The director of the US National Security Agency (NSA) and his deputy are expected to leave their post in the coming months, officials said on Wednesday, in a development that could give US President Barack Obama a chance to reshape the eavesdropping agency.
NSA Director and US Army General Keith Alexander’s eight-year tenure was rocked this year by revelations contained in documents leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden about the agency’s widespread scooping up of telephone, e-mail and social media data.
Alexander has formalized plans to leave by next March or April, while civilian NSA Deputy Director John Inglis, is to retire by year’s end, according to US officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
One leading candidate to replace Alexander is US Navy Vice Admiral Michael Rogers, currently commander of the navy’s 10th Fleet and US Fleet Cyber Command, officials said.
The 10th Fleet and Fleet Cyber Command are have headquartered in Fort Meade, Maryland, where the NSA is also based.
There has been no final decision on selecting Rogers to succeed Alexander and other candidates may be considered, the officials said.
NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said Alexander planned to leave office in the spring after three extensions to his tenure and the selection of his successor was under way.
“This has nothing to do with media leaks, the decision for his retirement was made prior; an agreement was made with the [US Secretary of Defense John Kerry] and the Chairman for one more year to March next year,” Vines wrote in an e-mail.
Alexander has served as NSA director since August 2005, making him its longest-serving chief. He is also the commander of related military unit the US Cyber Command.
Alexander, who has vigorously defended the NSA’s activities as lawful and necessary to detect and disrupt terrorist plots, said previously that he planned to leave in the first half of next year.
Inglis, who began his NSA career as a computer security scientist, has been the agency’s second-ranking official since 2006.
The NSA — which spies on electronic communications of all kinds and protects US government communications — has been one of the most secretive of all US intelligence outfits. Its employees used to joke that NSA stood for “No Such Agency” or “Never Say Anything.”
However, the agency became the focus of controversy this year when Snowden leaked to the media tens of thousands of highly classified documents from the NSA and its British eavesdropping partner.
While both Alexander and Inglis are leaving voluntarily, the dual vacancies give Obama an opportunity to instal new leadership following Snowden’s revelations and to decide whether the NSA and Cyber Command should have separate leaders.
Cyber Command, which has grown significantly in recent years, has the authority to engage in both defensive and offensive operations in cyberspace.
Many NSA veterans argue that having the same person lead the spy agency and Cyber Command diminishes the emphasis on the NSA’s work and its unique capabilities.
Rogers has been the US Navy’s top cyber commander since September 2011. Before that, he was director of intelligence for the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and for the US Pacific Command.
Rogers is “a good leader, very insightful and well thought of within the community,” said a US defense official who remained anonymous as he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
Gary Roughead, who retired as the US Navy’s top uniformed officer in September 2011, said Rogers would be a good choice.
“During my time as CNO [chief of naval operations], I spent a great deal of time and attention on cyber, or as we characterized it, information dominance. Mike Rogers was the best in the business and a widely recognized leader in shaping the future in that important domain,” he told reporters. “He would be an extraordinary successor to Keith Alexander.”