The Obama administration has decided against separating the leadership of the National Security Agency and the Pentagon’s premier force in cyberspace, a move that all but ensures continued military leadership of both entities.
The White House began studying the potential divorce when Gen. Keith Alexander indicated he would retire from the helm of both organizations early next year — but a spokeswoman for the administration, Caitlin Hayden, told POLITICO on Friday the current setup "is the most effective approach to accomplishing both agencies’ missions.”
The move guarantees that any future director of both the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command must remain a military officer, a senior administration official later confirmed to POLITICO.
The decision comes at a critical juncture in the debate spurred by former contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks. While Congress barrels toward a showdown over surveillance reform next year, the White House has initiated its own, internal review of its practices. Recommendations from the presidential task force are due Sunday, but initial reports suggest the review group seeks new checks, including on how telephone metadata is stored — yet not a hard stop to the programs.
Sources earlier indicated to The Wall Street Journal that the task force also would endorse civilian leadership of the NSA, while splitting the agency off from Cyber Command. However, it’s not a position the White House appears to share because it’s not willing to separate the two.
For now, the administration believes the existing setup is critical to both counterterrorism and cybersecurity. "NSA plays a unique role in supporting Cyber Command’s mission, providing critical support for target access and development, including linguists, analysts, cryptanalytic capabilities and sophisticated technological infrastructure,” Hayden told POLITICO. "These capabilities are essential in enabling DoD cyberspace operations planning and execution.”
"Without the dual-hat arrangement, elaborate procedures would have to be put in place to ensure that effective coordination continued and avoid creating duplicative capabilities in each organization,” she continued.