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How the NSA plans to avoid future leaks: replace employees with machines

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General Keith Alexander at Def Con — stock
General Keith Alexander at Def Con — stock

NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander might have had a difficult time recruiting hackers at the Def Con and Black Hat security conferences, but he might not need to recruit again anytime soon. Speaking at a cybersecurity conference in New York City — where he sat down with the heads of the FBI and CIA — he told an audience that he'd like to replace the vast majority of his employees and contractors with machines. No joke.

"What we're in the process of doing - not fast enough - is reducing our system administrators by about 90 percent," he said, according to a Reuters report. "What we've done is put people in the loop of transferring data, securing networks and doing things that machines are probably better at doing," he added. The Huffington Post, also in attendance, reports that Alexander said he could replace employees with a "thin virtual cloud structure." Alexander previously testified that the NSA has 1,000 system administrators.

"What we've done is put people in the loop"

While the publication said that Alexander didn't mention whistleblower Edward Snowden by name — one such NSA system administrator, and the man who revealed the extent of the US government's surveillance efforts — it seems likely the comments were directed at keeping future would-be whistleblowers from walking away with sensitive data, which certainly makes sense. "We trust people with data. At the end of the day it's all about trust. And people who have access to data as part of their missions, if they misuse that trust they can cause huge damage," Alexander reportedly said.

But as society continues to discuss in the context of weaponized drones and self-driving cars, should we trust machines instead?