Turmoil at Pentagon in Transition to Trump Administration

Admiral Michael Rogers, head of the US Cyber Command, testifies at a Feb. 9 congressional hearing in Washington. He has warned of cyber attacks against US power systems. (AP photo/Alex Brandon)
Admiral Michael Rogers, head of the US Cyber Command, testifies at a Feb. 9 congressional hearing in Washington. He has warned of cyber attacks against US power systems. (AP photo/Alex Brandon)

The Pentagon has pledged a swift and orderly transition to the new administration even as outgoing Defense Secretary Ashton Carter reportedly is moving to sack cyber and intelligence chief Adm. Mike Rogers, who met with President-elect Donald Trump last week.

Carter also has come under fire from the heads of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, who have warned against any "midnight" moves on personnel and policies intended to freeze in place Obama administration programs before the new team can take over.

At a Pentagon briefing Tuesday, Press Secretary Peter Cook acknowledged that Carter and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had recommended to President Obama that U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, both headed by Rogers, be split up.

Cook declined comment on reports that Carter and Clapper wanted Rogers dismissed before the breakup of the agencies.

"I'm not going to discuss any of the private conversations between the secretary of defense and the president of the United States," Cook said while essentially confirming that Carter and Clapper have pushed for splitting up NSA and Cyber Command.

"The secretary has said publicly in the past that it has been worthwhile to look at the structure in place right now to make sure that it is as effective as possible in dealing with the evolving threat this country faces, and that's a review that the president and others have acknowledged as well," Cook said.

Last week, Rogers went to Trump Tower in Manhattan to meet with the president-elect. The Washington Post later reported that Carter and Clapper urged Obama to remove Rogers as the dual-hatted head of Cyber Command and the NSA. Rogers is under consideration by Trump to replace Clapper as director of national intelligence, the Post reported.

Following the Post report, Rep. Devin Nunes, head of the House Intelligence Committee, defended Rogers and said he was considering a hearing on the breakup of the NSA and Cyber Command. "I have been consistently impressed with his leadership and accomplishments," Nunes said of Rogers in a letter to Carter and Clapper.

At the Halifax International Security Forum last weekend, Rogers said, "I'm accountable for my actions" but declined comment on whether he was being pressed to step down.

"I'm not going to go down that road," he said.

Rep. Mac Thornberry, a Texas Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, have warned Carter against attempting to make major changes in his last days in office.

In a letter to Carter, McCain said, "I write to urge you to suspend all efforts on the development and implementation of rules and regulations at the Department of Defense that would change long-standing policy, including with regard to military personnel ratings, standards, uniforms, job titles, and related issues.

In a statement, Thornberry said, "I am concerned by press reports that the Obama Administration is considering changing the relationship between U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, as well as their leadership, on its way out the door. The new administration should have the opportunity to review the situation and to make any decisions."

At the Pentagon briefing, Cook said he did not know whether Carter had seen McCain's letter but added that Carter will continue to "carry out his obligations as secretary of defense, continue to serve this commander in chief, and do what he thinks is appropriate and necessary for the Department of Defense."

Trump's transition team for the Defense Department is being led by retired Army Lt. Gen. Joseph "Keith" Kellogg, a Vietnam veteran who endorsed Trump last summer; Mira Ricardel, a former Boeing executive and former acting assistant secretary of defense for international security policy in the George W. Bush administration; and retired Army Brig. Gen. Michael Meese, an adviser to Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Meese is the son of Edwin Meese, the former attorney general in the Reagan administration and now a member of the Trump transition team.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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