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[ISN] Crypto City Lifts the Drawbridge
From: InfoSec News (isnC4I.ORG)
Date: Sun Apr 29 2001 - 21:19:00 CDT
By Vernon Loeb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 28, 2001; Page C01
Seated in the lobby of the National Cryptologic Museum, between a
German Enigma machine and a KGB mannequin, James Bamford couldn't have
picked a more perfect place to sign copies of his new spy book, "Body
But the amazing thing about Bamford's book party yesterday at the
National Security Agency's official historic shrine was the fact that
he was there at all.
Two decades ago, when Bamford was writing his groundbreaking first
book on the super-secret NSA, the Reagan administration threatened to
prosecute him for espionage if he did not return sensitive documents
he had obtained.
Bamford refused, the administration backed off, and "The Puzzle
Palace" became a huge bestseller at a time most Americans had never
even heard of the NSA, jokingly referred to as "No Such Agency" by the
spooks who lived by a strict NSA code -- never say anything. Little
wonder Bamford was a big-time persona non grata at the NSA.
How times have changed.
A long line of NSA employees stretched at noontime from the
book-signing table to the museum's parking lot at Fort Meade, the
agency's sprawling home halfway between Washington and Baltimore. They
apparently were unconcerned whether their security-minded bosses
inside the agency's black-glass headquarters would find out that they
were consorting with a muckraker.
Bamford, 54, a lawyer and former Washington-based investigative
producer at ABC News, brought 156 copies of "Body of Secrets" with him
and sold them in less than an hour. He was still there signing at 4
p.m., three hours after the event was supposed to end.
"I'm absolutely amazed," he said, "and a lot of people brought both
'Body of Secrets' and 'The Puzzle Palace,' which was nice."
The biggest change by far at NSA, after the end of the Cold War and
the advent of the telecommunications revolution, was the arrival two
years ago of a new director, Michael V. Hayden, a cerebral three-star
Air Force general.
Hayden realized early on that he had to begin creating a public
persona for the agency if he ever hoped to recruit computing talent
and allay growing civil liberties concerns at home and in Europe --
specifically that the agency was abusing a vast network of spy
satellites and listening stations, a network capable of intercepting
billions of phone calls, faxes and e-mails.
Indeed, Hayden knew he had to convince the American people that NSA
wasn't violating civil liberties before Hollywood convinced them it
was. He'd seen "Enemy of the State," the popular Will Smith thriller
that portrayed the agency as a vast and secret empire run by high-tech
So Bamford's book party was but the latest manifestation of Hayden's
thaw at Crypto City.
"Hayden is the first director in a long time -- maybe the first
director ever -- to understand the difference between excessive
secrecy and realistic secrecy," Bamford said yesterday in an
interview. "He is also the first director to understand that the NSA
is not leading the technological revolution or the computer revolution
anymore -- it's treading water. There had to be some radical changes,
and he's the first to make radical changes, which isn't making
One former agency official who isn't the least bit happy about
Bamford's officially sanctioned book party is Mike Levin, who retired
in 1993 as chief of information security. Even before reading
Bamford's new book, Levin considers him a threat to national security.
"Bamford really spit in our face with 'The Puzzle Palace,' " Levin
complained earlier this week, "and Mike Hayden is turning the other
But Bamford, a nattily dressed, mustachioed man with silver hair and a
quiet demeanor, seemed anything but an NSA antagonist as he
autographed books and chatted with all comers, undoubtedly searching
for new insights into a world -- still highly secretive -- that he has
managed to penetrate through years of dogged research.
"Ninety percent of the book is very favorable to NSA," Bamford told a
packed conference room at the Cryptologic Museum before taking his
seat in the lobby and uncapping his pen. "It shows the great things
NSA has done over the years."
Tales of great success, of course, can be as damaging as tales of woe
if they reveal to foreign adversaries how the agency performs its
magic. Even with the thaw, Hayden and company remain obsessed with
protecting "sources and methods." But with "Body of Secrets" in
bookstores over the past two weeks, the agency doesn't seem overly
concerned about any damage that may have been done.
"Does it look like it's an assault on national security? I haven't
read enough of it to determine that, but the parts I've read appear
pretty interesting," said Judith A. Emmel, NSA's director of public
With "The Puzzle Palace," published in 1982, Bamford earned a lasting
place among contemporary nonfiction authors for his ability to
penetrate a world that truly was "super-secret."
He hunted down NSA retirees, exploited a loophole in the Freedom of
Information Act that enabled him to obtain 6,000 pages of internal NSA
newsletters, and refused to relinquish to the Reagan administration
top-secret Justice Department reports on illegal domestic spy
operations by NSA in the 1970s.
"Body of Secrets" builds on that impressive body of work and will
surely enhance Bamford's reputation. In the 719-page book, Bamford
reveals how U.S. and British officials unearthed a giant German
code-breaking machine immediately after World War II and, with the
help of German cryptographers they found in prisoner of war camps,
used it to break Soviet codes until 1948.
He also tells how the United States gathered 700 pieces of
sophisticated code-breaking equipment in a warehouse at Ton San Nhut
air base at the end of the Vietnam War -- only to abandon them in the
chaotic fall of Saigon. All of the machines, Bamford writes,
presumably ended up in Soviet hands.
But some of his most intriguing material deals with the NSA of today.
"Crypto City," Bamford writes, "is home to the largest collection of
hyperpowerful computers, advanced mathematicians and language experts
on the planet. Within the fence, time is measured by the femtosecond
-- one million billionth of a second -- and scientists work in secret
to develop computers capable of performing more than one septillion
(1,000,000,000000,000,000,000,000) operations every second."
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