(Source: Fox News)
Cryptology expert who wants government "information dominance" is leading candidate for his replacement

After eight years manning the Bush and Obama administrations' massive campaign to spy on Americans' phone calls, internet chats, and relationships, all of which his agency had no legal authority to do, the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) Director, General Keith Alexander has agreed to step down.

I. Criticism Mounts as NSA's Habitual Lawbreaking is Revealed

NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines confirmed the news to Reuters, while insisting it was not due to the leaks.  She remarked:

This has nothing to do with media leaks, the decision for his retirement was made prior; an agreement was made with the (Secretary of Defense) and the Chairman for one more year - to March 2014.

Before the revelations of former NSA contractor and U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Edward Snowden, General Alexander was viewed in a rather positive light, as he attended hacker conferences and seemed to be a moderate voice.

General Keith Alexander
Gen. Keith Alexander is viewed by critics as a naive, power-hungry proponent of Orwellian spying.
[Image Source: DefenseTech]

That perception sharply changed when a wealth of information came to light revealing an agency that says one thing to the public, then spends taxpayer money to do something very dark and different.  Throughout the ordeal Gen. Alexander defended these efforts, while admitting that the NSA did "accidentally" break the law thousands of times a year by spying on Americans in knew were in the U.S. -- something that Congress had made illegal.

Revelations about Gen. Alexander's own behavior in the 90s also raised eyebrows, such as the report that he spent of taxpayer money to build a replica of the Starship Enterprise bridge for his military spy center in Virginia.  While not unusual for stock-traders and other monitoring agencies to adopt such a command and control configuration, Gen. Alexander reportedly went all out, hiring the actual prop designer who made the iconic science fiction bridge at splurged to make even the doors "swish" like his favorite sci-fi spaceship.

Edward Snowden
Gen. Alexander and President Obama might have gotten away for it, hadn't it been for those meddling kids that meddling technician, Edward Snowden. [Image Source: AP]

But it was it was the General's time after he left his "captain's chair" that continues to draw the most criticism.  Earlier this month it was revealed that the NSA was buidling a relationship database that showed who Americans and foreign citizens were dating and friends with.

Earlier this week, new data from Mr. Snowden revealed that the NSA was seizing text from Americans' email messages, as well as their email and instant messenger address books.  

These questionable efforts curiously ignored popular foreign email and chat services (who the NSA ostensibly might have jurisdiction to monitor) and instead focused on the services that were post popular in the U.S. like Yahoo! Inc.'s (YHOO) Mail.  Moreover, sources said that the agency simply "assumes" that Americans use these services are foreigners, so it can seize their data (it bases this assumption on the technicality that Yahoo, Google Inc. (GOOG) and others mirror user data in multiple locations overseas).

Further, the NSA reportedly spent $250M USD to weaken international encryption.  While this left Americans and foreigners alike more vulnerable to the cybercriminals -- who appear to employ many of the same tactics as the NSA in illegally obtaining Americans' data -- the NSA internally argued it was worth it so it can try to crack the encrypted data of Americans "foreigners" that it seizes.

II. Gen. Alexander -- the Perfect Fall Man?

In other words Gen. Alexander isn't exactly a popular figure among Americans.  He's been grilled by Congress (somewhat ironic as it was Congress who empowered the NSA by giving it massive discretionary budgets with little oversight).

Now he's reportedly committed to retiring "by March or April, while his civilian deputy, John "Chris" Inglis, is due to retire by year's end", according to Reuters.

Whether or not his departure was indeed according to a prior plan, it comes at a fortunate time for the Obama administration.  President Barack Hussein Obama has a knack for slipping out of criticism by finding a proper candidate to transfer the public's animosity onto.  

Obama administration
Obama blames Congress for the spy programs. [Image Modifications: Jason Mick/DailyTech]

In a recent speech he expressed a desire to revise Section 215 (50 USC § 1861) of the USA PATRIOT (Uniting (and) Strengthening America (by) Providing Appropriate Tools Required (to) Intercept (and) Obstruct Terrorism) Act, legal language which in essence grants the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) unchecked, unlimited powers of search and seizure.  But while the President has said one thing to the public, his administrations actions -- even some of which that were made public -- pretty much say the exact opposite.  

While Gen. Alexander may have been the muscle that ran the spying ring, it was the Obama administration which (like its predecessor) worked tirelessly to remove restrictions on warrantless searches and spying.

NSA Unchained
[Image Source: ACLU]

Secret criminal organizations have a tendency for throwing their own most ruthless former enforcers under the bus.  It's not just the movies -- it's proven true in real life.

As an organization that breaks the law thousands of times a year while taking billions from the tax-paying public, the NSA could be viewed as among the nations' most succesful criminal efforts, depending on your perspective.  And if that analogy holds true, Gen. Alexander's departure is unlikely to do much in the way of changing America's extraordinary efforts to spy on its citizens' daily lives.

III. Gen. Alexander's Possible Replacement Advocates Gov't "Information Dominance", Specialized in Encryption

President Obama has reportedly looked to tap Vice Admiral Michael Rogers- the current commander of the US Navy's 10th Fleet and US Fleet Cyber Command -- as General Alexander's replacement.  

Tellingly, Vice Adm. Rogers formerly spoke of his desire to achieve "information dominance" -- the exact same term that Gen. Alexander used for his data center during his military days.

Admiral Rogers
Vice Admiral Michael Rogers [Image Source: US Navy]

He told the Navy's CHIPS magazine:

While cyberspace has been traditionally thought of as an enabler (supporting combat) in the traditional sea, air and land environs, today, it is a primary warfare domain of equal importance. Because the Navy’s combat power is drawn from a highly networked and electromagnetic spectrum dependent force, the Navy will need to lead, engage and win the fight across these critical enironments[SIC].

He has broad knowledge of making and breaking encryption, having served as a senior cryptologist for a Navy carrier attack group, according to his Navy biography.  Encryption has been a perpetual thorn in the NSA's side and monkey-wrench in the plans of Presidents Bush and Obama to spy on U.S. citizens.

Thus in many ways Vice Adm. Rogers could prove far more dangerous to Americans' privacy than Gen. Alexander did at his worse, as he has the high-level technical expertise to organize large scale efforts to crack all but the stronger forms of encryption that currently protect American's communications on chat and email services.

When asked for comment about Vice Adm. Rogers, fictional Admiral Ackbar said...

Adm. Rogers' appointment has not been officially announced, so it's still possible that someone else might be tapped.  But if there's one take away from the fact that he's the leading candidate, it's that the Obama administration will be seeking a like mind -- a military or intelligence veteran with an openness for seizing Americans' information.  

It will likely be looking for someone -- like Vice Adm. Rogers -- with the expertise to crack the technology protecting Americans' private data given a sufficiently large budget and someone who can do so more quietly than his or her controversial predecessor, so as not to incite a backlash from the otherwise unwitting/apathetic public.

Sources: Reuters, The Washington Post

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