He was an NSA staffer but also a volunteer, having signed up to provide technical expertise for a wide-ranging, joint CIA mission in Iraq. He did not know what he was getting himself into.

After arriving in Baghdad “grungy and tired,” the staffer would later write, he discovered that the CIA and its partner, the Defense Intelligence Agency, had moved beyond talking to locals and were now intent on looking through their computer files. Marines would bring the NSA man “laptops, hard drives, CDs, phones and radios.” Sometimes the devices were covered in blood — and quite often they contained pornography, deemed “extremely useful” in humiliating and “breaking down” for interrogation the people who owned them.

The story of how the National Security Agency harvested porn for use against prisoners in Iraq is just one of the revelations disclosed in the agency’s internal newsletter SIDtoday during the second half of 2005.

There’s also the tale of how some intercepts would be rushed almost instantly to the president at Camp David via golf cart “with virtually no oversight.”

Then there’s one about how the NSA declared it could find “not many” Arabic translators it could trust among “the largest Arabic-speaking population in the United States.”

Or the story of how the agency listened as the Egyptian government dictated through its communication channels the final results for an election that had barely begun.

Told in more detail below, these are highlights from some 297 SIDtoday articles published today by The Intercept as part of an ongoing project to release, after careful review, material provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

From the same SIDtoday release — our sixth thus far — we are publishing three other articles. One is an investigation into a secretive global intelligence-sharing alliance led by the NSA, comprising 18 members and known as the SIGINT Seniors. Another looks at increased surveillance in the United Kingdom following the London bombings in 2005 — and discloses for the first time a secret agreement to share metadata harvested from the vast data repositories of the NSA and its counterparts in the U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Also today, in collaboration with the Norwegian Broadcaster NRK, we shine light on a large spy base located outside Oslo. The base was built with the NSA’s help to aid Norway’s military and counterterrorism operations overseas. But it has also swept up Norwegian citizens’ phone and email records – and is now at the center of a dispute over illegal surveillance.

The NSA declined to comment for this article.

HASWAH, IRAQ - OCTOBER 8:  U.S. Marines of the 1st Battalion 2nd Marines inspect the bedroom of a suspect, while patroling October 8, 2004 in the insurgent stronghold of Haswah, 25 miles south of Baghdad, Iraq. The patrol is part of a new Marine offensive called "Operation Phantom Fury", aimed at cutting off supply lines for Iraqi insurgents that shift cash, weapons, car bombs and militants from Fallujah and Ramadi to Baghdad. The operation is part of a wider U.S. assault on insurgent strongholds across Iraq before elections in January.  (Photo by Scott Peterson/Getty Images)

U.S. Marines of the 1st Battalion 2nd Marines inspect the bedroom of a suspect, while patrolling on Oct. 8, 2004 in the insurgent stronghold of Haswah, 25 miles south of Baghdad, Iraq.

Photo: Scott Peterson/Getty Images

Porn Recovered by NSA Used to “Break Down Detainees” in Iraq

An NSA staffer deployed to Iraq led a counterterrorism and counterintelligence mission involving forensic investigations on computers seized in raids. The staffer’s “Media Exploitation” team found pornographic videos and photos alongside thousands of audio files of the Quran and sermons, and recruitment and training CDs with video of bombings, torture, and beheadings. The team “jokingly” referred to the content as the “three big ‘P’s – porn, propaganda and prayer.”

Reports and files were distributed to the NSA and other intelligence agencies; the staffer was detailed to the Iraq Survey Group, a joint venture between the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency to find weapons of mass destruction and disrupt terrorist activities. But among the customers of the material gathered by the NSA staffer were the military units interrogating captured insurgents and suspects. Special Forces interrogators found the pornography “extremely useful in breaking down detainees who maintained that they were devout Muslims, but had porn on their computers,” according to an account by the NSA staffer in SIDtoday. (The account makes no acknowledgment of the human rights abuses by staff at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, which were in the news starting in April 2004, nearly four months before the account was published, and which were, at the time, still under investigation.)

As the conflict with insurgents escalated in Fallujah into Operation Phantom Fury/Al Fajr, NSA staff with “top-secret” clearances were deployed to the combat zone. Marines gave the NSA staff seized computers, CDs, phones, and radios directly from the battlefield, some “covered in blood.” This material, too, was used in interrogations that helped keep the “bad guys” behind bars. No “smoking WMD” evidence was found, according to the SIDtoday account.

A former interrogator at the U.S. detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has said, in a statement obtained by the New Yorker, that pornography was used at the facility to reward some detainees and as a tool against others, who were forced to look at the material. The Associated Press has also reported on the use of pornography at Guantánamo as an inducement.

The intelligence community has also used seized pornography as a form of propaganda. In November 2017, the CIA released files recovered from the fatal raid of Osama bin Laden’s hideaway in Abbottabad, Pakistan “in an effort to further enhance public understanding of al-Qa’ida.” The agency noted that the overall trove recovered from the compound contained pornography that it was not releasing with the other files. The discovery of pornography on bin Laden’s computers in 2011 was leaked to the media within days of the raid, and a New York Times story focused on the porn reported that the adult material “will be welcomed by counterterrorism officials because it could tarnish his legacy and erode the appeal of his brand of religious extremism.”

Cairo, EGYPT:  Egypt's jailed opposition leader Ayman Nur sits in the dock behind bars during his trial at a court in Cairo 23 January 2007. The 42-year-old lawyer was found not guilty today of physically assaulting a voter during the September 2005 presidential elections, his wife and security sources told AFP. The Bab al-Sharia criminal court acquitted Nur because of the lack of evidence, the source said. Nur, a insulin-dependent diabetic, has complained of the lack of medical care in prison, resulting in a steep decline in his health. He still faces another 31 charges, mostly filed by private citizens.  AFP PHOTO/KHALED DESOUKI  (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Egypt’s jailed opposition leader Ayman Nur sits in the dock behind bars during his trial at a court in Cairo on Jan. 23, 2007.

Photo: Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

Evidence of Election Fraud in Egypt

The NSA used signals intelligence to uncover apparent fraud in a referendum on how Egypt’s presidential elections would be run.

Rules supported by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak would allow direct election of the president, abolishing the old system, in which the parliament forwarded a single candidate to voters for approval. But the rules also imposed major barriers to appearing on the ballot, including a requirement that independent candidates win support from 65 of 444 members of parliament and that other candidates come from a party with at least 5 percent representation in parliament — which at the time no opposition party held. These requirements engendered significant opposition, including a call to boycott the referendum.

The agency apparently intercepted government communications early on election day, instructing underlings to report a “yes” vote of about 80 percent and turnout of 40 to 50 percent. Official results then showed a “yes” vote of 83 percent and turnout of 54 percent, “pretty much in line with the instructions. Most foreign observers on the scene described actual voter turnout as very light, nowhere near 50 percent,” SIDtoday reported.

The referendum was followed by Egypt’s historic first multi-candidate presidential election, on September 7, 2005. Although the winner, Mubarak, was a “foregone conclusion,” there was “much interest” about whether this vote count would be honest. With only 23 percent voter turnout, Mubarak won 88.6 percent of the vote. The NSA’s analysis? “SIGINT provided good evidence that there was no massive fraud in the vote count,” according to the same “senior reporter/subject matter expert” who described the suspicious referendum. “Local vote totals reported on the day of the election by Egyptian authorities conformed closely to the final results.” Also, the runner-up, Ayman Nour, with 7.6 percent of votes, was a surprise to “top Egyptian officials” who had wanted a different candidate to come in second, the NSA staffer added. The opposition claimed there were irregularities, but Egypt’s electoral commission was satisfied with the process.

Just three months after the election, surprise favorite Nour was jailed on charges of election fraud and imprisoned for the next five years.

**ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS, SEPT. 2-3 ** FILE** Samuel Chahrour is illuminated by a shaft of light at while praying at the The Islamic Center of America mosque in Dearborn, Mich., Sept. 30, 2005. Five years after Sept. 11, 2001, Arab Americans are still sorting through the profound and varied consequences of the attacks and events that followed. The Detroit suburb of Dearborn is arguably the capital of Arab America and anchors an estimated 300,000-strong Arab American community in southeastern Michigan. The Arab American National Museum, which opened last year in a 38,500-square-foot Middle Eastern-style building opposite City Hall is a symbol of the community's increasing visibility. Across town, the minarets of the Islamic Center of America, which claims to be the largest mosque in the U.S., are hard to miss. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Samuel Chahrour is illuminated by a shaft of light at while praying at the the Islamic Center of America mosque in Dearborn, Mich., Sept. 30, 2005. The Detroit suburb of Dearborn is arguably the capital of Arab America and anchors an estimated 300,000-strong Arab-American community in southeastern Michigan.

Photo: Paul Sancya/AP

NSA Trusts Few Arabic-Speaking Americans It Finds at Detroit Job Fair

As the NSA swept up Arabic communications from Iraq and other hotspots in the “global war on terror,” it found its translation capabilities severely lacking. “This shortcoming must be rectified,” an NSA senior language authority wrote in 2004.  In September 2005, the agency convened a “career invitational” in Detroit, hoping to draw on the high proportion of Arabic-speaking residents in the area and recruit them as linguists for a language center on nearby Selfridge Army National Guard Base.

But the invitational “may not yield many hires” due to unspecified agency concerns about the candidates, an NSA assistant deputy directory wrote in SIDtoday. After gathering 750 resumes, the NSA homed in on 145 potential candidates through “preliminary processing,” and of these, at least 43 passed two placement exams. These finalists were subjected to “special source checks”; other documents throughout the Snowden archive use the phrase “special source” in connection with surveillance operations, including by the agency’s Special Source Operations unit, which at one point was said to be responsible for 80 percent of NSA collection, including its notorious PRISM program — implying that signals intelligence may have been used to vet the candidates. The “special source checks” caused eight individuals to be removed from the applicant pool and led to plans for “significant and lengthy investigation[s]” into at least some of the remaining candidates — investigations that “may not sufficiently resolve the identified issues,” SIDtoday noted. Although the language center on the Selfridge base could accommodate 85 linguists across four daily shifts, the assistant deputy director made clear that filling the seats was far from imminent and wrote, “We will continue to review other sites” to fill the need for linguists.

The NSA’s aggressive probing of Americans of Middle Eastern descent was not confined to job applicants or to Detroit; earlier Intercept reporting on documents supplied by Snowden revealed that the agency used the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to monitor the communications of prominent Muslim-American community leaders and politicians. Internally, the intelligence community continues to lag in employee diversity, with a 2015 report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence showing that racial and ethnic minorities comprise less than a quarter of the agencies’ staff.

374228 01: U.S. President Bill Clinton, center, speaks during a morning meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, left, and Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat July 25, 2000 at Camp David in Maryland. Clinton announced later in the day that the Middle East peace summit had collapsed because of a deadlock over the status of the disputed city of Jerusalem. (Photo by Ralph Alswang/Newsmakers)

U.S. President Bill Clinton, center, speaks during a morning meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, left, and Palestinian Chair Yasser Arafat on July 25, 2000 at Camp David in Maryland.

Photo: Ralph Alswang/Newsmakers

“Smoking Gun Evidence” Against Yasser Arafat

In the course of arguing for more new hires, the deputy chief of the NSA’s Middle East and North Africa line told an interviewer in SIDtoday that intelligence provided by the unit had “shaped history.” One way this occurred was through “golf cart reporting.” During the 2000 peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians at Camp David, the NSA intercepted communications on the stances of participating diplomats in “near real-time,” the deputy chief said, and would “stamp ‘draft’ on it and fax it to a CIA liaison officer up in Thurmont, Maryland who in his own golf cart would race across the grounds to give it directly to the President or Secretary of State. Imagine the thrill and the responsibility of providing — with virtually no oversight — intelligence going directly to the President!”

U.S. negotiators would know the Israeli and Palestinians’ positions prior to the teams’ arrival.

The deputy chief further credits his unit’s reporting as the basis for the U.S.’s refusal to negotiate with Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat, stating the division “had smoking-gun evidence that Arafat was still supporting terrorism.” It’s unclear to which precise chapter of Middle East peace talks this claim refers, but President George W. Bush formally refused to accept Arafat as a negotiation partner in 2002, amid speculation that the Palestinian leader was implicated in the 2000 outbreak of the second Intifada.

The Camp David talks were hardly the first instance of NSA diplomatic spying, a key activity for the agency. Previously published documents have shown the agency spying on heads of state, U.N. headquarters, and representatives to a climate change summit.

Mirek Topolanek, chairman of Czech opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS), watches a general elections exit poll in the party election headquarters in Prague, Saturday, June 3, 2006. The exit polls indicated Topolanek's conservative Civic Democrats were likely headed for victory with 37 percent of the ballot against 31 percent of left-leaning governing Social Democrats. (AP Photo/CTK, Michal Kamaryt)

Mirek Topolanek, chair of Czech opposition Civic Democratic Party, known as ODS, watches a general elections exit poll in the party election headquarters in Prague, Saturday, June 3, 2006.

Photo: Michal Kamaryt/AP

Czech Partnership

In 2006, then-U.S. Ambassador William J. Cabaniss was worried and unburdened himself to Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, saying he hoped intelligence-sharing between the two nations would not be adversely affected by structural changes in how Czech intelligence was managed. Topolánek assured the ambassador that things would be fine, despite a transition of a key spy agency to parliamentary control. As described in a State Department cable published by WikiLeaks, “the Prime Minister said that UZSI, the foreign intelligence branch, ‘has been effective and we don’t want to change that.’”

U.S. concern over changes at UZSI was understandable, as at least one element of the American intelligence community had spent the prior year gushing over the benefits of newly secured access to UZSI intel. The NSA, as previously reported, was essentially let inside UZSI’s “SIGINT vault” in early 2005. By late 2005, the U.S. and Czech Republic appeared to have officially solidified their “Third Party” signals intelligence-sharing partnership and UZSI, over the course of at least three visits in six months, presented their American counterparts with a slew of information, largely about Russian government and business interests according to two articles in SIDtoday. These files included information about the communications of Russian and Belarusian arms dealers, banking networks, and counterintelligence targets. They also gave the Americans a program designed to identify Russian words in voice communications. “Our ability to jointly produce valuable SIGINT while enjoying each other’s company and learning about our cultural differences may indeed make this the start of a beautiful friendship,” wrote a staffer from the central European branch of the NSA’s foreign affairs directorate.

(One of the SIDtoday articles alleged that the Belarus company, BELTECHEXPORT, was involved in weapons proliferation. The U.S. State Department in 2011 imposed, but in 2013 lifted, sanctions against the company for weapons proliferation.)

An anti-imperialist activist sets a tent in front of the Italian Foreign Ministry building  in Rome, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2005. Members of the Anti-Imperialist camp(Campo Antimperialista) sterted the hunger strike to protest against the decision of Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini to deny Visas to nine Iraqi invited by the anti-imperialist organization to join  their meeting that will start in Chianciano Terme Oct. 1. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

An anti-imperialist activist sets a tent in front of the Italian Foreign Ministry building in Rome, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2005.

Photo: Gregorio Borgia/AP

Anti-Imperialist Camp

A previous SIDtoday release noted the NSA’s interest in a European leftist group called the Anti-Imperialist Camp. The NSA had accused the group of toeing a line between “legitimate political activity” and abetting terrorism. In a later SIDtoday article, titled “Terrorism or Political Action? The Anti-Imperialist Camp Crosses the Line,” a member of the NSA’s “indigenous European terrorism branch” describes the AIC as a “duplicitous organization” and touts the NSA’s interception of Anti-Imperialist Camp’s communications as a pathway into “[an] expansive network of extremists and terrorists.” The article alleged that the organization maintained contacts with such individuals, and said that “insights into [this] expansive network” led to the identification of “a Jordanian extremist with extensive links to other extremists,” “a new organization that calls itself the Resistant Arab People’s Alliance,” and several other individuals and groups.

Longtime Anti-Imperialist Camp member and spokesperson Wilhelm Langthaler told The Intercept that he could not “identify one single activity, participant, or interlocutor” from this list of what SIDtoday strongly implied were contacts of the group.

The SIDtoday article further stated that the U.S. government had “recent[ly],” as of August 2005, approached the Italian government and “demanded the arrest of individuals involved with the Italian wing of the AIC.” Several individuals associated with the AIC had been arrested in April 2004 as part of a multinational effort against the Turkish militant organization, DHKP-C. The three AIC members, initially charged with conspiracy or “subversive association” with an alleged member of the terrorist group, were released and ultimately absolved of all charges in September 2010. In her decision, Judge Beatrice Cristiani observed that if the AIC did indeed help the DHPK-C, it was because they intended to assist “a dissident and not a terrorist” —essentially verifying the group’s legitimate political intent, which the NSA so adamantly decried.

Breakthrough in Cellphone Tracking

NSA analysts can often identify and track particular mobile phones by monitoring cellular networks for 15-digit handset identifiers called the International Mobile Subscriber Identities. Events on the network, like making a call, receiving an SMS text message, or connecting to a new cell tower, are normally tagged with such numbers.

But starting in the 1990s, NSA analysts had struggled whenever cellular networks implemented Temporary Mobile Subscriber Identities (TMSIs), according to a July 2005 SIDtoday article. “TMSIs obscure the true identities of the cellular subscribers being referenced in call records, location events, and SMS,” the author wrote, because “TMSIs can change every few hours or even with every phone call.” And, to make matters worse, two cellular networks in Iraq had just implemented TMSIs, obscuring the NSA’s collection efforts there.

The ASSOCIATION program solved this problem. With advances in metadata collection, processing, and storage, the NSA discovered that it could use individual metadata records to work backward from a TMSI to obtain the original IMSI and thus, associate cellphone events with the exact phone that made them.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 10:  A guest uses Skype and Microsoft automatic translation software to live-chat with a man in China during the Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center's TechFair June 10, 2015 in Washington, DC. Fairgoers had the opportunity to interact with researchers and scientists demonstrating projects ranging from visualizing Big Data to 'machine learning technologies.'  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A guest uses Skype and Microsoft automatic translation software to live-chat with a man in China during the Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center’s TechFair, June 10, 2015 in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Early on, Skype Posed Challenges

At the end of 2005, the NSA faced serious new challenges in spying on Skype calls. At the time, Skype was a 2-year-old service that was growing in popularity. “At this time, SIGINT targets have a method to freely obscure their communications on the global Internet,” an analyst wrote in SIDtoday, “thus hindering our ability to collect vital communications intelligence.”

Unlike traditional phone calls, anyone with internet access anywhere in the world could make a free, anonymous Skype account, identified only by a username. And unlike the phone network, in which calls get routed through (and eavesdropped on) at central offices, Skype calls were peer-to-peer, making central eavesdropping impossible. On top of all this, Skype calls were also encrypted, and the NSA did not yet know how to decrypt them.

A reader wrote a letter to the editor pointing out that internet calling systems like Skype also complicate the NSA’s ability to comply with USSID-18, an NSA policy through which the agency attempts to not spy on Americans. “Anyone with any brains” will register a U.S. phone number for their account, they wrote, even though this phone number can be used from anywhere in the world.

The NSA’s troubles with spying on Skype calls were eventually resolved. New York Times reporting, based on Snowden documents, revealed that in 2008, Skype “began its own secret program, Project Chess, to explore the legal and technical issues in making Skype calls readily available to intelligence agencies and law enforcement officials.”

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Archive of thefacebook.com at Feb. 12, 2004.

Image: Facebook

Blast from the Past

“Social networking is truly the wave of the future,” Eric Mesa, a young software engineer at the NSA wrote in a December 2005 letter to the editor of SIDtoday. “A lot of you may not know this, but college students (of which I finally ceased to be in May 2005) have been voluntarily assembling their own social networks online!”

He went on to describe a service “known as The Facebook” and explained how it worked, including that “through the link ‘visualize my social network’ they can see a diagram similar to the ones we use to map terrorist networks.”

Top photo: U.S. Marines escort nine detainees captured in Fallujah, half of them from other countries such as Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Gulf states, to a local “prison” as other U.S. Marines of the 1st Battalion 3rd Marines, Alpha company engage four insurgents during house searches on Nov. 23, 2004 in Fallujah, Iraq.