White House press secretary Jay Carney on Thursday confirmed that National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander would step down early next year but downplayed suggestions his departure had anything to do with recent damaging leaks from Edward Snowden.
Carney said that Alexander had “spoken to the president about a number of weeks ago” and that his decision to retire was something he “indicated he would be doing.”
He added that Alexander’s tenure had been extended three times to continue as the chief of the surveillance agency.
Intelligence Committee senators on Wednesday confirmed to the Washington Examiner that Alexander would be departing, following initial reports from Reuters.
Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told the Examiner that Alexander would likely step down in April of 2014.
Alexander’s top deputy is also expected to step down early next month.
Alexander’s departure gives the administration the opportunity to shake up the embattled spy agency, which has faced congressional criticism and scrutiny following disclosures from former contractor Snowden that the NSA monitored phone and Internet data.
The administration has defended the NSA’s surveillance programs, with Alexander saying they thwarted terror attacks and saved lives. But lawmakers said they were not properly briefed on the extent of the surveillance and have vowed tougher oversight to ensure a proper balance between national security and the civil liberties of Americans.
President Obama has said he will take steps to make the intelligence communities operations more transparent to Capitol Hill.
Carney on Thursday defended the NSA, saying that its activities are “directed against … valid foreign intelligence targets.”
“The mission of the NSA is a foreign intelligence mission,” he said.