Second-ranking NSA official forced out of job by director

Head of spy agency `clearing the decks,' bringing in his own team

May 31, 2006|By SIOBHAN GORMAN | SIOBHAN GORMAN,SUN REPORTER

WASHINGTON -- The National Security Agency's second-highest official is being forced out by the agency's director, who is moving to install his own leadership team nine months into his tenure, current and former government officials said yesterday.

Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the NSA's director, announced in a memo to agency employees last week that Deputy Director William B. Black Jr. would be taking a new position in mid-August as the NSA's liaison officer to its British intelligence counterpart, the officials said.

The change is essentially a swap because Black's successor, John C. "Chris" Inglis, is now the agency's British liaison, a position often considered a final stop before retirement.

Bush approves

President Bush approved Inglis' appointment May 8, according to Alexander's memo, the text of which was obtained by The Sun.

"Alexander is clearing the decks," said Matthew Aid, a former NSA analyst who is now the agency's historian, "getting rid of the remnants of the old regime and bringing in his own people."

Alexander has been looking to replace Black since taking over in August but decided that it was smarter to delay the decision, said a former government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of personnel decisions.

"He has chosen this way of axing" Black, the former official said.

An NSA spokeswoman would not comment on the decision but said a "transition date" was set for August.

NSA insiders had expected Alexander to replace Black quickly. Alexander and his predecessor, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, had clashed and had contrasting leadership styles.

As deputy director, Black was intimately involved in the agency's most sensitive operations, including the warrantless surveillance program.

Last year, Black received one of the Pentagon's Distinguished Civilian Service awards. Hayden, his former boss, said this month that he had brought Black on board in 2000 as a "change agent."

Inside the agency, Black was controversial because of his management style and because of the ties he forged between his former employer, Science Applications International Corp., and the NSA, former intelligence officials said. Black had served at the NSA for nearly four decades before taking a management job at Science Applications in 1997.

The company won a number of large contracts with the NSA after Black returned to the spy agency, including a $280 million contract to oversee the NSA's Trailblazer program, which sought to overhaul the way the NSA sifts and analyzes data. Trailblazer ultimately proved a flop and has been abandoned.

Black insisted that he make all major decisions on Trailblazer, and that approach was typical of his management style, which circumvented other senior NSA managers, a former senior intelligence official said.

Black's successor, Inglis, was the top deputy at the agency's signals directorate, which is responsible for intercepting and analyzing communications, before assuming his most recent post in Britain.

In his memo, Alexander noted Inglis' leadership, professionalism and experience abroad as key attributes that his new deputy will bring to his assignment, which he is to begin Aug. 14.

Alexander noted that Inglis will be tackling projects to improve the NSA's ability to exploit enemies' use of global technology networks, an area in which the spy agency has struggled in recent years. At the NSA, Inglis has spent much of his career honing eavesdropping technology. At a 2002 conference, he criticized some NSA leaders for being afraid to embrace new technologies, Aid said.

Inglis, a 1976 Air Force Academy graduate and a pilot, holds several engineering and computer science graduate degrees.

Disappointment

A former government official said he was disappointed that Alexander had selected an NSA insider as his new top deputy.

"He's been reluctant to go outside to get help," the former official said. "NSA has been a management nightmare for a long time. There is nobody internally who has any experience about how to manage anything effectively."

It is not uncommon for top officials in positions such as Black's to seek overseas assignments in their final years at the agency, said Ira Winkler, a former NSA analyst.

Such assignments pay 25 percent more than those in the United States, he said, and retirement pay is based on an employee's salary for the last three years of his career.

"It makes a hell of a lot of sense," Winkler said.

siobhan.gorman@baltsun.com

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