#18 ICREACH: The NSA’s Secret Search Engine

by Project Censored

Based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden, Ryan Gallagher reported for the Intercept that the National Security Agency (NSA) has developed a “Google-like” search engine called ICREACH, which has the capacity to gather personal information. This search engine can access over 850 million personal records, including private e-mails, chats, and some phone locations. The NSA is sharing the data collected through its ICREACH program with nearly two dozen US government agencies. “The documents provide the first definitive evidence,” Gallagher wrote, “that the NSA has for years made massive amounts of surveillance data directly accessible to domestic law enforcement agencies.” Planning documents specifically identify the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) as “core participants,” Gallagher reported.

According to a December 2007 NSA secret document, “The ICREACH team delivered the first-ever wholesale sharing of communications metadata within the U.S. Intelligence Community.” The Interceptreported that one key issue raised by the ICREACH program is whether domestic law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI or the DEA, have used ICREACH to trigger secret investigations of US citizens through a controversial process known as “parallel construction.” As Gallagher explained, parallel construction involves information gathered covertly by law enforcement agents, who subsequently create a new evidence trail that excludes the original, covert one. “This hides the true origin of the investigation from defense lawyers and, on occasion, prosecutors and judges—which means the legality of the evidence that triggered the investigation cannot be challenged in court.”

Spurred by Gallagher’s Intercept report, a few establishment news organizations covered this story. For instance, Fox News reported that ICREACH has put NSA “snooping back in the spotlight,” which is accurate, but the Fox coverage also reported that an e-mail from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence neither confirmed nor denied the program’s existence, but did assert that “data sharing is crucial to U.S. national security.” The PBS NewsHour ran a story based on Gallagher’s article for the Intercept.

Ryan Gallagher, “The Surveillance Engine: How the NSA Built Its Own Secret Google,” Intercept, August 25, 2014, https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/08/25/icreach-nsa-cia-secret-google-crisscross-proton/.

Jack Crone, “NSA Builds Its Own Google: Spy Agency Secretly Providing Data to Dozens of Government Agencies with Search Engine that Shares 850 Billion Phone and Email Records,” Daily Mail (UK), August 26, 2014, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2734498/NSA-builds-Google-Spy-agency-secretly-providing-data-dozens-government-agencies-search-engine-shares-850-BILLION-phone-email-records.html.

Student Researcher: Kori Williams (Sonoma State University)

Community Evaluator: Nick Sedenquist