ICREACH and FBI’s PRTT Program

I’ll have a more substantive post about what we learn about NSA’s broader dragnet from the Intercept’s ICREACH story.

But for the moment I want to reiterate a point I made the other day. ICREACH is important not just because it makes NSA data available to CIA and FBI. But also because it makes CIA and FBI data available for the metadata analysis the NSA conducts.

The documents describe that to include things like clandestine intelligence and flight information.

But there’s one other program that ought to be of particular concern with regards to NSA’s programs. As I laid out here, FBI had a Pen Register/Trap and Trace “program” that shared information with the NSA at least until February 2012, several months after NSA had ended its PRTT Internet dragnet program.

The secrecy behind the FBI’s PRTT orders on behalf of NSA


Finally, there’s a series of entries on the classification guide for FISA programs leaked by Edward Snowden.

These entries show that FBI obtained counterterrorism information using PRTTs for NSA — which was considered Secret.

But that the FBI PR/TT program – which seems different than these individual orders — was considered TS/SI/NOFORN.


If you compare these entries with the rest of the classification guide, you see that this information — the fact that NSA gets PRTT information from FBI (in addition to information from Pen Registers, which seems to be treated differently at the Secret level)  – is treated with the same degree of secrecy as the actual targeting information or raw collected data on all other programs.

This is considered one of the most sensitive secrets in the whole FISA package.


Even minimized PRTT data is considered TS/SCI.


Now, it is true that this establishes an exact parallel with the BR FISA program (which the classification guide makes clear NSA obtained directly). So it may be attributable to the fact that the existence of the programs themselves was considered a highly sensitive secret.

So maybe that’s it. Maybe this just reflects paranoia about the way NSA was secretly relying on the PATRIOT Act to conduct massive dragnet programs.

Except there’s the date.

This classification guide was updated on February 7, 2012 — over a month after NSA shut down the PRTT program. Also, over a month after — according to Theresa Shea — the NSA destroyed all the data it had obtained under PRTT. (Note, her language seems to make clear that this was the NSA’s program, not the FBI’s.)

That is, over a month after the NSA ended its PRTT program and destroyed the data from it (at least according to sworn declarations before a court), the NSA’s classification guide referred to an FBI PRTT program that it considered one of its most sensitive secrets. And seemed to consider active.

I have no idea what this program entailed — and no one else has even picked up on this detail. It’s possible NSA’s Internet dragnet just moved under the FBI’s control. It’s possible (this is my current operative wildarseguess) that FBI’s PRTT program collects location data; the Bureau uses PRTT orders to get individualized location data, after all.

Whatever it is, though, the existence of ICREACH would make that data available to NSA in a form it could use to include it in contact chaining of metadata (which may be why it figures so prominently in NSA’s classification guide). And note: FBI’s minimization procedures are far more lenient than NSA’s, so whatever this data is, NSA may be able to do more with it given that FBI collected it.

And as with a number of other things, even the Pat Leahy version of USA Freedom would weaken protections for PRTT data.

Things Barack Obama Doesn’t Consider “Abuse”

Unauthorized suspected terroristsPresident Obama will shortly give a speech in which he’ll make cosmetic changes to the NSA dragnet, but will continue, in many ways, the accessing of personal data from Americans with no probable cause.

As part of his cosmetic effort, he will also say there has been no evidence of abuse in these programs. That means he does not consider any of the following abuse:

  • The NSA spied on the porn and phone sex habits of ideological opponents, including those with no significant ties to extremists, and including a US person.
  • According to the NSA in 2009, it had a program similar to Project Minaret — the tracking of anti-war opponents in the 1970s — in which it spied on people in the US in the guise of counterterrorism without approval. We still don’t have details of this abuse.
  • When the NSA got FISC approval for the Internet (2004) and phone (2006) dragnets, NSA did not turn off features of Bush’s illegal program that did not comply with the FISC authorization. These abuses continued until 2009 (one of them, the collection of Internet metadata that qualified as content, continued even after 2004 identification of those abuses).
  • Even after the FISC spent 9 months reining in some of this abuse, the NSA continued to ignore limits on disseminating US person data. Similarly, the NSA and FBI never complied with PATRIOT Act requirements to develop minimization procedures for the Section 215 program (in part, probably, because NSA’s role in the phone dragnet would violate any compliant minimization procedures).
  • The NSA has twice — in 2009 and 2011 — admitted to collecting US person content in the United States in bulk after having done so for years. It tried to claim (and still claims publicly in spite of legal rulings to the contrary) this US person content did not count as intentionally-collected US person content (FISC disagreed both times), and has succeeded in continuing some of it by refusing to count it, so it can claim it doesn’t know it is happening.
  • As recently as spring 2012, 9% of the NSA’s violations involved analysts breaking standard operating procedures they know. NSA doesn’t report these as willful violations, however, because they’ve deemed any rule-breaking in pursuit of “the mission” not to be willful violations.
  • In 2008, Congress passed a law allowing bulk collection of foreign-targeted content in the US, Section 702, to end the NSA’s practice of stealing Internet company data from telecom cables. Yet in spite of having a legal way to acquire such data, the NSA (through GCHQ) continues to steal data from some of the same companies, this time overseas, from their own cables. Arguably this is a violation of Section 702 of FISA.
  • NSA may intentionally collect US person content (including Internet metadata that legally qualifies as content) overseas (it won’t count this data, so we don’t know how systematic it is). If it does, it may be a violation of Section 703 of FISA.

Rather than discussing any of these violations, the NSA has waved around a few cases of LOVEINT (most, if not all, of which have not been prosecuted) as part of a successful ploy to distract from much more systemic abuses of its authority, affecting far more Americans.

But there has been abuse, even beyond practices (like back door searches) that gut the Fourth Amendment or (like NSA’s approach to encryption) that hurt Americans’ security.

President Obama will spend a lot of time saying there have been no abuses. He’s wrong.

John Inglis Explains Why (US-Based Collection of) Internet Metadata Doesn’t Work

Steve Inskeep got a very long interview with NSA Deputy Director John Inglis. It suffers from the same problem that just about every interview the NSA has done since the Snowden leaks started has — because the NSA will only allow friendlies or non-beat writers to do interviews, NSA can avoid many real questions and falsely represent the facts (such as, just one example, what the Review Group really said about the legality of NSA’s programs).

But Inskeep did a good job, and succeeded in doing something that no one else has: get a real explanation for why the NSA gave up its (US-based collection of) Internet “metadata.”

Inskeep starts by suggesting NSA was unable to meet the requirements of the program. But Inglis insists that wasn’t the problem. Rather, it was that Internet companies keep no billing records for individual emails.

INSKEEP: And it was abandoned because it was too hard to comply with the safeguards and because it was judged not to be practical, it wasn’t worth the cost.

INGLIS: It was abandoned principally for the latter reason, which is it was just too hard to make operationally workable. In theory, and especially given that people move more and more to emails, right, that kind of communication, in theory it would be even more valuable to try to detect a plot that moves from a foreign domain to a domestic domain using email metadata. The challenge is, is that the business model within the private sector doesn’t support that. You and I grew up in an America where there were local calls, long distance calls, and the telephone company made their money by charging you for the number of local calls or the number of long distance calls for some duration. And for that reason they tracked that information. You could go to the telephone company and say, how many calls and what number called what number.

And they would actually track that with great precision. Email didn’t get its start that way. The first email account I had from a company with three letters said, for $6.95 a month you can write a million emails or one email, we don’t care. We’re going to send you, sell you a bandwidth. And so there was no material business interest on their part to track the metadata. They just wanted to sell you access to the pipe. Given that that information it doesn’t exist, it’s hard to recreate it. It became operationally very difficult to do that. It is theoretically possible, but very expensive. And we’ve decided in late 2011 that while we thought we could meet the requirements of the court, we were quite confident that we could, the only way we could proceed was in so doing, that it was operationally too difficult to do that because the business model was so different.

Ultimately, of course, Inglis is confirming Inskeep’s first assertion: that the NSA couldn’t meet the Court’s requirements that it not collect content that is also routing information, because the telecoms, from which NSA collected this data, only had access to the data the NSA wanted at a content level.

NSA could meet FISC’s requirements. But to do so gave them little meaningful data, because the telecom level of content isn’t all that useful.

Of course, they can collect that data elsewhere, in places where such content-based restrictions aren’t in place.