Analysts at the National Security Agency can now secretly access real-time user data provided by as many as 50 American companies, ranging from credit rating agencies to internet service providers, two government officials familiar with the arrangements said.
Several of the companies have provided records continuously since 2006, while others have given the agency sporadic access, these officials said. These officials disclosed the number of participating companies in order to provide context for a series of disclosures about the NSA's domestic collection policies. The officials, contacted independently, repeatedly said that "domestic collection" does not mean that the target is based in the U.S. or is a U.S. citizen; rather, it refers only to the origin of the data.
The Wall Street Journal reported today that U.S. credit card companies had also provided customer information. The officials would not disclose the names of the companies because, they said, doing so would provide U.S. enemies with a list of companies to avoid. They declined to confirm the list of participants in an internet monitoring program revealed by the Washington Postand the Guardian, but both confirmed that the program existed.
"The idea is to create a mosaic. We get a tip. We vet it. Then we mine the data for intelligence," one of the officials said.