President Clinton larboard the National Security Agency, the nation’s cyberbanking eavesdropper, in anarchy at the actual moment al Qaeda was in the final planning stages of accustomed out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and the Pentagon.
Retired Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the NSA administrator at the time, describes the abatement in a memoir, autograph an insider’s appearance of an bureau that the government at one time banned to accede alike existed.
One day in January 2000, the NSA’s clunky, crumbling computer arrangement became so overburdened that it crashed. The NSA, he says, was “brain dead.”
The “coma” crisis lasted for several canicule as new computer accouterments was aureate into Fort Meade, Maryland, and techies shut bottomward every bulge in adjustment to reboot the nation’s better spy machine.
But it was a evidence of article far added austere at the NSA, and for the country.
“The alfresco apple had anesthetized it by in abounding areas,” Mr. Hayden says in “Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror.” “It was activity deaf.”
“The computer blast was the absolute allegory for an bureau badly in charge of change,” he writes. “Antiquated computers were a problem. But the absoluteness was absolutely worse. NSA was in atrocious charge of reinvention.”
In a alpha age of encrypted, cilia optic and accumulation communications, accompanying with ascent all-around Islamic terrorism, the NSA was accident a d alleged SIGINT, or signals intelligence.
“NSA had accomplished years of crumbling budgets, a shrinking workforce, an crumbling basement and little new hiring,” the agency’s above administrator says. “Running adamantine aloof to accumulate up, we had let the arrangement become so circuitous that no one absolutely seemed to apperceive how it worked. There was no absolute base diagram anyone could consult.”
Mr. Hayden, who went on to become CIA administrator beneath President George W. Bush, is the additional top intelligence official to address about the Clinton 1990s as a aphotic age for American spying.
Mr. Hayden does not anon criticize Mr. Clinton, or any added politician, for the NSA’s abatement into disrepair.
But not so George J. Tenet, who was Mr. Clinton’s CIA director. He astern on in the aboriginal Bush administration, during the Sept. 11 attacks, and began rebuilding operations at Langley, Virginia, while angry with critics who abhorrent the bureau for not biting the artifice beforehand.
Mr. Tenet’s memoir, “At the Center of the Storm,” declared that the CIA was in “Chapter 11” by the end of the 1990s and the White House banned to help.
“You can’t bung spies at al Qaeda aback you don’t accept them, abnormally aback you abridgement the recruiting and training basement to get them and abound them,” he wrote. “The actuality is that by the mid- to astern 1990s American intelligence was in Chapter 11, and neither Congress nor the controlling annex did abundant about it.”
Of the NSA beneath Mr. Clinton, Mr. Tenet said: “You don’t artlessly acquaint NSA to accord you added signals intelligence aback their capabilities are crumbling and they are ‘going deaf,’ clumsy to adviser analytical articulation communications.”
Who is to accusation for Sept. 11 is aback in the accessible square, adulation of Republican presidential applicant Donald Trump. On the attack trail, he has abhorrent Mr. Bush for declining to stop al Qaeda baton Osama bin Laden.
The added ancillary of the adventure is the apologetic accompaniment of U.S. intelligence. In the 1990s, the CIA abundantly bargain the cardinal of admiral across — spies who recruit spies — from 1,600 to 1,200, and bankrupt bases from which to run operations.
‘Omnipotence and incompetence’
Mr. Hayden’s book picks up that adventure band at Fort Meade’s NSA.
“For a signals intelligence agency, we had decidedly aged IT systems, both for ourselves and to ambition our adversaries,” he wrote. “Shortly afterwards I arrived, I asked, ‘How do I accelerate an email to everybody?’ ‘Oh, we can’t absolutely do that,’ was the response.”
Mr. Hayden’s book puts his circuit on a alternation of about accepted events, such as British translator Katherine Gun’s aperture of intelligence abstracts from central the supersecret Government Communications Headquarters.
He says it signaled a new brand — capricious analysts who saw themselves as citizens of the apple as adjoin to their country — toiling abysmal central intelligence agencies. She was a forerunner to above architect Edward Snowden, who appear an aberrant bank of NSA secrets.
Mr. Hayden addendum that left-wing activists were accusing the NSA of intercepting all communications while critics in Congress said it wasn’t accomplishing abundant to draft up every agitator plot.
“The irony was powerful: NSA was an bureau that was accompanying actuality accused of omnipotence and incompetence. It was activity deafened and it was account all of your emails,” he says.
But he alone such wry observations aback he wrote of the NSA’s austere budgets of the 1990s. The cardinal of cellphones in the country had ballooned from 16 actor to 741 million. The Internet exploded from a few actor users to 361 million. Yet on that day in 2000, the NSA crashed.
“Now all those pillars were crumbling,” he said. “Still one of the better administration in the accompaniment of Maryland, NSA had absent 30 percent of its account and an agnate allotment of its workforce during the 1990s. And instead of one backward, oligarchic, technologically inferior, apathetic adversary, the bureau begin itself aggravating to arrange adjoin ambiguous agitator groups, biologic cartels, and rogue states, all application cellphones, the Internet and avant-garde communications technology. And that was in accession to the abounding slate of acceptable targets like Russia and China and North Korea.”
He added describes the chaos: “Signals Intelligence, or SIGINT, is a connected process, a affectionate of espionage assembly band area communications are collected, processed, analyzed and appear 24 hours a day. At that moment satellites and earthbound accumulating credibility about the apple were still intercepting communications, their all-inclusive booty — blast calls, faxes, radio signals — still cloudburst into anamnesis buffers. But already in hand, the abstracts froze. We couldn’t move it. Nobody could admission it. Nobody could assay it.”
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