NSA to cut 90 percent of systems administrators

(Patrick Semansky/AP) (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Edward Snowden fired a thunderbolt through top intelligence officials and now he’s sending a jolt through his former colleagues on the job.

Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor whose revelations about massive government surveillance programs rocked the Obama administration, is at least partially responsible for the timing of a significant reduction in part of the agency’s workforce.

Army Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the NSA’s director, told a cybersecurity conference at Fordham University in New York last week that almost the agency’s entire crew of systems administrators is being cut.

“What we’re in the process of doing – not fast enough – is reducing our system administrators by about 90 percent,” he said in remarks earlier reported by Reuters.

Many of those systems administrators are contractors, like Snowden was before he fled the United States and Booz Allen Hamilton fired him. Instead of the 1,000 systems administrators NSA uses, Alexander wants to move more of the operation to the cyber cloud, called the Intelligence Community’s Information Technology Enterprise (ICITE),which relies on a network of computers linked on the Internet.

“We’ve put people in the loop of transferring data, securing networks and doing things that machines are probably better at doing,” Alexander said.

The virtual cloud structure “is actually where we were trying to go. That cuts down on the number of system administrators, allows them to do other functions … and it also addresses the number of system administrators you have.”

In other words, it cuts the chance for more Snowdens.

NSA and the rest of the intelligence community “had been on this path for some time,” said Vanee Vines, a NSA spokesperson. She acknowledged that “we have accelerated the timeline” following Snowden’s leak of secret information to The Washington Post and The Guardian in Britain.

The move, Alexander said, is designed “to make our networks more defensible and more secure.”

While “at the end of the day, it’s all about trust” in the people who carry out the agency’s mission, he made it clear that trust alone is not enough.

“Now the intent of what we are now doing,” Alexander said, “is to try to come up with ways that limit what people can take, what data they have and how we monitor that.”

federaldiary@washpost.com

Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about federal government and workplace issues that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. Davidson previously was an assistant city editor at The Washington Post and a Washington and foreign correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, where he covered federal agencies and political campaigns.

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