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NSA used Iraq war to develop surveillance capability, documents show

As the controversial Investigatory Powers Bill inches closer to becoming law, NSA documents reveal that the agency used the Iraq war to develop and expand its surveillance infrastructure

The US National Security Agency (NSA) used the Iraq war to develop its global surveillance infrastructure, newly released documents have revealed.

The 69 documents, called WARgrams, have been published online shortly after being released in response to a freedom of information request.

The WARgrams are newsletter-style communications between former NSA director Michael Hayden and agency employees between 2003 and 2004.

The documents are referenced in one of the documents detailing mass internet surveillance by the NSA that were released by whistleblower Edward Snowden, but have never before been publically acknowledged by the NSA, according to Motherboard.

The WARgrams show that Hayden called for an “unprecedented level of collaboration” and “unprecedented degrees of co-operation” to develop and establish its global surveillance system.

Hayden said that because the operations against the senior al-Qaeda leadership would be an intelligence-driven operation, the NSA would become a “pervasive and integral part” of the fight.

The documents detail a variety of issues, including the use of NSA encryption when communicating messages in the battlefield.

WARgram 10 describes how NSA agents were serving as they eyes and ears of coalition troops by serving alongside US soldiers.

“The news media has embedded reporters in those military units that are supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. What you may not know is that the NSA also has embedded personnel serving in harm’s way,” wrote Hayden.

In WARgram 24, Hayden said: “We approached the war with Iraq as a corporate activity – with [US intelligence] linked in planning and executing. The results are stunning.” But examples of these activities have been redacted.

Hayden also describes a plan to help make available the NSA's 24/7 surveillance operation centre called the National Security Operations Center, to all those involved in fighting the war.

In WARgram 61, Hayden underlines the importance of NSA surveillance in preventing an al-Qaeda attack that was expected in the run up to the 2004 US presidential elections.

“Our response is not an exercise about the future security of the nation, it's about doing all we can right now to protect our homes and loved ones from another round of massive attacks. We must not fail,” he wrote.

The WARgrams show the growth of the US surveillance infrastructure enabled by the Patriot Act that allowed the bulk collection of US communications, but Snowden’s leaked documents revealed that NSA surveillance extended beyond suspected terrorists.

With the passage of the USA Freedom Act on 2 June 2015, Section 215 of the law was amended to stop the NSA from continuing its mass phone data collection. Instead, phone companies will retain the data and the NSA can obtain information about targeted individuals with permission from a federal court.

Read more about the Investigatory Powers Bill

  • The proposed Investigatory Powers Bill contains “very strong” oversight and “world-beating” authorisation procedures, according to home secretary Theresa May
  • The science and technology select committee hears that ISPs may be forced to put up their service charges to cover the cost of retaining communications data, should the Investigatory Powers Bill become law
  • Tim Berners-Lee called on the government to prove it can build an electronic communication monitoring system that is accountable to UK citizens
  • The draft Investigatory Powers Bill to increase surveillance is already controversial, but there are growing concerns over the potential economic consequences
  • The latest surveillance review calls for a new, comprehensive and clearer legal framework in the UK to provide a fresh start on a basis of mutual trust

In the UK, the government welcomed in August 2016 a report by David Anderson QC of the controversial Investigatory Powers Bill that showed there is no viable alternative to the bulk data collection powers proposed by the bill.

Although the Investigatory Powers Bill is in the last stages of parliamentary scrutiny, opponents of the sweeping bulk powers contained in it saw the Anderson review as an opportunity to move toward targeted surveillance to ensure that both safety and respect for privacy rights.

In its current form, human rights group Liberty said the bill – commonly known as the snoopers’ charter – will fundamentally shift the relationship between citizen and state.

According to Liberty, this will allow mass interception and mass hacking, forcing internet and phone companies to store everyone’s communications data and web browsing history, and retention of bulk personal datasets, which are population-level databases.

The bill is currently in the committee stage in the House of Lords, just three steps away from obtaining Royal Assent and becoming law.

The committee stage began on 19 July and resumed on 5 August 2016 after the summer recess to discuss further potential amendments, according to the parliamentary website.

The report stage, which is scheduled to begin as early as 19 September 2016, gives all members of the Lords a further opportunity to examine and make changes.

During the report stage, detailed examination of the bill continues. Any member of the Lords can take part and votes on any amendments may take place.

After the report stage, the bill is reprinted to include all the agreed amendments. The bill then moves to third reading, a further chance for the Lords to discuss and amend the bill as it nears conclusion.

If the bill is amended it is reprinted to include all the agreed amendments. The bill moves to third reading – the final chance for the Lords to amend the bill.

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