Courting about 3,000 cybersecurity specialists at the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas Wednesday, Gen. Keith Alexander complimented them on their skills and intellect and invited them to be part of the country's efforts to ward off those who would do it harm through the Internet, The Washington Post reported.
"We stand for freedom," Alexander said. "Help us to defend the country and develop a better solution."
He called NSA personnel "noble folks" whose goal is to thwart terrorists, not spy on Americans.
Not all in the crowd bought what Alexander was selling, the Post said, with one hacker shouting an expletive at him and another yelling, "I'm saying I don't trust you!"
The annual gathering attracts some "black hat" hackers, who don't shy away from attacking government and corporate computer systems, but most attendees are "white hat" hackers who are security professionals bent on neutralizing terrorists and other malicious hackers, the Post said.
Anup Ghosh, founder of Invincea, a cybersecurity firm in Fairfax, Va., told the newspaper the NSA needs top hackers to keep the black hats from getting the upper hand but notes disclosures such as those made by leaker Edward Snowden make "distrust a bigger and bigger issue."
"It's a challenging problem General Alexander has in convincing this community he's on their side," Ghosh said. "He needs this community."