The information America's leaders and warfighters depend on from NSA/CSS is called foreign Signals Intelligence (SIGINT). NSA/CSS uses modern technology to gather and intercept signals from foreign communications systems. The signals can be a speaker's voice carried over radio waves, or it can be pulses of electricity, flashes of light, symbols on a flag or a sign, puffs of smoke, or bursts of electromagnetic waves. For protection, the signals are often encrypted (or encoded) which makes the messages very difficult to read or understand unless you know the code. The trick is to take those signals, break the codes, translate the information, and to try to figure out what it all really means. For example, a message that says that a country has five eagles leaving nest port at high tide doesn't mean much unless you have some other information to go with it. Could the eagles mean airplanes? Is the nest a military installation? Is this country at war? Where are the eagles going? Was this expected or a surprise? These are just a few of the questions that need to be answered before you can figure out the true meaning of the message. Deciding how important this information is and how it might affect world events is what turns information into Intelligence.
Most encryption systems today are extremely complex, but you can learn how to use mathematics and logic to break a secret code by visiting the Codes &Ciphers section.
Signals Intelligence (codebreaking) is like getting inside the enemy's huddle and listening to the game plan before or during the game. Having this critical information gives U.S. leaders and warfighters have an advantage over those people who might want to hurt the United States. Having the information in time to make a difference has saved countless lives. To learn more about NSA/CSS' Signals Intelligence mission, click here.