National Press Club

U.S. needs 'broad dialogue' on use of cyber, says NSA chief Rogers

July 14, 2016 | By Wesley G. Pippert | pippertw@missouri.edu

NSA Director Michael Rogers before his speech at National Press Club luncheon Thursday

NSA Director Michael Rogers before his speech at National Press Club luncheon Thursday

Adm. Michael S. Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, called at a National Press Club luncheon Thursday for a "broad dialogue" about when and how the United States should use cyber in a way that is "coherent and legal."

But he refused numerous times to go into detail beyond saying: "How we do our mission should be in a way that engenders confidence and trust."

Resplendent in the Navy's summer whites, Rogers added: "We always obey the law. We acknowledge mistakes. We don't take short cuts."

Rogers, who also is commander of the Cyber Command, said at the start of his remarks that he anticipated he would be asked, "Can't you give us more details?"

"No," he said in a tone that was both affable and firm. Later, in answer to a question from the sold-out audience of about 250, he added: "I'm willing to talk in broad terms about what we do."

When President Thomas Burr led off questioning by asking in a couple of ways how successful NSA had been against ISIS (Islam State), Rogers refused to answer. "Keep asking," he said, "but I'm not going to answer."

When Burr asked whether cyber should be used as a "first-strike weapon," Rogers replied: "First strike is a policy question. That's not my role. You need to come up with a better question."

"Cyber is a tool that should be made available to policymakers and should be used in a coherent and legal framework."

Burr asked whether Edward Snowden, now living in Russia in exile, should be prosecuted for his leaks of hundreds of the nation's secrets, Rogers said again that the issue is "beyond my role."

Rogers acknowledged that cyber is a tool of the nation's adversaries as well as the private sector in America. He said many nations in the world are harnessing the same technology to generate violence. And he said the criminal element in the United States is using the same technology against youth and the drug culture.

"Every day I ask myself how do I make sure we're staying ahead of the adversary," he said. "We can't keep doing the same things in the same way over and over again."

Rogers, who has been in his dual post 2 1/2 years, said he has spoken to industry counterparts in "the valley" (referring to Silicon Valley, where the software industry is located in California) in an effort to create "strong partnership."

Rogers said in his opening remarks that this was the first luncheon he had been to in which the dessert, a cookie, was frosted with the NSA logo. Burr got in his bit at the conclusion when he presented Rogers with the traditional National Press Club mug and assured him, "It's not bugged."