The US National Security Agency has secretly infiltrated the main communications links connecting worldwide data centres of Yahoo and Google, Washington Post’s Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani report.
The Post, citing documents obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and interviews with knowledgeable officials, details a project called MUSCULAR that sends reams of customer data from hundreds of millions of user accounts, including Americans, to NSA servers. It’s sucking up vast swaths of data from Yahoo and Google servers overseas.
The first thing that stands out is the drawing accompanying the report. The slide shows a seemingly hand-drawn sketch showing how Google attempts to encrypt their data and how the NSA circumvents it.
The Post explains:
In an NSA presentation slide on “Google Cloud Exploitation,” however, a sketch shows where the “Public Internet” meets the internal “Google Cloud” where their data resides. In hand-printed letters, the drawing notes that encryption is “added and removed here!” The artist adds a smiley face, a cheeky celebration of victory over Google security.
Two engineers with close ties to Google exploded in profanity when they saw the drawing. “I hope you publish this,” one of them said.
“Clouds,” which are massive data centres across continents that are connected by thousands of miles of fibre-optic cable, allow the Silicon Valley giants to function with minimal data loss and system slowdowns.
The NSA and its UK counterpart, the GCHC, are able to copy entire data flows across fibre-optic cables, according to the Post. That type of activity goes far beyond the PRISM program, which compels companies to provide specified foreign user data from U.S. companies under law.
The Post notes that MUSCULAR “appears to be an unusually aggressive use of NSA tradecraft against flagship American companies.”
From The Post:
According to a top secret accounting dated Jan. 9, 2013, NSA’s acquisitions directorate sends millions of records every day from Yahoo and Google internal networks to data warehouses at the agency’s Fort Meade headquarters. In the preceding 30 days, the report said, field collectors had processed and sent back 181,280,466 new records — ranging from “metadata,” which would indicate who sent or received e-mails and when, to content such as text, audio and video.
The spy agency justifies what it calls “bulk access” and “high volume” operations by intercepting the communications overseas, where the NSA is allowed to presume that the users are foreigners.
The Post notes NSA documents indicate that “collection from inside Yahoo and Google has produced important intelligence leads against hostile foreign governments that are specified in the documents.”
The report also notes that it it is unclear “how much data from Americans is collected, and how much of that is retained.”
Google stated to the Post that it was “troubled by allegations of the government intercepting traffic between our data centres, and we are not aware of this activity.”
A Yahoo spokeswoman told the Post that “we have not given access to our data centres to the NSA or to any other government agency.”
The MUSCULAR operation allows the NSA to intercept communications in real time and to take “a retrospective look at target activity,” according to one NSA document.
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