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General Alexander heckled during Black Hat keynote address

By Steve Ragan, CSO
July 31, 2013 06:50 PM ET

CSO - Speaking to a packed house this morning, General Keith Alexander faced a skeptical, and hostile crowd during his keynote address. A first for the conference, the NSA director faced a State of the Union-like disruption, when someone in the darkened room shouted "bulls..t!" after the General commented that the U.S. Government, "stands for freedom."

[LIGHTER SIDE: Head-spinning history of the Propeller Beanie]

The heckling happened several times, ending towards the end of the keynote when the General was holding a Q&A with Black Hat General Manager, Trey Ford.

After commenting that his reason for attending Black Hat was to ask the community represented by the attendees help the government (i.e. the NSA) "make it better" when it comes to data collection and the legal intercept programs, the unknown heckler responded to the General with a shout of, "read the Constitution!" to which Alexander responded, "I have, you should too."

For those sitting near CSO that were willing to talk, the heckling marked a low point in Black Hat's history, but it serves to show just how passionate InfoSec people are at times, and how much of a pressure point the NSA's actions have become.

The keynote left many attendees that CSO spoke with feeling as if they wasted their time. It wasn't that they didn't appreciate the General taking the time to speak, but the keynote was more of a presentation than a meaningful discussion, and when the questions came they were focused more on business than anything else.

General Alexander made no apologies for the news cycle this summer, one that has placed his agency directly in the crosshairs of the public, the media, and politicians on both sides of the isle. The intercept programs, he explained (reiterating previous remarks on the record) are managed with strict oversight. They acquire only the data that is needed for counter-terrorism programs, and it's collected in a way that is the least intrusive when it comes to privacy. This is the point that many disagreed with, and left many of them feeling let down.

However, the General did show how the controversial Sections 215 and 702 (known as PRISM) of the Patriot Act, were used to stop attacks. In fact, he said that 54 terror plots were stopped by the programs, and of the 13 plots halted in the U.S., 12 of them were directly linked to the intercept programs.

General Alexander's keynote at Black Hat also happens to fall on the same day that intelligence officials are slated to begin testifying on Capitol Hill in a Senate hearing on government surveillance. Shortly after the General began speaking, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), released three documents that were previously classified, including a records collection order under Section 215.

The three documents outline some of the basics of the intercept programs, and once again stress that only basic information is collected, and that most of the data "is never viewed." One of the ODNI's documents says that only those with proper training and authorization are allowed to access the collected data.

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