Estonian intelligence officer ‘abducted’ by Russian spies

EstoniaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has summoned the Russian ambassador in Tallinn to complain about the alleged abduction of an Estonian intelligence officer by Russian forces, which it says occurred on Estonian soil. A statement from the Ministry said the Estonian intelligence officer, named Eston Kohver, has worked since 1991 for the Internal Security Service of Estonia, known as KaPo. Speaking to reporters on Friday, KaPo Director Arnold Sinisalu said Kohver had been kidnapped by a team of “unidentified individuals from Russia”. The Estonian side claims that the abduction occurred in the vicinity of Luhamaa, a border-crossing facility in southeastern Estonia, which connects the small Baltic country with its Russian neighbor. Sinisalu said KaPo investigators had detected “signs of a scuffle” at the scene of the abduction, as well as vehicle tracks “leading from Russian to Estonian soil”. Subsequent reports in Estonian media alleged that the Russian abductors had managed to jam radio communications in the area prior to snatching Kohver. They also employed smoke grenades during the operation, which would explain a number of “explosions” heard in the vicinity, according to Estonian police spokesman Harrys Puusepp. But Russian sources dismissed the Estonian government’s claims, saying that Kohver had been detained while on Russian soil. Russian media reported that the Estonian counterintelligence officer had been captured by Russia’s Federal Security Service, known as FSB, while undertaking an “espionage operation” inside Russia. Reports in the Russian press said Kohver was caught in Russia’s Pskov region, carrying a loaded firearm, €5,000 ($6,500) in cash, “covert video recording equipment”, an “eavesdropping device”, as well as “other items relating to the gathering of intelligence”. A statement from the FSB said the Estonian operative had been captured while taking part in “an undercover operation” on behalf of KaPo. Read more of this post

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News you may have missed #883

Oleg KaluginBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Indonesia, Australia renew intelligence ties. Australia and Indonesia have signed a pledge not to use intelligence to harm each other, signaling a resumption in cooperation, which had been suspended after last year’s spy scandal. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and her Indonesian counterpart, Marty Natalegawa, signed the “joint understanding of a code of conduct” in Nusa Dua, Bali, on Thursday.
►►Ex-KGB general says Russia has already won in Ukraine. Russia has already won “the real victory”​ in Ukraine, according to former KGB general Oleg Kalugin, who is now living in the United States. The “southeast of Ukraine, that’s part of the general battle between the Russians and Ukrainians, but it’s not as crucial as the real victory and pride of Russia —the Crimea, I mean”, he said on Thursday. Kalugin reiterated that he does not believe Russian president Vladimir Putin wants annex another region of the country. “It’s not in the interest of Putin”, Kalugin said. “His position as of today is fairly strong in the country, in his own country, so why put it at risk by moving further?”
►►China says Canadian couple were spies disguised as ordinary citizens. Kevin and Julia Garratt have been accused of stealing Chinese military and national defense research secrets. They were detained on August 4, 2014, but not formally arrested, and China has offered little information on what they are accused of doing. The couple ran a coffee shop near the border with North Korea, worked with Christian groups to bring humanitarian aid into North Korea, and worked to train North Korean Christians inside China. Their detention by China’s State Security Bureau has been seen by Canadian authorities as reprisal for the arrest of Su Bin, a Chinese immigrant to Canada suspected of masterminding the electronic theft of US fighter jet secrets.

Malware targeting ex-Soviet states has Russian hallmarks

Turla trojan operational diagramBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A malicious software that has infiltrated the computer systems of dozens of embassies belonging to former Eastern Bloc nations “has all the hallmarks of a nation-state” cyberespionage operation, according to researchers. Security firm Symantec said last week that the malware appears to be specifically targeting embassies of former communist nations located in China, Jordan, as well as in locations across Western Europe. In a report published on its website, Symantec said “only a nation state” was likely to have the funds and technical resources to create a malware of such complexity. Additionally, the malware seems to be designed “to go after explicit government networks that are not easy to find”, according to Symantec senior security researcher Vikram Thakur. The infiltration appears to occur in two stages. In the first stage, a computer is infected with a reconnaissance program, known as Wipbot. The initial infection usually occurs through a directed phishing attack or via a compromised website. The Wipbot then conducts an initial exploration of the infected system, collecting vital information about its identity, structure and contents. It then proceeds to compromise it only if it matches a specific Internet address that it is looking for. If a match is confirmed, the Wipbot then invites a second program into the compromised system, whose task is to expropriate data and exfiltrate it in batches that are camouflaged as Internet browser requests. Symantec researchers say that the technical similarities between the two programs are sufficient to justify the view that they were designed and developed by programmers working for the same government agency. Thakur said the structure of the malware is particularly creative; it uses Wipbot as an initial reconnaissance tool before delivering the exfiltration program if it judges that the compromised system is of high enough interest. The Symantec report adds that the malware in question is part of a four-year-long series of cyberespionage attacks that have systematically targeted government facilities belonging to former Communist Bloc states. In May of 2012, a similar malware was found to have infiltrated over 60 different computer systems belonging to a former Soviet Republic, including the office of the Prime Minister. A closely linked attack targeted another former communist state’s embassy in Paris, France, as well as its foreign and internal affairs ministries. The Symantec research points out that many of the malicious program’s core components were compiled in the UTC+4 time zone, which includes Russian cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Russian jet ‘chased US spy plane into Swedish airspace’

RC-135 Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraftBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
An American spy plane was forced to enter Swedish airspace without permission in order to avoid a potentially serious encounter with a Russian military jet, which tried to intercept it in international airspace. Swedish news agency Svenska Dagbladet said on Monday that the incident happened on July 18, one day after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine. According to Swedish sources, the US plane was an RC-135 Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft, which had been flying in international airspace on an eavesdropping mission, collecting signals intelligence on Russian military positions. All of a sudden, however, the American pilot noticed that Russian land-based military radars had begun to track the plane. Eventually, the Russians “locked” their radar on the US plane, which is usually interpreted as a step before firing at the aircraft. Such a move is not illegal, but is described by experts as “highly unusual”, especially when involving unarmed aircraft flying in international airspace. Shortly afterwards, the Russian Air Force sent “at least one” fighter jet toward the US aircraft in an apparent effort to intercept it. Swedish officials were later told by their US counterparts that the American pilot became seriously concerned that his aircraft might get fired upon, so he decided to abort his mission as soon as he could. He therefore ended up flying the plane over Sweden’s airspace without approval from Swedish air controllers. It is believed that the US plane may have crossed into other nations’ airspace, also without permission. Stephan Persson Tyrling, director of air operations at Sweden’s National Defense College, told Svenska Dagbladet that “Russia may have felt provoked” and embarked on an interception operation in order to “tell the US that they flew too close to their airspace or interfered with their [military] exercises”. Read more of this post

US spies say incriminating flight MA17 recordings are genuine

Malaysia Airlines crash site near DonetskBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
American intelligence officials said on Tuesday that the intercepted conversations between pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine, in which they admit shooting down a plane at approximately the same time Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 crashed in eastern Ukraine, are “authentic”. The officials were speaking on condition of anonymity at a press briefing in Washington, organized by the United States government to provide its own take on the tragic incident, which killed almost 300 people last week. On Monday, Russian military officials said Moscow had evidence that a Ukrainian fighter jet was trailing the civilian airliner shortly before it crashed. But American officials told reporters on Tuesday that satellite images, voice traffic, as well as information gathered from social media used by pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine, “point overwhelmingly” to direct rebel responsibility for the attack. The officials said that the possibility that Ukrainian military forces might have shot down the plane was “not a plausible scenario”, because Kiev had “no antiaircraft missile system within range of the Malaysian flight at the time it was struck”. They added that photos from the crash site showed damage consistent with that caused by a Russian-made SA-11 missile, though they stressed that the data backing this assertion is still preliminary. They also pointed out, however, that US intelligence experts had verified the authenticity of the intercepted telephone conversations released shortly after the plane disaster by the Security Service of Ukraine. The voices in the recordings are allegedly those of senior pro-Russian rebel commanders, as well as of officials in Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, known commonly as GRU. In one conversation, recorded 20 minutes after the Malaysia Airlines plane was shot down, Igor Bezler, a leading commander of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, tells GRU Colonel Vasily Geranin: “We have just shot down a plane [...]. It fell down beyond Yenakievo”. Read more of this post

Russia says it traced Ukraine fighter jet near downed Malaysia plane

General Kartopolov (left) speaking in MoscowBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Russian government officials have made a presentation in Moscow showing alleged evidence of a Ukrainian fighter jet, which they claim was trailing a civilian airliner that crashed on Thursday in eastern Ukraine. All 295 people onboard the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200, which came down in a field east of the city of Donetsk, were killed. Last week, Ukrainian intelligence sources released telephone intercepts said to contain direct admissions by pro-Russian rebels that they shot down the civilian airliner. But Russian defense officials fought back on Monday with a hi-tech news conference in Moscow, which included several slides, charts and images relating to the airline disaster over Donetsk. The media briefing, which was specifically called to showcase Moscow’s take on the incident, featured two senior-ranking officials from the Russian general staff. One of the presenters, Lieutenant-General Andrei Kartopolov, told the gathered reporters that the government of Ukraine was most likely behind the plane’s downing. He said Russian radars showed the Malaysian Airlines plane had been forced to “deviate from its route to the north” for up to “14 kilometers” (10 miles). He added that the plane was all the while being trailed by an SU-25 fighter jet belonging to the Ukrainian government, which Russian radars indicated was flying at a distance of “three to five kilometers” (3 miles) from the civilian airplane. Kartopolov stressed that the SU-25 fighter jets are typically armed with air-to-air missiles. Pointing to a series of graphs showing radar activity around Donetsk, the Russian general stated that Ukrainian radar stations had also displayed “unusual activity” in the hours preceding the attack on the civilian airliner. He told reporters that the Russian Ministry of Defense had evidence that “the intensity of the operation of Ukrainian radar stations increased to the maximum” during the time period surrounding the fateful attack on the plane. Read more of this post

Ukraine rebels ‘admit downing Malaysia plane’ in phone intercepts

Malaysia Airlines crash site near DonetskBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Ukrainian intelligence has released telephone intercepts said to contain direct admissions by pro- Russian rebels that they shot down a civilian airliner that crashed on Thursday in eastern Ukraine. All 295 people onboard the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200, which came down in a field east of the city of Donetsk, are presumed dead. An American intelligence official told the Associated Press, on condition of anonymity, that Washington is certain the airliner was brought down by a surface-to-air missile. Late on Thursday, Valentyn Nalivaichenko, director of the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU), said in a press conference that his agency had conclusive evidence showing that pro-Russian rebels had shot down the plane. Nalivaichenko said the evidence included recordings of telephone conversations between rebel commanders and Russian intelligence officers, which were intercepted just minutes after the plane was brought down. During Nalivaichenko’s press conference, the SSU published the intercepted conversations on YouTube with subtitles in English, French, German and Polish. The videos identify some of the participants in the conversations, including Igor Bezler, a leading commander of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, and Vasily Geranin, who is said to be a Colonel in Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, known commonly as GRU. In one phone call, allegedly made at 4:40 Kiev time, 20 minutes after the Malaysia Airlines plane was shot down, Bezler appears to tell Geranin: “We have just shot down a plane [...]. It fell down beyond Yenakievo”. In a subsequent intercept, another rebel commander calls a Russian intelligence officer from the site of the crash to report that the downed plane appeared to be civilian, not military, as originally thought, and that the crash site was filled with casualties. “It’s 100 percent a passenger aircraft”, he reports, adding that there are no weapons visible on site: “absolutely nothing. Civilian items, medicinal stuff, towels, toilet paper”, he says. Read more of this post

Russia to reopen electronic listening command post in Cuba

Raúl Castro and Vladimir PutinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The government of the Russian Federation has reached an agreement with the authorities in Cuba to reopen an electronic communications listening base that was built by the Soviets during the Cold War. Russian newspaper Kommersant said on Wednesday that the agreement between the two nations was struck late last week during a visit to the communist-run island by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The agreement centers on the Lourdes signals intelligence (SIGINT) facility, located just outside Cuban capital Havana. Situated approximately 100 miles from the United States mainland, the facility was used throughout the last two decades of the Cold War to provide intelligence for Soviet military and civilian spy agencies, while also operating as an overseas communications hub for the Soviet Navy. It was regarded at the time as the most formidable Soviet electronic listening post located anywhere outside Soviet territory. Cuban authorities once bragged that Lourdes provided Moscow with 75 percent of its actionable intelligence on its American adversary —though some experts consider the statement an exaggeration. At its peak, in the late 1970s, Lourdes hosted approximately 3,000 technical specialists and support personnel, over half of whom were Soviet. Initially, the Cuban government permitted Moscow to make use of Lourdes free of charge. However, in 1992 Havana introduced an annual rental fee, which by 2001 had risen to $200 million. Under the bilateral agreement, Russia was paying the rental fee in kind, by supplying the Cuban government with food products and fuel, as well as military equipment. But in 2001, the administration of President Putin withdrew from the agreement, citing the high cost of maintaining the base. Moscow said at the time that it was financially impossible to keep up a SIGINT complex located 6 thousand miles away from Moscow. Read more of this post

Analysis: Crimea crisis brings Russian military spies back in the game

Russian troops in UkraineBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The recent crisis in Ukraine, which resulted in Russia assuming control of Crimean Peninsula, marks the post-Soviet resurgence of Russia’s military intelligence apparatus and points to “a new playbook” in Moscow’s foreign policy strategy, according to a seasoned Russia analyst. In an article published on Monday in Foreign Policy, Mark Galeotti, Professor of Global Affairs at New York University, who specializes in Russian security affairs, said Russia’s military intelligence agency is now “back in the global spook game”. He was referring to Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, known commonly as GRU, which he said the Kremlin will be employing increasingly in the years to come as a major foreign-policy tool. It is no secret that, despite its significant role in Cold War intelligence operations, the GRU has been in decline in the post-Soviet era. Its substandard performance in the 2008 Russo-Georgian War convinced Russian President Vladimir Putin that the agency was “unfit” for operations in what Russians call the “near-abroad” —the regions of the former Soviet Republics. In 2003, in addition to facing what Galeotti calls “a savage round of [budget] cuts”, the GRU saw its near-abroad functions taken over by the FSB, Russia’s Federal Security Service. The FSB descends from the domestic component of the Soviet-era KGB, the agency that employed Vladimir Putin before he entered politics (as an aside, the SVR, which is the post-Soviet reincarnation of the KGB’s external intelligence directorates, is legally prevented from operating within the Commonwealth of Independent States). As late as last year there was even a discussion about whether the GRU should be demoted from a main directorate under the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff to a simple directorate, a move that would have fatally diminished its institutional stature. But in the recent Crimea crisis, says Galeotti, the GRU was able to turn the tables on Kiev by deploying its battle-ready Vostok Battalion, whose members cut their teeth in Chechnya. Read more of this post

Analysis: Did Russian spy services secretly bug Polish officials?

Radosław SikorskiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS* | intelNews.org
Poland’s relations with the United States were strained this week after Poland’s foreign minister allegedly described Warsaw’s alliance with Washington as “worthless” and “complete bullshit” in a private conversation. Radosław Sikorski has not denied the authenticity of a bugged conversation, in which he appears to argue that Poland is wrong to anger Germany and Russia by always siding with America on foreign policy issues. Using highly undiplomatic language, Sikorski denounced Poland’s foreign policy planners as “complete losers” and accused them of having a “slave mentality” in their dealings with American diplomats. He also described British Prime Minister David Cameron as an “incompetent” politician who “believes in his stupid propaganda” about the European Union. Transcripts of the conversation, which allegedly took place between Sikorski and Poland’s former Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski, were published last week in several increments by Polish newsmagazine Wprost.

How did the bugging occur? It appears that Sikorski was among a number of Polish politicians surreptitiously recorded for over a year while dining with colleagues at elite restaurants in Polish capital Warsaw. Polish authorities reportedly believe that managers and waiters at the restaurants placed concealed recording devices near the guests’ tables. Some believe the culprits’ goal was to blackmail the politicians in return for cash payments; others believe that powerful business interests or opposition politicians were behind the recordings. A few observers have even suggested that Rostowski, who is heard talking with Sikorski in the bugged conversation, may have been the source of the leak to Wprost. The magazine’s editors said they received an encrypted email from a business executive, going by the name “Patriot”, with links to four recorded conversations between senior Polish government officials. But it insisted that it was not aware of the identity of the leaker. Read more of this post

UK military scrambling to rehire retired Russian-language analysts

Russian troops in UkraineBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The crisis in Ukraine is causing the British military to reach out to hundreds of retired Russian-language analysts who left the service at the end of the Cold War, according to media reports. British newspaper The Daily Telegraph said on Saturday that Russia’s actions in the Ukraine had exposed significant shortages of Russian-language analysts in the British Armed Forces. The paper said it had seen internal government documents that detailed efforts by military officials to contact associations of retired intelligence personnel in search of qualified Russia experts. The article referenced one recent memorandum from an unnamed senior officer in a military intelligence brigade, which asks retired military personnel to help by contacting retired Russian-language analysts, most of whom are now in their 60s. Other documents suggest that, in addition to analysts, the British military is in need of experts that can help monitor and translate information collected from open-source Russian information channels. The Telegraph places the blame for the shortage on budget cuts implemented by successive British governments on the nation’s Armed Forces. It also faults the defense and security agencies’ “recent focus on the Middle East and Asia”, which is said to have occurred at the expense of Russian linguistic and analytical expertise. The article quotes an unnamed “intelligence source” as saying that Britain’s Ministry of Defense used to offer “extremely good” Russian-language courses, but that “after 9/11” a focus on Arabic displaced Russian and other languages associated with the Cold War. There are also complaints by Russian experts in the British Army that they were “openly derided as being nothing more than a ‘language club’” in the years following 9/11. Read more of this post

Former KGB officer says Snowden was ‘tricked into going to Russia’

Boris KarpichkovBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A former major in the Soviet KGB has told the British press that a team of Russian intelligence operatives posing as diplomats “tricked” American intelligence defector Edward Snowden into going to Moscow. Many believe that Snowden, a former computer expert for the United States Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, was recruited by Russian intelligence before defecting to Moscow in June 2013. But former Soviet and Russian intelligence operative Boris Karpichkov has said in an interview that Snowden never intended to defect to Russia, but was lured there by a team of Russians spies. Karpichkov was a major in the Soviet KGB and its domestic-security successor, the FSB, where he worked for 15 years. In the mid-1990s, however, he gradually fell out with his employer and was imprisoned for several months before managing to leave his homeland using one of several false passports that had been supplied to him by Russian intelligence. In 1998 he entered Britain, where he lives with his family today, having been granted political asylum. He told British tabloid newspaper Sunday People that Snowden had first attracted the attention of Russian intelligence in 2007, while he was posted by the CIA to Geneva, Switzerland. During his time there, Snowden posed as a diplomat while maintaining the security of the CIA’s computer facilities located on Swiss soil. According to Karpichkov, the SVR, the post-Soviet successor of the KGB’s foreign-intelligence department, first opened a file on Snowden at that time, and kept updating it for six years, having identified the American computer technician as a “potential defector”. The former KGB operative told the British newspaper that the SVR moved quickly after it emerged that Snowden had abandoned Hawaii, where he had been posted by the NSA, and was hiding in a Hong Kong hotel. He was eventually accosted by a group of SVR spies posing as Russian diplomats. The group managed to persuade him, says Karpichkov, that the Russian government would be able to offer him protection in Moscow while he made up his mind over which country to apply to for political asylum. Read more of this post

Is Estonia’s Russian counterintelligence program the world’s best?

EstoniaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Until not so long ago, the former Soviet Republic of Estonia was known as a playground for Russian intelligence. The tiny Baltic state, with a population of just under 1.4 million, a fourth of whom are ethnic Russians, struggled to build its security and intelligence infrastructure following its emergence from communism. Some of the country’s low points during that process include the infamous 2007 cyberattacks, which are believed to have been orchestrated by Moscow, and which kicked the entire country off the World Wide Web for over a week. A year later, authorities in Tallinn announced the arrest of Herman Simm, a senior official at the Estonian Ministry of Defense, who was apprehended along with his wife for spying on behalf of Russian intelligence for nearly 30 years. Since that time, however, Tallinn has been able to transform its Russian counterintelligence program into something resembling the envy of the world, according to Foreign Affairs columnist Michael Weiss. In an intriguing analysis published on Tuesday, Weiss argues that Estonia’s claim to fame in the counterintelligence world centers on its initiative in hosting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence, which was founded in response to the 2007 cyberattacks. But, says Weiss, much more quietly, the tiny Baltic state has become a global leader in “old-fashioned counterintelligence” directed against Russian spy operations on its territory. He quotes one observer as saying that Estonia’s Russian counterintelligence program “is now better by a long way than that of any other country in Europe”. John Schindler, a professor at the United States Naval War College and former analyst at the National Security Agency, tells Weiss that, unlike the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Estonia’s counterintelligence service, Kaitsepolitseiamet, known as KaPo, “intuitively understands Russian intelligence culture”. The agency, says Schindler, used the Simm case as an impetus to upgrade its offensive and defensive counterintelligence posture. This effort led to the well-publicized arrests of Aleksei and Viktoria Dressen, as well as Vladimir Veitman, all Estonian citizens who had been spying for Russia for many years. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #877

Oleg KaluginBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►China to ditch US consulting firms over suspected espionage. State-owned Chinese companies will cease to work with US consulting companies like McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group over fears they are spying on behalf of the US government. Last Thursday, China announced that all foreign companies would have to undergo a new security test. Any company, product or service that fails will be banned from China. The inspection will be conducted across all sectors —communications, finance, and energy.
►►Ex-KGB general says Snowden is cooperating with Russian intelligence. Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden probably never envisioned that he would someday be working for the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB. But according to former KGB Major General Oleg Kalugin, he is now, albeit as a consultant or technical advisor. “The FSB are now his hosts, and they are taking care of him”, Kalugin claimed in an interview. “Whatever he had access to in his former days at NSA, I believe he shared all of it with the Russians, and they are very grateful”, added the former Soviet spy.
►►Snowden claims he was ‘trained as a spy’. American intelligence defector Edward Snowden says he knows how US spies operate because he was trained as one of them. In an interview with NBC News, Snowden dismissed allegations that he was just a low-level analyst with the US government before revealing highly classified details of US spying activities in 2013. “I was trained as a spy in sort of the traditional sense of the word in that I lived and worked undercover overseas, pretending to work in a job that I’m not, and even being assigned a name that was not mine”, he said in a portion of the interview that aired on Tuesday.

Pattern of leaks suggests Snowden ‘may have been a Russian spy’

Edward SnowdenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
It has been nearly a year since British newspaper The Guardian unveiled the identity of American defector Edward Snowden, whom Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg has called the source of the most significant leak in the history of the United States. The case of Snowden, a former computer technician for the United States Intelligence Community, who is currently under Russian protection, continues to divide Americans. His defenders see him as a heroic whistleblower who sacrificed his comfortable life and promising career in order to expose the government’s encroachment into the private lives of American citizens. His detractors want him to account for stealing nearly 2 million classified documents and sharing American secrets with Moscow. Last January, American lawmakers with senior positions in Congressional intelligence committees expressed strong views that Snowden was working with Russian intelligence prior to his defection. Last Friday, American investigative journalist Edward Jay Epstein appeared to side with Snowden’s detractors. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Epstein opined that the narrative of Snowden acting alone to bravely expose “the evils of government surveillance” was likely created by Snowden himself. But this popular whistleblowing narrative, said Epstein, is “at best incomplete [and] at worst fodder for the naïve”. The veteran journalist argued that Snowden’s heroic image seems to suffer when one considers his sleuthing actions prior to his defection. Specifically, the American defector left for Hong Cong, and eventually Russia, after having broken into at least 24 carefully compartmentalized areas of electronically stored classified intelligence inside the NSA. To do so, the computer expert had to consciously borrow, steal or forge multiple entry passwords. Once he had gained access to the compartmentalized systems, he planted “spiders”, stealthy intelligence-collection programs that looked for specifically targeted data to steal. This, says Epstein, is how Snowden managed to acquire 1.7 million documents from the Kunia Regional SIGINT Operations Center on the island of Hawaii, where he was stationed. What is interesting, argues Epstein, is that only “a minute fraction” of the documents stolen by Snowden were related to domestic surveillance by American government agencies. The journalist quotes General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said last March that the vast majority of the documents sought out by Snowden were related to America’s military capabilities. Read more of this post

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