National Security Agency - role and history - Dagger and Cloak

Monday, 2 July 2007

National Security Agency - role and history

Headquarters for the National Security Agency is at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, approximately ten miles (16 km) northeast of Washington, D.C. NSA has its own exit off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway labeled "NSA Employees Only". The scale of the operations at the NSA is hard to determine from unclassified data, but one clue is the electricity usage of NSA's headquarters. NSA's budget for electricity exceeds US$31 million per year, making it the second largest electricity consumer in the entire state of Maryland.

Photos have shown there to be 18,000 parking spaces at the site, although most guesses have put the NSA's worldwide workforce at around double that number. In 2006, the Baltimore Sun reported that the NSA was at risk of electrical overload because of insufficient internal electrical infrastructure at Fort Meade to support the amount of equipment being installed. This problem was apparently recognized in the 1990s but not made a priority, and "now the agency's ability to keep its operations going is threatened". Its secure government communications work has involved NSA in numerous technology areas, including the design of specialized communications hardware and software, production of dedicated semiconductors (at the Ft. Meade chip fabrication plant), and advanced cryptography research. The agency contracts with the private sector in the fields of research and equipment.

The NSA has facilities besides its Ft. Meade headquarters, such as the Texas Cryptology Center in San Antonio, Texas.

The NSA is increasing its reliance on American industry for the purposes of domestic spying, through a project code-named Project GROUNDBREAKER. It is linked to the DOD doctrines called "Fight the net" and "Information Operations Roadmap". Ex-director Michael Hayden has said, "As the director, I was the one responsible to ensure that this program was limited in its scope and disciplined in its application". Two examples of relying on American industry for the purposes of domestic spying are the use of CALEA on US telecommunication companies, and NarusInsight. Under CALEA, all US telecommunication companies are forced to install hardware capable of monitoring data and voice by May 14, 2007. The act also forces US telecommunication companies to build national technology standards to support CALEA. NarusInsight is one type of spying hardware, capable of monitoring an OC-192 network line in real-time, and gives AT&T the power to monitor all 7,432,000 DSL lines it owns. According to Narus, after data capture its software can replay "streaming media (for example, VoIP), rendering of Web pages, examination of e-mails and the ability to analyze the payload/attachments of e-mail or file transfer protocols".


The origins of the National Security Agency can be traced to the May 20, 1949 creation of the Armed Forces Security Agency (AFSA). This organization was originally established within the Department of Defense under the command of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The AFSA was to be responsible for directing the communications and electronic intelligence activities of the military intelligence units—the Army Security Agency, the Naval Security Group, and the Air Force Security Service. However, the agency had little power and lacked a centralized coordination mechanism. The creation of NSA resulted from a December 10, 1951, memo sent by CIA Director Walter Bedell Smith to James B. Lay, Executive Secretary of the National Security Council. The memo observed that "control over, and coordination of, the collection and processing of Communications Intelligence had proved ineffective" and recommended a survey of communications intelligence activities.

The proposal was approved on December 13, 1951, and the study authorized on December 28, 1951. The report was completed by June 13, 1952. Generally known as the "Brownell Committee Report," after committee chairman Herbert Brownell, it surveyed the history of U.S. communications intelligence activities and suggested the need for a much greater degree of coordination and direction at the national level. As the change in the security agency's name indicated, the role of the NSA was extended beyond the armed forces.

The creation of the NSA was authorized in a letter written by President Harry S. Truman in June of 1952. The agency was formally established through a revision of National Security Council Intelligence Directive (NSCID) 9 on October 24, 1952, and officially came into existence on November 4, 1952. President Truman's letter was itself classified and remained unknown to the public for more than a generation.

The heraldic insignia of NSA consists of a bald eagle facing its right, a symbol of peace, grasping a key in its talons, representing NSA's clutch on security as well as the mission to protect and gain access to secrets. The eagle is set on a background of blue and its breast features a blue shield supported by thirteen bands of red and white. The surrounding white circular border features "National Security Agency" around the top and "United States of America" underneath, with two five-pointed silver stars between the two phrases. The current NSA insignia has been in use since 1965, when then-DIRNSA, LTG Marshall S. Carter directed for the creation of a device to represent NSA.

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