NSA chief: no 'tradeoff between security and liberty'

2:26 PM, Jun 12, 2013   |    comments
Army Gen. Keith Alexander, commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington in 2010. He told a Senate panel today there is no sacrifice between liberty and security. (Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP)
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WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) -- Army Gen. Keith Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency and the military's Cyber Command, said Wednesday that securing cyber space can be done without violating individual's privacy rights.

"Everything depends on trust," Alexander said in prepared remarks before his testimony in front of a Senate panel. "We do not see a tradeoff between security and liberty."

Alexander's remarks came in his first public appearance since a NSA contract employee leaked details of a secret government program to collect phone and Internet data

In the prepared statement Alexander did not mention the leak, which has touched off a nationwide debate over privacy and national security.

But he addressed broadly the issue of balancing privacy and national security. "We operate in a way that ensures we keep the trust of the American people because that trust is a sacred requirement," he said.

A NSA program to collect phone and Internet data has come under close scrutiny after self-described whistle blower Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old NSA contractor, leaked information about the program to The Guardian and The Washington Post.

The NSA is responsible for electronic intelligence gathering and the mission of the Pentagon's Cyber Command is to help protect the nation's infrastructure from cyber attack and develop capabilities to strike back.

In testimony Alexander highlighted the vulnerabilities of the nation's infrastructure to cyber attacks.

The issue was highlighted in a recent meeting between President Obama recently met with Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss the issue. China has been linked to frequent cyber attacks on U.S. companies.

"On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being strongly defended, our critical infrastructure's preparedness to withstand a destructive cyber attack is about a three based on my experience," Alexander's statement said.

Alexander said the United States was both a target of cyber attacks and a victim of collateral damage.

"Networks and websites owned by Americans and located here have endured intentional, state sponsored attacks, and some have incurred degradation and disruption because they happened to be along the route to another state's overseas targets," he said.

Spending on cyber operations is one of the few areas in the Pentagon that will increase in coming years. The Pentagon has requested $4.6 billion for cyber security expenses next year, up from $3.9 billion this fiscal year. The Pentagon expects to spend $23 billion on cyber in the next five years.

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