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Email exchange between Edward Snowden and former GOP Senator Gordon Humphrey (guardian.co.uk)
423 points by piratebroadcast on July 16, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 214 comments



"Further, no intelligence service - not even our own - has the capacity to compromise the secrets I continue to protect. While it has not been reported in the media, one of my specializations was to teach our people at DIA how to keep such information from being compromised even in the highest threat counter-intelligence environments (i.e. China).

You may rest easy knowing I cannot be coerced into revealing that information, even under torture."

I am very interested to hear some of his anti-intelligence efforts. I assume he's either talking about the Defense Intelligence Agency [1], or that this is a typo for CIA?

Also, everytime I hear from Snowden, I can't help but "fist pump" and cheer for the guy.

[1] http://www.dia.mil/


I think he comes off as naive and more than a little pompous, but I guess it's in the eye of the beholder.

Either way, if he really wants the focus back on the documents, he should probably write fewer letters about his beliefs, his security, and his personal situation.


I think he comes off as naive and more than a little pompous, but I guess it's in the eye of the beholder.

This is my take too. If he had had more knowledge about the historical background of the other countries he has visited, and especially if he had STRONG knowledge of another language, he might view the position of the United States in these matters a bit differently, and might resolve the trade-offs about what to disclose and what to keep secret quite a bit differently. On my part, as I have said in another HN comment, I would take Snowden's claims more seriously in general if he were on United States soil preparing to face trial for his alleged wrongdoing, ready to bring forward any defenses he thinks he has to possible criminal charges. Right now, part of what Snowden is saying with ghostwriting help from Wikileaks is not making sense.


Your statement is completely nonsensical. The whole point is we have primary documents supporting what he says. His personality has nothing to do with those claims. Greenwald and Snowden have a 100% accuracy rate regarding these leaks, and your comment comes off as very head-stuck-in-the-sand-y.


We have primary documents supporting a very small subset of what he says. Most of the claims, including the more extraordinary ones such as he can wiretap anyone in the world including Barack Obama's personal email from his desk, remain undocumented.


Snowden's claim regarding wiretapping Obama is corroborated by other NSA whisteblowers.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/20/russ-tice-nsa-obama...


You're missing the point: Nobody's denying that with the right internal authorization, the NSA can tap any phone line they like. What's up for debate (since Snowden has provided no evidence) is the claim that Snowden could do it all by his lonesome, with no oversight or approval.


While I disagree with your point as well, I don't think it's at all the point to which I was responding. The question was about the credibility of his claims. I have not heard any other NSA whistleblower doubting his claims, and in fact they all seem to corroborate them.

Snowden directly addresses your point in his live chat: "More detail on how direct NSA's accesses are is coming, but in general, the reality is this: if an NSA, FBI, CIA, DIA, etc analyst has access to query raw SIGINT databases, they can enter and get results for anything they want. Phone number, email, user id, cell phone handset id (IMEI), and so on - it's all the same. The restrictions against this are policy based, not technically based, and can change at any time. Additionally, audits are cursory, incomplete, and easily fooled by fake justifications. For at least GCHQ, the number of audited queries is only 5% of those performed." http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/17/edward-snowden-n...


Greenwald and Snowden have a 100% accuracy rate regarding these leaks

You seem like the sort of fellow who ought to own a bridge.


If you wish to dispute the GP comment, it would be more productive to pick a specific item you believe to be inaccurate and give your reasons for believing it to be inaccurate.


I'm not aware of any false statements that Snowden made, or any doctoring of the NSA documents he provided. (Senators and other officials have confirmed the legitimacy of at least some, as has a federal indictment.)

But journalists can and do make mistakes interpreting the documents. Here's one example of a report trying to set the record straight: http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-57588337-38/no-evidence-of...


I would take Snowden's claims more seriously in general if he were on United States soil preparing to face trial for his alleged wrongdoing, ready to bring forward any defenses he thinks he has to possible criminal charges.

I'm not convinced we would be hearing anything from him at all - claims or otherwise - were he currently on US soil.


He would probably have 'resisted arrest' at some point.


While I understand the sentiment that says, "I'd prefer it if Snowden were possessed of infinite strength, that he should be willing to suffer years of imprisonment while speaking truth to power," I don't understand the sentiment that says, "So I'll dismiss everything he says given that he doesn't have limitless moral courage."

I note that the same standard never seems to apply to the other side of the argument. You don't hear people say, "Well, naturally I'll dismiss everything that Obama says on the NSA scandal because he used cocaine and didn't even stand trial, much less go to prison, for it."


Actually, I do hear a lot of people who reflexively disbelieve anything Obama says; also, you're making a terribly flawed analogy. A more appropriate one would be to say you didn't trust anything Obama said on the subject of drug policy because he used cocaine etc.


I hear a lot of people who reflexively disbelieve anything Obama says too: it's because they've decided he's a liar, not because he lacks the moral courage necessary to turn himself in for his admitted drug use.

Digression:

I do not myself care that Obama used drugs. I think those drugs should have been legal. I think it was courageous of Obama to admit to drug use even if he did so in a way that did not lead to legal repercussions.

But I also do not care that Snowden violated the law in his whistleblowing. I think his whistleblowing should have been legal. And I think it was courageous of Snowden to blow the whistle, even if he did so in a way that did not lead to the most severe legal repercussions possible.

End digression.

But no, I do not think that I made an analogy, nor that my observation was flawed. People who say, "I won't listen to Snowden unless he turns himself in" are not making an argument about Snowden's facts, they're making an argument about his character. They're saying, "I won't listen to Snowden because he isn't willing to suffer every possible negative consequence of his actions." It doesn't matter if his actions were related to the spying or not.

Those same people never demand the same of Obama (or any of the other government representatives). Those representatives can, and do, in fact, grant themselves and their allies full immunity from negative repercussions, and are still treated respectfully. This is hypocrisy on the part of those who demand that Snowden turn himself in.

And finally, if you want an example of Obama's less-than-perfect moral character that directly relates to the matter under discussion, there is his claim that he was against warrantless wiretaps, and campaigning as someone who was against them.


I think you understood my point perfectly well. I don't feel like having a discussion where you keep changing the subject.


> A more appropriate one would be to say you didn't trust anything Obama said on the subject of drug policy because he used cocaine etc.

How would that modification to the analogy change the outcome? You can't dismiss every insightful statement or independently verifiable piece of factual information someone says about drug policy just because that person is a crackhead. That's just the ad hominem fallacy.


I'm not dismissing anything, but pointing out that the gp was comparing two unlike things.


> I would take Snowden's claims more seriously in general if he were on United States soil

What bearing does which country he's in have on the content of the disclosures? Do you think he fabricated the PRISM slides since he happens to be in Russia right now?


> I would take Snowden's claims more seriously in general if he were on United States soil preparing to face trial for his alleged wrongdoing, ready to bring forward any defenses he thinks he has to possible criminal charges.

So in order for you to take Snowden's claims seriously, he has to either claim that what he did is legal or willingly go to prison for the rest of his life? That seems pretty irrational.


Martin Luther King, Jr. took a greater risk than that. So did the several freedom fighters in Taiwan I know personally, some of whom did hard prison time for leading peaceful public protests before Taiwan democratized. It takes people with a lot of courage to change tough situations.


I am well aware of all that, and I have great respect for those people who made those sacrifices, but it doesn't make sense to require that. The idea you're promoting here is "If you won't volunteer to have your life completely ruined, don't do the right thing. I'd rather you just be complicit in something that harms me if you aren't willing to be punished for doing the right thing."

Do you not see how completely bonkers it is to look at somebody who has already given you valuable information at great personal cost and demand that he suffer more for your benefit? Why on earth would you feel he owes that to anybody?


You're really assuming your conclusion here. William Binney did not go to prison at all; Thomas Drake got a month's probation. Now I'm not saying that they were free to make their revelations, or that it was easy; they went through a great deal of stress, legal expense, and obviously their public service careers are permanently over. But that's still a very long way from 'having your life completely ruined.'


Not exactly. I'm assuming that Snowden doesn't believe what he did will hold up in courts. Do you really feel that is an unfair assumption?


Not at all, but the courts might only impose a nominal penalty, such as the single month of probation to which they sentenced Drake. Why don't you address my point, instead of relying on the implicit assumption that facing the music would necessarily involve the government locking him up and throwing away the key?


Because I don't see how it matters. I could believe that he would be easily acquitted in a single day and it would not matter. We're talking about Snowden's decisions here, and Snowden does not listen to me. His read of the situation is the only one that counts, and it is pretty clear that he does not believe he'd have a snowball's chance in hell. You can argue that he's wrong about his chances, but all that would mean is that he's put himself through a lot of hassle and worry for nothing.

Personally, I tend to agree with Snowden — there are too many powerful people who want to destroy him for him to get a fair shake here. You are right that we could be wrong — but I don't see how that matters.


Well, it's certainly up to him to decide for himself, but I think third parties are quite free to form their own opinions about his credibility or integrity (which I rate at something like 6/10, in case you were wondering).


Yes, certainly! I just think it's irrational to discredit his factual claims on the basis that he is unwilling to stand trial. The truth of the statements "Snowden is telling the truth about our spy programs" and "Snowden is accurately assessing the potential for our justice system to offer him a favorable outcome" are not closely related.


I don't see it as a measurement of Snowden's honesty or integrity particularly. It could be that his judgment about the degree and nature of data collection is wrong. I try to avoid making guesses about people's motivations because there's really no way to measure that objectively and it's far too easy to project your own views onto the actions of someone else.


The charges against Drake were mostly BS (he didn't leak classified information). The infractions by Snowden are clear and the penalties are severe.


That doesn't invalidate the efforts of those who are not willing to take quite as extreme risks.


The issue of civil rights is judged independently of whether MLK took great risks.


You are aware that MLK was assassinated by the USG, are you not?

Anyone saying that Snowden should be in the US "awaiting trial" is a naive utter moron.


So, he asks for asylum in the country where they just convicted their own whistle-blower after he's been dead for 4 years. And why is he dead? Well, he died in jail under very suspicious circumstances. This makes Snowden a naive utter moron.


> if he had STRONG knowledge of another language

What difference would that make? I am a naturalized American citizen who speaks three languages (English, German and Hebrew. Four if you count broken Spanish). Would that lead you to put a lot of stock in my position?


>I would take Snowden's claims more seriously in general if he were on United States soil

There is a long list of former gov't employees who went through those channels and found them sorely lacking. In other words, people who are in a position to know better, who disagree with you. Radack, Drake, and Binney, to name a few.

>Right now, part of what Snowden is saying with ghostwriting help from Wikileaks is not making sense.

You sound a lot like Walter Pincus, whose employer had to print a retraction[1] over the baseless accusations he made in this column: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/questi...

I suggest you have a look at that story from a critical perspective: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/nsa-spying-scandal...

[1]Correction:

A previous version of this Fine Print column incorrectly said that an article by journalist Glenn Greenwald was written for the WikiLeaks Press blog.The article, about filmmaker Laura Poitras and WikiLeaks being targeted by U.S. officials, was written for the online publication Salon and first appeared April 8, 2012. Its appearance on the WikiLeaks Press blog two days later was a reposting. This version has been corrected.

A previous version of the column also asserted that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, during a May 29 interview with Democracy Now, “previewed” the story that Greenwald wrote for the Guardian newspaper about the Obama administration’s involvement in the collection of Americans’ phone records. There is no evidence that Assange had advance knowledge of the story; the assertion was based on a previously published interview in which Assange discussed an earlier surveillance project involving the collection of phone records.The assertion has been taken out of this version.

The column also does not mention Snowden’s past work in the intelligence community. The lack of this context may have created the impression that Snowden’s work for Booz Allen Hamilton gave him his first access to classified surveillance programs.


He was responding to a retired US Senator who wrote him an e-mail. You think it's pompous to respond to him?


Actually, how he is treated in this situation is of direct importance to the matter at hand. If the USA does not follow the rule of law regarding his case, it only fans the flames.


This man that sacrificed his life to expose massive, illegal surveillance by the US Government comes off as pompous to you? Wow.

You're attacking Snowden's character just like he said people (and most of the mainstream media) would.


I think he's commenting on Snowden's rather purple prose, which is a bit over the top, and distracting from his message.


No less over the top than being called a 'traitor' among other things by the media.


I totally disagree on slowing down his writing.

think about the federalist papers for a second. Someone needed to wrote them to convince a nation about our beloved constitution. Since all eyes are on Snowden, he has the best ability to sway many minds about what he believes and what I believe to be right.


Replying to bobo: no.

Anyone should be able to interpret the constitution as no person or group of people are infallible. It's obvious that SCOTUS opinions change over time, due to composition and prevailing attitudes.


So it's okay to pick and choose which texts to follow from our Constitution? The Constitution doesn't give Snowden the power to interpret it. It does however give that duty to our federal courts. Should we just ignore that part in our Constitution?


The only reason courts interpret the Constitution is because somebody brings forth a constitutional challenge. Often that discussion results from somebody breaking a law.

The point is if Congress passes an unjust law, a legitimate recourse is to force the issue by breaking it intentionally and asking a judge to decide.


Where does the Constitution give sole authority for interpreting it to the Supreme Court? In fact, it does not even give that authority to the Supreme Court. Judicial review was not established directly in the COnstitution.


Article III section 2:

The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution...


Here:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights... That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed , --

And here's the important part, pay attention:

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it


I think you misread what I wrote.

I suggested he write fewer letters about his beliefs, his security, and his personal situation.


I'm rereading the Federalist Papers right now, as it happens. I can't help thinking that most of HN would dismiss Hamilton and Madison as 'statist thugs' if I were to start quoting or paraphrasing the views of those gentlemen on topics like national security.


Hamilton argued at the constitutional convention for an elected monarchy. He admired Caesar above all others, and throughout his life held a profound disdain of the lower class. - “the people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct permanent share in the government.”

Read his Caesar letters, or his constitutional convention speech, or other writings, as these views aren't really apparent in the Federalist papers.

Madison is interesting, but he didn't hold to a single consistent political philosophy through his life.


Shouldn't the interpretation of our Constitution be left to the Supreme Court? I mean, the Constitution explicitly grants the Court those powers.


> Shouldn't the interpretation of our Constitution be left to the Supreme Court?

No.

> I mean, the Constitution explicitly grants the Court those powers.

The Constitution defines the judicial power of the United States to include deciding certain classes of legal controversies, including those arising under the Constitution, and provides that the Supreme Court is the organ which executes that role in both an explicitly defined set of cases, and in certain other cases as Congress directs. But that is pretty far from explicitly granting the Supreme Court the sole and exclusive power to interpret the Constitution.

Interpreting the Constitution is no less essential to the Supreme Court's role of deciding certain legal controversies than it is to, e.g., the President's role of seeing that the laws -- including the Constitution -- are faithfully executed, or the Congress's role in carrying out the powers and responsibilities it has defined in the Constitution, or the public's role in evaluating the performance of all three branches and electing members to the two political branches.

The Supreme Court (or the judiciary, or even "government officials" more generally) isn't a special priestly caste to whom the contemplation of certain mysteries is restricted. That would be contrary to the entire concept of government of, by, and for the people.


Read Article III, Section 1.

"The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court."


That's not what is says. Particularly, that period you put in isn't where the sentence ends, the full sentence is:

"The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish."

Further, the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is defined in Art. III, Sec. 2: "In all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and those in which a state shall be party, the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction. In all the other cases before mentioned, the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact, with such exceptions, and under such regulations as the Congress shall make."

The Exceptions Clause is significant.


The Supreme Court has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all federal courts and over state court cases involving issues of federal law.


Incorrect. The appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is "confined within such limits as Congress sees fit to describe." The Francis Wright, 105 U.S. 381 (1881), at 386.


For legal purposes, sure, but if the people disagree with the court's decision there are ways to change things. We could amend the constitution, we could throw it out and write a new one, we could change the makeup of the court, etc. Legally the ultimate authority on the interpretation of the constitution rests with the Supreme Court, but the citizens of this nation are free to express what they want out of the constitution.

We are allowed to disagree with the court, we are allowed to voice our disapproval, and we are allowed to try to rally others to our cause. The Supreme Court is not some kind of heavenly authority, they are just as capable as making the wrong decision as any other branch of government.


Yes, you're free to express what you want out of the Constitution but you're not free to break laws as interpreted by our federal courts. Unless the Constitution is amended, shouldn't we be following the rule of law and let the Court interpret the Constitution?


The problem with that approach is that it allows unjust laws to persist indefinitely. Every so often someone needs to stand up and refuse to play by the rules to ensure that unjust laws are repealed.

Look at the situation Snowden faced. You have a system that widely violates basic privacy rights, based on a secret interpretation of the law, approved by a secret court that only hears the executive branch's arguments and which almost never refuses to grant a warrant (i.e. it is a rubber stamp), with oversight by people who are chosen by the executive branch and who work in secret. These programs, conducted in secret, are widely approved of by the government and widely disapproved of by the general public. Had Snowden accepted the rules and the law, these programs would remain secret and would have continued unopposed indefinitely.

The rule of law does not work when laws are kept secret from everyone. Healthy societies need everyone to follow the law, yes, but they also need for people who recognize failures of the system to stand up despite laws that forbid them from doing so.


widely disapproved of by the general public

[citation needed]


Here are three polls that show between 41% and 58% disapproval: http://www.imediaethics.org/Blog/3984/Why_3_polls_on_nsa_sno...

Sure, that's far from unanimous, but "widely disapproved of by the general public" doesn't seem like a terrible stretch.

On the subject of polls, this article also shows the meta trends that this discussion is a part of: http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/10/public-o...


I don't think supports the original claim at all.

FTA: All three pollsters asked their respondents how closely they had followed the NSA issue, and all three found just over a quarter of Americans following the issue “very closely,” while they found from about a third to half not paying close attention at all.

So, how could they report 90% or more of the public with a meaningful opinion about the NSA tracking program? The answer: They all used a “forced-choice” question format, which pressures respondents to make an on-the-spot decision, regardless of how committed they might be to that view. Thus, many people with no real views on the matter had to come up with one, and were thus highly influenced by the priming they had undergone during the interview itself.


You're free to do what you want as long as you're willing to accept the consequences. You're free to rob a bank if you think it's worth the potential jail time and harm to other people.


This is quite the straw man. I meant free in a legal sense.


It's exactly the point though. You are free to break laws, or at least you are free to try. You are not nearly so free to break laws once you are in prison.

I think what you're saying is that you cannot expect to break laws without there being consequences. Of course we agree about that. The point of civil disobedience is that you believe so strongly you are willing to pay the price.

Perhaps you believe it is morally wrong to break laws as a means of getting the courts to interpret the Constitution?


He's not actually saying anything. Don't feed the trolls.


Do you really trust the supreme court these days? 7 men and women designed to decide the fate of our country?

also, the supreme court has no say in this. Its the fisa court....


If I were going to decide whether or not I'd trust the Supreme Court, one of the first things I'd want to learn is how many justices sit on it.


Which is only convention, not by law, and in any case, just an arbitrary number.

FDR threatened to pack the court with lackeys if they didn't vote in favor of his programs.

Which raises the obvious question of, since that event, has the Supreme Court really even served as a check on executive power?

I suppose, at least, FDR would have had to answer to public opinion if he had actually carried out that threat. Unlike, say, if the secret FISA court were so threatened.


> Which is only convention, not by law, and in any case, just an arbitrary number

No, its actually set by law, not convention.

> FDR threatened to pack the court with lackeys if they didn't vote in favor of his programs.

FDR proposed legislation to Congress which would have expanded the number of Justices on the Supreme Court. [1] It was not a threat of unilateral action. The President can't appoint people to the Court without an open seat, created by Congress, to appoint them to.

> I suppose, at least, FDR would have had to answer to public opinion if he had actually carried out that threat. Unlike, say, if the secret FISA court were so threatened.

There are two different courts created under FISA (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review), and the members of both are selected by the Chief Justice of the United States from among current members of the federal judiciary.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judicial_Procedures_Reform_Bill...


If we're not following the rule of law, what laws should we follow? Who should interpret our laws?

The Supreme Court has the power to issue an order called a “writ of mandamus” to deal with lower courts that overstep their legal authority.


What the fuck is the holdup?


The Supreme Court is just another political body. If you have any doubt about this just look at the nomination hearings, as well as the huge number of 5-4 rulings. If the law were clear and it wasn't political, most of the rulings would be heavily slanted one way or another as it would be clear to the justices and there would be very little disagreement.

In short I agree: the Supreme Court is NOT The Voice of God.


To offer an opposing view:

I cannot be coerced into revealing that information, even under torture.

That is a huge claim. I do not imagine that his training involved being tortured to make sure. If he's wrong, there could be dire consequences for the US.

You might even say his ego is writing checks his body can't cash.


I interpret this as it's protected in such a way that any information he can give is not sufficient to access the documents.

(copy pasted from my reply on another comment below)


Agreed. The specificity of his claim seems to support that, as well:

>I cannot be coerced...

vs. "won't", "would never", et. al.


How would that work though? Wouldn't it mean that in order to access the info he is talking about, you need something more than knowledge he has in his head - like physical access to something?

But then, in the worst case scenario - how could Snowden access it himself if he needs the documents?


A very simple way to achieve something like this is to generate a random password, print it out and give half to someone else. Then you need 2 people to access the file.


Then better, he gives two halves to at least 4 people (2 copies of each half, to prevent "denial of opening" if one person is blocked) he keeps nothing. He personally doesn't need the data. Publicly interesting things are by journalists. The "don't try to kill me" data is at best when not by him at all.

I posit there's nothing earth shaking on his own notebooks anymore.


I think that as well. If I knew I were going to go on the run and be in custody in unknown countries, I wouldn't want to be traveling with anything secret on my person. Get the data all distributed however you want before you go, and just have your laptop for communication. The press always says he has 4 government laptops. Why would you want to carry them around?


If I remember, nobody authoritatively claimed that he took anything else physical but copied the secret data to the USB stick. If he had to use a stick then there were never notebooks with secret data that he could take.

Some article somewhere mentioned that he carries 4 notebooks, and then the press started fear mongering and compromiting him by insinuating that the notebooks are full of secrets and government property. Can anybody quote an official claim that the notebooks aren't his own?


Perhaps there are scenarios I am not thinking of then but then in order to access the documents/information, he would need to be able to freely communicate with the other party. If he was to be detained somewhere without outside contact the world, then how can the info be disseminated to fulfill his threat?


A verbal agreement akin to a killswitch. No verifiable contact by august 5th? Info dump to pastebin. Resets every two weeks.


Similar suggestion to what's proposed here:

http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2009/07/laptop_securit...


It doesn't then take much torture to extract the other person's name. Then a little more torture for the other party to get the missing piece of the puzzle.


Why would he know their name? Why wouldn't they have a similar group of people-switches arranged in a hierarchy?


This is my belief.

Spread the password and access details to two people without keeping it yourself. Those two people split their in half without keeping it themselves. The four people who now have the password are the 'kill switch' required to monitor Snowden's location. Snowden has no idea who they are.

Should he be tortured, all he can do is reveal his first two contacts. The torturer will now have to abduct those two people to get the key.

All these second level people know is the two people THEY spoke to. So you need BOTH of the second level to get all four of the third level people.

And then you'll have to abduct another FOUR people to get the key. All before these four people realize Snoden has disappeared.

He knows he can't resist torture. But he doesn't have to. He LITERALLY cannot be coerced.


If those people are in different countries (e.g. one in the U.S. and one in China) then it is not possible to get them.


Especially not if he also has a killswitch which will go off once he disappears. The question is if said killswitch exists will it release the data or destroy it?


Perhaps it's more of a way to destroy data than to not reveal it, like maybe some sort of dead-man's switch. If he doesn't maintain some routine, then perhaps some data or documents gets automatically destroyed.


But then... why wouldn't he say that more precisely?

If I had my documents encrypted with keys that I'd distributed to multiple parties, I'd be shouting it from the rooftops: "No point torturing me, the key is in three pieces and if I don't sign in every week the data will be destroyed so realistically you can't possibly seize all the pieces in the time-frame you'd require! Of course, if you can get all the pieces, just stick us all together in the same room and I promise to give you my piece, so no point torturing me then either."

Seems like there'd be a really strong incentive to have people know you had a mechanism that ensured it.


Maybe his information is encrypted such that it requires multiple parties to decrypt; i.e. his consent is a necessary but not a sufficient condition to decrypt his data, so that it wouldn't be revealed even under torture.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secret_sharing


I think he may be hinting that he does not hold the key to the information, perhaps multiple keys are required, or the nature of the key is such that it cannot be reproduced under duress, etc etc.


He is probably using some encryption technique which requires multiple keys to unlock, perhaps similar to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shamir%27s_Secret_Sharing


I think he probably means he has a distress password that will destroy his encrypted data if he was put under duress to disclose anything. I don't believe he is saying he can withstand pain indefinitely.


Seems like anyone with a clue would have made a raw copy of the data before applying the password. Assuming the raw media is physically accessible to them, that is. Hmmm....


Such training does not exist anywhere on this planet.

Edit:

I already mentioned SERE training in a higher level post. It's pretty intense, but still, the most valuable lesson you learn is that everyone will end up talking.

I was simply commenting on the possibility of a person resisting torture. If that person has some sort of safety mechanism in place, the torturer might not be able to get the information he wants, but that's not because the victim has resisted, because he won't.


Many US military personnel go through SERE[1] training, which includes some rather unpleasant things, and other countries have similar programs (The UK RTI[2] for one example).

Obviously a group less concerned about the long-term health of their interrogatees have a lot more flexibility in methods, and training is largely understood to be a delaying tactic to spoil time-sentitive tactical data, rather than resist interrogation indefinitely.

Hypothetically, there could be a mechanism by which he has to check in with some associates periodically, who by means of some N of M secret sharing are able to destroy/release the data otherwise. Then you need to resist for only 1-2 checkin periods. Or have a duress codeword that causes the same result. Any destruction scheme requires that the data be held somewhere secure enough not to be cloned though.

(And any heartbeat type scheme requires periodic communication with some/all associates, possibly leading your adversary to them, although broadcast media is probably good enough while he's mainstream news)

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Survival,_Evasion,_Resistance_...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resistance_to_interrogation


This was an interesting read: http://www.quora.com/Torture/Whats-the-best-thing-to-do-if-b...

> You'll break. Instantly. So spare yourself the agony. Just spill the beans.


The training is right here:

1) Write some software that destroys your data if you don't login every x hours.

2) Under duress, stall for x hours.


If they abduct and torture you immediately, the chances of you stalling for x hours is pretty much non-existent. Snowden is in Russia. Arguably, no nation on the planet is better at torturing people than they are, and unlike the U.S. Russia doesn't really give a shit if the rest of the world doesn't like their methods. His interrogation would likely take minutes, not hours.


Well, my point is that there are alternate ways of ensuring the data doesn't get out, not just by being really good at resisting torture.

Other methods:

A) Alternate password that destroys the data.

B) Cyanide capsule in tooth.


[deleted]


You can make a process where you breaking down and cooperating with the enemy is not enough to reveal the info.


Snowden is FULL of crap.


Could you explain why?


Due to the specificity of his claims. Also he was probably very reasonably paranoid during the prep phase of this whole fiasco. Coercion is not an unreasonable expectation for someone in his position and he has the technical chops to implement such a failsafe. I cannot imagine that anyone in his situation with a modicum of technical savvy would simply carry around data that one could be forced to decrypt.


I wouldn't hold your breath. sigzero is not a fan of Snowden, as can be deduced from his other posts on this subject.


>You may rest easy knowing I cannot be coerced into revealing that information, even under torture.

I have several close friends and family members who have been to SERE(Survive, Evade, Resist, Escape) School. One of the first things you learn, is that EVERYBODY talks when they are being tortured. Forget all of the nonsense you see in movies and television shows. If Putin wants to know what Edward Snowden knows, he will.

Even if they don't choose to go the direct physical route by inflicting pain, there are other ways. Sleep deprivation and near-starvation cause your mental state to degrade rapidly. Eventually, no matter how strong willed you may think you are, you are going to start talking.


You can not reveal what you do not know.


It's definitely the Defense Intelligence Agency. They do a lot of intelligence collection.

I'm disturbed by Snowden's grandiosity in those statements. He fits the personality type interrogators would call a "grand egoist." He exaggerates his individual importance and skills to the point of self-delusion.

Ironically, this package of traits is often found in people of extraordinary skill. He has managed to abscond from the country with thousands of our deepest secrets, and prevent his own capture amidst the biggest manhunt in the history of the world.

But at the same time, he seems to be losing his grip under the pressure. There simply is no way that an individual can guarantee he or she won't give away information under threat of torture or under the manipulation of interrogation. The secrets live in his head, and the operating system that runs on our grey matter is eminently hackable.

Deeply, deeply disturbing rhetoric.


'not even our own'

Odd choice of words. Maybe he doesn't consider himself stateless after all.


He's still loyal to the USA. Even though its leaders have betrayed him along with our ideals.


maybe he's simply bluffing. If you have nothing, you can't give up even if they torture your mother in front of you.


No worries, SP-117 is extremely effective. FSB or any other intelligence service have ways to make people talk. Such naïveté.


You're ignoring that he can't reveal what he doesn't know.


You're ignoring the fact that what he does know would still have a great deal of value to some other intelligence services. Even if he can't give up a password, he still has years of first-hand experience, knowledge of specific programs whose documentation he chose to copy etc.

In other words, just because he doesn't have the key to the box doesn't mean he has forgotten everything about the contents, especially considering that he packed it.


he either have control over the information or he doesn't. In the case of the former, it means by transitive closure that Putin would have the control as well.

It makes me wonder though who got the best deal - Chinese or Russians - i suppose each party was thinking that they are playing off the other.


By saying that torture wouldn't reveal the information, he's saying that he doesn't have control over the information.


I don't understand how people don't see this....


It's always interesting to me that as a new statement from Snowden to the press comes out, most comments on Hacker News take him totally at his word, and assume that his interpretation of events and policy is by far the interpretation most likely to be true. Because I was already past Snowden's current age and current experience level in living in other countries by the time Snowden was born, I see a lot of holes and a lot of callow bravado in much of what he is saying. I hope he is correct that the information that he claims to have extracted from NSA servers cannot be extracted from him against his will, but I don't assume that to be true in the absence of evidence. That's an extraordinary claim, so it requires extraordinary evidence. Some aspects of Snowden's story do NOT look like a thoughtful plan to defend freedom and fair play around the world, but rather a haphazard rash move by Snowden to see what he can get away with. The high degree of cooperation many countries appear to be giving the United States so far in efforts to have Snowden return to the United States for legal proceedings suggests that quite a few experienced national leaders with very different constituencies to represent agree that there is more harm in Snowden being on the loose than in his standing trial to weigh his claims against United States law.

P.S. Remember, I was one of the rather few HN members to go out in public to protest the NSA on Restore the Fourth evening here in the United States. I can be appalled by some of what I read about the NSA without agreeing that Snowden is taking the best approach to doing something about that.


I fail to see why you find this so "interesting".

If Snowden lied or exaggerated, the USG would ensure that every media outlet shouted about if from the mountain tops until no one couldn't know. Snowden would be destroyed as a liar. If the USG lie or exaggerates, Snowden cannot ensure the same. Additionally, government is based on lies, lying is what government does. The ratio of power and information control is not exactly on Snowden's side. The consequences for Snowden if he were caught lying or massively exaggerating are dire. The consequences for the USG lying really minor, they lie all the time, we expect it. The for Snowden is massively less likely to be lying, since doing so would absolutely kill him off.

Additionally, we are not at the point where we have seen all the dirt the USG can dig up on him. Turns out, they cant find much at all. There for its reasonable to assume Snowden is clean. DIrt on the USG is so numerous, its so overwhelming that its essentially back ground noise.

That is why people prepared to give him the benefit of if the doubt. That is also why people are less likely to do the same with the USG, or any other government.


If Snowden lied or exaggerated, the USG would ensure that every media outlet shouted about if from the mountain tops until no one couldn't know.

That would not necessarily be good opsec. The government might consider that it's better to have the general public believe it's omniscient while being more realistic with diplomats; or it might simply decide that correcting specific inaccuracies would give too much information away.

Additionally, government is based on lies, lying is what government does.

Well, no bias there then.


Bias? Go on then, I would dearly love to know; which government is known for not lying to the public?


I like how you segue from 'government is based upon lies' to demanding I furnish you with an example of a government that has never, ever told a lie.As a matter of fact, I consider the US government quite truthful overall; it certainly lies some of the time, but thanks to things like FOIA laws it is one of the most transparent governing bodies on the planet.

However, you don't seem interested in my relativist/quantitative approach, based on your fondness for sweeping generalizations and requests for negative proof.


Some aspects of Snowden's story do NOT look like a thoughtful plan to defend freedom and fair play around the world, but rather a haphazard rash move by Snowden to see what he can get away with.

Could you please qualify that statement with an example?

The high degree of cooperation many countries appear to be giving the United States so far in efforts to have Snowden return to the United States for legal proceedings suggests that quite a few experienced national leaders with very different constituencies to represent agree that there is more harm in Snowden being on the loose than in his standing trial to weigh his claims against United States law.

Your theory assumes both rational and benevolent politicians.

Respectfully, I think you are wrong; the US (our country) is an excellent bully and likes to threaten trade. Further, I look at the behaviors of those countries that have acted to halt transit (i.e. the recent Bolivian fiasco) as evidence of complicity with US espionage activities.


> Your theory assumes both rational and benevolent politicians.

This in particular seems highly unlikely.


The high degree of cooperation many countries appear to be giving the United States so far in efforts to have Snowden return to the United States for legal proceedings suggests that quite a few experienced national leaders with very different constituencies to represent agree that there is more harm in Snowden being on the loose than in his standing trial to weigh his claims against United States law.

You appear to assume here that politicians take decisions purely or even mostly based on what is best for their constituencies? There could be many reasons for European leaders to be so supine, mostly I imagine it's pressure from the US and not wishing to be made a pariah, but also they are engaged in their own spying which is just as pervasive as the NSA, and to a great or lesser extent are reliant on the NSA for intelligence - most of the governments of Europe are partnered with the NSA on some level since Echelon and integration is probably tighter now, many have US bases on their soil. They have absolutely no interest in seeing any more revelations about the global surveillance network they have helped to create.


> also they are engaged in their own spying which is just as pervasive as the NSA

Also, they don't want their own Snowden copy cat to rise from their own intelligence programs. From that light, I'm a bit surprised Russia is housing him. If anyone wants to keep down descent more than USA, it's Russia...


> the information that he claims to have extracted from NSA servers cannot be extracted from him against his will, but I don't assume that to be true in the absence of evidence.

It's not difficult - if you haven't seen all the data. You encrypt the data with a large, randomly generated password, and give pieces of the password (without looking at it) to several people in different countries. You also tell them that they need to be 100% certain you're not being tortured to get the passwords from them.

If you're tortured, then you actually cannot reveal the data. You can reveal who has the password pieces, but if they're all in different countries it will be nearly impossible to get them. It would be easier to get the data directly from the U.S. government.


If you're generating some truly-random "password", I'd call it a key instead. Just a minor terminological note.

Anyway, while that split-the-key scheme works, I wouldn't use it over one of the real secret sharing schemes cryptographers have developed, e.g. Shamir's secret sharing scheme [1]. If you just split a key and give pieces to different people, the more pieces of the key an enemy can collect, the easier time they will have when brute-forcing it.

On the other hand, Shamir's secret sharing scheme is an information-theoretically secure threshold scheme. That is, a key is broken up into n pieces and t of those pieces are required to reconstruct the secret. In Shamir's scheme, the enemy can collect t-1 pieces of the secret and still have no chance in reconstructing the password; it simply is impossible.

The scheme works off of the idea that an m-degree polynomial is uniquely defined by m+1 points. For example, here's a point from a 1-degree polynomial (line), which would model a t=2 scheme: (1,4). Can you figure out the y-intercept? (Actually, Shamir's scheme uses finite fields, but I think asking this question drives the point home.)

So, generate a key, split it up into a bunch of pieces, and require a threshold of those pieces to be present. Coercion-free and even if an intelligence agency can compromise many pieces, they still can't do anything until they've hit the threshold. Also, if you want to require all pieces present, just set t=n.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shamir's_Secret_Sharing


Funny thing is, when he suggested splitting the key, I assumed that this is what he had in mind.


Maybe he did! I have no idea. But just in case he didn't, or someone else had the interpretation I had, I just wanted to clarify that a real secret-sharing scheme has some pretty nifty properties.


I think you'd have to give some of those key pieces to sociopaths for this to be foolproof. Otherwise they could torture you until you reveal contact information for each of the pieces. Then they can contact each of the people, and show a live video stream of you being tortured and play on their sympathy to give up the piece of key.

Though I guess having a live video stream of you being tortured wouldn't be in the best interests of the person doing the deed. Maybe that's the catch that makes it work?


I agree it would have been better for him to stay in the US and stand trial, however I can't fault him for being scared shitless of the US government apparatus, and that's not considering all the things he knows that you and I don't. Perhaps he had good reason to believe that he would have been railroaded by a secret court and imprisoned away for life with no access to lawyers and his story conveniently whitewashed away. It took incredible courage (certainly more than I would have) to do what he did, and I am incredibly thankful that someone did, so I can't fault him for not going the whole nine yards to martyrdom.

Listening to him speak, he obviously has very well-reasoned and logical positions which contrasts sharply with official response. And I don't place much weight on the opinions of foreign leaders whose hands are tied by political concerns.


I hope he is correct that the information that he claims to have extracted from NSA servers cannot be extracted from him against his will, but I don't assume that to be true in the absence of evidence. That's an extraordinary claim, so it requires extraordinary evidence.

That's actually not an extraordinary claim. It is standard operating procedure to teach people in the military how to do this, and the techniques are widely known. Here is how my brother (who received this training before serving in Vietnam explained it).

The first thing to realize is that you will break. When you break, you will say whatever you think will make the torturer happy. Once you have broken, you will no longer know what reality is.

So be a wimp. Pretend to break early. Feed the torturer enough interesting false information (with some truth mixed in) to get them interested. When you break for real they will continue to ask about the false leads, and you'll tell them whatever you imagine they want to hear. Nobody - including you - will have any way to sort out truth from lies.

This is, of course, just theory for me. However I'm assured that it works. And our standard training procedures include practice being tortured to drill in the point.


" I can be appalled by some of what I read about the NSA without agreeing that Snowden is taking the best approach to doing something about that"

This. Most of the people I have discussed this issue with have failed to separate the data that was revealed with the manner in which it was. Thank you for doing so.


The problem is the manner is a distraction. You think Snowden did something wrong? Okay, well the number of people that are going to stick their neck out like Snowden did are astonishingly few, so for you to split hairs over how you think it should be done plays right into the hands of the powers that be who are desperate to talk about anything but the substance of what is going on behind closed doors.


Yeah, he probably should have used the channels so he could have been harassed and persecuted before the data was ever out. You do realize that the Obama administration has persecuted whistleblowers and created confidential materials at a rate never before seen in the US, right?


"Some aspects of Snowden's story do NOT look like a thoughtful plan to defend freedom and fair play around the world, but rather a haphazard rash move by Snowden to see what he can get away with."

I think you're enormously overestimating the capacity for planning that any single individual could be capable of. Jason Bourne exists in the movies, not in real life.


> That's an extraordinary claim, so it requires extraordinary evidence.

Most of what Mr. Snowden has revealed has been pretty damn extraordinary. Upon first hearing many of his claims, I'll admit that I (more often than not) thought "no, surely not" and, shortly thereafter, government officials quickly came forward to deny many of his claims.

Then, almost without fail, Mr. Greenwald would publicize documents backing Mr. Snowden's claims and showing the government as the liars.

What it comes down to is, simply, trust and credibility. To me, at this point, Mr. Snowden has eons more credibility -- and I trust him much more -- than the United States government.

In the absence of evidence, I am certainly more willing to take him at his word than I am the various government officials who have proven themselves liars time and again over the last six weeks or so.


I am genuinely curious, could you go into some detail about the holes you see in what he is saying?


> quite a few experienced national leaders with very different constituencies to represent agree that there is more harm in Snowden being on the loose

Or, more plausibly, these leaders also have something to hide from their ostensibly democratic constituencies and would find it beneficial for any more potential Snowdens of their own to think twice.

The recent articles about UK, France, etc. surveillance and data gathering bear this out.

Manwhile, leaders in more authoritarian governments or in weak sham/corrupt democracies are less concerned with Snowdens (people already corrupt or cowed), and more interested in taking US's tiresome high handedness down a peg.


>I hope he is correct that the information that he claims to have extracted from NSA servers cannot be extracted from him against his will, but I don't assume that to be true in the absence of evidence. That's an extraordinary claim, so it requires extraordinary evidence.

Well, assuming that torture is an effective interrogation technique, the amount he can reveal is nonetheless limited by his own memory. It is quite possible that any datum critical enough to present a risk to national security if it were revealed is simultaneously too much for an ordinary person to remember -- e.g. a private key, an organizational plan, etc.

However, I fail to see a distinction between the potential capture and torture of Edward Snowden and the potential capture and torture of any other intelligence operative or official, particularly anyone in the CIA/NCS. Snowden is probably at greater risk of capture due to his notoriety, but this is really all the more reason for him to obtain asylum in a neutral country as soon as possible. If a country such as Germany were truly concerned about this, they could certainly enter him into a national witness-protection program with a new identity, making his involuntary debriefing all the more unlikely.


The high degree of cooperation many countries appear to be giving the United States so far...

This is actually a serious mistake from a USA national security perspective, in that it ensures that whatever info Snowden has and fails to secure will be given directly to rival nations. If those in charge were worried primarily about national security, they would have let him run to a normal country like Finland or Chile or New Zealand, where Snowden could have been observed reliably. If he ever progressed from criticism of domestic surveillance to active assistance of rogue states, the host nation could have brought its own charges.

That those in charge didn't allow this tells us one of two things: A) they're really not very good at their jobs or B) their primary concern is not Snowden revealing secrets which will harm the USA, but rather secrets that will harm their own careers. It were ever thus.


I have nothing to add, just wanted to thank you for joining in on the Restore the Fourth protests. We all had a lot of fun that day!


I wish Seattle's Restore the 4th rally had:

1. Been on 7/4 instead of 7/6

2. Not held at (confined to) Westlake Park, which has ultra-liberal activist hippies and homeless protesting every day.


While I agree that some of Snowden's actions are a bit hard to read, my take has been that he's doing a difficult thing, is under a lot of stress, and is following largely uncharted territory.


I don't think people here to just take what he says. I was quite surprised at the recent thread on his statement (via Wikileaks) which turned into a massive word and phrase analysis game whilst attempting to work out if it was actually a Snowden statement. If anything shows careful examination, a word by word analysis does.


Doesn't Greenwald already have a copy of everything Snowden has? If so, then what's the harm in Snowden being "on the loose"?



It's the nature of a hacker to try stuff and "see what happens", that's what I think is going on here.


Completely off-topic, but oh-my-god if the Guardian mobile website doesn't look so much better on a desktop browser than their non-mobile website... I thought they'd had a redesign for a moment.


Web site design is always on topic on HN. You are safe here.


Wow, it's night and day. One is a clean usable site where I can clearly read a column of text for which this page exists. The other is a junked up ad/link/box mess and I have no idea what I'm looking at.


And one makes the Guardian considerably more money than the other. It's not a mystery.


While we're off topic, let's run with that thought. What does that mean for the mobile web when the majority of their page views come from mobile? HTML ad overlays on the m site? The same descent into usability hell that the desktop has suffered, only without the possibility of ad-blocking plugins for mobile browsers? Or maybe it's 10 views a month, then you must use their dedicated app? Perhaps it'll be subscription only, through walled gardens like Newsstand? (Maybe that's even a good thing: we'll be paying directly for the content, instead of having our eyeballs sold to advertisers).

People on this site are thinking about this stuff. Working on it. Some for evil, some for good. I'm curious what this'll all look like in a few years.


Other than the two-column design and the facebook/twitter/etc flare I don't see much difference. I actually liked the non-mobile page better because the formatting in the article was so much more clear, mostly better indentation.

I did turn off requestpolicy, ghostery and noscript to check if there was additional crapola I was missing and it didn't seem all that different but I did notice 30+ cross-site requests, none of which added to the usefulness of the page.


Wow. Yes! I will be adding the m from here on out.


This! A thousand times, this!


Everyone's focusing on the fact that Snowden claims he is torture-proof, when in reality he never said that. He said that he "cannot" be tortured into revealing information he is protecting.

For example, Glenn Greenwald may hold a private key which must be used IN CONJUNCTION with Snowden's key to decrypt the information Snowden has. It's possible/probable that Snowden does not have access to the secrets he protects without Greenwald's key, as well as possibly many other keys. He may have a network of people he's made part of the group such that any two of them plus Snowden can decrypt the information, but Snowden himself can't without two keys plus his own, and he could make it such that his key is required in the group of three to decrypt. Hopefully someone else here can provide the name for this kind of encryption (something like n-key encryption, it's escaping me currently) and a link to how it works, but this is all very sound and entirely doable from a math standpoint.

So no, Snowden himself isn't torture proof, but his security is, if he's doing something like what I outlined above. They'd have to go after Glenn Greenwald too, or whoever else is involved, before gaining access to the intel.

Edit: This link[3] might explain it slightly better, but I once read a great primer on the topic, filled with examples and was pretty simple to understand (the layman could grasp at least the concept). I'll add more links as I find more info.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secure_multi-party_computation

[2] http://www.iacr.org/archive/eurocrypt2001/20450279.pdf

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Threshold_cryptosystem

[4] http://www.tcs.hut.fi/Studies/T-79.159/2004/slides/L9.pdf

[5] https://www.cs.cornell.edu/courses/CS5430/2013sp/L.SecretSha...

(thanks ##crypto for the help!)


Edward Snowden makes me proud of my country, and the people that fight for it. But he also makes me ashamed of my Government and the people that hide behind it.


This raise an interesting point.

The guy is risking his life, and no one even wonder who is the branch/person in government that should be responsible for what he says is going on.

Who should be taken accountable for this? why people is not on the streets? ...well people are on the streets, but for the wrong reasons. media is transforming a, sadly, commonplace killing in hate/race crime. Any conspiracy theorist already linked the time they scheduled the trial with the snowden thing? didn't another army whistle blower was on trial on the very same day as the zimmerman one?


> Who should be taken accountable for this?

Anyone and everyone with knowledge of it who didn't do what he did, IMO.

I realize that's a wide net.


This.


Please no This'ing on HN. Write something or just upvote.


"identify, remove from office and bring to justice those officials who have abused power"

This, here, is the crux of the matter. Drag into the light the parasites that consume the living flesh of this society.


"Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman."

Could this be a website/forum? Wherein we compile the evidence on the people in abstentia because the regular system aint doing it.

I'm not saying mob rule. I'm just kind of saying let's identify the really bad apples and kind of do what Groklaw did for IBM v. SCO - except this would be global citizen's privacy expectations versus spooks.

Edit: or this: http://www.securityweek.com/19-groups-sue-nsa-over-data-coll... (But it needs to be global - as in, massive and mass surveillance by any state or non-state actor though now feasibly possibly must be well outside international norms and laws)


I hope people, and indeed the senator, realizes that the people he is talking about are senators and congressmen, not the president who did his duty and executed the 20 million dollar PRISM budget forced on him by congress.


Huh? There's no law or budget that requires PRISM. Any of these programs could be shut down with one phone call from the Oval Office, and Congress couldn't say boo. That's sort of the reason they're Constitutional in the first place: The executive has broad national security powers.


Not since nixon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congressional_Budget_and_Impoun...

Also, he must execute the law faithfully, if the Congress gives him the power to use secret courts to wire-tap people he is expected to use it to it's fullest extent, to do otherwise would be illegal: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Article_Two_of_the_United_State...

PRISM is the president faithfully executing the laws set by congress, between the 8 billion dollar NSA budget and the Patriot Act, they are responsible.


Um, the above is the Sunday School version of U.S. politics.

In reality, the executive has a tremendous amount of discretion. Just look at the Obama admin unilaterally extending an Obamacare deadline that was set by Congress -- and which did not give the executive branch the ability to alter. Didn't matter.

It's true that Congress is also responsible for NSA domestic surveillance. But every branch of government has a duty to ensure their conduct is constitutional.


First, where is your evidence of this opinion, I provided links to two sources describing the modern state of Executive powers and you basically call me naive without specifically refuting my evidence or points.

Second, the ACA (AKA Obamacare) does not specify specific deadlines except when reports to congress must be made. I googled for the deadline extension you were referring too, there were many, so please be more specific. Here is the text of the bill to read it for yourself (http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/111/hr3590/text). In general it says the the secretary of HHS shall set deadlines as reasonable, and hence giving the Administration the power to change their own deadline.

Third, I generally base my opinion off of personal anecdote since I have a family member serving as an elected politician in an executive office. Their job requires them to execute laws very specifically, often requiring them to consult lawyers regularly (even though they are a lawyer!). Laws can be tricky, and while I am not knowledgeable of government law I would be willing to bet the President is basically required to use section 702 of FISA whenever he can in regards to terrorism. But then again, my personal anecdote is from a county position.

Finally, it isn't a question of constitutionality. Congress said it was legal, therefore it's legal until the supreme court (or a lesser court that doesn't get appealed) says it is unconstitutional. I agree that the law is unconstitutional, but the executive branch does not get the luxury to exercise their opinions on laws like that.


As you continue to explore this area, you'll find pretty quickly that your family member's experience as a local elected official doesn't have that much relevance to NSA surveillance. Other than that, you're mistaken but well-intentioned, and I encourage you to read up on this topic. I might suggest my articles about government and the law over the last 15 years or so as a starting point.


So by your logic, Bush wasn't to blame for his version of these programs either? How about extraordinary rendition and water boarding?


If they were legal at the time, then no, he was doing his job, congress would be responsible. To clarify, PRISM and related programs are completely legal via the FISA bill (http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/110/hr6304/text). They shouldn't be legal, the supreme court will likely strike them down as unconstitutional, but they are LEGAL.

As for torture and extraordinary rendition those things were ACTUALLY ILLEGAL. So yes, President Bush and/or his administration should be held responsible for them.


What I find interesting here is that a former Senator is commending a dissident from the United States and wishing him good luck in evading the government and seeking asylum from the US.

Lots of respect for Senator Gordon Humphrey for speaking out with what will be a very unpopular opinion in Washington. I'd like to hear the same from UK politicians past or present on Tempora, but have heard nothing of consequence from any of them.


As Joshua Foust points out, Snowden gave some info to Der Spiegel that they chose not to publish which seems to conflict with some of the "no harm" statements here:

SPIEGEL has decided not to publish details it has seen about secret operations that could endanger the lives of NSA workers. Nor is it publishing the related internal code words. However, this does not apply to information about the general surveillance of communications. They don’t endanger any human lives — they simply describe a system whose dimensions go beyond the imaginable.

http://joshuafoust.com/dangerously-naive-or-a-liar/

The Guardian and Washington Post also decided to not publish the majority of the Prism slides for similar national security reasons, even though Snowden's initial push was to have them all published (and almost immediately after receipt by the Guardian and WaPo).


He has asked the journalists to be rigorous in weighing the decision to publish what he gives them. I don't have a citation but it's in some of greenwalds recent posts.


That would seem to conflict with his statement that I have not provided any information that would harm our people - agent or not - and I have no intention to do so.

If Der Spiegel (or the Guardian, or the Washington Post) was less rigorous, then information could have been published that harmed "our people" or intelligence agents.

He is positioning himself as having carefully reviewed everything he has given out, but if he has given info to some media sources who themselves have been "rigorous" enough and realized the danger of publishing some of it, then the statement in this letter cannot also be true.


This young man is an American hero


No, he is not.


Snowden has done more for the people in a few weeks than the last 20 years of US "representatives".

At great risk to himself.


Want to bother attempting a compelling argument to that effect?


Like all the bother the parent poster made to argue that Snowden is a hero?


I think the original post did that sufficiently.


"Further, no intelligence service - not even our own - has the capacity to compromise the secrets I continue to protect."

I currently suspect this to be false or a straight up lie:

=================

http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2013/07/snowden-dead-mans-s...

"Snowden, a former systems administrator for the National Security Agency in Hawaii, took thousands of documents from the agency’s networks before fleeing to Hong Kong in late May, where he passed them to Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras. The journalists have handled them with great caution. A story in the German publication Der Spiegal, co-bylined by Poitras, claims the documents include information “that could endanger the lives of NSA workers,” and an Associated Press interview with Greenwald this last weekend asserts that they include blueprints for the NSA’s surveillance systems that “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.”

But Snowden also reportedly passed encrypted copies of his cache to a number of third parties who have a non-journalistic mission: If Snowden should suffer a mysterious, fatal accident, these parties will find themselves in possession of the decryption key, and they can publish the documents to the world."

=================

From the sound of it, you can compromise him by expedient of killing him.


"...one of my specializations was to teach our people at DIA how to keep such information from being compromised even in the highest threat counter-intelligence environments (i.e. China)."

Interesting. Is it from a technical/IT standpoint or more of a "social engineering" one? Or a bit of both? That's a genuine question because I really don't know how feasible this type of work could be when done from within the US.


There are ways to store a password in your subconscious [1] but they are relatively gimmicky.

The more logical interpretation is that he doesn't have the decryption keys and has given partial keys to multiple people, thus making his secrets safe from torturing just him.


>I hope he is correct that the information that he claims to have extracted from NSA servers cannot be extracted from him against his will, but I don't assume that to be true in the absence of evidence. That's an extraordinary claim, so it requires extraordinary evidence.

>... an extraordinary claim, so it requires extraordinary evidence,

Not.

"Normally ciphertexts decrypt to a single plaintext and hence once decrypted, the encryption user cannot claim that he encrypted a different message. Deniable encryption allows its users to decrypt the ciphertext to produce a different (innocuous but plausible) plaintext(s) and insist that it is what they encrypted. The holder of the ciphertext will not have the means to differentiate between the true plaintext, and the bogus-claim plaintext(s)."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deniable_encryption

with:

"Secret sharing (also called secret splitting) refers to methods for distributing a secret amongst a group of participants, each of whom is allocated a share of the secret. The secret can be reconstructed only when a sufficient number, of possibly different types, of shares are combined together; individual shares are of no use on their own."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secret_sharing

Let the shared secret be deniable-crypto plaintexts. Threshold T sharers may release plaintext_1 while ignorant of a different sharer subset intersection may release a different plaintext_n, benign or otherwise, for example.

At another level of deniability, Snowden may also not even know the current identities or nos of secret sharers participating.


The most interesting part of this is the following paragraphs from Snowden:

Further, no intelligence service - not even our own - has the capacity to compromise the secrets I continue to protect. While it has not been reported in the media, one of my specializations was to teach our people at DIA how to keep such information from being compromised even in the highest threat counter-intelligence environments (i.e. China).

You may rest easy knowing I cannot be coerced into revealing that information, even under torture.

While he may be overconfident (it's easy to say you can resist torture, at least until you're tortured), this shoots down the unverified claims that the Chinese or Russians could easily already have copies of his data. Not unless he's willingly handed it over or he's much less competent than his data theft would suggest.


> it's easy to say you can resist torture, at least until you're tortured

I interpret this as it's protected in such a way that any information he can give is not sufficient to access the documents.


i interpreted it the same way. Saying, even if he was tortured, he wouldn't be able to give up access to documentation. I think it's funny that we don't even second thought about the concept of torture. It has become too common.


I can imagine systems that would be coercion proof, but I can't imagine any that would be coercion proof and also allow a dead mans switch, which I thought he had also claimed to have.


If reconstructing the secret requires a certain no of keys, but not all, and those people are distributed around the world, it's quite possible to be coercion proof as one party (because you can't decrypt on your own) and the secrets still accessible even if one party is compromised.


If that were the case, there would need to be at least two other parties who share his ideology specifically enough to decrypt the data only after he's presumed dead. They would also need to remain secret in order to not be targeted simultaneously.

Not impossible requirements, but they seem unlikely.

The question is: Can you automate it to remove the human element?

Assuming Tor is perfect, could you create N co-conspirator hidden services that need checked in with periodically to not work together to decrypt it? Assuming the check in would be able to detect duress, that might be a viable system.


If that were the case, there would need to be at least two other parties who share his ideology specifically enough to decrypt the data only after he's presumed dead.

Well apparently Senator Humphrey is on board with his ideology :)

I really don't think it'd be a problem for him to distribute keys to a few like-minded individuals before he left, or even when he was in hong kong, particularly if he has some shared key system set up so that any n keys can open the secrets. It sounds like he has certainly distributed an encrypted file of the docs to several people, so I wouldn't be surprised if he has likewise distributed the keys to open them.

However while the mechanics of his protecting this data are interesting on a technical level, they're also not the most important story here, and we don't really know enough (or at least I don't) to speculate without more facts...


I think the latter part of this is only true if it is possible for the other parties to detect that he has been compromised.


True, in the extreme case (deadly torture) it's obviously not possible. I guess Mr. Snowden has to hope and pray that there's nobody capable out there that thinks PUBLIC disclosure of whatever documents he controls is worth killing for...


Pure speculation, but... I don't know that his dead man's switch has to necessarily be interpreted as dumping the docs to the public. Perhaps they would simply deliver them to Glen Greenwald's doorstep (or someone else).

In that case, the threat is just widening the filter. As in: "I've exercised my personal discretion in choosing what documents to release. Kill me, and the only check on this process is Mr. Greenwald's discretion."


I read this to mean that he has taken steps to limit the specific data he knows. So even if he has or had access to documents, he hasnt tried to memorize anything that could be damaging. Meaning they cant force him to reveal information he "doesn't know"


Can we assume that if he is the part of the secret key then if somebody does something bad with him we will lose all the secret docs?


Can anyone provide some concrete examples about how the NSA, using the tools that many of us would rather they not, "keeps us safe"?

Are there specific incidents that have been avoided (that wouldn't have otherwise)? Is it just that we are generally "safer"?


> Can anyone provide some concrete examples about how the NSA

In the UK GCHQ provides intel to the Ministry of Defence. MoD then uses that intel. The intel is secret, and thus we don't know if it has helped or not. The intel is also misused (see, for example, the "sexing up" of documents) or ignored.

But in general you don't know what the spies are doing. It's the nature of spies. You could ask your representative politician to ask some of the oversight politicians, but the answer you'll get back is going to be on the same lines. "The provide valuable intel, and we use it, and we are safer because of it".


I just wonder how true that is or is it mostly just legacy behavior (we're a country so we gotta have spies, right?).


I thought he said in the conference with WikiLeake staffer that he has shared everything he knows. Now in the email he is talking about protecting more information. Now I am confuse.


> " While it has not been reported in the media, one of my specializations was to teach our people at DIA how to keep such information from being compromised even in the highest threat counter-intelligence environments (i.e. China)."

Mr. Snowden has come a long way from "just a sysadmin". It appears people were trying to downplay the role he had in his line of duty.


This is like a dialogue from a spy movie, the good guy is on the run trying to save his country, while this very nation is hunting him down.

I think Wesley Snipes plays the good guy! :-)

Jokes aside I salute Snowden, he's doing a very very brave thing. We should come up with a hacker salute for his cause.


Actually it's a bit over the top for a Senator to write a man on the run. Luckily, unlike fiction, this stuff doesn't have to be believable!


Sometimes I wonder if the intelligence community doesn't have people who's sole job is to write comments on websites/forums to help shape public opinion. It would be something fairly trivial for them to do and help further their interests...


Well, the Air Force has already been caught doing it. Why wouldn't everyone else?

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2011/02/18/revealed-air-force-ord...


I just wish this wouldn't be such a politically partisan issue.


I will just leave this here as an encouragement for anyone to write to their representatives, media, journalists and mention this in debates about this issue.

> remove from office and bring to justice those officials who have abused power, seriously and repeatedly violating the Constitution of the United States and the rights of millions of unsuspecting citizens.

This is what we should be focusing on and now Snowdens character, his this and that, I and many with me are tired of celebrity-culture and gossip around him.

Lets talk about the US officials, NSA higher-ups who must be removed from office, put on trail or investigation and lets get those companies Google, Facebook accountable.

Anyone know who the NSA high-ups are, names? We know companies CEOs, lets put them under the spotlight instead of Snowden, what did they know? When, how come they did not know, where they coerced or fooled into it? Do they deserve to continue being CEO when such grave mistakes happen under their watch?




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