[ISN] National Security Agency retreats into secrecy shell

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Wed Nov 07 2001 - 01:25:50 PST

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    Forwarded from: William Knowles <wkat_private>
    By Laura Sullivan
    Sun Staff
    Originally published November 3, 2001
    The National Security Agency has spent the past eight years inching
    out of the shadows, courting public opinion and opening its doors in
    limited ways to win back wavering congressional support.
    But since Sept. 11, the agency has reverted to a place of secrets and
    seclusion, as shut down to outsiders as it was at the height of the
    Cold War. Its focus has narrowed to one mission: finding Osama bin
    Laden and his terrorist followers.
    The agency has called back more than 100 NSA veterans, most of them
    retired to nearby Howard and Anne Arundel counties. And at least that
    many employees have been sent abroad, according to one source, who
    said entire departments have been packed up and shipped to the Middle
    A driver from a local transportation company that contracts with NSA
    and Fort Meade, who did not want to be identified, said it has driven
    numerous passengers to Baltimore-Washington International Airport. The
    passengers, loaded with equipment, asked to be picked up in parking
    lots in the suburbs rather than at their homes or at the agency.
    NSA spokeswoman Judith Emmel said she couldn't comment on how many
    people might be abroad, but she said employees at the Fort Meade
    headquarters have been working around the clock.
    "When people say they are going to meet at 8," she said, "you have to
    ask if they mean 8 in the morning or 8 at night."
    Insiders say there are some who haven't left their offices since the
    The agency has been searching for bin Laden for more than two years,
    since the U.S. embassy bombings in Africa in 1998.
    Steve Uhrig, president of SWS Securities in Harford County, which
    provides intelligence and eavesdropping equipment to the NSA, said
    that before the attacks, he had sold the NSA a stash of "suitcase
    kits," portable listening devices best used against targets like the
    suspected terrorists.
    The kits, which are disposable and last about six weeks, travel well
    over rugged terrain and can track low-powered radio transmissions -
    especially those produced by people hiding with generators and ham
    radios, he said
    They can also help locate signals being "hidden" next to larger
    signals, Uhrig said.
    This new equipment could be key to tracking down bin Laden in a place
    that doesn't use the kind of sophisticated telecommunications and
    satellite technology the agency is so adept at cracking.
    Afghanistan, after decades of war and poverty, has few phone lines to
    tap or satellite links to eavesdrop on.
    But the communications methods bin Laden and the terrorists use could
    be elusive.
    "Anyone with a little computer understanding could get something up
    and running for him," Uhrig said. "If he kept his transmissions short,
    moved frequently, he could even put the transmitter 10 miles away from
    where he is, run a ground microwave relay to a hilltop and bounce it
    off a satellite, put it under an oil company's name. ... It could
    provide the perfect cover."
    Defense Department officials say finding him is the agency's No. 1
    "[The NSA] has anything and everything ... looking for signals of any
    kind," Uhrig said. "If you put enough people out there, someone is
    going to hear something."
    Some of the employees sent abroad will likely set up a temporary
    listening facility in Pakistan and put into use its Emergency Reaction
    Team, a small group with sophisticated eavesdropping skills that can
    move quickly into any region, said James Bamford, author of two books
    on the agency.
    Other NSA cryptologists and members of the other military intelligence
    agencies are already likely to be eavesdropping on signals from
    Afghanistan, from planes and ships in nearby waters, he said.
    There are a lot of communications to intercept, Bamford said, "The
    problem is most signals are probably going to be dealing with things
    that aren't related to finding bin Laden."
    Since the Cold War, the NSA had largely refocused its efforts from
    spying on the Soviet Union to helping the U.S. government in drug
    interdiction and monitoring worldwide financial transactions for
    bribes and extortion.
    In recent years, the Department of Defense has closed many of the
    listening stations in and around the Middle Eastern region that were
    once used to target Russian communications, including plans announced
    earlier this year to shut down the Bad Aibling Station in Germany in
    "Technology overcame them," said Tom A. Brooks, former director of
    naval intelligence. "High technology means more bounce, and satellites
    can collect that sort of thing for you. There was no longer a need to
    have a couple lonely guys sitting on a mountaintop in Iran."
    Now, those mountaintops are looking rather inviting, Brooks said.
    "There are things you can only get by being close," he said, adding
    that the NSA will also likely court the neighboring Uzbekistan and
    Tajikistan governments, which have years of experience tracking the
    Taliban, and enlist their help.
    As intelligence efforts abroad accelerate, the agency at home has
    hundreds of employees working overtime searching for clues to locate
    bin Laden and help ground and air troops locate targets.
    Just as life inside the agency has changed, so has its public image.
    For more than eight years, that image had been carefully crafted to
    present a more open agency.
    At numerous events over the past several years, the agency has
    showcased the heroic efforts of some of its alumni and attended
    hundreds of job fairs to promote itself. While closed to visitors, the
    agency has taken pains to be a good neighbor, talking with Anne
    Arundel County officials about its plans and needs, such as additional
    security fencing that has been unpopular with neighbors.
    But now concrete barricades block all but one entrance, and unmarked
    police cars pull up behind cars that linger on the side of the road.
    At the nearby Colony 7 Shell gas station, NSA employees, once chatty
    to station attendants, hide their agency badges and keep to
    The letters on the sign directing drivers to Fort Meade from
    Interstate 95 have also been removed, although the "NSA employees
    only" exit sign on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway is still in place.
    The agency has canceled more than a dozen public events, including
    lectures on site for former cryptologists.
    It has also locked down its long-standing symbol of openness and
    goodwill - the National Cryptologic Museum. Citing a lack of security,
    an agency spokeswoman said last week that the museum won't reopen any
    time soon.
    The facility, which opened in 1993 and has held events nearly every
    month for agency alumni and visitors for the past two years, sits
    outside the agency's perimeter security fence.
    An NSA official explained the agency is attempting to "keep a low
    profile," adding that it "doesn't seem appropriate" to comment on the
    war effort or its involvement.
    "Communications without intelligence is noise;  Intelligence
    without communications is irrelevant." Gen Alfred. M. Gray, USMC
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