Most people know by now about the surveillance abuses perpetrated by the NSA earlier this century, but a new book about Edward Snowden suggests that the metadata collection programs introduced to us through previous whistleblowers and disclosures are part of a “live, ever-updating social graph of the US” that is ongoing and far vaster than we previously imagined.
The revelations come from journalist Barton Gellman, who described the content of his new book Dark Mirror: Edward Snowden and the American Surveillance State for Wired. The article, entitled “Inside the NSA’s Secret Tool for Mapping Your Social Network,” catalogs Gellman’s attempts to reveal more details about the programs Snowden first disclosed to the world.
What he found shocked him and, he says, represents an ongoing existential threat to American citizens.
Gellman says that originally he wanted to understand more about the logistics of the NSA phone records. The Snowden archive hints at but does not explain the details of the agency’s project pipelines.
The main thoroughfare of data collection, Stellarwind, was a domestic surveillance program launched by Vice President Dick Cheney only weeks after 9/11. He mandated that all operatives and subordinates conceal the program from FISA Court judges and Congress, stamping it with the most covert of government classifications, ECI, “exceptionally controlled information.”
Stellarwind facilitated Mainway, the NSA’s prized social network mapping tool which conscripted telephone data companies like AT&T and Verizon into secretive–and financially lucrative–data collection contracts negotiated by Special Source Operations.
But even this was just the tip of the iceberg.
The Mainway program codified two important but (until now) obfuscated surveillance and data mining objectives: contact chaining and precomputation.