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
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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 slide from the latest Snowden leak. (NBC News/Screen Grab) NBC News/Screen Grab

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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