Documents released by Edward Snowden show how the NSA broke into the main communication links connecting Yahoo and Google data centers around the world, enabling it to collect pretty much everything you've ever done on the Internet. Assuming you're a "foreigner" (wink, wink!).
By tapping those links, the agency has positioned itself to collect at will from among hundreds of millions of user accounts, many of them belonging to Americans. The NSA does not keep everything it collects, but it keeps a lot.
In fact, your data ("data" includes both metadata and content, presumably everything you've ever written, every video and picture you've viewed, every search you've made, for starters) is already stored away, waiting to be scrutinized at any time by an enterprising young NSA fellow if they should take an interest in you, for whatever reason. As is the case with most of these Snowden revelations, the collection of private data is a process already well underway:
According to a top secret accounting dated Jan. 9, 2013, NSA’s acquisitions directorate sends millions of records every day from Yahoo and Google internal networks to data warehouses at the agency’s Fort Meade headquarters.
As USA Today
observes, this newly revealed spying "appears to give government snoops access to not just contact lists and address books – last week's Snowden revelation – but all e-mail and business documents, including Google docs which is used by hundreds of thousands of companies."
The tool they are using to steal and collect your private data for future use is known as MUSCULAR. This tool enables them to dispense with the PRISM infiltration, which requires Court approval under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The infiltration is especially striking because the NSA, under a separate program known as PRISM, has front-door access to Google and Yahoo user accounts through a court-approved process.
The MUSCULAR project appears to be an unusually aggressive use of NSA tradecraft against flagship American companies. The agency is built for high-tech spying, with a wide range of digital tools, but it has not been known to use them routinely against U.S. companies.
MUSCULAR is purportedly only in use "overseas," which is of course an immense relief, since nothing we have seen thus far from the NSA would remotely suggest they'd use such a tool domestically.
Intercepting communications overseas has clear advantages for the NSA, with looser restrictions and less oversight. NSA documents about the effort refer directly to “full take,” “bulk access” and “high volume” operations on Yahoo and Google networks. Such large-scale collection of Internet content would be illegal in the United States, but the operations take place overseas, where the NSA is allowed to presume that anyone using a foreign data link is a foreigner.
No one from the "Directorate" appears ready to discuss this yet
. Coming just one day after the head of the Agency dismissed stories of sweeping up the phone records of millions of Europeans as "completely false,"
that's quite understandable.
White House officials and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA, declined to confirm, deny or explain why the agency infiltrates Google and Yahoo networks overseas.
One of the more striking documents revealed today is what appears to be a little post-it tab (actually a slide from an internal NSA presentation, presumably held over coffee and donuts) where some bored NSA staffer drew a smiley-face
to celebrate the NSA's infiltration of Google's cloud.
In hand-printed letters, the drawing notes that encryption is “added and removed here!” The artist adds a smiley face, a cheeky celebration of victory over Google security.
This Agency is completely out of control.