The Surveillance Engine: How the NSA Built Its Own Secret Google


For those who are conflicted about the career of Edward Snowden (and I count myself as one), the fact remains that whether good, bad or indifferent, he did us a favor. Thanks to his espionage, we are now aware of several things. Among them: 1) that the Federal Government spies on its own citizens and 2) that it does so with impunity.

Those of us who remember the Cold War remembered what it meant for a nation to be a police state. Those of us who actually lived behind the Iron Curtain certainly felt it first hand. That being said, it’s impossible to come to any other conclusion than we are well on the way to being a police state ourselves. True, there is no Gulag (as of yet), no forced collectivization, and no psychiatric incarceration. (Although we can expect that as we slip further into tyranny The Revered Protopresbyterians of Syosset will be more than willing to provide ecclesiastical cover to the National Government should believers get out of line.)

Anyway, please take the time to read the following news article.

Source: The Intercept | Ryan Gallagher

The National Security Agency is secretly providing data to nearly two dozen U.S. government agencies with a “Google-like” search engine built to share more than 850 billion records about phone calls, emails, cellphone locations, and internet chats, according to classified documents obtained by The Intercept.

The documents provide the first definitive evidence that the NSA has for years made massive amounts of surveillance data directly accessible to domestic law enforcement agencies. Planning documents for ICREACH, as the search engine is called, cite the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration as key participants.

ICREACH contains information on the private communications of foreigners and, it appears, millions of records on American citizens who have not been accused of any wrongdoing. Details about its existence are contained in the archive of materials provided to The Intercept by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Earlier revelations sourced to the Snowden documents have exposed a multitude of NSA programs for collecting large volumes of communications. The NSA has acknowledged that it shares some of its collected data with domestic agencies like the FBI, but details about the method and scope of its sharing have remained shrouded in secrecy.


Read the rest of the article on the Incercept website.


  1. James Denney says

    Snowden is a genuine patriot and true American hero. He exposed the existence and methods of federal government spying on Americans, which has been done without probable cause or warrants, in contravention of the Constitution. He did not expose any American operatives or endanger any agents, as the traitor Bradley Manning and his handler Assange unfortunately did. He revealed the damage done to the constitution by the Congress and secret FISA Court, as well as the outright lying of federal officials who had appeared before congress and said no massive spying was occurring. He exposed the fact that his has been going on for some time, and that the George W. Bush administration coerced the New York Times into holding an expose story of this spying for 16 months, and exposed the actual vast expansion of the programs under the Obama administration. No American citizen should have their computer activity recorded, their emails collected, or their phone activity collected without PROBABLE CAUSE and a WARRANT issued by a regular federal court, based on affidavits or sworn testimony alleging illegal activity, on the record, which can be temporarily sealed to protect investigations.

    • Amen. An excellent analysis.

    • The enemy is not the government, but terrorists-ask Bush, forget Obama. Ask the Congress they passed and reratified the Patriot Act.

      Snowden violated the agreements he had with the government. There is no question his revelations were startling, but if everytime a soldier disagreed with his co, he reported it to Glen Greenwald, well, would that soldier be your hero? I say you are wrong.

      Furthermore, to suggest Snowden endangered noone is a falsehood. I attest he endangered all of us by driving terrorists deeper underground. And yes, it is subjective, but so is the notion we have been harmed.

      • James Denney says

        It is the secret FISA Court’s interpretation of the Patriot Act that’s the problem. There should be no secret court, and the Patriot Act should be amended to make it absolutely illegal for any government employee, agency, contractor, or contractor’s employee to gather metadata on any American citizen without PROBABLE CAUSE and a WARRANT from a public, regular federal court. Severe criminal penalties should be enacted to punish those found guilty of this metadata spying. Whatever speculative danger Snowden’s heroic act might have caused is far outweighed by the gift he has given Americans of the knowledge that we are being spied upon by our own government. BTW, Snowden was not a soldier, he was not in the military.

    • Tim R. Mortiss says

      If Americans don’t want their computer activity recorded, then they should stay off the internet; it’s all recorded some place.

      The NSA is gathering information we have already consented to have big corporations gather. Complain about the big corporations– we have given up our privacy voluntarily to private businesses.

      Think of the recent brouhaha about “celebrity nude hackers”, and the complaints of invasion of privacy. How can something be considered private if it’s out there on somebody else’s server somewhere?

      • James Denney says

        Yes, rather than respect the 4th Amendment and the purposes for which it was written and ratified, we can simply do the following:

        If Americans don’t want their computer activity recorded by the government, they should stay off the internet.

        If Americans don’t want their snail mail read by the government, they should stay away from the post office.

        If Americans don’t want their phone calls recorded by the government, they should stay off the phone.

        If Americans don’t want to be videoed or photographed by the government, they should stay home.

        If Americans don’t want to be tracked by the government using embedded locators, they should buy old cars and not use cell phones, or computers of any type.

        If Americans don’t want their movements and shopping habits tracked by the government, they should never use debit cards, credit cards, store discount cards, or “EZ Pass” on the road.

        The fact that many private corporations collect his data is no justification for government spying. Now, the government is actually forcing corporations to hand over much of this privately collected data for their archives and spying. Read Greenwalt’s book on Snowden:

        • Tim R. Mortiss says

          Largely true, by the way.

          Here’s an analogous example: medical records. Medical records are private; rather, they once were private. If somebody wanted to obtain an important person’s medical records (or mine, a person of little importance), they would– literally– have to burglarize the doctor’s office or the hospital medical records room and find the individual file.

          Now, thousands or millions are on laptops that are left in cars, or wherever. Every doctor can access any medical record in the country (he’d lose his license if caught). The result: there will soon be no concept of medical privacy left.

          Loss of privacy is a direct result of permanent collection of information on computers; call it what you like. The government doesn’t record my text messages or the phone numbers I call; my cellphone company does. My phone company in the old days only recorded long-distance numbers.

          How did we ever win World War II with typewriters and radios?

          The government doesn’t care where you go or what you spend. But your employer does, and so does your ex-wife during your divorce. (I don’t have one of those, by the way, but in my business I’ve seen plenty!)

          My point again: we are giving it all up, quite voluntarily. Then bitching about the government.

          • James Denney says

            Tim you wrote: “The government doesn’t care where you go or what you spend.”
            You are absolutely wrong. Although the private companies care for marketing purposes and are collecting this data, the government is seizing and storing this data, most times with the full cooperation of the private companies, and using it for surveillance. The simplest data, even without content, for example: what times a person makes calls, emails or texts, who a person makes calls, emails or texts to, repetition of calls or emails, etc, once compiled, can tell a very accurate story of what a person is doing. And it is and will be abused by the government, sure as frogs are waterproof.

            You also wrote: “The government doesn’t record my text messages or the phone numbers I call; my cellphone company does.”
            While this is partly true, the government still ends up with it as a result of their arrangements with the private companies. Also, you apparently are not aware of the NSA program in which shipments of computers are intercepted by NSA techies, the cartons opened carefully, a device (embedded backdoor surveillance tool) is installed that allows the NSA to DIRECTLY monitor your emails and computer communications. The boxes are then sealed again with a factory seal, and put back into transit to the unaware customers. This is allegedly for only computers being shipped overseas, but the NSA lies. There is information that some computer manufacturers are now installing these devices themselves at the behest of the NSA.

            • Tim R. Mortiss says

              I actually don’t try to underplay what the NSA does. But the fact is, we willingly embrace technology the very purpose of which is to track our movements and our doings, and store the information forever.

              • James Denney says

                The purpose of the technology is to communicate and enhance knowledge; the purpose is not to violate the 4th Amendment and invade citizens privacy. Unfortunately, it is being misused in that way.

                • Tim R. Mortiss says

                  Technology has no purpose such as you describe. And the 4th Amendment is irrelevant to “technology”.

  2. Christopher says

    Wired magazine has been a favorite of geeks for a long time. It may even be the “N.Y. Times” of that world. They have done a very good job of following this story and detailing just how intrusive this spying is in the lives of Americans today. Folks might want go over and check out a few articles they have done over the last few years or so.

    I would warn you however, that according Wired itself, if you do read any of the articles at Wired about Snowden and/or the NSA your IP and MAC address is recorded by the NSA. They found proof in the latest Snowden documents released! That’s how far this goes – the NSA tracks it’s journalistic foes and their readers…

  3. Ladder of Divine Ascent says

    As Putin (speaking in his role as leader of the free world) warned, stop using Google. The best option is:


    A member of Venezuela’s Socialist Party has rolled out a variation of the classic Christian “Lord’s Prayer” to implore beloved late leader Hugo Chavez for protection from the evils of capitalism.

    “Our Chavez who art in heaven, the earth, the sea and we delegates,” red-shirted delegate Maria Estrella Uribe recited on Monday at the PSUV party Congress.

    “Hallowed be your name, may your legacy come to us so we can spread it to people here and elsewhere. Give us your light to guide us every day,” she said in front of an image of Chavez.

    “Lead us not into the temptation of capitalism, deliver us from the evil of the oligarchy, like the crime of contraband, because ours is the homeland, the peace and life forever and ever. Amen. Viva Chavez!” she exclaimed to applause.

    Poor saps, such deification of a demagogue could never happen here…

  4. Much ado, methinks.

    Okhrana – Cheka – NKVD – KGB- GRU – FSB, I left a few out but you get the picture. Those were names of the spy agencies and secret police in Russia from Tsarist times (Okhrana) to today (FSB). Here we have had Signals Intelligence Service, OP-20-G, MI-8, OSS, CIA and of course the FBI.

    Any competent leadership spies on everyone, foreign and domestic. All the more so if you let everyone and his uncle into the country. Of course, what you could use in a criminal prosecution ought to be regulated if one is following constitutional norms. And I don’t disagree that some of what is gathered is done unconstitutionally.

    But of course, Almighty Freedom (symbolized by our Goddess of Liberty in NY) is not my cult of choice.

  5. Greenwald and Chompsky on Snowden, his motives and how our government and brilliant media pundits try (and are hopefully failing) to drive the narrative:

    If you’ve read Solzhenitsyn and Orwell, I don’t understand how you could be conflicted about Snowden.

    • The first people to watch us were marketeers. Where were you guys then?

      • James Denney says

        Marketeers are not the government, but now the government has co-opted them or coerced them into sharing the metadata. The question isn’t where were you then, the question is: where are you now?

  6. Christopher says

    “The first people to watch us were marketeers. Where were you guys then?”

    This is a common misconception – that “marketeers”, “big corporate america”, or even “robber barons” are equivalent in danger to the government. It’s understandable, given how little most americans understand about their own history and history in general. In fact the, principle of “limited government” is really lost on most these days.

    Government has something that these other entities (which granted, are not benign) do not have, that is the power of the sword (see Romans 13:4). They coerce. Corporations power to do this is very limited – in fact it is only when the collude with the government (crony capitalism, etc.) that they can move in this direction.

    Now we may not have as much economic freedom as we sometimes think we have, but it is still largely a choice to trade with these entities and allow information about ourselves to be used in the way it does. We have not choice when it comes to the NSA spying on us for political purposes.

    This brings to mind a quote from C.S Lewis many of you have probably ran across before:

    “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

    • Tim R. Mortiss says

      Except now our robber barons are moral busybodies, and would like to be omnipotent. I can think of Michael Bloomberg and Bill Gates for starters. Their cupidity is satisfied, so now we must fear their good will.

    • James Denney says

      I agree; however, as I posted above, now the private companies have been co-opted or coerced into sharing the data they collect from us with the government, furthering the destruction of liberty.

  7. Ivan Vasiliev says

    Thank you to Christopher, who points out the most significant difference between the spying/data collection of corporations, etc. and the State. Walmart cannot bring administrative action against me; the State can. Note that I purposely didn’t say “legal action” as that implies lawfulness. In the old Soviet days the worst crimes were those committed “administratively”. There was no concept of due process in the communist era and there is no concept of due process by the various State agencies watching over us. Their biggest fear is that too many of us wake up and try to change that.
    The good news (for them) is that most of us are content to sleep under their watchful care. Step by step we march into the night of totalitarianism. I think that the process is speeding up, but in our case it is a “soft” form of totalitarianism. Very few will object so long as we are being “kept” safe and so long as those being persecuted are “haters”. If only the Great Stalin had figured this out. He wouldn’t have had to murder 20 million; he could have sung them sweet lullabies!