The NSA: history, controversies, structure, and what they doChris Anderson, Peter Battaglia and Ben Dunham IntroductionThe National Security Agency, or NSA, is a Federal-level agency, under the umbrella of the Department of Defense, and more specifically the office of Director of National Intelligence.
Their mission is to protect the United States by monitoring, collecting, and processing data communications and other digital information. While generally these functions address foreign targets, but has drifted into domestic matters, such as surveillance of American communications, such as email and cell phone data. Another core function of the NSA is to protect the United States from attacks on communications systems.
History and Formation of the NSAThe formation of the NSA dates back to April 1917, when the United States declared war on Germany, the start of U.S involvement in World War One, as the Cipher Bureau, or the Cable and Telegraph Section. Created through Executive Order under the wartime powers granted to the President, this iteration of the NSA was charged with cryptanalysis, formally conducted by the Navy.
(Records of the National Security Agency/Central Security Service) The agency was headed by Herbert O. Yardley and a small number of clerks and analysts. (The Many Lives of Herbert O.
Yardley) The second iteration, known as the Black Chamber, was formed in 1919 after the disbandment of the Army’s cryptanalysis division, MI-8. As the United States’ first peace-time cryptanalysis organization, it was highly secretive, in a building in New York City designed to look like a normal business. Its public commercial function was to sell code to businesses, but its real mission was to decode the transmissions of other countries. (Yardley, 1931) With a focus on diplomatic communications, The Black Chamber was shut down by then Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson. (Glenn and Guerrier, 2009)The final iterations of the early NSA came about during World War II, to decrypt the communications of Axis Powers, named the Signal Security Agency. With the culmination of the war, the agency was renamed and reorganized as the Army Security Agency, under the leadership of the Director of Military Intelligence, and later reorganized again as the Armed Forces Security Agency, to provide similar functions, except not to collect intelligence on United States military security agencies. (Army Security Agency Established, 15 September 1945) This agency failed, due to issues surroundings the inability to coordinate with other agencies, such as the FBI and CIA.
The result was President Truman’s panel investigation into the agency and the Executive Order that followed which formally created the NSA, although at the time it was highly classified, and was not known to the public to exist. (The Creation of the NSA- Part 3)History as the NSA During the Vietnam War, the NSA proved to be crucial, providing evidence for the attack on the naval vessel USS Maddox.( Shane, 2005) The NSA also created the NESTOR, which was a class of secure communications devices which were used in combat areas in Vietnam. This however was not a success due to the enemy’s ability to intercept and decipher the communications. (Boak, 1973) Also, the NSA intercepted the communications of prominent anti-war activists such as Senators Frank Church and Howard Baker, and civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. Also, many journalists and athletes who were vocal opponents of the war were spied on by the NSA. (The Guardian, 2013)The interception of the communications of Senator Church and other anti- Vietnam War activists prompted the Church Committee hearings.
(Pernot, 2007) This prompted the enactment of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was an effort to prevent warrantless spying on US citizens, and formalized the process of the selection of surveillance targets. (Bill Moyers Journal, 2007) The NSA intercepted the communications of the Libyan government in 1986. The surveillance found that the Libyan government had orchestrated the Berlin Discotheque Bombing. This prompted the bombing of Libya under President Ronald Regan. (Wise, 1986)In the 1990’s the infrastructure at the agency deteriorated due to defense budget cuts under the Clinton Administration. Emergency repairs had to be made, because for three days intercepted traffic was gathered, but could not be analyzed. This was crucial as the War on Terror started shortly after, with the attacks on September 11th, 2001.
(Bamford, 2007) With the enactment of the PATRIOT Act, the NSA had to create new IT systems, to deal with the threat, and the increase in traffic which resulted from new technologies like the internet and cell-phones. The data-mining techniques used was called ThinThread. The PATRIOT Act also allowed the government to conduct mass-surveillance on both US citizens and foreign targets. ThinThread, however, contained privacy mechanisms which encrypted the data, and to decrypt it the government needed a warrant.
NSA Director Michael Hayden, under the Bush Administration, canceled ThinThread in favor of Trailblazer, a surveillance project which did not contain the privacy protections. This project, however, was controversial to both the people who worked on it at the NSA, and government officials aware of the program, and was canceled in 2004 (Gorman, 2006). The program Turbulence started in 2005 to replace Trailblazer, due to mounting criticism of the program, and also contained offensive technologies such as malware (Bamford, 2009). The NSA is currently led by Director Michael S. Rogers and Deputy Director George C. Barnes. Under the authority of the Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, the agency is a component of the Department of Defense. Although much about the NSA is classified, it is reported that nearly thirty thousand people are employed at the NSA, with an annual budget of over ten billion dollars.
Structure The NSA is headed by complex multi-role military position. In charge is the Director of the National Security Agency (DIRNSA). However, he also serves the roles of Chief of the Central Security Services (CHCSS) and Commander of the United States Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM).
He is assisted by the Deputy Director of the NSA, which is the highest ranking civilian position within the NSA. Following code 10 U.S.C.
§ 201 of the United States Code the position of the DIRNSA is recommended by the Secretary of Defense, and nominated for appointment by the President. The nominee then must be confirmed through a majority vote in the Senate. Alongside this, the Department of Defense Directive 5100.20 dictates that the DIRNSA must be a commissioned officer of the military services.
The DIRNSA is then given the grade of a four-star-general or admiral during their time in the position. The Deputy Director of the NSA serves as a senior civilian official, and operates as the chief operating officer. He is responsible in this position for, “guiding and directing operations, studies, and policy” (NSA, 2017).
This puts his role directly in charge of ensuring the primary missions of the NSA are accomplished. The NSA is responsible for monitoring, collecting, and processing information gathered globally for intelligence and counterintelligence purposes. They also hold the responsibility of protecting the U.S. communications networks according to the agency (2016). Much of the actual structure and makeup of the NSA is kept private for security reasons, however in 2013 leaked documents, explained by Marc Ambinder (2013), show the complex makeup. The NSA has five operational directorates, a handful of administrative directorates, all combined into three operational centers. Each of these centers is headed by an associate director and technical director.
These directors report to the executive director who then reports to the deputy director and DIRNSA. The five operational directorates are as follows: The Information Assurance Directorate, which handles the cyber warfare and defense program offices. The Signals Intelligence Directorate, they handle both the requirements and needs of its consumers, as well as the signals intelligence (SIGINT) collections. The Research Directorate handles updates in technology, new codes, and penetration testing. The final two directorates revolve around human resources, training, and procurement.
ControversiesThe NSA like many agencies before it has often played a controversial role in American society and politics. The largest scandal surrounding the agency came in 2013 when Edward Snowden, who was a contractor for the agency, leaked sensitive documents. These documents detailed global surveillance programs, many of them run by the NSA (Macaskill and Dance, 2013).
This sparked both national and global debate as to the right of the NSA and other agencies to gather sensitive information on such a scale. Despite the controversy created around the agency, this is not their first time in the spotlight for such scandals. In 2005, Risen and Lichtblau with The New York Times, reported that under executive order the NSA had been illegally wiretapping calls. Without warrants, they gathered information and transcripts for calls made to people outside of the country.
It was also reported by Glen Greenwald from The Guardian, that the NSA had collected and stored data pertaining to 120 million Verizon Cellular Customers (2013). More recently in May 2017, an exploit used in the WannaCry Ransomware attack was supposedly created by the NSA. According to Edward Snowden, the NSA could have prevented the attack had they notified the proper channels of the exploit when they found it instead of keeping the information for themselves (Wong and Solon, 2017). With growing concerns surrounding privacy in the modern age, the NSA has become controversial due to its nature, both in a domestic and foreign capacity.Conclusion The agency known today as the NSA began in WWII as a unit to decipher coded communications. After being officially formed as the National Security Agency by President Truman in 1952.
The NSA would go on to become one of the largest U.S. intelligence agencies today.
The NSA operates under the umbrella of the Department of Defense, and the authority of the Director of National Intelligence. Their primary product is signals intelligence and their missions involve collection, analysis, and defensive responsibilities. The DIRNSA is a political appointee and commissioned officer of the military services. This individual alongside his deputy director, a senior civilian official, execute the duties of the NSA in accordance to the executive and congress. They both gather signal intelligence and interpret it as well as run both intelligence and counterintelligence operations. Within these operations their also exists the mission of protecting the U.S.
communications networks, and information systems. Today there is much controversy surrounding the reach of the NSA and what restrictions should be placed on it. However, the NSA has proven to be a useful and effective intelligence agency purporting to have stopped many terrorist attacks (Goodman, Bamford, Ackerman, 2013). Works Cited1. NSA Confirms Dragnet Phone Records Collection, But Admits It Was Key in Stopping Just Terror Plot.
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