// Posted by Sam on 02/24/2013 (6:19 PM)
Lying just outside Washington, DC in Fort Meade, Maryland is the National Security Administration-the NSA. This uniquely enigmatic government entity is one of the largest and most closely guarded branches of the United States Department of Defense (DoD). It is a cryptologic intelligence agency. Cryptology, the practice and study of techniques for secure communication in the presence of third parties, has become an increasingly important aspect of national defense and cyber security.
The NSA is technically responsible for “the collection and analysis of foreign communications and foreign signals intelligence, as well as protecting US government communications and information systems, which involves information analysis and cryptanalysis/cryptography.” By law, the NSA is only authorized to collect foreign and international information although there have been incidents of the agency breaching this rule and interfering/monitoring domestic communications as well (see here).
The agency is unique in a few ways. It immediately draws attention from I-295 as it has its own highway exit (the sign simply reads “NSA”).
Second, the agency is kept so under wraps that the total number of employees is technically unknown. The scale of the operations at the NSA is hard to determine from unclassified data; some 18,000 parking spaces are visible in photos of the site. With roles in creating new encryption systems and monitoring telephone, fax, and data transmission, the NSA is heavily involved in daily life yet remarkably discrete. Even though the original DoD branch was founded in 1949 as the Armed Forces Security Agency, according to David Kahn author of The Codebreakers “a brief but vague reference to the NSA first appeared in the United States Government Organization Manual from 1957, which described it as “a separately organized agency within the Department of Defense under the direction, authority, and control of the Secretary of Defense [...] for the performance of highly specialized technical functions in support of the intelligence activities of the United States.”
This author takes the “well I’m not doing anything illegal, so I don’t really care how much wiretapping is done” point of view regarding NSA activity, but there are many citizens who believe that this agency is infringing on their rights. Do you feel comfortable knowing that your data-transmission activity may be monitored by a government agency? Clearly this organization raises questions as to the classic liberty versus security debate…
Ellen Nakashima (January 26, 2008). “Bush Order Expands Network Monitoring: Intelligence Agencies to Track Intrusions”. The Washington Post. Retrieved February 9, 2008.
David Kahn, The Codebreakers, Scribner Press, 1967, chapter 19, pp. 672–733.