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Two days ago we observed the latest disclosure in the seemingly endless Snowden treasure trove of leaked NSA files, when Spiegel released the broad details of the NSA’s Access Network Technology (ANT) catalog explaining how virtually every hardware architecture in the world has been hacked by the US superspies. We followed up with a close up of “Dropout Jeep” – the NSA’s project codename for backdoor entry into every iPhone ever handed out to the Apple Borg collective (because it makes you look cool). Today, we step back from Apple and release the full ANT catalog showcasing the blueprints of how the NSA managed to insert a backdoor into virtually every piece of hardware known under the sun.
And so, without further ado, here is the complete slidebook of how the NSA hacked, well, everything.
A German magazine lifted the lid on the operations of the National Security Agency’s hacking unit Sunday, reporting that American spies intercept computer deliveries, exploit hardware vulnerabilities, and even hijack Microsoft’s internal reporting system to spy on their targets.
- Watch NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s surveillance warning
- Snowden document shows Canada set up spy posts for NSA
Der Spiegel’s revelations relate to a division of the NSA known as Tailored Access Operations, or TAO, which is painted as an elite team of hackers specializing in stealing data from the toughest of targets.
Citing internal NSA documents, the magazine said Sunday that TAO’s mission was “Getting the ungettable,” and quoted an unnamed intelligence official as saying that TAO had gathered “some of the most significant intelligence our country has ever seen.”
Der Spiegel said TAO had a catalogue of high-tech gadgets for particularly hard-to-crack cases, including computer monitor cables specially modified to record what is being typed across the screen, USB sticks secretly fitted with radio transmitters to broadcast stolen data over the airwaves, and fake base stations intended to intercept mobile phone signals on the go.
The NSA doesn’t just rely on James Bond-style spy gear, the magazine said. Some of the attacks described by Der Spiegel exploit weaknesses in the architecture of the Internet to deliver malicious software to specific computers. Others take advantage of weaknesses in hardware or software distributed by some of the world’s leading information technology companies, including Cisco Systems, Inc. and China’s Huawei Technologies Ltd., the magazine reported.
Der Spiegel cited a 2008 mail order catalogue-style list of vulnerabilities that NSA spies could exploit from companies such as Irvine, California-based Western Digital Corp. or Round Rock, Texas-based Dell Inc. The magazine said that suggested the agency was “compromising the technology and products of American companies.”
Old-fashioned methods get a mention too. Der Spiegel said that if the NSA tracked a target ordering a new computer or other electronic accessories, TAO could tap its allies in the FBI and the CIA, intercept the hardware in transit, and take it to a secret workshop where it could be discretely fitted with espionage software before being sent on its way.
Intercepting computer equipment in such a way is among the NSA’s “most productive operations,” and has helped harvest intelligence from around the world, one document cited by Der Spiegel stated.
Allegations taken seriously
One of the most striking reported revelations concerned the NSA’s alleged ability to spy on Microsoft Corp.’s crash reports, familiar to many users of the Windows operating system as the dialogue box which pops up when a game freezes or a Word document dies.
The reporting system is intended to help Microsoft engineers improve their products and fix bugs, but Der Spiegel said the NSA was also sifting through the reports to help spies break into machines running Windows.
One NSA document cited by the magazine appeared to poke fun at Microsoft’s expense, replacing the software giant’s standard error report message with the words: “This information may be intercepted by a foreign sigint [signals intelligence] system to gather detailed information and better exploit your machine.”
Microsoft said that information sent by customers about technical issues in such a manner is limited.
“Microsoft does not provide any government with direct or unfettered access to our customer’s data,” a company representative said in an email Sunday. “We would have significant concerns if the allegations about government actions are true.”
Microsoft is one of several U.S. firms that have demanded more transparency from the NSA — and worked to bolster their security — in the wake of the revelations of former intelligence worker Edward Snowden, whose disclosures have ignited an international debate over privacy and surveillance.
Der Spiegel did not explicitly say where its cache NSA documents had come from, although the magazine has previously published a series of stories based on documents leaked by Snowden, and one of Snowden’s key contacts — American documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras — was listed among the article’s six authors.
No one was immediately available at Der Spiegel to clarify whether Snowden was the source for the latest story.
Another company mentioned by Der Spiegel, though not directly linked with any NSA activity, was Juniper Networks Inc., a computer network equipment maker in Sunnyvale, Calif.
“Juniper Networks recently became aware of, and is currently investigating, alleged security compromises of technology products made by a number of companies, including Juniper,” the company said in an email. “We take allegations of this nature very seriously and are working actively to address any possible exploit paths.”
If necessary, Juniper said, it would, “work closely with customers to ensure they take any mitigation steps.”
While the world may have become habituated to (and perhaps revels in, thank you social media exhibitionist culture) the fact that the NSA is watching anyone and everyone, intercepting, recording, and hacking every electronic exchange regardless if it involves foreign “terrorists” or US housewives, the discoveries from the Snowden whistleblowing campaign continue. The latest revelation from the biggest wholesale spying scandal since Nixon, exposed by Germany’s Spiegel which continues the strategy of revealing Snowden leaks on a staggered, delayed basis, involves a back door access-focused NSA division called ANT, (which supposedly stands for Access Network Technology), described by Spiegel as “master carpenters” for the NSA’s TAO (Tailored Access Operations, read more about TAO here). The ANT people have “burrowed into nearly all the security architecture made by the major players in the industry — including American global market leader Cisco and its Chinese competitor Huawei, but also producers of mass-market goods, such as US computer-maker Dell.” More importantly, thanks to Spiegel (and Snowden of course), the NSA’s 50-page catalog of“backdoor penetration” techniques has been revealed.
The details of how the NSA can surmount any “erected” walls, via Spiegel:
These NSA agents, who specialize in secret back doors, are able to keep an eye on all levels of our digital lives — from computing centers to individual computers, from laptops to mobile phones. For nearly every lock, ANT seems to have a key in its toolbox. And no matter what walls companies erect, the NSA’s specialists seem already to have gotten past them.
This, at least, is the impression gained from flipping through the 50-page document. The list reads like a mail-order catalog, one from which other NSA employees can ordertechnologies from the ANT division for tapping their targets’ data. The catalog even lists the prices for these electronic break-in tools, with costs ranging from free to $250,000.
Nothing quite like an extensive, taxpayer funded catalog listing back-door entry strategy imaginable. Say you wanted to have some backdoor fun with Juniper Networks, the world’s second largest network equipment manufacturer (which claims the performance of the company’s special computers is “unmatched” and their firewalls are the “best-in-class.”)
In the case of Juniper, the name of this particular digital lock pick is “FEEDTROUGH.” This malware burrows into Juniper firewalls and makes it possible to smuggle other NSA programs into mainframe computers. Thanks to FEEDTROUGH, these implants can, by design, even survive “across reboots and software upgrades.” In this way, US government spies can secure themselves a permanent presence in computer networks. The catalog states that FEEDTROUGH “has been deployed on many target platforms.”
It gets better, because when simple penetration is not enough, the NSA adds “implants.”
In cases where TAO’s usual hacking and data-skimming methods don’t suffice, ANT workers step in with their special tools, penetrating networking equipment, monitoring mobile phones and computers and diverting or even modifying data. Such “implants,” as they are referred to in NSA parlance, have played a considerable role in the intelligence agency’s ability to establish a global covert network that operates alongside the Internet.
So what exactly is to be found in the 50-page catalog?
Some of the equipment available is quite inexpensive. A rigged monitor cable that allows “TAO personnel to see what is displayed on the targeted monitor,” for example, is available for just $30. But an “active GSM base station” — a tool that makes it possible to mimic a mobile phone tower and thus monitor cell phones — costs a full $40,000. Computer bugging devices disguised as normal USB plugs, capable of sending and receiving data via radio undetected, are available in packs of 50 for over $1 million.
The ANT division doesn’t just manufacture surveillance hardware. It also develops software for special tasks. The ANT developers have a clear preference for planting their malicious code in so-called BIOS, software located on a computer’s motherboard that is the first thing to load when a computer is turned on.
This has a number of valuable advantages: an infected PC or server appears to be functioning normally, so the infection remains invisible to virus protection and other security programs.And even if the hard drive of an infected computer has been completely erased and a new operating system is installed, the ANT malware can continue to function and ensures that new spyware can once again be loaded onto what is presumed to be a clean computer. The ANT developers call this “Persistence” and believe this approach has provided them with the possibility of permanent access.
Another program attacks the firmware in hard drives manufactured by Western Digital, Seagate, Maxtor and Samsung, all of which, with the exception of latter, are American companies. Here, too, it appears the US intelligence agency is compromising the technology and products of American companies.
Other ANT programs target Internet routers meant for professional use or hardware firewalls intended to protect company networks from online attacks. Many digital attack weapons are “remotely installable” — in other words, over the Internet. Others require a direct attack on an end-user device — an “interdiction,” as it is known in NSA jargon — in order to install malware or bugging equipment.
The conclusion here is an easy one, and one we have repeated ever since before the Snowden revelations: Big Brother is bigger and badder than ever, he knows exactly what you’ve been doing, and the second the NSA wants to nuke your computer out of orbit and/or destroy your digital life, it can do so in a millisecond. What is more amusing is that with each passing disclosure, it is increasingly clear that the NSA has gotten its inspiration for its dealings with the US public from a Danielle Steel book at best, or a Vivid Video bootlegged tape at worst.
During more than 14 hours of interviews, the first he has conducted in person since arriving here in June, Snowden did not part the curtains or step outside. Russia granted him temporary asylum on Aug. 1, but Snowden remains a target of surpassing interest to the intelligence services whose secrets he spilled on an epic scale.
During more than 14 hours of interviews, the first he has conducted in person sincearriving here in June, Snowden did not part the curtains or step outside. Russia granted him temporary asylum on Aug. 1, but Snowden remains a target of surpassing interest to the intelligence services whose secrets he spilled on an epic scale.
Late this spring, Snowden supplied three journalists, including this one, with caches of top-secret documents from the National Security Agency, where he worked as a contractor. Dozens of revelations followed, and then hundreds, as news organizations around the world picked up the story. Congress pressed for explanations, new evidence revived old lawsuits and the Obama administration was obliged to declassify thousands of pages it had fought for years to conceal.
Taken together, the revelations have brought to light a global surveillance system that cast off many of its historical restraints after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Secret legal authorities empowered the NSA to sweep in the telephone, Internet and location records of whole populations. One of the leaked presentation slides described the agency’s “collection philosophy” as “Order one of everything off the menu.”
Six months after the first revelations appeared in The Washington Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper, Snowden agreed to reflect at length on the roots and repercussions of his choice. He was relaxed and animated over two days of nearly unbroken conversation, fueled by burgers, pasta, ice cream and Russian pastry.
Snowden offered vignettes from his intelligence career and from his recent life as “an indoor cat” in Russia. But he consistently steered the conversation back to surveillance, democracy and the meaning of the documents he exposed.
“For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission’s already accomplished,” he said. “I already won. As soon as the journalists were able to work, everything that I had been trying to do was validated. Because, remember, I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself.”
“All I wanted was for the public to be able to have a say in how they are governed,” he said. “That is a milestone we left a long time ago. Right now, all we are looking at are stretch goals.”
‘Going in blind’
Snowden is an orderly thinker, with an engineer’s approach to problem-solving. He had come to believe that a dangerous machine of mass surveillance was growing unchecked. Closed-door oversight by Congress and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was a “graveyard of judgment,” he said, manipulated by the agency it was supposed to keep in check. Classification rules erected walls to prevent public debate.
Toppling those walls would be a spectacular act of transgression against the norms that prevailed inside them. Someone would have to bypass security, extract the secrets, make undetected contact with journalists and provide them with enough proof to tell the stories.
The NSA’s business is “information dominance,” the use of other people’s secrets to shape events. At 29, Snowden upended the agency on its own turf.
“You recognize that you’re going in blind, that there’s no model,” Snowden said, acknowledging that he had no way to know whether the public would share his views.
“But when you weigh that against the alternative, which is not to act,” he said, “you realize that some analysis is better than no analysis. Because even if your analysis proves to be wrong, the marketplace of ideas will bear that out. If you look at it from an engineering perspective, an iterative perspective, it’s clear that you have to try something rather than do nothing.”
By his own terms, Snowden succeeded beyond plausible ambition. The NSA, accustomed to watching without being watched, faces scrutiny it has not endured since the 1970s, or perhaps ever.
The cascading effects have made themselves felt in Congress, the courts, popular culture, Silicon Valley and world capitals. The basic structure of the Internet itself is now in question, as Brazil and members of the European Union consider measures to keep their data away from U.S. territory and U.S. technology giants including Google, Microsoft and Yahoo take extraordinary steps to block the collection of data by their government.
For months, Obama administration officials attacked Snowden’s motives and said the work of the NSA was distorted by selective leaks and misinterpretations.
On Dec. 16, in a lawsuit that could not have gone forward without the disclosures made possible by Snowden, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon described the NSA’s capabilities as “almost Orwellian” and said its bulk collection of U.S. domestic telephone records was probably unconstitutional.
The next day, in the Roosevelt Room, an unusual delegation of executives from old telephone companies and young Internet firms told President Obama that the NSA’s intrusion into their networks was a threat to the U.S. information economy. The following day, an advisory panel appointed by Obama recommended substantial new restrictions on the NSA, including an end to the domestic call-records program.
“This week is a turning point,” said the Government Accountability Project’s Jesselyn Radack, who is one of Snowden’s legal advisers. “It has been just a cascade.”
‘They elected me’
On June 22, the Justice Department unsealed a criminal complaint charging Snowden with espionage and felony theft of government property. It was a dry enumeration of statutes, without a trace of the anger pulsing through Snowden’s former precincts.
In the intelligence and national security establishments, Snowden is widely viewed as a reckless saboteur, and journalists abetting him little less so.
At the Aspen Security Forum in July, a four-star military officer known for his even keel seethed through one meeting alongside a reporter he knew to be in contact with Snowden. Before walking away, he turned and pointed a finger.
“We didn’t have another 9/11,” he said angrily, because intelligence enabled warfighters to find the enemy first. “Until you’ve got to pull the trigger, until you’ve had to bury your people, you don’t have a clue.”
It is commonly said of Snowden that he broke an oath of secrecy, a turn of phrase that captures a sense of betrayal. NSA Director Keith B. Alexander and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., among many others, have used that formula.
In his interview with The Post, Snowden noted matter-of-factly that Standard Form 312, the classified-information nondisclosure agreement, is a civil contract. He signed it, but he pledged his fealty elsewhere.
“The oath of allegiance is not an oath of secrecy,” he said. “That is an oath to the Constitution. That is the oath that I kept that Keith Alexander and James Clapper did not.”
People who accuse him of disloyalty, he said, mistake his purpose.
“I am not trying to bring down the NSA, I am working to improve the NSA,” he said. “I am still working for the NSA right now. They are the only ones who don’t realize it.”
What entitled Snowden, now 30, to take on that responsibility?
“That whole question — who elected you? — inverts the model,” he said. “They elected me. The overseers.”
He named the chairmen of the Senate and House intelligence committees.
“Dianne Feinstein elected me when she asked softball questions” in committee hearings, he said. “Mike Rogers elected me when he kept these programs hidden. . . . The FISA court elected me when they decided to legislate from the bench on things that were far beyond the mandate of what that court was ever intended to do. The system failed comprehensively, and each level of oversight, each level of responsibility that should have addressed this, abdicated their responsibility.”
“It wasn’t that they put it on me as an individual — that I’m uniquely qualified, an angel descending from the heavens — as that they put it on someone, somewhere,” he said. “You have the capability, and you realize every other [person] sitting around the table has the same capability but they don’t do it. So somebody has to be the first.”
Snowden grants that NSA employees by and large believe in their mission and trust the agency to handle the secrets it takes from ordinary people — deliberately, in the case of bulk records collection, and “incidentally,” when the content of American phone calls and e-mails are swept into NSA systems along with foreign targets.
But Snowden also said acceptance of the agency’s operations was not universal. He began to test that proposition more than a year ago, he said, in periodic conversations with co-workers and superiors that foreshadowed his emerging plan.
Beginning in October 2012, he said, he brought his misgivings to two superiors in the NSA’s Technology Directorate and two more in the NSA Threat Operations Center’s regional base in Hawaii. For each of them, and 15 other co-workers, Snowden said he opened a data query tool called BOUNDLESSINFORMANT, which used color-coded “heat maps” to depict the volume of data ingested by NSA taps.
His colleagues were often “astonished to learn we are collecting more in the United States on Americans than we are on Russians in Russia,” he said. Many of them were troubled, he said, and several said they did not want to know any more.
“I asked these people, ‘What do you think the public would do if this was on the front page?’ ” he said. He noted that critics have accused him of bypassing internal channels of dissent. “How is that not reporting it? How is that not raising it?” he said.
By last December, Snowden was contacting reporters, although he had not yet passed along any classified information. He continued to give his colleagues the “front-page test,” he said, until April.
Asked about those conversations, NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines sent a prepared statement to The Post: “After extensive investigation, including interviews with his former NSA supervisors and co-workers, we have not found any evidence to support Mr. Snowden’s contention that he brought these matters to anyone’s attention.”
Snowden recounted another set of conversations that he said took place three years earlier, when he was sent by the NSA’s Technology Directorate to support operations at a listening post in Japan. As a system administrator, he had full access to security and auditing controls. He said he saw serious flaws with information security.
“I actually recommended they move to two-man control for administrative access back in 2009,” he said, first to his supervisor in Japan and then to the directorate’s chief of operations in the Pacific. “Sure, a whistleblower could use these things, but so could a spy.”
That precaution, which requires a second set of credentials to perform risky operations such as copying files onto a removable drive, has been among the principal security responses to the Snowden affair.
Vines, the NSA spokeswoman, said there was no record of those conversations, either.
U.S. ‘would cease to exist’
Just before releasing the documents this spring, Snowden made a final review of the risks. He had overcome what he described at the time as a “selfish fear” of the consequences for himself.
“I said to you the only fear [left] is apathy — that people won’t care, that they won’t want change,” he recalled this month.
The documents leaked by Snowden compelled attention because they revealed to Americans a history they did not know they had.
Internal briefing documents reveled in the “Golden Age of Electronic Surveillance.” Brawny cover names such as MUSCULAR, TUMULT and TURMOIL boasted of the agency’s prowess.
With assistance from private communications firms, the NSA had learned to capture enormous flows of data at the speed of light from fiber-optic cables that carried Internet and telephone traffic over continents and under seas. According to one document in Snowden’s cache, the agency’s Special Source Operations group, which as early as 2006 was said to be ingesting “one Library of Congress every 14.4 seconds,” had an official seal that might have been parody: an eagle with all the world’s cables in its grasp.
Most of that data, by definition and intent, belonged to ordinary people suspected of nothing. But vast new storage capacity and processing tools enabled the NSA to use the information to map human relationships on a planetary scale. Only this way, its leadership believed, could the NSA reach beyond its universe of known intelligence targets.
In the view of the NSA, signals intelligence, or electronic eavesdropping, was a matter of life and death, “without which America would cease to exist as we know it,” according to an internal presentation in the first week of October 2001 as the agency ramped up its response to the al-Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
With stakes such as those, there was no capability the NSA believed it should leave on the table. The agency followed orders from President George W. Bush to begin domestic collection without authority from Congress and the courts. When the NSA won those authorities later, some of them under secret interpretations of laws passed by Congress between 2007 and 2012, the Obama administration went further still.
Using PRISM, the cover name for collection of user data from Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple and five other U.S.-based companies, the NSA could obtain all communications to or from any specified target. The companies had no choice but to comply with the government’s request for data.
But the NSA could not use PRISM, which was overseen once a year by the surveillance court, for the collection of virtually all data handled by those companies. To widen its access, it teamed up with its British counterpart, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, to break into the private fiber-optic links that connected Google and Yahoo data centers around the world.
That operation, which used the cover name MUSCULAR, tapped into U.S. company data from outside U.S. territory. The NSA, therefore, believed it did not need permission from Congress or judicial oversight. Data from hundreds of millions of U.S. accounts flowed over those Google and Yahoo links, but classified rules allowed the NSA to presume that data ingested overseas belonged to foreigners.
Disclosure of the MUSCULAR project enraged and galvanized U.S. technology executives. They believed the NSA had lawful access to their front doors — and had broken down the back doors anyway.
Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith took to his company’s blog and called the NSA an “advanced persistent threat” — the worst of all fighting words in U.S. cybersecurity circles, generally reserved for Chinese state-sponsored hackers and sophisticated criminal enterprises.
“For the industry as a whole, it caused everyone to ask whether we knew as much as we thought,” Smith recalled in an interview. “It underscored the fact that while people were confident that the U.S. government was complying with U.S. laws for activity within U.S. territory, perhaps there were things going on outside the United States . . . that made this bigger and more complicated and more disconcerting than we knew.”
They wondered, he said, whether the NSA was “collecting proprietary information from the companies themselves.”
Led by Google and then Yahoo, one company after another announced expensive plans to encrypt its data traffic over tens of thousands of miles of cable. It was a direct — in some cases, explicit — blow to NSA collection of user data in bulk. If the NSA wanted the information, it would have to request it or circumvent the encryption one target at a time.
As these projects are completed, the Internet will become a less friendly place for the NSA to work. The agency can still collect data from virtually anyone, but collecting from everyone will be harder.
The industry’s response, Smith acknowledged, was driven by a business threat. U.S. companies could not afford to be seen as candy stores for U.S. intelligence. But the principle of the thing, Smith said, “is fundamentally about ensuring that customer data is turned over to governments pursuant to valid legal orders and in accordance with constitutional principles.”
‘Warheads on foreheads’
Snowden has focused on much the same point from the beginning: Individual targeting would cure most of what he believes is wrong with the NSA.
Six months ago, a reporter asked him by encrypted e-mail why Americans would want the NSA to give up bulk data collection if that would limit a useful intelligence tool.
“I believe the cost of frank public debate about the powers of our government is less than the danger posed by allowing these powers to continue growing in secret,” he replied, calling them “a direct threat to democratic governance.”
In the Moscow interview, Snowden said, “What the government wants is something they never had before,” adding: “They want total awareness. The question is, is that something we should be allowing?”
Snowden likened the NSA’s powers to those used by British authorities in Colonial America, when “general warrants” allowed for anyone to be searched. The FISA court, Snowden said, “is authorizing general warrants for the entire country’s metadata.”
“The last time that happened, we fought a war over it,” he said.
Technology, of course, has enabled a great deal of consumer surveillance by private companies, as well. The difference with the NSA’s possession of the data, Snowden said, is that government has the power to take away life or freedom.
At the NSA, he said, “there are people in the office who joke about, ‘We put warheads on foreheads.’ Twitter doesn’t put warheads on foreheads.”
Privacy, as Snowden sees it, is a universal right, applicable to American and foreign surveillance alike.
“I don’t care whether you’re the pope or Osama bin Laden,” he said. “As long as there’s an individualized, articulable, probable cause for targeting these people as legitimate foreign intelligence, that’s fine. I don’t think it’s imposing a ridiculous burden by asking for probable cause. Because, you have to understand, when you have access to the tools the NSA does, probable cause falls out of trees.”
On June 29, Gilles de Kerchove, the European Union’s counterterrorism coordinator, awoke to a report in Der Spiegel that U.S. intelligence had broken into E.U. offices, including his, to implant surveillance devices.
The 56-year-old Belgian, whose work is often classified, did not consider himself naive. But he took the news personally, and more so when he heard unofficial explanations from Washington.
“ ‘Everybody knows. Everybody does’ — Keith Alexander said that,” de Kerchove said in an interview. “I don’t like the idea that the NSA will put bugs in my office. No. I don’t like it. No. Between allies? No. I’m surprised that people find that noble.”
Comparable reactions, expressed less politely in private, accompanied revelations that the NSA had tapped the cellphones of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. The blowback roiled relations with both allies, among others. Rousseff canceled a state dinner with Obama in September.
When it comes to spying on allies, by Snowden’s lights, the news is not always about the target.
“It’s the deception of the government that’s revealed,” Snowden said, noting that the Obama administration offered false public assurances after the initial reports about NSA surveillance in Germany “The U.S. government said: ‘We follow German laws in Germany. We never target German citizens.’ And then the story comes out and it’s: ‘What are you talking about? You’re spying on the chancellor.’ You just lied to the entire country, in front of Congress.”
In private, U.S. intelligence officials still maintain that spying among friends is routine for all concerned, but they are giving greater weight to the risk of getting caught.
“There are many things we do in intelligence that, if revealed, would have the potential for all kinds of blowback,” Clapper told a House panel in October.
‘They will make mistakes’
U.S. officials say it is obvious that Snowden’s disclosures will do grave harm to intelligence gathering, exposing methods that adversaries will learn to avoid.
“We’re seeing al-Qaeda and related groups start to look for ways to adjust how they communicate,” said Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center and a former general counsel at the NSA.
Other officials, who declined to speak on the record about particulars, said they had watched some of their surveillance targets, in effect, changing channels. That evidence can be read another way, they acknowledged, given that the NSA managed to monitor the shift.
Clapper has said repeatedly in public that the leaks did great damage, but in private he has taken a more nuanced stance. A review of early damage assessments in previous espionage cases, he said in one closed-door briefing this fall, found that dire forecasts of harm were seldom borne out.
“People must communicate,” he said, according to one participant who described the confidential meeting on the condition of anonymity. “They will make mistakes, and we will exploit them.”
According to senior intelligence officials, two uncertainties feed their greatest concerns. One is whether Russia or China managed to take the Snowden archive from his computer, a worst-case assumption for which three officials acknowledged there is no evidence.
In a previous assignment, Snowden taught U.S. intelligence personnel how to operate securely in a “high-threat digital environment,” using a training scenario in which China was the designated threat. He declined to discuss the whereabouts of the files, but he said that he is confident he did not expose them to Chinese intelligence in Hong Kong. And he said he did not bring them to Russia.
“There’s nothing on it,” he said, turning his laptop screen toward his visitor. “My hard drive is completely blank.”
The other big question is how many documents Snowden took. The NSA’s incoming deputy director, Rick Ledgett, said on CBS’s “60 Minutes” recently that the number may approach 1.7 million, a huge and unexplained spike over previous estimates. Ledgett said he wouldfavor trying to negotiate an amnesty with Snowden in exchange for “assurances that the remainder of the data could be secured.”
Obama’s national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, later dismissed the possibility.
“The government knows where to find us if they want to have a productive conversation about resolutions that don’t involve Edward Snowden behind bars,” said the American Civil Liberties Union’s Ben Wizner, the central figure on Snowden’s legal team.
Some news accounts have quoted U.S. government officials as saying Snowden has arranged for the automated release of sensitive documents if he is arrested or harmed. There are strong reasons to doubt that, beginning with Snowden’s insistence, to this reporter and others, that he does not want the documents published in bulk.
If Snowden were fool enough to rig a “dead man’s switch,” confidants said, he would be inviting anyone who wants the documents to kill him.
Asked about such a mechanism in the Moscow interview, Snowden made a face and declined to reply. Later, he sent an encrypted message. “That sounds more like a suicide switch,” he wrote. “It wouldn’t make sense.”
‘It’s not about me’
By temperament and circumstance, Snowden is a reticent man, reluctant to discuss details about his personal life.
Over two days his guard never dropped, but he allowed a few fragments to emerge. He is an “ascetic,” he said. He lives off ramen noodles and chips. He has visitors, and many of them bring books. The books pile up, unread. The Internet is an endless library and a window on the progress of his cause.
“It has always been really difficult to get me to leave the house,” he said. “I just don’t have a lot of needs. . . . Occasionally there’s things to go do, things to go see, people to meet, tasks to accomplish. But it’s really got to be goal-oriented, you know. Otherwise, as long as I can sit down and think and write and talk to somebody, that’s more meaningful to me than going out and looking at landmarks.”
In hope of keeping focus on the NSA, Snowden has ignored attacks on himself.
“Let them say what they want,” he said. “It’s not about me.”
Former NSA and CIA director Michael V. Hayden predicted that Snowden will waste away in Moscow as an alcoholic, like other “defectors.” To this, Snowden shrugged. He does not drink at all. Never has.
But Snowden knows his presence here is easy ammunition for critics. He did not choose refuge in Moscow as a final destination. He said that once the U.S. government voided his passport as he tried to change planes en route to Latin America, he had no other choice.
It would be odd if Russian authorities did not keep an eye on him, but no retinue accompanied Snowden and his visitor saw no one else nearby. Snowden neither tried to communicate furtively nor asked that his visitor do so. He has had continuous Internet access and has talked to his attorneys and to journalists daily, from his first day in the transit lounge at Sheremetyevo airport.
“There is no evidence at all for the claim that I have loyalties to Russia or China or any country other than the United States,” he said. “I have no relationship with the Russian government. I have not entered into any agreements with them.”
“If I defected at all,” Snowden said, “I defected from the government to the public.”
While Edward Snowden may be reviled at the top echelons of Western developed nations and is wanted in his native US on espionage charges for peeling back the curtain on how the gargantuan government machine truly works when it is not only engaged in chronic spying on anyone abroad, but worse, on its own people, the reality is that his whistleblowing revelations have done more to shift the narrative to the topic of dwindling individual liberties abused pervasively in the US and elsewhere, than anything else in recent years. And alongside that, have led to the first reform momentum of a system that is deeply broken. Which also happens to be the topic of a five-paragraph opinion piece he released today in German weekly Der Spiegel titled “A Manifesto For The Truth” in which he writes that his revelations have been useful and society will benefit from them and that he was therefore justified in revealing the methods and targets of the US secret service.
In the Op-Ed we read that “Instead of causing damage, the usefulness of the new public knowledge for society is now clear because reforms to politics, supervision and laws are being suggested.”
RT adds: “Spying as a global problem requires global solutions, he said, stressing that “criminal surveillance programs” by secret services threaten open societies, individual privacy and freedom of opinion.
“Citizens have to fight against the suppression of information about affairs of essential importance for the public,” Snowden said in his five-paragraph manifesto. Hence, “those who speak the truth are not committing a crime.”
Even with the existence of mass surveillance, spying should not define politics, Snowden said.
“We have a moral duty to ensure that our laws and values limit surveillance programs and protect human rights,” he wrote.
The type of persecution campaigns that governments started after being exposed, and threats of prosecution against journalists, who blew the whistle, were “a mistake” and did not “serve the public interest,” Snowden concluded.
But “at that time the public was not in a position to judge the usefulness of these revelations. People trusted that their governments would make the right decisions,” he said.
Needless to say, all of the above points are spot on, which is why one hopes that Snowden does not intend on returning to the US to defend himself with only truth and justice to lean on, because the US Judicial system is just as broken, if not more, as every other aspect of a tentacular government, intent on growing to even more epic proportions and silencing anyone and everyone who stands in its way.
- Germany ‘should offer Edward Snowden asylum after NSA revelations’ (theguardian.com)
- Mass spy programmes threaten freedom of expression: Edward Snowden – Times of India (timesofindia.indiatimes.com)
- Edward Snowden says calls for reforms prove his leaks are justified (therebel.org)
- Germany ‘should offer Edward Snowden asylum after NSA revelations’ (oddonion.com)
- Edward Snowden “free to pack up and fly” – Kremlin (voiceofrussia.com)
- VIDEO: Edward Snowden gets IT job in Russia (bbc.co.uk)
U.S. allies angered over NSA 3:03
Germany’s interior minister is pressing for “complete information” from Washington on the alleged U.S. surveillance of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone and any other snooping.
Merkel complained to U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday after receiving information her phone may have been monitored. German spy chiefs plan to travel to Washington for talks.
Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich was quoted Sunday as telling newspaper Bild am Sonntag he wants “complete information on all accusations” and that “if the Americans intercepted cellphones in Germany, they broke German law on German soil.” He added wiretapping is a crime and “those responsible must be held accountable.”
News magazine Der Spiegel, whose research prompted the government’s response, reported that a document apparently from an NSA database indicates Merkel’s cellphone was first listed as a target in 2002.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Rome and Paris on Saturday and was confronted by outrage over the sweep and scope of U.S. snooping abroad.
The magnitude of the eavesdropping is what shocked us,” former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in a radio interview. “Let’s be honest, we eavesdrop too. Everyone is listening to everyone else. But we don’t have the same means as the United States, which makes us jealous.”
Free trade talks
The spy flap could give the Europeans leverage in talks with the U.S. on a free trade agreement, which would join together nearly half of the global economy. “If we go to the negotiations and we have the feeling those people with whom we negotiate know everything that we want to deal with in advance, how can we trust each other?” Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, asked.
Claude Moniquet, a former French counterintelligence officer and now director of Brussels-based European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center, said the latest NSA flap came at a good time for Europe “to have a lever, a means of pressure … in these negotiations.”
To Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore at George Washington University, damage from the NSA disclosures could “undermine Washington’s ability to act hypocritically and get away with it.”
- Obama says U.S. not listening to German chancellor’s calls
- U.S. officials long denied massive data trawling
- British official calls U.K. electronic surveillance legal
The danger in the disclosures “lies not in the new information that they reveal but in the documented confirmation they provide of what the United States is actually doing and why,” they wrote in Foreign Affairs. “When these deeds turn out to clash with the government’s public rhetoric, as they so often do, it becomes harder for U.S. allies to overlook Washington’s covert behaviour and easier for U.S. adversaries to justify their own.”
They claim the disclosures forced Washington to abandon its “naming-and-shaming campaign against Chinese hacking.”
The revelations could undercut Washington’s effort to fight terrorism, says Kiron Skinner, director of the Center for International Relations and Politics at Carnegie Mellon University. The sweeping nature of NSA surveillance goes against the Obama administration’s claim that much of U.S. espionage is carried out to combat terrorism, she says.
“If Washington undermines its own leadership or that of its allies, the collective ability of the West to combat terrorism will be compromised,” Skinner said. “Allied leaders will have no incentive to put their own militaries at risk if they cannot trust U.S. leadership.”
Push for end to eavesdropping
The Obama administration’s rebuttal to outrage has been that the U.S. is gathering foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations and that it’s necessary to protect the U.S. and its allies against security threats.
Kerry discussed the NSA affair in Europe with French and Italian officials. “He certainly recognizes that as we look to pursue a range of diplomatic priorities, whether that’s working together on global issues like Syria or Iran or TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), it would really be a mistake to let these disclosures get in the way,” she said.
Most governments have not retaliated, but some countries are pushing back.
Germany and France are demanding that the Obama administration agree by year’s end to new rules that could mean an end to reported American eavesdropping on foreign leaders, companies and innocent citizens.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff cancelled her official state visit to the White House. She ordered measures aimed at greater Brazilian online independence and security after learning that the NSA intercepted her communications, hacked into the state-owned Petrobras oil company’s network and spied on Brazilians.
Brazil says it is working with other countries to draft a United Nations General Assembly resolution that would guarantee people’s privacy in electronic communications.
A European Parliament committee in Brussels approved sweeping data protection rules that would strengthen online privacy and outlaw the kind of data transfers the U.S. is using for its spying program.
European lawmakers have called for the suspension of an agreement that grants U.S. authorities access to bank data needed for terror-related investigations.
“We need trust among allies and partners,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose cellphone was allegedly tapped by the NSA. “Such trust now has to be built anew.”
- U.S. may have bugged Angela Merkel’s phone since 2002 (scharleme.wordpress.com)
- US spied on Merkel’s phone since 2002: report (worldnews.nbcnews.com)
- Report: German Newspaper – Obama Lied To Angela Merkel, He Personally Ordered The Bugging Of Her Phone (theconservativetreehouse.com)
- US’ NSA tracked Angela Merkel’s phone since 2002 (dnaindia.com)
- NSA Allegedly Spied on Merkel’s Cell Phone for Over a Decade (theatlanticwire.com)
In a stunning claim, Germany’s Der Speigel reports that theUS targeted Angela Merkel’s private mobile phone for years…
- *MERKEL TOLD OBAMA TAPPING WOULD BE UNACCEPTABLE, SEIBERT SAYS
- *MERKEL COMPLAINED TO OBAMA ABOUT PHONE SURVEILLANCE: SPIEGEL
- *MERKEL DEMANDS FULL EXPLANATION FROM OBAMA, SPIEGEL SAYS
So Obama promptly complied:
- *OBAMA TOLD MERKEL U.S. NOT TAPPING HER PHONE, SPIEGEL SAYS
We await Snowden and Greenwald’s clarification…
Carney is now denying it all in the WH press conference:
- *CARNEY SAYS OBAMA, MERKEL SPOKE ABOUT NSA ALLEGATIONS TODAY
- *CARNEY SAYS OBAMA ASSURED MERKEL HER PHONE NOT MONITORED
- *CARNEY SAYS MERKEL, OBAMA AGREED TO INTENSIFY COOPERATION
- *CARNEY: NOT MONITORING, WILL NOT MONITOR MERKEL COMMUNICATIONS
- Germany: We Think The NSA May Have Tapped Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cell Phone For Years (businessinsider.com)
- Angela Merkel concerned at ‘US phone spying’ on HER cell phone! (aconservativeedge.wordpress.com)
- Ooops! They did it again!! (homegrownmedia.info)
- Merkel concern at ‘US phone spying’ (arunbabyveranakunnel.wordpress.com)
The National Security Agency hacked the email of former Mexican President Felipe Calderon, according to a report from Der Spiegel.
The report, which stems from documents leaked by Edward Snowden, alleges that a division of the NSA “successfully exploited a key mail server in the Mexican Presidencia domain within the Mexican Presidential network to gain first-ever access to President Felipe Calderon’s public email account.” Der Speigel also reports that the spying, which began in May 2010, also targeted other top officials in the Mexican government.
The report claims that some of the information retrieved in the surveillance programprovided economic benefits to the U.S.
For more on the bombshell allegations, head over to Der Spiegel.
The report comes weeks after news that the NSA had access to current Mexican President Pena Nieto’s emails, as well as Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s.
Rousseff blasted the U.S.’s controversial surveillance program at the U.N. last month.
“Meddling in such a manner in the lives and affairs of other countries is a breach of international law and, as such, it is an affront to the principles that should otherwise govern relations among countries, especially among friendly nations,” she said.
- The NSA Hacked Former Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s Email While He Was In Office (jeremiahtillman.wordpress.com)
- NSA Hacked Email Account of Mexican President (aconservativeedge.wordpress.com)
- The NSA Hacked Former Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s Email While He Was In Office (retrometrotech.wordpress.com)
- Report Claims NSA Can Access Smartphone User Data (newsy.com)
- SPiEGEL: Privacy Scandal: NSA Can Spy on Smart Phone Data (akula51.net)
- iSpy: How the NSA Accesses Smartphone Data (spiegel.de)
- Your smartphone can recognize you from a tap on its touchscreen (hispanicbusiness.com)
- The NSA Can Access Basically Everything On iOS, Android and Blackberry – Gizmodo (newestgadgetsinfo.com)