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New NSA boss plays down impact of Snowden leaks

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Incoming NSA chief Admiral Michael Rogers has played down the impact of the Snowden revelations on the spy agency's work.

Former NSA director, General Keith Alexander, described the Snowden leaks as one of the worst breaches in intelligence history. UK spy agency bosses at GCHQ and MI6 told a Parliamentary inquiry back in November that the leaks had hurt their ability to monitor terrorists' communications because parts of the world had "gone dark" in the wake of Snowden.

However, Admiral Rogers played down the impact of the revelations during an interview with the New York Times. Admiral Rogers acknowledged that terrorists might have made changes to the way they communicate but he downplayed the significance of this tactical shift.

"I have seen [terrorist] groups not only talk about making changes, I have seen them make changes," Admiral Rogers said. "You have not heard me as the director say, 'Oh, my God, the sky is falling.' I am trying to be very specific and very measured in my characterisations."

The new NSA director added that the signals intelligence agency has put in place a range of tougher controls to safeguard against the possibility of any future Snowden-style leak involving a trusted insider walking away with thousands of classified documents. He nevertheless admitted that smaller-scale leaks are nigh on impossible to prevent.

He also explained that the relationship between the NSA and private telecom and internet service firms exposed by the Snowden files had been profoundly changed as a result of the revelations. Internet service firms are no longer willing to co-operate with the spy agency voluntarily.

Telcos such as AT&T and Verizon, as well as social media companies, now insist that “you are going to have to compel us” to turn over data, Admiral Rogers told the NYT. However, he added, the vast majority of global corporation that worked with the NSA (giving the agency its "technological edge and global reach", as the NYT put it) were still doing so, even though they weren't keen to advertise this.

Admiral Rogers, who took over as NSA boss in April, said the NSA intended to be more transparent about its mission as a way of regaining public trust following numerous revelations about the NSA's dragnet surveillance programme. Rogers said that - unlike his predecessors - he would need to engage “in a public dialogue” about how the agency operated. ®

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