The United States National Security Agency (NSA) has its own homegrown search engine that it offers to similarly minded U.S. intelligence outfits.
Website The Intercept was first to report this and attributes its news to information provided by whistleblowers. It says that the search engine is shared with a number of other U.S. organizations and institutions.
The search tool is called ICREACH, according to the report, and has been available and in use for some years.
Documents gathered by The Intercept show the system in use in 2007, and call the information that it offers "wholesale sharing." The news website reports that the system is capable of handling 2 to 5 billion new records every day, and makes sense of email, phone call, fax, Internet, and text message metadata. It can also share location information culled from mobile phones.
"The ICREACH team delivered the first-ever wholesale sharing of communications metadata within the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC)," the report notes.
"This team began over two years ago with a basic concept compelled by the IC's increasing need for communications metadata and NSA's ability to collect, process, and store vast amounts of communications metadata related to worldwide intelligence targets," the memo says.
We asked the NSA to comment on this, and it says that intelligence sharing is an important security feature and has been for some time.
"The appropriate and prudent sharing of information is a pillar of the post-9/11 Intelligence Community (IC)," the NSA says. According to the spy agency, the U.S. Congress and two U.S. administrations have requested that data and information not get "stove-piped" within separate U.S. intelligence agencies.
"By allowing other IC organizations to query legally collected foreign-intelligence repositories of appropriately minimized data, analysts can develop vital intelligence leads without requiring access to raw intelligence collected by other IC agencies. The highest priority of the Intelligence Community is to work within the constraints of law to collect, analyze, and understand information related to potential threats to our national security," the NSA says.