Edward Snowden has come forward as the NSA PRISM program leaker and whistleblower. He's a 29-year-old former CIA technical assistant. The Guardian reported that Snowden has been working at the NSA for the last four years in signals intelligence directorate as an employee of various outside contractors, including defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton and Dell.
Glenn Greenwald interviewed Snowden in Hong Kong. You need to take 12 ½ minutes out of your day to watch the video, as Snowden will blow your mind. For example, Snowden gave an extremely chilling response to the question "Why should people care about surveillance?"
Because even if you're not doing anything wrong, you're being watched and recorded. And the storage capability of these systems increases every year—consistently by orders of magnitude—to where it's getting to the point you don't have to have done anything wrong. You simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody—even by a wrong call. And then they can use the system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you've ever made, every friend you've ever discussed something with, and attack you on that basis, to sort of derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint anyone in the context of a wrong-doer.
"Any analyst at any time can target anyone," Snowden claimed. "I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you, or your accountant, to a federal judge, to even the President if I had a personal email." You might be wondering how could these targeting capabilities escape notice; after all, President Obama said not to worry as there is plenty of oversight for the mass surveillance. But Snowden said "the NSA routinely lies in response to congressional inquiries about the scope of surveillance in America."
When the NSA told Senator Wyden and Udall that there were no tools to measure the amount of surveillance in America, that was another lie, according to Snowden. "We do have the tools and I have maps showing where people have been scrutinized most. We collect more digital communications from America than we do from the Russians."
He added, "We hack everyone everywhere" and "are in almost every country in the world." Snowden described the extent of the NSA's spying capabilities as "horrifying. We can plant bugs in machines. Once you go on the network, I can identify your machine. You will never be safe whatever protections you put in place."
Snowden chose the codename "Verax," Latin for "truth teller," when dealing with The Washington Post. He said, "I've been a spy for almost all of my adult life - I don't like being in the spotlight." He also asked The Post to "publish—within 72 hours—the full text of a PowerPoint presentation describing PRISM, a top-secret surveillance program that gathered intelligence from Microsoft, Facebook, Google and other Silicon Valley giants." The Post said it published only four of the 41 slides two weeks later, after seeking "the views of government officials about the potential harm to national security."
When asked about "legitimate threats to national security" by The Post, Snowden replied, "We managed to survive greater threats in our history...than a few disorganized terrorist groups and rogue states without resorting to these sorts of programs. It is not that I do not value intelligence, but that I oppose...omniscient, automatic, mass surveillance...That seems to me a greater threat to the institutions of free society than missed intelligence reports, and unworthy of the costs."
Snowden told Greenwald that his greatest fear is that leaking this information will change nothing in America, before warning, "In the months ahead, the years ahead, it's only going to get worse."
"Policy," Snowden claimed, is "the only thing that restricts the activities of the surveillance state." He added, "Even our agreements with other sovereign governments, we consider that to be a stipulation of policy, rather than a stipulation of law."
William Binney warned us in the past, holding forefinger and thumb so only a small gap showed, "We are, like, that far from a turnkey totalitarian state." So too did Snowden, warning, "When a new leader is elected, they'll flip the switch, say that because of the crisis, because of the dangers that we face in the world—some new and unpredicted threat—we need more authority; we need more power. And there will be nothing the people can do at that point to oppose it. And it'll be turnkey tyranny."
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Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. Smith has a diverse background in information technology, programming, web development, IT consulting, and information security. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.
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