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One man’s data fetish: Why Keith Alexander wants to “collect it all”

“Collect it all.” That’s how an anonymous former senior Intelligence officer describes NSA Director General Keith Alexander’s approach to personal data in a story in today’s Washington Post.

The title and first paragraphs claim the “terrorist threat drives [Alexander’s] passion” to collect everything. Just after Alexander took over at NSA in August 2005, he instituted a program to collect “every Iraqi text message, phone call and e-mail” as a way to combat roadside bombs. As such, the article suggests this data grab is all about dead bodies. “[I]f we give up a capability that is critical to the defense of this nation, people will die,” the Post quotes Alexander saying last month.

But the headline and the first paragraphs overstate the degree to which the story is about terrorism (even assuming every Iraqi targeting US troops in 2006 was a terrorist rather than a counter-occupation force). As it notes, Alexander’s urge to “collect it all” also stems from his mandate to protect against cyberattacks and—in his other role as the head of Cybercommand—to conduct offensive attacks such as the StuxNet sabotage of Iran’s nuclear centrifuge program.

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