The name of a sweeping and secretive NSA surveillance program is revealed in Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry, a new book by Marc Ambinder and D.B. Grady. “Ragtime” primarily involves collection of foreign counterterrorism communications as well as anti-nuclear proliferation information. A smaller component of the program, “Ragtime-P,” however, is the remnant of the original domestic monitoring program that has – ostensibly – since been brought under the law. The Washingtonian describes the method by which the NSA is permitted to use Ragtime to collect domestic intelligence, a method that may either be heartening or troubling, depending on your outlook.
Only about three dozen NSA officials have access to Ragtime’s intercept data on domestic counter-terrorism collection. That’s a tiny handful of the agency’s workforce, which has been pegged at about 30,000 people. As many as 50 companies have provided data to this domestic collection program, the authors report.
If the NSA wants to collect information on a specific target, it needs one additional piece of evidence besides its own “link-analysis” protocols, a computerized analysis that assigns probability scores to each potential target. This is essentially a way to use a computer data-mining program to help determine whether someone is a national security threat. But the authors find that this isn’t sufficient if NSA wants to collect on said target. And while the authors found that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court rarely rejects Ragtime-P requests, it often asks the NSA to provide more information before approving them.