NSA Chief's Attitude: Forget Needle, Collect Haystack

WaPo profiles chief Keith Alexander, finds origins of strategy in Iraq

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 15, 2013 11:39 AM CDT

(Newser) – Those looking to track the origins of the NSA's sweeping surveillance programs would do well to check out a 2005 program in Iraq called the Real Time Regional Gateway. As the Washington Post explains, it was put into place by NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander to collect data on every Iraqi text, phone call, and email it could access in a bid to curb roadside attacks on US troops. "Rather than look for a single needle in the haystack, his approach was, 'Let’s collect the whole haystack,'" says one former intel official. "Collect it all, tag it, store it. ... And whatever it is you want, you go searching for it." Sound familiar?

The larger story profiles Alexander and depicts him as a brilliant (he has three master's, in electronic warfare, physics, and national security strategy) and aggressive advocate of using every technological and cyber-tool available to ward off US enemies. It includes quotes from his supporters who say it's for the greater good—for example, attacks on US troops did decline in Iraq after the RTRG program began—and from critics who say he's trampling on privacy. It also ends with a telling anecdote about his mindset: A few years ago, he met with bigwigs in the financial industry to warn them of cyber-attacks from abroad. His solution? Give the NSA full access to their sites to better protect them. As the Post tells it: "The NSA chief was offering to serve as an all-knowing virus-protection service, but at the cost, industry officials felt, of an unprecedented intrusion into the financial institutions' databases." They politely declined. Click for the full story.

NSA chief Gen. Keith B. Alexander testifies on Capitol Hill.   (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
NSA chief Gen. Keith B. Alexander testifies on Capitol Hill.   (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
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