Obama mulls removing NSA chief – while Trump ponders promoting him

Adm. Michael Rogers, who heads both the National Security Agency and US Cyber Command, has been criticized for failing to thwart major security breaches since his appointment in 2014.

Gary Cameron/Reuters/File
National Security Agency (NSA) director Adm. Michael Rogers participates in a session at the third annual Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington on Sept. 8.

At the urging of top military and intelligence officials, the lame-duck Obama administration is considering relieving a high-ranking intelligence official of his duties, even as US President-elect Donald Trump ponders the possibility of promoting him.

Adm. Michael Rogers, who steers both the National Security Agency (NSA) and US Cyber Command in a "dual-hat" arrangement, has been criticized for failing to thwart major security breaches since his appointment in 2014 after the disclosures of classified information by former contractor Edward Snowden. And he has been at the center of a debate over whether his duties should be divvied between two separate chains of command.

Citing several unnamed officials, The Washington Post reported Saturday that Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper Jr. had recommended in a letter last month, before the election, that Admiral Rogers be let go. Mr. Carter was primarily concerned with Rogers' performance, while Mr. Clapper – who tendered his resignation last week – sought to split Rogers' leadership roles into two, making the NSA chief a civilian position, according to the report.

Mr. Trump's transition team had been considering Rogers as the leading candidate to follow Clapper as DNI, as the Wall Street Journal reported Friday, before the Post's revelation. Rogers met with Trump on Thursday at Trump Tower in New York, where others being considered for appointments have met with the president-elect. 

The DNI oversees 17 spy agencies and delivers a daily briefing to the president. That relationship could prove complicated if Trump selects Rogers, however, given that the two have disagreed publicly about evidence of Russian involvement in hacking during the US elections. Just last week, Rogers repeated the intelligence community's findings that the Kremlin had been trying to meddle in the American democratic process by hacking email accounts associated with the Democratic National Committee.

"This was a conscious effort by a nation state to attempt to achieve a specific effect," Rogers said during a Q-and-A in Washington.

Trump, meanwhile, who has said he knows better than military officials, insisted that evidence of Russian involvement remains inconclusive.

The recommendation to remove Rogers was unrelated to Trump's interest in hiring him, The New York Times reported, citing unnamed intelligence and administration officials. One anonymous source suggested there could be a political motivation in leaking the information.

Although the Obama administration has pushed to split the NSA and Cyber Command leadership into two distinct roles, some members of Congress, led by Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, have pushed back. They argue that Cyber Command would be rendered ineffective if deprived of access to NSA resources.

Former Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, who served on the Select Committee on Intelligence, was among other Republicans who praised Rogers.

"When it comes to the world of cyber, there’s nobody more capable than Mike Rogers in the military world today," he told the Post.

House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R) of California said in a statement late Saturday that he had asked Carter and Clapper to appear before the committee to "discuss the veracity of press reports" that they had recommended Rogers be removed.

"Since Adm. Rogers was appointed as NSA director in April 2014, I have been consistently impressed with his leadership and accomplishments," Representative Nunes said in the letter, asking Carter and Clapper to respond by 5 p.m. Monday with proposed dates and times for their testimony.

Additionally, Nunes said he would plan to hold an open hearing soon to discuss the prospect of separating the NSA from Cyber Command.

Material from The Associated Press and Reuters was included in this report.

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