NSA is Locking Server Room Doors to Prevent Another Snowden Affair

ASPEN, CO. — NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander today said that his agency is piloting the Defense Department’s security reforms aimed at preventing systems administrators from stealing large volumes of classified data. What’s that involve? In addition to requiring systems administrators to operate in pairs when accessing highly classified information, NSA will limit the number ...

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ASPEN, CO. -- NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander today said that his agency is piloting the Defense Department's security reforms aimed at preventing systems administrators from stealing large volumes of classified data. What's that involve? In addition to requiring systems administrators to operate in pairs when accessing highly classified information, NSA will limit the number of people who can download classified data onto removable disc drives and will lock server rooms.

"Instead of allowing all systems administrators [to write data to thumb drives], drop it down to a few and use a two person rule," said Alexander during a talk at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado this evening. "We'll close and lock server rooms so it takes two people to get in there."

"Since this happened in our place, on our watch, we're piloting that for DOD and for the IC [Intelligence Community], we will fix this on our stuff and we have a responsibility to do that," said Alexander.

ASPEN, CO. — NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander today said that his agency is piloting the Defense Department’s security reforms aimed at preventing systems administrators from stealing large volumes of classified data. What’s that involve? In addition to requiring systems administrators to operate in pairs when accessing highly classified information, NSA will limit the number of people who can download classified data onto removable disc drives and will lock server rooms.

"Instead of allowing all systems administrators [to write data to thumb drives], drop it down to a few and use a two person rule," said Alexander during a talk at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado this evening. "We’ll close and lock server rooms so it takes two people to get in there."

"Since this happened in our place, on our watch, we’re piloting that for DOD and for the IC [Intelligence Community], we will fix this on our stuff and we have a responsibility to do that," said Alexander.

The Army four-star general was expanding on Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s comments earlier today about the security measures DOD is putting in place in the wake of NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s disclosure of secret U.S. electronic intelligence efforts.

Still, Alexander the Snowden affair can’t be allowed to put a freeze on the rapid sharing of actionable intelligence between intelligence agencies that has emerged in the post 9/11 era.

"We also have to ensure that we make sure that people who need information to do their job have access to information," said Alexander. "We’ve got to figure out how to balance this."

Doing this means NSA and other DOD agencies will need to look at limiting systems administrators’ access to classified information while ensuring that analysts have rapid access to the intelligence they need, according to Alexander.

"After 9/11 we had this need to share, I think there’s goodness in sharing, we’ve got to make sure we do it right," said Alexander.

Earlier today, Carter said that part of the reason that Snowden was successful was that too many people had access to top secret information, alluding to the culture of information sharing that has cropped up in the Intelligence Community since 9/11.

Alexander is also open to allowing tech companies to reveal the number of requests by the government to access their customer information for intelligence and law enforcement investigations.

"I think there’s some logic in doing that," said Alexander. "The FBI and we are trying to figure out how to do that without hurting any of the ongoing investigations."

Alexander also said that he has seen adversaries of the U.S. changing tactics to evade NSA’s intelligence-gathering techinques that were revealed by Snowden.

His comments come the same day that a number of tech companies including Google, Apple and Facebook wrote a letter to the White House asking to release more information about the number of times law enforcement or intelligence agencies ask for customer information.

 

John Reed is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He comes to FP after editing Military.com’s publication Defense Tech and working as the associate editor of DoDBuzz. Between 2007 and 2010, he covered major trends in military aviation and the defense industry around the world for Defense News and Inside the Air Force. Before moving to Washington in August 2007, Reed worked in corporate sales and business development for a Swedish IT firm, The Meltwater Group in Mountain View CA, and Philadelphia, PA. Prior to that, he worked as a reporter at the Tracy Press and the Scotts Valley Press-Banner newspapers in California. His first story as a professional reporter involved chasing escaped emus around California’s central valley with Mexican cowboys armed with lassos and local police armed with shotguns. Luckily for the giant birds, the cowboys caught them first and the emus were ok. A New England native, Reed graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a dual degree in international affairs and history.

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