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11 Shocking Things Snowden Has Taught Us (So Far)

Falling behind on the increasingly byzantine NSA scandal? We've got you covered.

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4) The United States is hacking China

Snowden, speaking with  The South China Morning Post, gave his first press interview with an outlet other than the Guardian after revealing himself as the source of the leaks on June 12. He said he would stay in Hong Kong until he is “asked to leave,” and said that he took up his previous role as a consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton with the intent of disseminating state secrets. (Snowden would later fly to Moscow and initiate asylum applications with more than 20 countries, many of them denied.) Snowden also told the South China Morning Post that the NSA has been hacking mainland Chinese and Hong Kong computers since 2009. He claimed the NSA hacked networks at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, home to the Hong Kong Internet Exchange and Hong Kong’s main terminal for all internet traffic.

The consequence:

Snowden’s statements hardened the standoff between China and the United States over hacking. Hong Kong Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok announced that the Hong Kong Internet Exchange has been monitored but appears unaffected, while Chinese University announced that it has not found evidence of hacking on its servers.

The domestic debate in the United States began to reach a fever pitch. A Gallup Poll conducted between June 10 and June 11 placed support among Americans for Snowden’s actions at 44 percent, while 42 percent said his actions were wrong. Still, the poll found that 57 percent of respondents did not support the NSA’s surveillance programs as outlined in the leaked documents, while 37 percent approved.

5) Britain targets G20 members

Another PowerPoint presentation leaked on June 16 outlines how the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s equivalent to the NSA, used real-time surveying of delegates’ phone communications at the G20 Summit in 2009. The intent of the surveillance was to gain diplomatic advantage at the meetings, which came in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. British officials could obtain real-time readings of calls made by targeted persons and read their emails without notice.

There is specific mention in the slides of targeting “the Turkish finance minister and possibly 15 others in his party,”  according to the Guardian. The slides suggest “senior level” members of government in Gordon Brown’s administration, Britain’s prime minister at the time, were aware of the intelligence gathering and that the information “was passed to British ministers.” The presentation also alludes to such covert techniques being neither unprecedented nor unique.

The consequence:

The revelations incited ire from Russia, Turkey and South Africa, all of which had diplomats directly targeted at various times during the summit. While there is consensus that many countries engage in similar acts of espionage, the publicity was nonetheless damaging to the UK government’s reputation. The news added to mounting concern in the international community about links between UK’s GCHQ and the NSA’s PRISM program.

6) NSA procedures

On June 20, the Guardian revealed two more documents obtained by Snowden (viewable  hereand here). Signed by Attorney General Eric Holder in 2009, the documents shed light on procedures sanctioned by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. According to the documents, the NSA can keep (and make use of) information inadvertently gathered on US citizens for a period of up to five years — without a warrant — but only if the information is deemed to be relevant in preventing national security threats or to aid further investigations. The information can be sent to allied governments or foreign organizations, so long as the person’s identity is anonymous.

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