NSA Director accused of lying to Congress at Black Hat USA 2013 keynote

NSA Director accused of lying to Congress at Black Hat USA 2013 keynote

Summary: During his packed Black Hat USA keynote NSA Director Keith Alexander assured the crowd that the NSA's surveillance programs are lawful interception; attendees did not hesitate to shout "Bullshit."


When NSA Director General Keith Alexander told the attendees of Black Hat USA 2013 that, speaking as the NSA, "we stand for freedom" - a member of the audience immediately shouted, "Bullshit!"

The rogue comment was received by the crowd with applause. The General acknowledged the comment and response, and moved on to continue telling the hackers and security professionals that the NSA's surveillance programs had prevented multiple terrorist attacks around the world.


At leading security conference Black Hat USA 2013 Gen. Keith Alexander, Commander, U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) and Director of the NSA told attendees in the event's opening keynote that "the same people who uphold the Constitution are the same people that run these programs"

He later went on to tell the room that the people at risk were heroes, and that was "no bullshit."

An equal amount of applause scattered throughout the room.

Alexander explained that he wanted to, "give attendees an insider’s look into the U.S. Cyber Command and the interworking of offensive cyber strategy" and he did, showing slides with prepared information about some of the surveillance programs used by the NSA.

The main thrust of the NSA Director's speech was that the NSA's surveillance programs were to protect Americans and combat foreign threats.

He told Black Hat in regard to the NSA's data collection requests, "these are not rubber stamped."

The Director emphasized that, "we do not see the content of your calls."

He continued, loosely describing the methods used to trace and individual number. He said,

To get a number approved, there are only 22 people at the NSA that can approve that number. Only numbers on the lists compiled [of terrorism suspects] can be queried.

Only 35 people at the NSA are allowed to do queries into that database.

He stressed the training that those individuals are required to complete. The General's speech stressed that the NSA's focus was on terrorism suspects, and minimized the scope of the surveillance programs.

NSA Black Hat keynote


He then told the audience,

In 2012 there were less than 300 numbers approved for queries. Those queries resulted in 12 reports to the FBI (...) they contained less than 500 minutes. The intent of this program is to find a terrorist actor and identify them to the FBI.

General Alexander went on to state that the NSA's programs, the very ones under fire in the press - such as Prism - were directly responsible for finding known terrorists. "This is our lawful intercept program."

"We have the courts, Congress and lawmakers looking at what we do." Referring to a slide projected for the audience he continued, "This shows you we have 100% auditability on every query we make. (...) We worked with committees in Congress for a directorate of compliance."

The vociferous crowd did not hesitate to talk back. One attendee shouted, "what I'm saying is that we don't trust you." Another accused the General of lying to Congress and shouted, "How do we know you're not lying to us right now?"

The NSA Director told attendees of North America's leading security conference that he was at Black Hat to ask security professionals in attendance for their help, most especially if they felt the programs were wrong.

Near the talk's end, an attendee shouted that General Alexander should read the Constitution.

NSA Director Keith Alexander at Black Hat 2013

He responded saying, "I have. You should, too."

The General's retort was met with applause.

Gen. Alexander's talk was presented in the atmosphere of today's new allegations in the Guardian UK that the NSA tool "XKeyscore" collects nearly everything a user does on the internet - and alleges that NSA analysts require no prior authorization for searches.

Americans, US politicians and the over 7,000 attendees of Black Hat USA 2013 are currently struggling with revelations and further, previous allegations that the NSA has been surveilling them and spying on their digital communications far more than was previously believed, known or even understood.

At last year's DEF CON keynote - the hacker conference following Black Hat every year - Director Alexander had denied NSA surveillance and spying to the audience when directly asked.

Alexander responded saying that this was "absolute nonsense." He continued, saying that managing hundreds of millions of individual citizen files would be impossible for the department to do.

Today's keynote comes during the NSA's most turbulent time in history - under Alexander's watch - when it has been rocked by Wikileaks, the Manning trial, former contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden and the Prism leaks, and widespread outrage at the revealed extent of the NSA's domestic and global surveillance programs.

Last year, the Director controversially delivered a keynote at DEF CON, the hacker conference after Black Hat. He was not invited back this year.

Only two weeks ago, Federal agents were openly disinvited to DEF CON by the organizer, in a blog post saying that the conference needed "time off" in its bizarre relationship with "Feds."

Conflict between NSA DEF CON keynote and Snowden leaks

Alexander's DEF CON keynote, presented in a black t-shrt and jeans, had the NSA Director saying that DEF CON was the "world's best cybersecurity community" and asked hackers for their help.

The NSA Director was asked during DEF CON's Q and A if the NSA keeps files on all US citizens.

CNET reported that General Alexander had stated,

"No we don't. Absolutely not," he said. "Our job is foreign intelligence. We get oversight by Congress...everything we do is auditable by them, by the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act)...and by the (Obama) Administration."

He acknowledged that occasionally there are slip ups. "We may, incidentally in targeting a bad guy, hit on a good guy," he said. "We have requirements from (the FISA) court and the attorney general to minimize that."

At DEF CON last year he told hackers,

In this room right here is the talent we need to secure cyberspace. You know we can protect the networks and have civil liberties and privacy and you can help us get there.

He had also told the audience of hackers and digital privacy activists that the United States needed "better sharing between private companies and the government" and Alexander ominously added that this was something that then-current proposed cybersecurity legislation can help fix.

Alexander was referring to the doomed Cybersecurity Act of 2012, which was effectively Son of CISPA with a few privacy provisions. Many considered CSA 2012 as the Guardian described it, "a surveillance bill in disguise" - effectively outsourcing the NSA's data surveillance to private companies, who are not held under the 4th amendment, and would have received immunity for handing over the data.

UPDATE Wednesday July 31, 8:45 pm: Just before the General's keynote, it was seen that eggs were being passed around the audience. The eggs were confiscated by security before the keynote began.







Topics: Security, Government US

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  • NSA XKeyscore

    XKeyscore: NSA tool collects 'nearly everything a user does on the internet'
    • Biden and Obama spell BO and they are the "Lying & Spying" government!

      Biden and Obama spell BO and they are the "Lying & Spying" government!

      We must free hero Pvt Bradley Manning from traitor foreigner President Barack Hussein Obama's homosexual military goons that started illegal Iraq war and illegal Vietnam war and tortures men, women, children! We must free hero Edward Snowden from traitor foreigner President Barack Hussein Obama's homosexual NSA terrorist thugs that scrapped America's constitution!
      Snowden is a true American hero! The foreigner President Obama and henchmen Feinstein, Pelosi, Reed, Boehner, King are traitors for scrapping America's constitution. We will dedicate ourselves to electing republican Rand Paul President of US and restoring our constitution, privacy, economy, health, and ending the illegal Patriot Act, FISA star chamber. America does not have liberty because our elected leaders have embraced Tyranny, Torture, and 3rd Reich brutality of NSA and their hired thugs!
      William Hewitt
    • Enhanced by the Microsoft Windows NSA customer spying back door

      They were the first to give up their customers data:
  • I call BS, but against the black hatters

    The NSA program was authorized by FISA.

    You can argue whether FISA is legal or not, and I will grant that until the Supreme Court rules definitely on it that is an open question, but I would say it IS legal until it is ruled otherwise.

    It certainly isn't for a bunch of hackers living in Mom's basement to decide that they have a monopoly on ethics over our elected officials, federal law enforcement, and judicial system.
    • Yeah!!!

      It should be up to a bunch of fat old white guys who don't know how to use a cell phone without getting caught sending pictures of their man parts!!!

      WTF are you smoking?
      • Fat old white guys

        Honestly, I don't care who they are. They were delegated to do that work by votes electing representatives who then in turn delegated that to administrators and law enforcement. that's the way it works.

        If you don't like it, either:

        1) vote for someone else
        2) run for office
        3) Follow Thomas Jefferson's advice about a little rebellion

        But if you do pull a Jefferson, don't be a f*** hypocrite about it like Julian Assange.

        I am always amazed that these deep thinkers believe they are god's gift to humanity, and only they out of 7 billion people, are fit to judge what is morally and ethically necessary.
        • Hmm

          Is that you Justice Roberts?

          Number 3 really isn't an option because they can tag you with the person of Interest tag and then follow everything you're planning.

          Either way, it still isn't something the majority of Americans would vote for even if you Deep Thinkers feel like you should be making decisions for those of us who don't want this program.
      • Fat Old White Guys?

        Really? Congress has 535 members. Of those:
        * 98 are women.
        * 118 are under the age of 50.
        * 31 are under the age of 40.
        * 45 are African American.
        * 11 are Asian American.
        * 32 are Hispanic.

        And Chuck Grassley, the second oldest Senator, has a lot of followers on Twitter.
        • In fainess, many groups overlap. An under 50 black female...

          ...for example?

          The question is are the rest, as in the vast majority that are left, are they a bunch of fat old white guys?
        • OK..

          But how do we judge how fat they are?
    • Do you have a brain?

      If so then you're allowed to have your own opinion. And yes, even if the US Supreme Court decides these programs are legal you are allowed to disagree.

      Personally I feel these programs are an unconstitutional breach of Americans' rights.
    • Living in Mom's basement?

      Registration for Blackhat is over $2k. These aren't kids in their parents' basement, it's security professionals. Many of them already work for the Fed. In fact, the NSA attends Blackhat to recruit these guys.

      The fact is our elected officials, federal law enforcement, and judicial system are often in the dark ages in terms of their understanding of technology. Hackers are outraged because they understand the technology and the implications of the data being collected in a way that few outside of our industry do.

      You trust us every day to protect your computer, your bank account, the power grid, even pacemakers and other medical implants. When we tell you that the NSA programs are putting you in danger, you should probably take that warning seriously.

      Legal or not, these programs cause more harm than good.
      Ben the Pyrate
    • Re: I would say it IS legal until it is ruled otherwise.

      Government and its representatives should NOT have powers in the absence of explicit laws granting them.

      Ordinary citizens should NOT have restrictions placed in them in the absence of explicit laws spelling out such restrictions.
    • The FISA court is a rubber stamp

      Out of tens of thousands of applications to the FISA court for warrants, only a handful have ever been denied. NSA: "We want a warrant! We think these are bad guys, but every piece of evidence we have is classified top secret, so we can't tell you why we think they're bad guys." FISA court: "Here's your warrant!" The "targets" could be anyone from a real terrorist to an anti-NSA activist to a "troublesome reporter" to a prominant member of whatever political party is not in power to a folk-rock musician that happens to be a Muslim, i.e., just like Nixon's "enemies list."
    • Biden and Obama spell BO and they are the "Lying & Spying" government!

      We need to clean house! BO (Biden & Obama) must be impeached and prosecuted as war criminals because they declared war on US. All democratic leaders (Feinstein, Pelosi, Reid, Schumer) must be voted out of or banned from Congress because they condoned Obama scrapping the American constitution. We should tar and feather these traitors and run them out of town on a rail.
      William Hewitt
    • Biden and Obama spell BO and they are the "Lying & Spying" government!

      Biden and Obama spell BO and they are the "Lying & Spying" government!
      The constitution is the law and the democratic leaders and republican leaders and BO have betrayed America by scrapping the constitution. The American people are waking up and we have guns and our guns are loaded and the revolution is coming. It will be bloody but some leaders need jail for cleansing their soul. Repent BO and Pelosi, Feinstein, Reid, Schumer, Boehner, Rogers, McConnell.

      BO plans on invading Syria to protect the Saudi Sunni Al Qaeda rebels in the Sunni & Shiite war BO started. Please let BO know that Syria does not have oil. BO should attack Saudi Arabia and put an end to the world's greatest tyrant that attacked America on 9/11 killing 3,800 stockbrokers. Then we would have FREE oil and create 2 million jobs for the American contractors that will build a democratic Saudi Arabia and liberate the people oppressed by this Al Qaeda Sunni tyrant.
      William Hewitt
  • how many programs fill pinwale , marina , mainway , & nucleon ?

    OSINT - dated 2008 XKS -> GAMUT/UTT


    I've noticed , of all the job specs/resumes listing Pinwale , Marina , Mainway , and Nucleon ... NONE of them list the FISA/PRISM 9-eyes sigint collection

    many other organizations and agencies access those databases DAILY using OTHER collection and query tools

    from 10 years ago
    (before DITU/CALEA , RT-RG & IARPA BLACKBOOK , Raytheon Riot & DARPA SMISC)
  • Russ Tice - claims otherwise

    " To get a number approved, there are only 22 people at the NSA that can approve that number. Only numbers on the lists compiled [of terrorism suspects] can be queried.

    Only 35 people at the NSA are allowed to do queries into that database."

    see businessinsider article http://www.businessinsider.com/the-nsa-spied-on-barack-obama-2004-russ-tice-2013-6
    • why do you think 800,000 people work for NSA

      in thousands of acres of server farms? ...to serve the chosen 22 and track a few hundred phone numbers?
      LlNUX Geek
  • Security vs. liberty

    If this type of invasion of privacy is necessary to be secure I will do without security. I am willing to take my chances, just like I was willing to be a soldier. He may believe he is protecting me, and he probably is right, but I would rather have my privacy and take my chances. In the long run I am more endangered by some unscrupulous group in our own government using this information than I am from the terrorist.