A long time ago, spying on US citizens got started through the NSA,
the National Security Agency. It seems like these federal agencies
just pile on on top of each other; any one of them (FBI, NSA, Homeland
Security, others) would be enough, but the deal is, whenever some
incident occurs, the government response seems to be to start a new
agency to deal with the problem.
That was the case in 1952, the height of the 'communist scare' in the
USA, and the National Security Agency was born. In this issue of the
Digest, I include for your examination the (fomerly, about 15 years
ago) secret charter for NSA. It was unsealed in 1990 and almost
immediatly printed here in TELECOM Digest. It is being reprinted here
today. Please note the reference to 'BITNET' which was discussed here
yesterday in a message from Lisa Hancock to the Digest.
Received: from CWRU.BITNET by nuacc.acns.nwu.edu; Sat, 10 Feb 90 23:12 CST
Date: Sun, 11 Feb 90 00:03 EST
Subject: FOIA Jewel: Original Charter of the National Security Agency
Resent-Date: Sun, 11 Feb 90 9:56:08 CST
At 12:01 ON the morning of November 4, 1952, a new federal
agency was born. Unlike other such bureaucratic births, however,
this one arrived in silence. No news coverage, no congressional
debate, no press announcement, not even the whisper of a rumor.
Nor could any mention of the new organization be found in the
Government Organization Manual of the Federal Register or the
Congressional Record. Equally invisible were the new agency's
director, its numerous buildings, and its ten thousand employees.
Eleven days earlier, on October 24, President Harry S Truman
scratched his signature on the bottom of a seven-page
presidential memorandum addressed to secretary of State Dean G.
Acheson and Secretary of Defense Robert A. Lovett. Classified
top secret and stamped with a code word that was itself
classified, the order directed the establishment of an agency to
be known as the National Security Agency. It was the birth
certificate for America's newest and most secret agency, so
secret in fact that only a handful in the government would be
permitted to know of its existence.
-James Bamford, The Puzzle Palace (1982) at 15.
A 20707 5/4/54/OSO
NSA TS CONTL. NO 73-00405
Oct 24 1952
MEMORANDUM FOR: The Secretary of State
The Secretary of defense
SUBJECT: Communications Intelligence Activities
The communications intelligence (COMINT) activities of the
United States are a national responsibility. They must be so
organized and managed as to exploit to the maximum the available
resources in all participating departments and agencies and to
satisfy the legitimate intelligence requirements of all such
departments and agencies.
I therefore designate the Secretaries of State and Defense
as a Special Committee of the National Security Council for
COMINT, which Committee shall, with the assistance of the
Director of Central Intelligence, establish policies governing
COMINT activities. and keep me advised of such policies through
the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council.
I further designate the Department of Defense as executive
agent of the Government, for the production of COMINT
I direct this Special Committee to prepare and issue
directives which shall include the provisions set forth below and
such other provisions as the Special Committee may determine to
1. A directive to the United States Communication
Intelligence Board (USCIB). This directive will replace the
National Security Council Intelligence Directive No. 9, and shall
prescribe USCIB's new composition, responsibilities and
procedures in the COMINT fields. This directive shall include
the following provisions.
a. USCIB shall be reconstituted as a body acting for
and under the Special Committee, and shall operate in
accordance with the provisions of the new directive. Only
those departments or agencies represented in USCIB are
authorized to engage in COMINT activities.
b. The Board shall be composed of the following
(1) The Director of Central Intelligence, who shall be
the Chairman of the Board.
(2) A representative of the Secretary of State.
(3) A representative of the Secretary of Defense
(4) A representative of the Director of the Federal
Bureau of Investigation.
(5) The Director of the National Security Agency.
(6) A representative of the Department of the Army.
(7) A representative of the Department of the Navy.
(8) A representative of the Department of the Air Force.
(9) A representative of the Central Intelligence Agency.
c. The Board shall have a staff headed by an executive
secretary who shall be appointed by the Chairman with the
approval of the majority of the Board.
d. It shall be the duty of the Board to advise and make
recommendations to the Secretary of Defense, in accordance
with the following procedure, with respect to any matter
relating to communications intelligence which falls within
the jurisdiction of the Director of the NSA.
(1) The Board shall reach its decision by majority
vote. Each member of the Board shall have one vote
except the representatives of the Secretary of State
and of the Central Intelligence Agency who shall each
have two votes. The Director of Central Intelligence,
as Chairman, will have no vote. In the event that the
Board votes and reaches a decision, any dissenting
member of the Board may appeal from such decision
within 7 days of the Special Committee. In the event
that the Board votes but fails to reach a decision, any
member of the Board may appeal within 7 days to the
Special Committee. In either event the Special
Committee shall review the matter, and its
determination thereon shall be final. Appeals by the
Director of NSA and/or the representatives of the
Military Departments shall only be filed with the
approval of the Secretary of Defense.
(2) If any matter is voted on by the Board but -
(a) no decision is reached and any member
files an appeal;
(b) a decision is reached in which the
representative of the Secretary of Defense does
not concur and files an appeal;
no action shall be taken with respect to the subject
matter until the appeal is decided, provided that, if
the Secretary of Defense determines, after consultation
with the Secretary of State, that the subject matter
presents a problem of an emergency nature and requires
immediate action, his decision shall govern, pending
the result of the appeal. In such an emergency
situation the appeal may be taken directly to the
(3) Recommendations of the Board adopted in
accordance with the foregoing procedures shall be
binding on the Secretary of Defense. Except on matter
which have been voted on by the Board, the Director of
NSA shall discharge his responsibilities in accordance
with his own judgment, subject to the direction of the
Secretary of Defense.
(4) The Director of NSA shall make such reports
and furnish such information from time to time to the
Board, either orally or in writing, as the Board my
request, and shall bring to the attention of the Board
either in such reports or otherwise any major policies
or programs in advance of their adoption by him.
e. It shall also be the duty of the Board as to
matters not falling within the jurisdiction of NSA;
(1) To coordinate the communications intelligence
activities among all departments and agencies
authorized by the President to participate therein;
(2) To initiate, to formulate policies concerning,
and subject to the provision of NSCID No. 5, to
supervise all arrangements with foreign governments in
the field of communications intelligence; and
(3) to consider and make recommendations
concerning policies relating to communications
intelligence of common interest to the departments and
agencies, including security standards and practices,
and, for this purpose, to investigate and study the
standards and practices of such departments and
agencies in utilizing and protecting COMINT
f. Any recommendation of the Board with respect to the
matters described in paragraph e above shall be binding on
all departments or agencies of the Government if it is
adopted by the unanimous vote of the members of the Board.
Recommendations approved by the majority, but not all, of
the members of the Board shall be transmitted by it to the
Special Committee for such action as the Special Committee
may see fit to take.
g. The Board will meet monthly, or oftener at the call
of the Chairman or any member, and shall determine its own
2. A directive to the Secretary of Defense. This
directive shall include the following provisions:
a. Subject to the specific provisions of this
directive, the Secretary of Defense may delegate in whole of
in part authority over the Director of NSA within his
department as he sees fit.
b. The COMINT mission of the National Security Agency
(NSA) shall be to provide an effective, unified organization
and control of the communications intelligence activities of
the United States conducted against foreign governments, to
provide for integrated operational policies and procedures
pertaining thereto. As used in this directive, the terms
"communications intelligence" or "COMINT" shall be construed
to mean all procedures and methods used in the interception
of communications other than foreign press and propaganda
broadcasts and the obtaining of information from such
communications by other than intended recipients, but shall
exclude censorship and the production and dissemination of
c. NSA shall be administered by a Director, designated
by the Secretary of Defense after consultation with the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, who shall serve for a minimum term of
4 years and who shall be eligible for reappointment. The
Director shall be a career commissioned officer of the armed
services on active or reactivated status, and shall enjoy at
least 3-star rank during the period of his incumbency.
d. Under the Secretary of Defense, and in accordance
with approved policies of USCIB, the Director of NSA shall
be responsible for accomplishing the mission of NSA. For
this purpose all COMINT collection and production resources
of the United States are placed under his operational and
technical control. When action by the Chiefs of the
operating agencies of the Services or civilian departments
or agencies is required, the Director shall normally issue
instruction pertaining to COMINT operations through them.
However, due to the unique technical character of COMINT
operations, the Director is authorized to issue direct to
any operating elements under his operational control task
assignments and pertinent instructions which are within the
capacity of such elements to accomplish. He shall also have
direct access to, and direct communication with, any
elements of the Service or civilian COMINT agencies on any
other matters of operational and technical control as may be
necessary, and he is authorized to obtain such information
and intelligence material from them as he may require. All
instruction issued by the Director under the authority
provided in this paragraph shall be mandatory, subject only
to appeal to the Secretary of Defense by the Chief of
Service or head of civilian department of agency concerned.
e. Specific responsibilities of the Director of NSA
include the following:
(1) Formulating necessary operational plans and
policies for the conduct of the U.S. COMINT activities.
(2) Conducting COMINT activities, including
research and development, as required to meet the needs
of the departments and agencies which hare authorized
to receive the products of COMINT.
(3) Determining, and submitting to appropriate
authorities, requirements for logistic support for the
conduct of COMINT activities, together with specific
recommendations as to what each of the responsible
departments and agencies of the Government should
(4) Within NSA's field of authorized operations
prescribing requisite security regulations covering
operating practices, including the transmission,
handling and distribution of COMINT material within and
among the COMINT elements under his operations or
technical control; and exercising the necessary
monitoring and supervisory control, including
inspections if necessary, to ensure compliance with the
(5) Subject to the authorities granted the
Director Central Intelligence under NSCID No. 5,
conducting all liaison on COMINT matters with foreign
governmental communications intelligence agencies.
f. To the extent he deems feasible and in consonance
with the aims of maximum over-all efficiency, economy, and
effectiveness, the Director shall centralize or consolidate
the performance of COMINT functions for which he is
responsible. It is recognized that in certain circumstances
elements of the Armed Forces and other agencies being served
will require close COMINT support. Where necessary for this
close support, direct operational control of specified
COMINT facilities and resources will be delegated by the
Director, during such periods and for such tasks as are
determined by him, to military commanders or to the Chiefs
of other agencies supported.
g. The Director shall exercise such administrative
control over COMINT activities as he deems necessary to the
effective performance of his mission. Otherwise,
administrative control of personnel and facilities will
remain with the departments and agencies providing them.
h. The Director shall make provision for participation
by representatives of each of the departments and agencies
eligible to receive COMINT products in those offices of NSA
where priorities of intercept and processing are finally
i. The Director shall have a civilian deputy whose
primary responsibility shall be to ensure the mobilization
and effective employment of the best available human and
scientific resources in the field of cryptographic research
j. Nothing in this directive shall contravene the
responsibilities of the individual departments and agencies
for the final evaluation of COMINT information, its
synthesis with information from other sources, and the
dissemination of finished intelligence to users.
3. The special nature of COMINT actives requires that they
be treated in all respects as being outside the framework of
other or general intelligence activities. Order, directives,
policies, or recommendations of any authority of the Executive
Branch relating to the collection, production, security,
handling, dissemination, or utilization of intelligence, and/or
classified material, shall not be applicable to COMINT actives,
unless specifically so stated and issued by competent
departmental of agency authority represented on the Board. Other
National Security Council Intelligence Directive to the Director
of Central Intelligence and related implementing directives
issued by the Director of Central Intelligence shall be construed
as non-applicable to COMINT activities, unless the National
Security Council has made its directive specifically applicable
/s/ HARRY S. TRUMAN
I thought you might enjoy seeing this historical document, which
was, until about 1990, itself a classified document.