National Security Agency

National Security Agency (NSA), an independent agency within the U.S. Dept. of Defense. Founded by presidential order in 1952, its primary functions are to collect and analyze communications intelligence information and data and to protect the security of U.S. national security systems and information. The NSA also engages in antiterrorist computer network operations. The agency includes the Central Security Service, established in 1972 to promote a full partnership between the NSA and the cryptological elements of the armed forces, and the National Cryptologic School. As a result of 9/11, the agency significantly expanded its collection and analysis of communications in an effort to thwart terrorist organizations and attacks. Headquartered in Fort Meade, Md., the NSA is the largest employer of mathematicians in the country. Its director must be a military officer. For many years the NSA was the most hidden of U.S. intelligence agencies; its large budget was secret and its existence barely acknowledged. In addition to its Fort Meade headquarters, the NSA has facilities in a number of other states and countries.

See J. Bamford, The Puzzle Palace (1982) and Body of Secrets (2001).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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