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Did the head of the NSA lie about breaking privacy laws?

Two weeks ago, the head of the NSA gave an apparently untrue speech in which he denied that the agency had ever broken any privacy laws. 


Joe Kloc


Posted on Aug 16, 2013   Updated on Jun 1, 2021, 8:57 am CDT

Last night, the Washington Post published an internal U.S. National Security Agency audit that revealed how the surveillance agency breaks privacy laws thousands of times a year.

This report appears to contradict statements made by the head of the agency, General Keith Alexander, earlier this summer at a gathering of developers. 

As first spotted by the Post today, here is the relevant portion of Alexander’s speech, given in Las Vegas two weeks ago (read the full transcript here):

“People say, they are listening to all our communications. That is not authorized under [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)]. But the issue would be, for me standing me up here, many are going to say, well, I hear what you’re saying, but I don’t trust them. Congress did a review of this program over a four-year period, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. And over that four-year period, they found no willful or knowledgeable violations of the law or the intent of the law in this program. 

“More specifically, they found no one at NSA had ever gone outside the boundaries of what we’ve been given. That’s the fact. What you’re hearing, what you’re seeing, what people are saying is, well, they could. The fact is they don’t. And if they did, our auditing tools would detect them, and they would be held accountable.”

In the audit report published Thursday, roughly one third to one fourth of all surveillance discretions found were violations of FISA.

The timing of the speech, July 31, is curious in that a week before Alexander gave his speech, former NSA director Michael Hayden told the New Yorker that Alexander knew exactly what documents Snowden had taken. 

The Post did not indicate whether Alexander had knowledge that the audit report would be published at the time the speech was given.

Photo by Arctic Wolves/Flickr

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*First Published: Aug 16, 2013, 2:14 pm CDT