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What You Need to Know to Understand the NSA Spying Scandal

What You Need to Know to Understand the NSA Spying Scandal
Photograph by De Agostini Picture Library via Getty Images

NSA? FISA? Prism? Feeling a little lost? No wonder. Here are answers to some basic questions to help you sort out whether to be very, very afraid of government snooping, or pleasantly reassured.

1. What’s the NSA and how does it relate to the CIA and the FBI?
Jokingly known as “No Such Agency” because of its secrecy, the NSA, or National Security Agency, is part of the Department of Defense. It operates the U.S. government’s most extensive electronic and online surveillance programs. NSA employees run enormous computer centers that analyze databases the agency obtains from phone companies, Internet providers, and other sources. The CIA and the FBI use NSA analysis as the basis for reports, such as the president’s daily intelligence briefing, and for particular investigations of suspected terrorists.