The head of the National Security Agency, Gen. Keith Alexander, claimed last night in an exclusive interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” that former security analyst Edward Snowden took “the keys to the kingdom” when Snowden left the U.S. earlier this year and made public damaging information about the extent of U.S. intelligence gathering.

Gen. Alexander, who will step down from his post in March, spoke to “60 Minutes” ahead of what’s expected to be a critical report about the NSA, recommending that some limits be placed on bulk collection of customer data from phone companies.

Here & Now’s Robin Young speaks with former NSA analyst and intelligence historian Matthew Aid, about the content and timing of the interview.

Meantime, some journalists and media outlets are calling the “60 Minutes” segment a PR puff piece for the agency.

Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson speaks with NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik about how that impacts the credibility of the program still reeling from its retracted Benghazi report.


Interview Highlights

Matthew Aid on the upcoming report

“The key thing that’s coming out in this report is, according to the reports that have come out already, is the White House is going to be told that NSA’s signal intelligence collection operations need to be limited in some way, shape or form. And we have to wait until the report comes out to find out the specifics. And that additional oversight is needed of the agency – probably at the executive branch level, meaning the West Wing of the White House. And that there’s even some suggestion that the report will recommend that a military man will no longer command the National Security Agency – that all future directors are going to be civilians. Although, the White House quickly poured cold water on that suggestion.”

Matthew Aid on separating Gen. Alexander’s jobs 

“General Keith Alexander is not only the director of the National Security Agency, and he is a four star Army general, but he also is the commander-in-chief of U.S. Cyber Command, which is the Pentagon’s organization, which — if President Obama was to give the O.K. — conduct cyber-attacks on foreign targets. And there’s been some discussion over the past couple of months about whether it is probably prudent to separate the two organizations, to put different people in charge. The thinking is, in the White House, that given the sort of relationship between the two organizations, where there is a synergistic back-and-forth between the two, one can’t do its job without the other; therefore, it makes sense to keep both organizations under the same commander.”

David Folkenflik on the “60 Minutes” piece 

“I thought that it was a good moment to hear from the NSA itself in its own words, and it’s nice to be taken inside. But I’ve got to say that the questioning seemed awfully gentle from John Miller. He’s obviously somebody who is well experienced; in fact he used to work in some ways in terrorism and national security and may again … but nonetheless, it’s an opportunity for an informed questioner to ask some tough questions and it seemed rather gently and daintily handled, at one point talking about ‘well gosh, why do you think the public is confused between the fact that actually it’s metadata being gathered rather than the actual content of emails or phone calls and the like.’”

David Folkenflik on the useful elements of the interview

“CBS’s intention and ’60 Minutes’ intent was to say, look, we’re getting inside a world that has been confronted, had these revelations that it hasn’t seen, the like of which, in decades. And it’s having to address this. You’re seeing dissent at top levels between General Alexander, who says Snowden should be tried as a traitor, on the one hand. And this guy, Rick Leggett, who’s sort of a senior official being designated to mop up and deal with the Snowden revelations, and said ‘you know, we really need to bring him inside, maybe give him amnesty, so we can find out how badly exposed we are and how to deal with it.’ That’s a pretty good scoop and there were some other elements as well that were useful. Miller touched on things like the question of FISA courts and rulings going against them and concerns of citizens. Again, things were touched on, but they weren’t probed and things were accepted at face value from officials from an agency that, it would seem, has been accused by the FISA courts and even by some members of the Senate intelligence committee of giving either incorrect or intentionally misleading answers.”

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