Boundless Informant: NSA’s complex tool for classifying global intelligence

A new batch of classified NSA docs leaked to the media reveals the details of a comprehensive piece of software used by NSA to analyze and evaluate intelligence gathered across the globe as well as data extraction methods.

The top-secret documents released by the Guardian shed light on
the National Security Agency’s data-mining tool being used for
counting and categorizing metadata gathered and stored in
numerous databases around the world.

Known as Boundless Informant, the software provides its operator
a graphical insight on how many records were collected for a
specific “organizational unit” or country, what type of data was
collected and what type of collection was used. The program also
allows determining trends in data collection for both strategic
and tactical decision making, according to the slides.

One of the slides contains a part of the Informant’s user
interface showing a world map with countries color-coded ranging
from green to red depending on the amount of records collected
there. While Iran, Pakistan and other some other states are
predictably “hottest” according to the map, the agency collected
almost 3 billion intelligence pieces in the US in March 2013
alone.

The map showing how much data is being collected in different countries across the globe (image from the Guardian)

The insight on the software being used by the NSA comes amid the
agency spokesperson Judith Emmel’s claims that the NSA cannot at
the moment determine how many Americans may be accidentally
included in its surveillance.

“Current technology simply does not permit us to positively
identify all of the persons or locations associated with a given
communication,”
Emmel said Saturday adding that “it is
harder to know the ultimate source or destination, or more
particularly the identity of the person represented by the TO:,
FROM: or CC: field of an e-mail address or the abstraction of an
IP address.”

NSA data sources

Another slide from the internal NSA presentation redacted by the
Guardian editors details the data gathering methods used in the
NSA global surveillance program.

The first method suggests interception of data from “fiber
cables and infrastructure as data flows past”
under the FISA
Amendments Act (FAA) of 2008, Section 702.

The second distinguished method is data collection “directly
from the servers of the US service providers.”

The slide detailing methods of data extraction under the FISA Amendment Act (image from the Guardian)

The presentation encourages analysts to use both methods for
better results.

Google, Facebook negotiated ‘secure portals’ to share data with
NSA?

Meanwhile, a report by the New York Times revealed that Internet
giants, including Google and Facebook, have been in negotiations
with the US security agency over ‘digital rooms’ for sharing the
requested data. The companies still insist there is no “back
door” for a direct access to user data on their servers.

The Internet companies seem more compliant with the spy agencies
than they want to appear to their users, and are cooperating on
“behind-the-scenes transactions” of the private information,
according to a report that cites anonymous sources “briefed on
the negotiations.”

According to the report, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, AOL,
Apple and Paltalk have “opened discussions with national security
officials about developing technical methods to more efficiently
and securely share the personal data of foreign users in response
to lawful government requests,” sometimes “changing” their
computer systems for this purpose.

These methods included a creation of “separate, secure portals”
online, through which the government would conveniently request
and acquire data from the companies.

A slide from a classified NSA presentation leaked by the Guardian

Twitter was the only major Internet company mentioned in the
report that allegedly declined to facilitate the data transfer to
the NSA in a described way. As opposed to a legitimate FISA
request, such a move was considered as not “a legal requirement”
by Twitter.

The sources claim the negotiations have been actively going in
the recent months, referring to a Silicon Valley visit of the
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin E. Dempsey. Dempsey
is said to have met the executives of Facebook, Microsoft, Google
and Intel to secretly discuss their collaboration on the
government’s “intelligence-gathering efforts.”

NSA pressured to declassify more PRISM details

In response to the fury over US government’s counterterrorism
techniques, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper for
the second time in three days revealed some details of the PRISM
data-scouring program.

Being one of the “most important tools for the protection of
the nation’s security”
the PRISM is an internal government
computer system for collecting “foreign intelligence
information from electronic communication service providers under
court supervision,”
Clapper said.

He also said that PRISM seeks foreign intelligence information
concerning foreign targets located outside the US and cannot
intentionally target any US citizen or any person known to be in
the US. As for “incidentally intercepted” information
about a US resident, the dissemination of such data is prohibited
unless it is “evidence of a crime”, “indicates” a
serious threat, or is needed to “understand foreign
intelligence or assess its importance.”
 

Clapper also stressed that the agency operates with a court
authority and that it does not unilaterally obtain information
from the servers of US telecoms and Internet giants without their
knowledge and a FISA Court judge approval.

This article originally appeared on: RT