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1993 state income taxes on gross salaries totaling approximately $930
million.



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But beyond the numbing statistics, the men and women who
disappear through the double steel fences every day are both
extraordinary and ordinary. They constitute the largest collection of
mathematicians and linguists in the country and possibly the world, and
they are civil servants angry over how far they must park from their
building. Some spend their day translating messages in Sinhalese
(spoken in Sri Lanka), or delving into the upper reaches of combinatorics
and Galois theory.
One woman knows everything on earth about tires. "She's known as
the 'tire lady,' " said one of NSA's customers in the intelligence
community. "She's the tire specialist. Embargoed airplanes need tires
and when you're trying to embargo somebody it's the little things that
take on major importance. If somebody is shipping jet fighter tires to Iran
you want to know what kind of fighter they go on."
Most NSA staffers could be anyone's neighbor. Some wear suits to
work every day, but most dress less formally. "There is no dress code at
all," complained one fashion-conscious former Russian linguist, who
called NSA a "haven for geeks and nerds." "I saw a guy wearing yellow
pants, yellow shirt, and yellow sweater vest," she said. "A lot of guys
don't dress that well."
When he has time, Brent Morris performs magic at his children's
school in Columbia, Maryland. At NSA, he is a senior cryptologic
mathematician. Morris got hooked on magic at the age of five when he
saw Buffalo Bob perform a trick on the Howdy Doody television show. In
high school he learned the perfect card shuffle while studying the
connection between math and magic. At NSA, Morris used the perfect
shuffle to help develop a method of random and sequential accessing of
computer memories. Later the shuffle helped him work out a method of
sorting computer information. Morris also served as the executive
secretary of the NSA Scientific Advisory Board.
By day Eileen Buckholtz works in NSA's Telecommunications and
Computer Services Organization. But by night she is "Rebecca York," the
author of a series of romantic suspense novels published by Harlequin.
Her co-author is married to another NSAer. And Frederick Bulinski of the
agency's Programs and Resources Organization was inducted into the
Polka Music Hall of Fame, has released eight albums, and organizes
"Polkamotion by the Ocean," a popular yearly festival in Ocean City,
Maryland.
One unique study, done by longtime NSA employee Gary L.
Grantham, examined the character, styles, traits, and personalities of
NSA's management. "The results show that the personality of NSA
leadership is substantially different as a group from the general
population of the United States," he concluded. "NSA management is



443
more introverted in dealing with situations, more impersonal in making
judgments, and more likely to come to conclusions about their
environment than is the general population." Grantham explained that
the reason that NSA managers were more shy and impersonal had
largely to do with "the highly technical mission of the organization and
the large numbers of college-trained employees and those with military
background where similar personality traits are found."
The study, "Who Is NSA," was conducted as part of a program at the
National War College. NSA granted Grantham access to the results of a
test, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which was given to NSA senior
executives and supervisors. The tests indicated that almost two-thirds of
the officials were introverted in the way they dealt with "the outer world."
"This contrasts markedly with the general population in the U.S.," said
the study, "where extraverting [sic] types make up about 75 percent."
NSA officials were also far more "thinking" oriented than the outside
world, which was more "feeling" in its professional relationships. "The
average NSA manager is more introverted than the general public, much
more intuitive, more thinking, and more judging." "You can always tell an
NSA extrovert," goes one old agency joke. "He looks at your shoe tips
instead of his."
"The great predominance of introverts (64%) means that most NSA
managers have greater powers of concentration," the study concluded,
"and go deeply into their work by focusing on the underlying concepts
and ideas in the pursuit of real understanding. They may be reluctant to
consider their work finished and get rid of it. They are not likely to be
affected by a lack of praise or encouragement since their focus is on their
inner world. If they assume that everyone around them has the same
attitude about the world as they do, they may fail to recognize the needs
of the extraverts around them for praise. By the same token, the
introverts' inner-directed view of the world is often confusing to those
around them, including other introverts."
Finally, the study suggested a secret city run by a cold, aloof,
detached management. "The predominance of thinking types among
managers at NSA is significant in that their preferred way of judging is
impersonal, logical, and analytic. While that approach is decidedly more
useful in solving task-oriented problems, the people side of managing will
suffer. Thinking types expect to be recognized for their competence. Their
rewards are responsibility, titles, and raises. They may forget, or not be
aware, that one-fourth of their subordinates are feeling types who
occasionally need praise and need to be appreciated for who they are,
doing a job. According to one observer, 'a "T" [thinking type] thinks that if
you haven't been fired, you should know you are doing a good job.'
"The overwhelming preference among NSA managers for judging
reflects a choice for system and order. They are organizers who thrive on


444
making decisions, schedules, and programs, and are disconcerted by
disruptions or unplanned occurrences. They are less tolerant, less open-
minded and less flexible than their perceptive co-workers who often put
off making a decision because they are not sure they have enough
information. The potential for conflict is great."
For many, if not most, the initial excitement of working in the nation's
largest and most secret spy agency gradually gives way to routine. "From
my perspective," said Tami McCaslin, associate editor of the NSA
Newsletter, "isolated in the depths of the Newsletter office, I sometimes
fail to see how the rest of the world can be so intrigued by this (in my
mind) typical government bureaucracy."
As diverse as the workforce is, there is one thing they all have in
common: you won't find them talking about their jobs, even when they're
sharing a meal in the cafeteria with someone from the next office. The
operative rule is "Don't tell, don't ask" about work. The very first subject
addressed in the NSA Handbook, given to all new residents of the secret
city, is the "practice of anonymity." "Perhaps one of the first security
practices with which new NSA personnel should become acquainted is
the practice of anonymity. . . ." says the report. "Anonymity means that
NSA personnel are encouraged not to draw attention to themselves nor to
their association with this Agency. NSA personnel are also cautioned
neither to confirm nor deny any specific questions about NSA activities
directed to them by individuals not affiliated with the Agency." Finally,
the handbook warns: "The ramifications of the practice of anonymity are
rather far reaching."
Those seeking employment with NSA are told little about the actual
work of the organization. "It has become commonplace in recent years to
describe NSA as super-secret”'the hush-hush Agency,' " said an
editorial in NSA's highly secret NSA Technical Journal. "NSA, with
missions so interwoven in the fabric of national security, necessarily has
had to forgo all custom of public statement, to eschew the press releases
which over the years might build an inviting public image and make its
worth known to the American people. Though mindful of the dictates of
security, NSA knows too that security can have an adverse effect on
recruitment”the lifeline of any institution. Indeed, so little can be said
that the acceptance of employment with NSA is virtually an act of faith."
Concerned over the failure to reach recruits with critical high-tech
abilities because of the agency's obsession with secrecy, the editorial's
author suggested getting the following message out to the scientific
academic community: "We in NSA comprise a scientific and technological
community that is unique in the United States, unique in the western
world and perhaps unique in the entire world. We work on problems
which no other agency works on. We develop and utilize devices which
are in advance of those that have been developed or are utilized by any


445
other agency or any organization in the entire United States. We are
confronted with an ever-changing challenge of greater complexity, of
greater scope, and of correspondingly greater depth and difficulty than
any other changing challenge on the rapidly evolving frontier of science
and technology. If you can qualify, you will find NSA a stimulating and
rewarding place to work. If you are interested, we can tell you a little
more but not much more. One of the qualifications is faith." Still nervous
even over that bland description, the editorial added, "Before you send
it”better check it out with Security."
More recently, the agency has made a few reluctant public references
to cryptology and signals intelligence. "Your challenge," says one
brochure directed at mathematicians, "is to use algebra, number theory,
combinatorics, statistics, even cryptology and other skills to create”or
break”nearly impenetrable codes and ciphers." Another said, "The
challenge is to use probability, statistics, Fourier analysis, Galois theory,
stochastic processes and other techniques to outwit the world experts in
creating or breaking codes and ciphers." But beyond that, no more is
said.
"We're looking for those special few," goes one NSA recruitment pitch,
"who are up to this ultimate test." Some are hired while still in college,
through a minority scholarship program known as the Undergraduate
Training Program. The students work at NSA during summers, then
receive full-time offers upon graduation. The program is highly
competitive. Of the 600 to 800 high school students who apply each year,
only a small percentage are selected. In 1999 there were seventy-nine
participants attending a variety of schools, including Harvard, MIT,
Princeton, and Cornell. Not everyone, however, is happy about the
program. "It is appalling," complained one employee, "to see such a
blatant case of reverse discrimination being sponsored by the Agency."
Other opportunities for those in college are offered by the agency's Co-
operative Education Program, which allows about four dozen students to
spend their college years alternating semesters between full-time work
and full-time study. In 1997, about 80 percent of the graduates chose to
remain with the agency. "Our recruiting strategy has historically been
built on excitement of the mission," said Deputy Director for Services
Terry Thompson in 1999. "And that's why our Co-op programs are so
vital to us because when we get people in here before they make the big
career decision when they graduate, and find out about the excitement of
the mission."
Traditionally, prospective employees were marched in groups through
the agency, like draftees, for numerous interviews, tests, and polygraph
exams. Only at the completion of the process”it normally took about
seven months”would some of those prospects be matched to a
particular job and offered employment. But by then many had already


446
accepted better-paying jobs from private industry, and the agency was
forced to dig deeper in the pool. Those not called would remain in limbo.
Stung by tough competition paying top dollar for information
technology personnel, the agency in 1999 initiated a streamlined hiring
process based more on private industry than on the local draft board.
Only a few schools were targeted, so that strong relationships with them
could be established. Students were given more detailed job descriptions
than the agency had offered in the past, as well as a better explanation of
the benefits of working at the cutting edge of technology. A private firm
was hired to scan resumes into an NSA-only Internet site. The company
then helped match the resumes to specific jobs. An e-mail address was
created (njobs@fggm.osis.gov) for the submission of resumes. Finally, in
order to accelerate the process, initial screening was done over the
telephone.
Those selected are then brought to headquarters for interviews; they
undertake a battery of standardized tests and are assigned NSA
"buddies" to help sell them on the agency and the surrounding
community. The exams are designed to measure a person's general
knowledge as well as his or her "cipher brain"”the special abilities
needed for the tedious, sometimes mind-numbing, work of a cryptanalyst
or other cryptologic staffer. Although codebreaking and codemaking are
what most people think of in terms of occupations at NSA, "they
undoubtedly represent a declining percentage of the Agency's work
force," said a recent internal document. This results from growth in other
areas, such as personnel and employee services.
One math major who recently went through the process, hoping to
become one of the agency's 600 mathematicians, found it "very humanely
organized." He was fingerprinted and asked to fill out a thick "Statement
of Personal History" containing detailed questions concerning addresses,
travel, and activities over the past ten years. "Getting through that
required me to think plenty about whether I wanted to go through it all,"
he said.
Next, he was invited down to Fort Meade, assigned an escort, and
paraded through a gauntlet of interviews. The escort, a fellow
mathematician, took on the buddy role, answering questions in a candid,
off-the-record manner, and putting in occasional plugs for the agency.
The candidate was surprised to find that every official who interviewed
him was very familiar with his resume, down to the marks on his
transcripts. "I've never had that happen before," he said.
His first interview was with the head of the mathematicians' training
unit, who described the three-year program the applicant would have to
complete, beginning with a long course at the National Cryptologic
School. He and about forty other newly hired students, some just out of



447
college and some with Ph.D.s, would get a quick review of higher algebra
followed by deep involvement in the cryptologic aspects of mathematics.
Normally the course work would involve two hours of lectures every day,
followed by six hours of study. Lining one wall of the official's office were
photos of the three classes of mathematician trainees then in the
pipeline.
After a candidate undergoes interviews and submits a variety of
paperwork, such as letters of reference, his or her name is sent to the
twenty-four-member Mathematicians Hiring Committee. During one of
the committee's monthly meetings, the person is discussed and voted on.
The views of the escorts are never solicited nor are they questioned on
their conversations with the candidate. Results of the vote, yea or nay,
are immediately sent out by e-mail.
Those who make the final cut”in recent years, about 100 of the
2,000 or so people who applied annually”are then given a conditional
offer of employment. Next they begin their processing at the agency's
four-story Airport Square Building a few miles away in the FANX
compound. There, the new recruits spend their first day filling out forms
and getting a medical checkup.
The next hurdle is the intensive background investigation conducted
on all prospective employees by the Defense Security Service. Known as
an SSBI (for Single-Scope Background Investigation; it is also known
within NSA as a Special Background Investigation), it includes a
"National Agency Check"”a check of all federal investigative agencies for
derogatory information. Birth records and citizenship are verified.
Finally, education, employment, credit files, and local court records are
checked for the previous ten years. A neighborhood search for dirt is also
conducted at addresses listed for the past decade.
Rob Fuggetta, who lives in Odenton, Maryland, near NSA, recalled

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