June 9, 2013
(CNN) — A 29-year-old computer technician for a U.S. defense contractor leaked details of a top-secret American program that collects vast streams of phone and Internet data, American and British newspapers revealed Sunday.
“My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them,” the source, Edward Snowden, told Britain’s the Guardian, one of the papers that broke stories on the program last week.
The Washington Post also disclosed Sunday that Snowden was the source on its stories.
Snowden is a former technical assistant for the CIA and has been working at the National Security Agency, the U.S. electronic intelligence service, for the past four years, the newspaper reported. He said he walked away from a six-figure job in Hawaii for the computer consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton and has holed up in a hotel in Hong Kong in preparation for the expected fallout from his disclosures.
“I’m willing to sacrifice all of that because I can’t in good conscience allow the U.S. government to destroy privacy, Internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building,” he said.
The Guardian reported Wednesday that Verizon Business Network Services had been ordered to hand over telephone records detailing the time, location and telephone numbers involved in domestic calls from April 25 to July 19. An order from a U.S. court that oversees U.S. surveillance efforts backed up the demand, the newspaper reported.
Thursday, the Guardian and the Post disclosed the existence of PRISM, a program they said allows NSA analysts to extract the details of customer activities — including “audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents” and other materials — from computers at Microsoft, Google, Apple and other Internet firms.
Snowden said the NSA’s reach poses “an existential threat to democracy.” He said he had hoped the Obama administration would end the programs once it took office in 2009, but instead, he said, President Barack Obama “advanced the very policies that I thought would be reined in.”
NSA develops Boundless Informant to track global intelligence: Report
Top-secret documents about the spy agency’s global surveillance, a copy of which was obtained by The Guardian, reveals that the tool, called “Boundless Informant,” details and even maps by country the information the NSA collects from computer and telephone networks.
“The tool allows users to select a country on a map and view the metadata volume and select details about the collections against that country,” an NSA factsheet on the program explained, the newspaper reported on Saturday.
The documents showed that the NSA, over a period of 30 days in March, collected a whooping trove of 97 billion pieces of intelligence from computer networks around the world. Of those, 3 billion came from the United States itself.
The top countries in terms of intelligence gathered from are Iran with more than 14 billion pieces of data collected; Pakistan with 13.5 billion; Jordan with 12.7 billion; Egypt with 7.6 billion and India with 6.3 billion.
According to one document, the spying tool is designed to give NSA officials answers to such questions as, “What type of coverage do we have on country X” in “near real-time by asking the SIGINT [signals intelligence] infrastructure.”
Other documents cited by The Guardian allegedly show that the NSA breaks down the collected data, and even collects IP addresses. The NSA denied the claims.
“NSA has consistently reported –- including to Congress –- that we do not have the ability to determine with certainty the identity or location of all communicants within a given communication. That remains the case,” the NSA said in a statement.
The revelation about the NSA’s global surveillance program comes on the heels of two other major leaks about the spy agency’s data mining of phone call and Internet records of millions of American citizens.
On Friday, President Barrack Obama defended the government’s vast data gathering program, describing it as a necessary tool to ward off terrorist attacks.
Obama said that while U.S. citizens are free to complain about the “big brother”-style surveillance, providing security is worth the “modest encroachments on privacy.”
Meanwhile, the new revelations have caused the White House and Congress to blame each other over how much responsibility each has for the data mining program.
While the Obama administration seeks to shift part of the blame on Congress for the surveillance program, lawmakers are not eager to accept it. Several quickly denied they had been kept apprised of the NSA’s intrusive measures.
The Justice Department and the FBI are likely to open a criminal investigation into the latest leaks of classified documents, law enforcement and security officials said.