The chief of the National Security Agency faced a tough crowd at the premier yearly gathering of hackers in Las Vegas on Wednesday.
Army Gen. Keith Alexander gave the keynote address at the Black Hat USA convention on the same day the British newspaper The Guardian published more details on a top-secret program that collects vast amount of data transmitted over the Internet.
According to the AP, Alexander was heckled during his speech:
“‘Freedom!’ one man shouted from the middle of the standing-room crowd.
“‘Exactly. We stand for freedom,’ Alexander said.
“‘Bulls–t,’ the heckler said.”
Alexander continued his speech, but he came back around to the heckling.
As we explained earlier, central to the Guardian’s report is that intelligence analysts have access to “nearly everything a typical user does on the Internet.” The U.S. government, however, has put together a legal framework that safeguards its use. One of them is that the NSA cannot target Americans with the program. Edward Snowden, who leaked the classified documents, argues, however, that those safeguards are easily overcome.
According to Forbes, Alexander took issue with that representation.
“We get all these allegations of what [NSA staff] could be doing,” Alexander said. “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.”
According to ABC News, Alexander was referring to a 2012 Senate Intelligence Committee report on the surveillance programs that found “few incidents of non-compliance.” All of them, reports ABC, “were the result of human error or technical defect and were promptly reported.”
“The fact is, [NSA analysts] don’t [abuse their power]. And if they did, our auditing tools would detect them and they would be held accountable, and they know that from the courses they take and the pledge that they made to this nation,” Alexander said.
When Alexander used the strong language he received rousing applause. In a lot of ways, the speech was intended to mend fences with an important constituency. In the wake of the Snowden revelations, another important hacker convention — Def Con — had asked U.S. government officials to stay away.
Alexander spoke to a packed venue at Caesars Palace .