Former “Daily Show” reporter John Oliver interviewed former National Security Agency director Gen. Keith Alexander on Sunday night, and it was a much tougher interview than Alexander has been subjected to in the past.
Oliver conducted the interview on his new HBO show “Last Week Tonight,” a weekly news wrap-up show structured similarly to “The Daily Show,” and managed to tweak the former NSA director over the agency’s spy programs.
Oliver began the segment by asking Alexander whether he had any regrets from his time at the NSA and whether the former NSA director believed the agency had a perception problem.
“Absolutely,” Alexander responded.
Alexander then explained that the negative perception was that the American people believed they were having their information collected, but “the reality is the target is not the American people.”
Oliver didn’t let him get away with that, explaining, “No, the target is not the American people, but it seems that too often, you miss the target and you hit the American person standing next to it going, ‘whoa, whoa, him.’ ”
Alexander pushed the continued NSA defense that the agency wasn’t “just out there gathering U.S. communications, listening to their phone calls or collecting their emails — but that’s the first thing that people jump to.”
Oliver didn’t let Alexander get away with that answer. The host shot back, saying, “But you are out there doing that, you’re just saying you’re not then reading them.”
Alexander reminded Oliver that the NSA was just collecting metadata — phone numbers, dates and times of phone calls and the duration of those calls.
“But that’s not nothing,” Oliver said. “That’s significant information, otherwise you wouldn’t want it.”
Oliver ended the interview by talking about the NSA’s branding problem and hilariously suggested a few ways to improve the agency’s perception, including rebranding it as the Washington Redskins (Alexander wasn’t open to it), Mr. Tiggles (while holding up a picture of a kitten in a boot) or reinventing the NSA as “a great listener.”
“The only agency in government that really listens,” Alexander responded.