NSA Special Collection Program

John Young jya at cryptome.net
Sun Dec 18 20:04:51 PST 2005

The NYT report on NSA surveillance described it as a "special collection
program." This is the also the name of the NSA-CIA program which performs
black bag jobs against targets which are tough to surveil with stand-off
means, including targets which use encryption. Codebooks are stolen,
copied and returned, bugs are planted, cavity resonating devices are rigged, 
cipher machines are lifted for tampering then replaced, and a host of
other means are used to overcome electronic and physical defenses.

One wonders what means NSA (and others) used to spy inside the US in 
addition to plain old electronic interception. The story so far is pretty 
simpleminded about NSA's capabilities. Could be the part of the story
the Times claims it is still withholding covers that.

And, there has been no mention in the news of the UK/USA arrangement 
for the UK to do what NSA once was forbidden to do inside the US. Perhaps
there has been an expansion of that as well.

Jason Vest and Wayne Madsen described the Special Collection Service
in 1999:



    According to a former high-ranking intelligence official, SCS was
formed in the late 1970s after competition between the NSA's embassy-based
eavesdroppers and the CIA's globe-trotting bugging specialists from its
Division D had become counterproductive. While sources differ on how SCS
works some claim its agents never leave their secret embassy warrens where
they perform close-quarters electronic eavesdropping, while others say
agents operate embassy-based equipment in addition to performing riskier
"black-bag" jobs, or break-ins, for purposes of bugging "there's a lot of
pride taken in what SCS has accomplished," the former official says.

    Intriguingly, the only on-the-record account of the Special Collection
Service has been provided not by an American but by a Canadian. Mike Frost,
formerly of the Communications Security Establishment Canada's NSA
equivalent served as deputy director of CSE's SCS counterpart and was
trained by the SCS. In a 1994 memoir, Frost describes the complexities of
mounting "special collection" operations finding ways to transport
sophisticated eavesdropping equipment in diplomatic pouches without
arousing suspicion, surreptitiously assembling a device without arousing
suspicion in his embassy, technically troubleshooting under less than ideal
conditions and also devotes considerable space to describing visits to
SCS's old College Park headquarters.

    "It is not the usual sanitorium-clean atmosphere you would expect to
find in a top-secret installation," writes Frost. "Wires everywhere,
jerry-rigged gizmos everywhere, computers all over the place, some people
buzzing around in three-piece suits, and others in jeans and t-shirts. [It
was] the ultimate testing and engineering centre for any espionage
equipment." Perhaps one of its most extraordinary areas was its "live
room," a 30-foot-square area where NSA and CIA devices were put through dry
runs, and where engineers simulated the electronic environment of cities
where eavesdroppers are deployed. Several years ago, according to sources,
SCS relocated to a new, 300-acre, three-building complex disguised as a
corporate campus and shielded by a dense forest outside Beltsville,
Maryland. Curious visitors to the site will find themselves stopped at a
gate by a Department of Defense police officer who, if one lingers, will
threaten arrest. 


Satellite photos of the Special Collection Service:


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