N.S.A. Director Makes Another Visit to Silicon Valley

N.S.A. Director Makes Another Visit to Silicon Valley

PALO ALTO, Calif. — Adm. Michael S. Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, said on Monday that a secure Internet was in the best interest of the United States, following disclosures that the N.S.A. had been exploiting weaknesses in the web for foreign intelligence gathering.

Admiral Rogers took over the post of N.S.A. director in April as the agency faced criticism over its mass-surveillance program, and particularly its efforts to undermine digital encryption and exploit security flaws to spy on foreigners, after the revelations by the former intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden.

Since then, technology companies like Google and Yahoo have taken significant steps to encrypt their data, both when it is stored and as it flows through their own data centers, because Mr. Snowden’s revelations showed the N.S.A. was gathering it in an unencrypted form as it passed between computers. More recently, Apple and Google have taken steps to encrypt mobile data by introducing fully encrypted cellphones.

Those moves prompted the F.B.I.’s director, James B. Comey, in a speech two weeks ago, to remark that the “post-Snowden pendulum” had “gone too far.”

But Admiral Rogers took a different tack in his speech on Monday, before an audience of students and faculty at Stanford, saying “a fundamentally strong Internet is in the best interest of the U.S.”

Increasingly encrypted products and services are “a challenge,” Admiral Rogers said. “And we’ll deal with it.”

He added that the agency had changed its approach to so-called zero-day vulnerabilities, which are undiscovered software bugs that could be exploited for espionage. In the past, the N.S.A. had actively searched for and bought zero-day bugs from defense contractors as well as hackers.

On Monday, Admiral Rogers said that when the agency discovered software bugs and vulnerabilities, “the default setting is if we become aware of a vulnerability, we share it.”

But he said there would be exceptions.

“There are some instances where we are not going to do that,” he said, declining to clarify what circumstances would warrant disclosure.

Admiral Rogers was making his second visit to Silicon Valley since he joined the N.S.A. last April. He said he would return every six months, both to engage technology executives in a dialogue about “what the N.S.A. is and what it is not” and also because the agency now competes with technology companies and start-ups for the same employees.

The days when the Defense Department drove technical innovation, he said, “are way behind us.”

He also pushed on Monday for better information-sharing between the intelligence community and private technology companies. Legislation that would set up a formal information-sharing system has stalled in Congress, facing objections from the private sector.

“It is unrealistic to expect the private sector to withstand the actions of nation-states,” Admiral Rogers said. “I think it is also unrealistic to expect the government to deal with this all by itself. How do we create the partnerships that allow us to work together as a team.”

A partnership with Silicon Valley corporations is likely to be an uphill battle. At a recent Apple event, Timothy D. Cook, the company’s chief executive, said that the company’s priority was to protect consumer privacy and that it would not loosen security or encryption for intelligence-gathering efforts.

“There’s been some comments from some law enforcement types that said, ‘Hey, this is not good, we don’t have the flexibility we had before,’ ” Mr. Cook said. “If law enforcement wants something they should go to the user and get it. It’s not for me to do that.”


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