Fort Meade: Behind The Gates (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Fort Meade: Behind The Gates

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:13:38
While we're on the subject of top secret stuff in the region, let's head now to Anne Arundel County, Maryland, to a place that physically exists above ground, but nearly everything about it is underground, hidden from the public, classified.

MR. ROB SACHS

13:13:52
We're talking about Fort Meade, an active U.S. Army installation. It's the largest employer in the State of Maryland, contributing $18 billion to the state's economy.

SHEIR

13:14:01
And now, about 20,000 additional jobs are moving to Fort Meade as part of BRAC, that's the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Subcabinet. So as more of our neighbors begin to work at Fort Meade, it seemed like a good time to find out what's really going on over there or at least to try. Emily Friedman decided to give it a go.

MS. EMILY FRIEDMAN

13:14:21
In a way, you can think of Fort Meade as a small city, lots of offices, parking lots, a movie theater, a gym, 40,000 people work there. Only they're all working for the same company. And if you ask them what the company does, well, they can't really say.

MR. KENT MENSER

13:14:38
Many people who work at Fort Meade can't talk about their jobs.

FRIEDMAN

13:14:42
It's like a company town where people can't talk about the company.

MENSER

13:14:44
Exactly right.

FRIEDMAN

13:14:45
I'm sitting with Kent Menser in his office. He was the commander of Fort Meade back in the '90s. His job now is to prepare the communities around the installation for the impact of Fort Meade's growth.

MENSER

13:14:54
Now, if this were a automotive plant that employed 40,000, then people would be talking about it and about their job you know, in bowling alleys, the churches and in the restaurants.

FRIEDMAN

13:15:04
So what do those 40,000 people do? Well, Fort Meade is headquarters for the National Security Agency, NSA. That's the federal agency responsible for intercepting intelligence and breaking codes. Fort Meade is also home to people working for the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coastguard. Cyber command will be based here, keeping America's networks safe from attacks, not to mention about 80 companies working on defense contracts.

MENSER

13:15:32
There's a great mission on Fort Meade and there's great people on Fort Meade. I just can't talk about them.

FRIEDMAN

13:15:39
But you can go there. It's open to the public, though not exactly easy to find. Kent tells me to go east down Route 175, look for a clearing in the woods and a small sign that says Reece Road. Ah, Reece Road, Reece Road, turning… I stopped just before the security checkpoint.

MS. MARY DOYLE

13:15:55
Before 9/11, we didn't have guards at the gates and you could just drive on. And once we put guards at all the gates, people thought you couldn't come on the installation. But people can come on.

FRIEDMAN

13:16:09
Mary Doyle takes me on a tour in an old maroon minivan. She works in the public affairs office and as we drive around, I realize Fort Meade looks a lot like any other town in Maryland.

DOYLE

13:16:21
We have gas stations, childcare centers, schools.

FRIEDMAN

13:16:27
I did not expect to see a Dunkin Donuts and a Baskin Robbins. It's like a totally regular strip mall.

DOYLE

13:16:33
Totally like a strip mall.

FRIEDMAN

13:16:34
While most of the people live off the installation, 15,000 people live here. Doyle and I drive through the neighborhoods, some are newly built and some older with neatly-spaced brick homes. As a rule, the higher your rank, the fancier your house is.

DOYLE

13:16:48
You're living in, you know, one of the safest, gated communities you can imagine and you're really close to work.

FRIEDMAN

13:16:55
As we drive, I notice how quiet it is here. In an hour-long tour, I count fewer than ten people walking around, but there is something else I see a lot of.

DOYLE

13:17:06
There are a lot of water towers.

FRIEDMAN

13:17:11
Is there, like, something going on at the water towers?

DOYLE

13:17:12
Not that I know of. I don't know.

FRIEDMAN

13:17:15
See another, is that the same water tower or is that another one?

DOYLE

13:17:16
No, that's a different water tower.

FRIEDMAN

13:17:17
I told you.

DOYLE

13:17:20
I never noticed all the water towers until you brought it up.

FRIEDMAN

13:17:24
Either they're smart for stockpiling water or the water towers are not actually water towers. This reminds me to ask about the one agency we haven't seen yet, the NSA.

DOYLE

13:17:34
I have to tell you that NSA is on a portion of the installation that we can't go. You have to have, you know, the right credentials.

FRIEDMAN

13:17:43
But she says there is another way to get into the NSA.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1

13:17:48
This is an STU3 secured telephone used by US leaders since 1989.

FRIEDMAN

13:17:53
The National Cryptologic Museum, in this museum, you'll find an old typewriter that's actually an encryption machine. There's a cryptex, that puzzle from "The Da Vinci Code." It's a cylinder with sliding numbers and letters. If you crack the code, the cylinder pops open and you can get whatever is inside. Here you'll find everything you need to crack a code, before 1990. The museum's curator, Patrick Weadon, says that many of the exhibited items might be a little out of date, but it's for a good reason.

MR. PATRICK WEADON

13:18:22
One of the problems that you have when you are a cryptologic organization is that it's not prudent or wise to advertise your most recent successes. If you do, for a brief leading moment, everybody will be impressed, but then after that, the possibility of future successes will probably be nil.

FRIEDMAN

13:18:42
So the NSA relies on telling older success stories.

WEADON

13:18:45
What we hope is, is that by studying these and learning about these amazing stories from the past, people will be able to extrapolate how important the current-day mission is.

FRIEDMAN

13:18:54
Weadon says to work for the NSA or any of the other defense agencies at Fort Meade...

WEADON

13:18:59
You have to take more pleasure out of keeping a secret than in telling one.

FRIEDMAN

13:19:01
So even if I'm leaving Fort Meade without knowing exactly what it is they do there, in a sense, that's a good thing. It means they're doing their job. I'm Emily Friedman.
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