NSA to reduce system administrators by 90%
NSA chief Keith Alexander told a conference in New York that the NSA was in the process of automating much of its data collection and would cut the number of people who had access to sensitive information by 90%.
"What we're in the process of doing - not fast enough - is reducing our system administrators by about 90 percent," he said.
The remarks came as the agency is facing scrutiny after Snowden, who had been one of about 1,000 system administrators who help run the agency's networks, leaked classified details about surveillance programs to the press.
Before the change, "what we've done is we've put people in the loop of transferring data, securing networks and doing things that machines are probably better at doing," Alexander said.
Using technology to automate much of the work now done by employees and contractors would make the NSA's networks "more defensible and more secure," as well as faster, he said at the conference, in which he did not mention Snowden by name.
These efforts pre-date Snowden's leaks, the agency has said, but have since been accelerated.
Alexander's remarks largely echoed similar comments made to Congress and at other public appearances over the past two months since his agency came under fire from civil liberties advocates and lawmakers concerned by Snowden's revelations.
Snowden leaked documents to the Guardian and the Washington Post, which published stories revealing previously secret telephone and internet surveillance programs run by the U.S. government.
Snowden now faces criminal charges but has since been granted temporary asylum in Russia.
Other security measures that Alexander has previously discussed include requiring at least two people to be present before certain data can be accessed on the agency's computer systems.
"At the end of the day it's about people and trust," Alexander said. He again defended his agency's conduct, much of which he said had been "grossly mischaracterized" by the press.
"No one has willfully or knowingly disobeyed the law or tried to invade your civil liberties or privacies," he said. "There were no mistakes like that at all."
He still doesn't get it. Even if all 1000 system administrators were angels - and Edward Snowden said they weren't - the potential for wrongdoing is enormous. Alexander's announced fixes for the system actually track many of Snowden's criticisms, including the idea that lone analysts could access the data on a regular basis. Requiring at least one other person present when that data is accessed is a step in the right direction.
The agency still has a long way to go in order to win back the trust of Congress and the American people.