SIDtoday Document Release Gives Insight into NSA Operations During Iraq War

US Marines from the 2nd Battalion 8th regiment enter in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah, where allied troops found stuborn resistance in their northbound advance torwards the Iraqi capital Baghdad 23 March 2003. AFP PHOTO/Eric FEFERBERG (Photo credit should read ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)

The Intercept has released 263 articles from SIDtoday along with two original articles covering how the government obtains medical intelligence, internet surveillance and challenges involved in dealing with low-tech communication. This release stems from the Snowden Files. Believe it or not, spies have their own newspaper. SIDtoday is the NSA’s version of the internal newsletter. The website was set up with the purpose of keeping employees informed of the goings on within the agency. It soon became a treasure trove of information written by employees across the agency. Their own personal accounts capture a humanity that we would rarely equate with the ever-seeing eye that we subtly know watches over us from afar.

The SIDtoday files were part of the original document leak from Edward Snowden


The letter to NSA employees explained SID today was a new agency communication tool. “The idea is to bring together communications from across the SIGINT Directorate in a single webpage,” the introductory letter read. The letter was sent out on March 31, 2003. It was a central point of earnest communication between members. The release covers nine years of stories and articles written by the men and women who perform the tasks of the world’s largest spy agency. The articles released give a graphic insight into the behind the scenes action or mundanity of the day to day routine of a spy.

The release highlighted many of the internal workings of the agency, including the language they designate to various intelligence functions. The passing products otherwise known as intelligence reports is outlined under a section referred to as the Counterterrorism Product Line. The released article goes on to describe the various agencies that purchased products from the NSA including the Secret Service, the Federal Reserve, The Department of homeland Security and the Missile defense Agency. The NSA has taken a consumer based approach to the distribution of acquired data. The department that handles agency relations is aptly called the Customer Relationship Directorate.

NSA Headquarters


Some of the revelations in this release highlight the state of mind the agency was in after September 11 and in the early years of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. While the agency is known for its high tech means of surveillance and counter-intelligence, they were baffled by the insurgents use of low tech devices. They continued to find that despite their ability to track individuals and monitor cell phone communications, they were at a los as to how to overcome the use of archaic devices such as high powered portable phones, simple SMS messaging and shortwave radio transmissions. They were so overcome by this low tech trend that they pulled together a conference of intelligence contractors and foreign intelligence analysts to address the issue.

According to The Intercept, documents uncovered on SIDtoday showed how the NSA “obtained credit card information from the Secret Service, fed intelligence to the FBI, requested investigations of suspected leakers, spied on diplomats to advance the U.S. War in Iraq, exposed a purported terrorist computer as much less menacing than U.S. News media had reported and cooperated extensively with the 9/11 commission.” It should come as no surprise that the internal dialog hosted by SIDtoday would reveal things that we all suspected but can now confirm. Despite the overwhelming amount of information that has come to the public eye in regards to the NSA and their surveillance apparatus, we have seen little in the development of a more transparent agency.


A more intriguing revelations was the alliance between the NSA and the Defense Intelligence Agency. The two agencies collaborated in an effort to collect information from communications between outside organizations. “The International Organizations Branch exploits and reports the communications of non-governmental (NGO) and treaty monitoring organizations worldwide.” This was written in a November 6th, 2003 release from SIDtoday titled Swimming Upstream in the SIGINT System. SIGINT, referring to signals intelligence. The aim was to develop a medical intelligence reporting system to monitor worldwide outbreaks and assess NGO’s communications for further data.

Another article uncovered their take on domestic surveillance programs Fairview and Stormbrew. These names were actually code names for their partners in crime, AT&T and Verizon. Both allow the NSA unadulterated access to raw internet data streams. These were key aspects of the NSA’s upstream program, in which they collected raw data and sent it for analysis, in blatant violation of the constitution. According to the article, the upstream program has been able to retain several trillion pieces of meta-data on American citizens per month with over 400 billion isolated for analysis. The program was also revealed as having the capability to intercept “more than one million emails a day.”

Insight into the NSA’s role in the Iraq war was displayed in numerous articles and posts. The NSA was the primary source of intelligence given to the American Ambassador in Iraq Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority that held the country until the new Afghan government was installed. The NSA was also responsible for gathering information on what would become high-valued targets who were hunted by “Special Collection Services.” Another consumer referenced specialty name. After the Iraq war “officially” ended, the NSA remained on the ground to continue intelligence gathering.

To read the articles and posts released by the intercept, please click this link:

Sources: The Intercept – Snowden, The Intercept – NSA Newspaper for Spies, The Intercept – Iraqi insurgents

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