This week Duffel Blog sat down with Gen. Keith Alexander, Director of the National Security Agency, for an exclusive interview about Edward Snowden’s defection and the Agency’s relationship with Congress. The following are some of the highlights of that interview.
DB: Gen. Alexander thanks for taking time for this interview today. I know you’re very busy so let me get started. I can imagine it’s been a very difficult few months. What are you feeling right now? Angry? Vengeful?
Gen. Alexander: You know not really. A lot of people are surprised when I say I’m more frustrated and confused rather than angry.
DB: Confused? Over what?
DIRNSA: The first thing I want you to know is that everyone who works at NSA, be they military, civilians or contractors, are all US citizens just like you and I. Well, except for the Brits, the Canadians, the Aussies and the New Zealanders, but don’t mind them. We wouldn’t want NSA gathering intelligence on us any more than you would.
I know people are angry when they hear we’re “collecting metadata” on people but I look around at our society and I just say, “Jesus Christ! Come on people!” We live in a country where it has become the norm to share the shape, consistency and odor associated with you last bowel movement on multiple social networks. You really shouldn’t bitch that I’m invading your privacy by checking to see if you calling terrorist on your cell phone. Should you?
DB: Well, that is a good point if maybe a little overly graphically made.
DIRNSA: Here’s another one. I have this friend on Facebook who just about every freakin’ day posts an article to my wall about how NSA is invading America’s privacy and using our advanced technology to track US citizens using their cell phones. I don’t have to use advanced technology to track Dave because this asshat updates his GPS coordinates from his iPhone every 15 minutes. Sometimes I log on and all I have is, “Dave is at the Burger Barn.” “Dave is at the dry cleaners.” “Dave is at the drug store.” You know what? Screw you Dave.
DB: Wait, you have a Facebook account? You have friends on Facebook?
DIRNSA: Yeah, Dave sent me a friend request a few years back and I remember him as a pretty cool guy in high school. Now he’s just a dick.
DB: Sir, we seem to have gotten a little off track. Let’s get back to Snowden. How is NSA responding to this monumental intelligence leak?
DIRNSA: That’s a good question and one the American people should be asking. When we first learned Edward Snowden had disappeared and was likely in the People’s Republic of China we began an intensive review of his background, his work assignments and professional behaviors and his lifestyle to determine what we missed that would have indicated this was going to happen and to identify key indicators to help us prevent this type of thing from happening in the future.
DB: Can you tell us what you discovered?
DIRNSA: Absolutely, after a great deal of research we’ve determined the primary issue is that he’s a ginger.
DB: Excuse me? A ginger?
DIRNSA: Absolutely, my grandmother always told me that people with red hair are the children of the devil and they get a freckle for every soul they steal. It looks like Memaw Jenkins was right.
DB: So what actions are you taking in response?
DIRNSA: I have asked the Deputy Director to begin a review of all security files of every Agency affiliate who meets similar criteria. Let me stress, we’re not just talking gingers. We’re going to be investigating everyone from the strawberry blonds all the way to the fiery red heads. I’ve also directed that anyone with more than 15 visible freckles should be polygraphed immediately in case they have dyed their hair or tried some other subterfuges.
DB: Have you had any complaints about your new program?
DIRNSA: I got a late night call claiming to be from the Hibernian Society of Baltimore saying I was discriminating against Irish-Americans. They sounded drunk so they probably were Irish but I want to stress this is not racial profiling. NSA is not prejudiced based on race or ethnic background. If a person of Asian or African ancestry comes in here with red hair, they’re going to get treated the same as the Paddies.
DB: But sir, I’ve seen pictures of you as a young officer where your hair was brown but it had definite red tinges in it.
DIRNSA: I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about but if you bring it back up I’ll make damn sure you don’t complete another cell phone call until you’re 60! Any questions?
DB: Umm, no sir. Let’s move on to the fallout from the Snowden defection. You’ve been hauled before Congress on several occasions. You have spoken to the media more than once. The American people have expressed deep concerns about a court-sanctioned relationship between NSA and several cell phone providers. How is this going to effect NSA intelligence collection mission long-term?
DIRNSA: First let me say this. I have nothing but respect for our Congressional leadership. It is a basic principle of our nation, enshrined in the Constitution, upheld in the Courts and proven by history to be the greatest and most robust bulwark against tyranny in the long narrative of mankind. Sure they will bang any cocktail waitress in the District of Columbia and some of them like to send snapshots of their man parts to unsuspecting women. God only knows they haven’t passed a serious law in around eight years, and if they could pass a budget I wouldn’t have to furlough a big chunk of my workforce but they are there for a reason and we have to respect that.[pullquote position="right"]That is not what I said. I said we’re buying four cell phone companies: Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile.[/pullquote]
And in the Executive Branch it could be very easily said that these people are nothing but political hacks that got their jobs through campaign contributions, favors and cronyism but these are our leaders. I have to respect their authority and their responsibilities. And let me makes this perfectly clear, when I say, “I have to respect their authority,” I’m saying I am legally obligated to. It’s the law. It’s not like I have any choice in the matter.
DB: So what are you telling Congress about the future of NSA?
DIRNSA: Great question. As you know we’ve been taking a lot of flak in the press for our court approved relationships with several cell phone service providers. As I have said on many occasions we have court orders approving the data mining. We briefed Congress on the program many times and we brief the President on our findings regularly. We’ve also briefed Congress regularly on what we’ve discovered from the data we’ve retrieved and the terrorist plots we’ve uncovered. So we’ve done our best to do our due diligence in order to ensure the American people we’re staying within the limits of the law but still, that hasn’t made people happy. So we’ve decided if they’re going to hate us anyway, we might as well do something big. So I can announce today that we have Congressional authorization to buy the four biggest U.S. cell phone companies.
DB: Excuse me; did you say NSA was going to buy a cell phone company?
DIRNSA: That is not what I said. I said we’re buying four cell phone companies: Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile.
DB: Isn’t that kind of a bold move?
DIRNSA: Not really. We had this idea a few years ago when through a front company we bought MySpace. That was a dead end. Who knew there wasn’t any information of any sort on MySpace anymore? Then we thought about Facebook. It was going public, we could suck up most of the stock and make sure nobody knew it but like I said earlier, any jackass with a computer can log on there any find out anything he wants about anyone with an account. We looked at Google but it turns out they’ve already been picked up by the Chinese or Satan, assuming there’s a difference.
Then this whole Snowden thing happened and we were out of the closet so to speak. We don’t have to skulk around any more. So we’re picking up the four largest cell phone providers overtly. It will cost a little more up front but those guys make huge bank, I’m telling ya’ and it will save us a ton of money on lawyer’s fees.
DB: So let me clarify my earlier question. When I said this was a “bold move” what I should have said was, “Isn’t this patently illegal.” Will the American people stand for this?
DIRNSA: Illegal, as in against the law? Since Congress writes the law, they decided to write this into it. And will the American people stand for it? No they won’t. I’m sure everyone will turn off their cell phones and do without… NOT! We’re a country welded to our phones. Listen, people are so stupid about their phones we have to spend millions of dollars to tell them not to text and drive. Do we tell them they shouldn’t read a novel and drive? No, or wear a blindfold and drive? No we don’t because people know that would be stupid but we have to tell them not to text and drive. Why? Because cell phones are like electronic crystal meth. Once someone gets a phone they have to have one all the time. And what are they going to do if the decide to leave Sprint or AT&T? Go to Cricket or Tracfone? No, I don’t think so.
And yes, I know what you’ll say next. We’re the government and the government screws up everything it touches but the amount you’re paying for that smartphone in your pocket makes a $300 ashtray on a submarine seem like good fiscal planning.
DB: And it’s not like you would make customer service any worse.
DB: Gen. Alexander, thank you for your time. It has been very informative.
DIRNSA: It’s not a problem. My Public Affairs Office will be available if you have any follow-ups. Oh, call your mother. You blew off those two voicemails last night. I didn't want to say anything but your dad’s drinking again and she needs someone to talk to. Have a good afternoon.