Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported Monday that top-secret documents included in the trove of files
supplied by the NSA contractor-turned-leaker Edward Snowden
reveal that the US intelligence community obtains and keeps
information on American citizens accumulated off the Internet
without ever issuing a search warrant or opening an investigation
into that person.
The information is obtained using a program codenamed Marina, the
documents suggest, and is kept by the government for up to a full
year without investigators ever having to explain why the subject
is being surveilled.
“Marina has the ability to look back on the last 365 days’
worth of DNI metadata seen by the Sigint collection system,
regardless whether or not it was tasked for collection,”
the Guardian’s James Ball quotes from the documents.
According to a guide for intelligence analysts supplied by Mr.
Snowden, “The Marina metadata application tracks a user’s
browser experience, gathers contact information/content and
develops summaries of target.”
“This tool offers the ability to export the data in a variety
of formats, as well as create various charts to assist in
pattern-of-life development,” it continues.
Ball writes that the program collects “almost anything” a
Web user does online, “from browsing history — such as map
searches and websites visited — to account details, email
activity, and even some account passwords.”
Only days earlier, separate disclosures attributed to Snowden
revealed that the NSA was using a massive collection of metadata
to create complex graphs of social connections for foreign
intelligence purposes, although that program had pulled in
intelligence about Americans as well.
After the New York Times broke news of that program, a NSA
spokesperson said that “All data queries must include a
foreign intelligence justification, period.” As Snowden
documents continue to surface, however, it’s becoming clear that
personal information pertaining to millions of US citizens is
routinely raked in by the NSA and other agencies as the
intelligence community collects as much data as possible.
In June, a top-secret document also attributed to Mr. Snowden
revealed that the NSA was collecting the telephony metadata for
millions of Americans from their telecom providers. The
government has defended this practice by saying that the metadata
– rough information that does not include the content of
communications – is not protected by the US Constitution’s
prohibition against unlawful search and seizure.
“Metadata can be very revealing,” George Washington
University law professor Orin S. Kerr told the Times this week.
“Knowing things like the number someone just dialed or the
location of the person’s cellphone is going to allow them to
assemble a picture of what someone is up to. It’s the digital
equivalent of tailing a suspect.”
According to the Guardian’s Ball, Internet metadata picked up by
the NSA is routed to the Marina database, which is kept separate
from the servers where telephony metadata is stored.
Only moments after the Guardian wrote of its latest leak on
Monday, Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project
read a statement before the European Parliament’s Committee on
Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs penned by none other
than Snowden himself.
“When I began my work, it was with the sole intention of
making possible the debate we see occurring here in this
body,” Snowden said.
Snowden, who has been granted temporary asylum in Russia after
being charged with espionage in the US, said through Raddack that
“The cost for one in my position of returning public knowledge
to public hands has been persecution and exile.”
Meanwhile, at the White House Monday afternoon, NBC News
correspondent Chuck Todd asked Obama press secretary Jay Carney
to comment on the latest disclosures, but to no avail.
“The NSA’s activities are directed against foreign
intelligence targets in order to protect the nation and its
interests,” said Carney, adding, “We do what other nations
do, and that is collect foreign intelligence.”
When Todd responded, “This is about Americans; this is about
Americans, that are not foreign,” Carney replied by refusing
to acknowledge any specific intelligence tool and instead said
that the agency’s foreign intelligence activities “are
directed pursuant to procedures approved by the United States
attorney general and secretary of defense.”
“I understand that that’s what you have to say. And that’s a
statement you have to say. But are you at all concerned?”