NSA Head Meets With Trump Team But Doesn't Give Obama A Heads Up
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And a lot of people have been paying Donald Trump a visit at Trump Tower in New York City, mostly people being considered for jobs in the new administration. But one meeting stands out. Navy Admiral Mike Rogers sat down with Trump. He is head of the National Security Agency. He's in the military chain of command. And it appears he never told the current commander in chief he was doing this. Author and columnist James Bamford writes about the intelligence community and says it is hard to underestimate the role Rogers plays.
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, he has the - really the most important job basically in history in terms of intelligence.
GREENE: But many feel Rogers has not done the best job at NSA. Documents and spy tools have been stolen, and he's come under criticism for not stemming the influence of terrorist groups online.
BAMFORD: The administration was not overly happy with his work deterring ISIS.
GREENE: Nevertheless, Bamford says Trump could be considering Rogers to be his next director of national intelligence.
Was it appropriate for someone who is within the military chain of command to meet with the incoming president without telling the current commander in chief?
BAMFORD: I don't know what the rules are, but it certainly is unethical, I would think, to quietly sneak off to New York and meet with an incoming administration without even having the courtesy of telling them that you're going to do it.
GREENE: Might that tell us something about tensions that exist between Mike Rogers and President Obama?
BAMFORD: I've never seen that there's really that much in terms of tensions. I think there was disappointment in his tenure, and they were about to fire him. You know, there are two things that he could have gone up to New York for. One was to see if he could keep his current job, and the second thing would be to take the director of National Intelligence. That was really the only two options he had open to him.
GREENE: It sounds like, though, that his firing might have been something that was very much under way. You're saying that this meeting with Trump is not something that really precipitated or sped up the process in President Obama's mind.
BAMFORD: No. From what I understand, his head was on the chopping block before the election.
GREENE: Why would Donald Trump want someone in his administration who is viewed as failing in many ways during his tenure?
BAMFORD: It's an interesting question. I don't know. He'd have to see who else is out there. The real odd situation is the fact that Admiral Rogers has come out recently and said that he was convinced that it was Russia that launched the DNC attack. So that goes completely opposite to what the Trump people have been saying.
GREENE: Downplaying Russia's involvement, yeah.
BAMFORD: Right. He's been saying that there isn't that much evidence and so forth. So that would make for an interesting conversation during that time in New York.
GREENE: This could be passed off as sort of an internal Washington power struggle, but it sounds like there's a lot at stake here.
BAMFORD: Well, there's a tremendous amount at stake because I think this is where things are going to happen. It's going to happen with cyber, I think, under a Trump administration. I mean, he's come out and said he doesn't want to put boots on the ground in the Middle East. But what he did was he put General Flynn in as his national security adviser, and one of the...
GREENE: General Mike Flynn, yeah, the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
BAMFORD: Exactly. And General Flynn, when he was head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, he was very adamant on increasing enormously the manpower of intelligence. It would be double what they had. And it would have been basically a competition with the CIA, and that's one of the reasons he was fired.
GREENE: Well, that points to a real question then of what we expect from Donald Trump. I mean, we learned so much from the Edward Snowden situation about the NSA and its power to collect information about people around the world and also within the United States. I mean, what will a President Donald Trump mean for those kinds of programs?
BAMFORD: Well, a lot of the restrictions that have been placed on the U.S. use of NSA were executive orders, and they could be just overturned with the use of a pen.
GREENE: So this could be Mike Rogers perhaps going and saying, hey, President-elect Trump, I'm in that group. I'm on board with you.
BAMFORD: Oh, exactly, yeah. So that's why NSA and cyber-command both under the same person are going to be enormously important players in the Trump administration.
GREENE: OK. James Bamford is a columnist for Foreign Policy, and he's the author of "The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA From 9/11 To The Eavesdropping On America." Thanks so much for coming in.
BAMFORD: My pleasure, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.