WASHINGTON — Computer experts at the secretive National Security Agency are teaming up with the Homeland Security Department in an effort to strengthen the nation’s defenses against cyber attacks.
The partnership unveiled Wednesday raised concerns among civil liberties advocates, who say that safeguards are needed to ensure that the collaboration between the spy agency and Homeland Security does not wind up violating the privacy rights of U.S. citizens.
NSA and Homeland Security officials said they are creating small teams that will work in the other agency’s operations centers, a move designed to help them share lawfully gathered intelligence and provide Homeland Security faster access to the NSA’s broad technical expertise.
The collaboration is a move to help the U.S. guard against the growing threat of cyber attacks against government and private computer networks. U.S. government and private networks are increasingly under attack by hackers and other cyber criminals.
The officials said the plan will include increased oversight by legal and privacy professionals to insure that individuals’ rights are protected. But privacy officials said the new relationship must be watched closely, including by outside watchdogs.
A senior Defense Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the nation doesn’t have the time or money to replicate what the NSA is already doing. The NSA is part of the Defense Department, and the agreement was signed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano.
The NSA has expertise developed over many years in dealing with encrypted foreign computer code or messages, Lewis said. If encrypted malicious code is detected, the NSA is the government agency best equipped to handle it, he said.
The partnership will link the NSA, DHS and the military’s new Cyber Command.