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NSA Has No Clue As To Scope of Snowden's Data Trove 383

Posted by timothy
from the known-unknowns dept.
krakman writes "According to a NY Times article, a 6-month internal investigation has not been able to define the actual files that Edward Snowden had copied. There is a suspicion that not all the documents have been leaked to newspapers, and a senior NSA official (Rick Ledgett), who is heading the security agency's task force examining Mr. Snowden's leak, has said on the record that he would consider recommending amnesty for Mr. Snowden in exchange for those unleaked documents. 'They've spent hundreds and hundreds of man-hours trying to reconstruct everything he has gotten, and they still don't know all of what he took,' a senior administration official said. 'I know that seems crazy, but everything with this is crazy.' That Mr. Snowden was so expertly able to exploit blind spots in the systems of America's most secretive spy agency illustrates how far computer security still lagged years after President Obama ordered standards tightened after the WikiLeaks revelations of 2010."
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NSA Has No Clue As To Scope of Snowden's Data Trove

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  • Yeah, sure... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Sunday December 15, 2013 @01:51AM (#45693151)

    There is a suspicion that not all the documents have been leaked to newspapers, and a senior NSA official (Rick Ledgett), who is heading the security agency's task force examining Mr. Snowden's leak, has said on the record that he would consider recommending amnesty for Mr. Snowden in exchange for those unleaked documents.

    What Snowden has leaked is stuff that many people suspected but could not prove. A lot of it are things we know that the technology existed for, and an unscrupulous Spy Agency (like the NSA) might be likely to attempt.

    But what this new disclosure says to me is that there might be things that go WAY beyond what we have learned or more accurately, confirmed, so far. Things that really do stretch way into the clearly unacceptable in ways that the disclosures thus far pale in comparison.

    Why else go public and suggest "amnesty"? Which, I don't think Snowdon would consider at this point, he would certainly risk ending up in a "accident" in a few years, something he is quite at risk from now.

    If as "they" say they think he has't given up everything he had to the News Media, we will never see it because it's in Russian hands. Snowden isn't that stupid.

    And by the way, I'll bet Julian Assage is feeling pretty jealous right now, what with the spot-light off of Him... Assage is a lime light whore, an ego the size of a blimp, he's got to be pacing back and forth in that small room of his, plotting a "come-back".

    • Re:Yeah, sure... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 15, 2013 @02:14AM (#45693239)

      I'm willing to bet Julian Assange feels pretty damned justified right now. To hell with his limelight stealing and ego thumping, he got the ball rolling and got to see Snowden take things even further.

      If it wasn't for Julian Assange, Snowden probably would have taken his concerns up internally with his boss and then had an "accident".

      • I'm willing to bet Julian Assange feels pretty damned justified right now.

        That's nice, but what has Wikileaks released recently? We were told the Manning Papers where far and wide, yet apparently either they are not, or Assange is holding back for some reason? What could that reason be?

        • Re:Yeah, sure... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 15, 2013 @04:56AM (#45693693)

          what has Wikileaks released recently?

          The GI files just finished being published. They, for example, tell us that around 2011 there was "not much of a free Syria army", but that they were financing, arming and training people to "commit guerrilla attacks, assassination campaigns, try to break the back of the Alawite forces, elicit collapse from within". Even worst, it also tells us that "They dont believe air intervention would happen unless there was enough media attention on a massacre, like the Ghadafi move against Benghazi".

          So basically, while it makes no sense for Assad to use chemical weapons against his people, it shows that since 2011 the USA consider this a necessity for their attacks. Here is the full leaked email [wikileaks.org]

          There were many other revelations from the Global Intelligence files, but I think this is the most important one since over 100,000 people already died from the "civil war" the USA is creating in Syria.

          The other recent leak was the TPP IP, this is Forbes report on it: US Fails To Close TPP Deal As Wikileaks Exposes Discord [forbes.com]

          And FYI, many of the "Manning Papers" (Cablegate) were published around the world and of course not on the land of the free, not just because American journalists are being persecuted, but also because they matter more for those countries.

    • Re:Yeah, sure... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @02:17AM (#45693253) Homepage Journal

      " this new disclosure says to me is that there might be things that go WAY beyond what we have learned"

      I thought that was a given. It is well known that Snowden claims to have reserved some mind blowing information, deposited in various places, with a dead man's switch. If he dies or goes missing, the stuff is released.

      • by zAPPzAPP (1207370)

        I always thought this was a very bad idea.

        Sure, it may protect him from those who do not want the information released.

        But for those wo do want it released, they might feel motivated to force it...

    • by Pav (4298) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @02:39AM (#45693337)
      Part of the value of ubiquitous surveilance is character assassination, and a key part of that vulnerability is in our own oversimplified thinking. Yes, Assange is a limelight whore, but perhaps he's making the best use of that failing. Nelson Mandela was at one time a terrorist expousing violence, could have a quick temper and had a "colourful" personal life. Reagan and Thatcher painted him as a terrorist for years before the saint image became dominant - but BOTH these images are oversimplifications. We MUST work on this "oversimplification" vulnerability in ourselves and those around us even if it seems an impossible task.
    • Snowden never took anything to China or Russia. He'd unloaded everything on his lawyer by then. I suspect this is why he was greeted so lukewarmly by both countries.

      • Re:Yeah, sure... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @03:15AM (#45693457)
        He was greeted by Russia with open arms. As it turned out, they were just pretending the "lukewarm" bit as a cover while they moved him elsewhere.

        They were ecstatic to get a chance to show up Obama. (Hell, I would have been too if I were them.)

        The chance to play the "justified political asylum" card on the U.S. Government? They loved every minute of it!
    • practically in jail (Score:4, Interesting)

      by globaljustin (574257) <justinglobal@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Sunday December 15, 2013 @03:33AM (#45693501) Homepage Journal

      Ok look, I'm with you on the fact that Snowden didn't release any new info, at best it confirmed and gave operational details to stuff that was known publicly since 2006... [usatoday.com]

      Snowden isn't a free man. Whoever has been pulling his strings has got him on a tight leash.

      Why doesn't he have a blog? Why haven't we seen or heard of him around town in Russia? Why is he always wearing the same light grey shirt?

      He's in trouble...he got himself in it, either by doing something to get blackmailed (downloading kiddie pr0n from a scammer) or deluded himself into thinking he was some kind of 'Deep Throat' figure.

      Other questions:

      Why didn't Snowden use Wikileaks?

      Why didn't Glenn Greenwald release Snowden's name?

      • by dbIII (701233) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @05:09AM (#45693731)

        Why didn't Snowden use Wikileaks?

        After some sabotage removed the entire Bank of America leak he may have assumed that someone else could be turned to do the same thing. Or maybe most of the ways in to Wikileaks are being carefully watched by the NSA or he just assumed they would be? We could do this for hours. Eventually someone from the press may get to ask him a few questions and we'll find out.

        • Well thanks for engaging my question.

          I agree those are all possibilities.

          Serious question: what do you think about his lack of communication and public presence? he has only made very tightly controlled appearances...

          And let's just remember to compare his treatment with others like Assange in Russia. Assange leaked info during the Bush administration and was on TV in Russia.

          I know you can always just say "Snowden was afraid of getting sent to a black site" to any question but I'm hoping to hear more than th

          • by dbIII (701233)
            I've written what I think above and I'm waiting for more information to come out to get an idea of what is actually going on. It could take a while especially if he's doing a book to try to get something to live off out of the situation. It could take even longer if he's under some sort of house arrest or full imprisonment.
          • by Sique (173459) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @07:05AM (#45694017) Homepage
            The main difference between Julian Assange and Edward Snowden is the role they play in the leaks they are connected to. Julian Assange is never the original source, he's the guy providing the platform to publish it. As a publisher, he's a public head. Edward Snowden is the actual source, he's got the data. There are different channels for him to publish it. Instead of WikiLeaks, he has chosen the Guardian and the New York Times as publishing outlets.

            If you need to compare him to someone, he's more a PFC Manning than a second Julian Assange. And he learned from Chelsea Manning that trying to hide your identity after the leaks works only for so long, so he decided to flee forward, make his identity open and in the same time got out of the direct reach of the U.S. authorities. There are not much places in the world where you are out of the reach of the U.S. authorities. He never openly decided for Russia, it was the place he got stuck.

    • Not necessarily. If he had a few wealthy backers, with an amnesty, he could be voted president. I'd vote for him.
    • He won't get an accident as long as they want him alive and well more than they want him gone. As far as we know, there's a group of three unknown people that together can "set free" all the data he has stolen. As long as the USA doesn't want him to reveal all that data, he's safe from them killing him. They may want to abduct him back to the USA, but they know they can't kill him because then all hell will break loose.

      The Soviet Union probably gets something in return for his visa, but he won't be giving

    • Re:Yeah, sure... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @06:37AM (#45693957)

      Why else go public and suggest "amnesty"?

      It is far simpler than all of that. They did it to try to retain the moral high ground in the PR war.

      Unlike people here, the broader population is much less convinced of the narrative that the NSA bad and Snowden good. Offering Snowden amnesty (no matter how bogus of an offer) makes it seem like the NSA are the good guys because in the simplified world of the average unaware citizen bad guys don't offer amnesty, they just execute their enemies like North Korea just did.

      To read this single off-handed comment about amnesty as anything more than political posturing is silly. Posturing is all the government has done since Snowden made the leak, they keep throwing random ideas at the wall hoping something will stick. This amnesty thing was just one more random idea they floated to see what the public reaction would be, nothing more.

  • Amnesty? *snarf* (Score:5, Insightful)

    by weilawei (897823) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @01:54AM (#45693161) Homepage
    Those unleaked documents may be all that's keeping him alive. No sane being would ever give up that insurance policy in his situation.
    • Re:Amnesty? *snarf* (Score:5, Interesting)

      by uvajed_ekil (914487) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @02:12AM (#45693223)
      And if he's smart, which he clearly seems to be, he has already given copies of the documents to a few people he trusts, with the threat of mass releases ensuring his safety. Surely the NSA has thought of this possibility. And any amnesty deal would have to be contingent upon him keeping a low profile, likely outside of the US, and be subject to revocation should anyone else release related documents that are believed to have been stolen by Snowden.

      If it were me, I'd have divided copies up among multiple recipients, with multiple recipients for each document but without all documents to anyone. Of course this assumes that there are people he thinks he can trust, which may not be the case. Or maybe he doesn't have much more that is interesting? Either way, I would not be quick to trust his word enough to offer amnesty, nor should he be trusting enough to accept a deal from a government he clearly does not (and probably should not) trust.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 15, 2013 @01:54AM (#45693163)

    So we're to understand the NSA still more secrets that they don't want anyone to know, so much so they would consider forgiving someone they consider has committed treason?

    That was about the only thing that could have made me feel even more concerned than the last year of news stories about how the NSA is basically Santa Claus.

  • by kamaaina (1071006) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @01:59AM (#45693177)

    I know its hopeful thinking, but if the NSA was a person, they would know how it feels when you don't know what someone knows about you.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 15, 2013 @02:06AM (#45693203)

    I immigrated to US in 1998 and to honest, and until recently, I was under impression that US was the best county on the entire globe. Period.
    Guns, jobs, "Freedom", country had real drive. That is how I saw it for last 30 years.

    It me a while to sink in that it shit is going down a drain.
    Iraq and Afghanistan wars didn't make me change my opinion.
    Economic Meltdown in 2008, and the fact that no one went to jail and CEO's got big ass bonuses, didn't make me change my opinion.
    Fucked-up Health Insurance didn't......

    Guess what changed my opinion ? NSA.

    • by MRe_nl (306212) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @05:10AM (#45693733)

      Well your priorities see a little strange to me. Consider the dead, the wounded and the traumatized, the economical and structural damage of each of these actions:
      Iraq and Afghanistan wars
      Economic Meltdown/Fraud
      Health Insurance problems
      The NSA snooping

      The NSA snooping out of these strikes you as the most damaging to yourself, the USA and the world in general?
      Why?

  • Last month, [reuters.com] the NSA said maybe 50,000 to 200,000 documents.
    Last night, [twitter.com] 60 Minutes said it was 1.7 million documents
    Today it's "we may never know"

    • I like your title. Let's just assume that Snowden has everything. He only left behind some inconsequential bullshit. He downloaded everything, just as most of us would.

  • Databases (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AHuxley (892839) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @02:16AM (#45693249) Homepage Journal
    The US mil has had a long history with computer databases going back to the 1960's with the Community On-line Intelligence System effort.
    The CIA, FBI and MI5,6 all knew what a motivated cleared individual could do with a "photocopier", "camera" and more trusted clearance level to a paper file system.
    Would digital files be that just left to be that easy?
    East Germany showed what a levels where needed to protect aspects of running spies or handling covert materials - a split of data making any one "walk out" very limited in what was lost.
    We are now to believe 'the' US agency at the centre of US data integrity, protection and world wide data penetration could not rewind its own networks logs?
    Snowden was CIA, was passed onto a contractor with his CIA work 'cleaned' at some point by someone and then onto the NSA.
    Snowden would have had direct id/code/physical location contact with how many people who could have been allowed to look into files from "that" "site" in the USA?
    What are the options? The NSA structure is now (~past 10 years) so 'sharing', 'out sourced', 'cloud based' and privatised that any staff "member" can look down over many projects without 'question' or any useful 'logging'?
    That an admin can be so 'skilled' to cover/find/alter all digital tracking logs, using digital methods that none in the NSA, FBI, CIA, MI6/5, GCHQ ever thought about?
    With all the Soviet/Russia spy hunts wrt staff, past whistleblowers over ~30 years, the digital file structures where 'outsourced' to such an extent that all security protections are now lost?
    • Re:Databases (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Required Snark (1702878) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @03:26AM (#45693489)
      I wish I could mod you up. This is a great insight into the dysfunctional nature of the current out of control intelligence apparatus.

      The outsourcing model was also a big part of the failed Iraqi invasion. (Blackwater [wikipedia.org] ring a bell?) That also wasted vast resources and had a terrible political outcome. I guess that both started right after 9/11, but we are only seeing the incompetence and bad results from the NSA types now.

      The next logical question is why outsource core mission operations?. I think there are two reasons. First is ideological. Outsourcing is supposed to be more efficient. It also is a big part of right wing political theory, where efficient private companies replace wasteful government bureaucracies. Remember the expansion of intelligence and the creation of Homeland Security happened under Bush, so that's when outsourcing happened big time.

      The second big reason is plausible deniability. Have contractors to do dirty work makes it much easier to avoid oversight and implement policies that are illegal/immoral/stupid/wasteful.

      A very current example is the rogue operation in Iraq of CIA contractor Robert Levinson [go.com]. The White House is quoted in the article as saying "was not a U.S. government employee", which they can do because he was a contractor as opposed to an employee.

      This operation was screwed up that those directly responsible were forced to leave the CIA, and procedures were changed to keep this kind of event from happening again.

      • by TubeSteak (669689)

        A very current example is the rogue operation in Iraq of CIA contractor Robert Levinson. The White House is quoted in the article as saying "was not a U.S. government employee", which they can do because he was a contractor as opposed to an employee.

        You may want to re-read the original AP article [ap.org] about Levinson.
        He was "not a U.S. government employee" because at the time of his disappearance, his contract had finished and he was working on spec.

        Problem was, Levinson's contract was out of money and, though the CIA was working to authorize more, it had yet to do so.

        "I would like to know if I do, in fact, expend my own funds to conduct this meeting, there will be reimbursement sometime in the near future, or, if I should discontinue this, as well as any and all similar projects until renewal time in May," Levinson wrote.

        It's a very nuanced position to make and the government should be ashamed for making it, but they're not factually incorrect.

    • You've lost track that at some point the NSA changed from what you described to the sort of place where somebody could get a Hollywood set designer in to do an ops room. That and the need for the bosses to have anything right now with no hoops to jump through does seem to have produced a situation where the NSA is publicly stating that they do not have a clue what Snowdon has. They could be lying but if they are it's a lie that damages their reputation enough that it puts the jobs of the people saying it
  • by jafac (1449)

    I find it very difficult to believe that they don't have audit logs that show exactly when and where he logged on, and what data he accessed. On the other hand, I find it easy to believe that while they HAVE the audit logs, the mandated Microsoft tools make it impractical to search for the pertinent data.

    • by symbolset (646467) *
      It really does not make sense. They have logs of where you and I took our cellphones, who we called, who and what we texted. But not what was happening on their own secure network with an unvetted Dell subcontractor admin. Yeah right.
    • by Znork (31774)

      They used to have audit logs but then someone pointed out Keith's LOVEINT logs and there were grumblings about Rick's kickbacks from businesses. Best just to leave accesses to data unlogged so everyone can go around their business without interference. Who could have expected someone like Snowden actually taking a moral high ground? With all that unmonitored and unsupervised access to everything about everyone he should have had some fun with the dirt, like everyone else.

  • by Todd Knarr (15451) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @02:25AM (#45693295) Homepage

    The problem the NSA's having is likely the same one most large businesses have when it comes to IT: the management involved has absolutely no clue about what's going on with their computer systems, and they won't believe what the technical people who do know what's going on are telling them because it disagrees with what that management thinks should be going on. End result, the steps that are taken don't fix any of the security problems and the steps that would fix the problems are vetoed. And it'll be "lather, rinse, repeat" until management starts being fired (not allowed to resign, fired for incompetence) and losing their cushy termination benefits packages because they failed to listen.

    • Single Point of Failure.

      Diminishing Returns.

      Planning Fallacy.

      Cybernetic Death -- Too much noise (entropy), not enough progress (signal) in the system.

      I can think of a million reasons why the NSA has always been doomed to fail. Greed is the general answer.

      We have an amazing array of spy satellites launched via the biggest rockets in the world. [youtube.com] No terrorist or enemy could mobilize any real threat to the USA that we would not know about instantly. The big nations are no threat sine we have mutually assured

  • Could have left the headline at that.

    So we as good little citizens are supposed to help the NSA "find a better way" to "connect all the dots," but they have no idea what to do even when all the "dots" are in their physical possession?

    Maybe if they spent more time monitoring and logging their own systems everyone would be better off.

    • Well, I think I've discovered how to defeat PRISM. All you have to do to remain off their radar is work for the NSA!

  • Non-issue (Score:5, Insightful)

    by oldhack (1037484) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @02:48AM (#45693367)
    NSA has nothing to worry about if it has done nothing wrong.
  • by runeghost (2509522) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @02:50AM (#45693371)

    The U.S. government has demonstrated itself to be completely untrustworthy. The best he could hope for would be to have his lawyers arguing the validity of his amnesty in front of secret courts while he's tortured in a black site somewhere.

  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @02:58AM (#45693393)

    If only the NSA had the resources and some sort of process by which they could have kept track of Snowden, like his phone, email, computer and internet usage. Oh wait...

  • Amnesty won't work (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tftp (111690) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @03:01AM (#45693401) Homepage

    The article says: Mr. Snowden has said he would return to the United States if he was offered amnesty, but it is unclear whether Mr. Obama â" who would most likely have to make such a decision â" would make such an offer.

    Even if the offer is ever made, Snowden would have to be a complete fool to accept it. He may never be prosecuted for the data leak; however the government will be free to legally fry him for any other crime that he may be framed for. Or, if that is not desirable, he may become another victim of criminals, who would never be found.

  • by HalAtWork (926717) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @03:22AM (#45693481)
    If you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide!
  • Sigh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ledow (319597) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @03:37AM (#45693517) Homepage

    We have no idea what a random person working for a contractor with access to our top-secret systems managed to steal before he went on the run...

    but we have to know your shoe-size, what toilet-paper you use, and what kind of porn turns you on.

    A well-prioritised spying agency, there.

  • Incompetence at a government agency that routinely classifies their fuck-ups to avoid repercussions? I'm shocked!

    -jcr

  • by VortexCortex (1117377) <VortexCortexNO@S ... t-retrograde.com> on Sunday December 15, 2013 @05:09AM (#45693729)

    If you ignore the scaremongering of how much Snowden "took" (it was still there after he "took" it, he didn't "take" anything -- a copy was made) -- If you dismiss the spin about Snowden, you'll realize that the NSA is admitting that they're letting the Chinese, Russian, Turkish, etc. spies get access to all of the information they've collected on the world and American citizens. If you can't even trace what was accessed, then you certainly can't prevent access. Snowden was a contractor, he's not amazing, any average fearless security researcher would have a field day with the NSA. They use MS Windows, FFS, ever since they ported Omnivore from UNIX to MS platforms to create Carnivore (away from Unix? Huh, yay MS license fee pork!) It's not amazing that Snowden got access. Hell, even if they use Linux there's zero day exploits for every known OS on the black market. Any state sponsored spy has even more access than Snowden dreamed of.

    Congratulation should be awarded the National Security Agency for becoming the biggest threat to National Security the world has ever known. In becoming the greatest single point of failure, and failing, it is now their duty to extinguish themselves. In programming we call a system capable of completely internally representing and emitting copy of itself a Quine. In cybernetics I call this being alive. In government we call this SNAFU. Indeed the very nation's existence is owed to the cyclic redundancy error called revolution. Fortunately the founding fathers foresaw such eventuality and gave their people the ability to break the cycle of deadly rebirth without violence: To call an emergency session of congress and hold a vote of no confidence therein.

    The whitehouse could have been a relief valve, but have come out in favor of letting the NSA run amok -- Hard choices indeed. Would you come out against the NSA who refuses to stand down, and thus prove the government is illegitimate, or would you align yourself with them and maintain the despotic peace a little while longer -- give up essential liberties for a little temporary safety? The longer the pressure builds, the bigger the collateral damage will become. The tech giants are injured yet oddly not nearly as reactive as you'd expect, by the time they decide to really push back it'll be too late, they'll have less power than the military industrial complex. If they realize the table is turning the big guys will all begin buying up defense related tech to try and ensure their future. It's almost as if the government wants the economy to be destroyed so that the people face bankruptcy, repossessions, and foreclosures and the corporations lose the money they use to maintain firm grips on the lobbyists. Afterwards they could simply blame those who spake out against them for holding different "destructive" economic ideals and put them in concentration camps until the scared public is cowed and accepts things the way it's going to be whether we the people like it or not. You could just avoid the internment altogether and just let the homeless remain effectively neutered. Why, if I didn't know better, I'd say everything was going according to plan. [youtube.com]

I'd rather just believe that it's done by little elves running around.

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