TIME technology

A ‘Federal Agent’ Plays Slots and Talks at Las Vegas Hacker Convention

Hacking Conference
Hackers compete in a digital capture the flag game at the DefCon conference Friday, Aug. 5, 2011, in Las Vegas. Isaac Brekken—AP

A TIME reporter at one of the world's biggest hacker conferences talks to a self-described Fed in attendance

At Defcon, the annual hacker conference that met over the weekend in Las Vegas, attendees play a semi-official game called “Spot the Fed.” The object is to identify who among the rabble of computer geeks and hackers is an employee of the federal government. I spent the weekend reporting at Defcon and though I never went to claim a prize—I don’t think journalists are invited to play anyway—I do think I found a Fed.

As a conference that hosts speeches on topics like how to cyber-hijack a jetliner, Defcon takes pride in skirting the edge of legality. Feds, especially in the post-Snowden era, are not especially popular, though the place is rumored to be “crawling” with them, as one long-time attendee put it to me. Not all of them are covert; two years ago former head of the National Security Agency Gen. Keith Alexander spoke to the crowd. Then last year, in the wake of Edward Snowden’s massive leak exposing NSA surveillance, conference founder and patriarch Dark Tangent (his hacker handle) wrote an open letter asking Feds to sit out the event so everyone could cool off. This year’s Defcon saw no such request.

When I found Chuck, he was sitting alone, slow-nursing $20 in credit on a poker machine at a bar in the Rio Hotel and Casino, where the conference was held. He told me it was the best way to get drinks out of the place on the cheap—play real slow through $20 at the bar and let the bartender keep coming by with booze.

“That’s what this whole conference is about,” he said. “Hacks.”

DefCon types are famously authority adverse and antagonistic toward the press, and it’s possible Chuck was just a guy getting a kick out of messing with a TIME reporter. I couldn’t verify Chuck’s identity or even his status as a Fed—he refused to give me a business card or a last name or the details of where he works—but I’ll say this: he fit the bill. Middle aged, balding shaved head, button up hawaiian style shirt, polite, personable, frugal. He said he teaches information security to other employees of the Department of Defense. “I’d like to get the other side,” Chuck said when I asked him what he was doing at Defcon. “The things I’m trying to teach my students to prevent against.”

I asked Chuck if he was, at least partly, on the lookout for criminals. Defcon is also notoriously crawling with those.

No. I’m sure they’re all over,” he said. “That’s why [to get into the conference] you pay cash only and you get a badge that just says ‘Human.’ There’s everything from DOD entities, to NSA agents, to cybercriminals and everything in between.”

Had he seen other Feds at Defcon?

“We kinda spot each other. It’s just the way they move and the general feeling you get and the confidence that some of these guys project,” Chuck said. “When they don’t start just spouting off about what they know and try to brag about how smart they are.”

I asked what were the most interesting talks he’d seen.

“The ones that begin with ‘This is illegal. Don’t do it.’”

And how does he feel about such talks?

“I’m mixed, because I’m a really low-level Fed, so that in my thinks you shouldn’t be talking about this. But the IT guy in me thinks someone should be talking about this. Because if you don’t here then in six months we’re going to read about it in your magazine.”

Defcon, he said, is “about opening people’s eyes to the intrinsic insecurity of the entire IT realm. The fact that you can manufacture a device, a piece of software, and not care about security as long as it’s marketed well.These people get ahold of it and just break it wide open,” Chuck said. “And trying to get big business and the federal government and manufacturers to understand that if you put something in my hands I’m going to take it apart and figure out how it works. So maybe you should think about security a little bit more.”

TIME intelligence

New Post-Snowden Leaks Reveal Secret Details of U.S. Terrorist Watch List

Edward Snowden, displayed on television screens, asks a question to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a nationally televised question-and-answer session, in Moscow, Thursday, April 17, 2014.
Edward Snowden, displayed on television screens, asks a question to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a nationally televised question-and-answer session, in Moscow, Thursday, April 17, 2014. Pavel Golovkin—AP

The documents are not as highly classified as the materials released by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden

The U.S. government believes that someone other than former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden has recently leaked secret national-security documents to the media, an official confirmed Tuesday.

The documents, published by the Intercept on Tuesday, detail the growth of federal terrorist watch lists. They were drafted after Snowden fled prosecution in the U.S. for Russia, when he no longer had access to classified intelligence networks.

CNN first reported that the government has assessed a second source of the documents. Classified as “secret” with instructions not to reveal them to foreign nationals, the documents would have been available broadly throughout the intelligence community and the military on the classified SIPRNet, the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, the system predominantly used by former Army Private Bradley Manning to collect documents to pass to WikiLeaks.

That network is open to a vastly larger audience than the top-secret-level JWICS, the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System, which was used by Snowden to gather as many as a million documents on some of the nation’s most sensitive surveillance programs. So far, just a couple of documents have been published, making it impossible to determine whether the source of the leak simply passed the Intercept a small number of documents or a larger contingent on the order of the previous leaks.

The published documents describe government efforts using the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE), a database used by federal state and local law-enforcement agencies to identify and track known or suspected terrorist suspects. The database has been subject to public debate and federal litigation, because of the secretive process that determines inclusion on this list.

The leaked documents say TIDE included more than 1 million people in June 2013, after Snowden had fled the country. The documents also detail use of the database in tracking possible combatants in the Syrian civil war and in providing security at events, like the Boston and Chicago marathons. A spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment on the possible source of the leak.

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: July 9

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

In the news: Israel airstrikes Gaza; President Obama's $3.7 billion request to handle border crisis; Citigroup to pay $7 billion for shoddy mortgages; Which Muslim Americans leaders the NSA and FBI spy on; GOP's 2016 Cleveland convention; Germany beats Brazil 7-1 in World Cup

  • “Rockets continued to fall over central Israel on Wednesday and Israel carried out more airstrikes in Gaza, as the military and political confrontation between Hamas and Israel showed no signs of abating.” [NYT]
  • “President Barack Obama asked Congress for $3.7 billion Tuesday to handle the thousands of child migrants on the southern border, and he’d like lawmakers to treat the emergency request as a simple matter of human compassion.” [TIME]
    • “Now Republicans have leverage, and they have a few requests of their own. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida wants to require employers to verify electronically that new hires are in the country legally and the government to put in place an electronic entry-exit system at points of entry at the border…” [National Journal]
  • “The National Security Agency and FBI have covertly monitored the emails of prominent Muslim-Americans—including a political candidate and several civil rights activists, academics, and lawyers—under secretive procedures intended to target terrorists and foreign spies.” [The Intercept]
  • “The Justice Department and Citigroup are close to a deal for the bank to pay about $7 billion to settle allegations it sold shoddy mortgages in the run-up to the financial crisis …” [WSJ]
  • “More than 100 faith leaders asked President Barack Obama on Tuesday not to include a religious exemption in his upcoming executive order to ban job discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation among federal employees.” [TIME]
  • Lawrence Lessig on His Super PAC to End Super PACs [TIME]
  • 5 Reasons to Be Delighted and Worried About a GOP Convention in Cleveland [TIME]
    • “Democrats are considering hosting their convention in Birmingham, Cleveland, Columbus, New York, Philadelphia and Phoenix, with a decision expected early next year. Cleveland will likely be cut from contention now that it has been selected by Republicans.” [TIME]
  • House GOP Stuck on Obamacare Alternative [Politico]
  • Teachers Union Turn Against Democrats [NYMag]
  • “Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has upset some Democratic senators by backtracking on his commitment to put spending bills on the floor this summer.” [Hill]
  • The Craziest, Costliest Political Campaigns Are the Ones You’ve Never Heard Of [WaPo]
  • “Germany beat Brazil 7-1 on Tuesday, ending the host country’s run in the World Cup semifinals. The German team scored four goals in less than seven minutes (23′, 24′, 26′, 29′). Germany’s Miroslav Klose also became the World Cup’s all-time leading scorer during the game. ESPN reports that this is just second time ever that Brazil has conceded 7+ goals in a game. (The first was against Yugoslavia in 1934.) It was also the worst ever loss by a host country.” [SI]
TIME intelligence

New NSA Chief: Snowden Didn’t Do That Much Damage

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, an analyst with a U.S. defence contractor, is interviewed by The Guardian in his hotel room in Hong Kong
NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden in a still image taken from video during an interview by the Guardian in his hotel room in Hong Kong on June 6, 2013 Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras—The Guardian/Reuters

Says leaks don't mean "the sky is falling"

The head of the National Security Agency says in a new interview that the massive leaks by former contractor Edward Snowden didn’t do irreparable damage to national security.

“You have not heard me as the director say, ‘Oh, my God, the sky is falling,’” Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the new NSA director, told the New York Times in an interview published Sunday. “I am trying to be very specific and very measured in my characterizations.”

But Rogers did say terrorist groups have been using the leaked data to their advantage. “I have seen groups not only talk about making changes, I have seen them make changes,” he said.

While at the NSA, Snowden was able to downloaded more than one million secret documents that detailed the agency’s wide-ranging surveillance efforts. Rogers said he’s working to ensure leaks will not happen again, but does not rule out the possibility. The key, he said, is to keep the volume of stolen data from reaching that of Snowden’s.

“Am I ever going to sit here and say as the director that with 100 percent certainty no one can compromise our systems from the inside?” he said. “Nope. Because I don’t believe that in the long run.”

[NYT]

TIME intelligence

Snowden: ‘There Are Some Things Worth Dying For’

The NSA leaker said he sees himself as a patriot in his first interview with a U.S. television network, which aired Wednesday night

Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, stands by his decision to leak a huge collection of classified National Security Agency documents that revealed extensive, global U.S. government surveillance programs.

“There are some things worth dying for,” Snowden said in an interview with NBC News’ Brian Williams that aired late Wednesday, “I think the country is one of them.” The interview was his first with a U.S. television network since he fled from Hawaii to Hong Kong a year ago with classified materials.

Snowden has been living for the better part of a year under asylum in Russia and said if given the opportunity he’d like to go home.

“If I could go anywhere in the world, that place would be home,” he said. The leaker made similar comments in an interview in January.

Snowden told Williams he attempted to travel to Latin America to seek asylum after leaving Hong Kong, but was left stranded in Moscow airport after the U.S. revoked his passport. The Kremlin granted Snowden temporary asylum, which expires at the end of July and which Snowden says he will ask to extend. He has been charged in the United States with theft and espionage.

Secretary of State John Kerry had harsh words in response to Snowden’s statement that he’d like to return to the United States.

“Edward Snowden is a coward,” Kerry told MSNBC. “He is a traitor. And he has betrayed his country. And if he wants to come home tomorrow to face the music, he can do so.”

In his denunciation of Snowden, Kerry said, “Patriots don’t go to Russia,” but Snowden told NBC that he sees himself as a patriot.

“I’ve from day one said that I’m doing this to serve my country,” he said.

In his lengthy interview Wednesday, Snowden scolded his critics for exploiting the trauma of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to justify the surveillance programs he exposed. Intelligence officials have defended the programs as essential tools in the effort to combat terrorism.

“I’ve never told anybody this. No journalist,” he said. “But I was on Fort Meade on September 11th. I was right outside the NSA. So I remember — I remember the tension of that day. I remember hearing on the radio the planes hitting. And I remember thinking my grandfather, who worked for the FBI at the time, was in the Pentagon when the plane hit it. I take the threat of terrorism seriously. And I think we all do.”

Snowden fired back at assertions made by American officials that he was little more than low-level tech support for the intelligence community, saying he was “trained as a spy” and worked undercover for both the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency. He also rejected the assertion, made to TIME by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, that he is being controlled by Russian intelligence officials. “I have no relationship with the Russian government at all,” he said.

Despite his stated desire to come back, Snowden brushed off questions about whether or not he would make a deal with the U.S. government in order to return.

“My priority is not about myself,” he said. “It’s about making sure that these programs are reformed — and that the family that I left behind, the country that I left behind, can be helped by my actions.”

TIME intelligence

Bill Curbing NSA Passes House As Advocates Demand More

Boehner NSA Bill
Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, departs after speaking to the media after the House passed the USA Freedom Act, an NSA reform bill aimed at restricting access to American's phone records, at the US Capitol in Washington, May 22, 2014. Jim Lo Scalzo—EPA

Privacy groups unhappy with late changes pulled their support from the bill at the last minute

The House passed legislation Thursday to curtail the National Security Agency’s collection of Americans’ phone records, but the compromise bill left civil liberties groups and privacy advocates unhappy and vowing to fight for stronger reforms in the Senate.

The vote came a year after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden set off a global debate about American surveillance practices by leaking a trove of documents detailing them. Privacy groups pulled their support for the bill before it came to a vote, but it still passed 303-120.

“The House is the beginning of the conversation,” said Mark Jaycox, a legislative analyst with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “The House wanted to pass something quickly and as a result really watered it down. Now we’re at the Senate where we’ll have to present a stronger bill and where hopefully a stronger bill will move.”

In the days before the USA FREEDOM Act passed the House, support for the bill among the civil liberties groups and tech companies that once championed it all but vanished. Groups that had been lobbying hard on behalf of the bill for months, like EFF, The Center for Democracy and Technology, and the Reform Government Surveillance Coalition, a consortium on tech giants including Facebook and Google, all yanked their endorsements at the 11th hour. Reform advocates were steamed about tweaks made in committee that they felt unacceptably broadened the scope of who and what the NSA can monitor, and also by the elimination of a measure that would have created a privacy advocate on the secretive court that oversees the NSA.

“What happened was the bill changed at the last minute,” said Harley Geiger, senior counsel with the Center for Democracy and Technology. “It changed at the last stop before going to the house floor.”

Lawmakers who supported the measure took turns Thursday emphasizing that it would end the “bulk collection” of Americans’ communications. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), who chairs the House committee that deals with intelligence matters, called it a “sweet spot” compromise with “strong bipartisan” support. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said the bill had its shortcomings but was a step in the right direction.

“Let me be clear, I wish this bill did more,” he said. “To my colleagues who lament changes, I agree with you. To privacy groups who are upset about lost provisions, I share your disappointment. The negotiations for this bill were intense, and we had to make compromises, but this bill still deserves support.”

But advocates said the changes left too much open to interpretation and that courts could eventually gut many of the reforms.

“What they’re not doing is defining ‘bulk collection,’” Geiger said.

Amendments to the bill were not allowed as it went from the Rules Committee to a floor vote Thursday.

“All the House of Representatives got was an up or down vote on ambiguous reform on an issue that cause a bona fide international scandal,” Geiger said.

The bill will now go to the Senate, where it will be shepherded by one of its original proponents, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

“Today’s action in the House continues the bipartisan effort to restore Americans’ civil liberties,” Leahy said in a statement after the bill passed. “But I was disappointed that the legislation passed today does not include some of the meaningful reforms contained in the original USA FREEDOM Act. I will continue to push for these important reforms when the Senate Judiciary Committee considers the USA FREEDOM Act next month.”

Whether or not Leahy and his allies will be successful in reinserting some of the reforms that originally won civil libertarian support for the USA FREEDOM Act remains to be seen. The Senate has a stronger cohort of establishment Republicans than the House and fewer Tea Party conservatives whose small-government ethos clashes with the notion of expansive domestic surveillance. On the other hand, the measure will have a powerful ally in Leahy.

“At the end,” Geiger said, “it will come down to whether the senate wants to end mass surveillance or not.”

TIME technology

NSA Denies Knowing About Heartbleed Bug

FILE PHOTO  NSA Compiles Massive Database Of Private Phone Calls
National Security Agency headquarters in Fort Meade, Md. NSA/Getty Images

The National Security Agency flatly refuted a report that it was aware about the Heartbleed computer glitch, one of the most significant security flaws in Internet history. "Reports that say otherwise are wrong,” NSA spokesperson Vanee' Vines told TIME

The National Security Agency flatly denied Friday a report that it has been aware for years of the Heartbleed computer glitch wreaking havoc on computer security around the world.

“NSA was not aware of the recently identified vulnerability in OpenSSL, the so-called Heartbleed vulnerability, until it was made public in a private-sector cybersecurity report. Reports that say otherwise are wrong,” NSA spokesperson Vanee’ Vines told TIME.

Earlier Friday, Bloomberg News published a report citing two anonymous sources alleging that the eavesdropping agency was aware of the Heartbleed glitch for at least two years before it was made public. Heartbleed is widely seen as one of the most significant computer security flaws in the history of the Internet and the NSA drew fierce criticism over the allegation that it failed to report the existence of the flaw and instead exploited it for spying ends.

“The NSA’s purpose is to protect Americans,” said PATRIOT Act author Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R—Wisc.). “But if media reports are accurate, rather than fixing the Heartbleed bug, the NSA exploited it to gather information, leaving Americans vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Once again, the NSA proved blind to the interests of every day Americans in its single-minded pursuit of information.”

The National Security Council also issued a public denial Friday that the NSA had prior knowledge of Heartbleed. “Reports that NSA or any other part of the government were aware of the so-called Heartbleed vulnerability before April 2014 are wrong,” NSC said in a statement.

TIME NSA

Snowden: Obama’s NSA Reforms ‘Incomplete’

A screengrab shows Snowden speaking via video conference during a panel discussion on internet privacy at the South by Southwest Interactive festival in Austin
Edward Snowden speaks via video conference during a panel discussion on internet privacy with representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union at the South by Southwest Interactive festival in Austin, Texas, March 10, 2014. ACLU—Reuters

The NSA leaker said that President Barack Obama's proposed changes to the National Security Agency's surveillance apparatus are a "turning point" for the country, but he argued the reforms don't go far enough to protect Americans' privacy

Edward Snowden said Tuesday that President Barack Obama’s proposed reforms to National Security Agency surveillance programs are a “turning point” for the country, but he added the proposal does not go far enough to protect Americans’ privacy.

“[The plan] marks the beginning of a new effort to reclaim our rights from the NSA and restore the public’s seat at the table of government,” said Snowden in a statement transmitted by the ACLU. “President Obama has now confirmed that these mass surveillance programs, kept secret from the public and defended out of reflex rather than reason, are in fact unnecessary and should be ended.”

The White House’s reform package would end the NSA’s bulk collection of telephone metadata from telecommunications companies, instead requiring phone companies to keep metadata records themselves. Intelligence agencies would then have to get court approval to access specific records.

Obama earlier on Tuesday urged Congress to pass the reform quickly.

TIME Domestic Surveillance

Obama to Propose Ending NSA Phone Data Collection

The National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters building in Fort Meade, Md.
The National Security Agency headquarters building in Fort Meade, Md. Reuters

The White House is set to propose major changes to the NSA's oft-criticized bulk collection of data from millions of Americans' phone calls, in the Obama administration's most significant response yet to outrage over domestic surveillance

President Barack Obama is set to announce a new proposal to scale back one of the most sweeping and controversial domestic surveillance programs in U.S. history, according to multiple reports.

The proposal, which will be presented to Congress, would end the National Security Agency’s collection of vast amounts of data about U.S. phone calls, according to the New York Times, which first reported the plan.

The Obama proposal is the most significant White House effort yet to address the global furor that was sparked after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked reams of classified documents about the NSA’s secret snooping programs. The proposal would end the NSA’s bulk collection of so-called phone metadata, which includes the number the target called, when the call was made and how long the conversation lasted.

The NSA phone-metadata-collection program was part of a secret U.S. surveillance system that former President George W. Bush approved after the 9/11 attacks. It remained hidden from the public until the Snowden revelations.

Under the Obama proposal, the phone records would instead be retained by phone companies, including AT&T and Verizon. Those companies would not be required to retain the data for a longer period of time than they do now, the Times said. The proposed policy shift was not unexpected — it was one of the major recommendations of the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, which delivered its report in December.

(MORE: NSA Spying Scandal Could Cost U.S. Tech Giants Billions)

The timing of the White House proposal is also not a surprise. The current court order authorizing the NSA program — which the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) must approve every three months — expires on Friday. The U.S. has decided to renew the NSA metadata-collection program for at least one more 90-day cycle, the Times said. The purpose of the program is to identify possible terrorist threats to the U.S., but government officials have offered scant evidence that the system has actually thwarted any major terrorist attacks.

On Tuesday, Representative Mike Rogers, the Michigan Republican, and Representative C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the Maryland Democrat, will introduce bipartisan legislation also designed to scale back the NSA’s bulk collection of phone metadata. The two lawmakers told the Washington Post on Monday that their goal is that their bill “can be the compromise vehicle that arrives at the President’s desk.”

The White House proposal differs from the Rogers-Ruppersberger legislation in key respects. The former would maintain FISC oversight with respect to individual phone-record orders, while the latter “would have the court issue an overarching order authorizing the program, but allow the NSA to issue subpoenas for specific phone records without prior judicial approval,” the Times said. Obama called on Congress in a press conference Tuesday to “pass the enabling legislation quickly,” saying his proposal would address many of critics’ concerns.

Instead of collecting and storing the phone records of millions of Americans, the White House proposes to obtain “individual orders” from the FISC that apply “only to records linked to phone numbers a judge agrees are likely tied to terrorism,” the Times reported. Under the current policy, the NSA holds the phone data for five years, under authorization by Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

The proposal will not require that phone companies retain the data “longer than the 18 months that federal regulations already generally require,” the paper reported, after intelligence agencies determined that the impact of that change “would be small because older data is less important.”

Under the new system, the FISC would require the phone companies to “swiftly provide” phone records “on a continuing basis,” including data about “any new calls placed or received after the order is received,” the Times reported. The new system would also allow the U.S. to seek phone records for people “two calls, or ‘hops,’ removed” from the original number that is being scrutinized, according to the paper.

Lauren Weinstein, a tech-policy expert and privacy advocate, expressed guarded optimism about the White House proposal. “On its face, this sounds like a definite improvement over the status quo of the program, but the devil will be in the details,” Weinstein says.

Reached by TIME, representatives of Verizon and AT&T both declined to comment on the White House proposal. Earlier this year, AT&T and Verizon began issuing so-called transparency reports providing data on the number of law-enforcement requests for customer information that the company receives in the U.S. and other countries. Those reports do not separately disclose information about orders made under FISA, but instead combine such orders with other government requests.

TIME National Security Agency

NSA Records Every Call Made in Unnamed Foreign Country

The National Security Agency headquarters building in Fort Meade, Maryland.
The National Security Agency headquarters building in Fort Meade, Maryland. Reuters

Documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden reveal the agency makes a record of every telephone call in a specific, unnamed foreign country, and keeps the recordings for up to a month

The National Security Agency reportedly has a system in place that makes a record of “100 percent” of the telephone calls in an unnamed foreign country, and keeps the recordings for up to a month.

The program, dubbed MYSTIC by the NSA, is the first to be made public in which the spy agency vacuums up the entire telephone activity of a country. At the request of the NSA, The Washington Post, which revealed the program’s existence Tuesday, withheld from the publication the name of the country in which MYSTIC is deployed.

The program was launched in 2009 but reached full operational capacity—including with the “RETRO” tool that allows an analyst to rewind the phone calls of a country back up to one month—in 2011. According to an NSA document leaked to journalists by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the RETRO tool allows analysts to “retrieve audio of interest that was not tasked at the time of the original call.”

The MYSTIC program, whose existence the Post says it verified with an anonymous “senior manager for the program,” represents a sizeable leap from the NSA’s previously revealed bulk collection of cell phone metadata, like time stamps and call duration.

Documents leaked by Snowden suggest MYSTIC will soon be—or already has been—expanded to additional countries.

Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, which has sued the NSA over its domestic surveillance activities, called the news a “chilling revelation.”

“The NSA has always wanted to record everything, and now it has the capacity to do so,” Jaffer said in an emailed statement. “The question now is simply whether we have the political will to impose reasonable limits on the NSA’s authority – that is, whether we have the political will to protect our democratic freedoms.”

In response to a query from the Post an NSA spokesperson declined to comment on the specifics of the program but accused the newspaper of damaging U.S. national security, saying “continuous and selective reporting of specific techniques and tools used for legitimate U.S. foreign intelligence activities is highly detrimental to the national security of the United States and of our allies, and places at risk those we are sworn to protect.”

[The Washington Post]

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