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History, Objectives, and Goals
The NSA was formed on 4 November 1952 by the authority of President Harry Truman. This is the US secretive intelligence organ system. The Armed Forces Security Agency (AFSA) is the predecessor because it was formed in the Department of Defense on 20 May 1949by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Theoretically, the AFSA was tasked with directing the communications and electronic intelligence actions of the military service showed by intelligence units (which at the time consisted of the Army Security Agency, Air Force Security services, and Naval Security Group). However, in essence, the AFSA had little power with its functions mainly defined in terms of actions not undertaken by the three service units.
On 10 December 1951, Walter Bedell Smith sent a memo to James B. Lay, the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council, which consequently led to the creation of the NSA. In the memo, Smith wrote how the control over the coordination, processing, and collection of communication intelligence was ineffective. He then recommended a review of communication intelligence services. Smith's proposal got approval on 13 December 1951 and the review work commenced on 28 December 1951.
On 13 June 1952, the Brownell Committee Report was released. The committee, chaired by Herbert Brownell, surveyed the US communication intelligence history services and emphasized the need for a much-improved level of coordination and direction based on the national level. Thus, it led to the security agency's name being changed and the NSA's role exceeding that of the armed forces.
In 1972, a Presidential Directive led to the formation of the Central Security Service (CSS). The CSS includes the key essentials of the armed forces, i.e. the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the Air Force, and the Coast Guard; as well as performance of code-making and code-breaking work in conjunction with the NSA.
Because of the cryptology of their work, the Director of the NSA further doubles up due to being the Chief of the CSS. The staff at the CSS works together with members of the NSA in various locations worldwide to give unified support to the executives, policy, and decision-makers, both military and civilian, from the White House to soldiers on the battlefields.
The NSA/CSS performs two interconnected tasks: they offer Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and Information Assurance. The SIGINT helps in collecting secret information that America's foes desire to retain secret. Through Information Assurance, they protect America's major national security systems and information from damage and theft by third parties. In combination, the Information Assurance and SIGINT programs perform a joint third function, i.e. allowing Network Warfare, which is a military procedure.
In carrying their missions, the NSA and the CSS help save lives, protect crucial networks, and improve U.S. goals and coalitions. They achieve these while still keeping in line with the requirements and provisions of the U.S. law and Constitution by protecting privacy rights.
However, over the decades, Congress and investigative research have stripped the NSA of some of its secrecy. Most recently, the NSA has been hugely criticized for not adjusting to the environment of the post-Cold War technologically. Moreover, it is also accused of working on the "global surveillance network", which is alleged to interrupt individual privacy all over the world.
The SIGINT encompasses the collection of foreign intelligence from both information and communications systems and consequently making it available to leaders in the U.S. government, including high-ranking citizens and military officers. The information is in turn used to protect the military soldiers, support the friendly nations, fight terrorism and international narcotics and crime, which support diplomatic missions, and improve other crucial federal objectives.
The NSA/CSS gathers SIGINT from numerous sources such as foreign infrastructures, radar, as well as other electronic systems. The information, which is often in foreign lingoes and dialects, is secured by codes and detailed security measures, involving complex technical features.
The NSA/CSS gathers, understands, and interprets the information first, then delivers it with punctuality to the relevant bodies for necessary action to be taken. Their workforce is highly skilled and specialized in a broader range of highly sophisticated fields that permit them to accomplish their task with efficiency.
They also are capable of developing and using high-tech tools and systems, which are crucial in achieving positive results in modern ever-evolving communications and information environments. The research team is also working continuously to help in preparing and anticipating future changes and developments.
Information Assurance, on the other hand, involves the prevention of unlawful contact with delicate or confidential national security information and systems. Thus, the main objective of the mission is to restrict third parties from pilferage or interfering with the national security systems and information. Thus, it not only keeps unauthorized individuals away from the vital information but also helps ensure that all the information needed by the decision-makers is accessible and trustworthy round-the-clock.
The Director of NSA under Directive 42 of the National Security is responsible for the safety of the nation's security information systems, which covers many government departments and agencies. Also, the NSA/CSS advances the security of dire tasks and information by giving expertise and skill to all the stakeholders.
The main users of the intelligence information provided by the NSA/CSS include the White House, security agencies such as the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), military departments, military combatant commanders, and multinational forces as well as U.S. allies. Furthermore, when necessary, the NSA provides Information Assurance products and services to operators of national security information systems and government contractors.
The NSA also works with the Intelligence Community, which is a group of executive agencies and organizations that work both independently and collectively in conducting intelligence services crucial for conducting foreign relationships and protecting national security.
The IC comprises of the CIA, the DIA, the DoE in the Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, the FBI, the DHS in the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, the DoT in the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, the Drug Enforcement Administration in the Office of National Security Intelligence, the N.G.I.A, and specific bodies within the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Suggestions for Improving the NSA
Presently, the NSA is giving the Justice Department information collected from its secret electronic spying programs on matters of suspected criminal activities that are unrelated to terrorism. This scarcely known offshoot of counterterrorism investigation continues despite the controversy surrounding the NSA over the numerous collection of domestic communications intelligence, e.g. individuals' telephone call records, SMSs, Internet use, etc.
However, the NSA's Administration officials have continuously told Congress that the NSA surveillance focuses on metadata and does not dig into the content of individual calls or email messages.
As a measure for eliminating this controversy, the NSA's leadership should come out and try to elaborate and explain its operations. In doing this, they should reveal the kind of information that they gather and from whom the information is obtained. This will help in minimizing the occurrence of such complaints associated with the issue of individual privacy.
Most recently, President Obama retaliated the need for Americans' confidence in the NSA's operations. He said that a vigorous public debate should be conducted but by the constitution. He outlined plans for improving privacy protections in the NSA's surveillance programs and to further explain publicly how the NSA operates. He said that since the president must have confidence in the programs, the Americans should also have similar confidence. However, he asserted that the programs were important in disrupting all plots of terrorists.
Section 215 of the Patriot Act
The NSA should furthermore hold new talks with Congress on ways of revising Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which governs the NSA's collection of telephone data. This should be done to clarify the NSA's legal authority, improve the oversight of its actions, as well as stiffen restrictions on the usage of information obtained by the Agency. This in turn will help improve public confidence in the programs.
On top of that, civil authorities and privacy advocates should be appointed to contend cases and contest the government's position in the court tasked with overseeing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The advocate position was created to push back on government requests for authorizations on the telephone and/or Internet communications.
Despite the confidence that the court has created, a few pessimists believe that the court will not be fair enough. However, optimists believe that this new and independent voice will be appropriate to end the worries and problems encountered previously since for the first time the government would be challenged.
The other measure for improving the services of the NSA involves the release of its court documents to improve transparency. For example, the Justice Department has recently released a report on the legal justification for NSA operations. Besides, the NSA itself gave out a statement specifying its authorities, its ways of collecting information, and its restrictions. Both of these acts are an installment on future transparency efforts since the Justice Department and Director of National Intelligences are still working on disclosure reform measures.
Similarly, the appointment of a new advanced group of independent experts tasked with the review of the whole intelligence and communications technologies should be made. This new thinking is in line with the new era of digitization. They should come with ways of improving the disclosure of some activities of the NSA, while still ensuring keenness so as not to compromise the operations of the agency.
The Justice Department
The Justice Department describes the telephone collection program as being crucial to the government operations and that its use is cautiously limited to identifying potential terrorists (Moore, n.d.). Furthermore, the NSA's document re-stated that they did not collect the contents of telephone calls, but they described it as a progressive or a hop analysis tool designed to monitor and track terror suspects.
To improve the program, the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court should revise procedures, which permit analysts to obtain the suspect's information by reviewing his/her call records, tracking of people who have directly been in contact with the suspect, and the numbers of those who have been in indirect contact should be improved by shortening them.
In 2012, a coalition was formed comprising of eight major Internet companies, namely Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc., Google Inc., LinkedIn Corp., AOL Inc., Apple Inc., Yahoo Inc., and Microsoft Corp. They criticized the NSA openly on one website and in an open letter printed in the major newspapers. They argued for the loss of their businesses from the NSA revelations. Therefore, the NSA should desist from listening in on Americans' phone calls or reading their Internet messages and SMSs without the approval of the courts.
Five law professors and intelligence experts appointed by President Obama as commissioners in a review panel delivered a report advising the president to take 46 policy changes (Moore, n.d.). Some of the group's proposals include the need for confirmation of the NSA's director by the Senate. Moreover, the director's position should be eligible even to the civilians, which is in contrast with the present situation where the military personnel only hold it.
Furthermore, the current law dictates that the chief justice should appoint all the eleven members of the FISA court. However, the panel recommended that the appointment power should be divided among all the nine Supreme Court judges.
Some notable critics of the NSA such as Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy point out the fact that the agency's gathering of telecommunications metadata has not helped in stopping or preventing any single terrorist attack. However, one panelist in Obama's panel while responding to the Judiciary Committee disclaimed that argument. He likened these measures taken by the NSA to the fire insurance policies that many Americans use to cover their homes, yet few have really experienced a fire.
Globally, the NSA's activities are viewed as if the U.S. has privatized world police that keeps an unending and unwarranted watch on both its citizens and non-citizens. Furthermore, their collaboration with friendly nations and the provision of secret data to such nations have led to the analysis of their efforts. Opponents argue that such metadata gathered are either readily accessible or are for auction to law enforcers and other legal organizations and nations they consider appropriate to receive it.
Hence, the suggestions provided above will come in handy as appropriate tools for improving the service delivery by the NSA. In the meantime, it is still practically impossible to dismiss the work done by the NSA or even restricting their authority in accessing private information due to the huge risk posed by the terrorists globally.