Once upon a time Washingtonians said NSA stood for “No Such Agency.” Now NSA is well-known but is regarded as the most secretive of all U.S intelligence agencies. It is responsible for collecting signals intelligence such as email, texts, telephone calls and radio and TV communications. Its budget in 2014 was $10.8 billion.
The agency’s headquarters, located in Fort Meade, Maryland, 30 miles north of Washington D.C., has some 20,00 employees, according to press reports. The NSA has seven other locations around the country. The NSA is also a member of the so-called Five Eyes, an alliance of five English-speaking countries that share signals intelligence.
NSA was founded in 1952 by combining the cryptological components of the Army, Air Force, and Navy. After the attacks on September 11, 2001, the USA Patriot Act vastly expanded NSA’s collection activities. With the authorization of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the NSA began collecting phone and email communications of hundreds of millions of Americans. When questioned by Senator Ron Wyden in March 2013, James Clapper, director of national intelligence who had previously served as NSA director, denied that millions or hundreds of millions of people were under surveillance, which was not true. Clapper later apologized. In early 2019, it was reported that the Trump administration was ready to end the Section 215 surveillance program due to lack of results.
In 2013, Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor, orchestrated the largest leak in NSA history giving news reporters a trove of documents that detailed the agency’s surveillance operations at home and abroad. The Snowden documents showed NSA had received user data from Verizon and other telecommunications companies and eavesdropped on 38 embassies and missions, including those of European allies.
In October 2016, NSA joined CIA and FBI in finding that Russian state actors were seeking to influence the 2016 presidential election. An unclassified version of the intelligence community’s finding about Russian interference was released in January 2017.
President Trump has repeatedly said, without evidence, that President Obama ordered NSA to spy on his campaign, a charge echoed by Attorney General Bill Barr who said “spying did occur.” The NSA did eavesdrop on the conversations of one Trump associate, Carter Page, after obtaining a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court.
NSA in the news:
- National Insecurity: NSA Spyware Used to Hold U.S. Cities Hostage (May 28, 2019)
- A ‘Unmasking’ More Americans Picked Up By Mass Surveillance (May 3, 2019)
- Mass Surveillance Program Ended by Trump Uncovered Exactly One Terrorist Plot (March 13, 2019)
- NSA Web site
- The NSA’s Budget Revealed (Washington Post)
- Edward Snowden (Biography.com)
- Comments/Corrections/Suggestions About NSA