NSA Budget Doc Reveals Investment in Crypto Breaking, Hacking

New documents leaked by Edward Snowden quantify the resources supporting an extensive intelligence community crypto-cracking program.

New documents leaked by Edward Snowden quantify the resources supporting an extensive intelligence community crypto-cracking program.

Tens of thousands of people and billions of dollars are behind the Consolidated Cryptologic Program, as reported yesterday by The Washington Post. Signals intelligence, otherwise known as SIGINT, remains one of the best-funded initiatives according to the document handed over by the whistleblower Snowden, currently in asylum in Russia. The Post published portions of the 178-page top-secret budget justification document for the fiscal 2013 National Intelligence Program; this the first time such a report has been made public.

The budget was a whopping $52.6 billion, according to the document, which also lays out some of the offensive cyber objectives the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency have established. The Post, however, said it withheld most of the details of such operations after consulting with government officials concerned about protecting its intelligence sources and methods.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper wrote the opening statement for the document, which is dated February 2012. In it, Clapper said signals intelligence and cybersecurity were two areas where investments were increasing.

“We are bolstering our support for clandestine SIGINT capabilities to collect against high priority targets, including foreign leadership targets,” Clapper wrote. “Also, we are investing in groundbreaking cryptanalytic capabilities to defeat adversarial cryptography and exploit Internet traffic.”

The Post said the document indicates 35,000 code-breakers from the NSA, and the four branches of the armed services are part of the Consolidated Cryptologic Program. In addition, to support not only hacking and code breaking, the NSA said it was devoting close to $50 million to deal with increasing storage costs associated with data collection activities under Section 215 of the Patriot Act and the PRISM program. The Post story also said the CIA devotes more than 11 percent of its budget and almost $2 billion to “technical collection” and referred to joint project with the NSA called CLANSIG, purportedly an initiative central to foreign radio and telephone communication interception.

This is just the latest in a string of top-secret documents Snowden has handed over to major media entities since the first leaks were published in June by the Guardian UK newspaper. This also isn’t Snowden’s first intel drop related to encryption capabilities.

In late June, 2009 documents released by the Guardian outline NSA policy on the retention of data, including encrypted communication. Even messages collected by chance and without a warrant may be held as long as it takes for analysts to decrypt them, the documents said. Also, users of Tor and other online proxy-based anonymity services were put on notice that communication between people whose location is unknown is considered communication between non-U.S. citizens and can be retained.

The documents outlined policy on how the NSA handles data and communication pertaining to forein intelligence matters and what to do with data inadvertently collected.

The documents say that inadvertent communications must be destroyed within five years of acquisition and upon determination that no foreign intelligence information is contained. It stipulates, however, that electronic communication may be retained longer while under cryptanalysis.

“In the context of a cryptanalytic effort, maintenance of technical databases requires retention of all communications that are enciphered or reasonably believed to contain secret meaning, and sufficient duration may consist of any period of time during which encrypted material is subject to, or of use in, cryptanalysis,” the document said.

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