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September 15, 2013

Inside the mind of NSA chief Gen Keith Alexander

By Glenn Greenwald

Any casual review of human history proves how deeply irrational it is to believe that powerful factions can be trusted to exercise vast surveillance power with little accountability or transparency. But the more they proudly flaunt their warped imperial hubris, the more irrational it becomes.

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Source: The Guardian

A lavish Star Trek room he had built as part of his 'Information Dominance Center' is endlessly revealing


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It has been previously reported that the mentality of NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander is captured by his motto "Collect it All." It's a get-everything approach he pioneered first when aimed at an enemy population in the middle of a war zone in Iraq, one he has now imported onto US soil, aimed at the domestic population and everyone else.

But a perhaps even more disturbing and revealing vignette into the spy chief's mind comes from a new Foreign Policy article describing what the journal calls his "all-out, barely-legal drive to build the ultimate spy machine." The article describes how even his NSA peers see him as a "cowboy" willing to play fast and loose with legal limits in order to construct a system of ubiquitous surveillance. 

But the personality driving all of this -- not just Alexander's but much of Washington's -- is perhaps best captured by this one passage, highlighted by PBS' News Hour in a post entitled: "NSA director modeled war room after Star Trek's Enterprise." The room was christened as part of the "Information Dominance Center":

"When he was running the Army's Intelligence and Security Command, Alexander brought many of his future allies down to Fort Belvoir for a tour of his base of operations, a facility known as the Information Dominance Center. It had been designed by a Hollywood set designer to mimic the bridge of the starship Enterprise from Star Trek, complete with chrome panels, computer stations, a huge TV monitor on the forward wall, and doors that made a 'whoosh' sound when they slid open and closed. Lawmakers and other important officials took turns sitting in a leather 'captain's chair' in the center of the room and watched as Alexander, a lover of science-fiction movies, showed off his data tools on the big screen.

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Numerous commentators remarked yesterday on the meaning of all that (note, too, how "Total Information Awareness" was a major scandal in the Bush years, but "Information Dominance Center" -- along with things like "Boundless Informant" -- are treated as benign or even noble programs in the age of Obama).

But now, on the website of DBI Architects, Inc. of Washington and Reston, Virginia, there are what purports to be photographs of the actual Star-Trek-like headquarters commissioned by Gen. Alexander that so impressed his Congressional overseers. It's a 10,740 square foot labyrinth in Fort Belvoir, Virginia. The brochure touts how "the prominently positioned chair provides the commanding officer an uninterrupted field of vision to a 22'-0" wide projection screen":


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The glossy display further describes how "this project involved the renovation of standard office space into a highly classified, ultramodern operations center." Its "primary function is to enable 24-hour worldwide visualization, planning, and execution of coordinated information operations for the US Army and other federal agencies." It gushes: "The 
futuristic, yet distinctly military, setting is further reinforced by the Commander's console, which gives the illusion that one has boarded a star ship..."


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Other photographs of Gen. Alexander's personal Star Trek Captain fantasy come-to-life (courtesy of public funds) are here. Any casual review of human history proves how deeply irrational it is to believe that powerful factions can be trusted to exercise vast surveillance power with little accountability or transparency. But the more they proudly flaunt their warped imperial hubris, the more irrational it becomes.

Related issues

(1) Harvard Law Professor Yochai Benkler has an excellent Op-Ed in the Guardian arguing that the NSA is so far out-of-control that radical measures, rather than incremental legislative reform, are necessary to rein it in.

(2) The Federation of American Scientists' Steven Aftergood, usually a reform-minded transparency advocate somewhat hostile to massive leaks, examines the serious reform which Snowden's disclosures are enabling, as reluctantly acknowledged even by the FISA court and James Clapper himself.

(3) British comedian Russell Brand attended an event sponsored by GQ and Hugo Boss and gave a speech, while accepting an award, which offended almost everyone in the room (that speech is here). He then wrote a genuinely brilliant (and quite hilarious) Op-Ed in the Guardian about the role elite institutions play in reinforcing their legitimacy and how they maintain control of public discourse. It is well worth taking the time to read it.



Authors Bio:

[Subscribe to Glenn Greenwald] Glenn Greenwald is a journalist,former constitutional lawyer, and author of four New York Times bestselling books on politics and law. His most recent book, "No Place to Hide," is about the U.S. surveillance state and his experiences reporting on the Snowden documents around the world. His forthcoming book, to be published in April, 2021, is about Brazilian history and current politics, with a focus on his experience in reporting a series of expose's in 2019 and 2020 which exposed high-level corruption by powerful officials in the government of President Jair Bolsonaro, which subsequently attempted to prosecute him for that reporting.


Foreign Policy magazine named Greenwald one of the top 100 Global Thinkers for 2013. He was the debut winner, along with "Democracy Now's" Amy Goodman, of the Park Center I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism in 2008, and also received the 2010 Online Journalism Award for his investigative work breaking the story of the abusive detention conditions of Chelsea Manning.


For his 2013 NSA reporting, working with his source Edward Snowden, he received the George Polk Award for National Security Reporting; the Gannett Foundation Award for investigative journalism and the Gannett Foundation Watchdog Journalism Award; the Esso Premio for Excellence in Investigative Reporting in Brazil (he was the first non-Brazilian to win); and the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Pioneer Award. The NSA reporting he led for The Guardian was also awarded the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. A film about the work Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras did with Snowden to report the NSA archive, "CitizenFour," directed by Poitras, was awarded the 2015 Academy Award for Best Documentary.


In 2019, he received the Special Prize from the Vladimir Herzog Institute for his reporting on the Bolsonaro government and pervasive corruption inside the prosecutorial task force that led to the imprisonment of former Brazilian President Lula da Silva. The award is named after the Jewish immigrant journalist who was murdered during an interrogation by the Brazilian military dictatorship in 1977. Several months after the reporting began, Lula was ordered released by the Brazilian Supreme Court, and the former President credited the expose's for his liberty. In early 2020, Brazilian prosecutors sought to prosecute Greenwald in connection with the reporting, but the charges were dismissed due to a Supreme Court ruling, based on the Constitutional right of a free press, that barred the Bolsonaro government from making good on its threats to retaliate against Greenwald.


After working as a journalist at Salon and The Guardian, Greenwald co-founded The Intercept in 2013 along with Poitras and journalist Jeremy Scahill, and co-founded The Intercept Brasil in 2016. He resigned fromThe Intercept in October, 2020, to return to independent journalism.


Greenwald lives in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with his husband, Congressman David Miranda, their two children, and 26 rescue dogs. In 2017, Greenwald and Miranda created an animal shelter in Brazil supported in part through public donations designed to employ and help exit the streets homeless people who live on the streets with their pets.


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