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NSA Reports Prompt Chambers To Ask Obama For Changes

Cisco Chairman and CEO John Chambers said the issue of trust in the global supply chain is so critical that he had to write President Obama after recent reports that the National Security Agency intercepts and modifies shipments of networking equipment.

"If you don't trust the supply chain... it breaks down what the Internet is all about. I felt it was important enough to tell the President," he said during a media Q&A session Tuesday at the Cisco Live conference in San Francisco.

"We need rules of the road among countries, saying we won't mess with the supply chain," he said. "That's where I hope the President takes a lead."

Chambers was referring to a May 15 letter he wrote to Obama, which was reported Sunday by the news site Re/code. In the letter, he refers to the reports of NSA interception of networking gear and tells Obama, "We simply cannot operate this way."

He continued, "That is why we need standards of conduct, or a new set of 'rules of the road' to ensure that appropriate safeguards and limits exist that serve national security objectives while at the same time meet the needs of global commerce."

During Tuesday's media session, Chambers was peppered with questions about the NSA allegations that it tampers with US-produced networking equipment. While there's no doubt he'd rather be talking about ACI or the Internet of Everything, Chambers didn't flinch from the NSA-related inquiries.

Asked what his reaction was when he saw the photo from Grant Greenwald's book, which purportedly shows NSA staffers intercepting and altering Cisco equipment, Chambers said if the allegations are true, "it could very likely have been a training exercise."

After Sept. 11, 2001, the country lived in fear, he said. While he believes the country has been well protected since then, he also said supply chain security is critical to the IT industry and future of the Internet.

"How do we get the rules of the road, a code of conduct? Today it's a Wild West. We need to get to a standard of conduct we agree on," Chambers said. "It's too important to the economy for this not to work."

In his letter to the President, Chambers said Cisco does not -- as a matter of policy and practice -- work with any government, including the US, to weaken its products.