Tech

NSA Built Its Own Secret Google To Search And Share Billions Of Calls, Emails

Giuseppe Macri
Tech Editor

The National Security Agency has built a “Google-like” search engine that allows multiple government agencies to sift through more than 850 billion communications records — including those belonging to Americans, according to documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

Almost two dozen agencies including CIA, DEA and FBI have used the engine known as “ICREACH” to efficiently share and search billions of phone calls, emails, web chats and phone location data obtained without a warrant according to the documents obtained by The Intercept.

A document from 2007 described the program as “a one-stop shopping tool” for communications analysis, which was masterminded by recently retired NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander.

More than 1,000 analysts from 23 agencies had access to NSA records according to a 2010 memo outlining the search engine. The records accessible through ICREACH included millions belonging to Americans.

“The ICREACH team delivered the first-ever wholesale sharing of communications metadata within the U.S. Intelligence Community,” another top-secret memo from 2007 reads. The document claims officials involved worked “to ensure appropriate legal and policy approvals for this new technical capability.”

According to the report ICREACH “does not appear” to be connected to the signals intelligence agency’s bulk store Americans’ phone records and metadata, the storage of which will likely soon be handed over to service providers like AT&T and Verizon directly under pending legislation in Congress. (RELATED: Senate Unveils New NSA Reform Bill, Silicon Valley, Privacy Advocates Praise)

The shared data appears to be collected under traditional NSA authority enacted under Executive Order 12333 to intercept foreign communications. The same order authorizes the “incidental” collection of Americans’ communications caught up in the process.

According to spokesman Jeffrey Anchukaitis from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), ICREACH is “a pillar of the post-9/11 intelligence community” due to its ability to share information across the U.S. intelligence community.

“[A]nalysts can develop vital intelligence leads without requiring access to raw intelligence collected by other IC [Intelligence Community] agencies,” Anchukaitis said in an ODNI statement. “In the case of NSA, access to raw signals intelligence is strictly limited to those with the training and authority to handle it appropriately. The highest priority of the intelligence community is to work within the constraints of law to collect, analyze and understand information related to potential threats to our national security.”

According to the Brennan Center’s Elizabeth Goitein, NSA “drove a truck” through loopholes restricting the retention of Americans’ data with regard to ICREACH.

“The idea with minimization is that the government is basically supposed to pretend this information doesn’t exist, unless it falls under certain narrow categories,” Goitein said in the report. “But functionally speaking, what we’re seeing here is that minimization means, ‘we’ll hold on to the data as long as we want to, and if we see anything that interests us then we can use it.’”

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