Like the plot of a number of popular espionage action flicks, the action has now turned its focus to one set of the files within the Edward Snowden payload. They’re calling it the “Doomsday” cache – a highly sensitive, ultra-classified set of documents that some believe Snowden has stored into a data cloud. The document set is heavily encrypted and protected by a number of layered unlocking steps. According to sources, what’s in that cache of files sounds like the plot of the James Bond 007 movie “SkyFall” in that it contains documents that include the names of U.S. and allied intelligence personnel. Given that sensitivity, the file data is locked down with sophisticated encryption, and according to a Reuters report, multiple passwords are required to open it. Top level American security agency information is not the only concern, as it seems there may be information about British agency as well to be found within all the documents.
Among the material which Snowden acquired from classified government computer servers, but which has not been published by media outlets known to have had access to it, are documents containing names and resumes of employees working for NSA’s British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), sources familiar with the matter said.
Snowden’s “Insurance Policy”
There’s even reference to this being Snowden’s “insurance policy”, leverage essentially against arrest or physical harm. The Reuters report also states that the passwords to the file are known to at least three different people and only valid during a brief window each day. The identities of those persons are unknown. This rings of a sophisticated identity/password configuration that is tied to a public key infrastructure (PKI). An interesting security tech note to recognize, but there are real fears that the cache can be broken into if it got into the right hands. Given that it is reported that Snowden did not bring any files with him to his place of exile, Russia, there is nothing really available but speculation on the whereabouts of the file. If Snowden followed sound SecOps, he has likely segregated the storage of these files in a separate physical location, including quite possibly within a cloud file depository. This is particularly tactical if one were to follow this train of thought that the cache is his ace-in-the-hole leverage piece.
One former senior U.S. official said that the Chinese and Russians have cryptographers skilled enough to open the cache if they find it.
The most limited estimates say that only 1% of the files that Snowden downloaded have been released publicly so far. At the other end of the spectrum, we may only have seen .25% of the files get released. The worst secrets may yet come forward in time. This Doomsday cache may be one of the most sensitive, but there could be significantly more that will see the light before this is all over.
This show ain’t over, more revelations to come
U.S. officials and other sources said only a small proportion of the classified material Snowden downloaded during stints as a contract systems administrator for NSA has been made public. Some Obama Administration officials have said privately that Snowden downloaded enough material to fuel two more years of news stories.
Indeed, two years of stories is significant. And there’s a lot of concern here that even more secret programs may come to light – anything’s possible it seems. If you had asked anyone except the extreme tin foil hat crowd that any of this existed, well you might find yourself on the outside of the rational spectrum – then. Now, you name it – internet kill switch, copies of all files, active video surveillance – nothing is beyond the range of plausible claims that we may see. The question now is will we find out everything – and when?