Report: NSA Has Its Own Search Engine

Allegedly Used to Share 850 Billion Records Among Agencies
Report: NSA Has Its Own Search Engine

A Google-like search engine known as ICReach has enabled government agencies to share more than 850 billion records from phone calls, e-mails and Internet chat sessions, according to an Aug. 25 report by The Intercept. The news report on the search engine cites classified documents that it says were obtained from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

The Intercept is an online publication co-founded by Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who first reported on the NSA classified documents leaked by Snowden.

See Also: Mastering Data Dilemmas: Navigating Privacy, Localization and Sovereignty

When asked to comment on the report, an NSA spokesperson did not use the opportunity to either confirm or deny its existence. But the spokesperson provided Information Security Media Group with a statement attributed to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that says "appropriate and prudent sharing of information is a pillar of the post-9/11 intelligence community."

The statement notes that the 9/11 and Weapons of Mass Destruction commissions, as well as Congress and two presidential administrations, have urged the intelligence community not to allow valuable intelligence to get stove-piped in any single office or agency.

"By allowing other IC [intelligence community] organizations to query legally collected foreign-intelligence repositories of appropriately minimized data, analysts can develop vital intelligence leads without requiring access to raw intelligence collected by other IC agencies," the statement says. "In the case of NSA, access to raw SIGINT [signal 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."

U.S. Citizens' Records Available

ICReach contains information on the private communications of foreigners and, it appears, millions of records on American citizens who have not been accused of any wrongdoing, according to The Intercept. The NSA earlier had acknowledged that it shares some of its collected data with domestic agencies, but details about the method and scope of its sharing have remained secret.

The search engine has been accessible to more than 1,000 analysts at 23 federal government agencies that perform intelligence work, The Intercept reports, citing a 2010 memo. A planning document from 2007 the publication obtained lists the Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency as the original agencies participating in the search engine. Information shared through ICReach can be used to track individual's movements, map out their networks of associates, help predict actions, and potentially reveal religious affiliations or political beliefs, The Intercept reports.

"The ICReach team delivered the first-ever wholesale sharing of communications metadata within the U.S. intelligence community," points out a top secret memo, dated December 2007, that the publication obtained. "This team began over two years ago with a basic concept compelled by the IC's increasing need for communications metadata and NSA's ability to collect, process and store vast amounts of communications metadata related to worldwide intelligence targets."

ICReach was designed to be the largest federal system for sharing secret surveillance records, capable of handling 2 billion to 5 billion new records daily, including more than 30 kinds of metadata on e-mails, phone calls, faxes, Internet chats and text messages, as well as location information collected from cellphones, according to the news report.

About the Author

Eric Chabrow

Eric Chabrow

Retired Executive Editor, GovInfoSecurity

Chabrow, who retired at the end of 2017, hosted and produced the semi-weekly podcast ISMG Security Report and oversaw ISMG's GovInfoSecurity and InfoRiskToday. He's a veteran multimedia journalist who has covered information technology, government and business.

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