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Context of '1999: Joint CIA-NSA Project Taps into Al-Qaeda’s Tactical Radios'

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1952: NSA Founded

The National Security Agency (NSA) is founded. It is the successor to the State Department’s “Black Chamber” and other military code-breaking and eavesdropping operations dating back to the earliest days of telegraph and telephone communications. It will eventually become the largest of all US intelligence agencies, with over 30,000 employees at its Fort Meade, Maryland, headquarters. It focuses on electronic surveillance, operating a large network of satellites and listening devices around the globe. More even than the CIA, the NSA is the most secretive of US intelligence organizations, [New York Times, 12/16/2005] The agency will remain little known by the general public until the release of the 1998 film Enemy of the State, which will portray the NSA as an evil “Big Brother” agency spying on Americans as a matter of course. [CNN, 3/31/2001] After it is disclosed during the 1970s that the NSA spied on political dissenters and civil rights protesters, the NSA will be restricted to operating strictly overseas, and will be prohibited from monitoring US citizens within US borders without special court orders. [New York Times, 12/16/2005]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A joint project team run by the CIA and NSA slips into Afghanistan and places listening devices within range of al-Qaeda’s tactical radios. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Charles Allen.Charles Allen. [Source: Chertoff Group]The CIA sets up a secure line to the White House, but because the line is kept constantly connected to the White House, the CIA will be unable to receive the latest information about the terrorist attacks from the National Security Agency (NSA) over it. [Coll, 2018, pp. 32] At around 10:00 a.m., personnel at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, were ordered to evacuate. Consequently, the agency’s senior leaders left the headquarters building and headed across the campus to the CIA printing plant, where they could continue their operations (see (9:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Tenet, 2007, pp. 164; Whittle, 2014, pp. 236] When CIA Director George Tenet and other senior officials reach the printing plant, a technician sets up a secure terminal equipment (STE) line to the White House for them to use. Tenet then talks to Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser, who is at the White House. During their conversation, Hadley insists that Tenet keep the STE line open to the White House continuously. However, this hinders the ability of the NSA to communicate with the CIA. NSA Director Michael Hayden wants to send the CIA preliminary evidence that al-Qaeda is responsible for the attacks on the US. [Coll, 2018, pp. 32] Presumably this includes details of a phone conversation between one of Osama bin Laden’s operatives in Afghanistan and someone in the Republic of Georgia that was intercepted at 9:53 a.m., in which the operative said he had “heard good news” and another target was still to come (see 9:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). [CBS News, 9/4/2002] But because the STE line is occupied, Charles Allen, assistant director of central intelligence for collection, who is with Tenet at the printing plant, is unable to securely receive the latest intercept reports from the NSA about who might be responsible for the attacks. He consequently has to send an NSA liaison officer to the headquarters building to collect these reports from a secure fax machine there. [Coll, 2018, pp. 32]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Hayden, Charles E. Allen, Stephen J. Hadley, White House, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Retired Lieutenant General Brent Scowcroft leads a presidential panel which proposes that control of the National Security Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency be transferred from the Department of Defense to the head of the CIA, the director of central intelligence (DCI). The plan is favored by the Congressional 9/11 joint inquiry but opposed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney. For years experts have argued that the US intelligence community’s 13 disparate agencies—“85 percent of whose assets reside in the Defense Department”—should be consolidated under the head of the CIA. [US News and World Report, 8/12/2002; Washington Post, 8/19/2004]
Intelligence Community Still Focused on Cold War Needs, Scowcroft Finds - Scowcroft, the head of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and a close friend and confidant of former President George H. W. Bush, actually revises a report he began before the 9/11 attacks. The report concludes that the US intelligence apparatus had been designed to meet the needs of the Cold War era and should now be overhauled. The 9/11 attacks are evidence of this, Scowcroft believes. The attacks came from rogue Islamist terrorists, not a superpower like China or the old USSR.
Opposition from Rumsfeld, Cheney - But, as Ron Suskind will write in his 2006 book The One Percent Doctrine, Rumsfeld is “strongly opposed” to Scowcroft’s idea, presumably because, by transferring control of the NSA from the Pentagon to the CIA, it would take power away from him. Scowcroft approaches Cheney with the dilemma. Scowcroft is well aware of Cheney and Rumsfeld’s long political partnership, and gives Cheney an easy out. If his proposals are overly “disruptive,” Scowcroft says, “I’ll just fold my tent and go away. I don’t want to… but I’ll be guided by you.” Cheney now has a choice. Knowing this is a battle Scowcroft will not win, he can either call Scowcroft off now and defuse a potential political conflict within the administration, or, in author Craig Unger’s words, he can “send Scowcroft off on a fool’s errand, pitting Bush 41’s close friend, as Suskind noted, against Bush 43’s cabinet secretary [Rumsfeld], who just happened to be Bush 41’s lifelong nemesis (see September 21, 1974 and After). Cheney chose the latter.” Cheney tells Scowcroft to “go ahead, submit the report to the president.” He knows President Bush will listen to Cheney and Rumsfeld’s advice and ignore the report. Unger later notes, “Scowcroft had once been Cheney’s mentor, his patron. Now the vice president was just humoring him.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 225-226]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, Ron Suskind, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, National Imagery and Mapping Agency, Issuetsdeah, Central Intelligence Agency, Brent Scowcroft, Craig Unger, Donald Rumsfeld, George Herbert Walker Bush

Timeline Tags: US Military

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