The NSA’s Next Target: The First Amendment

During a cybersecurity panel on Tuesday, General Keith Alexander, currently the head of the NSA, said he will submit proposed legislation within in the next week to prevent journalists from reporting on NSA leaks regarding the depth and scope of surveillance programs and data collection. Alexander would support actions here at home similar to those taken in the United Kingdom when investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald was detained at London’s Heathrow airport in 2013 for carrying classified information about UK surveillance programs.

Holding journalists on charges of terrorism simply for reporting on information they have been given, especially if it concerns the public, seems a little extreme. However, Alexander believes such actions are necessary because “journalists have no standing when it comes to national security.”

“They don’t know how to weigh the fact of what they’re giving out and saying, is it in the nation’s interest to divulge this,” he added.

“My personal opinion: these leaks have caused grave, significant and irreversible damage to our nation and to our allies. It will take us years to recover.”

It is difficult to tell exactly how much damage to the nation has been done other than embarrassing the national intelligence community (as if it didn’t have enough embarrassments on its record), the Obama administration, and the government as a whole as many Republican and Democratic lawmakers continue to voice their support for these programs in the name of national security. Alexander seems content with the idea that if the government cannot get Snowden, then it should go after journalists whose job it is to serve the best interest of the public, not the government.

As Alexander says he is an optimist, he is confident Congress will move forward with the legislation so it can move forward with other bills to make it easier for the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command to communicate with private organizations secretly about cyber attacks and — you guessed it — data collection. As of now, it is unclear how many lawmakers will support this bill.

The proposed legislation will be one of Alexander’s last acts as head of the NSA. He is set to retire in the coming weeks.