"The National Security Agency has secretly broken into the main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers around the world," The Washington Post reported at midday Wednesday.
"By tapping those links, the agency has positioned itself to collect at will from among hundreds of millions of user accounts, many of them belonging to Americans," the Post adds.
Its source for this report: "documents obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and interviews with knowledgeable officials."
In just 30 days ended Jan. 9, the Post says, the documents indicate that "field collectors had processed and sent back 181,280,466 new records — ranging from 'metadata,' which would indicate who sent or received e-mails and when, to content such as text, audio and video."
Google issued a statement says it is "troubled" by the news. Yahoo said it has not given the NSA or another other agency access to its data centers. White House officials "declined to confirm, deny or explain why the agency infiltrates Google and Yahoo networks overseas," according to the Post report.
Google and Yahoo thought their systems were secure. But the Post says that:
"In an NSA presentation slide on 'Google Cloud Exploitation' ... a sketch shows where the 'Public Internet' meets the internal 'Google Cloud' where their data resides. In hand-printed letters, the drawing notes that encryption is 'added and removed here!' The artist adds a smiley face, a cheeky celebration of victory over Google security.
"Two engineers with close ties to Google exploded in profanity when they saw the drawing."
The program the Post is reporting about — reportedly called MUSCULAR — is said to be separate from the PRISM program that was disclosed earlier this year. Under PRISM, as we wrote in June, "Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, AOL, Apple and Paltalk all negotiated with the government under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to provide the National Security Agency with user data."
According to The New York Times, under PRISM such data are shared only after the companies' lawyers review the government's requests and determine that they meet the FISA requirements. But MUSCULAR, writes the Post, "appears to be an unusually aggressive use of NSA tradecraft against flagship American companies."
Barton Gellman, one of the two reporters who wrote today's Post story, talked with Fresh Air last month about how he came into contact with Snowden and about the effectiveness of post-Sept. 11 surveillance programs.