Today, The Intercept began the process of making the archive of documents provided by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden available to the wider public, beginning with the first three months of SIDtoday, an internal, top secret agency newsletter that began publishing 11 days after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The files are available for download here.
The newsletter was launched in March 2003 by a team within the NSA’s Signals Intelligence Directorate, which spied on agency targets. Unlike more technical documents, the newsletters address agency activities in layman’s terms. The Intercept’s Peter Maass explains:
Functioning like a small-town newspaper, the staff of SIDtoday published question-and-answer articles with senior and mid-level officials who described their jobs and their motivations for doing them. Some articles were firsthand descriptions of important missions, as in the case of an NSA employee who went to Baghdad right after the Iraqi capital came under American control. “I rode the whole way in a five-ton truck, with easy access to thermite grenades that could be used to destroy our classified cargo in the event of an ambush,” he wrote at the end of 2003. Another story, by SID’s chief of staff, described how the agency helped with the rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch during the invasion (his article is included in the first batch of SIDtoday articles).
SIDtoday even assembled a stable of columnists over the course of its first nine years, contributors who wrote as a sideline to their day jobs at the agency. One column, called “Ask Zelda!,” was akin to “Dear Abby” for the intelligence community, written by a mid-level supervisor at the NSA who answered questions from readers, including one about what should be worn to the office on hot summer days. “Shorts and flip-flops don’t exactly convey the image of a fierce SIGINT warrior,” Zelda noted.
A language analyst wrote a column on the ethics of surveillance, called “SIGINT Philosopher.” (It must not have been very well written.) A very optimistic issue from June 2003 reflects on SIGINT’s shifting priorities “now that the situation in Iraq has entered the reconstruction phase.”
Under the headline “Can You Handle the Truth,” an October 2003 issue offered agency employees the “chance to get to GITMO for 90 days!” As an NSA liaison, or NSA LNO, one would be “responsible for interfacing with the DoD, CIA, and FBI interrogators on a daily basis in order to assess and exploit information sourced from detainees.”
One such liaison offered a glowing review of his trip, two months later. “The work can be extremely interesting, challenging, and fulfilling. “On a given week, the NSA LNO might pull together intelligence to support an upcoming interrogation, formulate questions and strategies for the interrogation, and observe or participate in the interrogation.”
“Outside work, fun awaits and opportunities abound. Water sports are outstanding: boating, paddling, fishing, water skiing and boarding, sailing, swimming, snorkeling, and SCUBA.” Also, there was a Tiki Bar. “Relaxing is easy,” he wrote.
[There was a video here]
Back in 2013, former CIA and former NSA Director Michael Hayden made an ill-advised joke when he alluded to wanting to put Edward Snowden on a kill list. Now, in an interview with Al Jazeera’s Mehdi Hasan, Hayden is finally clarifying hist stance—sort of.
In the clip above, Hasan asks the former embodiment of Big Brother directly, “Do you believe [Snowden] should be assassinated and put on a kill list as many say you suggested?”
Hayden is… less direct, spending a lot of time demurring and offering half answers to what should be a fairly simple of course not, I’m not a maniac.
Michael Hayden: “I didn’t say that.”
Mehdi Hasan: “You said he should be put on a list.”
Hayden: “…I was there in a panel in downtown Washington, and he was nominated for [an awards] list.”
Hasan: “And you said, ‘I could think of another list.’”
Hayden: “What I said was, ‘In my darker moments, I have thought about that.’”
Hasan: “So in your darker moments, you have thought about killing him?”
Hayden: “Well, because he has been tremendously destructive to American security.”
Ex-CIA chief admits to me, in “darker moments”, he’s thought about killing @snowden -intv: http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/upfront/2016/04/michael-hayden-snowden-surveillance-nsa-160401144220613.html ….
Hayden goes on to say that he’s “never supported assassinating Edward Snowden.” But apparently, even though he’s never officially supported Snowden’s assassination, a boy can still dream.
And does Hayden support executing Edward Snowden? “I probably don’t,” he says. Probably.
So does Michael Hayden want Snowden dead? He certainly doesn’t not want Snowden dead. Whether or not Hayden believes that Snowden belongs on either a birthday or Christmas-card list, as Hasan suggests, remains unclear.
At midnight on Saturday, the federal government’s bulk data-gathering program for American phone conversations will come to an end at last.
The move comes more than two years after former government contractor-turned whistleblower Edward Snowden released thousands of classified documents to Guardian journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill. His disclosure triggering a movement that demanded the National Security Agency (NSA) stop spying on its own citizens. The story of the spying scandal was turned into the 2014 documentary Citizenfour, which won an Oscar the following year.
According to NBC, after Saturday night the government must make a formal request to the telephone company any time it wants to examine a phone number that it suspects is linked to a terrorism case. The agency also cannot hold recorded phone calls without need. The move, granted by the passing of the USA Freedom Act last summer, was called “a first step but a modest one” by The Guardian’s MacAskill, adding that the NSA still has a huge capacity for surveillance:
The problem – and it is a major one – is the reform applies only to phone records. The NSA can continue to harvest bulk communications from the internet and social media.
The purported need for the federal government to record millions of Americans’ phone calls was debunked by a privacy and civil liberties review body, which could not find “a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation.”
[There was a video here]
Early this afternoon, noted Twitter comedian Jon Hendren, aka @fart, spoke to HLN anchor Yasmin Vossoughian about the importance of Edward Snowden’s presence on Twitter. The interview went normally enough, until Vossoughiarn asked Hendren if Snowden’s actions were worth the risks he took.
“Well, you know to say he couldn’t harm someone…well, absolutely he could,” Hendren replied. “But I think to cast him out, to make him invalid in society, simply because he has scissors for hands…I mean that’s strange. People didn’t get scared until he started sculpting shrubs into dinosaur shapes and whatnot.”
Undeterred, or simply not listening, Vossoughian plowed forward with the interview, asking Hendren about Snowden’s asylum in Russia.
“Casting him out is just completely wrong,” @fart replied. “We’re treating him like an animal, like someone who should be quarantined and put away. Just because he was created on top of a mountain by Vincent Price, incomplete with scissors for hand and no heart. Edward Scissorhands is a complete hero to me.”
“I mean, where else is he going to go? You know?” he added. “We cast him out. We got scared when he poked a hole in a waterbed with his scissor fingers, and that was unreasonable of us.”
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to documents provided to the New York Times and ProPublica by Edward Snowden, AT&T and the NSA have maintained for decades a “highly collaborative” relationship that has facilitated the government agency’s ability to spy on enormous quantities of Internet traffic passing through the United States.
One document, the Times reports, applauds AT&T’s “extreme willingness to help.” Another reminds National Security Agency officials to be nice to AT&T employees when visiting their facilities: “This is a partnership, not a contractual relationship.”
In September 2003, AT&T was the first of the NSA’s corporate partners to enable a new metadata collection capability that was described as essentially a “‘live’ presence on the global net.” In one of its first months of operation, it was “forwarding more than one million emails a day to the keyword selection system.”
From the Times:
AT&T’s cooperation has involved a broad range of classified activities, according to the documents, which date from 2003 to 2013. AT&T has given the N.S.A. access, through several methods covered under different legal rules, to billions of emails as they have flowed across its domestic networks. It provided technical assistance in carrying out a secret court order permitting the wiretapping of all Internet communications at the United Nations headquarters, a customer of AT&T.
The N.S.A.’s top-secret budget in 2013 for the AT&T partnership was more than twice that of the next-largest such program, according to the documents. The company installed surveillance equipment in at least 17 of its Internet hubs on American soil, far more than its similarly sized competitor, Verizon. And its engineers were the first to try out new surveillance technologies invented by the eavesdropping agency.
In 2011, AT&T began handing over 1.1 billion domestic cellphone calling records a day to the N.S.A. after “a push to get this flow operational prior to the 10th anniversary of 9/11,” according to an internal agency newsletter. This revelation is striking because after Mr. Snowden disclosed the program of collecting the records of Americans’ phone calls, intelligence officials told reporters that, for technical reasons, it consisted mostly of landline phone records.
It is not clear whether these programs are still operational today, the Timesreports. One NSA document from 2013 states that AT&T’s “corporate relationships provide unique accesses to other telecoms and ISPs.”
[There was a video here]
Over the weekend, the Sunday Times published an article quoting British government sources claiming that China and Russia had hacked Edward Snowden’s NSA files, putting agents in danger. Where was the proof? Reporter Tom Harper appeared on CNN last night to explain: “Well, uh, I don’t know, to be honest with you.”
Harper’s co-authored Sunday bombshell, “British Spies Betrayed to Russians and Chinese,” asserted that the U.K.’s MI6 spy agency had had “to pull agents out of live operations in hostile countries” because Chinese and Russian officials had uncovered their identities using Edward Snowden’s trove of NSA documents. As one British Home Office official told Harper and his colleagues, Snowden had “blood on his hands.” Over the weekend, tons of American commentators—liberal and conservative—took the Times’ ball and ran with it, eager to seize on it as proof that Snowden was a security-destroying, spy-killing snake in the grass.
What was the British government’s evidence? That’s what Harper went on TV to explain to CNN anchor George Howell early Monday morning London time. As you can see in the clip above, it did not go well. In fact, it ended up being perhaps the clearest vindication of Snowden’s work to date:
George Howell: How do senior officials at No. 10 Downing Street know these files were breached?
Tom Harper: Well, uh, I don’t know, to be honest with you, George. All we know is that this is effectively the official position of the British government…
Howell: How do they know what was in them if they were encrypted? Has the British government also gotten into these files?
Harper: Well. Um, I mean, the files came from America and the UK. So, uh, they may already have known for sometime what Snowden took. Again, that’s not something that we’re clear on, so we don’t go into that level of detail in the story. We just publish what we believe to be the position of the British government at the moment.
Howell: Your article asserts that it is not clear if the files were hacked or if Snowden gave these files over when he was in Hong Kong and Russia. So which is it?
Harper: Well, again, sorry to just repeat myself, George, but we don’t know so we haven’t written that in the paper. Um, you know, it could be, it could be another scenario. When you’re dealing with the world of intelligence there are so many unknowns and so many possibilities, it’s difficult to state anything with certainty…
Howell: So we’re just really hearing, you know, what the British government is saying at this point. The article mentions these MI6 agents. Were they directly under threat as a result of the information leaked, or was it just a precautionary measure?
Harper: Again, I’m afraid to disappoint you, we just don’t know…
Howell: So essentially you’re reporting what the government is saying, but as far as the evidence to substantiate it, you’re not really able to comment or to explain that at this point. Right?
Harper: No… obviously when you’re dealing with intelligence, you know, it’s the toughest nut to crack. And, um, unless you actually have leaked intelligence documents, like Snowden had, it’s very difficult to say anything with certainty.
So, to summarize: We have no proof that there was any harm, except what the British government has said; there’s no way to back up what they’ve said; if you want to know what’s going on in the intelligence world, well… you’ve gotta have a leak like Snowden’s.
Reactions to Harper’s interview from journalists and activists on Twitter were swift and near-unanimous.
Really bad CNN interview with guy who wrote that terrible Sunday Times story. Doesn’t seem to know anything: http://t.co/sD7hc1HbGeMiriam Elder
This interview with the author of the Sunday Times Snowden story is painful http://edition.cnn.com/videos/us/2015/06/14/tom-harper-nsa-files-snowden-howell-intv-nr.cnn/video/playlists/intl-latest-world-videos/ … via @ggreenwald
Reports: Russia, China have files leaked by Snowden – CNN Video
CNN’s George Howell speaks with Sunday Times correspondent Tom Harper about reports that Russia and China have decrypted files stolen by NSA leaker Edward Snowden.
Sunday Times journalist to CNN: “We just publish what we believe to be the position of the British government” http://t.co/ifqIOoTPZ2Paul Hamilos
This interview with Sunday Times reporter about Snowden is so bad it’s almost joyous. Almost http://edition.cnn.com/videos/us/2015/06/14/tom-harper-nsa-files-snowden-howell-intv-nr.cnn/video/playlists/intl-latest-world-videos/ … via @MiriamElder
Reports: Russia, China have files leaked by Snowden – CNN Video
CNN’s George Howell speaks with Sunday Times correspondent Tom Harper about reports that Russia and China have decrypted files stolen by NSA leaker Edward Snowden.
edition.cnn.comMax J. Rosenthal
Author of Sunday Times Snowden story goes on CNN, is an utter embarrassment. http://j.mp/1egUPaR
Reports: Russia, China have files leaked by Snowden – CNN Video
CNN’s George Howell speaks with Sunday Times correspondent Tom Harper about reports that Russia and China have decrypted files stolen by NSA leaker Edward Snowden.
Oh dear, the @thesundaytimes reporter answers questions on his Snowden story with “I don’t know” http://edition.cnn.com/videos/us/2015/06/14/tom-harper-nsa-files-snowden-howell-intv-nr.cnn/video/playlists/intl-latest-world-videos/ …
Reports: Russia, China have files leaked by Snowden – CNN Video
Reports: Russia, China have files leaked by Snowden – CNN Video
Of course, none of this is evidence that Snowden’s pilfered NSA data hasn’t gotten cracked by “bad” countries with bad effects. But in the absence of evidence, the willingness of otherwise intelligent people to believe he’s all saint or all sinner leads them to make increasingly stupid choices, like arguing over aSunday Times article by a poor, simple government stenographer.
Earlier this week, Ed Snowden sat down with John Oliver in what turned out to be his first real, substantive interview since his stint in Russia began. Now, Last Week Tonight has released an extra clip in which Snowden offers us all a few, handy security tips. First and foremost: Your password probably sucks.
For an eight-character password, Snowden tells us it can literally take a computer less than a second to figure that password out. Instead, you should come up with a passphrase, “a common phrase that works for you that’s too long to brute force.”
Or, if that seems like too much work, there is one other option—just say fuck it and come to terms with the fact that government agents and hackers alike are probably staring at your dick pics as we speak.
Contact the author at email@example.com.
Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park is currently—and temporarily—home to a 100-pound bronze-colored bust of Edward Snowden, erected early this morning by a crew of guerilla artists. Animal New York has the story. Run see it before the pigs get there. [Pic: Animal NY]
John Oliver took Last Week Tonight to Russia this week to sit down with the best person to explain the spate of confusing government surveillance programs and how they affect the dick pics we send: Edward Snowden himself.
The Patriot Act is up for reauthorization June 1, and with it, the legislative provisions that allow for the government surveillance revealed in leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. But nearly two years after handing over classified documents to journalists, most Americans are still too confused, apathetic, or just clueless about what data is being collected from them.
“The fact is: We have this information now and we no longer get the luxury of pleading ignorance,” Oliver says. “It’s like how you can’t go to Sea World and pretend that Shamu is happy anymore when we know that at least half the water in her tank is whale tears.”
But the myriad government programs that allow for the collection of data being beamed to one server or another is hard to understand. There’s a brief segment (around 7:30 in the clip above) where producers ask passersby in Time Square who Edward Snowden is—most have him confused with Julian Assange. So Oliver hopped a flight to Russia to have a sit-down with the former NSA contractor:
OLIVER: “Did you do this to solve a problem?”
SNOWDEN: “I did this to give the American people the chance to decide for themselves the kind of government they want to have.”
OLIVER: “There’s no doubt it is a critical conversation, but is it a conversation that we have the capacity to have? Because it’s so complicated, we don’t fundamentally understand it.”
OLIVER: “Everything you did only matters if we have this conversation properly—let me help you out there…”
The interview then cuts to a segment (around the 25 minute mark) that rephrases questions (to the same Times Square interviewees) about government surveillance in the context of Uncle Sam having access to their dick pics. They’re not fans!
“Well, the good news is that there’s no program named, ‘The Dick Pic Program.’ The bad news is that they’re still collecting everybody’s information—including your dick pics,” Snowden says before confessing, “I guess I never thought about putting it into the context of your junk.”
During an AMA to promote CITIZENFOUR this afternoon, reddit moderators temporarily banned the Oscar-winning documentary’s subject from commenting. Edward Snowden was forced to sign-in through another account to explain the delay in his answers. “Hey guys, sorry — the reddit mods are being a little weird. My account is /u/SuddenlySnowden,” Snowden wrote. “Mods: Can you pull back the ban? I can’t post from the primary account. Thanks.”
Nine minutes later the mods responded and restored access to his account.
Mod here – really sorry for the confusion. Your colleagues set up the OPs account for you and when you started replying on a different account we had to assume it was a fake.
Your new account /u/SuddenlySnowden is good to go.
UPDATE 4:12 pm: Here are screenshots of the since-deleted responses from reddit moderators, reddit users, and AMA participant Glenn Greenwald.
You might think of reporters as nothing more than pencil-pushing dorks and neutered Twitter-shouters, and this is basically correct. But according to new Edward Snowden documents published by The Guardian, Britain’s NSA equivalent thinks investigative journalists should be treated much like terrorist threats.
The report says that journalists’ emails were captured and saved by GCHQ, en masse, by tapping into the fiber optic cables that make up the physical infrastructure of the internet. Once saved to GCHQ’s internal network, they could be perused without the senders or recipients knowing someone was eavesdropping:
Emails from the BBC, Reuters, the Guardian, the New York Times, Le Monde, the Sun, NBC and the Washington Post were saved by GCHQ and shared on the agency’s intranet as part of a test exercise by the signals intelligence agency.
The journalists’ communications were among 70,000 emails harvested in the space of less than 10 minutes on one day in November 2008 by one of GCHQ’s numerous taps on the fibre-optic cables that make up the backbone of the internet.
Although it’s possible these emails were recorded by accident as part of a much larger indiscriminate email dragnet, Snowden documents show the GCHQ spending time fretting specifically about what journalists are up to:
One restricted document intended for those in army intelligence warned that “journalists and reporters representing all types of news media represent a potential threat to security”.
It continued: “Of specific concern are ‘investigative journalists’ who specialise in defence-related exposés either for profit or what they deem to be of the public interest.
The agency went so far as to rank journalists (who write things) as a more “capable” security threat than actual terrorists (who plot murder on a large scale):
GCHQ information security assessments, meanwhile, routinely list journalists between “terrorism” and “hackers” as “influencing threat sources”, with one matrix scoring journalists as having a “capability” score of two out of five, and a “priority” of three out of five, scoring an overall “low” information security risk.
Terrorists, listed immediately above investigative journalists on the document, were given a much higher “capability” score of four out of five, but a lower “priority” of two. The matrix concluded terrorists were therefore a “moderate” information security risk.
Emphasis added. Terrorists: one single priority point lower than Reuters.
According to a report published in the New York Times, British, Indian, and American intelligence agencies failed to piece together major plot details of Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba before they carried out the gruesome, three-day onslaught in Mumbai in 2008 that left 166 dead, including six Americans.
The report published in today’s Times was assembled with ProPublica, the PBS series Frontline, and classified documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor. Their investigation reveals that the online activity of Zarrar Shah—the technology chief of Lashkar-e-Taiba who used Google Earth to help map routes to the group’s targets in Mumbai—was being monitored by international intelligence groups ahead of the attacks. From the Times:
But he did not know that by September , the British were spying on many of his online activities, tracking his Internet searches and messages, according to former American and Indian officials and classified documents disclosed by Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor.
They were not the only spies watching. Mr. Shah drew similar scrutiny from an Indian intelligence agency, according to a former official briefed on the operation. The United States was unaware of the two agencies’ efforts, American officials say, but had picked up signs of a plot through other electronic and human sources, and warned Indian security officials several times in the months before the attack.
When the militants began their attack on Nov. 26, American agencies scrambled to make sense of the major clues collected ahead of time:
The killing was indiscriminate, merciless, and seemingly unstoppable over three horrific days. In raw, contemporaneous notes by analysts, the eavesdroppers seem to be making a hasty effort to understand the clues from the days and weeks before.
“Analysis of Zarrar Shah’s viewing habits” and other data “yielded several locations in Mumbai well before the attacks occurred and showed operations planning for initial entry points into the Taj Hotel,” the N.S.A. document said.
Indeed, key details of the group’s attacked appear to have been previously gathered by British, American, or Indian intelligence agencies but went either unshared with their international counterparts, were passed over in the large passels of data, or just ignored:
The British had access to a trove of data from Mr. Shah’s communications, but contend that the information was not specific enough to detect the threat. The Indians did not home in on the plot even with the alerts from the United States.
For example, the British apparently learned early on that Shah was working to access a New Jersey-based voice-over-Internet phone service (VoIP) to mask calls from Pakistan to Lashkar-e-Taiba agents in Mumbai:
Mr. Shah had begun researching the VoIP systems, online security, and ways to hide his communications as early as mid-September, according to the documents. As he made his plan, he searched on his laptop for weak communication security in Europe, spent time on a site designed to conceal browsing history, and searched Google News for “indian american naval exercises” — presumably so the seagoing attackers would not blunder into an overwhelming force.
“If Mr. Shah made any attempt to hide his malevolent intentions, he did not have much success at it,” the Times writes. “Although his frenetic computer activity was often sprawling, he repeatedly displayed some key interests: small-scale warfare, secret communications, tourist and military locations in India, extremist ideology and Mumbai”:
He searched for Sun Tzu’s “Art of War,” previous terror strikes in India and weather forecasts in the Arabian Sea, typed “4 star hotel in delhi” and “taj hotel,” and visited mapsofindia.com to pore over sites in and around Mumbai, the documents show.
Still, the sheer scale of his ambition might have served as a smokescreen for his focus on the city. For example, he also showed interest in Kashmir, the Indian Punjab, New Delhi, Afghanistan and the United States Army in Germany and Canada. He constantly flipped back and forth among Internet porn and entertainment sites while he was carrying out his work. He appeared to be fascinated with the actor Robert De Niro, called up at least one article on the singer Taylor Swift, and looked at funny cat videos. He visited unexplainable.net, a conspiracy theory website, and conducted a search on “barak obama family + muslim.”
“His fascination with jihad,” the Times goes on, “established him as something of a pioneer for a generation of Islamic extremists who use the Internet as a weapon.”
Intelligence had apparently also been collected on David Coleman Headley, the Pakistani-American co-conspirator in the plot that was arrested by officials months after the attack:
Clues slipped by the Americans as well. David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani-American who scouted targets in Mumbai, exchanged incriminating emails with plotters that went unnoticed until shortly before his arrest in Chicago in late 2009. United States counterterrorism agencies did not pursue reports from his unhappy wife, who told American officials long before the killings began that he was a Pakistani terrorist conducting mysterious missions in Mumbai.
Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters denied that the intelligence gathered warranted raised suspicions. A spokesman told the Times, “We do not comment on intelligence matters. But if we had had critical information about an imminent act of terrorism in a situation like this we would have shared it with the Indian government. So the central allegation of this story is completely untrue.”
And U.S. Brian Hale, a spokesman for the director of the Office of National Intelligence, told the Times, “While I cannot comment on the authenticity of any alleged classified documents, N.S.A. had no knowledge of any access to a lead plotter’s computer before the attacks in Mumbai in November 2008.”
“No one put together the whole picture,” Shivshankar Menon, who was India’s foreign minister at the time of the attacks, told the Times. “Not the Americans, not the Brits, not the Indians.”
Edward Snowden, an enemy of America, released top secret information so powerful that it would destroy the government’s ability to keep Americans safe. Information so powerful that, in fact… nothing has changed.
Yesterday, the Senate voted down a bill that would have imposed *modest* reforms on the NSA’s ability to spy on everyone everywhere at all times for any reason. [AFTER READING PLEASE DELETE THE AFOREMENTIONED SENTENCE AND NEVER SPEAK OF IT AGAIN BY LAW.] That is disappointing, but not completely unexpected. The entire debate over Snowden’s revelations and the NSA’s terrifying omniscient powers has been characterized by Brave New World-style rhetoric from surveillance defenders designed to imply that our very existence was at stake. Christ, even the reform bill was called the “U.S.A. Freedom Act.” That would be designed to reform The Patriot Act. Each side must prove its flag-waving bona fides in order to participate in a serious conversation about government electronic surveillance, for some reason.
In other words, this entire debate has been characterized by lies or near-lies. Mostly by the very government that swears it is doing all of this for our own sake! Regarding the failed reform bill, Mitch McConnell said yesterday: “This is the worst possible time to be tying our hands behind our backs.” Leaving aside the false hand-tying metaphor: is it? Is it really the worst possible time? How about, I don’t know, 2002? How about September 12, 2001? How about 2004, when we were fully mired in the heat of Iraq? In 2004, do you think that if we had told the NSA that we would give it all of these near-unlimited powers for a full decade, they might not have been satisfied? I bet the NSA would have expected to have the very worst of this business wrapped up by 2014. The fact that they have not is a point against the usefulness of these powers, not for them.
The worst, most specious, most dishonest piece of poorly constructed propaganda in this particular bill’s debate, though, came in the form of yesterday’s Wall Street Journal op-ed by twin terror titans Michael Hayden and Michael Mukasey entitled—prepare yourself for this—”NSA Reform That Only ISIS Could Love.” How indicative of the sober, journalistic quality of discussion surrounding this issue! Here is but a small taste:
Meanwhile, Islamic State terrorists continue to rampage across Syria and Iraq, even as the group, also known as ISIS, uses sophisticated Internet communications to swell its ranks with recruits bearing U.S., Canadian or European passports who can easily slip back into their native countries and wreak havoc.
In that threat environment, one would think that the last thing on the “to do” list of the 113th Congress would be to add to the grim news.
Sophisticated Internet communications like, uh, Youtube videos. Clearly we must enable a top secret and unaccountable mega-bureaucracy to indiscriminately gobble up phone call data, if we are to have any chance of counteracting these persuasive workout videos.
The grim news is that we are talked to like a bunch of fucking children. And that the mainstream media facilitates that level of sophistry. And that it works!
Fleeing for your life is the new staycation, and no one has made it look as fabulous as adopted Muscovites Edward Snowden and his state-sanctioned girlfriend, Lindsay Mills. Vogue is offering some advice on how the leaker’s lady can attract as much attention as possible.
For a discreet stroll around Moscow, we think Mills would do best to embrace her adopted countrymen’s fondness for fur—and a touch of Bonnie Parker panache—in a camouflage look from Valentino.
The recommended subtle gear ranges from “Moncler Gamme Rouge lapin fur ushanka hat, $1,095” to “Pierre Hardy mixed media fur-front sneakers, $1,145.” There’s also this ensemble, which costs around $7,000 and includes several shades of neon:
This is all wrong. If you want to keep a low profile abroad, it’s best to dress like the locals, and modestly. This outfit is only like $25 on Amazon, and there’s a matching “dancing Russian guy” outfit to go with it:
While Vogue’s urban tsarina looks are pretty awesome (in taste and price!), we can only assume this feature was planted in the magazine by a DoD counter-intel squad, given how conspicuous those neon chevron stripes would render the pair under Moscow’s gray October sky. Nice try, “fashion industry.”
Edward Snowden’s attorney announced this morning that Russia had granted the government leaker three additional years of residency. Snowden’s initial temporary asylum, which began when he became stranded in a Russian airport last year, expired August 1.
Anatoly Kucherena, Snowden’s attorney, made clear he had not asked for permanent asylum, which would require a different application. From RT:
“On the first of August he received a three-year residence permit,” lawyer Anatoly Kucherena told reporters.
He added that Snowden had not asked for political asylum.
“He will be able to travel freely within the country and go abroad. He’ll be able to stay abroad for not longer than three months,” Kucherena said.
Kucherena said Snowden is working in information technology, the Associated Press reports, but did not specify where. He added that Snowden’s holding a job aided his case for additional residency time. According to Kucherena, Snowden has not decided whether to apply for permanent residency in Russia or attempt at some point to return to the U.S., and will hold a news conference in Russia “as soon as it will be possible.”
The Guardian posted a 14-minute video preview of an upcoming interview with Edward Snowden today, and among talk of the Russians (not working for them), Gitmo (could “live with” going), and 1984 (hasn’t read it in a while) was this unsettling bit about NSA workers and nude photos.
You’ve got young enlisted guys, 18 to 22. They’ve suddenly thrust into a position of extraordinary responsibility, where they now have access to all of your private records. Now, in the course of their daily work, they stumble across something that is completely unrelated to their work in any sort of necessary sense. For example: an intimate nude photo of someone in a sexually compromising situation, but they’re extremely attractive. So what do they do? They turn around in their chair, and they show their coworker. And their coworker says, “Oh, hey, that’s great. Send that to Bill down the way. And then Bill sends it to George, George sends it to Tom, and sooner or later, this person’s whole life has been seen by all of these other people. It’s never reported. Nobody ever knows about it, because the auditing of these systems is incredibly weak.
When Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger asks Snowden to clarify how often he saw this sort of thing happen, he answered: “It’s routine enough. Depending on sort of the company you keep, it could be more or less frequent. But these are seen as sort of the fringe benefits of surveillance positions.”
There you have it: all your worst fears about government surveillance appear to be true! Never sext again.
Edward is a single, eligible guy, just looking for love on Tinder. He’s handy with technology, enjoys traveling to exotic locales—he’s in Moscow right now, actually—and he’s got a great positive attitude. Is it any surprise that ladies on the dating site love him (whether they know who he is or not)?
Some of his matches recognized the joke and moved straight to trying to blow the former NSA contractor’s, uh, whistle.
Others are obviously embedded operators playing coy to gain access to Snowden’s secrets. (Or they just don’t keep up with current events.)
But no matter what, “Edward” continues to take advanced security precautions to avoid giving away precious intel.
Although the Snowden account is funny, it could also have serious consequences for Tinder. If Lonely Ed leaks the secret “swipe right on everyone” technique to the press, the entire dating pool could be compromised.
A new report from The Intercept shows that the NSA and FBI specifically targeted five prominent Muslim-Americans for surveillance, including a former Bush administration official. Glenn Greenwald hinted that a big scoop was on the way last week, but delayed its publication pending new reporting.
NSA documents provided to Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain, his co-writer, by Edward Snowden contain the email addresses of Faisal Gill, Asim Ghafoor, Hooshang Amirahmadi, Agha Saeed, and Nihad Awad on a list of targets for spying that also includes several Americans suspected of terrorist activity.
Gill served as a policy advisor to the Department of Homeland Security during the Bush administration and was the Republican nominee for a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates in 2007. Ghafoor is an attorney who once staffed former Texas Congressman Ciro Rodriguez and later represented several controversial clients in court, including Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law. Saeed and Awad are both activists for civil rights for Muslim-Americans, and Amirahmadi teaches international relations at Rutgers University. None of them are terrorists, and all have “led highly public, outwardly exemplary lives,” as Greenwald and Hussain write.
It’s unclear which, if any, of the men targeted were approved in a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, but Greenwald and Hussain argue that the spying is problematic whether it was deemed legal or not:
Indeed, the government’s ability to monitor such high-profile Muslim-Americans—with or without warrants—suggests that the most alarming and invasive aspects of the NSA’s surveillance occur not because the agency breaks the law, but because it is able to exploit the law’s permissive contours. “The scandal is what Congress has made legal,” says Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU deputy legal director. “The claim that the intelligence agencies are complying with the laws is just a distraction from more urgent questions relating to the breadth of the laws themselves.”
The authors also came across stunning racism and Islamophobia in their research. A 2005 instructional document for formatting memos about surveillance targets uses the name “Mohammed Raghead” as a placeholder, and John Guandolo, a former FBI counterterrorism official who was active at the time of the five men’s surveillance, revealed McCarthyesque paranoia about Islam in an interview with the Intercept.
To hear Guandolo tell it, Faisal Gill, the former homeland security official under Bush, was “a major player in the Muslim Brotherhood in the United States.” Asim Ghafoor, Gill’s fellow attorney, is “a jihadi” who was “directly linked to Al Qaeda guys” simply because of his representation of the Al Haramain Foundation. “He had knowledge of who they were and what they were doing,” Guandolo says. (Such logic would subject every lawyer representing defendants accused of terrorism to government surveillance.) To Guandolo, Agha Saeed was yet another secret operative for the Muslim Brotherhood. “He’s a pretty senior guy with them,” Guandolo says, “affiliated with several groups.” (“That’s a big lie,” Saeed says, “and given my life history, absurd” because he has “always been a leftist.”)
Guandolo also believes that CIA director John Brennan is a secret Muslim working as a Saudi double agent.
Several of the men on the list believe they were targeted specifically because of their Muslim heritage and expressed anger at the spying. Gill, a self-identified “Reagan-loving Republican,” said the revelations are enough to show that U.S. surveillance policy needs to change.
“If somebody like me could be surveilled, then [there are] other people out there I can only imagine who are under surveillance.
“I went to school here as a fourth grader – learned about the Revolutionary War, learned about individual rights, Thomas Jefferson, all these things,” he continues. “That is ingrained in you – your privacy is important. And to have that basically invaded for no reason whatsoever – for the fact that I didn’t do anything – I think that’s troubling. And I think that certainly goes to show how we need to shape policy differently than it is right now.”
And Awad argued that all Americans should be concerned for their privacy.
“I think all Americans should be worried about NSA surveillance and the targeting of American Muslims,” Awad says. “Because if it is American Muslims today, it is going to be them next. ”
As Margaret Hartmann notes at the Daily Intel, the allegations provide legal fuel for cases against surveillance of Americans in addition to exposing potential prejudices in the way it is carried out.
“For years, the government has succeeded in having such challenges dismissed on the ground that the various plaintiffs lack standing to sue because they could not prove that they were personally targeted,” Greenwald and Hussain write. Now there’s proof.
Hero/traitor/cyberman Edward Snowden is physically still stuck in Russia, but he gives talks and interviews in the U.S. via a telepresence robot that shows his face in real time and allows him to see his interviewers. And help rescue them during seizures.
As part of a longer piece on Snowdenbot and his human handlers, Tagesspiegelreporter Julia Prosinger recounted an incident at the ACLU offices in New York City when her epilepsy triggered and Snowden, Skyping in from Russia, knew exactly what to do.
When he saw Prosinger about to faint, he quickly told his ACLU lawyer, Ben Wizner, to catch her before she could hit her head on the metal filing cabinets.
“The first fits are always the worst,” he said when she came to.
I am lucky: Snowden is not only a patriot or traitor, he is also an epileptic. He instantly recognised what was happening to me. He tells me that he was only diagnosed when he was 28 years old. When he fled the US a little more than a year ago, he told his employer that he had to go away for a few weeks for treatment for his epilepsy. Then Snowden apologises for making me look at the flickering screen, it had triggered the fit, he says.
Snowden also made sure that Wizner put the reporter in the recovery position and brought her a glass of juice.
“For a moment,” Prosinger wrote, “Edward Snowden became three-dimensional.”
Edward Snowden gave his first U.S. television interview to NBC’s Brian Williams last night, almost one year after he was first revealed as the NSA contractor who leaked documents about the U.S. government’s digital surveillance techniques.
Snowden has been in Russia since the country granted him a one-year asylum last August. Since then, he’s come under considerable fire from U.S. officials, particularly from Congressman Mike Rogers, who has accused Snowden of working under Russian influence. Snowden contends that this isn’t true.
“I have no relationship with the Russian government at all,” he told Williams.
But while in Russia, Snowden has been able to evade prosecution from the U.S., which is more than ready to take him to court for violations of the Espionage Act.
“When people say, ‘Why don’t you go home and face the music?,’ I say, you have to understand that the music is not an open court and a fair trial,” he said. “I think the most important idea is to remember that there have been times throughout history where what is right is not the same as what is legal. Sometimes to do the right thing, you have to break a law. And the key there is in terms of civil disobedience.”
Last month, the New York Times reported that Snowden had retained the services of Plato Cacheris, a lawyer who specializes in Espionage Act charges, last year to negotiate a potential plea deal with the U.S. government. He even defended the NSA to a point.
“People have unfairly demonized the NSA to a point that’s too extreme,” he said. “These are good people, trying to do hard work for good reasons.”
Snowden told Williams that he “takes the threat of terrorism seriously” and that he was on Fort Meade on Sept. 11:
“I’ve never told anybody this. No journalist. But I was on Fort Meade on September 11th. I was right outside the NSA. So I remember — I remember the tension of that day. I remember hearing on the radio the planes hitting. And I remember thinking my grandfather, who worked for the FBI at the time — was in the Pentagon when the plane hit it.”
The only major gaffe Snowden seemed to make during his interview was saying that he thought “the second season [of The Wire] is not so great.” But mostly, he misses living in the U.S.
“If I could go anywhere in the world, that place would be home.”
[Image via NBC News]
Tonight NBC released portions of Edward Snowden’s big interview with Brian Williams, and the focus seems to be on Snowden’s claim that he was actually a trained spy, not a low-level hacker.
“I was trained as a spy in sort of the traditional sense of the word, in that I lived and worked undercover overseas, pretending to work in a job that I’m not, and even being assigned a name that was not mine,” Snowden told Williams in the interview, set to air tomorrow evening.
In the clip, Snowden lists his credentials, that include a stint with the Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA, to establish that he was more than “a low-level systems administrator.”
He later clarifies, “I am a technical expert. I don’t work with people. I don’t recruit agents. What I do is I put systems to work for the United States.”
Earlier this week, the Intercept revealed another bombshell from Edward Snowden’s cache of government secrets: The NSA soaks up all the mobile phone calls from the Bahamas and another country. When they didn’t name that country, Wikileaks did. The question now is: why the secrecy?
The initial report from Intercept reporters Ryan Deveraux, Glenn Greenwald, and Laura Poitras offered details about a U.S. electronic spying program known as SOMALGET, which is capable of capturing and “storing an entire nation’s phone traffic for 30 days.” The program was currently being used on two nations, and the Intercept was up front about one of those—the Bahamas—where calls, including those of Americans, were being captured en masse without the nation’s knowledge.
That surveillance was part of MYSTIC, a larger, previously reported-on program that yanks metadata from calls in the Bahamas and four other countries. But Greenwald and his coauthors, whose work is not exactly known for its government-friendly restraint, noted that the NSA used its all-calls recording capability on another country along with the Bahamas—but declined to identify that nation:
Documents show that the NSA has been generating intelligence reports from MYSTIC surveillance in the Bahamas, Mexico, Kenya, the Philippines, and one other country, which The Intercept is not naming in response to specific, credible concerns that doing so could lead to increased violence. The more expansive full-take recording capability has been deployed in both the Bahamas and the unnamed country.
Wikileaks took umbrage at that omission and early this morning identified the so-called “Country X” in a post and a tweet:WikiLeaks
WikiLeaks cannot be complicit in the censorship of victim state X. The country in question is #Afghanistan. https://wikileaks.org/WikiLeaks-statement-on-the-mass.html … #afpak
Wikileaks’ argument, essentially, was that the U.S. could use its phone-record data to deliver drone strikes against Afghans, and the people of Afghanistan deserved to know that:
Both the Washington Post and The Intercept stated that they had censored the name of the victim country at the request of the US government. Such censorship strips a nation of its right to self-determination on a matter which affects its whole population. An ongoing crime of mass espionage is being committed against the victim state and its population. By denying an entire population the knowledge of its own victimisation, this act of censorship denies each individual in that country the opportunity to seek an effective remedy, whether in international courts, or elsewhere.
This raises a host of questions, both about the Intercept’s choice to omit the Afghanistan identification and Wikileaks’ choice to expose it.
Is it really surprising that the U.S. uses its tapping capabilities to soak up phone communications in Afghanistan, a country where American troops are fighting a war? Despite overwhelming public opinion against the war—and public criticism of NSA spying—that sort of intelligence-gathering might actually be reassuring to many Americans, particularly those with loved ones working there.
Wikileaks points out, fairly, that they’re concerned not about U.S. troops but about Afghans. Yet is this Afghanistan revelation really that surprising or helpful to Afghans, considering the state of the fractured, violent nation they’ve lived in under a decade and a half of foreign invasion—not just by the U.S.-led coalition, but by bin Laden’s “Arab Afghans” and Pakistan-based insurgents?
Greenwald et al said they had “specific, credible concerns that” identifying Afghanistan in their report “could lead to increased violence” there. But what violence, and against whom? The vagueness of both their report and Wikileaks’ wouldn’t seem to bring any opprobrium down on a particular person, company, or organization that couldn’t already have been branded as collaborators by warring groups in Afghanistan.
The Intercept passage seems to imply that there was more of a concern that this news would simply arouse anti-U.S. anger and result in violence in Afghanistan. But that wouldn’t be anything new, either—certainly no newer than earlier revelations about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, out of the Wikileaks document troves leaked by Chelsea Manning, that Greenwald championed in recent years.
About the only thing that makes sense here is why Wikileaks would want the information out, even when the Intercept doesn’t. There’s the group’s ethical performance, a sort of information absolutism that asserts all government secrets should be public knowledge.
But there’s also a practical concern: If Greenwald, Poitras et al, who’ve shown little to no fear in their previous publishing, found a line they couldn’t cross when it came to releasing Snowden’s secrets, it’s a tacit but pointed condemnation of the relatively indiscriminate way Assange and Team Wikileaks have gone about releasing the Chelsea Manning files. It would suggest that there is a way to be radically for government transparency and still respect government’s fundamental right to having privileged information—and Wikileaks recklessly spurns that way.
In any case, we’re reaching out to Intercept Editor in Chief (and our former Gawker boss) John Cook to see if he can add anything to our understanding of this flap, and the stakes involved.
[Illustration by Josh Begley courtesy of the Intercept]
With the release of Glenn Greenwald’s new book about Edward Snowden, it is once again time to fire up the bizarre parade of media pundits condemning the practice of journalism. Up today: Michael Kinsley.
As a punditlectual, Kinsley has always straddled the line between surprising/ insightful and frustratingly haughty/ obnoxious. Reading him is not not a total waste of time at least 50% of the time, which puts him in the upper quartile of pundits nationwide. He is the man the New York Times chose to review Greenwald’s book for the Sunday Book Review. He is not much of a Greenwald—or Snowden—fan. But this passage really leaps out:
The trouble is this: Greenwald says that Snowden told him to “use your journalistic judgment to only publish those documents that the public should see and that can be revealed without harm to any innocent people.” Once again, this testimony proves the opposite of what Greenwald and Snowden seem to think. Snowden may be willing to trust Greenwald to make this judgment correctly — but are you? And even if you do trust Greenwald’s judgment, which on the evidence might be unwise, how can we be sure the next leaker will be so scrupulous?
The question is who decides. It seems clear, at least to me, that the private companies that own newspapers, and their employees, should not have the final say over the release of government secrets, and a free pass to make them public with no legal consequences. In a democracy (which, paceGreenwald, we still are), that decision must ultimately be made by the government. No doubt the government will usually be overprotective of its secrets, and so the process of decision-making — whatever it turns out to be — should openly tilt in favor of publication with minimal delay. But ultimately you can’t square this circle. Someone gets to decide, and that someone cannot be Glenn Greenwald.
Let’s be perfectly clear about what is happening here: Michael Kinsley, a man who has become wealthy by working in the field of journalism, asserts that “the private companies that own newspapers, and their employees, should not have the final say over the release of government secrets, and a free pass to make them public with no legal consequences.” In other words, Michael Kinsley is coming out in opposition to journalism. Local sports scores? Fine. The weather? Fine. Fireman saves kitten? Fine, fine, fine with Michael Kinsley. But a story about government secrets—the sort of story that every institution of journalism tries to land every day? Not okay.
And why? Because Michael Kinsley does not believe that a free press should be allowed to do that. He believes that the decision to tell government secrets “must ultimately be made by the government.”
The decision to report government secrets, says Michael Kinsley, must be made by the government that made these things secret in the first place. I do not even need to mock this position. This position speaks quite clearly for itself. Michael Kinsley fundamentally does not believe in the institution of a free press as a check on government power. Michael Kinsley should consider going into a field of work that does not trouble his conscience as much as the field of journalism does— perhaps PR man, or shoeshine boy, would be more to his liking.
Next time you’re in the Bahamas, be safe and hire a pigeon carrier or something: according to a new report from Glenn Greenwald’s The Intercept, the NSA is secretly recording and storing every single cell phone call made on the islands.
That information is the latest to trickle out from the trove of NSA documents handed to Greenwald and Laura Poitras by Edward Snowden, and it comes on the heels of a Washington Post report from March that stated that the NSA was recording and archiving all of the phone calls made in an unnamed country. The Intercept does not state whether the Bahamas is the same nation that the Washington Post was referring to, but this story goes even deeper:
The Intercept has confirmed that as of 2013, the NSA was actively using MYSTIC to gather cell-phone metadata in five countries, and was intercepting voice data in two of them. Documents show that the NSA has been generating intelligence reports from MYSTIC surveillance in the Bahamas, Mexico, Kenya, the Philippines, and one other country, which The Intercept is not naming in response to specific, credible concerns that doing so could lead to increased violence. The more expansive full-take recording capability has been deployed in both the Bahamas and the unnamed country.
The Bahamas and the country that The Intercept is choosing not to name are part of an American government program called SOMALGET, which is a subset of MYSTIC reserved for the two countries (that we know of) that are having entire phone calls stored for up to 30 days. Bahamian cell phone traffic was breached without the country’s knowledge by the NSA in conjunction with the DEA.
Though it’s not yet known why the Bahamas have been targeted by the United States (ease, perhaps?), the scope of SOMALGET means that Americans who have visited the country—like, say, the Miami Heat, who practiced in the Bahamas for a week last year—have been covertly recorded by their own government. As The Intercept points out, a number of well-known Americans keep homes in the Bahamas, including Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and Tom Harkin, a Democratic senator from Iowa. (If you were about to feel bad for Bill Gates, note that Microsoft granted the NSA access to snoop through Outlook and Skype.)
It’s also unknown whether SOMALGET is technically illegal—the DEA seems to be involved because it has an arrangement with the Bahamas that would provide cover for the NSA’s surveillance—but, nonetheless, the American government is once again proving to be highly efficient at making unnecessary enemies simply for acting like dicks.
During a live broadcast on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin finally admitted what the world already knew or suspected: that Russian troops entered Crimea before a crucial March referendum. But the true surprise occurred later in the program, when Edward Snowden called in to ask Putin if Russia’s surveillance programs were similar to the United States’.
“I’ve seen little public discussion of Russia’s policy of mass surveillance,” Snowden said. “So I’d like to ask you: Does Russia intercept, store, or analyze the communication of millions? And do you believe that simply increasing the effectiveness of law enforcement agencies can justify placing societies, rather than individual subjects, under surveillance?”
Putin welcomed Snowden’s question, even recognizing him as a sort of colleague.
“Mr. Snowden, you are a former spy. I used to work for an intelligence agency,” Putin said. “We can talk one professional language.”
“First of all, our intelligence efforts are strictly regulated by our law,” he added. “You have to get the court’s permission to stalk a person. We don’t have a mass system of interception. With our law, it cannot exist. Of course, we know criminals and terrorists use technology for their criminal acts and of course the special services have to use technical means to respond to their crimes. Of course, we do some efforts like that but we do not have mass scale effort. I hope we don’t do that. We don’t have the money or the kind of devices they have in the United States. Our special services are strictly controlled by the society and the law, and are regulated by the law.”
In a more believable and ominous segment of the broadcast, Putin reasserted Russia’s right to use force in Ukraine. “I very much hope I will not have to use this right and we will manage to resolve all pressing, not to say, critical contemporary problems of Ukraine with political and diplomatic means,” he said.
The NSA, America’s all seeing eye, doesn’t want to know everything about everybody, Barton Gellman said today, his face hovering on a screen at the front of the New York Times‘ airy auditorium. “It wants to be able to know anything about anybody.”
And that’s a key difference, isn’t it? The second is worse, because it derives is power from the paranoia of the spied-upon—all of us. It is also reality. Gellman, the esteemed national security journalist who was among the first to write stories based on Edward Snowden’s leaks, was being interviewed by Times columnist Roger Cohen—via Skype—along with Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. The Three Horsejournalists of the NSA Revelations, so to speak. The interview, which was just one part of the George Polk Awards’ “Sources and Secrets” conference (hosted by the Times) today, was about what you expect, right down to when Cohen plaintively asked them, of their supposed animosity towards “establishment” journalists, “What do you have against us?”
The conference—a series of panel discussions about the relationship between journalists, sources, and the government in the era of the NSA— was worthwhile, all jokes aside. A few bullet point takeaways, for ease of Friday afternoon reading:
– All of the investigative journalists who cover national security (and the very best of the best were on the panels today) agreed that the Obama administration’s unprecedented aggressive pursuit of leakers, combined with the revelations of the pervasiveness of the government’s electronic eavesdropping capabilities, were having a very serious chilling effect on the willingness of sources in the national security world to come forward and speak to the press. The one thing that both the reporters trying to unearth secrets and the government lawyers on the panels trying to protect the secrets could agree on: the U.S. government is in dire need of a real, working system for internal whistleblowers— a system that would A) get results for their complaints, and B) protect them from retaliation. All agreed this system does not exist today. Until it does, people will leak to the press (more often).
– Sen. Charles Schumer talked optimistically of the prospects of passing a federal shield law for journalists. The version in question would protect professional journalists only, not the unpaid. And its protections would amount to the right to go in front of a judge. Better than the existing system, but far from a utopia. There is a much larger debate to be had on the insidious negative effects of enshrining any special legal protections for “journalists” as a class, thereby making “journalism” an activity not open to all.
– Though Bob Woodward, who moderated one panel, tried to get a discussion going on whether the Obama administration was “anti-press,” the reporters onstage rightly replied, politely, that such a term is so broad as to be meaningless. The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer had the best answer: “Every administration is anti-press.”
– In response to questions about Edward Snowden’s actions in Russia, Barton Gellman made the point that it is ridiculous for the media, whose job it is to bring important information to the public, to focus on the actions of Snowden himself, rather than on the ENORMOUSLY IMPORTANT TROVE OF SECRET INFORMATION that he released. It is sad that this point still needs to be made. The fucking media, man. Grow up.
– Likewise, both he and Greenwald noted that it is a canard to argue over whether or not the NSA is really listening to everyone’s phone sex calls. The problem is that they want to reserve for themselves both the right and the ability to do so. “It is the capability to surveil that becomes so menacing,” Greenwald said.
– Ken Wainstein, a former government lawyer, complained that to the extent that the right of investigative journalists to report on government secrets is protected, “You’re going to have more leaks, and in the long run undermine [the security state’s] effectiveness.” Good. The most useful way to understand this entire debate between government national security and surveillance powers and the freedom of the press is as a struggle for institutional power. The current situation is one in which the government security state, via the NSA, wields almost unimaginable power to destroy privacy. The media as it stands today is a minor counterweight to that. It makes good sense to give the media protection and room to run until this gross imbalance of power has been brought somewhat under control. If the day ever comes when journalists accrue too much power unto themselves, then we can think about tweaking the laws in the other direction. Let’s focus on the consequences of things.
Make no mistake: right now, the NSA has already won. This is a discussion about how to bring things back into some semblance of balance. “Challenges [from the security state] to the first and the fourth amendments of the U.S. Constitution,” said journalist Peter Maass, is “the story of our lives.”
The unspooling revelations of what exactly the NSA has been up to are proof that sometimes, the paranoid lunatics are absolutely correct. Today we learnthat the spy agency has been recording 100%—all!—of the phone calls made in an entire country.
Based on leaks by Edward Snowden, Barton Gellman reports on the existence of the NSA’s “MYSTIC” program, which comes with the Gandalfesque logo that you see above. Even in the context of everything we have learned about the NSA’s globe-spanning suction of information, MYSTIC stands out as particularly breathtaking: the program records every single phone conversation in an entire nation and stores the recordings for 30 days. Analysts at the NSA can then listen to any of them at their leisure. The program’s recordings include calls made by Americans to the nation in question.
The Washington Post did not disclose which country MYSTIC currently targets, at the request of government officials. (Though that would seem to be information that could legitimately be published, given the number of wholly innocent people being spied upon under this program.) But it seems that recording all the phone calls of one nation is just the beginning:
Some of the documents provided by Snowden suggest that high-volume eavesdropping may soon be extended to other countries, if it has not been already. The RETRO tool was built three years ago as a “unique one-off capability,” but last year’s secret intelligence budget named five more countries for which the MYSTIC program provides “comprehensive metadata access and content,” with a sixth expected to be in place by last October.
The budget did not say whether the NSA now records calls in quantity in those countries or expects to do so. A separate document placed a high priority on planning “for MYSTIC accesses against projected new mission requirements,” including “voice.”
This is not “targeted” surveillance. This is wholesale surveillance of an entire populations with no limits whatsoever. And with plans in place to spread this sort of surveillance around the world. This is the sort of thing that, pre-Snowden, would have been dismissed as a farcical notion of an all-knowing government, a ridiculous fear far beyond any likely reality.
It is outrageous that the international phone calls of innocent American citizens are being recorded by our own government with no probable cause. More broadly, it is outrageous that a U.S. spy agency would record every single phone call made by innocent citizens of a foreign nation, like the world’s most voracious voyeur. The NSA is listening to all the phone sex in the Middle East. This is what the wholesale erasure of privacy looks like. It’s natural to feel fatigued after so many NSA stories. It’s easy to allow these revelations to fade into background noise. But this shit is important. The U.S. government will happily take all of the powers that we don’t fight it for.
Bill Gates is a technocrat. A very, very rich technocrat. His charity work will probably save millions of lives. But, as a new interview with him reveals, he’s really not much of a progressive at all.
Jeff Goodel’s lengthy new Rolling Stone interview with Gates delves deep into Gates’ greatest accomplishment: his $36 billion foundation, and its meaningful, data-driven contributions to public health and anti-poverty initiatives. But it also does a good job proving that—although many people reflexively assume that someone so concerned about helping the poor must be a progressive liberal—Gates is anything but. The most prominent example:
RS: Thanks to Edward Snowden, who has leaked tens of thousands of NSA documents, we are. Do you consider him a hero or a traitor?
Gates: I think he broke the law, so I certainly wouldn’t characterize him as a hero. If he wanted to raise the issues and stay in the country and engage in civil disobedience or something of that kind, or if he had been careful in terms of what he had released, then it would fit more of the model of “OK, I’m really trying to improve things.” You won’t find much admiration from me.
Gates objects to the very idea of leaking classified information about government surveillance, because “the specific techniques they use become unavailable if they’re discussed in detail,” a position that could be comfortably espoused by the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
And here is what Gates, the world’s richest man, had to say about income inequality:
Well, now you’re getting into sort of complicated issues. In general, on taxation-type things, you’d think of me as a Democrat. That is, when tax rates are below, say, 50 percent, I believe there often is room for additional taxation. And I’ve been very upfront on the need to increase estate taxes. Particularly given the medical obligations that the state is taking on and the costs that those have over time. You can’t have a rigid view that all new taxes are evil. Yes, they have negative effects, but I’m like Krugman in that if you expect the state to do these things, they are going to cost money.
Should the state be playing a greater role in helping people at the lowest end of the income scale? Poverty today looks very different than poverty in the past. The real thing you want to look at is consumption and use that as a metric and say, “Have you been worried about having enough to eat? Do you have enough warmth, shelter? Do you think of yourself as having a place to go?” The poor are better off than they were before, even though they’re still in the bottom group in terms of income.
He goes on to criticize the lack of efficiency in government programs for the poor. Moderately liberal? Yes. But he is no George Soros. He’s not even as far left as Warren Buffett, when you get right down to it. A $36 billion foundation and a call for a 50% tax rate is admirable, in isolation. The same things are somewhat less admirable in the context of a $76 billion fortune.
Gates’ gods are not political, but technical. He worships efficiency and measurability, not ideals. And he evinces the sunny optimism (about technology’s ability to fix climate change without serious political changes, and about the inevitability of collective human progress in general) of a man free of personal worries. To Gates, the government is just another stakeholder instrumental to his plans, not an overarching force in life that must be held in check by an empowered citizenry.
A kindhearted technocrat with more means than ideals is not, of course, the worst thing the world’s richest man could be. It’s also not the best.
Julian Assange appeared, as we told you before, by Skype at SXSW over the weekend. Set against a green-screened Wikileaks logo, wearing a scarf straight from the Doctor Who wardrobe department and an actually respectable showing of facial hair, he gave his usual kind of speech. That’s to say, one grounded in a lot of really honorable principles about disclosure and democracy and openness and how constant surveillance undermines all of those things.
Characteristically, of course, all of this noble talk was laced with moments of pure self-aggrandizement:
I am able to exist in a situation which is every national security reporter’s dream, which is a land without police… It is a no man’s land, as far as coercion is concerned.
If this boast of transcending the police weren’t coming from a man who has been confined to an effective house arrest for more than 625 days, possibly he’d be right. Within that context, it’s… not right.
Today, it was Edward Snowden’s turn to remotely address the assembled (and those of us watching the live feed). Like Assange, he appeared in front of a green screen. His backdrop was what appeared to be the text of the Constitution. Compared to Assange’s appearance, the talk was impressively specific and practical. For example: the moderator joked that Snowden’s feed was coming through no fewer than seven proxy servers from Russia, where he lives in exile.
Most of his speech had a strange echo effect attached to it, which lent the whole affair a Hollywood futuristic quality. But it also gave you, as the moderators pointed out, an idea of how primitive and buggy a lot of the security tools available out there are. Which makes them less-than-totally-effective solutions for your average citizen just looking to keep their communications relatively anonymous.
Called upon to comment on Keith Alexander’s worries that Snowden’s revelations had undermined data security, Snowden offered a pithy and effective response, which characterized security officials as so eager to hack into others’ communications they forgot to close their own backdoors:
They began eroding the protections of our communications in order to get an attacking advantage… It doesn’t make sense to be attacking all day and never defending your vault, and it makes even less sense when you set the standards for vaults worldwide and leave a wide backdoor that anyone can walk into.
In case I’m not being clear: Snowden came off as an anti-Assange, the guy who’ll show up to your videocast dressed for the office, to talk policy and sense. He didn’t really talk about Assange or Wikileaks. Whereas Assange kept referring, over and over, to Snowden’s bravery, to the bravery of the journalists who cover Snowden, etc. etc.
In short, Assange looked and talked like the older star welcoming the younger one to the biz, and not all that gracefully.
If you think I’m being too quick to apply the politics of celebrity to freedom fighters, you should probably read this excellent 26,000 word piece recently published by the London Review of Books. Written by Andrew O’Hagan, a regular contributor to the LRB and a contributing editor at Esquire, it details O’Hagan’s abortive attempt to collaborate with Assange on a biography in 2011. O’Hagan was not particularly cowed by Assange’s already well-documented eccentricities. But as he tells the tale, the far more frustrating thing about Assange was his (and Wikileaks’) addiction to the spotlight:
He’s not a details guy. None of them is. What they love is the big picture and the general fight. They love the noise and the glamour, the history, the spectacle, but not the fine print… even today, three years later, the cables have never had the dedicated attention they deserve. They made a splash and then were left languishing. I always hoped someone would do a serious editing job, ordering them country by country, contextualising each one, providing a proper introduction, detailing each injustice and each breach, but Julian wanted the next splash and, even more, he wanted to scrap with each critic he found on the internet.
And it was hard, watching both of these guys be livecasted over the last couple of days, not to agree with O’Hagan that Assange’s thirst for fame has gotten the better of his project. Meanwhile Snowden’s quieter jabs, filtered through the more “careful editing” they’re receiving from the journalists who now have their hands on the documents, have probably been more effective than the Assange’s sensational dump of cables.
The politics of being a freedom fighter have long been tangled up with those of celebrity. Part of your success at living “outside the law,” no matter how just the cause, always seemed to depend on the romanticism of the public image you project. This helps explain why people like Jeffrey Toobin came out of nowhere to, with precious little actual experience of the man, preemptively accuse Snowden of being a “grandiose narcissist.”
There was a hope that if Snowden could be turned into a jerk in the public eye from the get-go, the strange guy with the funny girlfriend, that nothing else he’d say would catch on. But here we are, a year later, and he has sparked a giant—and specific—tech conversation.
And the guy who made the much bigger, more deliberate celebrity splash, complete with the rich friends and the million-dollar book deal (that he promptly botched)—well, it really is a nice scarf he’s wearing.
Here’s perhaps the only lighthearted revelation from Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks: The spy agency has its own advice columnist. The anonymous writer, who uses the pen name “Zelda,” has covered everything from flip-flops in the office to nosey supervisors.
According to Snowden’s documents, which were published in Glenn Greenwald’s new outlet, The Intercept, the columns were available only to workers with security clearance and access to the NSA’s intranet, though some were read by thousands; Zelda’s most popular post in 2011 received 19,446 hits.
Here’s a letter, from a column with the headline “Watching Every Word in Snitch City,” about an overly curious boss, via The Intercept:
Here’s the scenario: when the boss sees co-workers having a quiet conversation, he wants to know what is being said (it’s mostly work related). He has his designated “snitches” and expects them to keep him apprised of all the office gossip – even calling them at home and expecting a run-down! This puts the “designees” in a really awkward position; plus, we’re all afraid any offhand comment or anything said in confidence might be either repeated or misrepresented.
Needless to say, this creates a certain amount of tension between team members who normally would get along well, and adds stress in an already stressful atmosphere. There is also an unspoken belief that he will move people to different desks to break up what he perceives as people becoming too “chummy.” (It’s been done under the guise of “creating teams.”)
We used to be able to joke around a little or talk about our favorite “Idol” contestant to break the tension, but now we’re getting more and more skittish about even the most mundane general conversations (“Did you have a good weekend?”). This was once a very open, cooperative group who worked well together. Now we’re more suspicious of each other and teamwork is becoming harder. Do you think this was the goal?
Silenced in SID
Wow, that takes “intelligence collection” in a whole new – and inappropriate – direction. …. We work in an Agency of secrets, but this kind of secrecy begets more secrecy and it becomes a downward spiral that destroys teamwork. What if you put an end to all the secrecy by bringing it out in the open?
You and your co-workers could ask [the supervisor] for a team meeting and lay out the issue as you see it: “We feel like you don’t trust us and we aren’t comfortable making small talk anymore for fear of having our desks moved if we’re seen as being too chummy.” (Leave out the part about the snitches.) Tell him how this is hampering collaboration and affecting the work, ask him if he has a problem with the team’s behavior, and see what he says. …. Stick to the facts and how you feel, rather than making it about him (“We’re uncomfortable” vs “You’re spying on us.”).
If you are bothered by snitches in your office, whether of the unwilling or voluntary variety, the best solution is to keep your behavior above reproach. Be a good performer, watch what you say and do, lock your screen when you step away from your workstation, and keep fodder for wagging tongues (your Viagra stash, photos of your wild-and-crazy girls’ weekend in Atlantic City) at home or out of sight. If you are put in the “unwilling snitch” position, I would advise telling your boss that you’re not comfortable with the role and to please not ask that of you.
In another column she expressed her disapproval of shorts and flip-flops in the office: “Somehow, shorts and flip-flops don’t exactly convey the image of a fierce SIGINT warrior,” she writes. “Not only is beach attire unprofessional in the workplace, but in certain cases it can be downright distracting to co-workers (if you get my drift).”
The columns were a hit, and became the most ready articles on SIDtoday, the NSA’s regular office bulletin. From the Intercept:
“We usually end the calendar year by providing a suspenseful countdown of the top dozen most widely read SIDtoday articles of the year,” noted a SIDtoday bulletin on December 27, 2011, “but this time around it is not really a nail-biter, because Zelda articles occupied all of the top five slots!”
The CBC on Thursday reported that the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), a Canadian spy agency, has been using airport wi-fi to track travelers. The report was based on a document leaked to Glenn Greenwald by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Yesterday Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s parliamentary secretary, Paul Calandra responded by saying it was all made up and Glenn Greenwald is a ‘porn-spy.’ Excuse me?
On Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder said that he would be open to negotiations with Edward Snowden’s lawyers but only if the former NSA contractor pleaded guilty first.
Speaking at the University of Virginia, Holder again emphasized that clemencyfor Snowden was not an option. “We’ve always indicated that the notion of clemency isn’t something that we were willing to consider,” he said, according to the New York Times. “Instead, were he coming back to the U.S. to plead guilty, we would engage with his lawyers.”
To some degree, Edward Snowden agrees, though he’s unlikely to accept Holder’s offer anytime soon. “Returning to the US, I think, is the best resolution for the government, the public, and myself,” Snowden said in an online Q&A yesterday.
“But it’s unfortunately not possible in the face of current whistleblower protection laws, which through a failure in law did not cover national security contractors like myself,” he added. “The hundred-year old law under which I’ve been charged, which was never intended to be used against people working in the public interest, and forbids a public interest defense. This is especially frustrating, because it means there’s no chance to have a fair trial, and no way I can come home and make my case to a jury.”
And Holder admitted that Snowden’s disclosures have done some good. “I think the dialogue that we are engaged is in fact something that is ultimately going to be productive – it’s healthy,” Holder said, “but that doesn’t necessarily excuse what he did.”
In response to the uproar over NSA spying allegations, President Obama called for modest reforms to federal data collection Friday in a long, complicated speech that tried to thread a difficult needle, appearing adequately patriotic and tough on terror while respecting Americans’ civil liberties.
It was not clear that he succeeded. U.S. spooks “are not abusing authorities to read your private emails or listen to your phone calls,” he said, but later added, “I believe critics are right to point out that without proper safeguards, this type of program could be used to yield more information about our private lives, and open the door to more intrusive, bulk collection programs.”
Obama sounded every bit like a law professor at the rostrum, or an appellate attorney approaching the bench, discussing wonky complexities and subtleties with a gloss that lent itself to few bite-able moments… and few clear answers for everyday Americans.
Here were some of POTUS’ specific recommendations:
- Keep the FBI’s controversial “National Security Letters” program going, to subpoena data from the companies that collect it. But Obama assured listeners that he would make that and other intelligence processes more “transparent.”
- End the metadata-collection program “as it currently exists.” What’s that mean? In part: “Effective immediately, we will only pursue phone calls that are two steps removed from a number associated with a terrorist organization instead of three.”
- “I have directed that we take the unprecedented step of extending certain protections that we have for the American people to people overseas.” Those safeguards will be set by U.S. intelligence collectors and Attorney General Eric Holder.
- “Unless there is a compelling national security purpose – we will not monitor the communications of heads of state and government of our close friends and allies.”
- Appoint a bunch of new senior officials in the State Department and White House to oversee privacy safeguards.
- Open a blue-ribbon panel “to lead a comprehensive review of big data and privacy.”
Further threading the needle, Obama acknowledged in his speech that much of his knowledge about the extent of the NSA’s collection methods had come from the leaks by Edward Snowden, while still coming short of thanking or pardoning him.
“Given the fact of an open investigation, I’m not going to dwell on Mr. Snowden’s actions or motivations,” Obama said:
“I will say that our nation’s defense depends in part on the fidelity of those entrusted with our nation’s secrets. If any individual who objects to government policy can take it in their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will never be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy.”
Just hours before President Obama’s scheduled speech announcing changes to the NSA, the Guardian dropped another Edward Snowden-provided scoop: The NSA collects and stores an average of 194 million text messages per day from around the world, including from people who are not the targets of any investigation.
According to Snowden’s documents, the program—codenamed Dishfire—gathers “pretty much everything it can” in order to provide information about people’s locations, financial transactions, travel plans, and more. From the Guardian:
On average, each day the NSA was able to extract:
• More than 5 million missed-call alerts, for use in contact-chaining analysis (working out someone’s social network from who they contact and when)
• Details of 1.6 million border crossings a day, from network roaming alerts
• More than 110,000 names, from electronic business cards, which also included the ability to extract and save images.
• Over 800,000 financial transactions, either through text-to-text payments or linking credit cards to phone users
The agency was also able to extract geolocation data from more than 76,000 text messages a day, including from “requests by people for route info” and “setting up meetings”. Other travel information was obtained from itinerary texts sent by travel companies, even including cancellations and delays to travel plans.
The NSA also shares the “untargeted and unwarranted” information with British spy agency GCHQ. According to the documents, the database includes information from phone numbers in the UK and other countries, but information gathered from Americans was removed or “minimized.”
The news is the latest evidence that the NSA monitors nearly every form of electronic communication: Six weeks ago it was revealed that the NSA collects information hundreds of millions of cell phones around the world, and on Wednesday, the New York Times published an article explaining how the NSA uses secret radio waves to spy on 100,000 computers that aren’t online.
Since at least 2008, the NSA has used a secret channel of radio waves transmitted from covertly installed computer hardware to monitor about 100,000 computers around the world, allowing the spy agency access to the computers even if they aren’t connected to the internet.
The hacked computers, in addition to being regularly monitored, could also be used to launch a cyberattack, according to a New York Times article partially based on NSA documents provided by Edward Snowden.
The program, codenamed Quantum, most frequently targets the Chinese Army, who the U.S. has condemned for using similar hacking techniques in the past.
Quantum has also been used against the Russian military, Mexican police groups and drug cartels, and the governments of US allies like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and India. There’s no evidence it’s been used against targets in the United States.
“What’s new here is the scale and the sophistication of the intelligence agency’s ability to get into computers and networks to which no one has ever had access before,” James Andrew Lewis, the cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told the New York Times.
From the Times:
One [hacking tool], called Cottonmouth I, looks like a normal USB plug but has a tiny transceiver buried in it. According to the catalog, it transmits information swept from the computer “through a covert channel” that allows “data infiltration and exfiltration.” Another variant of the technology involves tiny circuit boards that can be inserted in a laptop computer — either in the field or when they are shipped from manufacturers — so that the computer is broadcasting to the N.S.A. even while the computer’s user enjoys the false confidence that being walled off from the Internet constitutes real protection.
The relay station it communicates with, called Nightstand, fits in an oversize briefcase, and the system can attack a computer “from as far away as eight miles under ideal environmental conditions.” It can also insert packets of data in milliseconds, meaning that a false message or piece of programming can outrace a real one to a target computer. Similar stations create a link between the target computers and the N.S.A., even if the machines are isolated from the Internet.
Not all of this information is new: Some details of the program have been published in German and Dutch papers. And the New York Times claims to have known about at least part of the program since 2012, when it reported on the U.S.-led Stuxnet hacking attack on Iran. The Times said it withheld the information at the request of American intelligence officials.
The NSA, of course, is defending the program.
“N.S.A.’s activities are focused and specifically deployed against — and only against — valid foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements,” Vanee Vines, an agency spokeswoman, said in a statement. “We do not use foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of — or give intelligence we collect to — U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line.”
Long before Edward Snowden, there were the eight burglars who, in the spring of 1971, stole an entire office’s worth of secret documents in an attempt to take down J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. Now, nearly 43 years later, five of them have come forward.
The New York Times has released comments from the burglars about their actions and motives ahead of the release of a book on the incident. Although they had sworn silence, the five members who are now speaking out do so without fear of legal retribution. The statute of limitations has run out for the case, in which the eight activists targeted a Pennsylvania FBI office and packed nearly all of its official documents into suitcases—documents they later leaked to the press.
“When you talked to people outside the movement about what the F.B.I. was doing, nobody wanted to believe it,”one of the burglars told the Times. “There was only one way to convince people that it was true, and that was to get it in their handwriting.”
The idea was the brainchild of physics professor William C. Davidon, who is among those who wanted to come forward but died last year of complications from Parkinson’s disease. The others who revealed themselves are Keith Forsyth, John and Bonnie Raines, and Bob Williamson.
The group spent months casing the office, which was chosen due to its location in a suburb of Philadelphia, where there would be less security than at the office in downtown Philadelphia. The burglary went smoothly, and soon several news organizations were receiving envelopes of proof that the FBI was spying on a number of political groups (including anti-Vietnam War protestors and black student groups). The theft also led to the exposure of a program called Cointelpro, which aimed to destroy dissidents and breed conflict within political groups.
The burglary, which began with eight people afraid their activist peers were being spied on, ended with congressional investigations and better oversight of intelligence agencies. Some of the burglars now say they feel a kinship with Edward Snowden, whose actions they see as a “bookend” to their own. “It became pretty obvious to us,” said Mr. Raines, “that if we don’t do it, nobody will.”
According to a report in the Washington Post based on Edward Snowden-provided documents, the NSA is working to build a quantum computer that would be capable of cracking nearly every type of encrypted code in the world, including files for banks, medical facilities, and governments.
The “cryptologically useful quantum computer” is being developed in room-sized metal cages in a facility in Maryland as part of a program appropriately titled “Penetrate Hard Targets.” While Quantum computers are years from completion, the NSA reportedly considers its program on pace with publicly-known projects sponsored by Switzerland and the European Union.
“The geographic scope has narrowed from a global effort to a discrete focus on the European Union and Switzerland,” one NSA document states, according to the Post.
Basically, quantum computers are much faster than traditional computers—and powerful enough, in theory, to crack the world’s most complex encryption tools—but they are also much more fragile. From the Washington Post:
Quantum computing is difficult to attain because of the fragile nature of such computers. In theory, the building blocks of such a computer might include individual atoms, photons or electrons. To maintain the quantum nature of the computer, these particles would need to be carefully isolated from their external environments.
Why would the NSA want such a powerful computer? To spy on other countries before they spy on us, according to the NSA. “The application of quantum technologies to encryption algorithms threatens to dramatically impact the US government’s ability to both protect its communications and eavesdrop on the communications of foreign governments,” one of the documents states.
But no need to worry quite yet: The NSA is likely years away from fully developing the computer.
“I don’t think we’re likely to have the type of quantum computer the NSA wants within at least five years, in the absence of a significant breakthrough maybe much longer,” Seth Lloyd, an MIT professor of quantum mechanical engineering, told the Washington Post.—
Please use the sharing tools found via the share button at the top or side of articles. Copying articles to share with others is a breach of FT.com T&Cs and Copyright Policy. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to buy additional rights. Subscribers may share up to 10 or 20 articles per month using the gift article service. More information can be found at https://www.ft.com/tour.
Accessibility helpSkip to navigationSkip to contentSkip to footer
Financial Times MYFT
Lunch with the FT Edward Snowden Add to myFT
Lunch with the FT: Edward Snowden
The world’s most famous whistleblower has room service with Alan Rusbridger in a Moscow hotel to talk about the ‘surveillance free-for-all’ — and the possible role of a Rubik’s Cube in his spiriting away of the NSA files
Alan Rusbridger SEPTEMBER 12, 2016 39
© James Ferguson
Edward Snowden has rounded on his hosts, attacking the Kremlin’s human rights record and implicating Russia in two of the US government’s latest major security hacks.
In a Lunch with the FT — carried below — he complained Moscow had “gone very far, in ways that are completely unnecessary, costly and corrosive to individual and collective rights” and added that his greatest loyalty was still to the US.
He described the leak last month of NSA espionage tools, potentially by Russia as an “implicit threat” to the US government. Efforts by hackers called the Shadow Brokers to auction off NSA computer code used to break into foreign networks were an attempt to show Washington how vulnerable it was, he added.
Snowden insisted that all dealings with Russian officials were conducted by his lawyer. “I don’t have a lot of ties to Russia and that’s by design because, as crazy as it sounds, I still plan to leave.”
Here’s the full transcript of the interview
Edward Snowden is not the easiest lunch date. The former National Security Agency operative doesn’t fancy talking in a Moscow restaurant so — via an intermediary — we settle on meeting in my hotel and risk the room service. He will present himself at the agreed time. That’s all I need to know.
In the end he’s 20 minutes late, dressed casually in black jeans and black V-neck, buttoned-up T-shirt carrying a pair of unbranded dark glasses. He eyes up the small, dimly lit room 203 of the Golden Apple “boutique” hotel — half an hour’s gentle stroll from the Kremlin — with the look of a man who has spent too much time in such places.
How does it compare with room 1014 of the Mira Hotel in Hong Kong, where in June 2013 — having shared many of the NSA’s most closely guarded secrets with a few handpicked journalists — Snowden spent a week as the most wanted man in the world?
“A bit smaller, but not dissimilar,” he says. “The Hong Kong room had a glass bathroom wall here,” he adds, pointing to a bland wall featuring an obligatory hotel watercolour.
The interior of the Mira hotel room is about to become much better known with the US release next week of Oliver Stone’s biopic about Snowden, which stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the whistleblower’s role. Much of the tensest, most claustrophobic action is filmed in a reconstruction of room 1014 built inside a hangar-like studio in Munich.
During that intense week three years ago, Snowden and two Guardian reporters worked on those first stories disclosing the full capabilities that intelligence agencies can now deploy against populations. When he revealed himself as the source, he was acclaimed as a hero by some — others recommended the electric chair. I had never met him and was entirely reliant on the judgment of our veteran reporter, Ewen MacAskill, who rang to report (in pre-arranged code owing something to Hollywood) that “the Guinness is good”.
I first saw his face about an hour before the rest of the world, when Laura Poitras’s video of MacAskill and Glenn Greenwald interviewing Snowden was filed to New York. Like everyone else there I was struck by his stubbled youth and impressed by his thoughtful articulacy. Today, at 33, there’s a touch less stubble, and the hair is a smidgen longer. He says he moves freely around Moscow, seldom recognised, which is surprising since he has changed little since that first picture of him etched itself on our consciousness.
Reading the laminated room-service menu card, complete with English translations, he is tempted by the spicy chicken curry with rice and chilli sauce. I go for the risotto with white mushrooms and a “vinaigrette” salad with herring. Snowden — skinny thin — decides he can’t resist the crab cakes, too. We telephone the order for the food, with mineral water.
I work for the US but they don’t realise it
He has been unwillingly marooned in Moscow since 2013 when — the subject of a giant manhunt— he was forced to leave Hong Kong. How’s his Russian coming on? He confirms it’s up to ordering in a restaurant, but is reluctant to elaborate. “All my work’s in English. Everybody I talk to I speak to in English,” he says. “I sleep in Russia but I live all around the world. I don’t have a lot of ties to Russia. That’s by design because, as crazy as it sounds, I still plan to leave.”
He lives “mainly” on Eastern Standard Time and spends most of his waking hours online — “but it always has been so”. He admits he misses the “sense of home” represented by America, “but technology overcomes most of that divide. For me, I’m a little bit of an outlier to begin with because, remember, I signed up to go work overseas for the CIA and overseas for the NSA. So it’s really not that much different from the postings that I had for the US.
“The only difference is that I’m still posted overseas and I work for the US but they don’t realise it.” As anyone who follows him on Twitter knows (he follows just one account: the NSA) he is capable of a very dry wit.
He has seen a version of the Stone movie on one of the director’s trips to Moscow, during which Snowden says he would talk to Stone’s co-writer, Kieran Fitzgerald, about “trying to keep the film a little bit closer to being reality”.
“But,” he shrugs, “I know it’s a drama, not a documentary.”
Golden Apple Hotel
11 Malaya Dmitrovka str., Moscow, Russia
Spicy chicken curry £5.60
Crab cakes £6.35
Risotto with white mushrooms £5.20
Vinaigrette salad with herring £5.60
Ice cream £3.35
How would he score it out of 10? He avoids a rating. “On the policy questions, which I think are the most important thing for the public understanding, it’s as close to real as you can get in a film.”
He met Gordon-Levitt in Moscow and thought him “an amazing guy . . . we had lunch together, talked for several hours just about everything, our personal lives — what we think about, what we care about. At the time I thought it was just a social visit but, after the fact, he told me that he was actually scoping me out, trying to get my mannerisms.”
Having interviewed Gordon-Levitt’s “Snowden” as part of my own cameo in the film, I can vouch for how well he captures the real thing. Snowden was impressed, too: “His characterisation of me makes me uncomfortable, with the super-deep gravelly voice, but that’s because you never hear your own voice the way other people do, right?”
Was he moved by the film, which in flashback revisits the episodes in his life that led to what he calls his “tortured” decision to engineer the biggest leak of classified documents in history? “There’s always going to be something emotional about seeing something that you did retold as a story by other people. It shows a reflection of how your choices matter to them. Three years later, seeing what we thought was going to be a five-day story still being reported on [makes me think] that I wasn’t crazy.”
. . .
There’s a knock on the door — which would have caused a spasm of paranoid anxiety in the Mira in 2013. Now it’s just room service. The floor is so small the waiter balances the tray on the bed and Snowden has to perch his chicken curry on his knee. The water is missing. My vinaigrette salad turns out to be cubed beetroot. I avoid the herrings.
Once he nods at the iPhone recording our interview and expands on a point “in case someone is listening”. The first time I met him — to see how he was surviving in his new circumstances in spring 2014 — my iPhone had displayed a giant red thermometer, a sign of alarming overheating. Snowden had observed mildly it was because so many different people were trying to listen in.
As online threats race up national security agendas and governments look at ways of protecting their national infrastructures a cyber arms race is causing concern to the developed world
He confirms he received no money from the movie, adding of his tangential experience of Hollywood: “When I was told that there was going to be a film made about me, it was a scary thing, one of the most terrifying things I can imagine. But, looking back, I hope it helps, I’m cautiously optimistic that it will.”
He looks back over the period since the revelations and reflects that all three branches of government in the US — Congress, courts, president — have changed their position on mass surveillance. “We can actually start to impose more oversight on spies, rather than giving them a free pass to do whatever simply because we’re scared, which is understandable but clearly not ethical.”
What of subsequent developments in the UK, where the government’s response has been to propose laws that not only sanction, post hoc, the intelligence activities that were revealed to be happening, but extend them? He says it was not his intention to tell the world how to structure their laws, but to give people a voice in the process. “The laws have gotten worse in some countries. France has gone very far, so too, of course, countries like Russia, China. In Britain there’s an authoritarian trend.
“We don’t allow police to enter and search any home. We don’t typically reorder the operation of a free society for the convenience of the police — because that is the definition of a police state,” he says, mopping up the last of the rice. “And yet some spies and officials are trying to persuade us that we should. Now, I would argue there’s no real question that police in a police state would be more effective than those in a free and liberal society where the police operate under tighter constraints. But which one would you rather live in?”
He has finished his curry and pronounces it “quite good”. The crab cakes are abandoned after a bite. “Less good,” he says. We order ice cream — vanilla, strawberry and chocolate for him, sorbet for me. The voice on the phone launches into a complicated explanation of why, with five scoops in all, we can have a discount.
Does he never lose sleep at night wondering whether Isis terrorists might not have gained some useful advantage from the information he disclosed?
I can’t fix the human rights situation in Russia, and realistically my priority is to fix my own country first
Well, firstly, he says, in all the recent European attacks the suspects were known to the authorities, who thus had the ability to target them without having to scoop up everyone else’s data as well. Secondly, he points out, Osama bin Laden stopped using a mobile phone in 1998 — not because of leaks to newspapers but because “there is an aggressive form of Darwinism in terrorist circles. Long before we, the public, know about any of these surveillance measures, they have already known for years because, if they had not, they are already dead.
“But,” he goes on, “let’s say that the newspapers had decided this should not be public. Let’s say the intelligence services had been able to continue using these programs in secret. Would it have stopped any of the terrorist attacks that have occurred in the last three years? There’s no public evidence that that’s the case. In fact, there’s no classified evidence that that’s the case, or else we’d be reading it in the newspapers.”
We move on to talking about stories alleging Russian hacking of the NSA itself and of the Democratic party’s governing body, the Democratic National Committee. The former involved a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers, who threatened to auction very sophisticated alleged NSA surveillance tools. The latter was a collection of DNC emails published — to general embarrassment — by WikiLeaks in July.
The Shadow Broker leak, says Snowden, “doesn’t strike me as a whistleblower: that strikes me as a warning. It’s political messaging being carried out through information disclosure.” And the DNC hack, where, as he observes, the conventional wisdom is that it was the Russians? “This is part of the problem of this surveillance free-for-all that we’re allowing to occur by refusing to moderate our own behaviour. We’ve set a kind of global precedent that anything is possible and nothing is prohibited.
“Now, the fact the DNC got hacked is not surprising and interesting. We’re hacking political parties around the world, so is every country. What makes it interesting is that some of the things taken from this server were published afterwards. That’s quite novel. I think.”
Which makes him think what? “That it’s for political effect.”
He says — as someone who used to try and do this sort of thing to the Chinese — that it would be easy to attribute the hack to whoever had done it. “But this creates a problem because, let’s say, the NSA has the smoking gun that says the Russians hacked the DNC, and they tell us the Russians hacked the DNC, how can we be sure? It presumes a level of trust that no longer exists.”
The ice creams arrive along with an espresso, replacing the first set of dishes on the bed. Snowden spills a bit of chicken curry on the duvet and apologetically mops it up with a towel.
Aren’t we beginning to discover that no digital databases are secure? “We are living through a crisis in computer security the likes of which we’ve never seen,” he says. “But until we solve the fundamental problem, which is that our policy incentivises offence to a greater degree than defence, hacks will continue unpredictably and they will have increasingly larger effects and impacts.”
The answer, he thinks, is that there ought to be some form of liability for negligence in software architecture, such as would apply in the food industry. He adds, drily: “People from my tribe will be extraordinarily mad at me for suggesting regulation in the terms of negligence for software security.”
. . .
He has finished his ice cream and declines coffee. Life in Moscow is getting better, he says: “I’m more open now than I’ve been since 2013.” He sees few people — such meetings as this are rare — and divides his time between public speaking (which pays the bills) and devising tools to protect the digital security of journalists. He would rather not go into “the family stuff” or how often he sees Lindsay Mills, his partner, who was left behind in Hawaii when he quit his job for the NSA there and disappeared to Hong Kong.
His American lawyer, Ben Wizner at the American Civil Liberties Union, is reported to be preparing to launch a petition to President Barack Obama to grant Snowden a pardon before he steps down. Snowden will only say: “Of course I hope they’re successful but this has never really been about what happens to me. No matter how the outcome shakes out, it’s something I can live with.”
The Big Read
Cyber espionage: A new cold war?
An online ‘auction’ signals a build-up of tension between Russia and America
His chances of a happy ending under President Donald Trump would be zero, I observe. What about under President Hillary Clinton? “You’re trying to drag me into a political quagmire,” he protests. He collects himself, looking intensely at the ground, before sidestepping the question: “I think we should have better choices. We’re a country of 330m people and we seem to be being asked to make a choice between individuals whose lives are defined by scandal. I simply think we should be capable of more.”
If he’s tough on the options in US politics, his willingness to tweet criticism of Russian politics to his 2.3m followers has not gone unnoticed. “A lot of people who care about me tell me to shut up, but if I was married to my own self-interest, I never would have left Hawaii.
“I can’t fix the human rights situation in Russia, and realistically my priority is to fix my own country first, because that’s the one to which I owe the greatest loyalty. But though the chances are it will make no difference, maybe it’ll help.”
He gathers up his dark glasses: it’s time for him to melt into the Moscow crowds. A final question: the Stone film shows him spiriting his trove of secrets out of the NSA on a micro-SD card hidden in a Rubik’s Cube. True or false?
“Oliver confirmed in an interview recently that that’s a touch of the dramatic licence, but that’s only because I wouldn’t confirm or deny how it really happened. I will say that I gave Rubik’s Cubes to everyone in my office, it’s true. I really did that.” And with that he is gone.
Alan Rusbridger was editor of the Guardian from 1995-2015. It won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for the revelations
Illustration by James Ferguson
This article has been amended to make clear Laura Poitras’s involvement in the Guardian’s original video interview with Edward Snowden in June 2013
FT Weekend Festival 2018
London | 08 September 2018
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018. All rights reserved.
Please keep comments respectful. By commenting, you agree to abide by our community guidelines and these terms and conditions. We encourage you to report inappropriate comments.
Newest | Oldest | Most recommended
reader Sep 20, 2016
It’s hard to imagine that Putin would have allowed Snowden to stay in Russia without taking his pound of data.
EdoRoshi Sep 19, 2016
Snowdon is a traitor.
BetaByNature Sep 21, 2016
@EdoRoshi Yes indeed, to hardcore militarists, such as yourself. May you all swim with the fishes. To humanity of course he is a rare hero.
ThoughtProvoker Sep 15, 2016
Snowden lives in his own world which he has pieced together from his, possibly noble, fantasies. It does take a level of courage to criticise the only party that stands between him and his prison cell. Is he a hero? I am not so sure, he now sounds apologetic to the US system; but surely he is honest.
ZebecXebec Sep 15, 2016
Snowden can return to the US…but he should expect to be charged, to be tried, and to be hung for treason.