The NSA has granted the Swedish FRA access to one of the most controversial systems in its global mass surveillance. Called Xkeyscore, the system makes it possible to monitor millions of people worldwide. This was revealed in new top-secret documents that Uppdrag Granskning has uncovered.
Whistle-blower Edward Snowden himself worked with XKeyscore. This is how he described the system in one of his most widely publicised replies in a TV interview for the newspaper The Guardian:
“I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authority to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president, if I had a personal e-mail.”
The US National Security Agency (NSA) has denied this, but the NSA’s own secret training manual for XKeyscore confirms what Snowden says. It describes how operators can gain access to the NSA’s enormous data warehouse and search in what the NSA itself calls the most widespread data trawling system available. An NSA presentation declares that the system covers “nearly everything a typical user does on the Internet.”
The new information about the Swedish National Defence Radio Establishment (FRA) is found in a top-secret memo that Uppdrag Granskning uncovered in the Snowden documents.
In it, the NSA writes that it is granting the FRA access to Xkeyscore because of another top-secret project:
“…motivated the installation of XKeyscore. The FRA is currently assessing it [Xkeyscore] for use as a support in its development operations.”
“This is a really significant piece of information,” says the British journalist Ryan Gallagher, who worked with Uppdrag Granskning’s reporters. “Xkeyscore is quite a controversial system by its very existence.”
XKeyscore works like a gigantic electronic trawler that can search in real time, or with a slight delay, through gigantic databases of information the NSA and its partners have jointly collected from tapped fibre-optic networks and satellite links. From their desks, NSA operatives can access the content of people’s emails, search histories, chats and social forums.
If the Swedish FRA now has access to the system, as the Snowden documents indicate, this suggests that the FRA is a part of the unlimited mass surveillance of millions of people worldwide – including Swedes.
“The Swedish public should be made aware that the FRA has access to the system,” says Ryan Gallagher.
One of the NSA’s presentations of the system describes how XKeyscore can be used to search for anyone in Sweden who visits a certain web forum. In the training example, the NSA write: “If you know which website the target visits. In this example I am looking for everyone in Sweden who visits a certain extremist web forum.”
Both the FRA’s former Director-General Ingvar Åkesson and the current one, Dag Hartelius, have declined to participate in a TV interview on Uppdrag Granskning. FRA spokesman Fredrik Wallin will not confirm or deny the new information.
“I cannot discuss what we use in our operations,” says Fredrik Wallin at the FRA.
But the fact that the FRA has gained access to XKeyscore suggests that the FRA is a part of this unlimited mass surveillance, including people in Sweden – shouldn’t people in Sweden have the right to demand answers about this?
“That type of sweeping generalisation is very difficult to respond to…”
These documents from the NSA make it clear that the FRA has been given access to the NSA’s most far-reaching system for mass surveillance, XKeyscore. That’s not a sweeping generalisation. I am simply asking: How does the Swedish FRA use this controversial system?
“We at the FRA keep abreast of technological developments in the SIGINT field, and that means that we look at many different technologies and equipment. But I cannot discuss what we use in our operations,” says Fredrik Wallin.
Reporters: Sven Bergman, Joachim Dyfvemark, Ryan Gallagher, Glenn Greenwald, Fredrik Laurin and Filip Struwe