Snowden: I’m “An Indoor Cat” (and Turing)

Does this mean we’re going to be seeing LOLsnowdens?

Quote of the day… and understatement of the century! “There are many things we do in intelligence that, if revealed, would have the potential for all kinds of blowback.” — (the) Clapper

First of all, for those of you think that publicly available encryption will beat the NSA… take a look at this Snowden slide [1] and note that the NSA believes that “America would cease to exist as we know it” if the “ability of the US to conduct SIGINT operations” was compromised.

I’m not saying there’s no encryption algorithm out there that wouldn’t do the trick, but think for a minute about the environment that Muslims face when they go pray at a mosque in NYC. Terrorism is a relatively new threat; “adversaries” communicating securely has been a “problem” for millennia. You really think crypto & infosec developers are less watched and manipulated than Mohammed the sandwich shop owner?

Oh, and what does it say about the NSA — and to a lesser degree their countrymen — that they believe their country would not exist if not for spying on others? Just some food for thought there…

Second thing: “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.”

This is a really key point. In years of leak-watching, both online and off, my observation has been much the same. Leaking secrets really doesn’t do as much harm as people fear it will.

The only time it reliably causes damage when the leaking is done in secret, to an opposing intelligence agency. In that respect, perhaps the public interest would be best served if journalists had the same operational and technical security capabilities as spies.

Anyway, just over a week ago, Omidyar-skeptic and FBI “the US government knew about 9/11 before it happened” whistleblower Sibel Edmonds called on Snowden to make a public statement about his intentions with the leaks.[2]

Now Barton Gellman has published the summary of 14 hours worth of interviews with Snowden at his “undisclosed location” in Москва, in which he indirectly makes the point that all this Omidyar squabblery is irrelvant.

Snowden’s already won. Anything more now is just icing on the cake.

In the interview, Snowden describes having applied the “front page test” with his colleagues. Pointing out they were spying on Americans in America more than they were on the Russians in Russia, he asked them what they think would happen if this stuff made the front page of a newspaper.

Responding to this “front page test,” Snowden’s colleagues were troubled, and “several said they did not want to know any more.”

But hey, this is the NSA, an organization in the business of ““information dominance,” the use of other people’s secrets to shape events.” Which events where, exactly?

Anyway, Snowden still considers to be “working for the NSA right now. They are the only ones who don’t realize it.”

Snowden wants to improve the agency, not destroy it — in his eyes, it’s the mass collection that’s the problem, targeted spying is fine. (So don’t expect the disclosures to tell you how to avoid targeted spying.) In fact, he believes he was “elected” to the position by the overseers that failed in their oversight. By virtue of failing their responsibilities there, they instead put the job on somebody, somewhere to do it instead. Snowden just happened to fit the bill.

As to his life in the most expensive city in the world, Snowden lives off ramen and chips. People bring him books which he never reads, because he’s too busy being addicted to the Internet. Otherwise he’s an ascetic. (In other words, celibate. Which is an excellent idea, in his position.) Ditto for going sightseeing; leaving the house just doesn’t have much appeal to him unless there’s a purpose.

He claims not to be relying on a “doomsday device” for his safety, initially making a face and declining to answer, then later calling it a “suicide switch” that wouldn’t make sense. Commentators have suggested he might fear people that would kill him just to make everything public. (I can see Assange doing a lot of things, but hiring a hit man? Don’t think so…)

Nevertheless, nowhere does he deny having a dead man switch.

But one thing he’s definitely not done is defected to the Russians or the Chinese.

“If I defected at all,” Snowden said, “I defected from the government to the public.”

[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/rf/image_404h/2010-2019/WashingtonPost/2013/12/23/National-Security/Images/nsa1224slide1.png

[2] http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2013/12/15/mr-snowden-its-time-to-come-out-and-take-a-stand-publicly-as-to-your-intentions/

Turing pardoned, finally: http://www.newstatesman.com/david-allen-green/2013/07/putting-right-wrong-done-alan-turing

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/edward-snowden-after-months-of-nsa-revelations-says-his-missions-accomplished/2013/12/23/49fc36de-6c1c-11e3-a523-fe73f0ff6b8d_story.html#

“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.” […]

“The NSA’s business is “information dominance,” the use of other people’s secrets to shape events.”[…]

“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.”[…]

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.”[…]

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.”[…]

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.[…]

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.[…]

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.[…]

“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.”[…]

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.”[…]

““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”[…]

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.”[…]

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.[…]

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.”[…]

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.””

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