NSA’s XKEYSCORE Spy Program Is ‘as Easy as Typing Few Words in Google’
TEHRAN (Tasnim) - The National Security Agency’s infamous XKEYSCORE program, revealed by leaker Edward Snowden, makes searching the world’s private communications as easy to use as Google, according to training documents published by the Intercept.
XKEYSCORE was one of the first programs that the Guardian wrote about when Snowden began leaking NSA documents in 2013. On Wednesday, the Intercept, where former Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald now works, began delving deeper into the program, specifically looking at how NSA analysts are taught to use the system and sift through the tens of billions of records that are believed to be stored in its database.
“It is a fully distributed processing and query system that runs on machines around the world,” an NSA briefing on XKEYSCORE says. “At field sites, XKEYSCORE can run on multiple computers that gives it the ability to scale in both processing power and storage.”
Training documents show that XKEYSCORE is extremely user-friendly, requiring only a target’s email address, telephone number, name or other identifying data for an analyst to be able to conduct sweeping searches on that person, RT reported.
“Anyone could be trained to do this in less than one day: they simply enter the name of the server they want to hack into XKEYSCORE, type enter, and are presented login and password pairs to connect to this machine. Done. Finito,” Jonathan Brossard, a security researcher and the CEO of Toucan Systems, told The Intercept.
“NSA has built an impressively complete set of automated hacking tools for their analysts to use,” Brossard noted. “The amount of work an analyst has to perform to actually break into remote computers over the Internet seems ridiculously reduced ‒ we are talking minutes, if not seconds. Simple. As easy as typing a few words in Google.”
The documents don’t indicate that NSA employees need prior approval for specific searches, Greenwald and two other Intercept reporters found. Morgan Marquis-Boire and Micah Lee analyzed the various NSA papers with Greenwald.
XKEYSCORE training documents say that the “burden is on user/auditor to comply with USSID-18 or other rules,” referring to similar legal requirements in the US and other countries, including the United Kingdom. The US Signals Intelligence Directive 18 (USSID 18) is the American directive that governs “US person minimization.” In accordance with USSID 18, NSA analysts are trained to avoid querying the system in ways that might result in spying on Americans.