WASHINGTON -- Morale has taken a hit at the National Security Agency in the wake of controversy over the agency's surveillance activities, according to former officials who say they are dismayed that President Barack Obama has not visited the agency to show his support.
A White House spokeswoman, Caitlin Hayden, noted that top White House officials have been to the agency to "express the president's support and appreciation for all that NSA does to keep us safe."
It is not clear whether or when Mr. Obama might travel the 23 miles up the Baltimore-Washington Parkway to visit Fort Meade, the NSA's headquarters in Maryland, but agency employees are privately voicing frustration at what they perceive as White House ambivalence amid the pounding the agency has taken from critics.
An NSA spokeswoman had no comment.
Mr. Obama in June defended the NSA's surveillance as lawful and said he welcomed the public debate prompted by revelations from former contractor Edward Snowden beginning that month.
Though Mr. Obama has asserted, for instance, that the NSA's collection of virtually all Americans' phone records is lawful and has saved lives, the administration has not endorsed legislation that would codify it. And his recent statements suggest he thinks some of the NSA's activities should be constrained.
Supporters of the NSA say staffers are not feeling the love.
"The agency, from top to bottom, leadership to rank and file, feels that it is had no support from the White House even though it's been carrying out publicly approved intelligence missions," said Joel Brenner, NSA inspector general from 2002 to 2006. "They feel they've been hung out to dry, and they're right."
A former U.S. official -- who like several other former officials interviewed for this story requested anonymity because he still has dealings with the agency -- said: "The president has multiple constituencies -- I get it. But he must agree that the signals intelligence NSA is providing is one of the most important sources of intelligence today.
"So if that's the case, why isn't the president taking care of one of the most important elements of the national security apparatus?"
The White House, observers say, is caught between competing desires to preserve what it has said are valuable national security programs and to shield the president from criticism from allies abroad and civil-liberties advocates at home.