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GlobalSecurity.org In the News

The Baltimore Sun November 12, 2005

NSA sites to move for more security

Sensitive operations to relocate inside Fort Meade as part of BRAC

By Phillip McGowan

The National Security Agency is expected to reconfigure its intelligence operations at Fort Meade in an effort to accommodate thousands of new hires and safeguard the spy agency from terrorist attacks.

NSA officials have confirmed that the agency is drafting plans to relocate some of its most sensitive surveillance operations onto the site of two golf courses in the center of the 5,400-acre Army post.

In recent testimony before state and federal officials, Fort Meade's commander spoke of turning the Army post "inside-out" as the Pentagon continues its base realignment and closure process, or BRAC.

"As we go forward, BRAC affords us the opportunity to take steps now to move less-sensitive and -critical activities to the exterior perimeter while drawing in those more sensitive activities toward the safer interior," Col. Kenneth O. McCreedy told the Maryland Military Installation Strategic Planning Council in Crownsville.

Such planning reflects the Pentagon's priorities in moving and consolidating defense operations behind the secured gates of military installations - to protect them from truck-bomb-style attacks.

"This is part of the theme of the BRAC process - bringing things together as close as you can," said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat whose district includes Fort Meade. "You also need to make sure you have security, and strong security."

The shift comes as the intelligence agency's profile has risen since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 - reflected in part in NSA's announcement last year that it would hire 7,500 workers by the end of 2009. About 4,500 will replace workers who retire or leave the agency, while the other 3,000 will take new jobs.

The Maryland-based spy agency, which intercepts and deciphers foreign communications, employs about 16,000 at its headquarters at Fort Meade in western Anne Arundel County and another 16,000 at undisclosed locations around the world.

The agency occupies a cluster of buildings at Fort Meade's southwest corner, clearly visible a few hundred yards away from two major highways, Route 32 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Many of the nation's leading defense contractors serve the agency at a business park that has road access to NSA's front door.

Agency employees also work out of nondescript office buildings in Columbia, Curtis Bay, Finksburg and near Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

NSA officials declined to elaborate on their planning with Fort Meade, but one private analyst familiar with the spy agency's operations said that relocating satellite offices behind the gates of Fort Meade makes sense. Conspicuous by their lack of signage and windows - and the lack of visible security - these decades-old buildings are most vulnerable to truck-bomb attacks.

"They have all kinds of stuff separate from the main campus," said John E. Pike, the director of globalsecurity.org, an intelligence policy think tank in Alexandria, Va. "They want to get that back away from where the evildoers can get to it."

Military planners have foreseen the 400 acres at the center of Fort Meade - the site of the dual 18-hole golf courses - as the ideal spot to resettle federal agencies that complement NSA's operations, protecting them from potential al-Qaida attacks. Such a concentration of sensitive operations would be about a mile away from public roads - safe from truck-bomb-style attacks similar to that in Oklahoma City in 1995 and the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998.

Maryland leaders have known for at least several months that NSA is considering the 400 acres at the center of Fort Meade, and they said the proposal made security sense. Several federal agencies have inquired about relocating onto that area of the Army post, but a Fort Meade spokeswoman declined to identify them.

McCreedy said last summer that NSA officials were moving ahead on the agency's master planning and were meeting with his staff to meld their views into one working vision.

"NSA has its own timetable, so that I can't address," McCreedy said. "There already are military construction dollars built in to the budget. ... NSA already has got a growth plan, but they have other ideas also. ...

"That [golf course] land will be available, or potentially available, to help meet their plans."

Meade's proposal calls for building a new golf course on a capped landfill in the southeast corner of the facility, a location that could be easily accessed by the public but would be far enough from sensitive operations.

A federal commission approved in August the Pentagon's request to move more than 20,000 defense employees who work in Northern Virginia office space to more secure locations, including Fort Meade. The plan became final this week.

Base realignment is expected to bring about 5,300 jobs to Fort Meade within the next six years, part of a military-wide movement to consolidate activities and cloak them well behind the gates of secure installations.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin have introduced bills to shut Oak Hill Youth Center, a maximum-security juvenile detention facility run by the District of Columbia that sits across Route 32 from the NSA. They want to convert that area into a security buffer for the agency.

Ruppersberger, who sits on the House Select Intelligence Committee, said those bills remain a relevant priority in protecting NSA.

A spokeswoman for Cardin, Susan Sullam, said that NSA's main cluster of buildings is too large to relocate elsewhere at Fort Meade, considering that the spy agency is growing in personnel.

"There's no question that NSA is staying where it's at," Sullam said.

U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said: "I have confidence that installation leadership at Fort Meade is developing a master plan for that post that will allow the military and intelligence communities get the most out of the resources available."

McCreedy, a career intelligence officer, worked at NSA six years ago. Then, he said, the gates opened, and free access was granted to most areas on Fort Meade.

"It really didn't matter where NSA was located," he said. "But now that we have closed the gates and security is an issue, where things are located matter."

Copyright 2005, The Baltimore Sun