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Snowden says NSA employees routinely pass around explicit photos

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was interviewed in Moscow last Friday by Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger and the Guardian’s defence and intelligence correspondent Ian MacAskill. An edited video of the interview is available here, and the Guardian has promised that a full transcript of the seven hour chat will be made available later today.

Some of the more eye-opening highlights of the (edited) interview include:

  • ‘If I end up in chains in Guantánamo I can live with that’
  • Sexually explicit photos of ‘extremely attractive’ innocents caught in ‘a sexually compromising position’ are considered ‘fringe benefits’ of the job at NSA central, and are routinely handed round by staff
  • The idea that Snowden is a Russian spy (wittingly or otherwise) is ‘bullshit’
  • Snowden is happier in Russia than he would be going back to face a kangaroo court in the US
  • He would like to stand  in front of a jury of his peers in a fair trial where ‘public interest’ was considered a valid defense
  • Technology companies have a duty to protect the confidentiality of their customers, and to upgrade their security in the wake his NSA revelations, although so far the response has been patchy. Snowden singled out secure cloud storage company SpiderOak as worthy of praise in this regard
  • When asked about auditing, Snowdon replied ‘A 29 year old walked in and out of the NSA with all of their private records… What does that say about their auditing?’
  • Despite its critical importance in the modern world, ‘technical literacy in our society is a rare and precious resource’, and its lack among politicians and policy makers ‘is probably the single most important factor that explains the failures of oversight that we have seen in almost every Western government.’

While arguably the least important information to come out of the interview, salacious details of the NSA’s laddish culture do serve to make the idea of being spied on all the time more personal and immediate, in a way that most people can relate to more than abstract notions NSA spying,

You’ve got young enlisted guys, 18 to 22 years old,” Snowden said. “They’ve suddenly been thrust into a position of extraordinary responsibility where they now have access to all of your private records. In the course of their daily work they stumble across something that is completely unrelated to their work in any sort of necessary sense. For example, an intimate nude photo of someone in a sexually compromising position. But they’re extremely attractive.

They turn around in their chair and show their co-worker. The co-worker says: ‘Hey that’s great. Send that to Bill down the way.’ And then Bill sends it to George and George sends it to Tom. And sooner or later this person’s whole life has been seen by all of these other people. It’s never reported. Nobody ever knows about it because the auditing of these systems is incredibly weak.

The fact that your private images, records of your private lives, records of your intimate moments have been taken from your private communications stream from the intended recipient and given to the government without any specific authorization without any specific need is itself a violation of your rights. Why is that in a government database?


Douglas Crawford I am a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and lover of life who enjoys spinning words and sharing knowledge for a living. Find me on Google+

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