By Ken Ritter, AP
LAS VEGAS — The head of the U.S. National Security Agency defended the government’s much-criticized surveillance program against hecklers among a crowd of computer systems analysts Wednesday, but also had a challenge for them: If you don’t like it, lend your talent to build a better one.
“You’re the greatest tech talent anywhere in the world. Help us,” Army Gen. Keith Alexander said at the hacker conference for the buttoned-up corporate and government security analyst crowd, not the one later in the week for the more counter-culture types.
Alexander spent much of his 45-minute address explaining how government methods used to collect telephone and email data helped foil 54 terror plots since 1993. He was interrupted at times by hecklers, but also drew applause.
“Our nation takes stopping terrorism as one of the most important things,” he said, standing in short sleeves with a slide on the screen behind him showing a timeline and the number of foiled plots.
“Freedom!” one man shouted from the middle of the standing-room crowd.
“Exactly. And with that, when you think about it, how do we do that? Because we stand for freedom,” Alexander said.
“Bulls–t,” the heckler said.
“Not that,” Alexander replied before continuing his keynote speech to the annual Black Hat conference at Caesars Palace. Organizers said the conference drew 7,000 people.
Alexander didn’t refer in his address specifically to leaks by former NSA systems analyst contractor Edward Snowden of classified documents that brought attention on the government’s surveillance efforts.