"The mathematicians and cryptanalysts I met were from all over the country and had very different backgrounds, but we all seemed to be drawn to the agency for the same two reasons. First, we all knew that the math was sexy. This might sound bizarre to a non-mathematician, but certain mathematical problems just exude a certain something—a feeling of importance, of gravity, along with a sense that the solution is not far outside of your grasp. It's big, and it can be yours if you just think a little bit harder. When I signed up, I knew that the NSA was doing interesting math, but I had no idea what I was in for. Within a week of arriving at the NSA, I was presented with an amazing smorgasbord of the most alluring mathematics problems I had ever seen, any of which could possibly yield to a smart undergraduate. I hadn't seen anything like it—and I never will again.
The other thing that drew us—or so I thought—was an idealistic vision that we were doing something to help our country. I knew enough about history to have shed the notion that it was ungentlemanly to read your enemy's mail. And once I was on the inside, I saw plenty of ways that the agency was having an effect on national security. Even as a rookie, I felt I had a chance to make a difference in some small way. Some of the veteran mathematicians whom we met had clearly had a palpable effect on the security of the United States, legends almost completely unknown outside of our own club.
This isn't to say that the idealism was naive. Anyone who's spent any time on the other side of the intelligence game knows how high the stakes can be. We all understand that real human beings can die because of a seemingly minor breach of secrets we've been entrusted with. We also realize that intelligence gathering sometimes means using underhanded tactics to try to protect the nation. But we all knew that those tactics were constrained by law, even if that law isn't always black and white. The agency insisted, over and over, that the weapons we were building—and weapons they are, even if they're weapons of information—would never be turned on our own people, but would only be used upon our enemies." - Charles Seife