Four-Star General in Eye of U.S. Cyber Storm
(Reuters) - Depending on your point of view, U.S. General Keith Alexander is either an Army four-star trying to stave off a cyber Pearl Harbor attack, or an overreaching spy chief who wants to eavesdrop on the private emails of every American.
Alexander, 61, has headed the National Security Agency since 2005, making him the longest-serving chief in the history of an intelligence unit so secretive that it was dubbed “No Such Agency.” Alexander also runs U.S. Cyber Command, which he helped to create in 2010 to oversee the country’s offensive and defensive operations in cyberspace.
The dual role means Alexander has more knowledge about cyber threats than any other U.S. official, since the NSA already protects the most sensitive U.S. data, extracts intelligence from foreign networks and uses wiretaps to track suspected terrorists. But it also puts the general at the center of an intense debate over how much power the government should have to spy on private citizens in the name of protecting national security. […]
Alexander had wanted the NSA to control a government security program to aid non-military companies against cyber threats, but others at DHS insisted on civilian control of the project, and they ultimately prevailed, the officials said. […]
More controversial has been the NSA’s construction of a $1.2 billion data center in Utah, which has fanned concerns about the agency’s expansive eavesdropping capabilities. […]
According to Alexander, the NSA has its hands full keeping tabs on potential terrorists, and does not have the bandwidth to read the 420 billion emails generated by Americans each day - even though some foreign governments were trying to do that. […]
Alexander has asked the Pentagon to give Cyber Command the same elevated status as other major military commands, but it is not yet clear if that request will be granted.
Ira Winkler, president of the Information Systems Security Association, said Alexander’s leadership of both NSA and Cyber Command is an advantage but also a complication.
“He’s stuck in a bad position. He basically has to defend U.S. cyberspace which requires securing commercial websites and infrastructure, but no one wants him to have access to those networks, since he’s also in charge of NSA,” Winkler said. […]