Obama signs off on nomination of Rogers as NSA director

President Obama has signed off on the nomination of Vice Adm. Michael S. Rogers to lead the embattled National Security Agency and the Pentagon’s cyberwarfare organization, according to sources familiar with the decision.

In an unusual move, Obama himself interviewed Rogers last week, in a reflection of the job’s high profile at a time when the NSA has drawn fire for the scope of its surveillance practices.

White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden declined to comment, but people familiar with the matter said an announcement is expected soon.

Rogers, a Navy cryptologist, had long been seen as the frontrunner to succeed Gen. Keith Alexander, who has been NSA director since 2005. Alexander, who will retire March 14, is the longest-serving NSA head. He is also the first commander of U.S. Cyber Command, which launched in 2009.

Rogers, whose Navy career spans more than 30 years, is “uniquely qualified” to take on the job, said Terry Roberts, a former Naval intelligence official who worked with Rogers when he served as a special assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and JCS director of intelligence. She cited his background in intelligence and his experience heading Fleet Cyber Command, the Navy’s cyber unit that also works for U.S. Cyber Command.

Rogers understands signals intelligence and cyberattack operations, as well as the intelligence needs for the military and civilian agencies, she said. He “is the kind of leader who will embrace the challenge of defining the optimal balance for the NSA between security, privacy and freedom in the digital age,” Roberts said.

The Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to question him on issues related to both cyber operations and the NSA.

Rogers has regularly briefed top military and civilian leaders at the Pentagon. He has been involved in cyberdefense and offense policy issues as head of Fleet Cyber Command. But he has not had to defend the nation’s largest intelligence agency against charges of violating surveillance and privacy laws, and the Constitution.

Last month, Obama decided not to split the leadership of the NSA and Cyber Command, which a number of administration officials advocated, including Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. Obama also opted not to end the 62-year tradition at the NSA of having a uniformed officer as the director.

Alexander, who supported Rogers as his successor, has long argued that Cyber Command and the NSA need to be under one leader and closely linked because the military cyber mission depends heavily on the NSA’s networks and capabilities.

Some military cyber personnel say that Cyber Command will never fully mature as an organization unless the leadership roles are split.

In a 2012 interview, Rogers told The Washington Post that he was comfortable with the current “dual-hat” arrangement. “I think it is a sound one,” he said.

He said that fostering a “culture of accountability and responsibility” was one of his goals as Fleet Cyber commander. “We need to make sure that commanders understand cyber is a core facet of operations and warfare of the 21st century,” he said, adding that “it is not a silver bullet. It is not going to replace other capabilities.”

Ellen Nakashima is a national security reporter for The Washington Post. She focuses on issues relating to intelligence, technology and civil liberties.
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