Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Drowning in Information: NSA Revelations From 262 Spy Documents

By the first half of 2004, the National Security Agency was drowning in information. It had amassed 85 billion phone and online records and cut the ribbon on a new hacking center in Hawaii — but it was woefully short on linguists who could make sense of captured communications and lacked enough network analysts to effectively monitor all the systems it had hacked.

The signals intelligence collected by the agency was being used for critically important decisions even as NSA struggled to understand it. Some bombs in Iraq were being targeted based entirely on signals intelligence, a senior NSA official told staff at the time — with decisions being made in a matter of “minutes” with “less and less review.”

Information overload is just one of several themes running through 262 articles from the NSA’s internal news site, SIDtoday, which The Intercept is now releasing after careful review. The documents also detailed an incident in which the Reagan administration appears to have leaked classified intelligence to the press for political purposes, described in an accompanying article by reporter Jon Schwarz.

SIDtoday articles published today also describe how the NSA trained FBI agents, enabled U.S. intervention in Latin America, and, with the help of a gifted analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency, learned the value of simply reading information that was already public. One document even suggests that NSA personnel routinely got dangerously chatty at restaurants near headquarters. These stories and more are described in the highlights reel below. The NSA declined to comment.

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