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Government Encryption Security News

New Report On NSA Released Today 81

Posted by kdawson
from the some-of-the-secrets-some-of-the-time dept.
daveschroeder writes "George Washington University has today released a three-volume history of NSA activities during the Cold War (major highlights). Written by agency historian Thomas R. Johnson, the 1,000-page report, 'Cryptology During the Cold War, 1945-1989,' details some of the agency's successes and failures, its conflict with other intelligence agencies, and the questionable legal ground on which early American cryptologists worked. The report remained classified for years, until Johnson mentioned it to Matthew Aid, an intelligence historian, at an intelligence conference. Two years later, an abstract and the three current volumes of the report are now available (PDF) from GWU and the National Security Archive. Aid, author of the forthcoming history 'The Secret Sentry: The Top Secret History of the National Security Agency,' says Johnson's study shows 'refreshing openness and honesty, acknowledging both the NSA's impressive successes and abject failures during the Cold War.' A fourth volume remains classified. Johnson says in an audio interview: 'If you are performing an operation that violates a statute like FISA, it's going to come out. It always comes out.'" And reader sampas zooms in on a section in Document 6 about the growth of NSA's IT: their first Cray purchase in 1976, the growth of circuits between facilities, and internal feuds over centralized IT development vs. programmers-in-departments. "A young systems engineer named [redacted] was urging NSA to look at some technology that had been developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). In 1969 DARPA had developed a computer internetting system called ARPANET... NSA quickly adopted the DARPA solution. The project was called platform."
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New Report On NSA Released Today

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  • by daveschroeder (516195) * on Friday November 14, 2008 @02:20PM (#25763029)

    ...are in another Wall Street Journal article [wsj.com]. On Vietnam:

    The NSA's role in Vietnam has been well documented in a specific agency history by agency historian Robert J. Hanyok, who wrote of NSA's botched intelligence on the supposed second attack in the Gulf of Tonkin. But Mr. Johnson's interpretation differs. Mr. Johnson hired Mr. Hanyok to expand on the more-limited treatment of the war in Mr. Johnson's history.

    Mr. Hanyok finds that NSA not only made analytic errors but it also withheld information from the White House, leading White House officials to believe that there had been a second attack when there hadn't been. Mr. Johnson maintains that the NSA was "flat wrong" in reporting a second attack in the Tonkin Gulf, but he attributes it to human error not an effort to manipulate the White House. (Vol. 2, p. 583)

    Another area of interest is the legal issues with which the NSA has always grappled:

    Mr. Johnson's history makes clear that NSA, and its predecessors, have long grappled with legal uncertainty. "Early American cryptologists worked without the knowledge of the American public," Mr. Johnson writes of the World War I period. "They even worked without knowing if what they were doing was legal or not. It was an odd and unsettling position to be in." (Vol. 1, p. 272)

    Even as Congress sought to clarify the laws on government intercept operations, the 1934 Federal Communications Act left vague whether such activities were legal. A 1950 bill amending the criminal code that then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson pushed gave legal protection to intercept activities. The NSA was created two tears later in a secret memo from President Truman, but it wasn't until 1959 that it was named in legislation.

    Meanwhile, the revelation in 1960 that two NSA employees had defected to the Soviet Union in prompted multiple agency investigations. An intensive screening of agency employees turned up 26 employees believed to be homosexual who were fired. "The proceedings were not all that a civil libertarian might have wanted, but they calmed the waters enough for NSA to begin functioning again," Mr. Johnson writes. (Vol. 1, p. 284)

    It wasn't until 1968 that NSA's activities were officially authorized through obscure language in a crime bill. "It did so just in time," Mr. Johnson writes. "The Watergate period and the attendant Church and Pike Committee hearings called into question all that was illegal about espionage and much of what was legal, too." (Vol. 2, p. 474)

    Those hearings revealed NSA's involvement with two eavesdropping programs -- known as Shamrock and Minaret. For decades, Shamrock obtained copies of cable traffic entering or leaving the U.S., and Minaret intercepted communications of Americans who had been placed on a watchlist.

    In his history, Mr. Johnson reveals that the NSA lawyer who first looked at Minaret "stated that the people involved seemed to understand that the operation was disreputable if not outright illegal." (Vol. 3, p. 85) Reports from the program were designed to look like they didn't come from NSA.

    Mr. Johnson gives great credit to NSA Director Gen. Lew Allen for shutting them down, noting that the director said "the did not pass the smell test." (Vol. 3, p. 84) Mr. Johnson is openly critical of the programs, writing, for example, that Minaret "came to a well-deserved end." (Vol. 3, p. 86)

    He says in an interview that NSA employees involved should have gone to their bosses and said, "Boss, if you keep doing this, you're violating the law, and you could go to jail."

    Mr. Johnson, in an interview, points to the current controversy over NSA's warrantless surveillance in the wake of 9/11. He noted that he was impressed to see reports that in 2004, about two and a half years into the program, NSA lawyers began demanding to see the White House's legal justifications for the program. Their efforts along with those of some new J

  • by X0563511 (793323) on Friday November 14, 2008 @02:48PM (#25763487) Homepage Journal

    Oh, and no. You need two subcritical masses, which when shot together are critical or supercritical.

    (this is nothing you can't glean from wikipedia)

  • Re:Biggest Failure?? (Score:2, Informative)

    by ElAurian (133656) on Friday November 14, 2008 @06:01PM (#25766039) Homepage

    The Cuban Missile Crisis was VASTLY more significant an intelligence failure than 9/11. There's no comparison!

    Simply put: If the Cuban Missile Crisis had gone south, billions of people would have been dead in a few short years. (After nuclear winter set in, and all the crops died.)

    9-11 involved the destruction of some buildings in one city, and the deaths of thousands of people.

    There's no comparison.

The bogosity meter just pegged.

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