New NSA leaks show email surveillance under Obama

June 27, 2013

The Obama administration permitted the National Security Agency to continue collecting vast amounts of records detailing the email and Internet usage of Americans for more than two years, new documents reveal.

According to two leaked NSA documents published by The Guardian on Thursday, a secretive surveillance program that put email and Internet metadata into the hands of the United States government was authorized after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks by President George W. Bush and continued under President Barack Obama through 2011.

Since then, claims The Guardian, the NSA has initiated new systems that collect and analyze the records of email communications sent in and out of the United States.

The leaked evidence comes three weeks to the day after The Guardian first began publishing classified NSA documents attributed to Edward Snowden, a 30-year-old former intelligence analyst from the US who is now wanted there for espionage. He is reportedly in Moscow and has sought asylum from at least two foreign countries.

On June 6, journalist Glenn Greenwald detailed how telephony metadata — basic information about the phone habits of millions of Americans — was being regularly supplied to Washington under a secretive orders authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. In this week’s article, Greenwald and co-author Spencer Ackerman say the latest revelation involves the collection of metadata involving emails that may have been sent or received by Americans.

One of the two papers published this week, a 2009 working draft from the NSA’s Office of the Inspector General, explains how the agency initiated the "collection of bulk internet metadata" involving "communications with at least one communicant outside the United States or for which no communicant was known to be a citizen of the United States.” That document is marked as “top secret.”

Greenwald and Ackerman went on to cite a leaked Justice Department memo from 2007 published for the first time on Thursday that shows how the NSA gained authority to "analyze communications metadata associated with United States persons and persons believed to be in the United States.”

The internet metadata of the sort NSA collected for at least a decade details the accounts to which Americans sent emails and from which they received emails,” the journalists wrote. “It also details the Internet protocol addresses (IP) used by people inside the United States when sending emails – information which can reflect their physical location. It did not include the content of emails.”

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According to a statement supplied to The Guardian by the director of communications for National Intelligence, the Internet metadata collection program was discontinued in 2011 “as the result of an interagency review” and has reportedly not been restarted. A separate program, however, was launched in December 2012, and according to The Guardian it allows the NSA “to analyze communications with one end inside the US, leading to a doubling of the amount of data passing through its filters.”

Citing documents from the within the NSA’s Special Source Operations (SSO), the journalists continued that “While there is no reference to any specific program currently collecting purely domestic internet metadata in bulk, it is clear that the agency collects and analyzes significant amounts of data from US communications systems in the course of monitoring foreign targets.”

Although the NSA has retired the practice of pulling in metadata through secretive FISC orders, Greenwald wrote that that the agency has since adopted all new methods. Citing leaked documents, The Guardian suggested on Thursday that the NSA recently acquired the ability to allow it to “collect far more internet traffic and data than ever before.”

With this new system, the NSA is able to direct more than half of the internet traffic it intercepts from its collection points into its own repositories. One end of the communications collected are inside the United States.”

According to documents seen by The Guardian, one NSA’s SSO wrote as recently as December 31, 2012 that the agency’s newest metadata collection program, codename “ShellTrumpet,” processed its one-trillionth metadata record.

Anyone eager to claim that Obama stopped all email metadata collection in 2011 must confront the actual evidence,” Greenwald tweeted on Thursday morning along with a link to the latest Guardian piece.

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