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Navy admiral relays concerns about NSA changes

Mar. 10, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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WASHINGTON — The Navy admiral nominated to be the next head of the troubled National Security Agency is expressing concerns about the U.S. government turning over the bulk collection of telephone data to an independent third party, saying it could result in higher costs and delays identifying potential threats.

Vice Adm. Mike Rogers, who also has been nominated to take over U.S. Cyber Command, provided the first glimpse into his views of the nation’s troubled surveillance programs in answers to a questionnaire submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee. The document was obtained by The Associated Press.

The panel will conduct a hearing on his Cyber Command nomination Tuesday, giving lawmakers’ their first and most crucial opportunity to judge the man who would oversee reforms to NSA’s sweeping data collection programs.

“I believe that we need to maintain an ability to make queries of phone records in a way that is agile and provides results in a timely fashion. Being able to quickly review phone connections associated with terrorists to assess whether a network exists is critical,” said Rogers, a former intelligence director for the Joint Staff and the current head of the Navy’s Cyber Command.

While the president has the authority to appoint an NSA director, Rogers needs confirmation by the Senate in order to get a fourth star and take over Cyber Command. The hearing, however, will give senators the chance to air their frustrations with the NSA’s data collection programs and grill him on his views of how the NSA should move forward.

Rogers has been nominated to replace Army Gen. Keith Alexander, who is retiring after nearly nine years as NSA director. Alexander also became the first commander of the Pentagon’s Cyber Command, which was set up in 2010.

President Obama has called for reforms to the phone data collection program, which sweeps up the metadata for every phone call made in the U.S. The metadata is the number called, the number from which the call is made and the duration and time of the call, but not the content of the call or the callers’ names.

Asked about proposals to have a third-party or the telephone service providers maintain the data, Rogers said that both options are technically feasible. But he echoed administration worries that such changes might raise other privacy concerns, could cost more money and might not make the data available for a long-enough time.

While he never mentions Edward Snowden, the former NSA systems analyst who has leaked information about the data collection, Rogers acknowledged the leaks, saying they have unfortunately damaged relations with industry.

In other comments, Rogers offered a grim assessment of the growing cyberthreat against the United States, and the government’s abilities to overcome the risks.

He said he believes enemies may consider the U.S. “an easier mark” because the procedures and requirements governing how the nation can respond to a cyberattack “lead the adversary to believe, rightly or wrongly, that we do not have the will to respond in a timely or proportionate manner,” even if it’s clear who launched the breach.

Rogers also says that improvements are being made to staffing and resources for Cyber Command.

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