A new batch of classified documents obtained by The Intercept shows that the National Security Agency is using a search engine similar to Google, called “ICREACH” to deliver data to U.S. government agencies.
ICREACH was created to function as the “largest system for internally sharing secret surveillance records in the United States, capable of handling two to five billion new records every day.”
A top-secret document provided by The Intercept from 2007 stated that the ICREACH team “delivered the first-ever wholesale sharing of communications metadata within the U.S. Intelligence Community.”
The Intercept reported that the classified documents regarding ICREACH provide the first “definitive evidence that the NSA has for years made massive amounts of surveillance data directly accessible to domestic law enforcement agencies.”
These documents were among the ones leaked by NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden, and they reinforced the fact that the NSA was collecting phone calls, e-mails, cellphone locations, and Internet chats from hundreds of millions of innocent Americans.
While a document from 2010 shows that ICREACH “has been accessible to more than 1,000 analysts at 23 U.S. government agencies that perform intelligence work,” a document from 2007 cites the Central Intelligence Agency, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation as key participants.
“This team began over two years ago with a basic concept compelled by the IC’s increasing need for communications metadata and NSA’s ability to collect, process and store vast amounts of communications metadata related to worldwide intelligence targets,” the document revealed.
“This is not something that I think the government should be doing,” said Brian Owsley, an assistant professor of law at Indiana Tech Law School, who said he was shocked that agencies like the FBI and DEA were involved.
“Perhaps if information is useful in a specific case, they can get judicial authority to provide it to another agency. But there shouldn’t be this buddy-buddy system back-and-forth,” Owsley said.
A spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Jeffrey Anchukaitis, maintained that the mass sharing of information has become “a pillar of the post-9/11 intelligence community.”
Anchukaitis also insisted that by using ICREACH, “analysts can develop vital intelligence leads without requiring access to raw intelligence collected by other IC [Intelligence Community] agencies.”
A co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, Elizabeth Goitein, said that she found the mass scale of the ICREACH system “extremely troublesome.”
“The myth that metadata is just a bunch of numbers and is not as revealing as actual communications content was exploded long ago,” said Goitein. “This is a trove of incredibly sensitive information.”