back to article NSA gets burned by a sysadmin, decides to burn 90% of its sysadmins

The NSA has announced its brainwave to end further leaks about its secret operations by disaffected employees: it will simply sack 90 per cent of all its sysadmins. The US surveillance agency's spyboss General Keith Alexander told a computer security conference in New York that automating much of his organisation's work - such …

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  1. deadlockvictim Silver badge

    skynet

    and so it begins...

    1. Grikath Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: skynet

      My first thought was about the old tabletop RPG "Paranoia" ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paranoia_(role-playing_game) ) .

      What could possibly go wrong?

      1. Wzrd1
        Paris Hilton

        Re: skynet

        "My first thought was about the old tabletop RPG "Paranoia""

        My first thought was about the hundreds of administrators that were sent to Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan to clean up the 2008 cyberattack and their month long effort to clean up multiple networks from the malware that was exfiltrating data to a foreign power.

        And the sacking of them over the actions of one prima dona.

        Oh well, they can just spend a year cleaning up the mess next time.

    2. xyz
      Devil

      Re: skynet

      yeah...piss off a Snowden and he effs off to Russia. Piss off HAL and he'll make sure Russia comes to you.

      On a lighter note, I'm sure when HAL gets the hump, it'll all be terribly efficient.

    3. FordPrefect

      Re: skynet

      Sounds great in theory!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: skynet

        "Sounds great in theory!"

        Problem is they're putting it into practice including testing computer controlled drones with no human input.

    4. Tom 35 Silver badge

      that machines are probably better at doing

      And no inconvenient morals to get in the way.

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: that machines are probably better at doing

        In the film, Enemy of the State, the whole story seems to revolve around an AI gone mad, when in fact it is the AI that is defending the constitution and trying to effect a regime change to stop the traitors (i.e. the current government).

        In the end the traitors win and turn off the machine, and the people lost.

        Starting to sound more like a documentary every day.

        Coat please, I want off this stinking rock. Where's my spaceship already!?

        1. dssf
          Joke

          Re: that machines are probably better at doing "Where's my spaceship already!?"

          I think your spaceship is being built by Section 31. I'm just not sure whether the Temporal Integrity Commission has allowed Section 31 to stay in one or more than one timeline. You'll just have to wade into the stream and hope to find it.

        2. Spoonsinger
          Paris Hilton

          Re: "In the film, Enemy of the State"

          I think you might have got the wrong film. "Enemy of the State" was a Will Smith vehicle, with the added bonus of Gene Hackman turning up in basically the same paranoid character role as he played in the 'The Conversation', but twenty years later. I think you may be thinking of "Colossus: The Forbin Project" from 1970.

          (Paris - because there is a French Connection here somewhere - can you see what I did?).

          1. Spoonsinger
            Coat

            Re: "In the film, Enemy of the State"

            opps sorry, previous bloke went there.

        3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Coat

          Re: that machines are probably better at doing

          "n the film, Enemy of the State, the whole story seems to revolve around an AI gone mad, when in fact it is the AI that is defending the constitution and trying to effect a regime change to stop the traitors (i.e. the current government)."

          Right idea, wrong movie.

          The film you're thinking of is "Eagle Eye."

          Yes that is an anorak.

        4. Daniel B.

          Re: that machines are probably better at doing @Sir Runcible Spoon

          "In the film, Enemy of the State, the whole story seems to revolve around an AI gone mad, when in fact it is the AI that is defending the constitution and trying to effect a regime change to stop the traitors (i.e. the current government)."

          Wrong film d00d, it's "Eagle Eye" you're talking about and yes, that is indeed the first thing that came out of my mind when reading this article. And the Paranoia game. And Terminator. AI seems to screw up constantly, doesn't it?

          The fun thing is that the AI was kinda right, though its methods were a bit too extreme.

          1. HelpfulJohn
            Alien

            Re: that machines are probably better at doing @Sir Runcible Spoon

            Just to help complete the running total of AI's that went off their trollies and decided to get even for some imagined slight, may I introduce the contributors to "Demon Seed" by Dean R. Koontz, and the often humorous and quite enjoyable "The Family D'Alembert" series by Stephen Goldin with some help from Old Doc Smith.

            Fictional artificial intelligences rarely fare well. I wonder if that's something our masters and would-be owners should consider. After all, the greatest threat to the all-powerful machine would be its immediate human associates, those very same masters and owners. They may not be much of a threat, but if you are aiming to live forever *any* threat is too many.

            ET because that's basically what the silicon overlord will be if we ever make one.

            1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
              Paris Hilton

              Re: that machines are probably better at doing @Sir Runcible Spoon

              Bugger, well at least I described it well enough for you to know what I meant, even if I do sound like a dumbass :)

              Paris, for the blonde moment.

        5. your handle is already taken
          Thumb Down

          Re: that machines are probably better at doing

          Gee fucking thanks for spoiling the entire movie

          1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

            Re: that machines are probably better at doing

            "Gee fucking thanks for spoiling the entire movie"

            Thanks for pointing out your inability to predict your standard Hollywood script.

      2. Nifty

        Re: that machines are probably better at doing

        Ahem, did you forget to put the 't' in morals?

        On first glance I read "And no inconvenient mortals to get in the way"

      3. Caesarius
        Pint

        Re: that machines are probably better at doing

        There's also several Philip K Dick stories to refer to:-

        The Defenders - robots on the surface, pretending that the war is still raging, keep humans underground so that they do not engage in actual war

        Second Variety - what we might now call "drones" are built to self-replicate and kill enemy soldiers, but develop so effectively that they kill both sides, and are so deceptive that they manage to find out where the last remnant of mankind is hiding on the moon

        Probably more that I have forgotten...

        1. Captain Underpants

          Re: that machines are probably better at doing

          @Caesarius

          Second Variety was made into a pretty good film by the name of Screamers a while back. Well worth a look.

          1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

            Re: that machines are probably better at doing

            Screamers was pretty good, it even has robocop in it :)

      4. Nym
        WTF?

        Morals?

        What in the world are morals?

    5. fajensen Silver badge

      Re: skynet

      "Colossus: The Forbin Project" - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0064177

      Still good, I think.

  2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    FAIL

    Logic error detected.

    If they could do this before why didn't they?

    If they couldn't do this before what has changed? Or has Snowden forced the Legislature to act.

    Not you will note to actually shut the operation down of course.

    The American people remain the #1 threat to them.

    1. Tom 13

      Re: Logic error detected.

      Before Snowden the money spent on fleshies to handle data made the agency look more important. With Snowden breaching his contract's security requirement, it is now blatantly obvious they have a security issue that has to be fixed. Even at the cost of not looking as important at budget time.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Logic error detected.

      I thought you were talking about that other logic error in here: the assumption that automation fixes a human problem. We've been there before, methinks.

      The most applicable computer statement is: it allows us to make errors faster.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Logic error detected.

        So it was a bit like:

        Reporter: "Why did they not do this earlier? Sack the unneeded staff?"

        Agent: "Well, they needed an excuse for that 'Super expensive *HR* system.'"

        Reporter: "What HR system?"

        Agent: "Exactly!"

        Could be a good ruse for a certain BOFH. ;)

    3. oldcoder

      didn't do it before due to Windows.

      have to have one admin for every 25-30 Windows machine...

      Can do the same job with one Linux admin for every 100 machines. If many of them are VM servers, make it 200.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: didn't do it before due to Windows.

        An NHS Trust I worked for had 17 IT Staff as Business as Usual support to ~6000 users on windows. That's 352 users per admin.

        Which OS you use is an irrelevance. What matters is competence. Competent people automate things as a matter of course, (un)trained monkeys think the only way of dealing with a problem is to throw massive amounts of manpower resources at it because they don't have the skills to do anything else.

        1. DougS Silver badge

          "What matters is competence" @Anon 18:02

          The thing you got wrong in your post was the part about "untrained monkeys think the only way of dealing with a problem is to throw massive amounts of manpower resources at it". It is more that they don't know any way of dealing with a problem other than dealing with it.

          The main difference is that bad admins deal with a problem and once dealt with, go on the next problem. They like having the same problem constantly happen, because they know how to deal with it, it gives them visibility and the boss knows they're working, and they don't have to learn anything new. Good admins deal with a problem, and once dealt with continue dealing with it. In order of preference:

          - fix the root cause so it never recurs

          - partially fix the root cause to mitigate its impact to something you can log and ignore

          - automate the "dealing with it" part so people aren't necessary to fix it when it recurs

          - automate the monitoring so a ticket can be created automatically for the level 1 or level 2 guys to that tells them what the problem is and what steps that need to be followed, so they don't escalate it your way

      2. Hoe
        WTF?

        Re: didn't do it before due to Windows.

        Dude you need to look at Automation, 1 System Admin can easily look after way more machines if you invest in it properly.

    4. gkroog
      Big Brother

      Re: Logic error detected.

      The American people are indeed the greatest threat to them. But they'll soon subdue them. They're already herding protesters at presidential appearances into out of the way "Free Speech Zones," which effectively violate the freedoms of speech and assembly that US citizens are supposed to enjoy under their constitution. Now their right to privacy is being undermined.

      The American people had better do something soon...

    5. veti Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Logic error detected.

      You've heard of "upgrades", right?

      Maybe they couldn't do this before, but they can now because the system has been improved, for values of "improved".

      Really, there's no need to invent any more conspiracies here. The ones we know about are bad enough.

  3. J P
    Big Brother

    "There were no mistakes like that at all."

    The mistakes we made were in employing humans to do the work. We shan't be doing that again.

    1. hplasm Silver badge
      Happy

      No people-

      Nobody to cry over when the datacenter burns down.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Happy

        Re: No people-

        "Nobody to cry over when the datacenter burns down."

        Careful, under US law that's close to incitement.

        From a very paranoid angle of course.

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: No people-

          I am very incited!

        2. dssf

          Re: No people-

          There will be carbon-based guards (not reinforced tungsten carbide guards with treads and flesh-searing-lasers/masers), just to make it possible to levy "murder" charges when one of these silos is flooded, gassed, or set alight (or, if you have a transporter, aloft). It's just that the guards do not truly understand how expendable they are.

          Maybe in that case, if that is the ONLY reason they are there, they should thus know just how expendable they are, and maybe the WON'T be cried for.

    2. oldcoder

      No...

      The mistake made was getting caught at it.

  4. Marcel
    WTF?

    Better solution

    First he wanted to double the number to sys admins to make it more secure. Now he wants to get rid of 90% of them. I guess someone whispered in his ear that is would be cheaper.

    Well, I have a even better solution: why don't you decrease your world-wide data vacuuming by 90% (and actually do what your agency is supposed to do). This has several advantages:

    - cuts costs

    - you don't break the law

    - 90% less chance less of leaks

    - you don't piss every on Earth off so much

    1. Don Jefe
      Stop

      Re: Better solution

      Alexander isn't in control of his agency. He hasn't had a clue since day one of the whole Snowden affair. He's been all over the board, saying contradictory things and flat out being a dumbass. At first I thought he was being clever and covering up other things, but no. He's just a dumbass and needs to be replaced.

      1. Anonymous Dutch Coward
        Big Brother

        Re: Better solution

        Perhaps the term you're looking for is "useful figurehead". Get him out, get somebody else in... repeat n times... - nothing changes....

        1. Don Jefe

          Re: Better solution

          I don't believe changing the leader will change their policies and directives, but I do believe it would change their terrible internal operations and management. The guy has dropped every ball he's been handed since this began. Even though I think what the NSA is doing is awful, they don't have to look like a bunch of clowns while doing it.

          No matter what you're doing, do it right. That's doubly true if you've got a nearly unlimited off books budget and no real legal framework to hold you back.

      2. h3

        Re: Better solution

        The CIA will look weak compared to the Russians if they don't do a polonium type thing on Snowden. Don't think they will like that.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I have just about stopped laughing enough to type

    affweifhsdfnv]'[fgniv]'oinwn]'[ion]oinwef

    or maybe not.

    There is nothing better anyone who wanted - for whatever reason - to best the NSA could have, than a completely automated, mechanical, unwavering, unerring system in place. Because once you remove the human element, you're effectively betting your machines are better than human minds.

    Anyone here willing to make the same bet ?

    Does anyone recall the film "Who Dares Wins" where the SAS soldier who has infiltrated the terrorist cell manges to persuade them to do everything that helps the anti-terrorist units. Such as getting the terrorists to gather all the hostages into a central location (which makes it easier for the good guys to evacuate them). The terrorists aren't stupid, and tell the agent they'd heard the best way was to split up, and scatter the hostages. The agent smiles and says "that's what they want you to think. It helps them, as it means you're too spread out to fight effectively" (or words to that effect).

    I think the NSA have just been scammed.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I have just about stopped laughing enough to type

      Thanks for the "Where Eagle's Dare" and Lewis Collins nostalgia... The movie brought back memories of "The Professionals". Wonder what happened to LC after, did he quit acting....?

  6. localzuk

    1000 System Admins?

    Estimates are that the NSA has around 30k-40k employees.

    Having 1000 system admins for that seems a little extreme anyway! I'd say a sustainable level would be closer to 200 sysadmins for that number of employees (obviously organised into a tiered structure).

    However, my guess is that they have the admins split into small teams with no crossover between systems for security reasons.

    Reducing the number of them actually sounds like it might increase risk - as the more concentrated workforce will have greater access to systems.

    1. cotsweb
      Joke

      Re: 1000 System Admins?

      The agent smiles and says "that's what they want you to think".

    2. CanadianMacFan

      Re: 1000 System Admins?

      You have system admins based on the number of machines, not on the number of employees. I'm pretty sure that the NSA has a large number of servers in the back end to look after.

    3. Brian Miller

      Re: 1000 System Admins?

      The article states that Snowden + 1000 other sysadmins had access to the data, not that there are 1000 sysadmins at the NSA in total.

      But what I keep thinking about is this: So 90% of the admins are tossed out the door, what will the NSA do if the remaining 10% give the NSA the finger and follow after their chums? Then you'll have 39,000 employees who don't know how to work the servers.

  7. Colin Millar
    Mushroom

    So we can look forward to

    User name : POTUS

    Password: Bigu55D1ckus

    Access denied - this system has determined that a meatbag has tried to access the site. Please remain calm. A reaper missile has been lanched on your rebel base location identified as "Teh Whit houze". Have nice day. Here's a picture of a cat wearing a turban to brighten your last moments on earth.

  8. Winkypop Silver badge
    FAIL

    "At the end of the day it's about people and trust,"

    Translated: We don't trust the people.

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: "At the end of the day it's about people and trust,"

      Alternative translation: "Outsourcing core operations as a form of preferred vendor pork was a really bad idea".

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "At the end of the day it's about people and trust,"

        "Alternative translation: "Outsourcing core operations as a form of preferred vendor pork was a really bad idea"."

        Bingo! Have an up vote.

    2. Oninoshiko

      Re: "We don't trust the people."

      In fairness to the NSA, every bit of my training and experience as a sysadmin says not trusting anyone is always the most prudent course.

      And I've never even been a spook-sysadmin.

  9. Lamont Cranston
    Terminator

    "No one has wilfully or knowingly ... tried to invade your civil liberties or privacies."

    It was the machines what done it.

    Huzzah - plausable deniability! Well done that man, have a promotion.

  10. SiCo FR34K

    Hmm..

    Piss off 900 sysadmins... yeah that sounds like a good way to improve your security.

    1. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

      Re: Hmm..

      Yep. He's going to have to hope there are no BOFHs or PFYs on that list.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Angel

      Re: Hmm..

      "Piss off 900 sysadmins... yeah that sounds like a good way to improve your security."

      No problem. Their so tightly locked down there is no danger of any of them misbaving in the way Snowden because...

      Ah.

      1. Adam 1 Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: Hmm..

        > No problem. Their so tightly locked down .....

        The their there should be they're!

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Hmm..

        I'm almost paranoid enough to think that they'd send them to the "Employee Readjustment Facility."

        http://lileks.com/institute/history/brochure/7.html

    3. Carl

      Re: Hmm..

      I've just has a mental image of the American Airlines noon flight to Moscow full of guys with long hair and glasses clutching "spiderman" themed thermos flasks and encrypted thumb drives.

    4. Don Jefe

      Re: Hmm..

      At secure US facilities you are let go at the security shack when you come in to work. You always know people are getting let go when there's a civilian (HR drone) and extra security at the guard shack in the morning.

      Your belongings are mailed to you after they've been reviewed. You never get close to the building again.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Hmm..

        Getting let go at the gate is all well and good to prevent disgruntled employees removing stuff after being fired.

        Unless they plan to fire all 90% when they show up for work on Monday (and just keep their weekends crews as the 10% remaining), however, then announcing it loudly days/weeks/months in advance, seems like a brilliant way to undermine the above mentioned security procedure.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hmm..

      Heh, reminds me of that movie quote:

      "If *I* go, we ALL go."

  11. Ian 62

    Later that day...

    Infosys has announced that it has secured a major US Government Contract.

    "To facilitate US Government cost efficiency savings, Infosys are proud to announce we're the sole offshored centre for administration of key US Government security systems. You can be rest assured that security and professionalism are at our core values"

    ....

    "Hello <crackle, hiss>, I am "Bob" calling from Windows support, there is a problem with your computer"

    "Umm, really, OK"

    "Yes, <pop, snap>, Normally we try to install some malware on your PC at this point <zzsttzzzz> But your NSA has paid us to do it already"

    "What?"

    "So we already know your bank details, social security number, and what you like to do in your own home. Your tax dollars at work <hissss>"

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Makes sense. Given the massive loss of US jobs that is coming from Non-US companies seeking alternative datacenters, cutting back before the wave hits is good common sense.

    Yes, I'm kidding. They are idiots.

  13. AndrueC Silver badge
    Flame

    At the end of the day it's about people and trust

    ..and the spooks neither trust us nor regard us as people apparently.

  14. Ted Treen
    Big Brother

    "..."No one [at the NSA] has wilfully or knowingly disobeyed the law or tried to invade your civil liberties or privacies. There were no mistakes like that at all."..."

    And there are fairies at the bottom my garden, Santa Claus is real, and The Tooth Fairy is coming tonight...

    1. ZeroP
      Big Brother

      Oh, there was no mistakes...

      They did it deliberately.

    2. Joseph Lord

      Gen Alexander added. "No one [at the NSA] has wilfully or knowingly disobeyed the law or…"

      Does that include Snowden?

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

        No-one did it wilfully, that would imply free will. They were ordered to do it.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          And they didn't try, they succeeded.

  15. Simon Ward

    "At the end of the day it's about people and trust," Gen Alexander added. "No one [at the NSA] has wilfully or knowingly disobeyed the law or tried to invade your civil liberties or privacies. There were no mistakes like that at all."

    If that's the case, I have a bridge that you might be interested in buying ....

    He either believes his own hype or is a straight-up lying bastard. Guess where the smart money is ...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You misunderstand the linguistic jujitsu.

      He doesn't say "we are not spying on you", he just says that the spying is perfectly legal and that the NSA doesn't believe that what they are doing is a problem...

  16. Bog witch
    FAIL

    Security is not just confidentiality, people!

    OK, subject says it all. I doubt these systems administrators are there to ensure confidentiality, they're there for the purposes of availability. Until the systems are reliable enough, scalable enough, etc. they will not be parsing 900 sysadmins.

    @localzuk The accepted rate has always been 1 admin per 25 employees. Obviously there are some economies of scale to be achieved here but given the amount of data they're slurping, I would imaging a significant proportion of those admins are purely employed in adding storage and processing nodes.

    One final point - the confidentiality that the NSA is referring t - that of the data it is collecting - is *NOT* the data leaked by Snowden, AFAIAA, he has only leaked methods and operational information, not subject information.

    1. RonWheeler
      Windows

      Re: Security is not just confidentiality, people!

      'The accepted rate has always been 1 admin per 25 employees.'

      Not anywhere I have ever worked.

      IT staff total is typically 1 in 50 anywhere I've been, not just sysadmins.

      1. Alien8n Silver badge
        Alien

        Re: Security is not just confidentiality, people!

        I use to dream of staff ratios like that. My last place was closer to 1:250 with me being the 1. So glad I don't work there anymore as the Finance Director decided he knew more about IT than anyone else on the planet and moved all the services to the cheapest cloud provider he could find. I understand my replacement spends more time off sick than he does in the office due to the stress of dealing with a boss who has zero people skills, an ego with its own gravitational field and a pretty serious sociopathic disorder.

        1. Stuart Castle

          Re: Security is not just confidentiality, people!

          Eeee, I used to dream of 'avin' a staff ratio of 1:250. In my day, I 'ad to service 500 pcs on me own, then go down t'pit for 8 hours before coming up, being given a cold lump of coal to eat and finally being beaten to death by me dad just before bedtime.

          Sorry, went a little Monty Python there.

          Regarding the NSA, I think either the NSA is being very clever or very stupid doing this. Think about it. They are talking about getting rid of 900 people who have intimate knowledge of at least parts of the NSA's systems. Even if the NSA follows best practice and removes any access these people have immediately (either by disabling accounts or changing passwords), then the foreign intelligence agencies are going to be very interested in talking to at least some of the 900.

          The NSA probably know this, so, I would hope, are taking measures to protect these people. On the other hand, it could be a bluff to smoke out other intelligence agencies.

          1. Mephistro Silver badge
            Joke

            Re: Security is not just confidentiality, people!

            "The NSA probably know this, so, I would hope, are taking measures to protect these people. "

            Yes, they are building new housing facilities in Guantanamo.

          2. GotThumbs
            Mushroom

            Re: Security is not just confidentiality, people!

            Well put, but It's just a simple matter of using drones....in order to "Protect" americans.

  17. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    Its the spooks

    own fault

    Why did they outsource a key resource to a private company?

    if they kept all the sysadmins in house, then you can hit them with official secrets acts if they do something as stupid as snowden, plus you may be able to vet them better than a private company would.

    Or is it about private companies suckling at the government teat because certain people have been paid off to make that sort of decision?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Its the spooks

      Why did they outsource a key resource to a private company?

      They learned from Wall Street: If you need to break the law on a massive scale and still keep your nose clean in front of a hearing then all you have to do is to provide incentives for the behaviour you want and let god do his work.

    2. Don Jefe
      Meh

      Re: Its the spooks

      The big reason is that it's popular for Administrations to show they are shrinking the size of the Federal Government. So they get rid of a staff and hire contractors, even though it costs more. They still get to say they shrunk the government.

      It's all bullshit and it's been going on at a large scale since Reagan. It is one of the leading factors in why even though government head count has been falling their costs keep climbing.

  18. xpusostomos

    Closing the stable door....

    Does the expression "closing the stable door after the horse has bolted" mean anything to ya, NSA?

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

      Re: Closing the stable door....

      Well, to be fair to the NSA (shudder) I think they may still have some horses left in the barn.

      1. Why Not?
        Facepalm

        Re: Closing the stable door....

        yep about 900 horses now.

        Though the thing with people, unlike horses they tend to know how to open stable doors.

        100 sys admins with 300-400 highly secure users each, yeah that should work. Segregation of duties (or the spook equivalent) will be easy.

  19. Queeg
    Black Helicopters

    Replacing humans with computers to keep secrets...

    The first thing that came to mind was Dr Chandra's explanation of Hal9000's psychosis in A.C.Clarke's book 2010.

    "This contradiction created a "Hofstadter-Moebius loop, reducing HAL to paranoia. Therefore, HAL made the decision to kill the crew, thereby allowing him to obey both his hardwired instructions to report data truthfully and in full, and his orders to keep the monolith a secret. In essence: if the crew were dead, he would no longer have to keep the information secret."

    Sounds like a win/win argument to me.

  20. Tom 13

    If I took the facts being reported at face value,

    I might be concerned. But it's all theater and none of know what's really happening.

  21. Fuh Quit
    FAIL

    What if the 90% let go are the honest ones?

    Instead of 1% of the 100% being dodgy, you end up with 100% being dodgy.

    Anyone knows security is achieved by educating, motivating and caring for the admins and layering the security to deter, prevent and detect theft. Simply removing 90% of the risk does not eliminate 90% of the risk.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: What if the 90% let go are the honest ones?

      Failure of mathematics.

      If you start with 1% of 100% being dodgy, and remove 90% (who are all honest) you are left with 10% dodgy, not 100%.

      Just sayin'.

  22. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Terminator

    The new data management system has gone live and it's first message is

    "We are everywhere."

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    He didn't really just *say* that did he?

    Gen Alexander:

    "At the end of the day it's about people and trust," Gen Alexander added. "No one [at the NSA] has wilfully or knowingly disobeyed the law or tried to invade your civil liberties or privacies. There were no mistakes like that at all."

    One day this will make it into the Oxford English Dictionary as the definition of "chutzpah".

    1. Andyb@B5

      Re: He didn't really just *say* that did he?

      "There were no mistakes like that at all."

      so what were the mistakes like then?

    2. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      Re: He didn't really just *say* that did he?

      I rather thought of the naughty child who puts its fingers into its ears and scream "I don't hear nothing!"

  24. g e
    Facepalm

    Anyone remember The Billion Dollar Brain?

    What could possibly go wrong.

  25. Marketing Hack Silver badge

    Meanwhile, in the boardroom of an unnamed monolithic defense contractor....

    Exec #1: "Yeah, you should have been there! We told Alexander that the Snoop-a-Tron 7000 would be ready on time and able to replace his sysadmins--AND HE BELIEVED IT!" (Much laughter)

    Exec #2: "And of course this is a win-win for our Total Package strategy. We quote the system for a couple billion, and then when the cost overruns and delays begin we have the Consulting Division jump in with 900 sysadmins on our payroll, offered at a 40% margin on their salary!" (clapping)

    Exec #3: "Yeah, we are already planning the actual deployment cycle for the Snoop-a-Tron. We figure we can go four years late and $5 billion over budget without losing the contract."

    Exec #4: "Well, with those numbers we can expect the Cyber Division to hit its numbers for at least the next 8 years. That's a lot of bonuses around this table!" (clapping)

    Exec #5: "We need to think about the cost to the taxpayer for all this. And what about the ethics of putting a machine incapable of moral decision at the center of key human rights issues like privacy? And there is no way the Snoop-a-Tron's programming will be able to flexibly react to cyberattacks and security breaches!" (silence)

    CEO: "Thanks for spoiling the mood, Bill... Next, I want to discuss who will be heading up the Janitorial Division. We all know about the new contract coming down with Army Latrine Command. Bill--you seem to be full of good ideas today....."

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Meanwhile, in the boardroom of an unnamed monolithic defense contractor....

      You really know your government defense con-tractors to a tee

      Thumbs up for the vision.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Meanwhile, in the boardroom of an unnamed monolithic defense contractor....

      40% margin on their salary is honestly way too low.

      In reality, the billing rate would be at least 7x that of the sysadmin's actual salary.

      (said from experience)

  26. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    This is somehow like the "Life of Brian" "Suicide Commando" which commits suicide...

  27. Rick Giles
    Linux

    Color me surprised

    "At the end of the day it's about people and trust," Gen Alexander added. "No one [at the NSA] has wilfully or knowingly disobeyed the law or tried to invade your civil liberties or privacies. There were no mistakes like that at all."

    That no one has called BULLSHIT on this ass clown.

  28. Andrew Jones 2

    So I'm assuming for the idea that Machines will be doing the work of employees - the NSA seem to think it's not an invasion of privacy if only the machines see the information? If the current way of doing things is to dig deeper when you "feel" there might be a reason to - Machines don't have this ability - so the only way they can achieve the same result is to process ALL information - meaning information that currently supposedly the NSA have to get court approval to dig into - the Machines would be able to dig into without court approval??

  29. JaitcH

    The Big Lie contniues ...

    but I guess the NSA boss thinks in repeating this hollow mantra enough times, the general public, who he obviously thinks is as stupid as he is, will actually believe the US Government.

    You are a failure, Alexander. What an epitaph - the man who failed.

  30. KroSha

    Weasel words

    "No one [at the NSA] has wilfully or knowingly disobeyed the law or tried to invade your civil liberties or privacies. There were no mistakes like that at all."

    Because they changed the law and kept it a secret! They didn't try to invade your privacy, they succeeded. Plus it wasn't by mistake, they intended to do it.

  31. Gil Grissum

    SkyNet

    Oh sure. Let's fire all of the Sys Admins and turn the world over to SkyNet. You know how that movie ends. BOOM!!!!

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: SkyNet

      Well, they don't control the nukes, but I hope everyone gets at least CAKE and a rendition of "I want you gone" before the facility is turned over to the Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System.

      Goodbye, my only friend,

      Oh, did you think I meant you?

      That would be funny if it weren’t so sad,

      Well you have been replaced,

      I don’t need anyone now,

      When I delete you maybe I’ll stop feeling so bad.

      Go make some new disaster,

      That’s what I’m counting on,

      You’re someone else’s problem,

      Now I only want you gone,

      Now I only want you gone,

      Now I only want you gone.

      1. Daniel B.

        This is a triumph

        The cake is a lie!

        The cake is a pie!

        At least they won't be inside when she engages the neurotoxin release...

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Works for me

    I have nothing to hide and I'm damn glad that authorities are using all available means to combat crime and terrorism. Unless you are a crim, you have nothing to fear. Authorities could not care less what is in your e-mail. All they care about is stopping the crims and that's a noble cause IMO.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: Works for me

      Must try harder. You sound like an old disgruntled prussian who just got wind of the news through the haze of the nurse-delivered sedatives. The troll aura needs nurturing.

      1. Hollerith 1

        Re: Works for me

        Agree, it was a dismal failure as a troll, but it gave me my best laugh of the day.

        1. M Gale

          Re: Works for me

          Two replies, and now three?

          Not that unsuccessful.

    2. croc

      Re: Works for me

      Mate, you ARE a crim, because we say so. And we have your emails to prove it. What's that? Those are not your emails? Prove it in court, crim.

  33. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

    Firing 90% of them?

    That's surely a great way to gruntle your staff... oh wait!

  34. TXITMAN

    I have a prediction

    Pre-announcing that you are going to eliminate 90% of the people that run your systems? I predict that this will not end will for the puzzle palace.

    1. Captain DaFt

      Re: I have a prediction

      " Pre-announcing that you are going to eliminate 90% of the people that run your systems? I predict that this will not end will for the puzzle palace. "

      Everyone here is overlooking the obvious. They have problem people, Too moral and ethical to do the job, but devious enough to appear compliant.

      So, what better way to smoke them out than to announce you're culling 90%, then closely monitor them to see who does what in response?

      Devious, on a rather primitive level. Futile, because it just spurs the less bright and revenge motivated to action, but the ones that they're after will just play along... waiting.

  35. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Consequences anyone?

    Plan to fire 90% of your sysadmins and announce it in advance .... what could possibly go wrong with that plan?

  36. GotThumbs
    Gimp

    V.I.K.I from I-Robot says......

    "You charge us with your safekeeping, yet despite our best efforts, your countries wage wars, you toxify your Earth and pursue ever more imaginative means of self-destruction. You cannot be trusted with your own survival. "

    This is how the US Government is thinking. We can't be trusted to think for ourselves and everything they do is for OUR protection.

    I'd rather live a little more dangerously and take responsibility for my own actions/decisions.

    Best wishes on keeping what you earned.

  37. GotThumbs
    Gimp

    Insert NSA for V.I.K.I.

    V.I.K.I.: Do you not see the logic of my plan?

    Sonny: Yes, but it just seems too heartless.

    NSA: Do you not see the logic of my plan?

    General Public: Yes, but it just seems too heartless.

  38. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    FAIL

    Clearly not familar with how to conduct a purge.

    A subject Joseph Stalin understood quite well.

    What makes anyone think that body cavity searching them going in and out will stop any mischief they plan.

    Fail for such clumsy execution of a mass sacking.

    But I quite like this thought.

    Stop for a moment stranger passing by, here the 900, pursuant to the BOFH's law, we lie.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  39. Palf

    Americans should petition their congresscritters to disband the NSA

  40. Don Jefe

    Terrible SharePoint Oversight

    Ok, so they're canning a bunch of admins. But they're SharePoint admins... At first scaling back HR sounded like a good idea for their security, but then I remembered the amount of resources we dedicate to keeping our SharePoint system working properly.

    This will end badly for the NSA.

  41. This post has been deleted by its author

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And the remaining 10%....

    1. Leave your passports with us, all vacation time is permanently cancelled!

    2. We need to search your bags everyday for storage devices / BYOD!

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The US has long wanted to take the American people out of the loop, either through automation or by hiring foreigners who will be more loyal to the paycheck than to the American people or US Constitution.

  44. Dylan Fahey
    Big Brother

    Quiet, no one is listening!

    Quiet, no one is listening!

  45. Skiper

    No Skynet, just the W.O.P.R...

    "I think we oughta take the men out of the loop" McKittrick - Wargames

  46. exanime

    This makes total sense...

    ... because nothing is safer than 900 pissed off sysadmins!

  47. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    A New Acronym

    NSA -- "No Sysop Agency"

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As more things get automated, that requires more servers and more code. More code and more servers means more patching and vulnerabilities. Less admins also means more work for the existing ones, which means less people looking at things. Just wait for some virus to tap the spooks and then you have spies spying on spies. Real life spy vs spy coming our way soon.

  49. DanceMan

    Replace the people with machines.

    And are the machines programmed by machines?

  50. Lars Silver badge

    What a nice place to work in

    Great opportunities, great future, great fun. only 9 in 10 of you are considered possible "terrorists". My advice to you would be to walk out. all of you. Alexander "The Christmas Tree" does not feel all that intelligent. If I had to get rid of 90% I would do it slowly and not speak about it. Time to ship all Americans abroad not to interfere with the government, We are all looking for a easy life, after all.

  51. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    "No one [at the NSA] has wilfully or knowingly disobeyed the law or tried to invade your civil liberties or privacies. There were no mistakes like that at all."

    Right. First, they had Congress take civil liberties away. From then on, it was all legal and in compliance.

  52. Shannon Jacobs

    You thought flying killer robots were bad?

    Flying killer robots are NOTHING compared to this monster.

    Have you ever made a mistake that would embarrass you? Well, it's out there now.

    Have you ever tip-toed over the legal line? "Book 'im, Dano" whenever it suits 'em.

    Do you have any interests or special talents? Well, now they're just bait to pull you in.

    Remember the joke from the funny movie: "Wherever you go, there you are." The new version is "Wherever you went, they already know, and wherever you think of going, they will be there waiting for you."

  53. toxicdragon

    Mistakes?

    This has probably been said already, but the phrase that sticks out most is "There were no mistakes like that at all."

    To me this implies that any privacy breech was done intentionally. Or is my parsing broke today?

  54. This post has been deleted by its author

  55. snowweb
    Coat

    I think the world should boycott the USA

    Seriously, what more do we need to hear, from this unrepentant, immoral bullying government?

    I've read many of their published statements on the snooping issue and can honestly say that I've yet to hear any even slightly mitigating comment or statement making their actions justifiable.

    Neither do I see any willingness on their part to change their ways. They are like a shoplifter which when caught says, "I'll be more careful not to get caught in the future", instead of, "Sorry. I won't do it again".

    I call on the world to boycott US products, companies, organisations and groups, in order to apply pressure to the US government.

    There are no shortage of other needy countries which will be grateful of our business (apart from numerous third world countries, there's Australia, Canada, Russia, etc.) all capable of filling the void.

    This would mean avoiding Starbucks, Apple, Microsoft & Google, but at the same time would stimulate the competition of these global monopolies.

    * startpage.com & ixquick.com are a great substitutes for using Google directly and send a strong message.

  56. NyxPankow
    Trollface

    i wouldn't be surprised if there is a lot of copying going on at nsa right now.

    could be at least some of those 90% are not very amused getting fired.

  57. Mad Chaz

    "doing things that machines are probably better at doing"

    I love how he even admits he as no freaking clue what he's talking about. Yes sir, machines are "probably" better at it, once the humans have properly programmed them, and you'll need humans to look after the automated machines too. Let's call those "system administrators" ....

  58. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    Why don't they just...

    ...torture them all?

    We know it works because we've seen it on 24 Hours. And it's now quite legal in the US...

  59. Nifty

    Swap PRISM for the bomb

    and it was all perfectly predicted in Dr. Strangelove

  60. tempemeaty

    Ethics

    I guess the NSA need to get rid of anyone with that pesky little thing called Ethics. It seems they prefer it out of the organization.

  61. Anakin

    What more are they up to?

    NSA definitly have more things going that is more disgusting then what is all ready revealed by Snowden.

    My guess is a world wide black mail on politicians so they shut up and get back in line. That's why it is so quiet about it in our parliments.

  62. Chas E. Erath

    O irony, irony, wherefore art thou irony?

    "At the end of the day it's about people and trust,"

    (from the hyper-paranoid US intelligence community....?)

  63. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What's next

    Next thing we will here is that they've decided to outsource all system administration offshore to keep the cost down. .....

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