- This book should reshock people who might have hit the snooze button about the hubris of the NSA and its 5 Eyes partners + Israel & Sweden, who work to “Sniff it all, Know it all, Collect it all, Process it all, Exploit it all, Partner it all”.
- It’s easy to imagine Greenwald’s sleepless excitement as he recounts events unfolding and the debates Snowden so desperately wanted to occur igniting through their collaboration.
- Greenwald tells the human interest stories in a way that deepens our understanding – about the importance of his partnership with Laura Poitras, the nature of their justified fears, hopes and celebrations, and their growing empathy with Snowden. We also better understand the vital pioneering and enduring work of WikiLeaks and the, “daring, indispensable support given by WikiLeaks and its official, Sarah Harrison.”
- A key theme of the book is the urgent need for mass adoption of encryption tool to disrupt mass surveillance.Throughout, Glenn honestly describes his transition from being lazy and intimidated by encryption tools to becoming reliant upon them, making a clear case for why the relationship between journalists and sources cannot occur without these tools, and for everyone to take back their privacy by learning how to use PGP and OTR.
- The book begins and ends with this message, “..all users should be adopting encryption and browsing-anonymity tools….And the technology community should continue developing more effective and user-friendly anonymity and encryption programs.” He describes some companies offering email and chat services as alternatives to Google and Facebook, “trumpeting the fact that they do not – and will not – provide user data to the NSA.”Going forward, we also need to make sure to separate the companies that _CAN_ provide user data to intelligence services and the ones that can not, because they don’t have that data.
- Unfortunately the book also reveals how dangerous it is when crypto is compromised. In one section Glenn describes how he had to communicate with a colleague from the Guardian back in New York City. This was before the first releases and Snowden was clearly under risk. Glenn and the Guardian employee hadn’t set up correct encrypted communication beforehand and decided to instead use a new tool called CryptoCat for this extremely sensitive conversation (see page 59 in the paperback edition). What isn’t obvious to the casual reader (or for Glenn either) is that CryptoCat had two crucial vulnerabilities during the time it was used for this conversation. In fact, it would have been trivial to break the encryption protecting it. The lesson here is two-fold. CryptoCat has gotten a lot of attention for being very easy to use and also have very successful PR. But good UI and PR doesn’t equal safety. For a layperson it is extremely hard to see the difference, though. The other lesson is that it’s important to be prepared and be able to use safe tools with all people you want to communicate with. If you can’t communicate safely, it might be better to not communicate at all. We also urgently need safe cryptographic tools with great user experience.
- Another key theme is the role played by the Internet in our lives, both it’s liberating potential and current repressive power. Acknowledging that the genuinely new dimension to the NSA story is the role now played by the Internet in everyday life, Greenwald admits that it’s core is gutted, but joins Snowden in believing that, “the shock of the initial period will provide support to build a more equal Internet.”
We hope this is true and have been part of trying to maintain the rage and raise awareness, but the signs of reform in the US are so far very scant – no one has been sacked or disciplined, even for blatantly lying to Congress and the legislation being debated this week isn’t a real step forward. The FISA court which in the twenty four years from 1978-2002 rejected a total of ZERO requests while approving thousands is a hopeless rubber stamp. The Congressional Intelligence Committees that are meant to provide oversight just don’t conduct the “vigilant legislative overight” over the intelligence community, are in fact a business as usual brigade.
- The complicity of corporations in spying and militarizing the Internet is throughly canvassed in the book. “Let’s be blunt,” says one NSA official to a 5 Eyes gathering, “the Western World (especially the US) gained influence and made a lot of money via the drafting of earlier standards. The US was the major player in shaping today’s Internet. This resulted in pervasive exportation of American culture as well as technology. It also resulted in a lot of money being made by US entities.” Indeed. And even more is made through the economic espionage, that has nothing to do with national security, but rather economic advantage in trade deals.
- Greenwald pulls no punches about the unconscionable statements and actions of Internet tycoons and moguls, like Zuckerberg who bough four homes adjacent to his to ensure privacy but claims that, “privacy in the digital age is not longer a social norm.” Yeah, right.
- Greenwald explains why surveillance is inherently repressive and that privacy is not an abstractionin a chapter dealing with the harm of surveillance, insisting that, “Privacy is a core condition of being a free person.” Privacy is where creativity, dissent, and challenges to orthodoxy germinate, where we experiment, test boundaries, explore new ways of thinking and being, “What made the Internet so appealing was precisely that it afforded the ability to speak and act anonymously, which is so vital to individual exploration.”
- Mass surveillance is inherently repressive and makes people radically change their behaviour, induces individuals to internalise the values of the watchers, which ironically makes the evidence of repression disappear, creating the illusion of freedom. Authorities bashed and pepper sprayed Occupiers with force. Surveillance can achieve the same goal, creating reluctance to organise, and more insidiously, training individuals to not even think out of line with what is expected in order to avoid surveillance
- The importance of defending journalists and demanding quality journalism is emphasised.We fully agree but worry that the tactic being used to defend journalists could also serve to hang activists out to dry. Greenwald is a master at exposing the cowardice of mainstream journalists and how slavishly obedient and dangerously close they are to power. He also explains how dangerous it is to criminalize journalists doing what journalists are supposed to do and the trends leading in exactly that direction, including through calls for his own incarceration by the beforementioned compromised journalists. But the argument that insists that journalists are “not activists” is too bad for activists, whose peaceful protest is also increasingly criminalized and severely punished to deter others.
- Until the film of Laura Poitras and the account of Sarah Harrison come out later this year, this book provides the only in depth insider account of how Snowden reached out to journalists to expose ongoing pervasive mass surveillance, dramatically changing geopolitics and fundamentally altering trust in the Internet, hardware, software, many governments and corporations.
- Unless we adopt encryption tools, refuse to use the services of those that collaborate with the NSA and build new Internet infrastructure to loosen the American grip on the Internet, there will literally be no place to hide.
* Revelations to date discussed in the book:
- Firstcame the FISA court order proving that Verizon had been compelled to hand over all records of calls within the US and between the US and abroad.
- Secondcame the PRISM story that gave dates for when the NSA accessed the systems of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google Facebook, Paltalk, Youtube, Skype AOL and Apple to obtain live and stored communications.
- Third was the Presidential Decision Directive 20showing that Obama had requested a list for cyber attack targets
- Fourth was the story about the BOUNDLESS INFORMANT program revealing that the NSA has very precise knowledge of the number of calls tracked – contrary to evidence given to Congress. 97 billion emails and 124 billion phone calls were collected in one 30-day period.
- Fifth, on 9 June, Snowden reveals himself and explains his actions – the video of Laura Poitras gets more hits than any other Guardian video
These are the main revelations discussed in the book – there are many more – see the Guardian and the Intercept and Der Spiegal!
Here are some of the NSA programs mentioned in the book :
- PROJECT BULLRUN- a project with the UK GCHQ to defeat encryption
- EGOTISTICAL GIRAFFE- targets TOR
- MUSCULAR- invasion of Google and Yahoo data centres
- OLYMPIA- Canada’s program to surveill Brazil’s Ministry of Mines and Energy
- STORMBREW- in partnership with the FBI, accesses communications at chokepoints where Internet traffic hits US territory – tapping fibre optic cables and other infrastructure
- TEMPORA- GCHQ tappinginto data of fibre optic cables
- Computer Network Exploitation (CNE) placing malware in individual computers – enabling the NSA to own a computer, including viewing keystrokes and every screen viewed
- X-KEYSCORE- a radical leap in powers, capturing real time monitoring of online activities, emails, browsing and key strokes
- THIEVING MAGPIE- intercepting calls made on cell phones during flights
** New Material in the Book includes
- Revelationsabout the NSA tampering with routers and other hardware
- More detailed information on the ongoing Manhunt for Julian Assange,including evidence that the US suggested to Australia, the UK and Germany to file criminal charges against him. “The appeal exemplfies the start of an international effort to focus the legal element of national power upon non-state actor Assange, and the human network that supports Wikileaks.” (p 188)