In a fresh angle on the National Security Agency's sweeping surveillance grip on domestic internet communications, the Wall Street Journal—citing current and former officials with "direct knowledge of the work"—reports that the agency has built a much more robust spy network than the agency has previously admitted, powerful enough to reach into "roughly 75% of all U.S. internet traffic" in its hunt for pertinent information.
"In some cases," the WSJ reports, "[the NSA] retains the written content of emails sent between citizens within the U.S. and also filters domestic phone calls made with Internet technology."
What the reporting also reveals are new details about the close relationship between the government's surveillance apparatus and private telecommunications companies that have given the NSA access to "major internet junctions" within the U.S. "The surveillance system is built on relationships with telecommunications carriers," writes the WSJ, describing how those companies "must hand over what the NSA asks for under orders from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court."
But, as one expert explained, the involved telecommunications companies and the government are really left "policing the system themselves." According to him and despite repeated assurances from officials that only "the bad guys" are targeted, "There's technically and physically nothing preventing a much broader surveillance."
Though the new reporting includes references to programs made known to the U.S. and global public via classified documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the WSJ interviewed unnamed government officials to confirm aspects of how specific programs fit into a broader framework.
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As the WSJ reports:
The NSA's filtering, carried out with telecom companies, is designed to look for communications that either originate or end abroad, or are entirely foreign but happen to be passing through the U.S. But officials say the system's broad reach makes it more likely that purely domestic communications will be incidentally intercepted and collected in the hunt for foreign ones.
The programs, code-named Blarney, Fairview, Oakstar, Lithium and Stormbrew, among others, filter and gather information at major telecommunications companies. Blarney, for instance, was established with AT&T Inc., former officials say. AT&T declined to comment.
This filtering takes place at more than a dozen locations at major Internet junctions in the U.S., officials say. Previously, any NSA filtering of this kind was largely believed to be happening near points where undersea or other foreign cables enter the country.