RAMPART-A allows NSA to tap into fiber optic cables worldwide

Pierluigi Paganini June 22, 2014

The last collection of documents leaked by Snowden reveals the existence of the  RAMPART-A program which allows NSA to tap into fiber optic cables worldwide

Snowden’s leaked documents have revealed the complex spying machine used by NSA to implement its surveillance program. The last collection of secret files, published on Wednesday by journalists at The Intercept and Denmark’s Dagbladet Information, reveals that the US has made top-secret deals with more than 30 third-party countries to tap into fiber optic cables all over the world. The documents mention a clandestine program, coded as RAMPART-A, which was conducted with secret arrangements of other intelligence agencies.

The US government has funded the RAMPART-A program with about $170 million between 2011 and 2013, “according to the intelligence community’s classified “Black Budget” for 2013, the program RAMPART-A enables the NSA to tap into three terabits of data every second as the data flows across the compromised cables – the equivalent of being able to download about 5,400 uncompressed high-definition movies every minute.”

The collection of documents reveals at least 13 RAMPART-A sites, three of them codenamed as AZUREPHOENIX, SPINNERET and MOONLIGHTPATH allow to mine data from some 70 different cables or networks.

RAMPART A intelligence surveillance slide 3

“Huge volumes of private emails, phone calls, and internet chats are being intercepted by the National Security Agency with the secret cooperation of more foreign governments than previously known, according to newly disclosed documents from whistleblower Edward Snowden.” states post published by The Intercept.

RAMPART A intelligence surveillance slide

During these months, many times documents leaked by Snowden referred the collaboration between Intelligence agencies of the alliance of Five Eyescomprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, the new collection of documents this time indicates a more extensive network of intelligence agencies.

It has already been widely reported that the NSA works closely with eavesdropping agencies in the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia as part of the so-called Five Eyes surveillance alliance,”  “But the latest Snowden documents show that a number of other countries, described by the NSA as ‘third-party partners,’ are playing an increasingly important role – by secretly allowing the NSA to install surveillance equipment on their fiber-optic cables.” continues the post.

Documents provided by Snowden explains that RAMPART-A allows the NSA intelligence agency to collect information related to foreign persons that wouldn’t be easy to gather with existing agreements.

The following slide is reporting the list of NSA partners participating to the RAMPART-A program:

RAMPART A intelligence surveillance slide 2

If you look at a map of the Internet, there are surprisingly few trunks. Most data flows through a surprisingly small number of choke points. If you get access to them, you get access to everything,”  “The goal must be to cover the most of the world with as few access points as possible. A lot of Internet traffic flows through the US but a bunch doesn’t. So you’re going to look in places in the world where the data is, if not in the US.” security expert Bruce Schneier told Dagbladet Information.

If your country is in a key location, and if a lot of interesting traffic happens to flow through it, that makes you an important partner,” is the opinion of the famous expert, Mikko Hypponen, CEO of F-Secure.

Also in this case the US intelligence declined to comment on leaked documents, the information disclosed have raised a heated debate on the aggressive conduct of US government in the surveillance matter.

“The fact that the U.S. government works with other nations, under specific and regulated conditions, mutually strengthens the security of all,” . “NSA’s efforts are focused on ensuring the protection of the national security of the United States, its citizens, and our allies through the pursuit of valid foreign intelligence targets only.””said NSA spokeswoman Vanee’ Vines

It is important to highlight that the agreements with foreign intelligence agencies operate on the condition that the host country will not use the NSA’s spy technology to collect any data on US citizens, of course the NSA cannot collect data on the host countries’ citizens. The problem is that “there ARE exceptions” to this rule as explained in one of the NSA slides.

“According to Snowden, the agreements that the NSA has in place with its partners are lax and easily circumvented. In a statement to the European parliament in March, he used Denmark and Germany as examples to describe how the NSA had effectively established what he called a “European bazaar” for surveillance.

“An EU member state like Denmark may give the NSA access to a tapping center on the (unenforceable) condition that NSA doesn’t search it for Danes, and Germany may give the NSA access to another on the condition that it doesn’t search for Germans,” Snowden said.”

Stay Tuned for more interesting revelations.

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Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs –  NSA Intelligence, RAMPART-A)

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