Intelligence gathering has been a vital part of national security for as long as there have been nations to keep secure in the first place. In the United States, there are several organizations dedicated to collecting and analyzing information about potential threats, both foreign and domestic. You can be part of that intelligence network working in a career with the National Security Agency and Central Security Service (NSA/CSS).
The History of the National Security Agency
Though not incorporated as the National Security Agency we know today until 1952, the NSA/CSS traces its roots back to the days immediately prior to United States' entry into World War 1. Originally a section of the U.S. Army's Military Intelligence Division, the early precursor to the NSA was a cipher bureau responsible for intercepting and deciphering enemy radio communications.
According to documents released by the NSA, after the war, the bureau was funded by both the Department of War and the Department of State and was tasked with intercepting diplomatic documents and foreign intelligence.
Over the years, funding sources changed and even dried up, and responsibility for the bureau's maintenance was shared by the Army and the Navy until World War II. After WWII, the need for a standalone agency dedicated to cryptology and signals intelligence was apparent, and the National Security Agency was formed in the Department of Defense in 1952.
What the National Security Agency Does
Unlike other organizations such as the Central Intelligence Agency which relies heavily on human intelligence, the NSA's primary function is to collect signals intelligence and provide cryptological services to the nation's other intelligence organizations and investigative agencies. In layman's' terms, that means the NSA is responsible for listening in and recording signals from a variety of sources, including hard line and cell phones, online communications, radio signals and the like.
Besides signal intercepts, the NSA also serves as the lead cryptological agency in the U.S. and is responsible for breaking foreign codes in order to decipher intelligence information and provide encryption and counterintelligence services to ensure that sensitive United States' communications remain safe and secure. In short, the NSA is responsible for collecting information and signal intelligence and at the same time safeguarding U.S. cyber interests and intelligence.
What Kind of Work You Can Do at the NSA
The National Security Agency offers a host of career options, with opportunities available for a variety of interests. Specific job areas of interest to criminal justice and criminology career seekers include intelligence collection and analysis; computer and digital science and forensics; cybersecurity operations; and inspections, investigations, and compliance, not to mention the NSA police force.
The Salaries Available with NSA Careers
Jobs with the National Security Agency are known to pay fairly well, with salaries ranging from $65,000 to $85,000 for operations and analysis to upwards of $150,000 for specialized computer and cyber positions.
What It Takes to Work for the National Security Agency
For most jobs, you must be at least 18 years old to be hired for work at the NSA, though the agency offers a high school work program for qualified students who are aged 16 or older. Applicants have to be U.S. citizens, and while some jobs such as NSA police officers have certain physical requirements, most do not.
Applicants must be able to get a top secret/special intelligence security clearance, which will mean an extensive background investigation, a polygraph exam and a pre-employment psychological evaluation. To search for and apply for jobs, visit the NSA's job portal.