Secrets Of The NSA

Old Chips Are Recycled For Gold, Precious Metals

To find out more about America's most secretive agency, Correspondent David Martin interviewed the NSA's Robert Bogart and Vernon Shiflett.

Bogart teaches code breaking and Shiflett runs the recycling facility.

Here are some nuggets from his conversations with them.

  • Some of the best cryptanalysts at the NSA are musicians, according to Bogart: "They're on the more creative side than the scientific side."
  • The NSA slang for cryptanalyst: "crippy."
  • The best code breakers are dubbed "water walkers." They seem to know exactly which direction to go on a problem once it comes in.
  • You can't get a degree in cryptoanalysis in college. So the NSA hires people who seem to have the aptitude and trains them.
  • NSA staff try to break every code that's made at the NSA.
  • Since the NSA started recycling classified paper 20 years a go, it has saved more than 270,000 trees.
  • The NSA now processes about 6 million pounds of paper a year from Defense Department offices throughout the Washington D.C., area. An automatic collection system, hooked up to a conveyor line and attached to a pneumatic tube, connects to four large buildings. Paper deposited in one of 52 chutes is sucked into a building at 60 miles an hour. Around 40,000 pounds of paper a day are collected. Another 30,000 pounds are received each week from 120 pickup points. The end result: 12 million pounds of pulp a year.
  • Ten years ago, the NSA was processing twice as much paper. But the amount decreased with the increasing use of computers in the early 1990s and the cutback in government and military personnel.
  • When does a secret stop becoming a secret? Within the first hour after paper reaches the recycling facility, it's processed into pulp. And nothing can be read on any of those particles, Shiflett says.
  • Until last year, pizza boxes, clothing boxes and cardboard products were the most common products made from the pulp. Now the pulp is sold to tissue manufacturers who bleach it white and create tissue paper products. "Next time you use any kind of tissue paper, it could have been secrets," Shiflett says.
  • The pulp is screened by NSA employees who examine it under a microscope. They look for two or three characters in succession.
  • Classified film from the intelligence community, such as satellite photos, is incinerated and taken to a smelter. The material is smelted into silver ingets and sold as precious metals. The money goes to the U.S. Treasury.
  • About 15,000 pounds of computer chips a year from NSA or other defense agencies are fed into a machine that crushes, slices and pulverizes. The resulting powder is taken to a smelter. The resulting precious metals (gold, platinum, platinum and rhodium) could amount to a quarter million dollars a year.