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The National Security Agency is a national-level intelligence agency of the United States Department of Defense, under the authority of the Director of National Intelligence. The NSA is responsible for global monitoring, collection, and processing of information and data for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes, specializing in a discipline known as signals intelligence (SIGINT). The NSA is also tasked with the protection of U.S. communications networks and information systems. The NSA relies on a variety of measures to accomplish its mission, the majority of which are clandestine.

Originating as a unit to decipher coded communications in World War II, it was officially formed as the NSA by President Harry S. Truman in 1952. Since then, it has become one of the largest U.S. intelligence organizations in terms of personnel and budget. The NSA currently conducts worldwide mass data collection and has been known to physically bug electronic systems as one method to this end. The NSA has also been alleged to have been behind such attack software as Stuxnet, which severely damaged Iran's nuclear program. The NSA, alongside the CIA, maintain a physical presence in many countries across the globe; the CIA/NSA Joint Special Collection Service (a highly classified intelligence team) inserts eavesdropping devices in high-value targets (such as Presidential palaces or embassies). SCS collection tactics allegedly encompass "close surveillance, burglary, wiretapping, [and] breaking and entering".

Unlike the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), both of which specialize primarily in foreign human espionage, the NSA does not publically conduct human-source intelligence gathering. The NSA is entrusted with providing assistance to, and the coordination of, SIGINT elements for other government organizations - which are prevented by law from engaging in such activities on their own. As part of these responsibilities, the agency has a co-located organization called the Central Security Service (CSS), which facilitates cooperation between the NSA and other U.S. defense cryptanalysis components. To further ensure streamlined communication between the signals intelligence community divisions, the NSA Director simultaneously serves as the Commander of the United States Cyber Command and as Chief of the Central Security Service.

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