Huge volumes of private emails, phone calls, and internet chats are being intercepted by the National Security Agency with the secret cooperation of more foreign governments than previously known, according to newly disclosed documents from whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The classified files, revealed today by the Danish newspaper Dagbladet Information in a reporting collaboration with The Intercept, shed light on how the NSA’s surveillance of global communications has expanded under a clandestine program, known as RAMPART-A, that depends on the participation of a growing network of intelligence agencies.
It has already been widely reported that the NSA works closely with eavesdropping agencies in the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia as part of the so-called Five Eyes surveillance alliance. But the latest Snowden documents show that a number of other countries, described by the NSA as “third-party partners,” are playing an increasingly important role – by secretly allowing the NSA to install surveillance equipment on their fiber-optic cables.
The NSA documents state that under RAMPART-A, foreign partners “provide access to cables and host U.S. equipment.” This allows the agency to covertly tap into “congestion points around the world” where it says it can 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 program, which the secret files show cost U.S. taxpayers about $170 million between 2011 and 2013, sweeps up a vast amount of communications at lightning speed. According to the intelligence community’s classified “Black Budget” for 2013, 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.