In Syria, NSA listening posts were able to monitor unencrypted communications among senior military officials at the outset of the civil war there, a vulnerability that President Bashar al-Assad's forces apparently later recognized. One of the NRO's functions is to extract data from sensors placed on the ground near suspected illicit weapons sites in Syria and other countries.
Across this catalog of technical prowess, one category is depicted as particularly indispensable: signals intelligence, or SIGINT.
The NSA's ability to monitor emails, phone calls and Internet traffic has come under new scrutiny in recent months as a result of disclosures by Snowden, who worked as a contract computer specialist for the agency before stockpiling secret document and then fleeing, first to Hong Kong and then Moscow.
The NSA was projected to spend $48.6 million on research projects to assist "coping with information overload," an occupational hazard as the volumes of intake have increased sharply from fiber optic cables and Silicon Valley Internet providers.
The agency's ability to monitor the communications of al-Qaida operatives is described in the documents as "often the best and only means to compromise seemingly intractable targets."
Signals intercepts have also been used to direct the flight paths of drones, gather clues to the composition of North Korea's leadership and evaluate the response plans of Russia's government in the event of a terrorist attack in Moscow.
The resources devoted to signals stealing are staggering.
Nearly 35,000 employees are listed under a sweeping category called the Consolidated Cryptologic Program, which includes the NSA as well as the surveillance and code-breaking components of the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines.
Even the CIA devotes $1.7 billion, or nearly 12 percent of its budget, to technical collection efforts including a program called "CLANSIG" that former officials said is the agency's more targeted version of the massive data collection operations of the NSA.