According to a report in the Wall Street Journal — based on what the paper says are interviews with current and former security officials — the National Security Agency’s surveillance program can access much more data than the agency has admitted publicly to date: as much as 75 percent of all U.S. internet traffic. The data comes from major internet nodes across the country, and most of the leading telecom companies help gather the information, the paper said late Tuesday.
The WSJ report said that the various programs in place with each telecom provider have their own code names — including Blarney, Fairview, Oakstar, Lithium and Stormbrew. Although some of these programs have been mentioned in the NSA documents that were leaked by Edward Snowden to the Guardian and Washington Post earlier this year, the Journal said that its reporting had uncovered more details about the extent of the programs.
The fact that the NSA and other agencies engage in surveillance of large amounts of internet traffic is well known, but the Journal report says that until now the assumption was that most of this data snooping occurred via undersea cables and other major network entrance points into the U.S. The newspaper said that according to the anonymous officials it spoke to, it actually occurs at more than a dozen major internet nodes across the country.
According to the Journal, the NSA asks telecom companies to send it streams of internet traffic that it believes are most likely to contain intelligence on foreign or terrorist threats. The NSA then copies the data and filters it based on what it calls “strong selectors” — an email address, or a block of computer addresses. And according to the Journal report, the agency can look at the actual content of messages or phone calls to make those decisions, not just the metadata.
Some of these programs have already been revealed at other points over the past few years, including a system that was set up at an AT&T facility in San Francisco in a secret room, which copied the entire stream of telecom data that went through the switch using a prism-style splitter. That system was revealed by AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein in 2006.
A former executive at the telecom carrier Global Crossing said that any checks and balances in the NSA programs would depend on telecom companies policing the system themselves. “There’s technically and physically nothing preventing a much broader surveillance,” he told the newspaper. The Journal said the technology used in the NSA systems comes from Boeing Co.’s Narus subsidiary, as well as Cisco Systems and Juniper Networks Inc.
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