"These are seen as the fringe benefits of surveillance positions," Snowden says.
New letter from NSA oversight to senator details 12 instances of obvious abuse.
Edward Snowden has revealed that he witnessed “numerous instances” of National Security Agency (NSA) employees passing around nude photos that were intercepted “in the course of their daily work.”
In a 17-minute interview with The Guardian filmed at a Moscow hotel and published on Thursday, the NSA whistleblower addressed numerous points, noting that he could “live with” being sent to the US prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He also again dismissed any notion that he was a Russian spy or agent—calling those allegations “bullshit.”
If Snowden’s allegations of sexual photo distribution are true, they would be consistent with what the NSA has already reported. In September 2013, in a letter from the NSA’s Inspector General Dr. George Ellard to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the agency outlined a handful of instances during which NSA agents admitted that they had spied on their former love interests. This even spawned a nickname within the agency, LOVEINT—a riff on HUMINT (human intelligence) or SIGINT (signals intelligence).
“You’ve got young enlisted guys, 18 to 22 years old,” Snowden said. “They’ve suddenly been thrust into a position of extraordinary responsibility where they now have access to all of your private records. In the course of their daily work they stumble across something that is completely unrelated to their work in any sort of necessary sense. For example, an intimate nude photo of someone in a sexually compromising position. But they’re extremely attractive.
“So what do they do? They turn around in their chair and show their co-worker. The co-worker says: ‘Hey that’s great. Send that to Bill down the way.’ And then Bill sends it to George and George sends it to Tom. And sooner or later this person’s whole life has been seen by all of these other people. It’s never reported. Nobody ever knows about it because the auditing of these systems is incredibly weak. The fact that your private images, records of your private lives, records of your intimate moments have been taken from your private communications stream from the intended recipient and given to the government without any specific authorization without any specific need is itself a violation of your rights. Why is that in a government database?”
Then Alan Rusbridger, The Guardian’s editor-in-chief, asked: “You saw instances of that happening?”
“Yeah,” Snowden responded.
“It’s routine enough, depending on the company that you keep, it could be more or less frequent. These are seen as the fringe benefits of surveillance positions."
Update 5:27pm CT: In an e-mail sent to Ars, NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines wrote: "NSA is a professional foreign-intelligence organization with a highly trained workforce, including brave and dedicated men and women from our armed forces. As we have said before, the agency has zero tolerance for willful violations of the agency’s authorities or professional standards, and would respond as appropriate to any credible allegations of misconduct."
However, she declined to respond to direct questions as to the veracity of Snowden’s allegations or if anyone at NSA had ever been terminated or otherwise punished for engaging in such behavior.