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NSA deletes surveillance fact sheet as officials claim leaks help terrorists

Jun 26, 20135 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

Snowden stashed thousands of encrypted documents to be distributed in case something happens to him.

After PRISM backlash, the NSA posted a four-page fact sheet about Section 702 of Foreign Intelligence Survelliance Act (FISA) on the NSA site, describing how US citizens’ communications are protected from NSA spying. Then Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall sent a letter to NSA Director General Keith Alexander, stating that the fact sheet “portrays protections for Americans’ privacy as being significantly stronger than they are.” They called the NSA’s description of “minimization” procedures to protect Americans against privacy intrusions “somewhat misleading.”

Gen. Alexander responded that the requirements governing the NSA’s collection of communications “could have more precisely described.” On Tuesday the NSA fact sheet went poof, although NSA spokeswoman Judith Emmel would not admit the agency had taken it down.

It’s been reported that Edward Snowden distributed encrypted copies of “thousands” of NSA documents around the world to make sure the story will be published in case anything happened to him. Since first communicating with Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian reporter who first published Snowden’s leaks, now encrypts his email for added protection from government surveillance. In an interview with The Daily Beast, Greenwald said:

“When I was in Hong Kong, I spoke to my partner in [Rio de Janeiro, Brazil] via Skype and told him I would send an electronic encrypted copy of the documents. I did not end up doing it. Two days later his laptop was stolen from our house and nothing else was taken. Nothing like that has happened before. I am not saying it’s connected to this, but obviously the possibility exists.”

Greenwald admitted that he would “be shocked if the U.S. government were not trying to access the information on my computer. I carry my computers and data with me everywhere I go.”

The government is continuing to insist that Snowden leaking classified NSA secrets about “the scope and breadth of our abilities and our collection” has harmed the U.S. by helping terrorists change the way they communicate. Unnamed U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials told Fox News, “We are already seeing indications that they are attempting to change their communications behaviors. That is a direct result of what we are seeing in the media. That is a fact.”

The revelations about the NSA’s spying capabilities allegedly help Al-Qaida “improve their security.” Adam Raisman of the SITE Intelligence Group, told NBC, “After the leak, jihadists posted Arabic news articles about it…and recommended fellow jihadists to be very cautious, not to give their real phone number and other such information when registering for a website. They also gave out specific advice, recommending jihadists use privacy-protecting email systems like TOR, also called The Onion Router, to hide their computer’s IP address, and to use encrypted links to access jihadi forums.”

That may be true, but in our happiness after killing Osama Bin Laden, there were thousands of news articles about how he used couriers instead of any electronic communications. So doesn’t that mean terrorist scum learned something valuable then? However, Ambassador James Woolsey, formation director of the CIA, told Morning Joe that the leaked documents “help the terrorist keep us from connecting the dots.” He added that now “they know a lot more about how to plan, how to use telephones and the like. That’s the main problem.”

Ben Venzke of the private analysis firm IntelCenter suggested that “a terrorist who was using Skype to plan an attack might stop using that immediately so as not to expose the imminent operation.” He added, “If the CIA or the FBI was to learn tomorrow that its communications are being monitored, do you think it would be business as usual or do you think they would implement a series of changes over time?”

In the continuation of hammering on Snowden, Gen. Ray Odierno, chief of staff of the Army, claimed that the leaked information, “puts American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines at risk who are overseas conducting operations.” Secretary of State John Kerry added, “people may die as a consequence of what this man did.”

Please don’t let smear jobs and government attempts to make the story about Snowden divert your attention by taking your eye off the ball; the real story is about mass warrantless spying that allows unprecedented assaults on privacy. As Andy Greenberg on Forbes pointed out, don’t get so caught up in the where-in-the-world-is-Snowden drama to lose sight of “the real story: the biggest global privacy scandal of the decade.”

Like this? Here’s more posts:

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  • It’s hitting the fan: Anger mounts over PRISM, NSA spying scandals
  • Reporters threatened with CFAA, labeled hackers for finding security hole
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  • Schools scan students’ irises, then notify parents of opt out choice afterward
  • Rule of 7 applied to domestic surveillance

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.