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On a mountain halfway between Reno and Rome,

We have a machine in a Plexiglas dome,

Which listens and looks into everyone's home.
Dr Seuss's Sleep Book
A Borg Cube NSA HQ, Fort Meade, Maryland

The National Security Agency is one of the most secretive parts of the United States' intelligence community, it does a rather poor job at keeping its own secrets anything more secretive probably does not officially exist. It was also referred to as "No Such Agency" for this reason. They mostly deal in signals intelligence (SIGINT[1]) and other technical forms of intelligence gathering. A secondary mission is information security (INFOSEC) -- that is, protecting America's sensitive communications, or, more cynically, keeping other countries from doing to America what NSA does to other countries.

The majority of the NSA is privatized, with contractors like the firm Booz Allen Hamilton doing quite a bit of the dirty work and being unaccountable to the democratic process.[2] This whole private-public apparatus we call the NSA is headquartered in Maryland.[3] Interestingly, the NSA probably works more closely with American allies than any other part of the American intelligence community. It is well-known that the US shares SIGINT information with the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand as part of the "Five Eyes" spy network (also known as ECHELON).[4] Moreover, the NSA works closely with Taiwan's NSB to spy on China,[citation needed] though as a result of the Sino-Soviet splitWikipedia's W.svg it also had two bases in western China to monitor the Soviet Union during the Cold War.[5]

Conspiracy theorists and other people have long speculated that the NSA has been spying on Americans (and others) over a long period of time. Unfortunately for all of us, they were proven right in 2013 when news about the PRISM project (which collects information from most social media sources and also wiretaps millions of phones, especially from Verizon) was leaked by The Guardian, through information provided by Edward Snowden, a whistleblower and former NSA contractor employee. The PATRIOT Act has no bounds, it seems.[6]

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  1. Not to be confused with the Unix signal SIGINT.
  2. http://www.thenation.com/article/us-intelligence-is-more-privatized-than-ever-before/
  3. Google Maps satellite image
  4. See the Wikipedia article on AUSCANNZUKUS.
  5. http://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2013/06/13/the-national-security-agency-a-global-superpower.html
  6. However, PRISM seems to be a little more inefficient than most conspiracy theorists seem to think, likely the vast majority of data collected is junk data, porn, and YouTube comments. (How this specifically stops terrorism is another debate in itself.) So they're half right. Nonetheless, some also believe that they somehow have a full backup of everyone's hard drive, an absurdity on its own- or a sign that people don't know how computer technology works.
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