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The National Security Agency (NSA) is a national-level intelligence agency of the United States Department of Defense, under the authority of the Director of National Intelligence. Unlike the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), both of which specialize primarily in foreign human espionage, the NSA does not publicly conduct human-source intelligence gathering.

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 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. 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.

Cybersecurity policy expert Susan Landau attributes the NSA's harmonious collaboration with industry and academia in the selection of the AES in 2000 — and the Agency's support for the choice of a strong encryption algorithm designed by Europeans rather than by Americans — to Brian Snow, who was the Technical Director of IAD and represented the NSA as cochairman of the Technical Working Group for the AES competition, and Michael Jacobs, who headed IAD at the time.

According to Neal Koblitz and Alfred Menezes, the period when the NSA was a trusted partner with academia and industry in the development of cryptographic standards started to come to an end when, as part of the change in the NSA in the post-September 11 era, Snow was replaced as Technical Director, Jacobs retired, and IAD could no longer effectively oppose proposed actions by the offensive arm of the NSA.

According to the leaked documents, the NSA intercepts and stores the communications of over a billion people worldwide, including United States citizens.It also had a "privacy mechanism"; surveillance was stored encrypted; decryption required a warrant.The research done under this program may have contributed to the technology used in later systems.Thin Thread was cancelled when Michael Hayden chose Trailblazer, which did not include Thin Thread's privacy system.Trailblazer Project ramped up in 2002 and was worked on by Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), Boeing, Computer Sciences Corporation, IBM, and Litton Industries.

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