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through massive amounts of information.
The problem is not just interception of ever-increasing quantities of
communications, it is moving the information back to NSA. "Well, what
are all these communications you're going to bring back to the building
and process?" asked a senior intelligence official involved in Sigint.
"You've got to have a pipeline to bring them back. You've got to have
bandwidth, which is expensive, and which is limited. It's finite. You can't
just get all the bandwidth in the world and ship everything back here. So
you've got a physics problem. . . . You've got to get a real big pipe and
there is no such big pipe that exists."
Even if the avalanche of signals could successfully be diverted back to
Fort Meade, there would never be enough people to process it all.
"Supposing you pipe every communication that goes on in China back to
the United States," said the senior Sigint official. "Then you've got to have
somebody process it. You've got to have a linguist listen to it. And the
chances of your ever digging out from under the pile of information and
finding what's important [are] miniscule. . . . You don't have the
linguistic resources to deal with that kind of problem."
The answer is using powerful computers to filter as much intercepted
information as possible at the front end”the point of interception”such
as at Menwith Hill Station, NSA's massive satellite listening post in
central England. "You've got the antenna," said the senior Sigint official,
"and now, next to it, in a building, you've got the filter. . . . You filter it by
finding out some identifier of a person or an entity that will allow you to
pick off that person's communications and throw away everybody else's. .


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. . You're going to run some identifier in the message against a category
of identifiers that you have in a dictionary [computer] somewhere."
One such identifier, he said, is the target's telephone number. "And
what you're looking for is a communication going to that telephone
number. So in comes a dialed number that's a different dialed number”
[the filter] ignores it, goes away until it hits on one. . . . All we're doing is
we're comparing the communications that are out there against a target
list, and if they don't hit, nothing ever happens to the ones that get
rejected. You don't see them, they don't get stored. . . . The stuff that
does hit goes to an analyst”maybe they're back here [NSA headquarters]
someplace”to look at it. ... Reality of life is that you're talking about a
small percentage of everything out there that even gets vacuumed. ... So
what I'm saying is that there's a first cut. You've got to decide where
you're going to vacuum."
Given this burgeoning increase in worldwide telecommunications now
confronting NSA, concern has been growing in Congress. Some believe
that NSA, through years of mismanagement, is depending far too heavily
on the old, reliable systems while failing to prepare for the tidal wave of
new technologies now beginning to crash down on the agency. Barbara
McNamara candidly agrees. "So far," she said, "the National Security
Agency is lagging behind."
High on NSA's worry list is the shift from microwave and satellite
communications”whose signals NSA was adept at capturing with its
eavesdropping satellites and ground-based stations”to buried fiber optic
cables. "Technology has now become a two-edged sword," said Hayden.
"On the dark days it has become the enemy."
According to a senior NSA official, by the fall of 2000 only 2 percent of
AT&T's voice and data communications were transmitted over microwave
towers in the United States. And AT&T had virtually given up on
domestic satellite communications, except for Alaska. Instead, it is
selling its satellite voice and data circuits to the rapidly growing direct-TV
industry. "AT&T invested very heavily in the '70s in satellites in order to
move great volumes of information," said the official. "Right now AT&T is
selling off all of their domestic satellite coverage. . . . There's a lot of
change going on here, and a Sigint enterprise has to look like that which
it targets."
By turning instead to buried fiber optic cables, said the senior NSA
official, AT&T was able to double its capacity in just ninety days. Made
up of bundles of tiny, hair-thin glass strands, fiber optic cable offers
greater volume, more security, and higher reliability. Thus, where
satellite communications are as easy to collect as rain, fiber optic signals
require the skills of a mole.
So worried was NSA about the difficulty of eavesdropping on fiber


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optics that in the early 1990s it fought against export of the technology
to Russia. For example, the United States denied an export license to US
West, Inc., for a proposed trans-Siberian cable project. Now NSA must
deal with a second, far more sophisticated generation of fiber optic
technology.
Greater and greater volumes of material”from 400-page books to
megabyte-hogging animated graphics to full-length movies”are being
shoved through the narrow straws that make up the communications
networks. Says MIT's David Clark, "The ability to get bits down a fiber is
growing faster than Moore's law," which predicts that computer power
will double every eighteen months. The carrying capacity of fiber, said
Clark, is doubling every twelve months.
Scientists are now developing methods to greatly multiply the
numbers of fiber optic channels in existing cables while at the same time
rolling out miles and miles of new cable. The new technology, known as
wavelength division multiplexing (WDM), consists of sending multiple
signals down the same straw at different wavelengths. The technique has
been called the fiber optic equivalent of parallel processing. By 2001
WDM had become a $4 billion business, and fiber optic cable was flying
out of factories as if tied to a speeding harpoon. According to John
MacChesney, an optical fiber pioneer at Bell Labs, the factories were
"producing hundreds of kilometers of fiber drawn to precise dimensions
at a rate approaching sixty miles an hour." At the same time, the
production costs had dropped from $1 a meter in 1980 to about $.05 a
meter in 2001.
One such system is known as Project Oxygen, so called because it is
an attempt to breathe new life into an old technology. If signals are sent
at sixteen different wavelengths through each of four pairs of optical
fibers, information can be transmitted through a single transatlantic
cable at 640 gigabits per second”the equivalent of 10 million
simultaneous telephone calls.
In 1998 Lucent Technologies unveiled its new WaveStar OLS 4006
system, which it claimed could carry over a single strand of fiber the
equivalent of the entire Internet. Its speed was such that it could also
transmit the equivalent of over 90,000 encyclopedia volumes in one
second. The company achieved this capability by using what it called
ultra-dense WDM. "Leapfrogging current competitive offerings," said the
company, "Lucent's new optical networking system can be configured to
handle up to eight fibers, each transmitting 400 gigabits per second, to
give communications providers a maximum capacity of 3.2 terabits (or
3.2 trillion bits) per second of voice, video and data traffic."
AT&T was to be the first customer for Lucent's new system, and by
2001 the company had signed contracts with firms in Europe and Asia.



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Among them were the Netherlands' KPN Telecom B.V., Spain's Telefónica
de Espa±a, Korea Telecom, and even China's Posts and
Telecommunications Administration.
The system was designed by Lucent's subsidiary Bell Labs, which for
many years has had a very close and very secret relationship with NSA.
For two decades William O. Baker served on NSA's Scientific Advisory
Board. At the same time he also served, at various points, as research
chief, president, and chairman of the board of Bell Labs. The first
operational fiber optic system was developed under Baker at Bell Labs.
Among the members of what is now the NSA Advisory Board are former
State Department official Arnold Kanter; former DIA director Lieutenant
General James Clapper; and James Adams, chairman of iDefense, Inc.
The executive secretary is NSA's David P. Kokalis.
NSA has also joined with Lucent and a number of domestic
telecommunications companies, including Verizon, to form a consortium
called Multiwavelength Optical Networking (MONET). MONET will
research advanced fiber optic techniques, including routing/switching
and optical monitoring.
In 1998, the first large submarine cable designed for multiwavelength
operation was turned on. It forms a loop connecting the United States
with Britain, the Netherlands, and Germany. When the newer WDM
technology is in place, its capacity will be more than 1,000 times greater
than that of the first fiber optic cable, which began service only about a
decade earlier. Engineers are planning to lay 168,000 kilometers of the
cable, enough to circle the earth four times. More cable will be laid by
other companies. Said David Clark of MIT, "We're going to drown in
fiber."
Another problem facing NSA is the growing difficulty of tapping into
the Internet”a series of complex, interconnected communications lines
that encase the earth like a tangled ball of sewing yarn. Every one
hundred days the Internet doubles in size. Also up is voice traffic, which
increases in volume at 20 percent a year. This is largely as a result of
new digital cellular communications, which are far more difficult for NSA
to analyze than the old analog signals. Rather than consisting of voices,
the digital signals are made up of data packets that may be broken up
and sent a myriad of different ways. "Today you have no idea where that
information is being routed," said one intelligence official. "You may have
somebody talking on a telephone over a land line and the other person
talking to them on a cell phone over a satellite. You don't know how it's
being routed, it's going through all kinds of switches, the information is
not where you think it is, and that's what has created the complexity and
that's what we have to figure out how to deal with."
"The mere fact of digitizing the signals gives it some level of



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protection," said one former NSA official. "But if you really hit it with a
hard encryption system, digital encryption, it's a forget-it situation."
Encryption was once an area where NSA held a monopoly. But after a
disastrous period during the 1990s when the agency attempted to outlaw
the export of powerful encryption software, it has now virtually given up.
"Crypto policy is the wave of the past," said former NSA general counsel
Stewart Baker. To worry about encryption sales was like locking a door
on a house without walls. Restricting American sales would do nothing to
prevent foreign nations from selling equally powerful encryption tools.
"No matter what we do, encryption is here and it's going to grow very
rapidly," said John Millis. "That is bad news for Sigint, so it is going to
take a huge amount of money invested in new technologies to get access
and to be able to break out the information that we still need to get from
Sigint." According to one senior NSA official, in the fall of 2000 only 10
percent of communications were encrypted. But for NSA, the projections
were frightening. Within seven years, he estimated, fully 85 percent of all
communications will be hidden in complex ciphers.
As a result of the House Intelligence Committee's push to focus
attention on NSA's problems, news reports began painting the agency as
losing its hearing. "Difficulties posed by new technologies also threaten to
make the NSA's 'big ears' increasingly deaf," said one report, on CNN. A
headline in Newsweek read: "Hard of Hearing," adding, "The National
Security Agency has fallen behind in the high-tech battle against
terrorists, hackers and other threats."
Although life may be somewhat more complicated for NSA, and
eavesdropping may become even more difficult years down the road,
much of this criticism is overblown. The agency is certainly not going
"deaf" today”a point made by Michael Hayden. "One criticism is that
we're omniscient and reading everybody's e-mail," he said, "and the other
is that we're going blind and deaf. It can't be both."
According to information obtained for Body of Secrets, NSA has
managed to find ways to tap into all of these new technologies”including
fiber optic cables”and is pulling in more communications than ever.
This was revealed in a highly classified closed-door discussion at NSA on
September 30, 1999, between NSA Deputy Director for Services Terry
Thompson and members of the agency's technical workforce.
"The projections that we made five, six, eight years ago," said
Thompson, "about the increasing volumes of collection and what that's
going to mean for our analysts have all come true, thanks in large part to
the work that you-all and others have done. We're much further ahead
now in terms of being able to access and collect network data, fiber
optics, cellular data, all the different modalities of communications that
we are targeting, and that results in a lot of output for our analysts. Our



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tools are coming along okay to help process and reduce the backlog, but
there's still a huge requirement for human beings at the end of the day to
figure out what's important, and that boils down to language work and IA
[intelligence analysis] work."
Thompson explained how NSA breaks into the Internet by hiring
people who have special knowledge of key U.S. companies that make
critical components for the network. With their help, the agency reverse-
engineers the components in order to eavesdrop on the systems. Among
the most critical components of the Internet are routers made by Cisco
Systems, a California company. These are specialized microcomputers
that link two or more incompatible computer networks. They act as a
sort of postal service, deciding where to route the various messages
carried over the network. "Virtually all Internet traffic travels across the
system of one company: Cisco Systems," says a Cisco television ad. By
discovering the weak spots and vulnerabilities in this "postal service,"
NSA can target and intercept much electronic mail.
During the discussion with the technical workforce about short-term
hiring by NSA, Thompson said, "If you can see down the road two or
three or five years, and say, Well, I only need this person to do reverse
engineering on Cisco routers, that's a good example for about three or
five years, because I see Cisco going away as a key manufacturer for
routers and so I don't need that expertise. But I really need somebody
today and for the next couple of years who knows Cisco routers inside
and out and can help me understand how they're being used in target
networks." In fact, NSA recently recruited a Cisco engineer to be the top
technical adviser to its new transformation office, which is charged with
moving the agency forward in the new century.
As communications shift from satellites to fiber optics, NSA may have
to return to tapping undersea cables”if it hasn't already done so. But
now, instead of copper cables connecting parts of Russia, the targets may
be major commercial WDM fiber optic cables connecting continents. And
instead of the USS Halibut, the new cable-tapping submarine may be the
USS Jimmy Carter, called the most advanced spy sub ever built, which is
due to be completed in 2004. In December 1999, Electric Boat was
awarded a $887 million contract by the Navy to extensively modify the
Jimmy Carter for "surveillance, mine warfare, special warfare, payload
recovery and advanced communications." When completed, said a source
quoted in the Los Angeles Times, the Seawolf-class sub "will be able to
place and recover top-secret 'pods' that will tap undersea fiber-optic
cables for the first time."
To cope with what Michael Hayden referred to as "the massive volume
of stuff" flowing into NSA every day, the agency plans to "move
processing more forward in our process so that you're not moving raw
unprocessed stuff”so much so far."


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That may mean giving more responsibility to NSA's three large
Regional Sigint Operations Centers (RSOCs). The Medina RSOC, located
at Medina Annex in Lackland, Texas, focuses on the Caribbean and on
Central and South America. The second, in an underground bunker at
Kunia, Hawaii, focuses on Asia. And the third, at Fort Gordon, Georgia,
processes and analyzes intercepts from Europe and the Middle East.
Manned jointly by NSA and its three military Sigint organizations, the
RSOCs were set up to consolidate on U.S. territory much of the intercept

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