F. Michael Maloof, staff writer for WND and G2Bulletin, is a former senior security policy analyst in the office of the secretary of defense.More ↓Less ↑
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Army has ordered its personnel not to go to the latest postings on the website of the British newspaper The Guardian to read revelations of information given to its reporter because it contains a “TOP SECRET slide show.”
The email, which WND received from a Department of Defense source, was addressed to a couple hundred military personnel and civilians working for DOD. The source who provided the email asked for anonymity.
“Do not go to ‘The Guardian’ news website as they have TOP SECRET slide show on the main page and you will be flagged,” according to the writer from the 304th MIBN, or military intelligence battalion.
“If someone is not included on this email inform them this website is off limits,” the email said. “If anyone has visited this page today and clicked on any ‘NSA program’ slide show please inform me immediately. It is much easier fix (sic) an issue before it becomes a problem then (sic) after it becomes a disaster.”
Following initial leaks of the highly classified slides by The Guardian based on interviews and files given to its reporter by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the Pentagon had informed all military personnel not to access the website on military office computers, even though the NSA information is in the public domain.
Snowden worked for the defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton and was assigned for three months to NSA where he had access and acquired the information, apparently by using thumb drives to take the information without detection.
Such access can be ascertained by security personnel who monitor what U.S. military personnel are viewing, whether they are using an unclassified or classified computer.
The latest email referred to The Guardian’s story on XKeyscore, which is an NSA data mining software tool that gives the analyst accesses to “nearly everything a user does on the Internet.”
The latest story on XKeyscore pointed out that this tool gives NSA analysts the “widest-reaching” collection of online data. In addition, NSA analysts don’t need prior authorization to conduct searches.
XKeyscore “sweeps up emails, social media activity and browsing history.”
The story included a series of new XKeyscore slides classified as “TOP SECRET/COMINT/REL TO USA, AUS, CAN, GBR, NZL.”
In effect, the Top Secret slides come from communications intelligence and are released only to the U.S., Australia, Canada, Great Britain and New Zealand.
The program gives NSA access to millions of individuals, based on documents Snowden gave to the Guardian.
All that an NSA analyst needs to do is fill out a simple on-screen form giving only a broad justification to mine NSA’s databases. Such a request is not subject to any court or higher level NSA personnel.
In addition to emails, websites and metadata, XKeyscore also allows the analyst access to an individual’s internet activity in real-time.
The NSA is required by law to get a warrant from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, court if the target is a U.S. person
However, no such warrant is required if an American is communicating with a foreign target. XKeyscore can bypass the warrant requirement on obtaining information on an American if it has some identifying information such as the email, the Internet Protocol, or IP, address, keywords, name or telephone number.
XKeyscore gives the analyst access to the metadata as well as the content of the emails and other Internet activity, including any browsing and knowledge of the subject matter.
According to The Guardian article, one slide referred to “plug-ins” that describes the various types of information that can be searched. They include “every email address seen in a session by both username and domain, every phone number seen in a session including address book entries or signature block,” and “the webmail and chat activity to include username, buddylist, machine specific cookies etc.”
Another NSA tool called DNI Presenter allows the NSA analyst to read the content of stored emails. With XKeyscore, the analyst can also read the content of Facebook chats or private messages.
The HTTP on a website is important to the NSA analyst since it accesses “nearly everything a typical user does on the Internet.”
The slide asked: “Why are we interested in HTTP?” which then is followed by images of Facebook,Yahoo,Twitter, myspace.com, CNN.com @mailru, Wikipedia, Google and Gmail.
“Because nearly everything a typical user does on the Internet uses HTTP,” the slide added.
XKeyscore also lets the analyst determine the IP addresses of every person visiting any website the analyst looks at.
XKeyscore holds the greatest amount of communications data collected by NSA. The article quotes William Biney, a former NSA mathematician, as saying the agency had “assembled on the order of 20 trillion transactions about U.S. citizens with other U.S. citizens” only from phone calls and emails.
Each day, NSA reportedly intercepts and stores some 1.7 billion emails, phone calls and other communications.
National Intelligence Director James Clapper in a letter to Sen. Ron Wyden conceded that NSA analysts have exceeded their authority in domestic surveillance. He said there were a number of compliance problems which he attributed to “human error” or “highly sophisticated technology issues.”
In a Senate floor response, Wyden said the violations are “more serious than those stated by the intelligence community, and are troubling.”
WND reported more than a month ago when Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., chided the military in response to an Air Force memo banning access to articles about the NSA leak story on the military branch’s unsecured Internet system.
“If it’s in the public domain, it’s hard to make a case that military members – who are still citizens and protected by the Constitution – should not read the news about what government is doing,” Hunter told WND.
WND had reported when the Air Force issued a NOTAM – a Notice to Airmen – that warned users of the military’s unclassified computer network not to look at news stories regarding the NSA-Verizon scandal because it could trigger a Classified Message Incident.
A Classified Message Incident is prompted when classified material or information is transmitted over an unsecure military network.
Hunter, a U.S. Marine combat veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, said there’s a “bigger issue with classifications and access, which, if anything, should prompt concerns on the part of officials.”
While members of the Air Force in the U.S. have access to the Internet through other means, some members based overseas who contacted WND said the Air Force’s NIPRNET service is their only access. At a time of increasing distrust toward government, they regarded the order as censorship.