CIO Briefing

NSA Chief Delivers Pep Talk to Spy Staff

Gen. Keith Alexander testified earlier in the month on the NSA scandal.

Gen. Keith Alexander testified earlier in the month on the NSA scandal. // Charles Dharapak/AP

With shadows cast over the National Security Agency workforce in light of allegations about pervasive domestic surveillance, NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander sent his staff a message of comfort and encouragement.

"The ongoing national dialogue is not about your performance," he wrote, referring to employees as "extraordinary people" and "real heroes." 

The agency is under fire for tapping the private call records of millions of U.S. residents and the social network activities of foreigners to catch terrorists.

NSA senior leadership will "take the heat" for the ongoing situation, Alexander stated in a June 25 statement to code-breakers, intelligence analysts and all other agency employees. He assured staff that their actions were approved by all three branches of government. 

Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor fired from Booz Allen Hamilton after disclosing the surveillance programs, has said he will release more documents detailing the agency's monitoring of personal data. Snowden is currently at the Moscow airport, allegedly seeking asylum in Ecuador while U.S. officials seek his extradition on charges of espionage. 

Alexander asserted that the debate has been "partly fueled by the sensational nature of the leaks and the way their timing has been carefully orchestrated to inflame and embarrass."  

Personnel should not let the controversy distract them "or cause you to worry that your work is not valuable, valued, and honorable," he wrote. "We need you to focus on our primary mission of defending our nation and our allies [emphasis included]. Thank you for all you do to support our mission every day of the year." 

NSA, a Pentagon intelligence agency, consists of more than 30,000 uniformed military members, civilian federal employees and contractors. 

Channeling Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Alexander said NSA staff embody the World War II general's definition of "Duty, Honor, Country," which involves acting "not to substitute words for action; not to seek the path of comfort, but to face the stress and spur of difficulty and challenge; to learn to stand up in the storm."

Workforce counterterrorism programs contributed to "more than 50 disruptions with zero willful failures in the protection of civil liberties -- that's an incredible record and is a testament to NSA's staunch commitment to protecting and upholding the privacy and civil liberties of the American people," Alexander wrote, reiterating recent congressional testimony.

Snowden apparently is attempting to evade international laws by remaining in an airport transit zone that Russian leaders purport is not inside the country's border. 

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