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Edward Snowden Interview: The NSA and Its Willing Helpers – Der Spiegel


Snowden: Yes, of course. We’re 1 in bed together with the Germans the same as with most other Western countries. For example, we 2 tip them off when someone we want is flying through their airports (that we for example, have learned from the cell phone of a suspected hacker’s girlfriend in a totally unrelated third country — and they hand them over to us. They 3 don’t ask to justify how we know something, and vice versa, to insulate their political leaders from the backlash of knowing how grievously they’re violating global privacy.

Interviewer: But if details about this system are now exposed, who will be charged?

Snowden: In front of US courts? I’m not sure if you’re serious. An investigation found the specific people who authorized the warrantless wiretapping of millions and millions of communications, which per count would have resulted in the longest sentences in world history, and our highest official simply demanded the investigation be halted. Who “can” be brought up on charges is immaterial when the rule of law is not respected. Laws are meant for you, not for them.

Interviewer: Does the NSA partner with other nations, like Israel?

Snowden: Yes. All the time. The NSA has a massive body responsible for this: FAD, the Foreign Affairs Directorate.

Interviewer: Did the NSA help to create Stuxnet? (Stuxnet is the computer worm that was deployed against the Iranian nuclear program.)

Snowden: NSA and Israel co-wrote it.

Interviewer: What are some of the big surveillance programs that are active today and how do international partners aid the NSA?

Snowden: In some cases, the so-called Five Eye Partners 4 go beyond what NSA itself does. For instance, the UK’s General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has a system called TEMPORA. TEMPORA is the signals intelligence community’s first “full-take” Internet buffer that doesn’t care about content type and pays only marginal attention to the Human Rights Act. It snarfs everything, in a rolling buffer to allow retroactive investigation without missing a single bit. Right now the buffer can hold three days of traffic, but that’s being improved. Three days may not sound like much, but remember that that’s not metadata. “Full-take” means it doesn’t miss anything, and ingests the entirety of each circuit’s capacity. If you send a single ICMP packet 5 and it routes through the UK, we get it. If you download something and the CDN (Content Delivery Network) happens to serve from the UK, we get it. If your sick daughter’s medical records get processed at a London call center … well, you get the idea.

Interviewer: Is there a way of circumventing that?

Snowden: As a general rule, so long as you have any choice at all, you should never route through or peer with the UK under any circumstances. Their fibers are radioactive, and even the Queen’s selfies to the pool boy get logged.

Interviewer: Do the NSA and its partners across the globe do full dragnet data collection for telephone calls, text and data?

Snowden: Yes, but how much they get depends on the capabilities of the individual collection sites — i.e., some circuits have fat pipes but tiny collection systems, so they have to be selective. This is more of a problem for overseas collection sites than domestic 6 ones, which is what makes domestic collection so terrifying. NSA isn’t limited by power, space and cooling PSC constraints.

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