Most NSA data from regular Internet users, report says (Update)

July 6, 2014 by Peter Stebbings
The National Security Agency is seen on May 31, 2006 in Fort Meade, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC

Nine out of 10 people identified in a large cache of online conversations intercepted by the National Security Agency were ordinary Internet users and not foreign surveillance targets, a news report says.

Nearly half of the surveillance files were of United States citizens or residents, The Washington Post said of its four-month investigation of the trove of NSA-intercepted electronic data provided by fugitive NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The revelations are likely to rekindle criticism in the US and abroad of US surveillance techniques and especially the NSA's vast data sweeps, and came after German authorities said they had arrested a suspected double-agent accused of spying for the United States.

"Ordinary Internet users, American and non-American alike, far outnumber legally targeted foreigners in the communications intercepted by the National Security Agency from US digital networks," the Post said.

The study was based on 160,000 emails and instant message conversations, as well as 7,900 documents taken from more than 11,000 online accounts, intercepted during President Barack Obama's first term in office (2009-2012).

The Post found that the NSA held on to material that analysts described as "useless."

These files "tell stories of love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversions, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes."

American National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden speaks to European officials via videoconference during a parliamentary hearing on mass surveillance at the European Council in Strasbourg, eastern France, on April 8, 2014

Some of the files however did include "discoveries of considerable intelligence value."

That included "fresh 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 US computer networks."

The Post said: "The surveillance files highlight a policy dilemma that has been aired only abstractly in public.

"There are discoveries of considerable intelligence value in the intercepted messages—and collateral harm to privacy on a scale that the Obama administration has not been willing to address."

Snowden, a 30-year-old former NSA contractor, was granted temporary asylum by Russia last August after shaking the US intelligence establishment with a series of devastating leaks on mass surveillance in the United States and around the world.

Last week the Post reported that all but four countries—Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand—were seen as valid spy targets for the NSA.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a press conference in Berlin on July 2, 2014

Germany was outraged by revelations last year, again stemming from documents released by Snowden, that the NSA had allegedly eavesdropped on Chancellor Angela Merkel's conversations, as well as about wider US surveillance programs of Internet and phone communications.

The row strained ties between Washington and Germany, a key European ally, which both countries' leaders have been at pains to repair.

An independent privacy review board last week defended the NSA's vast foreign intelligence data sweep efforts, despite objections from civil liberties activists.

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, a panel created on the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, formally adopted a report which called the NSA's overseas surveillance a valuable and legal tool in thwarting terrorism.

The panel said that the NSA's electronic snooping led to "well over 100 arrests" and helped smash numerous terrorist plots.

Explore further: NSA scoops up images for facial recognition programs

Related Stories

Clapper calls on Snowden to return NSA documents

January 29, 2014

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper wants former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden to return the rest of the secret documents he took before making them public.

Report: NSA collecting millions of contact listss

October 15, 2013

The National Security Agency has been sifting through millions of contact lists from personal email and instant messaging accounts around the world—including those of Americans—in its effort to find possible links to ...

Report: NSA targeted German privacy activist

July 3, 2014

German media reported Thursday that users and supporters of a popular online anonymity tool are among those automatically singled out for special attention by U.S. security services.

Recommended for you

AI and 5G in focus at top mobile fair

February 24, 2018

Phone makers will seek to entice new buyers with better cameras and bigger screens at the world's biggest mobile fair starting Monday in Spain after a year of flat smartphone sales.

Google Assistant adds more languages in global push

February 23, 2018

Google said Friday its digital assistant software would be available in more than 30 languages by the end of the years as it steps up its artificial intelligence efforts against Amazon and others.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (2) Jul 06, 2014
"Nearly half of the surveillance files "contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to US citizens or residents."

-Citizens. You mean like these guys?

"The Associated Press reports a California man who used Facebook to connect with al-Qaeda and planned to train its fighters in Pakistan was scheduled to be sentenced Monday in federal court. Sinh Vinh Ngo Nguyen, 25"

"Two men in Texas have been arrested and charged with providing support to terrorists, including those in Syria, the U.S. Attorney's Office said Wednesday."

"Jose Padilla, a US citizen branded an "enemy combatant" by the Bush administration, faces life in jail after being found guilty yesterday of conspiring to murder, kidnap and maim in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia and elsewhere."

"American citizens with ties to a major U.S. Islamic civil rights group faced judgment in court today for aiding the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas"

1 / 5 (1) Jul 06, 2014
All that is happening in our days is the prelude to enormous changes but even before discussing in regard of the possible remedy one must be clear about how we came to this point recognizing both physiognomy and origin of the threat. Since George H. Bush was CIA director, the US secret State agencies had played a double role to finally get to where we are today when every person is constantly monitored by NSA and other agencies not to report the information to the US Government but to feed with all data the embryo of a new superpower still kept hidden.
When Jeb Bush will be US president the next World War will be inevitable and also come by surprise.
One Solution.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.