PRISM slide data released June 29 by Washington Post

Follow me here. It looks like information being collected by the NSA within the PRISM program is filtered to exclude known Americans, but the real effort to exclude the data comes after they have started to collected it.

Here are the slides over at the Washington Post. Go over, take a look and read the attached notes. Here is the note on the first slide, with my emphasis in bold.

This slide describes what happens when an NSA analyst “tasks” the PRISM system for information about a new surveillance target. The request to add a new target is passed automatically to a supervisor who reviews the “selectors,” or search terms. The supervisor must endorse the analyst’s “reasonable belief,” defined as 51 percent confidence, that the specified target is a foreign national who is overseas at the time of collection.

So they are looking for 51 percent confidence the communication is a foreign national overseas. That means there is a 49 percent chance they are targeting communications by Americans on American soil right? This is the first “filter.”

There is additional filtering mentioned on the first slide. The FBI consults a database to ensure the “selectors” do not match known Americans. On the second slide, they mention systems called FALLOUT and CONVEYANCE which seem to be additional filtering used to “reduce the intake” of information about Americans.

Going back to slide 1, there are multiple (3) references to the phrase “Pending Stored Comms” and one reference to “Stored Comms Released.” Also on the left side of the slide there are two reference points mentioning “Surveillance.”

I could be wrong, but it looks to me like they start “storing” communications (that means they are collecting them) immediately after the NSA analyst proves 51 percent confidence – agreed on by a supervisor – the target is not a US citizen within the USA. They keep surveillance going and store communications somewhere while the FBI does their review and FALLOUT and CONVEYANCE does their final sweep.

At some point, the communications identified as from citizens in-country by the FBI, FALLOUT and CONVEYANCE filters would be deleted, right? Or does it just remain in “storage?” In short, they are collecting the information based on one or two people’s opinion, and supposedly not looking at it until it goes through the filters to ensure they are not American targets.

On April 5, according to [the fourth side released by the Post], there were 117,675 active surveillance targets in PRISM’s counterterrorism database. The slide does not show how many other Internet users, and among them how many Americans, have their communications collected “incidentally” during surveillance of those targets.

3 replies
  1. OkieJim
    OkieJim says:

    Collect now, filter out later. Unless you want to employ an army of a zillion operators (who, by law, cannot listen to those communications anyway), it’s the only practical way to collect intel. All you have is the judgment of that operator: (s)he is well-trained, and should (s)he determine there’s no intel value in the communication, it’s supposed to be destroyed. That’s the way the system worked all those years ago, anyway. Are you asking for a second coming of Karnak the Great?

    • Steve McGough
      Steve McGough says:

      I don’t know. One suggestion is they should clearly identify the target and confirm he or she is not an American on US soil BEFORE collecting information. When the FBI goes after the mob and wants to tap phone lines and put listening devices inside of clubs, they needed a warrant. If the FBI elected to tap the lines and place the bugs on a 51% hunch and have the information dumped into a computer system somewhere for retrieval later, I think people would hesitate. If at some point they have real probable cause signed off on by a judge, and law enforcement can retroactively look at the information how would that go over?

      In short, I accept a certain amount of risk and understand bad things may happen. I’m not willing to give up any freedom or liberty for the illusion of additional safety.

      This program has been going on for years, and they did not stop Boston … The program may – or may not – have stopped other attacks. It’s impossible to say for certain, since there is no way to prove something would have happened if it never happened.

  2. bien-pensant
    bien-pensant says:

    The NSA will open the Utah Data Center by 9/13. It will have near bottomless storage capacity for all electronic data.
    Anything digital is already captured and stored. All calls, emails, radio transmissions, undersea cables, etc, are swept up and stored. The NSA has it. Sifting the info will happen. It will not be deleted. Various levels of sifter programs will continue to find, match, categorize, and prioritize information for a small army of analysts. Add to that all of the governmental, military and commercial intelligence collected daily.No conspiracy. Everyone wants to prevent another mass terrorist attack. Everything is saved.

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