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Edward Snowden says the NSA has an autonomous Monstermind

Virtual brain can detect and retaliate to cyber attacks
Thu Aug 14 2014, 14:55
Edward Snowden NSA Prism whistleblower

NSA WHISTLEBLOWER Edward Snowden has given a long interview to Wired magazine in which he reveals that he has not read all of the NSA documents that he took with him when he left, but is shocked by the ones that he has.

Snowden met journalist James Bamford in clandestine circumstances in Russia, a country that recently extended his asylum with a residence permit. During the interview, which took place over several days, he revealed that the NSA has an autonomous system for tracking and retaliating to cyber attacks, and said that it is called Monstermind.

Putting aside the fact that the NSA might need to start reconsidering its naming conventions, Monstermind sounds very capable, and apparently is able to thwart attacks without drawing anyone away from scanning email traffic and profiling people. However, it brings up some obvious concerns.

We asked the NSA if it wanted to comment on Snowden, his revelations and Monstermind, and it said that it would rather speak with its ex-employee in person.

"If Mr Snowden wants to discuss his activities, that conversation should be held with the US Department of Justice," it said. "He needs to return to the United States to face the charges against him."

Back to Monstermind, and forget what you have heard about privacy. For Monstermind to work there must be no real privacy, according to Snowden, or not much to put any faith in.

"These attacks can be spoofed. You could have someone sitting in China, for example, making it appear that one of these attacks is originating in Russia. And then we end up shooting back at a Russian hospital," he said. "What happens next?"

"The argument is that the only way we can identify these malicious traffic flows and respond to them is if we're analyzing all traffic flows. And if we're analyzing all traffic flows, that means we have to be intercepting all traffic flows. That means violating the Fourth Amendment, seizing private communications without a warrant, without probable cause or even a suspicion of wrongdoing. For everyone, all the time."

While the NSA would prefer that Snowden go home and face the US authorities, he said that it is already riding his back like a rucksack and he expects that someday it will get ahead of him.

"I don't think they've geolocated me, but they almost certainly monitor who I'm talking to online. Even if they don't know what you're saying, because it's encrypted, they can still get a lot from who you're talking to and when you're talking to them," he said.

"I'm not self-destructive. I don't want to self-immolate and erase myself from the pages of history. But if we don't take chances, we can't win... I'm going to slip up and they're going to hack me. It's going to happen."

He said that he would accept prison, though, if it was for the right reasons, but suggested that the NSA carried out a flawed investigation of what documents he took, and which he looked at.

Snowden said that the quoted 1.7 million documents figure that the NSA has reported he took is far more than what he took and that the content might include something shocking.

"I think they think there's a smoking gun in there that would be the death of them all politically," he said.

"The fact that the government's investigation failed - that they don't know what was taken and that they keep throwing out these ridiculous huge numbers - implies to me that somewhere in their damage assessment they must have seen something that was like, 'Holy shit.' And they think it's still out there."

New revelations keep coming, and during the interview Snowden revealed that a bungled attempt to grab Syrian communications led to a suspension of internet service throughout the entire country. The outage was reported in 2012, and until now the cause of the downtime was unknown. µ

 

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