Documents Suggest a Close Working Relationship Between NSA, US Companies

Documents describe “contractual relationships” between NSA and US companies, as well as undercover operatives at some US companies


Newly disclosed National Security Agency documents suggest a closer relationship between American companies and the spy agency than have 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:

Contractual Relationships (pg 7)


"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:

Backdoors in US Encryption Systems (pg 9)

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: It says:

Whipgenie (pg 3)


The Whipgenie document details one company's involvement in "domestic wire access collection" – an apparent reference to eavesdropping inside the United States. Under current law, such surveillance is only allowed after the government obtains a court order. But the document said that at least one "Corporate Partner" was involved in a "cooperative effort" to break into U.S. communications. This information, it says, is itself classified and should be closely guarded:

The Whipgenie document makes clear that the program being shielded from public view involves data that moves through the United States. (Emails and other information from one foreign address to another frequently hopscotch across international borders as companies use the cheapest routing for traffic.) The document tells NSA officials that they should protect:

Whipgenie collecting US communications (pg 7)

In 2008, Congress authorized the agency to collect information that traveled through the United States. But the agency is supposed to discard entirely domestic communications that it picks up "incidentally."

A draft document indicates that the NSA targets U.S. manufacturers of commercial equipment used for communications. The document obliquely refers to covert operations by NSA agents aimed at what is termed "specific commercial entities." Those companies are identified in the document only by the letters: A, B, and C.

NSA going under cover in US companies (pg 7)

Sentry Owl, the program that protects this particular bit of spying, is among the most closely guarded secrets in the intelligence community. Documents describe it as "Exceptionally Controlled Information" that can only be disclosed to "a very few select" people in government.

Select U.S. Government Individuals (pg 1)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Mike Rogers, who head the congressional intelligence oversight committees, did not respond to requests for comment on whether they had been briefed on the program. Sen. Ron Wyden, an outspoken critic of NSA activities that impact U.S. residents, also declined to comment.

In a statement, NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said NSA surveillance is authorized by law and subject to multiple layers of oversight. She added: "It should come as no surprise that NSA conducts targeted operations to counter increasingly agile adversaries."

For more coverage, read ProPublica's previous reporting on the NSA's efforts to break encryption, our NSA Programs Chart and the agency's spying operations on cell phone apps.




Maharashtra records over 60% voting, Haryana crosses 72%
The average voter turnout in the assembly elections in Maharashtra was over 60% while for Haryana it was above 72%. There were some incidents of EVM malfunctioning in both states
Maharashtra witnessed brisk polling as the state went to polls Wednesday to elect a new government, with the average voter turnout across 288 constituencies at around 60%. Haryana recorded over 72% voting with stray incidents of violence from the state.
Mumbai recorded a low to moderate voter turnout during the 288-seat Maharashtra Assembly elections. Corporate honchos, Bollywood celebrities and political leaders reached the polling stations to cast their votes. 
Bollywood celebrities who voted in Mumbai were actress Rekha, Jaya Bachchan, Abhishek Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Amol Palekar and Atul Kulkarni among others.  Master blaster Sachin Tendulkar also cast his vote and urged citizens to come out and vote.
Among corporate honchos, including HDFC Chairman Deepak Parekh, Reliance Group chief Anil Ambani, TCS MD and CEO N Chandrasekaran, Godrej group Chairman Adi Godrej and HCC chairman Ajit Gulabchand also cast their vote.
The voting was being held to elect the 13th Assembly in Maharashtra to decide the fate of 4,119 candidates in the fray to grab 288 seats with 29 reserves for scheduled caste and 25 for scheduled tribe community. 
Maharashtra is witnessing a four-cornered contest with Shiv Sena, BJP, Congress, Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) fighting independently. Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) is also in the contest, although its impact is limited to certain pockets.
About 84 million voters, of whom 53% are male and 47% women, will decide the fate of 4,119 candidates across the state. Prominent candidates in the fray include former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan of Congress, former deputy chief Ajit Pawar of NCP, former ministers RR Patil and Chhagan Bhujbal of NCP. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s state president Devendra Fadnavis, Eknath Khadse, Vinod Tawde and Pankaja Munde as well as Shiv Sena's Subhash Desai, Suresh Jain and Deepak Kesarkar are fighting it out. Other prominent candidates include former ministers Patangrao Kadam, Shivajirao Moghe and Rajendra Darda Congress and Bala Nandgaonkar of MNS.
While Nanded South has the maximum number of candidates (39), Akole and Guhagar have the minimum, with five each.
The BJP is fielding 280 candidates, Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) 260, Communist Party of India (CPI) 34, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) 19, Congress 287, NCP 278, Shiv Sena 282 and MNS 219.
Technical problems in electronic voting machines (EVMs) were reported from some polling booths in Nagpur city and Wardha district in Vidarbha, and Sewree in Mumbai. Voters in a Nashik booth also complained that the voter rolls were not in order.
A policeman on election duty was killed after being struck by lightning in Avdeghat polling station of Savner constituency in Vidarbha, where polling in some parts was marred by rains.
Two persons were injured in firing during a clash between INLD and BJP supporters in Haryana's Sirsa. A minor clash also occurred between the supporters of Haryana Lokhit Party of Gopal Kanda and INLD workers in the district. Kanda, a former Haryana Minister, is seeking re-election from Sirsa.
There were glitches in EVM machines at a couple of places in Haryana.
In Haryana too, the BJP junked its allies and is hoping to get majority on its own to dislodge Congress that has been ruling the state for the last 10 years. About 1,351 candidates, including 116 women, are contesting on 90 seats in the state. The state has over 1.63 crore voters, including 87.37 lakh women.


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