To the editor:
At 12:01 on the morning of Nov. 4, 1952, a new federal agency was born. Unlike other such bureaucratic births, however, this one arrived in silence. No news coverage, no congressional debate, no press announcement, not even the whisper of a rumor. Nor could any mention of the new organization be found in the Government Organizational Manual or the Federal Register or the Congressional Record. Equally invisible were the new agency's director, its numerous buildings and its 10,000 employees.
Eleven days earlier, on Oct. 24, President Harry S. Truman scratched his signature on the bottom of a seven-page presidential memorandum addressed to Secretary of State Dean G. Acheson and Secretary of Defense Robert A. Lovett. Classified top secret and stamped with a code word that was itself classified, the order directed the establishment of an agency to be known as the National Security Agency. It was the birth certificate for America's newest and most secret agency, so secret in fact that only a handful in the government would be permitted to know of its existence. Even the date set for its birth was most likely designed for maximum secrecy: should any hint of its creation leak out, it would surely be swallowed up in the other news of the day - the presidential election of 1952.
Thirty years later, Truman's memorandum was still one of Washington's most closely guarded secrets. Those seven pages remain "the foundation upon which all past and current communications intelligence activities of the United States government are based," according to a senior official of the National Security Council. And in its defense against a 1976 lawsuit seeking access to the memorandum, the NSA argued successfully against the release of even one word: "This memorandum remains the principle charter of the National Security Agency and is the basis of a number of other classified documents governing the conduct of communications intelligence activities and operations, functions, and activities of the National Security Agency." Even a congressional committee was forced to issue a subpoena in order to obtain a copy of the directive that implemented the memorandum.
Three decades after its birth the agency itself remained nearly as secretive and mysterious as when it emerged from the presidential womb. Its name is no longer classified information, but virtually all other details concerning the agency continued to be until the Obama administration and other Democrats gained power and started leaking top secret information.