NSA to cut system administrators by 90 percent to limit data access

Thu Aug 8, 2013 8:58pm EDT

A view from helicopter of the National Security Agency at Ft. Meade, Maryland, January 29, 2010. REUTERS/Larry Downing

A view from helicopter of the National Security Agency at Ft. Meade, Maryland, January 29, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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(Reuters) - The National Security Agency, hit by disclosures of classified data by former contractor Edward Snowden, said Thursday it intends to eliminate about 90 percent of its system administrators to reduce the number of people with access to secret information.

Keith Alexander, the director of the NSA, the U.S. spy agency charged with monitoring foreign electronic communications, told a cybersecurity conference in New York City that automating much of the work would improve security.

"What we're in the process of doing - not fast enough - is reducing our system administrators by about 90 percent," he said.

The remarks came as the agency is facing scrutiny after Snowden, who had been one of about 1,000 system administrators who help run the agency's networks, leaked classified details about surveillance programs to the press.

Before the change, "what we've done is we've put people in the loop of transferring data, securing networks and doing things that machines are probably better at doing," Alexander said.

Using technology to automate much of the work now done by employees and contractors would make the NSA's networks "more defensible and more secure," as well as faster, he said at the conference, in which he did not mention Snowden by name.

These efforts pre-date Snowden's leaks, the agency has said, but have since been accelerated.

Alexander's remarks largely echoed similar comments made to Congress and at other public appearances over the past two months since his agency came under fire from civil liberties advocates and lawmakers concerned by Snowden's revelations.

Snowden leaked documents to the Guardian and the Washington Post, which published stories revealing previously secret telephone and internet surveillance programs run by the U.S. government.

Snowden now faces criminal charges but has since been granted temporary asylum in Russia.

Other security measures that Alexander has previously discussed include requiring at least two people to be present before certain data can be accessed on the agency's computer systems.

"At the end of the day it's about people and trust," Alexander said. He again defended his agency's conduct, much of which he said had been "grossly mischaracterized" by the press.

"No one has willfully or knowingly disobeyed the law or tried to invade your civil liberties or privacies," he said. "There were no mistakes like that at all."

He told his audience to "get the facts" and make up their own minds, adding that the agency itself could do more to enable this: "We've got to push out more, I recognize that," he said.

(Reporting By Jonathan Allen; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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Comments (34)
big_cynic wrote:
That’s good news…boy, I feel sooo much better now!
Wonder how long this change has been in the works. Three, four days maybe?

Aug 08, 2013 8:43pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Rhino1 wrote:
“At the end of the day it’s about people and trust,” Alexander said.

Thank you, Mr. Alexander. That’s the most hilarious thing I have heard in a while, coming from you.

Apart from that, the fact that the machines are taking over now, that’s got nothing to do with Mr. Snowden. That would have happened anyway. It’s just a way of making it look like it’s his fault.

We go to the cinema and watch these so-called “science fiction” movies like Hunger Games, Terminator or Total Recall where a ruling elite or indeed machines are taking over our planet, or what’s left of it, and 99.9% of people think this is entertainment. Well, I don’t think it is. These movies are windows that allow us to look into the future.

And if you really want to stop it, you gotta be quick. The government drones are quite sofisticated already and now, that they are going to be “legalized” for commercial use, you know there will be a quantum leap in technology.

I think the only thing that can really save us now is another ice age.

Aug 08, 2013 9:26pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Laster wrote:
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By Joseph Menn

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – An encrypted email service believed to have been used by American fugitive Edward Snowden shut down abruptly on Thursday amid a legal fight that appeared to involve U.S. government attempts to win access to customer information.

http://ca.reuters.com/article/technologyNews/idCABRE97800520130809

Aug 08, 2013 9:34pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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