Has the NSA built its own Google-like search engine for mining intelligence?

26 Aug 2014

The US National Security Agency (NSA) appears to have built its own Google-like search engine called ICREACH to share more than 850bn records about phone calls, mobile locations and internet chats.

Classified documents obtained by The Intercept indicate the data is shared between 23 US government agencies, including the Drugs Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The Intercept obtained the documents from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. It is understood that ICREACH contains information on private communications among non-US citizens, as well as US citizens who may or may not have been accused of any wrong-doing.

The system is understood to be accessible to more than 1,000 analysts working at various US agencies, including the Defense Intelligence Agency.

30 kinds of communications metadata

The engine can be used to track people’s movements, who they consort with, predict future actions, and ascertain religious and political beliefs.

It is understood work on the engine began in earnest in 2005 in response to the NSA’s need to collect, process and store vast amounts of metadata on worldwide intelligence targets.

The system is apparently capable of handling between 2bn and 5bn new records a day across 30 kinds of metadata on communications including emails, phone calls, faxes, IM chats, and text messages, as well as mobile phone location data.

The ICREACH search engine is understood to operate separately to the database created by the NSA under Section 215 of the Patriot Act to monitor and store information on millions of US citizens’ communications.

Spyware image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years