JED - May 2010 - (Page 72)

book rev iew NEW NSA HISTORY PULLS BACK THE CURTAIN The Secret Sentry: The Untold History Of The National Security Agency, By Matthew M. Aid By Kernan Chaisson I 72 The Journal of Electronic Defense | May 2010 t’s a good sign when a new book on the history of the National Security Agency (NSA) prefaces section after section with “based on recently declassified documents.” This is an oft-repeated statement throughout the recently published The Secret Sentry: The Untold Story of the National Security Agency. While doing research in 2006 at the National Security Archive at George Washington University, author Matthew M. Aid discovered a massive document declassification program, which added to the two decades he’d already spent researching formerly top-secret documents. Aid also had help from the staff at the National Security Agency for Cryptologic History (CCH) and the National Archives at College Park, MD. The result was the story of the NSA from its birth in the Army through the post-9/11 era. Aid broke new ground in describing the most important source of intelligence for the US government and source of nearly 60 percent of the President’s Daily Brief. Access to new source material made it possible to create a more detailed history of the ultra-secretive agency than previous books have. Not only does he tell the NSA story, he tells it in the agency’s own words. A valuable part of the history is the extensive, detailed notes in the back – at 94 pages, they make up nearly one quarter of the book. Aid begins with historians noting that the initial stages of the Cold War “began well before the end of World War II, with the United States emerging as an atomic super power.” He takes the reader through those early times, detailing the Army’s Signals Security Agency (SSA) and how its world war experiences morphed into what would eventually become the NSA. He tells how the rapid post-war demobilization took a toll on America’s signals intelligence capability. Using the newly declassified memos and documents, the author traces a climb from what was called “Black Friday”, October 20, 1948, when “the newly independent US Air Force formally activated the US Air Force Security Service (USAFSS), responsible for COMINT coverage of the entire Soviet air force and air defense system. (But) Washington was slow to provide the necessary resources that the COMINT organization so desperately needed.” The book then tracks SIGINT, COMINT and cryptography’s travails until, on May 20, 1949, the Armed Forces Security Agency (AFSA) “was given the responsibility for the direction and control of all non-tactical COMINT and security activities. Fatally fl awed from the start, AFSA” appeared set up for failure should a confl ict break out; and on Sunday, June 25, 1950, that is exactly what happened. What follows is a journey in operational detail through the Korean War, from the shaky beginnings to how SIGINT and COMINT matured as a tactical combat tool. But it was not all smooth sailing, and when China entered the confl ict there was a significant amount of intelligence data that had been gathered, “but it was ignored or discounted because it ran contrary to the prevailing wisdom of the US Intelligence community,” something that rings sadly familiar today. The story continued until on October 24, 1952, when, at a morning meeting at the White House, President Harry Truman signed an eight-page directive making SIGINT a national responsibility and designating the secretary of defense as the executive agent for all SIGINT activities. In that ten-minute meeting the NSA was born. The Eisenhower years and the Vietnam era were filled with ups and downs for the agency, with its history richly illustrated with the uncovered memos of the various directors and leaders. The end of the book discusses the period from Operation Desert Storm to today’s combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the War on Terror. Aid is able to bring some new additions to the story. This includes the problems created for the overworked and under-resourced organization in recent years, troubles to be faced and questions to be answered. He titles the chapter covering from 9/11 through the invasion of Afghanistan “Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory,” and closes with one retired NSA official saying, “I guess we are going to have to go back to the ‘bad old days’ of doing more with less. It was a great ride while it lasted.” The Secret Sentry: The Untold History of the National Security Agency, by Matthew M. Aid is published by Bloomsbury Press, New York, ISBN 978-1-59691-515-2. a

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of JED - May 2010

JED - May 2010
The View From Here
From the President
The Monitor
Washington Report
World Report
European EW
The Future for Airborne Expendables
Protecting Low-Cost and Non-Traditional Platforms
Technology Survey: Missile Warning Systems
New Products
EW 101
Book Review
AOC News
JED Sales Offices
Index of Advertisers
JED Quick Look

JED - May 2010