Obama taps Adm. Rogers to run NSA
By: POLITICO Staff
January 30, 2014 05:04 PM EST
President Barack Obama has tapped the Navy’s top cyber officer to become the next director of the controversial National Security Agency, the Pentagon said Thursday.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he has designated Vice Adm. Mike Rogers as the new head of the NSA, and that the president has nominated Rogers to be the new head of U.S. Cyber Command. The NSA falls under the aegis of the Defense Department and as such Hagel can make Rogers’ appointment without congressional involvement. But the Senate must confirm Rogers to run CyberCom, a combatant command which means he’ll get a hearing.
“I am pleased that President Obama has accepted my recommendation to nominate Vice Admiral Michael Rogers as commander of U.S. Cyber Command,” Hagel said in a statement. “And I am delighted to designate him also as director of the National Security Agency. This is a critical time for the NSA, and Vice Adm. Rogers would bring extraordinary and unique qualifications to this position as the agency continues its vital mission and implements President Obama’s reforms.”
Hagel has also appointed the NSA’s chief operating officer, Rick Ledgett, as its new deputy director.
“If confirmed, Vice Adm. Rogers will be joined by an exceptionally able deputy director,” Hagel said. “Rick brings outstanding qualifications to the job. And I know that both he and Vice Admiral Rogers join me in thanking Gen. Keith Alexander for his remarkable leadership of the NSA and Cyber Command for nearly a decade.”
Alexander, who unexpectedly became the face of an embattled NSA in the wake of former contractor Edward Snowden’s disclosures about its surveillance, plans to retire in March.
Rogers, who today runs the Navy’s Fleet Cyber Command, oversees a total force of approximately 15,000 sailors and civilians - plus contractors- of which about 5,000 are specifically charged with giving the Navy the same kind of reach and flexibility in cyberspace that it has at sea.
Changes at the top for the NSA come at a pivotal time for the Cold War-era agency, which was shaken to its foundations last year by the Snowden leaks. Each day’s headlines still bring a new installment in the drip-drip-drip of Snowden-related leaks about the once-secret workings of NSA’s electronic surveillance.
For the new NSA director, the job requires trying to protect the country from another terrorist attack while also implementing a series of surveillance reforms that Obama demanded earlier this month during a speech at the Justice Department.
“He has a dual challenge of making sure the agency can continue to provide the major contributions it does to national security… to maintain that and at the same time to renew the trust of the country in the agency’s operations,” David Medine, chairman of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, told POLITICO.
“It’s a challenging job, but I don’t think it’s impossible,” added Medine, who last week signed off on a report ruling that the NSA’s telephonic data collection was illegal.
James Bamford, author of four books on the NSA, said he wasn’t surprised Obama and his national security team would stay within the military’s senior intelligence ranks when picking Alexander’s replacement.
“It’s the Navy’s turn,” Bamford said, noting predecessors included Alexander, a four-star general who served as the Army’s top intelligence officer and Michael Hayden, a former commander of the Air Force’s intelligence operations. “It’s a very straight line. That’s the basic trajectory of all these people. He’s wearing the right hat, and he’s got the right background.”
NSA’s leadership is also expected to change with the Ledgett’s appointment as the agency’s new deputy director. Ledgett, who would replace former Deputy Director Chris Inglis, is now the head of an NSA task force created specifically to handle the Snowden leaks.
“You can see how this is going to be dominating NSA for years to come,” Bamford said. “The new director is going to need far more advice on Snowden reaction than you can ever imagine.”
The largest boulders that Rogers and the NSA have to move is reforming its collection of Americans’ telephone metadata. The NSA maintains a vast electronic stockpile of information about Americans’ phone calls, including the numbers and lengths of virtually every one, which it says it needs to try to find connections in terror investigations. Obama wants NSA to preserve its access to that information, but have some other entity maintain it.
Rogers will have to work with the Justice Department and Congress to determine how the NSA deals with the call-tracking down the line, but it’s not clear exactly how that will play out.
Against the wishes of some critics, Obama supports keeping one person in charge of both the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command, as opposed to breaking them up. Privacy advocates and other critics, however, argue the arrangement gives too much power to a single person and disadvantages his secondary roles, particularly as the boss of CyberCom. Obama has also rejected calls from a White House-chartered task force and privacy advocates who say the next NSA director should be a civilian instead of a military officer.
In an official Pentagon article published last year, Rogers noted how his command was unique among the military services in that it operates the Navy’s networks, defends them from cyberattack and wields its offensive tools.
“That gives us great agility,” he said. “It enables us to make very smart, very fast tradeoffs. It’s a real source of strength … We operate them, we maintain them, we structure them, we control them.”
Rogers also praised the close connections between the uniformed and civilian agencies inside the government and endorsed keeping keep the current arrangement in place.
“There’s a reason why, for example, if you go on that air wing on that carrier, you don’t see civilians flying those aircraft,” he said. “If you go on board that ship or submarine, go down to where those weapons systems are and where those radars and tools [are] that give you situational awareness of what’s going on. You don’t see civilians manning those.”
The NSA is the largest of the 17 agencies in the alphabet soup that comprises the intelligence community — “the IC,” as its workers call it — but it falls within the organizational charge of the Defense Department. In addition to the boss of NSA and CyberCom, the director is also the head of the Central Security Service, which manages the military’s codes.
Rogers, 54, would be the first Navy officer to serve as NSA director since Vice Adm. Mike McConnell, who served from 1992 to 1996. McConnell would go on to become the second U.S. director of national intelligence and vice chairman of consulting giant Booz Allen Hamilton — the company for which Snowden worked until he began his disclosures last year.