The National Security Agency (NSA) has developed a powerful tool for recording and analysing where its intelligence comes from, raising doubts on its repeated assurances to Congress that it cannot keep track of all the surveillance it performs on US communications.
The Guardian has acquired top-secret documents about the NSA datamining tool —Boundless Informant— that details and maps by country the voluminous amount of information it collects from computer and telephone networks.
The focus of the internal NSA tool is on counting and categorising the records of communications, known as metadata, rather than the content of an email or instant message.
The Boundless Informant documents show the agency collecting almost 3 billion pieces of intelligence from US computer networks over a 30-day period ending in March 2013. One document says it is designed to give NSA officials answers to questions like, “What type of coverage do we have on country X” in “near real-time by asking the SIGINT (signals intelligence) infrastructure.”
An NSA factsheet about the programme, acquired by the Guardian, says: “The tool allows users to select a country on a map and view the metadata volume and select details about the collections against that country.”
Under the heading “Sample use cases”, the factsheet also states the tool shows information including: “How many records (and what type) are collected against a particular country.”
A snapshot of the Boundless Informant data, contained in a top secret NSA “global heat map” seen by the Guardian, shows that in March 2013 the agency collected 97bn pieces of intelligence from computer networks worldwide. The heat map reveals how much data is being collected from around the world.
Iran was the country where the largest amount of intelligence was gathered, with more than 14bn reports in that period, followed by 13.5bn from Pakistan. Jordan, one of America’s closest Arab allies, came third with 12.7bn, Egypt fourth with 7.6bn and India fifth with 6.3bn.
The heatmap gives each nation a colour code based on how extensively it is subjected to NSA surveillance. The color scheme ranges from green (least subjected to surveillance) through yellow and orange to red (most surveillance).
Guardian News Service