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NSA Director: A Foreign Leader Conducting State Business on a Private Server Would Be an Intel 'Opportunity

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“You really want to drag me into this one?”

National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers, FBI Director James Comey and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart arrive before testifying about 'World Wide Cyber Threats' during an open hearing of the House (Select) Intelligence Committee at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center September 10, 2015 in Washington, DC. Clapper said that the budget uncertainty of sequestration has posed a challenge to how the United States faces cyber attacks from countries like China that could undermine U.S. economic competitiveness and national security. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers told the Senate Intelligence Committee that, if a rival country’s foreign minister kept a private email server, it would represent an “opportunity” for U.S. intelligence.

Rogers, named to the top NSA spot by President Barack Obama in April 2014, was reluctant to enter the political row over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server, which is under investigation by the FBI over concerns it contained classified information.

National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers arrives to testify at House Intelligence Committee hearing at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 10. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

During the committee hearing Thursday, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) asked, “If an NSA employee came to you and said, ‘Hey, boss, we have reason to believe that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov or Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is conducting official business on a private server,’ how would you respond?"

“From a foreign intelligence perspective, that represents opportunity,” Rogers said.

But it was a topic Rogers was anything but eager to discuss. When Cotton asked what Rogers' response would be if a cabinet member said, "Adm. Rogers, I'd like to set up a private, non-governmental server and use that to conduct official business," he responded, “You really want to drag me into this one?”

Rogers, also the commander of U.S. Cyber Command, then told Cotton that he would tell the person to "make sure you are complying with the applicable recommendations and structures for your department" but added that he was not familiar with every agency's guideline.

Here is the full exchange between Cotton and Rogers:

Cotton: “The NSA is in charge of information assurance operations for the federal government, meaning that the NSA is in charge of ensuring our national security system. Am I correct the NSA from time to time will also help federal agencies protect their own classified systems?”

Rogers: “Yes, when they request assistance.”

Cotton: “I realize this was before your time, but to your knowledge, did the State Department ever ask the NSA about the wisdom of setting up a private server so Secretary Clinton could conduct official State Department business.”

Rogers: “I’m not aware of whether they did or didn’t sir.”

Cotton: “What would be your response if the current secretary of state or another cabinet member came to you and said Adm. Rogers, I’d like to set up a private non-governmental server and use that to conduct official business?”

Rogers: “You really want to drag me into this one?”

Cotton: “I’d simply like your professional opinion.”

Rogers: “My comment would be: You need to make sure you are complying with the applicable recommendations and structures of your department. I’d be the first to admit I’m not smart about what the rules and regulations are for every element across the federal government.”

Cotton: “Are the communications of the senior most advisors to the president of the United States, even those that may be unclassified, a top priority for foreign intelligence service in your opinion?”

Rogers: “Yes.”

Cotton: “If an NSA employee came to you and said, hey boss, we have reason to believe that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov or Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is conducting official business on a private server, how would you respond?”

Rogers: “From a foreign intelligence perspective, that represents opportunity.”

Cotton: “Are you aware of any NSA officials who emailed Secretary Clinton at her private account?”

Rogers: “No, I have no knowledge. I apologize.”

Cotton: “Are you aware of any NSA officials who were aware that Secretary Clinton had a private email account and server?”

Rogers: “Now you are talking about something before my time senator. I apologize. I just don’t know the answer.”

Cotton: “Could I ask you to check the records and get back to us in writing please?”

Rogers: “Yes.”

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