[Cryptography] Happy birthday, NSA!

Bob Wilson wilson at math.wisc.edu
Fri Nov 4 12:18:49 EDT 2016

> On Fri, Nov 04, 2016 at 07:49:57AM +1100, Dave Horsfall wrote:
>> The NSA (No Such Agency) was created by presidential decree back in 1952;
>> it was so secret that even its name was a secret.  And thank you, Mr
>> Snowden, for telling the world what they were really doing...

How many of us remember when the agency "came out" from having its 
existence and name secret? At national meetings, e.g. the American 
Mathematical Society's annual national meeting, where we wore name tags, 
the ones just identifying place of work as "Defense Department" were a 
giveaway that someone worked for the agency. Then one year there was an 
invited talk at the national AMS/MAA joint meeting by the agency's 
director of mathematical research (I am sorry that I cannot remember his 
name, it was a notable event!) titled "The Agency That Came In Out of 
The Cold".

But the window into what was happening inside the agency was still small 
and cloudy... Nowadays existence is well known, uniqueness is not so 
well known, and the window is still pretty limited. But I have been 
astounded by the widespread reaction to Snowden's release of 
information, where people who have been working in computing for decades 
said they were surprised. From decades ago I can remember discussions 
where we were sure that (a) whatever was the most powerful computing in 
the world, at least a sample of it was located in Fort Meade, and (b) if 
"they" wanted to read anything you had stored or transmitted as bits 
they would surely be able to.
Bob Wilson
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