ICREACH program, NSA Search Engine for communications analysis

Pierluigi Paganini August 26, 2014

ICREACH is the codename for the NSA’s Secret Google-Like Search Engine for Metadata Analysis disclosed by a new collection of documents leaked by Snowden.

ICREACH is the name of a Google-like search engine designed by the National Security Agency (NSA) that provides metadata related to individuals living in US to more than two dozen US government agencies.

The Intercept has revealed the existence of ICREACH,  a platform used to share data on more than 850 billion communications records detailing e-mails, phone calls, instant messages, and phone geolocation. The revelation is based on classified documents, dated 2006 and 2007 and disclosed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, which describe ICREACH as a “federated query” engine that would search “across all data sets for information relating to a target identifier.”

The knowledge of a so huge amount of metadata shared through ICREACH program allows agencies to track people in real life and online, map out their networks of associates and predict future actions.



“The National Security Agency is secretly providing data to nearly two dozen U.S. government agencies with a “Google-like” search engine built to share more than 850 billion records about phone calls, emails, cellphone locations, and internet chats, according to classified documents obtained by The Intercept.” states the Intercept.

The ICREACH program was already mentioned by journalist Glenn Greenwald in his book “No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State”:


icreach fig1


The FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration are referred as the “key participants” in the ICREACH program, but the documents confirm that the platform has been accessible to more than 1,000 analysts at 23 US Government agencies involved in Intelligence activities.

According to The Intercept the large-scale of ICREACH represents a serious threat to citizens’ privacy, it seems that also individuals not accused of illegal activities were monitored by the system.

“Legal experts told The Intercept they were shocked to learn about the scale of the ICREACH system and are concerned that law enforcement authorities might use it for domestic investigations that are not related to terrorism.” reports The Intercept.

“To me, this is extremely troublesome,” “The myth that metadata is just a bunch of numbers and is not as revealing as actual communications content was exploded long ago—this is a trove of incredibly sensitive information.” said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice. 

The mastermind of ICREACH program was recently retired NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander, the official in 2006 described, in a classified 2006 letter to the then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, the search-engine as a system that would “allow unprecedented volumes of communications metadata to be shared and analyzed,” opening up a “vast, rich source of information” for other agencies to exploit.

One year later the system had gone live as a pilot program, it would enable at least a 12-fold increase in the volume of metadata being shared between intelligence agencies.

“The NSA described ICREACH as a “one-stop shopping tool” for analyzing communications. The system would enable at least a 12-fold increase in the volume of metadata being shared between intelligence community agencies, the documents stated. “

As reported in the following slide there was a significant increase in the volume of metadata collected by the NSA.

Systems like ICREACH are continuously improved by the NSA, the intelligence top-secret “Black Budget” for 2013 disclosed by Snowden shows that the US Intelligence is investing to upgrade ICREACH to “provide IC analysts with access to a wider set of shareable data.”

Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – ICREACH,  Intelligence)  

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