Snowden docs show NSA spied on global cellphone networks

Newly reported documents from government leaker Edward Snowden shine a light on a secret program that the U.S. used to spy on cellphone communications around the world.

The Intercept on Thursday released the documents showing how the National Security Agency (NSA) spied on hundreds of companies and organizations around the globe.

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The documents also show the NSA’s plans to introduce new security flaws into communications systems, in order to give U.S. spies more access to people’s conversations.

The mission of the “Auroragold” program, the NSA says in one slide, is to “maintain data about international [cellphone] networks” as well as “forecasting” their growth. According to one document from May, 2012, the agency had collected technical information on about 70 percent of the world’s cellphone networks. 

One part of that “forecasting” involves looking at security flaws in current networks and asking, “How do we introduce vulnerabilities where they do not yet exist?” according to one top-secret document

Privacy and cybersecurity advocates have criticized the NSA’s attempt to introduce security vulnerabilities into popular software, because it exposes the entire world to threats from hackers and foreign governments.

In a statement, NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said that the spy agency “collects only those communications that it is authorized by law to collect in response to valid foreign intelligence and counterintelligence requirements — regardless of the technical means used by foreign targets, or the means by which those targets attempt to hide their communications.”

“Terrorists, weapons proliferators, and other foreign targets often rely on the same means of communication as ordinary people,” she added. “In order to anticipate and understand evolving threats to our citizens and our allies, NSA works to identify and report on the communications of valid foreign targets.”

The NSA spokeswoman also pointed out the “multiple layers” of agency oversight and said that it “takes great care” to maintain the Integrity of the Internet in its operations.