NSA Director Defends Surveillance Of Phones, Internet

By | June 18, 2013

Posted in: Network Security Trends

NSA Director Defends Surveillance Of Phones, Internet

The director of the National Security Agency, Gen. Keith Alexander, today (Tuesday June 18) defended US spying on phone calls and internet traffic, saying it had prevented some 50 terror attacks around the world.

In remarks to the House Intelligence Committee, Alexander said: “In recent years, these programs, together with other intelligence, have protected the US and our allies from terrorist threats across the globe… helping prevent potential terrorist events over 50 times since 9/11.”

The NSA director was referring to secret surveillance programs whose existence was revealed earlier this month by former CIA employee Edward Snowden, who leaked details to The Washington Post and The Guardian.

Alexander said one of the foiled attacks was “a nascent plot to bomb the New York Stock Exchange.” This plot was detected through the monitoring of a known extremist in Yemen, who was in contact with an individual in the US.

Snowden, who fled to Hong Kong,  has rejected suggestions that he is trying to trade information in return for asylum in China. “This is a predictable smear that I anticipated before going public, as the US media has a knee-jerk ‘Red China!’ reaction to anything involving Hong Kong or the People’s Republic of China,” he said in an online interview hosted by The Guardian.

“It is intended to distract from the issue of US government misconduct,” Snowden said. “Ask yourself: if I were a Chinese spy, why wouldn’t I have flown directly into Beijing? I could be living in a palace petting a phoenix by now.”

Yahoo on Monday (June 17) became the latest internet giant to reveal details of data requests it had received from the US government. Apple, Facebook and Microsoft have made similar revelations since Snowden leaked documents about the PRISM internet spying program.
“We’ve worked hard over the years to earn our users’ trust and we fight hard to preserve it,” Yahoo CEO Melissa Mayer said in a statement.

“To that end, we are disclosing the total number of requests for user data that law enforcement agencies in the US made to us between December 1, 2012, and May 31, 2013.  During that period, we received between 12,000 and 13,000 requests, inclusive of criminal, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and other requests.  The most common of these requests concerned fraud, homicides, kidnappings, and other criminal investigations.”

Mayer said Yahoo could not legally divulge FISA request numbers because they were classified. “However, we strongly urge the federal government to reconsider its stance on this issue,” she said. “Democracy demands accountability.  Recognizing the important role that Yahoo can play in ensuring accountability, we will issue later this summer our first global law enforcement transparency report, which will cover the first half of the year.  We will refresh this report with current statistics twice a year.”

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