U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander may well be harboring the thought attributed to prevaricator Oliver North upon being spared punishment — and instead getting rewarded handsomely — for lying about the Iran-Contra Affair: “Is this a great country or what!”
Gen. Alexander, Director of the National Security Agency since August 2005, is about to become what the Army describes as “dual hatted.” The Senate is about to confirm him to another highly sensitive leadership position requiring the utmost integrity and fidelity to the Constitution when he has shown neither.
Despite that, after sizing up the enormous challenge of running the new U.S. cyber-warfare command, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, looked at Gen. Alexander and added, “And you’re the right person for it.”
Not for the first time, neither Inhofe nor his colleagues seem to have done their homework. Or maybe it is simply the case that Congress now accepts being lied to as part of the woodwork in the Capitol.
Alexander, you see, has a publicly established record of lying about NSA’s warrantless wiretapping. Call me naïve or obsolete, but when I was an Army officer it was understood that an officer did not lie — and especially not to Congress. Gen. Alexander seems to have missed that block of instruction.
And the same can be said for so many other very senior Army officers. It becomes easier to understand why Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba compared some of his colleagues during the Bush administration to the Mafia.
No Additional Stars for Taguba
Maj. Gen. Taguba conducted the first (and only real) investigation of the abuses at Abu Ghraib. His brutally honest report was leaked to the press — and thus became largely responsible for preventing the scandal from being swept entirely under the rug. Rather than thank Taguba for upholding the honor of the U.S. Army, the Bush administration and more senior generals singled him out for ridicule, retribution and forced retirement. They made him an example of what happens if you don’t toe the party line.
Taguba told investigative journalist Seymour Hersh of a chilling conversation he had with Gen. John Abizaid, then CENTCOM commander, a few weeks after Taguba’s report became public in 2004. Sitting in the back of Abizaid’s Mercedes sedan in Kuwait, Abizaid quietly told Taguba, “You and your report will be investigated.”
“I’d been in the Army 32 years by then,” Taguba told Hersh, “and it was the first time that I thought I was in the Mafia.”
Getting back to Gen. Alexander’s nomination, if our senators continue to feed on thin gruel like that served up by the Washington Post, Alexander is a shoo-in to become the first head of the Cyber Command, newly established to enhance the kind of capabilities for waging network warfare that the Pentagon believes it needs.
Technically speaking, Alexander’s training and experience would qualify him for the job. But, as I will show in what follows, if Congress wants to be able to get honest answers from someone in such a sensitive post, it should send the general packing.
Premium on Trustworthiness
As Alexander testified Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee that is weighing his nomination, it became frighteningly clear that his new scope of responsibility would be virtually (no pun intended) unbounded — the more so inasmuch as he would keep his job as NSA director.
Alexander himself conceded the point that much about cyber-warfare is “unchartered (sic) territory.” He got that right! It’s also uncharted.
“Civil liberties, privacy all come into that equation,” Alexander said, “while you try to, on the same network, potentially take care of bad actors.”
This gave little comfort to committee members with concerns that civil liberties could take a back seat to the Cyber Command’s broadly-but-vaguely defined tasks, like “executing full-spectrum military, cyberspace operations.” Nathan Hodge, writing in Wired, observed that apparently Alexander would be cyber guru over “everything but the kitchen sink.”