Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Tom Simonite

A View from Tom Simonite

Experts Doubt Snowden Could Keep His Leaked Documents Safe From Spies

There is reason to doubt Edward Snowden’s claim that Russian or Chinese spies have not seen the NSA files he leaked.

  • October 18, 2013

In an interview with the New York Times published yesterday, document-leaking NSA contractor Edward Snowden made a bold claim in response to allegations that other nations may have got hold of his classified haul:

“There’s a zero percent chance the Russians or Chinese have received any documents.”

Many security and surveillance experts publicly questioned that claim. Google security engineer Justin Schuh tweeted that the remark showed “Snowden is divorced from reality,” saying in a discussion thread with a fellow security industry insider:

That sentiment was shared by many others, including Jeffrey Carr, CEO of security company Taia Global and adjunct professor at George Washington University. He was dismissive of Snowden’s belief that he knows the capabilities of China’s security services thanks to his work at the NSA:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Jillian York also questioned Snowden’s trust in his knowledge of what China’s spies can and can’t do.

Snowden told the Times that although he took the documents to Hong Kong in June, when he fled to Russia in July he didn’t take copies with him. That leaves the journalists he has worked with to disseminate the documents as the only people in possession of them.

What has been released from those files so far suggests that properly implemented cryptography remains unbreakable even for national intelligence agencies (see “NSA Leak Leaves Crypto-Math Intact But Highlights Know Workarounds”). Yet we have also been reminded that agencies such as the NSA can be powerful because implementing security controls in a way that can foil a well-resourced nation-state is extremely difficult.

Even if Snowden did know everything about the capabilities of the NSA or its equivalents in other countries, his curent location in Russia would hardly put him in a position to know for sure that everyone who has access to his files has adequately protected them. That list now includes people at the Guardian, New York Times, Washington Post, and Pro Publica amongst various others.

Perhaps the best reason of all to be skeptical about Snowden’s claim that what he leaked is unknown to other nations is the ease with which he harvested the documents. Snowden was able to poke around inisde the NSA’s systems to collect the files, despite being a relatively low-ranking employee with an external contractor. It’s plausible other countries could have taken the same route.

Be the leader your company needs. Implement ethical AI.
Join us at EmTech Digital 2019.

Register now
More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Print Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.