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February 17, 2011
Historical Study of the NSA Scientific Advisory Board
Recently declassified: "Historical Study: The National Security Agency Scientific Advisory Board 1952–1963."
Posted on February 17, 2011 at 8:38 AM
• 6 Comments
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Looks interesting, but I don't really know what I'm reading. Perhaps some friendly NSA history buff will explain the significance of this document?
1. NSA in 1950s-60s were concerned with HR and personnel much like any other technology company today. They realized it would be hard to get the best people if they would become "cloistered".
2. They were able to hire people who weren't initially US citizens and had spent significant time out of the country. My understanding is that these people would have trouble getting security clearances today.
3. They knew they needed computers that were as fast as possible and wanted to encourage technology development. Yet they clearly preferred off-the-shelf solutions and considered custom hardware almost a last resort.
4. They were focused on signals/communications intelligence in order to warn of an impending attack on the US.
5. They do not appear the least bit concerned with the "communist threat". I don't see any of the hysterical ideology which pervaded politics at the time. Either they knew it was BS, they carefully stayed out of internal politics, or both.
My favorite bit captures the birth of the field of modern software development:
"Someone should look into programming techniques in advance of thinking what the Agency would get out of it."
Believe ne, very interesting if one was part of COMINT in the early sixties. I was just an intercept level grunt but was fully aware of being part of a "retention study". In fact, USAFSS was quite up front about the problem.
I was also lucky enough to be part of projects atttempting to apply new technologies to 1st eschelon (near-real-time in 21st centurese) analisys/reporting methods. Got to play with some neat toys (for the time).
Now to get beyond the warm fuzzy nostalgia trip. (I'm smirking smugly now 'cause I can possibly guess what's in a couple of the redacts).
What I found really interesting was the historical picture painted. Agencies, NSA was not alone in this, sure in the knowledge that changes were coming more rapidly than current technology could handle and equally sure that current R&D mgt. methodology could not accomplish or accomodate the rapid technology changes necessary. The level-headed way these guys seemingly approached their greatest challenge, bureaucracy, is heartening, especially given the times (as in your note 5).
Oh, 1 more thought
... and not only heartening, but possible a good object lesson for those of us trembling in our boots about the cyber and 'social security' changes looming ...
Oh, its RSA week. That's why all the posts are "soft". :-P
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