Ordinary U.S. Internet users far outnumber legally targeted foreigners in the communications intercepted by the National Security Agency from U.S. digital networks, found an investigation by the Washington Post. Nine of 10 account holders found in a large cache of intercepted conversations, which former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided to the newspaper, were not the intended surveillance targets but were caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else. Many of them were Americans. Nearly half of the surveillance files 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. There are discoveries of considerable intelligence value in the intercepted messages, and collateral harm to privacy on a scale that the Obama administration has not been willing to address. Among the most valuable contents are fresh revelations about 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 Post reviewed 160,000 intercepted e-mail and instant-message conversations, some of them hundreds of pages long, and 7,900 documents taken from more than 11,000 online accounts.