The National Security Agency's surveillance of tech giants may be broader than previously reported, as new documents from former agency contractor Edward Snowden indicate the intelligence agency taps international cables to infiltrate data centers of Yahoo and Google.
The NSA already has legal means to request data from tech companies using the PRISM program, reported on in June, but the agency also uses a backdoor program to tap data links called MUSCULAR, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday. The report cites an NSA document provided by Snowden dating from January. The program is operated in cooperation with Government Communications Headquarters, the main spying agency of the UK.
Between December 2012 and January of this year the NSA collected 181,280,466 records including metadata that could monitor a user's digital activity and content flow, the Washington Post reports.
Army Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the NSA, denied reports that the agency was tapping the data links of Yahoo and Google during a Bloomberg Government event on Wednesday.
Yahoo spokesperson Sarah Meron told the New York Times that the company did not cooperate with government intelligence on any tapping. Google's Chief Legal Officer David Drummond also told the New York Times that the company had recently stepped up its efforts to encrypt its data flow out of fear that intelligence agencies were conducting this type of surveillance.
"We are outraged at the lengths to which the government seems to have gone to intercept data from our private fiber networks, and it underscores the need for urgent reform," Drummond told the New York Times.
Reports about the expanse of the NSA's surveillance continue to grow. Italian newspaper Panorama reported on Wednesday that the NSA had also spied on the Vatican to monitor leadership intentions, threats to the financial system, foreign policy objectives and human rights, according to Reuters. Vatican officials said it was unaware and the NSA denied the report.
European politicians are already scrutinizing the U.S. intelligence agency for mass surveillance, including reports it monitored mobile phone conversations of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Members of the European Parliament met at the White House on Wednesday with members of the National Security Council to seek answers on the true extent of NSA spying in Europe and to discuss a more open intelligence partnership with the U.S. government. The White House declined to comment on the details of the meeting.