Maitland, FL (May 19, 2017) –Working
on the Dark Side of the Moon provides the first, ground-level look inside the
super-secret National Security Agency (NSA) and a shadowy think tank affiliated
with it. The author, a software entrepreneur and statistics professor,
volunteered for a year-long sabbatical tour of duty in the NSA. He ended up
spending several years moving between the business and academic worlds and the
secret world. This book records his impressions of people and places never
before described in such intimate detail.
A deeply personal account of the years
spent within the most secretive organization in the world, Working on the Dark
Side of the Moon explores the range of emotions an outsider experiences while
crossing over to the “inside.” It also shows the positive side of an Agency
whose secrecy hides dedicated men and women devoted to protecting the country
while honoring the Constitution.
Willemain writes, "The very
secrecy that enables NSA to be effective also cripples its ability to explain
its positive contributions. Into this void are projected grossly distorted
views of what NSA does and what NSA people are like. This book puts a human
face on the people who work in this secret world: their character, motivations,
frustrations, sense of humor. Readers can develop a more balanced and nuanced
view of NSA and its people."
About the Author
Dr. Thomas Reed Willemain served as an
Expert Statistical Consultant to the National Security Agency (NSA) at Ft.
Meade, MD and as a member of the Adjunct Research Staff at an affiliated
think-tank, the Institute for Defense Analyses Center for Computing Sciences
(IDA/CCS). He is Professor Emeritus of Industrial and Systems Engineering at
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, having previously held faculty positions at
Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Massachusetts Institute of
Technology. He is also co-founder and Senior Vice President/Research at Smart
Software, Inc. He is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence
Officers, the Military Operations Research Society, the American Statistical
Association, and several other professional organizations. Willemain received
the BSE degree (summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) from Princeton University and
the MS and PhD degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
His other books include: Statistical
Methods for Planners, Emergency Medical Systems Analysis (with R. C. Larson),
and 80 articles in peer-reviewed journals on topics in statistics, operations
research, health care and other topics.
Q&A with Thomas Reed Willemain
was kind enough to answer some of my questions.
1). Can you give an overview of your
career prior to working for the NSA?
overlapping careers: About 40 years as
an academic, and about 30 years as a software entrepreneur. I have been a
professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard Kennedy School of
Government, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. I am now Professor Emeritus
of Industrial and Systems Engineering at RPI. I am also co-founder and Senior
Vice President/Research at Smart Software, Inc. in Boston. A common thread has
been the study of statistics, forecasting -- anything involving randomness.
2). How/why did you consider working
for the NSA?
I was looking
for a challenging and useful sabbatical leave. I’d previously spent a
sabbatical leave at the Federal Aviation Administration and made some contributions
there, even though I’d not had any formal background in aviation. I was wary of
applying to NSA, since I was not in synch with the Bush administration. But I
wanted another period of public service. I also knew that there would be no
more intriguing place for a statistician to work. And I suspected, correctly,
that when I came back to RPI I would have more to contribute to my students.
That turned out to be correct, in that my courses were richer (and more
3). What did you expect working at the
NSA would be like and were your expectations accurate or not?
I was very
wrong about some things. One was politics, or the lack thereof. I mentioned my
misgivings about President Bush. The woman who handled the sabbatical program
was very diplomatic and not put off by my questions. When I finally met her in
person, it turned out that she was a lesbian with an “Anybody but Bush” bumper
sticker on her car – not at all fitting my stereotype of an NSA person. During
the McCain-Obama election campaign, the bumper stickers in the vast parking
lots were about 50:50, and there was no whiff of politics inside the wire. The
only person who talked (incessantly) about the election was somebody from
another country embedded with us. I did expect a high level of expertise, and
that was definitely true.
should have expected but did not was how radically different the culture was
from my university life. I was going back and forth between “inside” and
“outside”. The academic culture encourages the question “Hey, what are you
working on?” I had to learn to not ask that question on the inside unless it
was behind a locked door, and not always then.
Now, the NSA
is a big place. And one of the people described in my book pointed out that I
was in the Research Directorate, which is more like a playground for uber-geeks
than most of the rest of the Agency, where a mix of civilians and service
members grind out massive amounts of work every day. So my book must present a
partial picture of “Life inside the National Security Agency”. I may have been
the proverbial blind man feeling the best part of the proverbial elephant.
4). Why did you decide to write a book
about your experiences working for the NSA and was it difficult to gain
approval from the agency?
I’ll be 70
years old soon, and I found myself slowing down on the math side of things, so
I looked for another way to contribute. I had a plan to begin substituting my
words for my equations, and writing the book would be a good way to test the
feasibility of that plan. But I was also motivated by a desire to continue
serving as best I could. Most every depiction of NSA in the media has been
negative, and distorted stereotypes about the people and the Agency are
rampant. I wanted to offset that with an insider’s look at the reality. The
Snowden affair in particular prompted me to try to offset that. It turned out
that, without knowing what I was contributing to, some of my technical work
helped the Agency offset some of the damage Snowden did. The book let me do
more on that front.
book cleared through NSA’s pre-publication review was a slow-motion
crucifixion. It delayed the book by five months and blacked out about 15% of
the book. There was some lying and bullying involved. Call it a
character-building moment. I wrote about the process in the LawFare blog and
discussed it with the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, who
were already reviewing the pre-pub process. The basic problem is that the
process knows only one word: “No”. I tried to get the strategic communications
people involved so there would be someone to say “Yes” to the idea of
permitting a pro-Agency book to be published, but so far no luck. The Agency
claimed, with perhaps dubious legality, that anybody described in my book,
though anonymously, could require me to remove them from the book. If they had
all done so, there would have been no book. But only one insisted that she be
removed. She is now a large black rectangle.
5). What new information is available
from your book compared to previous studies of the NSA?
certain that this is the only grunt-level memoir of service in the NSA. There
are a few faux-memoirs that are works of fiction. Folks at the top levels have
written books (e.g., Michael Hayden), but daily life below the top has been,
well, rather like the dark side of the moon. There have been policy-oriented
and history-oriented books about NSA, but not people-oriented books. So what it
feels like to work there has been mysterious. Much of my book is centered on
descriptions of about 40 people that I worked with, and the book is about their
stories as much as mine. I also paid a lot of attention to comparing life
inside against life outside, especially regarding the intellectual and administrative
climates (including personnel evaluation systems). There are not many
“insider/outsider” stories to tell, and mine is the only one in print.
part way through my time inside, several of us academics were “traded” to
NSA-affiliated think tanks. So my book is also the first to expose the inner
workings of the Institute for Defense Analyses Center for Computing Sciences.
That must be the world’s most comfortable SCIF, and it’s full of sharp,
colorful characters. I think the director of IDA/CCS was even more opposed to
publication of my book than the NSA itself, even though my book might be very
helpful to recruiting people to take my place there.
6). What is your opinion on the recent
Snowden revelations regarding the NSA interception of US civilian
I have mixed
feeling about Snowden, mostly negative. Perhaps some of his motivation was
idealistic. But what he did was very damaging to the tracking of foreign
targets, so he definitely belongs in jail. He also appears to be a narcissistic
liar. He permitted a persona to be presented in the movie “Snowden” that was
just not true. As I watched the movie, I kept thinking “That’s not true. And
that’s not true. And that doesn’t really happen.” For instance, I write about
my struggles to pass the repeated exams I had to take to certify that I knew
about the practical implementation of the Fourth Amendment prohibitions as
applied to foreign intelligence. The public should know how seriously the
Agency regards those things. It is certain that something as powerful as the
NSA bears constant watching, but facts ought to be the basis for judgment.
uploaded the file containing the Japanese decodes of US diplomatic traffic from
Diplomatic records Office, Tokyo,
‘U.S.-Japan Relations, Miscellaneous Diplomatic Correspondence-Special
Information File’ (A-1-3-1, 1-3-2). Link here.
covered Western Europe and the cryptanalysts of NAASt 5 were able to solve the
US M-209 cipher machine in 1944.
the TICOM report IF-272 - TAB ‘D’ the following NAAS 5 reports survived the
1/44 der NAAst 5 dated 10.1.44
2/44 der NAAst 5
3/44 der NAAst 5 (Berichtszeit 1.4-30.6.44)
der NAAst 5 (Berichtszeit 1.7-30.9.44) dated 10.10.44
NAAst 5 (Berichtszeit 1.10.44-30.12.44) dated 14.1.45
three can be found in the US national archives, collection RG 457 - Entry 9032
- box 22, titled ‘German deciphering reports’.
the last two (covering the second half of 1944) are not there.
NSA FOIA office told me that the NAASt 5 reports had been transferred to the US
National archives as part of transfer group TR-0457-2016-0014. However when the
NARA FOIA office checked these files they were unable to locate any report
titled E-Bericht NAAs 5.
I then asked
the NSA FOIA office again about these files, since it seems they made a mistake
and I was told to check transfer group TR-0457-2017-0010.
response from the NARA research office regarding this transfer group has been the
‘We have received the records of which
you speak and they must first of all undergo formal accessioning and any
necessary preservation. Then they will
need to be archivally described and professionally arranged before they will be
available for research. ALL of those
steps will depend on how many previous accessions are in line to be processed.
Although you have the most up-to-date
information on these record transfers, our archival processing steps must be
done prior to making the records available for public use.’
So it seems
that I’ll have to wait for NARA to process the transfer group TR-0457-2017-0010
and then they can search it for the NAASt 5 reports (assuming they are there).