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Heckling and applause for NSA Director at Black Hat infosec conference

Heckling and applause for NSA Director at Black Hat infosec conference

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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Carol Herman | July 31, 2013 at 7:24 pm

Oy. I do believe that now Anthony Weiner can go to Vegas and give speeches. He can label the event “A Collection of Fetishes.” He won’t even have to stand there in his underwear.

How do hecklers become part of the act?

My son is at that conference.

Today’s free advice: Do not heckle the DIRNSA.

Xkeyscore as described in the Guardian (and by Mr. Snowden) can be used to routinely analyze anyone’s emails, private Facebook conversations and just about anything passing as a communique on the internet. There is simply no permissions required from the FISA court.

Writing on the ACLU website, Matt Harwood describes his use of a tool developed by MIT Media Lab to analyze his own electronic metadata and came to the following conclusion:

Metadata, no matter what the detractors say, collected over time is an intimate repository of our lives–whom we love, whom we’re friends with, where we work, where we worship (or don’t), and whom we associate with politically. The right to privacy means our metadata shouldn’t be collected and analyzed without reasonable suspicion that we’ve done something wrong.

Anybody working under the command of Barack Obama cannot be trusted, to any extent. Nor anybody working for anybody working for Barack Obama. Example: Eric Holder and the entire Department of Justice.

Elections have consequences.

speaking from personal experience, some military officers will lie, either because they are ordered to, or because it will advance their career.

the ones who won’t rarely make general, because to get there, you have to be a politician, not just a Soldier.

His statement, “I will answer every question to the fullest extent possible” sort of sums up the dedication to candor he claims to profess. He’s not lying, you just don’t possess the necessary clearance for the “truth”.

Once again, I guess it all depends on what the meaning of “is” is.

Or, as PIAPS once observed (in a rare moment of candor), “What difference does it make?”.

[…] Heckling and Applause for NSA Director – Mandy Nagy, L.I. […]

I am kind of curious what he should said have instead. The NSA is the most secretive agency out there with a very important mission. They have to deal with most of the US plans for cryptography, and I do not think they should avoid spying on terrorists, even in the US.

They definitely need more internal controls and more external oversight, but I definitely don’t want them to jeopardize their core role. Toss that damn Ben Franklin quote at me, I don’t care. We make that decision every day we don’t choose to live in Somalia or another lawless zone.

Also, this is why I want dems out of power and sooner rather than later. Government is the servant of the people, and not a tool to crush your opponents. The only way a bureaucracy is remotely tolerable is when it is largely apolitical. You have too much benzene in the air or you don’t. If these institution can’t be trusted to be impartial, then they need to be tamed and brought to heel.

i Was There And He Made A Good Point. What Would Hav Happene To Our CivilLiberties If Any Of The Attacks That He Claimed Were Stopped Had SucceDed?