The NSA Had Google News Before Even Google Had Google News

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No matter what iPad you have, you are carrying more storage than the NSA relegated for a secret news database it launched 20 years ago. And with a browser that can access Google News, you have far, far more sources, too.

Before PRISM and all the other sophisticated Internet snooping programs, the NSA had "ANCHORY," the government version of Google News — almost a decade before Google News existed. Documents provided to MuckRock under a Freedom of Information Act request detail a system that, beginning in 1993, "provide[d] timely retrieval of textual data by keyword and other relevant information on a 24-hours per day, 7 day per week basis." That's pretty much the exact function of Google News: to catalogue "textual data" (news on the Internet) by keyword all day every day, categorized by time. 

There were, however, some minor differences between Google News and ANCHORY. First, the entire database consisted of a now-laughable 16 gigabytes of data. In addition, instead of chatter on blogs and newspapers, the "relevant information" it included were "full text reports written by NSA, CIA, DIA, State and Foreign Broadcast Information System, as well as Reuters News Service, Cryptologic Intelligence Reports and precis of hard copy reports." Well, at least it had Reuters. In 1993, of course, there weren't too many other sources of news online.

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The way MuckRock acquired the documents is interesting. In the aftermath of the Snowden revelations, which introduced most of the world to the NSA's internet-surveilling program PRISM, a user of MuckRock named Jason Gulledge apparently began searching LinkedIn for people with security backgrounds that listed PRISM and other acronyms under their experience. A quick search for "ANCHORY" on the system right now returns 124 results, some of which can be seen at right.

How, when, and if ANCHORY was removed from service isn't detailed in the brief documents shared by the NSA. It's very possible that Google ended up doing the NSA's job for it, creating a much better and much more expansive way of figuring out what was going on in the world. The NSA would later call on Google for help more directly.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.