WASHINGTON - A Navy admiral is the apparent choice to be the next chief of the troubled National Security Agency, which was rocked by former analyst Edward Snowden's disclosures of its secret surveillance programs that collect phone and Internet data around the world and now faces enormous pressure to change its ways.
According to U.S. officials, Vice Adm. Mike Rogers, a former intelligence director and currently the head of the Navy's Cyber Command, will likely be nominated to replace Army Gen. Keith Alexander. Rogers has long been considered the heir apparent for the job, but Alexander's planned retirement in mid-March has put added pressure on the White House to make the decision and announcement soon. According to officials, Rogers would also be nominated to take over U.S. Cyber Command.
Several U.S. officials confirmed the selection on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly ahead of an eventual announcement by the White House.Alexander's nearly nine-year tenure as NSA director has been punctuated by a series of revelations about the once-secret government warrantless wiretappings and expansive phone and data collection that came to light as a result of leaks from Snowden. Alexander also became the first commander of the Pentagon's Cyber Command, which was set up in 2010.
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. The White House declined to comment on Rogers.
While the president can appoint an NSA director, Rogers would need confirmation by the Senate in order to get a fourth star and take over Cyber Command.
It was not immediately clear when an announcement would be made, but officials said Obama met with Rogers last week, signaling that the selection was on track.
The naval officer is likely to face a heated confirmation hearing, as lawmakers air their frustrations with the agency's widespread secret data collection programs that have swept up the phone records of hundreds of millions in the U.S. And he will be forced to lay out his vision for how the agency will move forward.
Cybersecurity expert James Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that the next NSA leader will face some difficult challenges.
"There will be three giant problems for whoever takes over," said Lewis. "They will face political problems both with Capitol Hill and with foreign partners, morale problems with the workforce and technological problems trying to rebuild data collection capabilities."
As an example, he said that when U.S. government and corporate computer systems have faced cyberattacks from China, American officials were able to attribute the breaches to the Chinese because of "our deep insight into the networks." If the nation's ability to watch or monitor those international networks has been damaged by Snowden's disclosures, the government may lose some of its ability to attribute cyberattacks to specific people or entities, he said.
"We don't know enough to say how big of a blow this has been, but techniques and access points have been blown and now they have to recover," Lewis said.
President Barack Obama announced last week that he was placing new limits on the way the intelligence community accesses phone records, and said he was eventually moving to strip the data collection from the government's hands.
Rogers took over the Navy's Fleet Cyber command in Sept. 2011, and before that had served as director of intelligence on the Joint Staff, during the tenure of then-Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Mike Mullen.
A native of Chicago and graduate of Auburn University in Alabama, Rogers got his commission through the Navy ROTC there and was initially a surface warfare officer. He then switched to cryptology.
He is a graduate of the National War College and the Naval War College and holds a Master of Science in national security strategy.