The Public Eye with Eric Chabrow

Can We Trust NSA on Expanded Infosec Role?

There's much distrust surrounding the National Security Agency, and those misgivings could hamper its potential expanded role in securing key government systems and the nation's critical IT infrastructure.

The mistrust dates back to 2005 when reports first surfaced that the NSA - the super-secret, electronic spy agency administrated by the Defense Department - illegally eavesdropped without warrants on e-mail and other forms of electronic communications of American citizens as part of a larger, legal effort to intercept messages from terrorists.

James Lewis, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says we may have no choice but to trust the NSA. America is being threatened from foreign intelligence agencies employing cyber to spy on and/or disrupt our key IT system, many of them controlled by the private sector. In an interview with, Lewis said:

"No company can deal with them, no civilian agency can deal with them; DHS is not going to be capable of defeating foreign intelligence agencies, and frankly, it's not clear to me that DoD be able to do it, either. But they're the only people we can afford to put in the game. If we don't find a better way to make use of NSA's capabilities, we will be unable to secure our national networks."

The warrantless surveillance program raised red flags about the NSA, a huge disservice that made people very nervous about privacy rights and civil liberties, he said. But the change in administration a year ago has altered the situation at the NSA, Lewis said, adding:

"The NSA tends to get blamed for stuff that really they didn't do. It's not rogue agents; it's rogue politicians. Oh yeah, there's a huge change, but the change in culture is at the White House. ... It wasn't that (the NSA) was saying to itself, 'Gosh I want to go out and eavesdrop on people.' They were instructed, ordered by the White House to do it, so now they're getting different orders, and that should make people comfortable."

Are you comfortable?

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Click here to listen to the interview with Lewis.

About the Author

Eric Chabrow

Eric Chabrow

Retired Executive Editor, GovInfoSecurity

Chabrow, who retired at the end of 2017, hosted and produced the semi-weekly podcast ISMG Security Report and oversaw ISMG's GovInfoSecurity and InfoRiskToday. He's a veteran multimedia journalist who has covered information technology, government and business.

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