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Siobham Gorman articles on NSA at The Baltimore Sun

April 18, 2010

Winner: Siobhan Gorman, The Baltimore Sun: “NSA Coverage”: Washington correspondence.

(2006 Sigma Delta Chi Awards: Newspapers/Wire Services)
The Quill| June 01, 2007 | Poyser, Jim

The NSA has spent six years and hundreds of millions of dollars trying to kick-start a program, intended to help protect the United States against terrorism, that many experts say was doomed from the start.

When Siobhan Gorman first joined The Baltimore Sun in 2005, she immediately turned her attention to the National Security Agency, specifically, to an expensive program called Trailblazer. Her three-story series examined Trailblazer as the “NSA’s effort to figure out how to collect intelligence in the Digital Age … but six years and more than $1 billion later, the program has gone essentially nowhere.”

With interviews conducted over three months with 25 intelligence professionals, 13 of whom worked on or had oversight of Trailblazer, Gorman exposed the NSA’s failed attempts to adapt to the modern world.

According to Timothy A. Franklin, editor/senior vice president, Gorman used the most basic reporting techniques: “doggedly tracking down sources, persuading them to talk and give her documents, and using Freedom of Information requests to pry declassified reports from oversight agencies. Then she painstakingly assembled those pieces into reports that laid bare some of the dangerous shortcomings of the nation’s largest–and, until recently, least-known–intelligence unit.”

Although the Bush administration spent much of the past week defending the NSA’s eavesdropping work as vital to keeping Americans safe from terrorism, virtually no attention has been paid to the agency’s failure to deliver the system the NSA said was key to fulfilling that mission.

Judges applauded Gorman’s clear, concise and readable style: “The writing … shows unusual initiative in cultivating dozens of sources from the NSA … [Gorman] shattered the illusion of the supremacy of the agency and illustrates layers of wasteful spending and incompetence.”

For Gorman, it was gratifying to find out her stories had impact as she learned “both the incoming director of national intelligence and the Pentagon’s new intelligence chief are also looking into NSA’s modernization woes.”
Poyser, Jim. “Winner: Siobhan Gorman, The Baltimore Sun: “NSA Coverage”: Washington correspondence.(2006 Sigma Delta Chi Awards: Newspapers/Wire Services).” The Quill. 2007.

Retrieved April 17, 2010 from accessmylibrary: http://www.accessmylibrary.com/

Second-ranking NSA official forced out of job by director: Head of spy agency ‘clearing the decks,’ bringing in his own team.
The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, MD)| May 31, 2006
Siobhan Gorman

May 31–WASHINGTON–The National Security Agency’s second-highest official is being forced out by the agency’s director, who is moving to install his own leadership team nine months into his tenure, current and former government officials said yesterday. Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the NSA’s director, announced in a memo to agency employees last week that Deputy Director William B. Black Jr. would be taking a new position in mid-August as the NSA’s liaison officer to its British intelligence counterpart, the officials said. The change is essentially a swap because Black’s successor, John C. “Chris” Inglis, is now the agency’s British liaison, a position often considered a final stop before retirement.

Bush approves

President Bush approved Inglis’ appointment May 8, according to Alexander’s memo, the text of which was obtained by The Sun. “Alexander is clearing the decks,” said Matthew Aid, a former NSA analyst who is now the agency’s historian, “getting rid of the remnants of the old regime and bringing in his own people.” Alexander has been looking to replace Black since taking over in August but decided that it was smarter to delay the decision, said a former government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of personnel decisions. “He has chosen this way of axing” Black, the former official said.

An NSA spokeswoman would not comment on the decision but said a “transition date” was set for August. NSA insiders had expected Alexander to replace Black quickly. Alexander and his predecessor, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, had clashed and had contrasting leadership styles. As deputy director, Black was intimately involved in the agency’s most sensitive operations, including the warrantless surveillance program. Last year, Black received one of the Pentagon’s Distinguished Civilian Service awards. Hayden, his former boss, said this month that he had brought Black on board in 2000 as a “change agent.”

Inside the agency, Black was controversial because of his management style and because of the ties he forged between his former employer, Science Applications International Corp., and the NSA, former intelligence officials said. Black had served at the NSA for nearly four decades before taking a management job at Science Applications in 1997. The company won a number of large contracts with the NSA after Black returned to the spy agency, including a $280 million contract to oversee the NSA’s Trailblazer program, which sought to overhaul the way the NSA sifts and analyzes data. Trailblazer ultimately proved a flop and has been abandoned. Black insisted that he make all major decisions on Trailblazer, and that approach was typical of his management style, which circumvented other senior NSA managers, a former senior intelligence official said. Black’s successor, Inglis, was the top deputy at the agency’s signals directorate, which is responsible for intercepting and analyzing communications, before assuming his most recent post in Britain. In his memo, Alexander noted Inglis’ leadership, professionalism and experience abroad as key attributes that his new deputy will bring to his assignment, which he is to begin Aug. 14.

Alexander noted that Inglis will be tackling projects to improve the NSA’s ability to exploit enemies’ use of global technology networks, an area in which the spy agency has struggled in recent years. At the NSA, Inglis has spent much of his career honing eavesdropping technology. At a 2002 conference, he criticized some NSA leaders for being afraid to embrace new technologies, Aid said. Inglis, a 1976 Air Force Academy graduate and a pilot, holds several engineering and computer science graduate degrees. Disappointment

A former government official said he was disappointed that Alexander had selected an NSA insider as his new top deputy. “He’s been reluctant to go outside to get help,” the former official said. “NSA has been a management nightmare for a long time. There is nobody internally who has any experience about how to manage anything effectively.”

It is not uncommon for top officials in positions such as Black’s to seek overseas assignments in their final years at the agency, said Ira Winkler, a former NSA analyst. Such assignments pay 25 percent more than those in the United States, he said, and retirement pay is based on an employee’s salary for the last three years of his career.

“It makes a hell of a lot of sense,” Winkler said.

Copyright (c) 2006, The Baltimore Sun

NSA strives to plug leaks.
The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, MD)| July 23, 2006

Siobhan Gorman

Jul. 23–WASHINGTON — The National Security Agency has mounted an increasingly aggressive campaign to root out disclosures to the news media, including a new policy that could require every agency employee to hunt for leaks, current and former intelligence officials said.

“There’s been one leak after another, and [intelligence agencies] haven’t responded as effectively as they would have liked,” said Meredith Fuchs, general counsel for the National Security Archive at George Washington University. “They’re trying to set up a system that will be quick-moving, effective and responsive.”

Some security analysts and former NSA officials warned that requiring agency employees to regularly search for leaks could divert attention from their regular duties. They also raised concerns that it could place people who pursue information through legitimate channels under suspicion.

NSA spokesman Don Weber characterized NSA’s news media policy as “not a new policy” but “a revised [and] updated policy.”

The policy, issued March 20, is apparently the first dedicated solely to news media leaks. The last time NSA visited the issue was as a small part of an “annex” to a 1992 directive on information security, which described the information that should be included when assembling a “damage assessment” of a news media disclosure.

A copy of the new policy, which is unclassified but labeled “For Official Use Only,” and unclassified portions of the 1992 policy were obtained by The Sun.

Weber said the policy did not represent a stepping-up of anti-leak efforts because “we’ve always had a strong effort.”

“Was it timely?” he added. “Certainly.”

Recent disclosures of classified and sensitive information — including newspaper reports on secret CIA prisons, NSA’s warrantless telephone surveillance program, government reviews of financial transactions and NSA’s technology failures — have prompted calls for a crackdown on leaks from the White House and from many congressional Republican leaders, as well as intelligence agency heads. The NSA policy directs agency employees to “actively monitor the media for the purpose of identifying unauthorized disclosures” of classified information. It requires that all divisions within the agency produce annual reports on the number of classified leaks they uncover.

Such directives create pressure to identify more leaks, said Matthew Aid, a former NSA analyst who is writing a multivolume history of the agency.

“Instead of hunting for spies within the agency, now you’re hunting for disenchanted employees who may know somebody who knows a reporter,” he said. “It’s bound to divert resources and focus.”

Some NSA veterans and security analysts said the policy imposes new responsibilities on employees.

“‘Actively monitor’ means they’re supposed to go out, surf the Web and look for classified information, not report it when they find it,” said Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy expert at the Federation of American Scientists. “That amounts to a new tasking of every part of the organization to hunt for unauthorized disclosures.”

One former NSA official called the directive “bizarre.”

“We’re going to turn all of NSA into a vast media monitor? That just strikes up these images of people with visors on reading the newspaper,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect business relationships. NSA employees “have got to have something better to do.”

NSA’s Weber said the policy does not amount to a new requirement for employees to search for leaks. “We’re just asking employees to be alert,” he said. “It doesn’t mean put down your headsets and don’t do mission.”

Under the new policy, when an NSA employee identifies a possible leak, that person must forward it to the agency’s information policy and legal offices.

If officials deem the leak of classified information to be “significant” — jeopardizing lives, intelligence sources, operations or foreign relations — they must notify the Departments of Justice and Defense and National Intelligence Director John D. Negroponte’s office.

Government watchdogs are concerned that the new policy also singles out those who file requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act. They fear those people could come under suspicion as part of a leak investigation and could be accused of acting as an intermediary between the agency and the press.

The internal NSA directive lists a set of questions to help identify unauthorized disclosures, including whether any Freedom of Information requests have been made for the leaked information and, if so, who requested it. The 1992 policy asked whether the information had been requested through official channels, but did not refer to FOIA.”It almost makes you think that someone who made an appropriate request is someone they’re going to look at if there’s a leak, which is a little unsettling,” said Fuchs of the National Security Archives, a research institute that collects and publishes declassified documents. “In my organization, we live on FOIA requests.”

Weber, however, said the question is merely part of a checklist that NSA investigators use to decide whether a leak is significant — to make sure the information has not already been officially released to the public.

Some former NSA employees questioned whether the policy could be enforced. Historically, said one, employees have been reluctant to get involved in leak investigations because they do not want to be pulled into protracted legal battles. Aid noted that NSA tries to avoid taking leak cases to court because that risks revealing sources and methods.

Last week, Sen. Charles E. Schumer accused the administration of selectively prosecuting leaks from intelligence agencies and called for Congress to look into the matter. The New York Democrat also wrote to the attorney general and the national spy chief asking for details of the policies by which executive branch departments refer potential leaks for investigation.

This month, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra of Michigan announced that the Justice Department would renew its pursuit of leaks. The department has been criticized over the years for failing to successfully prosecute leak cases.

Separately, NSA Director Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander has issued four memos to agency employees since the December disclosure of the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program, reminding them not to speak with the news media about either classified or unclassified information.

Two memos from December were disclosed earlier this year by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, but the most strongly worded memo, in February, and another in May, right after USA Today reported on an NSA program to collect domestic phone records, were obtained by The Sun and have not previously been made public.

A Feb. 21 memo titled “NSA in the Media — Media Leaks” warns that commenting on any intelligence operations “is professionally irresponsible and may put Americans or allied personnel in peril.”

It also takes a more personal tone than the other memos.

“I share your shock and disbelief regarding the recent unauthorized media disclosures of classified intelligence information attributed to current and former officials,” Alexander wrote. “These actions are a source of grave concern to each of us in the intelligence community, and signify a betrayal of the Nation’s trust, and a fundamental compromise of the sworn oath we each took as intelligence professionals.”

A May 15 memo, “NSA in the Media UPDATE — Intelligence Gathering Practices,” responds directly to the USA Today article and emphasizes the internal legal checks NSA has in place for its programs and NSA’s dedication to keeping Congress informed.

“Routinely, they leave impressed with our commitment and results and are supportive of our engagement,” Alexander said of the congressional briefings.

He also encouraged NSA employees to remain focused on their jobs “as the national debate on intelligence oversight rages” and reminds them not to speak to the media.

So far, however, security officials at NSA have concluded, based on an analysis of the content of recent articles on the warrantless surveillance program, that “the leaks they really cared about” could not have come from NSA, Aid said.

NSA risking electrical overload: Officials say outage could leave Md.-based spy agency paralyzed.
The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, MD)| August 06, 2006

Siobhan Gorman

Aug. 6–WASHINGTON — The National Security Agency is running out of juice. The demand for electricity to operate its expanding intelligence systems has left the high-tech eavesdropping agency on the verge of exceeding its power supply, the lifeblood of its sprawling 350-acre Fort Meade headquarters, according to current and former intelligence officials.

Agency officials anticipated the problem nearly a decade ago as they looked ahead at the technology needs of the agency, sources said, but it was never made a priority, and now the agency’s ability to keep its operations going is threatened.

The NSA is already unable to install some costly and sophisticated new equipment, including two new supercomputers, for fear of blowing out the electrical infrastructure, they said. At minimum, the problem could produce disruptions leading to outages and power surges at the Fort Meade headquarters, hampering the work of intelligence analysts and damaging equipment, they said. At worst, it could force a virtual shutdown of the agency, paralyzing the intelligence operation, erasing crucial intelligence data and causing irreparable damage to computer systems — all detrimental to the fight against terrorism.

Estimates on how long the agency has to stave off such an overload vary from just two months to less than two years. NSA officials “claim they will not be able to operate more than a month or two longer unless something is done,” said a former senior NSA official familiar with the problem, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Agency leaders, meanwhile, are scrambling for stopgap measures to buy time while they develop a sustainable plan. Limitations of the electrical infrastructure in the main NSA complex and the substation serving the agency, along with growing demand in the region, prevent an immediate fix, according to current and former government officials.

“If there’s a major power failure out there, any backup systems would be inadequate to power the whole facility,” said Michael Jacobs, who headed the NSA’s information assurance division until 2002. “It’s obviously worrisome, particularly on days like today,” he said in an interview during last week’s barrage of triple-digit temperatures.

William Nolte, a former NSA executive who spent decades with the agency, said power disruptions would severely hamper the agency.

“You’ve got an awfully big computer plant and a lot of precision equipment, and I don’t think they would handle power surges and the like really well,” he said. “Even re-calibrating equipment would be really time consuming — with lost opportunities and lost up-time.”

Power surges can also wipe out analysts’ hard drives, said Matthew Aid, a former NSA analyst who is writing a multivolume history of the agency. The information on those hard drives is so valuable that many NSA employees remove them from their computers and lock them in a safe when they leave each day, he said. A half-dozen current and former government officials knowledgeable about the energy problem discussed it with The Sun on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. NSA spokesman Don Weber declined to comment on specifics about the NSA’s power needs or what is being done to address them, saying that even private companies consider such information proprietary.

In a statement to The Sun, he said that “as new technologies become available, the demand for power increases and NSA must determine the best and most economical way to use our existing power and bring on additional capacity.” Biggest BGE customer

The NSA is Baltimore Gas & Electric’s largest customer, using as much electricity as the city of Annapolis, according to James Bamford, an intelligence expert and author of two comprehensive books on the agency.

BGE spokeswoman Linda Foy acknowledged a power company project to deal with the rising energy demand at the NSA, but she referred questions about it to the NSA. The agency got a taste of the potential for trouble Jan. 24, 2000, when an information overload, rather than a power shortage, caused the NSA’s first-ever network crash. It took the agency 3 1/2 days to resume operations, but with a power outage it could take considerably longer to get the NSA humming again.

The 2000 shutdown rendered the agency’s headquarters “brain-dead,” as then-NSA Director Gen. Michael V. Hayden told CBS’s 60 Minutes in 2002. “I don’t want to trivialize this. This was really bad,” Hayden said. “We were dark. Our ability to process information was gone.”As an immediate fallback measure, the NSA sent its incoming data to its counterpart in Great Britain, which stepped up efforts to process the NSA’s information along with its own, said Bamford. The agency came under intense criticism from members of Congress after the crash, and the incident rapidly accelerated efforts to modernize the agency.

One former NSA official familiar with the electricity problem noted a sense of deja vu six years later. “To think that this was not a priority probably tells you more about the extent to which NSA has actually transformed,” the former official said. “In the end, if you don’t have power, you can’t do [anything].” Already some equipment is not being sufficiently cooled, and agency leaders have forgone plugging in some new machinery, current and former government officials said.

The power shortage will also delay the installation of two new, multimillion-dollar supercomputers, they said. To begin to alleviate pressure on the electrical grid, the NSA is considering buying additional generators and shutting down so-called “legacy” computer systems that are decades old and not considered crucial to the agency’s operations, said three current and former government officials familiar with the situation.

“It’s a temporary fix,” one former senior NSA official said.

On Wednesday, the same day that The Sun inquired about the power issue with the NSA’s public affairs office, the agency sent word to Capitol Hill about its energy conservation efforts. “They have told us they have been shutting down all non-essential uses of power to help out BG&E,” said one congressional aide, adding that the NSA is also raising the temperature in its buildings two degrees to conserve.

The information was presented in the context that the NSA was making these changes “to be a good corporate citizen,” the aide said. Contractors on at least one high-priority, power-intensive NSA project that is located off the headquarters campus, have upgraded their electrical infrastructure to ensure power for their project, according to two former agency officials.

That lone upgrade, a fraction of the agency’s total demand, took four months. Longer-term solutions being considered would move some operations to off-campus facilities with more electrical capacity, current and former officials said. Adding more capacity to the substation feeding NSA is an obvious answer, but constraints on that particular facility make an expansion difficult, they said. BGE’s Foy declined to discuss specifics about the substation. She said it takes 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 years to design, procure equipment, obtain permits, and build a new one. Post-9/11 needs

Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, the NSA has ramped up its operations, and the electricity needed to sustain major projects — such as the warrantless surveillance program and technology modernization programs — has increased sharply. The computer systems supporting these programs demand far more wattage per square foot than their predecessors and still more energy to cool them. Area development like the Arundel Mills Mall has contributed to the problem by putting additional strain on the local electrical grid, according to two sources familiar with the issue. Joe Bunch, BGE’s director of strategic customer engineering, said, however, that the mall’s demand “was fairly easily accommodated.”

Demand in the Baltimore-Washington region has been growing, and the regional operator for Maryland and 12 other states has been studying the installation of up to $10 billion in new power lines to deliver more and cheaper electricity to this region. “We’ve seen a lot of growth in Anne Arundel County as a whole but particularly in the north and northwest area of the county,” said Bunch, who agreed to talk about trends in the area but not the NSA’s specific demand. Much of that growth is because of the surge of high-tech jobs in the area from the NSA and government contractors, he said. He said BGE is working to meet the demand by building new substations in the area. One was built about a year ago, and another is scheduled to be built in two to three years, he said.

Copyright (c) 2006, The Baltimore Sun

NSA has higher profile, new problems: Its post-9/11 ascent yields more power, more controversy.
The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, MD)| September 08, 2006

Siobhan Gorman

Sep. 8–WASHINGTON — For its first 50 years, the National Security Agency was known to few beyond the insular world of intelligence. The agency’s analysts, mathematicians and engineers rarely spoke of their work, even to their families, and were horrified when “NSA” was added to exit signs on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Sept. 11 changed all that. Since then, the NSA has been thrust to center stage, a blessing and a curse for the formerly low-profile agency. After Sept. 11, “there was a real thirst for NSA information,” said John Brennan, former head of the National Counterterrorism Center, “because that could mean the difference between stopping the next Sept. 11 attack or not.”

The NSA’s ascent inside the new U.S. war machine earned it looser legal restrictions and purse strings. But freedom brought with it new problems. The intense debate after the disclosure of the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program is still reverberating in Congress, the courts and the agency. And as NSA’s budget doubled over five years, some expensive national security initiatives were allowed to fail without consequence. “Right after Sept. 11 and the ensuing period, I think NSA could have gotten anything they wanted,” a former NSA official said. “They lost the support because they didn’t handle it properly.”

Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the NSA director, recently unveiled a new strategic plan for the agency, which he described as “dramatically different” in an Aug. 9 memo obtained by The Sun. Intelligence officials say it is the first such plan to focus on post-Sept. 11 threats. It places significant emphasis on networked communications and the agency’s need to support Pentagon war-fighting demands.

It also calls for ambitious changes in the NSA’s tools for analysis and management and in its technology infrastructure. The full plan is classified, but Alexander had an unclassified summary printed as a marketing-type brochure. A sales offensive might be required as he executes it amid the controversy over NSA’s post-Sept. 11 activities. In the wake of the 2001 attacks, Alexander’s predecessor, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, marshaled a surge in support from the White House and Congress to quietly expand his agency’s role. As the nation’s 16 intelligence agencies shuffled their responsibilities under the direction of a new spymaster, the 35,000-person NSA — for years the largest but least-known of the agencies — became one of the most influential. Hayden made frequent trips to the White House to update top officials on the warrantless surveillance program, one of the most secret counterterrorism initiatives after Sept. 11.

He also strengthened his reputation among members of Congress, who dispensed NSA’s budget, by providing clear and cogent briefings. Congress responded by vastly increasing NSA’s annual budget, the size of which is classified, to about $8 billion, twice the size of its 2001 budget, an intelligence official said. At the same time, NSA earned more credibility with other intelligence agencies as officials at the CIA, the FBI, and the Defense Intelligence Agency focused on what terrorist groups were up to. Some intelligence experts argue that NSA not only gained a seat at the table but sat at the head of the table after intelligence reforms took effect in 2005. “Part of the importance here is the inability of other sources to provide critically needed information,” said former NSA Director Bobby R. Inman.

President Bush has expanded NSA’s surveillance powers to cast a wider net for such information. In October 2001, he authorized the NSA to begin listening to conversations in the United States involving people suspected of links to the al-Qaida terrorist group without a court order so long as one end of the conversation was overseas. He also allowed the NSA to gather records of phone and e-mail communications inside the country.

The program’s effectiveness is a matter of dispute among intelligence insiders. Administration officials say it has provided crucial information that has helped disrupt plots, but intelligence officials say privately that there haven’t been as many leads as there should have been, given the millions of phone records the NSA analyzes and the thousands of calls it reportedly has monitored.

“This isn’t just about NSA,” said former NSA Director Bill Studeman, a retired admiral who condemned the leak of the warrantless surveillance program. “We need to figure out what the limits of legality are to successfully live in this world and fight this threat.” Negative publicity about the program has seriously damaged the agency’s image, some NSA veterans said. “Bush did a tremendous disservice to the agency and the people who work there” by failing to ask Congress to authorize the warrantless program, said a former top NSA official.

“It creates a very negative and fearful image in the media for the American public, which is totally undeserved.” Inman, who teaches at the University of Texas, sees a climate of mistrust surrounding the NSA and other intelligence agencies that is like the one generated by the Nixon-era abuses. He said students frequently ask him: “Why is NSA surveilling us?”

“The public has always been thoroughly confused about what the NSA does,” said Amy Zegart of the University of California, Los Angeles, who was a foreign policy adviser for Bush’s first presidential campaign. “They just know it is secretive and probably evil. The scandal over warrantless wiretapping has underscored that perception, and it’s a really tragic perception.” The public’s worries about the NSA are misplaced, Zegart said.

“People are worried about omnipotence, and they should be worried about incompetence,” she said. Several current and former intelligence officials with intimate knowledge of the NSA said their worry is that although perceptions of the agency and its stature have changed considerably since the Sept. 11 attacks, little has changed inside. They point to a host of programs — billed as key to transforming a high-tech agency that had not fully embraced the age of the Internet — that have been abandoned or not lived up to their promise. In 2004, in a no-confidence vote, Congress took away the director’s authority to spend money on big programs, and it has not given the authority back. Alexander, Deputy Director Chris Inglis and his predecessor, William Black, who stepped down last month, were not available for interviews.

The NSA also underwent what some former agency officials call a leadership “purge” shortly before and after the Sept. 11 attacks, and some former officials say the NSA lacks experienced managers and analysts to institute post-Sept. 11 changes. “There’s a real experience gap,” a former NSA official said. The agency continues to produce important information to fight terrorism and support combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, they said. Current and former intelligence officials credit employees at the working level for innovating and passing along information in spite of bureaucratic limitations. siobhan.gorman@baltsun.com

Budget falling short at NSA: Spy agency forced to slow hiring and modernization, officials contend.

The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, MD)| January 17, 2007

Siobhan Gorman

Jan. 17–WASHINGTON — The National Security Agency is facing significant budget shortfalls as the spy agency scrambles to respond to a mounting electricity crisis, modernize its technology, maintain current operations and add workspace, congressional and intelligence officials say.

As a result, they say, the NSA has slowed hiring, pared back upgrades in information technology, delayed equipment purchases and shut offices.

The agency’s director, Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, is seeking an increase of nearly $1 billion in supplemental spending for 2007 and a similar boost next year as the White House finalizes its 2008 budget, current and former intelligence officials say.

The money crunch comes despite a doubling of the NSA’s budget since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to approximately $8 billion per year. The agency received essentially the same amount in this year’s budget as last year, according to a senior intelligence official speaking on condition of anonymity because intelligence budgets are classified.

“There’s this wet blanket over everything that says, ‘No new money,'” said a former congressional intelligence aide who requested anonymity.

For 2008, Alexander is seeking about $650 million more for the NSA’s spy programs and an added $280 million or so to address the agency’s looming power deficit and speed modernization of technology, current and former intelligence officials say. The exact figures are classified, and final amounts are under negotiation.

While Alexander has support from some in the White House, the Office of Management and Budget, which makes the final decision on the president’s request, has been skeptical, according to a former official familiar with the budget. The office has been reluctant to approve the increases because Alexander has not provided a clear explanation for how the money would be spent, the former official said.

However, NSA officials are optimistic.

“We are confident that the funding priorities addressed in the budget request submitted for congressional review will continue to be received favorably,” said NSA spokesman Ken White in a written statement responding to The Sun.

Alexander has said that current funding levels are not sufficient to sustain operations and modernization efforts. Critics say the NSA has mismanaged much of the money.

But some on Capitol Hill say the NSA’s budget gap is a significant problem.

“If we’re not giving them the money that they need, then they can’t do what needs to be done,” said Rep. Peter Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican who chaired the House Intelligence Committee before the Democratic takeover.

Hoekstra said the NSA’s budget shortfall is related to agency efforts to adapt its eavesdropping operations to Internet Age communications technology, which have included several expensive failures in programs designed to upgrade its eavesdropping systems.

One area hit hard, said a former government official familiar with the NSA’s budget, is the purchase of new information technology for the Signals Intelligence Directorate, the agency’s main operations division.

The agency also is scaling back information technology service, the senior intelligence official said. The NSA’s Groundbreaker program has three levels of service for fixing information technology problems, and much of the agency will shift to the lowest, “bronze” level in an attempt to cut costs by $500,000 a month, the official said.

Meanwhile, despite a plan to hire 1,500 engineers, linguists, and analysts each year until 2011, hiring has stalled across much of the agency, current and former intelligence officials say. This year, they say, the NSA expects to hire 150 to 275 more people than leave through attrition.

The NSA risks repeating a mistake made in the 1990s, when the agency cut back on personnel amid post-Cold War cost- cutting at the intelligence agencies, said a former senior NSA official who requested anonymity. Those cuts have left the NSA and other intelligence agencies with a lack of midlevel employees able to ascend to leadership posts.

“I’m sure that’s not what they wanted to do,” the former NSA official said. “But when you’ve got the pressure of continuing operations … and modernizing, you have to make some pretty hard decisions.”

The NSA has cut off funding for its InnoVisions office, which is charged with developing cutting-edge analytic tools, the senior intelligence official said. It is postponing equipment purchases and eliminating some contracted services.

The need for more NSA funding is not an easy sell to lawmakers, many of whom have grown frustrated with the agency’s inability to show how it is spending its money. NSA finances are so tangled that they cannot be properly audited, despite annual directives from Congress in recent years to clean up agency books, two intelligence officials said.

In 2004, Congress prohibited the NSA from launching large projects without congressional and Pentagon approval.

Congress has been investigating the NSA’s acquisition practices, and the director of national intelligence has been reviewing the agency’s ability to manage large programs, current and former intelligence officials said.

As he asks for more money, Alexander is creating a panel of senior managers inside the agency to more closely monitor spending and the performance of its programs, according to a Jan. 2 memo obtained by The Sun.

The panel will permit expenditures only after ensuring that the spending is in line with Alexander’s overall agency strategy. It will also review and approve budget requests, according to his memo.

The need for the NSA to avert a looming electricity shortage, which The Sun reported last year, is also putting pressure on the agency’s budget. The problem has been known since the late 1990s, but the agency has only focused on it recently as the shortage became imminent. The NSA has assembled an “issue management team” to focus on it, the former senior NSA official said. Such groups are usually assembled for NSA spy operations.

Three main factors are contributing to the expected power shortage: insufficient power available from Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., lack of capacity at substations serving the NSA, and infrastructure in agency buildings that cannot handle the growing demand for electricity.

“They have rising concerns,” the former senior NSA official said, noting that the agency has purchased a number of Cray supercomputers and other hardware. “The question is, will they ever be able to plug in those Crays?”

The NSA now uses 65 to 75 megawatt-hours of electricity, and its needs are projected to increase by 10 to 15 megawatt-hours by the end of this fiscal year, with increases of 5 megawatt-hours more each year thereafter, the senior intelligence official said.

The agency has decided not to plug in some high-end equipment and is cycling other critical equipment on and off to avoid overloading the electrical supply. Building temperatures are being lowered to save electricity.

The NSA is also looking at how it can generate more of its own power and plans to relocate some equipment to other parts of the country, where agency demand for electricity can be better managed, current and former intelligence officials said.

siobhan.gorman@baltsun.com

Copyright (c) 2007, The Baltimore Sun

Bush to seek OK for eavesdropping: In apparent shift, secret security court would approve domestic spying by NSA.

Article from:The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, MD) Article date:January 18, 2007

Siobhan Gorman

Jan. 18–WASHINGTON — In an apparent shift, President Bush has agreed to submit the National Security Agency’s controversial domestic eavesdropping program to a secret court for approval, eliminating the warrantless aspect of the program, federal officials announced yesterday.

Critics say the move, a year after the NSA program became public, appears to be an effort to pre-empt an investigation by Congress now that Democrats are in control. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales is scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning.

On Jan. 10, a judge on the secret national security court gave the federal government the authority to monitor calls to or from the United States that it believes are linked to al-Qaida or a related terrorist organization, Gonzales said in a letter yesterday to top members of the Judiciary Committee. Administration officials said they hope the ruling will cool debate over the president’s power to authorize warrantless surveillance.

“As a result of these orders, any electronic surveillance that was occurring as part of the Terrorist Surveillance Program will now be conducted subject to the …

NSA electricity crisis gets Senate scrutiny.

The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, MD)| January 26, 2007
Siobhan Gorman

Jan. 26–WASHINGTON — The National Security Agency’s impending electricity shortfall is “sort of a national catastrophe,” Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said yesterday.

Rockefeller, who took over as head of the panel when Democrats regained control of the Senate this month, called the power shortage a symptom of a larger problem: the NSA’s failure to manage long-range issues. “They haven’t focused on the large picture,” the West Virginia Democrat said in an interview. The Sun reported last year that the NSA expects its power demands to exceed its supply within the next two years — an issue it has been aware of since the late 1990s.

NSA Director Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander has acknowledged the problem and assured lawmakers that he has assigned some of his top lieutenants to tackle it, according to a committee aide. The NSA has set up an “issue management team” to work through the problem, The Sun reported last week. Such groups are usually assembled to focus on key spy targets, not infrastructure problems. “It’s true that the power, space and cooling needs of the agency weren’t adequately addressed, and we’re fixing it,” said NSA spokesman Ken White. He said the agency had been working on the problem with lawmakers for nine months, updating them as recently as this week. The NSA is “effectively addressing this complex situation, and is confident that we have a strategy that will receive the necessary funding to ensure sufficient power capacity and reliability for the future,” he said in a statement. As part of a broader look at the nation’s intelligence agencies, Rockefeller said he plans to take up, at a hearing in March, the NSA’s coming electricity crisis and its inability to adapt to 21st-century communications technology.

“We have been very weak on oversight since the beginning of the Bush administration, and this has not been a good time to be weak on oversight,” he said. That is about to change, the senator promised.

“There’s going to be a showdown,” he said, noting that the administration has already rebuffed other senators’ requests for documents. If his committee does not get the information it needs, “I’m not going to rule out the process of the subpoena.” The electricity shortfall appeared to be a chief concern as he discussed his panel’s priorities.

NSA officials “were so busy doing what various people wanted that they forgot to understand that they were running out of power, and that’s sort of a national catastrophe,” he said. “We cannot have that place go dark.” With its focus on intercepting communications, the NSA is the country’s largest intelligence agency and also one of its most technology — and electric power — dependent. Three main factors have contributed to the problem: insufficient electricity available from Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., lack of capacity at substations serving the NSA, and infrastructure in agency buildings that cannot handle rising electrical demands. To curb its appetite for electricity in the short term, the NSA has shut off some equipment and delayed plugging in some new supercomputers.

According to a committee aide, Rockefeller’s panel has posed basic questions to the NSA about the agency’s present electrical capacity and its expected capacity when new items in the pipeline are added. It has also inquired about capacity when longer-term modernization projects take hold and where the agency expects to get the electricity to support it all. So far, the NSA has given the committee data on how much electricity the agency uses, though, the aide said, there is a significant margin of error in that estimate. There are also concerns that the NSA might not fully understand its future needs. The NSA uses about 65 to 75 megawatt-hours of electricity, The Sun reported last week. Its needs are projected to grow by 10 to 15 megawatt-hours by next fall. Another shortcoming — the NSA’s continuing difficulty in devising a computerized system to collect electronic communications in the wake of the global information explosion — will also be explored by his committee, Rockefeller said.

“They have had their problems there,” he said, noting that the NSA’s last modernization effort, dubbed Trailblazer, “didn’t work.”

Rockefeller said he had not yet reached a conclusion on the NSA’s latest modernization projects. His staff expects to report its findings to the committee in advance of the March oversight hearing. Rockefeller’s committee is also evaluating the legality and effectiveness of President Bush’s Terrorist Surveillance Program at the NSA.

The senator said his early priorities include getting more information about the authorization that a secret national-security court provided recently for the program, which had previously conducted warrantless eavesdropping on conversations between the United States and overseas if one party was believed to be linked to al-Qaida.

Last week, Bush announced that he had submitted the program to the secret court and it had given the administration warrants for the eavesdropping. Rockefeller said the new court orders don’t satisfy his concerns. His committee is also examining whether the program provided unique information that helped the government find terrorists, as administration officials have claimed, a committee aide said.

Even though Rockefeller had been among a small cadre of lawmakers updated on the program since its inception, he said he still does not have enough information to know how Congress should respond to the program or whether it has been effective. “What they haven’t told us is so overwhelmingly large,” he said, that “you would laugh” at the meagerness of the information lawmakers have been given. Rockefeller said he has asked the administration for copies of documents authorizing the program in 2001 and a Justice Department analysis of why a warrant could not be used. A committee aide said the panel also wants to see copies of orders recently issued by the secret national security court that OK’d the program, the government’s application for warrants, and intelligence reports provided to such agencies as the FBI and CIA. The committee also wants to know whether those intelligence reports produced valuable tips on terrorist activities.

“We can’t get that information,” Rockefeller said. “We need that information. We deserve that information. By law, we have to have that information.” Rockefeller said he has already spoken with Democratic Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, who chairs the Judiciary committee. The two panels expect to produce legislation this year that would set new guidelines designating the types of domestic surveillance that U.S. intelligence agencies may, and may not, conduct. siobhan.gorman@baltsun.com

Copyright (c) 2007, The Baltimore Sun
Chief of NSA urges ‘action’: Alexander wants new approach, to fix systemic woes.
The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, MD)| March 10, 2007

Siobhan Gorman

Mar. 10–WASHINGTON — In what he described as “a call to action,” the director of the National Security Agency has urged the nation’s largest intelligence agency to transform the way it carries out its mission and speed the development of new spy technology, according to an internal NSA document. A blunt memorandum by Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the NSA’s director, said the agency must totally rethink its approach to spying and fix “systemic problems” identified after the Sept. 11 attacks. With the NSA expected to face more intense scrutiny from a Congress led by Democrats, Alexander has launched an internal review to chart a new course.

“We need to do more faster: we are still A NATION AT WAR,” he said in a Feb. 21 memorandum to NSA employees. The Sun confirmed the text of unclassified portions of the memo, titled “My Appeal to You — A Call to Action,” with two sources familiar with it. Current and former intelligence officials described Alexander’s internal review as a back-to-basics effort aimed at managing programs better and delivering tangible results. But some said the agency was studying well-understood problems when it should be fixing them.

Some of the problems facing the NSA are relatively basic, while others are highly complex. According to Alexander’s memo, they include obtaining enough electric power to run the high-tech networks at its Fort Meade headquarters, fixing an ailing computer infrastructure, and overcoming difficulties in building a system to uncover threat information in the vast volume of data that the NSA captures every day. Congress frustrated

Those issues will be on the agenda when Congress holds closed-door hearings on the NSA’s budget this month, lawmakers said. The agency will “have to justify the money” it is requesting, said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Maryland Democrat who chairs a subcommittee that oversees the NSA. He plans to ask independent experts to evaluate the NSA’s budget, because “there have been some failures in the past,” including a troubled, multibillion-dollar computer upgrade called Trailblazer.

Lawmakers have been frustrated by “ill-defined” programs at the NSA, especially efforts to modernize its espionage activities to capitalize on the Internet era, said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, a Texas Democrat. Reyes said he wants to “make sure that [the NSA has] a focused strategy” for eavesdropping in an age when phone calls race across the Internet, and the caller’s identity can be masked. The top Republican on the intelligence panel, Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, said his priority is to assess whether the NSA is keeping pace with technological developments. “We need them to be at the leading edge,” he said. Alexander is seeking a nearly $1 billion boost in the NSA’s estimated $8 billion budget, according to current and former intelligence officials. In his memo, he pointed out that the NSA must fix its problems to back up its budget request.

His 45-day internal review will evaluate the NSA’s latest modernization efforts from three perspectives — the adequacy of its technology, its management, and how it will deliver results. The NSA declined to comment on the memo or the review under way. “The information is essentially embedded in a classified, privileged communication meant solely for the consumption of cleared NSA personnel,” said spokesman Ken White.

“Communications detailing the agency’s classified internal preparations to modernize our cryptologic enterprise are strictly limited to the properly authorized venues afforded by our congressional oversight committees.” One former NSA official said the review sounds like those that Alexander’s predecessor, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, conducted when he came to the agency in 1999. “Studying it again, I’m just not sure what it gives you,” the former official said, noting that the recommendations from a 1999 panel went largely unfulfilled.

The review comes 1 1/2 years into an initiative by Alexander to collect and quickly analyze threat information from digital communications in cyberspace. Known as Turbulence, progress on that effort has been sluggish. An intelligence official said Alexander is re-evaluating now because Turbulence has hit a make-or-break point and has little to show for it. “A direction was begun, and then they stopped and got stuck,” said the former senior NSA official. “They’re taking a step back and re-examining what they’re doing.” In the Feb. 21 memo to his work force, Alexander said the NSA must pick up the pace.

The agency cannot do “more of what we’ve been doing” but instead must “change the way we think about — and do — our cryptologic mission,” he continued. Alexander said the agency has “made great strides in the past five years,” but “we still have a long road ahead of us, especially in terms of addressing systemic problems — some of which were identified immediately after 9/11.”

NSA leaders testified before Congress after the attacks that it sometimes took days for the NSA to get information to analysts, an intelligence official said. According to Alexander’s memo, that is still the case. Alexander also stated that the NSA is not capable of handling the proliferation of new communications technologies, and that analysts need better training and more sophisticated computer programs to handle data from complex information networks.

The inability to manage vast volumes of information is of great concern to lawmakers. The NSA has “been overwhelmed” by the information explosion, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia has said. The NSA processes much less than 1 percent of the data it collects, according to intelligence officials. Also, the NSA captures just a small fraction of the information generated by electronic communications, which have ballooned in recent years.

A new study by the research firm IDC found that 161 billion gigabytes of digital information were generated worldwide last year, equivalent to the information in 12 stacks of books reaching from Earth to the sun. IDC expects that number to increase sixfold by 2010. Four objectives

Alexander acknowledged in the memo that the NSA is not integrating its spying operations well across the agency. The NSA director said he had discussed his agency’s problems with Pentagon officials, the director of the national intelligence office and the White House. “We have … agreed that fixing these problems is a top priority for our country,” Alexander wrote. He set out four objectives for the NSA: resolving systemic problems, speaking with one voice “especially to Congress,” fully agreeing on a “road map” for the agency, and demonstrating clearly “that we are maximizing the return on investment expected of us.” siobhan.gorman@baltsun.com

Copyright (c) 2007, The Baltimore Sun

Head of NSA forces change: Spying and tech development split; chief technology post to be created.
The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, MD)| April 16, 2007

Byline: Siobhan Gorman

Apr. 16–WASHINGTON — The head of the National Security Agency has launched an internal shake-up of the nation’s largest spy agency, whose lagging modernization efforts are drawing increased scrutiny inside the administration and on Capitol Hill. The reforms will separate the NSA’s spy operations from its high-tech development efforts and ensure that the agency’s technology programs function as one system, the NSA’s director, Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, said in an April 4 memo to employees.

Alexander said that a number of NSA technology development programs and departments were being combined into what he called “a single empowered entity,” under the leadership of a chief technology officer. “We’re very excited about this,” NSA Deputy Director Chris Inglis said in an interview. Inglis said the changes will help the NSA focus on the development of its technology backbone and spy programs “with greater crispness and clarity.”

Critics say the reorganization, scheduled to take effect May 14, is unlikely, by itself, to fix the NSA’s most vexing problems: a continuing struggle to collect intelligence from digital communications, the agency’s deteriorating technology infrastructure and its worsening shortfall in electric power. They also fear that the new technology chief won’t have enough authority to make all of the changes that are needed, particularly when it comes to deciding how the agency spends on new technology. “It’s reorganization for reorganization’s sake,” said a former NSA official familiar with the plan who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect business relationships with the government. Another former agency official, speaking on condition of anonymity for the same reason, said that organizational structure has never been the NSA’s problem. Instead, it is the lack of an operational plan and “the leadership to carry it through.”

The creation of the technology office is the NSA’s third major reorganization in seven years but the first since Alexander took charge in August 2005. It comes at a time of flux for the broader U.S. intelligence community. The new director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, recently announced a reorganization of his office, and incoming Pentagon intelligence chief James R. Clapper Jr. has said he has similar plans.

Longtime NSA official Prescott Winter, 59, has been named by Alexander to the new chief technology post. Winter has a reputation for reaching across bureaucratic fences, and he recently ran the NSA’s Commercial Solutions Center, which helps connect the agency with private industry.

He will oversee divisions responsible for developing spy technology, upgrading information technology systems and linking eavesdropping technology with other NSA computer systems, according to an internal “Talking Points” document. The shake-up gives Winter responsibility for two of Alexander’s top priorities: resolving the NSA’s impending electricity shortfall and overseeing the troubled “Turbulence” modernization initiative, according to the “Talking Points” document.

Turbulence, which aims to constantly monitor digital communications worldwide, recently came under criticism on Capitol Hill for “management deficiencies.” An earlier study by a congressional advisory group warned about the initiative’s “inadequate planning,” especially for delivering the new spy technology. The NSA reorganization follows a recent “call to action” from Alexander, who urged employees to deliver spy technology faster. It is the product of a 45-day study examining the agency’s latest modernization efforts.

That study concluded that the NSA risks losing focus on its technology requirements and needs to improve how it deploys new technology, Inglis said. “That’s why we determined that we needed to assign that [responsibility] formally to someone,” he said. Inglis said the study grew out of internal discussions late last year about refocusing the agency on the “transformation” of its efforts to adapt spy technology and analysis to new types of communications, including calls over the Internet and instant messaging.

The study also came in response to concerns in Congress and elsewhere in the executive branch after Alexander asked for a budget increase of nearly $1 billion. Current and former intelligence officials said that many in Washington were concerned that the NSA was failing to manage its existing programs effectively enough. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Maryland Democrat who chairs an intelligence subcommittee that oversees the NSA, called the latest reorganization “a very positive step” that would make the agency more accountable for its use of taxpayer dollars. He added that he believed it would also spur the NSA’s efforts to improve its surveillance of digital communications worldwide.

Among the challenges facing the NSA, and its new technology office, will be the impact on the agency’s existing spy operations. “What people underestimate is the sheer administrative burden of a reorganization like that and the turmoil it causes among people,” said a former senior NSA official. Inglis said a desire to avoid major disruptions was, in part, what kept NSA leaders from giving the new technology officer greater authority, though the scope of his powers may be adjusted.

Some former officials said the shake-up effectively reverses organizational changes made by Alexander’s predecessor, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who reshuffled responsibilities, in part because the NSA’s computers crashed in 2000, rendering the agency “brain dead” for 3 1/2 days, as Hayden would later acknowledge. Inglis said the new organization — which separates spy operations from technology development — will be similar, in concept, to the NSA before Hayden’s reforms. But what is different, he said, is that there will be a stronger connection between the two, while both divisions focus on what they do best. The NSA, he said, must adapt to a new technology world “where we have to literally transform every day.” He predicted that “into the future, there will be needs for other capabilities, and other organizations will arise from that.”

“I don’t foresee constant turmoil,” he added. “But I don’t see permanent stability either.” siobhan.gorman@baltsun.com

Copyright (c) 2007, The Baltimore Sun

Management shortcomings seen at NSA: Report identifies a culture of distrust, failures of oversight.
The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, MD)| May 06, 2007

Siobhan Gorman

May 6–WASHINGTON — In a sharp rebuke to the National Security Agency’s leadership, an internal task force has concluded that the country’s largest intelligence agency lacks vision and is unable to set objectives and meet them.

NSA employees also do not trust one another, which has left the agency fragmented and in search of a “unity of purpose,” according to a task force report released to employees late last month.

“What we need is fundamental change in the way we manage NSA and what we expect of management and ourselves,” concluded the study, which was led by George “Dennis” Bartko, the NSA’s deputy chief of cryptanalysis. The Sun obtained unclassified portions of the report and eight related documents.

Management problems have been blamed for repeated setbacks as the agency tries to upgrade its ability to analyze the millions of snippets of conversations and other communications collected worldwide every day. In recent years, several major programs have been hampered by delays, technology breakdowns or cost overruns.

Yet the report’s blunt conclusions are strikingly similar to those in a pair of 1999 NSA studies, raising questions about how much progress the Maryland-based agency has made since then.

NSA Director Lt. Gen Keith B. Alexander commissioned the latest report as part of his campaign to improve the management and spying capability of the agency, which, according to one task force planning document, is facing an “identity crisis.”

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Maryland Democrat who chairs the House Intelligence subcommittee that oversees the NSA, said he did not know about the report. Told of some of its conclusions, he said, “What you’re reading to me is troubling.”

Aggressive oversight and more money are needed to make sure that the NSA has sufficient spying capabilities, he said. “Failure, as it relates to NSA, is not an option.”

The report’s conclusions are a chief reason Alexander announced last month that he would consolidate technology programs under a senior officer, NSA spokeswoman Andrea Martino said in e-mailed responses to questions.

“We agree that these issues are important as we move into the future, and the team’s conclusions and recommendations are a key starting point for doing so,” she said.

Reaffirming the problem, the task force report was released about the same time the agency decided to overhaul part of the “Turbulence” program designed to enable the NSA to process digital information at high speeds in cyberspace, according to a senior intelligence official.

According to the task force, the NSA must “decide upon a common purpose, develop plans and strategies aligned with that purpose, manage all of our resources, and tie rewards to successful execution of our plans.”

The NSA eavesdrops on communications worldwide, and its budget has doubled to about $8 billion since the Sept. 11 attacks.

But mismanagement has been a continuing problem, driving into the ground a six-year, multibillion-dollar “Trailblazer” program to adapt the NSA’s collection and analysis capability to the age of digital communications. More recently, the initiative launched in its stead, “Turbulence,” has run into significant problems, exemplified by the recent decision to overhaul a critical piece of the project. Poor planning has also left the agency short of electricity.

That management problems persist more than five years after “the worst terrorist attack in American history” is “really discouraging,” said Amy Zegart, a University of California, Los Angeles public policy professor whose research focuses on intelligence agencies.

Among the conclusions from the 1999 studies were that the NSA had a “poorly communicated mission and lack of vision” and had ignored “excellent recommendations” in the past. The 1999 reports called for a reorganization of the NSA, which was largely carried out.

But it failed to produce a “fundamental management culture change,” the new report concludes.

Bartko, who led the 24-person task force of NSA employees, acknowledged “concerns” that its conclusions were similar to those in previous studies. “If these recommendations were made before, what’s different this time?” he wrote in a recent column for the agency’s work force.

“Now is the time” for change, he continued. “It has to be. The Nation is depending on us not only today, but tomorrow as well.”

In 2004, Congress, frustrated over the NSA’s inability to manage its own expensive programs, stripped the agency of its authority to launch new ones without approval from the Pentagon. That authority has yet to be restored.

Spokespeople for the House and Senate intelligence committees said lawmakers on those panels have not been informed of the conclusions of the report and had no immediate comment.

The 28-page classified report, initially intended only for top NSA managers, was completed in March and distributed to NSA employees on April 24 as part of Alexander’s push to revitalize the agency. It painted a bleak picture of the intelligence agency.

“We do not trust our peers to deliver,” the task force wrote. “Fragmentation has undermined corporate trust. Lack of trust is on display in NSA organizational structures [and] behaviors across the Enterprise.”

Management specialists said distrust within an organization is often difficult to overcome.

“That’s alarming,” said Zegart, a former management consultant. “If people in that organization don’t trust either their peers, their superiors or their subordinates, nothing is going to change.”

The NSA’s spokeswoman said the report’s conclusion about a lack of trust was a reflection of “the extraordinary work ethic and sense of personal accountability” among employees, which can make them less eager to collaborate with others in the agency. Martino added that the NSA is looking for ways to encourage employees to work together.

According to the report, the agency also lacks a coherent set of goals. “It’s not clear what needs to be accomplished” on a year-to-year basis, it concludes. The task force recommended that the agency set priorities to provide a vision “that does not exist today.”

Inability to carry out plans and hold employees and managers accountable for executing them is also a persistent problem, according to the report.

“There is no clear measurement and no accountability for execution performance,” it said.

NSA leaders have evaluated the report’s conclusions, Martino said, and “agree that we need to give great attention to these issues to succeed against the challenges we face.”

The report also points to a lack of management expertise among the agency’s top leaders, which, it concludes, has prevented earlier reforms from taking hold. The task force recommends a reorganization of the NSA’s technology programs, similar to the one Alexander has announced, but repeatedly states that reorganization alone will not solve agency problems.

Making changes that go beyond bureaucratic reorganization is the key “to not having to repeat the ‘study team’ process once again in the relatively near future,” the report concludes. However, a senior intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the NSA is largely focused on organizational changes at this point.

Martino responded by saying that reorganization was “naturally a dominant issue” for the agency now, but that the NSA is also working to improve communications about its vision, strengthen its management of programs and establish clear priorities.

And Zegart, the UCLA professor, finds some signs of hope in the report’s findings.

“They get the importance of management, which is a good start,” she said. “You can’t fix anything you can’t manage.” The national spy chief’s office, which oversees the NSA and the other 15 intelligence agencies, would be wise to see whether other intelligence agencies are experiencing the same management deficit, she added.

Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, said McConnell tracks “potential management issues” through an annual workplace survey distributed to a sampling of employees at each agency.

The 2006 results show that the NSA’s senior managers scored slightly below average among intelligence agencies. The survey found that 43 percent of NSA employees say they are satisfied with the “policies and practices of your senior leaders,” compared with a 46 percent satisfaction rate for all U.S. intelligence agencies.

Copyright (c) 2007, The Baltimore Sun

NSA leaders pressed to explain report faulting agency culture: Congress, Pentagon, intelligence director want to know about flaws.
The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, MD)| May 17, 2007
Siobhan Gorman

May 17–WASHINGTON — Lawmakers, Pentagon officials and the director of national intelligence want the National Security Agency to explain an internal report that concluded the NSA suffers from a lack of trust and accountability.

NSA Deputy Director Chris Inglis said in an interview that the agency had received inquiries about the report from Capitol Hill, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence James Clapper Jr. and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell.

Spokesmen for the House and Senate intelligence committees said their panels did not know about the report before a May 6 article in The Sun disclosing the findings.

Inglis said, however, that the NSA has a “rich dialogue with Congress” and “if all we had done was ship them a report,” the NSA would have “fallen short” of its obligation to keep Congress current on agency activities.

“In light of the Sun article, NSA will be responding to a formal request from Congress for the full report,” said a May 8 agency memo, referring to the 28-page classified internal report that described management problems and recommended changes.

The NSA distributed the classified May 8 memo detailing background information on the report to agency managers, as well as lawmakers, Pentagon officials and McConnell’s office.

Unclassified portions of the memo were obtained by The Sun.

Among those seeking the report was Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Maryland Democrat who chairs the House Intelligence subcommittee. He is scheduled to receive a briefing next week.

“Some of the allegations … are troublesome,” he said. “I have to read the whole report to see where they are at this time.” But, he said, “I respect the fact that they asked for a self-evaluation.”

A spokesman for McConnell, Ross Feinstein, said that while McConnell “works closely and meets regularly” with the heads of the intelligence agencies, he would not comment on interagency communications. Pentagon spokesman Maj. Patrick Ryder also declined to comment on the issues the Pentagon raised regarding the NSA report.

One former senior NSA official said the queries from the Pentagon and McConnell’s office could signal an enhanced effort to monitor intelligence agency activities.

The disclosure of the internal report prompted a rapid response from agency leaders, who discussed it in at least three agency communications within two days of the article’s publication. But that flurry of memos indicates that the agency is having difficulty explaining the report’s conclusions, the former official said.

The report, one of the products of a 45-day NSA study, called for “a fundamental change in the way we manage NSA.”

It concluded that agency employees “do not trust our peers to deliver” and that the agency lacks “a corporate vision.” It also found that “there is no clear measurement and no accountability for execution performance.” Other parts of the study put forward plans for deploying technology programs across the agency.

George “Dennis” Bartko, the NSA’s deputy chief of cryptanalysis, led the task force that produced the report. It offered several recommendations, some of which are being adopted by NSA, such as consolidation of technology programs. That consolidation began Monday, Inglis said.

According to the memo, “NSA agrees that it must address issues discussed in the Baltimore Sun article as we move into the future, and the team’s conclusions and recommendations are a key starting points for doing so.” And Inglis said, “We embrace the results of that study.”

But he and other agency officials took exception to the article.

Inglis said the study’s results were “taken out of context.” The report should be read as “what we must do to sustain success, not about failure,” Inglis said.

He added that the “unvarnished” report “should be taken as a commitment to continue the improvements that are under way and not as a rebuke, but rather as a thoughtful self-assessment of what we’re doing and how we can do that better.”

Inglis and Bartko said the task force was only studying the management of technology, so the report’s conclusions should not be seen as spanning the agency. They also said that the lack of trust referred to in the report was a call for greater collaboration, not a critique of the agency.

Other intelligence officials who read the report, however, said it identified serious shortcomings across the agency, such as a lack of accountability.

NSA Director Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander also criticized The Sun article for naming Bartko, writing in a May 7 memo that it “not only undermine[s] the extraordinary work of a dedicated and hard-working team, but also affect[s] the safety and privacy of their lives.”

Bartko said in an interview that his privacy had been violated. “Part of the pride I take is doing our work in secret,” he said.

However, an NSA spokeswoman used Bartko’s name in her e-mailed responses to questions for that article. Bartko also wrote an unclassified column to the NSA work force explaining his report, which was quoted in the article.

Copyright (c) 2007, The Baltimore Sun

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