[ISN] Terrorism Fight Prods NSA to Look Beyond Its Fortress
isn at c4i.org
Tue Jan 4 06:32:33 EST 2005
By Christian Davenport
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 3, 2005
Nicknamed "No Such Agency" and "Never Say Anything" for its legendary
secrecy, the National Security Agency conceals its headquarters behind
tall fences topped with barbed wire. Its employees are in the business
of breaking codes, eavesdropping and guarding secrets. And its
normally reticent leaders rarely call attention to themselves outside
the agency's sprawling campus.
So it was an extraordinary event when some of the agency's top
officials emerged in Annapolis about a year ago at the opening of a
business center dedicated to helping start-up homeland security
Their message was also extraordinary: The NSA needs help fighting the
war against global terrorism.
"I'm looking for new ideas," said Daniel G. Wolf, the NSA's
information assurance director. "We want to hear what you have."
In November, the agency announced that it would pump $445,000 into the
center, whose companies are at the vanguard of security technology:
finding cures for bioterrorism diseases, protecting computer networks
from hackers, developing software designed to find terrorists.
As the intelligence industry continues to expand since the Sept. 11,
2001, attacks, the clandestine agency is playing a more prominent --
and visible -- role in the Washington region. With plans to hire 7,500
new employees over five years, the NSA, already Anne Arundel County's
largest employer, is undergoing its largest recruiting drive since the
The agency is also increasingly opening its doors to private companies
for help in developing spy technologies.
The business center in Annapolis is just one example of how the
burgeoning intelligence industry is affecting the region. Highly
secure office parks that house defense contractors have sprouted up
near the agency's headquarters and nearby Baltimore-Washington
International Airport. In Greenbelt, a headhunting agency that serves
only clients with security clearances is seeing double-digit growth
Home to the Pentagon, CIA, FBI and NSA, the Washington area has long
been a place where the intentionally vague phrase "I work for the
government" has been code for one of the security agencies. But now,
an increasing number of people demur when asked what they do for a
"I'm a contractor for the Department of Defense, doing computer
stuff," is how Jason, 31, of Annapolis answers. It's the computer
stuff he hopes people focus on, because then they "think I'm an IT
guy." And nothing ends a conversation faster than the words
information technology, said Jason, who spoke only on the condition
that his last name not be used.
Copious Security Features
>From the outside, the National Business Park, next to the NSA and Fort
Meade, seems like an ordinary set of modern office buildings, just
like the corporate parks all around Washington. But there is nothing
ordinary about it.
Built to exacting government security standards with a uniform concern
-- protecting the technology designed to help intelligence agencies
catch terrorists -- the buildings are part of a growing breed of
highly secure commercial complexes with cloak-and-dagger amenities.
Known as SCIFs -- sensitive compartmented information facilities --
they often have film on the windows to prevent eavesdropping, walls
fitted with soundproof steel plates or white-noise makers embedded in
the ceiling that prevent spy bugs from picking up top-secret
conversations, according to developers and construction officials.
Some even have a lattice of metal bars in the air ducts to keep out
The buildings at the National Business Park are loaded with SCIF
space, said Randall M. Griffin, president and chief operating officer
of Corporate Office Properties, which owns the site. But he would not
discuss their specific security measures.
Demand for secured office space has grown so much that all the park's
1.7 million square feet is leased, to such defense contracting giants
as Northrop Grumman Corp., Computer Sciences Corp., Titan and Booz
Allen Hamilton Inc. Construction of a second phase of the park, which
would add 10 buildings comprising 1.3 million square feet, is
During an event at the Maryland State House last summer, in which it
was announced that the NSA would be working more closely with state
and local governments, NSA officials again stepped out in public view.
And again they said they needed to tap into local companies for help.
"It's growing out of an awareness that we can't solve all of our
problems" alone, Eric C. Haseltine, the agency's associate director of
research, told reporters.
Intelligence spending has mushroomed in the years since Sept. 11.
Previously, intelligence spending hovered around $30 billion a year,
said John E. Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, an intelligence
policy think tank. Since then, it's grown to about $40 billion
annually, he said.
Hoping to cash in on the growth, Anne Arundel helped start the
Chesapeake Innovation Center, the country's first incubator that works
exclusively with new homeland security companies.
Walking into the center, in a squat brick building near downtown
Annapolis, is a little like entering Q's laboratory in James Bond's
In one office, researchers for PharmAthene are working on vaccines for
diseases that could spread during a bioterrorism attack, including
Three flights up, Secure Processing Inc. is developing methods for
businesses to keep their computer networks safe from insiders. You
never know when someone posing as a loyal employee may try to steal
important secrets, said Terence Flyntz, the company's chief executive.
"We're talking about disgruntled employees, potential spies, even
terrorists who could embed themselves and pretend they are something
else," he said.
"They could pose even as janitors," he added.
Another company, Harbinger Associates, has developed software that can
take an Arabic name, run through all its English spellings and match
them against a watch list. Because Arabic names are often spelled many
different ways in English, the person for whom authorities are looking
can often slip by, according to the company.
The software is almost complete, and Harbinger officials hope their
product will soon be used behind the guarded walls of the NSA.
'Cleared' and Taking Off
He's a high-tech wiz, which makes him marketable enough. But it's his
top-level security clearance that makes him such a hot commodity.
He's so sought after that he doesn't even have to hold down a steady
job in one place. Instead, Derek, who would not provide his last name
for security reasons, does freelance information technology work for
the government and private companies looking for someone trusted to
keep secrets. Derek, 34, earns about $170,000 a year, jumping from
project to project.
And whenever he needs a new gig, he goes to Kelly FedSecure, a
Greenbelt-based personnel firm that works exclusively with "cleared"
Richard Piske and business partner Gary Morris noticed the growing
demand for workers qualified to work on classified projects. Two
months after the Sept. 11 attacks, they founded a headhunting company
and temporary agency for people with clearance. In 2003, the company
was purchased by Kelly Services Inc., one of the largest personnel
service companies in the country. And over the past year, Kelly
FedSecure has had double-digit growth from month to month, Piske said.
"The overall demand for cleared people . . . is up significantly since
9/11," he said. "And the forecasted demand is not projected to abate
for the foreseeable future."
Pat Hiban, a Columbia real estate broker, knew only that his former
neighbors worked for the NSA. Every so often, an investigator he
assumed was an FBI agent would knock on his door. Polite but
persistent, the investigator would say he was updating background
checks on Hiban's neighbors.
"Have they done anything you'd think would be unpatriotic?" Hiban said
the investigator would ask.
Even after those visits, Hiban never pressed his neighbors for more
detail about their lives. They simply were like a lot of people he
meets, through business or the neighborhood, who quickly change the
subject when employment comes up.
"You get used to it around here," he said. "It happens pretty
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