Ordinary people outnumber targeted foreigners in NSA data
Analysis by Washington Post finds nine out of 10 accounts were not intended surveillance targets
Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided the cache of intercepted conversations to the Washington Post. Photograph: Glenn Greenwald/Laura Poitras/Reuters
The Washington Post reviewed about 160,000 emails and instant-message conversations and 7,900 documents taken from more than 11,000 online accounts, collected between 2009 and 2012. Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images
A study of a large collection of communications intercepted by the US National Security Agency showed that ordinary internet users, including Americans, far outnumbered legally targeted foreigners caught in the surveillance, the Washington Post has reported.
“Nine of 10 account holders found in a large cache of intercepted conversations, which former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided in full to The Post, were not the intended surveillance targets but were caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else,” the Post said.
Nearly half of the files “contained names, email addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to US citizens or residents,” it said.
The paper said the files also contained discoveries of considerable intelligence value, including “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 U.S. computer networks.”
Tracking the communications led to the capture of some terrorism suspects, including Umar Patek, a suspect in a 2002 bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali, it said.
Many other files were retained although, described as useless by analysts, they were about intimate issues such as love, illicit sexual relations, political and religious conversions and financial anxieties, the Post said.
The paper said it reviewed about 160,000 emails and instant-message conversations and 7,900 documents taken from more than 11,000 online accounts, collected between 2009 and 2012.
US intelligence officials declined to confirm or deny in general terms the authenticity of the intercepted content provided by Mr Snowden to the Post.