MI5 collected significantly more data than it can use

Pierluigi Paganini June 08, 2016

A new collection of documents leaked by Edward Snowden and analyzed by The Intercept reveals that MI5 collected significantly more data than it can use.

A lot of documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed that the British Security service MI5 confirmed it was collecting “significantly more than it is able to exploit fully.” The facts date back to 2010, a period when the agency had great difficulty in handling such large volumes of data,

The Intercept that obtained the documents cites a 2010 report refers the MI5 as the “principal collector and exploiter of target’s digital footprint in the domestic space.”

“The Security Service, also known as MI5, had become the “principal collector and exploiter” of digital communications within the U.K., the eight-page report noted, but the agency’s surveillance capabilities had “grown significantly over the last few years.” states a 2010 report cited by The Intercept.

MI5 “can currently collect (whether itself or through partners) significantly more than it is able to exploit fully,” the report warned. “This creates a real risk of ‘intelligence failure’ i.e. from the Service being unable to access potentially life-saving intelligence from data that it has already collected.”

The problem is that the MI5 was not able to analyse the vast amount of data gathered by its systems, the Secret Service admitted the difficulties in another secret report released by the Intercept.

“The amount of data being collected, however, proved difficult for MI5 to handle. In March 2010, in another secret report, concerns were reiterated about the agency’s difficulties processing the material it was harvesting. “There is an imbalance between collection and exploitation capabilities, resulting in a failure to make effective use of some of the intelligence collected today,” the report noted. “With the exception of the highest priority investigations, a lack of staff and tools means that investigators are presented with raw and unfiltered DIGINT data. Frequently, this material is not fully assessed because of the significant time required to review it.”” states the second report.

The difficulties were not unique to MI5, many other Intelligence Agencies faced the same problems.

The difficulties appeared evident when the British Intelligence faced the case of the murder of Lee Rigby,  a British Army soldier, that was killed by Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale while he was off duty and walking along Wellington Street in Woolwich.

The MI5 knew the killers, but it had not been possible to follow the leads because “MI5 has limited resources, and must continuously prioritise its investigations in order to allocate those resources.”

The Intercept also mentions one of the most important surveillance programs operated by the UK Government code-named PRESTON, which covertly intercepts phone calls, text messages, and internet data sent or received by Britons who have been named as surveillance targets on warrants signed off by a government minister.

According to a top-secret 2009 study on the PRESTON program, in one six-month period, the program intercepted more than 5 million communications, but only the 3 percent of the calls and data had collected were found to have been “viewed” by the authorities.

UK surveillance MI5 PRESTON program UK surveillance MI5 PRESTON program 2

The documents leaked by Snowden also revealed another UK surveillance programs coordinated by the GCHQ, code-named MILKWHITE. The MILKWHITE program allowed the collection of metadata about citizens’ online activities and was made accessible to British authorities, including MI5, London’s Metropolitan Police, the tax agency Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the National Crime Agency, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and a Scotland-based surveillance unit called the Scottish Recording Centre.

Give a look to the post published by The Intercept, it is full of interesting info on surveillance activities.

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Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – Surveillance, MI5)

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