By Pam Martens: June 7, 2013
Following yesterday’s report by Glenn Greenwald in The Guardian newspaper that the U.S. government was engaged in data mining tens of millions of telephone calls, today both The Guardian and the Washington Post carry reports of a Top Secret federal government program called PRISM which allows snooping into the contents of emails, live chats and Skype communications of both Americans and foreigners.
According to the Washington Post, a career intelligence officer was so deeply disturbed by first hand experience with the program that he turned over 41 PowerPoint slides and other documents about PRISM to the newspaper. The Post reports the officer stating: “They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type.”
The slides are marked Top Secret, ORCON for Originator Controlled, and NOFORN meaning no foreign access. The government is already striking out at the release of the classified information. Late yesterday, James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, issued a statement calling the release of the slides “reprehensible.” He also alluded to errors in the reporting by The Post and The Guardian but didn’t provide any specifics.
According to one document, the government is tapping directly into the servers of nine of the largest internet providers: “Collection directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.” Twitter is not included on the list of “private sector partners.”
Google, Yahoo and Microsoft denied that the government is directly tapping into their servers. The Post explains that this may be a matter of semantics, citing to another document that describes the technology as allowing “collection managers [to send] content tasking instructions directly to equipment installed at company-controlled locations,” rather than directly to company servers.
Another document obtained from the intelligence officer informs that “98 percent of PRISM production is based on Yahoo, Google and Microsoft; we need to make sure we don’t harm these sources.”
One slide depicts PRISM as a key component of the President’s Daily Brief, citing PRISM data in 1,477 items in 2012. According to documents obtained by The Post, NSA increasingly relies on PRISM as its leading source of raw intelligence data, accounting for nearly 1 in 7 intelligence reports.
While the legality of the program hinges on restricting surveillance to foreigners, PRISM training materials reportedly instructs users that if searches happen to turn up the private information of Americans, “it’s nothing to worry about.”
One of the most fascinating facets of the revelations is the way today’s Wall Street Journal opinion pages are treating the disclosures. The IRS “scandal,” where the IRS singled out the Tea Party and related groups for extra scrutiny, still dominates their opinion pages today in a surreal journalistic head in the sand mentality.
The editorial covering the phone records and data mining revelations carries this headline: “Thank You for Data-Mining.” The sentiment runs like this: “Well, another day, another Washington furor. This one is over a National Security Agency phone data monitoring program, but unlike the other White House scandals there seems to be little here that is scandalous. The existence of the program was exposed years ago and such surveillance is a core part of the war on terror, if we can still use that term.”