Nation Security Agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden is sweeping the September cover of Wired, which published an exclusive interview and photo shoot with “the most wanted man in the world” and revealed an NSA weapon capable of setting off a global cyber-arms race.
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During the interview Snowden explained a previously unrevealed NSA cyber weapon called “MonsterMind,” which has the capability to detect incoming cyber attacks and retaliate automatically without any human supervision. Such a program has dangerous global reactionary implications, according to Snowden, who said such cyber-attacks are often routed through computers inside innocent and unsuspecting third-party countries.
“These attacks can be spoofed,” Snowden said. “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?”
Beyond the possibility of mutually assured cyber-destruction, Snowden explained that for the weapon to work, the signals intelligence agency would have to compromise the privacy of “virtually all private communications coming in from overseas to people in the U.S.”
“The argument is that the only way we can identify these malicious traffic flows and respond to them is if we’re analyzing all traffic flows,” Snowden said. “And if we’re analyzing all traffic flows, that means we have to be intercepting all traffic flows. That means violating the Fourth Amendment, seizing private communications without a warrant, without probable cause or even a suspicion of wrongdoing. For everyone, all the time.”
Snowden went on to criticize his former employer and alleged he took far fewer documents than the 1.7 million touted by government officials. The whistle-blower explained he purposefully left a digital trail for officials to figure out exactly what he took, but didn’t realize “they would be completely incapable” of doing so.
“I think they think there’s a smoking gun in there that would be the death of them all politically,” Snowden said of the documents he leaked, most of which he claims he never read. “The fact that the government’s investigation failed — that they don’t know what was taken and that they keep throwing out these ridiculous huge numbers — implies to me that somewhere in their damage assessment they must have seen something that was like, ‘Holy shit.’ And they think it’s still out there.”
The whistle-blower also revealed that the NSA was responsible for the total Internet blackout in Syria in 2012, which resulted from an NSA attempt to hack a router belonging to a major Syrian service provider and intercept web traffic like email from the majority of the country. The attempt backfired and bricked the router, rendering all of Syria without Internet access — a key tool used by Syrian rebels to share tactical information and organize against the Assad regime currently in power.
Snowden wouldn’t comment on whether his leaks had inspired others within the U.S. intelligence community to blow the whistle, as government officials recently asserted in a CNN report, but said the ongoing leaks highlight the agency’s ongoing inept security — even after the biggest intelligence leak in U.S. history.
“They still haven’t fixed their problems. They still have negligent auditing, they still have things going for a walk, and they have no idea where they’re coming from and they have no idea where they’re going,” Snowden said. “And if that’s the case, how can we as the public trust the NSA with all of our information, with all of our private records, the permanent record of our lives?”