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NSA Chief: Agency Stands for 'Freedom,' Hecklers Call Bullshit

NSA director Keith Alexander attempts to defend dragnet surveillance at Black Hat cyber conference

- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

Alexander at Black Hat conference, Wednesday, July 31, 2013 (Reuters / Steve Marcus)National Security Agency director General Keith Alexander was heckled by an audience of cybersecurity specialists and computer hackers on Wednesday at this year's Black Hat conference in Las Vegas while he attempted to defend the NSA as an organization that "stands for freedom."

Alexander had been invited to give a talk at the conference before recent revelations in the Guardian newspaper, provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, exposed the NSA's vast, unchecked, dragnet surveillance programs.

Alexander was given the option of backing out of the conference, but organizers said he chose to go through with it anyway.

In the speech, Alexander attempted to portray the NSA's programs as not as bad as the revelations have made them out to be—a pitch several members of the audience did not buy.

Halfway through the speech, 30-year-old security consultant Jon McCoy shouted, “Freedom!”

“Exactly,” Alexander replied from the stage. “We stand for freedom.”

“Bullshit!” McCoy responded.

"I think what you’re saying is that in these cases, what’s the distinction, where’s the discussion and what tools do we have to stop this?” Alexander said.

“No, I’m saying I don’t trust you,” McCoy said, gaining applause from the audience.

“You lied to Congress,” said another. “Why would people believe you’re not lying to us right now?”

Another yelled that Alexander should “Read the Constitution!”

Alexander spent most of his speech attempting to portray the NSA as an agency with strict oversight that respects privacy and does not have free reign over internet and telephone communications—contrary to the detailed reports and NSA documents published in the Guardian over the past several months.

Alexander's speech at the conference came the same day as the latest revelations in the Guardian that detail an NSA program titled XKeyscore. Documents handed over to the Guardian by Snowden show that NSA employees and contractors are able to comb through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals with no prior authorization from higher ups.

Alexander did not mention XKeyscore in his speech.

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