Snowden Ten Years Later

In 2013 and 2014, I wrote extensively about new revelations regarding NSA surveillance based on the documents provided by Edward Snowden. But I had a more personal involvement as well.

I wrote the essay below in September 2013. The New Yorker agreed to publish it, but the Guardian asked me not to. It was scared of UK law enforcement, and worried that this essay would reflect badly on it. And given that the UK police would raid its offices in July 2014, it had legitimate cause to be worried.

Now, ten years later, I offer this as a time capsule of what those early months of Snowden were like.

It’s a surreal experience, paging through hundreds of top-secret NSA documents. You’re peering into a forbidden world: strange, confusing, and fascinating all at the same time.

I had flown down to Rio de Janeiro in late August at the request of Glenn Greenwald. He had been working on the Edward Snowden archive for a couple of months, and had a pile of more technical documents that he wanted help interpreting. According to Greenwald, Snowden also thought that bringing me down was a good idea.

It made sense. I didn’t know either of them, but I have been writing about cryptography, security, and privacy for decades. I could decipher some of the technical language that Greenwald had difficulty with, and understand the context and importance of various document. And I have long been publicly critical of the NSA’s eavesdropping capabilities. My knowledge and expertise could help figure out which stories needed to be reported.

I thought about it a lot before agreeing. This was before David Miranda, Greenwald’s partner, was detained at Heathrow airport by the UK authorities; but even without that, I knew there was a risk. I fly a lot—a quarter of a million miles per year—and being put on a TSA list, or being detained at the US border and having my electronics confiscated, would be a major problem. So would the FBI breaking into my home and seizing my personal electronics. But in the end, that made me more determined to do it.

I did spend some time on the phone with the attorneys recommended to me by the ACLU and the EFF. And I talked about it with my partner, especially when Miranda was detained three days before my departure. Both Greenwald and his employer, the Guardian, are careful about whom they show the documents to. They publish only those portions essential to getting the story out. It was important to them that I be a co-author, not a source. I didn’t follow the legal reasoning, but the point is that the Guardian doesn’t want to leak the documents to random people. It will, however, write stories in the public interest, and I would be allowed to review the documents as part of that process. So after a Skype conversation with someone at the Guardian, I signed a letter of engagement.

And then I flew to Brazil.

I saw only a tiny slice of the documents, and most of what I saw was surprisingly banal. The concerns of the top-secret world are largely tactical: system upgrades, operational problems owing to weather, delays because of work backlogs, and so on. I paged through weekly reports, presentation slides from status meetings, and general briefings to educate visitors. Management is management, even inside the NSA Reading the documents, I felt as though I were sitting through some of those endless meetings.

The meeting presenters try to spice things up. Presentations regularly include intelligence success stories. There were details—what had been found, and how, and where it helped—and sometimes there were attaboys from “customers” who used the intelligence. I’m sure these are intended to remind NSA employees that they’re doing good. It definitely had an effect on me. Those were all things I want the NSA to be doing.

There were so many code names. Everything has one: every program, every piece of equipment, every piece of software. Sometimes code names had their own code names. The biggest secrets seem to be the underlying real-world information: which particular company MONEYROCKET is; what software vulnerability EGOTISTICALGIRAFFE—really, I am not making that one up—is; how TURBINE works. Those secrets collectively have a code name—ECI, for exceptionally compartmented information—and almost never appear in the documents. Chatting with Snowden on an encrypted IM connection, I joked that the NSA cafeteria menu probably has code names for menu items. His response: “Trust me when I say you have no idea.”

Those code names all come with logos, most of them amateurish and a lot of them dumb. Note to the NSA: take some of that more than ten-billion-dollar annual budget and hire yourself a design firm. Really; it’ll pay off in morale.

Once in a while, though, I would see something that made me stop, stand up, and pace around in circles. It wasn’t that what I read was particularly exciting, or important. It was just that it was startling. It changed—ever so slightly—how I thought about the world.

Greenwald said that that reaction was normal when people started reading through the documents.

Intelligence professionals talk about how disorienting it is living on the inside. You read so much classified information about the world’s geopolitical events that you start seeing the world differently. You become convinced that only the insiders know what’s really going on, because the news media is so often wrong. Your family is ignorant. Your friends are ignorant. The world is ignorant. The only thing keeping you from ignorance is that constant stream of classified knowledge. It’s hard not to feel superior, not to say things like “If you only knew what we know” all the time. I can understand how General Keith Alexander, the director of the NSA, comes across as so supercilious; I only saw a minute fraction of that secret world, and I started feeling it.

It turned out to be a terrible week to visit Greenwald, as he was still dealing with the fallout from Miranda’s detention. Two other journalists, one from the Nation and the other from the Hindu, were also in town working with him. A lot of my week involved Greenwald rushing into my hotel room, giving me a thumb drive of new stuff to look through, and rushing out again.

A technician from the Guardian got a search capability working while I was there, and I spent some time with it. Question: when you’re given the capability to search through a database of NSA secrets, what’s the first thing you look for? Answer: your name.

It wasn’t there. Neither were any of the algorithm names I knew, not even algorithms I knew that the US government used.

I tried to talk to Greenwald about his own operational security. It had been incredibly stupid for Miranda to be traveling with NSA documents on the thumb drive. Transferring files electronically is what encryption is for. I told Greenwald that he and Laura Poitras should be sending large encrypted files of dummy documents back and forth every day.

Once, at Greenwald’s home, I walked into the backyard and looked for TEMPEST receivers hiding in the trees. I didn’t find any, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there. Greenwald has a lot of dogs, but I don’t think that would hinder professionals. I’m sure that a bunch of major governments have a complete copy of everything Greenwald has. Maybe the black bag teams bumped into each other in those early weeks.

I started doubting my own security procedures. Reading about the NSA’s hacking abilities will do that to you. Can it break the encryption on my hard drive? Probably not. Has the company that makes my encryption software deliberately weakened the implementation for it? Probably. Are NSA agents listening in on my calls back to the US? Very probably. Could agents take control of my computer over the Internet if they wanted to? Definitely. In the end, I decided to do my best and stop worrying about it. It was the agency’s documents, after all. And what I was working on would become public in a few weeks.

I wasn’t sleeping well, either. A lot of it was the sheer magnitude of what I saw. It’s not that any of it was a real surprise. Those of us in the information security community had long assumed that the NSA was doing things like this. But we never really sat down and figured out the details, and to have the details confirmed made a big difference. Maybe I can make it clearer with an analogy. Everyone knows that death is inevitable; there’s absolutely no surprise about that. Yet it arrives as a surprise, because we spend most of our lives refusing to think about it. The NSA documents were a bit like that. Knowing that it is surely true that the NSA is eavesdropping on the world, and doing it in such a methodical and robust manner, is very different from coming face-to-face with the reality that it is and the details of how it is doing it.

I also found it incredibly difficult to keep the secrets. The Guardian’s process is slow and methodical. I move much faster. I drafted stories based on what I found. Then I wrote essays about those stories, and essays about the essays. Writing was therapy; I would wake up in the wee hours of the morning, and write an essay. But that put me at least three levels beyond what was published.

Now that my involvement is out, and my first essays are out, I feel a lot better. I’m sure it will get worse again when I find another monumental revelation; there are still more documents to go through.

I’ve heard it said that Snowden wants to damage America. I can say with certainty that he does not. So far, everyone involved in this incident has been incredibly careful about what is released to the public. There are many documents that could be immensely harmful to the US, and no one has any intention of releasing them. The documents the reporters release are carefully redacted. Greenwald and I repeatedly debated with Guardian editors the newsworthiness of story ideas, stressing that we would not expose government secrets simply because they’re interesting.

The NSA got incredibly lucky; this could have ended with a massive public dump like Chelsea Manning’s State Department cables. I suppose it still could. Despite that, I can imagine how this feels to the NSA. It’s used to keeping this stuff behind multiple levels of security: gates with alarms, armed guards, safe doors, and military-grade cryptography. It’s not supposed to be on a bunch of thumb drives in Brazil, Germany, the UK, the US, and who knows where else, protected largely by some random people’s opinions about what should or should not remain secret. This is easily the greatest intelligence failure in the history of ever. It’s amazing that one person could have had so much access with so little accountability, and could sneak all of this data out without raising any alarms. The odds are close to zero that Snowden is the first person to do this; he’s just the first person to make public that he did. It’s a testament to General Alexander’s power that he hasn’t been forced to resign.

It’s not that we weren’t being careful about security, it’s that our standards of care are so different. From the NSA’s point of view, we’re all major security risks, myself included. I was taking notes about classified material, crumpling them up, and throwing them into the wastebasket. I was printing documents marked “TOP SECRET/COMINT/NOFORN” in a hotel lobby. And once, I took the wrong thumb drive with me to dinner, accidentally leaving the unencrypted one filled with top-secret documents in my hotel room. It was an honest mistake; they were both blue.

If I were an NSA employee, the policy would be to fire me for that alone.

Many have written about how being under constant surveillance changes a person. When you know you’re being watched, you censor yourself. You become less open, less spontaneous. You look at what you write on your computer and dwell on what you’ve said on the telephone, wonder how it would sound taken out of context, from the perspective of a hypothetical observer. You’re more likely to conform. You suppress your individuality. Even though I have worked in privacy for decades, and already knew a lot about the NSA and what it does, the change was palpable. That feeling hasn’t faded. I am now more careful about what I say and write. I am less trusting of communications technology. I am less trusting of the computer industry.

After much discussion, Greenwald and I agreed to write three stories together to start. All of those are still in progress. In addition, I wrote two commentaries on the Snowden documents that were recently made public. There’s a lot more to come; even Greenwald hasn’t looked through everything.

Since my trip to Brazil [one month before], I’ve flown back to the US once and domestically seven times—all without incident. I’m not on any list yet. At least, none that I know about.

As it happened, I didn’t write much more with Greenwald or the Guardian. Those two had a falling out, and by the time everything settled and both began writing about the documents independently—Greenwald at the newly formed website the Intercept—I got cut out of the process somehow. I remember hearing that Greenwald was annoyed with me, but I never learned the reason. We haven’t spoken since.

Still, I was happy with the one story I was part of: how the NSA hacks Tor. I consider it a personal success that I pushed the Guardian to publish NSA documents detailing QUANTUM. I don’t think that would have gotten out any other way. And I still use those pages today when I teach cybersecurity to policymakers at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Other people wrote about the Snowden files, and wrote a lot. It was a slow trickle at first, and then a more consistent flow. Between Greenwald, Bart Gellman, and the Guardian reporters, there ended up being steady stream of news. (Bart brought in Ashkan Soltani to help him with the technical aspects, which was a great move on his part, even if it cost Ashkan a government job later.) More stories were covered by other publications.

It started getting weird. Both Greenwald and Gellman held documents back so they could publish them in their books. Jake Appelbaum, who had not yet been accused of sexual assault by multiple women, was working with Laura Poitras. He partnered with Spiegel to release an implant catalog from the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations group. To this day, I am convinced that that document was not in the Snowden archives: that Jake got it somehow, and it was released with the implication that it was from Edward Snowden. I thought it was important enough that I started writing about each item in that document in my blog: “NSA Exploit of the Week.” That got my website blocked by the DoD: I keep a framed print of the censor’s message on my wall.

Perhaps the most surreal document disclosures were when artists started writing fiction based on the documents. This was in 2016, when Poitras built a secure room in New York to house the documents. By then, the documents were years out of date. And now they’re over a decade out of date. (They were leaked in 2013, but most of them were from 2012 or before.)

I ended up being something of a public ambassador for the documents. When I got back from Rio, I gave talks at a private conference in Woods Hole, the Berkman Center at Harvard, something called the Congress and Privacy and Surveillance in Geneva, events at both CATO and New America in DC, an event at the University of Pennsylvania, an event at EPIC and a “Stop Watching Us” rally in DC, the RISCS conference in London, the ISF in Paris, and…then…at the IETF meeting in Vancouver in November 2013. (I remember little of this; I am reconstructing it all from my calendar.)

What struck me at the IETF was the indignation in the room, and the calls to action. And there was action, across many fronts. We technologists did a lot to help secure the Internet, for example.

The government didn’t do its part, though. Despite the public outcry, investigations by Congress, pronouncements by President Obama, and federal court rulings, I don’t think much has changed. The NSA canceled a program here and a program there, and it is now more public about defense. But I don’t think it is any less aggressive about either bulk or targeted surveillance. Certainly its government authorities haven’t been restricted in any way. And surveillance capitalism is still the business model of the Internet.

And Edward Snowden? We were in contact for a while on Signal. I visited him once in Moscow, in 2016. And I had him do an guest lecture to my class at Harvard for a few years, remotely by Jitsi. Afterwards, I would hold a session where I promised to answer every question he would evade or not answer, explain every response he did give, and be candid in a way that someone with an outstanding arrest warrant simply cannot. Sometimes I thought I could channel Snowden better than he could.

But now it’s been a decade. Everything he knows is old and out of date. Everything we know is old and out of date. The NSA suffered an even worse leak of its secrets by the Russians, under the guise of the Shadow Brokers, in 2016 and 2017. The NSA has rebuilt. It again has capabilities we can only surmise.

This essay previously appeared in an IETF publication, as part of an Edward Snowden ten-year retrospective.

EDITED TO ADD (6/7): Conversation between Snowden, Greenwald, and Poitras.

Posted on June 6, 2023 at 7:17 AM46 Comments


Boris June 6, 2023 8:08 AM

It’s time Ed Snowden was given his US passport back and allowed to travel again. He did the world a favor and shouldn’t still be persecuted for it.

Ted Heise June 6, 2023 8:20 AM

Fascinating. Thanks for posting, Bruce.

Learning of the framed picture on your wall made me chuckle, though more a sad than happy chuckle.


wallace June 6, 2023 8:34 AM

System complexity has skyrocketed since then.
Incompetence is now the most grave threat.
Forget Snowden.

Clive Robinson June 6, 2023 9:20 AM

@ Bruce, ALL,

Rr : Behind the smoke is mirrors behind which…

“You become convinced that only the insiders know what’s really going on, because the news media is so often wrong.”

I’ve frequently pointed out that journalists and their editors do not have a clue, other than how to play on human emotions to sell what is at the end of the day advertising space.

We know that the UK IC had got to the Guardian sometime ago with the old “We’ll slip you a crumb if you…” and she swallowed the bait and was thus forever hooked and held on a line stronger than a leash.

But that game goes on at all levels, even those supposed IC insiders mostly don’t have a clue, they just think they do because they too get fed crumbs often false ones.

One of the reasons for all those code names is to keep information from being put together like a jigsaw by the insiders at all levels.

We know that even General Michael Haydon got played like a pike on a run from time to time. He might have been the Big Boss but he was not fully in the know, thus in charge.

As many know, you can hide much from the boss if you do ot right, the trick is managing the information.

Snowden realised this, which is why he was able to gather a lot of what he did. We know that having exploited it, it nearly ate him up realising what would happen to others if he did not come out from behind his mirror.

Compared to many who work in “The Puzzle Palace” and similar places he had morals and integrity. Not so those who are there for their own reasons that ever so rarely get glimpsed.

We laugh now about how Oliver North got caught four decades ago, but appart from more cautious methods do people seriously think such human things have actually changed?

Technology “outs” as the CIA found with ADS-B transponders in their aircraft that they thought they had hidden behind shell companies and similar out of date methods. We still do not know what those surveillance style flights over the US were all about, but we do know the CIA is not allegadly alowed to operate on US Soil against US citizens. With “plausable deniability” thrown in it’s also unlikely that CIA managment knew either. Such was the joy of “Make it so” orders and the like.

Winter June 6, 2023 10:17 AM

“You become convinced that only the insiders know what’s really going on, because the news media is so often wrong.”

That is not limited to government policies or intelligence. We must accept that no one is able to see “what is really going on”, no one.

There is a joke from a Dutch comedian where he takes the position of a professional, a commercial pilot to be exact. In it he talks about a national news paper which he admires. He considers its reporting excellent, except when the subject is the air transport industry, then they often have no idea what is happening.

Just like everyone else, journalists tend to discuss matters out of their expertise. It is just that journalists have to do it for a living. They try to follow rules to get the correct quotes and information and print them as close to “true” as they can. But whenever it is about an area of knowledge I really do know about, I can see they are often missing the point. Comments sections in blogs or social media generally are worse than useless in this respect.

In return, when I do talk with experts in a field, I quickly understand how little my ideas about the field have in common with reality.

If we think that the TLAs are better off, think again. Noone foresaw the fall of the USSR, the financial crisis of 2008, and these do not even touch upon the levels of ignorance inside the world’s intelligence organizations surrounding Russia’s last invasion.

Morley June 6, 2023 11:46 AM

Zoom out a little and you see ignorant well meaning people. More and you see corrupt people. Zoom out even more and you see the strings of both being pulled by a system so big nobody sees the whole thing.

I think it’s history repeating but it’s still stressful. Maybe someday we’ll cure gullibility, psychopathy, and impatience. Wouldn’t that be amazing.

Clive Robinson June 6, 2023 12:38 PM

@ Bruce, ALL,

Re : The wheel turns…

“The NSA has rebuilt. It again has capabilities we can only surmise.”

Actually we can do more than surmise.

We know the high water mark on any of theor capabilities is,

“The laws of physics as we currently know them”.

As for a low water mark, you can approximate to,

“Anything a human just standing in store bought clothes can do.

But though they appear to have unlimited resources they don’t and that hauls in their capabilities rather more than many might expect…

“And surveillance capitalism is still the business model of the Internet.”

Is a point to many miss… Silicon Valley and similar Corps, actually have more capabilities than the NSA has.

The NSA is nolonger the leader in “all things communications” it used to be. Nor is it the leader anylonger in many other areas. Whilst,

“The NSA canceled a program here and a program there, and it is now more public about defense. But I don’t think it is any less aggressive about either bulk or targeted surveillance. Certainly its government authorities haven’t been restricted in any way.”

Actually they have been restricted by the politics of greed. Various political interests have eaten away at the very heart of the NSA R&D the same as they have with other members of the IC and LE.

The results have been the decimation of secure computing amoungst others, and I suspect having to “buy in” not even leading edge technology in the communications sector hurts.

In part it’s been responsible for all the,

1, Going Dark
2, Anti China 5G

As well as a number of other things.

Like they nolonger have the pick of the best mathmeticians or technologists, they are not even getting second best in most cases. USG salaries and benifits and loss of status and career progression is not an encouragement to cross the threshold of a recruiters stand at graduate job fairs (or “milk round” as it used to get called). Because in part all the “cool toys” and “benifits” are in Silicon Valley and sometimes in VC backed start-ups.

Ed Snowden’s Trove actually showed a whole generation that the old “Be a Patriot” had worse than no benifit. Because of it, other stories not just leaked out but gained traction in the MSM. As a result we now know oh so much more about the likes of “Surveillance Corps” than would ever have been believed.

Do you realy think stories about certain Italian, Israeli and other Nations harbouring some realy quite unpleasent people selling surveillance tools to Dictators, Tyrants, Police States and even criminal organisations would have ever been told without Ed Snowden’s trove opening peoples eyes?

I suspect in time history will look back on Ed Snowden, and see him rather diferently than he has been. Will he be alive to see it and free to go where he choses without fear? I don’t know, but we can always hope that he will be able to, and soon.

As for leading edge surveillance I’d look at the “Old Kid on the block” that is suddenly “Young again”. Those AI engines are certainly A but not I in any way. But I rate them as being one of the greatest surveillance tools in the making that we’ve ever seen (so far). LLM’s and simillar are way way more worrisome than Quantum Computing (which we atleast know how to compleatly nullify as far as Crypto and the privacy it provides is concerned).

Erdem Memisyazici June 6, 2023 12:53 PM

A FISA court agreed that what Snowden revealed was indeed improper. The level of intrusion possible without privacy is truly astounding. I think Americans had a right to know what everyone mostly knew anyways (by clipper chips etc.)

Personally I think a law bound public agency under the threat of prison time is better equipped than a private company who can sell your search history without any consequences (even if it includes legally protected information).

That being said none of it would even be a discussion without Snowden.

That’s what a whistleblower does and the purpose of an independent media organization is to inform the public as necessary from the perspective of a civilian which is exactly what happened.

This is really checks and balances actually working. It would be nice to get Snowden back home frankly.

Laskun June 6, 2023 2:04 PM

… so average Americans are really gullible & dumb to trust “insiders” like the NSA, but the Bosses who created & supervise NSA (Congress, Presidents) can somehow be totally trusted long term as fundamentally benign institutions ??

Any logical thinker should recognize that the senior levels of government are also untrustworthy “insiders” … who should not rule the populace with current outrageously broad powers.

kodlu June 6, 2023 2:05 PM

Thanks for sharing this article. Whistleblowers such as Snowden, regardless of his choices since then, perform an important service.

I just wanted to remind everyone that Julian Assange, who first came to prominence with his video collateral murder showing war crimes by US soldiers in Iraq is still in detention, and the way he has been treated by powers that be for essentially performing the tasks of journalism [which NYT and Guardian and the like received awards for] is nothing short of a massive violation of his human rights. If this was done by Putin’s regime he’d be a giant cause celebre in the West.

There is enough shame to go around regarding Julian’s predicament, but US, UK and Australian governments are the main parties responsible, with a Swedish prosecutor playing a role as well.

Winter June 6, 2023 2:38 PM


Zoom out even more and you see the strings of both being pulled by a system so big nobody sees the whole thing.

People simply cannot accept that ignorance, stupidity, and small-mindedness combined with a cosmos doing its own thing are ample explanation for history.

Shit happens is generally the only possible explanation.

In physics terms, the second law of thermodynamics predicts that things go wrong all by themselves.

Maybe someday we’ll cure gullibility, psychopathy, and impatience. Wouldn’t that be amazing.

Eternal Peace is the name of a cemetery. Your utopia is the end of humanity.

JonKnowsNothing June 6, 2023 3:30 PM

@ Clive, @ Bruce, ALL,

Re :

@B: The NSA has rebuilt. It again has capabilities we can only surmise.

@C: Actually we can do more than surmise.

In addition to @Clive’s insights there are the hardware systems and new tech that exposes just how much security services have access too.

In one case, this is the Super Computer models as reviewed and ranked by that industry. While recent indications are that China has well eclipsed USA super computer models and no longer see any benefit in releasing statistics on their public facing systems, these are the bare minimums that the government designs for itself.

Generically there is one model for public use, like research, and often associated with a university or well known research organization. There maybe several of these built and spread around.

There are other models that far eclipse those stats that are maintained and used by “secret” groups, these include government modeling systems, military modeling system and the NSA, CIA, FBI.

Years ago, it was know that the NSA had the ability to store 100% of all global communications for hundreds of years. Their technology did not walk backward.

Clive Robinson June 6, 2023 7:50 PM

@JonKnowsNothing, ALL,

Re : Storage from fully mutable to one time write is insufficient.

“Years ago, it was know that the NSA had the ability to store 100% of all global communications for hundreds of years. Their technology did not walk backward.”

No it dod not but two things to note,

1, The 100% was never true just an assumption.
2, whilst it did not walk backward it also did not walk forward fast enough either…

Bandwidth required has rissen at a rate that neither backhaul networks to data centers or storage capacity within data centers can keep up with. Nor can lossless compresion techniques keep up either.

But there is also another issue I’ve mentioned before with the likes of GPS. GPS works by time difference between two or more signals that change relative to each other when in “free space” but NOT when they are in the same transmission line (look up MIMO techniques[1]).

For a while when HTTPS was not the norm they could compare streams and where duplicated store only one copy and the required number of links and time offsets. Which whilst it gave reliable in channel intentional data that had no losses, some meta-data and a lot of meta-meta-data was lost.

If you know this, you can also realise that meta-data and meta-meta-data can be used to form “data shadows” that carry other information split across multiple channels.

A simple example is you stream the same video to two people at different IP addresssses BUT both streams share the same Internet cloud path through a router.

If the two streams are perfectly time stable then only a very few bits of data are available at the router or subsequent routers etc.

However Internet streams are both fault and time tolerant. Thus you can inject a considerable amount of data in the form of jitter, time delays, data drop outs/resends. Even just minor phase delay can carry a condiderable percentage of data of an individual stream.

All I have to do as a minimum is find or create two streams that go between two routers A and B. At A I inject jitter or faults that are visable at B and this can be used as a secondary semi-covert data channel between the two routers.

For those doubting this, it is the inverse of the trick used to trace traffic across a Mix or TOR network of which Tor is just one… It’s also a technique used in some early Spread Spectrum Radio Systems using two or more randomly modulated EM carriers. And long before that back in WWII in Radio Navigation Systems used to direct “Path Finder” night bombers, and tell them when to drop flares/markers.

The NSA as does GCHQ etc know that they can not store enough information to catch all covert communications channels. Especially as any communications channel can contain one or more covert channels of lesser bandwidth (it’s not hard to derive a formular for this based on what effectively is “sampling” but it’s not necessary for understanding).

So it’s a problem both the NSA, GCHQ and a number of other SigInt agencies hope you don’t get to know about. Fun thought, arguably as it is also part of TEMPEST techniques that are still technically clasified in the US… If you hold a US clearnce and have read this “Opps”… As far as I’m aware of, if you are not in the US, then nobody cares overly much as all the information required is published in graduate level books, freely available both in a library and quite often “On Line”.

[1] MIMO techniques are used for “Anti-Jam”(AJ), “Low Probability of Intetcept”(LPI), “Low Probability of Detection”(LPD) systems, in what some call “broadcast space” and others more traditionally “free space”. It’s the nominally non relativistic three dimensional space Electromagnetic fields radiate in. Importantly as you move around the phase or time relationship between any two temporaly spaced sources changes and can form near unique points for covert channels etc. To get more information,

Warning if you are not happy with understanding how neural nets in LLM AI systems work, you will find understanding how MIMO works via Feedforward nets and dynamic weight adjustment via error detection works fraught. The article aludes to this with,

“Machine learning combined with advanced signal processing will enable the kind of robust, covert communications that keep us ahead of those trying to do us harm.”

Oh further fun factoid the article mentions,

“A regrouping algorithm ensures that all radios converge on a common frequency”

I worked on the fundementals of such algorithms back in the early 1990’s to solve –believe it or not– a problem with multiple handset cordless phones for a French Telco Company, that also had a military division, three guessee where the work also went… There is actually no algorithm that reliably works on split frequencies even with some quite cute techniques. Starting from this point, you can –in theory– now develop your own “jamming waveforms” to take advantage… Thus we get back into the old ECM begats ECCM which begats yet more “counter measures” each exponentially less effective whilst becomming exponentially more expensive.

Clive Robinson June 6, 2023 8:04 PM

@ Winter,

“People simply cannot accept that ignorance, stupidity, and small-mindedness combined with a cosmos doing its own thing are ample explanation for history.”

It’s the god/deity delusion/deception at work. It’s a form of nearly incurable cognative bias bred into people when they are very young or otherwise have no or limited mental defences. It’s no different to what “cults” get upto.

They are taught that despite all obsetvational evidence that things are not effectively random. Thus they seek what they thing must be a rational purpose to events…

Whilst entropy does impose “petcentage of a petcentage” decay curves on random events… That is about the sum of the universe’s activities.

Thus if God did exist in anything other than mans imagination, she would be standing at the Craps table rolling away. Maybe that’s why gamblers who believe in dead rabbits feet charms on key chains etc call her “Lady Luck”…

Not Really Anonymous June 6, 2023 8:36 PM

Mass surveillance’s affect on privacy isn’t it’s only problem. The ability to find past transgressions gives intelligences agencies a way to affect elections and control politicians. This makes it hard to reign them in once they get powerfull enough.
I’m not sure we are there yet. But I noticed something changed Obama’s stance on telcom participation in spying on Americans around the time he started campaigning for the presidency. I assume that Putin used his intelligence connections to help him gain power in Russia, but I don’t know if that was the deciding factor in him coming to power.

DaDa June 6, 2023 9:24 PM

I always thought sending David Miranda in transit was a deliberate diversion. Do you really think Greenwald acted without direction from Snowden, the OpSec guru?
Thus, it was a deliberate piece of tradecraft misdirection.
To what end we don’t know.

JonKnowsNothing June 6, 2023 10:20 PM

@DaDa, All

re: David Miranda in transit

iirc(badly) At that time, no one really knew how bad the NSA, CIA, FBI were. In the USA, we knew they are “bad actors”, who did “bad things”, in the “name of the USA”, but we really could not conceive of how nasty they were and what sorts of laws (US and International) they were willing to break.

We had less knowledge about what was going on in the UK. Miranda was taken in transit in the UK while in the “no mans land” area of the airport. This form of jurisdictional kidnapping was new to the US population and clearly new to the UK population too.

It was not totally unknown, because both sides knew that “something happened at airports” but LEAs pointed to Drug Smuggling as the reason for detaining someone. So it all slid under the radar for a long time.

The extent of the dissonance was fully exposed during the Senate Torture Investigations, when a particularly damming internal CIA report (aka The Panetta Report) where the full details of many many such jurisdictional kidnappings were documented. The CIA decided to challenge the USA Senate over the Senate custody of the report (or a copy of it) and threatened to storm into the USA Senate Building and into offices of the Secure Enclaves where such secrets are kept. It would have made Dec 37 look like a slumber party had the CIA not backed down.

The same technique was used to strand ES in the RU airport on his way to Germany. The USA got the timing wrong and he was trapped inside the airport and not scooped up when the plane landed. Germany, under Chancellor Merkel, side stepped getting involved with any person(s) who were challenged by the CIA during that period.

Within a small group of activists they knew something was up and were careful transiting country borders. The total extent was not known and was under estimated until this technique was revealed to be Global In Application.

People get caught every day in this sticky mess, by taking planes to visit family, friends, go sight seeing, take vacations, run business trips and while they maintain their facade of ignorance: that they can be take away at any time, by any LEA, by any country, for any reason or for no reason at all.

JonKnowsNothing June 6, 2023 10:44 PM


re: NSA Comms Storage: The Goldilocks Problem


I was doing a fair bit of reading on Super Computers at the time, designs, methods and pros v cons of different approaches to parallel computing. It was pre-quantum information. I recall reading a very detailed article about the storage capabilities of the Bluffdale Data Complex at that time.

The size was stated to be large enough to hold +100 years of the all global communications data.

So within that (vague) memory, I do not recall reading that the NSA actually got that much data to store, but they had the capacity to do so.

It was one of reasons the NSA attack on Belgacom was so important. It showed exactly how the NSA was going to collect all the information, by collecting it directly at the central providers and directly off the orbiting satellites links.

Did the NSA ever achieve 100% Take of Everything?

I dunno if the NSA ever achieved that globally, but they did get 100% Take from about a dozen known countries (1). And that information is stashed in Bluffdale Data Center.


1) The taking, recording and storing of data from foreign countries is perfectly legal in the USA. There are no USA laws being broken.

Clive Robinson June 7, 2023 12:16 AM

@ , ALL,

Re : Dr Jake Appelbaum Ph.d.

“… out of context allegations about Jake Applebaum…”

“It was fairly obvious those allegations were a targeted attack. Because of his work! To my knowledge he has not been charged with anything.”

This was an interview from before the allagations some of which are known to be unfounded were made. It shows that not only was he very much under continuous direct intimidation, preasure and surveillance. As well as importantly how some of those around him were “encoraged” quite forcefully to make false testimony against him,

Also note what is said about the Guardian coming under influance which I’ve mentioned already (and can be verified in other ways).

Also from before the accusations we have,

Which to a certain extentnt corroberates what Dr Applebaum said.

But look up what happened later, including a defemation court case with a highly questionable outcome.

Winter June 7, 2023 12:56 AM


Maybe that’s why gamblers who believe in dead rabbits feet charms on key chains etc call her “Lady Luck”…

Fortuna never was a benevolent goddess.

ResearcherZero June 7, 2023 2:52 AM

“Once written to disk, the software loads the driver and has been observed terminating the user-mode processes of AV and EDR software.”

Gigabyte released updates recently to fix it’s update utility

The WPBT allows vendors and OEMs to run an .exe program in the UEFI layer. Every time Windows boots, it looks at the UEFI, and runs the .exe. It’s used to run programs that aren’t included with the Windows media.

PaulBart June 7, 2023 7:22 AM

Snowden, Assange, and lest we forget Kaczynski. All canaries in the coal mine, yet the people just dig their graves faster.

Winter June 7, 2023 8:01 AM



Kaczynski murdered and maimed people. There is no way Snowden and Assange can be connected to a serial killer except in the mind of an extremist.

Petre Peter June 7, 2023 9:24 AM

Thank you for posting this Professor Schneier. No tyranny can survive without censorship and it’s tragic that sometimes, the people we pay to protect us are the first to break the rules. We need more whistleblowers!

Wannabe techguy June 7, 2023 10:59 AM

Even though I’m not a professional IT guy, I find this interesting.
I’ve read both Snowden & Greenwald’s books, recently side by side. I didn’t realize(or I forgot) about Bruce’s involvement.
I’ve learned to be careful on the internet as much as I can with my limited intelligence.
Thanks for this article.

Who? June 7, 2023 12:52 PM

The handling of this affair was a disgrace. Journalists were more interested in creating problems in the international relations of the United States with its allies than in publishing information useful to fix security weaknesses and build a more secure computing base.

Ten years later my feeling is that nothing has improved.

RUF June 7, 2023 8:51 PM

I’m sure that a bunch of major governments have a complete copy of everything Greenwald has.

10 years ago they could have gotten them from Greenwald’s computer maybe with the help of ETERNALBLUE. Who knows what codenames are still a security issue today.

P/K June 7, 2023 9:24 PM

Thanks Bruce for this fascinating look behind the scenes!

Still, a lot of questions remain, like to what extent did Snowden knew what he was talking about? The press reports about a range of NSA programs (Prism, BoundlessInformant, Muscular, etc) had flaws and omissions, which is understandable for journalists who had no clue about the inner workings of NSA, but couldn’t Snowden help them out?

From Barton Gellman’s long-awaited book “Dark Mirror” (2020) one gets the impression that Snowden wasn’t much of a help and even tried to hide his lack of knowledge by evading Gellman’s questions.

Also unfortunate is that gradually we often learnt a lot more about certain NSA programs, either from declassified documents, PCLOB reports or independent research, but that got hardly any coverage, even on Wikipedia, which is otherwise a great resource.

For the record, I summarized some of those developments on my weblog:

Sydney Australia June 7, 2023 11:45 PM

Snowden, and Greenwald, have been interviewed on the Joe Rogan show a couple of times each. Guests of this site will find these interviews stimulating and rewarding. Its possible some of them (so, 4 interviews in total) are found on youtube in full. If the episode occurred prior to Rogans show being acquired by Spotify

~ June 8, 2023 12:14 AM


“For the record, I summarized some of those developments on my weblog”

You need to proof read it, especially the use of tenses.

lurker June 8, 2023 12:46 AM

re Snowden’s reticence

By the time people got round to asking Snowden, he was a stateless person. If he should entertain notions of residence or citizenship in some “civilized” country, then he will need to be very careful about what he says.

Apokrif June 8, 2023 8:24 PM

“I’m sure that a bunch of major governments have a complete copy of everything Greenwald has”

“There are many documents that could be immensely harmful to the US, and no one has any intention of releasing them.”

Are these two sentences consistent?

lurker June 8, 2023 11:53 PM



I’m sure that a bunch of major govts will be quite happy to just sit on documents that could be immensely harmful to the US, as ammunition, just in case …

P/K June 9, 2023 1:56 PM

Some other sources, like The Shadow Brokers, already leaked files that were more damaging than many of the Snowden documents. The Snowden cache may contain things that were/are useful behind the scenes though.

Somebody June 10, 2023 1:09 AM


A decade ago I asked you if the Snowden revelations would result in meaningful legislative action to inhibit the NSA’s bulk collection of data. Back then you were confident it would result in positive change. Are you still confident Congress will take action?

name.withheld.for.obvious.reasons June 10, 2023 3:03 AM

I keep harping on how the U.S. congress and senate have remind duplicitous in their zeal, fervor, and misplaced rationality respecting constitutional rights–knowingly. Their ability to understand the situation has been demonstrated when the legislative bodies were gamed and statutes manipulated by the agency–the legislative branch got played–hard.

And not just the Snowden leaks, what about the senate investigation into the CIA torture program…where’s the full document? And now, sadly, you cannot ask Senator Feinstein about it.

The FISA court had warned of this behavior, and issued the warning to the NSA. The response from the NSA; na, na, ha–you can’t make me.

Research the IAA of 2015, passed in 2014 in an omnibus vote, H.R. 4681 — Section 309 — for more related chicanery. You be hard pressed to find critiques as it seems search results have been scrubbed, and I recently checked (three days ago).

Winter June 10, 2023 5:32 AM

Re: House and Senate response to TLA misbehavior

The USA receives net ~$300B a year in capital, at least since 1970. This is partly oil dollars invested in the USA, partly other investments, eg, government debt. This is what allows the perennial trade deficit if the USA.

In short, the World subsidizes each USA citizen at ~$1000/year.

They will never get their money back. If they try, the value of the US$ will collapse.

Why would the World do that?


Oil countries and Europe get protection (NATO), others get market access (eg, Japan, China).

When a country does not play ball, the bombs fall (Iraq) or a global boycot is organized (Venezuela, Cuba, China[1]).

The TLAs play a very important role in this money pipeline. They are essential in preventing opposition globally to financing US consumers and CEOs. That requires a disregard of all laws.

Congress is well aware of this importance. $300B/year is too much to let go. Hence, nothing is done to protect the public. Money always prevails.

[1] China used their US$ to finance the New Silk Road for their own benefit.

JonKnowsNothing June 10, 2023 6:22 AM

@name.withheld, All

re: asking Senator Feinstein

For those not familiar with US political arena, Senator Feinstein holds the highest of the highest security clearances. She has had full and total access to all the US National Secrets, other than the ones the CIA attempted to hide (unsuccessfully). She has had full access to the Secured Secrets rooms of the Senate where such documents are kept and likely has complimentary access to the House version of the Secured Secrets room.

There is nothing “progressive” nor “socially liberal” in all of her career. She ran under the Democratic Party as a means of getting elected.

When she retires, I do not know what will become of her access cards, but for sure, she’s will not talking to anyone about anything “important”. It’s not in her nature nor in her service to the US Citizens

Her potential legacy was the warding off of the CIA, who planned a full on physical assault on the US Senate Building, accessing the Secured Secrets room, to retrieve the CIA’s Panetta Report (on Torture). The CIA held her chief assistant as hostage. She was well aware of what the CIA could do to that person. Her words were fiery, but the follow up was burnt embers.

The deal was cut: The Senate Torture Report never saw the light of public scrutiny, although every situation in it was well known and well documented. It just was never acknowledged. Her staff member was released. The attack on the Senate Building averted.

Perhaps that is a greater legacy than we may think, and we may never know exactly how much it did or did not change history.

De Facto: The stories in the Senate Report are well known. Their documentation is well preserved. The names of CIA, FBI, DoD, MI5, MI6, GCHQ, NSA persons involved are known, but not in the common public sphere. Gina Haspel, Michael Hayden, Jose Rodriguez, James Elmer Mitchell, Bruce Jessen and the rest of them, are all known.

What is not commonly know are the names of the Medical Staff that administered the Torture. We mostly think of the brutes that did the hard hitting, but it was the Medical Staff that did the most damage. Doctors, Nurses, Orderlies, Psychologists, Therapists and the entire range of medical staff that were active participants. They have careers in the VA hospitals and in regular hospitals and clinics. They are the ones looking after your family, your kids, your granny.

Are you so sure about the “Looking After” part? I am not. I have met them.

name.withheld.for.obvious.reasons June 10, 2023 4:41 PM

@JonKnowsNothing, All
It was interesting that the American Psychological Association willing participate, became complicit, with the illegal program(s). Evidently the APA had a “come to Jesus” moment but only after being outed by reports of the program and their participation. What say ye Ron Descent_Into_Madness?

JonKnowsNothing June 10, 2023 8:26 PM

@name.withheld, All

re: American Psychological Association: a burnt waffle

They spent years supporting the Terror Program. They altered their meetings to avoid any challenges. They confirmed that members who participated would face no consequences or lose their credentials or licenses.

However, the really sad part, is that this is not just the USA. It’s in every country that has a torture program. Medical staff participate willingly. Every country from the UK, EU, to Asia, and Down under. They all have something.

iirc(badly) A torture victim reported that in the first days, after being beaten unconscious and experiencing all the other aspects of torture, an MD was called to evaluate whether the person was able to endure more physical attacks. The victim hoped the MD would intervene to stop it. Instead the MD, pronounced the victim was able to endure more and left. After this, the victim realized that when the MD was called in, and on the MDs approval, the session became even more gruesome.

MDs rarely intervene. Death simulations do not count. The Medical Professionals who participate in torture programs, claim that if they do not allow the torture to continue, they fear they would lose access to the victims. So they patch up the victims just to send them into the coffin again.

iirc(badly) A now famous picture of arrivals of detainees at GITMO, was a staged imaged (to obscure the faces of the military) where a woman RN is standing with her back to the camera, a clipboard, battle fatigues and boots, evaluating the cage full of red suited men, hooded, chained, forced to the ground. Later I read, she did not realize how devastating that image was on many levels. One of which was a prior presumption that GITMO had only male guards and male personnel. Some of the worst torture was done by the women medical staff and women officers.

Spitfire June 11, 2023 7:08 AM

“If I were an NSA employee, the policy would be to fire me for that alone.”
More like you would be a permanent resident of the Leavenworth Mansion.

Question June 12, 2023 12:02 PM

Perhaps the most surreal document disclosures were when artists started writing fiction based on the documents. This was in 2016, when Poitras built a secure room in New York to house the documents.

Were there previously unseen document releases in fiction in 2016? I can’t find anything about that. Maybe it was Poitras’s film ‘Risk’ or the short ‘Project X’ but I haven’t watched either, and the reviews don’t seem to mention new disclosures.

Sydney Australia June 12, 2023 11:09 PM

Tangentially, not many people seem to realise Laura Poitras utterly betrayed Wikileaks. In the filming for her documentary Risk, which she changed three times to finally make it a ‘smear’ presentation. Breached all the NDA’s she signed, and genuinely put the staff lives at risk. There is an audio of interview with the legal professional on this topic, on Soundcloud. And articles such as the following:

NB Bruce did you and Glenn ever reconcile?

Question June 13, 2023 10:13 PM

Seeing as how late I already am to this thread, you could have simply said “I do not know.”
Instead of offering a tangentially related thought that no one asked about or mentioned recently other than I, you could have also not answered at all…

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