“Hoovering Up Phone Calls” No Longer Just a Turn of Phrase for the NSA


Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani report today that the NSA now has the ability to capture and save the contents of every single telephone conversation in several target countries:

In the initial deployment, collection systems are recording “every single” conversation nationwide, storing billions of them in a 30-day rolling buffer that clears the oldest calls as new ones arrive, according to a classified summary….At the request of U.S. officials, The Washington Post is withholding details that could be used to identify the country where the system is being employed or other countries where its use was envisioned.

….Some of the documents provided by Snowden suggest that high-volume eavesdropping may soon be extended to other countries, if it has not been already. The RETRO tool was built three years ago as a “unique one-off capability,” but last year’s secret intelligence budget named five more countries for which the MYSTIC program provides “comprehensive metadata access and content,” with a sixth expected to be in place by last October.

Remember that opening scene at Waterloo Station in The Bourne Ultimatum? It was great filmmaking, but come on. Pretty far-fetched, no?

As it turns out, no. Not in 2014 anyway.

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