24 February 2016

Former NSA director warns against back doors

The headline this Monday was: “Former director of NSA backs Apple on iPhone ‘back doors’”.

“Look, I used to run the NSA, OK?” Hayden says. “Please, please, Lord, put back doors in, because ... that back door will make it easier for me to do what I want to do. ...

“But when you step back and look at the whole question of American security and safety writ large, we are a safer, more secure nation without back doors.”

I have to give Michael Hayden credit for changing his mind on this and for speaking up about it, but it is a little late. The right time to “step back and look at the whole question of American security and safety writ large” is when you are in fact the director of the National Security Agency.

The NSA is the agency charged with protecting U.S. information systems against foreign attack. Sure, that mandate is less sexy than NSA’s sigint mission, but it’s even more important in practice. We are vulnerable. And it’s great that signals intelligence and information security are under the same agency, since there are tradeoffs to consider... except that nobody is considering them. The head of the National Security Agency didn’t see security as any part of his job.

Apparently, he thought he had a sigint job. But really I suspect he thought he had a political job, working for the President.

That's a shame. If the current director of the NSA happens to be reading this: please do your country a service and take a good hard look at your job description. Or better yet, a good hard look in the mirror. Act like an adult. Do the job that needs doing.