EdwardSnowden and the Revelation of NSA Surveillance Operations
EdwardSnowden and the Revelation of NSA Surveillance Operations
Therights to privacy and confidentiality have been controversial issues,especially during the information and the digital age. The twoperiods are characterized by rapid technological advancements, whichhave both negative and positive impacts in human life. Seriousconcern about the vulnerability of the modern digital communicationsto government surveillance has been raised in the last few decades. Astudy has shown that both covert and overt electronic surveillance invarious jurisdictions has flourished with the concept of governmentalsurveillance emerging as a hazardous practice instead of anexceptional measure 1.Although governmental surveillance is conducted with an excuse thatthe government intends to prevent crimes (such as acts of terrorism),mass surveillance infringes the right to privacy of the users of thedigital communication. In the case of the United States, therevelation of digital surveillance activities conducted by theNational Security Agency was a surprise to millions of people whoalways perceived that their digital communications were private andconfidential. This paper will address the issue of publication of thesecrets of the NSA surveillance program with a focus on release ofthe NSA secretes by Edward Snowden to the press and the effect ofthis event on the nation’s security.
EdwardSnowden is an American computer scientist who worked for differentgovernment agencies and programs, especially those that focus oncollection and analysis of security intelligence across the globe.Most importantly, Snowden worked with the National
1Pillay,N. Theright to privacy in the digital age.Geneva: Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2014,p. 3.
SecurityAgency (NSA), which is an intelligence agency used by the governmentof the United States to collect, monitor, decode, analyze, andtranslate data and information pertaining to foreign intelligence 2.The agency is charged with the responsibility of protecting theinformation and communication systems of the government of the UnitedStates from the network and penetration warfare. Snowden got the NSAcontract in 2009, where he worked under the NSA unit named Dell 3.Dell is responsible for the management of computer systems owned bymany government agencies.
Similarto other security agencies, Dell reassigned Snowden from one positionto another and from one station to another, which Snowden perceivedwas a strategy to distract him from the totality of his expertise andfull knowledge of the government intelligence operations. It has beenreported that Snowden was given privileges over other employees ofhis level due to his perceived intelligence and expertise on issuesof cyber security, which allowed him unlimited access to all data andinformation collected by NSA 4. Snowden used his broad knowledge about NSA operations to assess itsprograms from the legal point of view and suggested through internalchannels that the programs were unconstitutional. However, it was notuntil June 2013 when Snowden began publishing leaks about NSAoperations through websites and later revealed his identity to thepress, which resulted in further publication of the NSA activities.
2.National Security Agency. “The Cyber World”. NSA.Last Modified January 15, 2009. https://www.nsa.gov/
3.Greenwald, G., MacAskill, E, and Poitras, L. EdwardSnowden: The whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations.London: The Guadian, 2013.
4.Andy, G. Introducingsafe source: A way to send Forbes anonymous tips and documents.New York: Forbes, 2013.
Presspublication of the NSA information
Snowdenhad managed to collect large volumes of data and information aboutNSA information within a period of about 4 years in which he workedwith the agency. Although the NSA is a governmental agency owned bythe government of the United States, it collected and analyzedsurveillance information of different jurisdictions in the world.Snowden released this information in pieces. The exact amount ofdisclosure made by Snowden is remains unknown, but it is estimatedthat 15,000 intelligence files for the Australian government, 58,000by the British government were disclosed to the public 5.Further investigations revealed that Snowden had copied about 1.7intelligence files from the NSA, most of which were sensitive andtheir release to the public would trigger surprise reactions 6.This bunch of files consisted of intercepted instant-messages andemail conversations that as well as other documents retrieved fromdifferent online accounts. Some of the documents that Snowden managedto download contained information pertaining to military tactics,capabilities, procedures, techniques, and operations. Snowdenreleased the documents in parts because he had to screen each one ofthem to ensure that only those that contained information on publicinterest was handed over to journalists.
Snowdenhad a strategy to release the documents to different journalistsworking in different media houses on condition that they would bepublished. Glenn Greenwald working at the Guardian, Barton Gellman,who is a journalist working with the Washington Post, and LauraPoitras who, is a documentary filmmaker are some of the journalistswho received
5.Miranda, D. DavidMiranda row: Seized files endanger agents’.London: BBC, 2013.
6.Strohm, C. and Wilber, D. Pentagonsays Snowden took most U.S. secrets ever.New York, NY: Bloomberg, 2014.
largevolumes of intelligence documents from Snowden between February andApril 2013 7.Initially, Snowden concealed his identity, which was a deliberateplan that would ensure that he was not the only person with theinformation by the time the government identifies the actual sourceof the leaks. This was followed by an electronic interview with JacobAppelbaum and Poitras, which was then published by Spiegel OnlineInternational on July 2013 8.Other documents were published were obtained by different media firms(including the Guardian located in Britain, the New York Times in theUnited States, O Globo in Brazil, Der Spiegel in Germany, and LeMonde in France among other publishing firms located in differentcountries. Most of these publications were made between May 2013 andFebruary 2014, and they caused serious public debate on the degree ofspying by the government agencies 9.
Significanceof the publication of the NSA documents
Thedocuments released by Snowden to journalist contained informationabout global surveillance conducted by the United States and itsthree partners, namely the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia 10.The publication affected the operations of the key surveillanceprograms (such as the PRISM and Tempora) run by the government.Snowden’s main objective of publishing information about theseprograms was to show that the NSA had exceeded its legal-approvedaccess to private information. The programs allowed the threegovernments to access and analyze emails, phone calls, and onlineaccounts of
7.Irin, C. “How we broke the NSA story”. Salon.Last modified June 11, 2013.http://www.salon.com/2013/06/10/qa_with_laura_poitras_the_woman_behind_the_nsa_scoops/
8.Poitras, L. “Edward Snowden interview: The NSA and its willinghelpers”. Spiegel.Last modified July 8, 2013.http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/interview-with-whistleblower-edward-snowden-on-global-spying-a-910006.html
9.Markinson, J. ThePulitzer prizes just demolished the idea that Edward Snowden is atraitor.New York: Huffington Incorporation, 2013.
10.Leslie, T. and Corcoran, M. Explained:Australia’s involvement with the NSA, the U.S. spy agency at heartglobal scandal.Ultimo: Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2013.
millionsof people within their respective countries as well as in othercountries. This was a major significant issue that would affect thediplomatic relationship between the United States and its allies. Forexample, some documents indicated that NSA had secretly spied AngelaMarkel, the German Chancellor, which was a threat to the diplomaticrelationships between the United States and Germany 11.Although most of the publications focused on the infringements of theright to privacy, claims have been made that these publications gaveterrorist groups an opportunity to change their strategies 12.This is a significant blow to the war on terror.
Themost sensitive revelations about NSA surveillance
Althoughnearly all revelations made by Snowden had some degree of sensitivityto the issue of security, four of them would potentially affect thenational security directly. First, Snowden reported that the NSA hadbeen collecting Meta data from phone calls and emails and supplementsthe data with information from other sources, such as bank codes, GPSlocations, and transportation databases 13.This will help criminals avoid potential traps set by the securityagencies. Secondly, Snowden revealed that the NSA had acquired thecapacity to use its Bullrun program to crack encrypted programs ownedby different companies and access customers’ information 14.Despite the fact that the NSA has attempted to defend itself on thegrounds that the information is acquired only
11.Baker, L. Merkelfrosty on the U.S. over unacceptable spying allegation.London: Reuters, 2013.
12.Dilanian, K. “Snowden leaks severely hurt U.S. security, two housemembers say”. LosAngeles Times,9 January 2014, 1.
13.Rowen,B. TheNSA Edward Snowden and surveillance.Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education Incorporation, 2007.
14.Ball, J., Borger, J. & Greenwald, and G. Revealed:How U.S. and U.K. spy agencies defeat internet privacy and security.London: The Guardia, 2013, 4.
forsecurity purposes, it is evident that the extent of surveillance goesbeyond what is mandated in the law. Third, the publications showedthat NSA had hacked the email domain of the president of Mexico,Filipe Calderon, which was a threat to the relationship between theUnited States and Mexico. Fourth, NSA has been tracking andmonitoring the usage of credit cards and customer records of the topthree service providers, including Sprint Nextel, AT & T, andVerizon 15.In essence, the revelation of these pieces of information that madethe members of the public and the international community see thegovernment of the United States from a different perspective.
Impactsof the publications on the national security
Electroniccommunication is one of the key elements of globalization that groupsof terrorists are using to establish global networks. Consequently,NSA has been trapping email, phone call, and instant communicationacross the globe with the objective of studying terrorist operationsand preventing the acts of terrorism before they occur. Study showsthat the surveillance programs (including the trapping and analysisof email and phone calls) by NSA had helped the government inpreventing the implementation of approximately 50 terrorist plansbetween 2001 and the time Snowden revealed the secrets of NSAprograms 16.This suggests that the NSA infringement of privacy could be anecessary evil. A similar study shows that terrorist groups that werebeing tracked by NSA changed their tactics to detect detection sincethe revelation of the military tactics and the NSA
15.Rowen, B. TheNSA Edward Snowden and surveillance.Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education Incorporation, 2007.
surveillanceoperations by Snowden. Consequently, publishing the information hasbeen perceived by the majority of the government agencies and part ofthe public as an act of betraying the nation. Although Snowden mightnot have intended to partner with terrorists, publishing the NSAsurveillance secretes shielded terrorists and gave them anopportunity to devise new tactics of avoiding detection by securityagencies. This will likely increase the porosity of the nationalborders and subject the country to the risk of surprise terroristattacks.
Impactsof court’s limits on NSA surveillance
Theidea of collecting and analyzing emails and phone calls was based onthe ruling made by the Supreme Court in the case of Smithv. Maryland 1979,which stated that the police and the surveillance agencies had theauthority to capture the phone call information for the purposes ofsecurity investigations 17.The court based the ruling the facts that a suspect would not beexpected to keep certain information private given that the serviceof a third party (telephone service provider) has been used. Therevelation of the NSA surveillance raised the debate on theinfringement of the rights to privacy, which culminated in thedecision that the investigation agencies could no longer apply theruling in Smith’s case given the significant changes that havetaken place in the technology industry since 1979 18. This was followed by the release of about 46 recommendations byPresident Obama, among them being a requirement that NSA and policeofficers should obtain a court order before accessing emails andphone calls. Although this sounds to be a viable plan for ensuringthat the rights of the email and phone users are protected, therecommendations have limited the capacity to the security agencies totrack criminals with total secrecy and urgency
17.Rowen, B. TheNSA Edward Snowden and surveillance.Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education Incorporation, 2007.
beforethey commit crimes. This subjects the homeland security to the riskof attack by either the homegrown or foreign criminals.
Impactof the diplomatic crisis on the national security
Snowden’sleaks revealed that the NSA had been spying former allies, such asGermany, Brazil, France, and Spain, which caused a diplomatic crisisbetween these countries and the United States. Snowden stated thatthe NSA spied on government officials, government agencies, privatecompanies, and citizens of foreign countries without informing theaffected countries 19.In one of these cases, Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germanyexpressed her outrage when she learned NSA had been trapping herphone calls in the last ten years. In addition, the conflictingreports about the period in which the President Obama has been awareof the NSA surveillance of the U.S. allies and particularly AngelaMarkel. One of these reports stated that Obama was informed aboutAngela’s case in 2010, while other testimony given to theIntelligence Committee indicated that the National SecurityCommittee, which the presidents is a member, had been informed longago about the NSA surveillance on the U.S. allies 20.Security is one of the key issues that had brought these countriesinto friendship. These countries have been collaborating on mattersof security, especially those that pertain to global terrorism. Theinterference of this warm relationship between these countries islikely to affect the practice of sharing security information andthis might weaken the war on terror. This will subject the UnitedStates, which has been the primary target of terrorist groups, to therisk of surprise attacks.
EdwardSnowden is one of the intelligence experts who defected from theintelligence
19.Rowen, B. TheNSA Edward Snowden and surveillance.Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education Incorporation, 2007.
unitsand revealed the secrets of NSA, which is against the professionalethics. Most of Snowden’s revelations focused on the issue ofinfringement of people’s right to privacy, but some of thedocuments he handed over to journalists weakened the surveillancecarried out for security purposes. The revelation was perceived toone of the most significant in the U.S. history because it affectedthe U. S. diplomatic relationship with its former allies, providedterrorist groups with an opportunity to escape the traps set bysecurity agencies, and resulted in the limitation of the NSA scope inits surveillance operations. Some of the most sensitive revelationspertained to the NSA surveillance on the U. S. close allies anddomestic and foreign phone calls and emails. In conclusion, Snowdenintended to advocate for the respect of the right to privacy, butsome of the documents he requested the press to publish aredetrimental to the national security.
Andy,G. Introducingsafe source: A way to send Forbes anonymous tips and documents.New York: Forbes, 2013.
Baker,L. Merkelfrosty on the U.S. over unacceptable spying allegation.London: Reuters, 2013.
Ball,J., Borger, J. & Greenwald, and G. Revealed:How U.S. and U.K. spy agencies defeat internet privacy and security.London: The Guardia, 2013.
Dilanian,K. “Snowden leaks severely hurt U.S. security, two house memberssay”. LosAngeles Times,9 January 2014, 1.
Greenwald,G., MacAskill, E, and Poitras, L. EdwardSnowden: The whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations.London: The Guadian, 2013.
Irin,C. “How we broke the NSA story”. Salon. Last modified June 11,2013.http://www.salon.com/2013/06/10/qa_with_laura_poitras_the_woman_behind_the_nsa_scoops/
Leslie,T. and Corcoran, M. Explained:Australia’s involvement with the NSA, the U.S. spy agency at heartglobal scandal.Ultimo: Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2013.
Markinson,J. ThePulitzer prizes just demolished the idea that Edward Snowden is atraitor.New York: Huffington Incorporation, 2013.
Miranda,D. DavidMiranda row: Seized files endanger agents’.London: BBC, 2013.
NationalSecurity Agency. “The Cyber World”. NSA.Last Modified January 15, 2009. https://www.nsa.gov/
Pillay,N. Theright to privacy in the digital age.Geneva: Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2014.
Poitras,L. “Edward Snowden interview: The NSA and its willing helpers”.Spiegel.Last modified July 8, 2013.http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/interview-with-whistleblower-edward-snowden-on-global-spying-a-910006.html
Rowen,B. The NSA EdwardSnowden and surveillance.Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education Incorporation, 2007.
Strohm,C. and Wilber, D. Pentagonsays Snowden took most U.S. secrets ever.New York, NY: Bloomberg, 2014.