The NSA immediately began cultivating an array of “private sector partners,” including telephone companies, Internet service providers and Web services, according to a top-secret report by the NSA inspector general’s office obtained by The Washington Post.
“Private sector partners began to send telephony and Internet content to NSA in October 2001. They began to send telephony and Internet metadata to NSA as early as November 2001,” the IG report said.
The 57-page document, a working draft dated March 24, 2009, offers a short history of one of the most sweeping domestic surveillance efforts in American history. It was first posted by the Guardian newspaper in England.
The document contains new information about how the decade-long program came to be, including details about legal matters, funding and the fact that 60 lawmakers were briefed about it. The report also contains much that has already been disclosed by The Post and the Guardian, based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
It depicts a program fashioned virtually from scratch in a time of crisis, by a handful of individuals, including Gen. Michael Hayden, the head of the NSA and Vice President Dick Cheney. Given the code name “Stellar Wind,” the PSP was a set of four surveillance programs that brought Americans and U.S. territory within the domain of the NSA for the first time in decades. The PSP, which initially operated outside the restrictions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, was eventually put under full FISA court control by 2007.
The report also offers new fodder for critics of domestic spying about the proper limits on domestic intelligence. In recent interviews with The Post, some former senior NSA officials said they had misgivings at the time.
“It was not something that I felt we needed to do or should do,” said one former NSA official who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss top-secret matters. “I thought there was a way to do it, which was to put this under FBI control, using FBI authorities, and just let the FBI use our [NSA] tools. I was just thinking, what kind of precedent does this set?”
The NSA inspector general’s office issued the classified report under a mandate from the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. The report also shows that NSA officials believed that there were no constitutional limits on the collection of digital metadata, including such details as the origin, destination and timing of calls and e-mails.
More significantly, the inspector general’s report underscores the NSA’s fundamental reliance on private-sector companies.