Classified documents that were acquired by The Intercept reveal a Google-like surveillance search engine created by the National Security Agency.
The NSA has been using the search engine, named the ICREACH, to secretly give information to almost two dozen agencies of the United States government. Included in the information are records amounting to 850 billion of phone calls, cellphone locations, emails and internet chat messages.
The classified documents represent the first real evidence of the agency's actions of carrying out surveillance activities over the years and making the acquired information available to domestic agencies on law enforcement. The documents list the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation as important participants in the project, along with the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency.
Included within the structure of ICREACH is information on private communication messages of both foreigners and Americans alike, even for people that have never received accusations for criminal activities.
Reports about the ICREACH were first revealed in materials provided by Edward Snowden to The Intercept.
The earlier reports from the documents sent by Snowden revealed the existence of several NSA programs with the purpose of collecting massive amounts of communications. While the NSA had previously admitted of its sharing of certain information with local agencies such as the FBI, the process of sharing the information remained secret until now.
ICREACH, according to a memo from 2010, has been made accessible to over 1,000 analysts employed over 23 United States government agencies which carry out intelligence work.
Through the ICREACH, agencies can track the movements of their targets and reveal their networks of contacts, which aid the agencies in predicting the future movements of the targets. Religious affiliations and political beliefs may also be revealed through the network.
Data found on ICREACH, however, seem to be mainly collected from the surveillance of the communications of foreigners.
Legal consultants told to The Intercept that the extent of ICREACH is alarming, and also expressed concerns that law enforcers may use the information for domestic cases which are not connected to terrorism.
"To me, this is extremely troublesome," said Elizabeth Goitein, the co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the New York University School of Law's Brennan Center for Justice. "The myth that metadata is just a bunch of numbers and is not as revealing as actual communications content was exploded long ago-this is a trove of incredibly sensitive information."