ICREACH: The NSA’s Secret Search Engine

by Vins
Published: Updated:

Based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden, Ryan Gallagher reports for The Intercept that the NSA has developed a search engine called ICREACH that has Google-like capacities to gather personal information. This search engine can access over 850 million personal records, including private emails, chats, and some phone locations. The NSA is sharing this data with nearly two-dozen U.S. 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.” 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 Intercept reports 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 explains, 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.”

Some corporate media sites have 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.”



Ryan Gallagher, “The Surveillance Engine: How the NSA Built Its Own Secret Google,” The 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,” Mail Online, 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.

Erin Blakemore, “The NSA Has a Secret Search Engine.” Care2, August 29, 2014, http://www.care2.com/causes/the-nsa-has-a-secret-search-engine.html.

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