JAN. 30, 2014
Obama Picks a Cyber Expert to Lead N.S.A.
By DAVID E. SANGER and THOM SHANKER
WASHINGTON -- In nominating Vice Adm. Michael S. Rogers  as the new director of the National Security Agency on Thursday, President Obama chose a recognized expert in the new art of designing cyberweapons, but someone with no public track record in addressing the kinds of privacy concerns that have put the agency under a harsh spotlight.
Mr. Obama's decision to pick a military officer, rather than a civilian versed in civil liberties issues, was made weeks ago, when he rejected his own advisory panel's recommendation that the N.S.A. and the United States Cyber Command  have separate leaders. By law the command, the Pentagon's four-year-old cyberwarfare organization, must be headed by a military officer.
The result is that Admiral Rogers, now the head of Fleet Cyber Command, the Navy's fast-growing cyberunit, will find himself in the public cross hairs in a way he has never been during a 33-year military career. Starting with his confirmation hearings, expected to begin as soon as next month, the admiral will be pressed on how he would implement a series of changes that Mr. Obama announced two weeks ago.
But many of the biggest issues, including who will hold the vast database of phone call information and online activity of ordinary Americans that the N.S.A. searches for potential terrorists or nuclear proliferators, remain undecided. And Mr. Obama has deferred decisions on recommendations, also from advisers, that the N.S.A. stop its efforts to weaken commercial encryption and limit its activities to exploiting weaknesses in commonly available software to design cyberweapons.
"Mike's now flying right into the hornet's nest of the stuff the president didn't decide," said one senior adviser to the president. "And it's all going to play out in public."
It already has: The N.S.A.'s programs have been flayed by civil libertarians, sharply criticized by Silicon Valley companies that say their business is being undercut and denounced by American allies who have been routinely spied on.
As it made its widely expected nomination of Admiral Rogers, the administration announced its choice for deputy director of the agency: Rick Ledgett, the N.S.A. official who has been heading the task force assessing the damage done by the revelations of Edward J. Snowden, the former agency contractor. It will clearly be Mr. Ledgett's job to put in place a series of internal changes designed to prevent a repeat of what officials have called the biggest leak of secret data in American history and to deal with its continuing effects.
Mr. Ledgett generated headlines weeks ago when, in an interview on the CBS News program "60 Minutes," he said "it's worth having a conversation" about giving Mr. Snowden amnesty from prosecution in return for a full accounting of what he took from the N.S.A.'s Hawaii office, and where the remaining, unpublished, data is.
The White House immediately rejected the idea of an amnesty, but Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said recently that he would be open to talking about some kind of deal for Mr. Snowden if he returned from Russia.
If confirmed, Admiral Rogers will succeed Gen. Keith B. Alexander, who has served as N.S.A. director for nearly nine years and was the first to direct both the civilian spy agency and the Cyber Command. He announced last year that he would retire in March. Since then Admiral Rogers has been considered the most likely successor, because of his experience in code-breaking -- the reason the N.S.A. was created by President Harry Truman six decades ago -- and his understanding of the design of America's new arsenal of cyberweapons.
Mr. Obama interviewed the admiral for the job last week, though the president left it to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, traveling in Poland on Thursday, to announce the appointment. Mr. Hagel pointed to the challenges the new director will face in a statement, saying, "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."
He added, "I am also confident that Admiral Rogers has the wisdom to help balance the demands of security, privacy and liberty in our digital age."
A statement issued minutes later by the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., made no reference to proposed policy changes at the N.S.A. or the need to conduct the kind of balancing Mr. Hagel referred to -- a reflection, perhaps, of the arguments Mr. Clapper has made internally that many of the proposals undercut the N.S.A.'s ability to protect the country.
Admiral Rogers's appointment would clearly be welcomed in the military intelligence community, where he is regarded as a trusted insider. He began his career not in intelligence or electronics, but in traditional surface warfare. He was commissioned via the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps after graduating from Auburn in 1981, and worked in combat naval gunfire support, serving in operations off Grenada, Beirut and El Salvador.
But in 1986, after five years in the service, he made a leap that prepared him for the post he is now likely to take up: He began specializing in cryptology, and trained in both electronic and information warfare. A number of assignments to various warships and carrier strike groups followed, taking him to United States and NATO missions in the Balkans and in Afghanistan.
Eleven years ago, as the United States was invading Iraq, he joined the military's prestigious Joint Staff, which works for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He specialized in computer network attacks -- what today is called cyberwar -- and subsequently served in a series of senior staff positions that put him in the midst of the issues facing the Joint Chiefs.
In 2007, he moved to become director of intelligence for the military's Pacific Command, where China and its tremendous cybersurveillance abilities are a priority. Two years later he became director of intelligence for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and then was named commander of the Fleet Cyber Command, with responsibility for all of the Navy's cyberwarfare efforts.
"I know of no other naval officer as deft as he in synthesizing seemingly disparate bits of information into a cohesive whole," said a senior military officer, who would not speak on the record about a pending nomination. "He connects dots. Some people see the details and can describe them for you. Rogers sees the details and can tell you a story."
The White House would not specifically say what part of Admiral Rogers's background appealed to Mr. Obama, but his experience in cyberwarfare was undoubtedly a major element, according to people who have dealt with both the president and his nominee. From his first days in office, Mr. Obama was secretly immersed in America's biggest offensive cyberattack mission, a program named "Olympic Games" that was aimed at Iran's nuclear infrastructure.
It is unclear if Admiral Rogers was involved in that operation. But if he is confirmed, the country's growing arsenal of cyberweapons will be under his command. He will also inherit dozens of new cyberteams, based on the military's Special Forces, created by General Alexander to provide cybersecurity for the military and launch cyberattacks.
David E. Sanger reported from Washington, and Thom Shanker from Warsaw.