WASHINGTON—The National Security Agency, long referred to as "No Such Agency" for the secrecy that surrounds it, is the country's top cryptographic (code-making and code-breaking) and signals-intelligence organization. "Signals" can mean phone calls, e-mail or cyber-communications.
Its mission is to collect foreign communications and analyze them for the government and the intelligence community. The NSA also provides the U.S. government and military with secure communications so that information can be exchanged without the fear of eavesdropping or hacking. It conducts research and development in chip manufacturing and other computer-related operations.
The NSA is one of the largest components of the U.S. intelligence system. It reportedly employs more than 35,000 workers, both military and civilian, in such jobs as computer scientists, code breakers, mathematicians, linguists and intelligence analysts. The agency doesn't publicly disclose the size of its work force or its budget. Its headquarters is at Fort Meade, Md., between Washington and Baltimore.
The military started the NSA in 1952. Its existence wasn't disclosed to the public until congressional intelligence hearings in the 1970s.
Sources: NSA.gov, Congressional Research Service
_ Compiled by researcher Tish Wells
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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