NSA director: Securing U.S. cyber infrastructure is a team effort

SAN FRANCISCO — The director of the National Security Agency assured an audience at the RSA Conference today that his agency has no ambitions to be in charge of the country’s cyber infrastructure.

“We do not want to run cybersecurity for the United States government,” said Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, who has been at NSA for four years. “That’s a big job. We need a team to do it.”

He said the Homeland Security Department is a necessary part of that team and discounted the rumors of competition between the two for cyber primacy.

“DHS has a really tough job,” he said. “They have to operate and secure the rest of the .gov networks.”

NSA is ready to help with technical and operational expertise, but Alexander said NSA has enough on its hands looking after the .mil domain and the intelligence community and national security systems.

With the Obama administration’s 60-day national cybersecurity review wrapping up, people are asking who is in charge of national cybersecurity and who should be in charge. There has been speculation of competition between NSA and DHS for the role.

Administration officials have said the White House will take the lead in cybersecurity policy and will centralize operational responsibilities. Melissa Hathaway, the administration official who is conducting the cybersecurity review, is scheduled to speak at the conference April 22 about the findings.

Alexander outlined the scope of the challenges facing NSA, which has been in charge of government code-making and code-breaking since World War II. Terrorists are active on more than 4,000 Web sites, he said, and there are an estimated 32,000 suspected cyberattacks each day. NSA needs to cooperate with the rest of government, foreign governments, industry and academia to mount an adequate cyber defense. That requires better network visibility and information sharing, but sharing also poses a risk to U.S. security, Alexander said.

“How do we share [classified information] with industry?” he asked. “In sharing it, you’re giving out secrets.”

Alexander also downplayed but did not deny reports of indiscriminate and possibly illegal online information gathering during the Bush administration.

“Yes, we make mistakes,” he said. “And when we make mistakes, we self-report.” In addition, he said, NSA has strong oversight from the Pentagon, the director of national intelligence and Congress.

“We do suffer for it when we make mistakes,” he added.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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