The Ottumwa Courier

AP National

August 21, 2013

NSA collected thousands of US communications

(Continued)

For instance, two senior intelligence officials said, when an American logged into an email server and looked at the emails in his or her inbox, that screen shot of the emails could be collected, together with Internet transactions by a terrorist suspect being targeted by the NSA — because that suspect's communications were being sent on the same fiber optic cable by the same Internet provider, in a bundled packet of data.

These interceptions of innocent Americans' communications were happening when the NSA accessed Internet information "upstream," meaning off of fiber optic cables or other channels where Internet traffic traverses the U.S. telecommunications system.

The NSA disclosed that it gathers some 250 million internet communications each year, with some 9 percent from these "upstream" channels, amounting to between 20 million to 25 million emails a year. The agency used statistical analysis to estimate that of those, possibly as many as 56,000 Internet communications collected were sent by Americans or persons in the U.S. with no connection to terrorism.

Under court order, the NSA resolved the problem by creating new ways to detect when emails by people within the U.S. were being intercepted, and separated those batches of communications. It also developed new ways to limit how that data could be accessed or used. The agency also agreed to only keep these bundled communications for possible later analysis for a 2-year period, instead of the usual 5-year retention period.

The agency also, under court order, destroyed all the bundled data gathered between 2008, when the FISA Court first authorized the collection under section 702 of the Patriot Act, until 2011 when the new procedures were put in place.

The newly released court opinions revealed the court signed off on the new procedures, deeming them constitutionally acceptable.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the White House still contends there is no domestic surveillance program despite new revelations about the scope of U.S. emails and Internet communications that can get swept up by the NSA. He said the program is specifically to gather foreign intelligence, adding that the fact that the extent of incidental American surveillance has been documented is proof positive that accountability measures are working properly.

"The reason that we're talking about it right now is because there are very strict compliance standards in place at the NSA that monitor for compliance issues, that tabulate them, that document them and that put in place measures to correct them when they occur," Earnest said.

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Associated Press writers Josh Lederman, Eileen Sullivan and Stephen Braun contributed to this report.

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