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ICREACH is the NSA surveillance engine that has been supplying data to about twenty other agencies. The Intercept released a full description of the program from a batch of documents that may have originally come from The Pentagon. The surveillance engine has been likened to Google in size and search efficiency. It holds over 850 billion pieces of data ranging from target locations to actual communications.
NSA Surveillance Engine for Americans and Foreigners
Finally, we have proof that the NSA has been keeping an enormous database of metadata on our chats, texts, phone calls, faxes, email messages, and location data from phone tracking. And that there really is an NSA surveillance engine that allows not a few but almost two dozen other agencies to tap into it. From the 20 or so agencies that have access, the involvement of the FBI and DEA stand out. The CIA and DIA are also key members of the ICREACH program.
For a long time after the first Snowden revelation, the NSA has been denying the existence of a database containing data on Americans and foreigners that are not terror suspects. Well, this batch of documents entrusted to The Intercept by Snowden prove otherwise. This NSA surveillance engine exists, and holds a ton of private communications and location histories of people everywhere. And these people have no record of being charged with any crimes. The documents also show an expansion plan for the surveillance engine that would allow greater access to more types of data.
Not Just the FBI, and Not Just “Some” Data
The NSA has already admitted that it shares some collected data with the FBI and a few other agencies. But a couple dozen is not a few, and if 850 records is “some of its data” then how much more data does the NSA store about us? This new scoop about the NSA surveillance engine shows us just how much data is being shared and how they do it.
Exactly 23 government agencies are allowed access to ICREACH. From these agencies there are over a thousand analysts logging into the surveillance engine. At least, that was the figure in 2010. The surveillance engine has been used by these analysts to track people and identify their contacts. It has also been useful in helping agencies develop patterns of behavior and identify political and religious connections. ICREACH was such a great surveillance engine that the documents themselves note it in 2007 as a milestone in secret US surveillance. It allowed US intelligence agencies to share location and communications data “wholesale”. It began in 2005 as a plan to create the biggest system for secret intelligence data sharing, and it has surpassed goals of collecting up to five billion records daily. It was modeled after the CRISSCROSS/PROTON system of the CIA and clearly dwarfs the capabilities of XKeyscore.
This surveillance engine must not be confused with the other NSA database that collects data in relation to the agency’s powers under the Patriot Act. The Section 215 database can be accessed by a limited number of intelligence personnel. This ICREACH surveillance engine is open to a much wider group of intelligence analysts, and for a much broader purpose. The other database is allowed for counterterrorism use only. ICREACH can be used for any foreign intelligence purpose, which has a very broad definition and no delineation.
The One Stop Shop Surveillance Engine
The surveillance engine gets its data from several NSA databases and programs that operate under dated Executive Order 12333. It is important to note here that no current NSA surveillance reform proposals cover spying under this order. This makes ICREACH virtually untouchable as long as it remains supported by Reagan’s EO 12333. The order relates to the collection of data on foreign targets, and is therefore run with little or no oversight or attention from Congress or the courts. But this is a loophole that has long been manipulated and exploited by the NSA. Communications routinely pass through these networks. So the data of Americans can easily be swept up via these foreign communication networks.
Sure, the ICREACH surveillance engine only gathers metadata, but we know now that metadata is far from harmless. It can be used to track users’ locations, profile them, and create patterns that can reveal their identities. This goes beyond the powers granted to any intelligence agency. And ICREACH is documented to boost metadata sharing among the 23 intelligence agencies to 12 times more than by traditional means – going through the courts to get permission to access data.