National Security Agency

The National Security Agency (NSA) is a national-level intelligence agency of the United States Department of Defense, under the authority of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). The NSA is responsible for global monitoring, collection, and processing of information and data for foreign and domestic intelligence and counterintelligence purposes, specializing in a discipline known as signals intelligence (SIGINT). The NSA is also tasked with the protection of U.S. communications networks and information systems.[8][9] The NSA relies on a variety of measures to accomplish its mission, the majority of which are clandestine.[10] The existence of the NSA was not revealed until 1975. The NSA has roughly 32,000 employees.[11]

National Security Agency
Seal of the National Security Agency
Flag of the National Security Agency

NSA Headquarters, Fort Meade, Maryland, c. 1986
Agency overview
FormedNovember 4, 1952; 69 years ago (1952-11-04)[1]
Preceding agency
  • Armed Forces Security Agency
HeadquartersFort Meade, Maryland, U.S.
39°6′32″N 76°46′17″W
Motto"Defending Our Nation. Securing the Future."
EmployeesClassified (est. 30,000–40,000)[2][3][4][5]
Annual budgetClassified (estimated $10.8 billion, 2013)[6][7]
Agency executives
Parent agencyDepartment of Defense
WebsiteNSA.gov

Originating as a unit to decipher coded communications in World War II, it was officially formed as the NSA by President Harry S. Truman in 1952. Between then and the end of the Cold War, it became the largest of the U.S. intelligence organizations in terms of personnel and budget, but information available as of 2013 indicates that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) pulled ahead in this regard, with a budget of $14.7 billion.[6][12] The NSA currently conducts worldwide mass data collection and has been known to physically bug electronic systems as one method to this end.[13] The NSA is also alleged to have been behind such attack software as Stuxnet, which severely damaged Iran's nuclear program.[14][15] The NSA, alongside the CIA, maintains a physical presence in many countries across the globe; the CIA/NSA joint Special Collection Service (a highly classified intelligence team) inserts eavesdropping devices in high value targets (such as presidential palaces or embassies). SCS collection tactics allegedly encompass "close surveillance, burglary, wiretapping, [and] breaking and entering".[16][17]

Unlike the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), both of which specialize primarily in foreign human espionage, the NSA does not publicly conduct human-source intelligence gathering. The NSA is entrusted with providing assistance to, and the coordination of, SIGINT elements for other government organizations – which are prevented by law from engaging in such activities on their own.[18] As part of these responsibilities, the agency has a co-located organization called the Central Security Service (CSS), which facilitates cooperation between the NSA and other U.S. defense cryptanalysis components. To further ensure streamlined communication between the signals intelligence community divisions, the NSA Director simultaneously serves as the Commander of the United States Cyber Command and as Chief of the Central Security Service.

The NSA's actions have been a matter of political controversy on several occasions, including its spying on anti–Vietnam War leaders and the agency's participation in economic espionage. In 2013, the NSA had many of its secret surveillance programs revealed to the public by Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor. According to the leaked documents, the NSA intercepts and stores the communications of over a billion people worldwide, including United States citizens. The documents also revealed the NSA tracks hundreds of millions of people's movements using cellphones' metadata. Internationally, research has pointed to the NSA's ability to surveil the domestic Internet traffic of foreign countries through "boomerang routing".[19]


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