Leaked Docs Show NSA Fed «Israel» Intel for Targeted Assassinations

By Staff, Agencies

Frustrated by a legal ban on sharing intelligence with “Israeli” operatives conducting targeted assassinations against Hezbollah, the NSA crafted a loophole giving them total access even to US citizens’ data, leaked documents show.

The so-called “Israeli” SIGINT National Unit [ISNU], the NSA’s counterpart in Tel Aviv, convinced the Americans to circumvent the legal prohibition on providing surveillance data for targeted assassinations during the “Israeli” entity’s 2006 aggression on Lebanon, according to the newest revelation from the archives obtained by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Using the familiar rationale of “terrorism” to excuse cooperation they knew was illegal, the NSA and ISNU found a workaround using the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that provided the “Israelis” with all the intelligence they needed, according to an October 2006 article in the NSA’s internal publication.

“To ISNU, this prohibition [on sharing data for targeted killings] was contrary not only to supporting ‘Israel’ in its fight against Hizballah [Hezbollah] but overall, to support the US Global War on Terrorism,” said an article in SIDToday.

Its author, whose name is redacted, details the “late-night, sometimes tense discussions” he had with ISNU officials who believed they deserved an exemption from the US prohibition on abetting targeted killings.

The documents don’t include details of what “arrangement” was eventually worked out with the ODNI, but the “Israeli” military used American data to lay waste to Lebanon’s civilian population, much like the tech-enhanced US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, whose kill-counts swelled with civilian victims after they received access to NSA targeting data.

“‘Israel’ repeatedly, and in some cases egregiously, violated the laws of war,” Human Rights Watch reporter Nadim Houry told the Intercept, adding that the “Israelis” “engaged in indiscriminate aerial attacks” and cluster bombing against “civilian infrastructure that was not tied in any way to the armed conflict.”

This ‘strategy’ had a name – the “Dahiyeh doctrine” – and “Israeli” officials admitted it was deliberate, but despite this brutality, they were unable to win the war. A leaked presentation about the NSA-ISNU relationship notes that “public confidence in” the “Israeli” Occupation Forces [IOF] “erodes” and IOF “image damaged” after the seemingly-outmatched Hezbollah revolutionaries were able to keep the “Israelis” at bay. Nevertheless, the IDF was, according to the presentation, “Gearing up for Round II.”

Apparently unsatisfied with the legal loophole the Americans had created for them, the “Israelis” sought and received full access to the NSA’s massive surveillance data troves after the war. A 2009 memorandum of understanding officially gave ISNU unrestricted access to the NSA’s raw intelligence data – including the phone and internet records of American citizens and citizens of third-party countries. Only American officials’ data was excluded, on an honor-system basis [with ISNU instructed to “destroy upon recognition” any records originating with a government official]. Almost no strings were attached to this bonanza – the “Israelis” could even release the identities of Americans whose information had been scooped up in the dragnet, as long as they asked the NSA for permission first, and could pass the data on to anyone at all if the names were redacted.

While a leaked presentation calls ISNU “NSA’s most valued third party partner,” it also suggests there was “high anxiety” among the “Israelis” “heavily reliant” on NSA data for support. One slide reads “What Did ISNU Want? Everything!!!” and complaints about the ‘Israelis’’ “robust” spying on Americans crop up frequently in the Snowden archives. The NSA did not seem to mind, because the “Israelis” were very, very grateful for all the information.

“Throughout all of my discussions – no matter what the tone or subject – ISNU stressed their deep gratitude for the cooperation and support they received from the NSA,” the SIDToday article reads.

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“Assange Should Have Picked the Russian Embassy.” But He Did.

 • APRIL 11, 2019

moscow-patriarch-poinds

In another timeline, Julian Assange may have enjoyed long walks with Edward Snowden by the Patriarch Ponds in Moscow.

Imagine that you are a dissident at risk of extradition to a jilted superpower, whose secrets you just spilled for the entire world to gawk at, and you happen to be caught up in the capital of one of its vassal states.

What do? Which Embassy do you pick?

map-us-rogues-and-lackeys

Map of how often countries vote with the US at the UN.

One of your first, more elementary considerations should be that your target country would actually be willing to give you political asylum. This rules out pretty much the entire West, and America’s various vassal states in the Third World. This is the relatively easy part, and few go wrong here. Though there are exceptions. I am reminded of a particularly dim MI6 agent who tried to sell UK intelligence secrets to… the Netherlands. But say what you will of him – Assange is mostly certainly not stupid.

Second, it should be a powerful, politically stable country. For instance, Russia has never extradited Western spies back to their homelands, even during the Americanophile 1990s under Yeltsin. In contrast, while much of Latin America might be run by American-skeptical leftists these days, they have a habit of veering sharply to the right, which tends to be highly subservient to the United States there. Ecuador narrowly avoided that in 2017, when the neoliberal Guillermo Lasso – who had promised to evict Assange – was defeated by Lenin Moreno, who promised to continue Correa’s policies. But Ecuador is a small country, vulnerable to outside pressure, and in any case, as has already long been clear, Moreno is not so committed to the anti-imperialist struggle as his predecessor.

Third, it should preferably have a physically big embassy. You are potentially going to be spending a lot of time there, and being confined to a small room for years on end will be comfortable neither for you, nor for your hosts. It will be like going to prison anyway, if with more dignity. Moreover, should you get a serious medical issue, you will be in a real pickle. In fairness, this point is mostly covered by the second requirement, since the more powerful countries also tend to have the bigger Embassies. For instance, Hungary’s Cardinal Mindszenty made the right decision, opting for the US Embassy in the wake of the crushing of the Hungarian Uprising in 1956. He ended up spending 15 years there, but at least his accomodations were reasonably lavish, consisting of two rooms and his own bathroom.

Presumably, the US Embassy was not an option for Assange. So that left China or Russia.

And of these, Russia must have been the better deal. It already had much worse relations with the West in general, and the UK in particular, than China, and was even then considered likelier to stick it to the West. This was seemingly confirmed a year later, when China pressured Edward Snowden to move on from Hong Kong to Russia, to avoid a lengthy extradition battle with the US. Seeking refuge on Russian territory would also not have been as completely ideologically contradictory for a freedom of speech activist. While Russia doesn’t have much to write home about on that front, at least its Internet was more or less entirely free back then.

Hence, my article on August 16, 2012, at the height of the drama over whether Ecuador would give him refuge: “Assange Should Have Picked the Russian Embassy.” In an exchange with the blogger spandrell in the comments, I argued that this was Assange’s own choice, on the basis that his ideological values – which included strong antipathy to “authoritarian conspiracies” – were hardly compatible with the very nature of the Russian secret police state.

Well, more fool me. Julian Assange did try to claim asylum with Russia.

Only problem was: He was refused.

This would be unambiguously confirmed to me several years later by a source who must remain anonymous, but who was in a consummately first hand position to know those details. Russian diplomatic officials were apparently not happy with the decision, but the order was clear and it came from the highest levels of the Russian government. A few months ago, a senior Russia-based journalist who has excellent access to the Kremlin elites told me he heard the same.

In September 2018, AP released an investigation showing that Julian Assange sought, and received, a Russian visa in 2010 thanks to the efforts of Israel Shamir. This happened ten days after Sweden issued a warrant for his arrest over sex crimes charges, and a day after Wikileaks began releasing the US State Department cables. Julian Assange left it too late to go to Russia physically – but he was, at least, exploring this possibility.

So why did Russia, two years later, refuse Assange asylum in their London Embassy? Why did they refuse to harbor the man who was supposed to be their puppet, at least according to the mainstream Western narrative?

Israel Shamir on the pages of this webzine has suggested that it was just a function of Russians’ general suspicion towards “ideologues” of Assange’s calibre:

It is said that Assange was in cahoots with the Russians, that they guided him and provided with the stuff they hacked and even that “Wikileaks is a Front for Russian Intelligence”. As a matter of fact, Russians were extremely hesitant to have anything to do with Assange. They could not believe he was for real. Are you so naïve, they told me, that you do not understand he is a CIA trap? Such people do not exist.

It is a problem of the Russian mind: as a rule, they do not understand and do not trust Western dissidents of Assange’s ilk. They want their western sympathisers to be bought and paid for. Free agents are suspicious in their eyes. God knows there are many people in the West whose opinions roughly coincide with those of the Russians; but the Russians would prefer to buy a journalist off the peg. That’s why RT has had more than its fair share of defectors, that is of broadcasters who denounced RT and went to the Western mass media.

As the AP investigation showed, Israel Shamir may well have been in a better position to know than most of us had hitherto expected (at least assuming he was also privy to the denied asylum request).

Still, perhaps the real explanation is more banal.

Putin, like many in the Russian elite, had started off as an Anglophile, and his strongest relationship with a Western leader during the early years of his rule was with Tony Blair. The Litvinenko Affair and the South Ossetian War had certainly soured relations with the West in general, and Britain in particular, but not in a way that appeared hopeless and permanent, as has increasingly seemed to be the case since 2014. There were hopes that things would go back to normality, and I can only assume that Putin didn’t want to set himself up a headache for the next few years, if not decades.

I suppose he sort of failed at that.

For his part, Assange will have to place his hopes on the British judicial system and its political independence.

Israeli Software Was Used to Track Khashoggi: Snowden

US fugitive whistle-blower Edward Snowden

Israeli Software Was Used to Track Khashoggi: Snowden

November 7, 2018

US whistleblower Edward Snowden has accused the Israel cyber intelligence firm NSO Group Technologies of “selling a digital burglary tool” which he claimed had been used to track Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed in Istanbul last month, according to the Jerusalem Post.

He said in this context that that NSO’s software is not

“just being used for catching criminals and stopping terrorist attacks […] not just for saving lives, but for making money […] such a level of recklessness […] actually starts costing lives.”

Snowden spoke via video conference from an undisclosed location in Russia at an event organized by Tel-Aviv-based strategic, corporate, tech and financial communications firm OH! Orenstein Hoshen.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor, disappeared on October 2 after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he had arrived to obtain the necessary papers for his upcoming wedding.

After more than two weeks of denials, Saudi Arabia acknowledged that the journalist had been killed in a fight inside the consulate.

The Saudi prosecutor general, for his part, admitted that Khashoggi’s murder had been premeditated, with Riyadh claiming that the killing had nothing to do with the Saudi Royal family.

Turkey, which conducts a separate investigation into the matter, said that Khashoggi was assassinated by a hit squad sent from Saudi Arabia specifically for the task.

SourceSputnik

Obama and Osama

EDITOR’S CHOICE | 11.06.2015 | 11:35

 

Since Osama bin Laden’s death 2 May 2011, the official account of the Navy Seals’ raid has been challenged, most recently and cogently by journalist Seymour Hersh, alleging that “Washington’s official account of the hunt for Bin Laden and the raid that led to his death was a lie.” In fact, there have been more “conspiracy-factual theories” about this event than there are on Illuminati. Was OBL there? Was he even alive then? Is he still?

Indeed, mere days after the 9/11/01 attacks, on 18 September, 2001, George Monbiot wrote in the Guardian that “If Osama bin Laden did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him” since “his usefulness to Western governments lies in the power to terrify,” enabling the continuous unleashing of billions of dollars in military spending — on any given day, all year, the Pentagon spends almost $2 billion. No wonder the ghost of Osama rises from Pakistan, from Sudan, from Afghanistan, or from the open ocean. A lie to gin up demand for obscene profits and power? That is easy to believe. The truth? That is tougher to find.

Origins

Since the collapse of the Soviet Era in 1990, America found itself with all its threats seemingly neutralized. War, however, is always great business venture, not only for nation-states but for all manner of military contracting corporations, the gateway to amass profits at rates no legitimate business can produce. Enemies are required–real, imaginary, or manufactured.  In 1995, Ray Moseley wrote in the Chicago Tribune: Could it be that NATO discovered the Islamic threat because, after the demise of communism it desperately needed a new threat to survive as an organization?

Controversial lies in plain sight?

If the Pakistanis were left out of the operation as Obama alleged, where does this leave us with the notions by Pakistani Ex-Spy Chief General Asad Durrani that “ISI probably knew of the al-Qaeda chief’s whereabouts until his death”? The US has underwritten ISI by the $billions for decades. When will the US taxpayer start to wonder about the value of this?

And most interestingly, why has there come no vivid clinical information (rather than verbal claims) about Osama’s DNA, his death-in-combat pictures and his burial. Obama asserted that Osama was given a proper Muslim burial. Says who? Says which Muslim authority? Which Imam was present? Where is it written that proper Islamic burial takes place at sea? Nowhere! It is as if we have settled for a reality that might have scored as a poor episode of 24.

Now what?

Separating fact from fiction is an endless labor. Leaks by Edward Snowden that the NSA actually forced Google and Samsung to allow a Trojan horse to surveil Americans and international citizens shows the ongoing erosion of civil liberties. People are no longer citizens of their nations but instead are often “persons of interest” for entirely legal conduct. Are we an autocracy or a democracy? Dictatorial regimes like Saudi Arabia have been massively supported under the banner of ‘ally’ despite their bad record on human rights and governance issues. In fact today’s war on terrorism has played the total replica of the much worse unending, unfinished Cold War. We support state terrorists in the name of opposing non-state terrorists.

Whether events surrounding Osama death were a spoof or as Seal Team 6 claimed, questions continue and the US seems arrogantly proud of its “global manhunting machine.” Osama’s ghost has not rested. Seymour M. Hersh notes, “Obama today is not facing re-election as he was in the spring of 2011. His principled stand on behalf of the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran says much, as does his decision to operate without the support of the conservative Republicans in Congress. High-level lying nevertheless remains the modus operandi of US policy, along with secret prisons, drone attacks, Special Forces night raids, bypassing the chain of command, and cutting out those who might say no.” In 1969, Hersh was the young investigative journalist who broke the story of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam after the Army covered it up and lied consistently about it; he is still on point today.

Whatever happened to Osama bin Laden, his ghost may be found in the spirit of ISIS and all other US enemies, real and imaginary, urging the US empire to crack its hull on the rocks of war and militarism and join him in a watery, bloody grave. Will we let bin Laden’s ghost have the last laugh?

Ibrahim Bahati, counterpunch.org

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian   

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Blog!

‘To topple or not to topple, that is the question!’

Via FLC

“… Sir John told the Financial Times that the lesson of Afghanistan and Iraq was that a government can be toppled in months but it then takes years to rebuild the country.He said: “If you decide not to [rebuild], as we did in Libya, partly because of the scars from Iraq, then you topple the government and you end up having nothing in its place.”And if you don’t intervene at all, you end up with a situation like you have in Syria. These are real dilemmas.”…”

Snowden on the darkest corners of US govt.

No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Security State by Glenn Greenwald, published by Metropolitan Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.

 No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Security State by Glenn Greenwald, published by Metropolitan Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.

Tue May 13, 2014 2:4PM GMT


This essay is a shortened and adapted version of Chapter 1 of Glenn Greenwald’s new book, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Security State, and appears at TomDispatch.com with the kind permission of Metropolitan Books.]

On December 1, 2012, I received my first communication from Edward Snowden, although I had no idea at the time that it was from him.

The contact came in the form of an email from someone calling himself Cincinnatus, a reference to Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, the Roman farmer who, in the fifth century BC, was appointed dictator of Rome to defend the city against attack. He is most remembered for what he did after vanquishing Rome’s enemies: he immediately and voluntarily gave up political power and returned to farming life. Hailed as a “model of civic virtue,” Cincinnatus has become a symbol of the use of political power in the public interest and the worth of limiting or even relinquishing individual power for the greater good.

The email began: “The security of people’s communications is very important to me,” and its stated purpose was to urge me to begin using PGP encryption so that “Cincinnatus” could communicate things in which, he said, he was certain I would be interested. Invented in 1991, PGP stands for “pretty good privacy.” It has been developed into a sophisticated tool to shield email and other forms of online communications from surveillance and hacking.

In this email, “Cincinnatus” said he had searched everywhere for my PGP “public key,” a unique code set that allows people to receive encrypted email, but could not find it. From this, he concluded that I was not using the program and told me, “That puts anyone who communicates with you at risk. I’m not arguing that every communication you are involved in be encrypted, but you should at least provide communicants with that option.”

“Cincinnatus” then referenced the sex scandal of General David Petraeus, whose career-ending extramarital affair with journalist Paula Broadwell was discovered when investigators found Google emails between the two. Had Petraeus encrypted his messages before handing them over to Gmail or storing them in his drafts folder, he wrote, investigators would not have been able to read them. “Encryption matters, and it is not just for spies and philanderers.”

“There are people out there you would like to hear from,” he added, “but they will never be able to contact you without knowing their messages cannot be read in transit.” Then he offered to help me install the program.  He signed off: “Thank you. C.”

Using encryption software was something I had long intended to do. I had been writing for years about WikiLeaks, whistleblowers, the hacktivist collective known as Anonymous, and had also communicated with people inside the U.S. national security establishment. Most of them are concerned about the security of their communications and preventing unwanted monitoring. But the program is complicated, especially for someone who had very little skill in programming and computers, like me. So it was one of those things I had never gotten around to doing.

C.’s email did not move me to action. Because I had become known for covering stories the rest of the media often ignores, I frequently hear from all sorts of people offering me a “huge story,” and it usually turns out to be nothing. And at any given moment I am usually working on more stories than I can handle. So I need something concrete to make me drop what I’m doing in order to pursue a new lead.

Three days later, I heard from C. again, asking me to confirm receipt of the first email. This time I replied quickly. “I got this and am going to work on it. I don’t have a PGP code, and don’t know how to do that, but I will try to find someone who can help me.”

C. replied later that day with a clear, step-by-step guide to PGP: Encryption for Dummies, in essence. At the end of the instructions, he said these were just “the barest basics.” If I couldn’t find anyone to walk me through the system, he added, “let me know. I can facilitate contact with people who understand crypto almost anywhere in the world.”

This email ended with more a pointed sign-off: “Cryptographically yours, Cincinnatus.”

Despite my intentions, I did nothing, consumed as I was at the time with other stories, and still unconvinced that C. had anything worthwhile to say.

In the face of my inaction, C. stepped up his efforts. He produced a 10-minute video entitled PGP for Journalists.

It was at that point that C., as he later told me, became frustrated. “Here am I,” he thought, “ready to risk my liberty, perhaps even my life, to hand this guy thousands of Top Secret documents from the nation’s most secretive agency — a leak that will produce dozens if not hundreds of huge journalistic scoops. And he can’t even be bothered to install an encryption program.”

That’s how close I came to blowing off one of the largest and most consequential national security leaks in U.S. history.

 

“He’s Real”

The next I heard of any of this was 10 weeks later. On April 18th, I flew from my home in Rio de Janeiro to New York, and saw on landing at JFK Airport, that I had an email from Laura Poitras, the documentary filmmaker. “Any chance you’ll be in the U.S. this coming week?” she wrote. “I’d love to touch base about something, though best to do in person.”

I take seriously any message from Laura Poitras. I replied immediately: “Actually, just got to the U.S. this morning… Where are you?” We arranged a meeting for the next day in the lobby at my hotel and found seats in the restaurant. At Laura’s insistence, we moved tables twice before beginning our conversation to be sure that nobody could hear us. Laura then got down to business. She had an “extremely important and sensitive matter” to discuss, she said, and security was critical.

First, though, Laura asked that I either remove the battery from my cell phone or leave it in my hotel room. “It sounds paranoid,” she said, but the government has the capability to activate cell phones and laptops remotely as eavesdropping devices. I’d heard this before from transparency activists and hackers but tended to write it off as excess caution.  After discovering that the battery on my cell phone could not be removed, I took it back to my room, then returned to the restaurant.

Now Laura began to talk. She had received a series of anonymous emails from someone who seemed both honest and serious. He claimed to have access to some extremely secret and incriminating documents about the U.S. government spying on its own citizens and on the rest of the world. He was determined to leak these documents to her and had specifically requested that she work with me on releasing and reporting on them.

Laura then pulled several pages out of her purse from two of the emails sent by the anonymous leaker, and I read them at the table from start to finish. In the second of the emails, the leaker got to the crux of what he viewed as his mission:

The shock of this initial period [after the first revelations] will provide the support needed to build a more equal internet, but this will not work to the advantage of the average person unless science outpaces law. By understanding the mechanisms through which our privacy is violated, we can win here. We can guarantee for all people equal protection against unreasonable search through universal laws, but only if the technical community is willing to face the threat and commit to implementing over-engineered solutions. In the end, we must enforce a principle whereby the only way the powerful may enjoy privacy is when it is the same kind shared by the ordinary: one enforced by the laws of nature, rather than the policies of man.

“He’s real,” I said when I finished reading. “I can’t explain exactly why, but I just feel intuitively that this is serious, that he’s exactly who he says he is.”

“So do I,” Laura replied. “I have very little doubt.”

I instinctively recognized the author’s political passion. I felt a kinship with our correspondent, with his worldview, and with the sense of urgency that was clearly consuming him.

In one of the last passages, Laura’s correspondent wrote that he was completing the final steps necessary to provide us with the documents. He needed another four to six weeks, and we should wait to hear from him.

Three days later, Laura and I met again, and with another email from the anonymous leaker, in which he explained why he was willing to risk his liberty, to subject himself to the high likelihood of a very lengthy prison term, in order to disclose these documents. Now I was even more convinced: our source was for real, but as I told my partner, David Miranda, on the flight home to Brazil, I was determined to put the whole thing out of my mind. “It may not happen. He could change his mind. He could get caught.” David is a person of powerful intuition, and he was weirdly certain. “It’s real. He’s real. It’s going to happen,” he declared. “And it’s going to be huge.”

 

“I Have Only One Fear”   

A message from Laura told me we needed to speak urgently, but only through OTR (off-the-record) chat, an encrypted instrument for talking online securely.

Her news was startling: we might have to travel to Hong Kong immediately to meet our source. I had assumed that our anonymous source was in Maryland or northern Virginia. What was someone with access to top-secret U.S. government documents doing in Hong Kong?  What did Hong Kong have to do with any of this?

Answers would only come from the source himself. He was upset by the pace of things thus far, and it was critical that I speak to him directly, to assure him and placate his growing concerns. Within an hour, I received an email from Verax@******. Verax means “truth teller” in Latin. The subject line read, “Need to talk.”

“I’ve been working on a major project with a mutual friend of ours,” the email began. “You recently had to decline short-term travel to meet with me. You need to be involved in this story,” he wrote. “Is there any way we can talk on short notice? I understand you don’t have much in the way of secure infrastructure, but I’ll work around what you have.” He suggested that we speak via OTR and provided his user name.

My computer sounded a bell-like chime, signaling that the source had signed on. Slightly nervous, I clicked on his name and typed “hello.” He answered, and I found myself speaking directly to someone who I assumed had, at that point, revealed a number of secret documents about U.S. surveillance programs and who wanted to reveal more.

“I’m willing to do what I have to do to report this,” I said. The source — whose name, place of employment, age, and all other attributes were still unknown to me — asked if I would come to Hong Kong to meet him. I did not ask why he was there; I wanted to avoid appearing to be fishing for information and I assumed his situation was delicate. Whatever else was true, I knew that this person had resolved to carry out what the U.S. government would consider a very serious crime.

“Of course I’ll come to Hong Kong,” I said.

We spoke online that day for two hours, talking at length about his goal. I knew from the emails Laura had shown me that he felt compelled to tell the world about the massive spying apparatus the U.S. government was secretly building. But what did he hope to achieve?

“I want to spark a worldwide debate about privacy, Internet freedom, and the dangers of state surveillance,” he said. “I’m not afraid of what will happen to me. I’ve accepted that my life will likely be over from my doing this. I’m at peace with that. I know it’s the right thing to do.” He then said something startling: “I want to identify myself as the person behind these disclosures. I believe I have an obligation to explain why I’m doing this and what I hope to achieve.” He told me he had written a document that he wanted to post on the Internet when he outed himself as the source, a pro-privacy, anti-surveillance manifesto for people around the world to sign, showing that there was global support for protecting privacy.

“I only have one fear in doing all of this,” he said, which is “that people will see these documents and shrug, that they’ll say, ‘We assumed this was happening and don’t care.’ The only thing I’m worried about is that I’ll do all this to my life for nothing.”

“I seriously doubt that will happen,” I assured him, but I wasn’t convinced I really believed that. I knew from my years of writing about NSA abuses that it can be hard to generate serious concern about secret state surveillance.

This felt different, but before I took off for Hong Kong, I wanted to see some documents so that I understood the types of disclosures the source was prepared to make.

I then spent a couple of days online as the source walked me through, step by step, how to install and use the programs I would need to see the documents.

I kept apologizing for my lack of proficiency, for having to take hours of his time to teach me the most basic aspects of secure communication. “No worries,” he said, “most of this makes little sense. And I have a lot of free time right now.”

Once the programs were all in place, I received a file containing roughly twenty-five documents: “Just a very small taste: the tip of the tip of the iceberg,” he tantalizingly explained.

I unzipped the file, saw the list of documents, and randomly clicked on one of them. At the top of the page in red letters, a code appeared: “TOP SECRET//COMINT/NO FORN/.”

This meant the document had been legally designated top secret, pertained to communications intelligence (COMINT), and was not for distribution to foreign nationals, including international organizations or coalition partners (NO FORN). There it was with incontrovertible clarity: a highly confidential communication from the NSA, one of the most secretive agencies in the world’s most powerful government. Nothing of this significance had ever been leaked from the NSA, not in all the six-decade history of the agency. I now had a couple dozen such items in my possession. And the person I had spent hours chatting with over the last two days had many, many more to give me.

As Laura and I arrived at JFK Airport to board a Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong, Laura pulled a thumb drive out of her backpack. “Guess what this is?” she asked with a look of intense seriousness.

“What?”

“The documents,” she said. “All of them.”

 

“README_FIRST”

For the next 16 hours, despite my exhaustion, I did nothing but read, feverishly taking notes on document after document. One of the first I read was an order from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court, which had been created by Congress in 1978, after the Church Committee discovered decades of abusive government eavesdropping. The idea behind its formation was that the government could continue to engage in electronic surveillance, but to prevent similar abuse, it had to obtain permission from the FISA court before doing so. I had never seen a FISA court order before. Almost nobody had. The court is one of the most secretive institutions in the government. All of its rulings are automatically designated top secret, and only a small handful of people are authorized to access its decisions.

The ruling I read on the plane to Hong Kong was amazing for several reasons. It ordered Verizon Business to turn over to the NSA “all call detail records” for “communications (i) between the United States and abroad; and (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.” That meant the NSA was secretly and indiscriminately collecting the telephone records of tens of millions of Americans, at least. Virtually nobody had any idea that the Obama administration was doing any such thing. Now, with this ruling, I not only knew about it but had the secret court order as proof.

Only now did I feel that I was beginning to process the true magnitude of the leak. I had been writing for years about the threat posed by unconstrained domestic surveillance; my first book, published in 2006, warned of the lawlessness and radicalism of the NSA. But I had struggled against the great wall of secrecy shielding government spying: How do you document the actions of an agency so completely shrouded in multiple layers of official secrecy? At this moment, the wall had been breached. I had in my possession documents that the government had desperately tried to hide. I had evidence that would indisputably prove all that the government had done to destroy the privacy of Americans and people around the world.

In 16 hours of barely interrupted reading, I managed to get through only a small fraction of the archive. But as the plane landed in Hong Kong, I knew two things for certain. First, the source was highly sophisticated and politically astute, evident in his recognition of the significance of most of the documents. He was also highly rational. The way he chose, analyzed, and described the thousands of documents I now had in my possession proved that. Second, it would be very difficult to deny his status as a classic whistleblower. If disclosing proof that top-level national security officials lied outright to Congress about domestic spying programs doesn’t make one indisputably a whistleblower, then what does?

Shortly before landing, I read one final file. Although it was entitled “README_FIRST,” I saw it for the first time only at the very end of the flight. This message was an explanation from the source for why he had chosen to do what he did and what he expected to happen as a result — and it included one fact that the others did not: the source’s name.

“I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions, and that the return of this information to the public marks my end. I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon, and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed for even an instant. If you seek to help, join the open source community and fight to keep the spirit of the press alive and the internet free. I have been to the darkest corners of government, and what they fear is light.

Edward Joseph Snowden, SSN: *****

CIA Alias “***** ”

Agency Identification Number: *****

Former Senior Advisor | United States National Security Agency, under corporate cover

Former Field Officer | United States Central Intelligence Agency, under diplomatic cover

Former Lecturer | United States Defense Intelligence Agency, under corporate cover”

—–

Excerpted and adapted from No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Security State by Glenn Greenwald, published by Metropolitan Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.

AN/ISH

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