News / USA

NSA's Future Rests on Admiral Rogers' Shoulders

NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers listens at a Reuters CyberSecurity Summit in Washington, May 12, 2014.
NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers listens at a Reuters CyberSecurity Summit in Washington, May 12, 2014.
Reuters
As U.S. National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers seeks to repair the damage to the agency caused by leaks about its electronic spying programs, the abuses of government revealed in the wake of the Watergate scandal are very much on his mind.
 
As a teenager growing up in Chicago in the 1970s, Rogers recalls watching news broadcasts with his family and being horrified by how the CIA, FBI and NSA had illegally spied on hundreds of thousands of Americans.
 
“I can remember being very impassioned with my father, and telling him: 'Dad, what kind of nation would we ever want to be that would allow something like this to happen?”' Rogers recalled.
 
Four decades later, and six weeks into his new job as director of the NSA, the agency is facing similar accusations: that it has used its vast and intrusive surveillance powers to trample on privacy.
 
Unlike 1975's congressional investigation into intelligence gathering by the CIA, FBI and NSA, today's allegations of rampant U.S. surveillance have unfolded on a global scale, damaging American relations from Brazil to Germany and Indonesia.
 
While Rogers dismissed direct comparisons - noting that the NSA programs exposed by former contractor Edward Snowden last year had all been deemed lawful - he said he understood the concerns that have been raised about balancing individual privacy rights against security needs.
 
“We have been down that road in our history, and it has not always turned out well. I have no desire to be part of that,” Rogers, 54, told the Reuters Cybersecurity Summit in Washington.
 
Still, Rogers' declaration that he wants to continue the NSA's controversial search of phone records, known as metadata, has prompted critics to question if the new director really favors change at all.
 
In his first interview since taking office, Rogers, a four-star Navy admiral, stressed the need for transparency and accountability. To repair the agency's ties with internet and telecom firms, as well as U.S. allies, the NSA has to shed some of its secretive culture and be more candid about what it is doing, he said.
 
Some say Rogers' position falls short of what is needed. “I don't think it's a public relations problem. What they have is a trust problem,” said cryptography author Bruce Schneier, who worked with the Guardian newspaper to analyze some of Snowden's documents.
 
Schneier said that transparency would have to be imposed from above - either by the White House or Congress - for it to be credible.
 
A "crippy" rises
 
Highly thought of in Navy and intelligence circles, Rogers is a career cryptologist - a specialist in the breaking and making of codes - with little experience in the public spotlight.
 
During the 70-minute Reuters interview, he seemed confident but guarded, speaking in sharply punctuated sentences and batting away questions about events that took place before he took over the Fort Meade, Maryland-based NSA.
 
“I'm not focused on wasting my time on what was or has been,” said Rogers, who is also commander of the U.S. military's Cyber Command.
 
Arizona Republican Senator John McCain welcomed Roger's call for greater transparency and accountability, but said he remained skeptical that any administration official would be held responsible for any NSA programs that exceeded congressional authority.
 
“I expect Admiral Rogers to be much more transparent,” McCain told reporters on Wednesday. “Do I believe that people will be punished? Nobody's ever been punished for the torture of prisoners by the CIA.”
 
With short-cropped hair that as yet shows no signs of gray, Rogers can be alternately deadly serious - talking about “mission sets” and “second-order effects” - and self-deprecating.
 
Returning two years ago to New Trier High School in Chicago's suburbs, where he graduated in 1977, Rogers told a class: “I was terrible at math,” according to an account in the Chicago Sun-Times.
 
Failing to gain admission to the U.S. Naval Academy, but determined to be a Navy officer, Rogers enrolled in Auburn University and went through the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps.
 
His career was unusual in other respects. After six years as a surface warfare officer, considered the Navy's premier career path, he became a cryptologist or “crippy.” Rogers has now risen higher in the Navy than any cryptologist before him.
 
A former senior U.S. intelligence official who knows Rogers said talent spotters in the Navy channeled him into intelligence duties broader than cryptology.
 
In 2007, he became intelligence chief for U.S. Pacific Command and two years later, intelligence director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Before becoming NSA chief, he led Fleet Cyber Command, the Navy's cyber warfare and electronic spying unit.
 
Underscoring the sensitivities surrounding the NSA post, President Barack Obama personally interviewed Rogers before nominating him for the job.
 
Rogers sailed through his Senate confirmation hearing, although only after having to explain how hackers believed to be from Iran were able to penetrate a Navy computer network.
 
"A powerful message"
 
Rogers faces big challenges. Morale among the NSA's tens of thousands of employees has taken a hit, and Rogers said many people in the agency found it both uncomfortable and perplexing to be under public scrutiny.
 
Retired Air Force General Michael Hayden, a former director of both the NSA and CIA, said it was instructive that Obama chose Rogers, and veteran NSA civilian Richard Ledgett to be his deputy, at a time when the president was under enormous pressure to conduct a house cleaning of the agency.
 
It was, Hayden said, a “vote of confidence” in the NSA and its staff, and a sign that, despite some reforms, Obama plans no sharp cutback in the agency's aggressive global surveillance.
 
“They were the obvious choices before Snowden, and they were the choices after Snowden. This is a powerful message to send to the workforce,” Hayden said.
 
A second former senior U.S. intelligence official who knows Rogers predicted he would be a “much more inclusive” leader than his predecessor, the sometimes-combative Army General Keith Alexander, who led the agency for more than eight years.
 
When Rogers is not wearing his NSA “hat,” he runs Cyber Command, a rapidly growing organization tasked with defending U.S. military computer networks, penetrating and mapping adversary networks, and conducting offensive cyber warfare.
 
Rogers, who has been married to his wife, Dana, for 29 years and has a son in the Navy and one in college, may have days where he wishes he had neither job.
 
In a video message to NSA employees after he took command, Rogers is said to have remarked that he had promised his wife he would be retired by now.

You May Like

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs