It is the most secret agency within the United States Government. For many years, the government denied that it even existed (and, according to a Washington joke, the initials NSA stood for “No Such Agency”). It was established not by law but by a top secret presidential memorandum that has been seen by only a very few officials. Yet it is many times larger than the CIA, spends many billions of dollars more per year, and its director is possibly the most powerful official in the American intelligence community. It is the National Security Agency.
In the three decades since President Truman secretly created the agency in 1952, the NSA has managed to elude publicity to an extraordinary degree. Now, in the first book ever written on the National Security Agency, James Bamford traces its origins, details its inner workings, and explores its farflung operations.
He describes the city of fifty thousand people and nearly twenty buildings that is the Fort Meade headquarters of the NSA—where there are close to a dozen underground acres of computers, where a significant part of the world’s communications are monitored, and where reports from a number of supersophisticated satellite eavesdropping systems are analyzed. He also gives a detailed account of NSA’s complex network of listening posts—both in the United States and throughout much of the rest of the world.
When a Soviet general picks up his car telephone to call headquarters, when a New York businessman wires his branch in London, when a Chinese trade official makes an overseas call, when the British Admiralty urgently wants to know the plans and movements of Argentina’s fleet in the South Atlantic—all of these messages become NSA targets. James Bamford’s illuminating book reveals how NSA’s mission of Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) has made the human espionage agent almost a romantic figure of the past.