The National Security Agency has gathered “startingly intimate” data on a vast number of ordinary citizens, according to a new report in The Washington Post based on documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The NSA is far more likely to intercept conversations between ordinary Internet users than terror suspects, according to the report, which was based off a four-month review of more than 160,000 emails and instant-message conversations, as well as 7,900 documents lifted from 11,000 online accounts.
The Post’s report said that nine out of 10 users found in the cache of the NSA’s intercepted conversations were not the intended target. Many were Americans, and nearly half the files contained names, email addresses, and other “startlingly intimate” details of U.S. residents.
NSA analysts tried to conceal, or “minimize,” about 65,000 references to these details to protect people’s privacy. But the Post said it had found about 900 more additional email addresses linked to U.S. citizens that were not masked.
At the same time, the documents reveal the intercepted messages sometimes contained material of significant intelligence value. For example, the documents contain 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.”
The Post didn’t detail the specifics of these revelations to not interfere with ongoing operations.
The documents also disclose that months of tracking his communications led directly to the 2011 capture in Abbottabad of Muhammad Tahir Shahzad, a Pakistan-based bomb builder, and Umar Patek, a suspect in a 2002 terrorist bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali.
Other documents depict some intimate details about the ordinary daily lives of more than 10,000 people — telling “stories of love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversions, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes.”
The documents reviewed by the Post came from domestic NSA operations under the broad authority granted by Congress in 2008 with amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, according to the Post. Since Snowden originally leaked material to journalists, intelligence officials have said these types of documents were far beyond what Snowden could have acquired.
Read the full story at the Post here.
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