With the NSA reeling from Edward Snowden's leaks, its leader offered to step down—but the White House quickly put the kibosh on that idea, an administration source tells the Wall Street Journal. Gen. Keith Alexander's offer followed Snowden's entrance into the spotlight in June, notes the Journal in a report on the agency's woes as it tries to recalibrate after the "cataclysmic" revelations. "This is the hardest problem we've had to face in 62 years of existence," says the head of an NSA team tasked with reacting to the Snowden leaks.
The agency is now trying to rein in some of its activities without so hobbling itself that it affects national security. With Alexander set to leave in the spring, a civilian could take his job for the first time. And the section of the Patriot Act allowing US phone-record collection expires in a year and a half; any renewed version of the law would have to take lawmakers' privacy concerns into account. The White House may look to institute a means of comparing the political and diplomatic risks of a particular case of spying to its potential benefits, insiders tell the Journal. That could be a difficult process for intelligence teams, which "tend to be remarkably apolitical," notes Sen. Susan Collins. (Read more NSA stories.)