Edward Joseph Snowden (born June 21, 1983) is an American computer professional, former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee, and former contractor for the United States government, who copied and leaked classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013. His disclosures revealed numerous global surveillance programs, many run by the NSA and the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance, with the cooperation of telecommunication companies and European governments.
In 2013, Snowden was hired by an NSA contractor, Booz Allen Hamilton, after previous employment with Dell and the CIA. On May 20, 2013, Snowden flew to Hong Kong after leaving his job at an NSA facility in Hawaii, and in early June he revealed thousands of classified NSA documents to journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Ewen MacAskill. Snowden came to international attention after stories based on the material appeared in The Guardian and The Washington Post. Further disclosures were made by other publications including Der Spiegel and The New York Times.
On June 21, 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed charges against Snowden of two counts of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 and theft of government property. On June 23, he flew to Moscow, Russia, where he remained for over one month. Russian authorities granted him asylum for one year, which was later extended to three years. As of 2016, he was still living in an undisclosed location in Russia.
In March 2014, during testimony to the European Parliament, Snowden wrote that before revealing classified information he had reported “clearly problematic programs” to ten officials, who he said did nothing in response. In a May 2014 interview, Snowden told NBC News that after bringing his concerns about the legality of the NSA spying programs to officials, he was told to stay silent on the matter. Snowden said:
The NSA has records—they have copies of emails right now to their Office of General Counsel, to their oversight and compliance folks from me raising concerns about the NSA’s interpretations of its legal authorities. I had raised these complaints not just officially in writing through email, but to my supervisors, to my colleagues, in more than one office. I did it in Fort Meade. I did it in Hawaii. And many, many of these individuals were shocked by these programs. They had never seen them themselves. And the ones who had, went, “You know, you’re right. … But if you say something about this, they’re going to destroy you”.
The exact size of Snowden’s disclosure is unknown, but Australian officials have estimated 15,000 or more Australian intelligence files and British officials estimate at least 58,000 British intelligence files. NSA Director Keith Alexander initially estimated that Snowden had copied anywhere from 50,000 to 200,000 NSA documents. Later estimates provided by U.S. officials were on the order of 1.7 million, a number that originally came from Department of Defense talking points. In July 2014, The Washington Post reported on a cache previously provided by Snowden from domestic NSA operations consisting of “roughly 160,000 intercepted e-mail and instant-message conversations, some of them hundreds of pages long, and 7,900 documents taken from more than 11,000 online accounts.” A U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency report declassified in June 2015 said that Snowden took 900,000 Department of Defense files, more than he downloaded from the NSA.
The ongoing publication of leaked documents has revealed previously unknown details of a global surveillance apparatus run by the United States’ NSA in close cooperation with three of its Five Eyes partners: Australia (ASD), the United Kingdom (GCHQ), Canada (CSEC) and New Zealand.
On June 5, 2013, media reports documenting the existence and functions of classified surveillance programs and their scope began and continued throughout the entire year. The first program to be revealed was PRISM, which allows for court-approved direct access to Americans’ Google and Yahoo accounts. The Post’s Barton Gellman was the first journalist to report on Snowden’s documents. He said the U.S. government urged him not to specify by name which companies were involved, but Gellman decided that to name them “would make it real to Americans.” Reports also revealed details of Tempora, a British black-ops surveillance program run by the NSA’s British partner, GCHQ. The initial reports included details about NSA call database, Boundless Informant, and of a secret court order requiring Verizon to hand the NSA millions of Americans’ phone records daily, the surveillance of French citizens’ phone and Internet records, and those of “high-profile individuals from the world of business or politics.” XKeyscore, an analytical tool that allows for collection of “almost anything done on the internet,” was described by The Guardian as a program that “shed light” on one of Snowden’s most controversial statements: “I, sitting at my desk [could] wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email.”
PRISM: a clandestine surveillance program under which the NSA collects user data from companies like Microsoft, Google, Apple, Yahoo, Facebook and YouTube.
By US National Security Agency – http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/politics/prism-collection-documents/?hpid=z1, Public Domain, Link
By National Security Agency – http://www.theguardian.com/world/interactive/2013/jul/31/nsa-xkeyscore-program-full-presentation, Public Domain, Link
Excerpt of an NSA document leaked by Edward Snowden that reveals the BND’s usage of the NSA’s XKeyscore to wiretap a German domestic target
By U.S. National Security Agency – http://www.spiegel.de/fotostrecke/photo-gallery-data-made-in-germany-fotostrecke-99906-2.html, Public Domain, Link
It was revealed that the NSA was harvesting millions of email and instant messaging contact lists, searching email content, tracking and mapping the location of cell phones, undermining attempts at encryption via Bullrun and that the agency was using cookies to “piggyback” on the same tools used by Internet advertisers “to pinpoint targets for government hacking and to bolster surveillance.”
The NSA was shown to be “secretly” tapping into Yahoo and Google data centers to collect information from “hundreds of millions” of account holders worldwide by tapping undersea cables using the MUSCULAR surveillance program.
The NSA, the CIA and GCHQ spied on users of Second Life, Xbox Live and World of Warcraft, and attempted to recruit would-be informants from the sites, according to documents revealed in December 2013.
Leaked documents showed NSA agents also spied on their own “love interests,” a practice NSA employees termed LOVEINT. The NSA was shown to be tracking the online sexual activity of people they termed “radicalizers” in order to discredit them. Following the revelation of “Black Pearl”, a program targeting private networks, the NSA was accused of extending beyond its primary mission of national security. The agency’s intelligence-gathering operations had targeted, among others, oil giant Petrobras, Brazil’s largest company. The NSA and the GCHQ were also shown to be surveilling charities including UNICEF and Médecins du Monde, as well as allies such as European Commissioner Joaquín Almunia and the Israeli Prime Minister.
By October 2013, Snowden’s disclosures had created tensions between the U.S. and some of its close allies after they revealed that the U.S. had spied on Brazil, France, Mexico, Britain, China, Germany, and Spain, as well as 35 world leaders, most notably German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said “spying among friends” was “unacceptable” and compared the NSA with the Stasi. Leaked documents published by Der Spiegel in 2014 appeared to show that the NSA had targeted 122 “high ranking” leaders.
The NSA’s top-secret “black budget,” obtained from Snowden by The Washington Post, exposed the “successes and failures” of the 16 spy agencies comprising the U.S. intelligence community, and revealed that the NSA was paying U.S. private tech companies for “clandestine access” to their communications networks. The agencies were allotted $52 billion for the 2013 fiscal year.
Data visualization of U.S. intelligence black budget (2013)
An NSA mission statement titled “SIGINT Strategy 2012-2016” affirmed that the NSA had plans for continued expansion of surveillance activities. Their stated goal was to “dramatically increase mastery of the global network” and “acquire the capabilities to gather intelligence on anyone, anytime, anywhere.” Leaked slides revealed in Greenwald’s book No Place to Hide, released in May 2014, showed that the NSA’s stated objective was to “Collect it All,” “Process it All,” “Exploit it All,” “Partner it All,” “Sniff it All” and “Know it All.”
Snowden stated in a January 2014 interview with German television that the NSA does not limit its data collection to national security issues, accusing the agency of conducting industrial espionage. Using the example of German company Siemens, he stated,
“If there’s information at Siemens that’s beneficial to US national interests—even if it doesn’t have anything to do with national security—then they’ll take that information nevertheless.”
In the wake of Snowden’s revelations and in response to an inquiry from the Left Party, Germany’s domestic security agency Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV) investigated and found no “concrete evidence” that the U.S. conducted economic or industrial espionage in Germany.
In February 2014, during testimony to the European Union, Snowden said of the remaining “undisclosed programs”: “I will leave the public interest determinations as to which of these may be safely disclosed to responsible journalists in coordination with government stakeholders.”
In March 2014, documents disclosed by Glenn Greenwald writing for The Intercept showed the NSA, in cooperation with the GCHQ, has plans to infect millions of computers with malware using a program called “Turbine.” Revelations included information about “QUANTUMHAND,” a program through which the NSA set up a fake Facebook server to intercept connections.
By unknown NSA employee – http://cdn1.spiegel.de/images/image-584098-galleryV9-jsgn.jpg, Public Domain, Link
According to a report in The Washington Post in July 2014, relying on information furnished by Snowden, 90% of those placed under surveillance in the U.S. are ordinary Americans, and are not the intended targets. The newspaper said it had examined documents including emails, message texts, and online accounts, that support the claim.
In an August 2014 interview, Snowden for the first time disclosed a cyberwarfare program in the works, codenamed MonsterMind. The program would “automate the process of hunting for the beginnings of a foreign cyberattack”. The software would constantly look for traffic patterns indicating known or suspected attacks. What sets MonsterMind apart was that it would add a “unique new capability: instead of simply detecting and killing the malware at the point of entry, MonsterMind would automatically fire back, with no human involvement”.
Snowden expressed concern that often initial attacks are routed through computers in innocent third countries.
“These attacks can be spoofed. You could have someone sitting in China, for example, making it appear that one of these attacks is originating in Russia. And then we end up shooting back at a Russian hospital. What happens next?”
Protesters rally in Berlin to support Snowden, August 30, 2014
The International League for Human Rights awards the 2014 Carl von Ossietzky Medal to Snowden, Poitras and Greenwald
“We The People” petition to pardon Snowden at the White House website
By White house petitions – https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/pardon-edward-snowden/Dp03vGYD, Public Domain, Link