Free At Last

No Need to elaborate on this post. As of this morning, Edward Snowden was issued temporary asylum in Russia. He is allowed to legally reside in the country for one year with the option to apply for renewal when the year is up. With his newly issued Russian passport in hand, Edward Snowden left the transit zone and took his first steps into Moscow as a (temporary) citizen of Russia. According to New York Magazine, Snowden was accompanied by Wikileaks rep Sarah Harrison. 

This couldn’t have happened at a better time. The heat has died down from other news stories such as the Zimmerman trial and the Anthony Weiner scandal (redux) so this story can once again take the spotlight. This comforting ending also signals my departure from this blog. I am currently concentrating on other projects that require more of my attention and while the Edward Snowden story can break something new at any moment, my focus needs to be placed on other topics. But don’t fear, if something monumental occurs regarding Snowden, I will be here to report on it.

I’m glad to hear that Snowden is finally somewhere safe, I hope this brings him some sense of closure.

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Bradley Manning and the Snowden Situation

I’m a bit upset to say that The Surveillance-Free Day (Part II) was not as impressive and education as Part I. While the first piece of the story walked us through the measures of  flying under the radar and the software needed to be digitally undetected, the second part showed us how paranoid one can be about the whole thing. The investigator seemed crazy as he pointed out the amount of surveillance cameras in the bay area. It was not nearly as helpful not did it dive deeper into the NSA PRISM scandal.

However, a current event that is relevant to Edward Snowden is the news regarding the Bradley Manning trial. On Tuesday July 30th, Bradley Manning was found not guilty of “aiding the enemy” as a result of his information leak to Wikileaks. He was found guilty on nineteen counts of espionage. So while he will not be up for the death sentence, Manning could be sentenced to more than 100 years in prison because of his classified document leak. According to NBC News, Julian Assange stated that, “the convictions were a “clear abuse” of First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of the press and Espionage Act, and that the only just verdict would have acquittal on all counts. He warned the judge’s verdict set a “dangerous precedent.” ”  We don’t know what Manning’s formal sentence is yet, it could take a few weeks until that decision has been made. And considering that there are appeals that will be filed in response to the verdict, this case is certainly far from over. But what does this mean for Edward Snowden, who is still stuck in the transit zone at Moscow’s International airport for committing a similar crime?

Well for one thing, it means Snowden is not at risk for the death penalty, should he come back to the US and face trial. It was found that the papers Bradley Manning leaked were found in the possession of terrorist group Al Queda during the bin Laden raid, hence the aiding the enemy charge. Snowden leaked his papers directly to the press so we the people would find out about it through more mainstream media outlets. Since Manning was found not guilty of it, Snowden could never be charged with the same severity.

However, Manning was found guilty on nineteen counts of espionage. Nineteen counts! That sentence could add up to a lifetime in prison. Since Snowden leaked equally classified documents, he could expect to encounter similar charges should he ever return to the US. The bottom line is that while Edward Snowden will not be subjected to the death penalty, he will certainly find himself spending the best years of his life in a jail cell. 

I guess the US was correct when they said they would not subject Edward Snowden to torture or death in the letter that they recently sent to Russia. Yet I’m sure after hearing about this, Edward Snowden will not willingly return to his homeland anytime soon.

The Possibility Of A Private Life

Other than the US issuing a letter to Russia, promising that the government will not mame, torture, or kill Edward Snowden if he is extradited (ha!), no news has been released regarding Snowden and his request for temporary asylum in Russia. With that out of the way, let us shift our focus back on the NSA and their spy games.

A very interesting and intriguing article was released today by my favorite publication, New York Magazine, regarding how much effort and care is needed to avoid the prying eyes of the NSA. The Survaillance-Free Day (Part I) written by Kevin Roose is essentially a how-to guide in avoiding detection from the government as well as third party marketers in daily life. The basis of the article begins as an in depth investigation into the NSA tactics that Snowden leaked. However, the piece turns into a step by step document on how to live off the radar while still having access to internet and other smart electronic devices. There are so many measures taken that Part I ends before the man leaves his apartment.

As Roose begins to go about his morning routine, he first takes simple measure to hide from any sort of surveillance such as iPad, Kindle, and XBox. All three devices are known to collect metadata on whereabouts and activities of anyone using them so it’s not hard to understand why they are the first to go. iPhone is turned on airplane mode and webcams are then covered because it is also possible to hack into them. Wickr, a program that allows for text messages to be encrypted and sets them for self-destruction within minutes, is then downloaded as a precaution.

During breakfast, our investigator outfits his laptop with multiple pieces of software, so that detection can be avoided. First the program HideMyAss is downloaded. It is the most important piece of anti-detection software for this project. “It’s a private VPN service that is popular with the anti-surveillance crowd, since it allows you to camouflage your web activity by sending it through a network of thousands of proxy servers scattered around the world. I’m in the Bay Area, but with HideMyAss, I can make it look like I’m logging on from Brazil or Bangladesh,” states Roose. Other measures are taken by setting up a different e-mail address through the provider HushMail, and wrapping all electronic devices in foil. All social media devices are not to be used with the exception of Twitter, a site known to have not participated in NSA PRISM surveillance.

My favorite part about this whole experiment is the cap Kevin Roose outfitted for himself. A simple red cap is equipped with LEDs wired to 9-volt batteries. Apparently since those lights are infrared, it makes it harder to be detected by surveillance cameras, if constructed correctly. 

Roose had help finding all of these devices and software programs; Jon Callas, a professional cybertographer, and Gary Miliefsky, executive producer of Cyber Defense Magazine. You know these guys know what they’re doing. They warned our investigator that all of these measure will not simply make him invisible but simply make it a lot harder to be detected. However they also issued a warning. “Both Jon and Gary pointed out one of the central paradoxes of my day – that, by downloading Tor and HideMyAss, by paying for software in Bitcoin, wrapping my phones in foil, and by turning my head into a giant glowing orb, I’m effectively asking to be put on a terrorist watch list. It’s the digital equivalent of hanging a big “I’M SKETCHY” sign around my neck.” Taking all of these measures for privacy make you look like you certainly have something to hide, more of a reason for the NSA to open up an investigation.

I think this article is absolutely necessary in the wake of this controversy. I do understand why Edward Snowden did what he did but as I highlighted in my second post on this topic, it is excruciatingly difficult to establish privacy in the digital age.  This investigation highlights the devices needed in order to establish some form of digital privacy, but if these measures are taken, then you are more at risk for NSA surveillance than ever before. By taking these measures, you are begging to be placed on an FBI watch list for several years at best. Also, these measures are extremely time consuming, so if one wants privacy that badly, one must take at least thirty minutes out of their morning routine to ensure it.

This article is fascinating and I can’t wait to see what Part II establishes.

Mother Russia?

In my last post, I stated that I was eagerly expecting information on Snowden’s temporary asylum in Russia. After all, the man released statements that he would like to begin building a life for himself in the potential new homeland, maybe even settle down, get a job, and find a new girlfriend. While there certainly has been news regarding the case that has been released today, I’m having a hard time trying to piece together exactly what’s going on. I’m sure you are too reader, which is why I will put these developments together and try to sort through this mess in today’s post.

This morning, multiple news sources such as NBC news, the New York Times, New York Magazine, and many others released articles stating that Russian media outlets Interfax and RIA Novosti stated that Edward Snowden was issued a certificate confirming his asylum request. This certificate also granted him the permission he needed to leave the transit zone of the Moscow airport and move about the country while the rest of his application is processed. But earlier this afternoon, new reports from the same sources state that is no longer the case. The New York Times reports that Snowden has in fact not received the certificate in question.

NBC News has confirmed that he has been in contact with the lawyer assisting him with the paperwork, Anatoly Kucheren, and there is still no word from the proper authorities as of yet. Snowden kept his few belongings as well as a copy of Crime and Punishment close as he awaits his fate. Because of this, It looks like Snowden will be staying in the transit zone for at least one more night.

What happened here? Why was it reported this morning that Snowden was free to establish himself in Russia when it in fact wasn’t true? Reporters spent the entire day outside the entrance to Sheremetyevo airport just to have his lawyer emerge to dispel the happy rumor? There are a possibility of explanations but only two seem slightly credible. The less credible of the two is that Putin wasn’t quite ready to grant this temporary asylum yet. Snowden has already promised that he will not leak any information and Putin has made it very clear that he will not be extraditing the NSA leaker back to the US. With that said, Putin may have something to lose if this asylum is granted. US and Russia relations are already on shaky ground and if Putin grants temporary asylum, it may risk Obama’s visit with him scheduled for September. 

The other, more plausible reason for this madness is that the press misreported the story. On Monday, almost all articles pertaining to the Snowden case stated that Snowden would have some sort of tangible response by Wednesday. The actual quote is that Snowden could have a response as early as Wednesday, a big difference from the first phrase above. Because of that, the press demanded information today, as opposed to waiting it out, and were willing to report the news that they did no matter what actually happened. Misreporting is not new in our media, as we are unfortunately responsible for reporting incorrect information in times of tragedy, presidential elections, etc. This may just be another instance of the press reporting what it wants to because it simply can. The media was eager for a story and sources weren’t reporting fast enough so they could have made it up until other information was confirmed.

I don’t know how much longer Snowden will be stuck in the transit zone. The situation is being increasingly compared to the movie The Terminal, in which Tom Hanks’ character is stuck in the transit zone at an airport. I do however hope that this situation gives way to some sort of concrete answer for Snowden soon as the man does need to establish his next moves should the situation with Russia fall through. No one can establish a new life from the inside of an airport. In the meantime though, the man has Crime and Punishment to keep him busy.

Patriot vs. Traitor

Buried beneath the piles and piles of news regarding the birth of the royal baby and the UK’s porn purge lies a glimmer of hope for Edward Snowden. Apparently, there is hope that the NSA leaker will be able to leave the Moscow Airport transit center, thanks to his confirmation that he promises that he will not leak any NSA stories on Russian ground. While this will prove to be a potential issue for US relations with Russia as well as Obama’s upcoming visit with Putin this fall, it spells temporary victory for Snowden while he formulates a plan to safely travel to South America.

One of the ongoing debates that have occurred since the breaking of this story is the question of how American citizens view Snowden.Can he be viewed as a patriot for the heroic actions he took to inform the American public that their rights were being infringed upon? Or is he seen as a traitor, a man who betrayed his country and let his secrets out? This situation becomes a little hairy, especially when most Americans could care less.

In a poll taken about 5 weeks ago, 31% of Americans view Edward Snowden as a patriot compared to the 23% who view him as a traitor. But if you do the math, you can see that only have the country stated an opinion on the subject. 46% answered that poll with “not sure/no opinion.” I guess that shows that most Americans just don’t have an interest in this story compared to other events such as the Zimmerman Trial or the heatwave throughout the Northeast.

More importantly, in response to hearing about this poll, Edward Snowden himself released a statement regarding the subject.”I’m neither traitor nor hero. I’m an American.” If Edward Snowden is not interested in taking on the role of an American hero in this story, we as the media or the citizens should not be interested in trying to stick one on him. 

As you can tell once again, it has been a dry week for this story due to all of the other events in the news. But with the speculation about Snowden’s temporary asylum offer from Russia, I’m sure his name will appear in the headlines again very soon.

A Sturdy Back-Up Plan

As I’m sure any well-informed US citizen is already well aware, the verdict of the circus that has been the George Zimmerman trial was announced over the weekend, overshadowing any developments in the Edward Snowden case within mainstream media outlets. Between the not guilty verdict and the protests that have erupted all over the country in reaction to it, any Snowden story that occurred was not brought to the attention of the public. With that said, there were only minor details released to the public since we last spoke, but let’s bring you back up to speed.

On Friday, Edward Snowden called a meeting at the transit zone in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, his current holding location, in which he admitted that he needed help in plotting and executing the next steps of his plan to seek freedom and liberation from the US government. According to New York Magazine, Snowden met with officials from organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Transparency International.  At this meeting, Snowden announced his plan to seek temporary asylum in Russia while he attempts to establish his route to Latin America. In a formal statement issued through Wikileaks, Snowden says, “Accordingly, I ask for your assistance in requesting guarantees of safe passage from the relevant nations in securing my travel to Latin America, as well as requesting asylum in Russia until such time as these states accede to law and my legal travel is permitted. I will be submitting my request to Russia today, and hope it will be accepted favorably.”

Meanwhile, Putin announced that the status of Edward Snowden’s request for temporary asylum remains “unclear”, according to ABC News. In a public statement issued only two hours ago, Putin makes it clear once again that Russia has nothing to do with Snowden or his plans, yet he is welcome to stay so long as he doesn’t leak anymore information regarding the NSA during his time spent there. Putin also joke with students that Snowden is like a “Christmas gift” who is temporarily being held in Moscow while on its way to its final destination. I can bet money on the fact that US officials were not pleased with that comment.

In an even more interesting twist, Edward Snowden has revealed to The Guardian journalist, Glen Greenwald, that he has top secret “NSA blueprints” that he has yet to release and is holding onto, you know, just in case. What may you ask is this “just in case” scenario? Well, according to New York Magazine’s report on Glen Greenwald’s piece to the Associated Press, “It’s really just a way to protect himself against extremely rogue behavior on the part of the United States, by which I mean violent actions toward him, designed to end his life, and it’s just a way to ensure that nobody feels incentivized to do that.” It is a relief to see that Snowden has something resembling a sturdy back-up plan in place. I was a bit worried that between the media attention and the quest for asylum, that he failed to set up a  contingency plan for himself. In a brief description, Glen Greenwald states, Those blueprints would allow somebody who read them to know exactly how the NSA does what it does, which would in turn allow them to evade that surveillance or replicate it.” Snowden has no plan to currently release these blueprints to the public but should the USA take action against him in a harmful or lethal manner, then these blueprint could be released to the public. I hope that the NSA takes this threat seriously. If these blueprints fell into the wrong hands, it could put our entire nation in danger. In an upcoming post, I will approach the argument of Snowden as a patriot vs. a traitor. If these blueprints are released, I fear that his status in the eyes of other citizens will change for the worse.