WASHINGTON — It is a top-secret data-mining program that “connects the dots” for terrorism detection and helps determine patterns for the U.S. intelligence community to access multiple digital data gateways – including data from other nations.
It is called PRISM, until now a clandestine national security electronic surveillance program operated by the National Security Agency, sometimes referred to as “No Such Agency.”
PRISM stands for “protect, respond, inform, secure and monitor.”
This highly secretive program offers the U.S. intelligence community a major information-gathering capability, since most of the world’s communications flow through the United States.
Based on leaked PRISM documents with the classification of top secret/SI/ORCON/NORFORN viewed by WND, the flow of most communications through the U.S. allows NSA to target phone calls, emails and text messages by the cheapest path and not physically the most direct route.
The documents reveal the bulk of the world’s communications move through companies based in the U.S., most of the electronic data flowing through bulk taps in switches at Verizon and AT&T.
As the documents state, “Your target’s communications could easily be flowing into and through the U.S.,” indicating foreign communications as well as domestic.
In addition to top secret, the other initialed designations are: ORCON – information controlled by originator; SI – meaning communications intelligence at the top secret Umbra level; and NORFORN – not for foreign disclosure.
Another highly classified PRISM document viewed by WND shows that the current providers from which NSA acquires data electronically are Microsoft (Hotmail, etc), Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype and Apple.
Separately, LinkedIn and Twitter also are included in this information gathering.
There supposedly is enough data to store a yottabyte of data – in other words, enough to store all the electronic communications of everyone for the next 100 years.
Classified PowerPoint slides on the PRISM program reveal what the intelligence collectors will obtain through electronic surveillance and stored communications. They include e-mails; chat – video and voice; videos; photos; stored data; voice over Internet protocol, or VOIP; file transfers; video conferencing; notifications of target activity such as logins, etc; online social networking details; and “special requests.”
It is a super-secret system that originally was designed to capture data on foreign nationals who use telephones, emails and other electronic means of communicating to determine patterns of a possible terrorist threat to the security of the United States.
But recent revelations have shown that PRISM is much more – it’s also acquiring data from telephone calls, emails and other electronic transactions on Americans – all Americans – without the benefit of a search warrant or even a basis to suspect that a U.S. citizen may be involved in potential terrorist activities.
The authority for such an intrusion was implemented following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by al-Qaida.
The George W. Bush administration initially conducted such electronic surveillance without the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISC.
However, the FISC created PRISM by authority allowed under the Protect America Act of 2007 and the amendments in 2008 to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. These amendments are due to expire on December 31, 2017.
It gave the federal government authority to monitor electronic communications of foreigners abroad.
However, recent revelations by Edward Snowden, reportedly a former disgruntled employee of the Central Intelligence Agency who then when on to work for a few months for the defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, revealed that such surveillance was far more vast than envisioned by the FISA Amendments of 2008.
In making this revelation, Snowden, thought to be in Hong Kong, violated a non-disclosure agreement that all government employees and defense contractors with top-secret special compartmented intelligence, or TS/SCI, clearances must sign upon being granted those clearances.
Snowden now is seeking asylum in various countries. Being in Hong Kong, which now is under the jurisdiction of Beijing, Snowden could potentially offer the Chinese government an intelligence bonanza of how the intelligence community targets information worldwide.
The Russians similarly are considering his asylum request. Like Beijing, Moscow would be most eager to acquire that information from this technology specialist who apparently had accesses that now appear to have been beyond what he needed to do his job.
In a recent interview with the Guardian newspaper out of Great Britain, Snowden claimed, “Any analyst at any time can target anyone, any sector, anywhere. Where those communications will be picked up depends on the range of the sensor networks and the authorities that the analyst is empowered with.”
It is known that NSA has listening posts around the world and has cooperative arrangements with signals intelligence agencies of friendly countries such as Germany, France, Great Britain and Australia.
“Not all analysts have the ability to target everything,” Snowden said. “But I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone … from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president if I had a personal email.”
The U.S. government, however, claims that PRISM is being used in the narrowest sense when it comes to gathering electronic information from Americans.
In essence, NSA analysts are at the “top of the food chain,” as one WND source described it. “They can see, hear and in some cases are given access to everything, including all sensor networks and data sets worldwide.”
Similarly, executive branch departments and agencies involved in national security have smaller PRISMs unique to their particular mission. These department-based intelligence analysts, however, only are given authority to access a limited number of sensors and data sets to support what they do.
“Put another way,” the source said, “each department represents a subset or smaller PRISM, while the NSA amalgamates and is the superset PRISM of the larger, Big Brother machine.”
A Defense Department official confirmed to WND that NSA already has access to all the content of intercepted emails and phone calls, not just the “metadata” or data on data, as such as to who contacted who, when and where.
He confirmed President Obama’s recent admission that the government indeed is collecting the content of all calls.
Making matters worse, the Defense Department official said there are people in the intelligence community who “aren’t concerned about the law or their oaths.”
Civil libertarians, however, claim such an intrusion is an invasion of privacy forbidden under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.
It reads as follows: “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 the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit saying that the NSA program violates the rights of all Americans.
“The program goes far beyond even the permissive limits set by the Patriot Act and represents a gross infringement of the freedom of association and the right to privacy,” according to Jameel Jaffer , the ACLU’s deputy legal director.