What the N.S.A. Wants in Brazil

Ryan Lizza, “What the N.S.A. Wants in Brazil,” The New Yorker, July 24 2013

a German reporter rose and asked Alexander this: “Why are you focusing so much on gathering data also from Brazil, since there’s not too much terrorism going on in Brazil as far as I know?”

Alexander’s answer was somewhat elliptical (emphasis mine):

You know, the reality is we’re not collecting all the e-mails on the people in Brazil nor listening to their phone numbers. Why would we do that? What somebody took was a program that looks at metadata around the world that you would use to find terrorist activities that might transit and leaped to the conclusion that, aha, metadata—they must be listening to everybody’s phone; they must be reading everybody’s e-mail. Our job is foreign intelligence.

I’ll tell you, 99.9 and I don’t know how many nines go out of all that, whether it’s in German or Brazil, is of no interest to a foreign intelligence agency. What is of interest is a terrorist hopping through or doing something like that.

(In the video of General Alexander’s remarks, this exchange starts at about 52:20.) …

I asked General Michael Hayden, the former director of both the C.I.A. and the N.S.A., what he found most interesting in Alexander’s remarks. “He committed two acts of declassification,” Hayden told me, using a euphemism for when a senior official reveals secret info by speaking in public. The first revelation Hayden flagged was not terribly surprising: in an earlier portion of his remarks, Alexander mentioned that the N.S.A. knows precisely what documents Edward Snowden accessed.

But Alexander’s second act of declassification was much more interesting. Hayden pointed to Alexander’s comments about Brazil, and his point about not being interested in the communications of Brazilians. He asked me to think about the geography of Brazil, which bulges out eastward into the Atlantic Ocean. I still didn’t understand. “That’s where the transatlantic cables come ashore,” he finally explained.

Indeed, they do. According to a map of the network of submarine cables that transmits our voices and our Internet data around the world, Brazil is one of the most important telecommunication hubs on earth. …

They also help shed light on an N.S.A. slide recently published by the Guardian, which appears to show that the umbrella program for this type of “upstream” collection is called Fairview and/or Blarney.

Read the full article here.