More declassified documents and Archive publications on U.S. intelligence:U.S. Intelligence Policy Documentation Project
Washington, D.C., January 13, 2000 – The National Security Agency (NSA) is one of the most secret (and secretive) members of the U.S. intelligence community. The predecessor of NSA, the Armed Forces Security Agency (AFSA), was established within the Department of Defense, under the command of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on May 20, 1949. In theory, the AFSA was to direct the communications intelligence and electronic intelligence activities of the military service signals intelligence units (at the time consisting of the Army Security Agency, Naval Security Group, and Air Force Security Service). In practice, the AFSA had little power, its functions being defined in terms of activities not performed by the service units.1
The creation of NSA resulted from a December 10, 1951, memo sent by Walter Bedell Smith to James B. Lay, Executive Secretary of the National Security Council. The memo observed that "control over, and coordination of, the collection and processing of Communications Intelligence had proved ineffective" and recommended a survey of communications intelligence activities. The proposal was approved on December 13, 1951, and the study authorized on December 28, 1951. The report was completed by June 13, 1952. Generally known as the "Brownell Committee Report," after committee chairman Herbert Brownell, it surveyed the history of U.S. communications intelligence activities and suggested the need for a much greater degree of coordination and direction at the national level. As the change in the security agency's name indicated, the role of the NSA was to extend beyond the armed forces.2
In the last several decades some of the secrecy surrounding NSA has been stripped away by Congressional hearings and investigative research. Most recently NSA has been the subject of criticism for failing to adjust to the post-Cold War technological environment as well as for operating a "global surveillance network" alleged to intrude on the privacy of individuals across the world. The following documents provide insight into the creation, evolution, management and operations of NSA, including the controversial ECHELON program. Also included are newly released documents (7a - 7f) that focus on the restrictions NSA places on reporting the identities of U.S. persons – including former president Jimmy Carter and first lady Hillary Clinton, and NSA Director Michael Hayden's unusual public statement (Document 16) before the House Intelligence Committee.
Several of these documents also appear in either of two National Security Archive collections on U.S. intelligence. The U.S. Intelligence Community: Organization, Operations and Management: 1947-1989 (1990) and U.S. Espionage and Intelligence: Organization, Operations, and Management, 1947-1996 (1997) publish together for the first time recently declassified documents pertaining to the organizational structure, operations and management of the U.S. Intelligence Community over the last fifty years, cross-indexed for maximum accessibility. Together, these two sets reproduce on microfiche over 2,000 organizational histories, memoranda, manuals, regulations, directives, reports, and studies, totalling more than 50,000 pages of documents from the Office of the Director of Central Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, military service intelligence organizations, National Security Council, and other official government agencies and organizations.
National Security Council Intelligence Directives have provided the highest-level policy guidance for intelligence activities since they were first issued in 1947.
This document establishes and defines the responsibilities of the United States Communications Intelligence Board. The Board, according to the directive, is to provide "authoritative coordination of [the] Communications Intelligence activities of the Government and to advise the Director of Central Intelligence in those matters in the field of Communications Intelligence for which he is responsible."
The particularly sensitive nature of communications intelligence (COMINT) activities was highlighted by paragraph 6, which noted that such activities should be treated "in all respects as being outside the framework of other or general intelligence activities." Thus, regulations or directives pertaining to other intelligence activities were not applicable to COMINT activities.
President Truman's memorandum revokes the provisions of NSCID 9 with regard to the composition, responsibilities, and procedures of the U.S. Communications Intelligence Board. It establishes the USCIB as an entity "acting for and under" a newly created Special Committee of the National Security Council for COMINT, consisting of the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense.
More significantly, Truman's memo, along with a Department of Defense directive, established NSA, and transformed communications intelligence from a military activity divided among the three services to a unified national activity.3 Thus, the first sentence states that "The communications intelligence (COMINT) activities of the United States are a national responsibility."
The memorandum instructs the Special Committee to issue a directive to the Secretary of Defense which defines the COMINT mission of NSA as being to "provide an effective, unified organization and control of the communications intelligence activities of the United States conducted against foreign governments." Thus, "all COMINT collection and production resources of the United States are placed under his operational and technical control."
The directive provided the NSA director with no authority regarding the collection of electronic intelligence (ELINT)—such as intelligence obtained from the interception of the emanations of radarsor of missile telemetry. Responsibility for ELINT remained with the military services.
NSCID 9 of December 1952 replaces its 1950 predecessor as mandated by Truman's directive. Often using identical language to that in the Truman directive, it revises the responsibilities of the United States Communications Intelligence Board as well as defining the role of the newly created National Security Agency and enumerating the responsibilities of its director.
This memo, from national security adviser Walt Rostow to President Johnson, provides information concerning North Vietnamese/Viet Cong military and political strategy during the last months of Johnson's presidency. The last item in the memo notes that its conclusions were partly a function of the author's access to relevant intercepted communications.
The memo specifically notes unusual, high-priority message traffic between Hanoi and subordinate units directing forces in South Vietnam as well as urgent messages from the Military Affairs Committee of COSVN (Central Office for South Vietnam) to subordinates. It does not reveal how extensively the U.S. was able to decrypt the messages.
Originally classified Secret, this directive remains in effect today, with minor changes. Key portions of the directive specify the NSA's role in managing the signals intelligence effort for the entire U.S. government, the role of the Secretary of Defense in appointing and supervising the work of the NSA's director, the authorities assigned to the director of NSA, and the relationships that NSA is expected to maintain with other components of the government.
Among the specific responsibilities assigned to the director are preparation of a consolidated SIGINT program and budget for Defense Department SIGINT activities, the "exercise of SIGINT operational control over SIGINT activities of the United States," and the production and dissemination of SIGINT "in accordance with the objectives, requirements, and priorities established by the Director of Central Intelligence."
The directive reflects the 1958 addition of electronic intelligence to NSA's responsibilities, making it the national authority for both components of signals intelligence.
NSCID 6 is the most recently available NSCID concerning SIGINT. It was still in effect at least as late as 1987. An earlier version of the directive was issued in 1958, when NSA was first assigned responsibility for electronics intelligence.
The version released by the NSC in 1976 contains little more than the definitions for COMINT and ELINT. However, a Justice Department report obtained by author James Bamford while researching his book, The Puzzle Palace, quoted additional portions of the directive.
The directive specifies that the Director of NSA is to produce SIGINT in response to the objectives, requirements and priorities of the Director of Central Intelligence. It also empowers the director to issue direct instructions to any organizations engaged in SIGINT operations, with the exception of certain CIA and FBI activities, and states that the instructions are mandatory.
These two documents provide examples of NSA reporting, as well as demonstrating that NSA’s collection targets have included Indian atomic energy programs. Portions of each document that discuss or reveal the contents of the intercepts have been redacted. However, the classification of the documents indicates that high-level communications intelligence was used in preparing the report. UMBRA is the highest-level compartment of the three compartments of Special Intelligence—the euphemism for COMINT. The lower level compartments are MORAY and SPOKE.
The classification (either TSU [TOP SECRET UMBRA] or MORAY) of the 25 reports which Document 6b was derived from indicate that the report relied extensively on COMINT. The report also demonstrates how NSA, often to the annoyance of the CIA, has gone far beyond its formal collection and processing responsibilities and into the analysis of the data it has collected.4
While NSCIDs and DoD Directives offer general guidance on the activities of NSA and the United States SIGINT System (USSS), far more detailed guidance is provided by the director of NSA in the form of United States Signals Intelligence Directives (USSIDs). The directives fall into at least nine different categories: policy, collection, processing, analysis and reporting, standards, administration, training, data processing, and tasking.
In the aftermath of revelations in the 1970s about NSA interception of the communications of anti-war and other political activists new procedures were established governing the interception of communications involving Americans.5 The version of USSID 18 currently in force was issued in July 1993 and "prescribes policies and procedures and assigns responsibilities to ensure that the missions and functions of the United States SIGINT System (USSS) are conducted in a manner that safeguards the constitutional rights of U.S. persons." Section 4 ("Collection," pp.2-6) specifies the circumstances under which U.S. SIGINT activities may intercept communications of or about U.S. persons, as well as the authorities of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the Attorney General, and the Director of NSA to approve the collection of such information.
Section 5 ("Processing," pp.6-7) focuses on the restrictions on processing intercepted communications involving U.S. persons--including domestic communications collected during foreign communications collection operations. Section 6 ("Retention," p.8) deals with the retention of intercepted communications about U.S. persons. Section 7 ("Dissemination," pp.8-10) concerns restrictions on dissemination. It requires that all SIGINT reports be written "so as to focus solely on the activities of foreign entities and persons and their agents." It also specifies some of the conditions under which U.S. persons can be identified in SIGINT reports--for example, when the communications indicate the person is an agent of a foreign power.
This NSA memo indicates that the conditions for identification of U.S. officials by title in NSA reporting varies depending on whether or not the individual is a member of the executive branch. Senior officials of the executive branch may be identified by title, without prior approval from higher authority, when the official's title is necessary to understand or assess foreign intelligence. In contrast, officials from the legislative and judicial branches cannot be identified by title, even if that information is necessary to understand foreign intelligence, unless approval is obtained from higher authority. The memo implies that, under the assumed conditions, the use of names is not permitted.
This memo followed a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that Hillary Clinton was a full-time government official. It notes that she could be identified in reports by title (Chairperson of the President's Task Force on National Health Care Reform) without prior approval when that title was necessary to understand or assess foreign intelligence and when the information related to her official duties. The memo also contains guidance on reports containing information about information concerning Mrs. Clinton that is not clearly foreign intelligence.
This 48-page document is intended to provide detailed guidance concerning on the use of U.S. identities in SIGINT reports as well as the dissemination of U.S. identities to consumers outside the United States SIGINT System. It consists of 12 sections (including ones on requests for U.S. identities, accountability, dissemination, and collection and processing), and five appendices (including those on approved generic references and USSID 18 criteria for dissemination).
The issue of when the identity or even title of a U.S. citizen can be included in reporting based on communications intercepts is a major focus of USSID 18. This NSA memo was prepared in response to the invitation to former President Carter to travel to Bosnia and Herzegovina to participate in efforts to end the war. It specifies that as long as Carter is acting as a private citizen he may be referred to only as a "U.S. person" in any reports.
The issue of identification by context is the subject of this memo. It notes that, in describing U.S. entities, analysts are required, in general, to substitute sufficiently generic terms for the entities--terms that do not "directly lead to the identification of a U.S. entity even though the identity has been obscured in the report." Violation of the "contextual identification rule" requires that the report "must be cancelled, reworded and reissued to eliminate the identifying information." The guidance clearly does not apply to those cases where inclusion of more specific information is necessary to evaluate foreign intelligence.
The introduction to this document notes that it is an informal guide to the provisions of USSID 18 with respect to the issue of the COMINT collection and and dissemination of U.S. identities. One section focues on USSID 18 issues with respect to threat situations, including when an individual is held captive by a foreign power or group or when an intercept reveals a threat to a U.S. person. The section on non-threat situations contains guidance on the disposition of the inadvertent intercept of communciations between U.S. persons, on processing and reporting of incidentally intercepted communications of a U.S. person during foreign intelligence collection, and the handling of U.S. identities in reports.
The SIGINT Committee, now known as the National SIGINT Committee, was first established in 1958 to oversee key aspects of U.S. SIGINT activities—the identification of collection requirements, evaluation of how well U.S. and allied SIGINT activities satisfy requirements, and the production of recommendations concerning SIGINT arrangements with foreign governments. This directive is the most recent available version of DCID 6/1. While the directive remains formally classified, the full text of the document has been published previously in scholarly works and on the world wide web.6
The SIGINT Committee operated for many years with two permanent subcommittees—the SIGINT Requirements Validation and Evaluation Subcommittee (SIRVES) and the SIGINT Overhead Reconnaissance Subcommittee (SORS). In the mid-1990s two new groups were established: The Weapons and Space Systems Advisory Group, to "coordinate SIGINT on foreign weapons and space systems," and the National Emitter Intelligence Subcommittee, which focuses on SIGINT production concerning foreign radars and other non-communications signals.7
While NSA directs and manages U.S. SIGINT activities, almost all collection activity is actually carried out by the military service SIGINT units—including the Naval Security Group Command. The role of the unit at Sugar Grove in intercepting the international leased carrier (ILC) communications passing through INTELSAT satellites was first revealed in James Bamford's The Puzzle Palace.8
The regulation reveals that Sugar Grove is associated with what has become a highly controversial program in Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand. The program, codenamed ECHELON, has been described as a global surveillance network that intercepts and processes the world's communications and distributes it among the primary partners in the decades-old UKUSA alliance—the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.9
In reality, ECHELON is a more limited program, allowing the UKUSA allies to specify intelligence requirements and automatically receive relevant intercepts obtained by the UKUSA facilities which intercept satellite communications (but not the U.S. facilities that receive data from SIGINT satellites). It is also limited by both technological barriers (the inability to develop word-spotting software so as to allow for the automatic processing of intercepted conversations) and the limitations imposed on collection activities by the UKUSA allies—at least as regards the citizens of those countries.10 Thus, the NAVSECGRU instruction also specifies that one of the responsibilities of the commander of the Sugar Grove site is to "ensure the privacy of U.S. citizens are properly safeguarded pursuant to the provisions of USSID 18."
This address by the departing director of NSA, William Studeman, examines NSA's post-Cold War mission, likely budgetary limitations, and other challenges facing the agency. Reflecting the increasing emphasis on "support to military operations," Studeman notes that "the military account is basic to NSA as a defense agency, and the lack of utter faithfulness to this fact will court decline." He also observes that "the demands for increased global access are growing" and that "these business areas (SMO and global access) will be the two, hopefully strong legs on which NSA must stand." He also argues that "technical and operational innovation to deal with a changing and changed world must continue to dominate."
In the wake of disclosures about the role of the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (BNL), particularly its Atlanta branch, in the provision of financial assistance to the regime of Saddam Hussein, questions were raised about whether the intelligence community was providing sufficient support to law enforcement.
This letter, from NSA's general counsel, answers a series of questions from the Justice Department pertaining to NSA's knowledge of, or involvement in, BNL activities. The responses appear to indicate that NSA had not derived any intelligence concerning BNL activities from its intercept operations. The letter also stresses NSA's sensitivity to the issue of the privacy of American citizens (noting that "NSA improperly targeted the communications of a number of Americans opposed to the Vietnam War") and the restrictions on reporting information concerning U.S. citizens or corporations.
The first extract from the Air Intelligence Agency's 1994 annual history provides additional information on the ECHELON network. ECHELON units include components of the AIA's 544th Intelligence Group. Detachment 2 and 3 are located at Sabana Seca, Puerto Rico and Sugar Grove, West Virginia respectively. The second reference to Detachment 3 is apparently a typo that should read Detachment 4 (located at Yakima, Washington). The deleted words appear to be "civilian communications," "NAVSECGRU" and "NSA."
The second extract notes that AIA’s participation in a classified activity "had been limited to LADYLOVE operations at Misawa AB [Air Base], Japan." The Misawa LADYLOVE activity was initiated during the Cold War to intercept Soviet military communications transmitted via satellite—along with similar operations at Menwith Hill, UK; Bad Aibling, Germany; and Rosman, North Carolina. This extract suggests that both Guam and Misawa have, at the least, been considered as possible sites for ECHELON operations.
On March 23, 1995, Rep. Robert Torricelli, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, charged that the CIA had been withholding from Congress information it had obtained regarding the deaths of Michael DeVine, an American innkeeper living in Guatemala, and Efraín Bámaca Velásquez, a Guatemalan guerrilla leader and husband of an American lawyer. Both murders, according to Torricelli, were linked to a Guatemalan army colonel, Julio Roberto Alpírez, a paid intelligence asset of the CIA.11
The revelations set off a firestorm of criticism and caused the Clinton administration to order a government-wide investigation over these and other cases of torture and murder attributed to Guatemalan security forces. While the CIA was the main target of such criticism, Torricelli had also reportedly received an anonymous fax from someone inside the NSA alleging that documents pertaining to the Bámaca and DeVine cases were being destroyed.12
This Top Secret NSA position paper responds to these allegations. NSA claims that SIGINT reporting related to these cases is limited to "Guatemalan government reaction to U.S. and international human rights concerns," and does not include specific information regarding the circumstances of death or the involvement of Colonel Alpírez. The document is one of only a handful of declassified records in which the NSA even acknowledges specific SIGINT activities or reports.
Document 14. Memorandum, Daniel C. Kurtzer, Acting Assitant Secretary, Bureau of Intelligence and Research to Vice Admiral J.M. McConnell, Director, National Security Agency, Subject: Proposed Declassification of the "Fact of" Overhead SIGINT Collection, September 6, 1995.
In 1978, President Jimmy Carter acknowledged that the U.S. employed reconnaissance satellites to collect imagery of foreign targets. Early in 1995, President Clinton declassified details concerning early satellite imagery programs such as CORONA. However, even the existence of SIGINT satellites remained classified until late 1995 when Director of Central Intelligence John Deutch authorized the official acknowledgement of space-based SIGINT operations.13
The process involved soliciting the opinions of U.S. government departments whose interests might be affected by disclosure. The State Department's memo expressed concern about the impact in certain countries. Despite the deletions, it is clear that the department was anxious about the impact in the foreign countries where the U.S. operates ground stations for SIGINT satellites—the United Kingdom (at Menwith Hill), Germany (at Bad Aibling), and Australia (at Pine Gap). The memo also indicates that the proposal for declassification emanated from the National Reconnaissance Office.
The organization chart of NSA's Directorate of Operations is notable for several reasons. Traditionally, such information was not released by NSA, which under the provisions of Public Law 86-36 is not required to release even unclassified organizational information. In recent years, however, NSA has released more information about organization and administrative matters, and acknowledged the use of a variety of aircraft for SIGINT collection.
The organization chart also shows how the operations directorate has been reorganized since the end of the Cold War. Throughout much of the Cold War, the directorate consisted of three key regional groups—A (Soviet Bloc), B (Asian Communist), and G (All Other). After the Soviet collapse the regional groups were reduced to one for European nations and one for all other. The new organizational structure reflects the increasing empahsis on transnational activities, which cut across nations and regions.
In a rare public appearance by the NSA director, Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden outlines the regulatory safeguards and oversight mechanisms that are in place to ensure that the agency's electronic surveillance mission does not infringe upon the privacy of U.S. persons, and to respond to recent allegations that NSA provides intelligence information to U.S. companies.
The agency may only target the communications of U.S. persons within the United States after obtaining a federal court order suggesting that the individual might be "an agent of a foreign power." The number of such cases have been "very few" since the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978. In cases where the NSA wishes to conduct electronic surveillance on U.S. persons overseas, the agency must first obtain the approval of the Attorney General, who must have probable cause to believe that the individual "is an agent of a foreign power, or a spy, terrorist, saboteur, or someone who aides or abets them." With regard to the unintentional collection of communications to, from, or about U.S. citizens, Hayden stresses that such information is not retained "unless the information is necessary to understand a particular piece of foreign intelligence or assess its importance."
In response to other allegations, Hayden asserts that NSA cannot request that another country "illegally" collect intelligence on U.S. persons on their behalf, and also that the agency "is not authorized to provide signals intelligence information to private U.S. companies."
1. Report to the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense by a Special Committee Appointed Pursuant to Letter of 28 December 1951 to Survey Communications Intelligence Activities of the Government, June 13, 1952, pp. 47-48, 119; RG 457, SR-123, Military Reference Branch, NARA; The National Cryptologic School, On Watch: Profiles from the National Security Agency's Past 40 Years (Ft. Meade, Md.: NCS, 1986), p. 17.
2. Walter Bedell Smith, "Proposed Survey of Communications Intelligence Activities," December 10, 1951; Report to the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense by a Special Committee, p. 118; U.S. Congress, Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, Final Report, Book III: Foreign and Military Intelligence (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1976), p. 736; National Security Agency/Central Security Service, NSA/CSS Manual 22-1 (Ft. Meade, MD: NSA, 1986), p. 1.
6. See Jeffrey T. Richelson, The U.S. Intelligence Community (Cambridge: Ballinger, 2nd ed., 1989/Boulder: Westview Press, 3rd ed., 1995; 4th ed., 1999); See also the World Wide Web site of the Federation of American Scientists, http://fas.org/irp/offdocs/dcid16.htm
10. Duncan Campbell, Interception Capabilities 2000 (Luxembourg: European Parliament, 1999); Jeffrey T. Richelson, "Desperately Seeking Signals," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 56, No. 2, pp. 47-51.