10 July 2013
NSA slides explain the PRISM data-collection program
The Washington Post


The top-secret PRISM program allows the U.S. intelligence community to gain access from nine Internet companies to a wide range of digital information, including e-mails and stored data, on foreign targets operating outside the United States. The program is court-approved but does not require individual warrants. Instead, it operates under a broader authorization from federal judges who oversee the use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Some documents describing the program were first released by The Washington Post on June 6. The newly released documents below give additional details about how the program operates, including the levels of review and supervisory control at the NSA and FBI. The documents also show how the program interacts with the Internet companies. These slides, annotated by The Post, represent a selection from the overall document, and certain portions are redacted. Read related article.

Related NSA graphics

New slide published July 10 -
Upstream program

This slide shows PRISM as only one part of the NSA’s system for electronic eavesdropping. The "Upstream" program collects from the fiber-optic cable networks that carry much of the world’s Internet and phone data. The underlying map depicts the undersea cables that connect North America to the rest of the world.

Slides published June 29 - Acquiring data from a new target

This slide describes what happens when an NSA analyst "tasks" the PRISM system for information about a new surveillance target. The request to add a new target is passed automatically to a supervisor who reviews the "selectors," or search terms. The supervisor must endorse the analyst's "reasonable belief," defined as 51 percent confidence, that the specified target is a foreign national who is overseas at the time of collection.






The FBI uses government equipment on private company property to retrieve matching information from a participating company, such as Microsoft or Yahoo and pass it without further review to the NSA.




For stored communications, but not for live surveillance, the FBI consults its own databases to make sure the selectors do not match known Americans.

This is where data enters NSA systems, described more fully on the next slid

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court does not review any individual collection request.

Analyzing information collected from private companies

After communications information is acquired, the data are processed and analyzed by specialized systems that handle voice, text, video and "digital network information" that includes the locations and unique device signatures of targets.

From the FBI's interception unit on the premises of private companies, the information is passed to one or more "customers" at the NSA, CIA or FBI.

PRINTAURA automates the traffic flow. SCISSORS and Protocol Exploitation sort data types for analysis in NUCLEON (voice), PINWALE (video), MAINWAY (call records) and MARINA (Internet records).

The systems identified as FALLOUT and CONVEYANCE appear to be a final layer of filtering to reduce the intake of information about Americans

Each target is assigned a case notation

The PRISM case notation format reflects the availability, confirmed by The Post's reporting, of real-time surveillance as well as stored content.


Depending on the provider, the NSA may receive live notifications when a target logs on or sends an e-mail, or may monitor a voice, text or voice chat as it happens (noted on the first slide as "Surveillance").














Searching the PRISM database

On April 5, according to this slide, there were 117,675 active surveillance targets in PRISM's counterterrorism database. The slide does not show how many other Internet users, and among them how many Americans, have their communications collected "incidentally" during surveillance of those targets.

Original slides published June 6
Introducing the program

A slide briefing analysts at the National Security Agency about the program touts its effectiveness and features the logos of the companies involved.

The seal of Special Source Operations, the NSA term for alliances with trusted U.S. companies.


The program is called PRISM, after the prisms used to split light, which is used to carry information on fiber-optic cables.


This note indicates that the program is the number one source of raw intelligence used for NSA analytic reports.


Monitoring a target's communication

This diagram shows how the bulk of the world’s electronic communications move through companies based in the United States.

Providers and data

The PRISM program collects a wide range of data from the nine companies, although the details vary by provider.

Participating providers

This slide shows when each company joined the program, with Microsoft being the first, on Sept. 11, 2007, and Apple the most recent, in October 2012.

Related stories

Snowden's surveillance leaks open way for challenges to programs' constitutionality
Jerry Markon - At least five new cases have been filed in federal courts the former NSA contractor revealed programs.

FISA court seeks release of declassified filings in secret Yahoo case
Carol D. Leonnig - FISA asks for declassified version to be shared with public.

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