NSA leaders pressed to explain report faulting agency culture

Congress, Pentagon, intelligence director want to know about flaws

May 17, 2007|By Siobhan Gorman | Siobhan Gorman,Sun reporter

WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers, Pentagon officials and the director of national intelligence want the National Security Agency to explain an internal report that concluded the NSA suffers from a lack of trust and accountability.

NSA Deputy Director Chris Inglis said in an interview that the agency had received inquiries about the report from Capitol Hill, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence James Clapper Jr. and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell.

Spokesmen for the House and Senate intelligence committees said their panels did not know about the report before a May 6 article in The Sun disclosing the findings.

Inglis said, however, that the NSA has a "rich dialogue with Congress" and "if all we had done was ship them a report," the NSA would have "fallen short" of its obligation to keep Congress current on agency activities.

"In light of the Sun article, NSA will be responding to a formal request from Congress for the full report," said a May 8 agency memo, referring to the 28-page classified internal report that described management problems and recommended changes.

The NSA distributed the classified May 8 memo detailing background information on the report to agency managers, as well as lawmakers, Pentagon officials and McConnell's office.

Unclassified portions of the memo were obtained by The Sun.

Among those seeking the report was Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Maryland Democrat who chairs the House Intelligence subcommittee. He is scheduled to receive a briefing next week.

"Some of the allegations ... are troublesome," he said. "I have to read the whole report to see where they are at this time." But, he said, "I respect the fact that they asked for a self-evaluation."

A spokesman for McConnell, Ross Feinstein, said that while McConnell "works closely and meets regularly" with the heads of the intelligence agencies, he would not comment on interagency communications. Pentagon spokesman Maj. Patrick Ryder also declined to comment on the issues the Pentagon raised regarding the NSA report.

One former senior NSA official said the queries from the Pentagon and McConnell's office could signal an enhanced effort to monitor intelligence agency activities.

The disclosure of the internal report prompted a rapid response from agency leaders, who discussed it in at least three agency communications within two days of the article's publication. But that flurry of memos indicates that the agency is having difficulty explaining the report's conclusions, the former official said.

The report, one of the products of a 45-day NSA study, called for "a fundamental change in the way we manage NSA."

It concluded that agency employees "do not trust our peers to deliver" and that the agency lacks "a corporate vision." It also found that "there is no clear measurement and no accountability for execution performance." Other parts of the study put forward plans for deploying technology programs across the agency.

George "Dennis" Bartko, the NSA's deputy chief of cryptanalysis, led the task force that produced the report. It offered several recommendations, some of which are being adopted by NSA, such as consolidation of technology programs. That consolidation began Monday, Inglis said.

According to the memo, "NSA agrees that it must address issues discussed in the Baltimore Sun article as we move into the future, and the team's conclusions and recommendations are a key starting points for doing so." And Inglis said, "We embrace the results of that study."

But he and other agency officials took exception to the article.

Inglis said the study's results were "taken out of context." The report should be read as "what we must do to sustain success, not about failure," Inglis said.

He added that the "unvarnished" report "should be taken as a commitment to continue the improvements that are under way and not as a rebuke, but rather as a thoughtful self-assessment of what we're doing and how we can do that better."

Inglis and Bartko said the task force was only studying the management of technology, so the report's conclusions should not be seen as spanning the agency. They also said that the lack of trust referred to in the report was a call for greater collaboration, not a critique of the agency.

Other intelligence officials who read the report, however, said it identified serious shortcomings across the agency, such as a lack of accountability.

NSA Director Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander also criticized The Sun article for naming Bartko, writing in a May 7 memo that it "not only undermine[s] the extraordinary work of a dedicated and hard-working team, but also affect[s] the safety and privacy of their lives."

Bartko said in an interview that his privacy had been violated. "Part of the pride I take is doing our work in secret," he said.

However, an NSA spokeswoman used Bartko's name in her e-mailed responses to questions for that article. Bartko also wrote an unclassified column to the NSA work force explaining his report, which was quoted in the article.

siobhan.gorman@baltsun.com

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