Congress considers Senate confirmation for NSA chief

U.S. Army Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency and commander of U.S. Cyber Command, speaks during a conference at the Ronald Reagan Building, October 30,2013 in Washington, DC.
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The Senate Intelligence Committee last week advanced a plan to make the next National Security Agency chief subject to Senate confirmation, a move designed to increase transparency and accountability within the NSA in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks.

The proposal was included as part of the committee's 2014 intelligence funding bill, which the committee approved by a 13-2 vote. A number of lawmakers have expressed interest in the idea, even though the White House in the past has opposed the idea, Politico reports. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., a strong transparency advocate, told Politico that requiring Senate confirmation for the NSA chief is a "long overdue measure."

When Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, pushed the idea in 2011, the Obama administration responded that it "strongly" objected because if passed, "a critical national security position would likely remain unfilled for a significant period of time, adversely impacting the management and function of the National Security Agency."

However, the administration is considering naming a civilian to lead the NSA, The Hill reports, and has drafted a list of possible civilian candidates. If it made that move, U.S. Cyber Command would fall under a different leader. White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told The Hill this is a "natural point" to re-consider the NSA director's role.

Currently, Army Gen. Keith Alexander serves as both the NSA director and head of U.S. Cyber Command, but he is scheduled to retire in the spring of next year.

Alexander has been invited to testify next week before the Senate Judiciary Committee in a hearing titled "Continued Oversight of U.S. Government Surveillance Authorities." Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., recently introduced a bill called the USA FREEDOM Act, which would curb the NSA's sweeping surveillance programs.