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they're so damned cautious. See, they're more cautious than we were. At



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least, more cautious than we should have been. ... I guess it's because
the researchers like to look good. They don't like to have a failure, even
though they're there just to experiment. They like to succeed. But, in
fact, somebody who was administering a research-and-development
activity ought to say, 'You know, you guys are too damn cautious. Get
out there and do some experimenting.' "
Campaigne's optimistic push-ahead-at-all-costs philosophy derived
from his belief that every cipher machine, no matter how difficult, could
eventually be broken. "There is no such thing as an unbreakable cipher,"
he said, "and it irritates me when people talk about such things without
realizing it's nonsense. . . . But people keep thinking there might be such
a thing as an unbreakable cipher."
Secrecy was always NSA's best ally when attempting to get money
from Congress. "All those committee chairs were very friendly in those
days, and secrecy impressed them," said Arthur Levenson, in charge of
Russian codebreaking at NSA and also a veteran of TICOM. "We got most
of what we wanted, and a free hand in how we used it." Another former
official said, of congressional oversight: "We didn't have any in those
days." When General Canine was asked a question during a closed
budget appropriations committee hearing, his favorite answer was,
"Congressman, you don't really want to know the answer to that. You
wouldn't be able to sleep at night." Said one former official, "And the
members would look at each other and they were content with that."


Awarded $25 million by Congress, and okayed by Eisenhower, NSA's
five-year race to develop "thousand-megacycle electronics" was on.
Lightning research began in June 1957. Contractors on the project,
the largest government-supported computer research program in history
up until then, included Sperry Rand, RCA, IBM, Philco, General Electric,
MIT, the University of Kansas, and Ohio State. Though the project's
primary goal was to increase circuitry capability by 1,000 percent, the
end results went even further, extending the state of the art of computer
science well beyond expectations. Research was conducted on cryogenic
components, subminiaturization of components, and superfast switching
devices, called tunnel diodes.
One of the most rewarding by-products of Lightning was the boost it
gave the development of NSA's mammoth Harvest complex, which was
designed to be NSA's largest general-purpose computer. For years
computers were designed to attack specific codebreaking machines, such
as the complex, Swiss-made Hagelin, which was used by many countries
around the world. "We had in the past, before that time, we had built a
special device for every problem," said Howard Campaigne. "And we'd
gotten some very effective devices. But it always took a long time to build


489
it. We had to formulate the problem and design the equipment, and get it
constructed, and debugged, and all that had to take place when we
ought to be operating."
But a superpowerful computer like Harvest, it was hoped, would be
able to attack not only the Hagelin machine but also a variety of cipher
machines and systems from multiple countries. "As the computers
became more sophisticated," said Solomon Kullback, one of William F.
Friedman's original pioneers, it became possible to "program one of these
high-speed general purpose computers so that it could simulate the
action of the Hagelin and use them for the Hagelin problem." However,
the computer would not be limited to the Hagelin machine.
The original name for the computer was to be Plantation, but it was
discovered that the White House had already taken the name to use as a
codeword for emergency relocation. "The idea . . . was to have a modular
computer set up in which you'd have things which resembled barns and
stables and that the plantation [would be] a center or central thing,"
recalled Howard Campaigne. "So they called it Harvest as part of this
plantation group of things."
Ironically, Solomon Kullback, who headed NSA's research-and-
development office for a decade, never had any real enthusiasm for
computers until they started proving their worth. "He didn't interfere
with us," said Campaigne. "He didn't try to stop us or anything like that,
but he just had no personal enthusiasm for it at all. And later on he was
willing to spend plenty of money on them. And there were a lot of people
like that."
In 1955 IBM began planning its most ambitious computer, the
Stretch. So huge was Stretch that IBM designers believed the market
contained only two possible customers: NSA and the Atomic Energy
Commission. The AEC signed up for the computer primarily because of
its advantages in high-speed multiplication. But NSA, looking for more
flexibility as well as the manipulation of great volumes of data, sent the
engineers back to the drawing board for a more customized version. In
April 1958 a final design was approved, and in February 1962 the agency
took delivery of its long-awaited Stretch, now modified and considerably
faster. "IBM regarded it as a bad experience because the Stretch as a
whole they lost money on," said Howard Campaigne. "And since then,
they've been very careful about getting into big computers. They just let
Seymour Cray build them."
Once in place as the heart”or, more appropriately, brain”of NSA's
enormous Harvest complex, even Stretch began to look somewhat
diminutive. Attached was a variety of unusual, complex accessories that
more than doubled the computer's original size. One was the Stream
Processing Unit, which was able to take over a number of the more



490
tedious and time-consuming cryptanalytic functions. A key to
codebreaking is the ability to quickly test encrypted text against every
conceivable combination of letters in an alphabet. Because it may take
millions of tries before the right combination of letters is found which
breaks the cipher, speed is essential. "It was clear to us that one way of
getting high capacity was to go fast," said Campaigne. An evaluation
conducted by an NSA team concluded that Harvest was more powerful
than the best commercially available computer by a factor of 50 to 200,
depending on the particular application.
During World War II, the U.S. Navy's codebreaking machine, known
as the bombe, was able to perform tests on 1,300 characters per second.
In other words, it was able to try 1,300 separate keys in the German lock
every second, looking for the right one to pop it open. With the new
Stream Processing Unit, that speed was increased to some 3 million
characters each second”a 230,000 percent increase. Thus, to pick the
lock, NSA could now try 3 million new keys every second until the right
one was found”truly lightning speed.
From one foreign cipher system alone, Harvest was able to process
7,075,315 intercepted messages of about 500 characters each,
examining every possible combination, to see if they contained any 7,000
different target words or phrases on a watch list. The watch list might
include such words as "submarine" or "battalion," or the names of key
leaders. It was all done in just three hours and fifty minutes: an average
of over 30,000 intercepted messages per minute.
Like misers hoarding every last penny in a rusted treasure chest, NSA
computer scientists hoard microseconds. "You save enough
microseconds and lo and behold you've got a tremendously fast
machine," recalled Solomon Kullback.
Harvest not only increased NSA's speed, it also enlarged its memory,
with a specially designed system that permitted the storage and retrieval
of data at nearly 10 million characters per second.
Still another area advanced by Harvest was information retrieval,
which used a unit known as Tractor. Tractor was capable of
automatically locating desired information from a magnetic tape library
of 480 reels, each capable of storing some 90 million characters. The
machines would then mount, position, and thread the correct tape, and
transfer the information at a then mind-boggling 1,128,000 characters
per second”"a rate," said a secret NSA document at the time, "that is
still beyond present computer tape technology." Whereas most magnetic
tape contained 100 bits to the inch, NSA managed to pack 3,000 bits in
the same space, and then whisk them past the reading heads at 235
inches per second.
Feeding streams of intercepts from the worldwide listening posts to


491
the analysts at NSA is a special highly secure Sigint Communications
System. First opened on the eve of Pearl Harbor, the system carried over
25 million words a day by the mid-1960s. Analysts using Harvest would
then further process the encrypted traffic.
Another system bears critically important intelligence from an
intercept operator at a listening post in a distant part of the world
straight to the president of the United States at breakneck speed. The
surprise launch by the Soviet Union of Sputnik in 1957 caused an
earthquake within the intelligence community. At the time, it took an
average of 8 hours and 35 minutes for a message containing critical
intelligence to reach the White House. President Eisenhower demanded
that the time be reduced to minutes. At a National Security Council
meeting on August 27, 1958, attended by Eisenhower, CIA director Allen
Dulles agreed that "there was little purpose in developing critical
intelligence overseas unless we had the communications means to insure
its rapid transmission to Washington."
A month later, in a meeting in the Oval Office with Eisenhower,
Tordella proposed a system known as CRITICOMM. After Tordella
outlined the costs and benefits, Eisenhower turned to the deputy
secretary of defense and said, "Do it." Within six months NSA was able to
reduce transmission time from more than 8 hours to 52 minutes. In
another six months the agency was able to have a CRITIC, or critical
intelligence message, on Eisenhower's desk within a brief thirteen
minutes, regardless of where it had originated. Eventually the time
shrunk to between three and five minutes.
Finally, a system codenamed Rye provided remote access to Harvest,
thus permitting analysts throughout NSA to access the main computer
via several dozen distant terminals. "RYE has made it possible for the
Agency to locate many more potentially exploitable cryptographic
systems and 'bust' situations," said one secret report at the time. "Many
messages that would have taken hours or days to read by hand methods,
if indeed the process were feasible at all, can now be 'set' and machine
decrypted in a matter of minutes. . . . Decrypting a large batch of
messages in a solved system [is] also being routinely handled by this
system."
Few could have foreseen Harvest's bright future when the machine
was first built. Because the complexity of the system baffled even many
of the best analysts, it was originally considered a white elephant. During
employee tours, the huge, boxy machine was pointed to and mocked. "It's
beautiful, but it doesn't work," officials would scoff. But once the
machine was fully understood, Harvest became so successful that it was
used continuously for fourteen years. The agency finally switched to a
more advanced system only in 1976.



492
As computers more and more became essential in both codemaking
and codebreaking, worries developed over the progress the Soviet Union
was making in the field, especially given its early lead in space
exploration. In 1959 a top secret panel was created to investigate where
the United States stood in its computer race with Russia. The results
were encouraging. By then the U.S. government had about 3,000
computers, of which about 300 were high-performance machines valued
at more than $1 million each. Russia, however, had fewer than 400
computers, of which only about 50 were large machines.
Although for a time both countries attained comparable speed” the
Soviet M-20 was about as fast as the IBM 709”the United States had
left Russian computer scientists in the dust with the development of the
transistor. Nevertheless, the secret panel's report advised against
overconfidence. "The Soviet Union could achieve a computer production
capability equivalent to that of the U.S. in 2”3 years, if they place the
highest possible priority on the effort." But, the report added, "There is
no evidence that they intend to establish such a priority." Nor, the report
said, was the Soviet Union engaged in anything equivalent to Project
Lightning.
Following Harvest, NSA's brain, like that of a human, was divided into
right and left hemispheres, codenamed Carillon and Lodestone. Carillon
was at one time made up of IBM 360s, and later of four enormous IBM
3033s linked together and attached to three IBM 22,000-line-per-minute
page printers.
Even more powerful, however, was Lodestone. Dominating the center
of a yellow-walled, gold-carpeted hall of computers, front-end interfaces,
and mass storage units, was a decorative, 4½ -foot-wide, 6½ -foot-high
semicircle of narrow gold and deep green panels surrounded by a black
vinyl-upholstered bench-type seat. It appeared to be an ideal resting
place for lunch or a mid-morning coffee break. It was, however, the
fastest, most powerful, and most expensive computer of its time.
Built by Cray Research at its plant in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, a
town also known for its Leinenkugel's beer and Chippewa Springs water,
the $15 million CRAY-1 may be the ultimate testimony to the old
proposition that looks are deceiving. Housed within what one wag once
called "the world's most expensive love seat" were more than 200,000
integrated circuits, each the size of a thumbnail, 3,400 printed circuit
boards, and 60 miles of wire. So compact was the five-ton, seventy-
square-foot unit that enough heat was generated per cubic inch to
reduce the machine to a molten mass in seconds had it not been for a
unique Freon cooling system using vertical aluminum-and-stainless-steel
cooling bars that lined the wall of the computer chassis.
The supercomputer was the brainchild of Seymour Cray, a shy,



493
enigmatic engineer who rarely allowed interviews or pictures but was one
of the most influential figures in computer science. The founder of Cray
Research, Inc., Cray "is to supercomputers what Edison was to light
bulbs," said Time in 1988, "or Bell to the telephone." When not in his
laboratories, Cray could likely be found deep in the earth beneath his
Wisconsin home, slowly tunneling toward the nearby woods. Eight feet
high and four feet wide, the tunnel was lined with four-by-four cedar
boards. When a tree once crashed through the roof of the tunnel, Cray
turned the hole into a lookout with the installation of a periscope.
To Cray, the tunnel was both inspiration and recreation. "I work when
I'm at home," he once told a visiting scientist. "I work for three hours and
then I get stumped, and I'm not making progress. So I quit, and I go to
work in the tunnel. It takes me an hour or so to dig four inches and put
in the four-by-fours." Half kidding, Cray continued: "Now, as you can
see, I'm up in the Wisconsin woods, and there are elves in the woods. So
when they see me leave, they come into my office and solve all the
problems I'm having. Then I go back up and work some more." According
to John Rollwagen, then chairman of Cray Research, "The real work
happens when Seymour is in the tunnel."
Cray began his career by building codebreaking machines in the
1950s with Engineering Research Associates, then headed by future NSA
research chief and deputy director Howard Engstrom. Cray's dream was
to build a number cruncher capable of 150 to 200 million calculations
per second. It would have between 20 and 100 times the capacity of then
current general-purpose computers”the equivalent of half a dozen IBM
370/195s.
In the spring of 1976 the first CRAY-1 rolled out of the firm's
production plant in Chippewa Falls and directly into the basement of
NSA. A second was quietly delivered to NSA's secret think tank, the
Communications Research Division of the Institute for Defense Analysis
at Princeton University.

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