The US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has released the NSA’s very first transparency report which detailed the number of targets the agency has spied on since their effort to ramp up operations started to take off back in 2001.
So far those who have dissected the paper have expressed their concerns over the understandably dubious information contained within, ranging from everything from the agency’s definition of the word “target”, to their admission that only 0.002 percent of the data collected through programs like MUSCULAR actually served any use to a small number of active investigations in the field.
“For example, ‘target’ could be an individual person, a group, or an organization composed of multiple individuals or a foreign power that possesses or is likely to communicate foreign intelligence information that the U.S. government is authorized to acquire by the above-referenced laws.”
According to the agency’s own logic, they only issued one surveillance order under Section 702 of the FISA code, which covered a total of 89,139 targets who might be anything from an individual citizen to a massive private company with thousands of employees, based on their linguistically loose definition of the term.
National security letters were also on the agenda, and the NSA was refreshingly upfront about the extent they had gone to when requesting data from private companies like AOL and Yahoo. In 2013 a total of 19,212 correspondences were sent out to various Internet firms and telecom providers, containing an unnerving 38,832 requests in total.
Perhaps most troubling was the NSA’s story on its bulk metadata collection efforts, which have received the most scrutiny by far from both the people and the Congress elected to represent them since the leaks initially broke.
Out of the literal millions of people who were subjected to the information sweep, supposedly a mere 248 were pulled out from the pile and observed for possible terrorist connections or affiliations.
This shockingly-low figure suggests that the NSA, while powerful enough to create the systems which are capable of sucking up a third of all Internet traffic, mobile data, and private emails, is also woefully behind the times when it comes to actually applying that muscle to anything worth the billions of tax dollars it costs to keep the machine continuously fed and happy.
John C. Inglis, the deputy director of the NSA, told Congress in October there were no alternatives to the program which could feasibly do as thorough a job as their current approach can.
“It needs to be the whole haystack,” Inglis said. If the United States were looking for the communications of a terrorism suspect, he said, “it needs to be such that when you make a query you come away confident that you have the whole answer.”
Other tidbits of data released in the report include the 131 tap and trace provisions issued by a FISA court (spread over 319 targets), as well as another 1,767 direct surveillance orders based on probable cause which were eventually applied to 1,144 targets who found themselves on the wrong side of the agency’s radar.