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Naval Security Group
NSA, Ft. George G. Meade, Maryland
Photo: Reuters/Larry Downing
American Cryptology
in The Cold War

National Security Agency

The National Security Agency (NSA) was established by
Presidential directive in 1952  as a separately organized
agency within the Department of Defense (DoD). In this
directive, President Truman designated the Secretary of
Defense as Executive Agent for the signals intelligence
and communications security activities of the Government.
The Agency was charged with additional missions (after the Pueblo Incident) which
include information systems security for national security systems, in a 1984 Presidential directive, and with an operations security training mission in a 1988 Presidential directive. Under a 1986 law, NSA became a combat support agency of the DoD. While not a military organization, NSA is one of several elements of the intelligence community administered by the DoD. The Defense Intelligence Agency  provides military intelligence and coordinates intelligence activities of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is an independent organization whose primary responsibilities include covertcollection of foreign intelligence and conducting counterintelligence efforts abroad. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is responsible for counterintelligence efforts within the U.S.

The NSA Central Security Service (CSS) is responsible for the centralized coordination, direction, and performance of highly specialized technical functions in support of U.S. Government activities to protect U.S. information systems and produce foreign intelligence information. The CSS was established by Presidential memorandum in 1972 in order to provide a more unified cryptologic organization within the Department of Defense. The Director, NSA, serves as chief of the CSS and exercises control over the signals intelligence activities of the military services. The NSA is the nation's cryptographic organization and employs this country's premier code makers and code breakers. A high technology organization, NSA is on the very frontiers of ommunications and data processing. In addition, NSA is one of the most important centers of foreign language analysis and research within the government. SIGINT is a unique discipline with a long and storied past. SIGINT's modern era dates to World War II, when the U.S. broke the Japanese military code and learned of plans to invade Midway Island. This intelligence allowed the U.S. to defeat Japan's superior fleet. The use of SIGINT is believed to have directly contributed to shortening the war by at least one year. Today, SIGINT continues to play an important role in maintaining the superpower status of the United States.

Fort George G. Meade
About thirty miles northeast of CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, next to the Baltimore-Washington expressway, overlooking the flat Maryland countryside, stands a large three story building known informally as the "cookie factory." It's officially known as Ft. George G. Meade, headquarters of the National Security Agency. Three fences surround the headquarters. The inner and outer barriers are topped with barbed wire, the middle one is a five-strand electrified wire. Four gatehouses spanning the complex at regular intervals house specially-trained marine guards. Those allowed access all wear iridescent I.D. badges -- green for "top secret crypto," red for "secret crypto." Even the janitors are cleared for secret codeword material. Once inside, you enter the world's longest "corridor" -- 980 feet long by 560 feet wide. And all along the corridor are more marine guards, protecting the doors of key NSA offices. At 1,400,000 square feet, it is larger than CIA headquarters, 1,135,000 square feet. Only the State Department and the Pentagon, and the new headquarters planned for the FBI are more spacious. [New Ronald Reagan Building was not built when this article was written.] But the DIRNSA (Director, National Security Agency) can be further distinguished from the headquarters buildings of these three other giant bureaucracies -- it has no windows. Another palace of paranoia? No. For DIRNSA is the command center for the largest, most sensitive and far-flung intelligence gathering apparatus in the world's history. Here, and in the nine-story Operations Building Annex, upwards of 15,000 employees work to break the military, diplomatic and commercial codes of every nation in the world, analyze the decrypted messages, and send the results to the rest of the U.S. intelligence community. (Ramparts, Vol.11, No. 2, August 1972, Pages 35-50)

The Radome Archipelago
During the Cold War there were hundreds of secret remote listening posts spread around the globe. From large stations in the moors of Scotland and mountains of Turkey that were complete with golf ball like structures called "radomes", to singaly operated stations in the barren wilderness of Saint Lawrence Island between Alaska and Siberia that had only a few antennae, these stations constituted the ground-based portion of the United States Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) System or "USSS." Operated by the super secret National Security Agency (NSA), these stations were designed to intercept Morse Code, telephone, telex, radar, telemetry, and other signals emanating from behind the Iron Curtain. At one time, the NSA contemplated a worldwide, continuously operated array of 4120 intercept stations. While the agency never achieved that goal, it could still boast of several hundred intercept stations. These included its ground-based "outstations," which were supplemented by other intercept units located on ships, submarines, aircraft (from U-2's to helicopters), unmanned drones, mobile vans, aerostats (balloons and dirigibles), and even large and cumbersome backpacks.

(The Village Voice, February 24 - March 5, 1999, Most Unusual Collection Agency by Jason Vest and Wayne Madsen)

Prepared by Ralph McClintock