'This Week' Exclusive: Gen. Keith Alexander

The National Security Agency director on Edward Snowden and NSA surveillance programs.
13:45 | 06/23/13

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Transcript for 'This Week' Exclusive: Gen. Keith Alexander
And now on with this week's exclusive, general keith alexander, heads the national security agency. Thank you for come on this morning. The news that he's on his way to moscow, perhaps to venezuela. To get to the point pierre was making, do you understand why the system did not blink red in a way that would prevent snowden from leaving hawaii in the first place with the secrets? No, I do not. It's an individual who betrayed the trust and confidence we had in him. This is an individual who is not acting, in my opinion, with noble intent. When you think about our mission, I want to jump into that, it reflects on the question you are asking. My first responsibility to the american people is to defend this nation. When you think about it, defending the nation, 9/11 and what happened. The intel community failed to connect the dots in 9/11. And much of what we've done since then were to give us the capabilities, this is the business record, fisa, sometimes called section 215, and the faa 702, two capabilities that help us connect the dots. The reason I bring that up is that these are two of the most important things from my perspective that help us understand what terrorists are trying to do. When you think about that, when he revealed caused irreversible and significant damage to our country and allies. On friday, we pushed to congress over 50 cases where these contributed to the understanding and in many cases disruption of terrorist plots. I brought with me a quote. Because I thought it was important to read this. And as an army officer, you know I can't read that good, but I'm going to try. This was a report issued by the senate select committee on intelligence in 2012. In suppothe reauthorization of the 2008 amendments to fisa. Through four years of oversight, the committee has not identified a single case in sch a government official engamed in willful effort to circumvent or violate the law. What that means specifically is we take protecting our civil liberties and privacy as one of our key foundational values. And I want to ask more about that. But first, pretty startling why the alarm bells didn't go off. Why can't this happen again? 3.5 million contractors with top secret classification, and a million with government clearances. How can you prevent this from happening again? This is something we have to work through. Clearly the system did not work as it should have. He betrayed the trust and confidence in him. He had top secret clearance, he was to administer the networks, he betrayed the confidence and stole secrets. We are now putting in place actions that would give us the ability to track the system administers, what they're doing, what they're taking. A two-man rule, changes pass words. But we have to trust our people will do the right thing. This is an extremely important mission, defending the country. When they betray that trust, go to the departmenustice and others for action. In a statement that hong kong put out this morning explaining why they allowed snowden to leave, they have written the american government for clarification that they had hacked computer systems in hong kong. He said the nsa hacks chinese companies to steal sms data. Is that true? We have interest in those who collect on us as an intelligence agency. But to say we're willfully collecting all sorts of data would give you the impression we're canvassing the whole world. We're getting the information we need to foreign intelligence. That p mission, in this case, in the case that snowden brought up, is defending the nation from a terrorist attack. We have other interests just like other nations do. That's what you expect us to do. We do that right. Our main interest, who's collecting on us. And I just say, look at where the source comes from. The government of hong kong, putting out that statement. Are you confident we have not broken the laws of hong kong? I'm confident we're following the laws we have. We have a set of laws that guide how nsa acts. We follow those laws. We have tremendous oversight by all three portions of the government. The courts, congress, and the administration. And when you look at these laws way they have been passed, and the oversight we have, I am confident we are following our laws. Final point pierre made, some are asking whether wikileaks is a jouric organization or an enemy of the state. Where do you come down on that? I have no opinion on them. I really don't track them. I don't know. I don't know who they are other than this assange person. My job, defend the nation. No speculation. You just said, as you testified to congress this week, the government programs helped prevent 50 terrorist attacks. Senators wyden and udall responded, they acknowledged that the prison program was effective, but said this, the the bulk collection phone collection records played little or no role in most of these disruptions. In fact, we have yet to see evidence that the bulk phone records collection has provided any otherwise obtainable evidence. Can you provide that evidence? Yes, and I think we did. Now here's the facts. What they put on the table, when you look at it across the board, across these 50, the business record is only going to focus on those that had a nexus in the united states. And that's a little over ten. When you look at it, the scope that the business record fisa can deal with it those that are just over ten. And in those, I think it contributed in the majority of cases. It allowed us to form some of the dots. That's key in what we'reing to do. Look at where this came from. I think you heard part of the testimony on tuesday as you mentioned. In 2001, midar in california, the intelligence community didn't know that. We weren't able to connect those dots. These programs are helping us connect the dots. I think that's very important to have the tools of this. We can argue over which do the is the most important, but at the end of the day, we didn't have enough information to connect the dots. And I thining with fbi, cia and others, our job is to get the information. If we're going to defend the information, we need the intelligence. Here's the key, I think another important point on this, look at the information that we're collecting. In 2012, less than 300 selectors were proved for reasonable significance in the database. It's a small set. Two-thirds are foreign. One-third were in the u.S. Of those one-third, we treat all phones inside the u.S. As u.S. Persons. So in this case, when we talked about the 2009 case of zazi, he was in colorado.That is considered a u.S. Person. So from our perspective, tracking them is the most important thing we can do. Here's what's in the balance. Over 50 cases globally, ten in the united states. These two capabilities helped us form the dots. I think that's what the american people want us to do. And note that they did not -- we have not in a single case had a place where a government official engaged in willful effort to circumvent or violate the law. Zero times have we done that. From my -- when you talk about the tracking, the president told charlie rose this week, what he can say, if you are a u.S. Person, the nsa cannot listen to your telephone calls. I understand under the 215 program you don't listen to the phone calls. But is that statement correct? I would assume that if an nsa analyst is tracking someone in cuba or overseas, you're going to listen to the phone call, correct? You're asking a different set of questions. Let me put first of all, the prime directive on the table. The law makes it clear. In order for the nsa to target the content of a u.S. Person's communications anywhere in the world, nsa requiring probable cause and a court order, a specific court order. If we're targeting outside the united states a terrorist, and happen to talk to a u.S. Person inside the united states, yes, we would follow that law. And the min mization procedures that I think were leaked earlier this week, talk about the responsibilities that we now have with respect to those u.S. Persons. We follow those. We train the people how to do this right. We get oversight by justice, by the courts, we get oversight by the administration and by congress. All three parts of government. Our most important job is defending the nation. We follow the laws and defend the nation. And I would tell you, when you look at on balance, over 50 cases that we've helped disrupt terrorist plots and contributed information to those, zero times have we come up with a place where we have failed the public's confidence or congress' confidence in these laws. I think that's pretty good. I think that is what we have to do, move the debate from a political debate to a debate on national security. Because that's what we're talking about, and security of this country. And the head of the national intelligence said cyber threats are the top security threat. You were the head of the cyber command. Preside over the navy, air force, the army that deal with cyber warfare operations. In your testimony to congress, you said this involves both defensive cyber warfare, and offensive operations. Here's what you said. This is an offensive team that the defense department would use to defend the nation if it were attacked in cyber space. 13 of the teams we are creating are for that mission-set alone. In one of the documents leaked by mr. Snowden, the ppd 20, I believe, elaborates on that authority. You have emergency authority to act on your own in circumstances, including anticipatory action against imminent threats. That's a pre-emptive authority for you. Can you help explain under what circumstances you would be authorized to launch an offensive act of cyber warfare? To be clear, what I can do on my own is within our netwoto launch offensive measures to stop somebody from getting inside the networks. Anything I want to do outside that is offensive in nature, we would have to call the secretary and the president to get their approval. There are things we can do to stop packets in flight, but from our perspective, any actions that's offensive in nature would require the policy-makers. This is no difference if you think about the nuclear situation. If someone attacks a country, we would stand up a set of communications with the secretary, the president and the policy-makers and say here's what's going on, here's what we're doing to defend the networks and the actions we've taken. Those are the defensive cyber effects operations. Here's what we recommend to secure the nation and the steps we need to take. And the president would have several options. He could take diplomatic, military, he has a range of options. We would present some. And the president and the secretary would choose what to do. They may call the offending country and say stop, or choose else. But that's a policy decision. Finally, the chairman of the house intelligence committee was on this program a short while ago, and he said we're losing the cyber war to china. Is he right? I think our nation has been significantly impacted with intellectual property with the theft of intellectual property by china and others. That is the most significant transfer of wealth in history. And it goes right back to your initial question. Who's taking our information is one of the things I believe the american people would expect me to know. That's one of my missions, who's doing this and why. The initial question, why, that's part of the answer. Who's coming after us, we need to know that so we can defend the nation. General, thank you very much for your time. Thank you.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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