For NSA chief, terrorist threat drives passion to ‘collect it all,’ observers say


Ellen Nakashima and Joby Warrick
washingtonpost.com
July 14, 2013

In late 2005, as Iraqi roadside bombings were nearing an all-time peak, the National Security Agency’s newly appointed chief began pitching a radical plan for halting the attacks that were killing or wounding a dozen Americans a day.

At the time, more than 100 teams of U.S. analysts were scouring Iraq for snippets of electronic data that might lead to the bomb-makers and their hidden factories. But the NSA director, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, wanted more than mere snippets. He wanted everything: Every Iraqi text message, phone call and e-mail that could be vacuumed up by the agency’s powerful computers.

“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.”

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