Talk:National Security Agency

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The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), was established by a memorandum dated October 24, 1952, by President Harry S. Truman. It is "the organization within the U.S. Government responsible for communications intelligence (COMINT) activities." It partners with Central Security Service (CSS).[1]

NSA Overview

The NSA is "the Nation's cryptologic organization. It coordinates, directs, and performs highly specialized activities to protect U.S. information systems and produce foreign intelligence information. A high technology organization, NSA is on the frontiers of communications and data processing. It is also one of the most important centers of foreign language analysis and research within the Government."

  • Signals Intelligence (SIGINT)
  • Information Systems Security (INFOSEC) - "protecting all classified and sensitive information that is stored or sent through U.S. Government equipment."
  • R&D - Research and development programs: "cryptanalytic research led to the first large-scale computer and the first solid-state computer, predecessors to the modern computer."
  • NSA "employs the country's premier codemakers and codebreakers."

"Most NSA/CSS employees, both civilian and military, are headquartered at Fort Meade, Maryland, centrally located between Baltimore and Washington, DC. Its workforce represents an unusual combination of specialties: analysts, engineers, physicists, mathematicians, linguists, computer scientists, researchers, as well as customer relations specialists, security officers, data flow experts, managers, administrative and clerical assistants."[1]


The following is a breakdown of various controversies involving the NSA.

Obama Administration (2008- )

Classified Documents Leaked by Edward Snowden, June, 2013

In June, 2013, classified documents about NSA surveillance programs were leaked by Edward Snowden, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee who worked for Booz Allen Hamilton, a contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA).

Snowden instantly became known as one of America's biggest whistleblowers when he released classified material on top-secret NSA programs including the PRISM surveillance program to The Guardian and The Washington Post. [2] [3][4]

Verizon Case

On June 5, 2013, Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian reported on a top-secret court order requiring Verizon, "on an 'ongoing, daily basis' to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries."[5]

PRISM Data Mining Program

On June 6, 2013, The Guardian and The Washington Post reported on the NSA's widespread data mining of major Internet tech companies such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Apple thanks to a top-secret powerpoint presentation Snowden leaked to those news outlets.[2][3]

Public Reaction

The reaction to these revelations was mixed and public opinion did not fall along partisan or ideological lines. For example, Pew Research Center released a poll finding that 44% of adults think that the release of classified NSA information harms the public interest, and 49% say it serves the public interest. Additionally, the poll showed that 54% of the public, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, want Snowdwen prosecuted for his leak. The public is also divided on whether or not it supports the NSA program as part of anti-terrorism efforts.[6] Young People Say Leak Serves Public Interest

George W. Bush Administration (2001-2008)

Only months after the events of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush signed a presidential order in 2002 which "secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials," James Risen and Eric Lichtblau reported in the December 15, 2005, New York Times.

The NSA "has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible 'dirty numbers' linked to Al Qaeda, the officials said. The agency, they said, still seeks warrants to monitor entirely domestic communications." [2]

"While many details about the program remain secret, officials familiar with it say the N.S.A. eavesdrops without warrants on up to 500 people in the United States at any given time. The list changes as some names are added and others dropped, so the number monitored in this country may have reached into the thousands since the program began, several officials said. Overseas, about 5,000 to 7,000 people suspected of terrorist ties are monitored at one time, according to those officials." [3]

"The NSA activities were justified by a classified Justice Department legal opinion authored by John C. Yoo, a former deputy in the Office of Legal Counsel who argued that congressional approval of the war on al Qaeda gave broad authority to the president, according to the Times," Dan Eggen wrote in the December 16, 2005, Washington Post.

"That legal argument was similar to another 2002 memo authored primarily by Yoo, which outlined an extremely narrow definition of torture. That opinion, which was signed by another Justice official, was formally disavowed after it was disclosed by the Washington Post," Eggen wrote.

Related external articles

NSA "cookies"

The NSA had been placing files called "cookies" on visitors' computers to track internet surfing activity "despite strict federal rules banning most of them," the Associated Press's Anick Jesdanun reported December 29, 2005. Following a privacy activist's complaint, the NSA acknowledged a mistake but "the issue raises questions about privacy at a spy agency already on the defensive amid reports of a secretive eavesdropping program in the United States."

"Until Tuesday [December 17th], the NSA site created two cookies that do not expire until 2035--likely beyond the life of any computer in use today," Jesdanun wrote.

Also see:

  • "NSA Web Site Uses Banned 'Cookies'," Associated Press (CBS News), December 28, 2005: "A senior official must sign off on any such use, and an agency that uses them must disclose and detail their use in its privacy policy."

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  1. National Security Agency, About NSA,, Access June 19, 2013.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Glenn Greenwald, NSA Prism program taps in to user data of Apple, Google and others, The Guardian, June 6, 2013.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Barton Gellman and Laura Poitras, U.S., British intelligence mining data from nine U.S. Internet companies in broad secret program, The Washington Post, June 6, 2013.
  4. Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations, The Guardian, June 9, 2013.
  5. Glenn Greenwald, NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily - Exclusive: Top secret court order requiring Verizon to hand over all call data shows scale of domestic surveillance under Obama, The Guardian, June 5, 2013.
  6. Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, Public Split over Impact of NSA Leak, But Most Want Snowden Prosecuted,, June 17, 2013.
  7. National Security Agency, NSA Leadership,, Accessed June 19, 2013.