The National Security Agency revealed some information about the nature of its "Perfect Citizen" cyber-security program after a report about the agency's plans surfaced in the media.
While the agency is unwilling to confirm or deny some details of the Wall Street Journal article, the agency described Perfect Citizen as a "vulnerabilities-assessment and capabilities-development" effort, and stressed that there is no monitoring activity involved.
"Specifically, it does not involve the monitoring of communications or the placement of sensors on utility company systems," NSA spokesperson Judith Emmel said in a statement. "This contract provides a set of technical solutions that help the National Security Agency better understand the threats to national security networks, which is a critical part of NSA's mission of defending the nation."
Defense contractor Raytheon was reported by the Journal to have received the contract for the project. According to the Journal, Perfect Citizen would involve placing sensors across a variety of computer networks belonging to government agencies and private sector companies involved in critical infrastructure in order to protect against cyber-attacks. The focus would be large, typically older systems designed without Internet connectivity or security in mind, the Journal reported.
Cyber-security has been a prominent focus of the Obama administration, which backed the creation of the U.S. Cyber Command activated this year. The Cyber Command is headed by NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander, and is charged with coordinating and conducting activities to defend Department of Defense computer networks and centralizing command of military cyberspace operations.
Alexander has said the NSA will work to protect the civil liberties and privacy of Americans, even as it navigates the sometimes uncharted legal territories of cyberspace. Sources cited in the Journal article however suggested that there were concerns about that the program was a NSA intrusion into domestic affairs.
"Any suggestions that there are illegal or invasive domestic activities associated with this contracted effort are simply not true," Emmel said. "We strictly adhere to both the spirit and the letter of U.S. laws and regulations."