NSA Director Keith Alexander Is Leaving, And These Whistle-Blowers Won't Miss Him

National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander pauses while testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct.
National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander pauses while testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013, before the Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. U.S. intelligence officials say the government shutdown is seriously damaging the intelligence community?s ability to guard against threats. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

NEW YORK -- The National Security Agency's director will be gone by March, White House spokesman Jay Carney confirmed on Thursday.

But don't expect any tears from whistle-blowing former agency employees. They told HuffPost that Keith Alexander's legacy is a vastly expanded agency that has overstepped constitutional boundaries -- and they don't expect a new chief to change things unless Congress changes the NSA.

"I think he's betrayed his oath. Gone far beyond his mandate," said Thomas Drake, a former senior executive at the agency who was unsuccessfully prosecuted under the Espionage Act after he broke ranks. "He understands all of this, and he decided to go for it as far as he could."

Alexander, 61, has been director of the NSA since 2005 -- making his tenure longer than any other leader's in the agency's history. He continued a post-Sept. 11 transformation started under his predecessor, Gen. Michael Hayden, overseeing projects like collecting records on American phone calls, and siphoning email content and other data via tech companies in the United States.

"General Alexander has served an extraordinary tenure and has capably led these agencies through critical periods of growth and transition," Carney said on Thursday.

But since June, Alexander has dealt with the fallout from leaks made by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. A Foreign Policy magazine piece last week said Alexander and his deputies were "angry and dispirited by what they see as the White House's failure to defend the spy agency against criticism of its surveillance programs."

"Is there obviously a lot of pressure? Has there been less-than-robust public support for the NSA coming from the White House?" Drake asked. "It's probably fair to say they haven't gone down there" to support the agency.

Drake said he found himself ostracized after sending Alexander an email asking him to reconsider committing to a costly surveillance program. He later beat charges under a federal indictment that he had schemed to give a newspaper reporter classified government documents.

Snowden leaked thousands of documents about the agency's far-flung surveillance operations to the media, and now has asylum in Russia. He seems no less enamored of his former boss. In a new video from a dinner he had with American whistle-blowers in Moscow, he said the U.S. government was "unwilling to prosecute high officials who lied to Congress and the country on camera, but they’ll stop at nothing to persecute someone who told them the truth."

That presumably refers to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Alexander, who both have been accused of lying.

William Binney, another former NSA official turned whistle-blower, resigned from the agency in October 2001. He said this week that he saw Alexander as a "corporate" leader who was interested in getting as much money as possible from Congress to extend the agency's reach.

Neither Drake nor Binney believe that simply changing the agency's head will curb some of the abuses Snowden's leaks identified. Reuters reported Wednesday that Vice Admiral Michael Rogers, who currently heads the Navy's Fleet Cyber Command, is a top candidate to replace Alexander.

But Binney said he would like to see the agency's management handed over to a civilian. Since its founding in 1952, the NSA, part of the Department of Defense, has always had a military leader.

"I'll always hold out hope, but hope's not a strategy," said Drake this week. "Can someone come in who's grown up in the system -- the military system -- and make real substantial changes? The history of the institution would say no, it would say that NSA by itself is not going to internally reform."

Binney and Drake said that it will take action in Congress to force changes at the NSA.

Drake attended the dinner in Moscow with Snowden and other whistle-blowers. "[Snowden's] thing that he's really focused on, it's clear from our dinner conversation, was the reforms," Drake said.

"This is something I've been hoping for for some time. It has generated the discussion, the conversation, there's all this pending legislation. What will happen in three months? I don't know."



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