A Washington Post analysis of data provided by Edward Snowden has revealed that nine out of 10 communications intercepted by the National Security Agency were from ordinary Internet users, not legally targeted foreigners. But the examination also showed that officials gleaned valuable intelligence from the wide net the agency cast.
The Post says the communications of Americans and non-Americans were intercepted by the NSA, but that 90 percent of the account holders revealed in cached surveillance files "were not the intended surveillance targets but were caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else."
According to the newspaper:
"Many of them were Americans. Nearly half of the surveillance files, a strikingly high proportion, contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents. NSA analysts masked, or 'minimized,' more than 65,000 such references to protect Americans' privacy, but The Post found nearly 900 additional e-mail addresses, unmasked in the files, that could be strongly linked to U.S. citizens or U.S. residents."
The Post acknowledged, however, that the surveillance files it received from former NSA contractor Snowden contained "discoveries of considerable intelligence value" including "a secret overseas nuclear project, double-dealing by an ostensible ally, a military calamity that befell an unfriendly power, and the identities of aggressive intruders into U.S. computer networks." The newspaper said it wouldn't be more specific to protect ongoing intelligence operations.
"Months of tracking communications across more than 50 alias accounts, the files show, led directly to the 2011 capture in Abbottabad of Muhammad Tahir Shahzad, a Pakistan-based bomb builder, and Umar Patek, a suspect in a 2002 terrorist bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali. At the request of CIA officials, The Post is withholding other examples that officials said would compromise ongoing operations."