Navy cryptology specialist tapped to helm NSA

Vice Admiral Michael S. Rogers is set to become the new director of the National Security Agency, pending Senate confirmation. Would his leadership change the agency's outlook?

Vice Admiral Michael S. Rogers US Navy

It looks like the NSA may soon be in the hands of a Navy officer who specialized in code-making and breaking.

The White House will name Vice Admiral Michael S. Rogers the new director of the National Security Agency, according to The New York Times, which cites unnamed senior officials with the Obama administration. (The Washington Post published a similar report earlier.) Rogers' appointment would be subject to Senate confirmation.

Rogers, presently the Navy's cybersecurity chief, would replace Army General Keith Alexander, who's retiring after eight years as the head of the NSA. Rogers would be stepping into the lead role as the agency faces criticism from the public and from some members of Congress over its controversial surveillance programs.

Rogers, whose career in the Navy spans more than 30 years, started out in the '80s as a surface warfare officer but switched to cryptology, eventually moving into signals intelligence and cyber issues.

In a profile last October, Foreign Policy magazine wondered if he'd have the political chops to calm the current storm surrounding the NSA. The magazine also suggested that the philosophical thrust of the agency might not change so much in the hand-off from Alexander to Rogers.

It quoted retired Admiral Gary Roughead -- chief of naval operations when Rogers was the intelligence director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, from 2009 to 2011. Roughead said Rogers was a leading advocate of the Navy's idea of "information dominance." Foreign Policy continued, quoting the current "Navy Strategy for Achieving Information Dominance" (PDF):

"Whether characterized as intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, networks, communications, space, cyber, meteorology, oceanography, or electronic warfare, the Navy is inextricably and irreversibly dependent on information," the strategy reads. "Information provides a source of power but can also be an incapacitating weakness if not protected. Mastering the information domain is critical to the Navy's future success."

In that sense, too, [Rogers] is not far apart from Alexander, whose appetite for data is famous -- some would say notorious -- in the intelligence community. Such an expansive view, that effectively sees any and all data as relevant to the NSA's mission, may not meet with the warmest reception as lawmakers debate whether to ratchet down NSA's data collection.

It remains to be seen how the presidential directive announced by Barack Obama during his January 17 NSA reform speech would influence the equation.

Obama said the directive "will strengthen executive branch oversight of our intelligence activities. It will ensure that we take into account our security requirements, but also our alliances, our trade and investment relationships, including the concerns of American companies, and our commitment to privacy and basic liberties."

Obama also said, "America's capabilities are unique, and the power of new technologies means that there are fewer and fewer technical constraints on what we can do.

"That places a special obligation on us to ask tough questions about what we should do."

Senate confirmation hearings on Rogers' appointment could make for some interesting viewing.

Update, 2:52 p.m. PT:The Wall Street Journal reports that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has confirmed the White House's nomination of Rogers.

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