The documents that NSA whistleblower/leaker Edward Snowden stole from the NSA constitute constitute “the instruction manual for how the NSA is built,” Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald told the Associated Press.Greenwald added that the documents “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.”
So now we know why Snowden is Washington’s “worst nightmare” — but the full implications of this are still unclear.
As we have previously reported, citing the book “Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry,” the most closely held secrets by the U.S. “are what we know about everyone else’s secrets and how we came to know them.”
That information is precisely what Snowden carried on four laptops while spending a month in China, and what Greenwald is carrying around with him wherever he goes.
As Greenwald previously said, Snowden “has enough information to cause more harm to the U.S. government in minute than any other person has ever.”
Greenwald has said that the documents have been highly-encrypted so that they don’t leak, but that statement — from a constitutional lawyer who didn’t have encryption software before communicating with Snowden — has not allayed any concerns of intelligence officials and some journalists.
“That stuff is gone,” a former senior U.S. intelligence official who served in Russia told The Washington Post last month. “I guarantee the Chinese intelligence service got their hands on that right away. If they imaged the hard drives and then returned them to him, well, then the Russians have that stuff now.”
Greenwald and Snowden pushed back against assertions such as that one, but the threat of Chinese and/or Russian intelligence remotely lifting that data is real.
Last year China expert Kenneth G. Lieberthal told The New York Times that when travels to that country, he doesn’t bring his mobile phone and laptop. Instead, he brings “loaner” devices, which he erases before he leaves the U.S. and wipes clean the minute he returns.
Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), who chairs of the House Intelligence Committee, also told the Times that he travels “electronically naked.”
And Russ Tice, the original NSA whistleblower who recently claimed that the NSA wiretapped then-Senator Barack Obama in 2004, found it hard to believe that Snowden would carry physical data on him — because of how dumb that would be.
“It would be foolish,” Tice told Business Insider. “If he went out to lunch, the Chinese authorities would be searching his hotel room … to try to see if he had any more physical goodies on the NSA. And if he did, he certainly would not have left Hong Kong with that information without the Hong Kong authorities making sure they got it from him.”
Greenwald contends that “there was never any evidence that this was true,” which is true — but it’s also highly unlikely that Chinese or Russian intelligence would indicate that they copied the data.
Then there is the argument that even if China got the NSA’s secrets, the data itself is highly encrypted. That’s most likely true, but the NSA’s own supercomputers aim to crack the world’s strongest encryption. And China’s top supercomputer is almost twice as powerful as any other in the world.
The bottom line is that no one really knows who has copies of what Snowden took. And, as former intelligence analyst Joshua Foust points out, it appears that Snowden is no longer in control of his situation.
That’s why sources told Reuters that U.S. authorities are operating on a “worst case” assumption that all of the classified material in Snowden’s possession has made its way to one or more adversary intelligence services.
That would be catastrophic for America’s ability to spy, and cause of far greater damage than Snowden ever intended.
Greenwald told the AP that Snowden insisted that the NSA “blueprints” not be made public. But it is not mere speculation to wonder if China and/or Russia could have bested the NSA-trained hacker.
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