It will take years to determine the true scope of the leak of the century, when former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden took up to 200,000 documents and fled to Hong Kong.
Since June 6, there has been a flood of news about NSA spying methods and targets, and more revelations may be yet to come.
There are also questions about Snowden himself, including his associations before the leak as well as what happened to him between the time he went rogue and the moment he landed in the jurisdiction of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB).
We have created a graphic to show the most important details about the leaks and the leaker:
Here’s a rundown of the countries that have been identified as major NSA targets:
- The first Snowden leak led to the revelation that the NSA collects records of every U.S. phone call under a call log metadata program. In October, the Washington Post revealed that the spy agency managed to infiltrate the clouds of Google and Yahoo, from which Americans’ data can be collected.
- The NSA’s black budget revealed that the NSA’s top priority targets are China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, and Israel.
- Another document noted that the entire European Union is ranked as a key priority, but the efforts appear to be country specific.
○ Italian magazine L’Expresso reported that the U.S. and U.K. target Italian telecoms.
○ French newspaper Le Monde and Spain’s El Pais reported that Snowden documents showed widespread NSA spying on their citizens, but those reports were disputed by European officials.
- In July, O Globo newspaper reported that the NSA targets communications in Latin America with a focus on Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, and Mexico.
- Multiple reports in October stated that intelligence-collection programs were conducted from Australian Embassies in China, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam.
- The Hindu, which also received Snowden documents, reported that the NSA targeted India.
- NSA collection on Japan is reportedly held at about the same priority as France and Germany.
- The transparency organisation Cryptome aggregated reports and found that in January 2013, the NSA collected 21.98 billion phone calls in Afghanistan, 12.76 billion in Pakistan, 7.8 billion in Iraq, 7.8 billion Saudi Arabia, 1.9 billion in Egypt, 1.73 billion in Iran, and 1.6 billion Jordan.
- The New York Times recently detailed specific spy operations targeting Iran.
And here’s an extended timeline of Snowden’s travels and actions:
- From 2007 to 2009, Snowden worked as a CIA technician in Geneva. He subsequently went to work for Dell as an NSA contractor.
- Around January 2013, he reached out to documentarian Laura Poitras, then in March he began working for Booz Allen in Hawaii, and Poitras said she told Glenn Greenwald about Snowden in April. (According to Greenwald, they began working with Snowden in February.)
- On May 20, Snowden flew from Hawaii to Hong Kong, where he subsequently met Poitras, Greenwald, and Guardian reporter Ewan MacAskill.
- On June 9, Snowden’s identity was revealed in a video filmed by Poitras, and he subsequently went underground.
- On June 11, MacAskill reported that Snowden arrived in Hong Kong “carrying four computers that enabled him to gain access to some of the US government’s most highly-classified secrets.”
- On June 12, Snowden leaked specific IP addresses in China and Hong Kong that the NSA was hacking to the South China Morning Post. Snowden also told SCMP that he intended to leak more documents later.
- On June 23, after he reportedly spent several days in the Russian consulate in Hong Kong, Snowden flew to Moscow with WikiLeaks adviser Sarah Harrison (who had been advising him in Hong Kong).
- On July 12, Snowden retained the services of Anatoly Kucherena, a Russian lawyer employed by the post-KGB Russian Security Services (FSB).
- On July 14, Greenwald told The Associated Press that Snowden “is in possession of literally thousands of documents … that would allow somebody who read them to know exactly how the NSA does what it does, which would in turn allow them to evade that surveillance or replicate it.”
- On Aug. 1, Russia granted Snowden temporary asylum and moved him to a “secure” location.
- On Oct. 31, Snowden met with German Green Party MP Hans-Christian Ströbele. Russian intelligence experts subsequently told the Berlin daily Die Welt that the FSB “organised and monitored Ströbele’s visit to Moscow and effectively used it for its purposes,” as former NSA spy John Schindler put it.
- On Nov. 1, it was reported that NSA chief Keith Alexander recently said Snowden took as many as 200,000 classified documents with him when he left Hawaii.
- On Nov. 8, Kucherena said that Snowden has started his new job at an undisclosed Russian website. He also said that Snowden won’t go to Germany to testify on NSA spying because he “has no right to cross Russian borders.”
All that being said, there’s still a lot we don’t know about the Snowden saga.
Primary questions include: How many NSA documents did he take from Hawaii? How many did he give to the journalists he met in Hong Kong? What happened to Snowden between the time he went underground (June 10) and when he left for Moscow (June 23)? What was Russia’s involvement in Hong Kong given that Snowden reportedly spent his 30th birthday in the Kremlin’s Hong Kong consulate? When did Snowden give up access to the documents he took to China? What, if anything, has China and/or Russia been able to glean from Snowden? Was WikiLeaks involved with Snowden before Harrison met him in Hong Kong? Why would Snowden take 30,000 documents that do not deal with NSA surveillance “but primarily with standard intelligence about other countries’ military capabilities, including weapons systems”?
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