National Security

NSA losing top talent: report

Highly skilled personnel at the National Security Agency (NSA) have reportedly been leaving the agency at a high rate.

The Washington Post reported that the agency has lost hundreds of hackers, engineers and data scientists since 2015.

The agency's top talent is leaving for a number of reasons, including low pay and morale and reorganization of the agency, according to the newspaper.

Among those who have left the agency, the newspaper reported, are individuals who were tasked with gathering data for the president's daily briefing and with monitoring issues such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and North Korea.

"Some synonym of the word 'epidemic' is the best way to describe it," said Ellison Anne Williams, a former senior researcher at the NSA who left in 2016.

Williams, who started her own data-security firm, told The Washington Post that more than 10 of her current employees are also from the NSA.

"The agency is losing an amazing amount of its strongest technical talent, and to lose your best and brightest staff is a huge hit," Williams added.

The NSA said its attrition rate among those specializing in science, technology and math is 5.6 percent, but, according to the newspaper, the agency's attrition rate for hackers and those working in the watch center is about 8 or 9 percent.

A senior intelligence official told The Washington Post that new staffers at the agency often do not have all the experience of those who left. 

A former employee said employees "tend to quit in packs."

"One person hits their breaking point, and once they leave, the dominoes start falling," the former official said.

An NSA spokesman said pay has been increased and other initiatives implemented to retain personnel.

And a former NSA official said that the agency "always recovers."

"Yes, people will leave, but there are things you can do there that you can't do anywhere else. It's for God and country," said Daniel Ennis, who oversaw the agency's threat operations center before retiring in 2015.

"NSA always recovers."