NSA reviews year in cybersecurity, talks AI and Section 702

The US National Security Agency used its 2023 Cybersecurity Year in Review to highlight the dangers of AI and reiterate its wish for Congress to reauthorize Section 702, a controversial surveillance program.

The Cybersecurity Year in Review highlights the NSA’s recent cybersecurity efforts. For example, the AI Security Center was established, and the agency has detected and exposed Chinese intrusions into US critical infrastructure.

Obviously, the report is full of self-praise – it’s only to be expected. “Cybersecurity matters. It matters to our partners, and it matters to us. It ensures that our information, our intelligence, our knowledge can be shared securely,” US Army General Paul Nakasone, who leads both the NSA and US Cyber Command, said.

But in his letter, Nakasone used the opportunity to highlight what he believes are the risks of not reauthorizing the controversial Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in Congress.

Two bills aiming to renew Section 702 are currently on hold in the US House of Representatives, with lawmakers still debating how to overhaul the law, which allows the government to conduct warrantless surveillance of foreigners abroad but also sometimes collects Americans’ private messages.

Section 702 is set to expire at the end of the year and needs to be reauthorized. Government agencies dealing with national security are naturally pushing for a renewal of the program, and the NSA is no exception.

“We must stay ahead of our global competitors who constantly seek to reshape the global information environment and the world order as we know it. Authorities like Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) allow us to do that,” writes Nakasone in a letter inserted in the review (PDF)

“FISA Section 702 is a key foreign intelligence authority that helps keep the United States and its allies safe and secure. Intelligence from Section 702 is used every day to protect the nation from critical threats, inform US Government strategy, and save American lives. Since any lapse in this law would have a blinding effect on our insights into hostile foreign actors operating beyond our borders, we look to Congress reauthorizing Section 702.”

Director of US National Security Agency, Cyber Command
Paul Nakasone.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh, Nakasone’s deputy expected to succeed him in the dual role, also said back in July that Section 702 was irreplaceable.

“When we see things like the origins of fentanyl in China and its path that it takes to the United States? Informed by 702. Counterterrorism actions, the ability to see some of the egregious acts that Russia has done in Ukraine? Informed by 702,” Haugh told lawmakers at the time.

In his letter, Nakasone also called the global landscape “ever more complex” as technology advances and named AI as an example of how multiple sectors of society can be upended simultaneously.

“We must stay ahead of our global competitors in the race to understand and harness its potential, as well as protect ourselves from adversarial use,” said the general.

The NSA has recently consolidated its various AI security-related activities into a new entity, the NSA Artificial Intelligence Security Center.

According to Nakasone, the new institution will allow the NSA to “work closely across the Intelligence Community, the Department of Defense, the industrial base, national labs, academia, and select foreign partners to ensure the United States’ enduring advantage in AI.”

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