WASHINGTON: A Navy admiral is President Barack Obama’s choice to be the next head of the National Security Agency, which is embroiled in controversy over its secret surveillance programs and massive collection of phone and Internet data.
Vice Adm. Mike Rogers, the head of the Navy’s Cyber Command and a former intelligence director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is being appointed to lead the NSA, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Thursday. Rogers also is being nominated to get a fourth star and head U.S. Cyber Command.
Rogers, who replaces Army Gen. Keith Alexander at the NSA, comes into the job facing the challenge of revamping the way the agency collects and stores its data. Alexander plans to retire in mid-March.
The NSA has been rocked by former analyst Edward Snowden’s disclosures detailing widespread surveillance programs that have swept up the phone records of hundreds of millions in the United States.
Rogers has long been considered the heir apparent for the job. In a news release Thursday, Hagel said he is confident that Rogers “has the wisdom to help balance the demands of security, privacy and liberty in our digital age.”
“This is a critical time for the NSA, and Vice Admiral Rogers would bring extraordinary and unique qualifications to this position as the agency continues its vital mission and implements President Obama’s reforms,” Hagel said.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper described Rogers in a statement as a dedicated intelligence officer “who deeply understands signals intelligence and cyber operations, which makes him uniquely qualified to lead the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command missions.”
Rogers’ nomination to head Cyber Command requires Senate confirmation. The NSA job does not, but it will undoubtedly come up at the Cyber Command hearing, as lawmakers air their frustrations with the agency’s data collection program and demand that he lay out his vision for how the NSA will move forward.
The White House has said it intends to continue having one commander oversee the NSA and Cyber Command, despite suggestions that the jobs should be split due to concerns that the lines have blurred between the two powerful posts. Both jobs are based at Fort Meade, Md.
Hagel also announced that he is appointing Rick Ledgett to be the NSA’s deputy director, replacing Chris Inglis as the top civilian at the agency. Ledgett, an NSA official, has been leading the task force assessing the damage from Snowden’s leaks.
Alexander has served for nearly nine years as NSA director. He was the first commander of the Pentagon’s Cyber Command, which was set up in 2010.
Rogers’ challenges were outlined during Obama’s Jan. 17 speech outlining changes to the NSA. The president vowed to restrain the government’s sweeping surveillance programs while defending the agency’s work as a bulwark against “real enemies and threats.”
The president said he would require judicial review of requests for phone records and ordered Justice Department and intelligence officials to devise a way to take storage of that data out of the government’s hands. He promised that U.S. citizens and allies would have confidence that their privacy was protected even as major portions of the spy programs remained little changed.
Clapper told a Senate panel earlier this week that Snowden’s disclosures had done “profound damage” to U.S. national security and prompted adversaries to change the ways they communicate.
Snowden, 30, who worked for the NSA while employed by government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp., said in an Internet chat last week that he wouldn’t return to the United States because gaps in federal whistle-blower laws leave him unprotected.
He faces federal charges of theft and espionage, and is residing in Russia under temporary asylum.
Bloomberg News contributed to this report.