An Or­tho­dox Li e in the Cy­ber Com­mand

Catch­ing Up With the NSA’s Anne Neu­berger

Forward Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Simi Hor­witz

F orty-two-year-old Anne Neu­berger, an Or­tho­dox Jew­ish woman, was tapped by the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency as its first chief risk of­fi­cer, a se­nior slot if ever there was one. The job was cre­ated specif­i­cally for her in  in the wake of Ed­ward Snow­den leak­ing clas­si­fied NSA in­for­ma­tion to the world, thus throw­ing the Pen­tagon, along with pun­dits of all po­lit­i­cal stripes, into a tail­spin.

Neu­berger was brought on board to help make sure no fu­ture Snow­dens could slip through the cracks. She has moved up the ranks dur­ing her time at the NSA where her du­ties in­clude op­er­at­ing and de­fend­ing the De­part­ment of De­fense’s on­line in­for­ma­tion net­work, The United States Cy­ber Com­mand.

Neu­berger is mat­ter-of-fact about all of it. Per­haps its NSA cul­ture or pro­to­col, maybe it’s just Neu­berger’s idio­syn­cratic tem­per­a­ment, but she won’t dis­cuss what she does in any de­tail, though she ad­mits she’s con­stantly strad­dling the line be­tween con­cerns over na­tional se­cu­rity on the one hand and civil lib­erty vi­o­la­tions on the other. It’s an is­sue that has res­o­nance for Neu­berger. Given her fam­ily his­tory, she sees both sides of this com­plex nether­world all too vividly.

Speak­ing to me on the phone from NSA head­quar­ters in Fort Meade, Mary­land, she ex­plained in a soft voice that to this day her fa­ther fears au­thor­ity fig­ures, even cops who pull him over for mi­nor traŒc in­frac­tions. She says it’s a con­se­quence of his ex­pe­ri­ences grow­ing up in com­mu­nist Hun­gary; in the ’“s, he ar­rived in the States as a refugee.

All of Neu­berger’s grand­par­ents are Auschwitz sur­vivors. Seven of her eight great-grand­par­ents did not make it out. The one who sur­vived (a great-grand­fa­ther) jumped o— a train car­ry­ing him to the death camp, she said, adding that her whole fam­ily was part of the mass de­por­ta­tion of Hun­gar­ian Jews in ’

On the flip side, her par­ents were saved in ’™š when Is­raeli com­man­dos stormed the now leg­endary Air France flight to Paris from Tel Aviv. The flight was un­ex­pect­edly di­verted to the En­tebbe Air­port in Uganda and hi­jacked by the Pales­tine Lib­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion, which de­manded, in ex­change for Is­raeli hostages, the re­lease of  Pales­tini­ans and sym­pa­thiz­ers be­ing held in Is­raeli jails.

“The Is­raelis were sep­a­rated from

. ev­ery­one else on the flight, forced to crawl into an­other room through a small space in the wall, bring­ing to mind the Holo­caust,” Neu­berger re­counted, though she was an in­fant at the time and had the good for­tune to be stay­ing with rel­a­tives nowhere near the plane.

“My par­ents had Amer­i­can pass­ports, but be­cause my fa­ther wore a kip­pah they knew he was Jew­ish and de­cided to keep him, too,” she said. “In Yid­dish he told my mom to go, but she re­fused. The other non-Is­raeli pas­sen­gers were re­leased. The hi­jack­ers held the hostages for a week. At the end of that week the PLO was threat­en­ing to start shoot­ing hostages if their de­mands were not met. Un­der the cover of dark­ness, Is­raeli com­man­dos charged onto the plane and res­cued the hostages. A mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion brought my par­ents home. Some­times that’s the only op­tion.”

Neu­berger’s du­ties in­clude func­tion­ing as a li­ai­son to pri­vate tech and de­fense op­er­a­tions. She says she has a rep­u­ta­tion as a “prob­lem solver.” She works ap­prox­i­mately ¡ hours a day (š:¡ a.m. to ™:¡ p.m.), but she leaves an

hour be­fore sun­down Fri­day to ob­serve the Sab­bath with her fam­ily in her kosher home. Grow­ing up in the Boro Park sec­tion of Brook­lyn in an ul­tra­Ortho­dox com­mu­nity of Hun­gar­ian Holo­caust sur­vivors — a fair num­ber of whom were Ha­sidic — her first lan­guage was Yid­dish; to­day her lan­guages in­clude French, Ara­bic and He­brew, in ad­di­tion to English. Known as “Chani,” she grad­u­ated from a lo­cal yeshiva and then ma­tric­u­lated into the all-women’s di­vi­sion of Touro (a New York based Or­tho­dox col­lege), where she ma­jored in fi­nance with a mi­nor in com­puter stud­ies. Her par­ents were not at all en­thu­si­as­tic about her go­ing to col­lege.

“But I al­ways wanted to work and dreamed of ac­com­plish­ing some­thing,” she said. “I had no spe­cific ca­reer plan, but I be­lieved in the prin­ci­ple that ev­ery per­son has a pur­pose and place.”

Neu­berger’s fam­ily was deeply in­flu­enced by the teach­ings of Rabbi Moshe Fe­in­stein (–¨œ£––œ¨©), an iconic Haredi re­li­gious leader who taught, among other things, the im­por­tance of char­i­ta­ble works. “He said, ‘You have to give at least –—% of your earn­ings to char­ity and –—% of your time to a com­mu­nity cause that makes some­one’s life eas­ier,’” Neu­berger said.

Neu­berger’s fam­ily is wealthy and phil­an­thropic. When her un­cle Michael Kar­funkel died last year, the For­ward de­scribed him and his brother, Ge­orge Kar­funkel (Neu­berger’s fa­ther), as bil­lion­aires. They are among the –—— wealth­i­est fam­i­lies in Amer­ica yet vir­tu­ally un­known out­side the Or­tho­dox com­mu­nity. Mem­bers of Neu­berger’s fam­ily have doled out hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in grants through their foun­da­tions (one is named in honor of Neu­berger and her hus­band, Ye­huda Neu­berger) to, most point­edly, their fa­vored re­li­gious and ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions within their com­mu­nity.

Neu­berger is well versed in the busi­ness world, hav­ing worked for many years in her fam­ily’s com­pa­nies in an ar­ray of fi­nan­cial and on­line ca­pac­i­ties. “I ran all of op­er­a­tions and mod­ern­ized their tech­nol­ogy, which en­abled us to grow the busi­ness sig­nif­i­cantly,” she said.

Not many (if any) high-level sta‹ers at the NSA have pri­vate sec­tor cred­its on their ré­sumé.

“My busi­ness back­ground is very much val­ued here, be­cause I un­der­stand bud­gets and know how to think about strate­gies and re­sources,” she said.

“That’s some­thing unique that I can o‹er. Peo­ple who grew up in gov­ern­ment have a more diŠcult time un­der­stand­ing that you have to con­trol your costs.”

The œ/–– ter­ror­ist at­tacks were a turn­ing point for Neu­berger, in­form­ing her long-term am­bi­tion to move into gov­ern­ment and away from the fam­ily busi­ness. Neu­berger un­der­stood the po­ten­tial road­blocks she faced as a mar­ried woman who at that time was preg­nant with her first child.

She cred­its her hus­band, a lawyer who makes his liv­ing in pri­vate eq­uity — and whom she met on a date pre­ar­ranged by her par­ents — with en­cour­ag­ing her to con­tinue her ed­u­ca­tion. In fact, he and her two chil­dren moved to Bal­ti­more, fol­low­ing her, when she be­came a White House fel­low, a pro­gram ini­ti­ated by Pres­i­dent John­son to bring into gov­ern­ment a di­verse mix of high-achiev­ing pro­fes­sion­als from a range of mi­dlevel ca­reers.

“Most of the peo­ple were ¢£–¥—, I was ¢–,” she said. “There were eight men and six women. Among the eight men, seven were mar­ried. Among the six women I was the only one with a hus­band and fam­ily.”

As it turned out, the fam­ily liked be­ing in Bal­ti­more, and they de­cided to stay after Neu­berger’s one-year fel­low­ship had ended. As a fel­low, she had worked for the sec­re­tary of De­fense, Robert Gates; a stint with the Navy fol­lowed. She was on the found­ing team of the Na­tional Cy­ber­se­cu­rity Cen­ter, and Gen. Keith Alexan­der, who served as the NSA di­rec­tor, re­cruited her to join a small group work­ing un­der his com­mand.

Life at the NSA has been grat­i­fy­ing on so many lev­els, “in­clud­ing cut­ting my com­mute time in half,” Neu­berger said.

Asked about cul­ture shock, Neu­berger ad­mits that early on, the hol­i­days she cel­e­brated and the kosher food she ate were alien to her col­leagues, but she came to un­der­stand that the NSA is an em­bod­i­ment of tol­er­ance and re­spect.

“If you are pro­fes­sional in your job and com­fort­able in ad­her­ing to your tra­di­tions, ev­ery­one will be fine with it,” Neu­berger said. “All my co­work­ers un­der­stand that I don’t go out with them for drinks on Fri­day night and that I ob­serve the Sab­bath. In fact, I have as­sis­tants who keep their eye on the clock for me Fri­day af­ter­noons, let­ting me know that I had bet­ter get mov­ing.”

That said, Neu­berger does not be­lieve it’s nec­es­sary to point to her­self as an Or­tho­dox Jew if, for ex­am­ple, she’s con­fronted in the oŠce by a sex­ist com­ment or crude joke. “I wouldn’t say that as an Or­tho­dox Jew­ish woman it o‹ends me,” she said. “O‹-color jokes are an is­sue for ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing men.”

And then there’s the hand-shak­ing co­nun­drum. Many ul­tra-Or­tho­dox Jews be­lieve it’s a vi­o­la­tion to touch some­one of the op­po­site sex to whom you are not re­lated or mar­ried. “I shake hands,” she said. “Jew­ish law only has trou­ble with it if it’s an ex­pres­sion of a‹ec­tion be­tween a man and a woman. I don’t view hand-shak­ing as an ex­pres­sion of a‹ec­tion.”

Neu­berger also finds time to vol­un­teer for Sis­ter to Sis­ter (known as S‘S), a not-for-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion she cre­ated for di­vorced Or­tho­dox Jew­ish women, most of whom have chil­dren, lim­ited re­sources and, in some in­stances, few mar­ketable skills.

This is how it started: Twelve years ago, a friend con­tacted her about a sin­gle mom who was rais­ing her chil­dren alone and fac­ing ma­jor chal­lenges. The

“If you are pro­fes­sional in your job and com­fort­able in ad­her­ing to your tra­di­tions, ev­ery­one will be fine with it.”

friend asked Neu­berger for a fi­nan­cial con­tri­bu­tion, and got one.

But Neu­berger sus­pected that the sin­gle mother in need was not all that anoma­lous, and that many in­vis­i­ble, stig­ma­tized Or­tho­dox di­vorcees were in sim­i­lar straits. Through fur­ther re­search, she dis­cov­ered there were no or­ga­ni­za­tions within the com­mu­nity to ad­dress them.

And so Neu­berger started SS, which pro­vides, among many other ser­vices, ad­vo­cates who are well versed in di­vorce law; men­tor­ing pro­grams for chil­dren of di­vorce, and, most cen­tral, ed­u­ca­tional and ca­reer guid­ance.

Neu­berger does not view her­self as a fem­i­nist — “I feel fem­i­nism has a con­strained vi­sion of what is good for a woman” — but she is fully com­mit­ted to the no­tion that ev­ery woman should be self-suƒcient and able to sup­port her­self. To­day, SS has „…… vol­un­teers in „… com­mu­ni­ties in the United States and Canada, reach­ing more than ˆ,ˆ…… women and ‰,……… chil­dren. The or­ga­ni­za­tion also part­ners with a range of so­cial ser­vice agen­cies.

“When I first came to SS I had a „-year-old son and two suit­cases,” said Fay Jor­dan, Ž. “I was lit­er­ally start­ing from scratch. They helped me set­tle in, find a job, move my di­vorce for­ward and men­tor my son. One of the con­nec­tions I made through the or­ga­ni­za­tion drove my son for the first few months to kinder­garten while I ob­tained my driver’s li­cense. Anne is wise and hum­ble. She has a warm smile and a charis­matic char­ac­ter, al­ways ask­ing, ‘How else can we help you?”

For her part, Neu­berger says she is thrilled to be seen as a role model. She never had one, and to this day re­grets it, but she’s happy to re­port that much has changed for young women in the com­mu­nity to­day.

“My ˆš-year-old daugh­ter, who at­tends an Or­tho­dox school, went to a ca­reer night two weeks ago where re­li­gious women in a range of fields — doc­tors, lawyers, judges — came to speak to them,” she said. “That would have been un­heard of › years ago, when I was in high school. And now I want to con­trib­ute to that move­ment and par­tic­i­pate in it as much as I can.”

Re­gard­ing the ma­jor is­sues that she faces at the NSA, Neu­berger said, “Threats from those that want to cause us harm are real and not go­ing away. We have a com­mit­ment to de­fend­ing our na­tion in law­ful ways. Our na­tion needs to re­main vig­i­lant when it comes to cy­ber­se­cu­rity. The NSA makes criti- cal con­tri­bu­tions to pro­tect the na­tion.

“Our work­force is the un­sung he­roes of the agency,” she con­tin­ued. “Our peo­ple make the dižer­ence, and most of their work will never be rec­og­nized pub­licly. Mak­ing sure that we show them how much they are val­ued for their work pro­tect­ing the U.S. is one of the most im­por­tant things the lead­ers of the NSA must do.”

Simi Hor­witz won a 2018 Front Page Award from the News­women’s Club of New York for her For­ward pro­file of Ruchie Freier.

“My busi­ness back­ground is very much val­ued here, be­cause I un­der­stand bud­gets and know how to think about strate­gies and re­sources.”


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