NSA Urged US Officials To 'Share Their Rolodexes' So NSA Knew Phone Numbers Of World Leaders To Track

from the well-of-course dept

The latest Snowden leak story published by the Guardian focuses on the claim that the NSA supposedly monitored the calls of 35 world leaders, but really that seems like a secondary point. The “35 world leaders” claim is based on a memo noting that a single US official shared his rolodex with the NSA, and that helped them track those world leaders, some of whom it was already tracking. But the key point here is that this was just one official, and it’s clear that the NSA was seeking similar access from other officials. You can read the details here:

The key lines:

In one recent case, a US official provided NSA with 200 phone numbers to 35 world leaders. S2 Operations Staff immediately supplied this information to the S2 Production Centers (PCs). Despite the fact that the majority is probably available via open source, the PCs have noted 43 previously unknown phone numbers. These numbers plus several others have been tasked to OCTAVE.

OCTAVE is an NSA tool for metadata, so it would appear that they were collecting the (still important) metadata on those calls, but not necessarily recording them or listening to them (caveat: “… under this program…”).

But, the memo also notes that the NSA is encouraging other US officials to basically share their rolodexes at every opportunity. Perhaps that’s not a surprise — US officials are likely to do that sort of thing, but it certainly will make foreign leaders a lot more careful about exactly which phone lines they share with US colleagues.

This success leads S2 to wonder if there are NSA liaisons whose supported customers may be willing to share their rolodexes or phone lists with NSA as potential sources of intelligence. S2 welcomes such information!

I’ll bet they do! Also: “supported customers”?

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Comments on “NSA Urged US Officials To 'Share Their Rolodexes' So NSA Knew Phone Numbers Of World Leaders To Track”

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pixelpusher220 (profile) says:


this is what I would expect a spy agency to do. Work the available contacts (i.e. people with information they want) to garner useful tips and leads and yes phone numbers.

Then target ‘those’ specific numbers for ongoing intelligence efforts.

And frankly of Merkel of Germany was giving out a number that was used for anything *other* than talking to the US for diplomatic reasons, I’d be amazed. I’m not sure how much of these numbers really would produce much intel.

David says:

Re: meh

this is what I would expect a spy agency to do.

And you expect the Army to kill people. But does that mean one shrugs one’s shoulders when discovering mass graves or “Collateral Murder” videos where they make a game out of executing civilians?

Who operates at the outskirts of civilized human interactions needs more, not less professional conscience than the average bloke.

Violating fundamental human rights needs more of a justification than “because we can!”. Particularly for those who have it in their job description.

out_of_the_blue says:

This is what I'd expect a spy agency to do. -- And, yot, Google does it!

[ Because as already remarked above that this is “dog bites man” piece…]

As noted last week, every day Google provides NSA with tens of thousands of contact lists, besides directly uses those for its own gain, and besides collates all your site visits and every other scrap of info it can gather about you on or off line.

So, are Google’s users “supported customers” or the product that it sells?

Google. Making your life better because we spy right up to the creepy limit — and keep moving the limit! (TM)


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: This is what I'd expect a spy agency to do. -- And, yot, Google does it!

I think I’ve figured out what he’s doing. He’s trying to invent a new game – a spin off if you will of 6 degrees, only in his version he tries to take every story and find some twisted weak logical link to tie the story back to Google.

Andrew F (profile) says:


This sort of belies Snowden’s claims that he carefully vetted materials going out to journalists for things for things that might affect national security. The rationale for Snowden doing public was that the U.S. was conducting illegal surveillance on its own citizens (something that violates the NSA’s mandate and raises 4th Amendment issues).

In contrast, spying on the French or the Germans may be a bad idea, but it’s not illegal or unconstitutional. It’s part of the NSA’s job to spy on foreign leaders (even our allies). It’s one thing to whistleblow on illegal behavior. It’s another to release classified information because you have a policy disagreement.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Snowden

Three things:

1. Although the fact that they are violating the 4th amendment is important, this is about painting the complete picture of what the government is doing in the public’s name behind their back which goes WAY beyond the legal and constitutional issues. The government doesn’t just make themselves look bad by acting the way that it does, it makes the entire nation look bad. As he so eloquently said, “The consent of the governed is not consent if it is not informed.” These issues are also important.

2. He stated that his worst fear was that out of all of this nothing would change. The powers that be are very entrenched, very powerful, and very unwilling to give up that power. Forcing change is going to require a LOT of pressure – pressure not only from the American public but also the world community. Consider not only the goal but the means to achieve it.

3. The government in their persecution of him will stop at NOTHING to achieve their goals including attempts to coerce foreign governments into giving him up. You have to expect that he would need to find some leverage to counter those attempts. Exposing their hypocrisy and how they have affected other nations is from a practical standpoint a method of self preservation. I can’t fault him for fighting back, especially when he hasn’t exposed anything that has actually put American lives in danger, at least to date.

A Non-Mouse says:

It's only metadata?

“…the PCs have noted little reportable intelligence from these particular numbers, which appear not to be used for sensitive discussions.”

Either they’re listening to the actual calls, or “it’s only metadata” reveals a helluva lot more than they want us to believe. My money is on the former.

A Non-Mouse says:

Re: Re: It's only metadata?

I don’t disagree with you, I just found “sensitive discussions” to be somewhat telling. Given the context of “world leaders”, and these being their (apparently) unpublicized numbers, I would imagine metadata would reveal plenty of calls to & from other world leaders. So, in that context, I find it hard to believe that metadata alone would allow them to determine the sensitivity of the discussion.

Crazy Canuck says:

But I’m sure those numbers from world leaders helped stop at least 342 terrorist attacks! After all, we all know it’s actually the French president and German councilor that are behind the bombings… /s

If the NSA claims they need this to stop terrorist attacks, why would they need to tap the world leaders? I can almost, with great strain, accept that maybe tapping China or Russia might be in the best interests of American defense, but France, UK, Germany? Do they have the Prime Minister of Canada tapped too, just in case those sneaky Canadians decide to launch a surprise attack? Even if they did, I doubt their dog sled powered infantry armed with spitball guns would be that effective. Especially when there are likely more guns in a standard American urban centre then there are in all of Canada. =P

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