iction and films, the nearest most of us knowingly get to the world of espionage, give us a series of reliable stereotypes. British spies are hard-bitten, libidinous he-men. Russian agents are thickset, low-browed and facially scarred. And defectors end up as tragic old soaks in Moscow, scanning old copies of the Times for news of the Test match.
Such a fate was anticipated for Edward Snowden by Michael Hayden, a former NSA and CIA chief, who predicted last September that the former NSA analyst would be stranded in Moscow for the rest of his days – “isolated, bored, lonely, depressed… and alcoholic”.
But the Edward Snowden who materialises in our hotel room shortly after noon on the appointed day seems none of those things. A year into his exile in Moscow, he feels less, not more, isolated. If he is depressed, he doesn’t show it. And, at the end of seven hours of conversation, he refuses a beer. “I actually don’t drink.” He smiles when repeating Hayden’s jibe. “I was like, wow, their intelligence is worse than I thought.”
Oliver Stone, who is working on a film about the man now standing in room 615 of the Golden Apple hotel on Moscow’s Malaya Dmitrovka, might struggle to make his subject live up to the canon of great movie spies. The American director has visited Snowden in Moscow, and wants to portray him as an out-and-out hero, but he is an unconventional one: quiet, disciplined, unshowy, almost academic in his speech. If Snowden has vices – and God knows they must have been looking for them – none has emerged in the 13 months since he slipped away from his life as a contracted NSA analyst in Hawaii, intent on sharing the biggest cache of top-secret material the world has ever seen.
Since arriving in Moscow, Snowden has been keeping late and solitary hours – effectively living on US time, tapping away on one of his three computers (three to be safe; he uses encrypted chat, too). If anything, he appears more connected and outgoing than he could be in his former life as an agent. Of his life now, he says, “There’s actually not that much difference. You know, I think there are guys who are just hoping to see me sad. And they’re going to continue to be disappointed.”
When the Guardian first spoke to Snowden a year ago in Hong Kong, he had been dishevelled, his hair uncombed, wearing jeans and a T-shirt. The 31-year-old who materialised last week was smartly, if anonymously, dressed in black trousers and grey jacket, his hair tidily cut. He is jockey-light – even skinnier than a year ago. And he looks pale: “Probably three steps from death,” he jokes. “I mean, I don’t eat a whole lot. I keep a weird schedule. I used to be very active, but just in the recent period I’ve had too much work to focus on.”
There was no advance warning of where we would meet: his only US television interview, with NBC’s Brian Williams in May, was conducted in an anonymous hotel room of Snowden’s choosing. This time, he prefers to come to us. On his arrival, there is a warm handshake for Guardian reporter Ewen MacAskill, whom he last saw in Hong Kong – a Sunday night after a week of intense work in a frowsty hotel room, a few hours before the video revealing his identity to the world went public. Neither man knew if they would ever meet again.
Snowden orders chicken curry from room service and, as he forks it down, is immediately into the finer points of the story that yanked him from a life of undercover anonymity to global fame. The Snowden-as-alcoholic jibe is not the only moment when he reflects wryly on his former colleagues’ patchy ability to get on top of events over the past year. There was, for instance, the incident last July when a plane carrying President Evo Morales back to Bolivia from Moscow was forced down in Vienna and searched for a stowaway Snowden. “I was like, first off, wow, their intelligence sucks, from listening to everything. But, two, are they really going to the point of just completely humiliating the president of a Latin American nation, the representative of so many people? It was just shockingly poorly thought out, and yet they did it anyway, and they keep at these sort of mistakes.” It was as if they were trying not to find him. “I almost felt like I had some sort of friend in government.”
Thanks to Edward Snowden, we know the apparatus of repression has been covertly attached to the democratic state. However, our struggle to retain privacy is far from hopeless
In the third chapter of his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon gave two reasons why the slavery into which the Romans had tumbled under Augustus and his successors left them more wretched than any previous human slavery. In the first place, Gibbon said, the Romans had carried with them into slavery the culture of a free people: their language and their conception of themselves as human beings presupposed freedom. And thus, says Gibbon, for a long time the Romans preserved the sentiments – or at least the ideas – of a freeborn people. In the second place, the empire of the Romans filled all the world, and when that empire fell into the hands of a single person, the world was a safe and dreary prison for his enemies. As Gibbon wrote, to resist was fatal, and it was impossible to fly.
The power of that Roman empire rested in its leaders’ control of communications. The Mediterranean was their lake. Across their European empire, from Scotland to Syria, they pushed roads that 15 centuries later were still primary arteries of European transportation. Down those roads the emperor marched his armies. Up those roads he gathered his intelligence. The emperors invented the posts to move couriers and messages at the fastest possible speed.
Using that infrastructure, with respect to everything that involved the administration of power, the emperor made himself the best-informed person in the history of the world.
That power eradicated human freedom. “Remember,” said Cicero to Marcellus in exile, “wherever you are, you are equally within the power of the conqueror.”
The empire of the United States after the second world war also depended upon control of communications. This was more evident when, a mere 20 years later, the United States was locked in a confrontation of nuclear annihilation with the Soviet Union. In a war of submarines hidden in the dark below the continents, capable of eradicating human civilisation in less than an hour, the rule of engagement was “launch on warning”. Thus the United States valued control of communications as highly as the Emperor Augustus. Its listeners too aspired to know everything.
We all know that the United States has for decades spent as much on its military might as all other powers in the world combined. Americans are now realising what it means that we applied to the stealing of signals and the breaking of codes a similar proportion of our resources in relation to the rest of the world.
The US system of listening comprises a military command controlling a large civilian workforce. That structure presupposes the foreign intelligence nature of listening activities. Military control was a symbol and guarantee of the nature of the activity being pursued. Wide-scale domestic surveillance under military command would have violated the fundamental principle of civilian control.
Instead what it had was a foreign intelligence service responsible to the president as military commander-in-chief. The chain of military command absolutely ensured respect for the fundamental principle “no listening here”. The boundary between home and away distinguished the permissible from the unconstitutional.
The distinction between home and away was at least technically credible, given the reality of 20th-century communications media, which were hierarchically organised and very often state-controlled.
When the US government chose to listen to other governments abroad – to their militaries, to their diplomatic communications, to their policymakers where possible – they were listening in a world of defined targets. The basic principle was: hack, tap, steal. We listened, we hacked in, we traded, we stole.
In the beginning we listened to militaries and their governments. Later we monitored the flow of international trade as far as it engaged American national security interests.
Si las autoridades estadounidenses lo desean, pueden confiscar su ordenador cuando usted ingrese dentro de los límites del país, para buscar allí evidencia de actividad delictiva, vínculos con servicios de inteligencia en el extranjero o conexiones extremistas.
Un juez federal en Nueva York dictaminó que las autoridades estadounidenses pueden incautar la computadora portátil de un viajero cuando cruza la frontera, sin tener un motivo legal, sin que se sospeche que la persona haya cometido algún delito y sin dar ninguna clase de explicación. ¿Qué pasa si confiscan la suya?
El año pasado, los medios dedicaron gran parte de su cobertura a historias sobre la Agencia de Seguridad Nacional (NSA, por sus siglas en inglés) de Estados Unidos y sus operaciones de vigilancia, y los riesgos de estas actividades para la privacidad de los usuarios en internet.
La publicación de documentos obtenidos por el exanalista de la NSA Edward Snowden arrojó nueva luz sobre el programa global de espionaje electrónico.
Sin embargo, las autoridades pueden averiguar información sobre usted de una forma más tradicional: confiscando sus posesiones en la frontera.
(Reuters) – As a key part of a campaign to embed encryption software that it could crack into widely used computer products, the U.S. National Security Agency arranged a secret $10 million contract with RSA, one of the most influential firms in the computer security industry, Reuters has learned.
Documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden show that the NSA created and promulgated a flawed formula for generating random numbers to create a “back door” in encryption products, the New York Times reported in September. Reuters later reported that RSA became the most important distributor of that formula by rolling it into a software tool called Bsafe that is used to enhance security in personal computers and many other products.
Undisclosed until now was that RSA received $10 million in a deal that set the NSA formula as the preferred, or default, method for number generation in the BSafe software, according to two sources familiar with the contract. Although that sum might seem paltry, it represented more than a third of the revenue that the relevant division at RSA had taken in during the entire previous year, securities filings show.
Just because a right-wing ‘satire’ site writes something about the iPhone 5s, that doesn’t make it true: and the characters in quotes saying Apple will share data are made up
The latest “oh, this must be true because we read it somewhere” is that “Apple is going to share its fingerprint database collected by the iPhone 5s with the National Security Agency”. Reality check: the article claiming this comes from a right-wing “satire” site. Why are people confused? Because the satire’s badly executed.
A lot of people read it but didn’t realise that the satire site was a satire site. (I’ve had at least one email pointing excitedly to it, and not ironically.) This isn’t surprising, because the thing about satire is that you either have to lay it on with a trowel, or get so close to the bone (eg The Thick Of It) that it’s indistinguishable from painful reality. It’s easy to do badly. And the site in question, National Report, does it really badly. It’s like Fox News, but with the jokes and facts taken out.
Even so, you’d hope people who read such “stories” might think a bit. Or that they might even look at other headlines on the site, and wonder if a site which has a story headlined “Apple iPhone 5s Fingerprint Data To Be Shared With NSA” but also has one headlined “Packers Embarrassing Loss to Bengals Linked To Green Bay Bridge Collapse” and “Taurus Firearms Company Introduces The New Trayvon PK-10 or ‘Perp-Killer’” is entirely serious. (It isn’t actually funny, especially the latter headline; if you’re easily offended, don’t read the story that goes with it. But that’s another matter.)
Let’s recap what we do know about the iPhone 5s‘s fingerprint system.
A Johns Hopkins computer science professor blogs on the NSA and is asked to take it down. I fear for academic freedom
This actually happened yesterday:
A professor in the computer science department at Johns Hopkins, a leading American university, had written a post on his blog, hosted on the university’s servers, focused on his area of expertise, which is cryptography. The post was highly critical of the government, specifically the National Security Agency, whose reckless behavior in attacking online security astonished him.
Professor Matthew Green wrote on 5 September:
I was totally unprepared for today’s bombshell revelations describing the NSA’s efforts to defeat encryption. Not only does the worst possible hypothetical I discussed appear to be true, but it’s true on a scale I couldn’t even imagine.
The post was widely circulated online because it is about the sense of betrayal within a community of technical people who had often collaborated with the government. (I linked to it myself.)
On Monday, he gets a note from the acting dean of the engineering school asking him to take the post down and stop using the NSA logo as clip art in his posts. The email also informs him that if he resists he will need a lawyer. The professor runs two versions of the same site: one hosted on the university’s servers, one on Google’s blogger.com service. He tells the dean that he will take down the site mirrored on the university’s system but not the one on blogger.com. He also removes the NSA logo from the post.
Edward Snowden: ‘Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple, and the rest of our internet titans must ask themselves why they aren’t fighting for our interests the same way’
A Texas-based encrypted email service recently revealed to be used by Edward Snowden – Lavabit – announced yesterday it was shutting itself down in order to avoid complying with what it perceives as unjust secret US court orders to provide government access to its users’ content. “After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations,” the company’s founder, Ladar Levinson, wrote in a statement to users posted on the front page of its website. He said the US directive forced on his company “a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit.” He chose the latter.
CNET’s Declan McCullagh smartly speculates that Lavabit was served “with [a] federal court order to intercept users’ (Snowden?) passwords” to allow ongoing monitoring of emails; specifically: “the order can also be to install FedGov-created malware.” After challenging the order in district court and losing – all in a secret court proceeding, naturally – Lavabit shut itself down to avoid compliance while it appeals to the Fourth Circuit.
Withdrawal comes after apparent pressure on Lavabit to allow US government access to encrypted messages on its servers
Two American companies which provided encrypted email services – one to the NSA fugitive Edward Snowden – have abruptly shut down the service, apparently following US government pressure to let it read users’ messages.
Lavabit, which is believed to have been used by Snowden and which claimed to have 350,000 customers, closed after apparently rejecting a US government court order to cooperate in surveillance on its customers by allowing some form of access to the encrypted messages on its servers.
Its founder Ladar Levison wrote on the company’s website: “I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit.”
Dos servicios de mensajería cifrados cierran en menos de 24 horas
Dos empresas que ofrecen a sus clientes servicios cifrados de correo electrónico —que permiten la transferencia de información de forma segura —han dejado de operar voluntariamente en menos de 24 horas. El motivo ofrecido a los clientes es el mismo: el miedo a que la onda expansiva de las filtraciones de Edward Snowden las alcance de lleno.