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more space than eleven New York City World Trade Centers.
But by 1997, the intelligence community budget had shrunk to what
it had been in 1980, during the last years of the Carter administration
and just before the Reagan administration gave the spooks the key to
Fort Knox. At the same time, many of NSA's precious eavesdropping
satellites were dying of old age and not being replaced. In the few years
between 1991 and 1994, the number of spy satellites dropped by nearly
half. "NSA's relative piece of the intelligence resource pie will likely
diminish," Admiral William O. Studeman had told his workforce in a
frank farewell memorandum on April 8, 1992. "Things will be tight, and
the demand will be to continue to do more with less."
Studeman's concerns were well founded. Between 1990 and 1997 the
agency was forced to cut its staff by 17½ percent and was scheduled to
increase the total to 24 percent by 2001. A commission headed by former
defense secretary Harold Brown said that at least 10 percent more staff
should be cut throughout the intelligence community. On top of that, a
Pentagon inspector general's review in 1991”the first one ever done at
NSA”found that the agency was too top-heavy and that management
was asleep at the wheel in the oversight of a number of key areas. "We
found that the growth of the Agency had not been centrally managed or
planned," the inspection report concluded, "and that the NSA did not
have sufficient internal oversight mechanisms to ensure the Agency
efficiently accomplished its mission." The result was a serious
bureaucratic shake-up. On October 1, 1992, Mike McConnell,
Studeman's successor, instituted a major restructuring, slashing by 40
percent the number of deputy directors and by 29 percent the number of
middle managers. Lower management was reduced by an average of 50
percent. At the same time, the number of people reporting directly to the
director was cut from ninety to fifteen.4

The Pentagon report also criticized the NSA for wasting millions of
4

dollars on warehousing old magnetic tapes, failing to manage properly its
highly secret special-access programs, and not adequately measuring
whether the intelligence being collected matched the intelligence that was
being asked for. Four years later, in 1996, the agency still had not
corrected several of the problems.



460
"NSA personnel will be deeply affected by these changes," declared the
NSA Newsletter. McConnell told a group of his senior staff, "As resources
diminish we must reduce the Agency's overhead and build a structure
that will make us more efficient." But, the cutbacks in personnel seemed
to have a contradictory effect on the agency's budget. The cost of the
shrunken workforce grew because of inflation, promotions, and the
higher cost of benefits. These factors drove NSA's civilian payroll from
about 30 percent of its budget in 1990 to nearly 40 percent in 1996. A
White House study called the problem "acute" and said these "growing
amounts allocated to meet the payroll have crowded out investments in
new technologies and limited operational flexibility." It seemed that the
more people NSA cut the less money it had for satellites and computers.
When McConnell replaced Studeman in May 1992, the downsizing
problem was on his desk waiting for him. "Employees should take this
opportunity to return to their areas of expertise," said the Newsletter,
paraphrasing the new director. "Cross-training, technical tracks, and
mission involvement are the buzzwords of the future." The long handle of
the budget ax extended even to some of the agency's most remote
listening posts. In a further effort to reduce costs, NSA civilians began
gradually being replaced by military personnel at some of the listening
posts not shut down entirely. As the cuts continued into the new
century, employees were encouraged to attend a workshop called "Coping
with Change," and a noted speaker was brought in to give a lecture in the
Friedman Auditorium on "Thriving in Turbulent Times."
Most believed there were few more secure places to work than NSA,
and that downsizing would never happen. "While our neighbors and
family members in the private sector faced job uncertainty, we remained
secure," moaned one worried worker in 1992. "We are now in the
unenviable position of being uncertain about our futures. It is not an
easy time to work here." Exit interviews with resigning employees
reflected the same concerns. Many of them felt that a bond had been
broken.
But others believed that NSA had long been overstaffed. Dr. Howard
Campaigne, a driving force in the computerization of code-breaking in
the 1950s and 1960s, believed that the machines should have reduced
staff costs. "I had visions . . . these would be labor-saving devices,"
recalled the former research chief, "and we wouldn't need a lot of people
around. And it's been a continual disappointment that we had so many
people around. Of course, what we've done is use these devices to do
more [work] rather than to do what we were doing before more
economically. But I still feel we ought to be able to do it with fewer
people. More machines and fewer people." For those displaced, the
former assistant director had one suggestion: "Join the 'buggy whip'


461
manufacturers. Retire."
To help ease the trauma of drastic personnel reductions, over 4,000
employees were given buyouts in 1999. At the same time, NSA offered a
parachute dubbed Soft Landing to many of the employees headed for the
door. The idea was to transfer the employees to jobs within the crypto-
industrial complex”jobs with defense firms that had significant
contracts with NSA. During the first year, the employee would be paid
under an NSA contract, and after that he or she might be hired full-time
by the contractor.
Many such contracts called for the employee to remain right at NSA,
although in a different job and in a different office. For example, Barbara
Prettyman retired from her job as chief of staff for NSA's Health,
Environmental, and Safety Services. Hired by Allied Signal under the Soft
Landing program, she simply moved over to the agency's Information
Systems Security offices, where she was assigned to create a national
colloquium for information security education.
Other companies taking part in the program included TRW, SAIC, and
Lockheed Martin. The money to finance the Soft Landing contracts comes
from funds the agency saves by retiring senior employees early. By 1998,
after two years in operation, the program had found homes for more than
300 retirees at eight contractors, saving NSA $25 million along the way.


Born in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Greenville, South
Carolina, during the middle of World War II, Mike McConnell graduated
from the local college, Furman University, with a degree in economics in
1966. Shortly afterward he joined the Navy and was shipped off to
Vietnam as a damage control officer on the USS Colleton, a ship attached
to the Mobile Riverine Force in the Mekong Delta. Having survived the
conflict, he went on to counterintelligence work with the Naval
Investigative Service in Yokosuka, Japan, took a liking to the spy world,
attended the Defense Intelligence College, and became an intelligence
specialist.
Assigned as the operations officer for the Fleet Ocean Surveillance
Information Facility in Rota, Spain, in 1976, McConnell received his
initiation into the world of signals intelligence. "Four Navy chiefs and one
NSA civilian took me under their wing to teach me Sigint," he recalled. "I
learned as a young Navy lieutenant that Sigint is hard; it is complex,
esoteric, and difficult to understand over its depth and breadth. ... It
changed my understanding, respect for, and use of Sigint for the rest of
my professional life."
Following other assignments, including a tour as force intelligence
officer aboard the USS La Salle in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean,
McConnell moved to NSA, where he headed up the Naval Forces Division.


462
Then he went to Pearl Harbor as the top naval intelligence officer for the
Pacific Fleet, a job that won him his first star. He earned a second while
dealing with such issues as the fall of the Soviet Union and the war in
the Persian Gulf as a key intelligence staffer to the Chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff.
At NSA, McConnell soon found that it was far easier to eavesdrop
than to convert intercepts into finished, usable intelligence. As always,
codebreaking”"processing"”was the hardest part. "I have three major
problems," McConnell was often heard declaring, "processing, processing,
and processing."
Translation was also a major problem. "There now exists a world full
of 'Navajo Code Talkers,' in a certain sense," noted McConnell. He was
referring to the Native Americans who during World War II were
employed to securely communicate sensitive messages because their
language was unwritten, almost unknown outside their community, and
thus almost impossible for an enemy to translate. "With the rich diversity
of potential intelligence targets owing to possible U.S. involvement in low-
intensity conflict and regional crisis situations anywhere U.S. interests
may be threatened," McConnell continued, "we are confronted by a
linguistic challenge of staggering proportion."
Down on the working level, the reductions and changes forced many
managers to dig out their old earphones and go back to being operators.
Similarly, those with language skills now in excess, such as Russian
linguists, had to retrain in another language or develop new skills
entirely.
While the end of the Cold War brought a greater sense of tranquility to
most parts of the country, it created a seismic shift at NSA. Gone were
the old traditional targets, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Taking
their place were new trouble spots that seemed to spring up almost
anywhere. In 1980, fully 58 percent of the intelligence community's
budget was targeted against the Soviet Union. Three years later NSA,
desperate for Russian linguists, asked fifteen colleges, including Penn
State and Georgetown University, to participate with the agency in a
secrecy-shrouded Russian language internship program.
But by 1993 only 13 percent of the intelligence budget was aimed at
Russia, and Russian linguists were scrambling to find new vocabularies
to master. Suddenly the buzz phrase was "exotic languages."
Exotic languages have long been NSA's Achilles' heel. In 1985, for
example, Libyan diplomatic messages were intercepted discussing the
planning of the terrorist attack at La Belle discotheque in West Berlin.
However, according to intelligence experts, a shortage of Berber
translators led to a critical delay of several days in reading the
dispatches. By then, the deadly bombing had already taken place.


463
In 1986, Bobby Inman had warned a congressional committee that
"steadily deteriorating language training capabilities" presented "a major
hazard to our national security." The message was underscored by the
Pentagon's director of intelligence personnel and training, Craig L.
Wilson, who spoke of the "dismal ignorance," in the Defense Department
and the intelligence community, of Third World languages.
A year after McConnell arrived, as President Clinton was considering
military action in the former Yugoslavia, NSA began to get worried about
finding enough people who could translate Serbo-Croatian. Thus, on
April 23, 1993, a curious advertisement appeared in Commerce Business
Daily. Placed by NSA's military organization, the Army Intelligence and
Security Command, it sought "a group of approximately 125 linguists to
provide translation and interpretation support for U.S. forces in
Yugoslavia." The work, said the ad, "would be in a hostile, harsh
environment." And the government would pick up the cost of "life,
dismemberment and medical insurance."
A similar crisis at NSA broke the following year, when President
Clinton ordered American troops into Haiti to restore order. "When Haiti
blew up a few years ago," said Deputy Director for Services Terry
Thompson, "we looked around; there were a total of three Haitian Kreyol
linguists in the entire cryptologic system. One in NSA, one in the Navy,
and one in the Army, and that was it. So we had to go outsource” hire a
lot of Haitian Kreyol speakers, many of whom lived in downtown
Washington doing menial labor, and put them in a building over in
Columbia [Maryland] and send them the material to transcribe."
One reason for the shortage of linguists is the tedium of the job. "You
sit there with a pair of headphones, rocking back and forth with your foot
on a pedal trying to figure out what people said," recalled one former NSA
Russian linguist. "It is very repetitious, incredibly boring, and very
demanding. It could drive you crazy." However, it could also be very
educational, said another Russian linguist, who recalled all the Russian
curses he learned while eavesdropping on the walkie-talkie conversations
of Soviet troops on maneuvers in Siberia.
To help with the language problems, Director McConnell quietly
turned to academia. Several colleges were paid to develop textbooks and
teaching materials in exotic languages as well as to train university and
NSA language teachers. Among the schools chosen was the
predominantly black Florida A&M University, which was given a $1.74
million grant to fund courses in the difficult African languages of Zulu
and Xhosa, spoken largely in South Africa; Farsi, which is spoken in
Iran; and Punjabi and Bengali, from the Indian subcontinent.
A side benefit of the grant, agency officials hoped, would be to recruit
to the agency black students who had successfully completed the



464
courses; this would not only build up the NSA language base but also
help increase minority staffing. Unfortunately, however, many of the
students enrolled in the courses had far more interest in international
business than in eavesdropping on communications networks, and thus
never went to work for NSA.
One solution, which NSA for decades has been trying to perfect, is
machine translation. In the early and mid-1980s, NSA was focusing on a
variety of crises”the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, the
fundamentalist Islamic takeover in Iran, and the civil war in El Salvador.
"NSA is faced with the growing problem of documents in virtually every
language and script," said one agency report. To help find a way to
quickly translate the reams of paper flowing into the agency written in
unusual languages with strange alphabets, NSA turned to the University
of Pennsylvania.
The experimental program, funded on behalf of NSA by the Pentagon,
involved designing optical scanning technology to first identify and then
read a number of exotic languages. The machine was eventually able to
translate Azerbaijani-language newspapers printed in a non-standard
version of the Cyrillic alphabet. A Turkic dialect, Azerbaijani is spoken by
several million people in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan and the
contiguous areas of Iran and Afghanistan. Other languages focused on
by the project included Somali, Slovenian, and a Mayan Indian language,
Chorti, that is spoken in parts of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
Today, for more commonplace languages, NSA uses programs such as
SYSTRAN that automatically translate text at up to 750 pages per hour
using Russian dictionaries containing more than half a million words.
The program translates technical texts with better than 90 percent
accuracy. On average, human translation takes forty-five minutes per
page. NSA has also developed a technique that allows analysts with no
prior knowledge of a language to quickly search machine-readable
foreign language databases for keywords and topics.
To find key text quickly within a very large collection of foreign
language documents”such as Chinese or Devanagari (Sanskrit)”one
program NSA uses is Oleada XConcord.
A further breakthrough in NSA's ability to pick out the right tree in a
vast forest of words came with the development of the software called
Semantic Forests. Semantic Forests allows NSA to sift through printed
transcripts of conversations, faxes, computer transfers, or any other
written intercepts and intelligently come up with the targeted subjects in
which the agency is most interested. The name derives from the
software's ability to create a weighted "tree" of meanings for each word in
a document. During lab tests, the software quickly sifted through an

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