US Cyber Commander Calls on Industry to Help Set Record Straight

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Washington, DC – The nation’s top cyber commander called on industry this week to “put the facts on the table” about the National Security Agency following leaks about the agency’s surveillance programs, blaming inaccurate or sensational reporting for congressional failure to approve measures that he said are needed to protect the nation from a devastating cyberattack.

“We need the American people to understand the facts. And it’s got to start with what we’re actually doing — not what we could be doing — with the data,” Army Gen. Keith B. Alexander, NSA director and commander of US Cyber Command, told an industry conference in suburban Maryland. “Most of the reporting is, ‘They could be doing ‘A.’ The facts are they’re doing ‘B.'”

Warning that he doesn’t want to have to explain why he failed to prevent another 9/11, Alexander appealed to industry to help in light of the damaging leaks in June by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Snowden has been charged in absentia with violating the Espionage Act and stealing government property for turning over secret documents to reporters detailing classified NSA programs, actions that Alexander has blamed for causing irreversible and significant damage to the security of the United States and its allies.

In the time since the leaks, Alexander said, the media have complicated matters through exaggerated or inaccurate reporting.

“Everything that comes out is almost sensationalized and inflamed by what it could be, not by what it is, and that singularly in my mind will impact our ability to get cyber legislation and defend the nation,” he said. “And if you think about the numbers of disruptive attacks over the last year, and destructive attacks, and you plot that out statistically, what it says to me is it’s getting worse, and that’s going to grow.”

Alexander pointed to a series of recent destructive cyber attacks around the world, including on Saudi Aramco, a Saudi oil company, where he said data in more than 30,000 systems was destroyed last year, as well as attacks against Qatar’s Rasgas gas company and twin attacks in South Korea earlier this year.

“Then, look at what hit Wall Street over the last year: over 300 distributed denial-of-service attacks. How do we defend against those?”

Alexander called for laws that would encourage industry and government to share information about potential threats in real time. “This will become hugely important in the future,” he said. We’ve got to have legislation that allows us to communicate back and forth.”

To get there, the general said, the rhetoric on media leaks must change and the trust factor must be fixed, “because we’re not going to move forward with all that hanging out there.”

In the absence of congressional action, President Barack Obama has issued an executive order promoting increased sharing of information about cyber threats across government and industry. However, Alexander said, the nation’s cyber defenses remain dependent on closer, real-time cooperation between the government and Internet service providers and the anti-virus community.

“Our team — government, industry and allies — have to be ready to act, and we’re not,” he said. “We’re stuck because of where we are in the debate, so what you could do to help is get the facts. We need your help to inform the American people and Congress about what we’re doing.”

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