Journalist Glenn Greenwald promised more to come in terms of NSA leaks from Edward Snowden, and on Wednesday, he delivered. An NSA tool called XKeyscore collects “nearly everything a typical user does on the Internet.”
The latest report comes from XKeyscore training materials, which Snowden also gave The Guardian. The training materials say that XKeyscore is the NSA’s “widest reaching” system for developing intelligence from the Internet, which the agency calls Digital Network Intelligence or DNI.
According to the training materials, analysts can use XKeyscore — and other systems — to mine the NSA’s huge treasure trove of data databases by simply filling out a on-screen form, giving only broad justification for the query. The request is not reviewed by a court — not even FISA, unless the target is a U.S. citizen — or any other NSA personnel before it is processed.
Despite the requirement for a FISA warrant for U.S. citizens, as The Guardian notes, XKeyscore provides analysts with the technological capability to target even U.S. citizens without a warrant, provided that some identifying information, such as their email address or IP address, is known.
The NSA documents claim that as of 2008, 300 terrorists had been captured as a result of using intelligence from XKeyscore.
The Guardian reached out to the NSA for comment prior to publication of the report, and the agency said:
NSA’s activities are focused and specifically deployed against – and only against – legitimate foreign intelligence targets in response to requirements that our leaders need for information necessary to protect our nation and its interests.
XKeyscore is used as a part of NSA’s lawful foreign signals intelligence collection system.
Allegations of widespread, unchecked analyst access to NSA collection data are simply not true. Access to XKeyscore, as well as all of NSA’s analytic tools, is limited to only those personnel who require access for their assigned tasks … In addition, there are multiple technical, manual and supervisory checks and balances within the system to prevent deliberate misuse from occurring.
Every search by an NSA analyst is fully auditable, to ensure that they are proper and within the law.
These types of programs allow us to collect the information that enables us to perform our missions successfully – to defend the nation and to protect US and allied troops abroad.
This is the third NSA program that has been leaked by Edward Snowden in recent memory. Snowden previously leaked details of a program that monitors virtually everything about calls made by Verizon Wireless customers — except the conversation and presumably for more than just the nation’s top wireless carrier — as well as the PRISM program, which reportedly allows the security agency to access the data of major Internet organizations including Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, YouTube and Skype, among others.
Update: The full set of training materials from 2008 is available here.