The former National Security Agency contractor who leaked classified information about its telecommunications surveillance program said Monday that there are few safeguards to prevent abuse of data-gathering projects and that large amounts of data about Americans routinely are collected in dragnet searches, despite officials’ denials.
“The reality is this, … [any U.S. intelligence agency] has access to query raw databases, they can enter and get results for anything they want. Phone number, email, user id, cell phone handset ID, and so on,” Edward Snowden told readers in a question-and-answer session on the British newspaper Guardian’s website.
“The restrictions against this are policy based, not technically based,” Mr. Snowden added.
He said that, even though U.S. intelligence officials note that the warrantless monitoring of U.S. citizens’ communications is illegal, “Americans’ communications are collected and viewed on a daily basis on the certification of an analyst rather than a warrant.”
Officials “excuse this as ‘incidental’ collection, but at the end of the day, someone at NSA still has the content of your communications,” he said. “If I target for example an email address … and that email address sent something to you, Joe America, the analyst gets it. All of it. IPs [Internet protocols], raw data, content, headers, attachments, everything. And it gets saved for a very long time — and can be extended further with waivers rather than warrant.”
Mr. Snowden, whom some lawmakers have called a traitor, alleged that audits to check for misuse “are cursory, incomplete, and easily fooled by fake justifications.”
He said for the British electronic espionage agency, General Communications’ Headquarters, or GCHQ, only 5 percent of queries performed were audited.
Mr. Snowden also denied disclosing legitimate NSA operations when he spoke to an independent Chinese newspaper about the agency’s hacking into computer systems in China and in Hong Kong, where he fled with a thumb drive containing “dozens” of agency secrets.
“I did not reveal any U.S. operations against legitimate military targets,” he said of his interview last week with the South China Morning Post. “I pointed out where the NSA has hacked civilian infrastructure such as universities, hospitals, and private businesses because it is dangerous … Not only that, when NSA makes a technical mistake during an exploitation operation, critical systems crash.
He said many of the operations he was planning to expose, including electronic and web-based eavesdropping on foreign diplomats at a 2009 G-20 summit revealed Monday, were directed against friendly countries.
“Congress hasn’t declared war on the countries — the majority of them are our allies — but without asking for public permission, NSA is running network operations against them that affect millions of innocent people.”