Published On: Thu, Aug 1st, 2013

NSA program XKeyscore enables widespread surveillance through everything a user does on the Internet

The National Security Agency is operating a massive database system that allows analysts to comb through individuals’ emails, chats and Internet browsing histories at will, according to a new report from The Guardian based on leaked documents. 

KS1The article was quickly challenged by the NSA. In a statement forwarded to Fox News, the agency said “allegations of widespread, unchecked analyst access to NSA collection data are simply not true.” 

The agency acknowledged the existence of the program — called XKeyscore — but said access is limited and suggested it was mainly aimed at foreign intelligence targets. 

According to the Guardian piece, the XKeyscore program is the “widest-reaching” system the agency has and allows analysts without prior authorization to dig around the database by filling out an on-screen form giving a basic justification. 

According to the report, the program covers “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet” including emails and websites visited. It also reportedly allows analysts to intercept Internet activity in “real time.” 

The NSA is required to obtain an individualized Fisa warrant only if the target of their surveillance is a ‘US person’, though no such warrant is required for intercepting the communications of Americans with foreign targets. But XKeyscore provides the technological capability, if not the legal authority, to target even US persons for extensive electronic surveillance without a warrant provided that some identifying information, such as their email or IP address, is known to the analyst.

One training slide illustrates (more slides below) the digital activity constantly being collected by XKeyscore and the analyst’s ability to query the databases at any time.

The purpose of XKeyscore is to allow analysts to search the metadata as well as the content of emails and other internet activity, such as browser history, even when there is no known email account (a “selector” in NSA parlance) associated with the individual being targeted.

Analysts can also search by name, telephone number, IP address, keywords, the language in which the internet activity was conducted or the type of browser used.

NSA Whistleblower and former House staffer to the Select Committee on Intelligence Diane Roark joined The Glenn Beck radio show this week about the depth of the data collection efforts, “I believe that there is plenty of evidence that they have collected some content at least on phone calls and on e-mails. They collected content from the beginning.”

As a staffer Roark asserts that they would know “more details” and “better” than the members on the actual committee. “It’s their job.”

Roark then explains “Meta data”: “Meta data is the externals…what they call the externals  of the message, either phone or e-mail. It used to be called “externals” in NSA and the NSA has a very long history of collecting signals externals.”

She explains the pre-digital age of capturing signals through the air and the struggle to crack encryption, therefore the only data easily available was these external details of the message (time, date, length and other public knowledge).

Roark explained the evolution of monitoring these little facts to relay good and reliable “useful intelligence,” then giving the example that the calls to a type of doctor would be a strong indication of the illness the person had.

“They have all of the header data. Who it’s to, who it’s from, what time it went, what path it traversed and in the case of cell phones it would be what location it was for billing purposes and all that sort of thing…”

Later she continued that “I believe there is plenty of evidence that they have collected some content at least on phone calls and on emails…including my own personal experience.”

Full Guardian article here




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About the Author

- Writer and Co-Founder of The Global Dispatch, Brandon has been covering news, offering commentary for years, beginning professionally in 2003 on Crazed Fanboy before expanding into other blogs and sites. Appearing on several radio shows, Brandon has hosted Dispatch Radio, written his first novel (The Rise of the Templar) and completed the three years Global University program in Ministerial Studies to be a pastor. To Contact Brandon email [email protected] ATTN: BRANDON

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  1. Dispatch Radio: August 3, 2013 – Naghmeh Abedini details Pastor Saeed imprisonment in Iran, Daniel McAdams discusses Iran, Syria, Egypt, Benghazi and foreign policy - The Global Dispatch says:

    […] NSA XKeyscore tracking program details released, check it out here […]

  2. Russia grants Edward Snowden one year temporary asylum - The Global Dispatch says:

    […] day after The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald wrote about the top secret National Security Agency program known as XKeyscore, which is the NSA’s “widest reaching” system developing intelligence from […]

  3. A W says:

    Here is just a partial list of groups and individuals who the federal government identifies as non-Islamic extremists. Do any of these categories apply to you?

    (U) alternative media (U//FOUO)
    A term used to describe various information sources that provide a forum for interpretations of events and issues that differ radically from those presented in mass media products and outlets.

    (U) anti-immigration extremism (U//FOUO)
    A movement of groups or individuals who are vehemently opposed to illegal immigration, particularly along the U.S. southwest border with Mexico, and who have been known to advocate or engage in criminal activity and plot acts of violence and terrorism to advance their extremist goals. They are highly critical of the U.S. Government’s response to illegal immigration and oppose government programs that are designed to extend “rights” to illegal aliens, such as issuing driver’s licenses or national identification cards and providing in-state tuition, medical benefits, or public education.

    (U) green anarchism (U//FOUO)
    A movement of groups or individuals who combine anarchist
    ideology with an environmental focus. They advocate a return to a preindustrial, agrarian society, often through acts of violence and terrorism.

    (U) patriot movement (U//FOUO)
    A term used by rightwing extremists to link their beliefs to those commonly associated with the American Revolution. The patriot movement primarily comprises violent antigovernment groups such as militias and sovereign citizens.
    (also: Christian patriots, patriot group, onstitutionalists, Constitutionist)

    (U) rightwing extremism (U//FOUO)
    A movement of rightwing groups or individuals who can be broadly divided into those who are primarily hate-oriented, and those who are mainly antigovernment and reject federal authority in favor of state or local authority. This term also may refer to rightwing extremist movements that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.
    (also known as far right, extreme right)

    (U) single-issue extremist groups (U//FOUO)
    Groups or individuals who focus on a single issue or cause—such as animal rights, environmental or anti-abortion extremism—and often employ criminal acts. Group members may be associated with more than one issue.
    (also: special interest extremists)

    (U) tax resistance movement (U//FOUO)
    Groups or individuals who vehemently believe taxes violate their constitutional rights. Among their beliefs are that wages are not income, that paying income taxes is voluntary, and that the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which allowed Congress to levy taxes on
    income, was not properly ratified. Members have been known to advocate or engage in criminal activity and plot acts of violence and terrorism in an attempt to advance their extremist goals. They often target government entities such as the Internal Revenue Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
    (also: tax protest movement, tax freedom movement, antitax

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