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Context of '(8:48 a.m.-9:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001: NSA Director Only Learns US Is Under Attack from TV Reports'

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NSA servers used to collect and sift data.NSA servers used to collect and sift data. [Source: FrancesFarmersRevenge.com]The National Security Agency (see 1952) begins building a massive data-mining system, code-named “Trailblazer,” that is intended to sift through reams of digital communications intercepts and find nuggets of information relevant to national security. The program’s task is huge—to sort through the 2 million bits of data the NSA collects every hour—and one made even more complex by the relatively new types of wireless, Internet, cell phone, and instant messaging communications now becoming ever more commonplace. Trailblazer is strongly embraced by General Michael Hayden, who became the NSA’s director in March 1999. Hayden recognizes from the outset that the NSA is years behind the technological curve, and casts Trailblazer as the future of the agency’s intelligence gathering and sorting. In November 1999, Hayden makes Trailblazer the centerpiece of his “100 Days of Change,” his plan to transform the agency into a leaner, more efficient organization, fast-tracking the program to vault it ahead of other initiatives. “It was going to structure us to handle the digital revolution,” a former intelligence official will recall. But from the outset the program has problems: a meeting between NSA and other government officials in December 1999 is unpromising, and, according to one government oversight official, the program “kicked off with not a real great definition of what it was trying to achieve.” Program managers fail to define standard data formats to allow for the proper sorting of information. After six years, $1.2 billion in expenditures, and endless man-hours of work, the utterly failed program will be recognized as the “biggest boondoggle… in the intelligence community” (see January 2006). [Baltimore Sun, 1/29/2006]

Entity Tags: Trailblazer, National Security Agency, Michael Hayden

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden, the director of the National Security Agency (NSA), is in his office at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, meeting with his senior staff. His executive assistant, Cindy Farkus, comes in and informs him of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. He later says, “The immediate image I had was a light plane, off course, bad flying.” He is able to see the initial CNN reports showing the WTC on a muted television in his office. Nevertheless, he continues with his meeting. Immediately after the second attack occurs, Farkus again comes into Hayden’s office to inform him of it. Saying that “One plane’s an accident, two planes is an attack,” Hayden immediately adjourns his meeting and requests that the agency’s top security officials be summoned to his office. Author James Bamford, who is an expert on the NSA, later comments that this is “not the way it was supposed to be. NSA was not supposed to find out about an airborne attack on America from CNN, after millions of other Americans had already witnessed it. It was supposed to find out first, from its own ultrasecret warning center, and then pass the information on to the White House and the strategic military forces” (see (8:48 a.m.-9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Bamford, 2004, pp. 18, 20 and 33]

Entity Tags: Cindy Farkus, National Security Agency, Michael Hayden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

At the National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, Michael Hayden, the agency’s director, orders the evacuation of all nonessential personnel from the NSA complex. His two reasons for this, he later says, are “just pure safety,” and to protect the people who work at the agency by sending “them home on the dispersal plan.” In a 2007 speech, he will state that he gave this order at 9:30 a.m. But in the account of author James Bamford, around the time Hayden gives the order he hears “some early reports about the explosion at the Pentagon.” Yet the attack on the Pentagon does not occur until 9:37 (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). The reason for this discrepancy is unclear. Hayden’s evacuation order is announced over loudspeakers throughout the NSA, and many of the 16,000 employees there leave. After hearing for sure that the Pentagon has been struck and that one or more hijacked aircraft is heading toward Washington, Hayden orders the three to four thousand remaining essential personnel to immediately evacuate the agency’s three tall towers and relocate to the low-rise Ops 1 Building. However, as Hayden later says, “[W]e really couldn’t afford to move the counterterrorism shop” where experts and linguists who track terrorists’ foreign communications work, even though it is located near the top of one of the NSA’s high-rise buildings. Maureen Baginski, the NSA’s director of signals intelligence, goes up there shortly after the time of the Pentagon attack to calm down the workers who, according to Hayden, are “emotionally shattered.” [US Congress, 10/17/2002; Bamford, 2004, pp. 52-54; National Journal, 6/19/2006; Central Intelligence Agency, 5/4/2007] At 9:53, analysts in the counterterrorism office will pick up and quickly translate a phone call from a bin Laden operative in Afghanistan, apparently referring to the attacks (see 9:53 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Michael Hayden, Maureen Baginski

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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