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Is NSA Chief Trying to Silence Media Reporting on Surveillance Leaks?

NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander references potential 'media leaks legislation' and suggests journalists unfit to report on NSA surveillance

Lauren McCauley

Indicating that the United States government is taking legislative steps to deter media reporting of national security leaks—such as the information disclosed by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden—outgoing NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander said at a cybersecurity event Tuesday that he was "optimistic" about proposed "media leaks legislation."

Alexander told the Georgetown University audience that he was in the midst of seeking congressional backing for a cybersecurity bill. However, he intoned that the legislation was being held up by another potential bill regarding "media leaks."

“I think we are going to make headway over the next few weeks on media leaks. I am an optimist. I think if we make the right steps on the media leaks legislation, then cyber legislation will be a lot easier,” Alexander said.

The Guardian's Spencer Ackerman reports:

The specific legislation to which Alexander referred was unclear. Angela Canterbury, the policy director for the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group, said she was unaware of any such bill. Neither was Steve Aftergood, an intelligence policy analyst at the Federation of American Scientists.

The NSA’s public affairs office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald—whose partner David Miranda was recently detained by British authorities at Heathrow airport while shuttling information regarding the Snowden leaks—responded to the news on Twitter:

During the talk, Alexander referenced a recent UK court ruling that said Miranda's nine-hour detention was lawful. Alexander's comments further reflected his opinion of media reporting on leaks regarding the NSA's extensive dragnet operations.

“Recently, what came out with the justices in the United Kingdom … they looked at what happened on Miranda and other things, and they said it’s interesting: journalists have no standing when it comes to national security issues. They don’t know how to weigh the fact of what they’re giving out and saying, is it in the nation’s interest to divulge this,” Alexander said.

Alexander also indicated that the federal government should take steps to prevent any other future instances of whistleblowers, saying government agencies need to better prepare their employees so they don't overstep their boundaries when accessing information.

“They need to know their limits of authority,” he said.

Though reporters were invited to the conference, following his talk members of the media were prohibited from questioning Alexander.

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