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Five Surprising Details From Glenn Greenwald's New Book

RTR3KXLZEduardo Munoz/ReutersGlenn Greenwald arrives to the George Polk Awards in New York on April 11, 2014

No Place To Hide is journalist Glenn Greenwald’s book-length account of the biggest leak in the history of U.S. intelligence. While it’s gained attention for its first-hand account of Greenwald’s relationship with NSA leaker Edward Snowden, it has plenty of other eye-catching tidbits. Like:

Snowden’s close brush with George W. Bush. The man who would eventually leak thousands of the most sensitive documents in the entire U.S. government was once “considered the top technical and Cybersecurity expert” among CIA staffers in Switzerland, and “was hand-picked by the CIA to support the president at the 2008 NATO summit in Romania.”

Snowden got a job at Booz Allen Hamilton with the express intent of taking secret documents that he would later leak — months after he first got in touch with Greenwald. “In early 2013, [Snowden] realised that there was one set of documents he needed to complete the picture he wanted to present to the world that he could not access while at Dell. They would be accessible only if he obtained a different position, one where he would be formally assigned as an infrastructure analyst, allowing him to go all the way into the raw surveillance repositories of the NSA,” Greenwald writes. “With this goal in mind, Snowden applied for a job opening in Hawaii with Booz Allen Hamilton…He took a pay cut to get that job, as it gave him access to download the final set of files he felt he needed to complete the picture of NSA spying.” Greenwald writes earlier that Snowden first contacted him on December 1, 2012, weeks before this happened.

PRISM, a program that facilitated the NSA’s access to information collected by various web-based companies, might have been pretty useful. According to an NSA document included in the book, entitled “PRISM Expands Impact: FY12 Metrics,” “reports derived from PRISM collection” were cited in the President’s Daily Brief 1,477 times in 2012, constituting 18% of all signals intelligence reports that made it into the Brief — the highest percentage among any of the NSA’s signals intelligence projects. As the CIA’s website puts it, the Daily Brief is an “all-source publication that the president relies upon heavily to inform his national security decisions.”

While she was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, current National Security Advisor Susan Rice requested the NSA’s help in surveilling diplomats from countries that were “riding the fence” on Iran sanctions. “Ambassador Rice reached out to the NSA requesting SIGINT on those countries so that she could develop a strategy” according to an NSA document from May of 2010. “With the requirement that this be done rapidly and within our legal authorities,” an NSA team “jumped in to work with organisations and partners both internal and external to NSA.”

Greenwald doesn’t seem to the think that Russian state-owned economic assets are fair game for U.S. surveillance. “One remarkable document presented by the NSA and the GCHQ detailed numerous surveillance targets that were plainly economic in nature: Petrobas, the SWIFT banking system, the Russian oil company Gazprom, and the Russian airline Aeroflot.” Greenwald uses this as evidence that “the NSA spies for precisely the economic motive it has denied,” and has an “economic interest” that goes beyond national security. Gazprom, which supplies much of western Europe with natural gas, is widely recognised as an instrument of Russian regional policy, and some might question Greenwald’s characterization of the NSA’s efforts against the company as “economic” in nature.

The Snowden documents address a strange gap in the NSA’s surveillance. Namely, passenger aeroplanes. In 2012, the NSA cooperated with other members of the “Five Eyes” Anglophone intelligence alliance (Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand) to develop Thieving Magpie, a program for intercepting data and telephonic communications originating on airborne commercial flights — a huge technical challenge for the agency, and one of the few holes in the NSA’s capabilities. Greenwald offers no evidence that the program was abused or even operationalized, but mentions Thieving Magpie primarily as an example of the NSA’s alleged “collect it all” mentality.

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