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New report reveals internal struggle over widespread NSA surveillance

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NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander
NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander

So far, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has been the target of most of the backlash against the newly revealed NSA spying programs, but a new piece in Foreign Policy turns the spotlight on General Keith Alexander, who currently serves as director of both the NSA and head of the United States' Cyber Command. Sources tell Foreign Policy that Alexander took the agency far deeper into data collection in the eight years since he took office, and is responsible for many of the programs detailed in recent leaks.

Alexander sought to "bend the pipe towards him."

The article's most damning find is the fact that the previous NSA director, General Michael Hayden, considered Alexander too much of a cowboy to run the agency responsibly. Foreign Policy describes an early confrontation between the two men, as Alexander sought to manipulate data flows to "bend the pipe towards him," as one unidentified source put it. As a result, Hayden reported Alexander to his commanding general, concerned over his subordinate's efforts to gain access to more and more unfiltered surveillance data.

That action may have slowed Alexander's rise to power, but it didn't stop him. After Hayden left for the CIA, Alexander took over the agency as director, thanks in part to his close ties to then secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld, and the NSA's focus on ever-stronger data collection only grew, reportedly expanding surveillance capacity to include national infrastructure like defense contractors and banks. Alexander previously made headlines for his role in developing cyberwar tools like Stuxnet, and his rare focus on the web as an arena for global warfare. That focus also led him to appearances at Defcon and Black Hat, although after recent revelations, the general appears to be retreating from the limelight. Immediately after the Foreign Policy piece was published, the general abruptly canceled a cybersecurity talk in the Netherlands, citing scheduling concerns.