WASHINGTON — Wait, there's more?
Yes, this was the week that America's intelligence secrets spilled out: Classified court orders. Top secret Power Point slides. Something called PRISM.
It's pretty important stuff, once you've made sense of it.
Here's what you need to know.
Q: The past two days have been packed with coverage about domestic surveillance. I have no idea what I'm hearing.
A: That's not a question. So let's start from the beginning, which in the national security world these days means going back to 9/11.
Shortly after the attacks, Congress hastily approved the USA Patriot Act. That gave the government wide new powers to collect information on Americans. In the first few years, news coverage focused on how the FBI would use these new powers to seize phone, bank and library records.
Separate from the Patriot Act, though, President George W. Bush authorized the National Security Agency to conduct a highly classified wiretapping program. Normally, the government needs a warrant to spy on Americans, but Bush allowed the NSA to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens, read their emails and collect their phone records — all without warrants.
In 2005, The New York Times revealed the existence of that program. Amid the furor, the rules changed. The wiretapping operation and the collection of phone records could continue, but a judge had to sign off on them.
The scope of those programs wasn't fully known. But the government assured people that the spying was narrow and kept them safe. Congress voted to continue the authority.
Then this week, The Guardian newspaper published a classified court document from April that authorized the government to seize all of Verizon's phone records on a daily basis — an estimated 3 billion phone calls a day. The government didn't eavesdrop on anyone (under this court order, at least), but it received all outgoing and incoming numbers for every call, plus the unique electronic fingerprints that identify cellphones.
A program that the government said was narrow was suddenly revealed as vast. Under Bush and then President Barack Obama, the National Security Agency had built a colossal database of American phone calls.
Q: That's a lot to digest. Is that it?
A: Nope. A day after the court document surfaced, the Guardian and The Washington Post published stories and secret Power Point slides revealing another classified spying program. Unlike the effort to collect phone records, this one hadn't even been hinted about publicly.
This program, code-named PRISM, allowed the NSA and FBI to tap directly into the servers of major U.S. Internet companies such as Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and AOL.
Like the phone-records program, PRISM was approved by a judge in a secret court order. Unlike that program, however, PRISM allowed the government to seize actual conversations: emails, video chats, instant messages and more.
Q: How does that work?
A: You're going to hear a lot about PRISM and, when you do it's important to remember two things: