How to speak the truth and yet lie? Ask General Alexander

Old joke in the industry: the difference between a sales person and marketing person is that the marketing person knows when he’s lying.  Which is General Alexander?

Let’s appreciate that the head of a spying agency is in a tough spot.  Allies and citizens of the U.S. alike are outraged, making an actual dialog difficult.  Leaders, however, must address hard issues head on and truthfully; and they must demonstrate command of the subject matter, or we waste our time.

Let’s go through some of the General’s statements:

“the assertions… that NSA collected tens of millions of phone calls [in Europe] are completely false”.

– From a BBC article

Maybe, but he and the president have in the past made the distinction between so-called “meta-data” (which the rest of us just call “data”).  And so maybe the NSA doesn’t have access to the calls, but he has not denied that they have access to who people called, the time and date they called, and for how long.  What is the truth?

Yesterday The Washington Post dropped another Snowden bombshell, indicating that the NSA was intercepting Google customer traffic by tapping into their communications lines.  The Guardian had previously reported that GCHQ was tapping fiber cables.  Alexander’s response, this time?

This is not NSA breaking into any databases. It would be illegal for us to do that. So, I don’t know what the report is. But I can tell you factually we do not have access to Google servers, Yahoo servers. We go through a court order.–From CNN

Except in this case, the NSA is not accused of breaking into servers, but rather tapping communications off of fiber cables.  By answering a charge that wasn’t made, either general doesn’t understand the issue and therefore cannot meaningfully inform the President or the public, or he does understand the truth and is intentionally prevaricating to the public.  What is necessary is a public debate over the policy issues relating to surveillance, and when it should and should not be authorized.  The people leading that dialog should be truthful and informed.

I’m sure the general is aware that everyone has their day of reckoning.  It’s time for his.  The president needs to find a new director of the NSA who can intelligently advance an honest discourse.

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