NSA’s Central Security Service

©2002 Keith P. Clive



This article is part of a larger article that appeared in the April 2002 issue of the U.S. Military Academy’s Cryptologia. A brief biography of the current CSS Deputy Chief and a very brief history about CSS itself is also provided. A number of references are made to James Bamford’s two books: Body of Secrets (May 2001) and The Puzzle Palace (1982). My intention is not to nit-pick his works. Rather, I simply wish to clarify points that readers may find confusing, especially since he is the world’s leading authority on NSA. I not only admire Bamford’s investigative journalism, but also strive toward the very high standard that he has set.


National Security Agency; NSA; Central Security Service; CSS; Service Cryptological Agencies; SCA; Service Cryptologic Elements; Air Force Major General Tiiu Kera; Kera; Air Force Lieutenant Kenneth A. Minihan; Minihan; Communications Security Establishment; CSE; Canadian Forces Supplementary Radio System; CFSRS; SRS; Canadian Forces Information Operations Group; CFIOG; James Bamford; Bamford; Naval Security Group; NSG; NSGC


The National Security Agency (NSA) incorporates a subagency, the Central Security Service (CSS). Its staff numbers 25,000, almost half the 45,000 reported in V. James Bamford’s 1982 book, The Puzzle Palace. According to NSA’s Web site:

The Central Security Service was established by Presidential Directive in 1972 to promote full partnership between the NSA and the cryptologic elements of the Armed Forces. By combining NSA and CSS, we are able to provide a more unified Department of Defense (DoD) cryptologic effort. The CSS comprises all U.S. military services—Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. To further ensure joint operations, the Director of the NSA is also the Chief of the CSS.

NSA’s Web site also describes CSS as "a combat support agency of the DoD." Originally, it was conceived as a "fourth branch of the armed services," according to Bamford.

The Director, NSA, (DIRNSA) is simultaneously the titular Chief of CSS, currently Air Force Lieutenant General Michael V. Hayden. The effective day-to-day head of CSS is CSS Deputy Chief Air Force Major General Tiiu Kera. Her official NSA-supplied biography states that:

As the principal adviser to the agency's director on military cryptology issues, she ensures military service contributions to the NSA/CSS's responsibilities as a national and combat support agency. She oversees the functioning of military cryptology system operations; develops policy and guidance on signals intelligence and information assurance for the military services; manages the partnership of the NSA/CSS and the Service Cryptologic Elements; and oversees military resource management at NSA and CSS.


Aptly, Tiiu is the name of the Germanic/Norse god of war after whom Tuesday is named. Bamford’s latest book, Body of Secrets, describes Major General Kera as "a stocky woman with reddish hair". According to her official NSA biography, she was born in Balingen/Württemberg (48º16'N, 8º51'E), Germany and received a master’s degree in political science from Indiana University (Bloomington) in 1969. Thereafter, her career took a military track. She was a student at the National War College at Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, D.C. for eleven months, not "nine" months. Her education includes a yearlong fellowship at Harvard University’s Center for International Affairs, and nineteen months of attaché and language training. Immediately after the latter, in July 1993, she became the first U.S. defense attaché to Lithuania and held that post until August 1995 when she was made a Brigadier General. Thereafter, for three years she was the Director of Intelligence at U.S. Strategic Command headquarters at Offutt AFB, Nebraska before joining NSA as Chief of Staff to the Deputy Director of Operations in October 1998. Before joining NSA, the Brigadier General was promoted to Major General in July 1998. As early as January 1999 she fast-tracked to become Assistant Deputy Director of Operations. Finally, she was promoted to CSS Deputy Chief in November 1999. Her awards and decorations include the following:

With a record like that, and the rising star she appears to be, she might very well become the first female DIRNSA. Thus, she would become the most powerful woman at an intelligence agency, rivaling Dame Commander of the Bath Stella Rimington, formerly of Britain’s Security Service (commonly known by its wartime-only name, MI5). Amongst the world's most powerful women in intelligence, as CSS Deputy Chief she may be second only to US National Security Advisor Dr. Condoleezza Rice.

In 1996, then DIRNSA, Air Force Lieutenant General Kenneth A. Minihan requested the creation of the CSS seal that represented both NSA and CSS. The CSS seal was designed and adopted that same year. According to "Fact Sheet #4", dated April 2000, the heraldic symbolism of the CSS seal is as follows:

The blue background of the CSS emblem represents fidelity and steadfastness. The five-pointed gold mullet is a symbol of ideologies representing the services’ common beliefs. Between each point of the mullet is a symbol of the four cryptologic service elements and the American eagle as blazoned on the NSA emblem. The emblems appear in the following order from the upper right: United States Marine Corps; Army Intelligence and Security Command; National Security Agency; Air Intelligence Agency; and the Naval Security Group.

Indeed, official NSA documents cite four armed services. Both of Bamford’s books, however, are confusing as to which services comprise the CSS. In The Puzzle Palace, he first carefully lists the aforesaid services (using the then term Air Force Security Service), and omitting the USMC. In the immediate next sentence he says, "They are the soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen [italics mine]." Later, Bamford goes on to briefly detail the history of the "three service cryptological agencies, or SCAs [italics mine]." When describing the entrance to the National Security Operations Center (NSOC, pronounced "N-sock") in Body of Secrets, he states that above the glass doors are "the seals of the three organizations that make up the NSA’s own military, the Central Security Service [italics mine]." Earlier, in Body of Secrets, he again carefully lists three of the four services--using Air Force Intelligence Agency instead of the official Air Intelligence Agency--again omitting the Marines. NSA Public Affairs Office Representative Patrick Weadon confirmed that, as per the CSS seal’s explicit depiction, the USMC does have its own cryptologic unit.

Bamford contradicts NSA’s official position of CSS’s great significance. Body of Secrets gives CSS scant, passing mention. His earlier book provides a little more detail, but is quite dismissive. "The CSS was more of an accident than a well-thought-out plan." He quotes a former senior NSA official who described it as "‘a half-assed, last-minute job’ designed to destroy the original fourth-service proposal." Ironically, its establishment compounded the problem of non-unified efforts in cryptology. Bamford described the result as "so disastrous" that CSS was effectively "scrapped, leaving only the chief (DIRNSA) and deputy chief." The "author" of President Nixon’s executive order was James Rodney Schlesinger, then director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). In 1973, Schlesinger went on to a five-month tenure as Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) before resigning that post to become Secretary of Defense. Bamford draws attention, however, to the almost unparalleled power vested in the DIRNSA through NSCID No. 6, revised on 17 February 1972, "All instructions issued by the Director under the authority provided in this paragraph shall be mandatory, subject only to appeal to the Secretary of Defense." Thus, the DIRNSA is able to bypass "not only the Joint Chiefs, but even the secretaries of the branches" giving him his own SIGINT Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines [italics mine].

It is difficult to reconcile the extreme discrepancy between NSA’s account of CSS’s significance to NSA and its mission versus Bamford’s. He is the leading non-NSA authority on NSA. Certainly, CSS Deputy Chief Major General Kera and her uniformed staff of 25,000 would beg to differ with Bamford. A clue might be found farther north. In the Canadian experience, a military SIGINT wing is not redundant. NSA’s Canadian cousin, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) relies entirely upon the Canadian Forces Supplementary Radio System (CFSRS) for all raw SIGINT collection. CFSRS has been a part of the Canadian Forces Information Operations Group (CFIOG) since the latter was established 08 May 1998.

Finally, the Naval Security Group (NSG) might be the best indicator of the significance of the military contribution to NSA’s SIGINT efforts. According to Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), the NSG is responsible for "Signals Security matters and, for Data Link Vulnerability Assessment Methodology within the Navy Vulnerability Assessment Program." The Naval Security Group Command (NSGC) "coordinates with, tasks as appropriate, and appraises the efforts of commands and offices of the Department of the Navy and NSA/Central Security Service in the fulfillment of Navy logistics support requirements, as directed by the Secretary of Defense. It also participates in NSA studies as required." The cryptologic staff "work with some of the most sophisticated and complex systems the Navy has to offer in performance of their mission." NSGC’s Commander "reports to the Chief, Central Security Service (CSS) as the Navy Element Commander of the CSS and performs cryptologic functions at the National level as the Commander of the Navy's Service Cryptologic Element (SCE)." Considering just NSG’s structure, naval SIGINT, and by inference all military SIGINT, does not appear to be a mainly nominal entity. Certainly, with the information overload that the Internet has brought, even for NSA, they can use all the help they can get.




Biographical Sketch of Keith P. Clive, MCP, Network+, i-Net+:

By vocation, Keith P. Clive is creator and co-founder of ChocolateForum.Com. By avocation he is also a published freelance journalist interested primarily in intelligence and finance. His articles have appeared in USMA’s Cryptologia, eyetalian magazine, Swedish Press magazine, the Jewish Tribune, and the Canadian Jewish News.