Third Echelon is an organization no one is supposed to know about. The NSA—theNational Security Agency— is the nation's cryptologic establishment. It coordinates, directs, and performs highly specialized activities to protect U.S. information systems and produce foreign intelligence reports. Since it's on the edge of communications and
data processing, the NSA is naturally a very high-tech operation. For decades the NSA engaged in what I call "passive" collection of moving data by intercepting communications en route. The First Echelon was a worldwide network of international intelligence agencies and interceptors that seized communications signals and routed
them back to the NSA for analysis. It was a network vital to the United States' efforts during the Cold War. As the Soviet Union disintegrated and communications evolved,
high technology became the name of the game. The NSA created Second Echelon, which focused entirely on this new breed of communications technology. Unfortunately,
the immense volume of information combined with the accelerated pace of developing technology and encryption overwhelmed Second Echelon. NSA experienced its first
system-wide crash. As communications became more digital and sophisticated encryption more expansive, passive collection was simply no longer efficient. So the
NSA launched a top-secret initiative—Third Echelon—to return to more, shall we say, "classical" methods of espionage powered by the latest technology for the aggressive
collection of stored data. In other words, it was back to the nitty-gritty world of human spies out there in the field, risking their lives for the sake of taking a photograph or
recording a conversation or copying a computer hard drive. Third Echelon agents are called Splinter Cells, and I was the very first one. We physically infiltrate dangerous and
sensitive enemy locations to gather the required intelligence by whatever means necessary. Our prime directive, in a nutshell, is to do our jobs while remaining invisible
to the public eye. We're authorized to work outside the boundaries of international treaties, but the U.S. will neither acknowledge nor support our operations.
Thus, Third Echelon, a sub-agency of the NSA, consists of an elite team of strategists, hackers, and field operatives. We respond to crises of information warfare—a war that is hidden from the media and the ordinary man on the street. You're not going to see our battles on CNN. At least I hope not. If you do, then we've failed.