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Snowden: US developed dangerous cyberwar tool, hacked Chinese hospitals and knocked Syria offline

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The U.S. developed a cyberwarfare tool called MonsterMind that would automatically “fire back” if it thought it detected an attempted attack on the U.S., NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has revealed.

In an interview published Wednesday in Wired, Snowden also said an intelligence officer had told him the U.S. was responsible for the 2012 disconnection of Syria from the internet, albeit by accident. He also said the U.S. had “crossed lines” by attacking civilian infrastructure in China.


MonsterMind seems to have been one of the triggers for Snowden’s decision to blow the whistle, along with the construction of a massive new data storage facility in Bluffdale, Utah.

The tool was, according to Snowden, partly designed to look for internet traffic patterns that could denote incoming cyber-attacks, and to block such attacks. However, it would also “automatically fire back, with no human involvement.” This raises serious ethical implications because attacks are often routed through other countries, making it possible that automated counter-attacks could target the wrong people, perhaps civilian facilities such as hospitals.

Snowden also expressed discomfort with the implications of MonsterMind for U.S. citizens communicating outside the country, telling reporter James Bamford: “The only way we can identify these malicious traffic flows and respond to them is if we’re analyzing all traffic flows…that means we have to be intercepting all traffic flows. That means violating the Fourth Amendment, seizing private communications without a warrant, without probable cause or even a suspicion of wrongdoing.”

Syria and China

When Syria briefly dropped off the internet in late 2012, it was widely assumed to be the doing of President Bashar al-Assad – the country was, after all, descending into civil war.

Not so, according to Snowden, who told Bamford that, when he was working for the NSA, he’d been told it was down to U.S. intelligence. Specifically, the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations group (TAO) — the agency’s hardcore hacking team – had tried to install infiltration software on a router at a major Syrian ISP. The operation went horribly wrong, bricking the router and cutting off the country’s internet access. The Syrians never found the software, much to the NSA’s relief, Snowden said.

And then there’s China, with which the U.S. is currently engaged in a vicious spat over hacking and spying. Earlier this year, the U.S. indicted five Chinese army officials over industrial espionage, claiming they’d hacked into the systems of U.S. firms.

Snowden’s leaks had already told us that the NSA had hacked Chinese telecommunications equipment supplier Huawei – a program that may have been limited to making sure Huawei equipment is exploitable. However, Snowden said in the new interview that the U.S. had “crossed lines” in its aggressive hacking of Chinese interests.

“We’re hacking universities and hospitals and wholly civilian infrastructure rather than actual government targets and military targets. And that’s a real concern,” he said.

12 Responses to “Snowden: US developed dangerous cyberwar tool, hacked Chinese hospitals and knocked Syria offline”

  1. rea turd

    Traitors are those who chase whistleblowers becausectraitors abuse nations for partial corrupt inferests and chase those who expose them. Bush, Chenney and Rumsfeld lied, killed thousands, tortured and betrayed the nation, planet and then some and you dare say this guy is a traitor? Everyone who sees this as OK is a traitor..

  2. rea turd

    You do realise tbat your lightly acceptance of US spying on everyone outside US and view that only spying on US citizens is wrong, means that you aholes tend to think it is ok for you to decide who should be allowed toveavesdrop on whome? It is why the rest of the planet no longer trusts the US. Bush killed the soft power and credibility and moronic ahole thinking like this maintauns that.

    Snowden is the only face of US still leaving the doors of maybe getting some old glory back some day open. The kind who think killing the messenger is the thing to do are the shity face of the US everyone on this planet is fed up with.

    Bitch about China, Russia for their shit but first throw scum like Chenney snd Rumsfeld in jail. Their US is same crap as USSR..

  3. snuggles

    I’d feel a lot more sympathetic towards Snowden if he just focused on the domestic spying aspect than revealing what weapons are in our cyber arsenal.

    No one seems to ask what Russia is getting in exchange for him being granted stay or how he’s managing to make money while there.

  4. Ken Rowland

    “And then there’s China, with which the U.S. is currently engaged in a vicious spat over hacking and spying.” Yeah, duh; so? MONSTERMIND? And also TAO (tailored access operations group)? Yeah, duh, so? (kudos on the BRANDING!) Snowden is SNIVELING probably because he doesn’t have the talent for ‘tailored access’ and CLEARANCE. Sooooo, we sell our deficient IT theories to ‘Wired’ magazine. Interesting story. Look around the world. You’ve got ISIS cutting off heads and displaying them on pylons; mass graves of those shot in the back of the head and kicked into a mass graves, why? Because they’re Christians? NO BIG deal to the sniveling Snowden! Obviously MONSTERMIND is a wee-bit swifter than Obama’s over-all NON-SPECIFIC-STRATEGY about anything; as well as the lame VACATIONING CONGRESS! Keep up the sniveling Snowden, it’s informative, enlightening, and answers a lot of reasons as to why China is ‘encouraging’ domestic spending on its own IT infrastructure rather than on that which is superior from the USA. Even the ‘HAMBURGERS’… are happier inside a Happy Meal from McDonald’s!

    • You have to go there!; linking Muslims to America’s paranoia, privacy and sense of security. Talk you of “Obama’s over-all NON-SPECIFIC-STRATEGY about anything”. Why don’t you enlighten us about Lord Dick Vader Chaney & co’s debacle that led to the rise of ISIS that elaborated on. Ne-cons have no shame.

      Snowden has more knowledge of internet architecture and cyber security in in tine finger that you have in that vacuous between your ears.

  5. JenniferDawn

    So, apparently Snowden gets to decide what is appropriate behavior for the U.S. security apparatus?
    He should come back to America to receive his medal.

    • Unfortunately, as long as the U.S. Government continues to overclassify, people like Snowden are the only outlet. If you want to stop the whistleblowers, expand the transparency. Clearly, whistleblowers are not the preferred method of getting pertinent (and rightly public) information about our national security into the public discourse, but government officials have shown themselves to be incapable of being trusted to do the right thing, over and over again.