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end had finally arrived. The man with the unlimited ideas that reached to
the stars had tumbled to the bottom of his finite bank account.
Ever optimistic, Seymour Cray pulled together a few of his most loyal
followers, scraped together some money from their own bank accounts,
and formed SRC (Seymour Roger Cray) Computers. Cray felt almost
liberated at this chance to "start from a clean sheet of paper." It was also,
he believed, a chance to finally break the speed barrier by building the
first teraflop supercomputer, capable of a trillion mathematical
operations a second”12,000 times more than his CRAY-1.
But the enemy had landed. In the spring of 1996, even the U.S.
government had turned its back on all the Cray companies and awarded
a $35 million contract to the Japanese computer giant NEC for its 128-
processor SX-4 supercomputer. The SX-4 would go to the National
Center for Atmospheric Research. The agency was worried because
meteorological centers in Australia, Canada, England, and elsewhere
were installing systems that by January 1998 would be capable of
between 20 and 80 billion operations a second. And Cray Research, the
agency concluded, was just not producing computers fast enough.
"Simply put," said William Buzbee, head of the weather center, "Cray
Research lost this procurement because their offer had unacceptable
technical risk."
Others, too, knew that despite the never-say-die bravado and the
endless promises of illions of flops, the luster was at last disappearing



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from Cray's blinding star. "The rules changed when it became clear that
Cray Computer Corp. wasn't going to make it," said John Mashey,
director of systems technology at Silicon Graphics. "It's like watching
your favorite quarterback, who won the Super Bowl many times. But it's
not 1976 anymore”his knees are gone and those three-hundred-pound
defensive tackles are fierce. While he keeps getting up, it's agonizing to
watch and you really wish he could have quit on a high."
A few months later, while returning from a brief trip to a software
store, Cray was seriously injured when his black Grand Cherokee was
struck by another car and rolled over three times. Two weeks later, on
October 5, 1996, the shy maverick who hand-built the fastest machines
on earth, with the meticulous care and fine craftsmanship of a Swiss
watchmaker, died, never having regained consciousness. His ashes were
scattered among the cragged peaks and somber valleys of the Colorado
mountains. They had served as his inspiration, and as silent comforters,
during his last years. "In the days before PCs brought megaflops to the
masses," said one computer expert, "Cray was the computer industry's
closest equivalent to a rock star."
Sadly, only months before Cray's death, the daring company he had
given birth to in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, decades earlier, also died.
Following the worst financial year of its life, in which it was forced to cut
nearly a quarter of its employees, and facing an uncertain future, Cray
Research called it quits. It was acquired by Silicon Graphics,
Incorporated”later known simply as SGI”a Mountain View, California,
manufacturer of high-performance workstations, the sort of machines
that became Cray's greatest competitor. "Cray represents the last of the
1980s pure plays in the supercomputer market," one market analyst said
wistfully. "There are no other major players left standing from the
supercomputer battles of the 1980s and 1990s."
In fact, there was one. The shakeout and the death of Seymour Cray
left a single independent to fight the army of "killer micros," the
massively parallel microprocessors that turned the budget-draining,
high-performance supercomputer into an endangered species. The large,
rumpled man with the Don Quixote dream was Burton Smith, whose
company, Tera Computer, stunned many in the field by building a
machine that in 1997 set a world speed record for sorting integers.
Burton's idea was to increase speed by decreasing the waiting time it
took for processors to be sent new data on which to work. This, Burton
believed, would overcome the Achilles' heel of powerful computing”the
gap between a computer's short-term theoretical "peak" speed and its
long-term "sustained" speed.
Smith no doubt had his eye on NSA as a key future customer for his
machines, which would cost as much as $40 million. He spent three
years working for NSA's Supercomputer Research Center before leaving


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in 1988 to found Tera. Much of his early money, in fact, came from NSA's
partner, DARPA.
Encouraged by Smith's research, a "senior intelligence official"
approached Sid Karin, the director of the San Diego Supercomputer
Center, and asked him to help support Tera. "We don't have a lot of
innovative architects like Burton Smith and Seymour Cray," the
intelligence official told Karlin, "and they need to be nurtured and
supported." So, in 1998, Smith installed his first system in the San Diego
center.
Nevertheless, Smith still has his skeptics. One well-known computer
designer fondly refers to the Tera system as "Burton's folly." And even
Smith acknowledges the long odds: "Most people think we're out of our
mind." Still, noted one observer, "Burton Smith is the last man
standing."


As the supercomputer business began crashing, worries increased at
NSA. For decades the agency had quietly underwritten a large portion of
the industry; the massive number crunchers were the engines that
powered its codebreaking machines. Now agency officials watched SGI,
following its takeover of Cray, like spectators at a slow-motion
automobile accident. Within a year and a half of the acquisition the
company was in turmoil. SGI posted a loss of over $50 million, a major
layoff was announced, and the longtime chief executive officer resigned.
Noting that only three years earlier the company had produced the
graphics that made the motion picture Jurassic Park possible, one
reporter quipped, "The question was whether the company was in danger
of going the way of the dinosaur."
By 1999, SGI looked like a boxer struggling to rise before the final
count. Its stock had plunged more than 20 percent, another chief
executive officer had called it quits, and the firm said it would cut as
many as 3,000 jobs and spin off its Cray supercomputer division. NSA
was worried: it had contracted with the company to build its newest
supercomputer, the CRAY SV2.5 The decision was made to open the
drawer of the cash register. "The United States is committed to
maintaining and building on its long-held position as the global leader in
supercomputing," said NSA's chief scientist, George Cotter. "These
powerful computers are absolutely essential to U.S. national security
interests. To that end, the U.S. government is committing significant


Despite the capabilities of massively parallel computers,
5

supercomputers are still useful for attacking specific codebreaking
problems.



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support to SGI's CRAY SV2 program."
Cotter also noted the critical need for NSA to continue similar joint
supercomputer projects. "The government support reflects a continuing
need for government-industry cooperative development of critical
technologies for high-end computing," he said. "The SV2 will include
technology jointly developed with the U.S. government. This will
considerably extend the combination of custom-designed high-end
processors with the high-speed memory access that current Cray
supercomputers offer." The new system was expected to dramatically
extend the capability of NSA's supercomputers with exceptional memory
bandwidth, interconnections, and vector-processing capabilities. Its peak
speed was estimated to be in the tens of teraflops, faster than any
supercomputer in existence.
In 2000 the supercomputer business came full circle. Like two broke
gamblers at a racetrack putting their change together for one last bet,
Burton Smith's Tera Computer acquired Seymour Cray's former Cray
Research from SGI. Thus was reborn Cray, Inc., once again an
independent company. It was good news for NSA. One report said the
agency was involved in the deal "because it wants at least one U.S.
company to build state-of-the-art supercomputers with capabilities
beyond the needs of most business customers." Work would continue on
NSA's SV2, with delivery scheduled for 2002.
At the same time, Cray began work on a new Department of Defense
contract, one to upgrade a CRAY T3E-1200 supercomputer. With the
addition of 816 processors to its existing 272 processors, the new
machine will be the largest Cray system ever built, with 1,088 processors
and a record speed of 1.3 teraflops”1.3 trillion calculations per second.
Four years after Seymour Cray died, a machine bearing his name would
at last break the tera barrier.
But despite the encouraging signs, the supercomputer shakeout had
convinced many at NSA of the need to move away from the insecurity of
the outside world and to return to the black computer laboratories of
Crypto City.


The massive brain transplant began in February 1997, as the first
supercomputer began its slow trip from the basement of OPS 1. Its
destination was the top floor of the Tordella Supercomputer Facility,
hidden away in a wooded corner of Crypto City. More than a year later,
the final supercomputer was carefully nudged into place and connected
by a spinal cord of secure fiber optic nerves to the main body of the
agency, a mile away. Once the operation was completed, NSA possessed
the most powerful electronic brain on earth.
Surrounded by thick woods and protected by guard posts, double


503
fences, and concrete barriers, the Tordella Supercomputer Facility, is
located on Crypto City's Ream Road, a street named after NSA's fourth
deputy director. The nearly windowless outside walls of the 183,000-
square-foot facility are decorated with attractive, light-colored enameled
metal panels. The life-support equipment is housed on the first floor” an
8,000-ton chilled water plant, mechanical and electrical support
facilities, and 29-megavolt-amperes of electrical power, enough to supply
half of Annapolis.
The top floor's five rooms contain, among other things, the Computer
Operations Command Center and approximately 150,000 magnetic tapes
moved there from storage in "silo-farms" back in the main part of Crypto
City. Supercomputers, such as the CRAY Y-MP EL and the Silicon
Graphics Power Challenge, occupy the rest of the floor. Also installed in
1999 was the new IBM RS/6000 SP. This is a faster version of the
system that powered the company's supercomputer "Deep Blue," which
won a grueling six-game chess match against virtuoso Garry Kasparov in
1997. The extra power and speed come from IBM's new PowerS
microprocessor, which is capable of crunching through 2 billion
instructions per second”more than double the power of the Power2
Super Chip. The computer is the centerpiece for a system IBM called
Deep Computing. One of its primary uses is "data mining," searching
through enormous quantities of data, such as intercepted
communications or complex cipher systems, and coming up with the
answer. The RS/6000 SP, said IBM executive David Turek, is
"supercomputing at your fingertips."
Moving the tremendous amounts of information into and out of the
supercomputers, like the ultimate jukebox, is the massive dodecagonal
Automated Cartridge System. As big as a small room, and weighing more
than four tons, this high-speed storage device can hold 6,000 cartridges
containing a total of 300 terabytes of information”the equivalent of more
than 150 billion pages of text. According to NSA, this is the equivalent of
one and a half million years of the Wall Street Journal; it is also enough
pieces of paper to circle the globe 3,000 times, or to fill a wall of books
stacked eleven deep and running from New York City to Los Angeles.
The robotic arm has two cameras and a "hand"; the cameras find the
bar code of the requested cartridge, and the hand moves it to the
retrieval area, where the needed cartridge can be extracted. The arm can
move cartridges in and out of the computers at the rate of 450 an hour.
Such a system is necessary when one considers NSA's information
storage capabilities. To store the massive amounts of data flowing in
from its worldwide listening posts, NSA a few years ago turned to E-
Systems, long a key contractor on secret projects for the agency. The
solution was to link several computers the size of telephone booths.
When completed the system was capable of storing 5 trillion pages of


504
text”a stack of paper 150 miles high. Included was a new retrieval
system that permitted the access of any piece of information almost
instantly.


As the supercomputer industry began crumbling around it, NSA
turned inward, creating a top secret facility for developing its own
classified computers. Known as the Supercomputer Research Center
(SRC), it was built in 1984 in order to leapfrog over the rest of the world
in computer power, as Project Lightning had thirty years earlier. Only
this time, the work would be done in total secrecy. According to
Lieutenant General Lincoln D. Faurer, the NSA's director at the time, a
principal goal of the SRC was to build a new generation of computers
that would be 10,000 times faster than the current generation.
Over the years millions of dollars would go into research on subjects
such as specialized parallel processing algorithms, which would give
computers the superspeed needed to break increasingly powerful foreign
encryption systems. At the same time, SRC would develop ways to push
American cryptographic systems beyond the reach of hostile
codebreakers. Little, if any, of the research done by the SRC would ever
see the light of day outside of Crypto City, so NSA would be far ahead in
the race for the fastest and most powerful computers on earth.
Constructed at a cost of $12 million on a twenty-acre site at the
University of Maryland's Science and Technology Center in Bowie, the
SRC is actually operated by the Communications Research Division
(CRD), part of the Institute for Defense Analysis. For more than four
decades the CRD has run NSA's own highly secret think tank. Originally
known as the NSA Research Institute, it was first approved by President
Eisenhower in 1958. Its purpose was to carry out long-range, theoretical,
and advanced research in mathematical and statistical problems related
to NSA's codebreaking and eavesdropping missions. The institute also
conducted a special summer program that brought together members of
the academic community and introduced them to members of the
cryptologic community.
At one point, in 1965, the institute developed a unique piece of
codebreaking machinery that proved enormously successful. "That one
piece of equipment," said a secret 1965 NSA report, "by itself, has been
judged to be well worth the total cost of the Institute thus far."
Among the early directors of the institute was Dr. J. Barkley Rosser, a
professor of mathematics at the University of Wisconsin, noted for his
work in symbolic logic and number theory. Dr. A. Adrian Albert, dean of
the division of physical sciences at the University of Chicago and an
expert in linear algebra and number theory, followed him in 1961.
Originally, the NSA Research Institute was located behind a high wall


505
on the campus of Princeton University. But as a result of the antiwar
protests of the 1960s, NSA, fearing for the continued secrecy and
security of the institute, moved it to a boxy, three-story brick building
virtually hidden in an isolated wooded area off campus. Windowless
except for the third floor, the mysterious building has no signs to

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