How Not to Answer a Question: General Alexander at Armed Services Committee
House Armed Services Committee Hearing, September 23 2010, 10:55 AM:
Representative Joe Wilson: As a command, what will you do from a process perspective as well as from a technological perspective to ensure that privacy and civil liberties are protected? Is there anything Congress can do to assist you in your efforts?
General Keith B. Alexander, Commander of U.S. CyberCommand: That’s a great question. Thank you, Congressman, because, I think, two parts to this. One: we have a responsibility to protect the civil liberties and privacy of the American people and of our people. That’s non-negotiable. Constitution? That’s what we’re there for. We have to do that.
Now there’s two issues with this. One: transparency. What can we do to show you, Congress, as an oversight body what we’re doing and the American people?
And two: how do we also help ensure that what they understand is accurate? Because a lot of people bring up privacy and civil liberties and then you say, “Well, what specifically are you concerned about?” And they say “Well, privacy and civil liberties!” Now that’s, uh, “In this system are you concerned that the anti-virus program that MacAfee runs invades your privacy or civil liberties?” The answer’s, “No, no, no, but I’m worried that you would.” So no we’re, “So let’s explain what we’re trying to do to protect the Defense Department’s systems.” And I think that’s where Congress, the administration, the Department can work together to ensure exactly what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. That’s part of the transparency that needs to be put on the table.
What we can’t do? We can’t say, “Here’s a specific threat that we’re defending against and how we’re defending against it,” because the adversary within three days would be able to work around it. So it’s those two things. That’s a very important issue, I think, that we have to confront now and face.
Read that a few times, then we’ll recap:
Question: What will you do from a process perspective as well as from a technological perspective to ensure that privacy and civil liberties are protected? Is there anything Congress can do to assist you in your efforts?
Paragraph 1: We need to respect privacy and civil liberties by respecting privacy and civil liberties.
Paragraph 2: What do we need to show the Congress? That’s a question.
Paragraph 3: American citizens have no idea what they’re talking about when they complain about privacy and civil liberties with the U.S. CyberCommand, so we need to convince them there isn’t a problem.
Paragraph 4: We can’t be specific, though. Boy, this sure is an important issue.
Move along, America! There’s nothing to see here.
By the way, General Keith Alexander’s other job title is head of the National Security Agency, a job position that puts the privacy and civil liberties concerns of Americans in some perspective. See Perfect Citizen and Operation BITE ME for more information.