Shutdown huts morale, top cyber commander says
WASHINGTON, Oct. 8, 2013 – The morale of the cybersecurity workforce is being damaged by the government shutdown, the nation’s top cyber commander said here today.
“What these people take an oath to do is to protect and defend this country and our civil liberties and privacy, and we’re telling them to stay at home,” said Army Gen. Keith B. Alexander, commander of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency.
“How do you get good talent to come to government when you treat them like that?” he asked an audience of cybersecurity professionals during a conference at the Newseum.
The NSA is still performing its most critical functions: terrorism-related missions and those that protect life and limb, the general said. But, he noted, due to the shutdown the agency risks losing some of its most vulnerable employees -- young people new to government service.
The loss of trust in the NSA caused by recent leaks has further damaged employee morale, Alexander said.
“We need the facts on the table so that we can make informed decisions about our future in defending our nation and protecting our civil liberties and privacy. … We need to inform the debate,” he said.
The general said that if Americans understood the oversight and compliance that governs NSA’s collection of data, they would realize that the United States is better than any other country in the world at protecting civil liberties and privacy.
“Ours is a noble cause,” he said.
Alexander said he believes it’s in the nation’s best interests to put phone data into a repository in such a way that Americans can be confident that the data isn’t being misused – “that you have confidence that the oversight compliance and the ways that we look at it -- the auditing and the controls -- is exactly right,” he said.
This type of bulk data collection is necessary to ensure that there won’t be another terrorist attack on U.S. soil, Alexander said.
“We made a commitment that 9/11 would never happen again,” he said. “And one of the reasons it happened is because we didn't have a database like this. We didn't have a repository that would allow us to connect the dots.”
The intelligence community was found lacking by the 9/11 Commission, the general said, and in response it came up with the tools it needed to prevent it from happening again.
Alexander said he is open to the idea of an examination of the oversight and compliance controls on the NSA’s collection and use of data. But, he said, it should be done carefully to prevent the nation from a painful re-learning of the lessons of 9/11.
“If we don’t know there’s a threat, we can’t stop it,” he said. “Don’t put us back to the beginning.”