NSA has three-pronged systems plan

ORLANDO, Fla.'The National Security Agency is no longer an information agency in an industrial world, as it was when created in 1952, NSA's director said.

Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden said last month that the agency must change to meet new challenges. To that end, NSA is pushing a threefold IT agenda: bring in new managers from outside the agency, answer critics who claim the agency trespasses on the data privacy of U.S. citizens and make use of new technology to analyze the data NSA gathers.

These three efforts are driven by the fact that sometime in the 1990s, NSA became an island of data in the sea of the Information Age, Hayden said at the Information Processing Interagency Conference.

When Hayden joined NSA as its director in March 1999, he said he found technological obsolescence at the agency. 'That $3 trillion [telecommunications] industry was racing away from us,' he said.

Another of the agency's problems was that it had downsized from about 40,000 employees to 30,000 during the 1990s, Hayden said, citing figures he recently declassified himself.

NSA's problems reached a nadir when its entire asynchronous transfer mode network went down recently. Hayden said the event happened when Washington was gripped by a snowstorm that kept employees at home.

When they returned to their offices, they found hand-lettered signs advising them that the network was experiencing intermittent difficulties and to check with their supervisors before logging on. NSA managers later advised employees to keep the matter secret or Americans' lives could be at risk.

Outside help

Hayden said he had implemented the first part of his strategy, going outside for help, partly by hiring new senior officers from outside the agency.

He chose his deputy director, Bill Black, from the NSA Alumni Association. Hayden said he realized his deputy director had to be an NSA veteran, but he wanted one who had left the agency unhappy. NSA went to the IRS for its chief of IT, he said, and to the Walt Disney Co. for its chief of research.

To provide a continuing outside perspective, Hayden recruited members from the State Department, a college of liberal arts and the Air Force to serve on an advisory board. NSA also is working to counter accusations that it illegally eavesdrops on private citizens' communications.

The technology of information warfare has changed the privacy debate, Hayden said. During NSA's first 30 years, NSA rarely had to worry that it might accidentally tap private information, he said. 'But now there is a single global network where adversary and protected information coexists.'

Hayden said, 'If you want NSA to exist, it has to have [information-gathering] power and the trust that it won't touch protected information.'

The agency has raised its profile to get that message across, he said.

NSA also has a great deal to do in the field of new technology, Hayden said. He cited the Groundbreaker contract, a 10-year, $2 billion pact with Computer Sciences Corp. to provide IT for non-mission-critical systems.

'Our systems engineering contract is with Johns Hopkins University,' he said. 'We have given 19,000 clearances to contractors.'

Hayden added, 'We want to broaden our alliance with industry, and we want to buy outcomes, not inputs.'

Technological changes at NSA will be more about what happens to information once it is gathered rather than the process of gathering it.

'It is about dealing with the mass, dealing with the volume,' he said. 'We have generally succeeded in finding the needle in the haystack. But now there are too many haystacks. Now the problem is creating actionable information from the fact and pattern of haystacks.'

NSA has deployed a Cryptologic Services Group to the Homeland Security Department, Hayden said. Working with the new department 'plays to our sweet spot,' he said, adding. 'We are good at pushing information forward in a variety of classifications and formats.'

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