WSJ: NSA can access 75% of all US Internet traffic

posted at 8:01 am on August 21, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

I know what you’re thinking only 75%? Come on, man — if you’re gonna snoop, then snoop.  All right, some of you may be thinking that Barack Obama recently promised, “We don’t have a domestic spying program,” but what would one call a program that tracks three-quarters of all domestic Internet traffic and holds the e-mail content between US citizens?

Are we back to parsing the definition of is?

The National Security Agency—which possesses only limited legal authority to spy on U.S. citizens—has built a surveillance network that covers more Americans’ Internet communications than officials have publicly disclosed, current and former officials say.

The system has the capacity to reach roughly 75% of all U.S. Internet traffic in the hunt for foreign intelligence, including a wide array of communications by foreigners and Americans. In some cases, it retains the written content of emails sent between citizens within the U.S. and also filters domestic phone calls made with Internet technology, these people say.

The NSA’s filtering, carried out with telecom companies, is designed to look for communications that either originate or end abroad, or are entirely foreign but happen to be passing through the U.S. But officials say the system’s broad reach makes it more likely that purely domestic communications will be incidentally intercepted and collected in the hunt for foreign ones.

“We don’t have a domestic spying program,” Obama promised — but the NSA’s listening devices aren’t off-shore:

This filtering takes place at more than a dozen locations at major Internet junctions in the U.S., officials say. Previously, any NSA filtering of this kind was largely believed to be happening near points where undersea or other foreign cables enter the country.

“We don’t have a domestic spying program,” but we don’t mind collecting the content of entirely domestic e-mails, emphasis mine:

The NSA is focused on collecting foreign intelligence, but the streams of data it monitors include both foreign and domestic communications. Inevitably, officials say, some U.S. Internet communications are scanned and intercepted, including both “metadata” about communications, such as the “to” and “from” lines in an email, and the contents of the communications themselves.

Much, but not all, of the data is discarded, meaning some communications between Americans are stored in the NSA’s databases, officials say. Some lawmakers and civil libertarians say that, given the volumes of data NSA is examining, privacy protections are insufficient.

“We don’t have a –” — well, never mind.  According to the WSJ and its sources, the telecoms themselves decide what is “responsive” to NSA requests, and at least one provider will only return data involving connections outside the US.  The NSA often presses for domestic intercepts, though, and although providers will argue over the scope, many of them comply.

So what are the checks on this that keep the NSA from conducting a domestic spying program?  Obama insisted that the program has tight oversight “from all three branches of government,” but a former telecom executive says that’s just an illusion:

Paul Kouroupas, a former executive at Global Crossing Ltd. and other telecom companies responsible for security and government affairs, says the checks and balances in the NSA programs depend on telecommunications companies and the government policing the system themselves. “There’s technically and physically nothing preventing a much broader surveillance,” he says.

The effectiveness of the oversight — from the legislative branch, at least — was demonstrated when the Washington Post reported on an internal NSA audit showing thousands of privacy violations a year.  Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, only found out about it when she read the paper.

This program may be a necessary defense against terrorism, but if so, it requires a lot more oversight than it has now.  Furthermore, we need an accounting of what exactly we have prevented through the domestic surveillance conducted by the NSA while eroding the constitutional rights to privacy of American citizens as a trade-off. Without that data, we need to move NSA back to its original mission of foreign signals intercepts, and end the domestic spying program that is coming more and more into focus.

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Schadenfreude on August 21, 2013 at 12:08 PM

He could at least acknowledge that Bush did not overtly lie to the American people Re: the NSA as Obama has done.

The media would be furious if Bush had lied on Leno about this.

happytobehere on August 21, 2013 at 11:47 AM

Bush did lie to the American people. He just did it differently. He worked to prevent any investigation of the collapse of the three towers in NYC on 9/11. He succeeded for almost 400 days. He said there was nothing to see. The third tower’s collapse was so embarrassing and inexplicable that Lee Hamilton and Ton Keane on the 9/11 Commission refused to include even one sentence about its collapse in the 2004 final report. Everything was on TV said Bush. This is a lie. A proper forensic investigation of those sites (especially the third tower where no person was inside when it collapsed-seemingly by controlled demolition) was prevented by the Bush Administration. By then most of the metal frame work was removed to China and melted down. They tried to confiscate (but luckily were thwarted) the 500+ after action tape recordings of first responders where over 120 reported multiple explosions before each tower’s collapse even in the first story areas and the reports of molten metal found in the channel plates more than 2 weeks after the event, and on and on. Then they justify many constitution-shredding security measures including the Patriot Act that has lead directly to Obama’s more draconian 2012 NDAA.

Falcon46 on August 21, 2013 at 12:09 PM

Any second now…

A new web service will be available that will integrate with your email client and will sprinkle each outgoing email with many keywords-of-interest in a random manner. Your recipient shall be considerate and understanding.

Once a bunch of folks sign up, the system is then enabled en masse. The collected data is then utterly useless.

Tsar of Earth on August 21, 2013 at 12:11 PM

Falcon46 on August 21, 2013 at 12:09 PM

Now who can argue with that? I think we’re all indebted to Falcon46 for clearly stating what needed to be said. I’m particulary glad that these lovely children were here today to see that speech. Not only was it authentic Truther gibberish, it expressed a courage little seen in this day and age.

happytobehere on August 21, 2013 at 12:29 PM

Take the time. This tells so much, in spite of a few leftard idiocies.

Schadenfreude on August 21, 2013 at 12:34 PM

happytobehere on August 21, 2013 at 12:29 PM

You and Falcon need to seek help.

Schadenfreude on August 21, 2013 at 12:36 PM

happytobehere on August 21, 2013 at 12:29 PM
You and Falcon need to seek help.
Schadenfreude on August 21, 2013 at 12:36 PM

Obviously you’re not a Mel Brooks fan.

happytobehere on August 21, 2013 at 12:45 PM

How can the NSA “use” information improperly? They are an information collecting agency. That’s what they do.

happytobehere on August 21, 2013 at 11:21 AM

O.K., then if they are just collecting information, what’s the problem?

Mr. Arkadin on August 21, 2013 at 12:56 PM

Amazing to me that you have so much trust in this government. You think NSA after admitting that they improperly collected this info would be so ignorant as to admit in using it?


bluefox on August 21, 2013 at 11:29 AM

The NSA didn’t admit anything until Snowden spilled the beans. Who says that I expect the NSA or any gov’t agency to admit improper use of this information gathering. I don’t. I don’t trust government at all.

What I do expect is that Wikileaks, or Snowden, or someone should have some evidence by now that the gov’t has engaged in improper and illegal use of this legal intelligence gathering. That they improperly spied on a domestic person and then used that information against that person in some way.

But despite all the hoopla, nothing has surfaced. Zero. So, rather than see a gov’t out of control, I see a coordinated effort by enemies of the United States, unwittingly aided by idiots, dupes, liberals, libertarians, and Obama hating conservatives, to damage a vital part of our national security apparatus.

LOL. You’ll be laughing out of your ass when public hysteria forces the gov’ts hand on this, and we have to shut down huge parts of this program, and another 9/11 happens. Won’t be able to blame it on Bush, the neocons, and the Jews next time, like they still do at libertarian sites like, and

Mr. Arkadin on August 21, 2013 at 1:07 PM

happytobehere on August 21, 2013 at 12:29 PM

You and Falcon need to seek help.

Schadenfreude on August 21, 2013 at 12:36 PM

I’ll just quote again from Reagan’s Assistant Treasury Secretary, Dr Paul Craig Roberts, again:

“For one side to call the other conspiracy theorists is the pot calling the kettle black.

The question turns not on name-calling but on evidence.

The 9/11 Truth movement was not created by bloggers ranting on their web sites. It was created by professional architects and engineers some of whom are known for having designed steel high rise buildings. It was created by distinguished scientists, such as University of Copenhagen nano-Chemist Niels Harrit who has 60 scientific papers to his credit and physicist Steven Jones. It was created by US Air Force pilots and commercial airline pilots who are expert at flying airplanes. It was created by firefighters who were in the twin towers and who personally heard and experienced numerous explosions including explosions in the sub-basements. It was created by members of 9/11 families who desire to know how such an improbable event as 9/11 could possibly occur.”

Conservative/defense hawk Mark Levin in his new book “The Liberty Amendments” has in-depth criticism for both parties, especially in the last 12 years.

Falcon46 on August 21, 2013 at 1:10 PM

If the ruling class was serious about stopping domestic terrorism it wouldn’t import people like Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

This is purely about creating a police state with massive spying.

David Blue on August 21, 2013 at 3:51 PM

Mr. Arkadin on August 21, 2013 at 1:07 PM

The Issue is not whether there is proof whether they have used this information, the very fact that they have it is my objection.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Now I see that the Administration wants to have SCOTUS rule that the IV Amendment is invalid:

Obama administration asks Supreme Court to allow warrantless cellphone searches.

What authority does a “Secret Court Judge” have to negate our 4th Amendment?

To whom is this “Judge” accountable? To whom is a Dictator accountable? Is there a difference in your opinion?

bluefox on August 21, 2013 at 6:28 PM

If you have a contact in the NSA(soon the entire MIC and HHS) you have access to millions of data points that can greatly aid you in

– political organizing
– extortion
– advertising
– gaming markets
– a 100 more things that I’m not smart enough to come up with.

If you DON’T have access to a contact then you are at a severe disadvantage.

This creates 2 societal tiers. 2 tiers of law firms,businessmen, politicians, criminals….

Currently it takes 1 or 2 people(NOT A CONSPIRACY OF MANY) to get the information.
1. An Agent
optionally – 2. A requester


If a BoxHead can see the implications then what does that make you Neocon police state perverts? sub-boxheads?

BoxHead1 on August 21, 2013 at 9:14 PM

2+2=4 people(1984). If some have access to all E-comunications then that “some” will benefit at the expense of the many. We will be a plutocracy in pure form.

BoxHead1 on August 21, 2013 at 9:30 PM

2+2=4,people ignore that part

BoxHead1 on August 21, 2013 at 9:31 PM

the many the rest.

Ok. I’m done. Like anybody is reading this *%&*.

BoxHead1 on August 21, 2013 at 11:59 PM

Jihad; dirty bomb; terror attack;Chicago;tailor made suicide vest;great porn

Dear NSA:
Sorry about that, but I just wanted to get your attention because I have a request.
I play Word with Friends with some lady that is a relative of my wife.
Every time I play her, she beats the living crap out of me.
I am quite certain that she is cheating.
She gets every good 10 point letter in the game, while I’m sitting there most of the time looking at something like: i-i-e-e-i-a-d. So I’m pretty sure that she can control which letters each of us gets.
So, if you all could send me an applet or something that will allow me to pick the letters for a change, I would greatly appreciate it. Feel free to just plug it in to my IPad- that’s what I usually play her with when I go to bed.
Thanks for the help. Much appreciated.
Your friend,

justltl on August 22, 2013 at 12:35 AM

Maybe Obama was misunderstood. When he promised to bring more transparency then ever before he must have meant transparency for his administration on our private lives.

Chessplayer on August 22, 2013 at 9:47 AM

I don’t trust a liberal democrat government not to abuse their power as individuals, a la IRS selectively enforce and selectively audit and selectively leak personal info.

I am positive that people who would do as the IRS has done, would also look for phone calls from Petreus to his biographer…would also check on the calls made to Colin Powell…presidential candidates running against big government candidates…Sarah…Rush…conservatives in talk radio or in the news…because they cannot separate their ideology from the government work.

That said, a program ought to be able to be run with some kinds of checks and balances. I do feel that this is driving us back toward the Jamie Gorelick “Wall” and the liberals were happy with that. So, you can’t listen to phone calls from a few mideast terrorists because some American drug dealers don’t like that they are targeted too. But what IF you could get conservatives to join in and pan surviellance of any kind…hmmm….

Fleuries on August 22, 2013 at 11:37 AM

Nobody knows what 75% of internet traffic is. There’s a perception part to deception. It’s a head-fake. In reality, NSA probably doesn’t have the manpower to read anything of note – that’s so boring anyway. They’d rather be coding cool programs and getting promoted on their nerdy special projects.

They have no time to read non-specific warnings in neon lights from the Russians about the generalized threats from the Tsarnaev brothers. They have no idea about Al Qaeda web-sites advising people to consider pressure-cooking recipes.

They are oh-too-sensitive to give briefings to their so-called masters (who are too afraid to demand the truth). It’s so easy to “snow” politcal bumpkins who know nothing. Tell anything to Peter King or Pat Leahy and they are out there on TV the next morning, like clock-work.

The truth is these programs don’t know anything of use, but they sure will spend a lot on computers just in case something crops up. An adult adminstration would start cutting budgets until they got to the truth.

virgo on August 23, 2013 at 12:32 AM