Tuesday 24 October 2017

Edward Snowden has 'doomsday cache of spies' names'

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden's tranche of documents reportedly contains several names of US and allied personnel, including employees of GCHQ.

 Britain and the US are worried about a "doomsday" cache of highly classified, heavily encrypted material they believe Edward Snowden has stored, including possible names of intelligence personnel.

The cache allegedly contains documents from the National Security Agency and other agencies and includes names of US and allied personnel, according to various current and former US officials.

The data is protected with sophisticated encryption, and multiple passwords are needed to open it, two of the sources told Reuters.

The passwords are in the possession of at least three different people and are valid for only a brief time window each day, they said. The identities of persons who might have the passwords are unknown.

Spokesmen for both NSA and the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment.

One source described the cache of still unpublished material as Mr Snowden's "insurance policy" against arrest or physical harm.

US officials and other sources said only a small proportion of the classified material Mr Snowden downloaded during stints as a contract systems administrator for NSA has been made public. Some Obama Administration officials have said privately that Snowden downloaded enough material to fuel two more years of news stories.

"The worst is yet to come," said one former US official.

Mr Snowden, who is believed to have downloaded between 50,000 and 200,000 classified NSA and British government documents, is living in Russia under temporary asylum, where he fled after travelling to Hong Kong. He has been charged in the United States under the Espionage Act.

Given Mr Snowden's presence in Moscow, and the low likelihood that he will return to the United States anytime soon, US and British authorities say they are focused more on dealing with the consequences of the material he has released than trying to apprehend him.

It is unclear whether US or allied intelligence agencies – or those of adversary services such as Russia's and China's – know where the material is stored and, if so, have tried to unlock it.

Mr Snowden's revelations of government secrets have brought to light extensive and previously unknown surveillance of phone, email and social media communications by the NSA and allied agencies. That has sparked several diplomatic rows between Washington and its allies, along with civil liberties debates in Europe, the United States and elsewhere.

Among the material which Mr Snowden acquired from classified government computer servers, but which has not been published by media outlets known to have had access to it, are documents containing names and resumes of employees working for NSA's British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), sources familiar with the matter said.

The sources said Mr Snowden started downloading some of it from a classified GCHQ website when he was employed by Dell and assigned to NSA in 2012.

Mr Snowden made a calculated decision to move from Dell Inc to another NSA contractor, Booz Allen Hamilton, because he would have wide-ranging access to NSA data at the latter firm, one source with knowledge of the matter said.

Officials believe that the "doomsday" cache is stored and encrypted separately from any material that Snowden has provided to media outlets.

Conservative British politicians have accused the Guardian, one of two media outlets to first publish stories based on Mr Snowden's leaks, of "trafficking of GCHQ agents' names abroad."

No names of British intelligence personnel have been published by any media outlet. After British officials informed the Guardian it could face legal action, the newspaper disclosed it had destroyed computers containing Snowden material on GCHQ, but had provided copies of the data to the New York Times and the group ProPublica.

Sources familiar with unpublished material Mr Snowden downloaded said it also contains information about the CIA – possibly including personnel names – as well as other US spy agencies such as the National Reconnaissance Office and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which operate US image-producing satellites and analyse their data.

US security officials have indicated in briefings they do not know what, if any, of the material is still in Snowden's personal possession. Mr Snowden himself has been quoted as saying he took no such materials with him to Russia.

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