N.S.A. Report Outlined Goals for More Power By JAMES RISEN and LAURA POITRAS
“Officials at the National Security Agency, intent on maintaining its dominance in intelligence collection, pledged last year to push to expand its surveillance powers, according to a top-secret strategy document.
In a February 2012 paper laying out the four-year strategy for the N.S.A.’s signals intelligence operations, which include the agency’s eavesdropping and communications data collection around the world, agency officials set an objective to “aggressively pursue legal authorities and a policy framework mapped more fully to the information age.”
Written as an agency mission statement with broad goals, the five-page document said that existing American laws were not adequate to meet the needs of the N.S.A. to conduct broad surveillance in what it cited as “the golden age of Sigint,” or signals intelligence. “The interpretation and guidelines for applying our authorities, and in some cases the authorities themselves, have not kept pace with the complexity of the technology and target environments, or the operational expectations levied on N.S.A.’s mission,” the document concluded.
Using sweeping language, the paper also outlined some of the agency’s other ambitions. They included defeating the cybersecurity practices of adversaries in order to acquire the data the agency needs from “anyone, anytime, anywhere.” The agency also said it would try to decrypt or bypass codes that keep communications secret by influencing “the global commercial encryption market through commercial relationships,” human spies and intelligence partners in other countries. It also talked of the need to “revolutionize” analysis of its vast collections of data to “radically increase operational impact.”
The strategy document, provided by the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden, was written at a time when the agency was at the peak of its powers and the scope of its surveillance operations was still secret. Since then, Mr. Snowden’s revelations have changed the political landscape.
Prompted by a public outcry over the N.S.A.’s domestic operations, the agency’s critics in Congress have been pushing to limit, rather than expand, its ability to routinely collect the phone and email records of millions of Americans, while foreign leaders have protested reports of virtually unlimited N.S.A. surveillance overseas, even in allied nations. Several inquiries are underway in Washington; Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the N.S.A.’s longest-serving director, has announced plans to retire; and the White House has offered proposals to disclose more information about the agency’s domestic surveillance activities.
The N.S.A. document, titled “Sigint Strategy 2012-2016,” does not make clear what legal or policy changes the agency might seek. The N.S.A.’s powers are determined variously by Congress, executive orders and the nation’s secret intelligence court, and its operations are governed by layers of regulations. While asserting that the agency’s “culture of compliance” would not be compromised, N.S.A. officials argued that they needed more flexibility, according to the paper…”