TIME National Security

Government Spying Hurts Journalists and Lawyers, Report Says

A Human Rights Watch and American Civil Liberties Union report suggests NSA snooping prevents sources talking to journalists and compromises the relationships between defense attorneys and their clients

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Updated at 4:51 p.m.

National Security Agency surveillance in the U.S. has seriously hurt the ability of journalists to cover national security issues and of attorneys, particularly defense lawyers, to represent their clients, according to a new report out Monday.

Based on interviews in the United States with 46 journalists, 42 practicing attorneys, and five current or former senior government officials, the report seeks to document the tangible impact of NSA surveillance on Americans revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

In particular, the report cites the degree to which the Obama administration’s tough crackdown on unauthorized leaks, in combination with revelations about the extent of government surveillance on Americans’ cell phones and online communications, has caused sources to vanish for national security reporters.

“Sources are worried that being connected to a journalists through some sort of electronic record will be seen as suspicious and that they will be punished as a result,” said study author Alex Sinha, a fellow at Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union, which jointly issued the report. “As a result sources are less willing to talk to the press about anything, including unclassified matters that could be of significant public concern,” he said.

“I had a source whom I’ve known for years whom I wanted to talk to about a particular subject and this person said, ‘It’s not classified but I can’t talk about it because if they find out they’ll kill me,’ [figuratively speaking]” longtime National Security Correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers Jonathan Landay said for the report.

“It’s a terrible time to be covering government,” Tom Gjelten, a National Public Radio employee for more than 30 years, said. TIME was not listed among the news outlets from which reporters, many of whom chose to remain anonymous, were interviewed for the report.

Defense attorneys, who represent clients charged with a wide variety of offenses including terrorism, drug and financial crimes, among others, described how U.S. government surveillance has forced them to take extraordinary and often cumbersome measures to protect the privacy of sources and clients.

Such measures might include the use of complex encryption technologies, disposable “burner” cell phones, so called “air-gapped” computers, which are never connected to the internet as a precaution against hacking and surveillance, and in some cases abandoning electronic communications entirely.

“I’ll be damned if I have to start acting like a drug dealer in order to protect my client’s confidentiality,” said national security defense attorney Tom Durkin for the report.

“We are fearful that our communications with witnesses abroad are monitored [and] might put people in harm’s way,” said Jason Wright, who has represented terrorism clients as a military defense attorney before the Guantánamo commissions.

A report released earlier this month by The New America Foundation argues the NSA deliberately weakens cybersecurity, making online communications, study authors argue, less secure in general. The NSA has “minimization procedures” designed to limit the exposure of “US Persons”—Americans at home or abroad and others legally inside the United States—to the NSA’s wide-net surveillance programs. Privacy advocates contend they are insufficient and that, in any case, it’s impossible to verify their effectiveness because the details remain secret.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence told TIME that, contrary to revealing a decrease in press freedom, the Snowden leaks are evidence that journalism in the United States remains robust and unencumbered.

“The Intelligence Community, like all Americans, supports a free and robust press,” said Jeffrey Anchukaitis, spokesperson for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. “The events of the last year demonstrate that the IC’s foreign intelligence surveillance activities clearly have not prevented vigorous reporting on intelligence activities. U.S. intelligence activities are focused on discovering and developing intelligence about valid foreign intelligence targets to help defend the nation, not on intimidating or inhibiting journalists. Likewise, the IC recognizes the importance of the attorney-client privilege, and has procedures in place to ensure that appropriate protection is given to privileged attorney-client communications.”

To address problems raised in the report, HRW and the ACLU recommend reforming U.S. surveillance practices, reducing state secrecy in general and limitations on official contact with journalists, enhanced whistleblower protections and strengthened minimization procedures.

The report comes just days before the expected unveiling in the Senate of the latest iteration of the USA Freedom Act, a bill to reform NSA surveillance practices. An earlier House version of the bill was significantly gutted of reform measures, leading privacy advocates to pull support for the bill and try instead to get more substantial reforms through the Senate.

TIME National Security

The NSA Shared Sexually Explicit Photographs, Says Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden Gives First Interview In Russia
Former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden poses for a photo during an interview in an undisclosed location in December 2013 in Moscow. Barton Gellman/Getty Images

For some agents, Snowden says, the racy images were one of the "fringe benefits of surveillance positions"

Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor turned whistle-blower, claims that “incredibly weak” oversight of U.S. surveillance programs enabled military personnel to obtain sexually explicit photos of people under surveillance and to sometimes share them with others.

In an interview with the Guardian, Snowden talked about the impact of poor auditing systems within the NSA. He claimed many people sifting through monitored communications were 18 to 22 years old and suddenly put in a position of extraordinary responsibility that was sometimes abused.

“In the course of their daily work they stumble across something that is completely unrelated to their work, for example an intimate nude photo of someone in a sexually compromising situation but they’re extremely attractive,” said Snowden.

“So what do they do? They turn around in their chair and they show a co-worker. And their co-worker says: ‘Oh, hey, that’s great. Send that to Bill down the way,’” he said.

Snowden, who lives in Moscow after being granted temporary asylum last year, added that this information is never reported and nobody knows about it because of inadequate oversight.

He said the interception of intimate images was “routine enough” and described it as “sort of the fringe benefits of surveillance positions.”

He added, “The mere seizure of that communication by itself was an abuse. The fact that your private images, records of your private lives, records of your intimate moments have been taken from your private communication stream, from the intended recipient, and given to the government without any specific authorization, without any specific need, is itself a violation of your rights.”

NSA spokeswoman Vaneé Vines gave a comment to the New York Times on the allegations. The Times paraphrased her as saying that “the agency had zero tolerance for willful violations of authority or professional standards, and that it would respond as appropriate to any credible allegations of misconduct.”

[The Guardian]

TIME Iran

Why Iran Believes the Militant Group ISIS Is an American Plot

A fighter of the ISIL holds a flag and a weapon on a street in Mosul
A fighter of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) holds an ISIS flag and a weapon on a street in the city of Mosul, Iraq, on June 23, 2014 Reuters

Conspiracy theories are nothing new in the Middle East, but the latest to come from Tehran is a self-protecting mechanism that could ultimately backfire

Iran’s English-language daily newspaper, the Tehran Times, recently ran a front-page story describing the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria’s (ISIS) June offensive in Iraq as part of a U.S.-backed plot to destabilize the region and protect Israel. The story was an English translation of a scoop by the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), which cited a purported interview with National Security Agency (NSA) leaker Edward Snowden.

According to the article, Snowden had described a joint U.S., British and Israeli effort to “create a terrorist organization capable of centralizing all extremist actions across the world.” The plan, according to IRNA, was code-named Beehive — or in other translations, Hornet’s Nest — and it was devised to protect Israel from security threats by diverting attention to the newly manufactured regional enemy: ISIS.

The IRNA story appears to build on, or may have even started, an Internet rumor that has assumed truthlike proportions through multiple reposts and links. No mention of a “hornet’s nest” plot can be found in Snowden’s leaked trove of U.S. intelligence documents, and even though Snowden has not publicly refuted the claim, it is safe to assume that the quoted interview never took place. (IRNA has been known to report stories from the satirical Onion newspaper as fact.) Yet Iranian government officials and independent analysts in Iran alike cited IRNA’s report as definitive proof of ISIS’s American and Israeli origins.

Back when former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in power, it was not unusual to see IRNA echoing specious wild theories dreamed up by the leadership, but since the more moderate Hassan Rouhani assumed the presidency in August 2013, the security establishment’s nuttier fantasies of deranged plots against Iran have been largely reined in. That is, until ISIS spilled out of Syria and started setting up camp next door in Iraq, where Iran has tight ties with the Shi‘ite-dominated government in Baghdad.

Even before the Snowden scoop made the rounds of Iran’s media, military commanders, citing their own sources of intelligence, struck a similar theme. On June 18, Fars News Agency quoted Major General Hassan Firoozabadi, Chief of Staff of Iran’s armed forces, saying that ISIS “is an Israel[i] and America[n] movement for the creation of a secure border for the Zionists against the forces of resistance in the region.” That Iran’s media, along with its leaders, is focusing on ISIS’s supposed external backers — as opposed to its origins in local terrorist groups, al-Qaeda and popular discontent in both Syria and Iraq — demonstrates a concerted effort to streamline the national narrative in order to project power and preserve stability. As an example of another Western plot against Iran, ISIS can be managed — so goes Iran’s thinking. But as a new, potentially more destabilizing threat on Iran’s borders, ISIS poses challenges that the leadership is still struggling to understand and respond to. The only problem is that dismissing ISIS as a Zionist conspiracy could end up undermining Iran far more than any supposed American plot.

In its previous incarnation as an Iraqi al-Qaeda affiliate, ISIS has been responsible for thousands of Shi‘ite deaths in terrorist attacks since its formation in 2003. The group’s current success in Iraq — by some estimates it now controls a third of Iraq’s territory, including the city of Mosul — has as much to do with its considerable funding and military prowess as it does the weaknesses of the Iraqi state, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, an Iranian-backed Shi‘ite who has alienated Iraq’s large Sunni minority. Now that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has declared himself the emir of a caliphate spanning the Syrian-Iraqi border, he continues to advocate violence against members of the Shi‘ite sect, whom he calls apostates, and has threatened to destroy Shi‘ite holy sites in an attempt to ignite an Islamic sectarian civil war. That would likely cause the Iranian-backed government in Baghdad to collapse, forcing Iran to send in troops and sparking a region-wide conflagration.

Yet Iranian government officials refuse to accept that there is a sectarian root to ISIS’s agenda, or that ISIS was able to advance in part because of Sunni discontent. When American leaders suggested that al-Maliki’s Shi‘ite chauvinism may have played a role in rallying Sunni support for the ISIS advance into Iraq, and suggested he step down, Iranians saw it as a direct threat to their influence. “When ISIS started advancing into Iraq, the first thing the Americans said was that Maliki should be changed,” says Hossein Shariatmadari, editor in chief of the government-owned conservative daily Kayhan. “Maliki was democratically elected, so what does he have to do with it? Nothing. The Americans wanted to cut the ties between Iran and Iraq.”

Instead Iran has declared the group a region-wide terrorist threat that funded and peopled by outsiders, including the U.S., Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies. So far Iran says it has not gotten directly involved in Iraq, though it is prepared to do so if necessary. (Official statements aside, there is significant evidence of Iranian support in the form of military weaponry, assistance and training, if not troops on the ground.) But if Iran does take a hand in the battle against ISIS, it will do so in the name of fighting terrorism — and not for the cause of supporting its Shi‘ite ally in government.

That’s a canny move that could explain, in part, the government line, says a Western diplomat in Tehran. To go in with an overtly sectarian agenda would invite a regional backlash that could harm Iranian interests and threaten the state. “It is in the best interest of Iran to present this group as terrorists, because that way no one can accuse Iran of backing Shi‘ites against a Sunni movement,” says the diplomat.

But if Iran continues to back Maliki against the will of a disgruntled, powerful and armed Sunni minority in Iraq, it could still invoke a backlash all the same. Which might explain why the government line also plays up the American and Mossad angle a familiar trope. If it all collapses, Iran can still blame the West for the debacle, says the diplomat. “If Iran can convince its people that there is a plot against the country that must be countered, while at the same time providing a narrative of counterterror to the world, they are protecting their interests and hedging their bets at the same time.”

Why IRNA had to concoct something so obviously fictional as a fake Snowden interview to bolster the narrative is still unclear. Even Shariatmadari, editor of Kayhan, is mystified. “I thought this interview was strange too, because all this happened after Snowden had access to those documents,” he tells TIME. Nonetheless, he ran the story on his front page as well.

— With reporting by Kay Armin Serjoie / Tehran

TIME intelligence

Report: Chinese Hackers Target Information of Federal Employees

John Kerry, Liu Yandong
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong attend the plenary session of the annual China-U.S. High Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China Thursday, July 10, 2014. Andy Wong—AP

Revelations come as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visits Beijing for bilateral talks

Chinese hackers penetrated the computer networks of a U.S. government agency in March, gaining access to databases that store the personal information of all federal employees, in one of the only security breaches of government servers in the past year, senior Washington officials disclosed to the New York Times.

It is unclear how far the hackers delved into some of the databases of the Office of Personnel — which stores applications for security clearances that list personal information such as financial data, former jobs, past drug use and foreign contacts of tens of thousands of employees — before the threat was discovered and thwarted by federal authorities, officials said. It is also not known if the hackers were connected to the Beijing government.

A senior official of the Department of Homeland Security said that although the Office of the Personnel contains personal information, a response team within the Homeland Security had not “identified any loss of personally identifiable information” during the cyber attack. Government agencies are not obliged to inform the public about security threats unless it is verifiable that personal information has been stolen.

Although the Obama Administration encourages companies to be transparent about security breaches, the attack on the Office of Personnel was never announced to the public because “the administration has never advocated that all intrusions be made public,” White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told the Times. However, relevant federal, state and local agencies were apparently notified of the threat. “None of this differs from our normal response to similar threats,” she added.

The U.S. and China have engaged in bitter cyber security disputes in the past. The U.S. Justice Department indicted five alleged Chinese hackers from the People’s Liberation Army for theft of corporate secrets in May. Following the indictment, China halted plans to create a bilateral group focused on cyber security. Documents revealed by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden also showed that his former employer penetrated the systems of Huawei, a Chinese company that produces computer network equipment.

The new revelations come as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is visiting Beijing for the annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue — a discussion on American political, economic and security relations with China.

Although Kerry has not yet specifically mentioned the security breach, he said that cyber hacking on American companies had a “chilling effect on innovation and investment,” AP reports. Chinese foreign policy chief Yang Jiechi responded that the two countries had to establish trust to prevent future cyber attacks.

[New York Times]

TIME Surveillance

Report: U.S. Spied on Prominent Muslim Americans

Latest report based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden

The NSA and FBI monitored the emails of five well-known Muslim Americans between 2002-2008, according to a new report based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The Intercept, a news organization started by the journalist who first broke the Snowden story, reports that a government spreadsheet detailing the email addresses of monitored citizens was included in “FISA recap,” which refers to the secretive court that approves wiretapping and other intelligence activities.

Among the 7,485 email addresses listed on the spreadsheet are those of Faisal Gill, who served as an intelligence policy adviser in the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush; Hooshang Amirahmadi, a professor at Rutgers University; Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights organization in the U.S.; Asim Ghafoor, a lawyer who has represented clients in terrorism cases; and Agha Saeed, a former political science lecturer at California State University.

The five have denied any connection with terrorist organizations and do not have criminal records.

The office of the Director of National Intelligence denied the report Wednesday.

“It is entirely false that U.S. intelligence agencies conduct electronic surveillance of political, religious or activist figures solely because they disagree with public policies or criticize the government, or for exercising constitutional rights,” the office said in a statement. “Unlike some other nations, the United States does not monitor anyone’s communications in order to suppress criticism or to put people at a disadvantage based on their ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.”

Faisal Gill, who was accused of falsifying records in the mid-2000s to gain his security clearance but was later cleared by the Department of Homeland Security, found it “troubling” that the NSA was monitoring his Yahoo! and AOL email accounts.

“I just don’t know why. I’ve done everything in my life to be patriotic,” Gill told Intercept. “I think that certainly goes to show how we need to shape policy differently than it is right now,” he added.

Although the ODNI denied the report, the FBI and the Justice Department declined to comment. The Intercept says the reasons why the five were monitored remain unknown.

TIME intelligence

German Mistrust of the U.S. Deepens Amid Latest Spy Scandals

Angela, Merkel, German chancellor
German Chancellor Angela Merkel Ute Grabowsky—Photothek/Getty Images

Just as the outrage over U.S. surveillance in Germany was starting to die down, a fresh set of allegations sends their relations into another tailspin

The annual Fourth of July party this year did not go quite as the U.S. embassy in Berlin had planned. The event still gave the German political elites a chance to mingle with American diplomats, sample a hotdog and take home a box of donuts. But even as the band played the Star-Spangled Banner, some of the guests couldn’t stop grumbling about the spying habits of their hosts.

Just before presiding over the party on Friday, U.S. Ambassador John Emerson was called into the Foreign Office in Berlin to explain the latest case of alleged U.S. espionage against the German government. It wasn’t the first time. Since last fall, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel learned that the U.S. had been tapping her cell phone for years, U.S spying allegations have eroded decades of trust between Berlin and Washington. But the mess just keeps getting worse.

Last week alone saw two separate scandals involving U.S. espionage in Germany. The first one broke on Thursday, when German media reported that the U.S. National Security Agency, or NSA, has been spying on a German privacy advocate who works to protect Internet users from the snooping of … the NSA. The following day, July 4, a second scandal broke in the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung and other media, which reported that an employee of Germany’s foreign-intelligence service, the BND, had confessed to selling secrets to the U.S. government. New details of that case continued to emerge on Monday, with Reuters reporting that the CIA was involved in the spying operation that led to the man’s recruitment. But German officials have confirmed little about the investigation, saying only that a 31-year-old man was arrested July 2 on suspicion of spying for a foreign government.

So Chancellor Merkel, who is on a trip to China this week, was cautious when asked about the case on Monday. “If this is true, then I believe we are dealing with a very serious development,” she told a news conference in Beijing. “I would see this as a clear contradiction to what I understand as trusting cooperation of intelligence services as well as of partners.”

Not everyone in the German leadership has been so diplomatic. After their long experience living under the watch of their own secret police — first the Nazi gestapo and then the East German Stasi — the German public is particularly sensitive to issues of individual privacy. So they were especially alarmed last year when Edward Snowden, the NSA whistle-blower, revealed how millions of German citizens, including Chancellor Merkel, had been caught up in the NSA’s dragnet surveillance programs.

William Binney, another NSA whistle-blower, testified last week before the ongoing parliamentary inquiry into the Snowden leaks in Germany, and his characterization of U.S. spying practices as “totalitarian” and “senseless” made headlines across the country. The latest set of spying allegations came out against this background, and the public reaction was summed up nicely over the weekend by German President Joachim Gauck, who said if the allegations are true, “It’s really time to say, ‘Enough already!’”

What makes the most recent scandal particularly galling is not the scale of the spying so much as its apparent clumsiness, says Sylke Tempel, the editor of a leading foreign-affairs journal in Berlin, Internationale Politik. The suspected double agent at the BND was apparently not even providing the U.S. any groundbreaking intelligence. According to the German media reports, he approached the U.S. embassy in Berlin offering a small stash of secret files, some of which were related to the German Parliament’s probe into the Snowden leaks. “They could have gotten that same information just from talking to German lawmakers,” says Tempel. Instead, the U.S. reportedly paid the man about $34,000 for his secrets.

Asked to respond to these accusations on Monday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the U.S. would “work with the Germans to resolve the situation appropriately.” But he declined to say whether any of the claims were true. “What I can say, more generally, though, is the relationship that the United States has with Germany is incredibly important,” Earnest said.

But if the U.S. had wanted to repair some of the damage to that relationship, it could have informed the BND that one of its employees was hawking secrets, says Constanze Stelzenmüller, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin, a think tank focusing on U.S.-German ties. “That would have been a huge help in rebuilding trust,” she says. “So I don’t know what our American friends were thinking. This is just awful incompetence.”

So far, the scandal doesn’t seem likely to cause any sudden rupture in relations, but the broader lack of trust is sure to eat away at Germany’s willingness to help the U.S. on a variety of issues. By the end of this year, the U.S. is hoping to sign a free-trade and investment deal with the E.U., where Germany has a decisive vote. In the Western standoff with Russia over Ukraine, the U.S. also needs to maintain solidarity across the Atlantic, and it could find support dwindling for new sanctions against Moscow if Germany turns away. “The spying just adds to the feeling of exasperation, disillusionment, fatigue with America,” says Tempel. “It becomes so much harder to defend the transatlantic relationship.”

That issue becomes more important — especially for younger German voters — as each new spying scandal breaks, and that has made it costlier for a German politician to tout the U.S. as a trusted friend and ally. “This is indicative of larger trust issues,” says Stelzenmüller of the German Marshall Fund. “This isn’t something that just blows over.” Yet when the U.S. ambassador arrived on Friday to address the Fourth of July party, he made no mention of the scandals that all his guests were talking about. “We are a nation of forests and fields and farmlands,” Emerson assured them from the stage before the band began to play. “Of mountains high and deserts wide.” But to a growing part of the German electorate, the U.S. has come to feel a bit like a nation of spies.

TIME National Security

Report: NSA Dragnet Ensnares Way More Regular Folks Than Legal Targets

FILE PHOTO  NSA Compiles Massive Database Of Private Phone Calls
This undated photo provided by the National Security Agency (NSA) shows its headquarters in Fort Meade, Md. NSA/Getty Images

9 out of 10 people caught up in the NSA's surveillance were average Internet users, many of whom were U.S. citizens, according to data leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden

The National Security Agency has intercepted far more communications from average Internet users than from intended security targets, newly analyzed documents leaked by former intelligence analyst and fugitive Edward Snowden reveal.

Nine out of 10 people whose data were intercepted in domestic intelligence operations were normal Internet users, many of whom were U.S. citizens, according to files obtained by the Washington Post. Although the NSA tried to conceal 65,000 references to names, email addresses and other personal info to protect users’ privacy, the Post found more than 900 extra email accounts that could be clearly linked to Americans.

The paper analyzed 160,000 email and instant-message chats and 7,900 documents collected from 11,000 accounts between the years 2009 and 2012. National security officials had previously believed this material was outside of Snowden’s access.

The documents show that the NSA’s surveillance efforts led to the capture of Umar Patek, a suspect in the terrorist attack on the Indonesian island Bali in 2002; Muhammad Tahir Shahzad, a bomb builder in Pakistan; and other examples the Post is withholding at the request of the CIA so as not to interfere with current intelligence operations.

But the communications also offer detailed looks into the personal lives of the 10,000 unintended targets, telling “stories of love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversations, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes.”

[The Washington Post]

TIME intelligence

New NSA Chief: Snowden Didn’t Do That Much Damage

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, an analyst with a U.S. defence contractor, is interviewed by The Guardian in his hotel room in Hong Kong
NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden in a still image taken from video during an interview by the Guardian in his hotel room in Hong Kong on June 6, 2013 Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras—The Guardian/Reuters

Says leaks don't mean "the sky is falling"

The head of the National Security Agency says in a new interview that the massive leaks by former contractor Edward Snowden didn’t do irreparable damage to national security.

“You have not heard me as the director say, ‘Oh, my God, the sky is falling,’” Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the new NSA director, told the New York Times in an interview published Sunday. “I am trying to be very specific and very measured in my characterizations.”

But Rogers did say terrorist groups have been using the leaked data to their advantage. “I have seen groups not only talk about making changes, I have seen them make changes,” he said.

While at the NSA, Snowden was able to downloaded more than one million secret documents that detailed the agency’s wide-ranging surveillance efforts. Rogers said he’s working to ensure leaks will not happen again, but does not rule out the possibility. The key, he said, is to keep the volume of stolen data from reaching that of Snowden’s.

“Am I ever going to sit here and say as the director that with 100 percent certainty no one can compromise our systems from the inside?” he said. “Nope. Because I don’t believe that in the long run.”

[NYT]

TIME intelligence

WikiLeaks Teases ‘Very Important Secret Document’ Release

Julian Assange
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaks to the media inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London on June 14, 2013. Anthony Devlin—AFP/Getty Images

While Julian Assange gives journalists some World Cup predictions

Two years after WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange walked into Ecuador’s embassy in the U.K. seeking asylum, his whistleblowing group says it is set to release new classified documents pertaining to “international negotiations.”

WikiLeaks offered little detail on its forthcoming release except to say it contains information pertaining to around 50 countries, including Canada.

In a conference call with journalists from the Ecuadorean embassy in London on Wednesday, Assange — who remains publisher of the secret-spilling group — offered no indication that he intends to travel to Sweden to submit himself for questioning by prosecutors over allegations of sexual misconduct made roughly four years ago.

Prosecutors have declined offers to meet with Assange at the Ecuadorean embassy in the U.K., his attorney said Wednesday. According to WikiLeaks, “new information” pertaining to the Swedish investigation will be revealed next Tuesday, though the group would not offer further details.

Assange has not been guaranteed safe passage to Ecuador, which has granted him asylum amid a presumed U.S. Department of Justice investigation into WikiLeaks, and has spent two years confined to Ecuador’s British embassy.

Assange’s supporters say the U.K. has spent about $10 million just on policing the embassy in order to apprehend Assange should he leave its confines. He admitted to journalists this week that he had managed to watch the World Cup from his embassy home.

“The reception in this building is quite difficult, but perhaps it makes it a bit harder for the bugs to transmit through the walls as well,” he said, apparently referring to surveillance devices. Assange said his sporting loyalties now lie with his hosts, unsurprisingly. “Of course, Ecuador undoubtedly deserves to win the World Cup and has a pretty decent team,” he said. “But I think there’s such prestige riding on the issue for Brazil that they are the most likely victors.”

In his comments Wednesday, Assange called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to drop any investigation into WikiLeaks or resign. He also said he believes Edward Snowden’s asylum in Russia will be renewed should the NSA leaker reapply.

TIME Edward Snowden

CIA Veteran: Defectors Like Snowden ‘Tend to be Lazy’

Says Snowden should not be pardoned

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Jack Devine, who served for 32 years in the CIA, much of it undercover, did some of his training with Aldrich Ames, whom the CIA considers one of the worst traitors in its history. He was also Ames’ boss. One of Devine’s jobs was to find people in hostile foreign nations who would betray their country for money, which he details in his new book Good Hunting, a spirited defense of the work ( and funding) of the CIA. So the dude has some experience with defectors.

Devine says that turncoat agents always have some story, but when it comes don to it, they’re basically dissatisfied with the level they have reached in the CIA. “They’re usually well-read, and they think they’re smarter than everyone else, and they’re just not,” he says. He feels the same is true of Snowden. “I don’t think he was an agent of the Russians,” he notes. “But I would say today that you don’t stay in Russia for free.”

In the good old paper version of the interview, which subscribers can read in Time, Devine talks about how he gets people to betray their countries, how he broke it to his kids that he was a spook and how the CIA director used to ask the technical department to get devices like he saw on Get Smart.

Here’s a longer video version of our chat.

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