Key moments in NSA spy saga
A timeline of important events as elements of a National Security Agency clandestine operation came to light this year.
The British newspaper The Guardian, publishing material obtained from an undisclosed source, reveals that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting the telephone records of millions of US Verizon customers. It tells how the US government can collect the numbers of both parties on a call as well as information about their locations.
The Washington Post reports about an Internet surveillance program called PRISM, which shows the NSA obtained direct access to the systems of nine Internet companies, including Google, Facebook, and Apple.
Edward Snowden is revealed to be the NSA contractor behind the document leaks. In a video interview first published on The Guardian's website, he says the public has a right to know more about secret government surveillance programs. Snowden was in Hong Kong at the time but flees to Moscow on June 23. Russia later grants him asylum.
The Guardian reports that the Government Communications Headquarters, a British intelligence agency, intercepted foreign politicians' communications at the Group of 20 Summit in 2009. As more revelations appear about the relationship between the GCHQ and the NSA, it becomes apparent that the two organizations have conducted extensive surveillance on foreign countries and their leaders.
The Guardian details the existence of "XKeyscore," a program that allows analysts to search through expansive databases. Snowden hinted at XKeyscore in his first interview, saying it was so powerful that he could have wiretapped "anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge, or even the president, if I had a personal e-mail."
The Washington Post reveals an NSA internal audit showing thousands of privacy violations by the agency. According to the report, the NSA broke its own internal regulations 2,776 times between March 2011 and March 2012. The Wall Street Journal later reports that government officials spied on love interests.
The New York Times reports that the NSA has been using public social media data to figure out whom users associate with and where they are located. A couple weeks later, The Washington Post details how the NSA has been gathering users' e-mail and chat address books.
The Guardian reveals that the NSA has targeted the Tor network, a Web browser designed to keep the location and habits of its users private.
Two senior American officials tell The New York Times that in 2009, when Snowden was at the CIA, his supervisor put a note in his file alleging that Snowden might be attempting to hack into classified computer files. Snowden was soon transferred to the NSA, but those suspicions were not communicated to the agency. He later fled from the NSA with a trove of top-secret files.
Glenn Greenwald, the lawyer and journalist who broke the NSA revelations in The Guardian, announces he will leave the paper to found his own news outlet, reports BuzzFeed. The main reason: He wants to publish the rest of the NSA documents, which he has not passed in full to The Guardian. It suggests that the NSA leaks are far from over.
The Paris-based newspaper Le Monde reports that the NSA had wiretapped the offices of the French mission to the United Nations and the French Embassy in Washington. One day later, German Chancellor Angela Merkel calls President Obama for assurance that her cellphone had not been a target of NSA surveillance operations, as documents provided by Snowden to German magazine Spiegel appeared to show.
The revelations add Germany and France to a long list of close US allies demanding apologies and explanations for the NSA's aggressive spying.
The Washington Post reports that the NSA and the GCHQ had tapped into internal communications connecting Yahoo's and Google's overseas servers. It underscores the vast reach of the two spy services and suggests they could even successfully snoop on tech powerhouses with formidable defenses.
In his "Manifesto for the Truth," published in Spiegel, Snowden outlines his case for clemency in the US. Snowden, who has been charged with violating the 1917 Espionage Act, argues he has spurred a meaningful debate in the US and abroad about the ethics of federal spying. White House officials reiterate that Snowden committed a crime.