Aug 262014

The Reichstag building is pictured though a flag depicting fugitive former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, during a demonstration in Berlin November 18, 2013.REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz

The National Security Agency’s surveillance machinery is again in the spotlight after a media report claimed that it is secretly providing data to almost two dozen U.S. government agencies via a powerful “Google-like” search engine.

Details of the search engine, known as ICREACH, are revealed in classified documents obtained by The Intercept website from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The engine can reportedly share more than 850 billion records about phone calls, emails, cellphone locations and Internet chats.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) did not confirm or deny the existence of ICREACH in a statement emailed to, but said that data sharing is crucial to U.S. national security.

ICREACH also holds information on foreigners’ private communications and appears to contain millions of records on Americans who have not been accused of any wrongdoing, according to The Intercept.

The website describes the documents as “the first definitive evidence that the NSA has for years made massive amounts of surveillance data directly accessible to domestic law enforcement agencies.” Planning documents, it reports, cite the FBI and DEA as key participants in ICREACH.

Citing a 2010 memo it obtained, The Intercept reports that ICREACH has been accessible to more than 1,000 analysts at 23 government agencies.

The ODNI cited “appropriate and prudent” sharing of information as “a pillar of the post-9/11 Intelligence Community,” in a statement emailed to “Both the 9/11 and WMD [Weapons of Mass Destruction] Commissions, as well as Congress and two administrations, have urged the IC [Intelligence Community] not to allow valuable intelligence to get stove-piped in any single office or agency,” it said.

The need to tap into foreign-held data was also acknowledged by ODNI. “By allowing other IC 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,” it said.

In the case of the NSA, access to raw signals intelligence, or communications data, is limited to people with the training and authority “to handle it appropriately,” according to the ODNI. “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,” it said.

Former NSA contractor Snowden ignited a firestorm when he stole a cache of NSA documents last year and began releasing them to the press. Subsequent leaks, reportedly provided by Snowden, have also engulfed the U.K.’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in a snooping furor.

In an interview in the September issue of Wired, Snowden also warned that the NSA is planning to combat cyberattacks from overseas with a sophisticated yet highly risky program code-named ‘MonsterMind.’

Snowden’s NSA revelations have significantly raised the profile of consumer privacy. Earlier this year, for example, almost half of the respondents to a national survey by the Pew Research Center and USA Today said that there were not adequate limits on what telephone and Internet data the government can collect.

Companies are tapping into this heightened awareness of privacy. Los Angeles-based Private.Me, for example, is a secure browser touting “forgetful Web services” as a way to keep consumers’ search and transactional data private.

“There’s a pent-up demand for privacy in our Internet actions,” Dr. Stan Stahl, the company’s chief information security officer, told “If you use the Private.Me interface for your searches, you control what is remembered and what isn’t, as opposed to Google or Yahoo!.”

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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