TASS-FACTBOX. Five years ago, on August 1, 2013, a former contractor for the US National Security Agency (NSA) named Edward Snowden, who had exposed electronic surveillance methods used by US intelligence agencies, was granted temporary asylum in Russia.
Edward Snowden, 35, is a computer security expert. In 2005-2008, he worked at the University of Maryland's Center for Advanced Study of Language sponsored by the National Security Agency (NSA) and at the global communications division at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. In 2007, Snowden was stationed with diplomatic cover at the US mission to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. In 2009, he resigned from the CIA to join the Dell company that sent him to Hawaii to work for the NSA's information-sharing office. He was particularly employed with the Booz Allen Hamilton consulting firm.
In June 2013, Snowden leaked classified information to journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, which revealed global surveillance programs run by US and British intelligence agencies. He explained the move by saying that he wanted to tell the world the truth because he believed such large-scale surveillance on innocent citizens was unacceptable and the public needed to know about it.
The Guardian and The Washington Post published the first documents concerning the US intelligence agencies’ spying on Internet users on June 6, 2013. According to the documents, major phone companies, including Verizon, AT&T and Sprint Nextel, handed records of their customers’ phone conversations over to the NSA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), who also had direct access to the servers of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Skype, YouTube, Paltalk, AOL and Apple. In addition, Snowden’s revelations showed that a secret program named PRISM was aimed at collecting audio and video recordings, photos, emails and information about users’ connections to various websites.
Spying on world leaders
The next portion of revelations, which was published by the leading newspapers such as The Guardian, Brazil’s O Globo, Italy’s L'Espresso, Germany’s Der Spiegel and Suddeutsche Zeitung, concerned the US spying on politicians. In particular, it became known that the NSA and Great Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters intercepted the phone calls that foreign politicians and officials made during the G20 summit in London in 2009. British intelligence agencies particularly tried to intercept then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s phone calls. US intelligence monitored the phone calls of 35 world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
According to the disclosed information, the NSA regularly gathered intelligence at the New York and Washington offices of the European Union’s mission. The agency also achieved access to the United Nations’ internal video conferences and considers the Vienna headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as one of its major targets for spying.
The leaks also uncovered details about the Blarney and Rampart-T secret surveillance programs. Blarney, which started in 1978, is used to collect information related to counter-terrorism, foreign diplomats and governments, as well as economic and military targets. Rampart-T has been used since 1991 to spy on foreign leaders. The program is focused on 20 countries, including Russia and China.
Snowden also let the world know that Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service and Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution used the NSA’s XKeyScore secret computer system to spy on Internet users, monitoring their web activities. In addition, the NSA and Great Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters developed methods that allowed them to hack almost all the encryption systems currently used on the Internet. Besides, the leaked documents said that the NSA had secretly installed special software on about 100,000 computers around the globe that provided access to them and made cyber attacks easier. In particular, the NSA used a secret technology that made it possible to hack computers not connected to the Internet.
Portions of the information Snowden handed over to Greenwald and Poitras continue to be published on The Intercept website. According to edwardsnowden.com - a website commissioned by the Courage foundation (dedicated to building support for Snowden), a total of 2,176 documents from the archive have been published so far.
The NSA and the Pentagon claim that Snowden stole about 1.7 mln classified documents concerning the activities of US intelligence services and US military operations. He is charged with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person. He is facing up to ten years in prison on each charge.