New NSA chief says damage from Snowden leaks can be contained


Admiral Michael "Mike" Rogers, director of the National Security Agency (NSA) and commander of U.S. Cyber Command, says the sky is not falling over the Snowden leaks. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

National Security Agency head Adm. Michael S. Rogers said he believes that in the long run, the damage from information leaked by former agency contractor Edward Snowden can be contained.

In an interview with the New York Times published Monday, Rogers said that the Snowden leaks were a setback for the agency but that he has tried to be "very specific and very measured" in how he describes the damage.

“You have not heard me as the director say, ‘Oh, my God, the sky is falling,’" said Rogers in the interview.  Rogers's predecessor Michael Hayden has said in the past that Snowden's leaks caused "unquestionable, irreparable, irreversible harm."

Rogers also said that he believes the government's working relationship with companies such as Verizon, AT&T and social media companies have been damaged, perhaps permanently.

"I understand why we are where we are," Rogers, told the Times. “I don’t waste a lot of time saying, ‘Why wouldn’t you want to work with us?’"

Since the leaks, companies such as Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have been vocal in their opposition to government surveillance programs, and have moved aggressively to publicize the requests they have received and their own efforts to fight those requests.  Google has even taken steps to encrypt all global Web searches to thwart surveillance by intelligence agencies, hackers and law enforcement officials.

While Rogers said he doesn't believe that the agency can ever be fully insulated against leaks, he said he is taking steps to change the protocols at the NSA to prevent another leak on the scale of Snowden's. Changes to the agency's systems, for example, have been designed to limit the volume of information that could be taken from them, the Times reported.

The NSA chief did not comment on whether the agency had adopted a protocol  that requires two people in order to access highly classified information. The suggestion to create such as system was recommended last year by a presidential commission tasked with reviewing agency practices.

He also said that he agrees with President Obama's goal of ending bulk collections of data on Americans' phone calls as long as the new system does not significantly slow down investigations.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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