In NSA-Intercepted Data, Those Not targeted Far Outnumber the Foreigners Who Are

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This is one of those big WaPo investigations that few traditional newspapers have the resources to do anymore. I recommend it, read the whole thing here.

For The Washington PostBarton GellmanJulie Tate, and Ashkan Soltani report:

Ordinary Internet users, American and non-American alike, far outnumber legally targeted foreigners in the communications intercepted by the National Security Agency from U.S. digital networks, according to a four-month investigation by The Washington Post.

[Also see: History lesson: The crucial differences between Bush and Obama’s NSA phone surveillance programs]

Nine of 10 account holders found in a large cache of intercepted conversations, which former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided in full to The Post, were not the intended surveillance targets but were caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else.

The Post reviewed roughly 160,000 intercepted e-mail and instant-message conversations, some of them hundreds of pages long, and 7,900 documents taken from more than 11,000 online accounts.

Many of them were Americans. Nearly half of the surveillance files, a strikingly high proportion, contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents. NSA analysts masked, or “minimized,” more than 65,000 such references to protect Americans’ privacy, but The Post found nearly 900 additional e-mail addresses, unmasked in the files, that could be strongly linked to U.S. citizens or U.S.residents.

The material spans President Obama’s first term, from 2009 to 2012, a period of exponential growth for the NSA’s domestic collection.

The surveillance files highlight a policy dilemma that has been aired only abstractly in public. There are discoveries of considerable intelligence value in the intercepted messages — and collateral harm to privacy on a scale that the Obama administration has not been willing to address.

Among the most valuable contents — which The Post will not describe in detail, to avoid interfering with ongoing operations — are fresh revelations about a secret overseas nuclear project, double-dealing by an ostensible ally, a military calamity that befell an unfriendly power, and the identities of aggressive intruders into U.S. computer networks. Read the rest of this entry »


By cracking cellphone code, NSA has ability to decode private conversations

Francisco Seco/AP - In this October 2013 file photo, a man looks at his cellphone as he walks on the street in downtown Madrid. The NSA’s ability to crack cellphone encryption used by the majority of cellphones in the world offers it wide-ranging powers to listen in on private conversations.

Francisco Seco/AP – In this October 2013 file photo, a man looks at his cellphone as he walks on the street in downtown Madrid. The NSA’s ability to crack cellphone encryption used by the majority of cellphones in the world offers it wide-ranging powers to listen in on private conversations.

Craig Timberg and Ashkan Soltani report:  The cellphone encryption technology used most widely across the world can be easily defeated by the National Security Agencyan internal document shows, giving the agency the means to decode most of the billions of calls and texts that travel over public airwaves every day.

While the military and law enforcement agencies long have been able to hack into individual cellphones, the NSA’s capability appears to be far more sweeping because of the agency’s global signals collection operation. The agency’s ability to crack encryption used by the majority of cellphones in the world offers it wide-ranging powers to listen in on private conversations.

U.S. law prohibits the NSA from collecting the content of conversations between Americans without a court order. But experts say that if the NSA has developed the capacity to easily decode encrypted cellphone conversations, then other nations likely can do the same through their own intelligence services, potentially to Americans’ calls, as well.

Read the rest of this entry »