Editor’s Note – If the Tsarnaev brothers could not be stopped despite Russian warnings and an FBI probe, and then Nadir Soofi and Elton Simpson could not be stopped in their attempt despite the probe and sentencing of Simpson, what good is all this NSA data collection?
With ISIS claiming responsibility for the attack in Texas, what is next? Is the NSA ever going to produce any positive results? Once again, is all this security with the price of less liberty and privacy?
Now we learn that NSA computers are converting our words they pick up into searchable text. Will that matter, and do you feel safer? Do you feel more threatened by the NSA than ISIS. If not for careful planning by Pam Geller’s team, and hiring a large number of Garland police, the tragic ending could have been horrendous – no thanks to the NSA or FBI.
The Computers are Listening – How the NSA Converts Words into Searchable Text
Most people realize that emails and other digital communications they once considered private can now become part of their permanent record. But even as they increasingly use apps that understand what they say, most people don’t realize that the words they speak are not so private anymore, either.
Top-secret documents from the archive of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden show the National Security Agency can now automatically recognize the content within phone calls by creating rough transcripts and phonetic representations that can be easily searched and stored.
The documents show NSA analysts celebrating the development of what they called “Google for Voice” nearly a decade ago.
Though perfect transcription of natural conversation apparently remains the Intelligence Community’s “holy grail,” the Snowden documents describe extensive use of keyword searching as well as computer programs designed to analyze and “extract” the content of voice conversations, and even use sophisticated algorithms to flag conversations of interest.
The documents include vivid examples of the use of speech recognition in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in Latin America. But they leave unclear exactly how widely the spy agency uses this ability, particularly in programs that pick up considerable amounts of conversations that include people who live in or are citizens of the United States.
Spying on international telephone calls has always been a staple of NSA surveillance, but the requirement that an actual person do the listening meant it was effectively limited to a tiny percentage of the total traffic. By leveraging advances in automated speech recognition, the NSA has entered the era of bulk listening.
And this has happened with no apparent public oversight, hearings or legislative action. Congress hasn’t shown signs of even knowing that it’s going on.
The USA Freedom Act — the surveillance reform bill that Congress is currently debating — doesn’t address the topic at all. The bill would end an NSA program that does not collect voice content: the government’s bulk collection of domestic calling data, showing who called who and for how long.
Even if becomes law, the bill would leave in place a multitude of mechanisms exposed by Snowden that scoop up vast amounts of innocent people’s text and voice communications in the U.S. and across the globe.
Civil liberty experts contacted by The Intercept said the NSA’s speech-to-text capabilities are a disturbing example of the privacy invasions that are becoming possible as our analog world transitions to a digital one.
“I think people don’t understand that the economics of surveillance have totally changed,” Jennifer Granick, civil liberties director at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, told The Intercept.
“Once you have this capability, then the question is: How will it be deployed? Can you temporarily cache all American phone calls, transcribe all the phone calls, and do text searching of the content of the calls?” she said. “It may not be what they are doing right now, but they’ll be able to do it.”
And, she asked: “How would we ever know if they change the policy?”
Indeed, NSA officials have been secretive about their ability to convert speech to text, and how widely they use it, leaving open any number of possibilities.
That secrecy is the key, Granick said. “We don’t have any idea how many innocent people are being affected, or how many of those innocent people are also Americans.”
I Can Search Against It
NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, who was trained as a voice processing crypto-linguist and worked at the agency until 2008, told The Intercept that he saw a huge push after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks to turn the massive amounts of voice communications being collected into something more useful.
Human listening was clearly not going to be the solution. “There weren’t enough ears,” he said.
The transcripts that emerged from the new systems weren’t perfect, he said. “But even if it’s not 100 percent, I can still get a lot more information. It’s far more accessible. I can search against it.”
Converting speech to text makes it easier for the NSA to see what it has collected and stored, according to Drake. “The breakthrough was being able to do it on a vast scale,” he said.
Editor’s Note – Have you ever taken a call on your mobile phone and walked away from others seeking privacy in the call? Do you send text messages to unknown people and tell them your medical condition? Do you from time to time clear your internet cache and cookies to clear your computer of historical and unwanted tracks?
Sure everyone wants some sense of privacy and you expect that what you do in your own home should not be in the hands of others without your knowledge or approval, but that is NO longer reasonable or true. You have not only lost ANY privacy but your data travels the globe even to other countries, they know you but you don’t know them.
You may be doing anything in a private manner, so you think, but there are in fact others that are nothing more than peeping Toms who are capturing everything you do, whether it is acceptable, explicit, or just plain personal. This is all done without you being aware, much less with your permission.
We have been forced into a Constitutional crisis and it is time you learn the risks and fight back. Suppose you make a call to a crisis line for a gambling habit or call your bank to transfer money to a friend in need in another country. That meta-data is all collected by the NSA and with that data, an unknown intelligence analyst can construe any scenario about your activities without notifying you.
Maybe it can be used in a divorce proceeding, or as cause to seek a warrant based on your history that they construe into making you a suspect in a criminal case you had no knowledge of. Think about it – they have evidence they can do anything with, including making up something to ruin a political ambition, or get you fired.
When you data is in the hands of people in a foreign nation that does not observe our laws, or has less stringent laws, how safe is your data?
NSA shares raw intelligence including Americans’ data with Israel
Details of the intelligence-sharing agreement are laid out in a memorandum of understanding between the NSA and its Israeli counterpart that shows the US government handed over intercepted communications likely to contain phone calls and emails of American citizens. The agreement places no legally binding limits on the use of the data by the Israelis.
The disclosure that the NSA agreed to provide raw intelligence data to a foreign country contrasts with assurances from the Obama administration that there are rigorous safeguards to protect the privacy of US citizens caught in the dragnet. The intelligence community calls this process “minimization”, but the memorandum makes clear that the information shared with the Israelis would be in its pre-minimized state.
The five-page memorandum, termed an agreement between the US and Israeli intelligence agencies “pertaining to the protection of US persons”, repeatedly stresses the constitutional rights of Americans to privacy and the need for Israeli intelligence staff to respect these rights.
But this is undermined by the disclosure that Israel is allowed to receive “raw Sigint” – signal intelligence. The memorandum says: “Raw Sigint includes, but is not limited to, unevaluated and unminimized transcripts, gists, facsimiles, telex, voice and Digital Network Intelligence metadata and content.”
According to the agreement, the intelligence being shared would not be filtered in advance by NSA analysts to remove US communications. “NSA routinely sends ISNU [the Israeli Sigint National Unit] minimized and unminimized raw collection”, it says.
Although the memorandum is explicit in saying the material had to be handled in accordance with US law, and that the Israelis agreed not to deliberately target Americans identified in the data, these rules are not backed up by legal obligations.
“This agreement is not intended to create any legally enforceable rights and shall not be construed to be either an international agreement or a legally binding instrument according to international law,” the document says.
In a statement to the Guardian, an NSA spokesperson did not deny that personal data about Americans was included in raw intelligence data shared with the Israelis. But the agency insisted that the shared intelligence complied with all rules governing privacy.
“Any US person information that is acquired as a result of NSA’s surveillance activities is handled under procedures that are designed to protect privacy rights,” the spokesperson said.
The NSA declined to answer specific questions about the agreement, including whether permission had been sought from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (Fisa) court for handing over such material.
The memorandum of understanding, which the Guardian is publishing in full, allows Israel to retain “any files containing the identities of US persons” for up to a year. The agreement requests only that the Israelis should consult the NSA’s special liaison adviser when such data is found.
Notably, a much stricter rule was set for US government communications found in the raw intelligence. The Israelis were required to “destroy upon recognition” any communication “that is either to or from an official of the US government”. Such communications included those of “officials of the executive branch (including the White House, cabinet departments, and independent agencies), the US House of Representatives and Senate (member and staff) and the US federal court system (including, but not limited to, the supreme court)”.
It is not clear whether any communications involving members of US Congress or the federal courts have been included in the raw data provided by the NSA, nor is it clear how or why the NSA would be in possession of such communications. In 2009, however, the New York Times reported on “the agency’s attempt to wiretap a member of Congress, without court approval, on an overseas trip”.
The NSA is required by law to target only non-US persons without an individual warrant, but it can collect the content and metadata of Americans’ emails and calls without a warrant when such communication is with a foreign target. US persons are defined in surveillance legislation as US citizens, permanent residents and anyone located on US soil at the time of the interception, unless it has been positively established that they are not a citizen or permanent resident.
Moreover, with much of the world’s internet traffic passing through US networks, large numbers of purely domestic communications also get scooped up incidentally by the agency’s surveillance programs.
The document mentions only one check carried out by the NSA on the raw intelligence, saying the agency will “regularly review a sample of files transferred to ISNU to validate the absence of US persons’ identities”. It also requests that the Israelis limit access only to personnel with a “strict need to know”.
Israeli intelligence is allowed “to disseminate foreign intelligence information concerning US persons derived from raw Sigint by NSA” on condition that it does so “in a manner that does not identify the US person”. The agreement also allows Israel to release US person identities to “outside parties, including all INSU customers” with the NSA’s written permission.
Although Israel is one of America’s closest allies, it is not one of the inner core of countries involved in surveillance sharing with the US – Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. This group is collectively known as Five Eyes.
The relationship between the US and Israel has been strained at times, both diplomatically and in terms of intelligence. In the top-secret 2013 intelligence community budget request, details of which were disclosed by the Washington Post, Israel is identified alongside Iran and China as a target for US cyberattacks.
While NSA documents tout the mutually beneficial relationship of Sigint sharing, another report, marked top secret and dated September 2007, states that the relationship, while central to US strategy, has become overwhelmingly one-sided in favor of Israel.
“Balancing the Sigint exchange equally between US and Israeli needs has been a constant challenge,” states the report, titled ‘History of the US – Israel Sigint Relationship, Post-1992’. “In the last decade, it arguably tilted heavily in favor of Israeli security concerns. 9/11 came, and went, with NSA’s only true Third Party [counter-terrorism] relationship being driven almost totally by the needs of the partner.”
In another top-secret document seen by the Guardian, dated 2008, a senior NSA official points out that Israel aggressively spies on the US. “On the one hand, the Israelis are extraordinarily good Sigint partners for us, but on the other, they target us to learn our positions on Middle East problems,” the official says. “A NIE [National Intelligence Estimate] ranked them as the third most aggressive intelligence service against the US.”
Later in the document, the official is quoted as saying: “One of NSA’s biggest threats is actually from friendly intelligence services, like Israel. There are parameters on what NSA shares with them, but the exchange is so robust, we sometimes share more than we intended.”
The memorandum of understanding also contains hints that there had been tensions in the intelligence-sharing relationship with Israel. At a meeting in March 2009 between the two agencies, according to the document, it was agreed that the sharing of raw data required a new framework and further training for Israeli personnel to protect US person information.
It is not clear whether or not this was because there had been problems up to that point in the handling of intelligence that was found to contain Americans’ data.
However, an earlier US document obtained by Snowden, which discusses co-operating on a military intelligence program, bluntly lists under the cons: “Trust issues which revolve around previous ISR [Israel] operations.”
The Guardian asked the Obama administration how many times US data had been found in the raw intelligence, either by the Israelis or when the NSA reviewed a sample of the files, but officials declined to provide this information. Nor would they disclose how many other countries the NSA shared raw data with, or whether the Fisa court, which is meant to oversee NSA surveillance programs and the procedures to handle US information, had signed off the agreement with Israel.
In its statement, the NSA said: “We are not going to comment on any specific information sharing arrangements, or the authority under which any such information is collected. The fact that intelligence services work together under specific and regulated conditions mutually strengthens the security of both nations.
“NSA cannot, however, use these relationships to circumvent US legal restrictions. Whenever we share intelligence information, we comply with all applicable rules, including the rules to protect US persn information.”
As Edward Snowden, the previous NSA employee has exposed over the last several months just what the NSA has in its possession. There are several organizations that have stepped up to protect our Constitutional rights at least as it relates to warrantless wiretaps and illegal search and seizures. Once such lawsuit relates to not only two clauses in the Patriot Act but the law now under scrutiny The Foreign Intelligence Services Act.
The Director of National Intelligence (DNI) just today released hundreds of pages of documents related to the government’s secret interpretation of Patriot Act Section 215 and the NSA’s (mis)use of its massive database of every American’s phone records. The documents were released as a result of EFF’s ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
Our legal team is currently poring over them and will have much more analysis soon, but intelligence officials held a call with reporters about the content of the documents this morning, and made several revealing comments.
First, intelligence officials said they were releasing this information in response to the presidential directive on transparency surrounding the NSA. That statement is misleading. They are releasing this information because a court ordered them to as part of EFF’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, filed almost two years ago on the tenth anniversary of the Patriot Act.
In fact, up until the Snowden revelations started a couple months ago, the government was fighting tooth and nail to not only avoid releasing the content of the government’s secret interpretation of the Patriot Act, but even the number of pages that were involved. The government argued releasing a single word of today’s release would cause “serious and exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States.”
As it’s been clear to us and to an increasing percentage of the American public, making public how the government interprets our laws is not only NOT dangerous, but vital to our democracy.
Second, at least some of the documents relate to a “compliance issue” that was referenced in another FISA court opinion from 2011 that found some NSA surveillance unconstitutional, which released a few weeks ago as part of another EFF FOIA lawsuit.
According to intelligence officials, this FISA court opinion focuses on the NSA’s use of an “alert list” which is a list of “phone numbers of interest” that they queried every day as new data came into their phone records database. The court had told the NSA they were only allowed to query numbers that had “reasonable articulable suspicion (RAS)” of being involved in terrorism. Apparently, out of the more than 17,000 numbers on this list in 2009, the NSA only had RAS for 1,800 of them.
The NSA apparently believed that it had the authority to search the telephone records database in order to obtain the ‘reasonable articulable suspicion’ required to investigate those numbers. Essentially, they were conducting suspicionless searches to obtain the suspicion the FISA court required to conduct searches.
Incredibly, intelligence officials said today that no one at the NSA fully understood how its own surveillance system worked at the time so they could not adequately explain it to the court. This is a breathtaking admission: the NSA’s surveillance apparatus, for years, was so complex and compartmentalized that no single person could comprehend it.
The intelligence officials also acknowledged that the court has to base its decisions on the information the NSA gives it, which has never been a good basis for the checks and balances that is a hallmark of American democracy.
We also had hoped today’s release would contain a 2006 opinion describing how the FISA court re-interpreted the word “relevant” to mean the NSA could collect information on hundreds of millions of innocent Americans who had never been involved in an investigation of wrong doing. We don’t see that opinion in today’s release, but expect to get it soon.
Editor’s Note – Eventually, every story about leaks keeps ending up back at the White House itself. Why, because everything they do has a political goal in mind, especially when they need to ‘spike’ another football.
As we have been saying for years now, the current administration is the team that will say and do anything to achieve an end. Not only do they ‘spike the football’, repeatedly, they conflate the event to be solely as a result of their prowess. Allies be damned, sources get burned, methods are exposed, and it matters little, unless it sullies their image. This applies to all things domestic as well.
The Constitution and our nation-of-laws are just something to avoid, circumvent, or just ignore. If that cannot be achieved, they create or contrive some loophole, set up a list of talking points, couch it in some greater good, and then release their minions and sycophants to the talking head circuit.
Meanwhile, they turn the tables on their detractors and accuse everyone else of the same thing. Then the willing media echos these talking points, forgets to do any investigative journalism, or simply ignores the issue.
In classified cyberwar against Iran, trail of Stuxnet leak leads to White House
The information in the 2012 book by chief Washington correspondent David E. Sanger has been the subject of a yearlong Justice Department criminal investigation: The FBI is hunting for those who leaked details to Mr. Sanger about a U.S.-Israeli covert cyberoperation to infect Iran’s nuclear facilities with a debilitating computer worm known as Stuxnet.
A New York Times story adapted from the book, “Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power,” quotes participants in secret White House meetings discussing plans to unleash Stuxnet on Iran.
The scores of State Department emails from the fall of 2011 to the spring of 2012 do not reveal which officials told Mr. Sanger, but they do show an atmosphere of cooperation within the administration for a book generally favorable toward, but not uncritical of, President Obama. For example:
“I’m getting a bit concerned about the pace of our interviews — or lack of pace, to be more precise — for the book,” Mr. Sanger said in an email Oct. 30, 2011, to Michael Hammer, a senior State Department public affairs official. “The White House is steaming away; I’ve seen [National Security Adviser Thomas E.] Donilon many times and a raft of people below. Doing well at the Pentagon. But on the list I sent you starting on Sept. 12 we’ve scheduled nothing, and chapters are getting into final form.”
Mr. Sanger’s book debuted in June 2012 and brought an immediate call from Republicans to investigate the leaks. They charged that administration officials jeopardized an ongoing secret cyberattack by tipping off Iran’s hard-line Islamic regime about war plans.
They also charged that Obama aides were leaking sensitive materials on other issues, such as the Navy SEAL-CIA raid to kill Osama bin Laden, to burnish Mr. Obama’s credentials as commander in chief as the 2012 election approached.
The nonprofit Freedom Watch acquired the State Department emails via a Freedom of Information Act request filed days after the book was published. Larry Klayman, its director, said State at first had told him it did not have any documents. He then filed suit in federal court.
A State Department spokesman did not respond to emails from The Washington Times requesting comment.
In one email, a public affairs official said Mr. Sanger wanted to discuss “Cybersecurity — particularly if there’s a legal framework being developed on the offensive side.” Stuxnet would be an example of an offensive cyberweapon.
Mr. Sanger’s nudging seemed to do the trick. Over the next several months, Mr. Hammer, the senior public affairs official, arranged interviews with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and a roster of senior aides.
In December 2011, Mr. Hammer sent an email summarizing Mr. Sanger’s reporting and reproducing a story from the previous month headlined “America’s Deadly Dynamics with Iran,” which reported on the Stuxnet computer worm.
It is not unusual for authors to request and sometimes win access to administration officials. Mr. Sanger’s access, however, is notable in that its subsequent disclosures prompted an FBI investigation in which agents have interviewed government officials.
The worm on the loose
Mr. Sanger wrote a June 1, 2012, article on Stuxnet that was adapted from his book, which debuted later that week. In the story, he quoted “participants” in White House meetings on whether to continue attacking Iran with Stuxnet, which somehow had broken free into the Internet.
“At a tense meeting in the White House Situation Room within days of the worm’s ‘escape,’ Mr. Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency at the time, Leon E. Panetta, considered whether America’s most ambitious attempt to slow the progress of Iran’s nuclear efforts had been fatally compromised,” the story said.
“Should we shut this thing down?” Mr. Obama asked, according to members of the president’s national security team who were in the room.”
Republicans said those passages alone are evidence that Obama aides broke the law by publicly disclosing a covert program.
With the story and book in print, State Department public affairs on June 7 sent to department officials a transcript of a floor speech delivered by Sen. John McCain that week. The Arizona Republican accused the administration of deliberately leaking secrets to portray Mr. Obama as a “strong leader on national security issues” in an election year.
“What price did the administration apparently pay to proliferate such a presidential persona highly valued in an election year?” he said. “Access. Access to senior administration officials who appear to have served as anonymous sources divulging extremely sensitive military and intelligence information and operations.”
‘Drones and cyber’
Citing the book, Mr. McCain said: “The administration officials discussed a most highly classified operation that is both highly classified and still ongoing, an operation that was clearly one of the most tightly held national security secrets in our country until now.”
Asked on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on June 3, 2012, whether the administration leaked to him to bolster the president’s image, Mr. Sanger said:
“I spent a year working the story from the bottom up, and then went to the administration and told them what I had. Then they had to make some decisions about how much they wanted to talk about it.
“All that you read about this being deliberate leaks out of the White House wasn’t my experience. Maybe it is in other cases,” he said. “I’m sure the political side of the White House probably likes reading about the president acting with drones and cyber and so forth. National security side has got very mixed emotions about it because these are classified programs.”
Said Mr. McCain: “I don’t know how one could draw any conclusion but that senior members of this administration in the national security arena have either leaked or confirmed information of the most highly classified and sensitive nature.”
On June 5, The New York Times published a review of the Sanger book by Thomas Ricks, an author and former reporter for The Washington Post.
“Mr. Sanger clearly has enjoyed great access to senior White House officials, most notably to Thomas Donilon, the national security adviser,” Mr. Ricks wrote. “Mr. Donilon, in effect, is the hero of the book, as well as the commenter of record on events. He leads the team that goes to Israel and spends ‘five hours wading through the intelligence in the basement of the prime minister’s residence.’”
Three days later, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced that he had appointed two U.S. attorneys to investigate leaks, including the Stuxnet disclosures.
“Any suggestion that this administration has authorized intentional leaks of classified information for political gain is grossly irresponsible,” he said.
A ‘target’ in the probe
In May, The New York Times reported: “The investigation into reporting by David E. Sanger of The Times, about efforts to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program, appears to be one of the most active inquiries.”
In June, NBC News reported that the FBI had zeroed in on one of the nation’s highest-ranking military officers at the time that Mr. Sanger was researching his book in 2011.
NBC said that retired Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and one of Mr. Obama’s closest military advisers, was a “target” in the probe — a designation that often means the Justice Department plans to indict the person.
Gen. Cartwright retired in August 2011.
Mr. Donilon, the national security adviser, submitted his resignation in June and left the post last month.
More than any previous president, Mr. Obama has aggressively gone after leakers — in this case possibly members of his own inner circle.
The Justice Department took the unusual step of collecting data on phone calls to and from the Washington bureau of The Associated Press in an effort to find who leaked information about a foiled terrorist attack.
The Justice Department has charged two former CIA employees and one former National Security Agency worker with providing secrets to journalists. In all three of those cases, the FBI acquired the “smoking gun” by obtaining emails between the reporters and the leakers.
In all, the Obama administration has charged eight people with leaking secrets, the most recent being former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Editor’s Note – Are Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden heroes, traitors, whistle blowers…? That is up to you, but reading this article may change your point of view. The other reason we bring this to you is also to show what our military and government are also doing, as reported by an “insider”, but again, you be the judge.
Do you believe this account? Anyway you look at it, questions just continue to flow and its most conceivable that ‘Anonymous’ types likely do work in all industries, government, and the military.
Anonymous’ Secret Presence In The U.S. Army
“There are people who I only know as screen names but I have put my career in their hands.” One member tells all.
An active-duty Army captain and member of Anonymous describes how the organization operates, his own involvement in the Arab Spring, how the crackdown on Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden has affected soldiers, and how more leaks are on the way. He has agreed to speak with BuzzFeed on the condition of anonymity.
Are there a lot of members of Anonymous in the Army?
There are more than you would think, more heavily in the techie world [of the military] — especially at Fort Huachuca, where all the intel people are. A lot of them wanted to get the job [there] because they want to learn secret stuff and have a better personal understanding of how the world actually works.
How do you know who is in Anonymous?
Initially we have the handshaking phase. The lingo is still relatively unknown. In conversation, you drop in jokes. If you are with someone on a mission, you’re like, “Man, there are over 9,000 reasons that this is a bad idea.” That initially establishes friendship. Once you feel comfortable with the person and they aren’t just posing as part of the culture, then you talk about what they’ve done and how much a part of it they are. It gets to the point where you are discussing individual operations.
What are the most popular operations amongst soldiers?
I was involved in the Arab Spring opening up internet communications. I was a facilitator for a lot of people who have more skills than me in the cyber world. I knew people who I met through 4chan, 9Chan, and 7Chan and then a lot of AnonOps IRCs and who they needed to talk to — the organizations that would help them, and people in government would give them resources and access — and was able to convince them to talk to people in Anonymous. I got people in the right [internet relay chat] rooms at the right time.
Would the military consider you a white or black hat?
The military sees me as black hat.
Is that a fair assessment?
All hats are gray. Every white hacker I know has a night job that is very much a black-hat job.
What were the results of what you did for the Arab Spring?
From what I heard they were able to establish ways to assist the activists to have a method where they could get information out of Egypt and have certain Twitter accounts tweet that information on their behalf. But I don’t know for sure. As soon as I was like, “Hey, this is this person,” and vice versa, they did tweet confirmation to make sure that certain Twitter accounts were controlled by certain people, and then I headed out of the room so there would be no “taint” of having a fed there.
Why do Anonymous members outside the military trust you?
My credibility is incredibly suspect in the group. I admit I work for the feds, and I provide information on myself so that they are comfortable. There are people who I only know as screen names but I have put my career in their hands.
What specific actions have other soldiers taken?
There are several [soldiers] I know that probably did things, but I don’t know know that they did. I can legally say, probably under a [lie] detector, I have no proof that they did it. We keep our activities totally separate because at any point in time I can be put in the chair that I can’t lie in. You have to keep the /b/ [4chan’s “Random” board] brotherhood strong.
Does the military know about the Anonymous presence?
Pre-Manning, there were several academic papers put out trying to analyze it and school the leadership. Because the Army is a very top-down organization, they assume that [Anonymous] is too. Leadership wasn’t concerned with it until Manning happened. Then they read everything under the [lens] of what Manning did and it just scared them — scared them blind. They know we are in there and they assume that we are all going to do a Manning or a Snowden.
How have they addressed it?
Every six months you are mandated to get a Threat Awareness and Reporting Procedures Brief. It used to be very much like how to … spot the Iraqi contractor who is pacing off your base. Now it is, “Look at the person at your left and right. Are they espousing social beliefs that don’t line up with Army values? What websites do they go to at work?” With the caveat that it is OK to have political beliefs that are different. You get a heavy-handed feeling.
I have had more than a few officers come up to me and as we are trying to talk about [Anonymous] they are worried, like, “Are you CID [working undercover for the Central Investigative Division]?” Because you always worry about that.
Are the retaliations against Manning and Snowden discouraging Anonymous activity and the desire to leak information?
A lot [of Anonymous members] have been in long enough and are jaded. They are watching as the government comes down harder and harder. There is a growing sense of disdain and hatred because we are complicit in it. There are some secrets that need to be secrets but the stuff [the military] keeps secret just to protect the bottom line — you just feel like you are selling your soul every day. That is a lot of the motivation. Especially for people of the generation that believe that information should be free.
Are we going to see more leaks?
Yes. A lot [of Anonymous members] are mid- to high-rank NCOs. They are well-respected, have connections, and overly large security clearances. A lot of people who are part of the [Anonymous] culture are just dying at this point for something to come across their table that isn’t already out there. It is so easy to leak information that if you want to, you can do it.
Editor’s Note – NSA contractor Edward Snowden gave a video interview to the UK’s Guardian which exposed the NSA PRISM story – today they revealed his name and the interview.
This came a day after the DNI James Clapper filed a criminal complaint to the DoJ which you can read here. It’s also interesting to read about clause 215 of the Patriot Act that gave such broad authority.
The individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for theCIA and current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell.
The Guardian, after several days of interviews, is revealing his identity at his request. From the moment he decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, he was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity. “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” he said.
Snowden will go down in history as one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning. He is responsible for handing over material from one of the world’s most secretive organisations – the NSA.
In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided, he wrote: “I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions,” but “I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant.”
Despite his determination to be publicly unveiled, he repeatedly insisted that he wants to avoid the media spotlight. “I don’t want public attention because I don’t want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing.”
He does not fear the consequences of going public, he said, only that doing so will distract attention from the issues raised by his disclosures. “I know the media likes to personalise political debates, and I know the government will demonise me.”
Despite these fears, he remained hopeful his outing will not divert attention from the substance of his disclosures. “I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in.” He added: “My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”
He has had “a very comfortable life” that included a salary of roughly $200,000, a girlfriend with whom he shared a home in Hawaii, a stable career, and a family he loves. “I’m willing to sacrifice all of that because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.”
‘I am not afraid, because this is the choice I’ve made’
Three weeks ago, Snowden made final preparations that resulted in last week’s series of blockbuster news stories. At the NSA office in Hawaii where he was working, he copied the last set of documents he intended to disclose.
He then advised his NSA supervisor that he needed to be away from work for “a couple of weeks” in order to receive treatment for epilepsy, a condition he learned he suffers from after a series of seizures last year.
As he packed his bags, he told his girlfriend that he had to be away for a few weeks, though he said he was vague about the reason. “That is not an uncommon occurrence for someone who has spent the last decade working in the intelligence world.”
On May 20, he boarded a flight to Hong Kong, where he has remained ever since. He chose the city because “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent”, and because he believed that it was one of the few places in the world that both could and would resist the dictates of the US government.
In the three weeks since he arrived, he has been ensconced in a hotel room. “I’ve left the room maybe a total of three times during my entire stay,” he said. It is a plush hotel and, what with eating meals in his room too, he has run up big bills.
He is deeply worried about being spied on. He lines the door of his hotel room with pillows to prevent eavesdropping. He puts a large red hood over his head and laptop when entering his passwords to prevent any hidden cameras from detecting them.
Though that may sound like paranoia to some, Snowden has good reason for such fears. He worked in the US intelligence world for almost a decade. He knows that the biggest and most secretive surveillance organisation in America, the NSA, along with the most powerful government on the planet, is looking for him.
Since the disclosures began to emerge, he has watched television and monitored the internet, hearing all the threats and vows of prosecution emanating from Washington.
And he knows only too well the sophisticated technology available to them and how easy it will be for them to find him. The NSA police and other law enforcement officers have twice visited his home in Hawaii and already contacted his girlfriend, though he believes that may have been prompted by his absence from work, and not because of suspicions of any connection to the leaks.
“All my options are bad,” he said. The US could begin extradition proceedings against him, a potentially problematic, lengthy and unpredictable course for Washington. Or the Chinese government might whisk him away for questioning, viewing him as a useful source of information. Or he might end up being grabbed and bundled into a plane bound for US territory.
“Yes, I could be rendered by the CIA. I could have people come after me. Or any of the third-party partners. They work closely with a number of other nations. Or they could pay off the Triads. Any of their agents or assets,” he said.
“We have got a CIA station just up the road – the consulate here in Hong Kong – and I am sure they are going to be busy for the next week. And that is a concern I will live with for the rest of my life, however long that happens to be.”
Having watched the Obama administration prosecute whistleblowers at a historically unprecedented rate, he fully expects the US government to attempt to use all its weight to punish him. “I am not afraid,” he said calmly, “because this is the choice I’ve made.”
He predicts the government will launch an investigation and “say I have broken the Espionage Act and helped our enemies, but that can be used against anyone who points out how massive and invasive the system has become”.
The only time he became emotional during the many hours of interviews was when he pondered the impact his choices would have on his family, many of whom work for the US government. “The only thing I fear is the harmful effects on my family, who I won’t be able to help any more. That’s what keeps me up at night,” he said, his eyes welling up with tears.
‘You can’t wait around for someone else to act’
Snowden did not always believe the US government posed a threat to his political values. He was brought up originally in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. His family moved later to Maryland, near the NSA headquarters in Fort Meade.
By his own admission, he was not a stellar student. In order to get the credits necessary to obtain a high school diploma, he attended a community college in Maryland, studying computing, but never completed the coursework. (He later obtained his GED.)
In 2003, he enlisted in the US army and began a training program to join the Special Forces. Invoking the same principles that he now cites to justify his leaks, he said: “I wanted to fight in the Iraq war because I felt like I had an obligation as a human being to help free people from oppression”.
He recounted how his beliefs about the war’s purpose were quickly dispelled. “Most of the people training us seemed pumped up about killing Arabs, not helping anyone,” he said. After he broke both his legs in a training accident, he was discharged.
After that, he got his first job in an NSA facility, working as a security guard for one of the agency’s covert facilities at the University of Maryland. From there, he went to the CIA, where he worked on IT security. His understanding of the internet and his talent for computer programming enabled him to rise fairly quickly for someone who lacked even a high school diploma.
By 2007, the CIA stationed him with diplomatic cover in Geneva, Switzerland. His responsibility for maintaining computer network security meant he had clearance to access a wide array of classified documents.
That access, along with the almost three years he spent around CIA officers, led him to begin seriously questioning the rightness of what he saw.
He described as formative an incident in which he claimed CIA operatives were attempting to recruit a Swiss banker to obtain secret banking information. Snowden said they achieved this by purposely getting the banker drunk and encouraging him to drive home in his car. When the banker was arrested for drunk driving, the undercover agent seeking to befriend him offered to help, and a bond was formed that led to successful recruitment.
“Much of what I saw in Geneva really disillusioned me about how my government functions and what its impact is in the world,” he says. “I realised that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good.”
He said it was during his CIA stint in Geneva that he thought for the first time about exposing government secrets. But, at the time, he chose not to for two reasons.
First, he said: “Most of the secrets the CIA has are about people, not machines and systems, so I didn’t feel comfortable with disclosures that I thought could endanger anyone”. Secondly, the election of Barack Obama in 2008 gave him hope that there would be real reforms, rendering disclosures unnecessary.
He left the CIA in 2009 in order to take his first job working for a private contractor that assigned him to a functioning NSA facility, stationed on a military base in Japan. It was then, he said, that he “watched as Obama advanced the very policies that I thought would be reined in”, and as a result, “I got hardened.”
The primary lesson from this experience was that “you can’t wait around for someone else to act. I had been looking for leaders, but I realised that leadership is about being the first to act.”
Over the next three years, he learned just how all-consuming the NSA’s surveillance activities were, claiming “they are intent on making every conversation and every form of behaviour in the world known to them”.
He described how he once viewed the internet as “the most important invention in all of human history”. As an adolescent, he spent days at a time “speaking to people with all sorts of views that I would never have encountered on my own”.
But he believed that the value of the internet, along with basic privacy, is being rapidly destroyed by ubiquitous surveillance. “I don’t see myself as a hero,” he said, “because what I’m doing is self-interested: I don’t want to live in a world where there’s no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity.”
Once he reached the conclusion that the NSA’s surveillance net would soon be irrevocable, he said it was just a matter of time before he chose to act. “What they’re doing” poses “an existential threat to democracy”, he said.
A matter of principle
As strong as those beliefs are, there still remains the question: why did he do it? Giving up his freedom and a privileged lifestyle? “There are more important things than money. If I were motivated by money, I could have sold these documents to any number of countries and gotten very rich.”
For him, it is a matter of principle. “The government has granted itself power it is not entitled to. There is no public oversight. The result is people like myself have the latitude to go further than they are allowed to,” he said.
His allegiance to internet freedom is reflected in the stickers on his laptop: “I support Online Rights: Electronic Frontier Foundation,” reads one. Another hails the online organisation offering anonymity, the Tor Project.
Asked by reporters to establish his authenticity to ensure he is not some fantasist, he laid bare, without hesitation, his personal details, from his social security number to his CIA ID and his expired diplomatic passport. There is no shiftiness. Ask him about anything in his personal life and he will answer.
He is quiet, smart, easy-going and self-effacing. A master on computers, he seemed happiest when talking about the technical side of surveillance, at a level of detail comprehensible probably only to fellow communication specialists. But he showed intense passion when talking about the value of privacy and how he felt it was being steadily eroded by the behaviour of the intelligence services.
His manner was calm and relaxed but he has been understandably twitchy since he went into hiding, waiting for the knock on the hotel door. A fire alarm goes off. “That has not happened before,” he said, betraying anxiety wondering if was real, a test or a CIA ploy to get him out onto the street.
Strewn about the side of his bed are his suitcase, a plate with the remains of room-service breakfast, and a copy of Angler, the biography of former vice-president Dick Cheney.
Ever since last week’s news stories began to appear in the Guardian, Snowden has vigilantly watched TV and read the internet to see the effects of his choices. He seemed satisfied that the debate he longed to provoke was finally taking place.
He lay, propped up against pillows, watching CNN’s Wolf Blitzer ask a discussion panel about government intrusion if they had any idea who the leaker was. From 8,000 miles away, the leaker looked on impassively, not even indulging in a wry smile.
Snowden said that he admires both Ellsberg and Manning, but argues that there is one important distinction between himself and the army private, whose trial coincidentally began the week Snowden’s leaks began to make news.
“I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest,” he said. “There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over, because harming people isn’t my goal. Transparency is.”
He purposely chose, he said, to give the documents to journalists whose judgment he trusted about what should be public and what should remain concealed.
As for his future, he is vague. He hoped the publicity the leaks have generated will offer him some protection, making it “harder for them to get dirty”.
He views his best hope as the possibility of asylum, with Iceland – with its reputation of a champion of internet freedom – at the top of his list. He knows that may prove a wish unfulfilled.
But after the intense political controversy he has already created with just the first week’s haul of stories, “I feel satisfied that this was all worth it. I have no regrets.”
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