NSA’s ‘archaic’ email hinders keyword searches: official

The National Security Agency lacks the technology to conduct a keyword search of its employees’ emails, even as it collects data on every U.S. phone call and monitors online communications of suspected terrorists, according to NSA’s freedom of information officer.

“There’s no central method to search an email at this time with the way our records are set up, unfortunately,” Cindy Blacker told a reporter at the nonprofit news website ProPublica.

Ms. Blacker said the agency’s email system is “a little antiquated and archaic,” the website reported Tuesday.

ProPublica’s reporter filed a request last week to see emails between officials at the NSA and staff at the National Geographic Channel in the run-up to the broadcast of a “friendly documentary on the NSA.”

“I want to better understand the agency’s public-relations efforts,” wrote the reporter, Justin Elliot.

Ms. Blacker called him back a few days later “asking me to narrow my request since the FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] office can search emails only ‘person by person,’ rather than in bulk.”

The NSA has more than 30,000 employees, and some observers expressed skepticism about Ms. Blacker’s assertions.

It is standard practice at most large organizations — not to mention a standard feature of most commercially available email systems — to be able to do bulk searches of employees’ email as part of internal investigations, discovery in legal cases or compliance exercises.

“It’s just baffling,” Mark Caramanica of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press told ProPublica. “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.”

The NSA press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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About the Author
Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman is an award-winning reporter for The Washington Times, covering foreign affairs, defense and cybersecurity. He was a senior editor and correspondent for United Press International for nearly a decade, and has covered the Department of Homeland Security since 2003. His reporting on the Sept. 11 Commission and the tortuous process by which some of its recommendations finally became ...

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