The Washington Post has a profile of NSA chief Keith Alexander that makes it clear that his mission is to “collect it all” when it comes to digital data:

“Rather than look for a single needle in the haystack, his approach was, ‘Let’s collect the whole haystack,’ ” said one former senior U.S. intelligence official who tracked the plan’s implementation. “Collect it all, tag it, store it. . . . And whatever it is you want, you go searching for it.”

I think we’re beginning to understand how the NSA works. Combine the “collect it all” mentality with the fact that Alexander is both the head of the NSA and the US Cyber Command, and you see a clear conflict of interest that can lead to some pretty sticky situations.

“He is the only man in the land that can promote a problem by virtue of his intelligence hat and then promote a solution by virtue of his military hat,” said one former Pentagon official, voicing a concern that the lines governing the two authorities are not clearly demarcated and that Alexander can evade effective public oversight as a result. The former official spoke on the condition of anonymity to be able to talk freely.”

Remember the NSA’s talking points regarding the Utah data center? They really played up the US Cyber Command aspects, and almost completely left out the surveillance information. The NSA under Alexander is free to hide under the claim that they’re trying to “protect us,” allowing them to avoid admitting that they are collecting everything and spying on everyone. Furthermore, the panic and distress Alexander spews at everyone is sickening at best:

“Everyone also understands,” he said, “that if we give up a capability that is critical to the defense of this nation, people will die.”

What a great way to win total, unquestioning support. There is very little evidence that any of these activities have prevented anything serious that couldn’t have been prevented through more traditional means. The US Constitution was put in place with the idea that “making law enforcement’s job easier” is not a valid excuse. The whole point of civil liberties is to give people more freedom, making law enforcement’s job harder. And we consider that a good thing, because we believe that keeping the innocent from being spied on and accused is more valuable than preventing every possible crime and finding every criminal. But Alexander and others in the NSA seem to want to flip that idea on its head—and that could prove to be very, very dangerous.