Employees at the National Security Agency complain that the director, Adm. Michael Rogers, is neglecting the intelligence agency in favor of his other job, running the military's Cyber Command, three sources with deep knowledge of the NSA have told BuzzFeed News.
"He's spending all his time at CYBERCOM," one NSA insider said. "Morale is bad because of a lack of leadership." A second source, who is close to the agency, agreed that employees are complaining that Rogers doesn't seem to focus on leading the agency. A third said "there is that vibe going on. But I don't know if it's true."
The questions about Rogers' leadership at the NSA are raising concerns internally about the agency's effectiveness at the very moment that demand for intelligence against new threats such as ISIS is greater than ever, while challenges remain in gathering information on old adversaries such as China, North Korea, Iran, and Russia. "NSA is still absolutely central to most of our intelligence efforts, whether it concerns counterterrorism or the Chinese military or Ukraine," said one former official who did not want to discuss the specific criticism of Rogers.
Morale at the NSA, the sources say, had already been poor after a series of problems came to light. In 2013 contractor Edward Snowden revealed a trove of the agency's secrets — including the controversial telephone metadata program, in which the NSA collected information on virtually all calls made by American citizens. Earlier this year, Congress passed legislation that would overhaul the program by the end of November, and the administration agreed this week that the NSA would stop having access to the information it had collected.
But the new concerns about Rogers and his leadership of the NSA have not been previously reported. The NSA declined to comment for this story.
In January 2014, the Obama administration appointed Rogers, previously head of the Navy's Fleet Cyber Command, to run both the NSA and the relatively new CYBERCOM, replacing Army Gen. Keith Alexander, who retired and set up a company called IronNet Cybersecurity. Keeping one leader in charge of both organizations was a controversial decision because critics said it puts far too much power in the hands of a single person and may blur legal boundaries.
Two years ago, a presidential panel, appointed by Obama, had pushed against merging the leadership of the two agencies. "We recommend that the head of the military unit, US Cyber Command, and the Director of the National Security Agency should not be a single official," the report said.
The NSA and CYBERCOM have different missions. While the NSA handles electronic espionage, spying on adversaries' cell phones, computer networks, and any other form of communication, CYBERCOM specializes in "cyber war" and can launch attacks destroying, sabotaging, or hijacking adversary networks with computer viruses and other malware.
There's also a major legal division between the two organizations' missions, because the military activities of CYBERCOM are governed by one section of U.S. law, Title 10, and the NSA is legally bound by Title 50.
There have been other recent changes at the NSA. Patrick Dowd, the former chief technical officer there, left the agency and went to work for a company described as the world's largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates out of Connecticut, which manages over $169 billion in assets. Dowd's name hit the news last year after Reuters reported that Dowd, while still at the NSA, was going to moonlight for IronNet, the private company run by former NSA director Alexander. The deal was canceled after public disclosure.
Former Signals Intelligence director Teresa Shea changed her position at the NSA after BuzzFeed News reported on her husband's business interests. Signals Intelligence, also known as SIGINT, is the branch of the NSA that carried out much of the controversial domestic spying program revealed by Snowden. Shea's husband, as BuzzFeed News reported, had a SIGINT company registered at the couple's house and he worked as the vice president of a SIGINT contractor. The NSA said that her move from her job was unrelated to the disclosures. Shea has been replaced by Ronald Moultrie, a longtime NSA official who does not appear to have outside business interests.
Rogers is not dogged by any reports of conflicts of interest. But one of the NSA sources said Rogers appears to be focusing on CYBERCOM not just because the new organization is growing rapidly but also because it has a more direct mission and simpler military structure than the complex and scandal-ridden NSA in its post-Snowden era. That makes focusing on CYBERCOM easier, that source said, "than trying to redesign the National Security Agency."