Post-Snowden, the NSA's future rests on Admiral Rogers' shoulders

Post-Snowden, the NSA's future rests on Admiral Rogers' shoulders

WASHINGTON - As US National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers seeks to repair the damage to the agency caused by leaks about its electronic spying programs, the abuses of government revealed in the wake of the Watergate scandal are very much on his mind.

As a teenager growing up in Chicago in the 1970s, Rogers recalls watching news broadcasts with his family and being horrified by how the CIA, FBI and NSA had illegally spied on hundreds of thousands of Americans.

"I can remember being very impassioned with my father, and telling him: 'Dad, what kind of nation would we ever want to be that would allow something like this to happen?'" Rogers recalled.

Four decades later, and six weeks into his new job as director of the NSA, the agency is facing similar accusations: that it has used its vast and intrusive surveillance powers to trample on privacy.

Unlike 1975's congressional investigation into intelligence gathering by the CIA, FBI and NSA, today's allegations of rampant US surveillance have unfolded on a global scale, damaging American relations from Brazil to Germany and Indonesia.

While Rogers dismissed direct comparisons - noting that the NSA programs exposed by former contractor Edward Snowden last year had all been deemed lawful - he said he understood the concerns that have been raised about balancing individual privacy rights against security needs.

"We have been down that road in our history, and it has not always turned out well. I have no desire to be part of that," Rogers, 54, told the Reuters Cybersecurity Summit in Washington.

Still, Rogers' declaration that he wants to continue the NSA's controversial search of phone records, known as metadata, has prompted critics to question if the new director really favors change at all.

In his first interview since taking office, Rogers, a four-star Navy admiral, stressed the need for transparency and accountability. To repair the agency's ties with internet and telecom firms, as well as US allies, the NSA has to shed some of its secretive culture and be more candid about what it is doing, he said.

Some say Rogers' position falls short of what is needed. "I don't think it's a public relations problem. What they have is a trust problem," said cryptography author Bruce Schneier, who worked with the Guardian newspaper to analyze some of Snowden's documents.

Schneier said that transparency would have to be imposed from above - either by the White House or Congress - for it to be credible.

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