Gen. Keith Alexander stepped down from the leadership of the National Security Agency (NSA) on Friday, amid turbulence at the embattled spy agency.
In a ceremony at the agency’s Fort Meade, Md., headquarters, Alexander formally relinquished control of the agency after a nearly nine-year tenure and nearly 40-year military career.
The NSA chief has become a divisive figure in recent months, after revelations from former agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed details about the government’s snooping operations. Critics have claimed that he has tried to withhold information from the American people and has overseen unconstitutional operations that spy on the public.
The disclosures, he said, have put members of the military is harm’s way.
In remarks at the retirement event, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel praised Alexander for leading the NSA “through one of the most challenging periods in its history, in our history.”
“And he did so with a fierce, but necessary determination to develop and protect tools vital to our national security,” Hagel added.
Alexander’s retirement makes way for Vice Adm. Mike Rogers, a longtime cryptologist nominated by President Obama in January. As the leader of the NSA, Rogers would also be tasked with leading the U.S. Cyber Command, a post for which he needs Senate confirmation.
The Senate Armed Services Committee approved Rogers’s nomination on Wednesday, sending him to the full chamber. There, he could face opposition from critics of the spy agency’s operations.
The leadership transition comes at a critical moment for the spy agency.
President Obama this week unveiled a proposal to end the agency’s collection of records about Americans’ phone calls, one of the most controversial revealed in documents Snowden leaked. The proposal now heads to Capitol Hill, where lawmakers will battle to finalize language.