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25 Nov, 2013 17:55

Obama refused to accept NSA chief's resignation after Snowden leaks

Obama refused to accept NSA chief's resignation after Snowden leaks

The director of the National Security Agency attempted to resign shortly after Edward Snowden revealed himself as the source of leaked NSA documents in June, the Wall Street Journal now reports, but the White House refused to let him leave.

It was previously announced in mid-October that Gen. Keith Alexander would walk away from his roles atop both the NSA and US Cyber Command next March or April, but an article penned by the Journal’s Siobhan Gorman and published on Sunday suggests that the actually severity of a scandal sparked by the unauthorized disclosures attributed to Mr. Snowden almost ended the four-star general’s career early.

Citing an unnamed senior US official, Gorman wrote that the NSA chief offered to resign “shortly after” the 30-year-old former intelligence contractor outted himself on June 9 as the man behind the leaked documents that started to surface just days earlier and continue to be released to the media, as evident by new reports published as recently as last week.

The source’s claim comes in sharp contrast to the NSA’s official explanation offered last month when it was reported by Reuters that Gen. Alexander would be resigning early next year.

"This has nothing to do with media leaks, the decision for his retirement was made prior; an agreement was made with the (Secretary of Defense) and the Chairman for one more year - to March 2014," NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines told Reuters at the time.

"General Alexander has served an extraordinary tenure and capably led these agencies through critical periods of growth and transition," White House spokeswoman Laura Magnuson added to The Hill in late October. "The president looks forward to continuing to work with General Alexander until his term is complete and thanks him, and the men and women of the NSA, for their patriotism and dedication as they work every day to keep us safe." 

According to the officials who spoke with the Journal, however, the Snowden revelations indeed shook the intelligence community severely and almost caused one of the most secretive agencies in the world to undergo a spontaneous leadership change amid one of its biggest blunders yet.

"It was cataclysmic," Richard Ledgett of the NSA’s special Snowden response team said of the disclosures to the Journal. "This is the hardest problem we've had to face in 62 years of existence."

Asked by reporters at the Huffington Post to comment on the Journal’s article over the weekend, White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden directed journalists to remarks made by press secretary Jay Carney after Alexander’s plans to resign were reported one month earlier.

The president has full confidence in General Alexander and the leadership at the NSA and in the rank-and-file at the NSA who do extraordinary work on behalf of every American citizen and on behalf of our allies in keeping them safe,” Carney said on Oct. 28

Outside of the White House, however, other lawmakers haven’t had such nice words. Speaking to Germany’s Der Spiegel earlier this month, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) said, “The head of the NSA, the president of the United States, the Congressional Intelligence Committees [and] all of these contractors we pay that were responsible for performing the background checks” should be reprimanded for the security lapse that allowed for Snowden to access and leak classified materials.

When asked how they should be punished, McCain told the magazine, “they should resign or be fired.”

Meanwhile, the White House has been working at what to do early next year when Alexander does exit his helm and the government is short-staffed by two: Alexander’s resignation will leave vacancies at the top of both the NSA and CYBERCOM, and administration officials are apparently floating the possibility of splitting those jobs up among two individuals. .