"The NSA is in charge of waging the information war-- stealing other people's secrets while protecting our own."
A: A few years ago, I was teaching on the campus of Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. One Spring day, unannounced, the U.S. Secret Service showed up and detained one of our students claiming he was a threat to national security. As it turned out, the kid had sent private E-mail to a friend saying how much he hated President Clinton and how he thought the president should be shot. The Secret Service came to campus to make sure the kid wasn't serious. After some interrogation the agents decided the student was harmless, and not much came of it. Nonetheless, the incident really stuck with me. I couldn't figure out how the secret service knew what these kids were saying in their E-mail.
I began doing some research into where organizations like the Secret Service get their intelligence data, and what I found out absolutely floored me. I discovered there is an intelligence agency as large as the CIA... that only about 3% of Americans knows exists. It is called the National Security Agency (NSA), and it is home to the country's eavesdroppers. The agency functions like an enormous vacuum cleaner sucking in intelligence data from around the globe and processing it for subversive material. The NSA's super-computers scan E-mail and other digital communiqués looking for dangerous word combinations like "kill" and "Clinton" in the same sentence.
The more I learned about this ultra-secret agency and the fascinating moral issues surrounding national security and civilian privacy, the more I realized it was a great backdrop for a novel. That's when I started writing Digital Fortress.
It is quite an eye opener to visit Dan Brown's site. We become so lulled in the everyday necessities that we forget the subtle changes happening right in front of us. Take a moment to visit his site at www.danbrown.com. Go to the secret archives link.