National Security Agency
The National Security Agency/Central Security Service (NSA/CSS) is the U.S. government's primary cryptologic intelligence agency. The NSA is sometimes nicknamed "the puzzle palace," which references the NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland much like the Department of Defense is often referred to by the name of its headquarters, the Pentagon. The NSA has announced plans to move some operations to the Denver area. It also plans to add 3000 employees in San Antonio, and has a presence in Fort Gordon, GA.
The NSA is responsible for the centralized coordination, direction, and performance of highly specialized technical functions in support of US Government activities to protect US communications and produce foreign intelligence information. It is devoted to code breaking, intercepting electronic communications, and other high technology intelligence gathering.
The resources of NSA are organized for the accomplishment of two national missions: the information systems security or INFOSEC mission provides leadership, products, and services to protect classified and unclassified national security systems against exploitation through interception, unauthorized access, or related technical intelligence threats; and the foreign signals intelligence or SIGINT mission allows for an effective, unified organization and control of all the foreign signals collection and processing activities of the United States. Rules for handling signals intelligence are specified in the United States Signal Intelligence Directive 18. If the NSA wants to intercept communications involving a US citizen or resident, then it must receive a warrant from the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Critics of the Intelligence Community argue that too much money goes towards operations like the NSA, and too little goes towards "human intelligence" or HUMINT (i.e. hiring spies who cultivate relationship with key sources around the world and have a knowledge of the local language and culture).
The cryptology function of the NSA is highly mathematics intensive, with a special emphasis on a branch of mathematics called "abstract algebra". It is not uncommon for the NSA to take action to suppress and classify the mathematical papers of civilian PhD students and professors in areas it deems sensitive.
When it was created, the NSA was so secretive that its initials were jokingly referred to as "No Such Agency", but today they mean "Now Spying on Americans".
From 1951 to 1975, the NSA ran Project Shamrock to intercept every international telegram entering or leaving the United States. This program was terminated once it was exposed, and public outrage led to the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.
During the 1980s, the NSA developed the Echelon program to monitor global communications of all types, including commercial messages from foreign companies that compete with U.S. firms. This program has many partners, of whom Britain, Australia and New Zealand are the most important.
ThinThread was a data analysis program designed with built-in privacy protection for monitoring domestic communications. According to this article in the Baltimore Sun - NSA killed system that sifted phone data legally, by Siobhan Gorman, it was killed during a bureaucratic turf battle, in favor of the Trailblazer program, which was eventually cancelled because it didn't work.
A data encryption program, called the Key Management Infrastructure, which was designed to protect governnment computers has fallen years behind schedule. Hacker Attacks Hitting Pentagon by Siobhan Gorman, Baltimore Sun, July 2, 2006.
A set of programs called "Turbulence", designed to patrol global communications networks, is already experiencing significant problems just 18 months after it was launched. (Source: NSA program draws Congress' ire, by Siobhan Gorman, Baltimore Sun, March 28, 2007.
- Keith B. Alexander - April 2005 to present
- Michael V. Hayden - March 1999 to April 2005
- Kenneth A. Minihan - 1996 to 1999
- J. Michael McConnell - 1992 to 1996
- William E. Odom - 1985 to 1988
- Bobby R. Inman - 1977 to 1981
- William B. Black Jr. - June 2000 to present
- Barbara A. McNamara - October 1997 to June 2000
- William P. Crowell
Associate Deputy Directors
- Chatter: Dispatches from the Secret World of Global Eavesdropping by Patrick Radde Keefe
- Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency by James Bamford
- The Puzzle Palace: Inside America's Most Secret Intelligence Organization by James Bamford
- The Codebreakers by David Kahn