Using the codename RAMPART-A, the NSA would work with these third-party countries to attempt to intercept as much of the world’s online communications as possible, says the Danish privacy news website Dagbladet Information.
In total, there are reportedly 33 countries working with the US in facilitating this spying, with many of the links pointing towards co-operation with Germany and Denmark.
Snowden has said that of the documents released recently, RAMPART-A is considered one of the ‘crown jewels’ in the NSA and was part of the NSA’s Special Source Operations (SSO) division. It is also understood that contributing countries to the programme have used the cover of their manipulation of the lines as being part of a Comsat project.
The NSA documents state that under RAMPART-A, foreign partners “provide access to cables and host US equipment.” This allows the agency to covertly tap into “congestion points around the world” where it says it can intercept the content of phone calls, faxes, e-mails, internet chats, data from virtual private networks, and calls made using Voice over IP software like Skype.
The program, which the secret files show cost US taxpayers about $170 million between 2011 and 2013, sweeps up a vast amount of communications at lightning speed. According to the intelligence community’s classified “Black Budget” for 2013, RAMPART-A enables the NSA to tap into three terabits of data every second as the data flows across the compromised cables – the equivalent of being able to download about 5,400 uncompressed high-definition movies every minute.
“If you look at a map of the Internet, there are surprisingly few trunks. Most data flows through a surprisingly small number of choke points. If you get access to them, you get access to everything,” security expert Bruce Schneier told Dagbladet Information. “The goal must be to cover the most of the world with as few access points as possible. A lot of Internet traffic flows through the US but a bunch doesn’t. So you’re going to look in places in the world where the data is, if not in the US.”
The partnership deals operate on the condition that the host country will not use the NSA’s spy technology to collect any data on US citizens. The NSA also agrees that it will not use the access it has been granted to collect data on the host countries’ citizens. One NSA document notes that “there ARE exceptions” to this rule – though does not state what those exceptions may be.
Source: Voice of Russia