NSA’s Rogers Quiet on Apple-FBI Debate at RSA

NSA Director Admiral Michael Rogers spoke at RSA Conference about public-private cooperation and sharing, but failed to touch on the agency’s silence around the Apple-FBI debate.

SAN FRANCISCO—National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command director Admiral Michael S. Rogers stood before tens of thousands of RSA Conference attendees on Tuesday and asked for help.

In what has almost become a speaking slot reserved for the government to use as a recruiting pitch of some sort, Rogers laid out his case for enhanced cooperation between the public and private sectors and for Silicon Valley to help the government innovate.

What was lacking, however, from Rogers was any mention of the trust issues the tech and security communities may have with the NSA since Snowden. And unlike every other talk Tuesday morning at RSA, mention of the Apple-FBI debate did not cross Rogers’ lips.

Apple general counsel Bruce Sewell, meanwhile, testified before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday, which asked Apple if it could draft legislation that could satisfy both parties. Sewell said that while Apple could, it would rather Congress hash this out.

Rogers instead spoke many words about the dual mission of the NSA as a foreign intelligence and information assurance organization. Rogers also explained key objectives he had for both the NSA and Cyber Command in terms of staffing, training and strategy.

“We want to harness the private sector through partnerships and integration,” Rogers said. “One reason we are here is all of you. We believe in what you bring to this fight. We believe in the knowledge and innovation you help power. The power of partnerships generate the best outcomes for the department, the nation and all of you.”

Rogers explained initiatives under way to establish the NSA and Cyber Command with a presence in Silicon Valley and partnerships with Stanford University and Cal-Berkeley.

“We need to spend more time developing the workforce of the future, make it agile and respond to the world as it changes,” he said. We have got to step back and take knowledge from our offensive and defensive pieces and use them to both to generate better outcomes for both of our mission sets. It isn’t one or the other. We’re not all about foreign intelligence, or generating insights about threats, but also about harnessing knowledge to improve our defensive capabilities as a nation.”

While Rogers was a bit tone deaf expecting tacit cooperation between the security industry and an agency exposed by the Snowden documents to conduct dragnet collections of Americans’ data as well as subverting crypto standards and tools putting security and privacy at risk.

The Apple-FBI debate, meanwhile, puts more of an emphasis on the government’s thirst for data and simultaneously trying to balance privacy and civil liberties. Rogers, however, didn’t mention Apple, the FBI, Going Dark or much about the past two-and-a-half years.

“No solution is without risk; I acknowledge that,” Roger said. “But we want to minimize the risk to an acceptable level and be honest upfront about the risk. I implore that all of us be part of a constructive dialogue. It’s time to stop talking past each other and figure out how to work together to meet imperatives. It’s not one or the other.”

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