The National Security Agency (NSA) is believed to be risking a substantial talent exodus over concerns about the strained relationship between the intelligence community (IC) and President Donald Trump. Low morale as well as an ongoing reorganisation within the spy agency is also reportedly causing many of its hackers and spies to leave for greener pastures.
According to current and former NSA officials, and a few cybersecurity executives, there has been a marked increase in NSA employees seeking jobs in the private sector since Trump took office, Reuters reported. An unnamed security executive in the private sector claimed that he was "stunned" by the talent of the recent prospective recruits.
Executives claimed that would-be recruits were coming in from a wide variety of government and intelligence agencies and that their motivation in seeking employment partially stemmed from concerns over the direction of the US intelligence agencies under the Trump administration.
Several of NSA's top officials, who plan to leave or have already left – including the agency's cyber defence head Curtis Dukes and NSA deputy director Richard Ledgett – claimed that their departures were unrelated to Trump or the reorganisation.
"Morale is as low as I've ever seen it," said a former senior NSA official, who is in close contact with current employees.
According to some former and current NSA officials, the reorganisation – called NSA21 – is one of the primary reasons that led to the departure of some talented employees. It is believed to have commenced in 2016 and is aimed at merging the agency's digital spying and domestic cybersecurity operations.
According to NSA director Mike Rogers, the two-year reorganisation involves expansion of human resources and business development departments to bring them at par with research and engineering and ensure "that we're using all of our resources to maximum effect to accomplish our mission".
The new changes have allegedly left employees rethinking about their role and missions. According to former NSA officials, the reorganisation has failed to address concerns that the NSA is lagging behind in exploiting tech breakthroughs achieved by the private sector.
Another ex-NSA official maintained that he had been told by three current employees that there was little money for promotions due to budget issues.
However, speaking about reports of employee departures, an NSA spokesman said, "During this time the economy has been recovering from the recession, unemployment rates have been falling and the demand for highly skilled technical talent has been increasing."
NSA HR chief Kathy Hutson said that the agency continues to "attract amazing talent necessary to conduct the security mission the nation needs".
Former NSA lawyer Susan Hennessey noted that the stress caused by the reorganisation has likely been aggravated by Trump's recent criticisms of the IC. "[The] tone coming from the White House makes an already difficult situation worse, by eroding the sense of common purpose and service," she said.
Hennessey added that a drain of talented personnel "would represent an incalculable loss to national security".