The National Security Agency (NSA) was created in 1952 and is headquartered in Forte Meade, Maryland. It is under the direction of the Department of Defense and reports to the Director of National Intelligence. Although classified, the NSA has an estimated 37,000 employees (1) and an estimated operating budget of about 11 billion dollars per year, for comparison the Central Intelligence Agency has an estimated 20,000 employees and an operating budget of about 14 billion dollars per year (2). At the moment the director of the NSA is Keith B. Alexander who has served since 2005 and is the 16th director of the NSA since its inception.
Although the NSA was created in 1952 the history and origins of the NSA can be traced backed, though under different aliases, to as early as World War I where the army collected information from foreign radio messages and then in World War II used cryptologists to break German encryptions plus the principal Japanese’s Navy encryption system. Finally President Harry S. Truman officially created the NSA in 1952. (3) After its official inception, the NSA’s first major assignment was Operation Minaret where it was tasked to monitor anti-Vietnam critics such as Martin Luther King, Muhammad Ali, and amongst others, presumably illegally wiretapping their phone conversations (4). Thereafter the NSA seems to have been flying under the radar from Vietnam until September 11th, 2001 and the War on Terror aftermath, likely due to the lack of released information about operations. However, due to the Edward Snowden whistleblowing efforts new light has been shed upon the NSA’s very recent activities.
Officially, from the mission statement on the NSA’s website, “The National Security Agency/Central Security Service (NSA/CSS) leads the U.S. Government in cryptology that encompasses both Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and Information Assurance (IA) products and services, and enables Computer Network Operations (CNO) in order to gain a decision advantage for the Nation and our allies under all circumstances.” In layman’s terms Signal Intelligence is essentially collecting intelligence from communications between people, Information Assurance is the ability to stifle through the information at hand and determine its reliability and usability, and Computer Network Operation encompasses the ability to attack, defend, and collect information through computers, or as what commonly referred to as Cyber War. All these activities the NSA engages in are officially only sanctioned on overseas targets (5). However, the recent leaked classified reports from Edward Snowden shed more light into what the NSA accomplishes this and to what extent they are extending their power.
The release of information started on June 5th, 2013 with the article written by Glenn Greenwald for The Guardian, a United Kingdom newspaper, describing how the NSA is collecting metadata, “the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data, call...