© Collage: Voice of Russia
One of servers that the National Security Agency is using to spy on the Internet users all over the globe is located in Moscow, Russia’s Vedomosti business newspaper is reporting on Monday referring to the information Edward Snowden earlier leaked to the British Guardian.
In its report the Russian newspaper mentions a NSA presentation published by the Guardian at the end of July that features a global map of 700 servers making up the XKeyscore program, the NSA’s tool for collecting information about web users.
These servers are located in 150 countries, including Moscow, Kiev and Beijing, the Vedomosti says.
The newspaper’s source close to the Russian secret services has claimed they have not checked the information yet, but suggest that the server is placed on the territory of the US embassy in Moscow.
The NSA and the US Embassy in Moscow have both declined to comment on the information.
Edward Snowden, who might help by elaborating on the issue, was unreachable yesterday, the media notes.
Several experts have told they simply do not believe the story. Andrei Kolesnikov, director of the Coordination Center for RU/РФ Top-Level Domains, said typically servers working with a huge traffic of information are easy to detect. According to Kolesnikov, the Guardian journalist who first revealed the XKeyscore, must have misunderstood its description.
The Guardian has released more information about a program that appears to let the NSA access almost any part of a web user’s digital life. A set of 2008 and 2010 training documents discuss a program called XKeyscore, which acts as a central interface for email, Facebook chat, web browsing history, and more.
According to The Guardian, XKeyscore is available not only to members of the NSA but to outside analysts like Edward Snowden, who worked as a contractor for Booz Allen before his flight to Hong Kong, and its vast database allows users to find people by email address, name, phone number, type of browser, language used, IP address, or specific keywords. Metadata is apparently used to narrow searches, but actual content like email text is also included in the database.
The Guardian reports that training materials for a program called XKeyscore show how analysts — without the review of a court or other NSA personnel — can mine extensive agency databases by giving only a broad justification for the search.
“It’s very rare to be questioned on our searches,” Snowden told the Guardian in June, “and even when we are, it’s usually along the lines of: ‘let’s bulk up the justification.'”
According to the laws that govern NSA surveillance, this data can only be used to target non-Americans without a warrant, but it’s not clear whether there are any technical restrictions or guidelines in place, though one slide shows analysts being required to justify their surveillance with a short web form. The NSA, nonetheless, insists that the potential for abuse is low. “XKeyscore is used as a part of NSA’s lawful foreign signals intelligence collection system,” it told The Guardian in a statement. “Allegations of widespread, unchecked analyst access to NSA collection data are simply not true. … There are multiple technical, manual and supervisory checks and balances within the system to prevent deliberate misuse from occurring.” The NSA claimed in documents that by 2008, XKeyscore had been used to help capture 300 terrorists.
The clearest limit on the system is simply how much information it can store. The Guardian reports that in 2012, 41 billion individual records were stored in XKeyscore over one thirty-day period.
A top secret National Security Agency program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases, according to documents provided to The Guardian by whistleblower Edward Snowden. “I, sitting at my desk,” said Snowden, could “wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email.”
The NSA’s program, called XKeyscore, is used to develop intelligence from computer networks– what the agency calls Digital Network Intelligence (DNI). The Guardian cites a presentation claiming the program covers “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet”, including full access to email, IMs, browsing history, and social media activity. An NSA analyst just has to enter your email or IP address into XKeyscore to view these data; and no formal authorization or warrant is required; the analyst just has to type in a “justification” and press Enter.
Analysts can also search by name, telephone number, IP address, keywords, the language or the type of browser.
The Guardian writes that under US law, the NSA is required to obtain an individualized warrant only if the target of their surveillance is a “US person,” but XKeyscore provides the technological capability to watch even US persons without a warrant.
The NSA documents assert that by 2008, 300 terrorists had been captured using intelligence from XKeyscore.
The XKeyscore system also allows analysts to monitor other Internet activities, including those within social media. An analyst can monitor such Facebook chats or private messages.by entering the Facebook user name and a date range into a simple search screen.
One NSA report from 2007 estimated that there were 850bn “call events” collected and stored in the NSA databases, and close to 150bn internet records. Each day, the document says, 1-2bn records were added.
“The government doesn’t need to ‘target’ Americans in order to collect huge volumes of their communications,” the ACLU’s deputy legal director, Jameel Jaffer, told the Guardian. “The government inevitably sweeps up the communications of many Americans” when targeting foreign nationals for surveillance,” he said.
In a statement to the Guardian, the NSA said: “NSA’s activities are focused and specifically deployed against – and only against – legitimate foreign intelligence targets in response to requirements that our leaders need for information necessary to protect our nation and its interests.
“XKeyscore is used as a part of NSA’s lawful foreign signals intelligence collection system. Allegations of widespread, unchecked analyst access to NSA collection data are simply not true.”
Jeremie Scott, National Security Fellow at the Electronic Information Center in Washington DC that while a citizen could try to encrypt his or her communications, the very act of encryption would be a flag for capture and archiving of those communications. As well, he reiterates concerns being raised recently about the opacity and inadequacy of the institutions purportedly safeguarding citizens against government surveillance overreach. “ The question is whether this program implicates domestic surveillance at all,” he said.
“What we have right now is a slideshow in The Guardian and more details are to come out. The NSA gathering information on US citizens falls outside of its mandate as it is supposed to be focused on foreign intelligence,” he added.
The expert called for a hard look at surveillance programs as well as their better transparency and accountability
“Surveillance is important for national security but it needs to be a proper counterbalance with transparency and accountability. Part of the problem was that it’s basically all-secret. People should understand laws and policies of the government,” the expert said.
Voice of Russia, Interfax, The Guardian, The Verge, Business Insider