The greatest impact the ongoing government shutdown has had on the country’s cybersecurity mission is on the morale of its workforce, said the chief of the National Security Agency.
“When you think about 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, how do you get good talent to come into government when we treat them like that?” asked Gen. Keith Alexander, commander of the U.S. Cyber Command and chief of the Central Security Service.
He was speaking Oct. 8 at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., during a panel entitled “Cyber7: The Seven Key Questions Driving the Cybersecurity.” The event was sponsored by Politico.
Alexander told the audience that NSA has continued its most critical terrorist- related missions as well as those that protect life and limb throughout the shutdown.
“Some of these young folks that you bring on, you’re telling them, ‘Well, I can’t pay you for the week that you’re on furlough. That will come later.’ … When you think about it, we live paycheck to paycheck, and that’s what they do. And we’re making it hard for them to stay with the government and that’s wrong,” he said. “That’s absolutely wrong.”
The hit to NSA’s morale comes as the agency continues to recover from a loss of trust between the government and the public caused by the Edward Snowden affair.
Alexander said the way to repair the damage is to bring the facts of the case to the American people.
“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,” he said.
Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and Section 215 of the Patriot Act, NSA is authorized to obtain information from phone companies, such as a person’s phone number, the phone numbers he or she called, the date of the calls and the duration of the calls. This does not include names associated with the accounts, content, phone conversations or email.
Alexander said the facts of NSA’s surveillance have been “greatly sensationalized” in the media. In 2012, NSA approved 288 phone numbers to search in that database.
“If you took the time to look at the oversight and compliance, the roles of the court, the roles of Congress, administration officials and our own, that oversight and compliance regimen that we have is better than any other country in the world in protecting our civil liberties and privacy and that of foreign citizens,” Alexander said.