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NSA chief downplays damage caused by Snowden leaks

While former NSA head General Keith Alexander lambasted Edward Snowden for putting US security at risk, Vice Admiral Michael S. Rogers says the leaks don't mean "the sky is falling."

NSA chief Vice Admiral Michael S. Rogers. US Navy

The US government has been on cleanup duty ever since Edward Snowden leaked a trove of National Security Agency documents last year. However, the agency's new chief, Vice Admiral Michael S. Rogers, said Sunday that the damage caused by the leaks is controllable, according to The New York Times.

"You have not heard me as the director say, 'Oh, my God, the sky is falling,'" Rogers told the Times. "I am trying to be very specific and very measured in my characterizations."

Rogers said that although he has seen some evidence that terrorist groups have changed their communications since the Snowden leaks, it doesn't appear to be detrimental to US security.

These comments are in stark contrast to those of Rogers' predecessor, Army General Keith Alexander, who said several times that the leaks greatly impaired the country's security. At one point, he even compared the suggestion of giving amnesty to the former NSA contractor to giving a hostage-taker amnesty after killing 10 of 50 hostages.

Rogers told the Times that he has been working to make sure no one could ever again download millions of documents, as Snowden did. While the agency has put mechanisms in place to this end, Rogers said he couldn't fully guarantee all data is safe -- especially from NSA insiders.

"Am I ever going to sit here and say as the director that with 100 percent certainty no one can compromise our systems from the inside?" he said. "Nope. Because I don't believe that in the long run."

In his interview with the Times, Rogers discussed a number of other issues, including the possible use of cyberweapons against enemies and the weakened relationship between tech and telecommunications companies with the NSA.

In March, the Obama administration announced legislative proposals to halt the NSA's bulk phone data collecting. Under the new rules, phone companies keep users' phone records rather than handing them over to the NSA. If the agency wants to see any records, it has to get a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Rogers told the Times that although this new system isn't ideal, it still works. "I am not going to jump up and down and say, 'I have to have access to that data in minutes and hours,' " he said. "The flip side is that I don't want to take weeks and months to get to the data."