The National Security Agency: Issues for Congress
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS WASHINGTON DC CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE
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The National Security Agency NSA, one of the largest components of the U.S. Intelligence Community, has reached a major watershed in its history. Responsible for obtaining intelligence from international communications, NSAs efforts are being challenged by the multiplicity of new types of communications links, by the widespread availability of low-cost encryption systems, and by changes in the international environment in which dangerous security threats can come from small, but well organized, terrorist groups as well as hostile nation states. NSAs efforts to adjust to the changing geopolitical and technological environment have been strongly encouraged by Congress and reflect a major shift in congressional oversight of the Agency. Although Congress has always approved funding for NSA, for decades routine oversight was limited to a few Members and staff. In the 1970s, congressional investigations of intelligence agencies resulted in greater public attention to NSA and criticism of activities that infringed on the civil liberties of U.S. persons. Subsequently, both the Senate and the House of Representatives established intelligence oversight committees that have closely monitored NSAs operations. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act FISA was enacted in 1978 to regulate collection by foreign intelligence agencies of the communications of U.S. persons. The end of the Cold War, the expansion of low cost encryption and the explosion of communications systems led Congress to take a more public profile in overseeing the large and secretive Agency.
- Government and Political Science