Friday, January 31, 2014

Overruling His Advisors, President Obama Picked a Navy Cyberwarrior to Run the NSA


Vice Admiral Michael Rogers (head of table), commander of US Fleet Cyber Command and US 10th Fleet, speaks to Information Dominance Corps in 2012. Image: Navy

Last night, President Obama officially signed off on his nomination for the next director of the NSA. Navy Vice Admiral Michael Rogers, currently the head of US Fleet Cyber Command, is by all accounts an expert in cryptography and cyberwar. But at a time when the agency is under more public scrutiny than ever, the president has chosen a 33-year Navy veteran with little experience working in the public eye.

As the top cyberwar expert in the Navy, Rogers does appear a natural fit to take over the NSA and the military's Cyber Command from outgoing chief Gen. Keith Alexander. But as the New York Times notes, Obama "rejected his own advisory panel’s recommendation that the NSA and the United States Cyber Command have separate leaders." 

By law, Cyber Command must be run by a military officer. Considering the massive blowback to the NSA in the last year, Obama's advisory panel suggested splitting the roles so that a person more versed in civil liberties issues—as well as simply dealing with the public—could chair the NSA and hopefully soothe some of the ire caused by surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden. 

Also of note is the pick of Richard Ledgett for deputy directory. If approved, Ledgett would be the top civilian leader in the agency. He has so far led the investigation into Snowden, and as the Guardian explains, he has previously floated the idea of amnesty for the whistleblower. 

With privacy advocates rightfully aghast at the scope of the NSA's activities and legal challenges mounting, the NSA certainly has a vested interest in turning the public tide in its favor. But with Obama largely paying lip service (or less) to the problem of surveillance overreach, Rogers—who, again, is well-qualified from a technical standpoint—will have to steer the agency through the ongoing scrutiny. While his credentials are stellar, his career has largely been outside of the public eye, and it's hard to tell how he'll approach the job, or if he'll institute the reforms Obama has suggested. Folks in Washington are still happy with the pick.

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