X-Keyscore: The NSA Tool So Secret It’s Advertised on Job Boards

If the National Security Agency wants to lower its public profile, it should probably start by telling some of its biggest contractors to stop advertising the names of agency programs in their job listings. Take, for example, the most recently revealed “top secret” NSA program, X-Keyscore, which, according to the Guardian, provides agency analysts with ...

MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images
MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images
MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images

If the National Security Agency wants to lower its public profile, it should probably start by telling some of its biggest contractors to stop advertising the names of agency programs in their job listings.

Take, for example, the most recently revealed "top secret" NSA program, X-Keyscore, which, according to the Guardian, provides agency analysts with vast access to email and other web content (the NSA and lawmakers have pushed back against the Guardian's characterization of the program, insisting that X-Keyscore is simply a restricted analysis tool). A couple quick Google searches reveal that Raytheon, General Dynamics, and SAIC -- three favorite intelligence community contractors -- are looking to hire analysts with experience in X-Keyscore. Raytheon has scrubbed these references from its site, but anyone who knows how to make use of Google's cache function can pull the job listings. SAIC also appears to have largely removed or closed job listings with references to X-Keyscore, but the cache function easily retrieves these listings as well.

While the names of these programs are by no means a closely guarded secret at the NSA -- the journalist William Arkin, for example, published a long list of program names in 2012 -- they do offer a window into the agency's activities. Foreign intelligence agencies could mine these listings for information about the agency's technical requirements, and the names themselves at the very least serve as a starting point for figuring out what's going on inside Fort Meade. Moreover, the fact that positions at the heart of the U.S. intelligence community are being openly posted to corporate job boards provides a sense of just how deeply enmeshed in the intelligence apparatus these contractors have become.

If the National Security Agency wants to lower its public profile, it should probably start by telling some of its biggest contractors to stop advertising the names of agency programs in their job listings.

Take, for example, the most recently revealed “top secret” NSA program, X-Keyscore, which, according to the Guardian, provides agency analysts with vast access to email and other web content (the NSA and lawmakers have pushed back against the Guardian‘s characterization of the program, insisting that X-Keyscore is simply a restricted analysis tool). A couple quick Google searches reveal that Raytheon, General Dynamics, and SAIC — three favorite intelligence community contractors — are looking to hire analysts with experience in X-Keyscore. Raytheon has scrubbed these references from its site, but anyone who knows how to make use of Google’s cache function can pull the job listings. SAIC also appears to have largely removed or closed job listings with references to X-Keyscore, but the cache function easily retrieves these listings as well.

While the names of these programs are by no means a closely guarded secret at the NSA — the journalist William Arkin, for example, published a long list of program names in 2012 — they do offer a window into the agency’s activities. Foreign intelligence agencies could mine these listings for information about the agency’s technical requirements, and the names themselves at the very least serve as a starting point for figuring out what’s going on inside Fort Meade. Moreover, the fact that positions at the heart of the U.S. intelligence community are being openly posted to corporate job boards provides a sense of just how deeply enmeshed in the intelligence apparatus these contractors have become.

The apparent irony of unabashedly advertising for analysts and technicians to run one of the country’s most closely guarded intelligence operations seems to have been entirely lost on the companies’ respective HR departments. The Raytheon listing, for example, includes a long list of NSA or other intelligence community programs, most of which have received scant attention: “PINWALE/UIS, XKEYSCORE ANCHORY/MAUI, MARINA/YACHTSHOP, PATHFINDER,  BANYAN, CADENCE, CROSSBONES, FASCIA, MAINWAY, TUNINGFORK, TRICKLER, UTT.”

Here’s what those listings look like, starting with Raytheon.

General Dynamics:

SAIC:

But it only gets better from there. It turns out intelligence analysts freely list their experience in various NSA programs on their LinkedIn profiles. Just type the name of your favorite NSA program into the search function, and LinkedIn helpfully returns a list of individuals experienced in the program.

Are you a Chinese spy reading this post? Well I’ve got great news for you. If you’re looking for a recruit at the NSA, LinkedIn provides you with a ready-made database of potential agents.

Then again, you probably already knew that.

Twitter: @EliasGroll

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