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In fact, we know the answer is "we don't know."

According to Richard Esposito, Matthew Cole and Robert Windrem at NBC News, however, Edward Snowden spoofed the digital identities of top NSA officials in order to access top level servers on NSAnet, the spy agency's intranet.

The title of their article, "Snowden impersonated NSA officials, sources say" leaves me guessing that the "sources" have an interest in managing what gets disclosed. While not surprising, I'm struck by the matter-of-fact tone of the piece. It reads very much like the WSJ LOVEINT article that I wrote about last Saturday. And like that article, it leaves me feeling like the authors are very casually telling us something we did not really know until now.

Please proceeded under the Longhorn-colored fiberoptic rats nest to run down the possibilities.

“This is why you don’t hire brilliant people for jobs like this. You hire smart people. Brilliant people get you in trouble.”

                                                 - former U.S. official

^ That's the money quote from the article. We don't know if that come from the "source" or who it is. When I read that quote I feel like whoever that person is wants me to know that he is really, really exasperated by Mr. Snowden and that I should be too. Why should I feel that way?

Well, "He reportedly used his privileges to download 20,000 documents." the NBC authors write.

The NSA still doesn’t know exactly what Snowden took. But its forensic investigation has included trying to figure out which higher level officials Snowden impersonated online to access the most sensitive documents.
Let me repeat that: "the most sensitive documents".

So 20k documents, but they don't know what they are. But they know they are the most sensitive documents. And where they got the 20k without knowing the contents, I dunno. David Miranda's pocket? Maybe The Guardian's basement? A number they have seen in a directory they have not been able to crack? The number is specific, but the contents are a mystery, apparently.

What is not a mystery anymore is that NSA is acknowledging "several instances" of Snowden digitally impersonating top officials and using their NSAnet credentials to access very secret documents.

How is this new, though? We already know that, right? I mean, PRISM was pretty secret. That was not supposed to make the paper. So what are they talking about here if this is a new disclosure?

We know through Greenwald that a ton more info exists to be serviced by some mystery gatekeepers if the shit hits the fan. And the boys at NBC News are telling us

But some higher level NSA officials have higher levels of clearance that give them access to the most sensitive documents.
- emphasis mine

Which is no duh, right? But this is the whole point of this article, to tell us that a) there are 20k docs, b) we are blind to the contents and c) top guys got spoofed.

If you were Edward Snowden, and you just took a job at Booz Allen for three months specifically to penetrate and access secret NSA intranet sites and cherry pick the contents of the most secret files in their domain, wouldn't your try and get the most bang for your buck? Wouldn't you shoot for that top and try to spoof the biggest boys on the block?

After all, he's "brilliant", right? They pretty much said right in this article that hiring a guy as smart as Snowden is a big mistake, one they won't be making again. Why a mistake? Because he's so damn smart that he came in there planning to spoof the digital ID's of top brass in order to drink their milkshake and skip off to Hong Kong?

I'll let NBC News tell it to you:

“The damage, on a scale of 1 to 10, is a 12,” said a former intelligence official.
The NSA declined to comment.

Back in July, the Honolulu Star Advertiser carried an AP story saying that Snowden took documents containing "very sensitive, detailed blueprints of how the NSA does what they do" (Many other papers carried the same story, including the NYTimes. A Google search of that quote led to lots of page no longer found errors. Hmmm. Where's my tinfoil?) So, pretty early on we learned the scope of what Snowden did. We also learned early from Snowden himself that he expected to be pursued by the United States, and that if he was caught things would not be pretty. If he was willing to die if captured, what did he have to lose? He had the skill, he had the access, and by NSA's own admission the damage is off the scale.

Several hours ago Wired published an analysis of today's revelations about the black budget. I'm gonna go ahead and outsource this to the Fair Use department and just give you their lede:

The latest published leak from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden lays bare classified details of the U.S. government’s $52.6 billion intelligence budget, and makes the first reference in any of the Snowden documents to a “groundbreaking” U.S. encryption-breaking effort targeted squarely at internet traffic.
I'm not quoting anymore of this because you really need to go ahead and read the whole thing. It is by far the best analysis I have read today in regard to this issue. Suffice it to say, the shit is getting deeper and the level of detail is becoming pretty fine grained.

Look, this is all speculation (it would have been CT in May) but when I read between the lines of NBC News or the other outlets that dealt with the spoofing story today, I'm feeling like the pump is being primed here. Someone is getting out in front. I am being managed as a reader. They are telling us something really important in the most pedestrian way possible.

As good a guess as any, considering what we know, is that Edward Snowden picked the pocket of the boys in the corner office and he's checking the time on their wristwatch.

And oh, by the way, they want us to know that.


Ok, I'll take my lumps in comments. Just remember, I say upfront I don't know.

(I won't be around to comment until later in the morning and then again around noon because of my teaching schedule, but I will be back.)

 - bastrop

9:58 AM PT: Quick Update:

Per New York Magazine, the finger pointing has begun on this:

"How Snowden was hired for such a job is currently the topic of much finger-pointing. A review of the company that did Snowden's last background check found that US Investigations Services LLC "did not present a comprehensive picture of Mr. Snowden," while the private business blames the federal government."

Update 2:

How I missed it I dunno, but CNN (and others) had an article in the middle of July where officials were alerting the media that Snowden did NOT have the "crown jewels" of NSA.

U.S. intelligence now believes Edward Snowden did not gain access to the "crown jewels" of National Security Agency programs that secretly intercept and monitor conversations around the world, CNN has learned.
This is from July 22nd. They are adamant. But, according to CNN, "The administration believes it knows the extent of the material that was downloaded." Which we know now is not true. At all. So, spinning in effect because
"We are not downplaying it," the official said, explaining that assessing the matter over weeks has enabled authorities to focus more directly on the impact of Snowden's actions.
But "Other officials are less resolute about the extent of the exposure." CNN says.

And just one more for the road

CNN cannot independently verify the statements made either by the administration or Snowden.
which means CNN wasn't really buying it as anything other than spin.
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Comment Preferences

  •  Edward Snowden, you say? (5+ / 0-)

    Are people still trying to make this about the messenger?

    It's the message. Snowden is just a guy.

  •  I hope he DID get the crown jewels. (11+ / 0-)

    These assholes are either so incompetent that they really don't know whether or not crown jewels were taken or, they do know, as you say, and are really fucking nervous about it.

    Or both.

    Thank you, Mr. Snowden.

    Somebody has to do something, and it's just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us. ~ J. Garcia

    by DeadHead on Fri Aug 30, 2013 at 03:44:37 AM PDT

  •  They *should* be embarrassed as hell... (16+ / 0-)

    ...not that Snowden did it, but that he could.

    I think the lesson to take from all this is not only did they create a security state behemoth capable of hoovering up every single bit and byte on the phone, internet, and cable networks -- they then put the most incompetent idiots in charge of running it, with a mission statement consisting of,"Go get more. Get it all. We trust you not to screw it up or to use it wrongly."

    Except they did.

    "Don't ride in anything with a Capissen 38 engine. They fall right out of the sky." -- Kaywinnit Lee Frye

    by Technowitch on Fri Aug 30, 2013 at 03:52:02 AM PDT

  •  Oh good, this posted. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dharmafarmer, commonmass

    So that works. Time to make the doughnuts.

    The place was utterly dark—the oubliette, as I suppose, of their accursed convent.

    by bastrop on Fri Aug 30, 2013 at 04:05:48 AM PDT

  •  Ha! (17+ / 0-)
    I think it’s important to understand the strict oversight that goes into these programs because the assumption is that people are out there just wheeling and dealing, and nothing could be further from the truth. We have tremendous oversight and compliance in these programs, auditability. And for many of you with the technical background – (inaudible) – net flow and other things like that, you know that we can audit the actions of our people a hundred percent in this case. And we do that.
    Gen. Alexander's keynote address at Black Hat
    The truth, obviously, is that they actually can't and don't- which means that Congressional and judicial over sight are shams, too.
  •  What? Figures for the Output Wattage of the Sun? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bastrop, commonmass

    Because that is the sole existential threat facing the US.

    Nothing the NSA knows is 1% as threatening to us as that.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Fri Aug 30, 2013 at 05:23:14 AM PDT

    •  I do wish people in general were motivated (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      by existential threats. We would have a better world.

      The place was utterly dark—the oubliette, as I suppose, of their accursed convent.

      by bastrop on Fri Aug 30, 2013 at 06:00:05 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  What Bastrop said. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bastrop, greengemini

      We're out of control. Seriously out of control. And we have a government more concerned with what Angela Merkel is saying in the ladies' room and what the President of the European Union is saying in his office and what you and I are writing online than serious threats to our existence such as climate issues and the abuse of fossil fuels. Our priorities are pretty much like our entertainment: sucky.

      I resent that. I demand snark, and overly so -- Markos Moulitsas.

      by commonmass on Fri Aug 30, 2013 at 06:31:37 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Well if... (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bastrop, commonmass, FG, Hey338Too, Mr Robert

    Ed was using more than just his own credentials, then it makes a lot more sense that the NSA doesn't know what exactly he stole, since he could have "been" any number of other people when he stole them.

    "It's almost as if we're watching Mitt Romney on Safari in his own country." -- Jonathan Capeheart

    by JackND on Fri Aug 30, 2013 at 05:57:12 AM PDT

  •  The use of the word "steal" is perfectly (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JackND, bastrop, Hey338Too

    appropriate, therefore Snowden with the encouragement of Greenwald committed espionage against the United States.

    •  IF espionage is what it takes (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      commonmass, bastrop

      to keep this republic (as Franklin doubted we'd be able to do), then so be it.  

      No one now seems to remember that this country has suspended our Constitutional rights too many times for us to "trust" our government with anything involving the power of control.  And we certainly can not afford to hand over any more of our rights, at least not if we wish to live in the country that we imagine we have.

    •  did Ellsberg commit espionage against US? (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      commonmass, bastrop, Tam in CA

      he "stole" documents also

      •  Ellsberg may actually be the quintesensual (0+ / 0-)

        whistle blower. At least Ellsberg went to select members of Congress trying to get action on the information. Snowden runs to China and ends up in Russia with asylum. Ellsberg, while working at RAND came across the documents know known as the Pentagon Papers. Snowden to the job at Booz Allen with the sole purpose of stealing documents that would support the reporting desired by Greenwald.

  •  It's great to see you writing diaries again. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jacey, Shockwave, bastrop, Mr Robert

    There's a lot of speculation about his motives, and if one can take a snarky view with a kind of cold war sense of humor, it's particularly funny that he ended up in Russia. On the serious note, it's disturbing.

    As someone who considers themselves a patriot and a dissident, I continue to feel conflicted about this entire affair. I certainly hope that this affair will lead to a total re-working of our intelligence priorities. If nothing else, it is an indictment of our passion for outsourcing sensitive jobs. Reagan was wrong: government isn't the problem, outsourcing it for profit is.

    I resent that. I demand snark, and overly so -- Markos Moulitsas.

    by commonmass on Fri Aug 30, 2013 at 06:12:22 AM PDT

  •  NBC seems to be all over the place ... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    commonmass, bastrop

    ... in how it is managing this story. Admittedly, I haven't followed it as closely as many here (including bastrop), but I did notice that, one day, their website was saying we don't know exactly what sensitive information Snowden took, and a few days later they were telling us he has "the crown jewels." Huh? How can the former claim be squared with the latter? It seems like someone is indeed trying to spin the news to push a certain agenda, but I am not sure what that is.

    All that being said, I must agree with those who say Snowden has done the United States a real service. I may disagree with his methods but I have to admit that he strikes me as both less reckless with classified information and more effective with leaking it than Bradley Manning. I really hope that even our dysfunctional Congress can come together long enough to defund the NSA's most egregious electronic surveillance programs. Heck, in a better world, conservatives and progressives would unite to repeal the odious, so-called Patriot Act altogether.

  •  Snowden may have taken stuff HE didn't even... (4+ / 0-)

    ...understand what it was until he started looking at it later.

    Only now we are starting to understand why the Obama administration, prodded by some idiots in the NSA/intelligence/industrial complex,  went as far as re-routing the Bolivian presidential plane or detaining Greenwald's partner.

    Many, including me, suspected that the NSA and its entourage were up to no good but Snowden's downloads seem to prove that problem was much worse.  Without Snowden we would have continued on a path to possible totalitarianism.  

    Daily Kos an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action.

    by Shockwave on Fri Aug 30, 2013 at 06:55:36 AM PDT

  •  Have you misinterpreted "most sensitive"? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    commonmass, bastrop, Mr Robert

    Clearly I don't know what Snowden accessed and downloaded. But from what we have seen, he concentrated on documents about the architecture of the NSA, as well as policy, not on actual operational details.

    For bureaucrats desperately covering their rear ends, documents that expose their wrongdoing by exposing lies about the architecture and policy of the NSA are "sensitive." But in terms of actual danger to US security, those are things that belong in the public domain.

    The Guardian raked the Independent for revealing details about a listening post that, in theory, could have exposed the listening post to retaliation by terrorists. That's what most of us think about when we hear "sensitive." But to official Washington,what's really sensitive is career-altering information.  

    •  Well.... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bastrop, Mr Robert
      The Guardian raked the Independent for revealing details about a listening post that, in theory, could have exposed the listening post to retaliation by terrorists. That's what most of us think about when we hear "sensitive." But to official Washington,what's really sensitive is career-altering information.
      Yes. It's about career-altertering information. That, and gathering more snooping than can ever be used, and being smug about doing so. It's the legacy of Nixon and Hoover.

      I resent that. I demand snark, and overly so -- Markos Moulitsas.

      by commonmass on Fri Aug 30, 2013 at 09:58:30 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  We still don't know what all he took... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bastrop, commonmass

      ... just what's been released to date.

      As for whether architecture and policy documents can't be used to extrapolate operational details - I would beg to differ.  Understanding the architecture of an application or network, combined with reading the policies (or restrictions) of how to use the data gleaned from the information sources, allows one to infer what operations are underway.  It kind of like that by knowing the lengths of two legs of a triangle you can know the length of the third leg and the angles (or relationships) between the legs.

      The current, piecemeal, release of the information does make some of the calculation more difficult.  But what we know now does allow someone (who, for whatever reason wants to evade the system) a better idea about how to get around it.

      As for what Mr. Snowden had access to while he was at Dell, this piece in the NY Times does provide a little information as to what his role was:

      Little has been reported about his four years with Dell, but his résumé, as described, says that he rose from supervising computer system upgrades for the spy agency in Tokyo to working as a “cyberstrategist” and an “expert in cyber counterintelligence” at several locations in the United States.

      In what may have been his last job for Dell in Hawaii, he was responsible for the security of “Windows infrastructure” in the Pacific, he wrote, according to people who have seen his résumé.

      It would be very interesting to me to know if Snowden's job involved security certificates which allowed him to sign applications deployed on the Windows networks.

      Looking through the bent backed tulips, To see how the other half lives, Looking through a glass onion - John Lennon and Paul McCartney

      by Hey338Too on Fri Aug 30, 2013 at 10:27:23 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Why architecture and policy does not expose ops (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        bastrop, Hey338Too, commonmass

        Granted, any information allows people to form hypotheses about what might be out there.

        But the difference is like this. Major corporations put on their web pages information like:

        - mission statement
        - corporate board
        - revenues, expenses, cash flow, balance sheet
        - product line

        Are these pieces of information equally valuable to a competitor in figuring out whether, say, Apple is going to launch an iWatch in April of 2014?  

        Clearly not. What Snowden has released has been similar to releasing the mission statement, top line revenue + spending by category (sales, R&D, COGS, etc.). This is of almost no use in knowing whether a specific product is going to arrive at a specific time.

        Terrorists know that we monitor communications. They know we get a lot of them. They therefore use means that they hope will escape detection. But nothing about the overall architecture (reading e-mails, listening to cable traffic, listening to satellite traffic, etc.) or policy (haystack collection, target foreigners but include many US citizens, etc.) helps them to know whether there's a backdoor in Google Chrome.

        Intelligence has unfortunately developed a sheen, a gloss of magic that has been used to con the public into spending money we don't have on services we don't need. As I pointed out in another thread, for the $50B we spend on intelligence, we could just about hire the entire unemployed population of target countries at prevailing wages to listen in on their friends and neighbors. We spend so much money because it's a corrupt gravy train for the defense industry.

        No, the real magic is in how one uses the information one has. Washington is losing the so-called "war on terror" not because it lacks money or freedom of action, but because it lacks imagination.

        •  If the data released was simply organizational... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          bastrop, commonmass

          ... in nature I would agree.  But the information released, so far, has been specific to production applications and oversight - not mission statements and abstracted financial statements.  Using your analogy, a person now understands the technology used in the iWatch as well as the design documents, which allows them to make some pretty specific determinations on what it can and cannot do - the actual code isn't needed.

          WRT your comment about hiring Egypt or Somalia, we could do that but I'd prefer it if we hired Americans!  Imagine the diaries which could be written if that $50B/year was spent here doing what you suggest - certain diarists would simply explode, not just their heads but every cell in their bodies.

          I can't presume to know how much money needs to be spent to protect the country from attacks - cyber or otherwise, but I do know that money has to be spent.  Cyber threats do exist, and they become more viable as more control systems become automated and accessible via the internet.  I don't know how you do that without the government stepping in to do it, I don't know how you learn about and defeat an attempt without listening to as much as you can.  Yes the Fourth Amendment needs to be protected as this effort is undertaken, yes there needs to be better oversight and control (which both will cost money - we don't want Somalis performing those tasks).  But how small is too small?

          Looking through the bent backed tulips, To see how the other half lives, Looking through a glass onion - John Lennon and Paul McCartney

          by Hey338Too on Fri Aug 30, 2013 at 12:22:21 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Perhaps our different viewpoints are this (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Let me bring out a point that I think is central to our differing points of view.

            If NSA secrecy had no cost, then of course, the more the better. If the terrorists don't know that we have a particular capability, maybe they would slip up.

            But secrecy has a price. I have done two diaries (here and here) on how surveillance damages democracy itself in ways that its proponents simply don't understand.

            In addition to this, Congress is unable to do effective oversight of the NSA/CIA/DIA, the people running the surveillance state are arrogant--so arrogant they lie to Congress, and it's pretty clear the system is not very efficient. The NSA itself has come up with only one case where they might have been indispensable. In the remaining roughly 80 cases they have cited, HUMINT has been what solved the case.

            There's a happy medium in between no surveillance and where we are. Ironically, the NSA was going to implement a Fourth Amendment compliant approach through Thin Thread when the Bushies came to power and decided to do it their way.

            Nothing has been right since.

            •  Somewhere, Erich Mielke is smiling. n/t (0+ / 0-)

              I resent that. I demand snark, and overly so -- Markos Moulitsas.

              by commonmass on Fri Aug 30, 2013 at 03:44:04 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  The point I would make with.. (0+ / 0-)

              ... regard to the first diary is that the article that prompted it was written in 2006 about activities which occurred in 2003 and 2004.  The NSA at that time was operating under 1) a different and paranoid administration, and 2) under a completely different set of laws and oversight.  Insisting that the same thing that Bush allowed 10 years ago is simply standard operating procedure in the Obama administration doesn't work for me, especially in light of the documents released by Snowden which detailed the lengths that the NSA goes to so as to avoid targeting US citizens.  No, it's not perfect - but hopefully what comes out of it will enhance our security and our rights.

              As for surveillance, we will differ in our opinions.  I honestly disagree with your statement in the second diary "that any device that records activity inhibits human development".  I have owned countless devices that track my activity and each one of those devices has allowed me to develop more knowledge and awareness as the technologies have improved - I'll bet your experience is the same.  As new technologies emerge, the companies that sell them are going to track activity.  Not because the government tells them to, it's because their marketing department tells them to, so more can be sold.  Because the tracking information is going to be sent back to the manufacturer via the internet, the government is going to have the data (along with anyone who "sniffs" internet data).  Eventually the government is going to know that I like my chicken broiled instead of baked (and now they do), it's not a BFD.  As more inputs are added to any system, the ability to weed out false positives is enhanced - that is the goal of any system.  Thus it would be less likely that a government organization is going to waste their time tracking a Quaker anti-war group carrying balloons on the mall in Washington.

              Looking through the bent backed tulips, To see how the other half lives, Looking through a glass onion - John Lennon and Paul McCartney

              by Hey338Too on Fri Aug 30, 2013 at 03:52:54 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  That's not my opinion (0+ / 0-)

                The quote "that any device that records activity inhibits human development" is not my opinion. It's from a law review article co-authored by one of our nation's most famous Supreme Court Justices, Louis Brandeis. I think he would say that a camera helps an actor to improve his performance. It develops the persona rather than the person.

                Has the NSA really changed between Obama and Bush? Once an organization has become corrupt, purification takes a very long time. With people like Keith Alexander and James Clapper, men who lie without conscience, at the helm, that process cannot really begin. And when whistleblowers are treated as abominably as they have been during this Administration, well, I think the opposite is likely to occur. Obama may have made it legal in the sense of making the laws conform to what the NSA is doing, but NSA operations are not lawful in the sense of obeying the spirit of our fundamental law, the Constitution.

      •  And in regard to his job for Dell... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        bastrop, Hey338Too, commonmass

        There's no indication that Snowden has exposed how the NSA exploits things like holes in software or security certificates. These are what I would call operational details. And there's not one shred of evidence that the documents he has released include this sort of thing.

    •  I know what you mean but I don't think so. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Hey338Too, commonmass

      I read those two quotes re: most sensitive about 10 times before I realized what was happening. The first quote I use leaves the impression of my misinterpretation but scroll down and read the second one. They are rephrasing and using it differently themselves, which tells me even more clearly that the desire is to conflate and confuse.

      The place was utterly dark—the oubliette, as I suppose, of their accursed convent.

      by bastrop on Fri Aug 30, 2013 at 10:38:19 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Top level guys rarely know what's going on (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        bastrop, commonmass

        Sorry to go Dilbert on you, but top level guys rarely know what's going on. The files they have access to that other people don't are policy and architecture.

        I definitely agree with your comment that "I am being managed as a reader."  

        Learn from the Old Soviet Union. Don't read papers or listen to the news for information. Read it meta. For example, what aren't they telling me? How are they using a word that I react to emotionally? When multiple accounts differ, how do they differ and do the differences shift over time?

        We can only be managed to the extent that we want to believe what the media tells us.  

        •  Agreed with your assessment of the top (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Hey338Too, commonmass

          but I'm not sure that is necessarily the case here with NSA. But even if it is, the impression I get from this article is that whatever he took at the top level is considered a 12 out of 10.

          And that may be architecture and policy. They are already saying Snowden has a blueprint. That very well could be the "crown jewels" because the pictures those blueprints make may be, in and of themselves, more explosive than anything else.

          The place was utterly dark—the oubliette, as I suppose, of their accursed convent.

          by bastrop on Fri Aug 30, 2013 at 11:19:25 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Does NOT! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bastrop, commonmass


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