber network out there and then a terrorism network. All of our information is on one network,” Alexander said. “The issue we face as a nation is, ‘How do we protect ourselves?’”

Alexander said the NSA’s operation is necessary to prevent terrorist attacks. As an example, he spoke about the foiled terrorist plot to bomb New York City’s subway in 2009. He said emails from people in Pakistan to people in Denver, which discussed bomb creation, led to the FBI linking three other people in the U.S. to Al Qaeda.     

“Knowing that number was linked to Al Qaeda, we were authorized by the courts, by Congress, by all three branches of our government, to look into the business record daily,” he said. “Then and only then could we look into it.”

He said that the attack, had it succeeded, would have been the worst attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. Alexander read an excerpt from University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey R. Stone’s letter, “What I Told the NSA.” Stone was part of the president’s review group on intelligence and communication technologies who examined and made recommendations for changes to the NSA last December.

In the letter, Stone writes that the NSA was given power that threatened citizens’ privacy and civil liberties by all three branches of government, but the agency never overstepped those boundaries or broke the law. The letter states: “To the contrary, it has put in place carefully-crafted internal procedures to ensure that it operates within the bounds of its lawful authority.”

“The two programs that we have are to help stop that, and we can argue over these programs and what they do, but the fact is these aren’t NSA’s programs,” he said. “These are programs approved by Congress, the courts. Sixteen federal judges 37 times approved this.”

A Q & A session followed. When asked about Edward Snowden, Alexander said the one mistake the NSA made was trusting Snowden.

“He signed a document [saying] he would treat the classified information appropriately,” Alexander said. “He was a security administrator on a Microsoft-like server. His job was to bring from the continental U.S. to Hawaii for NSA analysts to use. Because he was the IT administrator on that, he had special work privileges.”

He said some British intelligence services believed the terrorist attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya last September could have been caught if Snowden hadn’t interfered. He also said he believes Snowden is now working for the Russian government.

“This is a huge issue and I think it’s going to take us years to figure it out,” Alexander said. “I don’t think we’ll ever see Edward Snowden back here. I think he’s already built his way into the Russian infrastructure and there he’ll stay and they will never let him go because, if what I said is true, they can’t let us know why and how they did that.”

  The speaker series was created with a $300,000 fellowship with UNT alumnus Ernie Kuehne, who felt national security was an important and fairly unique topic for a series.

“I got to thinking this would be a great opportunity to showcase the school and at the same time give the university some exposure in Dallas,” Kuehne said.

Featured Image: Gen. Keith B. Alexander. Photo courtesy of UNT News

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