William B. Black, who retired to the private sector after 38 years with the National Security Agency, has been asked to return - and assume its highest civilian post.
Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, director of NSA, has nominated Black to become deputy director.
The appointment requires approval from Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and President Clinton.
Black, who held a number of senior-level positions including special assistant to the director, retired in 1997.
He is credited by agency officials with developing better ways for NSA to support military operations abroad and with creating new ways for the electronic spy agency to gather "signals intelligence" from the airwaves and cyberspace.
That background will be of particular importance to the agency as it tries to grapple with changes in technology that some critics say have left America's prime eavesdropping agency lagging and burdened by bureaucracy.
"NSA is in the midst of transforming its foreign signals intelligence," Hayden said.
"For this agency," he said, "change was and remains an imperative."
Hayden said Black also can further Hayden's goal of bringing a culture of change and innovation to the agency, a quality that critics have said was lacking in previous agency leaders.
After departing in 1997, Black worked with Science Applications International Corp., a defense contractor.
He was recommended by a search committee established by Hayden in April.