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Nominee to head NSA leery of delays inherent in 3rd-party collection of telephone data

| Tuesday, March 11, 2014, 8:00 p.m.

WASHINGTON — If the government turns over the bulk collection of telephone data to an independent third party, higher costs and delays in identifying potential threats could result, the Navy admiral nominated to be the next head of the troubled National Security Agency said on Tuesday.

Vice Adm. Mike Rogers, who also has been nominated to take over U.S. Cyber Command, provided little new insight into how he would handle planned changes of the NSA's surveillance programs.

Several senators questioned Rogers about a breach of an unclassified Navy computer network, which occurred last summer, and he acknowledged it was “significant.” Officials have blamed the incursion on Iran, but Rogers would not confirm that Tehran was behind it. He said, however, that “in this case, they did not opt to engage in any destructive behaviors. And my concern from the beginning was, well, what if they had decided that was their intent.”

Officials have provided little detail on the breach, but said hackers got into the system by taking advantage of vulnerabilities in the network.

Rogers, a former intelligence director for the Joint Staff and the current head of the Navy's Cyber Command, said the damage done by the breach was “of concern,” and added that he ordered a broader response that would do more than simply remove the hackers from the network to prevent another breach.

Defense officials have acknowledged it took about four months — until early November — to purge the hackers from the network.

“The geopolitical consequences of such an attack should really be profound,” said Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. “However, it remains unclear what, if anything, this administration would do in response to such behavior. Would a similar penetration by the Iranians' warplanes into American airspace be treated with such ambivalence? I would hope not.”

On the planned changes to the NSA's data collection programs, Rogers said a key concern would be to maintain the ability to quickly run queries through the data “to generate information and insight in a way that enables us to act in a timely way.”

And while he pledged to make the NSA's activities more transparent to the American public, he warned senators that doing so without revealing classified intelligence is not an insignificant challenge.

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