In this morning’s Washington Post, reporters Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani write about the latest Snowden/National Security Agency document leaks concerning the “Mystic” and “Retro” programs, the NSA’s tools for “interception” and “retrospective retrieval” of 30 days’ worth of content of virtually ALL/ANY given nation’s phone calls.
Of course, the story makes specific points to the effect that this type of program is only implemented outside of the United States. But, as we've known for more than two months, the intelligence community’s definition of, “metadata,” right here in the U.S., is that it is (actually) content. (SEE: Fmr. CIA Deputy Dir. Morell In Sen. Judiciary Cmte. Testimony: NSA's “Metadata” Is “Content”)
From today’s WaPo…
NSA surveillance program reaches ‘into the past’ to retrieve, replay phone calls
By Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani
Tuesday, March 18, 8:37 AM
The National Security Agency has built a surveillance system capable of recording “100 percent” of a foreign country’s telephone calls, enabling the agency to rewind and review conversations as long as a month after they take place, according to people with direct knowledge of the effort and documents supplied by former contractor Edward Snowden.
A senior manager for the program compares it to a time machine — one that can replay the voices from any call without requiring that a person be identified in advance for surveillance.
The voice interception program, called MYSTIC, began in 2009. Its RETRO tool, short for “retrospective retrieval,” and related projects reached full capacity against the first target nation in 2011. Planning documents two years later anticipated similar operations elsewhere.
In the initial deployment, collection systems are recording “every single” conversation nationwide, storing billions of them in a 30-day rolling buffer that clears the oldest calls as new ones arrive, according to a classified summary.
The call buffer opens a door “into the past,” the summary says, enabling users to “retrieve audio of interest that was not tasked at the time of the original call.” Analysts listen to only a fraction of 1 percent of the calls, but the absolute numbers are high. Each month, they send millions of voice clippings, or “cuts,” for processing and long-term storage.
At the request of U.S. officials, The Washington Post is withholding details that could be used to identify the country where the system is being employed or other countries where its use was envisioned.
No other NSA program disclosed to date has swallowed a nation’s telephone network whole. Outside experts have sometimes described that prospect as disquieting but remote, with notable implications for a growing debate over the NSA’s practice of “bulk collection” abroad…
The story continues on to note: “The RETRO tool was built three years ago as a 'unique one-off capability,' but last year’s secret intelligence budget named five more countries for which the MYSTIC program provides 'comprehensive metadata access and content,' with a sixth expected to be in place by last October.”
While the NSA will neither confirm nor deny that it is, indeed, capturing all of a given nation’s calls, the reality brought to us via the information contained in these latest, leaked documents, as reported in this story, is that the NSA is fully capable of doing just that, as it carries out its over-arching directive to “Collect it all.”
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And, here's the link to Executive Order ("EO") 12333: EO12333.
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Be sure to checkout Kossack Joan McCarter's report on this breaking news, and more info related to it, linked here: "NSA's bulk collection bonanza."
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