New NSA leak: BOUNDLESSINFORMANT documents the extent of NSA spying around the world

In the Guardian, Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill leak a description of another NSA top-secret program, this one codenamed "BOUNDLESSINFORMANT." This is apparently a tool that helps spies keep track of which snooping tools they can deploy in which countries, and it produces pretty, color-coded maps showing where the NSA spying powers are strongest. The Guardian has excellent notes on how this fits in with the ongoing fight between the US Senate and the NSA on whether and how the NSA spies on Americans:

The Boundless Informant documents show the agency collecting almost 3 billion pieces of intelligence from US computer networks over a 30-day period ending in March 2013. One document says it is designed to give NSA officials answers to questions like, "What type of coverage do we have on country X" in "near real-time by asking the SIGINT [signals intelligence] infrastructure."

An NSA factsheet about the program, acquired by the Guardian, says: "The tool allows users to select a country on a map and view the metadata volume and select details about the collections against that country."

Under the heading "Sample use cases", the factsheet also states the tool shows information including: "How many records (and what type) are collected against a particular country."

A snapshot of the Boundless Informant data, contained in a top secret NSA "global heat map" seen by the Guardian, shows that in March 2013 the agency collected 97bn pieces of intelligence from computer networks worldwide.

They quote Judith Emmel, an NSA spokesperson who says, "The continued publication of these allegations about highly classified issues, and other information taken out of context, makes it impossible to conduct a reasonable discussion on the merits of these programs." However, the NSA would not admit the existence of these programs (not even to the senate), prior to this.

Boundless Informant: the NSA's secret tool to track global surveillance data


  1. What’s the deal with Germany? Is there that much more communications infrastructure there (compared to other European countries) or did Merkel just roll over when asked by US intelligence officials?

  2. Oh Em GEEE! I’m too young to remember, but I love reading about the summer of 1975, when, practically DAILY: a new leak came out about what the Nixon Admin had done, the history of the CIA knocking off “key guys,” the FBI, the findings of Senator Frank Church’s Committee (of the 100 today, imo there is no Frank Church today). 

    June of 2013 is shaping up to compete with July of 1975 as far as sunshine on some uber-unsavory aspects of our…State.

    What did the 1975 leaks lead to? Jimmy Carter, among other things. Draw your own conclusions.

  3. It’s really difficult to tell from these presentations what the actual systems do – though the odd reference gives hints. 
    It’s all written in middle manager IT jargon that explains nothing.  And this last bit seems trivial. Counting records by country and making a heatmap is something a data-scientist might do before lunch. To then give it a grandiose title “BOUNDLESSINFORMANT” and make a middle manager presentation is hilarious.

    The references to hadoop, cloud base, HDFS suggest there are a moderately large set of records – but I’m still not clear what the data is, how it is obtained, or how it is used (other than for making worthless heat maps for your boss).

    1. I think the presentation is about a toolset that allows users to parse the data a number of different ways.  And this is relevant because NSA has claimed to the Senate that they don’t have this technology.  Specifically, in response to requests from the Senate about how much domestic intelligence is collected, the NSA responded that they couldn’t say.

      1. I’m not quite sure what you mean by parse. Do you mean process or search within each record/call/message. 

        I don’t get any of that from the slides. They just refer to a simple record aggregating/counting/binning summary dashboard.I absolutely presume they are mining the data- otherwise why collect? I don’t get anything from BOUNDLESSINFORMANT!!!  (must say it with CAPS like TROGDOR!) slides about how they do mine (or parse) it.

        1. Burninating the countryside, burninating the peasants. Burninating the THATCHED ROOF COTTAGES!!!


  4. You’ve got to enjoy that logic– “well, now that you know about this, we can’t talk about it.  Because…because!”

    1. I have a solution!  Open up all the data and programs so we can have a fully informed public debate…

      oh, she was just concern trolling.

  5. 97 billion pieces of intelligence, in InterWebz units, is basically a nonexistent drop in the bucket.

    1. That’s 97 terabytes, which is like a quarter of every packet on the internet, worldwide…

      1. Tb is not the unit.  It’s unknown precisely what the DNI/DNR data size units are. Digital Network Intelligence and Dial Number Recognition appear to be what they are, but what that constitutes is anyone’s guess.

        1. Yes, that wasn’t supposed to be a scientific comparison, but merely an approximation.

  6. It just proves Iran, Afghanistan and the USA say the word “Voldemort” more than others .

  7. A side note about that map: I’m a geographer and we’re living in the 21st century.  When I see some entity present their data on a Mercator projection like this, I have doubts about their competence and/or their ability to be open and honest about what they’re presenting/doing.

    Or, to put it another way, thank goodness that Greenland is our ally because (sizewise)  it totally rules Iran and Pakistan.

  8. the middle east of course is the area the most in red.
    i suspect the middle east is just a testing ground for authoritarian oppression.
    if you are a power hungry government and you want to know how to completely stop your people from rising up against you even if you really piss them off, what better place to test it eh? it’s like they are working out all the bugs in their spying and remote drone operations in the middle east where the american people don’t really seem to care so they can import them here, and at that point it won’t matter if the american people care.

  9. We only know what we are told, which is why propaganda is so important for maintaining control.  Most of us grew up learning in school that OTHER countries use propaganda, but not ours.  A lot of people who have been living in a dream world are about to wake the fuck up.

    1. Most of us grew up learning in school that OTHER countries use propaganda, but not ours.

      You must have had crappy high school teachers.

  10. NSA doesn’t spy around the world.  That’s the FBI.  Ever consider knowing something about your government?

    1. Um, your not serious are you. The National Security Agency deals with threats to “national security” which tend to be international in nature. They are prevented legally from domestic spying. 

      The Federal Bureau of Investigation was started by Hoover to deal with the Al Capones of the nation. It is a mostly domestic law enforcement agency. 

      1. I thought that FBI covered stuff in the US and the CIA covered international hoohah, like MI5 does the UK and MI6 does James Bond globetrotting jobs.

  11. We voted this policy into place after 2001.  Those of us who are old enough can remember what things were like after 9-11.  Now the country has recovered psychologically and we’ve ready for the Patriot Act to be revoked.  But that decision should have been made by the American people.

    The guy who leaked this has cost us hundreds of millions of dollars, destroyed a program that WE THE PEOPLE VOTED FOR, and made our country less safe.

    This should have been the decision of Americans,  not a scandal generated by a would-be-hero/rebel and hyped by the British press.

    I frankly hope they absolutely nail the guy who did this to the wall.

  12. It’s a pity we don’t still have Lieberman to tell us the Senate didn’t mind at all being lied to and really it was for the best.

Comments are closed.