Frequently Asked Question (FAQ)


The National Security Agency/Central Security Service (NSA/CSS) is a key member of the Intelligence Community and, by its very nature, requires a high degree of confidentiality. The Agency collects, processes, and disseminates intelligence information from foreign electronic signals for national foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes and to support military operations. NSA/CSS is also tasked with preventing foreign adversaries from gaining access to classified national security information. The answers to some of the most common questions about NSA/CSS can be found in the following categories:

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  1. What is cryptology?
  2. How has cryptology influenced American history?
  3. Where can I learn more about our nation's cryptologic heritage?

1. What is cryptology?

Cryptology is the art and science of making and breaking codes and ciphers. NSA is responsible for creating the systems that protect U.S. communications and for analyzing systems and communications used by foreign powers. Making a code or cipher system is called cryptography. Those who try to "break" a cryptosystem are practicing cryptanalysis.

2. How has cryptology influenced American history?

Code making and code breaking have influenced America's history. During the Civil War, both Union and Confederate soldiers sent encrypted messages and intercepted enemy communications. In 1917, British decryption of the Zimmermann Telegram helped push the United States into World War I.

Intelligence derived by solving many Japanese and German systems gave Allied forces an edge in many World War II battles - on land and at sea - arguably shortening the war and saving countless lives.

Protecting U.S. communications was likewise as important to the Allied victory in WWII as reading the enemy's messages. The Marine Corps and Army trained Native Americans in radio communications. They used their own languages and code words to confuse enemy soldiers who may have been listening. The Army and Navy also used the SIGABA, an extremely complex cipher machine, to encrypt messages. The enemy never broke the Navajo code talkers or the SIGABA code, giving the United States a clear advantage. The Cold War saw cryptology foster the development of new communications and computer technology. Today's supercomputers, encrypted cell phones, and verification systems owe some of their development to work done for the NSA/CSS.

The NSA continues to provide and protect vital information, shaping America's history and contributing to the nation's cryptologic heritage.

3. Where can I learn more about our nation's cryptologic heritage?

The National Cryptologic Museum collection contains thousands of artifacts illustrating the rich history of cryptology. The museum also has a research library with a unique collection of commercial code books, declassified NSA documents, and transcribed oral histories. The museum, adjacent to NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, is open to the public. School groups and civic organizations are welcome. Group tours may be scheduled in advance by calling 301-688-5849.

  1. Who works at the National Security Agency/Central Security Service?
  2. How do I become an NSA employee?
  3. My company can help NSA. How can I get a contract?
  4. Can NSA help my company test its systems for security or protect its information?
  5. I need to verify employment of an NSA employee. Where do I go?

 

1. Who works at the National Security Agency/Central Security Service (NSA/CSS)?

The NSA/CSS workforce comprises civilian employees and military service members-Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. A diverse array of professionals is represented including: mathematicians, civil engineers, electrical engineers, intelligence analysts, language analysts, physicists, computer scientists, researchers, security officers, data flow experts, budget analysts, contract specialists, finance managers, and many more.

2. How do I become an NSA employee?

As one of the nation's premiere intelligence agencies, NSA offers unique and challenging employment opportunities. Because we protect some of our nation's most coveted information while exploiting that of our adversaries, each NSA employee must be a loyal, trustworthy U.S. citizen and must qualify for a TOP SECRET clearance. For more about careers and the hiring process, visit the careers section of our web site and check out full-time employment opportunities or one of the many scholarship, internship, or high school work/study programs. Once you find something that fits your interests and qualifications, you can apply online.

3. My company can help NSA. How can I get a contract?

Register with the NSA Acquisition Resource Center at www.nsaarc.net to highlight your company's capabilities and identify a point of contact. For more information, visit the Doing Business With Us section.

4. Can NSA help my company test its systems for security or protect its information?

As part of our cybersecurity mission, NSA provides guidance, products, and services to protect classified and unclassified national security systems against exploitation from interception, unauthorized access, or related technical intelligence threats. If your company provides support to defense or national security, you may qualify for assistance. Check the cybersecurity section of our web site for more information.

5. I need to verify employment of an NSA employee. Where do I go?

National Security Agency has implemented a new automated Verification of Employment (VOE) process for current NSA employees.

As such, NSA will no longer accept VOE requests via fax or phone from external third party companies. Third party requests will only be accepted for previous NSA employees. Please clearly state that the employee is a previous employee in your request.

Current NSA employees must use the new streamlined tool to submit requests directly to the VOE office.

For questions call the VOE Office - 301-688-8713
The hours of operation are - 8:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.

  1. How are the activities of the NSA/CSS regulated and who monitors them?
  2. What defines the Intelligence Role of NSA/CSS?
  3. Who is considered a U.S. Person?
  4. Are U.S. persons outside of the United States afforded protection?
  5. Couldn't NSA simply ask its allies to provide them with information about U.S. persons?
  6. How does the NSA/CSS ensure its employees are aware of and abide by the regulations?
  7. How can I find out if the government has records on me?
  8. Where can I report government fraud, waste and abuse?

 

1. How are the activities of the NSA regulated and who monitors them?

The U.S. Constitution, federal law, executive order, and regulations of the Executive Branch govern NSA's activities. As a Defense Agency, NSA operates under the authority of the Department of Defense. As a member of the Intelligence Community, NSA also operates under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. NSA/CSS activities are subject to strict scrutiny and oversight both from outside and from within. External bodies such as the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), the President's Intelligence Oversight Board, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the Department of Defense, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Department of Justice help ensure that NSA adheres to U.S. laws and regulations that are applicable to the Agency's activities. Internally, the Office of the Inspector General conducts inspections, audits, and investigations to make certain that NSA/CSS operates with integrity, efficiency, and effectiveness while the Office of the General Counsel provides legal advice. The Office of Compliance ensures the Agency conforms to the standards, policies, and standards under which it operates. Most importantly, each NSA/CSS employee is charged with knowing, understanding, and obeying to the fullest the laws of the nation.

2. What defines the intelligence role of NSA?

Executive Order 12333 (EO 12333) authorizes agencies of the intelligence community to obtain reliable intelligence information, consistent with applicable Federal law and EO 12333, with full consideration of the rights of U.S. persons. Pursuant to EO 12333, NSA is authorized to collect, process, analyze, produce, and disseminate signals intelligence information and data for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes to support national and departmental missions, and to provide signals intelligence support for the conduct of military operations. The executive order, however, prohibits the collection, retention, or dissemination of information about U.S. persons except pursuant to procedures established by the head of the agency and approved by the Attorney General.

3. Who is considered a U.S. Person?

Federal law and executive order define a U.S. Person as:

  • A citizen of the United States;
  • An alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence;
  • An unincorporated association with a substantial number of members who are citizens of the U.S. or are aliens lawfully admitted for permanent residence; or,
  • A corporation that is incorporated in the U.S.

4. Are U.S. persons outside of the United States afforded protection?

Yes, the privacy rights of U.S. persons are protected regardless of their location.

5. Couldn't NSA simply ask its allies to provide them with information about U.S. persons?

NSA is prohibited from requesting an ally to undertake activities that NSA itself is prohibited from conducting.

6. How does the NSA ensure its employees are aware of and abide by the regulations?

The NSA conducts extensive training of its employees to ensure that the work force is aware of and understands the regulations governing NSA activities. The members of the NSA workforce charged with foreign intelligence production receive very specific training advising them of their responsibility to protect the privacy of U.S. persons. Access to intelligence information is contingent upon the completion of such training sessions.

7. How can I find out if the government has records on me?

Both the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Privacy Act (PA) establish procedures for individuals to seek access to government records. The FOIA is a statute that gives anyone the right to seek access to government records. Since NSA is authorized by law to collect only foreign intelligence information, we would not ordinarily expect to find intelligence information about U.S. persons. Although you may submit a FOIA request for intelligence records, because our intelligence activities are classified, we generally are unable to acknowledge whether or not we hold intelligence information on individuals. Personnel management files, however, are maintained on NSA affiliates. Typical NSA records that fall under the Privacy Act include personnel, security, training, and medical records of NSA employees, applicants, and other affiliates. These records are accessible to the person whose name or personal identifier appears on the file.

8. Where can I report government fraud, waste and abuse?

The NSA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is the agent for individual and organizational integrity within the Agency. The Inspector General has the authority to conduct inspections, audits, investigations, special inquiries, and other reviews relating to the programs or operations of NSA. This oversight authority promotes economy, effectiveness, efficiency, and accountability within the Agency; ensures compliance with laws and regulations; and assists in detecting and preventing fraud, waste, and mismanagement in NSA programs and operations.

If you observe or are aware of instances of fraud, waste, or abuse, we ask that you report your concern to the OIG Hotline. Phone: (301) 688-6327 Fax: (443) 479-5105

  1. What is Signals Intelligence
  2. How are the activities of the NSA/CSS regulated and who monitors them
  3. What Defines the Intelligence Role of NSA/CSS?
  4. Who is considered a U.S. Person?
  5. Are U.S. persons outside the United States afforded protection?
  6. Couldn't NSA simply ask its allies to provide them with information about U.S. persons?
  7. How does the NSA/CSS ensure its employees are aware of and abide by the regulations?

 

1. What is Signals Intelligence?

SIGINT involves collecting foreign intelligence from communications and information systems and providing it to customers across the U.S. government, such as senior civilian and military officials. They then use the information to help protect our troops, support our allies, fight terrorism, combat international crime and narcotics, support diplomatic negotiations, and advance many other important national objectives.

NSA collects SIGINT from various sources, including foreign communications, radar and other electronic systems. This information is frequently in foreign languages and dialects, is protected by codes and other security measures, and involves complex technical characteristics. NSA needs to collect and understand the information, interpret it, and get it to our customers in time for them to take action. Our workforce is deeply skilled in a wide range of highly technical fields that allow them to this work, and they develop and employ state-of-the-art tools and systems that are essential to success in today's fast-changing communications and information environment. Our researchers are working constantly to help us anticipate and prepare for future developments.

2. How are the activities of the NSA/CSS regulated and who monitors them?

The U.S. Constitution, federal law, executive order, and regulations of the Executive Branch govern NSA's activities. As a defense agency, NSA operates under the authority of the Department of Defense. As a member of the Intelligence Community, NSA also operates under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. NSA/CSS activities are subject to strict scrutiny and oversight both from the outside and from within. External bodies such as the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), the President's Intelligence Oversight Board, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Justice provide oversight to ensure the Agency's adherence to U.S. laws and regulations. Internally, the Office of the Inspector General conducts inspections, audits, and investigations to make certain that NSA/CSS operates with integrity, efficiency, and effectiveness, while the Office of the General Counsel provides legal advice. Most importantly, each NSA/CSS employee is charged with knowing, understanding, and obeying to the fullest the laws of the nation.

3. What Defines the intelligence role of NSA?

Executive Order 12333 (EO 12333) authorizes agencies of the Intelligence Community to obtain reliable intelligence information, consistent with applicable Federal law and EO 12333, with full consideration of the rights of U.S. persons. Pursuant to EO 12333, NSA is authorized to collect, process, analyze, produce, and disseminate Signals Intelligence information and data for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes to support national and departmental missions, and to provide signals intelligence support for the conduct of military operations. The executive order, however, prohibits the collection, retention, or dissemination of information about U.S. persons except pursuant to procedures established by the head of the agency and approved by the Attorney General.

4. Who is considered a U.S. person?

Federal law and executive order define a U.S. person as:

  • a citizen of the United States;
  • an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence;
  • an unincorporated association with a substantial number of members who are citizens of the U.S. or are aliens lawfully admitted for permanent residence; or
  • a corporation that is incorporated in the U.S.

5. Are U.S. persons outside the United States afforded protection?

Yes, the privacy rights of U.S. persons are protected regardless of their location.

6. Couldn't NSA simply ask its allies to provide them with information about U.S. persons?

No. NSA is prohibited from requesting any person to undertake activities that NSA itself is prohibited from conducting.

7. How does the NSA ensure its employees are aware of and abide by the regulations?

The NSA conducts extensive training of its employees to ensure that the workforce is aware and understands the regulations governing NSA activities. The members of the NSA workforce charged with foreign intelligence production receive very specific training advising them of their responsibility to protect the privacy of U.S. persons. Access to intelligence information is contingent upon the completion of such training sessions.