UPDATED 08:43 EST / JULY 01 2013


Snowden’s Latest PRISM Leak No Big Surprise

Ed Snowden was up to his old tricks last weekend with yet another bunch of documents being leaked to The Guardian and the Washington Post. There were two themes to this weekend’s leaks, centering on how the US intelligence community is actively spying on some of its closest European “allies”, bugging various embassies in the US, as well as some offices in Europe. Meanwhile, a second set of documents sheds greater light on how PRISM data is collected, and in the process raises serious questions over the likes of Google and Microsoft’s earlier denials that they knew anything about the program.

Not surprisingly, EU officials were quick to express their outrage at the idea of the NSA and its friends being granted full access to all of their calls, emails, faxes and other messages. Here’s a couple of excerpts describing the spying operations against various EU countries.

“The eavesdropping on the EU delegation to the US, on K Street in Washington, involved three different operations targeted on the embassy’s 90 staff. Two were electronic implants and one involved the use of antennas to collect transmissions.”

“[….] The operation against the French mission to the UN had the covername “Blackfoot” and the one against its embassy in Washington was “Wabash”. The Italian embassy in Washington was known to the NSA as both “Bruneau” and “Hemlock”.”

But although this leak has put the US in a but of an awkward situation with its friends (kind of like getting caught snogging with your best buddy’s girlfriend), it’s probably one of the least surprising revelations we’ve seen thus far. For all the tantrums the EU are throwing, this kind of ‘cloak and dagger’ surveillance of foreign nations is exactly the kind of thing we expect spy agencies to get up to. That’s their job after all, to spy on other government’s officials, and in all honesty most Americans would probably be even more concerned if Snowden had revealed that the US wasn’t doing this kind of thing. Fact is, bugging is a decades-old tradition, and more likely than not the EU is doing exactly the same thing to the US, only it hasn’t been caught red-handed.

Even so, the US has been put in an embarrassing position, and it’s going to have to do a fair bit of ass-kissing to make it up to its allies.

Tech Firms Denials Less and Less Convincing


More eye-opening perhaps were the additional slides from PRISM, which infer that someone has been telling very big porkies since news of this whole kerfuffle first broke. The new slides make numerous references to government agencies placing on-premises hardware at the nine technology companies participating in PRISM, raising serious questions over their earlier denials.

The following slide provides a pretty simple explanation of how PRISM data is collected.

Note that the slide states in clear and simple terms that data is collected “from the FBI’s interception unit on the premises of private companies”, before being passed on to its “customers”.

While this isn’t conclusive evidence, we should bear in mind that from day one the government owned up to PRISM’s existence and has never tried to claim that the slides presented by Snowden are fake. On the other hand, the nine companies have consistently and firmly denied any involvement in the ‘project’, and specifically rejected any idea that the NSA, FBI or any other agency has on-site hardware or some kind of “back door” access to their servers.

So we’re looking at one of two scenarios – either the slides are incorrect/inaccurate (in which case, why has the government never dismissed them as fakes or tried to state how inaccurate they are?), or else the companies involved are straight up lying to us.

We still can’t be 100% sure either way, but we’re all intelligent enough to draw our own conclusions from the evidence available, and I for one will start being a lot more careful about the kind of data I willingly provide to the likes of Google.

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