Everything We Learned From Edward Snowden in 2013

Leaks from the fugitive former NSA contractor told us a lot about the scope of America’s Internet and phone surveillance powers. We could learn even more in 2014.

The U.S. and Britain spied on OPEC, according to documents released by Edward Snowden.
National Journal
Dustin Volz
Dec. 31, 2013, 1 a.m.

He didn’t win Time‘s Per­son of the Year award or rank in Google’s year-end list of top searches, but Ed­ward Snowden re­peatedly dom­in­ated Wash­ing­ton’s policy con­ver­sa­tion in 2013 — and he did it without ever set­ting foot here.

Be­gin­ning in June, Snowden’s leaks de­tail­ing the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency’s vast data col­lec­tion pro­grams promp­ted a seem­ingly end­less tor­rent of ex­posés in ma­jor pub­lic­a­tions around the world. The dis­clos­ures not only re­veal the size of the NSA’s phone and In­ter­net metadata drag­net, but the at-times cava­lier ar­rog­ance with which agency ana­lysts boast about their sur­veil­lance muscle.

The 30-year-old fu­git­ive now has all three branches of U.S. gov­ern­ment dis­cuss­ing the need for sur­veil­lance re­form, and many for­eign heads of state ques­tion­ing how much they can trust Pres­id­ent Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

So what, ex­actly, did we learn from Snowden this year? Here’s an abridged re­count of the ma­jor rev­el­a­tions:

  • June 5: Ve­r­i­zon on “an on­go­ing, daily basis” provides the NSA in­form­a­tion on tele­phone calls with­in the U.S. and between the U.S. and oth­er coun­tries. (The Guard­i­an)

  • June 6: A secret pro­gram known as PRISM that began in 2007 col­lects for­eign com­mu­nic­a­tions traffic from the serv­ers of nine lead­ing U.S. In­ter­net com­pan­ies, namely Mi­crosoft, Google, Ya­hoo, Face­book, PayTalk, You­Tube, Skype, AOL, and Apple. (The Wash­ing­ton Post)

  • Ju­ly 31: XKey­score, the NSA’s self-de­scribed “widest-reach­ing” in­tel­li­gence sys­tem, is a soft­ware tool that al­lows ana­lysts, re­portedly without au­thor­iz­a­tion, to search through enorm­ous data­bases con­tain­ing emails, on­line chats, and the brows­ing his­tor­ies of mil­lions of in­di­vidu­als. (The Guard­i­an)

  • Aug. 29: The gov­ern­ment’s top-secret “black budget” de­tails the al­loc­a­tion in fisc­al 2013 of $52.6 bil­lion for 16 fed­er­al spy agen­cies that com­prise the U.S. in­tel­li­gence com­munity. (The Wash­ing­ton Post)

  • Oct. 30: In tan­dem with the Brit­ish Gov­ern­ment Com­mu­nic­a­tions Headquar­ters, a pro­gram known as MUS­CU­LAR secretly in­filt­rates and cop­ies data flows across fiber-op­tic cables trans­port­ing in­form­a­tion among data cen­ters of Ya­hoo and Google. (The Wash­ing­ton Post)

  • Nov. 26: The NSA gath­ers re­cords of on­line sexu­al activ­ity and vis­its to porn sites in an ef­fort to dis­cred­it the repu­ta­tions of those be­lieved to be ji­hadist rad­ic­al­izers. (Huff­ing­ton Post)

  • Dec. 4: The NSA is track­ing 5 bil­lion re­cords a day that mon­it­or the loc­a­tion of cell phones around the world. “In scale, scope and po­ten­tial im­pact on pri­vacy, the ef­forts to col­lect and ana­lyze loc­a­tion data may be un­sur­passed among the NSA sur­veil­lance pro­grams.” (The Wash­ing­ton Post)

  • Dec. 9: Agents work­ing for the NSA and Bri­tain’s GCHQ are in­filt­rat­ing the vir­tu­al real­it­ies of on­line video games such as World of War­craft and Second Life in an ef­fort to catch and foil pos­sible ter­ror­ist plots. (The New York Times)

  • Dec. 10: The NSA uses Google-ac­quired “cook­ies,” re­lied upon by In­ter­net ad­vert­isers to track pref­er­ences of con­sumers, to loc­ate tar­gets for hack­ing. (The Wash­ing­ton Post)

  • Dec. 20: The NSA paid RSA, a large com­puter se­cur­ity firm, $10 mil­lion to build and pro­mote a flawed en­cryp­tion sys­tem that left open a “back door” through which the agency’s in­tel­li­gence ana­lysts could ac­cess data on com­puters around the world. (Re­u­ters)

The flurry of new de­tails that emerged in Decem­ber in­dic­ate even more Snowden-fueled ex­poses could be com­ing in 2014. The slow bleed this far has been, at least in part, de­lib­er­ate. Former Guard­i­an journ­al­ist Glenn Gre­en­wald, who is one of Snowden’s ori­gin­al con­fid­ants, said in an in­ter­view earli­er this year that he hit the brakes on Snowden leaks after writ­ing or help­ing to pub­lish five stor­ies on five con­sec­ut­ive days in June.

“Even our al­lies were say­ing, ‘Look, this is too much in­form­a­tion. We can’t keep up with what you’re pub­lish­ing,’ ” Gre­en­wald said.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4615) }}

What We're Following See More »
Brent Crude Rises Above $50/Barrel
58 minutes ago

"Brent crude rose above $50 a barrel for the first time in more than six months as a decline in U.S. stockpiles accelerated a rebound from a 12-year low. Futures climbed as much as 1.1 percent in London to $50.26, the highest intraday price since Nov. 4, after climbing 2.9 percent the previous two sessions. U.S. inventories shrank more than expected last week, government data showed, while supplies have also been curtailed in Nigeria, Venezuela and Canada."

Rick Wiley Bolts the Trump Campaign
1 hours ago

"Donald Trump on Wednesday parted ways with Rick Wiley, his national political director, just six weeks after the Republican operative joined the campaign." Wiley joined just six weeks ago, as Trump said he would be a "tremendous asset as we enter the final phase." But yesterday, Trump said in a statement that "hired on a short-term basis as a consultant."

Bill Would Reward Gov’t Employees for Ratting Out Waste and Abuse
1 hours ago

A bill that would "pay awards of up to $10,000 to federal workers who identify waste" cleared committee yesterday and is headed to the Senate floor. “I think it’s trying to align incentives in the government the way we do in the private marketplace,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who sponsored the bill along with Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA).

Trump Jr. Meeting with GOP Members
15 hours ago
Ryan Not Endorsing Trump Just Yet
20 hours ago