WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Friday said it will keep one person in charge of both the National Security Agency spy agency and the military’s Cyber Command, despite growing calls for splitting the roles in the wake of revelations about the vast U.S. electronic surveillance operations.
The White House had considered splitting up the two agencies, possibly giving the NSA a civilian leader for the first time in its 61-year history to dampen controversy over its programs revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.
Both the NSA and Cyber Command, which conducts cyber warfare, are now headed by the same man, Army General Keith Alexander, who is retiring in March. Given that the head of Cyber Command must be a military officer, the White House decision means that Alexander’s successor will be from the military as well.
“Following a thorough interagency review, the Administration has decided that keeping the positions of NSA Director and Cyber Command Commander together as one, dual-hatted position is the most effective approach to accomplishing both agencies’ missions,” said Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council.
“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.”
Based in Fort Meade, Maryland, Cyber Command tries to detect and stop computer penetrations of military and other critical networks by America’s adversaries like China, Iran and North Korea.
But there is an increasing focus on offense as military commanders beef up plans to execute cyber strikes.
A steady drip of revelations of NSA spying from Snowden this year has raised widespread concern about the reach of the NSA operations and its ability to pry into the affairs of private individuals as well as the communications of foreign leaders.
President Barack Obama last week said he intended to propose NSA reforms to reassure Americans that the agency was not violating their privacy.
“I’ll be proposing some self-restraint on the NSA and to initiate some reforms that can give people more confidence,” Obama said in an interview with MSNBC on December 5.
On Sunday, the White House is due to receive a report from a presidential task force, which is expected to recommend changes to the NSA and its programs.
The Wall Street Journal reported late on Thursday, citing people familiar with the recommendations, that the panel’s draft proposals call for changing the NSA leadership from military to civilian as well as storing the vast phone call data now collected by the agency at a third-party organization.
The proposals also recommend stricter standards for searching the data collected by the NSA, the Journal said.
The recommendations from the task force, called the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, are among several measures suggested earlier this year by Obama, who has said he had ordered a review of the surveillance programs before Snowden leaked secret documents to media.
Hayden on Friday declined comment “on a report that is not yet final and hasn’t yet been submitted to the White House” and said the administration was still working out the details of how and when it will be made public.
Additional reporting by Alina Selyukh,; Editing by Alistair Bell and Vicki Allen