Vice Admiral Michael Rogers
Vice Admiral Michael Rogers

When General Keith Alexander, the current head of the NSA, announced last October that he would be retiring this March, the country anticipated the President’s announcement of his successor. The public’s eyes had been trained on the NSA all summer, and it was widely known that the nominee would be instrumental in dealing with the fallout from the Snowden leaks. The President’s announcement came on January 30, when he nominated Vice Admiral Michael Rogers for the job.

The head of the NSA has historically been a military general or admiral because this official also holds the title of Commander of the United States Cyber Command, a post which the Agency’s 1952 charter specifies must be occupied by a military officer.

For a few months before this nomination, though, there had been talk of splitting these two positions for the first time so as to allow a civilian to serve as director of the NSA. Eventually, though, President Obama decided to keep both powers concentrated in one position, and nominate a military officer, not a civilian, for the job.

This could well have been an effort to keep with tradition. It is, after all, the Navy’s turn to provide the top official, after General Alexander (the Army’s top intelligence officer) and General Hayden (the Air Force’s commander of intelligence operations) most recently occupied that post.

But Vice Admiral Rogers was not selected for the job arbitrarily; he brings an impressive history of accomplishments with him to the job. Rogers began his career in 1981, as a surface warfare officer, and was promoted a few years later to the role of cryptologist. One of Rogers’ superiors, General Peter Pace, feared that Rogers’ specialization might preclude him from advancing through the ranks, and so Pace chose Rogers to head the Chairman’s Action Group, an in-house think tank which advises the Navy on policy issues.

From there, Rogers rose quickly. With the support of former NSA director Mike McConnell, he served as the Director of Intelligence at Pacific Command. He went on to serve as the Intelligence Director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before finally being chosen to lead the 10th Fleet/Fleet Cyber Command.

He has displayed initiative along the way, taking steps to accomplish his goal of integrating cyber operations into the Navy’s traditional duties, so that the organization would not feel fragmented from the inside.

Vice Admiral Rogers clearly has the technical knowledge, leadership experience, and vision to head the NSA. What might prove equally important during his term, though, is that, as General Peter Pace says, he has a talent for getting his colleagues to “play together in the sandbox.” This will serve him well as he is tasked with guiding the NSA through its current challenges.

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