The National Security Agency warned President Bush in 2001 that monitoring U.S. adversaries would require a “permanent presence” on networks that also carry Americans’ messages that are protected from government eavesdropping.
The warning was contained in an NSA report entitled “Transition 2001,” which was made public Friday. The report was delivered to Bush shortly after he took office and reflects the agency’s major concerns at the time.
The report was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, by the National Security Archive, a private security watchdog group at George Washington University. The archive made the document public.
The papers offer a rare glimpse into the usually publicity-shy NSA, which is charged with electronic eavesdropping against foreign targets and code-making and breaking. The document showed an agency making a case to the White House that information security should be a top priority.
Pledge to respect Fourth Amendment
The report raised questions about how new global communications technologies were challenging the Constitution’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.
“Make no mistake, NSA can and will perform its missions consistent with the Fourth Amendment and all applicable laws,” the document says.
But, it adds, senior leadership must understand that NSA’s mission will demand a “powerful, permanent presence” on global telecommunications networks that host both “’protected’ communications of Americans” and the communications of adversaries the agency wants to target.
The document also said the global nature of technology leaves government and private networks more vulnerable to penetration by enemies.
The report said the agency was concerned that federal and private digital networks were now “more vulnerable to foreign intelligence operations and to compromise.”
A digital offensive
The documents indicate NSA was going on an offensive using the new modes of communication — mostly digital and able to carry billions of bits of data.
It says the agency is “prepared organizationally, intellectually and — with sufficient investment — technologically to exploit in an unprecedented way the explosion of global communications.”
NSA was also concerned about the security of its parent agency, the Defense Department. In 1999, the document says, the department experienced over 22,000 cyber attacks, most of which had little effect on operations.
“During the presidential transition period, a major cyber attack is possible,” the agency warned. But no significant cyber attack occurred then.
Among other elements of the 42-page report:
- The agency said it had tried to transform itself from an entity nicknamed “No Such Agency” by dispatching its director to public events and reaching out to the media. The agency said media representatives were invited inside the agency for family day in September 2000.
- Staffing was clearly a concern. The documents show a sharp drop in civilian personnel after the end of the cold war. In 2001, there were just over 16,000 civilians, down from 22,000 in early 2001. At the time, 19 percent of the work force was eligible for early retirement.
Since 9/11, NSA and other intelligence agencies have gone on a hiring binge. NSA announced last April that it intended to hire 1,500 new employees a year for the next five years, focusing on individuals fluent in foreign languages including Arabic and Chinese, intelligence analysts and technical experts.
The document also said NSA was reviewing proposals to outsource its information technology infrastructure to private contractors — a multibillion investment over a decade.