NSA wiretapped 122 world leaders; GCHQ penetrated German satellite companies for mass surveillance potential

Newly disclosed documents from the trove Edward Snowden provided to journalists reveal the existence of the "Nymrod" database that listed 122 world leaders, many from nations friendly to the USA, that were spied upon by the NSA. Included in the list is German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was already known to have been wiretapped by the NSA thanks to an earlier disclosure. Nymrod's "Target Knowledge Database" combed through the NSA's pool of global intercepts to amass dossiers of private communications -- emails, faxes, calls and Internet traffic -- related to the leaders.

Additionally, the UK spy agency GCHQ infiltrated and compromised two German satellite communications companies -- Stellar and Cetel -- and IABG, a company that supplied them with equipment. It wiretapped their senior executives as well. None of these companies are accused of having done anything amiss, but were targeted by British spies because their services carried Internet traffic and were a convenient "access chokepoint" from which to conduct mass-surveillance programs.

The searchable sources cited in the document include, among others, the signals intelligence database "Marina," which contains metadata ingested from sources around the world. The unit also gives special attention to promoting a system for automated name recognition called "Nymrod". The document states that some 300 automatically generated "cites," or citations, are provided for Angela Merkel alone. The citations in "Nymrod" are derived from intelligence agencies, transcripts of intercepted fax, voice and computer-to-computer communication. According to internal NSA documents, it is used to "find information relating to targets that would otherwise be tough to track down." Each of the names contained in Nymrod is considered a "SIGINT target."

The manual maintenance of the database with high-ranking targets is a slow and painstaking process, the document notes, and fewer than 200,000 targets are managed through the system. Automated capture, by contrast, simplifies the saving of the data and makes it possible to manage more than 3 million entries, including names and the citations connected to them.

The table included in the document indicates the capture and maintenance of records pertaining to Merkel already appears to have been automated. In any case, the document indicates that a manual update was not available in May 2009. The document could be another piece of the puzzle for investigators in Karlsruhe because it shows that Chancellor Merkel was an official target for spying.

In addition to surveillance of the chancellor, the Federal Prosecutor's Office is also exploring the question of whether the NSA conducted mass espionage against the German people. The internal NSA material also includes a weekly report dating from March 2013 from the Special Sources Operations (SSO) division, the unit responsible for securing NSA access to major Internet backbone structures, like fiber optic cables.

Der Spiegel: NSA Put Merkel on List of 122 Targeted Leaders [Ryan Gallagher/The Intercept]

'A' for Angela: GCHQ and NSA Targeted Private German Companies and Merkel [Laura Poitras, Marcel Rosenbach and Holger Stark/Spiegel]