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NSA Benefits Outweigh Snowden Damage

U.S. relations with other nations remain largely unchanged, agency director says.

Revelations about the National Security Agency’s (NSA’s) monitoring practices created some fallout with the telecommunications industry and other nations, acknowledges Adm. Michael Rogers, USN, the agency’s new director, who also leads the U.S. Cyber Command. But the capabilities the agency provides eclipse the damage done.

“The majority of the relationships that we have around the world with nation states, with the corporate sector, remain as they were before this—the majority,” Adm. Rogers stresses. “That’s not to say it hasn’t had an impact, and no one should think otherwise. 

“Clearly we have some nations that have been very vocal, very visible in their frustration and their unhappiness, and we’re working through that. That’s much bigger than just an intelligence issue. There’s a lot of policy aspects to that, and so as a nation, we will work our way through that.”

He points out that his job requires a lot of traveling and talking to his counterparts in other nations, and he reminds them that “we both want to create partnerships that generate value for each of us.” He says that, if asked, nearly every one of our major partners likely would say that, “the value that NSA provides them in terms of the information that we share to help defend their citizens is almost irreplaceable.” 

“We have a level of capability and a reach that literally few, if any, can replicate. That’s a real positive for us as a nation, and it’s a positive for our friends and allies, because I am always mindful that we are part of a bigger team. And so part of our mission at NSA is not only to defend the citizens of the United States but to help ensure the defense of the citizens of our key allies and friends around the world. And to do that, we have got to share information with them. We have got to share the insights that we generate,” the admiral offers.

The agency has taken steps against another Snowden-like data breach, but no one can fully guarantee data will never be compromised. “This isn’t just about finding one silver bullet that, quote, is going to fix your insider threat problem,” he says. The goal that he and his predecessor have laid out is to ensure that Snowden’s months-long data extrication operation cannot be duplicated. “That’s what I want to make sure doesn’t happen again; that we have put in place processes and technical changes, both to our systems and our data, that will preclude the ability to do that again,” Adm. Rogers states.

The steps taken have generated some questions among the work force, with some personnel feeling they are being unfairly treated because of Snowden’s actions, he reports. Those actions include restricting some behaviors normally used in the course of conducting the mission, providing greater oversight of network behavior and scrutinizing new hires more closely, including the possibility of more polygraphs. “It’s about trying to find the right balance, because I don’t want to take this to the extreme,” he states. More extreme measures, he indicates, would cause the agency to lose its work force and inhibit mission execution. “On the other hand, I don’t want to take it to the point where we’re able to execute our mission and we’ve got a work force that feels really good, but the level of risk we’re taking is way too high.” 

He distinguishes between mistakes and deliberate criminal acts and indicates that Snowden performed the latter. “I tell the work force we need to focus on the mission, and we are not going to be defined by the criminal acts of one individual,” he says, adding that employees must continually ask if they are complying with the law and with the processes and procedures that have been put in place. “I’ve told everyone in the work force that there is a difference between a mistake and a choice. If you make a mistake, we’ll be there for you. You make a choice, and I will hold you accountable for the choices you make. If you want to steal, that’s a choice. That’s not a mistake.”