NSA director Keith Alexander and his top deputy will depart soon, according to reports from Reuters and other news agencies that first broke yesterday afternoon.  John Inglis will retire at the end of the year, and Alexander will follow his deputy out the door by spring 2014:

The director of the U.S. National Security Agency and his deputy are expected to depart in the coming months, U.S. officials said on Wednesday, in a development that could give President Barack Obama a chance to reshape the eavesdropping agency….

Alexander has formalized plans to leave by next March or April, while his civilian deputy, John “Chris” Inglis, is due to retire by year’s end, according to U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

UPI reports that the date will be March rather than April:

U.S. National Security Agency chief Gen. Keith Alexander, who has steadfastly defended NSA mass surveillance, plans to retire in five months, the agency said.

Alexander, who will be 62 then, is expected to leave the main producer and manager of U.S. signals intelligence in March, NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said Wednesday in a statement to United Press International.

Alexander, appointed to the NSA spot in 2005 by George W. Bush administration Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, “served well beyond a normal rotation, having been ‘extended’ three times,” Vines told UPI.

And this has nothing to do with the exposure of the NSA’s operations, right? Riiiiiiiiiight:

Alexander’s departure “has nothing to do with media leaks,” Vines’ statement to UPI said.

The lengthy departure arc may tend to corroborate that, but it’s also true that NSA Director is a position that needs something more than the usual two-week notice.  It would also be unusual for both of the top positions to cycle out in such a short time frame for the same reason, though, which makes it look as though the DoD wants to get the current regime out of the way.  Reuters notes that the Pentagon already has a list of potential successors:

One leading candidate to replace Alexander is Vice Admiral Michael Rogers, currently commander of the U.S. Navy’s 10th Fleet and U.S. Fleet Cyber Command, officials told Reuters. The 10th Fleet and Fleet Cyber Command both have their headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, between Washington and Baltimore. The NSA is also headquartered at Fort Meade.

There has been no final decision on selecting Rogers to succeed Alexander, and other candidates may be considered, the officials said.

It’s surprising that it took this long to replace Alexander.  The NSA Director destroyed his own credibility and that of the agency after the leaks exposed his previous Congressional testimony as misleading.

In other NSA news, it looks like the agency does a little more than just listen — but in this case, I don’t think Americans will mind quite as much:

The NSA is “focused on discovering and developing intelligence about valid foreign intelligence targets,” an NSA spokeswoman said in a statement provided to The Post on Wednesday, adding that the agency’s operations “protect the nation and its interests from threats such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”

In the search for targets, the NSA has draped a surveillance blanket over dozens of square miles of northwest Pakistan. In Ghul’s case, the agency deployed an arsenal of cyber-espionage tools, secretly seizing control of laptops, siphoning audio files and other messages, and tracking radio transmissions to determine where Ghul might “bed down.”

The e-mail from Ghul’s wife “about her current living conditions” contained enough detail to confirm the coordinates of that household, according to a document summarizing the mission. “This information enabled a capture/kill operation against an individual believed to be Hassan Ghul on October 1,” it said.

The file is part of a collection of records in the Snowden trove that make clear that the drone campaign — often depicted as the CIA’s exclusive domain — relies heavily on the NSA’s ability to vacuum up enormous quantities of e-mail, phone calls and other fragments of signals intelligence, or SIGINT.

In other news, water is wet and rain falls from the sky. Did we need the Snowden theft to figure this out?  The NSA is the premier American SIGINT agency, and we have used SIGINT to track terrorists since before we picked up Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone (and then blew that information).  It doesn’t take too much math to add this up, does it?

The issues with the drone program stand or fall on the drone program, not the SIGINT collection that drives it.  The NSA’s explicit mission is to capture foreign communications for other intel, military, and national-security purposes. Exposing the how-to in this case doesn’t inform us in any significant manner on the drone program, nor on abuses at NSA regarding domestic surveillance.  Maybe our media outlets might consider that the next time they’re tempted to write a story about the NSA.