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Alexander: Big data 'is what it's all about'

Keith Alexander, DOD photo

Former NSA Director Keith Alexander fears anti-agency sentiment will drive away the young workers needed to keep the country safe..

Perhaps not surprisingly, former National Security Director Keith Alexander focuses on data that's big and secure, not open.

Speaking at ACT-IAC's Management of Change Conference on May 19, Alexander declared that, when it comes to federal IT, open data and big data are "what it's all about." But while leveraging open data is a key focus of the conference, Alexander pivoted immediately to his former agency's mandate to gather and secure information -- and to arguing NSA's case in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks.

Alexander noted that the intelligence community only "collects what we are asked to collect," and said that "the one thing we failed on was protecting data from those ... we trusted." He suggested again that Snowden had motives others than whistleblowing ("he might have gotten lost along the way, but ... it benefits the country he is currently sitting in"), and said agencies must put more emphasis on guarding against insider threats. 

Continuous monitoring will be key, Alexander said, quipping: "You're looking at the guy who's like, 'I'm all for that!'" He noted more seriously, however, that 50 percent of employees take data with them when they leave a job -- and that "not everybody needs all the data."

And at the NSA, departing employees worry Alexander for a very different reason, he said. He praised the young workers in the intelligence community, and stressed the 400 hours of training they get on the proper use of the data they see -- "people don't understand how much training we get," he said.  

But the blowback against the NSA's data collection, Alexander said -- and the restrictions being put on future efforts as a result -- risks driving some of that young talent out of the intelligence community. And he argued that media reports and congressional critics have distorted the story. 

"People keep asking me, 'why are you still defending the NSA?'" Alexander said.  "The reason I keep fighting is that if [those talented young workers] leave, it hurts the country." 

Posted by Troy K. Schneider on May 19, 2014 at 8:47 AM

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