Security

New NSA chief says Snowden did not irreparably damage national security

NSA chief Michael S. Rogers speaks at Fort Meade.

Above: NSA chief Michael S. Rogers speaks at Fort Meade.

Image Credit: ftmeade / Flickr

Admiral Michael S. Rogers, who has headed the National Security Agency and the military’s Cyber Command for nearly three months, doesn’t think “the sky is falling” because of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

While Rogers said he has seen some terrorist groups change their behavior in response to Snowden’s leaks, he indicated in a new interview that the agency will find ways to compensate for the damage as technology progresses.

“You have not heard me as the director say, ‘Oh, my God, the sky is falling,’” Rogers told the New York Times in an interview published Sunday. “I am trying to be very specific and very measured in my characterizations.”

Rogers’ tone differs sharply from that of his predecessor, General Keith B. Alexander, who characterized the Snowden revelations as “the greatest damage to our combined nations’ intelligence systems that we have ever suffered.” Many vocal politicians have echoed that claim.

The new NSA chief also recognizes that he’ll have to participate “in a public dialogue” about how the agency operates, which his predecessors didn’t feel was part of the ‘spy agency director’ job description.

Rogers emphasized that he has taken substantial steps to prevent another leak at the scale of Snowden’s. The spy agency has implemented changes to prevent one single individual from gaining unfettered access to such a large trove of data and documentation, Rogers said, although he would not describe the specific security changes. He declined to disclose whether the agency had implemented any recommendations suggested by a presidential commission on the NSA’s operations, including a proposed “two-man rule” that would require two systems admins seeking access to sensitive data to enter codes simultaneously.

But despite all the NSA’s security measures, said Rogers, there is no such thing as perfect security. “Am I ever going to sit here and say as the director that with 100 percent certainty no one can compromise our systems from the inside? Nope. Because I don’t believe that in the long run.”

The NSA’s relationships with major telecommunications and Internet firms have suffered as a result of the Snowden leaks and resulting consumer backlask, said Rogers, adding that companies like AT&T and Verizon are far more reluctant to assist the agency. Verizon last week lost a contract with the German government, which has opted to use domestic service providers to better protect its data.

But most of the major firms are still working with the NSA, said Rogers. They simply have no interest in advertising that fact.

“I understand why we are where we are,” said Rogers. “I don’t waste a lot of time saying, ‘Why wouldn’t you want to work with us?’”

Smaller companies are hurting the most as a result of the NSA’s now-public surveillance measures, as any losses hit them harder, said Christian Dawson, chief operating officer at web hosting company ServInt. Dawson said around 60 percent of ServInt’s business used to come from international customers. Now that figure is closer to 30 percent, he told The Hill.

“We definitely know that U.S. tech companies are experiencing real harm as result of the actions of the NSA and how those are being exploited internationally to take business away from U.S. businesses,” said Dawson.