According to the latest documents leaked by NSA informant Edward Snowden to “The Intercept”, U.S. government intelligence services developed a Google-like search engine named ICREACH designed to sift through hundreds of millions of records detailing e-mails, phone calls, instant messages and phone geo-location. The documents indicated that more than 1,000 intelligence analysts at 23 U.S. government agencies, including the DEA, FBI, and CIA, had access to ICREACH.
The documents also purportedly revealed that the search engine was developed to provide deep meta data on both foreigners and American citizens to law enforcement. Furthermore, the large majority of those under surveillance and whose communications were surveilled had not been accused of any illegal activity.
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ICREACH search engine is “one-stop shopping tool”
The mechanisms through which the NSA shared the massive amounts of data it collected were unclear, as were the number of agencies it shared data with. In reality more of a search portal than a data repository, ICREACH pulls on information stored in several different databases created by programs under Executive Order 12333, an executive order issued under Reagan dramatically expanding the data-collection powers of intelligence agencies.
ICREACH was described as a “one-stop shopping tool” by the NSA in one of the documents, and is designed create an overview of communication patterns associated with a piece of information, like an individual phone number or e-mail address. ICREACH does not grant direct access to the specific content of the communications it’s searching, but analysts are able to use it to assemble descriptive summaries that detail who was talking to who and when the communication took place.
Official U.S. government position on ICREACH
A U.S. intelligence official with knowledge of the ICREACH system is quoted by The Intercept as saying that while “it enables the sharing of certain foreign intelligence metadata,” ICREACH is “not a repository (and) does not store events or records.”
Furthermore, the Director of National Intelligence has already acknowledged the existence of such a search engine, saying in public testimony that sharing information had become “a pillar of the post-9/11 intelligence community” in an effort to prevent valuable intelligence data from being “stove-piped in any single office or agency.”