On Wednesday, the Guardian released yet another secret U.S. program, sourced to former contractor Edward Snowden. The program, called XKEYSCORE, apparently allows NSA officials to search vast databases of Web user metadata, according to XKEYSCORE training slides reproduced on the Guardian's Web site. In other words, XKEYSCORE is the database system where the NSA stores information acquired from surveillance programs.
Some of the documents are a few years old, for example a training guide that's dated from 2010. So it's possible that the program may have changed since then.
But we have one very compelling datapoint that XKEYSCORE is still up and running: Just two weeks ago, Virginia-based defense contractor SAIC posted a job listing for "XKEYSCORE Systems Engineer." The job requires a security clearance level TS/SCI, which is short for "Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information."
The job is clearly a technical one, requiring experience with Linux systems, computer troubleshooting and "dataflow." This seems consistent with what the Week's Marc Ambinder has reported about XKEYSCORE, which he's described as "a series of user interfaces, backend databases, servers and software that selects certain types of metadata that the NSA has ALREADY collected using other methods."
The listing appears fairly anodyne and heavily technical – it's also not shy about naming XKEYSCORE and labeling it as a U.S. signals intelligence (SIGINT) program of the sort that would require top-secret clearance. (Ambinder says the program itself is only secret, not top secret.) But at the time it was posted it would have also been, for people outside of the field, largely indecipherable.
That SAIC would post this job listing publicly is an interesting reminder that what might appear shocking and revelatory to those of us outside the vast defense contractor world can look, rightly or wrongly, much more banal from within it.
And it's still open if you'd like to apply.
Update: The listing has since been edited to remove all reference to XKEYSCORE. But it otherwise appears to be the same.
(Hat tip to Joshua Foust for uncovering this.)