TIME intelligence

Anti-Spying Law Wins Cautious Praise From Edward Snowden

Former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who is in Moscow, is seen on a giant screen during a live video conference for an interview as part of Amnesty International's annual Write for Rights campaign at the Gaite Lyrique in Paris
Charles Platiau—Reuters Former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who is in Moscow, is seen on a giant screen during a live video conference for an interview as part of Amnesty International's annual Write for Rights campaign at the Gaite Lyrique in Paris December 10, 2014

The USA Freedom Act limits the NSA's power to collect phone data

Former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden has called the USA Freedom Act “an important step” but urged further congressional limits on surveillance.

Speaking via video link at a London Amnesty International event Tuesday, Snowden said the law, which will limit the power of the NSA to access telephone data from millions of Americans with no connection to terrorism, was historic.

“For the first time in recent history we found that despite the claims of government, the public made the final decision and that is a radical change that we should seize on, we should value and we should push further,” he said from Russia, where he has been given asylum since he leaked information about Washington’s domestic spying programs to the media in 2013.

The new legislation, which President Obama signed into law on Tuesday night, requires the NSA and other intelligence agencies to obtain a warrant from a counter-terror court before accessing data from telephone companies, AP reports. “This legislation will strengthen civil liberty safeguards and provide greater public confidence in these programs,” Obama said in a statement.

But the Act also renews still-controversial governmental powers granted by older legislation, such as roving wiretaps and tracking of so-called “lone wolf” suspects. For that reason, Snowden urged Congress to consider more limits on surveillance.

“If we collect everything, we understand nothing,” Snowden told the audience. “We’re spending resources for no benefit in terms of public safety and a real cost in terms of freedom and liberty.”


TIME Rand Paul

Rand Paul Filibusters Patriot Act Renewal

Republican Presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 15, 2015, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to examine the need to reform asset forfeiture.
Andrew Harnik—AP Republican Presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 15, 2015, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to examine the need to reform asset forfeiture.

Presidential candidate Rand Paul took to the Senate floor to protest the renewal of the Patriot Act, a Bush administration-era law that enables government surveillance.

The Kentucky Republican argued that the programs authorized by the 2001 law improperly constrict Americans’ rights and grant overly broad powers to the National Security Agency.

“There comes a time in the history of nations when fear and complacency allow power to accumulate and liberty and privacy to suffer,” he began. “That time is now, and I will not let the Patriot Act, the most unpatriotic of acts, go unchallenged.”

Shortly after the speech began, the Paul campaign emailed supporters to say that he would “not yield one inch in this fight so long as my legs can stand.”

Paul began speaking at 1:18 p.m., when the Senate was in the midst of discussion of a massive trade deal with Asia, making it arguable whether it was technically a filibuster, a parliamentary procedure used to delay or prevent a vote.

Paul previously filibustered the nomination of CIA chief John Brennan in order to highlight what he considered the danger of drone strikes against U.S. citizens within the United States.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 26

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. It’s time to break up the NSA.

By Bruce Schneier at CNN

2. By prescribing appearances, sororities are contributing to a culture of segregation.

By Clio Chang in U.S. News and World Report

3. In Egypt, the U.S. still values security over human rights.

By the Editorial Board of the Washington Post

4. Bartering for eggs is saving giant turtles in Cambodia.

By Yoeung Sun at Conservation International

5. How does Internet slang work its way into American Sign Language?

By Mike Sheffield, Antwan Duncan and Andrew Strasser in Hopes and Fears

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME technology

A ‘Federal Agent’ Plays Slots and Talks at Las Vegas Hacker Convention

Hacking Conference
Isaac Brekken—AP Hackers compete in a digital capture the flag game at the DefCon conference Friday, Aug. 5, 2011, in Las Vegas.

A TIME reporter at one of the world's biggest hacker conferences talks to a self-described Fed in attendance

At Defcon, the annual hacker conference that met over the weekend in Las Vegas, attendees play a semi-official game called “Spot the Fed.” The object is to identify who among the rabble of computer geeks and hackers is an employee of the federal government. I spent the weekend reporting at Defcon and though I never went to claim a prize—I don’t think journalists are invited to play anyway—I do think I found a Fed.

As a conference that hosts speeches on topics like how to cyber-hijack a jetliner, Defcon takes pride in skirting the edge of legality. Feds, especially in the post-Snowden era, are not especially popular, though the place is rumored to be “crawling” with them, as one long-time attendee put it to me. Not all of them are covert; two years ago former head of the National Security Agency Gen. Keith Alexander spoke to the crowd. Then last year, in the wake of Edward Snowden’s massive leak exposing NSA surveillance, conference founder and patriarch Dark Tangent (his hacker handle) wrote an open letter asking Feds to sit out the event so everyone could cool off. This year’s Defcon saw no such request.

When I found Chuck, he was sitting alone, slow-nursing $20 in credit on a poker machine at a bar in the Rio Hotel and Casino, where the conference was held. He told me it was the best way to get drinks out of the place on the cheap—play real slow through $20 at the bar and let the bartender keep coming by with booze.

“That’s what this whole conference is about,” he said. “Hacks.”

DefCon types are famously authority adverse and antagonistic toward the press, and it’s possible Chuck was just a guy getting a kick out of messing with a TIME reporter. I couldn’t verify Chuck’s identity or even his status as a Fed—he refused to give me a business card or a last name or the details of where he works—but I’ll say this: he fit the bill. Middle aged, balding shaved head, button up hawaiian style shirt, polite, personable, frugal. He said he teaches information security to other employees of the Department of Defense. “I’d like to get the other side,” Chuck said when I asked him what he was doing at Defcon. “The things I’m trying to teach my students to prevent against.”

I asked Chuck if he was, at least partly, on the lookout for criminals. Defcon is also notoriously crawling with those.

No. I’m sure they’re all over,” he said. “That’s why [to get into the conference] you pay cash only and you get a badge that just says ‘Human.’ There’s everything from DOD entities, to NSA agents, to cybercriminals and everything in between.”

Had he seen other Feds at Defcon?

“We kinda spot each other. It’s just the way they move and the general feeling you get and the confidence that some of these guys project,” Chuck said. “When they don’t start just spouting off about what they know and try to brag about how smart they are.”

I asked what were the most interesting talks he’d seen.

“The ones that begin with ‘This is illegal. Don’t do it.’”

And how does he feel about such talks?

“I’m mixed, because I’m a really low-level Fed, so that in my thinks you shouldn’t be talking about this. But the IT guy in me thinks someone should be talking about this. Because if you don’t here then in six months we’re going to read about it in your magazine.”

Defcon, he said, is “about opening people’s eyes to the intrinsic insecurity of the entire IT realm. The fact that you can manufacture a device, a piece of software, and not care about security as long as it’s marketed well.These people get ahold of it and just break it wide open,” Chuck said. “And trying to get big business and the federal government and manufacturers to understand that if you put something in my hands I’m going to take it apart and figure out how it works. So maybe you should think about security a little bit more.”

TIME intelligence

New Post-Snowden Leaks Reveal Secret Details of U.S. Terrorist Watch List

Edward Snowden, displayed on television screens, asks a question to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a nationally televised question-and-answer session, in Moscow, Thursday, April 17, 2014.
Pavel Golovkin—AP Edward Snowden, displayed on television screens, asks a question to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a nationally televised question-and-answer session, in Moscow, Thursday, April 17, 2014.

The documents are not as highly classified as the materials released by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden

The U.S. government believes that someone other than former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden has recently leaked secret national-security documents to the media, an official confirmed Tuesday.

The documents, published by the Intercept on Tuesday, detail the growth of federal terrorist watch lists. They were drafted after Snowden fled prosecution in the U.S. for Russia, when he no longer had access to classified intelligence networks.

CNN first reported that the government has assessed a second source of the documents. Classified as “secret” with instructions not to reveal them to foreign nationals, the documents would have been available broadly throughout the intelligence community and the military on the classified SIPRNet, the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, the system predominantly used by former Army Private Bradley Manning to collect documents to pass to WikiLeaks.

That network is open to a vastly larger audience than the top-secret-level JWICS, the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System, which was used by Snowden to gather as many as a million documents on some of the nation’s most sensitive surveillance programs. So far, just a couple of documents have been published, making it impossible to determine whether the source of the leak simply passed the Intercept a small number of documents or a larger contingent on the order of the previous leaks.

The published documents describe government efforts using the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE), a database used by federal state and local law-enforcement agencies to identify and track known or suspected terrorist suspects. The database has been subject to public debate and federal litigation, because of the secretive process that determines inclusion on this list.

The leaked documents say TIDE included more than 1 million people in June 2013, after Snowden had fled the country. The documents also detail use of the database in tracking possible combatants in the Syrian civil war and in providing security at events, like the Boston and Chicago marathons. A spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment on the possible source of the leak.

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: July 9

Mark Wilson—Getty Images The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC.

In the news: Israel airstrikes Gaza; President Obama's $3.7 billion request to handle border crisis; Citigroup to pay $7 billion for shoddy mortgages; Which Muslim Americans leaders the NSA and FBI spy on; GOP's 2016 Cleveland convention; Germany beats Brazil 7-1 in World Cup

  • “Rockets continued to fall over central Israel on Wednesday and Israel carried out more airstrikes in Gaza, as the military and political confrontation between Hamas and Israel showed no signs of abating.” [NYT]
  • “President Barack Obama asked Congress for $3.7 billion Tuesday to handle the thousands of child migrants on the southern border, and he’d like lawmakers to treat the emergency request as a simple matter of human compassion.” [TIME]
    • “Now Republicans have leverage, and they have a few requests of their own. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida wants to require employers to verify electronically that new hires are in the country legally and the government to put in place an electronic entry-exit system at points of entry at the border…” [National Journal]
  • “The National Security Agency and FBI have covertly monitored the emails of prominent Muslim-Americans—including a political candidate and several civil rights activists, academics, and lawyers—under secretive procedures intended to target terrorists and foreign spies.” [The Intercept]
  • “The Justice Department and Citigroup are close to a deal for the bank to pay about $7 billion to settle allegations it sold shoddy mortgages in the run-up to the financial crisis …” [WSJ]
  • “More than 100 faith leaders asked President Barack Obama on Tuesday not to include a religious exemption in his upcoming executive order to ban job discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation among federal employees.” [TIME]
  • Lawrence Lessig on His Super PAC to End Super PACs [TIME]
  • 5 Reasons to Be Delighted and Worried About a GOP Convention in Cleveland [TIME]
    • “Democrats are considering hosting their convention in Birmingham, Cleveland, Columbus, New York, Philadelphia and Phoenix, with a decision expected early next year. Cleveland will likely be cut from contention now that it has been selected by Republicans.” [TIME]
  • House GOP Stuck on Obamacare Alternative [Politico]
  • Teachers Union Turn Against Democrats [NYMag]
  • “Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has upset some Democratic senators by backtracking on his commitment to put spending bills on the floor this summer.” [Hill]
  • The Craziest, Costliest Political Campaigns Are the Ones You’ve Never Heard Of [WaPo]
  • “Germany beat Brazil 7-1 on Tuesday, ending the host country’s run in the World Cup semifinals. The German team scored four goals in less than seven minutes (23′, 24′, 26′, 29′). Germany’s Miroslav Klose also became the World Cup’s all-time leading scorer during the game. ESPN reports that this is just second time ever that Brazil has conceded 7+ goals in a game. (The first was against Yugoslavia in 1934.) It was also the worst ever loss by a host country.” [SI]
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
Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras—The Guardian/Reuters 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

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.”


TIME intelligence

Snowden: ‘There Are Some Things Worth Dying For’

The NSA leaker said he sees himself as a patriot in his first interview with a U.S. television network, which aired Wednesday night

Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, stands by his decision to leak a huge collection of classified National Security Agency documents that revealed extensive, global U.S. government surveillance programs.

“There are some things worth dying for,” Snowden said in an interview with NBC News’ Brian Williams that aired late Wednesday, “I think the country is one of them.” The interview was his first with a U.S. television network since he fled from Hawaii to Hong Kong a year ago with classified materials.

Snowden has been living for the better part of a year under asylum in Russia and said if given the opportunity he’d like to go home.

“If I could go anywhere in the world, that place would be home,” he said. The leaker made similar comments in an interview in January.

Snowden told Williams he attempted to travel to Latin America to seek asylum after leaving Hong Kong, but was left stranded in Moscow airport after the U.S. revoked his passport. The Kremlin granted Snowden temporary asylum, which expires at the end of July and which Snowden says he will ask to extend. He has been charged in the United States with theft and espionage.

Secretary of State John Kerry had harsh words in response to Snowden’s statement that he’d like to return to the United States.

“Edward Snowden is a coward,” Kerry told MSNBC. “He is a traitor. And he has betrayed his country. And if he wants to come home tomorrow to face the music, he can do so.”

In his denunciation of Snowden, Kerry said, “Patriots don’t go to Russia,” but Snowden told NBC that he sees himself as a patriot.

“I’ve from day one said that I’m doing this to serve my country,” he said.

In his lengthy interview Wednesday, Snowden scolded his critics for exploiting the trauma of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to justify the surveillance programs he exposed. Intelligence officials have defended the programs as essential tools in the effort to combat terrorism.

“I’ve never told anybody this. No journalist,” he said. “But I was on Fort Meade on September 11th. I was right outside the NSA. So I remember — I remember the tension of that day. I remember hearing on the radio the planes hitting. And I remember thinking my grandfather, who worked for the FBI at the time, was in the Pentagon when the plane hit it. I take the threat of terrorism seriously. And I think we all do.”

Snowden fired back at assertions made by American officials that he was little more than low-level tech support for the intelligence community, saying he was “trained as a spy” and worked undercover for both the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency. He also rejected the assertion, made to TIME by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, that he is being controlled by Russian intelligence officials. “I have no relationship with the Russian government at all,” he said.

Despite his stated desire to come back, Snowden brushed off questions about whether or not he would make a deal with the U.S. government in order to return.

“My priority is not about myself,” he said. “It’s about making sure that these programs are reformed — and that the family that I left behind, the country that I left behind, can be helped by my actions.”

TIME intelligence

Bill Curbing NSA Passes House As Advocates Demand More

Boehner NSA Bill
Jim Lo Scalzo—EPA Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, departs after speaking to the media after the House passed the USA Freedom Act, an NSA reform bill aimed at restricting access to American's phone records, at the US Capitol in Washington, May 22, 2014.

Privacy groups unhappy with late changes pulled their support from the bill at the last minute

The House passed legislation Thursday to curtail the National Security Agency’s collection of Americans’ phone records, but the compromise bill left civil liberties groups and privacy advocates unhappy and vowing to fight for stronger reforms in the Senate.

The vote came a year after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden set off a global debate about American surveillance practices by leaking a trove of documents detailing them. Privacy groups pulled their support for the bill before it came to a vote, but it still passed 303-120.

“The House is the beginning of the conversation,” said Mark Jaycox, a legislative analyst with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “The House wanted to pass something quickly and as a result really watered it down. Now we’re at the Senate where we’ll have to present a stronger bill and where hopefully a stronger bill will move.”

In the days before the USA FREEDOM Act passed the House, support for the bill among the civil liberties groups and tech companies that once championed it all but vanished. Groups that had been lobbying hard on behalf of the bill for months, like EFF, The Center for Democracy and Technology, and the Reform Government Surveillance Coalition, a consortium on tech giants including Facebook and Google, all yanked their endorsements at the 11th hour. Reform advocates were steamed about tweaks made in committee that they felt unacceptably broadened the scope of who and what the NSA can monitor, and also by the elimination of a measure that would have created a privacy advocate on the secretive court that oversees the NSA.

“What happened was the bill changed at the last minute,” said Harley Geiger, senior counsel with the Center for Democracy and Technology. “It changed at the last stop before going to the house floor.”

Lawmakers who supported the measure took turns Thursday emphasizing that it would end the “bulk collection” of Americans’ communications. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), who chairs the House committee that deals with intelligence matters, called it a “sweet spot” compromise with “strong bipartisan” support. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said the bill had its shortcomings but was a step in the right direction.

“Let me be clear, I wish this bill did more,” he said. “To my colleagues who lament changes, I agree with you. To privacy groups who are upset about lost provisions, I share your disappointment. The negotiations for this bill were intense, and we had to make compromises, but this bill still deserves support.”

But advocates said the changes left too much open to interpretation and that courts could eventually gut many of the reforms.

“What they’re not doing is defining ‘bulk collection,’” Geiger said.

Amendments to the bill were not allowed as it went from the Rules Committee to a floor vote Thursday.

“All the House of Representatives got was an up or down vote on ambiguous reform on an issue that cause a bona fide international scandal,” Geiger said.

The bill will now go to the Senate, where it will be shepherded by one of its original proponents, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

“Today’s action in the House continues the bipartisan effort to restore Americans’ civil liberties,” Leahy said in a statement after the bill passed. “But I was disappointed that the legislation passed today does not include some of the meaningful reforms contained in the original USA FREEDOM Act. I will continue to push for these important reforms when the Senate Judiciary Committee considers the USA FREEDOM Act next month.”

Whether or not Leahy and his allies will be successful in reinserting some of the reforms that originally won civil libertarian support for the USA FREEDOM Act remains to be seen. The Senate has a stronger cohort of establishment Republicans than the House and fewer Tea Party conservatives whose small-government ethos clashes with the notion of expansive domestic surveillance. On the other hand, the measure will have a powerful ally in Leahy.

“At the end,” Geiger said, “it will come down to whether the senate wants to end mass surveillance or not.”

TIME technology

NSA Denies Knowing About Heartbleed Bug

FILE PHOTO  NSA Compiles Massive Database Of Private Phone Calls
NSA/Getty Images National Security Agency headquarters in Fort Meade, Md.

The National Security Agency flatly refuted a report that it was aware about the Heartbleed computer glitch, one of the most significant security flaws in Internet history. "Reports that say otherwise are wrong,” NSA spokesperson Vanee' Vines told TIME

The National Security Agency flatly denied Friday a report that it has been aware for years of the Heartbleed computer glitch wreaking havoc on computer security around the world.

“NSA was not aware of the recently identified vulnerability in OpenSSL, the so-called Heartbleed vulnerability, until it was made public in a private-sector cybersecurity report. Reports that say otherwise are wrong,” NSA spokesperson Vanee’ Vines told TIME.

Earlier Friday, Bloomberg News published a report citing two anonymous sources alleging that the eavesdropping agency was aware of the Heartbleed glitch for at least two years before it was made public. Heartbleed is widely seen as one of the most significant computer security flaws in the history of the Internet and the NSA drew fierce criticism over the allegation that it failed to report the existence of the flaw and instead exploited it for spying ends.

“The NSA’s purpose is to protect Americans,” said PATRIOT Act author Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R—Wisc.). “But if media reports are accurate, rather than fixing the Heartbleed bug, the NSA exploited it to gather information, leaving Americans vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Once again, the NSA proved blind to the interests of every day Americans in its single-minded pursuit of information.”

The National Security Council also issued a public denial Friday that the NSA had prior knowledge of Heartbleed. “Reports that NSA or any other part of the government were aware of the so-called Heartbleed vulnerability before April 2014 are wrong,” NSC said in a statement.

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