Pinwale And The New NSA Revelations

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The New York Times' Pulitzer-Prize-winning duo of Eric Lichtblau and James Risen have new details about the extent of National Security Agency surveillance of electronic communications in the United States. They reveal that a dispute over e-mail monitoring of Americans was at the heart of a now famous confrontation between then-acting Attorney General James Comey and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales.  L and R refer to the program as having the code name of "Pinwale."  Pinwale, though, is actually an unclassified proprietary term used to refer to advanced data-mining software that the government uses. Contractors who do SIGINT mining work often include a familiarity with Pinwale as a prerequesite for certain jobs. To keep things straight, the American public now has confirmation of at least four separate NSA domestic surveillance programs. The first is the Terrorist Surveillance Program, which involves the monitoring of telephone calls. The second is "Stellar Wind," a code name for a program that involves meta-data mining. The third is a program that keeps tabs on all the information that flows through telecom hubs under the control of U.S. companies and within the U.S. The fourth is the Pinwale e-mail exploitation. Obviously, these programs overlap.  A marvelous new book about the NSA, The Secret Sentry, reports that there are at least ten separate new counterterrorist programs that are segregated from the rest of the NSA's highly classified programs and activities. Four down, six to go. (For more on the NSA's activities, please read my colleague Shane Harris's collected works.)

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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