The NSA and GCHQ

If you want to keep information secret, you have two possible strategies: hide the existence of the information, or make the information unintelligible. Cryptography is the art and science of keeping information secure from unintended audiences, of encrypting it. Conversely, cryptanalysis is the art and science of breaking encoded data. The branch of mathematics encompassing both cryptography and cryptanalysis is cryptology. This method of secrecy has existed since 1900 B. C. in the form of Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Up to the present two organizations have come to the front of the field; United States’ National Security Agency (NSA) and United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). In order to understand these institutions in their current state one must know their origins. NSA Although the National Security Agency is only forty-five years old (established by order of President Harry S. Truman in 1952), the functions it performs have been part of human history for thousands of years.

The need to safeguard one’s own communications while attempting to produce intelligence from foreign communications has long been a recognized part of governmental activity. In the American experience, cryptologic efforts can be traced to the very beginnings of the American nation. George Washington employed Elbridge Gerry (later Vice President of the United States) to solve the suspected cryptograms of a Tory spy, Dr. Benjamin Church. Thomas Jefferson included the making of codes and ciphers among his many interests, putting his efforts to use in both private correspondence and public business.

One of his inventions, the cipher wheel, has been described as being in “the front rank” of cryptologic inventions. The American Civil War created a new urgency for techniques in both cryptography (the manufacture of codes and ciphers) and cryptanalysis (the breaking of codes and ciphers). It also introduced new elements into both processes — telegraphy and significant advances in the use of signal flags and torches. These methods of transmitting information permitted rapid communication from one outpost to another or from a commander to his subordinates, but also brought with them new dangers of the loss of that information to an enemy.

Both sides considered telegraph lines major targets and attempted either to cut or tap them. Cryptology again proved to be of great significance in the First World War, as evidenced by British decryption of the famous Zimmermann Telegram. In an effort to keep the United States from playing an effective role in the war in Europe, Germany offered Mexico the opportunity to regain Texas and other territories lost to the United States during the nineteenth century, in return for a Mexican declaration of war against the U. S. The telegram backfired, as its release by British authorities brought the U. S. closer to war with Germany.

Tactically, the First World War introduced wireless communications to the battlefield, increasing flexibility but making codes and ciphers even more essential in guaranteeing security. After the armistice of 1918, the United States maintained modest but significant cryptologic establishments in the Navy and War Departments, along with an interdepartmental effort conducted in New York and headed by Herbert O. Yardley. HERBERT O. YARDLEY Born in 1889 in Indiana, Herbert O. Yardley began his career as a code clerk in the State Department.

He accepted a Signal Corps Reserve commission and served as a cryptologic officer with the American Expeditionary Forces in France during the First World War. In the 1920s he was chief of MI-8, the first U. S. peacetime cryptanalytic organization, jointly funded by the U. S. Army and the Department of State. In that capacity, he and a team of cryptanalysts exploited nearly two dozen foreign diplomatic cipher systems. MI-8 was disbanded in 1929 when the State Department withdrew its share of the funding. Out of work, Yardley caused a sensation in 1931 with the publication of his memoirs of MI-8, “The American Black Chamber”.

In this book, Yardley revealed the extent of U. S. cryptanalytic work in the 1920s. Surprisingly, the wording of the espionage laws at that time did not permit prosecution of Yardley. (This situation was changed two years later with a new law imposing stiff penalties for unauthorized revelations of cryptologic secrets. ) Yardley did some cryptologic work for Canada and China during the Second World War, but he was never again given a position of trust in the U. S. government. On August 7, 1958, Herbert O. Yardley, one of the pioneers of modern American cryptology passed away.

In 1929 Secretary of State Henry Stimson withdrew financial support for Yardley’s “American Black Chamber,” and Communications Security (COMSEC) and Communications Intelligence (COMINT) became once again a largely military function. WILLIAM F. FRIEDMAN Wolfe Frederick Friedman was born on September 24, 1891 in Kishinev, then part of imperial Russia, now Chisinau, capital of Moldova. His father, an interpreter for the Czar’s postal service, emigrated to the United States the following year to escape increasing anti-Semitic regulations; the family joined him in Pittsburgh in 1893.

Three years after that, when the elder Friedman became a U. S. citizen, Wolfe’s name was changed to William. After receiving a B. S. and doing some graduate work in genetics at Cornell University, William Friedman was hired by Riverbank Laboratories, what would today be termed a “think tank,” outside Chicago. There he became interested in the study of codes and ciphers, thanks to his concurrent interest in Elizabeth Smith, who was doing cryptanalytic research at Riverbank. Friedman left Riverbank to become a cryptologic officer during the First World War, the beginning of a distinguished career in government service.

Friedman’s contributions thereafter are well known; prolific author, teacher, and practitioner of cryptology. Perhaps his greatest achievements were introducing mathematical and scientific methods into cryptology and producing training materials used by several generations of pupils. His work affected for the better both signal intelligence and information systems security. Much of what is done today at the NSA may be traced to William Friedman’s pioneering efforts. To commemorate the contributions of the Friedmans, in 2002 the OPS1 building on the NSA complex was dedicated as the William and Elizebeth Friedman Building.

Under the direction of William Friedman the Army’s Signal Intelligence Service and its Navy counterpart, Op-20G, overcame limited resources to make truly outstanding contributions to cryptology. By the time the United States entered the Second World War, American cryptologists had penetrated Japanese diplomatic ciphers. During the war they assisted their British colleagues in the exploitation of German communications. Both of these tasks were accomplished at the same time while providing secure communications equipment for American commanders and policy makers.

In actions ranging from the great naval battles of the Pacific to the invasions of North Africa and Western Europe, American cryptanalysis and cryptography provided information vital to the eventual Allied victory. The postwar era opened with an emphasis on “economy and efficiency,” resulting in cutbacks in all areas of national defense, including Communication Intelligence and Communication Security. In some ways, this belt tightening proved beneficial, as steps were taken to eliminate duplication and adapt the cryptologic establishment to the realities of America’s position as a permanent world power.

The creation of the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency reflected the desire for unified national coordination and direction of important defense and security matters. The predecessor of NSA, the Armed Forces Security Agency (AFSA), was established within the Department of Defense, under the command of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on May 20, 1949. In theory, the AFSA was to direct the communications intelligence and electronic intelligence activities of the military service signals intelligence units (at the time consisting of the Army Security Agency, Naval Security Group, and Air Force Security Service).

In practice, the AFSA had little power, its functions being defined in terms of activities not performed by the service units. The creation of NSA resulted from a December 10, 1951, memo sent by Walter Bedell Smith to James B. Lay, Executive Secretary of the National Security Council. The memo observed that “control over, and coordination of, the collection and processing of Communications Intelligence had proved ineffective” and recommended a survey of communications intelligence activities. The proposal was approved on December 13, 1951, and the study was authorized on December 28, 1951.

The report was completed by June 13, 1952. Generally known as the “Brownell Committee Report,” after committee chairman Herbert Brownell, it surveyed the history of U. S. communications intelligence activities and suggested the need for a much greater degree of coordination and direction at the national level. As the change in the security agency’s name indicated, the role of the NSA was to extend beyond the armed forces. In the last several decades some of the secrecy surrounding the NSA has been stripped away by Congressional hearings and investigative research.

Most recently the NSA has been the subject of criticism for failing to adjust to the post-Cold War technological environment as well as for operating a “global surveillance network” alleged to intrude on the privacy of individuals across the world. The National Security Agency/Central Security Service is America’s cryptologic organization. It coordinates, directs, and performs highly specialized activities to protect U. S. government information systems and produce foreign signals intelligence information. A high technology organization, NSA is on the frontiers of communications and data processing.

It is also one of the most important centers of foreign language analysis and research within the government. Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) is a unique discipline with a long and storied past. SIGINT’s modern era dates to World War II, when the U. S. broke the Japanese military code and learned of plans to invade Midway Island. This intelligence allowed the U. S. to defeat Japan’s superior fleet. The use of SIGINT is believed to have directly contributed to shortening the war by at least one year. Today, SIGINT continues to play an important role in keeping the United States a step ahead of its enemies.

As the world becomes more and more technology-oriented, the Information Assurance (IA) mission becomes increasingly challenging. This mission involves protecting all classified and sensitive information that is stored or sent through U. S. government equipment. IA professionals go to great lengths to make certain that government systems remain impenetrable. This support spans from the highest levels of U. S. government to the individual warfighter in the field. NSA conducts one of the U. S. government’s leading research and development (R&D) programs.

Some of the Agency’s R&D projects have significantly advanced the state of the art in the scientific and business worlds. NSA’s early interest in cryptanalytic research led to the first large-scale computer and the first solid-state computer, predecessors to the modern computer. NSA pioneered efforts in flexible storage capabilities, which led to the development of the tape cassette. NSA also made ground-breaking developments in semiconductor technology and remains a world leader in many technological fields. NSA employs the country’s premier cryptologists.

It is said to be the largest employer of mathematicians in the United States and perhaps the world. Its mathematicians contribute directly to the two missions of the Agency: designing cipher systems that will protect the integrity of U. S. information systems and searching for weaknesses in adversaries’ systems and codes. Technology and the world change rapidly, and great emphasis is placed on staying ahead of these changes with employee training programs. The National Cryptologic School is indicative of the Agency’s commitment to professional development.

The school not only provides unique training for the NSA workforce, but it also serves as a training resource for the entire Department of Defense. NSA sponsors employees for bachelor and graduate studies at the Nation’s top universities and colleges, and selected Agency employees attend the various war colleges of the U. S. Armed Forces. Most NSA/CSS employees, both civilian and military, are headquartered at Fort Meade, Maryland, centrally located between Baltimore and Washington, DC.

Its workforce represents an unusual combination of specialties: analysts, engineers, physicists, mathematicians, linguists, computer scientists, researchers, as well as customer relations specialists, security officers, data flow experts, managers, administrative officers and clerical assistants. GCHQ In the summer of 1939, a small team of codebreakers arrived at the Government Code and Cipher School’s (GC&CS) new home at Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire. Their mission was to crack the backbone of German military and intelligence communications, the Enigma cipher. The Germans thought Enigma was unbreakable.

The combination of rotating wheels, electrical contacts and wires meant that the odds against anyone who did not know the machine’s settings being able to break Enigma were 150 million million million to one! But Bletchley Park achieved a breakthrough when the Poles passed on their knowledge of how the machine worked. This helped the codebreakers exploit a design weakness in Enigma – that no letter could ever be encrypted as itself. At the same time, Bletchley Park mathematician Alan Turing realized that ‘cribs’ offered a way of cracking Enigma. A ‘crib’ is a piece of encrypted text whose true meaning is known or can be guessed.

German messages were formulaic in places and the first line often contained standard information, for example weather conditions. Once a crib was known, it was still necessary to check thousands of potential Enigma settings to read a message, and to do this quickly Turing designed a electro-mechanical codebreaking machine called a Bombe. Each Bombe simulated the actions of 10 Enigma machines and was able to check all potential settings at high speed. Cracking the ‘impenetrable’ Enigma code enabled Britain to foil Luftwaffe bombing raids, minimise U-Boat attacks and secure sea-based supply routes.

Further codebreaking success enabled Bletchley Park to exploit Lorenz, a highly sophisticated cipher used personally by Hitler and his High Command. But many of the messages still took several weeks to decipher – a computing machine was needed. The result was Colossus, the world’s first programmable electronic computer, designed by Max Newman. Colossus was the size of a living room and weighed about one ton. Its 2,400 valves replicated the pattern of an encrypted Lorenz message as electrical signals.

This breakthrough in computing remained a secret for many years, to the extent that two Americans took the credit for inventing the computer in 1945. But the creation of Colossus proved to be a key contributor to the success on D-Day. It is estimated that over 10,000 people worked at Bletchley Park at the height of its wartime activity. Their work affected the fate of nations and helped shorten the war by at least two years. But by March 1946, the people were gone and every scrap of evidence of their codebreaking exploits had been removed from Bletchley Park.

Nevertheless, the codebreaking effort continued when the GC&CS was re-named GCHQ and moved to London. It re-located to Cheltenham in 1952. GCHQ moved to Cheltenham in 1952, occupying two sites at Oakley and Benhall. The local residents referred to it as ‘the Foreign Office’ for many years and were discreet about the secret organization in their midst which was still largely unheard of outside Whitehall and the Cotswolds. GCHQ made a major breakthrough in the field of secure communications in 1973 when it developed what is now known as public-key encryption.

In 1983, GCHQ gained a national profile when its function was avowed to Parliament. In 1984, the organization that had shunned the limelight for so many years was thrust into the public eye when trade union rights were removed from its staff. However, GCHQ had a vital role to play and work continued. The unthinkable happened in 1989: the Berlin Wall came down, symbolic of the thaw in East-West relations. It was the dawning of a new period and 1991 saw the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The 1994 Intelligence Services Act (ISA) defined GCHQ’s role in the post Cold War world.

The ISA also brought about formal oversight of the intelligence agencies, with the formation of the Intelligence and Security Committee and the Intelligence Services Tribunal. New threats emerged to take the place of the old. National security, economic well-being and the prevention and detection of serious crime were its headline interests. In 1997, trade union recognition was restored to GCHQ. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook paid tribute in 1998 to the way that GCHQ has responded to the government’s fresh priorities. He described GCHQ as a world leader in technology: Secret intelligence gives the Government a vital edge in tackling some of the most difficult problems we faceintelligence forewarns us of threats to our national security; helps the Government promote international stability; provides support and protection to our forces; contributes to our economic health; and strengthens our efforts against terrorism and serious crime. ” – Tony Blair, Prime Minister In May 1999, the Foreign Secretary announced that he had chosen the site of GCHQ’s new accommodation. The two existing sites made way for a single site at Benhall by means of a major new construction project.

The circular, space-age design -which was almost fully occupied by the summer of 2004 – is well suited to support GCHQ in meeting the challenges the future will bring. Conclusion Because of their secret nature these two organizations have been included in infinitely many conspiracy theories. However, never has the world seen such an advanced, efficient, and vast network of Communication Intelligence and Communication Security. Today these two worldwide supervisors are working together closer than ever, thus making them a dominating superpower.


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