New College Classes That Require Top Secret Clearance

May 22, 2012:  America’s most high-tech intelligence agency is looking to American colleges for the next generation of cyber warriors and it is now designing its own top secret classes to prepare them for training in the dark arts of cyber espionage.

The National Security Agency announced Monday [May 21, 2012] that four universities had been selected for a new academic program designed to teach students skills “associated with specialized cyber operations.”

The NSA is vague on the details of the courses and says on its website the curriculum will only offer the students a “glimpse” of the cyber capabilities sought by the country’s foremost collector of worldwide electronic intelligence data and protector of classified U.S. computer networks.

Officials at the NSA told Reuters that the program, which is an extension of President Barack Obama’s National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education, will focus on the “basic knowledge” of computer systems that would be the foundation of more advanced, secret operations. Any successful students won’t be trained for their real jobs until they actually arrive at the NSA.

Still, students and faculty involved will have to go through background security checks and obtain top secret clearance before cracking open their laptops, the NSA says.

“The nation increasingly needs professionals with highly technical cyber skills to help keep America safe today and to help the country meet future challenges and adapt with greater agility,” Steven LaFountain, an NSA technical leader with the program, said. “When it comes to national security, there is no substitute for a dedicated, immensely talented workforce… This effort will sow even more seeds.”

The universities selected by the NSA are Dakota State University, the Naval Postgraduate School, Northeastern University and the University of Tulsa.

Here is the release from

NSA Announces New Program to Prime College Students for Careers in Cyber Ops

  The National Security Agency has launched a National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations Program to ultimately yield a larger pool of professionals with expertise in this area.

An outgrowth of the President's National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education, the program also supports the government's work to better protect cyberspace. It is designed to identify institutions that offer a deeply technical, interdisciplinary curriculum centered on fields such as computer science, computer engineering, and electrical engineering. In addition, it will offer some participants opportunities to apply their learning or enhance their teaching in cutting-edge summer seminars at NSA. The agency has long worked with schools at all levels to improve education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

After a rigorous application and screening process, NSA selected this month the first four schools to receive the CAE-Cyber Operations designation for the 2012-2013 academic year: Dakota State University, South Dakota; the Naval Postgraduate School, California; Northeastern University, Massachusetts; and the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma. The program will complement 145 existing centers of academic excellence (CAEs) in research and information assurance education, jointly overseen by the agency and the Department of Homeland Security.

Many of the nation's colleges and universities offer courses or promote projects in cybersecurity. NSA's new program differs in that it integrates the relevant academic disciplines, with a focus on technology and the techniques associated with specialized cyber operations - collection, exploitation, and response, for example. Each new center is also required to include an academic unit about the legal and ethical issues in this area.

Participating students and faculty members will not engage in actual U.S. government intelligence activities.

Rather, the primary goal is to expose students to the scientific and intellectual foundation of cyber operations, giving them a glimpse of how such knowledge could be applied in innovative cyber careers with the government. Seminar students and faculty members, who will be hired as temporary NSA employees, will be required to undergo background checks and obtain top-secret security clearances.

Strengthening partnerships with academia is another key goal.

Like the agency's other centers, those in the cyber operations program will be evaluated annually. Designations are for five years and schools across the country can compete each year to join the effort.

"The nation increasingly needs professionals with highly technical cyber skills to help keep America safe today - and to help the country meet future challenges and adapt with greater agility," said Steven LaFountain, an NSA technical leader involved with the program.

"When it comes to national security, there is no substitute for a dedicated, immensely talented workforce," he added. "This effort will sow even more seeds."

Details about NSA's Centers of Academic Excellence are available online at