The top-secret PRISM program allows the U.S. intelligence community to gain
access from nine Internet companies to a wide range of digital information,
including e-mails and stored data, on foreign targets operating outside the
United States. The program is court-approved but does not require individual
warrants. Instead, it operates under a broader authorization from federal judges
who oversee the use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Some
documents describing the program were first released by The Washington Post on
June 6. The newly released documents below give additional details about how the
program operates, including the levels of review and supervisory control at the
NSA and FBI. The documents also show how the program interacts with the Internet
companies. These slides, annotated by The Post, represent a selection from the
overall document, and certain portions are redacted.
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Related NSA graphics
New slide published July 10 -
This slide shows PRISM as only one part of the NSA’s system for
electronic eavesdropping. The "Upstream" program collects from the fiber-optic
cable networks that carry much of the world’s Internet and phone data. The
underlying map depicts the undersea cables that connect North America to the
rest of the world.
Slides published June 29 -
Acquiring data from a new target
This slide describes what happens when an NSA analyst "tasks"
the PRISM system for information about a new surveillance target. The request to
add a new target is passed automatically to a supervisor who reviews the
"selectors," or search terms. The supervisor must endorse the analyst's
"reasonable belief," defined as 51 percent confidence, that the specified target
is a foreign national who is overseas at the time of collection.
The FBI uses government equipment on private company
property to retrieve matching information from a participating
company, such as Microsoft or Yahoo and pass it without further
review to the NSA.
For stored communications, but not for live surveillance,
the FBI consults its own databases to make sure the selectors do not match
This is where data enters NSA systems, described more fully
on the next slid
The Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Court does not review any individual collection request.
Analyzing information collected from private
After communications information is acquired, the
data are processed and analyzed by specialized systems that handle
voice, text, video and "digital network information" that includes
the locations and unique device signatures of targets.
From the FBI's interception unit on the premises of private
companies, the information is passed to one or more
"customers" at the NSA, CIA or FBI.
automates the traffic flow. SCISSORS and
Protocol Exploitation sort data types for analysis in
NUCLEON (voice), PINWALE
(video), MAINWAY (call records) and
MARINA (Internet records).
The systems identified as
FALLOUT and CONVEYANCE appear to
be a final layer of filtering to reduce the intake of information
Each target is assigned a case notation
The PRISM case notation format reflects the
availability, confirmed by The Post's reporting, of real-time
surveillance as well as stored content.
|Depending on the provider,
the NSA may receive live notifications when a target logs on
or sends an e-mail, or may monitor a voice, text or voice
chat as it happens (noted on the first slide as
Searching the PRISM database
On April 5, according to this slide, there were
117,675 active surveillance targets in PRISM's counterterrorism
database. The slide does not show how many other Internet users,
and among them how many Americans, have their communications
collected "incidentally" during surveillance of those targets.
Original slides published June 6
Introducing the program
A slide briefing analysts at the National Security Agency
about the program touts its effectiveness and features the logos of the
|The seal of Special Source
Operations, the NSA term for alliances with trusted U.S. companies.
The program is called PRISM, after the prisms
used to split light, which is used to carry information on fiber-optic
This note indicates that the program is the
number one source of raw intelligence used for NSA analytic reports.
Monitoring a target's communication
This diagram shows how the bulk of the world’s electronic
communications move through companies based in the United States.
The PRISM program collects a wide range of data from the
nine companies, although the details vary by provider.
This slide shows when each company joined the program, with
Microsoft being the first, on Sept. 11, 2007, and Apple the most recent, in
Snowden's surveillance leaks open way for challenges to programs'
Jerry Markon - At least five new cases have been filed in federal courts the former NSA contractor revealed programs.
FISA court seeks release of declassified filings in secret Yahoo case
Carol D. Leonnig - FISA asks for declassified version to be shared with public.