The National Security Agency (NSA) has developed its own version of Google to search through the billions of phone calls, e-mails and other electronic communications it monitors, according to a report by The Intercept. The search engine, known as ICREACH, allows government agencies such as the FBI and the U. S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to sift through -- and share -- the more than 850 billion pieces of metadata it has collected.
The program apparently allows analysts to reverse engineer a person’s network of known associates by revealing who he is in close contact with and the level of his correspondence. The report is based on classified material dating to 2010 given to The Intercept by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The NSA’s Long ICREACH
ICREACH sifts through information on both foreign nationals and U.S. citizens who do not seem to have been accused or suspected of wrongdoing. According to the report, more than 1,000 analysts at various levels of the government have access to ICREACH, representing more than 20 separate agencies.
A 2006 document written by former NSA head General Keith Alexander describes the program as “one-stop shopping” for communications surveillance. In Alexander’s words, ICREACH gives the government access to “unprecedented volumes of communications metadata to be shared and analyzed.”
The program is designed to search through the metadata attached to digital communications. Metadata includes information such as the sender and recipient of an e-mail, the time and date of transmission, the phone number a caller dials, and in the case of a call made from a mobile phone, the location of the caller. The information allows the government to track where an individual is when he makes a call, who he is talking to, and the length of the conversation.
ICREACH appears to be separate from the so-called 215 database that the NSA uses to store information on phone calls by American citizens. That program is named for section 215 of the Patriot Act, which the NSA says authorized its creation. However, only certain NSA employees are supposed to be allowed to search the 215 database, and then only for terrorism-related investigations. ICREACH, on the other hand, has been made available not only to multiple U.S. intelligence agencies, but also to spies in the United Kingdom.
EO 12333 and Parallel Construction
According to the NSA, the ICREACH program and its database arise from the powers granted it by Executive Order 12333, signed by President Ronald Reagan, granting the agency the authority to engage in the “collection, processing and dissemination of signals intelligence information for counterintelligence purposes.” The Executive Order is not subject to judicial oversight, and receives little scrutiny from Congress.
Although the size and scope of ICREACH as revealed in the Snowden documents is breathtaking, the documents only show the state of the program as it stood in 2010. The database, and the amount of data it contains, may have grown even larger in the last four years.
It is unclear if law enforcement agencies such as the FBI or the DEA may have exploited the system to arrest and prosecute American citizens under a process known as “parallel construction.” In cases of parallel construction, an agency might decide to launch an investigation against someone based on evidence gathered without a warrant or probable cause.
Since such evidence would be inadmissible in court, agencies then establish a second, legal evidence trail not involving the inadmissible surveillance intelligence. The true origin of the investigation can then be kept hidden from defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges, putting the accused at a massive disadvantage at trial.
Posted: 2014-08-28 @ 7:12am PT
I'm shocked that we are spying on other people in the world. This is supposed to be the land of the free, not the land of the NSA. This is out of control, we either stop it now or it's over. Encrypted phones, encrypted email, and search engines are the future. I use the non-tracking leave-me-alone search engine http://LookSeek.com -- a non tracking search engine good for everybody who is making a stance.