Alexander: I see that as continuing what General Hayden has had. So 2.0 is something that they started and we're continuing. And we will finish up and go into 3.0, which would be into the network and beyond, which is one of the ones that they were emerging as I got here, which is some of our roles in network operations and network warfare.
The Sun: What do you mean by network operations? What would be a good
The Sun: I was going to ask you about that. Looking more broadly, I was
talking with Admiral [Vice Admiral Mike] McConnell [former NSA director],
who mentioned that you had really focused the Army, or had been working on
refocusing the Army against more of a terrorist network-type enemy, and I
was wondering what your thoughts are on how you start to get at that here?
Alexander: Well, I can jump back to the Army part first. It was great with
General [Peter J.] Schoomaker, the chief [of staff of the Army], when he
came in and was looking at Army transformation. One of the statements he
made was really something that our country needs to think about, which I
thought was superb: Our nation doesn't need an Army to be an Army that
always did A, and you could say, make typewriters. We needed an Army for
the defense of our country to defend it against those threats that would
And as those threats changed, we had to have an Army that changed to
meet those threats. As you go from the conventional threats that the Soviet
Union posed in the '80s to an unconventional set of threats that terrorists
and other irregular warfare pose today, you need a different Army with
different capabilities that can spread that whole spectrum of warfare.
The National Security Agency needs to do the same thing in our
collection, our capability. Does that make sense?
The Sun: How do you do it?
Alexander: Transformation. The real issue is how do you do it efficiently.
I think the way to do it efficiently is smaller steps, more rapidly done,
rather than try to take one big jump and make it all the way across. So
that was part of General Hayden's testimony [in April], too. I think he hit
it right on the head. That's exactly what we need to do. We can spiral
forward much of what we need to do. We have some great capabilities here.
The Sun: Getting at that Transformation 3.0 issue, what kinds of strategies
can be employed to start focusing on networks as opposed to targets?
Alexander: Well, one is ... the volume of data that we collect is going
to continue to grow. And so one of the things ... you look at is how do
we now do analysis in a new environment?
And one of the things that the Army wrestled with too, is as [you]
get more information to your analysts, they have to have the tools now to
handle that greater volume of information. And so analysts are going to be
taking on a different role. The information that you used to collect, now
to get a relevant piece of information -- finding a tank division that was
moving out there [points out the window], if you miss that, something's
wrong. OK, so think about it. So now, collecting on a tank division was a
little bit easier. Now here's the difference, find a terrorist in a city
where there are 22 million people. That's a much more difficult, much more
complex problem that requires all our agencies to work together. How do we
And so you're now trying to find out information about information
that gets into things like extensive markup language or XML tagging. How
you handle data. How you visualize that data, and how we jump from
industrial-age analysis to the information-age analysis that our country
needs. And so I think what we're embarking on, what we have been doing, is
jumping from one era to another. Does that make sense? And I think that is
where our country needs us to go for our security.
The Sun: So do you then see the kind of change or transformation that you'd
like to see happen here, is that somewhat akin to what you were doing at
the Army? Because I know that there you were developing the Information
Dominance Center and things like that. And that was sort of trying to work
on the needle in the haystack problem. Is that analogous?
Alexander: It's analogous. Oh, by the way, you know who one of our
benefactors was to do that, who helped fund that? [It] was NSA. That is
kind of ironic, and for the good of both NSA and us was to get some of
these tool sets to all the analysts, so we corporately did that.
Now I see this going a little bit further. So let me just jump you
back into an Army analogy that I used when I was a G-2 [Army intelligence
officer], of how you shared information. That went from a theater to a
theater to a corps, corps to a division, division to a brigade, brigade to
a battalion, battalion to a company, company to a platoon, and then you get
the guys in the front end.
If you look at that and you think about the time that information
flowed under the old way, that was the only way you could do it. And it
starts back to the Civil War where you have that guy on that ridge with
signal flags, and then it would go down to the next. ... OK, now think
if you were flying in an airplane and we're passing you that information
like that, when it was going from there to there to there [he traces along
a map mounted under glass on his conference table]. You're over bad country
all this way here, and then all of a sudden they say, "Oops. They got shot
down but we were passing the message." Now jump forward. How do we do that
for our soldiers and Marines and civilians in Iraq? They aren't part of the
network. But they need to be.
So one of the big transformation agendas we have is how do you tie
the people to the network so that information flows freely to those who
need it for IED [improvised explosive device, or roadside bomb]
information, for attack, for operations. Does that make sense?
So now what we did was we just turned that whole paradigm around in
the Army and said, "Uh-oh. The guys who need it in first are the ones who
are in peril most." That means turning around the way we think about
Now when you think about how we used to do it and how we're doing it,
it's a similar thing, except for on the analytic part. So, much of that has
been ongoing here within the agency. So those things you already see are
going on. What we'll do is continue those. We'll bring in and continue to
work those. But that transformation has already started. It is a logical
step to do.
Interview with NSA Director Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander
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