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Jun 09 2013

So how did Snowden get all this stuff?

By now you’ve probably heard that an 29 year-old employee of a private contractor was the source of the latest NSA spying leaks. How did he get all that stuff? Well, he got a lot more than he’s released, but short answer is he was a system analyst. I hope the video plays for your region, it is a rare, fascinating look into a secret community offered by someone with above average ability to articulate those complexities. Snowden could have sold this stuff, easy, to anyone, including front groups for North Korea or Al Qaeda (Link here). But he didn’t, that video — the fact that he’s so open — and the statements on it suggest strongly to me this is not your average whistle-blower.

I realize we’re in a dilemma here, we don’t want to encourage people to ruin their lives and careers fumbling around for infame in a gray area between justified citizen action and aiding enemies. But in the video … there is something heroic about this guy. I did not know such strength of character and brain-power existed in the NSA et al and I feel better knowing they do.

4 comments

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  1. 1
    Marcus Ranum

    A few things:
    1) why would Al Qaeda or North Korea care about this information? It’s valueless, really. Except if you wanted to separate the people of the US from the state, which is a process that doesn’t really demand much help.
    2) There are over 400,000 people in the US with access to classified (named) programs. There is a certain degree of foolish hopefulness in the intelligence community that a trust boundary that large can be anything but porous. They’re wrong; they’re learning that the hard way.
    3) Transitive trust is a big issue. A lot of stuff gets distributed to contractors, since a lot of the actual work is done by contractors. Only a fool would establish a trust boundary that big and expect it to hold. (Another case in point: the F-35 program, which had serious leaks but – no fucking duh – is a development project being carried out between more than a dozen NATO countries’ defense departments and contractors)
    4) Access controls have been absurdly loosened following 9-11. It was a Bush &co attempt to break the logjam between FBI and CIA but only resulted in the NSA running away with the ribbon. Think of Bradley Manning as a case study and ask yourself, “why is it that they don’t have system logs showing exactly what he took, and when?” The simple answer would be: because the classified systems are run by idiots. There are more complicated answers but Ockham and I agree.

  2. 2
    Marcus Ranum

    I did not know such strength of character and brain-power existed in the NSA et al and I feel better knowing they do.

    It doesn’t.
    a) He’s a contractor, not part of NSA.
    b) It has been going on for close to two decades and nobody from NSA has come forward (though there’s the Thin Thread disclosures, that’s more about waste and mismanagment than outright crimes)
    c) The media obviously has been trained not to give a fuck, in order to preserve their access. Benghazi gets tv time, but this won’t..

    I hope things work out OK for him, but I suspect he’s going to be subjected to an epic level demonization campaign. Every bit of dirt in his life will be leaked to the press and discussed. The sheeple will get more interested in Miley Cyrus’ nipple slips and, uh, what was I saying?

  3. 3
    Stephen "DarkSyde" Andrew

    If you watch the video he says he could have extracted the entire roster of undercover agents throughout the US and world for one thing, and yes, that would be quite valuable. I imagine that’s the tip of the iceberg.

  4. 4
    left0ver1under

    It’s not a perfect comparison, but his story sounds similar to people who leave religious cults and tell what’s really going on.

    The functionaries do the paperwork and often end up being left on their own. As a result, they tend to go through less “reinforcement” of dogma and their fervency decreases, sometimes to the point of not believing anymore. And some start collecting info while going through the motions of working, then leave and blow the whistle.

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