The Day Before the State of the Union Has Been Conveniently Full of NSA Leaks

New disclosures Monday by multiple publications suggest a coordinated effort to focus attention on NSA surveillance ahead of the president’s most important annual speech.

The new NSA Data Center on October 8, 2013 in Bluffdale, Utah.
National Journal
Dustin Volz
Jan. 27, 2014, 11:17 a.m.

Rap­id-fire re­ports re­veal­ing secret gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance pro­grams hit the In­ter­net Monday, just a day be­fore Pres­id­ent Obama will de­liv­er his an­nu­al State of the Uni­on ad­dress be­fore Con­gress.

NBC News re­por­ted Monday af­ter­noon that the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment can “tap in­to the cables car­ry­ing the world’s Web traffic at will and spy on what people are do­ing on some of the world’s most pop­u­lar so­cial-me­dia sites, in­clud­ing You­Tube, all without the know­ledge or con­sent of the com­pan­ies.”

Doc­u­ments provided by Ed­ward Snowden pur­port to show Brit­ish in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials present­ing a pi­lot pro­gram to NSA agents in 2012 in which they could mon­it­or You­Tube in real time and col­lect data from Face­book and Twit­ter. Called “Squeaky Dol­phin,” the doc­u­ments show “broad real-time mon­it­or­ing of on­line activ­ity” that in­cludes videos watched, blog vis­its and fa­vor­ited URLs.

The story con­tin­ues:

Ex­perts told NBC News the doc­u­ments show the Brit­ish had to have been either phys­ic­ally able to tap the cables car­ry­ing the world’s web traffic or able to use a third party to gain phys­ic­al ac­cess to the massive stream of data, and would be able to ex­tract some key data about spe­cif­ic users as well.

Rep­res­ent­at­ives of Face­book and Google, which owns You­Tube, said they hadn’t giv­en the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment per­mis­sion to ac­cess data and were un­aware the col­lec­tion had oc­curred. A source close to Google who asked not to be iden­ti­fied when dis­cuss­ing com­pany policy said the com­pany was “shocked” to learn the U.K. could have been “grabbing” its data.

A top-secret slide-show present­a­tion pre­pared by Bri­tain’s Gov­ern­ment Com­mu­nic­a­tions Headquar­ters was pub­lished along­side the NBC News story. While sev­er­al of the slides de­tail the ins and outs of the pro­gram in graph­ic­al and nu­mer­ic­al terms, oth­er slides are quix­ot­ic pho­to­graphs or il­lus­tra­tions, in­clud­ing one meme-styl­ized slide ex­plain­ing “Psy­cho­logy 101 con­cepts” through use of a cat and a dog. A slide from the latest Snowden leak. (NBC News/Screen Grab)

An­oth­er slide con­tains a photo of a veiled wo­man of ap­par­ent Middle East­ern des­cent without ex­plan­a­tion.

Few ob­serv­ers ex­pect Obama to say much about NSA sur­veil­lance — or the agency re­forms he enu­mer­ated in a ma­jor policy speech earli­er this month — dur­ing Tues­day night’s ad­dress at the Cap­it­ol. Still, the two dis­clos­ures Monday in­dic­ate a pos­sibly co­ordin­ated ef­fort on the part of pri­vacy ad­voc­ates and mem­bers of the me­dia to ap­ply pres­sure on the White House ahead of the pres­id­ent’s speech.

Journ­al­ist and Snowden con­fid­ant Glenn Gre­en­wald, formerly of The Guard­i­an, is lis­ted on the NBC story’s byline.

Earli­er Monday, a num­ber of pub­lic­a­tions re­por­ted that the NSA and its Brit­ish equi­val­ent have at­temp­ted to col­lect per­son­al data from “leaky” smart­phone apps, in­clud­ing the pop­u­lar game Angry Birds. NSA doc­u­ments leaked by Ed­ward Snowden de­tail ef­forts span­ning back to 2007 to gath­er in­form­a­tion from the use of sev­er­al dif­fer­ent kinds of apps, in­clud­ing Google Maps and vari­ous so­cial net­works.

In re­sponse, White House press sec­ret­ary Jay Car­ney told re­port­ers dur­ing his daily press brief­ing that “ter­ror­ists, pro­lif­er­at­ors, oth­er bad act­ors, use the same com­mu­nic­a­tions tools that oth­ers use.”

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