Gen. Keith Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency who lead the NSA during some of its toughest political challenges, is stepping down from the post early next year, according to Reuters.
Alexander is the longest serving director of the NSA, having held the position for eight years. During the last four months, Alexander found himself faced with the greatest political and security challenge of his career. He’s become reviled by civil libertarians, mocked by web activists, and distrusted by members of Congress. In June, documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the public had been misled about the scope of government surveillance programs handled by the NSA.
While Alexander had publicly insisted that “we don’t hold data on U.S. citizens,” one of the first leaks to be published was a secret court order granting permission for the NSA to obtain all the customer call records from a Verizon subsidiary. In late July, Congress came within a handful of votes of barring the NSA from engaging in that kind of bulk collection of communications records.
A U.S. intelligence official told NBC News that Alexander is not being “pushed out.” However, there have been signs of strain between the White House and Alexander. A September letter sent by Alexander and NSA deputy director John Inglis critized the media for having “sensationalized the leaks” in a manner that “wrongly cast doubt on the integrity and commitment of the extraordinary people” who work at the NSA. The letter quoted a post by the Brookings Institution’s Ben Wittes from the national security blog Lawfare, in which Wittes harshly criticized the Obama administration for not mounting a stronger defense of the NSA and its activities.
Reuters states that Alexander is expected to leave by next March or April. Alexander’s likely last task will be leading the NSA just as the efforts of its critics in Congress begin their big push to rein in the NSA’s surveillance powers.