The Washington Post

Report: NSA can ‘reach roughly 75% of all U.S. Internet traffic’

(Photo by Savannah River Site)


The U.S. surveillance state, or at least the parts the public knows about, keeps getting bigger. Initial leaks by Ed Snowden indicated that the National Security Agency was collecting telephone metadata and had a program called PRISM to seek information from the servers of certain major Internet companies. Last month, the Guardian reported the existence of XKeyscore, an NSA program that allows NSA analysts to intercept the contents of e-mail and other online communications. But previous reporting had suggested that the NSA's Internet interception capabilities were concentrated outside the borders of the United States.

A new report by the Wall Street Journal casts doubt on that comforting notion. According to the Journal, the NSA "has the capacity to reach roughly 75% of all U.S. Internet traffic." And while the NSA is only supposed to "target" foreigners, the NSA sometimes "retains the written content of e-mails sent between citizens within the U.S."

The Journal says the NSA relies on extensive collaboration with domestic telecommunications companies to get access to Internet traffic. "The programs, code-named Blarney, Fairview, Oakstar, Lithium and Stormbrew, among others, filter and gather information at major telecommunications companies." Filtering occurs at more than a dozen "major Internet junctions."

These programs have a long history. The NSA was already intercepting international Internet traffic before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. After those terrorist attacks, the government expanded its surveillance activities to include more collection points inside the United States. One of those collection points became the target of an Electronic Frontier Foundation lawsuit after an AT&T whistleblower revealed the existence of a secret, NSA-controlled room inside an AT&T facility in San Francisco.

Like the other NSA programs revealed in recent weeks, this one involves minimal judicial oversight. Surveillance must be "covered by a broad court order" under the FISA Amendments Act. But that 2008 law doesn't require judicial scrutiny of individual surveillance targets. Instead, judges bless broad surveillance programs, leaving decisions about specific surveillance targets up to the NSA itself.

And sometimes surveillance activities can be quite extensive. For example, the NSA engaged in dragnet surveillance during the 2002 Winter Olympics. "The Federal Bureau of Investigation and NSA arranged with Qwest Communications International Inc. to use intercept equipment for a period of less than six months around the time of the event," the Journal reports. "It monitored the content of all email and text communications in the Salt Lake City area."



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
Sleep advice you won't find in baby books
In defense of dads
Scenes from Brazil's Carajás Railway
Play Videos
For good coffee, sniff, slurp and spit
How to keep your child safe in the water
How your online data can get hijacked
Play Videos
How to avoid harmful chemicals in school supplies
Full disclosure: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1 ghoul
How much can one woman eat?
Play Videos
What you need to know about Legionnaires' disease
How to get organized for back to school
Pandas, from birth to milk to mom
Next Story
Brian Fung · August 20, 2013

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.