Former National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander says the agency’s brand has been damaged.

On the debut of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” on Sunday, the comedic host told Alexander in an interview “the NSA’s brand has been damaged. I think that’s fair to say. Right?” 

“Right,” said Alexander, who recently retired from his post at the agency.


Asked if the NSA suffers from a perception problem, Alexander said “absolutely.”

“The first assumption is that you’re collecting on the American people. And therein lies the problem,” he said. “The reality is the target is not the American people.” 

Edward Snowden exposed the agency’s metadata program last year, which tracks data related to phone calls in the United States.

Oliver asked Alexander how much data the NSA needs to keep the country safe.

“That’s a tough question. I don’t know the answer to that,” Alexander said.

Last November, a report in The Wall Street Journal said Alexander had offered to resign from his position shortly after Snowden began leaking documents in June. Obama administration officials reportedly rejected the offer. 

“At times, you think if I had just retired, somebody else would have had this burden,” Alexander told Oliver. “It would have been wrong for me to leave that for somebody else to do.” 

If he had the opportunity, Alexander said he would want to sit Snowden down in a classified setting and say, “‘You want to see the damage you’ve done?’” 

“I don’t think he understands the true damage he’s done.” 

Vice Adm. Michael Rogers succeeded Alexander as the NSA's director earlier this month.