While the media's NSA focus has been on metadata (call lengths, times, numbers), much of the coverage seems to forget the agency has long had the ability to record effectively every shred of voice and data that travels over telecom networks. That much was made clear by the allegations of AT&T whistle blower Mark Klein
, who noted that the NSA had used fiber splits to collect effectively every bit and byte that touched AT&T's network -- domestic or foreign, regardless of carrier.
With that as a backdrop, it's rather unsurprising to see the Washington Post
report that new Snowden documents reveal the agency has the capability to record, store and retrieve "100%" of the phone conversations of a target country for one month. From the Post:
The voice interception program, called MYSTIC, began in 2009. Its RETRO tool, short for “retrospective retrieval,” and related projects reached full capacity against the first target nation in 2011. Planning documents two years later anticipated similar operations elsewhere. In the initial deployment, collection systems are recording “every single” conversation nationwide, storing billions of them in a 30-day rolling buffer that clears the oldest calls as new ones arrive, according to a classified summary.
The Post suggests that the system was deployed in at least one country, with several other countries targeted (though that was several years ago). The NSA's Utah data storage warehouse
is believed to be one of several repositories for such data collection. RETRO and MYSTIC are carried out under Executive Order 12333, which allows for such wholesale data collection outside of the United States, even if it may collect the conversations of US citizens. The NSA insists to the Post that this country-wide surveillance hoovering is "strictly conducted under the rule of law."