NSA to Lay Off 90% of IT System Admins

"What we're in the process of doing - not fast enough - is reducing our system administrators by about 90 percent,” said NSA head General Keith Alexander told a cybersecurity conference in New York City, according to Reuters. He added that the agency has been planning to automate many of the sysadmin functions for some time, "that machines are probably better at doing.” Post-Snowden, the automation efforts are being expedited.

Snowden of course took advantage of his role as a sysadmin to collect the information that he eventually leaked. While he didn’t mention Snowden by name, Alexander noted that the strategy would make the NSA infrastructure "more defensible and more secure.”

Previously, "what we've done is we've put people in the loop of transferring data, securing networks and doing things that machines are probably better at doing," Alexander said.

The news follows a previously announced plan to implement a “two-man” rule. The NSA will begin requiring that a second person approves any attempt to access sensitive information: the equivalent of requiring two sets of keys to unlock a safe.

Despite these efforts, some stress that thorough vetting of staff should remain the primary goal. “Wouldn’t it be easier to scrub all your ITs for security issues,” said John Schindler, a former NSA counterintelligence officer, told the New York Times, “and see if there is another Snowden?”

Snowden, who has sought asylum in Russia, is being characterized as everything from whistleblower to traitor to, now, “defector.” Retired Gen. Michael Hayden, the former NSA and CIA director, styled Snowden as such, noting that “traitor” is a narrowly defined concept that doesn’t fit Snowden completely.

“We used to have a word, for somebody who stole our secrets, who got the job to steal our secrets, and then he moved to a foreign country with those secrets and made them public,” Hayden said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “It wasn’t ‘whistleblower.’ It was ‘defector.’ And I actually think that’s a very good word for him.”

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