Snowden: I could have wiretapped anyone’s e-mails, including the president’s personal account

posted at 2:41 pm on June 10, 2013 by Allahpundit

The most confounding thing in writing about the NSA/PRISM/Snowden clusterfark is that, if you don’t work in national security, there’s no yardstick to measure which claims are plausible and which are insane. That in itself is a brutal indictment of the surveillance state, of course: The government’s powers are so vast and so secret that even a citizen who follows the news really can’t debate them intelligently. Is it insane to think that a 29-year-old NSA/Booz IT guy could be reading Barack Obama’s private e-mails if he wanted to? I think it is, but not for any reason better than that I think it should be. My sense of how things “probably” work inside NSA’s black box is just me projecting my own sense of reasonable limits onto them. There’s very little in this informed civic debate that’s actually informed, which is why it’s effectively impossible to impose democratic limits on it.

So, yeah. Snowden suggests he could have accessed the president’s personal e-mails. Is that crazy? I hope so. I don’t know.

He says he was granted broad “wiretapping” authorities. In a video interview with The Guardian, Snowden claims to have had incredibly broad authority to wiretap Americans, saying “I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal e-mail.”

He also told WaPo reporter Bart Gellman that national intelligence wouldn’t stop at killing a reporter in the name of protecting especially sensitive information. Is that crazy? I hope so. I think so, simply because reporters who break big national-security stories aren’t known to disappear or meet with accidents. But I don’t know.

“I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions, and that the return of this information to the public marks my end,” [Snowden] wrote in early May, before we had our first direct contact. He warned that even journalists who pursued his story were at risk until they published.

The U.S. intelligence community, he wrote, “will most certainly kill you if they think you are the single point of failure that could stop this disclosure and make them the sole owner of this information.”

On the one hand, that sounds like a Ron Paul fan muttering under his breath. On the other hand, this guy’s scoop about PRISM has in fact been borne out as other government sources have confirmed the program’s existence. It’s hard to sneer at someone for being paranoid after he’s just exposed massive data-mining of Americans’ electronic communications. The one question to which I keep returning is how Snowden could have gotten hold of all this information. Could he really have done it all himself given his place in the natsec food chain? CIA officials are confused too:

For instance, Snowden said he did not have a high school diploma. One former CIA official said that it was extremely unusual for the agency to have hired someone with such thin academic credentials, particularly for a technical job, and that the terms Snowden used to describe his agency positions did not match internal job descriptions.

Snowden’s claim to have been placed under diplomatic cover for a position in Switzerland after an apparently brief stint at the CIA as a systems administrator also raised suspicion. “I just have never heard of anyone being hired with so little academic credentials,” the former CIA official said. The agency does employ technical specialists in overseas stations, the former official said, “but their breadth of experience is huge, and they tend not to start out as systems administrators.”

A former senior U.S. intelligence official cited other puzzling aspects of Snowden’s account, questioning why a contractor for Booz Allen at an NSA facility in Hawaii would have access to something as sensitive as a court order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

“I don’t know why he would have had access to those . . . orders out in Hawaii,” the former official said.

Could this guy really have done it all himself or did he have an accomplice further up the chain who wanted this to come out but wasn’t prepared to suffer for the disclosure? Snowden is a perfect leaker: He’s young and idealistic, which makes him more sympathetic to the public, and he’s unmarried and without children, so he has less to lose than someone older with more family obligations might. He may have agreed to take the fall in the name of exposing a government program to which he objected, and his accomplice may have agreed to provide him with the documents in return. (If you think it’s unlikely that a veteran analyst might suffer a crisis of conscience, meet William Binney.) I take it right now the FBI’s sifting through Snowden’s communications over the past year or so with NSA officials to see if he had any unusual recurring communications with anyone higher up. Or maybe I’m talking straight out of my ass and Snowden really did pull this off himself. That was my point up top — as a layman, there’s simply no way to know what’s likely or unlikely. Most conspiracy theorists latch on to outlandish explanations because, deep down, the conspiracy makes them feel better than the reality. I’m doing that too here. I’d rather believe Snowden was working with someone than that one rogue midlevel IT operative could tap the president’s secret GMail account or break open the inner sanctum of U.S. national security. We’ll see.

Exit question one: A guy with access to one of the NSA’s most sensitive tools tells them he needs a few weeks off to get treatment for his epilepsy, then hops a plane to Hong Kong(!) — and no one at the agency suspects anything until it’s too late? A point oft-repeated on Twitter yesterday after he outed himself is that the fact that he was able to pull this off at all kinda sorta explodes the NSA’s rationale for massive data-mining in the first place. Exit question two: Can we safely assume that, if we’re bugging more or less the entire Internet, we’re not in fact at China’s mercy when it comes to cyberespionage? Every week brings a new story about Beijing rifling through American businesses’ records; last week came news that the Obama and McCain campaigns were hacked by China in 2008. Why are they able to do that if the feds are so far ahead technologically that they can track a person’s movements virtually moment to moment from their data footprint? I realize the technology in data mining and hacker defense is different, but it’s weird to think the feds have all but mastered the former and yet trail in the latter to an almost catastrophic degree.


Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

Comment pages: 1 2 3

unseen on June 10, 2013 at 4:05 PM

That’s true but it’s only a vote away from being changed again. I feel the same way about the 17th amendment (admittedly much tougher to change).

gryphon202 on June 10, 2013 at 4:18 PM

Come on now. Where’s my happy warrior?

jdpaz on June 10, 2013 at 4:58 PM

Never did find out about his dishwasher though.

can_con on June 10, 2013 at 4:44 PM

With no frig he’ll need to be eating microwave dinners for a while.

flicker on June 10, 2013 at 5:03 PM

gryphon202 on June 10, 2013 at 4:18 PM

Come on now. Where’s my happy warrior?

jdpaz on June 10, 2013 at 4:58 PM

I think he died roundabout the election last year.

gryphon202 on June 10, 2013 at 5:06 PM

Does Russia have a warm-water port yet?

flicker on June 10, 2013 at 5:11 PM

Does Russia have a warm-water port yet?

flicker on June 10, 2013 at 5:11 PM

Besides Havana?…/

dentarthurdent on June 10, 2013 at 5:15 PM

Syria.

flicker on June 10, 2013 at 5:23 PM

If he had this access, then Obama hacks had it too. And what do Obama hacks do with power? Abuse it.

This is why it would be better to have a strong 2nd Amendment, universal concealed carry, and secure borders with profiling of Muslim Immigrants, if we even let them come. We would have less crime, less terrorism and much, much less risk of tyranny.

Someone should be asking, loud and often “Are there Lois Lerners working for the NSA/CIA who have the same access, and do we trust a situation that allows that?

Spartacus on June 10, 2013 at 5:29 PM

Beyond Snowden and his credentials we need to focus on the fact the government isn’t denying the authenticity. He isn’t the first one from the NSA to come forward with the same information.

And yes, from the limited exposure I had in my department before I retired I would absolutely believe with the right data a person inside the NSA could “see” anyone’s emails. Outside there may be firewalls to prevent it, but inside- no doubt.

And as to the amount of data. Even years ago I was shocked to see how much we could get and we did not have access to the federal systems.

So yes. He isn’t boasting.

That said, the real issue here isn’t that they can, but that they can abuse it. Already people are saying the government has just gone to too far. Something the humanist personalities on the Left are apt to do.

To me, this is a Constitutional issue- the right to assemble without government intrusion.

I wish I could take credit for this thought, but my MENSA bright ex-partner brought this up. Have we not seen the Obama people target tea party member’s ability to assemble and organize? Isn’t that a Constitutional violation?

Now let’s expand that to the NSA sweep. If they target you (and DHS has already telegraphed who they think are potential terrorists- the exact definition of who the NSA is looking at) and you go to church or Synagogue, the NSA can sweep the phones around you and see who you are worshiping with. Further, if you decide to assemble for a political purpose they can sweep around you and see who you are meeting, even if the meeting is at your kitchen table and all your curtains are drawn.

Think about that chilling effect the next time you walk into your service with your smartphone on your hip and see all of the others with theirs around you. Or when you have lunch with your friend to talk about politics and life.

archer52 on June 10, 2013 at 5:31 PM

Any e-mails going into or out of the White House have to (at some point) travel along common internet “hubs”… if intercepted then; you could (feasibly, with the correct tools) decrypt and read them.

I don’t think you could log into the e-mail server at the White House as Obama and read his e-mail history.

But you could capture all transactions at the hub nearest the White House and filter for every e-mail from/to Obama himself and read what he read when he read it.

And when you’ve had the “data mining” from all the hubs running for 5 years; you could find all e-mails sent (through that hub) to or from Obama… which would be close.

Now if it were entirely internal server internal server e-mails you’d never see it (without being on that server) so some e-mails would be missed… but anything that had any sender or recipient who wasn’t internal to the White House e-mail server would likely be fair game (assuming they had data capture that PRISM is suspected of having).

I’m not quite the computer geek others are; so anyone with mail server knowledge could surely clarify/correct some of what I said… but I doubt I’m far wrong (some details may be off).

That would be feasible given the limited understanding we have of PRISM… it would at least be plausible to claim (and wouldn’t require massive hacker-magic… just the same tricks they’d use to intercept 99% of the e-mails they get).

gekkobear on June 10, 2013 at 5:36 PM

I think so, simply because reporters who break big national-security stories aren’t known to disappear or meet with accidents.

You mean like Breitbart? Oh, yeah, that wasn’t an accident. It was natural causes, and the press magically knew (and reported) that it was natural causes immediately.

The Rogue Tomato on June 10, 2013 at 3:04 PM

Yes….I can only imagine that the thought of our government killing Breitbart the night or so before some major video release was too much for most bloggers, journalist et cetera to stomach…

I think his death is surrounded in mystery and the fact that we now know this admin could have been easily aware of just about every plan Breitbart had in motion via NSA…just makes it that much more suspicious.

These people are corrupt to a level we have never seen before and anything seems to go with them. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Alinsky on June 10, 2013 at 5:37 PM

This guy is suffering from BS. He’s got some facts, the rest he’s making up as he goes along.

Having worked for NSA while in the service, EVERYTHING is compartmentalized. A “tech guy” isn’t going to have access to anything other than what’s he’s working on.

Hell, I was an analyst and there were areas closed to me simply because I had NO NEED TO KNOW in order to do my job.

GarandFan on June 10, 2013 at 5:40 PM

Does Russia have a warm-water port yet?

flicker on June 10, 2013 at 5:11 PM

Do you mean other than La Guaira, Venezuela, and the Port of Tartus in Syria?

Resist We Much on June 10, 2013 at 5:48 PM

Hell, I was an analyst and there were areas closed to me simply because I had NO NEED TO KNOW in order to do my job.
GarandFan on June 10, 2013 at 5:40 PM

You’re assuming that everyone obeys the “do not open” signs.

whatcat on June 10, 2013 at 5:49 PM

He should just claim he has info from Obama’s personal emails and threaten to release them. The WH would be so scared they’d start admitting all kinds of things in an effort to “get ahead” of the potential embarrassing info.

Tater Salad on June 10, 2013 at 5:50 PM

The WH would be so scared they’d start admitting all kinds of things in an effort to “get ahead” of the potential embarrassing info.

Sometimes I wonder if the PRC and Norks, having the ability to hack at will, evidently, have potentially damaging info on Barry and his admin. I won’t say “embarrassing”, ’cause with Barry I don’t think that is remotely possible.

hawkeye54 on June 10, 2013 at 6:01 PM

Sitting at his desk he could have hacked into the president’s email? That sounds a wee bit far fetched to me, but what do I know. It sounds like the NSA knowingly overstepped their boundaries and have been doing so for quite some time, which is no surprise. There’s no way an agency that has that kind of capabilities hasn’t used them on US citizens, they probably even had some direction, same as the IRS did.

scalleywag on June 10, 2013 at 6:02 PM

This guy is suffering from BS. He’s got some facts, the rest he’s making up as he goes along.

Having worked for NSA while in the service, EVERYTHING is compartmentalized. A “tech guy” isn’t going to have access to anything other than what’s he’s working on.

Hell, I was an analyst and there were areas closed to me simply because I had NO NEED TO KNOW in order to do my job.

GarandFan on June 10, 2013 at 5:40 PM

The facts he has are that the government is collecting databases of all our phone records, credit card transactions and electronic communications. Those facts have since been independently confirmed. Even if everything else he says is total crap the true things are more than enough to keep us busy for a while.

alchemist19 on June 10, 2013 at 6:04 PM

You’re assuming that everyone obeys the “do not open” signs.

whatcat on June 10, 2013 at 5:49 PM

Although you’re probably just joking – on the serious/factual side of it, in most places like that (and I’ve worked in some), areas that are compartmentalized have badge swipes and/or PIN code access locks on the doors, and only those with approved access can get their badge/card coded with access or get the code.

dentarthurdent on June 10, 2013 at 6:05 PM

All I know is OBVIOUSLY someone got to John Roberts before the 0bamacare verdict was issued. What information did they get on John Roberts?

SouthernGent on June 10, 2013 at 6:07 PM

If you want to get a good understanding of the corrupt relationship between private companies/contractors and the intelligence community read, “Spies For Hire” by Tim Sorrock

Ditkaca on June 10, 2013 at 6:07 PM

You’re assuming that everyone obeys the “do not open” signs.

whatcat on June 10, 2013 at 5:49 PM

dentarthurdent on June 10, 2013 at 6:05 PM

On the other hand, the day after 9/11, the first thing the Air Force Security Police did for anti-terrorism was to put a ring of orange cones around the NORAD HQ building I was working in.

We felt SOOOOO much safer knowing no self-respecting terrorist would ever drive a car bomb over a line of orange cones…..

dentarthurdent on June 10, 2013 at 6:11 PM

This guy Snowden is using “wiretap” to describe accessing someone’s personal email? Sounds kind of strange to me. Hack into (Ok), packet sniffing (OK), install a rootkit (ok), intercept (ok). I have never heard the term wiretap associated with emails before. Anyone else think it sounds legit?

can_con on June 10, 2013 at 6:12 PM

This guy Snowden is using “wiretap” to describe accessing someone’s personal email? Sounds kind of strange to me. Hack into (Ok), packet sniffing (OK), install a rootkit (ok), intercept (ok). I have never heard the term wiretap associated with emails before. Anyone else think it sounds legit?

can_con on June 10, 2013 at 6:12 PM

Now that you mention it – ya – a bit odd.
It does make you wonder just how much of an IT geek he really is – since most of those types I’ve known are very picky about their terminology.

dentarthurdent on June 10, 2013 at 6:15 PM

If that’s true, does that mean PRISM/Boundless Information doesn’t exist?

flicker on June 10, 2013 at 4:42 PM

No, it clearly exists — but it would mean that Snowden here doesn’t actually know anything about it or how it works.

Count to 10 on June 10, 2013 at 6:19 PM

If that’s true, does that mean PRISM/Boundless Information doesn’t exist?

flicker on June 10, 2013 at 4:42 PM

No, it clearly exists — but it would mean that Snowden here doesn’t actually know anything about it or how it works.

Count to 10 on June 10, 2013 at 6:19 PM

It also would mean that the NSA isn’t leaky.

Count to 10 on June 10, 2013 at 6:20 PM

Now that you mention it – ya – a bit odd.
It does make you wonder just how much of an IT geek he really is – since most of those types I’ve known are very picky about their terminology.
dentarthurdent on June 10, 2013 at 6:15 PM

That’s my experience too. iT guys love to fling around tech acronyms more than any specialists i’ve experienced. It’s always “the damn Noc didn’t route the VPN properly now I have to redo all the ipsec info in everyones localhosts.! “

can_con on June 10, 2013 at 6:20 PM

Resist We Much on June 10, 2013 at 5:48 PM

Actually, I meant to ask this on the other “Approving Lethal Aid to Syria” thread and misposted it. But thanks for your answer. I’ll answer here and on the other as well incase you want to follow up.

I meant their own warm-water port. As I recall Russia had always wanted it’s own port that wouldn’t freeze in winter. If it could control (or de facto own) Syria they would finally get it. If that’s their intention, then they really want Syria, right near the Med and Suez. It they want Syria, why are we arming the rebels? Just to stop Russia? To promote muslim Brotherhood control? Both?

However way you look at it, this beomes more of a tinder box that jeopardizes both the region and Israel the more Russia steps in.

flicker on June 10, 2013 at 6:25 PM

This guy Snowden is using “wiretap” to describe accessing someone’s personal email? Sounds kind of strange to me. Hack into (Ok), packet sniffing (OK), install a rootkit (ok), intercept (ok). I have never heard the term wiretap associated with emails before. Anyone else think it sounds legit?

can_con on June 10, 2013 at 6:12 PM

Now that you mention it – ya – a bit odd.
It does make you wonder just how much of an IT geek he really is – since most of those types I’ve known are very picky about their terminology.

dentarthurdent on June 10, 2013 at 6:15 PM

That’s way too small-scale. I suspect that the way they do this is to tap into the gigabit fibers in all the major internet hubs in the US. That’s the way to do it if you simply want ALL* of it, without discretion. They route those taps to their datacenters where routers put the packets back together and sort further. That way they get all searches, all VOIP, all email, twitter, facebook, etc.

*This method would not capture all cellphones and copper lines however. That would require a similar network but with far more access points.

slickwillie2001 on June 10, 2013 at 6:27 PM

That’s my experience too. iT guys love to fling around tech acronyms more than any specialists i’ve experienced. It’s always “the damn Noc didn’t route the VPN properly now I have to redo all the ipsec info in everyones localhosts.! “

can_con on June 10, 2013 at 6:20 PM

Absolutely. Like the Dilbert cartoons where Dilbert goes into Radio Shack and asks for some kind of nonsense worded item – and then asks the clerk – “Is that real, or am I bluffing?”.

dentarthurdent on June 10, 2013 at 6:30 PM

You’re assuming that everyone obeys the “do not open” signs.
whatcat on June 10, 2013 at 5:49 PM

dentarthurdent on June 10, 2013 at 6:05 PM

On the other hand, the day after 9/11, the first thing the Air Force Security Police did for anti-terrorism was to put a ring of orange cones around the NORAD HQ building I was working in.

We felt SOOOOO much safer knowing no self-respecting terrorist would ever drive a car bomb over a line of orange cones…..

dentarthurdent on June 10, 2013 at 6:11 PM

Yes, that’s what I’m getting at – it’s the same as “gun free zone” signs.
Also, in the digital age you can have all the badges and ID cards you want; physical access is not required to get at info. For a tech geek who’s an insider already and knows his way around, it’s not all that hard. He could even be halfway across the world and do the deed.

whatcat on June 10, 2013 at 6:32 PM

If that’s true, does that mean PRISM/Boundless Information doesn’t exist?

flicker on June 10, 2013 at 4:42 PM

No, it clearly exists — but it would mean that Snowden here doesn’t actually know anything about it or how it works.

Count to 10 on June 10, 2013 at 6:19 PM

It also would mean that the NSA isn’t leaky.

Count to 10 on June 10, 2013 at 6:20 PM

So, the Chinese hacked it, gave it to Snowdon, who reveals that it was hacked, takes credit for it, and releases some of the tame info of the programs… for what? Who gains?

flicker on June 10, 2013 at 6:35 PM

slickwillie2001 on June 10, 2013 at 6:27 PM

Well you are right about that I think. I have been saying that will be the next shoe to drop. Taking the data directly from the internet backbone devices primarily from.The 9 companies mentioned in Prism can’t be all there is.

can_con on June 10, 2013 at 6:35 PM

Yes, that’s what I’m getting at – it’s the same as “gun free zone” signs.
Also, in the digital age you can have all the badges and ID cards you want; physical access is not required to get at info. For a tech geek who’s an insider already and knows his way around, it’s not all that hard. He could even be halfway across the world and do the deed.

whatcat on June 10, 2013 at 6:32 PM

Ya – I don’t know why businesses don’t just put up “NO Criminals Allowed” signs and just put an end to all crime….

Given the move started many years ago for cyber security agencies and companies to hire known hackers as “white hat hackers” (Also, who better to “protect” systems from hackers?), it’s not a big stretch to think some of those hackers might still enjoy hacking – even within the organization that’s paying them – and has already given them the intial access through the front door.

It’s just like inviting a vampire into your house….

dentarthurdent on June 10, 2013 at 6:39 PM

This guy Snowden is using “wiretap” to describe accessing someone’s personal email? Sounds kind of strange to me. Hack into (Ok), packet sniffing (OK), install a rootkit (ok), intercept (ok). I have never heard the term wiretap associated with emails before. Anyone else think it sounds legit?

can_con on June 10, 2013 at 6:12 PM

No. I posted upthread. Those of us really in the business don’t use the term, “Wiretapping.” Was that what he said or someone else said?

Although you’re probably just joking – on the serious/factual side of it, in most places like that (and I’ve worked in some), areas that are compartmentalized have badge swipes and/or PIN code access locks on the doors, and only those with approved access can get their badge/card coded with access or get the code.

dentarthurdent on June 10, 2013 at 6:05 PM

And some places make you leave all your stuff outside in a locker, you go through metal detectors and a special cylindrical trap.

He may just be a low level IT guy who somehow got access to the slide deck…

dogsoldier on June 10, 2013 at 6:41 PM

When I entered into arrangements with American Express, Google, and AT&T, I took a calculated risk with my privacy. I took that risk with American Express, not with the federal government; with Google, not with President Obama; and with AT&T, not the national-security services. Are we to presume now that all private agreements implicitly involve the state? And if so, where is the limiting principle? If I am to expect that private information I keep on a server run by a private company will be routinely accessed by the government without my knowledge, then why would I not also expect that private belongings I keep in a storage unit run by a private company will be routinely accessed without my knowledge? At what point did it become assumed in free countries that relationships between free citizens and free businesses were not sacrosanct? And if privacy is not expected, what explains the furious denials of participation from the likes of Google?

This distinction between privacy in the concrete and in the virtual worlds is silly in principle and even sillier in practice. As Justice Potter Stewart, writing in Katz v United States, explained in 1967:

The Fourth Amendment protects people, not places. What a person knowingly exposes to the public, even in his own home or office, is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection. But what he seeks to preserve as private, even in an area accessible to the public, may be constitutionally protected.

That Constitution, I might remind naysayers, is still in force, and it is not dependent for its authority on the nature of the government over which it reigns. Those who voted for Barack Obama because they liked his civil-libertarian stump speech must be the most disappointed of all. But the great lesson of the last decade is that our vast bureaucracy makes it almost impossible to check abuses of liberty, and that such abuses have become the norm.

“Who are you?” Juliet asks from the balcony in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. “Why do you hide in the darkness and listen to my private thoughts?” Romeo replies, wary of her reaction: “I don’t know how to tell you who I am by telling you a name.” Many Americans tend to tailor their reactions to news of privacy abuses according to the names of those responsible — the hypocrisy from both sides in the last week has been astonishing — and yet spying is now a bipartisan game, for Leviathan makes no genuine distinctions. Montague or Capulet, Republican or Democrat, the surveillance state is now a constant, apparently beyond even Congress’s control. Who cares in whose name it violates you?

The Fourth Amendment exists now for precisely the same reason that it existed in 1791: to ensure that, in the absence of extremely compelling situations, Americans are not subject to casual government scrutiny. Its authors understood that knowledge is power, and that, as there is no justification for the state to have too much power over you, there is also no justification for the state to have too much knowledge about you. If you don’t believe that metadata can afford its voyeurs too much information, then consider this study, conducted by MIT and Belgium’s Université Catholique de Louvain, and written up in National Journal last week:

After analyzing 1.5 million cellphone users over the course of 15 months, the researchers found they could uniquely identify 95 percent of cellphone users based on just four data points — that is, just four instances of where they were and what hour of the day it was just four times in one year. With just two data points, they could identify more than half of the users. And the researchers suggested that the study may underestimate how easy it is.

Moreover, the relegation of the spying to supposedly harmless “metadata” is misleading. As my colleague Dan Foster points out:

Unlike the ordinary collection of phone records for law-enforcement purposes, the metadata the government is collecting from Verizon can easily be used to track the movements of users; it includes information on the cell-phone towers calls are routed through.

After 1914, wrote A. J. P. Taylor, finishing his thought:

The mass of the people became, for the first time, active citizens. Their lives were shaped by orders from above; they were required to serve the state instead of pursuing exclusively their own affairs. . . . The state established a hold over its citizens which, though relaxed in peacetime, was never to be removed and which the Second World War was again to increase. The history of the English state and of the English people merged for the first time.

It is precisely this confluence that Americans must resist. The policeman and the postmaster of Taylor’s report knew intuitively that their role was to capture only that which needed capturing. Our policemen may now fly and our postmasters may communicate in binary, but that principle remains as important as ever. Are we really to concede that we must lose our right to it when we pick up the phone?

Resist We Much on June 10, 2013 at 6:41 PM

This guy Snowden is using “wiretap” to describe accessing someone’s personal email? Sounds kind of strange to me. Hack into (Ok), packet sniffing (OK), install a rootkit (ok), intercept (ok). I have never heard the term wiretap associated with emails before. Anyone else think it sounds legit?

can_con on June 10, 2013 at 6:12 PM

Now that you mention it – ya – a bit odd.
It does make you wonder just how much of an IT geek he really is – since most of those types I’ve known are very picky about their terminology.

dentarthurdent on June 10, 2013 at 6:15 PM

The interviewer said that he was most passionate when he talked techy. So he knew enough tech talk to go over the interviewer’s head. If I were asking the questions, I’d ask him specifically to use common words when possible. And then of course the interview was heavily edited.

flicker on June 10, 2013 at 6:47 PM

That’s way too small-scale. I suspect that the way they do this is to tap into the gigabit fibers in all the major internet hubs in the US. That’s the way to do it if you simply want ALL* of it, without discretion. They route those taps to their datacenters where routers put the packets back together and sort further. That way they get all searches, all VOIP, all email, twitter, facebook, etc.

*This method would not capture all cellphones and copper lines however. That would require a similar network but with far more access points.

slickwillie2001 on June 10, 2013 at 6:27 PM

Tapping fiber is difficult – and would just get the particular fiber line you tap.
I would suggest just installing backdoor access software (basically a trojan horse type program) in the main servers. Then you get EVERYTHING no matter what physical media it travels through. Fairly easy to do, especially if you go to the companies involved with a secret court order saying “allow us to do this, and keep it quiet – or else”.

dentarthurdent on June 10, 2013 at 6:48 PM

I’m mildly shocked that so many FOXN contributors support PRISM and denounce Snowden…

mjbrooks3 on June 10, 2013 at 6:49 PM

I’m mildly shocked that so many FOXN contributors support PRISM and denounce Snowden…

mjbrooks3 on June 10, 2013 at 6:49 PM

Really? Lots of neocon holdovers from Bush on FNC.

alchemist19 on June 10, 2013 at 6:55 PM

I’m mildly shocked that so many FOXN contributors support PRISM and denounce Snowden…

mjbrooks3 on June 10, 2013 at 6:49 PM

I’m not. This whole story is a double-edged sword.
On the one hand the gubmint is doing stuff that most people seem to think they should not be doing – and should be stopped. And how can it be stopped if nobody knows about it?
On the other hand, this guy (apparently) intentionally released classified information to the public – which is a violation of his employment conditions and many laws and company and government policies. In that respect, is he really much different than Bradley Manning, or whatshisname Assange?

I’ll have to admit, I’m somewhat “conflicted” myself on this one.

dentarthurdent on June 10, 2013 at 6:56 PM

Given the move started many years ago for cyber security agencies and companies to hire known hackers as “white hat hackers” (Also, who better to “protect” systems from hackers?), it’s not a big stretch to think some of those hackers might still enjoy hacking – even within the organization that’s paying them – and has already given them the intial access through the front door.
It’s just like inviting a vampire into your house….
dentarthurdent on June 10, 2013 at 6:39 PM

Tup. I believe Kevin Mitnick was maybe one of the first ex-hackers to be hired in that capacity. Though it seems as if he got into hacking more because he got addicted to the high of just pulling something off.

whatcat on June 10, 2013 at 6:59 PM

I’m mildly shocked that so many FOXN contributors support PRISM and denounce Snowden…

mjbrooks3 on June 10, 2013 at 6:49 PM

Yes, and this brings up that so many Lefties are up in arms about PRISM and the so-called conservatives are so comfortable. Am I on the wrong side here? Is there something else going on?

flicker on June 10, 2013 at 7:03 PM

So, the Chinese hacked it, gave it to Snowdon, who reveals that it was hacked, takes credit for it, and releases some of the tame info of the programs… for what? Who gains?

flicker on June 10, 2013 at 6:35 PM

Did you notice that the Chinese leader met with Obama? That the subject of Chinese hacking US companies was a major point of contention?
Neither did a lot of people.
As to Snowden? Maybe they payed him a lot of money.

Count to 10 on June 10, 2013 at 7:14 PM

Yes, and this brings up that so many Lefties are up in arms about PRISM and the so-called conservatives are so comfortable. Am I on the wrong side here? Is there something else going on?

flicker on June 10, 2013 at 7:03 PM

This is liberal paranoia vs. conservative national security.

Count to 10 on June 10, 2013 at 7:16 PM

Tapping fiber is difficult – and would just get the particular fiber line you tap.
I would suggest just installing backdoor access software (basically a trojan horse type program) in the main servers. Then you get EVERYTHING no matter what physical media it travels through. Fairly easy to do, especially if you go to the companies involved with a secret court order saying “allow us to do this, and keep it quiet – or else”.

dentarthurdent on June 10, 2013 at 6:48 PM

I’m not suggesting that the fibers are surreptitiously tapped the way we would an undersea Chinese fiber, it’s done with the agreement of the owner of the installation. Each of many fibers would go into 1:2 splitters. They need to keep the stuff on fiber because the NSA installations are hundreds of miles away, maybe thousands.

If you tap into servers via a backdoor, then you have to remux it all up anyway to get it out of the hub. (I’m sure the backdoors are there though and can be used for smaller picks. Backdoors are mandated on almost everything.)

People are looking at satellite views of the new NSA installation in Utah; they should also look at what is going into the ground feeding it. That will give an idea of the capacity.

slickwillie2001 on June 10, 2013 at 7:18 PM

I’m mildly shocked that so many FOXN contributors support PRISM and denounce Snowden…

mjbrooks3 on June 10, 2013 at 6:49 PM

They know that this country was turned into a police state for only the best of reasons.

To keep Islamic cesspools in one piece while only a small or moderate number of Americans were offered for actual sacrifice.

IlikedAUH2O on June 10, 2013 at 7:19 PM

I left the Air Force in 82, when they were still using reel to reel magnetic tape computers, and bore a striking resemblence to the 60′s Lost in Space series machines.

I’m so dated, I’ll leave the tech to folks who kept up..

I was an SP, so the above remark about orange cones being their best response..

Well when we went to defcon 4 when Reagan was shot, we drew full weapons and combat loads to secure the WSA and Wing.. I had the M-60 in a firing position in front of the main entrance. so I doubt orange cones was their only response.. just the one he saw..

mark81150 on June 10, 2013 at 7:39 PM

What is it that Snowden did?
Somethings about this just are not fitting correctly.
All the information reported is publicly available on the internet and has been for several years.
At the moment it seems that there is a rush to get this weeks scandal. I kind of smell a set up here. Certainly would not be the first time.
Does he have a smoking gun that shows actual misuse of the system?
Be careful on this one.

jpcpt03 on June 10, 2013 at 7:47 PM

All the information reported is publicly available on the internet and has been for several years.
jpcpt03 on June 10, 2013 at 7:47 PM

Where on the internet?

whatcat on June 10, 2013 at 7:51 PM

Tyrannical thugs

Schadenfreude on June 10, 2013 at 8:16 PM

Snowdens claims to unrestricted access based upon knowing the email addy is believable if some other information he provided is true. He claimed he was a “system administrator” and if so then he would have “root” access to the servers so he could grant himself whatever security authorization needed to access the raw data on the databases then use a data manipulation language such as SQL to retrieve data from “tables or views” . It’s a foregone question that the tables and views would be indexed by email address so retrieving anyone’s complete history is a trivial exercise for anyone with the skills needed to perform as a “system admin or sysadmin”.

People don’t realize the number of people needed to build and run big data bases such as what the NSA is using. They have to have thousands of highly trained employees and some of them will have unrestricted access to ALL the data and can cover their tracks so that no one knows what they are trolling for. Basically it’s the honor system. This episode is reason enough for the entire data collection era to come to and end. It is inherently open to abuse.

richardb on June 10, 2013 at 8:30 PM

By the way when I saw the interview yesterday afternoon, my gut reaction to his assertion he could access Obamas private data, if he knew his email, was to take it as a threat to Obama. Stay clear of this and leave me alone or your private info plus your wife’s, kids, friends and associates will be exposed too.

Given how Obama has given a pass to the Benghazi killers its reasonable for Snowden to give it a try.

richardb on June 10, 2013 at 8:34 PM

Yes, and this brings up that so many Lefties are up in arms about PRISM and the so-called conservatives are so comfortable. Am I on the wrong side here? Is there something else going on?

flicker on June 10, 2013 at 7:03 PM

It’s an initial knee jerk reaction coming from those who traditionally are pro-defense and national security. It will be interesting to see how much soul searching occurs over the next 2 weeks among conservatives and if any consensus can be reached as to what kind of limits should be placed on the NSA.

You can support high-level monitoring of phone logs as part of an effort to identify potential terrorists yet be adamantly opposed to some of the tactics described by Snowden.

bayam on June 10, 2013 at 8:43 PM

Wait where did people hear that Snowden was gay?

libfreeordie on June 10, 2013 at 8:48 PM

Wait where did people hear that Snowden was gay?

libfreeordie on June 10, 2013 at 8:48 PM

I think it’s media-driven speculation. He’s 29, childless, never been married, and worked in an occupation for most of his adult life where it would have been nigh-impossible to start a family. On top of all that, it’s pretty reasonable to believe he had few or no personal ties given the apparent abruptness with which he left the country.

gryphon202 on June 10, 2013 at 8:52 PM

What’s scary is 1.4 million have the clearence to find out all the personal info of everyone in the US. If a few go bad, they can sell, threaten, etc. with that info.

Our nation is so fu*ked!

Danielvito on June 10, 2013 at 8:53 PM

Does Russia have a warm-water port yet?

flicker on June 10, 2013 at 5:11 PM

Hai Phong Harbor & Cam Ranh Bay, Viet Nam

Solaratov on June 10, 2013 at 8:54 PM

Wait where did people hear that Snowden was gay?

libfreeordie on June 10, 2013 at 8:48 PM

Who gives a $hit? Are you looking for a date?

Focus on the issue at hand, if you can.

ICanSeeNovFromMyHouse on June 10, 2013 at 8:55 PM

Who gives a $hit? Are you looking for a date?

I’ve been happily boo’d up for 7 years. So no. But I’m curious. It would be kind of amazing if two gay dudes were behind these huge release of state secrets.

libfreeordie on June 10, 2013 at 9:09 PM

gryphon202 on June 10, 2013 at 8:52 PM

He was living with his girlfriend in Hawaii.

Don’t know if she went to HK with him or not.

Poor liveasaslaveanddie. He’s too old for you.

Solaratov on June 10, 2013 at 9:10 PM

Poor liveasaslaveanddie. He’s too old for you.

Solaratov on June 10, 2013 at 9:10 PM

#shadefail, I’ve never dated (or even slept with) a man younger than myself. But, go with it.

libfreeordie on June 10, 2013 at 9:15 PM

I could have wiretapped anyone’s e-mails, including the president’s personal account

Baloney. First of all, email is not a “wiretap”. You don’t even need a warrant to get people’s email, a subpoena will do and if the email is over 180 days old you don’t even need that, just get it for the asking.

Email is not a “wiretap” and is not protected to the degree that telephone information is. Email, since it is sent in the clear over the Internet (think more like a postcard with snail mail than first class mail in an envelope, anyone handling it can read it) that there is no expectation of privacy. Any network operator can read email as it is sent from source to destination as it is sent “in the clear”. You might enter it over your web browser over an encrypted HTTPS connection but when it is sent over the internet from one ISP to the next, the vast majority goes via SMTP in the clear.

Secondly, Snowden was not cleared for any access to these programs. It appears he was basically the IT helpdesk guy. He either managed to snag someone else’s credentials or got the information off people’s computers from browser caches, disk drives, etc.

crosspatch on June 10, 2013 at 9:41 PM

In other words, Snowden, a high school dropout who got his GED and went to some community college computer courses doesn’t know a thing about the nature and scope of these programs. He is speculating based on what he saw on the landing pages or presentation pages about PRISM.

He was not briefed on them and never worked on those projects. He’s speculating and wants to be a celebrity like he envisions Manning to be.

crosspatch on June 10, 2013 at 9:45 PM

He was living with his girlfriend in Hawaii.
Don’t know if she went to HK with him or not.
Solaratov on June 10, 2013 at 9:10 PM

” A Hawaii real estate agent says Edward Snowden and his girlfriend moved out of their home in a quiet neighborhood near Honolulu on May 1, leaving nothing behind.”
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/09/edward-snowden-move-out-house-hawaii_n_3413117.html

whatcat on June 10, 2013 at 9:49 PM

He’s speculating and wants to be a celebrity like he envisions Manning to be.
crosspatch on June 10, 2013 at 9:45 PM

Oddly enough, the baseless “speculations” sure got Obama to respond.

whatcat on June 10, 2013 at 9:52 PM

*cough Ben Gazzi *cough

equanimous on June 10, 2013 at 10:13 PM

Sitting at his desk he could have hacked into the president’s email? That sounds a wee bit far fetched to me, but what do I know.
scalleywag on June 10, 2013 at 6:02 PM

Except he isnt hacking into a mailbox, he is fishing for data packets, or data packets reconstructed into documents, whatever he has access to.

Not sure there is an internet for bigshots. If there were, it would probably be accessible to NSA anyway. Type of security I havent bothered thinking about. If WH sent encrypted mail to Tiger Woods via mil satellite, it has to bounce back somewhere and would be subject to capture by Chinese who have supercomputers. At some point the mail has to go into the general internet used by the great unwashed, to be delivered. NSA would be a good place to rebuild WH email to enter the great unwashed internet. Best place to hide it is in the general internet not that anyone is listening to my ideas. If it were, it would also be in the fish net at NSA

I dont have a problem with Snowden talking about ‘wiretap’. That is the term used to cover law enforcement permissions. That’s the word judges use.

entagor on June 10, 2013 at 10:18 PM

There are a lot of things he has said that can’t be verified. But I find it interesting that those things that can, have.

NorthernCross on June 10, 2013 at 10:46 PM

Secondly, Snowden was not cleared for any access to these programs. It appears he was basically the IT helpdesk guy. He either managed to snag someone else’s credentials or got the information off people’s computers from browser caches, disk drives, etc.

crosspatch on June 10, 2013 at 9:41 PM

Gonna need some proof of that.

It seems to be at odds with the already-known facts of his career.

Solaratov on June 10, 2013 at 11:30 PM

whatcat on June 10, 2013 at 9:49 PM

I was just saying that I haven’t seen any mention of her being in HK with Snowden…so I don’t know if she went with him or not.

I only mentioned her in response to liveasaslaveanddie’s hope that Snowden was homosexual.

Solaratov on June 10, 2013 at 11:34 PM

crosspatch on June 10, 2013 at 9:45 PM

You’re the one doing the speculating…or just reading back the day’s regime talking points.

Solaratov on June 10, 2013 at 11:37 PM

Is it insane to think that a 29-year-old NSA/Booz IT guy could be reading Barack Obama’s private e-mails if he wanted to?

Yeah, really farfetched. Just like the idea of people working on the Manhattan Project sending nuclear secrets to Moscow 70 years ago or some young punk like Daniel Ellsberg getting his hands on top secret Pentagon materials back in the ’60s.

Truly preposterous Snowden’s claims are.

Surely in 2013 everyone’s communications from the President on down are more secure…because, it’s er, TODAY…not “back then”.

/s

Dr. ZhivBlago on June 11, 2013 at 12:02 AM

IT systems administrators are odd birds. I was a systems administrator for a university. You can compartmentalize all of the analysts, and put security limits on everyone else in the organization, but the system administrator is the digital equivalent of the maintenance man with the master key to the building who goes around and fixes broken faucets and the broken light switch in the CEO’s office after hours. Everywhere, but invisible. Systems administrators often have full root access and all the master passwords to all of the machines they are responsible for, because someone has to have all that access and all those passwords in order to go in and fix the computers when they break, and that person is the sysadmin. They are the exception to the security rules because they have to fix the security machinery when it breaks. Now you can control and regulate system administrator access, but most institutions don’t. Sysadmins tend to become the most trusted of employees.

Systems administration tends to attract a certain personality type — people who keep to themselves and only care about keeping the computers running. A system administrator might well have full access to all files on a computer, all the email of everyone using the computer, but would never think of reading the email or looking at the files — all he would be interested in is whether the disk was filling up or if the machine was crashing. It’s the Aspergers-near-autistic personality type. They could read the CEO’s email without fear of detection with a few keystrokes, but this would be as unthinkable as breaking into his office and opening his mail. I was in a group of a dozen sysadmins, and as far as I know, none of us ever went snooping. We would have been insulted by the idea that we would abuse our trust in that fashion. The NSA may well have let their guard down by the general invisibility of the system administrator.

As a sysadmin, Snowden was probably much more of a fly-on-the-wall than anyone around him realized. He probably really could have copied Barack Obama’s email. Or done a Manning-style data dump of the NSA servers. He may well have been one of only a few people in the whole NSA capable of executing this leak.

A couple of observations —

1) Obviously he copied a powerpoint presentation. It seems very unlikely that this was all he copied. I would fully expect that he would have copied a lot more than just one powerpoint presentation. The NSA must at this point assume that all of their activities — everything — may be compromised.

2) The H1B visa program is bringing more and more foreign students into the system administration field. If our national adversaries wanted to plant spies in U.S. industry and government, the H1B program would be exactly the place to put them. So there is a real question about the wisdom of bringing in foreign workers to such sensitive positions.

jms on June 11, 2013 at 1:22 AM

Update: The dude has disappeared.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-22850901

Still think he should have gone to congress or through channels? This is the intelligence community, and what he stole were not after-action reports whose sole purpose is to embarrass American soldiers. I have no doubt in my mind he would be killed to protect those secrets.

This isn’t the United States of 1950. This is the year 2013, and IMO the intelligence agencies are a law unto themselves. Happily , Congress holds the purse strings so it should be possible to correct those abuses.

Rand Paul is looking better all the time.

pendell2 on June 11, 2013 at 1:30 AM

As to why there is a difference between the NSA tracking and hacking in general is that the NSA largely has this power by default.

We don’t have security so they can just walk right in and read what they want. A secure system shouldn’t be readable by the NSA.

In the end, this is all our faults because we made it easy for the NSA. If we secure our communications the NSA will have to work a lot harder to get information on anyone. And what they’ve demonstrated here is that we’re stupid if we do anything else.

Karmashock on June 11, 2013 at 4:18 AM

E pluribus unum anus
Who’s watching the watcher?

kregg on June 11, 2013 at 5:42 AM

Random 1/2 cup coffee question:

If he COULD monitor the president’s emails, did he?

PLEASE say yes and that he has some really good ones to share!

Maybe even ones from Obama’s unofficial gmail/hotmail/yahoo account, since that seems to be the thing right now for officials in the Obama administration.

Now those would be entertaining, from a Constitutional perspective ;)

ProfShadow on June 11, 2013 at 6:38 AM

Comment pages: 1 2 3