NSA Director Denies Knowledge of Google, Yahoo Hack
Confronted with the latest revelation from the Snowden disclosures, Gen. Keith Alexander says that the NSA obtains data from tech companies only through a court order.
Thu, October 31, 2013
CIO — WASHINGTON -- The head of the National Security Agency on Wednesday pushed back against a new report that the organization has been secretly intercepting vast troves of communications from Google and Yahoo without the permission or knowledge of the companies.
Gen. Keith Alexander was asked about the report during an on-stage interview at a conference on cybersecurity hosted by Bloomberg Government.
"Not to my knowledge, that's never happened," Alexander said.
The Washington Post report, the latest product of the disclosures of former government contractor Edward Snowden, described a program dubbed MUSCULAR through which the NSA and the British spy outfit GCHQ have been tapping into the fiber-optic cables that run between the companies' overseas data centers and copying the flow of data.
Alexander, who said he was unfamiliar with the report, recalled the media coverage of the earlier Snowden revelation of the NSA's PRISM program to obtain emails and electronic communications from Internet companies, describing reports that characterized the NSA as having opened up a "back door" the firms' servers as "factually incorrect."
"This is not NSA breaking into any databases. It would be illegal for us to do that. And so I don't know what the report is, but I can tell you factually, we do not have access to Google servers, Yahoo servers," he said. "We are not authorized to go into a U.S. company's server and take data. We have to go through a court process for doing that."
Asked whether that meant that whenever the NSA reviews data from U.S. Internet companies, that information was obtained through a court order, Alexander replied: "That's correct."
But the program described in the Post report operates outside of the United States, where the NSA is unfettered by many of the constraints on its domestic operations. "Such large-scale collection of Internet content would be illegal in the United States, but the operations take place overseas, where the NSA is allowed to presume that anyone using a foreign data link is a foreigner," the paper reported.
So where the PRISM program operates under the oversight of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, there appears to be no such legal check on MUSCULAR, which is said to operate on a vast scale. In one 30-day period earlier this year, the NSA reportedly collected more than 180 million records.