Top NSA Civilian Resigns As Surveillance Controversy Swirls

Top NSA Civilian Resigns As Surveillance Controversy Swirls

Chris Inglis, the deputy director of the National Security Agency and its highest-ranking civilian leader, stepped down from his post this week and will formally retire at the end of the year, Foreign Policy has learned. The move comes at one of the most tumultuous moments in the history of the United States’ biggest intelligence agency. Former officials and sources close to the NSA leadership have said that Alexander, Inglis, and other top agency officials were angry and dispirited by what they saw as the Obama administration’s failure to defend the agency against criticism of its surveillance programs sparked by the cascade of documents leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden.

Fran Fleisch, the agency’s executive director and third highest-ranking official, has assumed Inglis’ duties as the acting deputy director, the agency said. As Foreign Policy previously reported, Fleisch has been effectively running the NSA on a day-to-day basis, while Inglis and his boss, Gen. Keith Alexander, prepared to step down and devoted much of their time to congressional testimony and public speeches in the wake of an unprecedented wave of leaks.

"The plan has been set for some time, first announced internally at NSA this past summer, for Mr. Inglis to retire at year’s end and Gen. Alexander in the spring of 2014," an NSA spokesperson told Foreign Policy. "In each case, their time in office represented a significant extension of service beyond their original tours. Consistent with that plan, Mr. Inglis stepped down this week to start the transition process."

Fleisch will serve in the No. 2 position "pending administration concurrence in Mr. Inglis’ long-term successor," the spokesperson said. While that individual has not been named publicly, sources with knowledge of the NSA’s plans say that Richard Ledgett is slated to become the new deputy director. Ledgett is currently in charge of an NSA task force set up to address leaks of classified information.

Inglis has been in his job since 2006 and is said not to have taken a day of personal vacation. In the six months since the first Snowden revelations in June, Inglis and Alexander have testified before Congress and given speeches and interviews at least 22 times , according to public records. In the six months that preceded the first leaks, Alexander had testified on the Hill twice, and Inglis not at all. Both men rarely made public appearances.

In his tenure at the NSA, Inglis went from being a day-to-day manager to taking on some of the roles and responsibilities of the director. Inglis was brought into the job by Alexander after the NSA director  removed his previous deputy, Bill Black. Inglis helped lead the agency through some of its biggest transitions, including into the era of cyber warfare. In 2010, the Defense Department established a new U.S. Cyber Command and tapped Alexander to be its first commander. That meant he was essentially doing two jobs. Inglis gradually assumed more responsibilities at the NSA than a traditional deputy director, and some of his managerial tasks were assigned to Fleisch.

Inglis, a 1976 graduate of the Air Force Academy, spent nine years on active duty and 21 years in the Air National Guard before retiring in 2006 as a brigadier general. He held a series of management positions at the NSA since the mid-1980s.

Whomever becomes the new deputy will likely have a similarly large workload. The Obama administration considered but has reportedly decided not to split the positions of NSA director and commander of Cyber Command. A replacement for Alexander, who will retire in the spring, has not been announced, but sources said the odds-on-favorite is Adm. Michael Rogers, the current head of Navy signals intelligence and the service’s cyber warfare operations. Another name has also surfaced as a contender: Army Lt. Gen. Mary Legere, currently the head of intelligence for the Army. Legere has a remarkably similar resume to Alexander, but Rogers may have the leg up because he’s a Naval officer, and, in the informal rotation among the military services, it is the Navy’s turn to run the NSA.