July 24, 2013

NSA Says It Can’t Search Its Own Emails: "The NSA is a supercomputing powerhouse with machines so powerful their speed is measured in thousands of trillions of operations per second. But when we asked them to do a bulk search of their emails, they said they didn't have the technology."

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 afriendly 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.
“It’s just baffling,” says Mark Caramanica of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “This is an agency that’s charged with monitoring millions of communications globally and they can’t even track their own internal communications in response to a FOIA request.”
Federal agencies’ public records offices are often underfunded, according to Lucy Dalglish, dean of the journalism school at University of Maryland and a longtime observer of FOIA issues.
But, Daglish says, “If anybody is going to have the money to engage in evaluation of digital information, it’s the NSA for heaven’s sake.”


  1. Wow, how about the Federal government start by firing Cindy Blacker and keep going up the chain of command until they reach somebody who can answer some simple questions and accomplish the most fundamental tasks that their agencies are tasked with carrying out? My first reaction wasn't firing people, but putting them in front of a firing squad!
    It is now clear that the NSA and related agencies clearly consider the people it was supposed to protect, the people who fund it, the American taxpayers as both the object of investigation and their enemy. American citizens could not be held liable if they acted against these self-identified "enemies" first!

  2. ..but we can search the telephone records, emails and texts of 30,000,000 Verizon customers to catch one alleged terrorist? Thirty million people get their Constitutional rights obliterated to stop one guy from maybe killing people. We might as well declare our State to be Fascist-Communist and do away with the facade.

  3. I believe this! Americans can't do a thing! Just look at lousy written home banking software or lousy software in retail POS systems.

    Just laughable. We IT people who worked with advanced Americans learned one thing: "No making, but lots of talking".

    Dreamliner? Lousy cars and appliances? Plywood multi-million Dollar houses? Fast food?

  4. They can't do that either. The NSA project has been created for Dell computer sales.