Pentagon and intelligence community chiefs have urged Obama to remove the head of the NSA – Washington Post
The recommendation, delivered to the White House last month, was made by Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., according to several U.S. officials familiar with the matter.
Action has been delayed, some administration officials said, because relieving Rogers of his duties is tied to another controversial recommendation: to create separate chains of command at the NSA and the military’s cyberwarfare unit, a recommendation by Clapper and Carter that has been stalled because of other issues.
The news comes as Rogers is being considered by President-elect Donald Trump to be his nominee for director of national intelligence to replace Clapper as the official who oversees all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies. In a move apparently unprecedented for a military officer, Rogers, without notifying superiors, traveled to New York to meet with Trump on Thursday at Trump Tower. That caused consternation at senior levels of the administration, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal personnel matters.
The White House, Pentagon and Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment. The NSA did not respond to requests for comment. Carter has concerns with Rogers’s performance, officials said. The driving force for Clapper, meanwhile, was the separation of leadership roles at the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command, and his stance that the NSA should be headed by a civilian.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, on Saturday sent Clapper and Carter a letter defending Rogers. “I have been consistently impressed with his leadership and accomplishments,” said Nunes, who is also a member of Trump’s transition team. “His professionalism, expertise and deckplate leadership have been remarkable during an extremely challenging period for NSA. I know other members of Congress hold him in similarly high esteem.”
Nunes said he will call a hearing on the matter.
Rogers, 57, took the helm of the NSA and Cyber Command in April 2014 in the wake of revelations by a former intelligence contractor of broad surveillance activities that shook public confidence in the agency. The contractor, Edward Snowden, had secretly downloaded vast amounts of digital documents that he shared with a handful of journalists. His disclosures prompted debate over the proper scale of surveillance and led to some reforms.
But they also were a black eye for an agency that prides itself on having the most skilled hackers and cybersecurity professionals in government. Rogers was charged with making sure another insider breach never happened again.
Instead, in the past year and a half, officials have discovered two major compromises of sensitive hacking tools by personnel working at the NSA’s premier hacking unit: the Tailored Access Operations. One involved a Booz Allen Hamilton contractor, Harold T. Martin III, who is accused of carrying out the largest theft of classified government material. Although some of his activity took place before Rogers arrived and at other agencies, some of it — including the breach of some of the most sensitive tools — continued on Rogers’s watch, the officials said.
Martin’s alleged theft was discovered when some of the tools he is accused of stealing were mysteriously released online in August. They included computer code based on obscure software flaws that could be used to take control of firewalls and networks — what one former TAO operator called “the keys to the kingdom.”
Martin, who moved from the NSA to a job in a Defense Department acquisitions agency last year, was arrested in August. The news broke last month.
But there was a second, previously undisclosed breach of cybertools, discovered in the summer of 2015, which was also carried out by a TAO employee, one official said. That individual also has been arrested, but his case has not been made public. The individual is not believed to have shared the material with another country, the official said.