[ISN] Crypto City Lifts the Drawbridge

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Sun Apr 29 2001 - 19:19:00 PDT

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    By Vernon Loeb
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Saturday, April 28, 2001; Page C01
    Seated in the lobby of the National Cryptologic Museum, between a
    German Enigma machine and a KGB mannequin, James Bamford couldn't have
    picked a more perfect place to sign copies of his new spy book, "Body
    of Secrets."
    But the amazing thing about Bamford's book party yesterday at the
    National Security Agency's official historic shrine was the fact that
    he was there at all.
    Two decades ago, when Bamford was writing his groundbreaking first
    book on the super-secret NSA, the Reagan administration threatened to
    prosecute him for espionage if he did not return sensitive documents
    he had obtained.
    Bamford refused, the administration backed off, and "The Puzzle
    Palace" became a huge bestseller at a time most Americans had never
    even heard of the NSA, jokingly referred to as "No Such Agency" by the
    spooks who lived by a strict NSA code -- never say anything. Little
    wonder Bamford was a big-time persona non grata at the NSA.
    How times have changed.
    A long line of NSA employees stretched at noontime from the
    book-signing table to the museum's parking lot at Fort Meade, the
    agency's sprawling home halfway between Washington and Baltimore. They
    apparently were unconcerned whether their security-minded bosses
    inside the agency's black-glass headquarters would find out that they
    were consorting with a muckraker.
    Bamford, 54, a lawyer and former Washington-based investigative
    producer at ABC News, brought 156 copies of "Body of Secrets" with him
    and sold them in less than an hour. He was still there signing at 4
    p.m., three hours after the event was supposed to end.
    "I'm absolutely amazed," he said, "and a lot of people brought both
    'Body of Secrets' and 'The Puzzle Palace,' which was nice."
    The biggest change by far at NSA, after the end of the Cold War and
    the advent of the telecommunications revolution, was the arrival two
    years ago of a new director, Michael V. Hayden, a cerebral three-star
    Air Force general.
    Hayden realized early on that he had to begin creating a public
    persona for the agency if he ever hoped to recruit computing talent
    and allay growing civil liberties concerns at home and in Europe --
    specifically that the agency was abusing a vast network of spy
    satellites and listening stations, a network capable of intercepting
    billions of phone calls, faxes and e-mails.
    Indeed, Hayden knew he had to convince the American people that NSA
    wasn't violating civil liberties before Hollywood convinced them it
    was. He'd seen "Enemy of the State," the popular Will Smith thriller
    that portrayed the agency as a vast and secret empire run by high-tech
    So Bamford's book party was but the latest manifestation of Hayden's
    thaw at Crypto City.
    "Hayden is the first director in a long time -- maybe the first
    director ever -- to understand the difference between excessive
    secrecy and realistic secrecy," Bamford said yesterday in an
    interview. "He is also the first director to understand that the NSA
    is not leading the technological revolution or the computer revolution
    anymore -- it's treading water. There had to be some radical changes,
    and he's the first to make radical changes, which isn't making
    everyone happy."
    One former agency official who isn't the least bit happy about
    Bamford's officially sanctioned book party is Mike Levin, who retired
    in 1993 as chief of information security. Even before reading
    Bamford's new book, Levin considers him a threat to national security.
    "Bamford really spit in our face with 'The Puzzle Palace,' " Levin
    complained earlier this week, "and Mike Hayden is turning the other
    But Bamford, a nattily dressed, mustachioed man with silver hair and a
    quiet demeanor, seemed anything but an NSA antagonist as he
    autographed books and chatted with all comers, undoubtedly searching
    for new insights into a world -- still highly secretive -- that he has
    managed to penetrate through years of dogged research.
    "Ninety percent of the book is very favorable to NSA," Bamford told a
    packed conference room at the Cryptologic Museum before taking his
    seat in the lobby and uncapping his pen. "It shows the great things
    NSA has done over the years."
    Tales of great success, of course, can be as damaging as tales of woe
    if they reveal to foreign adversaries how the agency performs its
    magic. Even with the thaw, Hayden and company remain obsessed with
    protecting "sources and methods." But with "Body of Secrets" in
    bookstores over the past two weeks, the agency doesn't seem overly
    concerned about any damage that may have been done.
    "Does it look like it's an assault on national security? I haven't
    read enough of it to determine that, but the parts I've read appear
    pretty interesting," said Judith A. Emmel, NSA's director of public
    With "The Puzzle Palace," published in 1982, Bamford earned a lasting
    place among contemporary nonfiction authors for his ability to
    penetrate a world that truly was "super-secret."
    He hunted down NSA retirees, exploited a loophole in the Freedom of
    Information Act that enabled him to obtain 6,000 pages of internal NSA
    newsletters, and refused to relinquish to the Reagan administration
    top-secret Justice Department reports on illegal domestic spy
    operations by NSA in the 1970s.
    "Body of Secrets" builds on that impressive body of work and will
    surely enhance Bamford's reputation. In the 719-page book, Bamford
    reveals how U.S. and British officials unearthed a giant German
    code-breaking machine immediately after World War II and, with the
    help of German cryptographers they found in prisoner of war camps,
    used it to break Soviet codes until 1948.
    He also tells how the United States gathered 700 pieces of
    sophisticated code-breaking equipment in a warehouse at Ton San Nhut
    air base at the end of the Vietnam War -- only to abandon them in the
    chaotic fall of Saigon. All of the machines, Bamford writes,
    presumably ended up in Soviet hands.
    But some of his most intriguing material deals with the NSA of today.
    "Crypto City," Bamford writes, "is home to the largest collection of
    hyperpowerful computers, advanced mathematicians and language experts
    on the planet. Within the fence, time is measured by the femtosecond
    -- one million billionth of a second -- and scientists work in secret
    to develop computers capable of performing more than one septillion
    (1,000,000,000000,000,000,000,000) operations every second."
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