NSA Says It Can’t Search Its Own Emails

troll-the-nsaJustin Elliott writes at ProPublica:

The NSA is a “supercomputing powerhouse” with machines so powerful their speed is measured in thousands of trillions of operations per second. The agency turns its giant machine brains to the task of sifting through unimaginably large troves of data its surveillance programs capture.

But ask the NSA, as part of a freedom of information request, to do a seemingly simple search of its own employees’ email? The agency says it doesn’t have the technology.

“There’s no central method to search an email at this time with the way our records are set up, unfortunately,” NSA Freedom of Information Act officer Cindy Blacker told me last week.

The system is “a little antiquated and archaic,” she added.

I filed a request last week for emails between NSA employees and employees of the National Geographic Channel over a specific time period. The TV station had aired a friendly documentary on the NSA and I want to better understand the agency’s public-relations efforts.

A few days after filing the request, Blacker called, asking me to narrow my request since the FOIA office can search emails only “person by person,” rather than in bulk. The NSA has more than 30,000 employees.

I reached out to the NSA press office seeking more information but got no response.

It’s actually common for large corporations to do bulk searches of their employees email as part of internal investigations or legal discovery.

Read more here.

  • Haystack

    That’s actually believable. A lot of sensitive systems are still running on old-timey VAX mainframes. Also, the NSA may not want all of its E-mail to be centralized and easily indexed–what if it’s compromised?

    That having been said, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

    • Calypso_1



      $DEFINE/Vendor9 sys$output 47a9Ahotel.txt


      $DEFINE/Vendor9 sys$input 47a9Ahotel.txt

      $DEFINE/Vendor9 sys$output 47b9Ahotel.txt

      $SET_ALERT/statMQ1 sys$input 47b9Ahotel.txt

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevebenson/ Stephen Benson

        Indeed. But they ain’t looking for that needle… no will, no way.

        • Calypso_1

          Will has been rendered irrelevant. Further inquiry will be directed to the support vector network.

          • http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevebenson/ Stephen Benson

            Ah, it’s the old kernel trick…

          • Calypso_1

            Where there is a shell, there is a way.

      • Haystack

        Why does “SET_CONVERT_CHANNEL_DEFENSE” sound so familiar? Is that code in a movie?

        • Calypso_1

          It’s a command in Secure VAX/VMS.
          If it was used in a film that would be cool. See what you can find.

          PS: its COVERT

  • M00nface

    The people behind the curtain are getting complacent.

  • sgtdoom

    This is rather arbitrary, given that in the 2006 (Bush Administration) Defense Appropriations, the DoD (Pentagon) was granted official exemption from FOIA, and NSA is an organization within the DoD (changed from civilian to DoD in 1988, during the Reagan presidency).

    • Dingbert

      Also, the vast majority of NSA (and all gov’t) labor and materials are performed and owned by contractors. Once they have the “proprietary/company confidential” email signature or document footnote on there, which they always do, it’s exempt from FOIA.

  • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

    You can’t compute the universe within the universe because then you have to spend time computing the computing of the universe. and so on….

  • BuzzCoastin

    headline should read:
    NSA Says It Won’t Search Its Own Emails for FOIA Requests

  • UncleMeat

    So what, lots of companies are setup like this — the one I work for in fact. It makes it harder for data to be compromised and makes sure that if you are looking for something you have to know exactly what it is to find it and don’t have the chance of bumping into other things you probably shouldn’t be looking at.

  • Jonas Planck

    …this just occurred to me… instead of “searching” the employee E-mails, have you tried using the built in back-doors that you’ve placed on every operating system everywhere to SPY on their computers, and then you can find the requested information THAT way?