(Wired) The NSA has never said much about the open secret that it collects and sometimes even pays for information about hackable flaws in commonly used software. But in a rare statement following his retirement last month, former NSA chief Keith Alexander acknowledged and defended that practice. In doing so, he admitted the deeply contradictory responsibilities of an agency tasked with defending Americans’ security and simultaneously hoarding bugs in software they use every day.
“When the government asks NSA to collect intelligence on terrorist X, and he uses publicly available tools to encode his messages, it is not acceptable for a foreign intelligence agency like NSA to respond, ‘Sorry we cannot understand what he is saying’,” Alexander told the Australian Financial Review, which he inexplicably granted a 16,000-word interview. “To ask NSA not to look for weaknesses in the technology that we use, and to not seek to break the codes our adversaries employ to encrypt their messages is, I think, misguided. I would love to have all the terrorists just use that one little sandbox over there so that we could focus on them. But they don’t.”