Contractor revealed as source of NSA leaks

The Guardian newspaper in London says a 29-year-old American who works as a contractor at the National Security Agency (NSA) is its source of leaks about the US government’s surveillance programmes.

Contractor revealed as source of NSA leaks

The newspaper said it was revealing Edward Snowden’s identify at his own request.

Snowden is quoted as saying “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong”.

The Guardian says Snowden is now in Hong Kong and that he views his best hope for the future as the possibility of asylum, perhaps in Iceland.

The NSA has filed a criminal report with the US justice department in relation to the leaks.

US director of National Intelligence James Clapper on Saturday described the leaks to The Guardian and The Washington Post as “reckless disclosures” of classified material.

Attorney General Eric Holder’s office was called upon to identify the leaker of sensitive information when on Saturday, the super-secret NSA filed a report requesting a criminal investigation.

President Barack Obama ordered Holder last month to review justice department procedures for handling media cases, leading Holder to conduct a series of private meetings with news executives and lawyers.

Those sessions focused on two justice department leak inquiries that brought an outcry after media records were seized without advance notice and one reporter was labelled a criminal co-conspirator in documents seeking his records.

Clapper on Saturday aggressively defended secret US data collection, blasting The Guardian and The Post for disclosing the highly classified spy agency project code-named Prism.

“It will be an interesting chance to see if the justice department has learned anything,” said Gregg Leslie, legal defence director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Even after The Guardian unveiled its exclusive story on the court order, Holder was reassuring news outlets on Thursday that he would not prosecute working reporters for doing their jobs.

But the publication of NSA materials — and Clapper’s strong condemnation of it — puts Holder back in the position of having to evaluate whether the leaks compromised valuable sources of information used to protect the public.

Sweeping up your data in preparation for war

An email, a telephone call or even the murmur of a conversation captured by the vibration of a window — they’re all part of the data that can be swept up by the sophisticated machinery of the National Security Agency.

The super-secret agency is under the spotlight after last week’s revelations of two surveillance programmes. One involves the sweeping collection of hundreds of millions of phone records of US customers. The second collects audio, video, email, photographic, and internet search usage of foreign nationals overseas — and probably some Americans in the process — who use major online companies such as Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Yahoo.

NSA was founded in 1952. Only years later was the NSA publicly acknowledged, which explains its nickname, “No Such Agency”.

“NSA is the elephant of the US intelligence community, the biggest organisation by far with the most capability and (literally) the most memory,” said former CIA official Bruce Riedel.

NSA’s experts include mathematicians and cryptologists. There are also computer hackers who engage in offensive attacks like the one the US and Israel are widely believed to have been part of, planting the Stuxnet virus into Iranian nuclear hardware, damaging Iran’s nuclear development programme in 2010.

Then there are “siginters”, the signals intelligence experts who go to war zones to help US troops break through encrypted enemy communications or work with a CIA station chief abroad, helping tap into a foreign country’s phone or computer lines.

“More times than we can count, we’ve made history, without history even knowing we were there,” reads a quote on the NSA’s web page by the current director, Keith Alexander.

The director of national intelligence, James Clapper, said in a statement over the weekend that the NSA’s programmes do not target US citizens. But last week’s revelations show the NSA is allowed to gather US phone calls and emails and to sift through them for information leading to terrorist suspects, as long as a judge signs off. The scope of the information gathered has been called into question, and how long and how much of it is kept.

In an internal article for the NSA, director of compliance John DeLong writes that privacy protections are being written into the technology that sifts the information, “which allows us to augment — not wholly replace — human safeguards”. The NSA also uses “technology to record and review our activities... Sometimes, where appropriate, we even embed legal and policy guidance directly into our IT architecture.”

What that means is that the data sifting is mostly done not by humans, but by computers. “Through software, you can search for key words and key phrases linking a communication to a particular group or individual that would fire it off to individual agencies that have interest in it,” just like Amazon or Google scans millions of emails and purchases to track consumer preferences, explained Ronald Marks, a former CIA official and author of Spying in America in the Post 9/11 World.

Another way counter-terrorist officials try to protect US citizens is through centres where operators from the military, CIA, NSA, FBI, treasury, and others sit side by side.

“When information gets sent to the CIA that shouldn’t, it gets destroyed, and a note sent back to NSA saying, ‘You shouldn’t have sent that’,” Marks said.

“Mistakes get made, but my own experience on the inside of it is, they tend to be really careful about it.”

Analysts need that level of detail because they are no longer looking for large networks, but small cells or individuals that carry out “lone wolf” attacks, as the Boston Marathon bombing is thought to have been.

“If we are going to fight a war or low intensity conflict that has gone down to the level of individual attacks by cells one or two people, if you are looking for total risk management, this is the kind of thing you’re going to have to do,” Marks said.

‘Law abiders have nothing to fear’

Law-abiding Britons have “nothing to fear” from state surveillance, the UK foreign secretary William Hague said yesterday as he sought to calm concerns over the US government’s secret monitoring of internet users.

The opposition Labour party has demanded clarification of reports that Britain’s electronic eavesdropping agency GCHQ had used the US data and in doing so, may have circumvented British legal processes.

Hague said: “What people need to know is that intelligence gathering in this country by the United Kingdom is governed by a very strong legal framework, so that we get the balance right between the liberties and the privacy of people and the security of the country.”

He added: “If you are a law-abiding citizen of this country, going about your business and your personal life, you have nothing to fear.

“Nothing to fear about the British state or intelligence agents listening to the contents of your phone -calls or anything like that.”

Hague said it was right, however, that parliament’s intelligence and security committee was taking a fresh look at GCHQ’s activities, and said he would make a statement to the House of Commons.

Unease over the clandestine US data collection program has also rippled across the Pacific to two of Washington’s major allies, Australia and New Zealand, raising concerns about whether they have cooperated with secret electronic data mining.

Both Canberra and Wellington share intelligence with the United States, as well as Britain and Canada.

But both Pacific neighbours now face awkward questions about a US digital surveillance programme that Washington says is aimed primarily at foreigners.

In Australia, the conservative opposition said it was “very troubled” by America’s so-called PRISM programme.

The opposition, poised to win September elections, said it was concerned that data stored by Australians in the computer servers of US Internet giants such as Facebook and Google could be accessed by the NSA, echoing fears voiced in Europe last week over the reach of US digital surveillance in the age of cloud computing.

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