NSA Looks Outside Agency for Leadership

WASHINGTON (07/24/2000) - Last October, 19 mid-level managers at the U.S.

National Security Agency told NSA's director, Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden, that the spy agency "has been in a leadership crisis for the better part of a decade."

As part of its laundry list of recommendations to help transition the agency from its Cold War footing and make it more responsive to its Information Age customers, the New Enterprise Team, or NETeam, recommended that Hayden hire an industry consultant to help reshape the agency.

Hayden may have done just that this month when he nominated William Black Jr., a former NSA employee who has been working in the high-tech industry, to become the agency's next deputy director.

Black's nomination marks the second time in seven months that NSA has looked outside the agency for a senior executive. In April, the agency tapped an investment banker to be the agency's chief financial officer.

Black, who is the director of Special Programs within the Advanced Technologies and Solutions Group at Science Applications International Corp., retired from the agency in 1997 after a 38-year career working to improve intelligence support to the military. Pending approval, Black will replace Barbara McNamara, who left NSA in April to become the Special United States Liaison Officer in London.

The NETeam's classified report identified lack of leadership and a tendency to fill key posts based on rank instead of qualifications as two of NSA's most pressing problems. It also recommended creating an executive leadership team to assess NSA's business environment, monitor performance and ensure that strategic business decisions are carried out. Intelligence experts say Black's nomination appears to be geared toward those objectives.

"As those of us who have made the [government-to-business] transition have learned, the two cultures are profoundly different," said a former CIA officer.

"You have to live in the business world - total immersion, no lifelines - to understand it. SAIC is an excellent place to learn such lessons."

An SAIC spokesperson said Black served as a "valuable liaison" between SAIC and many of its government customers.

It may have been Hayden's intent to fill the slot with an "industry type," but Steven Aftergood, an intelligence expert with the Federation of American Scientists, said he's not convinced that three years at SAIC gives Black a great deal of industry experience. "His impact will depend more on his personal abilities than on his rèsumè," he said.

The nomination of someone from outside the agency may indicate internal difficulties in grooming future leaders within the agency, Aftergood said. In fact, the NETeam report concluded that NSA has "no means of ensuring a steady pipeline of future leaders."

"I am struck by the practice of re-hiring retirees," Aftergood said. "It suggests to me that the agencies are not successfully producing a new generation of leaders within their own ranks."

A spokesperson for NSA said Hayden "did not want to limit his search" for the agency' s deputy director by looking only within NSA. Black "has proven experience in transforming organizations and incorporating new technologies," the spokesperson said, adding that Black is "well-versed in the challenges facing NSA in the Information Age."

Leaders who gain experience exclusively within the intelligence community may not always be able to deal with external pressures, said a former CIA officer who left the agency at age 40. "I'm not sure that it's possible to "grow your own' in such circumstances, at least not without kicking them out of the nest for a while, letting them learn what the larger world is like," he said.

Black's experience may be an attempt to bring some reality to NSA, said Robert Steele, a former CIA officer who left government to start his own private intelligence firm, Open Source Solutions Inc.

"The U.S. intelligence community is a priceless national treasure," Steele said. "But it is one that has become much too encrusted with the barnacles and overgrowth that come from living in a secret bunker at the bottom of the sea for too long."

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