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them there's people from Lockheed and Boeing”well, especially Boeing .
. . and other big, big defense industrial contractors that are down there
saying, 'You can't cut this because it's jobs in your district, Senator or
Congressman. . . .' "
"The point is," continued Thompson, "they [other agencies] have a very
effective defense-industrial lobby because they spend a lot of money in
the contract community. We don't have that. We used to have, ten or
fifteen years ago. But we don't anymore, because we spend our money on
four hundred or four thousand different contracts and it's hard to get a
critical mass of people who want to go down and wave the flag for NSA
when budget deliberations are going on."
Speaking to a group of military communications officials, Kenneth
Minihan once summed up NSA's budgetary problems with an old pilot's
saying: "The nose is pointing down and the houses are getting bigger."




CHAPTER FOURTEEN BRAIN


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RJEPBZYPZA QWXPK QWZLX OXLZ OJB KOXWAAWZR YWNBJKJQA
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OHSOSHYJB LGADM-DYJBSL ZDPSW MV DYQS DGK ZPLASLW
UABCHPC QTMQ EJHBC OJDDBH UPJAW MBVAW EGPXGVQQ


It would be one of the most delicate operations ever performed. The
doctors and technicians would gather early and work late into the night.
Any mistake could be extremely serious. The patient's memory could be
lost forever, or the ability to function severely damaged. Crypto City was
about to undergo its first brain transplant. According to the director,
nothing less than "the continued success of the agency's Sigint mission
largely depended on this." The planning had taken years. NSA would
create the largest, most powerful, and most secret electronic brain on
earth.


483
But first it would have to build a specialized facility to house the new
center. Then it would need to carefully transplant tons of massive and
delicate supercomputers”more than 150”from the cavernous basement
of OPS 1 to their new home, out of sight in a wooded corner of the secret
city nearly a mile away. Whereas most government offices and large
corporations measure in square feet the space taken up by their
computers, NSA measures it in acres. "I had five and a half acres of
computers when I was there," said Marshall Carter, director in the late
1960s. "We didn't count them by numbers; it was five and a half acres."
Even though modern computers have more capacity and smaller
footprints, one NSA employee more than a decade later commented, "It's
double that today."
Once in place, the computers would be brought back to life and linked
by a secure fiber optic spinal cord to the Headquarters/Operations
Building complex”all without disrupting NSA's critical operations. When
it was finally completed, in 1996, NSA's Supercomputer Facility held the
most powerful collection of thinking machines on the planet.
Standing in front of the new building on the afternoon of October 29,
1996, Kenneth Minihan held a pair of scissors up to a thin ribbon of red,
white, and blue. No press releases had been issued, and even the
invitations to the event gave no hint where the ceremony would actually
take place. But then, that was precisely how the man in whose name the
Tordella Supercomputer Facility was about to be dedicated would have
wanted it. This would be the first NSA building to be named for a person.
As the scissors sliced through the colorful ribbon, a handheld machine of
elegant simplicity opened the way to a building of infinite complexity.


The history of modern codebreaking and the history of computers are,
to a large degree, coterminous. Yet because of its "policy of anonymity,"
NSA's role has been almost totally hidden. When the Association for
Computing Machinery sponsored a commemoration of the twenty-fifth
anniversary of its founding, NSA simply stayed away. Likewise, when
computing pioneers gathered at the quarter-century anniversary meeting
of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers' Computer Society,
NSA again exhibited an advanced case of shyness.
But NSA's role in computer development has been, and continues to
be, enormous. The man responsible for much of that work”as well as for
the thick shroud of secrecy that still surrounds it”was Dr. Louis W.
Tordella, NSA's keeper of the secrets.
By the outbreak of the Second World War, the importance of
machines to aid in codebreaking was known but their use was limited. At
that time the Signal Security Agency had only fifteen machines and
twenty-one operators. But by the spring of 1945, the SSA was employing


484
1,275 operators and supervisors to work on 407 keypunch machines.
Besides its off-the-shelf tabulating machines, the agency had
specialized machines custom built for codebreaking. Known as Rapid
Analytical Machines (RAMs), they employed vacuum tubes, relays, high-
speed electronic circuits, and photoelectrical principles. They were the
forerunners of the modern computer, but they were expensive and
overspecialized. A number of them were built to attack a specific code or
cipher, so if a cipher system was changed or abandoned, the machine
was of little value.
The Navy's Op-20-G contracted with Eastman Kodak, National Cash
Register, and several other firms to design and build its RAMs. The
Army's Signal Security Agency, on the other hand, worked closely with
Bell Laboratories. Another major contractor during the war was IBM,
which built a specialized attachment for its IBM tabulator, thereby
increasing the power of the standard punch-card systems by several
orders of magnitude.
Two of the SSA's cryptanalytic machines were immense. Costing a
million dollars apiece, an extraordinary sum at the time, they were
capable of performing operations which, if done by hand in the old Black
Chamber, would have required over 200,000 people. By the end of 1945
another monster machine was nearing completion; it had power
equivalent to 5 million cryptanalysts.
Tordella hoped the development by outside contractors of new,
sophisticated cryptologic equipment would continue. But with no war to
fight he found the contractors less willing to undertake the research. The
rigorous security clearances, the oppressive physical security, and the
limited usefulness of the equipment in the marketplace made many
companies shy away from the field. Because of this, a group of former
Navy officers, familiar with cryptography and signals intelligence, banded
together to form Engineering Research Associates, which took on some of
the Naval Security Group's most complex assignments.
At about the same time, a group of engineers and mathematicians at
the University of Pennsylvania's Moore School of Electrical Engineering
completed an electronic marvel named ENIAC (for "electronic numerical
integrator computer"), and thus gave birth to the computer era. ENIAC
was an ungainly giant whose body was a good deal larger than its brain.
Its total storage capacity was only twenty numbers, yet its 18,000
electron tubes took up the better part of a room thirty feet by fifty.
Nevertheless, the machine offered tremendous possibilities in speed.
The development of ENIAC led to a series of lectures on the theory of
computers, presented at the Moore School and sponsored jointly by the
Office of Naval Research and the Army's Ordnance Department. Among
those attending the lectures, given between July 8 and August 31, 1946,


485
was Lieutenant Commander James T. Pendergrass, a colleague of
Tordella's in the Naval Security Group, whose assignment was to assess
the potential of computers in cryptography and signals intelligence.
Pendergrass came away from the lectures excited. Computers
appeared to offer the flexibility that RAMs lacked. Whereas many of the
RAMs were designed to handle one particular problem, such as breaking
one foreign cipher system, computers could handle a whole range of
problems. "The author believes that the general purpose mathematical
computer, now in the design stage, is a general purpose cryptanalytic
machine, " wrote Pendergrass. "A computer could do everything that any
analytic machine in Building 4 can do, and do a good percentage of these
problems more rapidly."
Soon after Pendergrass submitted his favorable report, negotiations
began between the Security Group and Engineering Research Associates
for the design and construction of the signals intelligence community's
first computer. But what to name it? A yeoman overheard Tordella and
his colleagues discussing ideas and suggested "Atlas," after the mental
giant in the comic strip "Barnaby." Atlas lived up to its namesake. When
it was delivered to the Security Group in December 1950, Atlas had an
impressive capacity of 16,384 words; it was the first parallel electronic
computer in the United States with a drum memory. A second, identical
computer was delivered to NSA in March 1953.
A key component of the machine was the vacuum tube. "We had the
biggest collection of vacuum tube circuitry anyplace in the world there at
one time," said former NSA research chief Howard Campaigne. "And we
knew more about the life of vacuum tubes and the kinds of vacuum
tubes that were used and how they should be maintained than just
about anybody else." The vacuum tubes, he said, were as big as
lightbulbs. "And then you get a lot of lightbulbs together and you have to
have air-conditioning to cool them off. And so we were having fifteen tons
of air-conditioning per machine."
Tordella was not the only one impressed by the Pendergrass report.
About the same time that he received it, a copy also landed on the desk
of Sam Snyder at Arlington Hall, headquarters of the Army Security
Agency. "A copy of this report hit my desk in November 1946," Snyder
later recalled, "and my reaction was explosive. I immediately ran into the
office of Dr. Solomon Kullback, my boss, and said something like, 'We
have to get a machine like this. Think what it could do for us!' " Kullback
assigned Snyder to investigate the possibilities; Snyder spent the next
year meeting with experts such as John von Neumann, at Princeton
University's Institute for Advanced Study, and visiting institutions and
private companies involved in computer research. "In the agency at that
time," Snyder said, "money was no object; we could get whatever we
wanted."


486
Eventually the ASA built its own codebreaking computer, which they
named Abner. "We chose the name from Li'l Abner Yokum, the comic
strip character who was a big brute, but not very smart," said Snyder, a
longtime NSA computer expert, "because we believed that computers,
which can be big and do brute-force operations, aren't very bright either;
they can only follow simple instructions but can't think for themselves."
Abner was originally given only fifteen simple programs, or "instructions"
(later doubled to thirty). Nevertheless, when it was secretly completed in
April 1952 it was the most sophisticated computer of its time. One could
enter or extract information not only with the standard keypunched
computer card but also with punched paper tape, magnetic tape, a
parallel printer, a typewriter, or a console.
At NSA Tordella became chief of NSA-70, which was responsible for
high-level cryptanalysis. He and the others who were pushing for ever-
increasing computer power got a boost in 1954. James Killian, a Harvard
professor exploring U.S. vulnerability to another surprise attack,
concluded that 90 percent of war warnings would inevitably come from
signals intelligence. But, he pointed out, since nuclear attack could come
in a matter of minutes, it would be necessary to speed up the timeline on
eavesdropping and codebreaking to beat the clock. "From then on," said
one former NSAer, "the focus of the Sigint process was on speed."
Several years later, in July 1956, one of the most costly as well as far-
reaching research programs ever undertaken by NSA was born. Its
birthplace, however, was not a chalk-covered blackboard in Research
and Engineering but a cocktail party. Over drinks, several high-level NSA
equipment planners began discussing with Director Canine a number of
the agency's perennial problems. At the top of the list was the battle
between the codebreakers, always looking to attack ever-increasing
volumes of data, and the engineers, constantly attempting to design and
build bigger and faster computers to meet those needs. No matter how
powerful the new equipment, the engineers never seemed to catch up.
Tordella began pushing for research into second-generation computer
technology.
At the time, NSA was using the PACE 10, the first analog desktop
computer used at the agency. It was self-contained, to the extent that the
logic was in the interior. The output was a printing device. The plug-in
units had a wire associated with them and each panel was set up to do a
different mathematical function. For a fairly complex mathematical
problem, one would plug in all the appropriate panels and hand-wire
them together. The computer's operations manual boasted that once it
was set up, a problem could be completed in fifteen to sixty seconds.
On the drawing board was a second-generation computer known as
Harvest. It was designed to be an estimated hundredfold improvement in
speed over the best current computers, but a completion date was still


487
several years away. Exasperated by this situation, Canine exploded:
"Dammit, I want you fellows to get the jump on those guys [computer
companies]! Build me a thousand-megacycle machine! I'll get the money!"
The head of NSA's REMP (Research, Engineering, Math and Physics)
Branch at the time was Howard Campaigne, who had helped uncover the
high-level Russian "Fish" cipher system as part of TICOM. "After the
ideas of Harvest were started," he said, "we in research tried to think of
other things; and one of the suggestions that came up was that we ought
to have a big program. We ought to attack it like the Manhattan Project.
We ought to really go after it. And so we dreamed up this 'Project
Lightning.' "


It was a time, according to Campaigne, when anything was possible.
"We were always surprised. We had an idea which looked expensive and
we'd go ahead and they'd always be encouraging”'Do it,' " he said.
"During most of my career, we always had encouragement from above to
do things. If you can see something to do, do it. We made some mistakes,
but by and large, most of the things we attacked were at least partially
successful." Among the successes was developing the first solid-state
computer by replacing vacuum tubes with transistors. Then the
transistors were replaced by magnetic cores in a computer named
Bogart.
But by the late 1960s, said Campaigne, things began to change. "In
the late sixties we weren't getting encouragement. We were being told the
budget had to be cut. We had to do without. ... I used to argue that it
[the research-and-development percentage of the overall NSA budget]
should be more than five percent. It ought to be up in the seven and
eight percent [range]. . . . During the Lightning program, my budget had
been as high as nine million dollars a year. And when I left in '69, that
was my last full fiscal year, our budget was three million. It had been cut
to a third. . . . And we had been pretty much cut down in contract work.
All the contracts were much smaller than they had been. So when I
became eligible to retire, I figured, Well, gee, no point in staying around
here to cut budgets. So I went out." By the late 1990s, the research-and-
development portion of the overall NSA budget had dropped even further
than during Campaigne's time, to less than 4 percent.
Part of NSA's early success, said Campaigne, was a willingness to take
chances. "What the research-and-development people are doing is just
trying things out," he said. "They're doing experiments. And so you'd
expect them to have a lot of failures and a few successes. Historically, as
a matter of fact, they had many more successes than they should have."
Later on, as NSA grew, the experiments became less bold. "The reason is

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