October 6, 2023

The NSA's new organizational designators

(Updated: February 24, 2024)

For decades, the organizational structure of the NSA was classified, but since 2013 the Snowden documents provided hundreds of designators of internal divisions, branches and units, which allowed me to reconstruct the agency's internal structure.

From 2016 to 2017, the NSA was reorganized so that many of those designators may have changed. Some recent documents, however, provide designators from the current situation, which allows to start a reconstruction of the new structure as well.

The Integrated Cyber Center (ICC) and other new buildings at the NSA's East Campus
(photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

The reorganization of 2016

The organizational structure of the NSA as it emerged from the Snowden documents was established in the year 2000 under director Michael Hayden. In 2016, director Michael Rogers initiated a full reorganization under the name NSA21, in order to prepare the agency for the cyber challenges of the 21st century.

One of the most important (and controversial) changes was fusing the operational elements of the Signals Intelligence (SID) and Information Assurance (IAD) directorates into the new Directorate of Operations. The remaining information assurance activities were merged with the old Technology Directorate into the new Capabilities Directorate.

The hacking group Tailored Access Operations (TAO) was renamed into Computer Network Operations (CNO). The new structure as envisioned by NSA21 reached full operational capability in December 2017.

The new structure of the NSA as established by the NSA21 reorganization
(source: NSA - click to enlarge)

On October 1, 2019, an additional Cybersecurity Directorate (CSD) was established to unify the NSA's foreign intelligence and cyber defense missions and to prevent and eradicate threats to National Security Systems (NSS) and the Defense Industrial Base (DIB). The CSD pulled its workforce from several directorates, including the Operations Directorate and its Computer Network Operations group.

The new organizational structure

A number of new designators from the NSA's current structure can be found in the extensive NSA/CSS Policy 12-3 Annex C from June 2023. Some other documents and press reports provide additional information, which results in the partial chart below.

Update: The NSA/CSS Civil Liberties and Privacy Program from November 2021 provides the internal top-level designators for all the agency's current directorates. The organization chart and the remarks below have been updated accordingly:

A: Workforce Support Activities (WSA)

A2: National Cryptologic School (NCS)

B: Business Management and Acquisition (BM&A)

C: Cybersecurity Directorate (CSD)

C? Cybersecurity Collaboration Center (CCC) *

C?? Artificial Intelligence Security Center (AISC)

D: Office of the Director

DC: NSA/CSS Chief of Staff (CoS)
D2: Office of General Counsel (OGC)
D5: Civil Liberties, Privacy, and Transparancy (CLPT)
D6: Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion (DEI)
D9: Risk Management Office (RMO)

I: Office of the Inspector General (OIG)

P: Engagement and Policy (E&P)

P1: ?
P12: Office of Policy
P13: ?
P131: Information Security/Classification *
P7: Office of Compliance/Compliance Group
P75: Office of Compliance for Cybersecurity and Operations

R: Research Directorate

X: Operations Directorate

X? Computer Network Operations (CNO)

Y: Capabilities Directorate
    Chief Information Officer (CIO)

Some additional remarks (updated)

If we compare these current designators with the structure before 2016, we see that:

- The Office of the Director is still designated as "D" and may not have changed much, except for the Office of the Inspector General, which now has its own top-level designator (I), and at least two parts (the Office of Policy and the information security units) which have been transferred to the newly created Engagement & Policy Directorate (P).

- For the Inspector General (IG) this reflects that since the FY2014 Intelligence Authorization Act this official is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Previously, the IG was appointed by the Director of the NSA, who could also remove him. The first presidentially appointed NSA IG was Rob Storch, who served from 2018 to 2022.

- The position of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) is different: in 2020, the IG criticised that the CIO wasn't included in the organization charts of the agency and primarily served as head of one of the NSA's directorates, first Technology and now Capabilities.

- Other new directorates also got a top-level designator that wasn't used before 2016: Workforce Support Activities (A), Business Management and Acquisition (B), Cybersecurity (C) and Capabilities (Y). The Research Directorate however kept the letter R.

- The new Operations Directorate is designated by the letter X, which was already used under the old structure, although we don't know for what kind of activity. Maybe the previous X division was just temporary or very small as the only source that mentions it is a document about cable installations at NSA headquarters from 2007.

> See also: The NSA's regional Cryptologic Centers

In Dutch: Meer over het wetsvoorstel voor de Tijdelijke wet cyberoperaties