NSA Director Previews Reorganization And Discusses Security Threats


By Cheryl Pellerin

US Navy Adm. Michael S. Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, previewed an upcoming NSA reorganization and discussed a range of national security threats with members of a Senate panel on Thursday.

Rogers, also commander of U.S. Cyber Command, testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Rogers began his testimony by describing the work of “the nation’s cryptologic arm” and its 40,000 civilian and military employees in 31 states and worldwide.

“NSA now plays a key role in cyberspace, assisting U.S. government efforts to see, mitigate and deter cyber security threats. In concert with public, private and foreign partners, our work helps to ensure that users, operators and administrators maintain control of their systems and data,” Rogers said.

“NSA also gives our leaders unique insights into the hostile activities of foreign powers and their agents,” he added.

Reorganizing NSA

The agency does its work in accordance with the law and within strict guidelines, Rogers said, and only by collecting foreign intelligence in response to specific requirements from U.S. policymakers and senior U.S. commanders.

Rogers has been in the job at NSA and Cybercom for 18 months, the first part of that time spent focused on the aftermath of the Edward Snowden media leaks and ensuring that NSA’s collected data was secure, he told the panel.

Over many months, Rogers and the NSA workforce have been crafting a strategy for reorganizing the agency for a changing world.

“Our structure reflects a series of changes and choices that have been made over the last 20 years. The last major organizational change at NSA on a wide swath was 1999 or 1998 … and I want to make sure we’re optimized to meet the future,” the admiral said.

Optimized for the Future

Rogers posed questions to the workforce about NSA capabilities and its evolving mission, and received more than 200 recommendations. From those, Rogers said he chose three areas on which he asked them to spend more time.

These included the military part of the workforce, a more far-reaching view of cyber, and the NSA organizational structure, he explained, adding that he would receive final input back on those areas by Oct. 1.

In his testimony on national security challenges for NSA and the nation, Rogers mentioned the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and similar groups, their technology capabilities and an issue known as “going dark,” and the potential Oct. 1 government shutdown.

On the shutdown, Rogers answered yes to a question from the panel: Would a shutdown of the federal government next week compromise national security?

Retaining the Workforce

“And if I could just go beyond that — in the last five days or so, as we now are publicly talking about this possibility,” Rogers said, the reaction of the workforce at NSA and U.S. Cyber Command, who could easily get jobs on the outside and earn significantly more money there, is one of real concern.

“This instability [is a] message to the workforce that … you are a secondary consideration in a much larger game,” Rogers added, noting that he spoke this week to the leadership about how to “figure out how we’re going to keep these men and women.”

On another national security issue, without going into the details of NSA’s work, Rogers said the agency broadly uses its ability to work communications in the foreign space to generate insights [about] what ISIL and other groups are doing largely through NSA’s cyber and signals intelligence expertise.

In the counterterrorism mission set, whether it’s ISIL, al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Rogers said, “I’ve seen more changes in their behavior in the last two years probably than any other target.”

They actively reference some of the data compromises that have occurred over the past couple of years, he added, “and we know that they have achieved a level of insight as to what we do, how we do it, and the capabilities we have that … they didn’t have in the past.”

Going Dark

Rogers said that, as a result, combined with broader changes in technology, it has become harder to achieve insight into what such groups are doing.

“The nation’s networks, communications and data are increasingly at risk from diverse and persistent threats,” he said.

“These include rogue states, organized criminal enterprises and terrorists who are showing a willingness and an aptitude to employ sophisticated capabilities against us, our allies and indeed anyone who they perceive as a threat or lucrative target,” the admiral added.

Such capabilities include going dark, or the use of encrypted communications by terrorists and criminals, the use of apps that offer end-to-end encryption, and more complicated attempts to hide in the “broader set of noise out there,” Rogers said, adding that the motivated men and women of NSA are the nation’s edge.

Working Together

This also poses a national security threat, Rogers told the panel.

“I am concerned that the direction we’re going — if we make no changes — effectively represents a significant challenge for us in terms of our ability to generate insight that the nation is counting on,” the admiral said.

He added, “We have got to collectively get together among the private sector, government, industry, policy, and the technical side, and sit down and figure out how we’re going to work our way through this.”

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