Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?

White House sticks with double duty for NSA director

With US surveillance policy under review, the White House decides to keep one military official in charge of both the NSA and Cyber Command.

Carrie Mihalcik Senior Editor / News
Carrie is a Senior Editor at CNET focused on breaking and trending news. She's been reporting and editing for more than a decade, including at the National Journal and CurrentTV.
Expertise Breaking News, Technology Credentials
  • Carrie has lived on both coasts and can definitively say that Chesapeake Bay blue crabs are the best.
Carrie Mihalcik
2 min read
NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander speaks at a Senate committee hearing on US surveillance on December 11, 2013. Alex Wong/Getty Images

It looks like NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander, and his successor, will hold on to the additional role as head of US cyberoperations.

The Obama administration said Friday that a single military official will continue to head up both the US National Security Agency and US Cyber Command.

"Following a thorough interagency review, the administration has decided that keeping the positions of NSA Director and Cyber Command Commander together as one, dual-hatted position is the most effective approach to accomplishing both agencies' missions," National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in an e-mailed statement. "Given General Alexander's retirement this spring, it was the natural time to review the existing arrangement."

Military officials were reportedly considering splitting the role and went so far as to draft a list of possible civilian candidates to lead the NSA. Alexander, who is expected to resign in the spring, has been head of the NSA since 2005 and took on the role of head of Cyber Command in 2010.

The administration said the dual role allows for "rapid response" to cybersecurity threats, and it added that splitting the position would mean instituting elaborate procedures to ensure coordination and avoid duplicate capabilities between the two agencies.

The White House's decision, which is part of a wider review of US surveillance policy, comes just days before a presidential task force was expected to submit recommendations that "constitute a sweeping overhaul of the NSA," reported The Wall Street Journal earlier Friday, citing "people familiar with the plans."

While the top spot at the NSA has managed to stay intact under increased scrutiny, The Hill reported Friday that NSA Deputy Director Chris Inglis, the top civilian at the agency, stepped down this week. NSA Executive Director Fran Fleisch will now serve as acting deputy director.

Inglis had previously said he would be stepping down, and an NSA spokeswoman told The Hill the plan had been "set for some time."

The plan was "first announced internally at NSA this past summer, for Mr. Inglis to retire at year's end and Gen. Alexander in the spring of 2014," NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said, according to The Hill. "In each case, their time in office represented a significant extension of service beyond their original tours."

Update, 3:06 p.m. PT: Added comment and information from National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.

Update, 2:04 p.m. PT: Added information on NSA Deputy Director Chris Inglis stepping down.