The Private Market Is Demolishing America’s Premiere Spying Agency

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Eric Lieberman Managing Editor
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Employees at the National Security Agency (NSA) are leaving in droves for the private sector mainly because of low morale and low pay.

“I do hear that people are increasingly leaving in large numbers and it is a combination of things that start with [morale] and there’s now much more money on the outside,” former NSA Director Keith Alexander said at a conference Tuesday, according to CyberScoop.

“I am honestly surprised that some of these people in cyber companies make up to seven figures. That’s five times what the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff makes. Right? And these are people that are 32 years old. Do the math. [The NSA] has great competition,” he continued.

Alexander also blames negative media coverage for low morale. Workers apparently aren’t as comfortable working for a government agency that has received so much criticism over the past years.

“You see politicians raising their phones saying ‘they’re listening to your phone calls, they’re reading your emails’ … what we did is enrage people,” Alexander said, reports CyberScoop. “We gave them that impression based on the way that it was reported across all of the media.”

Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee, famously defected from the U.S. after leaking incriminating classified information from the NSA. The disclosed data showed the pervasiveness of the government’s premiere spying agency, namely the extensiveness of privacy abuses that were authorized and conducted at the organization.

Current Director of the NSA Adm. Mike Rogers contended in 2015 that the employment climate at his agency isn’t as bad as people are saying, referencing a 96.7 workforce retention rate for the previous year, according to FedScoop.

“That is a great testament to the culture and the mission,” Rogers said. “We are motivated to no end, we have great respect for each other and we are dedicated to the idea of how we defend the nation in a lawful, accountable framework.”

But retention, which seems to be dipping since mid-2015, is vastly different than recruitment.

“Before the Snowden leaks we looked at the NSA as being a spy agency, and they did what they were supposed to do,” Matthew Green, a professor of computer science at John Hopkins University, told NPR in 2015. “But we’ve learned that they’re (sic) been collecting this incredible amount of information. And they’re not shy about doing whatever they have to do to get access to that information.”

Green says this moral dilemma is causing bright recent graduates to shy away from the NSA.

The ethical conflict compounded with the relatively low pay seems to create conspicuous reasoning for the exodus of talent.

But there may be even more to it. The NSA recently reorganized its own structure by combining the offensive intelligence team called the Tailored Access Operations (TAO) with the defensive-minded division known as the Information Assurance Directorate (IAD). (RELATED: The Internet Has Officially Become A Domain Of Warfare)

This new initiative, spearheaded by Rogers, may be complicating work processes and contributing to lower morale, unnamed sources tell CyberScoop.

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