For someone who has a highly science-based job, Gil Herrera has a near-mystical mission to study the future, and then design it, on the basis of quantum physics that is awe-inspiring and mathematical theorems that are inexplicably complicated, for the benefit for America. The United States.
Herrera is the new head of the National Security Agency’s Research Directorate. The directorate, along with the other departments of the NSA has a double purpose: to secure American systems and also spy on the other countries. The budget is secret as a secret among the secrets, however, the NSA is among the biggest spy agencies in any way, and Herrera’s directorate is the US intelligence community’s most powerful internal research and development department. The directorate has to develop solutions for issues that aren’t actual, in a universe that isn’t even a reality.
In his first appearance in the interview since being offered his job, Herrera exposes the technology and threats that his group will be paying attention to. His priorities reveal how the NSA’s target list is changing while balancing its surveillance of terror groups and an understanding of how quickly global geopolitics has changed over the last few years. In addition, he explains how the rise of emerging technologies as a result of threats and opportunities, are at the core of the issues his team has to contend with.
Herrera is appointed the agency’s chief as the agency confronts new problems. This bipolar world from the Cold War belongs to the books of history. This is because the United States’ quick turn as a single superpower is now over. The world of the future is more chaotic and is defined by an emergence world of great power rivalry between nations such as that of the United States, China, and Russia. In the meantime, the NSA is still recuperating from the massive series of leaks that were published nine years ago regarding surveillance programs in the United States and abroad which sparked a storm of criticism and demands for reform. It also changed Americans’ perceptions of the NSA. Companies that collaborated with them reacted in frustration and embarrassment. Also, it altered the way in which the NSA functions.
“We’re at a point that we must begin looking at larger adversaries, with more sophisticated adversaries, adversaries who don’t necessarily require commercial service providers,” says Herrera. “These are adversaries who have their own services that are indigenous to them and also develop the technology they use. As researchers, we must respond. We must provide technology that allows us to study the vast amount of data available into our offices and help identify the types of systems developing as a result of the great technological competition.”
The pace of technological advancement is growing faster and more unpredictable.
“Any time you’re experiencing that type of shift it’s a challenge,” says Herrera. “Each new generation of technology has its own problems.”
For instance, the directorate has committed considerable resources to master quantum computing technology, which is poised to crack the encryption that is used to safeguard sensitive information in the digital future. Large corporations, countries, and even universities have poured their money into the creation of quantum computers that are powerful enough to run at a rate that is exponentially higher than the computers that we have today.
“Great power competition sets an agenda for the future,” says Herrera. “It transforms the type of technology that we need. Technologies such as quantum as well as 5G and quantum are a part of it.”
The Directorate of Information Technology has been at the top of quantum computing since 1995, just after the release of Shor’s algorithm which demonstrated that quantum computers can calculate numbers much faster than regular computers, precisely the type of work required to crack encryption.
The directorate’s fingerprints are now showing as important research that is advancing the field and even in the most sophisticated computer systems built by giant tech companies. The well-publicized race to create the most advanced quantum computer in the world is evidence of this that each of Google and IBM utilizes the same fundamental component in their machines to produce quantum-like behavior known as transmon qubits which were developed under the directorate’s support. In the past in the past, this NSA was the biggest funder of studies in quantum computing, claims Herrera.
Herrera isn’t keen to talk about details about the areas his department is focusing on, however in response to questions about difficulties of snooping in a time of rapid technological advancement Herrera is in agreement and speaks of the rise of 5G across the globe. 5G presents its own unique issues for gathering information, Herrera explains. Monitoring 5G successfully requires an in-depth understanding of what differentiates it from the previous generation: faster speed, less range and more distribution nodes, different protocols for data.
Understanding what will transpire in the future will require a thorough understanding of the components that determine the future.
The Research Directorate of the NSA Research Directorate is descended from the Black Chamber, the first group of codebreakers from civilians in the United States who were tasked with monitoring the most advanced technology, including the Telegraph. From 1919 until 1929, the group was able to decode more than 10,000 messages from more than a dozen countries in James Bamford’s book from 2001 The Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Secret National Security Agency. In addition to the groundbreaking research into cryptanalysis, the group also succeeded in getting surveillance assistance through American cable companies such as Western Union that could supply newly-minted US intelligence agents with sensitive messages to study.
The Black Chamber was shut down in the wake of scandal when US Secretary of State Henry Stimson found out the organization was monitoring American allies and foes. The scandal was a precursor to the events of 1975’s Church Committee, which was a probe into the abuses of surveillance from American intelligence agencies. Then there were The 2013 Snowden leaks that revealed massive electronic surveillance capabilities which triggered an international review.
Eight months after the Black Chamber was shuttered, the US faced the possibility of weakened capabilities to spy in the unstable world of the 1930s transforming the operation as part of the army’s Signals Intelligence Service. The only three individuals working on the old Black Chamber records One of the people who founded the SIS which, as Bamford says was secretly kept to officials at the State Department, was the mathematician Solomon Kullback.
Kullback was crucial to break both Japanese as well as German codes prior to as well as throughout World War II, and Kullback later headed his research and development department of the newly established National Security Agency. In the space of a year, this transformed into the directorate that we have it today, a distinct space for research that’s not impacted by the day-to-day tasks within the agency.
“It’s essential to have a research-oriented organization that is mission-driven one, that is looking beyond the crisis,” says Herrera, but he also says that the directorate is able to dedicate part of its time on solving the “crisis of the moment.” It also runs a program known as “scientists on call” which permits NSA mission analysts who face technical difficulties while conducting investigations to seek help by email, which gives an access point to more than a hundred scientists.
However, the majority of the directorate’s work involves designing technology that is decades ahead of what we are using today. It’s like a tiny technological college that is composed of five academic departments – math and physics, cyber computer science, physics, and electrical engineering, each with a staff of up to 200 students.
The department’s cybersecurity is responsible for the security of the nation’s government as well as the nation’s industrial base for the military. It is the most prominent department and is deliberately it is. In the past few years, this secretive NSA has increased its involvement and vigor in the field of cybersecurity. It has released public advisories as well as research initiatives that previously have been considered un-American for an organization that wasn’t even acknowledged until twenty years after its inception.
The products from NSA research, such as Ghidra, a completely free and advanced reverse engineering tool that aids in the dissection of technical aspects of hacking tools and other programs are well-known, trusted, and are in use all over the globe. They function as effective cybersecurity tools, as well as a recruiting pitch as well as an advertising and public relations tool all in one.
The department of physics that Herrera was once the director, has several laboratories that do much of the research on quantum information sciences, however, it also has a wider scope. As physical limitations in the capacity to fit many more transistors inside devices threaten to slow down and even stop 60 years of predicted rapid computer development, its researchers are looking at novel materials and computer architectures to propel new generations of computer technology into an uncertain future. It’s exactly what the directorate was assigned when it was first established.
The Electrical Engineering department is looking at the engineering and physics behind communications networks ever since the internet first was created. Alongside the challenges regarding 5G, the department also examines all aspects of the digital realm including undersea cables and satellite communications.
Certain possibilities on the horizon do not fit into one particular category. Computer science’s research on machine learning and artificial intelligence is a good example. It crosses across cybersecurity and data analysis work that is conducted with mathematicians.
Herrera frequently raises the possibility of the directorate having to improve its capabilities and knowledge of rapidly evolving fields such as synthetic biology. The NSA isn’t the only one to do this. Chinese Military leaders have made biotech a key element of the defense of the nation.
“Much of the competitiveness in the world today isn’t military-related,” Herrera says. “Military competition is increasing but there’s also the spreading and use of different technologies including synthetic biology that is shocking. Research is essential to assist the NSA to understand what the consequences of these technologies will be. The amount we are actually involved, I’m not certain but there are certain areas to be aware of.”
In the end, the department of math which is the directorate’s oldest is distinct. Herrera says math is the fundamental element of the directorate. It is said that the NSA is the nation’s largest mathematicians’ employer, and the directorate has one of the most prestigious. Every other department within the National Security Agency’s Research Directorate suffers from having to compete with tech companies as well as the lucrative salaries that are available within the public sector. Math department doesn’t face this problem, Herrera says. Silicon Valley typically values software developers more than mathematicians.
The math department usually together with the department of computer science, assists in tackling one of the most fascinating issues of NSA is big data. Despite widespread criticism of the mass surveillance program, NSA famously has to deal with the issue of collecting such huge amounts of information that in addition to ethical and legal issues it’s almost impossible to sort through the vast amount of data to locate everything that’s valuable. NSA regards the type of “vast data collection and access” it has been described internally as an accomplishment as well as a collection of issues. Data science seeks to resolve these.
“Everyone thinks that their data is among the worst around and mine is because it’s stolen from people who don’t want us to have it, in all honesty,” said Herrera’s immediate predecessor at the NSA Computer researcher Deborah Frincke, during a 2017 presentation at Stanford. “The adversary doesn’t speak clearly in English by putting nice words into microphones. If we don’t understand we should be able to understand it better. explanation.”
Understanding the vast amount of unreliable and often stolen data that spans hundreds of languages, and more technical formats is among the department’s main duties.
In the age of digital technology, One of the most important purposes of spies is the ability to break the code of important information. This is currently secured through robust encryption. This is why researchers from the Research Directorate’s mathematicians as well as computer scientists create and hack cryptography algorithms to protect the most vulnerable systems.
The construction and breaking of codes are at the very heart of the activities of the directorate since it is when the NSA examines the future, it sees is a digital society that is brimming with information. The capability to both secure and protect it will be a key element in defining the great power competition for the long haul.
“In the near future superpowers will be created or broken by the effectiveness of their cryptanalytic software,” a 2007 document from the agency said. “It is the cost of admission to the US to enjoy unlimited access to and the use of the internet.”
“The Research Directorate exists to help fulfill this mission,” Herrera says. “From the atoms to the systems, we conduct research with the goal with the end in sight.”