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NSA's Eyes Trained Less on Terrorists Than on Average Joes and Janes

NSA's Eyes Trained Less on Terrorists Than on Average Joes and Janes

Have you ever communicated with someone outside the U.S.? Ever sent an email in a language other than English? If so, congratulations -- you qualify as an NSA person of interest. In fact, investigators who examined data provided by Edward Snowden concluded that 90 percent of the NSA's snooping was into the business of Americans who had no connection to any suspected terrorist activity.

By Richard Adhikari TechNewsWorld ECT News Network
07/07/14 2:08 PM PT

Nine out of 10 people whose information is being collected by the United States National Security Agency are Americans who have nothing to do with people targeted by the agency, The Washington Post reported.

Data provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden includes some information pertaining to terrorist activities and possible threats to U.S. national security, as well as a few successes in antiterrorist work. However, a four-month-long investigation by the publication found that many files retained by the agency contain intimate personal details of innocent peoples' lives.

"They should probably delete the whole damned lot," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld. "It's spying on U.S. citizens who are not terrorists."

The report "shows willful ignorance on the part of the NSA," remarked Daniel Castro, senior analyst at the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF).

"It's telling that The Washington Post had to do this investigation to even begin to quantify the extent to which individuals were correctly targeted by the NSA," Castro told TechNewsWorld. "If the intelligence community had even basic controls in place, they would know this information, if only to improve the efficiency of their operations."

Every Step You Take

Nearly half the surveillance files reportedly contain names, email addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents.

NSA analysts masked more than 65,000 such references to protect the subjects' privacy, but the Post found nearly 900 unmasked email addresses that could be strongly linked to U.S. citizens or residents.

The NSA's practices included scooping up the data of everyone in a chat room entered by a target.

Data collected from network links and online accounts in the U.S. includes private photos emailed between family members, resumes, academic transcripts of students, and photos of infants and toddlers.

The NSA continues to hang on to the data even after government cryptologists have dismissed it as irrelevant.

Gotta Get Them Foreigners!

The NSA theoretically is restrained in conducting surveillance on Americans, but it can get around that in various ways, including the three-hop rule.

Targets have been designated as foreign simply because their emails were written in a foreign language. Analysts can assume that anyone on the buddy list of a known foreign national also is foreign. Further, accounts have been treated as foreign when someone connects to them from an IP address that appears to be from overseas.

Our Hands Are Clean

The NSA and the Obama administration repeatedly have asserted that Americans are not being spied on.

In December, then-NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander told CBS's 60 Minutes that "we're not collecting everybody's email, we're not collecting everybody's phone things, we're not listening to that. Our job is foreign intelligence and we're very good at that."

The NSA was watching "less than 60 globally who are considered U.S. persons," he claimed.

The agency collected phone records of more than 300 million Americans because "the least intrusive way" of finding out when a bad guy is in the U.S. trying to do something bad is to collect metadata, Alexander said.

However, "we kill people based on metadata," former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden has said.

Dealing With the Data

Much has been made of new technologies being used to deal with massive amounts of information, but "Big Data couldn't cope with data of this magnitude," Enderle said.

The NSA should delete the extraneous data it has collected on Americans because "if something were to happen and they didn't find anything to warn them, it would look bad after the fact," Enderle pointed out.

The latest revelations, said ITIF's Castro, "might convince some on the fence that these programs, while useful, do not have sufficient oversight and are overreaching."


Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.


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