Posts Tagged ‘PRISM’

Glenn Greenwald Speaks Out

July 3, 2013

Glenn Greenwald on journalism, Ed Snowden and US mass surveillance.

In the NSA we trust: The trouble with faith in an omniscient state

June 17, 2013

Too many Americans think of their nation as inherently Christian and worthy of absolute trust, but the state is not benign

NSA surveillance

NSA surveillance

It’s nothing new, this fear that there is someone out there watching my every move, knowing my inmost thoughts. It used to be a fear of God. Now it’s a fear of Google, the NSA and GCHQ. In other words, we have invented a secular form of omniscience. For the sake of argument let us bracket out the question of whether this God actually exists. For present purposes, I am interested in how human beings have historically reacted to the prospect of there being some powerful agent/agency who knows everything about us. Thousands of years ago, the psalmist had it thus:

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it. Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.” (Psalm 139 vv. 1-8)

But, the psalmist concludes, if we having nothing to hide, why worry? “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” This is not dissimilar to Barack Obama’s line that in the trade-off between security and privacy, we ought to trust the listening spooks not to misuse information they gather about us, that they are working in our best interests. But, whatever one thinks of (let’s call it) the God idea, the big difference between God almighty and the secular almighty, is that the former is supposed to be benign, indeed the very epitome of love itself, whereas I don’t think it entirely uncontroversial to say that the NSA is not.

The problem is, however, that too many Americans think of their nation as inherently Christian, as set apart by God. For all their supposed separation of church and state, and for all their supposed suspicion of big government, in the end a significant proportion of Americans believe in America in the same way that they believe in God. They over-identify the Christian “we” with the American “we” – as Stanley Hauerwas puts it. In 1956, the USA replaced its unofficial motto, E pluribus unum (Out of the many, one), with an official motto, “In God we Trust”.

Thus the state not so subtly claims for itself the same level of trust that Christians have in the almighty – thereby answering the initial fear that the psalmist has about absolute surveillance with the reassurance that the powers that be are benign and have our ultimate interests at heart. Nothing could be more dangerous than this, that the state deserves absolute trust. Which is why it is worth stating and restating the theologically obvious: the NSA is not God – however much it might aspire to the absolute power of omniscience.

— Giles Fraser

Published in The Guardian.

We may trust God to watch over us. We should never trust the state.

PRISM part of a much larger government surveillance program

June 16, 2013

Companies have been handling requests from the FBI for years, under a program called US-98XN

 National Security Agency building at Fort Meade

National Security Agency building at Fort Meade

WASHINGTON (AP) — In the months and early years after 9/11, FBI agents began showing up at Microsoft Corp. more frequently than before, armed with court orders demanding information on customers.

Around the world, government spies and eavesdroppers were tracking the email and Internet addresses used by suspected terrorists. Often, those trails led to the world’s largest software company and, at the time, largest email provider.

The agents wanted email archives, account information, practically everything, and quickly. Engineers compiled the data, sometimes by hand, and delivered it to the government.

Often there was no easy way to tell if the information belonged to foreigners or Americans. So much data was changing hands that one former Microsoft employee recalls that the engineers were anxious about whether the company should cooperate.

Inside Microsoft, some called it “Hoovering” — not after the vacuum cleaner, but after J. Edgar Hoover, the first FBI director, who gathered dirt on countless Americans.

This frenetic, manual process was the forerunner to Prism, the recently revealed highly classified National Security Agency program that seizes records from Internet companies. As laws changed and technology improved, the government and industry moved toward a streamlined, electronic process, which required less time from the companies and provided the government data in a more standard format.

The revelation of Prism this month by the Washington Post and Guardian newspapers has touched off the latest round in a decade-long debate over what limits to impose on government eavesdropping, which the Obama administration says is essential to keep the nation safe.

But interviews with more than a dozen current and former government and technology officials and outside experts show that, while Prism has attracted the recent attention, the program actually is a relatively small part of a much more expansive and intrusive eavesdropping effort.

Americans who disapprove of the government reading their emails have more to worry about from a different and larger NSA effort that snatches data as it passes through the fiber optic cables that make up the Internet’s backbone. That program, which has been known for years, copies Internet traffic as it enters and leaves the United States, then routes it to the NSA for analysis.

Whether by clever choice or coincidence, Prism appears to do what its name suggests. Like a triangular piece of glass, Prism takes large beams of data and helps the government find discrete, manageable strands of information.

The fact that it is productive is not surprising; documents show it is one of the major sources for what ends up in the president’s daily briefing. Prism makes sense of the cacophony of the Internet’s raw feed. It provides the government with names, addresses, conversation histories and entire archives of email inboxes.

Many of the people interviewed for this report insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss a classified, continuing effort. But those interviews, along with public statements and the few public documents available, show there are two vital components to Prism’s success.

The first is how the government works closely with the companies that keep people perpetually connected to each other and the world. That story line has attracted the most attention so far.

The second and far murkier one is how Prism fits into a larger U.S. wiretapping program in place for years.

___

Deep in the oceans, hundreds of cables carry much of the world’s phone and Internet traffic. Since at least the early 1970s, the NSA has been tapping foreign cables. It doesn’t need permission. That’s its job.

But Internet data doesn’t care about borders. Send an email from Pakistan to Afghanistan and it might pass through a mail server in the United States, the same computer that handles messages to and from Americans. The NSA is prohibited from spying on Americans or anyone inside the United States. That’s the FBI’s job and it requires a warrant.

Despite that prohibition, shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, President George W. Bush secretly authorized the NSA to plug into the fiber optic cables that enter and leave the United States, knowing it would give the government unprecedented, warrantless access to Americans’ private conversations.

Tapping into those cables allows the NSA access to monitor emails, telephone calls, video chats, websites, bank transactions and more. It takes powerful computers to decrypt, store and analyze all this information, but the information is all there, zipping by at the speed of light.

“You have to assume everything is being collected,” said Bruce Schneier, who has been studying and writing about cryptography and computer security for two decades.

The New York Times disclosed the existence of this effort in 2005. In 2006, former AT&T technician Mark Klein revealed that the company had allowed the NSA to install a computer at its San Francisco switching center, a spot where fiber optic cables enter the U.S.

What followed was the most significant debate over domestic surveillance since the 1975 Church Committee, a special Senate committee led by Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, reined in the CIA and FBI for spying on Americans.

Unlike the recent debate over Prism, however, there were no visual aids, no easy-to-follow charts explaining that the government was sweeping up millions of emails and listening to phone calls of people accused of no wrongdoing.

The Bush administration called it the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” and said it was keeping the United States safe.

“This program has produced intelligence for us that has been very valuable in the global war on terror, both in terms of saving lives and breaking up plots directed at the United States,” Vice President Dick Cheney said at the time.

The government has said it minimizes all conversations and emails involving Americans. Exactly what that means remains classified. But former U.S. officials familiar with the process say it allows the government to keep the information as long as it is labeled as belonging to an American and stored in a special, restricted part of a computer.

That means Americans’ personal emails can live in government computers, but analysts can’t access, read or listen to them unless the emails become relevant to a national security investigation.

The government doesn’t automatically delete the data, officials said, because an email or phone conversation that seems innocuous today might be significant a year from now.

What’s unclear to the public is how long the government keeps the data. That is significant because the U.S. someday will have a new enemy. Two decades from now, the government could have a trove of American emails and phone records it can tap to investigative whatever Congress declares a threat to national security.

The Bush administration shut down its warrantless wiretapping program in 2007 but endorsed a new law, the Protect America Act, which allowed the wiretapping to continue with changes: The NSA generally would have to explain its techniques and targets to a secret court in Washington, but individual warrants would not be required.

Congress approved it, with Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., in the midst of a campaign for president, voting against it.

“This administration also puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we provide,” Obama said in a speech two days before that vote. “I will provide our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining our Constitution and our freedom.”

___

When the Protect America Act made warrantless wiretapping legal, lawyers and executives at major technology companies knew what was about to happen.

One expert in national security law, who is directly familiar with how Internet companies dealt with the government during that period, recalls conversations in which technology officials worried aloud that the government would trample on Americans’ constitutional right against unlawful searches, and that the companies would be called on to help.

The logistics were about to get daunting, too.

For years, the companies had been handling requests from the FBI. Now Congress had given the NSA the authority to take information without warrants. Though the companies didn’t know it, the passage of the Protect America Act gave birth to a top-secret NSA program, officially called US-98XN.

It was known as Prism. Though many details are still unknown, it worked like this:

Every year, the attorney general and the director of national intelligence spell out in a classified document how the government plans to gather intelligence on foreigners overseas.

By law, the certification can be broad. The government isn’t required to identify specific targets or places.

A federal judge, in a secret order, approves the plan.

With that, the government can issue “directives” to Internet companies to turn over information.

While the court provides the government with broad authority to seize records, the directives themselves typically are specific, said one former associate general counsel at a major Internet company. They identify a specific target or groups of targets. Other company officials recall similar experiences.

All adamantly denied turning over the kind of broad swaths of data that many people believed when the Prism documents were first released.

“We only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers,” Microsoft said in a statement.

Facebook said it received between 9,000 and 10,000 demands requests for data from all government agencies in the second half of last year. The social media company said fewer than 19,000 users were targeted.

How many of those were related to national security is unclear, and likely classified. The numbers suggest each request typically related to one or two people, not a vast range of users.

Tech company officials were unaware there was a program named Prism. Even former law enforcement and counterterrorism officials who were on the job when the program went live and were aware of its capabilities said this past week that they didn’t know what it was called.

What the NSA called Prism, the companies knew as a streamlined system that automated and simplified the “Hoovering” from years earlier, the former assistant general counsel said. The companies, he said, wanted to reduce their workload. The government wanted the data in a structured, consistent format that was easy to search.

Any company in the communications business can expect a visit, said Mike Janke, CEO of Silent Circle, a company that advertises software for secure, encrypted conversations. The government is eager to find easy ways around security.

“They do this every two to three years,” said Janke, who said government agents have approached his company but left empty-handed because his computer servers store little information. “They ask for the moon.”

That often creates tension between the government and a technology industry with a reputation for having a civil libertarian bent. Companies occasionally argue to limit what the government takes. Yahoo even went to court and lost in a classified ruling in 2008, The New York Times reported Friday.

“The notion that Yahoo gives any federal agency vast or unfettered access to our users’ records is categorically false,” Ron Bell, the company’s general counsel, said recently.

Under Prism, the delivery process varied by company.

Google, for instance, says it makes secure file transfers. Others use contractors or have set up stand-alone systems. Some have set up user interfaces making it easier for the government, according to a security expert familiar with the process.

Every company involved denied the most sensational assertion in the Prism documents: that the NSA pulled data “directly from the servers” of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL and more.

Technology experts and a former government official say that phrasing, taken from a PowerPoint slide describing the program, was likely meant to differentiate Prism’s neatly organized, company-provided data from the unstructured information snatched out of the Internet’s major pipelines.

In slide made public by the newspapers, NSA analysts were encouraged to use data coming from both Prism and from the fiber-optic cables.

Prism, as its name suggests, helps narrow and focus the stream. If eavesdroppers spot a suspicious email among the torrent of data pouring into the United States, analysts can use information from Internet companies to pinpoint the user.

With Prism, the government gets a user’s entire email inbox. Every email, including contacts with American citizens, becomes government property.

Once the NSA has an inbox, it can search its huge archives for information about everyone with whom the target communicated. All those people can be investigated, too.

That’s one example of how emails belonging to Americans can become swept up in the hunt.

In that way, Prism helps justify specific, potentially personal searches. But it’s the broader operation on the Internet fiber optics cables that actually captures the data, experts agree.

“I’m much more frightened and concerned about real-time monitoring on the Internet backbone,” said Wolf Ruzicka, CEO of EastBanc Technologies, a Washington software company. “I cannot think of anything, outside of a face-to-face conversation, that they could not have access to.”

One unanswered question, according to a former technology executive at one of the companies involved, is whether the government can use the data from Prism to work backward.

For example, not every company archives instant message conversations, chat room exchanges or videoconferences. But if Prism provided general details, known as metadata, about when a user began chatting, could the government “rewind” its copy of the global Internet stream, find the conversation and replay it in full?

That would take enormous computing, storage and code-breaking power. It’s possible the NSA could use supercomputers to decrypt some transmissions, but it’s unlikely it would have the ability to do that in volume. In other words, it would help to know what messages to zero in on.

Whether the government has that power and whether it uses Prism this way remains a closely guarded secret.

___

A few months after Obama took office in 2009, the surveillance debate reignited in Congress because the NSA had crossed the line. Eavesdroppers, it turned out, had been using their warrantless wiretap authority to intercept far more emails and phone calls of Americans than they were supposed to.

Obama, no longer opposed to the wiretapping, made unspecified changes to the process. The government said the problems were fixed.

“I came in with a healthy skepticism about these programs,” Obama explained recently. “My team evaluated them. We scrubbed them thoroughly. We actually expanded some of the oversight, increased some of the safeguards.”

Years after decrying Bush for it, Obama said Americans did have to make tough choices in the name of safety.

“You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” the president said.

Obama’s administration, echoing his predecessor’s, credited the surveillance with disrupting several terrorist attacks. Leading figures from the Bush administration who endured criticism during Obama’s candidacy have applauded the president for keeping the surveillance intact.

Jason Weinstein, who recently left the Justice Department as head of its cybercrime and intellectual property section, said it’s no surprise Obama continued the eavesdropping.

“You can’t expect a president to not use a legal tool that Congress has given him to protect the country,” he said. “So, Congress has given him the tool. The president’s using it. And the courts are saying ‘The way you’re using it is OK.’ That’s checks and balances at work.”

Schneier, the author and security expert, said it doesn’t really matter how Prism works, technically. Just assume the government collects everything, he said.

He said it doesn’t matter what the government and the companies say, either. It’s spycraft, after all.

“Everyone is playing word games,” he said. “No one is telling the truth.”

___

Associated Press writers Eileen Sullivan, Peter Svensonn, Adam Goldman, Michael Liedtke and Monika Mathur contributed to this report.

Associated Press report published by Salon.

Leaks Are Vital For Democracy and the NSA Revelations Are the Quintessential Example Why

June 14, 2013

When looking back at the past decade, it’s hard to think of a constitutional scandal that wasn’t first brought to the public’s attention by a leak to the press. Bush’s NSA warrantless wiretapping program, black site prisons, torture, CIA drone strikes, and offensive cyberattacks are just some of the examples.

Leaks, while controversial, remain vital to democracy when the government shuts off traditional avenues of transparency and accountability. And there has never been a better example of this than the recent revelations by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Unfortunately, many lawmakers have spent the last week criticizing Snowden’s actions rather than scrutinizing the programs he’s exposed and the system that led him to do what he did. In the past five years, the government has systematically cut off congressional oversight, Freedom of Information Act requests, and the federal courts as avenues to hold the NSA accountable. Similarly, whistleblower protection laws have provided no protection those like Snowden who might wish to bring abuses to light.

In Congress, the intelligence committees have teamed up with the Obama administration and rejected even modest transparency and oversight amendments to both the Patriot Act and FISA Amendments Act in the last two years, despite ample evidence of abuse.

In federal courts, the Justice Department has used a variety of procedural moves to prevent judges from ruling on whether the NSA warrantless wiretapping program is constitutional – including ‘standing,’ ‘sovereign immunity,’ and the pernicious ‘state secrets’ privilege.

Freedom of Information Act lawsuits about the secret Patriot Act interpretations (exposed by the Verizon court order) and secret FISA court decisions have been met with absurd and Kafkaesque arguments to prevent even the administration’s interpretation of a public law from being made public.

And importantly, Congress recently passed the Whistleblower Protection Act and purposely excluded government contractors like Snowden (of which there are more than a million). So if he went through official channels he would have been provided no protection, unlike what some misguided commentators have suggested. Snowden would’ve been stifled, fired, or worse.

These efforts, taken altogether, have meant these programs have stayed largely secret and out of the public eye for the last five years. But look at what has happened in just one last week since journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and others, started publishing stories based on information given to them by Snowden:

–Senators confirmed the leaked Verizon FISA order is real, orders like it are “routine,” and that the NSA has been collected all American phone records for seven years —information the administration has fought to keep secret for since 2010.

–President Obama suddenly called for debate over the surveillance program, despite trying to cut off debate on the subject for years.

–Dozens of Congressmen said they did not know the full scope of the NSA’s domestic surveillance, despite the administration’s public claims that every member of Congress has been read in.

–In response to PRISM leak, DNI Clapper declassified portions of the program and explains how it relates to broad collection of data under section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act—which they’ve avoided for years.

–Both Google and Facebook publicly demanded that the government allow them to tell the public how many users are affected by secret FISA orders—something they should have done years ago.

–ACLU filed a lawsuit alleging the government collection of all American phone records under PATRIOT Act is unconstitutional, after having their prior suit over the FISA Amendments Act dismissed just moths ago for lack of evidence.

–Possible Congressional hearings about whether Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied to Congress when he definitively told Congress the NSA was not gathering data on millions of Americans.

— A group of eight Senators introduced a law requiring the FISA court declassifying some of its secret interpretations of law.

–Key lawmakers signaled their wish review the scope of the PATRIOT Act, including its author, despite renewing key sections with no oversight only two years ago.

–Many lawmakers plan to introduce a variety of legislation, and many groups plan to file lawsuits, regarding NSA spying in the coming days and weeks.

Now, those who wish to use the new revelations to instill permanent structural changes have a long way to go before the government gets there. And it’s possible the American people will simply choose to continue these programs, despite their Orwellian undertones. But the fact that this debate is finally happening, and that the Americans will—for the first time—be informed about what the government is doing in their name, cannot be understated.

Without Edward Snowden, none of this would be possible.

— Trevor Timm

Published by Freedom of the Press Foundation.

Sales of Nineteen Eighty-Four soar

June 13, 2013

One of the consequences of the expose by Edward Snowden of the NSA PRISM mass surveillance programme is that sales of Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell have soared.

What we have seen is Big Brother writ large.

Published in 1949, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a chilling account of the future, where everything we do is monitored by Big Brother. Nothing we do escapes the attention of Big Brother, and if we err and incur the displeasure, we will be exposed and destroyed.

Revelation of PRISM has caused a huge backlash in the US, but this is nothing compared with the outrage across Europe.

There has also been some brutal attacks, calling Edward Snowden a traitor and worse. One rabid politician practically foaming at the mouth has called for all journalists associated with Edward Snowden to be prosecuted.

But these are the exceptions.

There are calls for hearings, investigations, for James Clapper National Director Intelligence to be prosecuted, questions are being asked how did PRISM come about.

DNI James Clapper appears to have lied to Congress in previous testimony, hence the calls for him to be prosecuted, and if he lied about PRISM, what else did he lie about?

Back at an open Congressional hearing on 12 March, Sen Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked Clapper, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper replied, “No sir … not wittingly.” As we all now know, he was lying.

Nor was this a spontaneous lie or a lie he regretted making. Sen Ron Wyden revealed in a recent statement that he’d given Clapper advance notice that he would ask the question and that, after the hearing, he offered Clapper a chance to revise his answer. Clapper didn’t take the offer.

Speaking once PRISM was exposed, James Clapper comes across as a bumbling buffoon, a complete moron. How did this idiot ever get appointed as Director of National Intelligence?

One of the biggest lies peddled by Clapper is that mass surveillance deals with terrorism.

One of the least threats facing us is terrorism, but it is used a bogey man to clamp down on civil liberties, to infiltrate and disrupt democratic challenges to the status quo. We deal with terrorism, by addressing the causes. We track down terrorists, use good old fashioned police work. Maybe US should look to its drone attacks.

Edward Snowden: US government has been hacking Hong Kong and China for years

June 12, 2013

Former CIA operative makes more explosive claims and says Washington is ‘bullying’ Hong Kong to extradite him

Edward Snowden in Hong Kong

Edward Snowden in Hong Kong

US whistle-blower Edward Snowden yesterday emerged from hiding in Hong Kong and revealed to the South China Morning Post that he will stay in the city to fight likely attempts by his government to have him extradited for leaking state secrets.

In an exclusive interview carried out from a secret location in the city, the former Central Intelligence Agency analyst also made explosive claims that the US government had been hacking into computers in Hong Kong and on the mainland for years.

At Snowden’s request we cannot divulge details about how the interview was conducted.

A week since revelations that the US has been secretly collecting phone and online data of its citizens, he said he will stay in the city “until I am asked to leave”, adding: “I have had many opportunities to flee HK, but I would rather stay and fight the US government in the courts, because I have faith in HK’s rule of law.”

In a frank hour-long interview, the 29-year-old, who US authorities have confirmed is now the subject of a criminal case, said he was neither a hero nor a traitor and that:

He is in constant fear for his own safety and that of his family.

Snowden has been in Hong Kong since May 20 when he fled his home in Hawaii to take refuge here, a move which has been questioned by many who believe the city cannot protect him.

“People who think I made a mistake in picking HK as a location misunderstand my intentions. I am not here to hide from justice, I am here to reveal criminality,” he said.

Snowden said that according to unverified documents seen by the Post, the NSA had been hacking computers in Hong Kong and on the mainland since 2009. None of the documents revealed any information about Chinese military systems, he said.

One of the targets in the SAR, according to Snowden, was Chinese University and public officials, businesses and students in the city. The documents also point to hacking activity by the NSA against mainland targets.

Snowden believed there had been more than 61,000 NSA hacking operations globally, with hundreds of targets in Hong Kong and on the mainland.

“We hack network backbones – like huge internet routers, basically – that give us access to the communications of hundreds of thousands of computers without having to hack every single one,” he said.

Target: The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Target: The Chinese University of Hong Kong

“Last week the American government happily operated in the shadows with no respect for the consent of the governed, but no longer. Every level of society is demanding accountability and oversight.”

Snowden said he was releasing the information to demonstrate “the hypocrisy of the US government when it claims that it does not target civilian infrastructure, unlike its adversaries”.

“Not only does it do so, but it is so afraid of this being known that it is willing to use any means, such as diplomatic intimidation, to prevent this information from becoming public.”

Since the shocking revelations a week ago, Snowden has been vilified as a defector but also hailed by supporters such as WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange.

“I’m neither traitor nor hero. I’m an American,” he said, adding that he was proud to be an American. “I believe in freedom of expression. I acted in good faith but it is only right that the public form its own opinion.”

Snowden said he had not contacted his family and feared for their safety as well as his own.

“I will never feel safe.

“Things are very difficult for me in all terms, but speaking truth to power is never without risk,” he said. “It has been difficult, but I have been glad to see the global public speak out against these sorts of systemic violations of privacy.

“All I can do is rely on my training and hope that world governments will refuse to be bullied by the United States into persecuting people seeking political refuge.”

Asked if he had been offered asylum by the Russian government, he said: “My only comment is that I am glad there are governments that refuse to be intimidated by great power”.

The interview comes on the same day NSA chief General Keith Alexander appeared before Congress to defend his agency over the leaks. It was his first appearance since the explosive revelations were made last week. Alexander’s prepared remarks did not specifically address revelations about the Prism program.

Snowden’s revelations threaten to test new attempts to build US-Sino bridges after a weekend summit in California between the nations’ presidents, Barack Obama and Xi Jinping.

If true, Snowden’s allegations lend credence to China’s longstanding position that it is as much a victim of hacking as a perpetrator, after Obama pressed Xi to rein in cyber-espionage by the Chinese military.

Tens of thousands of Snowden’s supporters have signed a petition calling for his pardon in the United States while many have donated money to a fund to help him.

“I’m very grateful for the support of the public,” he said. “But I ask that they act in their interest – save their money for letters to the government that breaks the law and claims it noble.

“The reality is that I have acted at great personal risk to help the public of the world, regardless of whether that public is American, European, or Asian.”

The US consulate in Hong Kong could not be contacted yesterday on a public holiday.

Published in the South China Morning Post.

A crackpot US politician has called for the prosecution of Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who broke the story. Clearly the US Constitution guaranteeing Freedom of the Press counts for nothing with a lying rabid Republican foaming at the mouth.

Edward Snowden has taken huge risks to expose the NSA PRISM mass surveillance programme. The world owes this courageous whistleblower a huge debt of gratitude. Please show your solidarity with Edward Snowden by signing the Avaaz petition of support.

Ai Weiwei says U.S. surveillance reminds him of China

June 12, 2013
Chinese activist Ai Weiwei

Chinese activist Ai Weiwei

Chinese activist Ai Weiwei has had his share of experience with heavy-handed treatment by the government, having been detained for 81 days by China’s secret police in 2011. Now the Beijing-based artist says another country reminds him of China: the United States.

In a column in The Guardian this morning, Ai harshly criticizes the U.S. government for the NSA’s PRISM Internet surveillance program — a program The Guardian has been at the forefront of reporting on over the past week.

“Privacy is a basic human right, one of the very core values,” Ai writes. “There is no guarantee that China, the US or any other government will not use the information falsely or wrongly. I think especially that a nation like the US, which is technically advanced, should not take advantage of its power. It encourages other nations.”

In another comparison that Americans are unlikely to appreciate, Ai adds, “In the Soviet Union before, in China today, and even in the US, officials always think what they do is necessary, and firmly believe they do what is best for the state and the people. But the lesson that people should learn from history is the need to limit state power.”

Praise for Edward Snowden, the leaker behind the PRISM story who was last seen in Hong Kong, has been widespread in China.

“This is the definition of heroism,” wrote one Chinese blogger. “Doing this proves he genuinely cares about this country and about his country’s citizens. All countries need someone like him!”

“This young fellow truly is a human rights warrior!” declared the well-known nationalist writer Wang Xiaodong. “He has now fled to Chinese territory, and must be protected. We must withstand U.S. pressure, and make a contribution to world human rights!”

Ai doesn’t mention Snowden explicitly in his column, but the Chinese dissident may very well feel the same way.

Published by WP Social Reader.

Obama v Obama

June 11, 2013

Obama debates with Obama, the merits or ills of mass surveillance.

Which Obama was right?

As the old adage says, power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Edward Snowden: Saving us from the United Stasi of America

June 10, 2013

Snowden’s whistleblowing gives us a chance to roll back what is tantamount to an ‘executive coup’ against the US constitution.

In my estimation, there has not been in American history a more important leak than Edward Snowden’s release of NSA material – and that definitely includes the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago. Snowden’s whistleblowing gives us the possibility to roll back a key part of what has amounted to an “executive coup” against the US constitution.

Since 9/11, there has been, at first secretly but increasingly openly, a revocation of the bill of rights for which this country fought over 200 years ago. In particular, the fourth and fifth amendments of the US constitution, which safeguard citizens from unwarranted intrusion by the government into their private lives, have been virtually suspended.

The government claims it has a court warrant under Fisa – but that unconstitutionally sweeping warrant is from a secret court, shielded from effective oversight, almost totally deferential to executive requests. As Russell Tice, a former National Security Agency analyst, put it: “It is a kangaroo court with a rubber stamp.”

For the president then to say that there is judicial oversight is nonsense – as is the alleged oversight function of the intelligence committees in Congress. Not for the first time – as with issues of torture, kidnapping, detention, assassination by drones and death squads –they have shown themselves to be thoroughly co-opted by the agencies they supposedly monitor. They are also black holes for information that the public needs to know.

The fact that congressional leaders were “briefed” on this and went along with it, without any open debate, hearings, staff analysis, or any real chance for effective dissent, only shows how broken the system of checks and balances is in this country.

Obviously, the United States is not now a police state. But given the extent of this invasion of people’s privacy, we do have the full electronic and legislative infrastructure of such a state. If, for instance, there was now a war that led to a large-scale anti-war movement – like the one we had against the war in Vietnam – or, more likely, if we suffered one more attack on the scale of 9/11, I fear for our democracy. These powers are extremely dangerous.

There are legitimate reasons for secrecy, and specifically for secrecy about communications intelligence. That’s why Bradley Mannning and I – both of whom had access to such intelligence with clearances higher than top-secret – chose not to disclose any information with that classification. And it is why Edward Snowden has committed himself to withhold publication of most of what he might have revealed.

But what is not legitimate is to use a secrecy system to hide programs that are blatantly unconstitutional in their breadth and potential abuse. Neither the president nor Congress as a whole may by themselves revoke the fourth amendment – and that’s why what Snowden has revealed so far was secret from the American people.

In 1975, Senator Frank Church spoke of the National Security Agency in these terms:

“I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”

The dangerous prospect of which he warned was that America’s intelligence gathering capability – which is today beyond any comparison with what existed in his pre-digital era – “at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left.”

That has now happened. That is what Snowden has exposed, with official, secret documents. The NSA, FBI and CIA have, with the new digital technology, surveillance powers over our own citizens that the Stasi – the secret police in the former “democratic republic” of East Germany – could scarcely have dreamed of. Snowden reveals that the so-called intelligence community has become the United Stasi of America.

So we have fallen into Senator Church’s abyss. The questions now are whether he was right or wrong that there is no return from it, and whether that means that effective democracy will become impossible. A week ago, I would have found it hard to argue with pessimistic answers to those conclusions.

But with Edward Snowden having put his life on the line to get this information out, quite possibly inspiring others with similar knowledge, conscience and patriotism to show comparable civil courage – in the public, in Congress, in the executive branch itself – I see the unexpected possibility of a way up and out of the abyss.

Pressure by an informed public on Congress to form a select committee to investigate the revelations by Snowden and, I hope, others to come might lead us to bring NSA and the rest of the intelligence community under real supervision and restraint and restore the protections of the bill of rights.

Snowden did what he did because he recognised the NSA’s surveillance programs for what they are: dangerous, unconstitutional activity. This wholesale invasion of Americans’ and foreign citizens’ privacy does not contribute to our security; it puts in danger the very liberties we’re trying to protect.

— Daniel Ellsberg

Published in The Guardian.

It was The Guardian that first exposed the PRISM mass surveillance programme operated by NSA.

Please sign the petition to the House Oversight Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee to demand an immediate investigation of this spying.

The world owes a huge debt of gratitude to the courage of whistleblower Edward Snowden. Please sign the petition thanking him.

Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations

June 9, 2013

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 the CIA 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.

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.”

Published by The Guardian.

It was The Guardian that last week exposed the existence of PRISM.