NSA director talks transformation

ORLANDO, Fla. — The director of the National Security Agency told a gathering of industry and government executives March 3 that the supersecret agency's transformation began in earnest in January 2000, when its system crashed for more than three days during a blizzard.

In a remarkably candid talk, Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden also said the transformation accelerated after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks with three goals: bring in new people, turn to industry for solutions and maintain a social contract with the American people to protect their privacy.

"Information is a place where we could go to secure America's safety, security and liberty," Hayden said. "We defend ourselves by dominating the information battlespace."

To help facilitate the transformation, Hayden said NSA needs industry's help to provide solutions.

"We were an island...in a sea of [information technology] technological revolution," he said at the Information Processing Interagency Conference, being held this week in Orlando, Fla.

To help the transformation process, Hayden noted that there are 19,000 private contractors with security clearances and a workforce of 30,000 military and civilian personnel to gather and interpret information. He also has hired experts from outside to help remake the agency, which has received 73,000 resumes since the terrorist attacks.

He said most people don't understand NSA's mission and misinterpret it to be everything from reading people's e-mail to industrial espionage.

But what NSA is really doing, he said, is working to connect the dots between points of information.

"Operational transformation is far more about what happens after the data is collected than it is about collection," he said.

Still, Hayden had a few secrets he was not about to divulge. He declined to comment on whether NSA had anything to do with the arrest over the weekend of an al Qaeda leader in Pakistan. And when asked whether the Sept. 11 attacks were a failure of technology, he did not answer directly.

"It was difficult for us to conceive of evil so great," he said.

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