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NSA analysts earned 'skilz' points by training for XKeyscore surveillance, says new report

NSA analysts earned 'skilz' points by training for XKeyscore surveillance, says new report

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In Europe, Germany has been a nexus of debate over American surveillance: it's allegedly both one of the most-watched countries in western Europe and a close partner of the NSA. It's said to be central to the XKeyscore information-gathering program — and, according to new documents reviewed by Der Spiegel, its analysts have the maddest skilz in the business.

The series of NSA documents, which have not been published, paint a more detailed picture of the XKeyscore program that was revealed in recent weeks. They describe training at the European Cryptologic Center (ECC), a site in the state of Hesse that reportedly hosted the XKeyscore surveillance system and played a major part in other NSA operations. Documents show that XKeyscore was heralded as a groundbreaking change in intelligence work, narrowing the search for information and making it easier to avoid useless data. At one point, a report compares pre-XKeyscore searches to "Forrest Gump on his shrimping boat off the coast of Alabama," pulling up a boot, a toilet seat, and a few shrimp. Elsewhere, XKeyscore is described as "a seven-headed dragon. Big and scary? Sure. Strong and powerful? Oh yeah."

Analysts, meanwhile, were put into an apparently highly successful program to help them learn the ropes. Trainees cycled through a series of different stations — a process likened to speed dating — and, echoing DARPA's gamified cyberwarfare program, were given virtual rewards. That reportedly included both achievements and a system of "skilz" points, which were awarded for excellent performance. The ECC was said to have done particularly well, earning the "highest average of skilz points" of any NSA training team. Like any other gamified, lighthearted system, it's the sort of thing that looks particularly strange when applied to a now-loathed government program, especially one that threatens to sour the relationship between the US and Germany.