Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
National Security Agency
- This article is about the US government agency. For other uses, see NSA (disambiguation).
The National Security Agency (NSA) is a United States government agency responsible for both the collection and analysis of message communications, and for the security of government communications against similar agencies elsewhere. It is a part of the Department of Defense. Its eavesdropping brief includes radio broadcasting, both from organizations and individuals, the Internet, and other intercepted forms of communication, especially confidential communications. Its secure communications brief includes military, diplomatic, and all other sensitive, confidential or secret government communications. Despite having been described as the world's largest single employer of Ph.D. mathematicians, the owner of the single largest group of supercomputers, and having a budget rather larger than that of the CIA, it has had a remarkably low profile until recent years. For a long time its existence was not even admitted by the US government. The acronym "NSA" has jokingly been morphed to mean No Such Agency and Never Say Anything.
Because of its listening brief, NSA has been heavily involved in cryptanalytic research, continuing the work of its predecessor agencies which had been responsible for breaking many World War II codes and cyphers (see, for instance, Purple code, Venona, and JN-25).
Headquarters for the National Security Agency is at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, approximately ten miles northeast of Washington, DC. NSA has its own exit off of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, labeled "NSA Employees Only". The scale of the operations at the NSA is hard to determine from unclassified data, but one clue is the electricity usage of NSA's headquarters. NSA's budget for electricity exceeds US$21 million per year, making it the second largest electricity consumer in the entire state of Maryland. Photos have shown there are about 18,000 parking spaces at the site, although most guesses have put the NSA's workforce at around double that number; employees are sited worldwide.
Its secure government communications brief has involved NSA in production of communications hardware and software, in the production of semiconductors (there is a chip fabrication plant at Ft. Meade), in cryptography research, and contracting with private industry for items, equipment, and research it is not itself prepared to develop or supply. Again, this continues responsibilities inherited from its predecessors (see SIGABA).
The origins of the National Security Agency can be traced to an organisation originally established within the Department of Defense, under the command of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as the Armed Forces Security Agency (AFSA), on May 20, 1949. The AFSA was to be responsible for directing the communications and electronic intelligence activities of the military intelligence units - the Army Security Agency, Naval Security Group and the Air Force Security Service. However, the agency had little power and lacked a centralized coordination mechanism. The creation of NSA resulted from a December 10, 1951, memo sent by Walter Bedell Smith to James B. Lay, Executive Secretary of the National Security Council. The memo observed that "control over, and coordination of, the collection and processing of Communications Intelligence had proved ineffective" and recommended a survey of communications intelligence activities. The proposal was approved on December 13, 1951, and the study authorized on December 28, 1951. The report was completed by June 13, 1952. Generally known as the "Brownell Committee Report," after committee chairman Herbert Brownell , it surveyed the history of U.S. communications intelligence activities and suggested the need for a much greater degree of coordination and direction at the national level. As the change in the security agency's name indicated, the role of the NSA was extended beyond the armed forces.
Involvement with non-government cryptography
NSA has been involved in debates about public policy, both as a behind-the-scenes advisor to other departments, and directly during and after Vice Admiral Bobby Ray Inman's directorship.
The NSA was embroiled in controversy concerning its involvement in the creation of the Data Encryption Standard (DES), a standard and public block cipher used by the US government. During development by IBM in the 1970s, the NSA recommended changes to the algorithm. There was suspicion the agency had deliberately weakened the algorithm sufficiently to enable it to eavesdrop if required. The suspicions were that a critical component — the so-called S-boxes — had been altered to insert a "backdoor"; and that the key length had been reduced, making it easier for the NSA to discover the key using massive computing power.
However, the public reinvention of the technique known as differential cryptanalysis suggested that one of the changes (to the S-boxes) had actually been suggested to harden the algorithm against this -- then publicly unknown -- method of attack; differential cryptanalysis remained publicly unknown until it was independently reinvented and published some decades later. The shortening of the 128-bit key used by the IBM submission to a nominal 64, but actually an effective 56, bits is believed to have been a deliberate weakening of the algorithm, making possible an exhaustive search for the key by those with sufficient computer power and funding.
Possibly because of previous controversy, 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).
NSA was a major player in the debates of the mid to late 1990s regarding US munitions export regulations. Cryptographic software and hardware had long been classed with fighter planes, tanks, cannons, and atomic bombs as controllable munitions.
The NSA has, at times, attempted to restrict the publication of academic research into cryptography; for example, the Khufu and Khafre block ciphers.
Main article: ECHELON
NSA, 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), and otherwise known as the UKUSA group, is believed to be responsible for, among other things, the operation of the ECHELON system. Its capabilities are suspected to include the ability to monitor a large proportion of the world's transmitted civilian telephone, fax and data traffic. The system has as one of its most important bases the nominally RAF-run station at Menwith Hill (54.0162 N; 1.6826 W) near Harrogate, Yorkshire.
Many people oppose NSA's operations, arguing that NSA infringes on Americans' privacy by spying on the United States' own citizens, and that this has occurred in violation of NSA's charter prohibiting just such acts. In addition, ECHELON is considered with indignation by citizens of other countries, with widespread suspicion that the United States government uses it for motives other than its national security, including for economic intelligence . Others say that what NSA does is necessary. It has been suggested that in practice Echelon implements an end run around legal restrictions on internal surveillance by having partner agencies spy on the citizens of other partner's countries, thereby avoiding illegal spying on their own citizens.
- 1952–1956 LTG Ralph J. Canine, USA
- 1956–1960 Lt. Gen. John A. Samford, USAF
- 1960–1962 VADM Laurence H. Frost, USN
- 1962–1965 Lt. Gen. Gordon A. Blake, USAF
- 1965–1969 LTG Marshall S. Carter , USA
- 1969–1972 VADM Noel A. M. Gaylor , USN
- 1972–1973 Lt. Gen. Samuel C. Phillips , USAF
- 1973–1977 Lt. Gen. Lew Allen, Jr., USAF
- 1977–1981 VADM Bobby Ray Inman, USN
- 1981–1985 Lt. Gen. Lincoln D. Faurer , USAF
- 1985–1988 LTG William E. Odom, USA
- 1988–1992 VADM William O. Studeman, USN
- 1992–1996 VADM John M. McConnell, USN
- 1996–1999 Lt. Gen. Kenneth A. Minihan, USAF
- 1999–present Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, USAF
(USA, USAF, and USN are the United States Army, United States Air Force, and United States Navy, respectively.)
- Dec. 1952–Nov. 1953 RADM Joseph Wenger , USN
- Nov. 1953–June 1956 Brig. Gen. John Ackerman , USAF
- June 1956–Aug. 1956 Maj. Gen. John A. Samford, USAF
- Aug. 1956–Sep. 1957 Mr. Joseph H. Ream
- Oct. 1957–Jul 1958 Dr. H. T. Engstrom
- Aug. 1958–Apr. 1974 Dr. Louis W. Tordella, USN
- Apr. 1974–May 1978 Mr. Benson K. Buffham
- May 1978–Apr. 1980 Mr. Robert E. Drake
- Apr. 1980–July 1982 Ms. Ann Z. Caracristi
- July 1982–June 1985 Mr. Robert E. Rich
- June 1985–Mar. 1988 Mr. Charles R. Lord
- Mar. 1988–July 1990 Mr. Gerald R. Young
- July 1990–Feb. 1994 Mr. Robert L. Prestel
- Feb. 1994–Oct. 1997 Mr. William P. Crowell
- Oct. 1997–June 2000 Ms. Barbara A. McNamara
- June 2000–present Mr. William B. Black, Jr.
- Agnes Meyer Driscoll
- William F. Friedman
- Solomon Kullback
- Frank Rowlett
- Abraham Sinkov
- Louis W. Tordella
NSA encryption systems
- Main article: NSA encryption systems
NSA is responsible for the encryption-related components in these systems:
- EKMS Electronic Key Management System
- FNBDT secure narrow band voice standard
- Fortezza encryption based on portable crypto token in PC Card format
- KL-7 ADONIS off-line rotor encryption machine (post-WW II to 1980s)
- KW-26 ROMULUS electronic in-line teletype encryptor (1960s–1980s)
- KW-37 JASON fleet broadcast encryptor (1960s–1990s)
- KY-57 VINSON tactical radio voice encryptor
- SINCGARS tactical radio with cryptographically controlled frequency hopping
- STE secure telephone
- STU-III older secure telephone
- Central Intelligence Agency
- Central Security Service
- Defense Intelligence Agency
- National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
- Department of Homeland Security
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- British GCHQ
- TEMPEST prevention of compromising emanations
- Type 1 encryption
- Bamford, James (2001). Body of Secrets . Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-49907-8
- Bamford, James. The Puzzle Palace .
- Levy, Stephen. Crypto. —discussion of the development of non-government cryptography, including many accounts of tussles with the NSA.
- NSA official site
- History of NSA
- "The Origins of the National Security Agency, 1940-1952" —newly declassified book-length report provided by The Memory Hole .
- "Outsourcing Intelligence"
- The National Security Archive at George Washington University
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