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NSA, The Technology Future, and Where It Is 254

cowmix writes "It was weird watching 60 Minutes II last week when the head of the NSA was complaining that his organization was totally behind in technology. Further, he told of stories of the organization's horrible inefficiencies and even went into how at the first of January 2000 all the computers in the NSA were down for three days. The thing that really shocked me was seeing pictures of the inside of one of the NSA headquarters and also SEEING people decoding telephone conversations. I didn't know what to make of it."
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NSA, The Technology Future, and Where It Is

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  • I saw it too (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by Anonymous Coward
    They showed it in Europe too.

    Damn, I had a good laugh.

    "Waaaa... we don't have enough money to keep up with the evil net people who have the audacity to encrypt their e-mails, faxes and even telephone calls!"

  • All of the NSA's comps went down? Y2K? Strange how we are hearing about this now more than a year later...

    Runestar
    • more than a year later? You should have never heard about it b/c it should never have happened..
      • That goes without saying. The fact that something did happen, and wasn't reported until now is the interesting aspect. Granted the NSA wouldn't want us knowing about it's problems. The fact that we know now is very ineresting to me atleast.

        Runestar
        • It is not really that strange (or at least I dont think so). What is the main reason things went down ?.. The lack of money... There's always lack of money, and I bet even NSA has to cut it's budget sometimes. So, if they leak some information about this to the public, they maybe hope to casue a public demand for more money to the NSA ?

          If noone knows what they do, it's quite hard to motivate those huge sums of money sent into the organization. If people on the other hand knows what they are doing (fighting terrorism and other horrible crimes), then perhaps we could live with a few more taxdollars for the NSA. If they catch a bomber before he blows up a bunch of innocent people, thats worth quite a lot to me.


          So ... this is a bit like the big brother syndrome, NSA is reading my email. Well I dont really mind. I concider myself a normal citizen, i study computer science (MSc), pay my taxes and enjoy the society. If I send a mail to my friend Mr John Doe, and NSA has some AA (probably a neural net) scanning my mail for "bomb", "saddam" or "stalin", well fine. Dont think they actually have people reading all your private loveletters :-)


          What I'm trying to say is, they probably leaked this to make people understand what they are doing, why they are doing it, and that they need more money.
          Correct me if i'm wrong.

    • Old News. It was reported in Jan 2000.
      I was involved in Y2K remediation at the time and I remember it being reported in mainstream news media, although it was ususally (but not always) reported as "DoD Satellite Intelligence".
    • Ironically the super spy agency was one of the
      few organizations to report a serious Y2K problem.
  • by garcia ( 6573 ) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @01:32PM (#2268006)


    I am beginning to wonder about the role that the NSA is playing. If they are becoming so open, allowing cameras in, openly admitting to being subjected to serious y2k downtime? Telling their families/neighbors they are part of the organization?

    Perhaps this is a diversion from a newer, better agency working behind closed doors. Please let me hope so. If the NSA really had the problems they said I am quite afraid of the problems we may encounter w/China and International terrorists (especially now that we are thinking of arming Taiwan w/missles)
    • In the book "This Perfect Day" by Ira Levin (author of Rosemary's Baby), all of society worldwide is controlled by the massive benevolent UniComp computer. Tourists are taken in droves to see UniComp in its daily operations.

      Only it's not really UniComp. The real Uni is hidden in an underground complex, and its sole purpose is to keep a certain political leader in power...

      This novel hasn't been in print for years and reading it is a rare opportunity. I think it forebodes today's society in many interesting ways...
    • Perhaps this is a diversion from a newer, better agency working behind closed doors.

      You are correct. The NRO has a huge budget and are almost unknown to the American public.

      • The NRO is the same age as NSA, and has a completely different mission. NRO is responsible for launching and operating surveillance platforms. They pass the data on to various agencies (including NSA) to do whatever they do with it. NRO does not use or analyse anything.

        There is nothing sinister about the new openess with both NRO and NSA. They have merely been directed to open up a bit so the budgets and operations can be scrutinized a little better. This began about 5 years ago. Regardless, you will still never see the things they regard as truly classified, and there are still a few programs that will not be admitted to.

    • Perhaps this is a diversion from a newer, better agency working behind closed doors.

      Naturally -- they're just a blind for CURE [sinanju.com].

    • Not really all that open. The cameras were allowed in to specific places at specific times. I'd bet that the people listening to Bin Laden's current cell phone conversatons just happened to be working on a different floor, that day. Remember that these people are issued office keys by machine every morning. They probably take it completely in stride to find that they're working in a different office -- or even in a different building -- this morinig.


      Also: The cameras allowed in were video cameras. Compared to film, video has a very low resolution. You're not going to be able to blow up an image and discern much text on a screen that a video camera isn't obviously focused on.


      One of the things about intelligence is designing when to let your adversaries know what information. Their computer outage was more than a year ago. There's not much that an enemy could do with that data now. Chances are that important data from that time was collected, stored, and has been decoded/dealt with by now.


      Then there's the fact that the Europeans are releasing reports on joint signal collecting (I can't remember the name of the agreement, just now) this week. I timely moment to mention that the domestic spook agency feels powerless.


      It's not a shock to me that the NSA is releasing information. My questions are:

      • why
      • How much of it is accurate and
      • what did they hide from us?

  • by none2222 ( 161746 ) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @01:33PM (#2268012)
    I have a hard time trusting the director of the NSA's public assessment of that organizations capabilities. Keep in mind, the very existence of the NSA was classified for decades.


    Now, we're supposed to believe that the NSA when they go on national TV and complain about their lack of money? Bullshit! Perhaps if their budget was not classified to begin with, this would warrant looking into. As it stands, I'll take any info from the NSA as the FUD it is.

    • by The_Steel_General ( 196801 ) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @03:24PM (#2268474)
      Believe it. What he said (bureaucracy, office politics, inefficiency) was exactly my impression when I worked there not so long ago.

      It is, furthermore, the real reason why I get disgusted by NSA's anti-crypto stance: It's about protecting their jobs exactly as they are today. There's this expectation of entitlement, that because they've always been able to decrypt some significant percentage of messages, they should always be able to do so. Adapting to changes in technology? Hey, that's for the rest of the world, not us. Focus on weak links, traffic analysis, other techniques forced upon us in the past? C'mon, there's only 8 hours in a day -- we'll just outlaw anything that would make our work more difficult.

      It's resulted in absurdities like encryption jobs (and know-how!) moving to other countries, CSS's unusually easy-to-break "encryption," and t-shirts classified as munitions. Way to go, guys.

      I will certainly agree that it might cost more, but I, too, would like some assurance that Congress isn't paying them to remain clueless bureaucrats. I don't insist that they open up every line item throughout their budget -- just some acknowledgment of their new, post-Cold War situation. I would love for DIRNSA to get in front of Congress and say "Okay, we can't count on being able to break the encryption on any message out there, so we're changing the focus of our efforts to X, Y, and Z. We'll continue encryption research, try to figure out the best way to crack existing schemes, but our efforts have to take into account the rising tide of encryption technology use. But for that to be successful, we'll need more money because..."

      Would that be so hard?

      TSG

      • "Okay, we can't count on being able to break the encryption on any message out there, so we're changing the focus of our efforts to X, Y, and Z. We'll continue encryption research, try to figure out the best way to crack existing schemes, but our efforts have to take into account the rising tide of encryption technology use. But for that to be successful, we'll need more money because..."

        There wouldn't be much public support for it. Society has labelled the NSA as a relic of the Cold War and now they're considered the "enemy" of the American public...

        I doubt that they would get much money at all, to be honest with you.

      • Change... (Score:3, Informative)

        by J.J. ( 27067 )
        The interview on 60 Minutes was not with the Director of NSA - it was with the ex-director of NSA. How else do you think he got on 60 Minutes?

        The current director, General Hayden, has made leaps and bounds in overcoming the beaucracy in the NSA in the recent years.

        Things are getting better. It's difficult to create a government organization that's dynamic, flexible and responsive to changing trends in the technological sector. The NSA was at one time, and perhaps will be again.

    • Now, we're supposed to believe that the NSA when they go on national TV and complain about their lack of money?

      No... of course not. How much do you think all that authentication technology costs? Its gotta be a huge amount... and they are still working on it. In cash strapped places, R&D is usually (stupidly) the first to go. I don't think they are out of money. You wouldn't be able to tell if you looked at the budget anyway... its funding is hidden under many many psuedonyminous appropriations.

      The most probably reason that they are opening up is to show them as kinder, gentler, and "working hard for democracy." New books about them like Crypto and the new one by the author of the Puzzle Palace are starting to shine light on their activities and the fact that they have been a stumbling block to some privacy technology. As more and more Americans become aware of privacy as an "issue," they are also becoming aware of this "secret" organization. I am guessing this is a bunch of pre-spin to stem the tide of an upcomming backlash (which, in a round about way, may give No Such Agency a funding problem in the future). It also could be a means to attack new privacy technologies... by getting public support for future crackdowns.

    • I'd believe the part about some of their tech being behind the times.

      Tempest workstations are costly, clunky, and a few years behind the state of the art. The time and effort required for certification is long!

      The certification is real fun. You give them the equipment and get back either a pass or fail. No indication as to why it failed. Guess, fix and try, try again. Happy happy joy joy!
  • Suddenly I have a scene from the movie Hackers going through my head. Cereal Killer's monolog (inside Cyberdelia) about Orwell, 1984, and our names going through thousands of computers each day starts ringing in even more true...

  • by Anonymous Coward
    *sigh*

    If only they'd been using *nix Beowulf clusters, eh?
    • ... a Beowulf cluster of NSA employees decrypting messages?

      Sorry, I couldn't resist.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    NSA: Ce pathogène est sérieux.
  • Body of Secrets (Score:5, Informative)

    by ksw2 ( 520093 ) <obeyeaterNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday September 08, 2001 @01:37PM (#2268040) Homepage
    It's not the first time we've heard of the Y2k incident... read Body of Secrets by James Bamford. It's an excellent book detailing the entire history of the NSA.
  • by Red Moose ( 31712 ) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @01:38PM (#2268049)
    What, lots of nudges and winks during it? Lots of metaphors? Double-entendres?


    How about someone tells me where I can get something to ENCODE my telephone conversations. I tried it today manually and it's a real bitch to keep saying "Dot-dot-dash-dash-dash". I got sick of that, and then tried ROT-13 in conversation but that was even worse, so I just went back to speaking English.


    Surely the terrorists are foreign and so speak foreign languages? Maybe stop employing geeks and get some linguists? It's like, why don't airplane hijackers just get the on the right goddamn plane in the first place like the rest of the people who can READ THE GODDAMN FLIGHT INFORMATION SCREENS.

    • Very true, but as much as I don't want to trust the NSA, I don't want to trust 60 minuites a\even more. IMHO, 60 minuites is just another one of those "Sensationalize the story so that it appeals to the common denominator" type shows. I would trust the NSA more so then I would trust 60 minuites. But that's just me.
  • by TastyWheat ( 302413 ) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @01:40PM (#2268061)
    The NSA is full of more shit than the christmass turkey. I suppose all their voice recognition systems on echelon are condidered low level technology. NSA can eat shit and die until they stop listening to my phone calls. They just want more money so they can upgrade echelon to peer right through the roof of your house. They won't be satisfied until they can read our minds.
  • Propaganda (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sneakums ( 2534 ) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @01:40PM (#2268062)

    Clearly this is a whitewash, designed to lull the public into complacency. The NSA is a highly-honed machine, and the American public are the victims of a massive hoax.

    Spread the word!

    • by rbeattie ( 43187 )

      It's a plot! The NSA goes on 60 minutes to complain about their technology KNOWING that someone would post a link on /. and now they are watching posts for signs of "dangerous hackers."

      Don't think for a minute the NSA isn't watching you NOW.

      Then again maybe the NSA is a typical government agency that promotes mismanagement and ineptitude. Think about your local DMV only with encryption.

      Or maybe I'm a NSA mole trying to put you off the scent of the real scheme... (Never ending, isn't it...)

  • It isn't strange that the NSA lacks money to general technology - that Echelon system must have costed a few dead presidents.
  • by bihoy ( 100694 ) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @01:44PM (#2268081)

    It would seem to me that the NSA may benifit from being perceived as behind in technology on several fronts. First it may cause those they monitor to let their guard down, though I cna't imagine anyone with any smarts really falling for that old trick.

    Second, and more importantly, it gives them an edge in seeking additional funding. Now I don't know how their funding is approved (does anyone) but I wouldn't be surprised if it has become an issue.

    Can we really trust that there is any validity to these statements and what was shown. How would you verify this information.


  • Be careful about anything said about the NSA. The NSA is one of the departments of hidden activity of the U.S. government.

    The NSA has an essentially unlimited amount of money. Citizens of the U.S. are not allowed to know the amount.

    Would the NSA spend millions of dollars to engineer an elaborate lie? Yes, it might. We have no way of knowing whether it did.

    Hidden activities are anti-democratic. If citizens aren't allowed to know what the government does, how can citizens help govern? Are your tax dollars being spent wisely? You are not allowed to know.

    • There is a cycle: 1) The U.S. government influences other governments in hidden ways, including arranging the killing of foreign leaders. 2) Some members of the countries with whom the U.S. has interfered want to retaliate violently to the violence of the U.S. 3) The U.S. uses the violent retaliation as a justification for more hidden activity.

      Secrecy is incompatible with democracy.
    • If citizens aren't allowed to know what the government does, how can citizens help govern?

      This is what being in a representative democracy is all about. You don't necessarily know what the gov't is doing. You have to trust your elected officials. If you don't like what they're doing (did) you just don't vote for them next time. It seems like a haphazard way to run things, but it has worked this far.

      Remember that the NSA, CIA, and what have you do need to justify themselves to commitees of the officials you elect. So you are indirectly controlling how your tax dollars are spent.

      • Perhaps your forget that the NSA and CIA are agencies designed to keep their activities hidden. Lying is not only acceptable to them, it is encouraged. Do you think that they disclose everything to the elected officials? I think they don't.

        I think the elected officials are very busy, and don't have the time to comprehend what the NSA is doing.

        Also, this is my guess: I guess that there is not one elected official who understands the technology the NSA uses. If you know of a technically knowledgeable congressman or senator, please tell me who that is. These are the same people who gave us the DMCA!

      • Another comment: Democracy depends on citizens being able to discover if the elected officials are doing a good job. When agencies of the government are allowed to be secretive, we have no way of holding them accountable. We have no way of knowing whether we should vote for an elected official, because we have no way of knowing what he or she did when working in secrecy.

        I don't know if the NSA is doing a good job. You don't know that, either. And, neither of us have any way of collecting accurate information, so that we could form an opinion.

        U.S. government agencies have, in the past, admitted to arranging the killing of foreign leaders. If that is their history, certainly morality won't stop them from committing any crime, or publishing any lie.
    • The NSA has an essentially unlimited amount of money. Citizens of the U.S. are not allowed to know the amount.

      This is simply no longer the case. It was true of the NSA and other intel agencies during the cold war, especially during the Reagan years. However, with Congressional interest in a balanced budget, these agencies have been scrutinized fairly intensely and now have to operate their programs within budgets.

      That is actually one reason that they are 'behind' in some ways. They used to have all the money they wanted to build anything they needed from the ground up. Now they are shifting from that model to needing to use prebuilt components ('COTS' - Consumer Off The Shelf). There is not as much expertise with using these types of components, and in many cases they engineer systems in sort of strange ways because the COTS products are treated as if they were developed internally in regard to testing and design.

      • It has been reported many times that the budgets of the secret agencies of the U.S. government are hidden in appropriations for other items. You and I certainly have no way of knowing how much money is spent.

        The NSA is an agency that is allowed to lie. The secret agencies of the U.S. government are allowed to put mis-information in U.S. newspapers. How can you determine when they are telling the truth? I don't think you can.

        There are no laws that effectively govern secret agencies, because what they do is secret. No one can know whether they lived by the law.

        The NSA spies on everyone, you, me, and everyone in the world. This is an issue for everyone, not just U.S. citizens. The NSA is an agency that respects no boundaries. The NSA is part of a worldwide secret police force. It is an example of the U.S. emphasis on being adversarial rather than cooperating.

        The result has been extremely expensive and devastating. The U.S. helped Saddam Hussein become strong, then killed 150,000 Iraqis when he became too strong.

        We often hear about secret activities of the U.S. government after it is too late to object. The U.S. supported the killing of president Mossadegh of Iran, and supported an extremely weak man, the Shah. (See Iran 1953: Making it safe for the King of Kings) [thirdworldtraveler.com], for example.) This provoked a revolution in Iran that was hostile to the U.S. Citizens of the U.S. were kept hostage. The U.S. secret agencies' secret answer to the anti-U.S. sentiment was to support Saddam Hussein of Iraq against Iran.

        When executives do things openly they make lots of mistakes, and are sometimes held accountable, usually in a very peaceful way, and often by their own staffs. When executives do things in secret, there is little accountability, and the mistakes can become huge.

        Not only did the U.S. kill 150,000 Iraqis, the U.S. killed more than 2,000,000 Vietnamese during its war in Vietnam. As I said in an earlier post, the U.S. has invaded 13 countries in the last 30 years.

        Invading countries and killing the residents and destroying their property is not a way of relating I consider socially skilled. Why do the citizens of one country think they can kill the citizens of another? If killing is the answer, can't the U.S. ask a better question?

        The interference in the affairs of other countries by the secret U.S. agencies has prompted some people to retaliate. These people who retaliate are called "terrorists" in the U.S. The terrorists make everyone in the U.S. less safe. So, U.S. citizens have, in some ways, gotten less security for the money that they spent.

        The violent attitude has spread to the internal police forces in the U.S. When some religious fanatics decided to do stupid things in Waco, Texas, the U.S. government responded by bringing in very violent-minded people. The result was death.

        There were people who didn't like the activities of the U.S. police forces in Waco. There were people who were psychologically de-centered by these activities. One of them bombed a U.S. government building in Oklahoma. So then the U.S. government killed him.

        Secrecy encourages people not to trust. Violence encourages violence.

        Secrecy in government does not work. It should be minimized or eliminated. The main issue here is not whether the NSA sometimes does terrible things, or whether one country should maintain secret police forces (the NSA and CIA and others) in all the other countries. The issue is that we have no way of knowing what secret agencies do. When what they do is wrong, they don't even need to hide their mistakes, because everything is already secret.

        There in no intent in this to claim that people in the U.S. are better or worse than people anywhere. The main point is only that huge amounts of money combined with secrecy result in huge mistakes.
  • So this is the word of the head of the NSA? The same NSA whos very existance was denied until recently? The same NSA who's activities are entirely based around misleading everybody as to their objectives and secretly gathering information on members of the public? The same NSA who invented the concept "secrets and lies" as an actual corporate vision statement??? And we're expected to believe this? Come on, /.! This is what those in the business call "misinformation"!
  • by gr8fulnded ( 254977 ) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @01:50PM (#2268109)
    Here's a three page article which appeared in the Washington Post Magazine about a month ago. More in-depth then the 60 mins one and goes into the some details about the problems facing The Agency in the coming years... Washington Post NSA article [washingtonpost.com]
  • by YIAAL ( 129110 ) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @01:50PM (#2268111) Homepage
    They just want you to think that they're horribly behind the times. They're actually already using quantum decryption, and laughing at your puny 256-bit PGP keys.
  • NSA (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    My aunt works with crypto for The Company. She's amazingly good at avoiding conversation on the topic, but from what I've been able to pick up, the concept of the NSA being a more open, friendly, and underfunded is completely bunk. It's an interesting PR move, though. They must have a reason for saying and doing such things, and I suspect is has to do with gaining the public's trust.
  • Most government agencies stink. There's no competition, no possibility of going bankrupt. I think that makes quality control very difficult.

    I believe this problem is much MORE pronounced in the national security bureaucracy. People can't be fired without contemplating the security risks. Ineffective people can be concealed, because so much is concealed. Old boys networks can flourish unchecked. The degree of public accountability is essentially nil.

    I know NSA has a lot of bright people, but they must also have more deadwood than the coast of Maine.

    • Which is why there are "Hall Walkers". Employees who do nothing. . .anymore. A desk, and no work. They have literally nothing more to do than walk the halls.


      The story of the Hall Walkers has been around for years: my only experience with No Such Agency was in teaching a pilot course for them: they were switching from Unix to Windows NT, if you can believe it, and the follow-on training courses are still ongoing: I only finished teaching the pilot course 15 months ago. . .

  • by Anonymous Coward
    "Oh, yes, we at the NSA are sooo behinf the times (Dammit, bob, hide those E10K's under your desk! the reporters are coming! Yes, you'll have to pretend to fare with "crappy" 1.4Ghz dual Athlons..) and, as such, we should.. um.. get more funding. Oh yeah, and we suck, and our computers crash all the time, so people don't *need* to encrypt their stuff, because we couldn't read it anyways, right? Ha ha ha... Oh, and the reaon we're suddenly saying all of this is that.. uh.. times change, and the NSA must go public. Yeah, that's it! Coming soon to NASDAQ: ticker NSA!"
  • I dunno what is going on at the NSA, but I know that the people from the NSA aren't gonna tell you the truth about it. The notion that this could be even remotely truthful is rediculous; an agency charged with intelligence gathering on all foreign soil admits publicly that it's out of shape, underfunded, and vulnerable? Yeah, sure, I believe that. I'd sooner bet my life savings on the theory that somewhere sits a document detailing counterintelligence plans to spread propaganda like this for the simple purposes of winning a bigger budget or deceiving foreign targets.
    • . . .if you think about it, that is EXACTLY the reputation a good intelligence agency would want those outside of it to think it has: dim and backwards...


      I'm HOPING all of this is a cover story. . .

  • this link (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    has some cool stuff about crypto invloving the NSA. [cbsnews.com]
  • by th3walrus ( 191223 ) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @02:18PM (#2268242)
    The NSA probably is behind... way behind. I've worked on several government projects (none classified or anything though) and they've all been way behind the times. Why do you think there was such a big call for legacy programmers a few years back? And why do you think there isn't anymore? Did they just all of a sudden get everything up to date? No... They quit.

    Also, the NSA has been really trying hard to get new young faces in their information security departments. They've even gone so far as offering dot-com competitive salaries and benefits to their programmers and systems people.

    Besides, they're not gods. They're just people like you or me, and it's just a 'company' like any other. Why couldn't they be having some financial difficulties? Sure, we pay tons of taxes, but the government is more interested in feeding bums and helping other nations than protecting our country.
  • Really? The NSA is woefully behind in technology? I can't prove that any of these supercomputers went to the NSA but looking at this list [netlib.org], the government now owns at least seven of the top five-hundred supercomputers. Most of these are in the top 200 and all were bought in the past four years. Note the computer's uses are classified so who knows if the NSA got them or all went to the FBI and CIA.
    • As someone who worked at a DoD Lab I can tell you that a good number of those supercomputers are NOT at the NSA. Now could they be doing NSA work? Sure I guess they could, since I couldn't possible know the task of all the cycsle of all the machines i managed (admin not tech manage). But I knew the researchers and the work they were doing and most of it revolved around seriously basic science like modeling chemical reactions, not cracking codes.

      Yes I physically saw the computers and there are 4 of these "High Performance Computing Labs" called Major Shared Resource Centers and then several "lesser" sites. called Distributed Centers. Check out http://www.hpcmo.hpc.mil/ I used to work for these guys.

  • Not "exactly" true (Score:1, Interesting)

    by jrwillis ( 306262 )
    There was an article in the Post last month that had an interview with the current head of the NSA that basically said the same things. While the NSA my have some of the same problems that other government agencies have, some of their claims are not exactly true. I have 2 friends with some knowledge on the subject. The first was with the NSA during the early 70's at an NSA base in a country that "America wasn't at." The second is online currently at Ft. Meade. Both will tell you that the technology used is truly amazing and that money is not much of an issue. All workstations get replaced roughly yearly. In closing, I don't think the NSA is the big bad agency that most people make them out to be. After all, there is a shred of patriotism left in America and I'd like to think that that the fine individuals employed with the National Security Agency are a corner post of this patriotism.
  • Where are the Lone Gunmen when you really need them?
  • If you guys have not been paying attention for the last year (Its ok.....), they do this EVERY year.... Last year's slashdot post on the NSA needing more money refrenced a previous year's post. Come on....
  • by dragons_flight ( 515217 ) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @03:08PM (#2268428) Homepage
    Bullshit warning: I'm about to pull a lot of numbers out my ass. I hope to be semi-reasonable and conservative, but it's guesswork nonetheless.

    Let's suppose for the sake of argument the NSA can in fact intercept any transmission and beyond that can convert any spoken words in any language to flawless text.

    5 minutes of phone time per person per day worldwide
    6 billion people
    at least 1 word every 3 seconds
    2 people in the typical conversation
    8 character average word length (w/ space)
    = 2.4 Terabytes per day

    200 important daily newspapers
    50,000 words per issue
    = 80 Mbytes per day

    5,000 magazines / periodicals
    median time of 2 weeks
    100 pages on average
    average 400 words per page
    = 114 Mbytes per day

    15,000 worldwide radio stations
    35% of time is spoken
    1 word every 2 seconds in spoken segments
    = 1.8 Gigabytes

    7 million new webpages a day (source [cyveillance.com])
    10k average size
    = 70 Gigabytes per day

    500 million email users
    average 0.5 email sent per user per day
    18k average email size (source [berkeley.edu])
    = 4.5 Terabytes per day

    Total = 7 Terabytes per day

    If the NSA really were out to track everything, suffice it to say, it's one monster of a computer engineering problem. We are generating more information than ever and don't have the same kinds of well defined enemies. And how many actual analysts are required to make any sense of all that? Is it any wonder they might be falling behind?

    Of course I'm sure there are lots of sources of information, such as TV, that I haven't even covered.
    • what % of the 6 billion even have phones? Probably not as much as you might even think.

      Reminds me of the SantaClaus thing about how he would have to approach the speed of light to visit every child on earth in a 24-hour period: until you factor out that the % of christian children among all those in the world is like ~20%
      • Well I certainly didn't come up with 5 minutes a person looking to the industrialized world. Most people in the US use far more than that. For instance my teenage sister probably spends 2 hours a day talking to her best friend. That way she has covered her alotment and 23 other people without phones.

        Seriously, if only 20% of the world has regular phone service (and I'd guess it's a least a little higher than that), then they only have to average 25 minutes a day amongst themselves to still result in 5 minutes a day average worldwide.

        It's meant as an average. I never thought to claim that everyone talks for 5 minutes a day.
    • They probably meant they potentially have access to everything. That doesn't mean they actually intercept and process everything... As any student can tell you: a large part of information gathering is a) knowing where to look, and b) separating the useful data from the fluff.

      They probably only tap the usual suspects: arabs, commies, foreigners, blacks, homosexuals, environmentalists, pacifists. Probably in that order.

      I can't imagine they bother to screen slashdot posts :)
  • One of the nicest people I've ever known works for NSA crypto and loves his job. Won't talk about much more than that though.
  • Shaa right (Score:5, Insightful)

    by z4ce ( 67861 ) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @03:27PM (#2268492)
    Do they given read their own web page? This is a organization who employees many of the top mathematicians in the world. From their own about [nsa.gov] web page:

    NSA employs the country's premier codemakers and codebreakers. It is said to be the largest employer of mathematicians in the United States and perhaps the world.


    Oh, yes and it gets way better.. from the FAQ [nsa.gov]..


    How many people work for the NSA/CSS and what is its budget?

    Neither the number of employees nor the size of the Agency's budget can be publicly disclosed. However, if the NSA/CSS were considered a corporation in terms of dollars spent, floor space occupied, and personnel employed, it would rank in the top 10 percent of the Fortune 500 companies. It is far from true that NSA/CSS has an unlimited "black" budget, unknown by other government entities. While the budget and size of the NSA/CSS are classified, these details are known by the Office of Management and Budget, by both the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), and by the Defense Subcommittees of the Appropriations Committees in both houses of Congress. Resources allocated to NSA/CSS are subject to rigorous examination and approval processes.

    In 1997, the aggregate figure for all U.S. Government intelligence and intelligence-related activities ? of which NSA/CSS was one segment ? was made public for the first time. The aggregate intelligence budget was $26.6 billion in fiscal year (FY) 1997 and $26.7 billion for FY98. The intelligence budget for FY99 has not been publicly released.


    Aw.. poor NSA only gets $26 Billion dollars. It's only the equivalent to a Fortune 50 company. Yeah.. I'm sure its technology is _ancient_.

    You know.. we don't actually know jack about our defense capablities I don't think. Of course, if we did then our enemies would also, and they wouldn't be nearly as effective. For example, living in St. Louis, I was talking to someone from Boeing and mentioned how they must not too happy that their missile tests failed. He just laughed and said he couldn't talk about it's classified. Makes you wonder if maybe he was inferring that those public tests don't totally represent the actually success of the projects...
    • You know.. we don't actually know jack about our defense capablities I don't think. Of course, if we did then our enemies would also, and they wouldn't be nearly as effective. For example, living in St. Louis, I was talking to someone from Boeing and mentioned how they must not too happy that their missile tests failed. He just laughed and said he couldn't talk about it's classified. Makes you wonder if maybe he was inferring that those public tests don't totally represent the actually success of the projects...

      Well, in this case I would disagree.

      When Reagan originally proposed SDI he actually spoke about a missile defense sheid that could not be penetrated. He then said we'd share the technology with the Soviets so that there would never be an attack since it would always fail.

      In this case I would think we would WANT our enemies to know how good our capabilities at shooting down missiles are. This way they wouldn't attack.

      Even if we had a 99% success rate with this system it would still benefit an enemy to launch 100 missiles so that one might get through.

      So if anything, I would say we're lying and OVER-estimating our successes, just as we did in the Gulf War when we were told our Patriots were shooting down Scuds left and right, only to learn that we only had something like 2 successful intercepts, and in each of those cases the missile body was blown apart, but the Scud's warhead still fell to earth and exploded.

      As always, this new SDI is just congress and the president paying off their corporate masters with HUGE defense contracts to repay them for their campaign contributions. Rich...

      • Don't be too sure (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Hangtime ( 19526 )
        Back in high school I read a fiction book by Steven Coonts called the Minotaur. The book was about a high placed mole within the American government feeding information to the Soviets. The whole concept was to feed the Soviets "actual" information about our defense capabilities to get them to move and upgrade certain parts of their defense and essentially give up hope of trying to win.

        I thought this was an interesting concept so I started to do a little researching. During the Cold War the Soviets employed a VAST array of missle and radar techonolgy throughout the country in order to combat the bomber threat of a US nuclear strike headed by B-1bs, B-2s, A-10s, and F-117a's and other airborne flight systems including going after AWACS aircraft guiding all these weapon systems.

        In the end though the Soviets left the oceans open. This is where America truly deployed its nuclear defense arsenal as opposed to ground and air-based systems. The "boomers" Ohio-class and the nuclear-powered Los Angeles and enhanced LA "hunter-killers" versus an aging fleet of Soviet subs gave the US defacto reign underneath the water. Whereas the U.S. was able to track Soviet Typhoon (boomers) class subs, the Soviets could never track the Ohios with any consistency during the Cold War (if at all) due to its silent operation and sound dampening technologies.

        So what do we learn. Sometimes you can divulge information that is factual to mask your true intentions. Using a truth to cover up another truth. The Soviets were scared enough of the B-1B with its ability to go supersonic and a big payload, also they much have known about the B-2 and F-117a's before the public did, why else would you invest that heavily in radar and missle technology. I won't say it all happened this way but it sure falls into place and makes a lot of sense.

        Here's something for you to chew on boy genius. Let's say indeed someone launched 100 nuclear warheads at the US and we shot down 99 of them but one got through but through faulty upkeep didn't explode. I bet you would be pretty damn happy then wouldn't you. The world is a very ugly and dirty place. There are MANY people and countries who hate the United States for a number of different reasons. Why did Saddam Hussein not ever launch chemical warheads at Israel during the Gulf War? He knew if he did Israel would fire nukes right back at him.

        Personally, I hope we never have to goto war. I don't feel its a good way to solve anything but extremists and irrational people don't responsd to logic and sometimes it takes a good-old-fashioned buttkicking to get it through there heads, ie Saddam Hussein. However there are a special breed of people who don't think about consequences of their actions and are willing to die for their cause. Do you believe a full reactionary nuclear strike from the United States is going to deter someone who has a deathwish and willing to die and take all the country's people with him/her? Of course not, because their willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. There lies the fault with MAD it assumes rationality and/or a wanting to live and hold onto power. Saddam was irrational but he was never stupid enough to believe that he wouldn't pay dearly from a nuclear strike. MAD makes sense when you have two superpowers trying to build their influence throughout the world, it doesnt against a dictator with a nuke having a really bad day and genuine hatred of the US so much as to die for it.

        HT
        • Personally, I hope we never have to goto war. I don't feel its a good way to solve anything but extremists and irrational people don't responsd to logic and sometimes it takes a good-old-fashioned buttkicking to get it through there heads, ie Saddam Hussein.

          And how well did that work?

          However there are a special breed of people who don't think about consequences of their actions and are willing to die for their cause.

          How do you deal with someone that committed? Is there any good military solution to that problem? Can you solve it with outrageously expensive, unreliable, brute force technological measures?

          If you want to talk about Cold War thinking, don't forget to mention building a massive defense against ICBMs. ICBMs! I can scarcely think of a more unlikely killer maniac than one who chooses to take the time, expense, and risk of developing or even purchasing ICBM technology, especially knowing full well that there's a multi-trillion dollar missile shield that might defend against it. Faced with this problem, who here would not put their warheads on a jetliner, or a suitcase, or a boat in New York harbor? ICBMs are a weapon designed for a different kind of conflict altogether.

          Incidentally, do not presume that Saddam Hussein is irrational just because you don't understand his thinking. For some reason this is a common mistake.

    • Er... (Score:3, Informative)

      by AdamHaun ( 43173 )
      > Aw.. poor NSA only gets $26 Billion dollars

      Read your citation again. The NSA is *one segment* of the intelligence funding group. From the same page:

      There are 13 federal organizations in the Intelligence Community. They
      are:

      National Security Agency/Central Security Service (NSA/CSS);
      Central Intelligence Agency (CIA);
      National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA);
      Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI);
      Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA);
      National Reconnaissance Office (NRO);
      Department of Energy (DoE);
      Army Intelligence;
      Air Force Intelligence;
      Navy Intelligence;
      Marine Corps Intelligence;
      Department of Treasury;

      The $26 billion would have been split among the intelligence activities of all 13 of these groups.
    • Re:Shaa right (Score:3, Insightful)

      by alienmole ( 15522 )
      For example, living in St. Louis, I was talking to someone from Boeing and mentioned how they must not too happy that their missile tests failed. He just laughed and said he couldn't talk about it's classified. Makes you wonder if maybe he was inferring that those public tests don't totally represent the actually success of the projects...

      Dream on. Unless the guy you were talking to actually worked in the exact defense unit of Boeing, he probably knew as little about the missile tests as you do - maybe less. That's why he laughed. It's like when you meet someone from, say, Germany, and say something like "Hey, I know a guy in Dusseldorf name Hans Pickelgruber, do you know him?" The only meaningful reaction is to laugh.

      Boeing is a humongous company, and if you work in say the commercial airliner division, you're not even remotely exposed to what's going on in the defense divisions. Nevertheless, when you sign on as an employee you're still warned not to talk about company business with outsiders. So that explains the reaction you got: laughter because the guy probably knew nothing about the missile tests, and thought it was amusing that you thought he worked just down the hall from where they're building rocket engines and guidance systems, when in reality he works in a cubicle with thousands of other people who are all pushing paper just like him; and stonewalling because the guy's job could be at stake even if he speculates about company business that he knows nothing about with an outsider.

  • Actually, today the NSA is being less involved in any surveillance related to the internet. They no longer maintain the echelon systems. Under the Clinton administration, there was a new agency assigned for this task, the SCS. I think many ex-NSA employees were just changing to the SCS. The reason for doing so is that they can continue to deny the existance of their primary surveillance agency that way.

    Try this link [quintessenz.at] for a lot more details.. :)

    Oh, and don't forget, Oct 21st, is this years "flood echelon [mixter.void.ru]" day...
  • I saw a documentary on the NSA's main DECLASSIFIED
    decryption computer. It is HUGE. It can decode 74 QUADRILLION (10^15) keys a second. Big Brother IS watching. Just remember that.

    Their main DECLASSIFIED R&D lab is well below ground and surrounded by 50ft. of conrete to eliminate minor seismic disturbances. They also use GOLD in their circuits, not aluminum or copper, GOLD. The dust content in the air is below 10 parts per million.

    Remember the F117A Nighthawk is over 30 years old and is still undectable without a system failure.
    Whatever they have now is way ahead of whatever we have seen so far.
  • the NSA is violating the DMCA, that's why they ain't got no $$$ ;-)

    on the other hand, gimme a SSL port to my phone.
  • There's a guy I talk with on IRC, who usually has
    something interesting or humorous to say in his
    quit message. One day it was:

    "The NSA is always looking for hot new talent, and
    fresh young faces. To learn more about the
    exciting career opportunities within the NSA,
    just pick up your phone and ask the dialtone."
  • How much computing power do you need to brute force solve every 128 bit encrypted data stream in the world, every day in near real time? How much computing power do you need to pattern match and keyword search every data stream in the world every day in near real time? And oh yeah - do it in a hundred languages including all the DBCS.
  • They obviously have programmers working on the security enhanced linux kernel and all these other little tiny projects the NSA people get that are cool.. Military Intel doesn't get to do all that cool stuff they leave it to shit like DARPA.. I'll believe the NSA is behind in the times, technology etc when George W. Bush say's something like "I'm switching parties to Democrat". Or when Satan himself is wearing a ski outfit. This is typical.. we suck, we are trying hard to keep everything together so they can get more cool toys. Like all units of DoD do this time of yr.
  • /. needs to have a side bar you can put on your customized front page letting geeks know things of interest coming up on telivision.
  • Who's the target? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by krazo ( 220290 ) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @04:57PM (#2268781)
    It looks to me like the NSA is fishing for new hires. Let me explain. Every post here seems to be extrememly paranoid about the NSA. "Don't trust them. They're massively powerful. They're trying to trick us." But Slashdot represents a fair slice of the technophile community. If all the geeks fear the NSA, then who is working for them? I think the Good Will Hunting monologue is a fair representation of how most intelligent people feel about the NSA. The NSA needs geniuses to work for them, but the geniuses will have none of it. The NSA is nothing if it doesn't have great minds working for it, so I really have no doubt that it is waning in power. If it loses smart people, it produces fewer results and suddenly it is less necessary, and less funded, etc., etc.

    So, it seems to me that they have changed their strategy in an attempt to become more attractive to the people they want to hire. They got burned on their whole attempt to regulate cryptography, and managed to alienate everyone who believes in freedom of inquiry in the process. Maybe they've realized that they can't rely on secrecy anymore, because it doesn't work, and have decided they need to stay ahead technologically. And in order to do this, they need smart people, and in order to get these people, they have to be open and trusted by the public.

    In the end, the only thing the NSA is about is National Security. They have a history of being sneaky and untrustworthy and classified, but if they finally realize that it doesn't help national security to be that way, then why wouldn't they change? In government agencies, old habits die hard, but the other thing that dies hard is government agencies. If they get pushed into a corner (which I think they have been by the availability of good public cryptography tools), then I wouldn't be surprised if they suddenly did a policy 180. And I think that would be a good thing.

    Feel free to disagree =)
  • NSA got a bad rap because it was so secret. In modern times, good cryptography doesn't require so much secretness because it is generally all about yoru computation power and not your ability to steal captain crunch decoder rings from the enemy. It aslo got a bad rap because legislative oversight was sorta bypassed decades ago. The NSA has been looking for a friendlier image to couterract all of the bad publicity that they got. It can't function effectively if people don't trust it, especially in a day and age where NATIONAL SECURITY means that the people of that nation have to practice it too in order to be effective at all. NSA phone taps are all done perfectly legally, we all know that the police station has equipment, and have even seen them use it, why should we be surprised to see the NSA doing it? Remember, these people aren't clandestine agents who require anonymity to function. They're professors, who just need a good office and a compiler.
  • by Infonaut ( 96956 ) <infonaut@gmail.com> on Saturday September 08, 2001 @05:20PM (#2268862) Homepage Journal
    Think of it this way - the NSA has to always operate under the assumption that it is in a state of war. The more information it can gather, the more knowledge about potential threats it can accumulate, the better. The weaker it appears to its potential enemies, the better.

    Attila the Hun actually almost never outnumbered his opponents. He won using carefully-crafted deception plans and sheer terror to demoralize his enemies.

    The Allies were able to intercept and decrypt a huge chunk of Nazi messages throughout WWII as a result of their ongoing effort to crack Enigma. These decrypts probably shortened the war in Europe by months if not years, but they had to use the intercepts wisely, so as not to tip off the Germans.

    During the 1950s, the Russians talked about atomic bombs 'rolling off the assembly lines like sausages', when they actually had a very limited stockpile.

    The point is that sometimes you deceive your enemy into thinking that you're stronger than you are, and at other times you make them think you're weaker than you actually are.

    Intelligence agencies are any nation's first and last line of defense. They're the ones that tip off leaders about potential dangers, well before they surface on CNN or in the pages of the Washington Times. They're also the ones who can provide the necessary misdirection so that critical programs are not detected by the intelligence resources of other nations.

    Case in point: The F-117 Stealth Fighter. Remember when Testor's came out with a plastic model of what they thought the Stealth looked like? The Pentagon freaked out on Testor's and tried to keep them from selling the model kit. Of course, when it was revealed a few years later that an F-117 group had actually been flying *operationally* for several years, and that the Stealth fighter looked nothing like the model, we could all see the depth of the deception effort.

    If the NSA releases its doors to the television cameras, *particularly* to 60 Minutes (which has a long history of not having a clue about defense-related matters), it's part of an extensive deception plan.

    They're just doing their job.

    • "All war is based on deception" - Sun Tzu, China, about 5000 years ago. I believe that's the person you're supposed to credit for that timeless wisdom.
      • Of course, Sun Tzu wrote about deception. But he didn't *invent it* - people were practicing it in war long before he wrote about it, and people who have never even heard of him have been writing about it and practicing it since. ;-)

  • What people don't realize is that the NSA is more than just what it seems. All COTS (Commercial Off the Shelf) technology that is being considered for use in most any part of the gov't/DoD has to be evaluated by these people, and this process is just a very long one at that. At the rate of new stuff coming out, there is a reason why they don't have the funding that they really do need.

    Why do normal people laugh at the gov't when they just announce that they are switching to a "new" technology, when in reality it's been out in public for some time. It's the same reason as above...they have to make sure that it fits all the standards to become FIPS compliant for the specified level that they want it at.

    Also, quite a bit of technology is in house also, and that requires a really big chunk of money as well.

    Of course, another big chunk is the "black" stuff that most people picture the gov't (or just NSA) to be.

  • seeing it on T.V., openly discussing it, and knowning it exists is the first step for the NSA to be accepted. Desensitize the public, put positive spin on it (we fight crime and terrorist.) then continue to secretly snoop. Mean while the public is not so critical of the NSA and there sneaky objectives. NSA lobbies for more money.....and gets it. It is all about raising awareness of our good friend the NSA.
  • by ARR0 ( 443660 ) on Sunday September 09, 2001 @05:38AM (#2270295)

    I worked at the NSA for three years, and left recently enough to have been there for some of the events discussed in the "60 Minutes" story. Disclaimer: When I left the agency, I was disgusted at a personal (they screwed me over), ethical (I have this funny thing about hypocrisy) and professional (mathematics & computer science) level, so take this for what it's worth.

    I also signed an agreement when I left saying I would submit anything I wrote about NSA for publication to their public relations office for approval before submitting it, but I seem to have lost their address. Oh well.

    One thing I've noticed in a lot of the other responses is a reaction to the apparent contradiction between "they can read everything, everywhere" and "our systems are broken, we need more money or we'll fall apart." In a sense, both things are true, and it illustrates what I think is one of NSA's biggest problems.

    Yes, of course, NSA has some amazing technology. But these gee-whiz supercomputers and super-secret devices are like little islands in a sea of technological muck. When you hear about secretaries doing word processing on Crays at NSA, it is not because they have so much excess capacity just lying around, it is because the secretary's desktop unit probably really sucks and she has no other choice. Did the entire network shut down for nearly a week? Yes, I recall going to work one morning and seeing a sign posted on the turnstiles, "Don't log in when you get to your office." While all those brilliant minds were busy with gee-whiz projects (that is, after all, how you get the cash awards and the promotions), the infrastructure was being allowed to rot. After all, what looks better at evaluation time: "I played a small, seemingly insignificant part in making sure that NSA's wide-area network stayed up" or "I created a new system using insert hot technology here that resulted in a insert big percentage here increase in processed traffic against insert country name here, a high priority target"?

    That's the big problem I was talking about. NSA does have some really smart people, but their management stinks. I mean, really stinks. It's been referred to as the "Glen Burnie full employment project" (a Baltimore suburb near Ft. Meade). After all, there might be some incentive to go through all the security nonsense (an essentially random process which can't be proven to prevent anything) to get a job there, if you're a techie and you think you might get to play with some neat toys, or if you're a mathematician in a bad academic job market. But if you're a manager, the only way you'll be interested in NSA is if you are really not that talented, but heck, you have an uncle who can probably get you into a pretty good position and you won't have to worry about getting laid off, like you would at the phone company.

    So when you hear that the agency's response to some new technology is a hamhanded effort to make it illegal, or at least unexportable, and you ask yourself, "What could they be thinking? They can't be that stupid!" think again.

    Another big problem with the NSA, CIA, etc. is an inherent contradiction at the heart of what they do. In the middle of a (supposedly) free society, that is made up of a mixture of cultures from all over the world, you have a bunch of people who do all of their work in secret and steal information from other countries. Okay, maybe they call it "maintaining information on a need-to-know basis" and "intelligence gathering" but we know what the point is here, right? When we're not at war with a country, it's pretty hard to justify doing things to them as an organization that, on a personal level, would be wrong and just creepy. Especially when you might have good neighbors who were born in that country. Or even relatives. Back in the 1960's, when the average engineer was kind of a WASPy dweeb, the contradiction wasn't so apparent. But take a look at the population of any engineering class now. It's way more diverse, and you're simply going to have a harder time justifying the "we're in a constant state of war" line with these people. It just doesn't make sense anymore. And yes, the terrorism that NSA talking heads mention when they're begging for money has something to do with the crap we've dealt people around the world for years. After all, what are Bin Laden and his followers upset about? The US presence in Muslim holy lands. Why are we there? Leftovers from the Gulf War against Saddam Hussein. How did he get so powerful? The US backed him against Iran. Why was Iran a big problem? The people who overthrew the Shah hated the US. Why? Because the Shah was a tyrant backed by--who? That's right, the CIA.

    This is already too long, but one final thing about NSA listening to your phone conversations. If you're not a US citizen and you're not currently in the US, you're fair game to these people, but you're also probably not very interesting (see the comment about getting cash awards and promotions above). If you are interesting to them for some (possibly nonsensical) reason, that is if listening to you can get some analyst a promotion, there you go. If you are a US citizen, or you are currently residing in the US, then the NSA cannot legally spy on you, and nobody gets promoted if the lawyers aren't happy. But if the FBI develops a (perhaps nonsensical) interest in you, it is not hard to get a warrant for whatever kind of surveillance they want to do, and guess where they get their technology?

People who go to conferences are the ones who shouldn't.

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