Former NSA chief: Trump is "the president our nation needs" on cybersecurity

Retired Gen. Keith Alexander, who oversaw NSA during the Snowden leak, said he left the recent White House cybersecurity meeting impressed.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

Retired Gen. Keith Alexander, former director of the National Security Agency (NSA) said he was left "really impressed" with President Donald Trump after the recent closed-door White House meeting on cybersecurity.

"What I saw was a president who was now very focused and asked each person questions, listened to them, weighed what they said and how they said it... took in advice, commented back," Alexander said at the RSA Conference in San Francisco. "That's the president our nation needs -- somebody who is looking how to solve cybersecurity issues... He understood they're important, that we've got to fix government, got to get government and industry to work together."

Alexander was at the helm of the NSA when former government contractor Edward Snowden leaked information about the NSA's sweeping surveillance programs. He stepped down from the post in 2014 and now serves as CEO of the company he founded, IronNet Cybersecurity.

The White House cybersecurity meeting took place on January 31, the same day Trump was expected to sign a cybersecurity executive order. The EO signing, however, was unexpectedly canceled without explanation. Several current and former government officials with a range of viewpoints on cybersecurity were present at the meeting, including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Sen. Dan Coats, Trump's now-embattled national security adviser Gen. Mike Flynn and counterterrorism and homeland security adviser Tom Bossert.

Alexander told ZDNet that different points of view were expressed during the meeting, but it was "not confrontational at all."

In his remarks on stage, Alexander outlined some of the potential changes he'd like to see in federal cybersecurity policies. All agencies regardless of size should get sufficient resources to protect their digital assets, he said, pointing to the vulnerability of agencies like the Office of Management and Budget.

A review of all federal agencies, he said, suggests "we left them on their own to defend themselves as if they were individual people out there .. but they're not."

"Reading the Constitution, it says 'for the common defense,'" he continued. "It doesn't say for the defense of only those that are really big and critical -- for the rest of you, good luck."

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