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

Multimedia Obama, Modi Break Nuclear Deal Deadlock

Impasse over liability issues had been stalling bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation; deal reached at start of US president's three-day visit to India More

WHO's Late Efforts in Tackling Ebola Highlight Need for Reform

Health experts debate measures to reform agency’s response to global public health emergencies in special one-day session on deadly outbreak More

One Tumultuous Year in Power for CAR's President

As sectarian violence raged across Central African Republic, interim President Catherine Samba-Panza has Herculean task: to end civil war and put country back on right track More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youthi
X
Julie Taboh
January 23, 2015 11:08 PM
Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.
Video

Video Secular, Religious Kurds Face Off in Southeast Turkey

Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has been rocked by violence between religious and secular Kurds. Dorian Jones reports on the reasons behind the stand-off from the region's main city of Diyarbakir, which suffered the bloodiest fighting.
Video

Video Kenya: Misuse of Antibiotics Leading to Resistance by Immune System

In Kenya, the rise of drug resistant bacteria could reverse the gains made by medical science over diseases that were once treatable. Kenyans could be at risk of fatalities as a result if the power in antibiotics is not preserved. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story from Nairobi.
Video

Video Solar-Powered Plane Getting Ready to Circumnavigate Globe

Pilots of the solar plane that already set records flying without a drop of fuel are close to making their first attempt to fly the craft around the globe. They plan to do it in 25 flying days over a five month period. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video How Experts Decide Ethiopia Has the Best Coffee

Ethiopia’s coffee has been ranked as the best in the world by an international group of coffee connoisseurs. Not surprisingly, coffee is a top export for the country. But at home it is a source of pride. Marthe van der Wolf in Addis Ababa decided to find out what makes the bean and brew so special and how experts make their determinations.
Video

Video Yazidi Refugees at Center of Political Fight Between Turkey, Kurds

The treatment of thousands of Yazidis refugees who fled to Turkey to escape attacks by Islamic State militants has become the center of a dispute between the Turkish government and the country's pro-Kurdish movement. VOA's Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video World’s Richest 1% Forecast to Own More Than Half of Global Wealth

The combined wealth of the world's richest 1 percent will overtake that of the remaining 99 percent at some point in 2016, according to the anti-poverty charity Oxfam. Campaigners are demanding that policymakers take action to address the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid