NSA to speed intelligence delivery
- By Frank Tiboni
- Sep 02, 2003
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The National Security Agency wants the United States and allied countries to become more involved in processing and analyzing foreign communications intercepts, the military's top intelligence officer said.
The groundbreaking announcement marks NSA Director Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden's third initiative in four years to transform NSA from an agency entrenched in collecting intelligence from Warsaw Pact countries' land-based systems to the modern task of collecting intercepts transmitted by al Qaeda's Internet, fiber and satellite systems.
The challenge is "how we take the people who consume signals intelligence and make them players in the creation of signals intelligence," Hayden said, speaking Aug. 27 at the AFCEA International Montgomery, Ala., chapter's awards banquet held during the Air Force Information Technology conference.
NSA's new signals intelligence processing vision builds on the multibillion-dollar Groundbreaker and Trailblazer projects started in 2000 to update the agency's IT business and intelligence eavesdropping systems. Hayden said they are now producing more than a pound of output for each pound of input.
NSA Transformation 2.0 aims to get agency personnel to work together more closely and to team with other Defense Department, State Department and allied government agencies, Hayden said.
The ultrasecret intelligence agency uses land-, air-, and space-based systems worldwide to intercept foreign communications and then goes through a meticulous process of translating, analyzing, tagging, processing and distributing the final intelligence product.
NSA will open its signals intelligence databases occasionally to some U.S. and allied governments' agencies, Hayden said. The goal is to speed the delivery and analysis of foreign communications intercepts, he said.
The agency did this successfully on a smallscale during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Hayden said. "Marines in High Mobility Multipurpose Vehicles working on laptops tapped into the most sensitive NSA databases," he said.
The Marines accessed NSA computers down to the regiment level, the Army at the division echelon and the Air Force at theater command centers, Hayden said. Air Force spy planes "could not collaborate because of bandwidth limits on the aircraft," he said.
NSA's new intelligence processing vision presents educational, technological and legal hurdles, Hayden said. By quickly pushing raw signals intelligence data to DOD, State and allied government agencies, they need top-notch translators and analysts, he said.
That is the first challenge. The second is easing federal laws that say NSA is the only agency that can produce signals intelligence.
Hayden said technology can help here. New systems that act as filters could perform signals intelligence translation and analysis.
The new NSA initiative is more an act caused by external pressure than internal ingenuity, the author of two books on the agency said.
"NSA was told to do it. NSA fought for decades to hold onto it," said James Bamford, author of the "The Puzzle Palace" and followup "Body of Secrets" books.
Congress' investigation into the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks said NSA obtained a number of communications intercepts in 1999 connecting individuals to terrorism who were identified after Sept. 11 as participants in the attacks that day.
NSA goes net-centric
The National Security Agency's new signals intelligence processing vision mirrors the Defense Department's evolving network-centric warfare strategy of getting information to warfighters soon after it is collected.
DOD officials believe posting data quickly to a network that warfighters could easily view to assist in making decisions shortens the target-identification-to-attack time gap. They say making tactical and geographic data readily accessible to commanders and troops is the best way to attack al Qaeda targets, ultimately ending the 2-year-old war on terrorism.
DOD conducted the Quantum Leap experiment Aug. 27 to test new concepts and technologies in transmitting, posting and accessing information. John Stenbit, assistant secretary of Defense for networks and information integration and DOD's chief information officer, calls it horizontal fusion.
Stenbit said the department must adopt the OHIO principle: Only handle information once.