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Monday, 12 February, 2001, 08:19 GMT
US spies 'losing technology race'

The head of the NSA says his agency is not keeping up
The head of a top-secret United States spy agency has warned that Osama bin Laden, the man alleged to have been behind the US embassy bombings, has a technological edge over the US.

In a rare interview, the head of the National Security Agency (NSA) says his organisation is "behind the curve in keeping up with the global telecommunications revolution".

Woman on mobile phone
Communications are advancing rapidly
General Mike Hayden said the US had been unable to prevent an attack on its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 because of that gap.

The NSA monitors radio transmissions and phone, fax and e-mail communications around the world in order to detect threats against US citizens.

Agency not changing with times

In an interview with the American TV news programme "60 Minutes II", General Hayden said the NSA had not adapted to the post-Cold War world.

Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Laden has a technological edge, says the NSA
"This is about an agency that's grown up in one world and now finds itself in another world, and it's got to change if it hopes to succeed in that world", he warned.

"In the previous world order, our primary adversary was the Soviet Union," he said.

"Technologically, we had to keep pace with an oligarchic, resource-poor, technologically inferior, over-bureaucratised, slow-moving nation-state."

The NSA now faces very different challenges, he said.

Outclassed technologically

"Osama bin Laden has at his disposal the wealth of a $3 trillion a year telecommunications industry that he can rely on," General Hayden said.

The US accuses Mr bin Laden, a Saudi-born militant, of orchestrating the two embassy attacks, which killed 224 people in the summer of 1998.

Four men linked to the bombing are currently on trial in the US, and others are sought for prosecution.

General Hayden admitted that his agency had been effectively shut down for several days in January of last year due to computer failures.

The agency is one of America's most secretive. A Washington joke has it that the initials NSA stand for "no such agency".

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See also:

06 Feb 01 | Americas
Embassy bombing trial 'unfair'
30 Jan 00 | Americas
Spy agency admits computer glitch
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