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Washington Post names 2 more NSA spy programs: OAKSTAR and STORMBREW

The two "upstream" programs collect data directly from fiber optic cables, but details about that data remain sparse.


Joe Kloc

Internet Culture

Posted on Jul 11, 2013   Updated on Jun 1, 2021, 11:36 am CDT

On Wednesday, the Washington Post published another PowerPoint slide leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden, revealing two more National Security Agency surveillance programs whose names had been withheld by the Guardian.

The programs, OAKSTAR and STORMBREW, are described by the slide as “upstream” data gathering programs and are listed alongside another set of operations, BLARNEY and FAIRVIEW.

According to the slide, upstream data collection is the “collection of communications on fibre optic cables and infrastructure as data flows past.” Accompanying the explanation is a map of the world strung with underwater cables, presumably surveilled by one of the four programs.

Of the four programs, only information about BLARNEY is known. The Washington Post reported that BLARNEY “gathers up ‘metadata’—technical information about communications traffic and network devices—as it streams past choke points along the backbone of the Internet.” According to the Post, another unreleased slide describes BLARNEY as “an ongoing collection program that leverages IC [intelligence community] and commercial partnerships to gain access and exploit foreign intelligence obtained from global networks.”  

Mark Klein, the former AT&T employee who blew the whistle in 2006 on an NSA surveillance program that is now thought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation to be BLARNEY, told the Daily Dot that he hadn’t heard of OAKSTAR or STORMBREW. 

The Post published the slide under the headline “The NSA slide you haven’t seen.” This is only partially true. In fact, the slide was released by the Guardian weeks earlier, but the names of OAKSTAR and STORMBREW were redacted by the U.K. paper. 

When asked about the discrepancy in what information was censored, the Washington Post said only, “we do not collaborate with the Guardian.” 

The Post wouldn’t comment on whether it possessed further slides that would elucidate technical details of the OAKSTAR or STORMBREW. 

Illustration via Wikimedia Commons

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*First Published: Jul 11, 2013, 2:35 pm CDT