According to documents provided by NSA leaker Edward Snowden and a “10 month investigation by The Washington Post,” ordinary American and non-American internet users were more often the targets of National Security Agency communications netting operations than were the legitimate targets of investigations.
“Nine of 10 account holders found in a large cache of intercepted conversations, which former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided in full to The Post, were not the intended surveillance targets but were caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else,” The Post reported.
They add, however, that the NSA targeting operations have resulted in the capture of key figures in the War on Terror, including Pakistani bomb builder Muhammad Tahir Shahzad and Umar Patek, a suspect in the deadly 2002 Bali nightclub bombings.
Many other files, described as useless by the analysts but nonetheless retained, have a startlingly intimate, even voyeuristic quality. They tell stories of love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversions, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes. The daily lives of more than 10,000 account holders who were not targeted are catalogued and recorded nevertheless.
The Post alleges that their investigation revealed aspects of ongoing NSA operations which they refused to describe in detail. Among the operations Post investigators were privy to include “a secret overseas nuclear project, double-dealing by an ostensible ally, a military calamity that befell an unfriendly power, and the identities of aggressive intruders into U.S. computer networks.”
“If Snowden’s sample is representative, the population under scrutiny in the PRISM and Upstream programs is far larger than the government has suggested,” The Post report concluded. “At the 9-to-1 ratio of incidental collection in Snowden’s sample, the office’s figure would correspond to nearly 900,000 accounts, targeted or not, under surveillance.”