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CHIPS Articles: Expanded Look — "Section 702" Saves Lives, Protects the Nation and Allies

Expanded Look — "Section 702" Saves Lives, Protects the Nation and Allies
By NSA News - December 14, 2017
The U.S. Intelligence Community relies on Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in the constant hunt for information about foreign adversaries determined to harm the nation or our allies. The National Security Agency (NSA), for example, uses this law to target terrorists and thwart their plans.

In a time of increasing cyber threats, Section 702 also aids the Intelligence Community's cybersecurity efforts.

Under Section 702, the government cannot target a U.S. person anywhere in the world, or any person located in the United States.

Under Section 702, NSA can target foreigners reasonably believed to be located outside the United States only if it has a basis to believe it will acquire certain types of foreign intelligence information that have been authorized for collection.

This law has played both a unique and decisive role in national defense. For example:

  • NSA Section 702 reporting helped thwart the efforts of front companies seeking to obtain weapons probably bound for a rebel group in the Middle East that is hostile to U.S. interests. Information derived from Section 702 was shared with a European government, which prompted that government to prevent a nearly $1 million shipment of weapons and ammunition. This European government also revoked the export license of multiple arms companies based on the intelligence.
  • During 2016, Section 702 collection provided NSA unprecedented details concerning a hostile nation's efforts to directly supply another hostile regime with war material. Section 702 collection also revealed military training occurring between the nations.
  • In 2016, using Section 702, NSA was able to identify cybersecurity information relating to a hostile foreign government. NSA was able to identify the specific foreign individuals and observe their tactics, techniques, and procedures. By identifying the actors and their tactics, NSA gained an understanding of the foreign adversary that would help NSA stop malicious cyber-attacks if they were to be used against the United States.
  • NSA uses Section 702 to develop a body of knowledge regarding the proliferation of military communications equipment and sanctions-evasion activity by a sanctions-restricted country. Additionally, Section 702 collection provided foreign intelligence information that was key to interdicting shipments of prohibited goods by the target country.
  • In 2016, thanks in part to NSA's Section 702 collection technique, NSA was able to obtain intelligence on a foreign government's state-sponsored phone application that impacted cybersecurity and was not publicly known. Because of this discovery, the app was ultimately removed from the various phone application marketplaces.
  • In late September 2015, NSA received information from a partner nation concerning the activities of an extremist, who aspired to either travel to the Middle East in order to join an extremist group, or conduct a terrorist attack on European soil. Based on that tip, NSA used Section 702 collection to acquire the communications of the extremist. Specifically, NSA obtained a number of the extremist's communications, which allowed NSA to tip the partner nation to the individual's plans to carry out an attack on a public area. This timely foreign intelligence information assisted partner nation authorities with pinpointing the extremist's location and activities. NSA was credited by the partner with providing key information for the investigation, which resulted in the extremist's overseas arrest.
  • Section 702 collection is critical to understanding strategic plans and intentions of foreign adversary militaries and is extremely valuable when developing countermeasures to mitigate the threat posed by those adversaries. During 2015, NSA used Section 702 to gather unprecedented details concerning military weapon systems research, development, and testing by a hostile foreign power. This information allows the U.S. military, if desired, to create a functional duplicate of the system, providing a significant strategic and tactical advantage.
  • NSA uses Section 702 to acquire extensive insight into the highest level decision-making of a Middle Eastern government. This reporting from Section 702 collection provided U.S. policymakers with the clearest picture of a regional conflict and, in many cases, directly informed U.S. engagement with the country. Section 702 collection provides NSA with sensitive internal policy discussions of foreign intelligence value.
  • NSA, over a two-year period, used Section 702 to develop a robust body of knowledge about the personal network of an individual providing support to a leading terrorist in Iraq and Syria. This "leading terrorist" practiced strict operational security, and thus it was necessary to study the target by identifying key operatives throughout his network to understand not only the plans and intentions of the terrorist leader, but also to attempt to track his movements. Section 702 collection provided the necessary information for tactical teams to conduct a successful military operation, removing the terrorist from the battlefield. This information was critical to the discovery and disruption of this threat to the U.S. and its allies.
  • NSA produced a body of reporting based on Section 702 collection highlighting the 2015 travel of several extremists from the Middle East to Europe, likely for the purpose of conducting terror attacks. One of these travelers was directed by and maintained contact with one of the planners of the 2015 Paris attacks, reporting the problems and difficulties he encountered throughout his journeys. NSA provided identifying information to foreign partners, who located and detained the individual who now faces terrorism charges.
  • NSA used Section 702 collection to reveal the identities of the overseas terrorists responsible for a 2016 attack which resulted in more than 20 deaths. NSA's Section 702 collection provided the necessary insight and reporting on the attack that refuted the terrorist organization's denial of any involvement. Specifically, Section 702 collection provided a direct claim of responsibility from the terror group's leaders and included a list of the terrorists trained for the operation. This reporting was crucial for supporting timely U.S. and coalition force planning and operations against terrorists in the region.
  • In mid-to-late 2015, while monitoring terrorists and associates active in the Middle East, NSA used collection authorized under Section 702 to monitor an individual targeting specific U.S. and Western individuals. Section 702 allowed NSA to understand some of the plans and intentions of the operative, and it helped determine his whereabouts. This information was critical to the discovery and disruption of this threat to Americans and allies.
  • Section 702 has been critical to monitoring the activities of potential suicide bombers who threaten U.S. forces in Afghanistan. For example, in June 2016, NSA's timely reporting based on Section 702 collection enabled U.S. and coalition forces to detain a potential suicide bomber and seize various IED components, disrupting planned attacks on U.S. convoys and a U.S. base in Northern Afghanistan.
  • Section 702 enables NSA to protect U.S. government networks by providing unique cybersecurity insights. For example, Section 702 collection provided significant understanding of specific cybersecurity vulnerabilities of networks and infrastructure. This discovery helped to defend against these vulnerabilities.
  • Section 702 collection allowed NSA to discover key cybersecurity information concerning actors who planned to use United States infrastructure to enable spearphishing techniques on multiple targets that could have resulted in the compromise of personal and sensitive information.
  • Section 702 collection enables NSA to monitor the expansion of terrorist groups in Southeast Asia. During 2013 and 2014, Section 702 collection provided information that terror groups in Southeast Asia planned attacks against U.S. interests in the region and enabled warnings to be issued to the appropriate locations.
  • NSA analysis of Section 702 collection discovered the communications of a member of a major terrorist group in the Middle East who was communicating with an extremist in Europe who was sharing ideas on how to commit a terrorist attack. Specifically, NSA discovered communications where the individual in Europe was discussing with the terrorist buying material to build a suicide belt. NSA shared this critical information with European partners in an attempt to disrupt further attacks against U.S. and allied interests.

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