Home » News & Analysis » NSA Chief Adm. Mike Rogers Expected to Retire this Spring; Leaves Complicated Legacy

NSA Chief Adm. Mike Rogers Expected to Retire this Spring; Leaves Complicated Legacy

Then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter walks with Adm. Mike Rogers after landing at Fort Meade, Md., for a visit in March 2015. DoD photo.

The search is on for a replacement for Adm. Mike Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency and the last Obama intelligence appointee remaining in the Trump administration. Rogers is expected to retire this spring after an eventful – and often controversial – four years.

When Rogers does step down, his four-year tenure at the secretive organization will be remembered in part for having been bookended by two major spy scandals. He came to the agency in 2014 in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks, which exposed some of the agency’s most sensitive spying tools. And he will leave as the NSA continues to struggle with the posting of many of its top-secret hacking tools by a mysterious group known as the Shadow Brokers.

Several NSA contractors have been arrested in recent months, but there is no indication that they are part of the group or that those ultimately responsible have been identified.

Due to the leaks, an unpopular reorganization aimed at combining the offensive and defensive sides of the cyber operation to become more efficient, and vastly higher salaries in the commercial sector, the NSA has been losing top latent over the past several years – a worrisome trend that Rogers has struggled with, while insisting that the losses aren’t a problem.

Combining the offensive and defensive cyber operations was part of a project dubbed “NSA 21,” which was meant to break down what Rogers called the “walls of granite” among divisions. But the project has also rankled some long-time staffers.

At a security conference in September, Rogers went out of his way to praise the men and women who work for him, saying interacting with “the great men and women of the organization” is “the best part of the day for me.” But he added, “if the price of security becomes that we drive away the very men and women that generate value in the first place, we now have a self-induced mission kill.”

Part of the challenge for Rogers and his successor will be the split of the NSA and the military’s U.S. Cyber Command, which is set to become a “unified combatant command” with about 6,200 staffers by the end of the current Fiscal Year 2018.

Rogers has been instrumental in building up the capacity and capabilities of Cyber Command, analysts have said.

Adm. Mike Rogers. DoD photo.

Given the nature of the job that oversees 21,000 analysts, hackers, and staffers soaking up intelligence from multiple sources across the globe, it is unsurprising that Rogers at times found himself at odds with both the Obama and Trump administrations.

The fact that Rogers managed to make it to 2018 at the helm of the NSA is somewhat remarkable, in fact. In October 2016 – just weeks before Donald Trump won the presidency – Obama’s Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper moved to oust Rogers over concerns with his leadership and Clapper’s view that the NSA should be led by a civilian.

Just days after Trump won the election, Rogers again courted controversy by visiting Trump Tower to meet with the president-elect – but without notifying his superiors, according to reports at the time.

More recently, reports surfaced that he declined suggestions from President Trump to state publicly that there was no collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia. In a June hearing before the U.S. Senate, Rogers demurred when asked about the episode. He did say, however, that if asked to testify by Robert Mueller, who is heading up the investigation into Russian interference in the election, he would would accept.

Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone, commanding general of U.S. Army Cyber Command, presides at a transfer of authority ceremony between the Army National Guard’s Task Force Echo and 169 Cyber Protection Team in August 2017. Army photo.

It is unclear if President Trump will continue the tradition of appointing an active-duty military officer to the position of NSA chief, but the front-runner appears to be Army Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone, who took the reigns at Army Cyber Command in 2016, according to reports.

While Nakasone would be subject to Senate approval, a process which would likely take several months, his confirmation would place a military officer with a long history in cyber and intelligence work in the position. The Army general, who is 54, carries a solid reputation within both the cybersecurity and military community, and he played a key role in kicking off the cyber war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

  • Eric Arllen

    ADM Rogers may be the real hero of the FBI scandal if President Trump succeeds in making Obamagate boomerang back to the last administration where the blame truly belongs.

  • NavySubNuke

    Good riddance. Although not widely reported NSA is also going through a rash of suicides in addition to the problems they have been having with leaks and talent drain. A friend of mine who has worked at NSA for decades told me that they had never seen a leader as toxic as Adm Rogers.
    It is all a bit surprising since by all accounts he was capable and effective at 10th fleet. But sometimes the pressure (and the power) of a new position changes people.
    Good luck to Nakasone – assuming the reporting is accurate – you have a serious challenge ahead of you trying to right this vital ship. Your country is counting on you – get it done.

    • MDK187

      A rash of suicides? Did the good admiral impose flogging and keel-hauling on the NSA staff? Hard to imagine USG employees resorting to suicide otherwise.

  • captlou

    A couple of corrections. The election was in Nov 2016, not October. Second, ADM Rogers, without his superiors’ knowledge, made a trip to NYC to meet with president-elect Trump at Trump Tower around Nov 18th. The next day, Trump’s team moved out of Trump Tower and relocated to NJ, presumably because his offices were bugged by the Obama admin. So Rogers gave deep state enemy Trump a heads up. Clapper and Carter wanted to fire Rogers because he had gone rogue, NOT because of poor leadership. I completely agree with Eric Arllen, Rogers is a hero and a patriot.

    • MDK187

      Good point. Also very much under-reported, a number of these details only came out recently, in connection with the DOJ/FBI corruption probes.

  • HowsItWorkingOutForYa

    I think history will be kind to Chief Adm. Rogers.