Government says 300 phone numbers ‘closely investigated’ in spy program

An illustration picture shows the logo of the U.S. National Security Agency on the display of an iPhone in Berlin. (REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski)

An illustration picture shows the logo of the U.S. National Security Agency on the display of an iPhone in Berlin. (REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski)

The U.S. government only searched for detailed information on calls involving fewer than 300 specific phone numbers among the millions of raw phone records collected by the National Security Agency in 2012, according to a government paper obtained by Reuters on Saturday.

The unclassified paper was circulated Saturday within the government by U.S. intelligence agencies and apparently is an attempt by spy agencies and the Obama administration to rebut accusations that it overreached in investigating potential militant plots.

The administration has said that even though the NSA, according to top-secret documents made public by former agency contractor Edward Snowden, collects massive amounts of data on message traffic from both U.S. based telephone and internet companies, such data collection is legal, subject to tight controls and does not intrude on the privacy of ordinary Americans.

The paper circulated on Saturday said that data from the NSA phone and email collections programs not only led U.S. investigators to the ringleader of a plot to attack New York’s subway system in 2009, but also to one of his co-conspirators in the United States.

The paper discusses an NSA program that collects “metadata” – raw information that does not identify individual telephone subscribers – from major U.S. phone companies showing all calls made by those companies’ subscribers to phones within the United States and overseas.

It also mentions another NSA program, called Prism in leaked documents, that collects from internet companies what the paper says are emails of foreigners who might be of interest to counterterrorism or counter-proliferation investigators.

Millions of phone records were collected in 2012, but the paper says U.S. authorities only looked in detail at the records linked to fewer than 300 phone numbers.

A person familiar with details of the program said the figure of fewer than 300 numbers applied to the entire mass of raw telephone “metadata” collected last year by the NSA from U.S. carriers – not just to Verizon, which is the only telephone company identified in a document disclosed by Snowden as providing such data to the NSA.

The paper repeats assertions by administration spokesmen that NSA email and telephone data-collection programs contributed to the disruption of “dozens of potential terrorist plots here in the homeland and in more than 20 countries around the world.”

The paper says NSA collection of email and telephone data helped U.S. authorities track down Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan immigrant who in 2009 was arrested for plotting to bomb the New York City subway system. Zazi pleaded guilty to terrorism charges.

NSA monitoring of the email of alleged al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan led them to an unnamed person in the United States who was making “efforts to procure explosive material,” according to the government paper. The NSA gave its raw information to the FBI, which identified Zazi, who was then living in Colorado. After tailing him to New York, the FBI arrested him.

By cross-checking Zazi’s phone number with its giant data base of raw phone traffic, the paper said more leads were generated for the FBI. One of those leads took authorities to Adis Medunjanin, who was convicted last year in the subway plot and sentenced to life in prison.

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Copyright  © 2013 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.

Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

 

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2 Responses to "Government says 300 phone numbers ‘closely investigated’ in spy program"

  1. Carl Nemo **==  June 16, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    Hmmm let’s see here…data mining millions of phone numbers to end up with 300 that are ‘potential’ threats. Say what?!

    The NSA’s annual budge although ‘secret’ is estimated at around 15 billion dollars. So if we divide the 300 alleged, intensely surveilled numbers we come up with $50,000,000 per number. Talk about government bloat or what folks. / : |

    Maybe they need to engage more brainpower in their quest for suspects and belay such heavy reliance on planetary surveillance of 7 billion people.

    Granted this isn’t their entire focus and they have operating expenses related to building security, the heat, lights etc., but to brag that they’ve gotten 300 suspected numbers out of terrabytes of SIGINT is shameful and nothing to hoot about.

    America is doomed with this continuing nonsense. Believe it!

    *****

    “We’ve met the enemy and he is us”…Pogo cartoon by Walt Kelly (deceased)

    *****

    Our real enemy is an out of control deficit running government that is now the sole owned property of the MIC and their Congressional facilitators who allow this nonsense to continue. “We the People” need to ferret out all Congressional District pols and Senators that keep rubber-stamping this continuing nation deadly nonsense; I.E., our surveillance mission. Lucky for us we won’t have to mine terrabytes of data to find out who these crimpols might be.

    Carl Nemo **==

  2. Bill Cravener  June 17, 2013 at 5:27 am

    There is no privacy in technology, this I’ve understood for many decades. Technology forces us to choose between privacy and freedom. Technology is an incredible force that has the capability to connect people from all over the world.

    Throughout the world the use of technology has completely changed society’s direction. Be it good or bad there is no going back. Technology will increasingly invade our privacy as well as our freedoms. So be the cost.

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