WASHINGTON: With minimal reference to Edward Snowden, the former contractor who ushered in a new and unwelcome era for the National Security Agency, General Keith Alexander (pictured) ended his NSA directorship and his 39-year army career on Friday.
Feted at a retirement ceremony attended by intelligence colleagues, legislators, fellow officers and White House chief of staff Denis McDonough, Alexander hailed the NSA by quoting General Douglas MacArthur’s musings on patriotism, morality and service from his 1962 retirement speech at West Point, which Alexander called “especially applicable with all that has gone on in the past year”.
It was the only reference to Snowden that Alexander permitted himself in a brief speech. “Thanks for protecting our nation. Thanks for protecting our civil liberties and privacy. Thanks for doing your job when many others would have walked away,” Alexander said.
Alexander came to the NSA in 2005, as one of the service’s first digitally proficient general officers. For most of his tenure he expanded the agency’s powers and influence tremendously, and in 2010 he added to his duties as the first leader of Cyber Command, a new organization devoted to defending military networks and nearly inextricable from NSA.
But Alexander’s run at the NSA will be forever linked to the revelations of its global surveillance dragnets. Snowden’s leaks to the Guardian, the Washington Post, First Look and other news outlets made the NSA infamous worldwide and yielded a consensus domestically against the bulk collection of US phone data.
Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said the Snowden leaks had created “one of the most challenging periods” in the NSA’s history. Still, said James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, about Alexander: “I never heard him complain.”
General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, compared Alexander to James Bond. “Can anyone guess what number he keeps on his parking spot at Fort Meade?” Dempsey said. “007.” Hagel praised Alexander’s “vision, dedication and leadership” during the ceremony, which was held at Fort Meade, the Maryland army base that houses the NSA and Cyber Command.