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NSA Can Spy on 75 Percent of ALL U.S. Internet Traffic, Says Stunning New Report

NSA official: We are not "wallowing willy-nilly" in Americans' communications.

A sign stands outside the National Security Administration (NSA) campus on Thursday, June 6, 2013, in Fort Meade, Md. The Obama administration on Thursday defended the National Security Agency's need to collect telephone records of U.S. citizens, calling such information "a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats." Credit: AP

The broad reach of the National Security Agency's (NSA) surveillance network has the ability to cover roughly 75 percent of all U.S. Internet traffic, the Wall Street Journal reported late Tuesday. The alarming report suggests the agency's digital spying capabilities are even more encompassing than officials have publicly disclosed.

Though the NSA has limited legal authority to spy on American citizens, the surveillance system reportedly has the capacity to reach three-fourths of all U.S. Internet traffic "in the hunt for foreign intelligence."

A building on the National Security Administration (NSA) campus is seen on Thursday, June 6, 2013, in Fort Meade, Md. Credit: AP

Current and former intelligence officials told the Wall Street Journal that the NSA, in some cases, stores the written content of emails sent by American citizens within the U.S. and sorts domestic phone calls made with Internet technology. The NSA is able to monitor such a large quantity of information with the help of the largest telecom companies in the country.

More from the Wall Street Journal:

The NSA’s filtering, carried out with telecom companies, is designed to look for communications that either originate or end abroad, or are entirely foreign but happen to be passing through the U.S. But officials say the system’s broad reach makes it more likely that purely domestic communications will be incidentally intercepted and collected in the hunt for foreign ones.

The programs, code-named Blarney, Fairview, Oakstar, Lithium and Stormbrew, among others, filter and gather information at major telecommunications companies. Blarney, for instance, was established with AT&T Inc., former officials say. AT&T declined to comment.

This filtering takes place at more than a dozen locations at major Internet junctions in the U.S., officials say. Previously, any NSA filtering of this kind was largely believed to be happening near points where undersea or other foreign cables enter the country.

Details of these surveillance programs were gathered from interviews with current and former intelligence and government officials and people from companies that help build or operate the systems, or provide data. Most have direct knowledge of the work.

The NSA dismissed privacy concerns, telling the paper that if domestic communications are "incidentally collected during NSA's lawful signals intelligence activities" then the agency follows "minimization procedures that are approved by the U.S. attorney general and designed to protect the privacy of United States persons."

The NSA official also claimed the spy agency is not "wallowing willy-nilly" in Americans' communications.

Last week, it was revealed that the NSA has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008.

Most of the infractions involve unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States, both of which are restricted by law and executive order. They range from significant violations of law to typographical errors that resulted in unintended interception of U.S. emails and telephone calls, the Washington Post said, citing an internal audit and other top-secret documents provided it earlier this summer from NSA leaker Edward Snowden, a former systems analyst with the agency.

Read the Wall Street Journal's entire report here.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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