Anne Neuberger’s ascent to national security eminence has been a steady, impressive climb. Her eight-year tour through the National Security Agency has culminated in a powerful position in President Joe Biden’s National Security Council, where she helps guide national cybersecurity policy.
Since 2007, Neuberger’s rapid rise through some of the most secretive and consequential components of the U.S. global surveillance machinery earned her a reputation as a hyper-capable operator where the government most needs one. While her work has earned public plaudits, The Intercept learned Neuberger’s tenure at the NSA triggered a 2014 internal investigation by the agency’s inspector general following allegations that she created a hostile workplace by inappropriately berating, undermining, and alienating her colleagues. In 2015, the inspector general’s report found that there was not enough evidence to sustain allegations that Neuberger fostered a hostile work environment, but it did conclude that she violated NSA policy by disrespecting colleagues.
In the first of a series of letters to the inspector general in advance of the 2015 report, Neuberger denied the allegations against her. “I strongly disagree with the tentative conclusions of the OIG inquiry (that I sometimes failed to exercise courtesy and respect in dealing with fellow workers),” she wrote. “I firmly believe that I treated everyone with the respect and courtesy they deserved.” Neuberger argued the complaints and the investigation reflected gender bias in a department with employees resentful of being led by a woman — especially one, agency officials pointed out in the report, tasked with curbing politically risky programs in the wake of scandals sparked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Almost a decade later, a new allegation of misconduct against Neuberger emerged from the White House, The Intercept’s investigation found. The allegation fit a pattern of behavior established in the inspector general’s findings, this time involving an incident that took place in full view of a visiting delegation from a foreign ally.
The 2015 NSA inspector general’s report and details of the recent complaint — neither of which have been previously reported — not only complicate Neuberger’s public national security star persona, but also offer further evidence of serious discord at the top of American cybersecurity policy. Beyond revealing Neuberger’s alleged interpersonal and managerial shortcomings, the inspector general’s report provides a rare, unflattering self-examination of the post-Snowden NSA as an HR nightmare filled with competing egos, long-standing rivalries, mutual distrust, and ample pettiness.
“We need an absolutely efficient, agile, and well integrated leadership team at the White House and in the major federal agencies, and we don’t have that.”
Attempts to form a cohesive cyberdefense policy at a national scale in the U.S. have long been undermined by turf wars, with multiple agencies, offices, and even branches of government laying claim to overlapping responsibilities. With the National Security Council’s privileged proximity to the president himself, discord within the NSC could particularly jeopardize the country’s ability to nimbly recognize and counter emerging and existing digital threats — a concern echoed by multiple sources with whom The Intercept spoke.
“We recognize that we’re extremely vulnerable; our adversaries are increasing their capabilities month over month,” a former senior U.S. cybersecurity official told The Intercept, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter. The former official cited the intertwined work of offices like the national cyber director and agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. “We need an absolutely efficient, agile, and well integrated leadership team at the White House and in the major federal agencies, and we don’t have that. NSC, NCD, NSA, and CISA need to operate in a well-integrated manner, and this kind of friction introduces risk and consequences for national security of our critical infrastructure systems. This matters.”
The allegations uncovered by The Intercept dovetail with a recent Bloomberg article indicating Neuberger’s management style was largely to blame for the February resignation of Chris Inglis, the first U.S. national cyber director and a former NSA deputy director broadly liked by his peers. According to Bloomberg, Inglis said Neuberger withheld information and undermined him as he tried to set the direction of the country’s cybersecurity strategy.
“Chris is deeply thoughtful and smart. He and I disagreed on encryption and surveillance issues, but he always argued with integrity,” Tufts University professor Susan Landau, a scholar of cybersecurity policy, told The Intercept. “I was really sorry to see him leave the national cybersecurity director position.”
Almost eight years after the NSA investigation into Neuberger, in the autumn of 2022, a senior official with CISA filed a complaint about Neuberger, according to three sources familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The employee alleged Neuberger, by then on detail to the National Security Council, pointed at the door and ordered her out like a child during a meeting with U.S. cybersecurity colleagues and a delegation of visiting Indian government officials. The sources conveyed dismay about the encounter, particularly because of the strategic partnership between the U.S. and India on cybersecurity issues. (CISA declined to comment on the record for this story. Neuberger and the White House did not respond to inquiries.)
The Inspector General Report
Before Neuberger became a Biden-era staple of the think tank and media conference circuit, she was a senior official at the NSA, where she ran an office collaborating with the American private sector. Several years into her career, in 2014, the NSA investigated Neuberger, by then its chief risk officer, to determine whether she had fostered a hostile work environment.
The allegations are detailed in a 54-page report, released internally in June 2015 by the agency’s Office of the Inspector General. The report outlines numerous complaints that Neuberger verbally abused and undermined her colleagues, according to a partially redacted copy provided to The Intercept through a Freedom of Information Act request. The report had previously been released by the NSA following a FOIA lawsuit by the journalist Jason Leopold. Complainants made repeated allegations ranging from Neuberger berating co-workers to blocking colleagues from accessing important information. Though her name is redacted throughout, a source familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity confirmed Neuberger was the subject of the report. (The NSA declined to comment.)
The NSA inspector general’s office did not find a “preponderance of evidence” to support the hostile workplace claims, but the report noted that Neuberger violated NSA policy because she “failed to exercise courtesy and respect in dealings with fellow workers.” The report said her “conduct had a negative impact on the work environment and individuals (e.g. people were sometimes left feeling ‘savaged’ and ‘practically in tears,’ shaking and afraid, skittish and scared).”
Many of the testimonies in the report describe the post-Snowden NSA of 2014 in a state of disarray. In 2013, after Snowden blew the whistle on the reach and power of the NSA’s secret surveillance, the agency was embarrassed by outrage from foreign allies and Americans alike; calls for reforms grew in Washington. In the report the following year, Neuberger is criticized for “risk aversion” — what her superiors told the inspector general were moves to protect the NSA from “political risk.”
Testimony from Richard Ledgett, NSA deputy director at the time, suggests that Neuberger’s caution arose from his and other top officials’ orders. “NSA must ensure that anything that is questioned by the public is able to be fully explained,” the inspector general’s report on Ledgett’s testimony says. There were “cowboys” at the agency, Ledgett said, and the orders would have rankled some NSA veterans. (Ledgett did not respond to a request for comment.)
Whatever Neuberger’s contribution to the dysfunction, the report sheds light on painfully low morale and general aimlessness among agency staff in the wake of Snowden’s disclosures. “I don’t know what our mission is anymore to be honest,” one employee complained in the report. For Neuberger’s defenders cited in the report, this generally dismal post-Snowden mood was exculpatory evidence concerning her conduct. One NSA employee’s sworn testimony described a redacted office within the agency as a “cesspool of misery and losers, a dead weight environment,” and argued those who accused Neuberger of abusive behavior “lack marketable skills and would have a hard time being gainfully employed elsewhere.”
Far from being a managerial menace, Neuberger’s defenders argue, she was the victim of a gendered “mutiny” by a cadre of bitter NSA men who resented her meteoric rise and efforts to balance the agency’s risk. According to one anonymous account reported by the inspector general, Neuberger was told by a co-worker that “there was a ‘cabal,’ a group of white men that were resistant to [Neuberger] and did not like the changes she was making.”
A separate high-ranking official who also used the word “cabal” described it as a “‘secret society’ that went to the [deputy director] to get [Neuberger] fired.” The cabal’s efforts culminated in what would come to be known inside the NSA as the “mutiny letter.” The emailed catalog of grievances against Neuberger was sent to Teresa Shea, who at the time ran the agency’s much-vaunted Signals Intelligence Directorate, the office that oversees the agency’s global spying efforts, and later forwarded to Ledgett, then NSA deputy director.
In her letter responding to the inspector general’s findings, Neuberger defended her conduct by claiming she’d been warned in disparaging terms about her office and told to whip them into shape. “Prior to taking my job as the chief of [redacted],” Neuberger wrote, “I was told by multiple people that [redacted] was a ‘pit of snakes’ where ‘seniors who can’t get along with anyone else go to spend the rest of their careers.’” Shea and her deputy had criticized Neuberger’s new team as being of “little value” and “useless to mission,” Neuberger added: “They told me they wanted to see change and significant change.” (Shea did not respond to a request for comment.)
“Some People Didn’t Like That”
After serving for three years as a special assistant to Gen. Keith Alexander, who ran the NSA from 2005 to 2014, Neuberger worked at the Commercial Solutions Center, a highly sensitive office that overtly works with and covertly sabotages private-sector technology companies. Following that stint, Neuberger was named the NSA’s first chief risk officer: essentially a post-Snowden damage-control position manned by a loyal lieutenant to Alexander. The NSA needed its corporate partners, but those corporations had been embarrassed when their hand-in-hand work with the cyberspooks was made public in Snowden’s disclosures. Neuberger, who had experience both directly in the private sector and dealing with outside companies from inside the NSA’s Commercial Solutions Center, would seem on paper to be a perfect person to repair those relationships.
The relationships that seem to have never been mended were Neuberger’s with her colleagues. Following her flat-out denial of the inspector general’s findings, Neuberger seemed to have moved on — and eventually upward, to the White House. Neuberger had said in her letter to the inspector general that her work ethic had rubbed colleagues the wrong way.
“I worked at all times to be respectful and to listen to folks’ views,” she wrote. “However, I also held folks accountable. Some people didn’t like that.”
“When [Neuberger] was announced as [redacted] Chief there was immediate angst due to her ‘horrible reputation.’”
Neuberger’s formal response to the findings, the letters included in the report itself, argued the allegations about her management were caused by a mix of garden-variety sexism and resistance to her attempts to change workplace culture: “I believe the complaints on style were reflective to a great extent on both that change in approach and, to some extent, perhaps, a gender bias, where a woman (and younger one to boot) who holds people accountable and is direct may be viewed as a challenge.”
Though Neuberger may have butted heads with a contingent of stubborn, ossified men at the agency, women made up some of her fiercest critics in the report.
“She is not surprised by concerns about the work environment and morale in [redacted],” the inspector general reported of an anonymous woman’s testimony. “When [Neuberger] was announced as [redacted] Chief there was immediate angst due to her ‘horrible reputation.’”
This female employee added that Neuberger “alienated people,” “lacks understanding of how government and the Agency work,” and that “her delivery can be off putting, as she tends to say ‘me, me, me’ rather than ‘us.’” The CISA official who leveled the 2022 allegation of misconduct against Neuberger is also a woman.
“Please God, Just Get Another Leader in Here”
The role of inspectors general is to audit and investigate the federal agencies to ensure their smooth functioning and prevent fraud and abuse. While the findings of inspectors general at other federal agencies are typically freely accessible to the public, the NSA, like the rest of the intelligence community, eschews such routine transparency. Though the Neuberger report was never classified, it was originally marked “For Official Use Only.”
“At NSA, OIG investigations rarely see the light of day because so much of what the agency does is secret,” said James Bamford, a journalist and bestselling author of multiple histories of the agency. “So it’s good that the agency may be opening up a bit to show they are actually taking action against bad senior officials like Neuberger.”
The NSA investigation into Neuberger’s conduct was initiated by an August 5, 2014, complaint filed to the Office of the Inspector General alleging she “created and perpetuated an atmosphere of workplace intimidation within the [redacted],” according to the report. Neuberger at the time led the agency’s Commercial Solutions Center.
“The complainant relayed concerns about allegedly unprofessional behavior, including screaming at work, harassing phone calls to employees at home, and an inability to lead effectively,” according to the report. “The employee further alleged that there was widespread fear of retribution among the [redacted] workforce for speaking out about these concerns.”
“At NSA, OIG investigations rarely see the light of day because so much of what the agency does is secret.”
The ensuing probe produced sworn testimony from 21 NSA employees, some of whom corroborated the allegations, some who defended Neuberger’s conduct, and others who offered mixed appraisals. The Office of the Inspector General was able to confirm one of the more incendiary allegations: yelling at an “extraordinarily high volume” and calling the employee “fucking crazy,” according to witness testimony — a phrase she later told the inspector general she used about a project she considered too risky, not a person. “She admitted to the OIG that, in this instance, she crossed a professional line when she yelled and that she later apologized to the employee,” the report said.
In her first letter to the inspector general in advance of the report, Neuberger admitted she crossed a professional line. In a subsequent letter, she denied ever yelling. “I categorically disagree with the characterization of ‘extraordinarily high volume,’” she wrote. “I did not yell at a high volume. As a rule, I don’t yell. I was raised with parents who yelled and I, as a matter of practice, don’t yell.”
While the allegations generally pertain to her post running the Commercial Solutions Center, some complaints refer back to her time assisting Alexander as a confounding factor.
“At times, her expectations of the workforce were simply too lofty,” one employee testified. “She was used to seeing NSA at its best, sitting on the 8th floor with the DIRNSA” — a reference to the director, Alexander. “We did not accomplish all we could have. … It was a miserable time,” the employee said, noting a “‘well-attended’ happy hour when her departure was announced.”
One senior program manager, who said group meetings with Neuberger were so tense that participants avoided making eye contact with her, told the inspector general: “please God, just get another leader in here. … it’s an uncomfortable place to work.”
Some of the allegations are of mere rudeness: snapping her fingers at underlings, pounding on tables, and the like. (In her letters to the inspector general, Neuberger denied the table-pounding incident: “I didn’t ‘bang the table.’”) Other co-workers, however, alleged Neuberger also deliberately shut them out from important information, thwarted their ability to work, and created a workplace climate of fear and distrust.
Neuberger “told [redacted] she learned not to trust anyone with information, because people would undercut her,” claimed one NSA employee. “At some point, [Neuberger] started compartmenting information excluding certain individuals from leadership team emails.” Neuberger was “very secretive and compartmented,” alleged another. “She would not even let her [redacted] leadership team see the overview of their mission that she sent to the DIRNSA.” Some claimed Neuberger’s distrust of her colleagues was mutual: “People avoid informing her of certain things because they are afraid of what might happen.”
The charges in the inspector general’s report jibe with Bloomberg’s story about Inglis, the former NSA deputy director who recently resigned as the first national cyber director: Inglis, according to Bloomberg, had also alleged that Neuberger withheld important information.
Some at the NSA attributed this behavior and certain incidents to Neuberger’s many years of mentorship under Alexander, the inspector general’s report said. “People are afraid to confront [Neuberger] because she is ‘connected,’” one colleague alleged. “She was tightly tied to former DIRNSA, General Keith Alexander, who hired her. … The perception is she has been moved along too quickly.”
Neuberger leaned on this apparent favoritism, a high-ranking official alleged.
“She is very prone to say, even to this day, that she has the support of some named senior person,” according to a former NSA official who spoke to The Intercept on the condition of anonymity. “It’s often her excuse for doing something that people find surprising or difficult. … Keith gave her that sponsorship.”