NSA Gave Other U.S. Agencies Information From Surveillance

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By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 1, 2006

Information captured by the National Security Agency's secret eavesdropping on communications between the United States and overseas has been passed on to other government agencies, which cross-check the information with tips and information collected in other databases, current and former administration officials said.

The NSA has turned such information over to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and to other government entities, said three current and former senior administration officials, although it could not be determined which agencies received what types of information. Information from intercepts -- which typically includes records of telephone or e-mail communications -- would be made available by request to agencies that are allowed to have it, including the FBI, DIA, CIA and Department of Homeland Security, one former official said.

At least one of those organizations, the DIA, has used NSA information as the basis for carrying out surveillance of people in the country suspected of posing a threat, according to two sources. A DIA spokesman said the agency does not conduct such domestic surveillance but would not comment further. Spokesmen for the FBI, the CIA and the director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, declined to comment on the use of NSA data.

Since the revelation last month that President Bush had authorized the NSA to intercept communications inside the United States, public concern has focused primarily on the legality of the NSA eavesdropping. Less attention has been paid to, and little is known about, how the NSA's information may have been used by other government agencies to investigate American citizens or to cross-check with other databases. In the 1960s and 1970s, the military used NSA intercepts to maintain files on U.S. peace activists, revelations of which prompted Congress to restrict the NSA from intercepting communications of Americans.

Today's NSA intercepts yield two broad categories of information, said a former administration official familiar with the program: "content," which would include transcripts of a phone call or e-mail, and "non-content," which would be records showing, for example, who in the United States was called by, or was calling, a number in another country thought to have a connection to a terrorist group. At the same time, NSA tries to limit identifying the names of Americans involved.

"NSA can make either type of information available to other [intelligence] agencies where relevant, but with appropriate masking of its origin," meaning that the source of the information and method of getting it would be concealed, the former official said.

Agencies that get the information can use it to conduct "data mining," or looking for patterns or matches with other databases that they maintain, which may or may not be specifically geared toward detecting terrorism threats, he said. "They are seeking to separate the known from the unknown, relationships or associations," he added.

The NSA would sometimes monitor telephones, e-mails or fax communications in cases where individuals in the United States -- and sometimes people they contacted -- were linked to an alleged foreign terrorist group, officials have said. The NSA, officials said, limited its decisions to follow-up with more electronic surveillance on an individual to those cases where there was some apparent link to terrorist sources.

But other agencies, one former official said, have used phone numbers or other records obtained from NSA in combination with wide-ranging databases to look for links and associations. "What data sets are included is a policy decision [made by individual agencies] when they involve other than terrorist links," he said.

DIA personnel stationed inside the United States went further on occasion, conducting physical surveillance of people or vehicles identified as a result of NSA intercepts, said two sources familiar with the operations, although the DIA said it does not conduct such activities.

The military personnel -- some of whose findings were reported to the Northern Command in Colorado -- were employed as part of the Pentagon's growing post-Sept. 11, 2001, domestic intelligence activity based on the need to protect Defense Department facilities and personnel from terrorist attacks, the sources said.

Northcom was set up in October 2002 to conduct operations to deter, prevent and defeat terrorist threats in the United States and its territories. The command runs two fusion centers that receive and analyze intelligence gathered by other government agencies.


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