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NSA whistle-blower revealed: 29-year-old former CIA staffer says he felt compelled to leak

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Another bombshell dropped on Saturday in the ongoing revelations surrounding the federal government’s PRISM surveillance program: the man who leaked the top-secret documents about the program came forward and revealed his identity — he is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant with the CIA. Snowden said in an interview with the Guardian that he knows he will be charged with a crime for his actions, and expects he may “never see home again,” but that he felt compelled to leak information about the National Security Agency’s surveillance activity.

Snowden said that there wasn’t one specific moment where he decided that he was going to reveal top-secret information (if you’re just coming to this story, check out our omnibus post about what we know so far, which is being updated regularly). He said it just built up over time as he watched the agency collect more information via phone calls, emails, credit-card transactions, etc. He said he thought President Obama might change what was happening, but decided to leak the documents after the president “continued the policies of his predecessors.”

“The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.”

NSA “routinely lies” to Congress

Snowden, who has since fled to Hong Kong and says even his family doesn’t know that he is involved in the leak, told the Guardian that he decided the NSA had overstepped its bounds and on top of that the agency “routinely lies” to Congress about the scope of its activities.

“I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things… I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under… 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.”

The former CIA technical assistant, who worked for contractor Booz Allen, said that the ability the National Security Agency has to pull in personal information about American citizens, track their location and even bug their computers is more far-reaching than many people know.

“You are not even aware of what is possible. The extent of their capabilities is 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.”

Since the original story broke on Friday, there has been much debate about how the PRISM program works, and whether it allows the NSA to have “direct access” to the servers of companies such as Google, Yahoo and Facebook, as alleged in the slide presentation leaked by Snowden. The CEOs of those companies have denied any knowledge of such activity, but sources have told the Guardian, the Post and the New York Times that the NSA did in fact have direct access to their systems.

19 Responses to “NSA whistle-blower revealed: 29-year-old former CIA staffer says he felt compelled to leak”

  1. david bowie

    we had an at&t whistleblower on public tv in 2008 talking about this. the fact this is being made a big deal when all this was known 5 years ago is a joke.

    why is this now an issue? anyone paying attention since bush, this was by design, this was talked about openly.

    snowden didnt blow a whistle on anything, we already knew that stuff, the focus on him is irrelivent. the bigger issue is what is being done while snowden has all this attention.

  2. Steven

    snowden is a TERRORIST!!! HE HAS PUT AMERICA IN DANGER!!!!!!.. hahaha jk ppl. Snowden. your a hero and an american a true lover of liberty and freedom and i thank you

  3. ishekhar

    brave Man ?! Patriot ?!
    Really ??

    First, I am not sure of his claims; tapping a key on NSA computer can get my secure point to point communication tapped.. In very very few cases with some outdated encryption say DES, may be, but Absolute non-sense to project it as an option with any real success.

    And that shows that he is making things up based upon what he probably overheard in break rooms, got excited and picked up the phone on a chance to be a national hero without researching on HongKong first.

    Other part of the story is probably partly right; but then nothing new there either. will choose security over privacy any day & privacy over free service (think Google) :)

    Shows the danger of handing over a ultra tech security job to a security guard because he had the word ‘security’ in his resume.

    • deeceefar2

      What a scared person you must be to fear people worlds away with poor funding and no reason to kill you. You’re not trading my freedom for real security, your trading it for a delusion of security. Why don’t you just buy a blanket and call it a day. Yes he is a brave man, and if what he has disclosed is true, then clearly he is also a patriot.

  4. Orlando Kalossakas

    Well nothing we didn’t know before – this just makes it even further “real”, then again if/to anyone claiming his lying, why would someone lie to something like this to then basically ruin his own life..unless of course this is all part of a bigger master plan – insert conspiracy theories here please :)

  5. deeceefar2

    If they already robbed the neighborhood does it really matter if they broke your window or unlocked the door?

    Beyond a large scale effort to transform software and hardware development to ensure absolute security, I don’t see anything being effective at preventing an entity with their resources, capabilities, and lack of ethics from doing exactly what they’re doing:

    “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”

    The human is always the weak point of security, and there is no reason to believe they’re not capable of doing something similar to anybody containing passwords or secure information they desire.

    • I view this as different from wikileaks. That was the release of a ton of classified information, where this was a release mainly of information about a classified system which is repugnant to the Bill of Rights. One should be tried for treason and the other should be considered a hero.

      • Srry dear , as human who cares about the rights of others .It really is the same thing .You just need to broaden your view point; .the thing, that you consider as a “classified information” are more of a usual selfish crap that are being swept under the rug as an act of national security.

        • If it were a more targeted release of information I would agree with you. Wikileaks was a dump. For this to be analogous, he would have had to have released all of the information gathered up by the government.

  6. The discussion of the NSA’s capabilities here and most places in the wake of this brouhaha leaves much to be desired. For example, is Snowden claiming the NSA can break SSL and hence HTTPS at will? Otherwise, it’s difficult to imagine how it could collect, say, passwords ad lib. Of course, certain companies – Facebook, Google, etc. – may have given the NSA their private keys, which would expose SSL communications with those companies, but that would be a long way from a general ability to break SSL.

    There’s a significant difference between being able to break a cryptographic system with great effort in particular cases (e.g., 1500 years of computer time to crack one instance of 768-bit RSA) and being able to break it easily and routinely. I presume the NSA can do the former as well as anyone in the world, but I suspect it can’t do the latter with many of the cryptographic systems in common use. If Snowden knows better, he should say so, in as much detail as possible.

    • Mathew Ingram

      That’s a good point, Ralph — I’ve seen a number of security experts hypothesize that the NSA must have the master SSL certificates, but we don’t really know for sure at this point.