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NSA nominee: Individual rights must be 'paramount'

Feb. 2, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
VADM Rogers MWM 20130314
Vice Adm. Michael Rogers (Mike Morones / Staff)
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WASHINGTON — Vice Adm. Michael Rogers, tapped on Jan. 30 to lead a National Security Agency battered and bruised over the issue of personal privacy, told sister publication Defense News in a March 2013 interview that individual rights are “paramount.”

“The fundamental construct of the United States of America, if you go back to when we started, was the whole idea that even as we created a government, even as we built a structure for governance, we said to ourselves the rights of the individual must remain paramount,” he told reporters and editors from Defense News and sister publication Navy Times.

It was a rare visit with the press by Rogers, who is head of the Navy’s Fleet Cyber Command and who, if confirmed, would also lead U.S. Cyber Command.

During the interview, which took place before former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked information over how the agency conducts surveillance on citizens, Rogers was adamant that personal liberties need to be protected in the cyber age.

“We must not allow the power and the structure of the state to, in any way, infringe or remove those civilian liberties. That is the fundamental nature of the American construct.”

At the same time, Rogers noted that the protection of those liberties can be harder in the realm of computers.

“Cyber blurs this a little bit so there is always this tension,” he said. “It is a healthy tension. I am always mindful.”

He’s likely to get many questions on privacy during Senate hearings for confirmation to the Cyber Command post. While the NSA job doesn’t require confirmation, and Cyber Command has not been accused in the various stories about surveillance on US citizens, the controversy surrounding the Snowden leaks guarantees that privacy will be a major concern.

Those who have worked with him said Rogers was always focused on the application of the technology around him, whether he was working in cryptology or cyber.

“He’s much more of the operational guy,” said Mike Cadenazzi, the CEO of analytical firm VisualDoD and who served with Rogers as a cryptology officer. “He knows how to apply the tools, he knows enough to speak to technology, but he’s not a doing calculus at his desk kind of a guy. But he was really interested always in applying it to the operational problem.”

That was the general theme of comments from those who have worked with Rogers — he has an understanding of the technology but more importantly, a willingness to push for its use.

“He’s got his head on straight,” said Jeff Moulton, a researcher with Georgia Tech Research Institute. “He understands the geek speak enough to make good decisions.”

Most important, Moulton said, is that Rogers focused on trying to empower those who worked for him.

“His job is to give them the resources to do their job,” he said.

The other common theme among co-workers: admiration at his commitment to long hours.

“He always asked more of himself than he asked of anybody else; if he asked you to work 10 hours, he was going to work 14 or 15 easily,” Cadenazzi said. “It was nothing for him to go ahead and tell me at 7 or 8 o’clock at night to go home, and then he’d still be at his desk the next morning when I’d get there at 6:30 in the morning, and he’d been at his desk all night.”

In describing the future of offensive cyber operations, Rogers was clear that there are still many legal and policy areas to be sorted out. For instance, a new version of the Standing Rules of Engagement that would deal with cyber issues has been slow to materialize. It was originally due to be completed in 2010 to update a 2005 version, but as of December, it was still incomplete.

“What we need to ensure that we have fundamentally addressed are some fundamental questions like, when is an action offensive versus defensive?” Rogers said. “When is an action an act of war? What actions should generate what kind of responses and what level of response? What are we comfortable with in those broad kinds of things? As we gain a greater sense of what we are comfortable with in those areas, that helps us in a traditional military framework, that is OK.”

On the military side, Rogers said the greatest problem the military faces is the enormous reliance on the accuracy of advanced communications systems.

“We are transitioning as you look at how the world out there is changing; now you are looking at nation states who have a fundamentally different view, who have said to themselves, ‘look, if I am going to challenge the US military, then I need to take away some of their advantages,’ ” he said.

“Among the greatest advantages the US military has shown over the last 20 years is superb situational awareness, the ability to understand and to see and to characterize the battle space around them and to do it for huge distances, both because of organic sensors and because of what we are able to put on manned and unmanned platforms and what we are able to do on orbit.

“They have said to themselves, ‘you know the Americans have operated from an assured command-and-control kind of capability where they have always had nonstop connectivity from whoever the commander was down to the lowest tactical unit. What if I took that away? What if I try to blind them? What if I try to take away their ability to see or sense the battle space they operate in? What if I try to take away the ability for them to execute this command-and-control idea?’ ”

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