The National Security Agency (NSA) intercepted communications of far more common Internet users—many were Americans—than its official foreign surveillance targets, according to a document provided by NSA contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden to The Washington Post.
Though most of the intercepted conversations were from Americans, non-Americans were also part of the unintended targets.
Of the 10 account holders included in the database of intercepted conversations, nine were not part of the legal targets for U.S. surveillance but were trapped in the net the NSA made for its targets.
Close to half of the number of surveillance files belong to ordinary U.S. citizens and residents, comprising names, emails and other personal details. Agency’s analysts “masked” or “minimized” over 65,000 files with such references so as to protect the privacy of Americans, but The Washington Post discovered almost 900 more emails unmasked in these files that it believes could be linked strongly to U.S. citizens or residents.
“Among the most valuable contents — which The Post will not describe in detail, to avoid interfering with ongoing operations — are fresh revelations about a secret overseas nuclear project, double-dealing by an ostensible ally, a military calamity that befell an unfriendly power, and the identities of aggressive intruders into U.S. computer networks,” The Washington Post writes.
Others were medical records of family members, job hunters’ resumes, schoolchildren’s academic transcripts. Photos were also caught in NSA’s net such as babies and children in bathtubs and in playground, men showing off their bodies or women in lingerie and in suggestive poses.
Despite being considered useless by the NSA analysts, the other files of 10,000 Internet users were still recorded and retained. Unfortunately, these files reveal a whole lot of personal and intimate information of users such as communications on heartbreak, love, forbidden sexual encounters, political and religious discussions, mental-health crises and financial worries, among others.
The Washington Post reports that the cache provided by Snowden originated from the domestic operations of the NSA as granted in 2008 by the Congress, along with adjustments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) whose content is kept in data repositories described as closely controlled and described beyond the reach of Snowden by senior officials in the U.S. government.
The Washington Post evaluated approximately 160,000 intercepted emails and instant messages as well as 7,900 documents from over 11,000 accounts taken online.
The materials gathered by the agency were from years 2009 to 2012, during the first term of President Obama said to be a period the domestic collection activities of the NSA rapidly grew.