Ordinary internet users 'made up bulk of NSA intercepts'

Generic pic of computer user Much highly personal information was retained by the NSA, the paper says

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Ninety percent of people identified in a tranche of communications intercepted by the NSA were ordinary internet users, not foreign surveillance targets, analysis by a US paper says.

The Washington Post says innocents were "caught in a net the National Security Agency had cast for somebody else".

Much of the highly personal information was retained, the paper says, even though it had no intelligence value.

The information was provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The paper said it reviewed some 160,000 emails and instant-messages and 7,900 documents from some 11,000 online accounts, gathered by the NSA between 2009 and 2012.

The Post said that a four-month investigation it carried out revealed that nine out of 10 of the account holders - including many Americans - were not the intended surveillance targets.

Much of the information has, the paper says, a "startlingly intimate, even voyeuristic quality" telling stories of "love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversions, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes".

Edward Snowden in Russia, 11 October 2013 Edward Snowden is living under temporary asylum in Russia

However the paper says that the intercepted files also contained "discoveries of considerable intelligence value".

These included "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 US computer networks", it said.

The Post argues that the surveillance files highlight a policy dilemma for President Obama - while there are some discoveries of "considerable intelligence value" there is also "collateral harm to privacy on a scale that the administration has not been willing to address".

Mr Snowden, 30, fled the US in May 2013 and has been living under temporary asylum in Russia.

Last year, he fed a trove of secret NSA documents to news outlets including the Washington Post and the Guardian.

Among other things, the leaks detailed the NSA's practice of harvesting data on millions of telephone calls made in the US and around the world, and revealed the agency had snooped on foreign leaders.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    ".......revelations (included).... double-dealing by an ostensible ally.... "

    Discovered by spying on them.


  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    It's about time some so called democratic governments & quite a few individual politicians were dragged into line by force if need be!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    When a spying exercise blows up in a govt's face you can guarantee that no one in officialdom will have known anything about it in advance, they will disapprove of what happened but fall back on the need for national security and the safety of the people to be protected.
    None of the spy's, analysts or spymasters will be seen,you need them for next time.
    Spying Govt's are lawless and amoral.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    I can't see what the problem is?
    Stop worrying - you can pop off to Syria/Iraq and fight for a banned organisation - then arrive home and no charges are brought.
    So you are hardly likely to suffer any inconvience either, owing to a tweet that was intercepted to the wife asking which brand of baked beans she wants.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    It is the dragnet attitude and approach that is resented. Targeted surveillance is one thing, just checking everyone's traffic on the off chance is not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Never ever fall for the myth that Governments whether elected or otherwise have as their prime objective to serve the general populous. Their primary purpose, is and always will be, to retain control...be that over those who support of oppose them. This is just one of a collection of strategies they use to achieve their goal.

  • Comment number 95.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    The Washington Post is the USA version of the Guardian so what did you expect from them.

    This is also the paper employed Woodward and Bernstein. They have been gagging for another Watergate story for 40 years and are obviously now a bit desperate if they are having to rely on the likes of Edward Snowden. Deep Throat he ain`t.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    In the differentiation of self from other, inside your head are created two entities, one of course self, the other a representation of not just the physical universe, not just map or moral compass, but a surveillance device in which are represented the SUPPOSED views of not only of other people & the NSA, arguably of Totality (infiniy minus 1), in equal partnership made coherent, otherwise 'mad'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Obama said his govt would be more transparent then the last one. Thanks to Snowden it is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Slightly disturding that there are still those naive enough to believe the propaganda churned out by the American intelligence agencies. These same gullible people really do believe that intelligent, highly organized so called terrorists, type online openly or on mobile phones. They have not heard or TOR or throwaway sims after 1 use etc and so assume the "terrorists" haven't either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    Seems the East German régime was ahead of its time.

    The principle for modern line - online and not - seems to be: Don't do or say anything that you don't want everyone (esp. your national government) to know about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    The yanks always thought they were masters of the world. Now it seems they have drawn up a secret charter to snoop on the entire world -whether we like it or not. How very American.

    BTW. Its been an intense week of major news stories -including the jailing of R.Harris, and we've been disallowed to 'have our say' on most of them. So thanks BBC for allowing us plebs to comment on this news item

  • Comment number 88.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Everyone wants it both ways. No government intrusion but safety from the Islam terror groups. Government needs or track and monitor these groups.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    @@ Drunken Hobo

    '' ... 9/11 has to be one of the most successful assaults in history. It turned .... centre being set up in Cuba, and it caused them to spend trillions on
    two wars that have only made things worse ... '''

    Amen - the US Feds - like all governments attract the most incompetents
    Folks who cannot get real jobs - Obama worked a soup kitchen - go figure

  • Comment number 85.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    In project work there is a thing called 'scope creep' where you get "If we just added this..." or "Can you do this...?".
    Now get rid of independent reviews and controls.
    That is how having to do something becomes having the right to do something becomes "Why are you afraid of us if you have nothing to hide?"
    As old as history itself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Couldn't care less, people can have all my texts, emails etc. I don't do anything illegal and, apart from some fruity language, my communications are as mundane as 99% of the population.
    The issue I do have is that those who are seriously up to no good will, no doubt, be adept at covering their tracks and staying under the radar, so a lot of time will be wasted gathering nothing useful about them!

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    It is a strange world indeed, where Putin, the butcher of Grozny, provides a voice of sanity and restraint against the crimes of supposedly "free" western governments. Our governments are behaving like its the last days in the fuhrerbunker, in economics, resources, war and violence against their own people and foreigners. The end of empire is an ugly process, though the empire itself was criminal.


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