LONDON, Jun 10: The United States National Security Agency (NSA) has intercepted 13.5 billion reports for intelligence purposes during a period of 30 days in March 2013 from Pakistan.
The UK’s Guardian newspaper has acquired top secret documents about the NSA data mining tool, called Boundless Informant, that details and even maps by country the voluminous amount of information it collects from computer and telephone networks.
Iran was the country where the largest amount of intelligence was gathered, with more than 14 billion reports in that period, followed by 13.5 billion from Pakistan. Jordan, one of America’s closest Arab allies, came third with 12.7 billion, Egypt fourth with 7.6 billion and India fifth with 6.3 billion.
The focus of the internal NSA intelligence agency tool is on counting and categorising the records of communications, known as metadata, rather than the content of an email or instant message.
The Boundless Informant documents show the agency collecting almost 3 billion pieces of intelligence from US computer networks over a 30-day period ending in March 2013. One document says it is designed to give NSA officials answers to questions like, “What type of coverage do we have on country X” in “near real-time by asking the SIGINT (signals intelligence) infrastructure.”
An NSA factsheet about the programme, acquired by the Guardian, says: “The tool allows users to select a country on a map and view the metadata volume and select details about the collections against that country.”
Under the heading “Sample use cases”, the factsheet also states the tool shows information including: “How many records (and what type) are collected against a particular country.” A snapshot of the Boundless Informant data, contained in a top secret NSA “global heat map” seen by the Guardian, shows that in March 2013 the agency collected 97bn pieces of intelligence from computer networks worldwide.
The disclosure of the internal Boundless Informant system comes amid a struggle between the NSA and its overseers in the Senate over whether it can track the intelligence it collects on American communications. The NSA’s position is that it is not technologically feasible to do so.
At a hearing of the Senate intelligence committee in March this year, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden asked James Clapper, the director of national intelligence: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”
“No sir,” replied Clapper. Judith Emmel, an NSA spokeswoman, told the Guardian in a response to the latest disclosures: “NSA has consistently reported — including to Congress — that we do not have the ability to determine with certainty the identity or location of all communicants within a given communication. That remains the case.”
Other documents seen by the Guardian further demonstrate that the NSA does in fact break down its surveillance intercepts which could allow the intelligence agency to determine how many of them are from the US. The level of detail includes individual IP addresses.
On Friday, in his first public response to the disclosures this week on NSA surveillance, Barack Obama said that that congressional oversight was the American peoples’ best guarantee that they were not being spied on.
“These are the folks you all vote for as your representatives in Congress and they are being fully briefed on these programmes,” he said. Obama also insisted that any surveillance was “very narrowly circumscribed”.
Emmel, the NSA spokeswoman, told the Guardian: “Current technology simply does not permit us to positively identify all of the persons or locations associated with a given communication (for example, it may be possible to say with certainty that a communication traversed a particular path within the internet. It is harder to know the ultimate source or destination, or more particularly the identity of the person represented by the TO:, FROM: or CC: field of an e-mail address or the abstraction of an IP address).
“Thus, we apply rigorous training and technological advancements to combine both our automated and manual (human) processes to characterise communications — ensuring protection of the privacy rights of the American people. This is not just our judgment, but that of the relevant inspectors general, who have also reported this.”
She added: “The continued publication of these allegations about highly classified issues, and other information taken out of context, makes it impossible to conduct a reasonable discussion on the merits of these programmes.”