Rogers pushes NSA to lead on ICITE, previews agency reorg

The National Security Agency's technological prowess means the agency must lead on an intelligence community-wide IT architecture, Director Adm. Michael Rogers said Dec. 15.

Director Adm. Michael Rogers said NSA has a leadership role to play in the Intelligence Community IT Enterprise, which is foundational to the future. Photo courtesy of INSA.

As a technology powerhouse, the National Security Agency has an obligation to help other agencies with an intelligence community-wide project to standardize IT operations, said NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers.

"As an organization that prides itself on technology, on dealing with big data, on harnessing the power of analytics, we need to be a good teammate with the rest of the IC," Rogers said Dec. 15 in a speech to the Intelligence and National Security Alliance.

"As the director of NSA...I'm a big fan of [the Intelligence Community IT Enterprise] as foundational to the future," added Rogers, referring to the cloud-driven quest for a single IT architecture led by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

Intelligence officials are all on message when it comes to pledging support for ICITE. Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart did so in July in his first major policy speech as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

The program has made steady gains in issuing common desktops and applications to intelligence community users. Yet despite the progress, Stewart's predecessor, David Shedd, has warned that the single biggest problem to adoption of ICITE is cultural resistance in the form of intelligence officials who cling to the IT status quo.

Rogers' recent remarks covered a range of intelligence and cybersecurity issues. He offered a spirited defense of NSA's original bulk data-collection program, which in November transitioned to a new system in which phone companies hold records available to the agency via a warrant. NSA now must deal with phone companies' varied data retention policies, and the agency is seeking to add new telecommunications providers to the program, he added.

Rogers, who also leads U.S. Cyber Command, seemed concerned that, according to him, NSA has played a role in the response to every major private-sector hack in the past 18 months.

"NSA is becoming the [Federal Emergency Management Agency]...of cyber response," he said. Referring to Sony Pictures Entertainment, which suffered a large-scale breach allegedly at the hands of North Korea-backed hackers in November 2014, Rogers added that he wouldn't have believed it "if you had told me that I was going to be spending my time working with a motion picture company."

NSA 21: A major overhaul

For the past several months, Rogers and his advisers have been hashing out a reorganization plan for NSA that they will unveil in January. The revamp, dubbed NSA 21, is likely among the most comprehensive changes the agency has undergone since the late 1990s, Rogers said. The overhaul will include changes to the workforce, innovation strategies and NSA's organizational structure, he added.

Changes to how NSA works with the private sector could also be brewing. Traditionally, the agency has handled much of its technological development in-house, using a comparatively small slice of contractors for support. Rogers contrasted the approach with that of the National Reconnaissance Office, which he said was reliant on contractors, and said NSA could be shifting in that direction.

"I'm not sure that that optimizes us for the future," he said of NSA's current balance between in-house work and contracting.

"When I look at where the engines of innovation are, when I look at where the greatest rate of change is, I don't see that in the government sector. I see that in the private sector," Rogers added. "How do we create a framework that enables us to work with the private sector in a much more integrated way?"