The campaign waged by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) to undermine all Internet privacy and security goes far beyond even what was previously revealed.
In the latest top secret documents revealed by Edward Snowden, it is also revealed that the agencies consider ordinary citizens “adversaries.”
Some of the most noteworthy aspects of the latest documents, reported on by The Guardian, Pro Publica and The New York Times include:
- This year alone, $254.9 million was allocated to a program that “actively engages US and foreign IT industries to covertly influence and/or overtly leverage their commercial products’ designs.” The companies involved in this program are unknown. Previously, tech giants issued cleverly worded denials when confronted with the reports on the PRISM program.
- A 10-year-old NSA program aimed at breaking encryption technologies had a major breakthrough in 2010 when “vast amounts” of data collected through dragnet taps on the world’s fiber-optic cables became newly “exploitable.” An internal memo noted that when British analysts were made aware of the NSA’s program, “Those not already briefed were gobsmacked!”
- The NSA’s capability to break encryption is kept under a thick veil of secrecy. “Do not ask about or speculate on sources or methods,” stated one document aimed at analysts.
- Strong decryption programs are described by the NSA as “price of admission for the US to maintain unrestricted access to and use of cyberspace.” Some of these programs involve brute-force cracking, others involve direct collaboration with technology companies and internet service providers.
- A team at GCHQ has been working on ways to decrypt traffic from Hotmail, Google, Yahoo and Facebook – though it’s worth noting that these companies already reportedly participate in PRISM.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence responded on Friday, claiming that the U.S. intelligence community would be failing at their job if they didn’t seek to crack encryption.
“It should hardly be surprising that our intelligence agencies seek ways to counteract our adversaries’ use of encryption,” the response states.
However, the document clearly refers to the general consumer as an adversary.
“These design changes make the systems in question exploitable through Sigint [signals intelligence] collection […] with foreknowledge of the modification,” the document states. “To the consumer and other adversaries, however, the systems’ security remains intact.”
Unsurprisingly, the response claims that the reports endanger national security by giving a “road map […] to our adversaries.”
Meanwhile, the response nonsensically claims that the reports were also “not news.”
Still the response claims that the stories “reveal specific and classified details about how we conduct this critical intelligence activity. Anything that yesterday’s disclosures add to the ongoing public debate is outweighed by the road map they give to our adversaries about the specific techniques we are using to try to intercept their communications in our attempts to keep America and our allies safe and to provide our leaders with the information they need to make difficult and critical national security decisions.”
The Director of National Intelligence has made similar claims in the past, calling the reports about the NSA’s activities “reckless disclosures.”
Interestingly, The Guardian noted that the three news outlets were asked not to publish their pieces by intelligence officials. While they decided to publish the stories, The Guardian revealed that they did indeed withhold some information.
“The three organizations removed some specific facts but decided to publish the story because of the value of a public debate about government actions that weaken the most powerful tools for protecting the privacy of internet users in the US and worldwide,” The Guardian stated.
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