New reporting by The Intercept and a partner newspaper in Denmark reveals that the National Security Agency, beyond its well-documented close-ties to the so-called Five Eyes nations, has extensive and previously unknown surveillance agreements with other nations that allow it unsurpassed access to global communication systems and the private information of the world's citizens that travel through them.
Based on documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the new reporting details a program called RAMPART-A which uses digital "congestion points" located across the world and allows the agency to "intercept the content of phone calls, faxes, e-mails, internet chats, data from virtual private networks, and calls made using Voice over IP software like Skype."
The NSA would not give comment to The Intercept on the RAMPART-A program, but agency spokesperson Vanee Vines offered this statement: "The fact that the U.S. government works with other nations, under specific and regulated conditions, mutually strengthens the security of all. NSA's efforts are focused on ensuring the protection of the national security of the United States, its citizens, and our allies through the pursuit of valid foreign intelligence targets only."
In addition to its wide reach, what stands out about the program is its brute strength. As Intercept journalist Ryan Gallagher explains, the computing power of the devices used for RAMPART-A "enables the NSA to tap into three terabits of data every second as the data flows across the compromised cables -- the equivalent of being able to download about 5,400 uncompressed high-definition movies every minute."
The documents show that there were at least 13 secret locations for the program around the world and Gallagher details how these locations overlap with what else is known about NSA partnerships, much of which has been previously reported and documented in his colleague Glenn Greenwald's new book, No Place To Hide.
Calling the existence of such a program "politically explosive," Gallagher explains that in return for hosting one of these powerful listening stations, governments or agencies that participate receive "access to the NSA's sophisticated surveillance equipment, so they too can spy on the mass of data that flows in and out of their territory."