The vast majority of communications intercepted by the National Security Agency were not sent by targeted foreign threats — but they provide some of the most valuable information, The Washington Post reports.
The Post published a story Sunday detailing a four-month review of about 160,000 intercepted e-mail and text message conversations involving 11,000 online accounts provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The Post reports that about 90% of the information involves names and e-mail addresses of U.S. residents.
"Among the most valuable contents — which the Post will not describe in detail, to avoid interfering with ongoing operations — are fresh revelations about a secret overseas nuclear project, double-dealing by an ostensible ally, a military calamity that befell an unfriendly power, and the identities of aggressive intruders into U.S. computer networks," the Post reports.
But the Post also describes "useless" communications NSA retained that include "a startlingly intimate, even voyeuristic quality."
The communications speak of "love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversions, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes," the Post says.
The NSA has catalogued information on more than 10,000 e-mail account holders who were never targeted, the Post adds. The information includes photos of kids in bathtubs and kissing their mothers — and of women modeling lingerie or posing in skimpy bikini tops.
The NSA can only target foreign nationals living overseas unless it obtains a warrant from a special surveillance court. The Post said that visitors to online chat rooms also visited by a target or merely reading the discussion were included in the data sweeps.
Snowden was a contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton when he leaked details of U.S. surveillance programs to The Guardian and the Post. The first report was published in June 2013, setting off an immediate firestorm. Snowden, who was in hiding in Hong Kong, fled to Moscow where he has obtained asylum.