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

Mood Tense Ahead of Scotland Independence Vote

As race to persuade undecided voters continues, No voters say they believe life in Scotland will slowly improve and do not want to take a risk by endorsing independence More

South Africa’s 'Open Mosque' Admits Everyone, Including Critics

Open Mosque founder plans to welcome gay worshipers and allow women to lead prayers More

Ukrainian Activist in Despair About Future of Her Country

IrIna Dovgan, accused of being a spy and tortured by pro-Russian separatists, is appealing to UN Human Rights Council to support her country More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Wateri
X
September 17, 2014 8:44 PM
Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid