Tags: NSA | Alexander | Snowden | rule

The Real Reason Keith Alexander Still Runs the NSA

Wednesday, 17 Jul 2013 07:47 AM

By Patrick Watson

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Conservatives like to say the government should run like a business. Fair enough. So here is a business question: Why does National Security Agency (NSA) Director Keith Alexander still have a job?

Alexander, a four-star Army general, is not a newcomer. He's serving an unprecedented eighth year as director of the NSA. Nor is he powerless; colleagues jokingly call him "Emperor Keith" because he always gets what he wants.

A primary part of this emperor's job is to protect the nation's highest secrets. Their disclosure, we are told, would cause exceptionally grave damage and expose 300 million Americans to unprecedented danger.

General/emperor Keith left the keys to this life-threatening data with high-school dropout Edward Snowden. Snowden then made copies and left the country. Under Alexander's watch, thousands of other NSA contractors could have done likewise.

This kind of monumental failure brings immediate termination in the private sector. Why is Alexander getting a pass?

Alexander is not stupid. He is a West Point graduate with four master's degrees. President George W. Bush trusted him with the NSA job. President Obama trusted him again, adding a fourth star and some additional titles.

Both presidents screwed up. Neither should have trusted Alexander. Among other reasons, he somehow spent decades in military intelligence without learning the "two-man rule."

Such rules are common everywhere but in the NSA, apparently. I ran into one myself recently when one of my clients didn't pay me on time. The reason: the company's accounting department requires a second signature on checks above a certain amount. The only person who could co-sign my check was out of town. I had to wait until he returned.

Did I complain? No. I understood this very sensible precaution. I was glad to know the firm is so careful. You might assume general/emperor/quadruple-graduate degree holder Keith Alexander would have long ago done the same for his agency's top secrets.

A two-man rule isn't difficult or costly, especially when you are an "emperor" with a practically unlimited budget. Just make sure someone else has an eye open when Snowden digs through the files. This was standard procedure when I was a young Army intelligence officer.

Not for Alexander, it seems. In a June 23 ABC television interview, the same one in which he said Snowden had inflicted "irreversible and significant" damage to the nation, Alexander reassured the nation he has now implemented a two-man rule for NSA contractors.

STOP RIGHT THERE! Now he's making a two-man rule? What took so long? Alexander closed the barn door after all the cows escaped. This is an inexcusable failure of leadership.

We rightly demand "accountability" for food stamp recipients and IRS agents. Shouldn't we hold Alexander to at least the same standard? Would any mid-level manager in a private business still have a job after proving himself so careless?

Of course not, so why does Alexander still direct the NSA?

Here is my theory: I think everyone in Washington is afraid of him. The White House, Senate, Congress, Democrats, Republicans, and judges — they all have skeletons in the closet. They don't challenge Alexander because his agency has access to their own dirty laundry.

In reality, this danger is probably minimal. Nevertheless, given what Snowden revealed about the agency's capabilities, I understand why people in high places might be scared.

The mere possibility of NSA blackmail makes Alexander politically bulletproof. That's why this incompetent, irresponsible general still has his job.

This is wrong. No government official should be untouchable, and no agency should have this kind of power.

Future historians may laugh at the irony: The machine Americans created to safeguard their freedom did the opposite.

It took their freedom away.

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