“I’m with the NSA.” Not something we’ve heard much, even just a few years ago. Those who wanted to let you know they were with the NSA but wouldn’t want to say it for any number of reasons—from looking cool to being utterly professional—would say things like, “I’m with DoD,” or “I’m with one of those agencies we don’t talk about,” or, they’d simply change the subject altogether and you’d never know what happened.

OPENING THE DOOR to the NSA Central Security Service

NSA’s Dr. Deborah Frincke (@Frincke) heads the National Security Agency’s Central Security Service (NSA/CSS). She’s the daughter of a computer science professor and a computer scientist, herself. She’s a fan of King Arthur. She’s a cancer survivor. She’s service oriented by nature. She’s one of Forbes’ “Five Cool Women In Security.” She’s a cyber-researcher. She helps design ways to attack and defend and protect. She’s in the know and she’s been read-in. And Frincke puts NSA on her nameplate and asks for your questions.

Dr. Frincke is a face of an NSA today that’s coming out of the dark and into the light of our inevitably more transparent world. In a recent interview with Washingtonian’s Paul O’Donnel, Frincke talks about the rewards of government service, to the Snowden effect, to NSA women, and more.

THE BEST OFFENSE

Frincke’s adamant about the importance of defense—that is, cybersecurity. In fact, she says, thinking about cyberdefense is what keeps her up at night. In Frincke’s view, NSA offensive operations are important, but they don’t pose the same kind of risk to the American people that good cyberdefense prevents in the Internet of Things world. She says, “You have to get the defense right all the time. Offense can be successful if it gets in and gets out. Defense touches every US citizen every single day. . . . Every year, more and more, so much of our lives is dependent on a fragile infrastructure. We will see breaks. If US citizens want to worry about one, it’s defense they should focus on.”

IN THE BALANCE

In discussions about transparency, there inevitably are equal and opposite discussions about national security. How much information sharing is too much? How much is too little? Research and real innovation depend on the kind of prolific information sharing our linked-together world encourages. But functioning effectively and productively in the internet world also depends on a reasonable sense of security, for all sorts of reasons from political to financial to personal. Frincke argues, “What I ask is that as a nation we have thoughtful dialogue, think through where we do want to share information. . . . Where do we create that balance between maximizing civil liberties and maximizing the safety and security? If you don’t get them both right, then you are not safer and more secure. We have to get them both right.”

Dr. Deborah Frincke could be a highly advanced, completely convincing talking head automaton for the NSA on a secret mission to persuade the world that the agency is good, that the agency is coming out of the closet. But if we take the insights and experiences she shares at face value, then she gives us a few things worth thinking about.

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Ed Ledford enjoys the most challenging, complex, and high stakes communications requirements. His portfolio includes everything from policy and strategy to poetry. A native of Asheville, N.C., and retired Army Aviator, Ed’s currently writing speeches in D.C. and working other writing projects from his office in Rockville, MD. He loves baseball and enjoys hiking, camping, and exploring anything. Follow Ed on Twitter @ECLedford.

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