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The National Security Agency (NSA) is a national-level intelligence agency of the United States Department of Defense, under the authority of the Director of National Intelligence. The NSA is responsible for global monitoring, collection, and processing of information and data for foreign and domestic intelligence and counterintelligence purposes, specializing in a discipline known as signals intelligence (SIGINT). The NSA is also tasked with the protection of U.S. communications networks and information systems. The NSA relies on a variety of measures to accomplish its mission, the majority of which are clandestine.

Originating as a unit to decipher coded communications in World War II, it was officially formed as the NSA by President Harry S. Truman in 1952. Since then, it has become the largest of the U.S. intelligence organizations in terms of personnel and budget. The NSA currently conducts worldwide mass data collection and has been known to physically bug electronic systems as one method to this end. The NSA is also alleged to have been behind such attack software as Stuxnet, which severely damaged Iran's nuclear program. The NSA, alongside the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), maintains a physical presence in many countries across the globe; the CIA/NSA joint Special Collection Service (a highly classified intelligence team) inserts eavesdropping devices in high value targets (such as presidential palaces or embassies). SCS collection tactics allegedly encompass "close surveillance, burglary, wiretapping, [and] breaking and entering".

Unlike the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), both of which specialize primarily in foreign human espionage, the NSA does not publicly conduct human-source intelligence gathering. The NSA is entrusted with providing assistance to, and the coordination of, SIGINT elements for other government organizations – which are prevented by law from engaging in such activities on their own. As part of these responsibilities, the agency has a co-located organization called the Central Security Service (CSS), which facilitates cooperation between the NSA and other U.S. defense cryptanalysis components. To further ensure streamlined communication between the signals intelligence community divisions, the NSA Director simultaneously serves as the Commander of the United States Cyber Command and as Chief of the Central Security Service.

The NSA's actions have been a matter of political controversy on several occasions, including its spying on anti–Vietnam War leaders and the agency's participation in economic espionage. In 2013, the NSA had many of its secret surveillance programs revealed to the public by Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor. According to the leaked documents, the NSA intercepts and stores the communications of over a billion people worldwide, including United States citizens. The documents also revealed the NSA tracks hundreds of millions of people's movements using cellphones' metadata. Internationally, research has pointed to the NSA's ability to surveil the domestic Internet traffic of foreign countries through "boomerang routing".

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}} The National Security Agency (NSA) is the main producer and manager of signals intelligence (SIGINT) for the United States government. Estimated to be one of the largest of U.S. intelligence organizations in terms of personnel and budget,<ref name=wapoblack1/><ref>Bamford, James. Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency, Random House Digital, Inc., December 18, 2007</ref> the NSA operates under the jurisdiction of the Department of Defense and reports to the Director of National Intelligence.

The NSA is tasked with the global monitoring, collection, decoding, translation and analysis of information and data for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes, including surveillance of targeted individuals in U.S. territory. The agency is authorized to accomplish its mission through clandestine means,<ref>Executive Order 13470:// 2008 Amendments to Executive Order 12333], United States Intelligence Activities, July 30, 2008 (PDF)</ref> among which are bugging electronic systems<ref>Malkin, Bonnie. NSA surveillance: US bugged EU offices. The Daily Telegraph, June 30, 2013</ref> and allegedly engaging in sabotage through subversive software.<ref>Ngak, Chenda. ''NSA leaker Snowden claimed U.S. and Israel co-wrote Stuxnet virus'', CBS, July 9, 2013</ref><ref>Bamford, James. ''The Secret War'', Wired Magazine, June 12, 2013.</ref> The NSA is also responsible for the protection of U.S. government communications and information systems.<ref name=Nakashima/> As part of the growing practice of mass surveillance in the United States, the NSA collects and stores all phone records of all American citizens.<ref>


Unlike the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), both of which specialize primarily in foreign human espionage, the NSA has no authority to conduct human-source intelligence gathering, although it is often portrayed doing so in popular culture. Instead, the NSA is entrusted with coordination and deconfliction of SIGINT components of otherwise non-SIGINT government organizations, which are prevented by law from engaging in such activities without the approval of the NSA via the Defense Secretary.<ref>Executive Order 134702008 Amendments to Executive Order 12333, United States Intelligence Activities, Section C.2, July 30, 2008</ref>

As part of these streamlining responsibilities, the agency has a co-located organization called the Central Security Service (CSS), which was created to facilitate cooperation between NSA and other U.S. military cryptanalysis components. Additionally, the NSA Director simultaneously serves as the Commander of the United States Cyber Command and as Chief of the Central Security Service.


Army predecessor

The origins of the National Security Agency can be traced back to April 28, 1917, three weeks after the U.S. Congress declared war on Germany in World War I. A code and cipher decryption unit was established as the Cable and Telegraph Section which was also known as the Cipher Bureau and Military Intelligence Branch, Section 8 (MI-8). It was headquartered in Washington, D.C. and was part of the war effort under the executive branch without direct Congressional authorization. During the course of the war it was relocated in the army's organizational chart several times. On July 5, 1917, Herbert O. Yardley was assigned to head the unit. At that point, the unit consisted of Yardley and two civilian clerks. It absorbed the navy's cryptoanalysis functions in July 1918. World War I ended on November 11, 1918, and MI-8 moved to New York City on May 20, 1919, where it continued intelligence activities as the Code Compilation Company under the direction of Yardley.<ref>



Black Chamber

|isbn=1851098070|page=32|coauthors=Guerrier, Steven W.}}</ref>]]

MI-8 was also called the Black Chamber.<ref>

</ref> Headed by cryptologist Herbert Yardley, the Black Chamber was located on East 37th Street in Manhattan. Its purpose was to crack the communications codes of foreign governments. Jointly supported by the State Department and the War Department, the chamber persuaded Western Union, the largest U.S. telegram company, to allow government officials to monitor private communications passing through the company’s wires.<ref>


Other so called Black Chambers were also found in Europe. They were established by the French and British governments to read the letters of targeted individuals, employing a variety of techniques to surreptitiously open, copy, and reseal correspondence before forwarding it to unsuspecting recipients.<ref>


Despite the American Black Chamber's initial successes, it was shut down in 1929 by U.S. Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson, who defended his decision by stating that, “Gentlemen do not read each other's mail”.<ref name=“encyc”/>

World War II and its aftermath

During World War II, the Signal Security Agency (SSA) was created to intercept and decipher the communications of the Axis powers.<ref name=“armymil”>

</ref> When the war ended, the SSA was reorganized as the Army Security Agency (ASA), and it was placed under the leadership of the Director of Military Intelligence.<ref name=“armymil”/>

On May 20, 1949, all cryptologic activities were centralized under a national organization called the Armed Forces Security Agency (AFSA).<ref name=“armymil”/> This organization was originally established within the U.S. Department of Defense under the command of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.<ref name=Burns>

</ref> The AFSA was tasked to direct Department of Defense communications and electronic intelligence activities, except those of U.S. military intelligence units.<ref name=Burns /> However, the AFSA was unable to centralize communications intelligence and failed to coordinate with civilian agencies that shared its interests such as the Department of State, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).<ref name=Burns /> In December 1951, President Harry S. Truman ordered a panel to investigate how AFSA had failed to achieve its goals. The results of the investigation led to improvements and its redesignation as the National Security Agency.<ref name=NSApt2of3>


The agency was formally established by Truman in a memorandum of October 24, 1952, that revised National Security Council Intelligence Directive (NSCID) 9.<ref name=Truman>

</ref> Since President Truman's memo was a classified document,<ref name=Truman /> the existence of the NSA was not known to the public at that time. Due to its ultra-secrecy the U.S. intelligence community referred to the NSA as “No Such Agency”.<ref>


Vietnam War

In the 1960s, the NSA played a key role in expanding America's commitment to the Vietnam War by providing evidence of a North Vietnamese attack on the American destroyer

during the Gulf of Tonkin incident.<ref>


A secret operation code-named “MINARET” was set up by the NSA to monitor the phone communications of Senators Frank Church and Howard Baker, as well as major civil rights leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King, and prominent U.S. journalists and athletes who criticized the Vietnam War.<ref name=Minaret>"Declassified NSA Files Show Agency Spied on Muhammad Ali and MLK Operation Minaret Set Up in 1960s to Monitor Anti-Vietnam Critics, Branded 'Disreputable If Not Outright Illegal' by NSA Itself" The Guardian, 26 Sept. 2013</ref> However the project turned out to be controversial, and an internal review by the NSA concluded that its Minaret program was “disreputable if not outright illegal.”<ref name=Minaret/>

Church Committee hearings

In the aftermath of the Watergate Scandal, a congressional hearing led by Sen. Frank Church <ref>Pre-Emption - The Nsa And The Telecoms | Spying On The Home Front | FRONTLINE | PBS<!-- Bot generated title --></ref> revealed that the NSA, in collaboration with Britain’s SIGINT intelligence agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), had routinely intercepted the international communications of prominent anti-Vietnam war leaders such as Jane Fonda and Dr. Benjamin Spock.<ref>

</ref> Following the resignation of President Richard Nixon, there were several investigations of suspected misuse of FBI, CIA and NSA facilities.<ref name=Moyers-2007 /> Senator Frank Church uncovered previously unknown activity,<ref name=Moyers-2007 /> such as a CIA plot (ordered by the administration of President John F. Kennedy) to assassinate Fidel Castro.<ref>

</ref> The investigation also uncovered NSA's wiretaps on targeted American citizens.<ref>


After the Church Committee hearings, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 was passed into law. This was designed to limit the practice of mass surveillance in the United States.<ref name=Moyers-2007>


In 1986, the NSA intercepted the communications of the Libyan government during the immediate aftermath of the Berlin discotheque bombing. The White House asserted that the NSA interception had provided “irrefutable” evidence that Libya was behind the bombing, which U.S. President Ronald Reagan cited as a justification for the 1986 United States bombing of Libya.<ref>



In 1999, a multi-year investigation by the European Parliament highlighted the NSA's role in economic espionage in a report entitled 'Development of Surveillance Technology and Risk of Abuse of Economic Information'.<ref>

</ref> That year, the NSA founded the NSA Hall of Honor, a memorial at the National Cryptologic Museum in Fort Meade, Maryland.<ref name=SunHall /> The memorial is a, “tribute to the pioneers and heroes who have made significant and long-lasting contributions to American cryptology”.<ref name=SunHall /> NSA employees must be retired for more than fifteen years to qualify for the memorial.<ref name=SunHall>


War on Terror

moved to Afghanistan in the 1980s, the NSA recorded all of his phone calls via satellite, logging over 2,000 minutes of conversation<ref>

</ref>]] In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the NSA created new IT systems to deal with the flood of information from new technologies like the internet and cellphones. ThinThread contained advanced data mining capabilities. It also had a 'privacy mechanism'; surveillance was stored encrypted; decryption required a warrant. The research done under this program may have contributed to the technology used in later systems. ThinThread was cancelled when Michael Hayden chose Trailblazer, which did not include ThinThread's privacy system.<ref name=“Sun”>


Trailblazer Project ramped up in 2002. SAIC, Boeing, CSC, IBM, and Litton worked on it. Some NSA whistleblowers complained internally about major problems surrounding Trailblazer. This led to investigations by Congress and the NSA and DoD Inspectors General. The project was cancelled in early 2004; it was late, over budget, and didn't do what it was supposed to do. The Baltimore Sun ran articles about this in 2006–07. The government then raided the whistleblowers' houses. One of them, Thomas Drake, was charged with violating

in 2010 in an unusual use of espionage law. He and his defenders claim that he was actually being persecuted for challenging the Trailblazer Project. In 2011, all 10 original charges against Drake were dropped.<ref>See refs of Thomas Andrews Drake article</ref><ref name=Bamford325>Bamford, Shadow Factory, p 325–340</ref>

Turbulence started in 2005. It was developed in small, inexpensive 'test' pieces rather than one grand plan like Trailblazer. It also included offensive cyber-warfare capabilities, like injecting malware into remote computers. Congress criticized Turbulence in 2007 for having similar bureaucratic problems as Trailblazer.<ref name=Bamford325/> It was to be a realization of information processing at higher speeds in cyberspace.<ref><,0,1517618.story></ref>

Global surveillance disclosures

The massive extent of the NSA's spying, both foreign and domestic, was revealed to the public in a series of detailed disclosures of internal NSA documents beginning in June 2013. Most of the disclosures were leaked by former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden.

Scope of surveillance

It was revealed that the NSA intercepts telephone and internet communications of over a billion people worldwide, seeking information on terrorism as well as foreign politics, economics<ref name=“spiegellaurapoitras”>

</ref> and “commercial secrets”.<ref>

</ref> A dedicated unit of the NSA locates targets for the CIA for extrajudicial assassination in the Middle East.<ref name=“MillerTateTargeted”>Greg Miller and Julie Tate, Oct 17 2013, “Documents reveal NSA's extensive involvement in targeted killing program”, The Washington Post. Retrieved Oct 18 2013.</ref> The NSA has also spied extensively on the European Union, the United Nations and numerous governments including allies and trading partners in Europe, South America and Asia.<ref>Laura Poitras, Marcel Rosenbach, Fidelius Schmid und Holger Stark. “Geheimdokumente: NSA horcht EU-Vertretungen mit Wanzen aus”. Der Spiegel (in German). Retrieved 29 June 2013.</ref><ref>“US-Geheimdienst hörte Zentrale der Vereinten Nationen ab”. Der Spiegel (in German). Retrieved 25 August 2013.</ref>

The NSA tracks the locations of hundreds of millions of cellphones per day, allowing them to map people's movements and relationships in detail.<ref name=“GellmanSolantiTracking”>Barton Gellman and Ashton Solanti, December 5, 2013, "NSA tracking cellphone locations worldwide, Snowden documents show", The Washington Post. Retrieved Dec 7 2013.</ref> It reportedly has access to all communications made via Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, YouTube, AOL, Skype, Apple and Paltalk,<ref name=“GreenwaldPRISM”>Greenwald, Glenn; MacAskill, Ewen (6 June 2013). “NSA Prism program taps in to user data of Apple, Google and others”. The Guardian. Retrieved 15 June 2013.</ref> and collects hundreds of millions of contact lists from personal email and instant messaging accounts each year.<ref name=“GellmanSoltaniAddress”>Gellman and Soltani, Oct 15 2013 “NSA collects millions of e-mail address books globally”, The Washington Post. Retrieved Oct 16 2013.</ref> It has also managed to weaken much of the encryption used on the Internet (by collaborating with, coercing or otherwise infiltrating numerous technology companies), so that the majority of Internet privacy is now vulnerable to the NSA and other attackers.<ref>Perlroth, Larson and Shane, “N.S.A. Able to Foil Basic Safeguards of Privacy on Web”, The New York Times Sept 5 2013. Retrieved Sept 23 2013.</ref><ref>Arthur, Charles “Academics criticise NSA and GCHQ for weakening online encryption”, The Guardian Sept 16 2013. Retrieved Sept 23 2013.</ref>

Domestically, the NSA collects metadata of the phone calls of over 120 million US Verizon subscribers<ref>Glenn Greenwald (6 June 2013). “NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily”. The Guardian. Retrieved 16 September 2013.</ref> as well as internet communications,<ref name=“GreenwaldPRISM”/> relying on a secret interpretation of the Patriot Act whereby the entirety of US communications may be considered “relevant” to a terrorism investigation if it is expected that even a tiny minority may relate to terrorism.<ref name=“TechDirtSecretInterpretation”>Court Reveals 'Secret Interpretation' Of The Patriot Act, Allowing NSA To Collect All Phone Call Data, Sept 17 2013. Retrieved Sept 19 2013.</ref> The NSA supplies domestic intercepts to the DEA, IRS and other law enforcement agencies, who use these to initiate criminal investigations against US citizens. Federal agents are then instructed to “recreate” the investigative trail in order to “cover up” where the information originated.<ref name=“reuters3”>


The NSA also spies on influential Muslims to obtain information that could be used to discredit them, such as their use of pornography. The targets, both domestic and abroad, are not suspected of any crime but hold religious or political views deemed “radical” by the NSA.<ref name=“GreenwaldGallagherGrimDiscredit”>Glenn Greenwald, Ryan Gallagher & Ryan Grim, Nov 26 2013, “Top-Secret Document Reveals NSA Spied On Porn Habits As Part Of Plan To Discredit 'Radicalizers'”, Huffington Post. Retrieved Nov 28 2013.</ref>

Despite President Obama's claims that these programs have congressional oversight, members of Congress were unaware of the existence of these NSA programs or the secret interpretation of the Patriot Act, and have consistently been denied access to basic information about them.<ref>Greenwald, Glen, “Members of Congress denied access to basic information about NSA”, The Guardian, August 4, 2013. Retrieved Sept 23 2013.</ref> Obama has also claimed that there are legal checks in place to prevent inappropriate access of data and that there have been no examples of abuse;<ref name=“EddemLie”/> however, the secret FISC court charged with regulating the NSA's activities is, according to its chief judge, incapable of investigating or verifying how often the NSA breaks even its own secret rules.<ref>Loennig, C., “Court: Ability to police U.S. spying program limited”, Washington Post Aug 16 2013. Retrieved Sept 23 2013.</ref> It has since been reported that the NSA violated its own rules on data access thousands of times a year, many of these violations involving large-scale data interceptions;<ref>Gellman, B. NSA broke privacy rules thousands of times per year, audit finds, Washington Post, August 15, 2013. Retrieved Sept 23, 2013.</ref> and that NSA officers have even used data intercepts to spy on love interests.<ref>Gorman, S. NSA Officers Spy on Love Interests, Wall St Journal, August 23, 2013. Retrieved Sept 23, 2013.</ref> The NSA has “generally disregarded the special rules for disseminating United States person information” by illegally sharing its intercepts with other law enforcement agencies.<ref name=“AckermanFisa”>Spencer Ackerman, Nov 19 2013, “Fisa court documents reveal extent of NSA disregard for privacy restrictions”, The Guardian. Retrieved Nov 21 2013.</ref> A March 2009 opinion of the FISC court, released by court order, states that protocols restricting data queries had been “so frequently and systemically violated that it can be fairly said that this critical element of the overall … regime has never functioned effectively.”<ref>John D Bates (3 October 2011). “&#91;redacted&#93; ”. p. 16.</ref><ref>Ellen Nakashima, Julie Tate and Carol Leonnig (10 September 2013). “Declassified court documents highlight NSA violations in data collection for surveillance”. The Washington Post. Retrieved 14 September 2013.</ref> In 2011 the same court noted that the “volume and nature” of the NSA's bulk foreign internet intercepts was “fundamentally different from what the court had been led to believe”.<ref name=“AckermanFisa”/> Email contact lists (including those of US citizens) are collected at numerous foreign locations to work around the illegality of doing so on US soil.<ref name=“GellmanSoltaniAddress”/>

Legal opinions on the NSA's bulk collection program have differed. In mid-December, 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled that the “almost-Orwellian” program likely violates the Constitution, and wrote, “I cannot imagine a more 'indiscriminate' and 'arbitrary invasion' than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval. Surely, such a program infringes on 'that degree of privacy' that the Founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment. Indeed, I have little doubt that the author of our Constitution, James Madison, who cautioned us to beware 'the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power,' would be aghast.”<ref name=“LeonRuling”>Richard Leon, Dec 16 2013, Memorandum Opinion, Klayman vs. Obama. U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Reproduced on The Guardian website. Retrieved Feb 3 2013.</ref> Later that month, U.S. District Judge William Pauley ruled that the NSA’s collection of telephone records is legal and valuable in the fight against terrorism. In his opinion, he wrote, “a bulk telephony metadata collection program [is] a wide net that could find and isolate gossamer contacts among suspected terrorists in an ocean of seemingly disconnected data” and noted that a similar collection of data prior to 9/11 might have prevented the attack.<ref>


Official responses

Numerous conflicting stories have been put forward by the Obama administration in response to new revelations in the media.<ref name=“EddemLie”>Eddlem, T. The NSA Domestic Surveillance Lie, Sept 22 2013. Retrieved Sept 23 2013.</ref> On March 20, 2013 the Director of National Intelligence, Admiral James Clapper testified before Congress that the NSA doesn't wittingly collect any kind of data on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans, but he retracted this in June after details of the PRISM program were published, and stated instead that meta-data of phone and internet traffic are collected, but no actual message contents.<ref>Kessler, Glen, James Clapper's 'least untruthful' statement to the Senate, June 12, 2013. Retrieved Sept 23 2013.</ref> This was corroborated by NSA Director, General Keith Alexander, before it was revealed that the XKeyscore program collects the contents of millions of emails from US citizens without warrant, as well as “nearly everything a user does on the Internet”. Alexander later admitted that “content” is collected, but stated that it is simply stored and never analyzed or searched unless there is “a nexus to al-Qaida or other terrorist groups”.<ref name=“EddemLie”/>

Regarding the necessity of these NSA programs, Gen. Alexander stated on June 27 that the NSA's bulk phone and Internet intercepts had been instrumental in preventing 54 terrorist “events”, including 13 in the US, and in all but one of these cases had provided the initial tip to “unravel the threat stream”.<ref>Kube, C., June 27, 2013, "NSA chief says surveillance programs helped foil 54 plots", US News on Retrieved Sep 27 2013.</ref> On July 31 NSA Deputy Director John Inglis conceded to the Senate that these intercepts had not been vital in stopping any terrorist attacks, but were “close” to vital in identifying and convicting four San Diego men for sending US$8,930 to Al-Shabaab, a militia that conducts terrorism in Somalia.<ref>"NSA Confirms Dragnet Phone Records Collection, But Admits It Was Key in Stopping Just 1 Terror Plot", Democracy Now Aug 1 2013. Retrieved Sep 27 2013.</ref><ref>"Indictment: USA vs Basaaly Saeed Moalin, Mohamed Mohamed Mohamud and Issa Doreh". Southern District of California July 2010 Grand Jury. Retrieved Sept 30 2013.</ref><ref>


The U.S. government has aggressively sought to dismiss and challenge Fourth Amendment cases raised against it, and has granted retroactive immunity to ISPs and telecoms participating in domestic surveillance.<ref>



Organizational structure

, the current director of the National Security Agency]]

The NSA is led by the Director of the National Security Agency (DIRNSA), who also serves as Chief of the Central Security Service (CHCSS) and Commander of the United States Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) and is the highest-ranking military official of these organizations. He is assisted by a Deputy Director, who is the highest-ranking civilian within the NSA/CSS.

NSA also has an Inspector General, head of the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), a General Counsel, head of the Office of the General Counsel (OGC) and a Director of Compliance, who is head of the Office of the Director of Compliance (ODOC).<ref>These offices are for example mentioned in a FISA court order from 2011.</ref>

Unlike other intelligence organizations such as CIA or DIA, NSA has always been particularly reticent concerning its internal organizational structure.

As of the mid-1990s, the National Security Agency was organized into five Directorates:

  • The Operations Directorate, which was responsible for SIGINT collection and processing.
  • The Technology and Systems Directorate, which develops new technologies for SIGINT collection and processing.
  • The Information Systems Security Directorate, which was responsible for NSA's communications and information security missions.
  • The Plans, Policy and Programs Directorate, which provided staff support and general direction for the Agency.
  • The Support Services Directorate, which provided logistical and administrative support activities.<ref>


Each of these directorates consisted of several groups or elements, designated by a letter. There were for example the A Group, which was responsible for all SIGINT operations against the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and G Group, which was responsible for SIGINT related to all non-communist countries. These groups were divided in units designated by an additional number, like unit A5 for breaking Soviet codes, and G6, being the office for the Middle East, North Africa, Cuba, Central and South America.<ref>Matthew M. Aid, The Secret Sentry, New York, 2009, p. 130, 138, 156-158.</ref><ref>See also the information about the historical structure of NSA that is archived at</ref>

Current structure

Currently, NSA has about a dozen directorates, which are designated by a letter, although not all of them are publicly known. The directorates are divided in divisions and units, which have a designation which starts with the letter of the parent directorate, followed by a number for the division, the sub-unit or a sub-sub-unit. New information about NSA units was revealed in top secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden since June 2013.

The main elements of the current organizational structure of the NSA are:<ref> The NSA's secret org chart, September 15, 2013</ref>

  • F - Directorate only known from unit F6, the Special Collection Service (SCS), which is a joint program created by CIA and NSA in 1978 to facilitate clandestine activities such as bugging computers throughout the world, using the expertise of both agencies.<ref name=f6a>


  • I - Information Assurance Directorate (IAD), which ensures the availability, integrity, authentication, confidentiality, and non-repudiation of national security and telecommunications and information systems (national security systems).
  • J - Directorate only known from unit J2, the Cryptologic Intelligence Unit
  • L - Installation and Logistics
  • M - Human Resources
  • Q - Security and Counterintelligence
  • S - Signals Intelligence Directorate (SID), which is responsible for the collection, analysis, production and dissemination of signals intelligence. This directorate is led by a director and a deputy director. The SID consists of the following divisions:
    • S1 - Customer Relations
    • S2 - Analysis and Production Centers, with the following so-called Product Lines:
      • S2A: South Asia, S2B: China and Korea, S2C: International Security, S2E: Middle East/Asia, S2F: International Crime, S2G: Counter-proliferation, S2H: Russia, S2I: Counter-terrorism, S2J: Weapons and Space, S2T: Current Threats
    • S3 - Data Acquisition, with these divisions for the main collection programs:
      • S31 - Cryptanalysis and Exploitation Services (CES)
      • S32 - Tailored Access Operations (TAO), which hacks into foreign computers to conduct cyber-espionage and reportedly is “the largest and arguably the most important component of the NSA's huge Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) Directorate, consisting of over 1,000 military and civilian computer hackers, intelligence analysts, targeting specialists, computer hardware and software designers, and electrical engineers.”<ref>


      • S33 - Global Access Operations (GAO), which is responsible for intercepts from satellites and other international SIGINT platforms.<ref name=“”/> A tool which details and maps the information collected by this unit is code-named Boundless Informant.
      • S34 - Collections Strategies and Requirements Center
      • S35 - Special Source Operations (SSO), which is responsible for domestic and compartmented collection programs, like for example the PRISM program.<ref name=“”>Marc Ambinder, How a single IT tech could spy on the world, June 10, 2013</ref> Special Source Operations is also mentioned in connection to the FAIRVIEW collection program.<ref>The Special Source Operations logo can be seen on slides about the FAIRVIEW program.</ref>
  • T - Technical Directorate (TD)
  • Directorate for Education and Training
  • Directorate for Corporate Leadership
  • Foreign Affairs Directorate, which acts as liaison with foreign intelligence services, counter-intelligence centers and the UKUSA-partners.
  • Acquisitions and Procurement Directorate

In the year 2000, a leadership team was formed, consisting of the Director, the Deputy Director and the Directors of the Signals Intelligence (SID), the Information Assurance (IAD) and the Technical Directorate (TD). The chiefs of other main NSA divisions became associate directors of the senior leadership team.<ref name=nsa60>National Security Agency - 60 Years of Defending Our Nation, Anniversary booklet, 2012, p. 96.</ref>

After president George W. Bush initiated the President's Surveillance Program (PSP) in 2001, the NSA created a 24-hour Metadata Analysis Center (MAC), followed in 2004 by the Advanced Analysis Division (AAD), which had to analyze content, internet metadata and telephone metadata. Both units were part of the Signals Intelligence Directorate.<ref>Marc Ambinder, 3008 Selectors, June 27, 2013.</ref>

There's also an office of Information Sharing Services (ISS), lead by a chief and a deputy chief.<ref>This is mentioned in a FISA court order from 2011.</ref>

Watch centers

The NSA maintains at least two watch centers:

  • National Security Operations Center (NSOC), which is the NSA's current operations center and focal point for time-sensitive SIGINT reporting for the United States SIGINT System (USSS). This center was established in 1968 as the National SIGINT Watch Center (NSWC) and renamed into National SIGINT Operations Center (NSOC) in 1973. This “nerve center of the NSA” got its current name in 1996.<ref>Top Level Telecommunications: Pictures at the NSA's 60th anniversary</ref>
  • NSA/CSS Threat Operations Center (NTOC), which is the primary NSA/CSS partner for Department of Homeland Security response to cyber incidents. The NTOC establishes real-time network awareness and threat characterization capabilities to forecast, alert, and attribute malicious activity and enable the coordination of Computer Network Operations. The NTOC was established in 2004 as a joint Information Assurance and Signals Intelligence project.<ref name=autogenerated1>National Security Agency - 60 Years of Defending Our Nation, Anniversary booklet, 2012, p. 102.</ref>


The number of NSA employees is officially classified<ref name=Introv>“Introverted? Then NSA wants you.FCW. April 2012. Retrieved on July 1, 2013.</ref> but there are several sources providing estimates. In 1961, NSA had 59,000 military and civilian employees, which grew to 93,067 in 1969, of which 19,300 worked at the headquarters at Fort Meade. In the early 1980s NSA had roughly 50,000 military and civilian personnel. By 1989 this number had grown again to 75,000, of which 25,000 worked at the NSA headquarters. Between 1990 and 1995 the NSA's budget and workforce were cut by one third, which led to a substantial loss of experience.<ref>Matthew M. Aid, The Secret Sentry, New York, 2009, p. 128, 148, 190 and 198.</ref>

In 2012, the NSA said more than 30,000 employees work at Ft. Meade and other facilities.<ref name=60yearsp3 /> In 2012, John C. Inglis, the deputy director, said that the total number of NSA employees is “somewhere between 37,000 and one billion” as a joke,<ref name=Introv/> and stated that the agency is “probably the biggest employer of introverts.”<ref name=Introv/> In 2013 Der Spiegel stated that the NSA had 40,000 employees.<ref name=“employees”>

“How can an intelligence agency, even one as large and well-staffed as the NSA with its 40,000 employees, work meaningfully with such a flood of information?”</ref> More widely, it has been described as the world's largest single employer of mathematicians.<ref>

</ref> Some NSA employees form part of the workforce of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the agency that provides the NSA with satellite signals intelligence.

As of 2013 about 1,000 system administrators work for the NSA.<ref name=DrewSengupta /> Edward Snowden's leaking of PRISM in 2013 caused the NSA to institute a “two-man rule” where two system administrators are required to be present when one accesses certain sensitive information.<ref name=DrewSengupta>

</ref> Snowden claims he suggested such a rule in 2009.<ref name=edaccomplished>



File:DOD polygraph brochure.pdf

(DSS) polygraph brochure given to NSA applicants]] The NSA conducts polygraph tests of employees. For new employees, the tests are meant to discover enemy spies who are applying to the NSA and to uncover any information that could make an applicant pliant to coercion.<ref name=Bauer359>

</ref> As part of the latter, historically EPQs or “embarrassing personal questions” about sexual behavior had been included in the NSA polygraph.<ref name=Bauer359/> The NSA also conducts five-year periodic reinvestigation polygraphs of employees, focusing on counterintelligence programs. In addition the NSA conducts aperiodic polygraph investigations in order to find spies and leakers; those who refuse to take them may receive “termination of employment”, according to a 1982 memorandum from the director of the NSA.<ref name=BamfordBodyp538>



There are also “special access examination” polygraphs for employees who wish to work in highly sensitive areas, and those polygraphs cover counterintelligence questions and some questions about behavior.<ref name=BamfordBodyp538/> NSA's brochure states that the average test length is between two and four hours.<ref name=NSApolybrochure>

</ref> A 1983 report of the Office of Technology Assessment stated that “It appears that the NSA [National Security Agency] (and possibly CIA) use the polygraph not to determine deception or truthfulness per se, but as a technique of interrogation to encourage admissions.”<ref>

</ref> Sometimes applicants in the polygraph process confess to committing felonies such as murder, rape, and selling of illegal drugs. Between 1974 and 1979, of the 20,511 job applicants who took polygraph tests, 695 (3.4%) confessed to previous felony crimes; almost all of those crimes had been undetected.<ref name=Bauer359/>

In 2010 the NSA produced a video explaining its polygraph process.<ref name=Nageshvideo>

</ref> The video, ten minutes long, is titled “The Truth About the Polygraph” and was posted to the website of the Defense Security Service. Jeff Stein of The Washington Post said that the video portrays “various applicants, or actors playing them – it’s not clear – describing everything bad they had heard about the test, the implication being that none of it is true.”<ref name=Steinpolygraph>Stein, Jeff. “NSA lie detectors no sweat, video says.” Washington Post. June 14, 2010. Retrieved on July 5, 2013.</ref> argues that the NSA-produced video omits some information about the polygraph process; it produced a video responding to the NSA video.<ref name=“Nageshvideo”/> George Maschke, the founder of the website, accused the NSA polygraph video of being “Orwellian”.<ref name=Steinpolygraph/>

Insignia and memorials

File:National Security Agency.svg

The heraldic insignia of NSA consists of an eagle inside a circle, grasping a key in its talons.<ref name=FAQ9 /> The eagle represents the agency's national mission.<ref name=FAQ9 /> Its breast features a shield with bands of red and white, taken from the Great Seal of the United States and representing Congress.<ref name=FAQ9 /> The key is taken from the emblem of Saint Peter and represents security.<ref name=FAQ9>


When the NSA was created, the agency had no emblem and used that of the Department of Defense.<ref name=Insignia>

</ref> The agency adopted its first of two emblems in 1963.<ref name=Insignia /> The current NSA insignia has been in use since 1965, when then-Director, LTG Marshall S. Carter (USA) ordered the creation of a device to represent the agency.<ref>


The NSA's flag consists of the agency's seal on a light blue background.

Crews associated with NSA missions have been involved in a number of dangerous and deadly situations.<ref name=danger /> The USS ''Liberty'' incident in 1967 and USS ''Pueblo'' incident in 1968 are examples of the losses endured during the Cold War.<ref name=danger>


The National Security Agency/Central Security Service Cryptologic Memorial honors and remembers the fallen personnel, both military and civilian, of these intelligence missions.<ref name=memorial /> It is made of black granite, and has 171 names (as of 2013) carved into it.<ref name=memorial /> It is located at NSA headquarters. A tradition of declassifying the stories of the fallen was begun in 2001.<ref name=memorial>




Headquarters for the National Security Agency is located at

in Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, although it is separate from other compounds and agencies that are based within this same military installation. Ft. Meade is about

southwest of Baltimore,<ref>

</ref> and

northeast of Washington, DC.<ref name=SundayTimes>“Just off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, about 25 miles northeast of Washington, is a secret city. Fort Meade, in suburban Maryland, is home to the National Security Agency – the NSA, sometimes wryly referred to as No Such Agency or Never Say Anything.” and “It contains almost 70 miles of roads, 1,300 buildings, each identified by a number, and 18,000 parking spaces as well as a shopping centre, golf courses, chain restaurants and every other accoutrement of Anywhere, USA.” in

</ref> The NSA has its own exit off Maryland Route 295 South labeled “NSA Employees Only”.<ref>Sernovitz, Daniel J. “NSA opens doors for local businesses.” Baltimore Business Journal. August 26, 2010. Updated August 27, 2010. Retrieved on June 11, 2013. “But for many more, the event was the first time attendees got the chance to take the “NSA Employees Only” exit off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway beyond the restricted gates of the agency's headquarters.”</ref><ref>Weiland and Wilsey, p. 208. “[…]housing integration has invalidated Montpelier's Ivory Pass and the National Security Agency has posted an exit ramp off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway that reads NSA.”</ref> The exit may only be used by people with the proper clearances, and security vehicles parked along the road guard the entrance.<ref>Grier, Peter and Harry Bruinius. “In the end, NSA might not need to snoop so secretly.” Christian Science Monitor. June 18, 2013. Retrieved on July 1, 2013.</ref> NSA is the largest employer in the U.S. state of Maryland, and two-thirds of its personnel work at Ft. Meade.<ref name=Barnett /> Built on

<ref name=Gorman>

</ref> of Ft. Meade's


</ref> the site has 1,300 buildings and an estimated 18,000 parking spaces.<ref name=SundayTimes /><ref>


The main NSA headquarters and operations building is what James Bamford, author of Body of Secrets, describes as “a modern boxy structure” that appears similar to “any stylish office building.”<ref name=BamfordBodyofSecretsp488>Bamford, Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency, p. 488. “At the heart of the invisible city is NSA's massive Headquarters/Operations Building. With more than sixty-eight acres of floor space,[…]” and “Entrance is first made through the two-story Visitor Control Center, one[…]”</ref> The building is covered with one-way dark glass, which is lined with copper shielding in order to prevent espionage by trapping in signals and sounds.<ref name=BamfordBodyofSecretsp488/> It contains

, or more than

, of floor space; Bamford said that the U.S. Capitol “could easily fit inside it four times over.”<ref name=BamfordBodyofSecretsp488/>

The facility has over 100 watchposts,<ref name=BamfordBodyofSecretsp488489>Bamford, Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency, p. 488-489. “[…]one of more than 100 fixed watch posts within the secret city manned by the armed NSA police. It is here that clearances are checked and visitor badges are issued.”</ref> one of them being the visitor control center, a two-story area that serves as the entrance.<ref name=BamfordBodyofSecretsp488/> At the entrance, a white pentagonal structure,<ref name=BamfordBodyofSecretsp490>Bamford, Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency, p. 490. “And then there is the red badge—[…]and is normally worn by people working in the “Red Corridor”—the drugstore and other concession areas[…]Those with a red badge are forbidden to go anywhere near classified information and are restricted to a few corridors and administrative areas—the bank, the barbershop, the cafeteria, the credit union, the airline and entertainment ticket counters.” and “Once inside the white, pentagonal Visitor Control Center, employees are greeted by a six-foot painting of the NSA seal[…]”</ref> visitor badges are issued to visitors and security clearances of employees are checked.<ref name=BamfordBodyofSecretsp489>Bamford, Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency, p. 489. “It is here that clearances are checked and visitor badges are issued.”</ref> The visitor center includes a painting of the NSA seal.<ref name=BamfordBodyofSecretsp490/> The OPS2A building, the tallest building in the NSA complex and the location of much of the agency's operations directorate, is accessible from the visitor center. Bamford described it as a “dark glass Rubik's Cube”.<ref>Bamford, Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency, p. 491. “From the Visitor Control Center one enters the eleven-story, million OPS2A, the tallest building in the City. Shaped like a dark glass Rubik's Cube, the building houses much of NSA's Operations Directorate, which is responsible for processing the ocean of intercepts and prying open the complex cipher systems.”</ref> The facility's “red corridor” houses non-security operations such as concessions and the drug store. The name refers to the “red badge” which is worn by someone without a security clearance. The NSA headquarters includes a cafeteria, a credit union, ticket counters for airlines and entertainment, a barbershop, and a bank.<ref name=BamfordBodyofSecretsp490/> NSA headquarters has its own post office, fire department, and police force.<ref name=Bamford-Alexander /><ref>

</ref><ref>T.C. Carrington, Debra L.Z. Potts, "Protective Services-More Than Meets the Eye. An Overview of NSA's Protective Services", National Security Agency Newsletter, volume XLVII, No. 9, September 1999, pages 8-10</ref>

The employees at the NSA headquarters reside in various places in the Baltimore-Washington area, including Annapolis, Baltimore, and Columbia in Maryland and the District of Columbia, including the Georgetown community.<ref name=ExploreNSA>“Explore NSA.” (Archive) National Security Agency. Retrieved on June 12, 2013. “Other Locations” and “Our employees live along the Colonial-era streets of Annapolis and Georgetown; in the suburban surroundings of Columbia; near the excitement of Baltimore's Inner Harbor; along rolling hills adjacent to working farms; near the shores of the Chesapeake Bay; and amid the monumental history of Washington, DC.”</ref>

Power consumption


Following a major power outage in 2000, in 2003 and in follow-ups through 2007, 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.”<ref name=Gorman-2006>

and “Agency officials anticipated the problem nearly a decade ago as they looked ahead at the technology needs of the agency, sources said, but it was never made a priority, and now the agency's ability to keep its operations going is threatened.” and “The NSA is Baltimore Gas & Electric's largest customer, using as much electricity as the city of Annapolis, according to James Bamford….” in




Baltimore Gas & Electric (BGE, now Constellation Energy) provided NSA with 65 to 75 megawatts at Ft. Meade in 2007, and expected that an increase of 10 to 15 megawatts would be needed later that year.<ref>“The NSA uses about 65 to 75 megawatt-hours of electricity, The Sun reported last week. Its needs are projected to grow by 10 to 15 megawatt-hours by next fall.” in

</ref> In 2011, NSA at Ft. Meade was Maryland's largest consumer of power.<ref name=Barnett>

</ref> In 2007, as BGE's largest customer, NSA bought as much electricity as Annapolis, the capital city of Maryland.<ref name=Gorman-2006 />

One estimate put the potential for power consumption by the new Utah Data Center at

40 million per year.<ref name=Wired-2012 />

History of headquarters

When the agency was established, its headquarters and cryptographic center were in the Naval Security Station in Washington, D.C.. The COMINT functions were located in Arlington Hall in Northern Virginia, which served as the headquarters of the U.S. Army's cryptographic operations.<ref name=60yearsp15>

</ref> Because the Soviet Union had detonated a nuclear bomb and because the facilities were crowded, the federal government wanted to move several agencies, including the AFSA/NSA. A planning committee considered Fort Knox, but Fort Meade, Maryland, was ultimately chosen as NSA headquarters because it was far enough away from Washington, D.C. in case of a nuclear strike and was close enough so its employees would not have to move their families.<ref name=“60yearsp10”/>

Construction of additional buildings began after the agency occupied buildings at Ft. Meade in the late 1950s, which they soon outgrew.<ref name=60yearsp10>

</ref> In 1963 the new headquarters building, nine stories tall, opened. NSA workers referred to the building as the “Headquarters Building” and since the NSA management occupied the top floor, workers used “Ninth Floor” to refer to their leaders.<ref>

</ref> COMSEC remained in Washington, D.C., until its new building was completed in 1968.<ref name=60yearsp10 /> In September 1986, the Operations 2A and 2B buildings, both copper-shielded to prevent eavesdropping, opened with a dedication by President Ronald Reagan.<ref name=60yearsp39 /> The four NSA buildings became known as the “Big Four.”<ref name=60yearsp39 /> The NSA director moved to 2B when it opened.<ref name=60yearsp39>



In 1995, The Baltimore Sun reported that the NSA is the owner of the single largest group of supercomputers.<ref>


NSA held a groundbreaking ceremony at Ft. Meade in May 2013 for its High Performance Computing Center 2, expected to open in 2016.<ref>

</ref> Called Site M, the center has a 150 megawatt power substation, 14 administrative buildings and 10 parking garages.<ref name=Bamford-Alexander /> It cost

3.2 billion and covers

.<ref name=Bamford-Alexander /> The center is

<ref name=Bamford-Alexander /> and initially uses 60 megawatts of electricity.<ref>


Increments II and III are expected to be completed by 2030, and would quadruple the space, covering

with 60 buildings and 40 parking garages.<ref name=Bamford-Alexander>

</ref> Defense contractors are also establishing or expanding cybersecurity facilities near the NSA and around the Washington metropolitan area.<ref name=Bamford-Alexander/>

Other U.S. facilities

As of 2012, NSA collected intelligence from four geostationary satellites.<ref name=Wired-2012 /> Satellite receivers were at Roaring Creek station in Catawissa, Pennsylvania and Salt Creek in Arbuckle, California.<ref name=Wired-2012 /> It operated ten to twenty taps on U.S. telecom switches. NSA had installations in several U.S. states and from them observed intercepts from Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, Latin America, and Asia.<ref name=Wired-2012 />

NSA had facilities at Friendship Annex (FANX) in Linthicum, Maryland, which is a 20 to 25-minute drive from Ft. Meade;<ref>

</ref> the Aerospace Data Facility at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora outside Denver, Colorado; NSA Texas in the Texas Cryptology Center at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas; NSA Georgia at Fort Gordon in Augusta, Georgia; NSA Hawaii in Honolulu; the Multiprogram Research Facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and elsewhere.<ref name=ExploreNSA /><ref name=Wired-2012 />

On January 6, 2011 a groundbreaking ceremony was held to begin construction on NSA's first Comprehensive National Cyber-security Initiative (CNCI) Data Center, known as the “Utah Data Center” for short. The $1.5B data center is being built at Camp Williams, Utah, located

south of Salt Lake City, and will help support the agency's National Cyber-security Initiative.<ref>

</ref> It is expected to be operational by September 2013.<ref name=Wired-2012>


In 2009, to protect its assets and to access more electricity, NSA sought to decentralize and expand its existing facilities in Ft. Meade and Menwith Hill,<ref>

</ref> the latter expansion expected to be completed by 2015.<ref name=Norton-Taylor>


The Yakima Herald-Republic cited Bamford, saying that many of NSA's bases for its Echelon program were a legacy system, using outdated, 1990s technology.<ref name=Muir>“It’s kind of a legacy system, this whole idea, the Echelon,” Bamford said. “Communications have changed a great deal since they built it.” in

</ref> In 2004, NSA closed its operations at Bad Aibling Station (Field Station 81) in Bad Aibling, Germany.<ref>

</ref> In 2012, NSA began to move some of its operations at Yakima Research Station, Yakima Training Center, in Washington state to Colorado, planning to leave Yakima closed.<ref>

</ref> As of 2013, NSA also intended to close operations at Sugar Grove, West Virginia.<ref name=Muir />

has the largest NSA presence in the United Kingdom.<ref name=Norton-Taylor />]]

International stations

Following the signing in 1946–1956<ref>

</ref> of the UKUSA Agreement between the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, who then cooperated on signals intelligence and Echelon,<ref>

</ref> NSA stations were built at GCHQ Bude in Morwenstow, United Kingdom; Geraldton, Pine Gap and Shoal Bay, Australia; Leitrim and Ottawa, Canada; Misawa, Japan; and Waihopai and Tangimoana,<ref>Tangimoana listed in:

</ref> New Zealand.<ref>


NSA operates RAF Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire, United Kingdom, which was, according to BBC News in 2007, the largest electronic monitoring station in the world.<ref>

</ref> Planned in 1954, and opened in 1960, the base covered

as of 1999.<ref>


The agency's European Cryptologic Center (ECC), with 240 employees in 2011, is headquartered at a US military compound in Griesheim, near Frankfurt in Germany. A 2011 NSA report indicates that the ECC is responsible for the “largest analysis and productivity in Europe” and focusses on various priorities, including Africa, Europe, the Middle East and counterterrorism operations.<ref>Laura Poitras, Marcel Rosenbach and Holger Stark, Ally and Target: US Intelligence Watches Germany Closely, August 12, 2013.</ref>

In 2013, a new Consolidated Intelligence Center, also to be used by NSA, is being built at the headquarters of the United States Army Europe in Wiesbaden, Germany.<ref name=Spiegel-RT>


</ref> NSA's partnership with Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), the German foreign intelligence service, was confirmed by BND president Gerhard Schindler.<ref name=Spiegel-RT />



NSA's eavesdropping mission includes radio broadcasting, both from various organizations and individuals, the Internet, telephone calls, and other intercepted forms of communication. Its secure communications mission includes military, diplomatic, and all other sensitive, confidential or secret government communications.<ref>


According to the Washington Post, “[e]very day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications. The NSA sorts a fraction of those into 70 separate databases.”<ref>Priest, Dana and Arkin, William, A hidden world, growing beyond control, Washington Post</ref>

Because of its listening task, NSA/CSS has been heavily involved in cryptanalytic research, continuing the work of predecessor agencies which had broken many World War II codes and ciphers (see, for instance, Purple, Venona project, and JN-25).

In 2004, NSA Central Security Service and the National Cyber Security Division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agreed to expand NSA Centers of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education Program.<ref>


As part of the National Security Presidential Directive 54/Homeland Security Presidential Directive 23 (NSPD 54), signed on January 8, 2008 by President Bush, the NSA became the lead agency to monitor and protect all of the federal government's computer networks from cyber-terrorism.<ref name=Nakashima>



Echelon was created in the incubator of the Cold War.<ref>Hager 1996, p. 55</ref> Today it is a legacy system, and several NSA stations are closing.<ref name=Muir />

NSA/CSS, in combination with the equivalent agencies in the United Kingdom (Government Communications Headquarters), Canada (Communications Security Establishment), Australia (Defence Signals Directorate), and New Zealand (Government Communications Security Bureau), otherwise known as the UKUSA group,<ref name=ukusa>Richelson, Jeffrey T.; Ball, Desmond (1985). The Ties That Bind: Intelligence Cooperation Between the UKUSA Countries. London: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 0-04-327092-1</ref> was reported to be in command of the operation of the so-called Echelon system. Its capabilities were suspected to include the ability to monitor a large proportion of the world's transmitted civilian telephone, fax and data traffic.<ref>Patrick S. Poole, Echelon: America's Secret Global Surveillance Network (Washington, D.C.: Free Congress Foundation, October 1998)</ref>

During the early 1970s, the first of what became more than eight large satellite communications dishes were installed at Menwith Hill.<ref>Echelon", 60 Minutes, February 27, 2000</ref> Investigative journalist Duncan Campbell reported in 1988 on the Echelon surveillance program, an extension of the UKUSA Agreement on global signals intelligence SIGINT, and detailed how the eavesdropping operations worked.<ref name=CampbellListening1988>

}}</ref> In November 3, 1999 the BBC reported that they had confirmation from the Australian Government of the existence of a powerful “global spying network” code-named Echelon, that could “eavesdrop on every single phone call, fax or e-mail, anywhere on the planet” with Britain and the United States as the chief protagonists. They confirmed that Menwith Hill was “linked directly to the headquarters of the US National Security Agency (NSA) at Fort Meade in Maryland”.<ref name=BBC3nov1999>


NSA's United States Signals Intelligence Directive 18 (USSID 18) strictly prohibited the interception or collection of information about “… U.S. persons, entities, corporations or organizations….” without explicit written legal permission from the United States Attorney General when the subject is located abroad, or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court when within U.S. borders. Alleged Echelon-related activities, including its use for motives other than national security, including political and industrial espionage, received criticism from countries outside the UKUSA alliance.<ref name=EP>



Data mining

wearing Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden masks.]]

NSA is reported to use its computing capability to analyze “transactional” data that it regularly acquires from other government agencies, which gather it under their own jurisdictional authorities. As part of this effort, NSA now monitors huge volumes of records of domestic emails and Internet searches as well as bank transfers, credit-card transactions and travel and telephone records, according to current and former intelligence officials interviewed by The Wall Street Journal.<ref>

</ref> Reportedly, the majority of emails in or out of the USA are captured at “selected communications links” and automatically analyzed for keywords or other “selectors”.<ref name=“SavageBroaderSifting”>


The NSA began the PRISM electronic surveillance and data mining program in 2007.<ref name=“WaPo1”>

</ref><ref name=Greenwald1>

</ref> PRISM gathers communications data on foreign targets from nine major U.S. internet-based communication service providers: Microsoft,<ref>

</ref> Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple. Data gathered include email, video and voice chat, videos, photos, VoIP chats such as Skype, and file transfers. Another program, Boundless Informant, employs big data databases, cloud computing technology, and Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) to analyze data collected worldwide by the NSA, including that gathered by way of the PRISM program.<ref>The Guardian, June 8, 2013


The Real Time Regional Gateway was a data collection program introduced in 2005 in Iraq by NSA during the Iraq War. It consisted of gathering all Iraqi electronic communication, storing it, then searching and otherwise analyzing it. It was effective in providing information about Iraqi insurgents who had eluded less comprehensive techniques.<ref name=WP71413>

</ref> Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian believes that the “collect it all” strategy introduced by NSA director Alexander shows that “the NSA's goal is to collect, monitor and store every telephone and internet communication” worldwide.<ref name=NSA71513>



In 2013, reporters uncovered a secret memo that claims the NSA created and pushed for the adoption of encryption standards that contained built-in vulnerabilities in 2006 to the United States National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the International Organization for Standardization (aka ISO).<ref name=pp20130905/> This memo appears to give credence to previous speculation by cryptographers at Microsoft Research.<ref>


Edward Snowden claims that the NSA often bypasses encryption altogether by lifting information before it is encrypted or after it is decrypted.<ref name=pp20130905>


Domestic activity

NSA's mission, as set forth in Executive Order 12333, is to collect information that constitutes “foreign intelligence or counterintelligence” while not “acquiring information concerning the domestic activities of United States persons”. NSA has declared that it relies on the FBI to collect information on foreign intelligence activities within the borders of the USA, while confining its own activities within the USA to the embassies and missions of foreign nations.

NSA's domestic surveillance activities are limited by the requirements imposed by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for example held in October 2011, citing multiple Supreme Court precedents, that the Fourth Amendment prohibitions against unreasonable searches and seizures applies to the contents of all communications, whatever the means, because “a person's private communications are akin to personal papers.”<ref name=“FiscPrivacyRuling2011”>

</ref> However, these protections do not apply to non-U.S. persons located outside of U.S. borders, so the NSA's foreign surveillance efforts are subject to far fewer limitations under U.S. law.<ref name=“Jordan_David”>David Alan Jordan. Decrypting the Fourth Amendment: Warrantless NSA Surveillance and the Enhanced Expectation of Privacy Provided by Encrypted Voice over Internet Protocol. Boston College Law Review. May 2006. Last access date January 23, 2007</ref> The specific requirements for domestic surveillance operations are contained in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA), which does not extend protection to non-U.S. citizens located outside of U.S. territory.<ref name=“Jordan_David”/>

These activities, especially the publicly acknowledged domestic telephone tapping and call database programs, have prompted questions about the extent of the NSA's activities and concerns about threats to privacy and the rule of law.

In August 2013 it was revealed that NSA intelligence intercepts and wiretaps, both foreign and domestic, were being supplied to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and were illegally used to launch criminal investigations of US citizens. Law enforcement agents were directed to conceal how the investigations began and recreate an apparently legal investigative trail by re-obtaining the same evidence by other means.<ref>John Shiffman and Kristina Cooke (August 5, 2013) Exclusive: U.S. directs agents to cover up program used to investigate Americans. Reuters. Retrieved 12 Aug 2013.</ref><ref>John Shiffman and David Ingram (August 7, 2013) Exclusive: IRS manual detailed DEA's use of hidden intel evidence. Reuters. Retrieved 12 Aug 2013.</ref>


The NSA received criticism early on in 1960 after two agents had defected to the Soviet Union. Investigations by the House Un-American Activities Committee and a special subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee revealed severe cases of ignorance in personnel security regulations, prompting the former personnel director and the director of security to step down and leading to the adoption of stricter security practices.<ref name=“Kahn”>David Kahn, The Codebreakers, Scribner Press, 1967, chapter 19, pp. 672–733.</ref> Nonetheless, security breaches reoccurred only a year later when in an issue of Izvestia of July 23, 1963, a former NSA employee published several cryptologic secrets. The very same day, an NSA clerk-messenger committed suicide as ongoing investigations disclosed that he had sold secret information to the Soviets on a regular basis. The reluctance of Congressional houses to look into these affairs had prompted a journalist to write “If a similar series of tragic blunders occurred in any ordinary agency of Government an aroused public would insist that those responsible be officially censured, demoted, or fired.” David Kahn criticized the NSA's tactics of concealing its doings as smug and the Congress' blind faith in the agency's right-doing as shortsighted, and pointed out the necessity of surveillance by the Congress to prevent abuse of power.<ref name=“Kahn”/>

The number of exemptions from legal requirements has also been criticized. When in 1964 the Congress was hearing a bill giving the director of the NSA the power to fire at will any employee, the Washington Post wrote: “This is the very definition of arbitrariness. It means that an employee could be discharged and disgraced on the basis of anonymous allegations without the slightest opportunity to defend himself.” Yet, the bill was accepted by an overwhelming majority.<ref name=“Kahn”/>

Polls conducted in June 2013 found divided results among Americans regarding NSA's secret data collection.<ref>

</ref> Rasmussen Reports found that 59% of Americans disapprove,<ref>

</ref> Gallup found that 53% disapprove,<ref>

</ref> and Pew found that 56% are in favor of NSA data collection.<ref>


Warrantless wiretaps under George W. Bush

On December 16, 2005, The New York Times reported that, under White House pressure and with an executive order from President George W. Bush, the National Security Agency, in an attempt to thwart terrorism, had been tapping phone calls made to persons outside the country, without obtaining warrants from the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a secret court created for that purpose under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).<ref name=“NYTWarrantless”>James Risen & Eric Lichtblau (December 16, 2005), Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts, New York Times</ref>

One such surveillance program, authorized by the U.S. Signals Intelligence Directive 18 of President George Bush, was the Highlander Project undertaken for the National Security Agency by the U.S. Army 513th Military Intelligence Brigade. NSA relayed telephone (including cell phone) conversations obtained from ground, airborne, and satellite monitoring stations to various U.S. Army Signal Intelligence Officers, including the 201st Military Intelligence Battalion. Conversations of citizens of the U.S. were intercepted, along with those of other nations.<ref>


Proponents of the surveillance program claim that the President has executive authority to order such action, arguing that laws such as FISA are overridden by the President's Constitutional powers. In addition, some argued that FISA was implicitly overridden by a subsequent statute, the Authorization for Use of Military Force, although the Supreme Court's ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld deprecates this view. In the August 2006 case ACLU v. NSA, U.S. District Court Judge Anna Diggs Taylor concluded that NSA's warrantless surveillance program was both illegal and unconstitutional. On July 6, 2007 the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the decision on the grounds that the ACLU lacked standing to bring the suit.<ref>


On January 17, 2006, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit, CCR v. Bush, against the George W. Bush Presidency. The lawsuit challenged the National Security Agency's (NSA's) surveillance of people within the U.S., including the interception of CCR emails without securing a warrant first.<ref name=TheJurist200705may21>

</ref><ref name=CcrVBushDocket>


In September 2008, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a class action lawsuit against the NSA and several high-ranking officials of the Bush administration,<ref name=digjourn1>

</ref> charging an “illegal and unconstitutional program of dragnet communications surveillance,”<ref name=complaint>''Jewel v. NSA'' (complaint). 18 September 2008. Electronic Frontier Foundation. Retrieved 30 December 2011.</ref> based on documentation provided by former AT&T technician Mark Klein.<ref name=wired1>


AT&T Internet monitoring

In May 2006, Mark Klein, a former AT&T employee, alleged that his company had cooperated with NSA in installing Narus hardware to replace the FBI Carnivore program, to monitor network communications including traffic between American citizens.<ref name=“mark”>

on PBS</ref>

Domestic surveillance under Barack Obama

In 2009 the NSA intercepted the communications of American citizens, including a Congressman, although the Justice Department believed that the interception was unintentional. The Justice Department then took action to correct the issues and bring it into compliance with existing laws.<ref>

</ref> United States Attorney General Eric Holder resumed the wiretapping according to his understanding of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act amendment of 2008, without explaining what had occurred.<ref>


On April 25, 2013, the NSA obtained a court order requiring Verizon's Business Network Services to provide information on all calls in its system to the NSA “on an ongoing daily basis”, as reported by The Guardian on June 6, 2013. This information includes “the numbers of both parties on a call&nbsp;… location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls” but not “[t]he contents of the conversation itself”.<ref>

</ref><ref>Charlie Savage and Edward Wyatt, "U.S. Is Secretly Collecting Records of Verizon Calls", New York Times, June 5, 2013. Accessed June 6, 2013.</ref>

International activity


Edward Snowden revealed in June 2013 that between 8 February and 8 March 2013 NSA collected about 124.8 billion telephone data items and 97.1 billion computer data items throughout the world, including in Germany, United Kingdom and France. NSA made 70.3 million recordings of French citizens' telephone data from 10 December 2012 to 8 January 2013.<ref>France in the NSA's crosshair : phone networks under surveillance Le Monde 21 October 2013</ref>

Role in scientific research and development

NSA has been involved in debates about public policy, both indirectly as a behind-the-scenes adviser to other departments, and directly during and after Vice Admiral Bobby Ray Inman's directorship. NSA was a major player in the debates of the 1990s regarding the export of cryptography in the United States. Restrictions on export were reduced but not eliminated in 1996.

Its secure government communications work has involved the 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. For 50 years, NSA designed and built most of its computer equipment in-house, but from the 1990s until about 2003 (when the U.S. Congress curtailed the practice), the agency contracted with the private sector in the fields of research and equipment.<ref>


Data Encryption Standard

was the NSA's first supercomputer, used from 1991–97.]] NSA was embroiled in some minor controversy concerning its involvement in the creation of the Data Encryption Standard (DES), a standard and public block cipher algorithm used by the U.S. government and banking community. During the development of DES by IBM in the 1970s, NSA recommended changes to some details of the design. There was suspicion that these changes had weakened the algorithm sufficiently to enable the agency to eavesdrop if required, including speculation that a critical component—the so-called S-boxes—had been altered to insert a “backdoor” and that the reduction in key length might have made it feasible for NSA to discover DES keys using massive computing power. It has since been observed that the S-boxes in DES are particularly resilient against differential cryptanalysis, a technique which was not publicly discovered until the late 1980s, but which was known to the IBM DES team. The United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence reviewed NSA's involvement, and concluded that while the agency had provided some assistance, it had not tampered with the design.<ref>


</ref> In late 2009 NSA declassified information stating that “NSA worked closely with IBM to strengthen the algorithm against all except brute force attacks and to strengthen substitution tables, called S-boxes. Conversely, NSA tried to convince IBM to reduce the length of the key from 64 to 48 bits. Ultimately they compromised on a 56-bit key.”<ref>


Clipper chip

Because of concerns that widespread use of strong cryptography would hamper government use of wiretaps, NSA proposed the concept of key escrow in 1993 and introduced the Clipper chip that would offer stronger protection than DES but would allow access to encrypted data by authorized law enforcement officials.<ref>

</ref> The proposal was strongly opposed and key escrow requirements ultimately went nowhere.<ref>

</ref> However, NSA's Fortezza hardware-based encryption cards, created for the Clipper project, are still used within government, and NSA ultimately declassified and published the design of the Skipjack cipher used on the cards.<ref>



Advanced Encryption Standard

The involvement of NSA in the selection of a successor to DES, the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), was limited to hardware performance testing (see AES competition).<ref>

</ref> NSA has subsequently certified AES for protection of classified information (for at most two levels, e.g. SECRET information in an unclassified environment) when used in NSA-approved systems.<ref name=suiteB>“the NIST standards that define Suite B…” in



The widely used SHA-1 and SHA-2 hash functions were designed by NSA. SHA-1 is a slight modification of the weaker SHA-0 algorithm, also designed by NSA in 1993. This small modification was suggested by NSA two years later, with no justification other than the fact that it provides additional security. An attack for SHA-0 that does not apply to the revised algorithm was indeed found between 1998 and 2005 by academic cryptographers. Because of weaknesses and key length restrictions in SHA-1, NIST deprecates its use for digital signatures, and approves only the newer SHA-2 algorithms for such applications from 2013 on.<ref>Draft NIST SP 800-131, June 2010.</ref>

A new hash standard, SHA-3, has recently been selected through the competition concluded October 2, 2012 with the selection of Keccak as the algorithm. The process to select SHA-3 was similar to the one held in choosing the AES, but some doubts have been cast over it,<ref name=“”>


</ref> since fundamental modifications have been made to Keccac in order to turn it into a standard.<ref>

</ref> These changes potentially undermine the cryptanalysis performed during the competition and reduce the security levels of the algorithm.<ref name=“”/>

Dual_EC_DRBG random number generator

NSA promoted the inclusion of a random number generator called Dual_EC_DRBG in the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology's 2007 guidelines. This led to speculation of a backdoor which would allow NSA access to data encrypted by systems using that pseudo random number generator.<ref>


This is now deemed to be plausible based on the fact that the output of the next iterations of the PRNG can provably be determined if the relation between two internal elliptic curve points is known.<ref name=“:0”>

</ref><ref>Dual_Ec_Drbg backdoor: a proof of concept at Aris' Blog - Computers, ssh and rock'n roll<!-- Bot generated title --></ref> Both NIST and RSA are now officially recommending against the use of this PRNG.<ref>



Perfect Citizen

Perfect Citizen is a program to perform vulnerability assessment by the NSA on U.S. critical infrastructure.<ref>NSA Denies It Will Spy on Utilities, Threat Level,</ref><ref name=“dt1”>

</ref> It was originally reported to be a program to develop a system of sensors to detect cyber attacks on critical infrastructure computer networks in both the private and public sector through a network monitoring system named Einstein.<ref name=“cn1”>


</ref> It is funded by the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative and thus far Raytheon has received a contract for up to $100 million for the initial stage.

Academic research

NSA has invested many millions of dollars in academic research under grant code prefix MDA904, resulting in over 3,000 papers (as of 2007-10-11). NSA/CSS has, at times, attempted to restrict the publication of academic research into cryptography; for example, the Khufu and Khafre block ciphers were voluntarily withheld in response to an NSA request to do so. In response to a FOIA lawsuit, in 2013 the NSA released the 643-page research paper titled, “Untangling the Web: A Guide to Internet Research,<ref>

</ref> ” written and compiled by NSA employees to assist other NSA workers in searching for information of interest to the agency on the public Internet.<ref>



NSA has the ability to file for a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office under gag order. Unlike normal patents, these are not revealed to the public and do not expire. However, if the Patent Office receives an application for an identical patent from a third party, they will reveal NSA's patent and officially grant it to NSA for the full term on that date.<ref>


One of NSA's published patents describes a method of geographically locating an individual computer site in an Internet-like network, based on the latency of multiple network connections.<ref>

</ref> Although no public patent exists, NSA is reported to have used a similar locating technology called trilateralization that allows real-time tracking of an individual’s location, including altitude from ground level, using data obtained from cellphone towers.<ref>



, GWAN, NSANET, and JWICS]] NSANet stands for National Security Agency Network and is the official NSA intranet.<ref name=arc_reg>

</ref> It is a classified network,<ref name=dni1>

</ref> for information up to the level of TS/SCI<ref name=army1>

</ref> to support the use and sharing of intelligence data between NSA and the signals intelligence agencies of the four other nations of the Five Eyes partnership. The management of NSANet has been delegated to the Central Security Service Texas (CSSTEXAS). <ref>LACKLAND SECURITY HILL ENTERPRISE INFRASTRUCTURE AND COMPUTER SYSTEMS MANAGEMENT, 1 October 2010, p. 2.</ref>

NSANet is a highly secured computer network consisting of fiber-optic and satellite communication channels which are almost completely separated from the public internet. The network allows NSA personnel and civilian and military intelligence analysts anywhere in the world to have access to the agency's systems and databases. This access is tightly controlled and monitored. For example, every keystroke is logged, activities are audited at random and downloading and printing of documents from NSANet are recorded. <ref>Marc Ambinder, How a single IT tech could spy on the world, June 10, 2013.</ref>

In 1998, NSANet, along with NIPRNET and SIPRNET, had “significant problems with poor search capabilities, unorganized data and old information”.<ref name=nps2>

</ref> In 2004, the network was reported to have used over twenty commercial off-the-shelf operating systems.<ref name=cmu1>

</ref> Some universities that do highly sensitive research are allowed to connect to it.<ref name=ps>


The thousands of Top Secret internal NSA documents that were taken bij Edward Snowden in 2013 were stored in “a file-sharing location on the NSA's intranet site” so they could easily be read online by NSA personnel. Everyone with a TS/SCI-clearance had access to these documents and as a system administrator, Snowden was responsible for moving accidently misplaced highly sensitive documents to more secure storage locations.<ref> Officials: Edward Snowden's Leaks Were Masked By Job Duties, September 18, 2013.</ref>

National Computer Security Center

The DoD Computer Security Center was founded in 1981 and renamed the National Computer Security Center (NCSC) in 1985. NCSC was responsible for computer security throughout the federal government.<ref>“The DoD Computer Security Center (DoDCSC) was established in January 1981…” and “In 1985, DoDCSC's name was changed to the National Computer Security Center…” and “its responsibility for computer security throughout the federal government…” in

</ref> NCSC was part of NSA,<ref>“NSA and its National Computer Security Center (NCSC) have responsibility for…” in

</ref> and during the late 1980s and the 1990s, NSA and NCSC published Trusted Computer System Evaluation Criteria in a six-foot high Rainbow Series of books that detailed trusted computing and network platform specifications.<ref name=FAS /> The Rainbow books were replaced by the Common Criteria, however, in the early 2000s.<ref name=FAS>


On July 18, 2013, Greenwald said that Snowden held “detailed blueprints of how the NSA does what they do”, thereby sparking fresh controversy.<ref>


NSA encryption systems

The NSA is responsible for the encryption-related components in these legacy systems:

  • FNBDT Future Narrow Band Digital Terminal<ref>


  • KL-7 ADONIS off-line rotor encryption machine (post-WWII – 1980s)<ref>“Adkins Family asked for a pic of the KL-7. Here you go!…” in

    </ref><ref name=NSA3997687 />

  • KW-26 ROMULUS electronic in-line teletypewriter encryptor (1960s–1980s)<ref name=NSA50th />
  • KW-37 JASON fleet broadcast encryptor (1960s–1990s)<ref name=NSA3997687>


secure telephones on display at the National Cryptologic Museum]]

  • KY-57 VINSON tactical radio voice encryptor<ref name=NSA50th>


  • KG-84 Dedicated Data Encryption/Decryption<ref name=NSA50th />
  • STU-III secure telephone unit,<ref name=NSA50th /> phased out by the STE<ref name=Hickey />

The NSA oversees encyption in following systems which are in use today:

  • EKMS Electronic Key Management System<ref>


  • Fortezza encryption based on portable crypto token in PC Card format<ref>


  • SINCGARS tactical radio with cryptographically controlled frequency hopping<ref>


  • STE secure terminal equipment<ref name=Hickey>


  • TACLANE product line by General Dynamics C4 Systems<ref>


The NSA has specified Suite A and Suite B cryptographic algorithm suites to be used in U.S. government systems; the Suite B algorithms are a subset of those previously specified by NIST and are expected to serve for most information protection purposes, while the Suite A algorithms are secret and are intended for especially high levels of protection.<ref name=suiteB />

See also


  • Bamford, James. Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency, Random House Digital, Inc., December 18, 2007. ISBN 0307425053. Previously published as: Doubleday, 2001, ISBN 0-385-49907-8.
  • Bauer, Craig P. Secret History: The Story of Cryptology (Volume 76 of Discrete Mathematics and Its Applications). CRC Press, 2013. ISBN 1466561866.
  • Weiland, Matt and Sean Wilsey. State by State. HarperCollins, Oct 19, 2010. ISBN 0062043579.


Further reading

national_security_agency.txt · Last modified: 2020/03/12 18:36 (external edit)