The National Security Agency announced Monday it is moving ahead with a massive reorganization plan that will consolidate offensive and defensive hacking operations under one command—a move that privacy and civil liberties groups, as well as a presidential review board, have warned would create potential conflicts of interest.
NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers announced the decision to move forward with the reorganization plan, known as NSA21, or NSA in the 21st century, in an address to NSA employees released Monday.
“The launch of NSA21 is the beginning of a forward-leaning, decisive response. It is a two-year plan to position the Agency to meet increasingly complicated challenges stemming from the proliferation of asymmetric threats to national security, the rapid evolution of the global communications network, fast-growing demand for NSA’s products and services, and the continuing evolution of our cyber mission,” Rogers said in his statement.
The reorganization will establish six new directorates under a centralized NSA operating framework. Those directorates include: Workforce and Support Activities; Business Management and Acquisition; Engagement and Policy; Operations, Capabilities, and Research; Foreign Signals Intelligence; and Information Assurance.
The “new structure will enable us to consolidate capabilities and talents to ensure that we’re using all of our resources to maximum effect to accomplish our mission, and to make sure that each of you has the opportunity to grow and develop in your career at NSA,” Rogers said.
NSA21 is not the first major reorganization for the once super-secret NSA. In 1999, a group of midlevel managers at NSA produced the New Enterprise Team report, which was highly critical of the agency’s leadership and intelligence failures. Michael Hayden, the NSA director at the time, described the group of 19 managers as “responsible anarchists,” and immediately set out on his “100 Days of Change” initiative. It was the NETeam assessment that led to the creation of the many post-9/11 global surveillance programs, which remain highly controversial.
A review board appointed in 2013 by President Barack Obama in response to the global outcry over the NSA’s surveillance programs, recommended that the agency focus only on foreign intelligence gathering. Continuing to allow NSA to also oversee defensive information assurance operations—protecting U.S. critical infrastructure and private networks from major attacks—would lead to inevitable conflicts of interest between the agency’s surveillance and hacking operations, and its defensive operations.