The head of the National Security Agency stepped down Friday — without once uttering the name of spy secrets leaker Edward Snowden, whose massive revelations shocked the nation and rocked the spy agency.
Military veteran Gen. Keith Alexander formally relinquished control after nine years at the helm of the NSA in a ceremony at the NSA’s Fort Meade, Md., headquarters.
Alexander quoted General Douglas MacArthur’s thoughts on patriotism, morality and service from his 1962 retirement speech at West Point, calling them “especially applicable with all that has gone on in the past year,” the Guardian reported.
It was the only reference to Snowden’s spy secrets leaks.
“Thanks for protecting our nation. Thanks for protecting our civil liberties and privacy. Thanks for doing your job when many others would have walked away,” Alexander said, the British newspaper reported.
Though Alexander is credited with expanding the agency’s powers and influence, his tenure will likely be better remembered for the agency’s spying dragnets around the globe that were leaked through documents handed over to the Guardian, the Washington Post and other news outlets.
Defense secretary Chuck Hagel said the leaks had created “one of the most challenging periods” in the NSA’s history, though director of national intelligence James Clapper said he’d “never heard him complain,” the Guardian reported.
General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, compared Alexander to James Bond.
“Can anyone guess what number he keeps on his parking spot at Fort Meade?” Dempsey said. “007.”
Peter Singer, a cybersecurity scholar at the Brookings Institution, told the Guardian Alexander’s successor, Vice Admiral Michael Rogers, faces “an immense uphill battle in the post-Snowden, post-Alexander world.”
“It’s good that we’re now selling a message of restraint, but it’s not clear the rest of the world is going to buy it,” he told the newspaper.
Critics have claimed Alexander has tried to withhold information from the American people and overseen unconstitutional operations, The Hill noted.
In a Fox News interview earlier in the week, Alexander predicted the leaks would “haunt” Snowden “for the rest of his life.”
President Obama has unveiled a proposal to end the NSA’s phone data collection; the proposal now heads to Capitol Hill.
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