An obscure engineer named James Heath has helped shape the NSA’s information empire by serving as the right-hand man of NSA chief Keith Alexander, Shane Harris of Foreign Policy reports in an extensive profile on the four star general.
Several former intelligence officials described Heath, who has worked with Alexander since at least 1995, as the NSA director’s “mad scientist” while another called him an “evil genius.”
“He’s smart, crazy, and dangerous,” one former intelligence official told FP. “He’ll push the technology to the limits to get it to do what he wants.”
But there are doubts as to whether the big data tools they built even work.
As commander of the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command in the early 2000s, Alexander reportedly gave several presentations that detailed “networks” of suspected terrorists.
In one case it turned out there out that “all those guys were connected to were pizza shops,” a former NSA official who attended Alexander’s briefings at the Information Dominance Center in Virginia told FP.
Another massive chart, which ostensibly detailed al Qaeda and its connections in Afghanistan, turned out to be completely false.
“We found there was no data behind the links. No verifiable sources,” a retired officer who worked with Alexander told FP. “We later found out that a quarter of the guys named on the chart had already been killed in Afghanistan.”
Harris notes that Heath and Alexander have been behind several costly projects that were never implemented.
From Foreign Policy:
“There’s two ways of looking at these guys,” the retired military officer says. “Two visionaries who took risks and pushed the intelligence community forward. Or as two guys who blew a monumental amount of money.”
Nevertheless, big data — including Internet surveillance under the PRISM program — still rules since Alexander and Heath now sit atop the world’s largest spy agency.
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