National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander was met with both heckling and applause at the Black Hat  information security conference in Las Vegas, Nevada on Wednesday.

Ever since the leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden thrust the agency’s domestic surveillance policies into the limelight and sparked widespread public debate, Alexander and other intelligence officials have been on the hot seat, in a persistent state of defense against seemingly unending press reports.

After organizers disinvited federal employees from the DefCon conference earlier this month, where Alexander was scheduled to give the keynote address for a second year, many expected the same might be the case at Black Hat.  But Alexander chose to attend Black Hat as planned, to open a dialog with the hacking community, according to CBS News.

As reported by attendees, the NSA director’s speech started out without incident until about halfway through, when it was interrupted.

One heckler, identified by Forbes as a 30-year-old security consultant named Jon McCoy, yelled “Freedom!”

“Exactly,” responded Alexander. “We stand for freedom.”

“Bullshit!” McCoy shouted.

“Not bad,” Alexander said, as applause broke out in the crowd. “But I think what you’re saying is that in these cases, what’s the distinction, where’s the discussion and what tools do we have to stop this.”

“No, I’m saying I don’t trust you!” shouted McCoy.

“You lied to Congress. Why would people believe you’re not lying to us right now?” another voice in the crowd added.

Alexander can be seen in the video standing stoically as he waited for the heckling to subside before appealing to the audience to search for and understand the facts, implying that press reports have not been entirely accurate.

“I haven’t lied to Congress.  I do think it’s important for us to have this discussion. Because in my opinion, what you believe is what’s written in the press without looking at the facts. This is the greatest technical center of gravity in the world. I ask that you all look at those facts.”

Alexander urged those in the hacker and cybersecurity community to help in this endeavor.

From Forbes:

“Their reputation has been tarnished,” he said, speaking of his NSA staff. “But you can help us articulate the facts properly. I will answer every question to the fullest extent possible, and I promise you the truth: What I know, what we’re doing, and what I cannot tell you because we don’t want to jeopardize the future of our defense.”


“We get all these allegations of what [NSA staff] could be doing,” Alexander added. “But when people check what the NSA is doing, they’ve found zero times that’s happened. And that’s no bullshit. Those are the facts.” The crowd responded to that line with loud applause, as Alexander asked the press not to quote his swearing, noting his 15 grandchildren.

“The whole reason I came here was to ask you to help us make it better,” said the general. “And if you disagree with what we’re doing, you should help us twice as much.”

“Read the constitution!” shouted McCoy in one last heckle.

“I have. So should you,” responded Alexander to another round of applause.

As noted, there were moments of applause as well, marking the complexity of these issue for the information security community, in which many undoubtedly struggle with determining the proper balance between protecting the nation’s security and preserving civil liberties.

The NSA Director’s speech came on the same day a new report was released by The Guardian on another surveillance program called XKeyScore.  That information was also based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden.


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