Ed Snowden Taught Me To Smuggle Secrets Past Incredible Danger. Now I Teach You. – The Intercept
I didn’t know it at the time, but I had just been contacted by Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor who was then preparing a momentous leak of government data.
A month earlier, Snowden had anonymously emailed Glenn Greenwald, a Guardian journalist and chronicler of war-on-terror excesses, but Greenwald didn’t use encryption and didn’t have the time to get up to speed, so Snowden moved on. As is now well known, Snowden decided to contact Poitras because she used encryption. But he didn’t have her encryption key, as is necessary to send someone encrypted email, and the key wasn’t posted on the web. Snowden, extraordinarily knowledgeable about how internet traffic is monitored, didn’t want to send her an unencrypted email, even if just to ask for her key. So he needed to find someone he thought he could trust who both had her key and used encrypted email.
That was me.
Tails, the secure system Poitras asked me to get for Greenwald, is serious business. It’s a hardened operating system designed for people who need to be anonymous, and not a lot of people use it. The acronym stands for The Amnesic Incognito Live System. Before Poitras asked me to teach it to Greenwald, I had never used it. Crucially, everything you do in Tails is anonymous. All internet activity is routed through Tor, so by default your privacy is protected. And you run Tails directly off of a DVD or a USB stick — it is not installed on your hard drive. Since Tails operates completely independently from your hard drive and usual operating system, it offers a hefty dose of protection from malware and from anyone who might inspect your computer to look at what you’ve been doing.
It’s also a free software project, just like Tor, GPG, and OTR. That means the code is open source and can be peer reviewed, a level of transparency that makes the software resistant to backdoors, covert access points buried deep in the code.