Documents describe “contractual relationships” between NSA and U.S. companies, as well as undercover operatives at some U.S. companies.By Jeff Larson & Julia Angwin
Newly disclosed National Security Agency documents suggest a closer relationship between American companies and the spy agency than has been previously disclosed.
The documents, published last week by The Intercept, describe “contractual relationships” between the NSA and U.S. companies, as well as the fact that the NSA has “under cover” spies working at or with some U.S. companies.
While not conclusive, the material includes some clear suggestions that at least some American companies are quite willing to help the agency conduct its massive surveillance programs.
The precise role of U.S. companies in the NSA’s global surveillance operations remains unclear. Documents obtained by Edward Snowden and published by various news organizations show that companies have turned over their customers’ email, phone calling records and other data under court orders. But the level of cooperation beyond those court orders has been an open question, with several leading companies, such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook, asserting that they only turn over customer information that is “targeted and specific” in response to legal demands.
The documents do not identify any specific companies as collaborating with the NSA. The references are part of an inventory of operations, of which the very “fact that” they exist is classified information. These include the: [Follow link below.]
“SIGINT” in NSA jargon is signals intelligence, the intercepting of data and voice communications. According to the document, “contractual relationships” can mean that U.S. companies deliberately insert “backdoors” or other vulnerabilities that the NSA then uses to access communications. The existence of deals to build these backdoors is secret: [Follow link below.]
The NSA’s efforts to break encryption and establish backdoors were disclosed last year, but left open the possibility that the companies didn’t know about the activities. This new disclosure makes clear that some of those relationships are cooperative.
The documents also describe a program codenamed Whipgenie. Its purpose is to safeguard one of the NSA’s most important secrets, the “relationships” between “U.S. Corporate partners” and the agency division that taps fiber optic cables. It refers to the dealings with U.S. companies as ECI — exceptionally controlled information …