Lawmakers fail to ask NSA chief about agency's malware plans

Instead, a House subcommittee deferred questions about 'damage' of leaks to a classified briefing

General Keith Alexander (left) at a recent hearing.

General Keith Alexander (left) at a recent hearing.

U.S. lawmakers had a chance to pose questions to the director of the National Security Agency on Wednesday but declined to ask him about reports that the agency plans to install malware on millions of computers.

General Keith Alexander did not volunteer information about the reported NSA program to deploy tens of thousands of copies of surveillance malware on computers and networking devices around the world.

Committee members didn't ask him about it, either. Instead, committee members praised the soon-to-retire Alexander for his years of service at the NSA and Cyber Command. "A grateful nation salutes you," said Representative Jim Langevin, a Rhode Island Democrat.

Alexander was testifying before a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, where he talked about the need for U.S. Cyber Command, the sister agency to the NSA, to get real-time cyberthreat information from U.S. businesses.

Representative Vicky Hartzler, a Missouri Republican, asked if the subcommittee would address questions about holding a briefing on the latest leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the source of the reports on the agency's malware plan.

Wednesday's hearing was focused on Cyber Command, not NSA issues, said Intelligence Subcommittee Chairman Mac Thornberry, a Texas Republican. The committee would schedule a classified intelligence briefing "where we can go deeply into the damage done to our national security" by the Snowden leaks, he said.

Alexander's main focus at the hearing was to advocate for legislation that would allow U.S. businesses to share cyberthreat information with Cyber Command and other government agencies. He called on Congress to pass legislation that would protect businesses from lawsuits if they accidentally overshare information.

"We have to have a way to understand when Wall Street is under attack," Alexander said. "Right now, we get it after the fact. We get called up, it's not real time, and as a consequence, we can't defend them."

The government and businesses need to be able to share cyberthreat information "at network speed," he said.

Some privacy and digital rights groups have questioned information-sharing legislation, saying it could allow businesses to share personal information unrelated to cyberattacks.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags U.S. Department of DefenseGovernment use of ITKeith AlexanderU.S. National Security AgencyJim LangevinMac ThornberryExploits / vulnerabilitiesprivacyU.S. Cyber CommandU.S. House of RepresentativessecurityEdward SnowdenVicky Hartzlergovernmentdata protection

More about Armed Services CommitteeIDGIslandNational Security AgencyNSAWall Street

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Grant Gross

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place