US navy cryptologist Michael Rogers to be new head of embattled NSA
President Obama personally interviewed the next chief of scandal-mired surveillance agency
US President Barack Obama has signed off on the nomination of Vice Admiral Michael Rogers to lead the embattled National Security Agency and the Pentagon's cyberwarfare organisation, according to sources familiar with the decision.
In an unusual move, Obama himself interviewed Rogers, reflecting the way the NSA has drawn fire for the scope of its surveillance practices.
White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden declined to comment, but people familiar with the matter said an announcement was expected soon.
Rogers, a navy cryptologist, has long been seen as the front runner to succeed General Keith Alexander, who has been NSA director since 2005. Alexander, who will retire on March 14, is the longest-serving NSA head. He is also the first commander of US Cyber Command, which launched in 2009.
Rogers, whose navy career spans more than 30 years, was "uniquely qualified" to take on the job, said Terry Roberts, a former naval intelligence official who worked with Rogers when he served as a special assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and JCS director of intelligence.
She cited Rogers' background in intelligence and his experience heading Fleet Cyber Command, the navy unit that works for US Cyber Command.
Rogers understood signals intelligence and cyberattack operations, as well as the intelligence needs of the military and civilian agencies, Roberts said. He "is the kind of leader who will embrace the challenge of defining the optimal balance for the NSA between security, privacy and freedom in the digital age", she said.
The Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to question Rogers on issues related to cyber operations and the NSA.
Rogers has regularly briefed top military and civilian leaders at the Pentagon, and he has been involved in cyberdefence and -offence policy issues as head of Fleet Cyber Command.
But he has not had to defend the largest US intelligence agency against charges of violating surveillance and privacy laws and the constitution.
Last month, Obama decided not to split the leadership of the NSA and Cyber Command, which a number of administration officials have advocated, including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
Obama also opted not to end the 62-year NSA tradition of having a uniformed officer as the director.
Alexander, who supported Rogers as his successor, has long argued that Cyber Command and the NSA needed to be under one leader and closely linked, because the military cyber mission depended heavily on the NSA's networks and capabilities.