Home > Uncategorized > What Snowden Hasn’t Revealed, Piecing Together The Much Bigger US Surveillance Picture

What Snowden Hasn’t Revealed, Piecing Together The Much Bigger US Surveillance Picture

As reports and interviews are rolling in just the last few days, NSA insider Edward Snowden has revealed and confirmed some details of the US surveillance and cyber-espionage machinery.  A picture is emerging from the pieces, but until we see the rest of the 37 pages of the NSA powerpoint document, it will be hard for us to assess the nature of the US intelligence service.

But still, I like to offer a few speculations based upon what we currently heard.

(1) The latest claim of NSA’s internet “backbone hacking” in China and elsewhere, and 61,000 hacking ops, is definitely an unexpected confirmation of some speculations.

Namely, for years, it has been speculated by many around the world that network equipment manufacturers like CISCO have been in fact, secretly (but required by US law) to install “backdoors” on the equipment hardware.  This speculation was not entirely unreasonable.  Afterall, the original “internet” started in US government owned military and university networks.  Undoubtedly, even back in its infancy, the internet contained “backdoors” for US government, for use in emergency situations, (to shut down the network, to prevent hijacking, etc.)

Other nations could not prove this necessarily or very easily, and they would not publicize it if they did prove it.  But the speculation was rampant.

China recently had its major telecom companies announcing that they were going to swap out all CISCO routers/switches from the Chinese internet backbone, (which was about 80% of routers/switches on the Chinese internet backbone.  Hmm… Coincidence?  I think not.

(2) There is something odd about the “backbone hacking”.  Which is WHY?

Many modern network communication messages (including emails) are encrypted.  “Backbone hacking” would give one access to huge amounts of encrypted data which would not be easy to decrypt very quickly.  What good is that?

Here, we need to see the missing pieces.

NSA’s FISA court orders may be able to compel companies like Google to turn over records for so-and-so users, but Usernames are often anonymous, and NSA risk running deeper foul of 4th Amendment if it tried to order Google to turn over REAL names, unless it has reasonable cause/suspicion based on specific evidence.

BUT, the “backbone hacking” may help fill in the missing information, because while the data messages may be encrypted, the IP addresses are not.  With “backbone hacking”, NSA can even track down any original IP addresses that were routed through several Proxy servers.  (No one can hide if NSA has that kind of access).

IP addresses may not be completely unique, but it can help pin point REAL identities.

Google, for example, tracks all IP addresses, which you can pull up for your own accounts.

NSA, thus, can draw comparisons of data from Google/etc., and “backbone hacked” records of IP traffic, and determine /trace REAL user identities.

That’s the real point of it all.

Without the “backbone hacking”, all NSA would have is a bunch of rather disjointed messages from Users “Smooch_Cat_Video_Joe” or “Johnny_Walker_78”.

NSA needed the REAL identities, and they went after it using “backbone hacking”.

(3) Why China on top of list?  For one, simple, to spy on China.

Second, China, as we have stated before, contains the largest number of Proxy servers in the world.  (which many hackers do use).

Thus, to really seriously spy on the “internet”, NSA needed to hack into the Chinese “backbone” traffic.

But undoubtedly, NSA is hacking into the “backbone” of every country’s internet. Otherwise, there would be holes in their cyber drag-net.

(4) what else might Snowden reveal?

How the NSA might be using its espionage program to coerce politicians around the world?

Snowden hinted that some HK politicians were being spied on by NSA and perhaps were coerced or influenced.

There were previously hints that Greek politicians and Chinese leaders were being bugged or spied on by unknown parties.  Perhaps NSA had something to do with those incidents.

*Needless to say, we are eagerly waiting for more stories on this.

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  1. June 12th, 2013 at 19:15 | #1

    From my post this morning:

    Bearing in mind that this is a political case, and that all politics is local politics, here’s my preferred

    China, Hong Kong, and Edward Snowdon
    scenario for how the NSA/Edward Snowdon/Hong Kong drama will play out: “Hong Kong” – used by the West for so long as a stick to beat China – will now be used as a stick to beat the West.

    The CCP will take an ostensible ‘hands off’ approach to the whole affair, which looks good to Taiwan as it prepares for reunification with the mainland. And Taiwan is the key to this drama, as it is to all of China’s foreign policy. The sequence will be a very public form of Chinese water torture:

    The US will apply to Hong Kong to extradite Mr. Snowdon.
    Mr. Snowdon will appeal to the Government of Hong Kong.
    In keeping with Hong Kong’s tradition of “free speech” the Government of Hong Kong will allow his appeal and set a court date for an initial hearing three months thence.
    The public hearing will allow Mr. Snowdon to air – in front of the world press – his side of the story, along with new revelations – thus keeping the scandal alive in the Western media.
    The judge will permit Mr. Snowdon’s appeal to go ahead and will set a court date for initial submissions 3 months thence.
    Rinse and repeat for 3–5 years. An excruciating process for the USA and a deeply gratifying one for the CCP
    The Government of China will wash its hands of the matter, claiming that the ‘one country two systems’ policy prevents their interference.
    Hong Kong has long served as the base for Western sedition and spying on China, with the USA alone pouring billions of dollars into it and where US ambassadors routinely advocate the overthrow of the CCP. The irony of the situation – and the collateral payoff in terms of Taiwanese reactions – is truly wonderful.

    Of course, the USA could foresee this sequence and decide simply to assassinate Mr. Snowdon, as he acknowledges. But that’s another matter.

  2. Black Pheonix
    June 12th, 2013 at 19:36 | #2

    Washington Post’s release of 4 pages of NSA’s powerpoint presentation:


    note for 2nd page, it seems to suggest that NSA is already monitoring the “backbone” of the entire US, because MOST internet traffic are routed through US “backbones” due to higher speed (and probably due to existing routers and switches).

  3. Black Pheonix
    June 12th, 2013 at 19:38 | #3


    You are forgetting a critical step in the process:

    No one has Snowden in custody yet (or admitting to it).

    Can’t start an extradition proceeding without “custody”.

  4. June 12th, 2013 at 23:22 | #4

    Interesting scenario, but I think there are two assumptions I would challenge:

    1. U.S. media would be interested in putting the U.S. in a bad light with respect to China.

    I think that won’t happen.

    The U.S. media could just propagandize what a rotten person Snowden is and not report on anything of substance of whatever is revealed. Think about the U.S. media coverage of Wikileadked cables.

    It’s more likely that Hong Kong could be smeared as a ‘stooge’ to Beijing. People like Emily Lau would be quoted at length about how corrupt Hong Kong has become because of the Mainland.

    The narrative in the U.S. media would be how Hong Kong is breaking U.S. law.

    2. China wants to score using Snowden’s situation.

    I think China still thinks a friendly relationship with the U.S. is paramount. Despite all the nonsense hurled at China, she may deal.

  5. Black Pheonix
    June 13th, 2013 at 08:42 | #5

    1 thing we should clarify:

    China only has “veto” over extradition requests in HK, IF HK approves extradition.

    If HK denies US’s extradition request of Snowden, China has no say in it.

    That’s probably the best outcome for China, because they won’t have to do any thing at all, (and it would still put the hurt on US/UK).

    *At the same time, it is giving plenty of ammunitions to the Chinese military factions and domestic tech companies to lobby for “keep the Americans out” of more and more strategic markets.

  6. Black Pheonix
    June 13th, 2013 at 08:46 | #6

    Another problem for US:

    They haven’t caught him yet.

    US will need HK police’s help to 1st catch him, and then to request extradition.

    Problem: To do so, US will have to put Snowden up as an international criminal, through Interpol, issue arrest warrant in HK.

    Interpol won’t like to agree to that, put up “political criminals”.

    Result, US won’t get any help in catching Snowden in HK. (which may be a very difficult task).

    No arrests, no extradition.

  7. Black Pheonix
    June 13th, 2013 at 14:12 | #7


    Dell let slip (by denial), that Snowden may have worked for the US government through Dell in Japan.

    A Dell spokesman has angrily refused to verify Snowden’s employment there, at first saying the company had been advised by the Department of Justice not to respond to questions. When a Justice Department official refuted that, the Dell official revised his reasons for remaining silent.

    “That request came from our customer,” the company spokesman said, without identifying that customer.

    *So, Dell apparently recruits spies for the US government. That is how apparently Snowden got started.

    **Also, I guess US is afraid of Snowden “defecting” to China, because Snowden effectively have threatened/hinted that he will turn over much more intelligence information to China (and the world), if US doesn’t back off.

    So, thus far, US is unusual that it even wants to “extradite” Snowden, and is apparently sitting on the decision.

    US government is probably painting the worst case scenario that if they try to issue arrest/extradition requests to HK, Snowden would literally bolt for the gates of the nearest Chinese government building (not HK), yelling “I’m Snowden and I got files!”

    (For 1, there is a Chinese PLA base in Stanley, HK, and several Chinese mainland economic development offices in HK, manned by CCP members and officials).

    *Snowden is smart enough to park his ass (in disguise) literally right at the front gate of China, without stepping in.

    Quite clever!

  8. Zack
    June 14th, 2013 at 04:29 | #8

    Once again, Fairfax media of Australia demonstrates its stooge like nature by printing misinformation about China. Let’s have a sample look at a how the anglo media does this and why:

    Senior American officials have accused China of hacking into US military and business computers. Mr Snowden’s claims of extensive US hacking of Chinese computers tracks assertions made repeatedly by senior Chinese government officials that they are victims of similar cyber-intrusions.
    Mr Snowden’s claims could not be verified, and US officials did not respond to immediate requests for comment. Mr Snowden’s comments, however, did not address the US complaint that US trade and commercial data hacked by the Chinese military routinely ends up in the hands Chinese businesses.

    Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/it-pro/security-it/us-hacks-chinese-targets-says-snowden-20130613-2o5zb.html#ixzz2WBm6LHC5

    so here we have fairfax saying that ‘Mr Snowden’s claims could not be verified’ but in the same breath offer no proof for their own claim that ‘US trade and commercial data…ends up in the hands of Chinese businesses’

    i hoped that once the China basher correspondent, John Garnaut left China, that we could finally have some objective China reporting from fairfax, but alas, this is demonstratively not the case.

  9. Black Pheonix
    June 14th, 2013 at 05:45 | #9

    Also noted:

    US government is currently focusing on tracing Snowden’s steps and seeing if he had any “connections” to China.

    Of course, expectedly, sooner or later, US government is going to blame the entire thing on China, that somehow China enticed Snowden to “defect”, based upon some flimsiest connection, such as Snowden once ordered Chinese food from some shady Chinese restaurant (owned perhaps by some ex-Chinese military cook).

  10. Zack
    June 14th, 2013 at 05:49 | #10

    @Black Pheonix
    they’re trying to poison the waters so that Snowden’s appeal to the American people will fall to deaf ears. Damn cynical of them too, plus obama’s decided to go ahead with the war in syria to distract the public.

  11. Black Pheonix
    June 14th, 2013 at 05:57 | #11


    Interesting bit:

    The Associated Press reported on Friday that Britain had issued an alert to airlines around the world warning them not to bring Mr. Snowden to its soil, and threatening them with a fine of 2,000 pounds, or $3,125. Geoffrey Robertson, of London, who was an initial lawyer for Julian Assange during the WikiLeaks dispute, criticized the alert as unusual because it was being applied to someone who has denounced government policies.

    “This is a power hitherto used only against those who incite terrorism, race hatred and homophobia — never before against whistle-blowers,” Mr. Robertson wrote in an e-mail. “The British government is simply afraid that its judges, who are fiercely independent, and the European court would embarrass its closest ally by ruling that Snowden could not be extradited because, even if his “revelations” prove to be mistaken, he would be subjected to oppressive treatment akin to that being meted out to Bradley Manning,” the American Army private accused of having leaked secrets in the WikiLeaks case.

    *Expectedly, UK plays the faithful lapdog.

  12. June 14th, 2013 at 07:20 | #12

    I wonder why snowden didn’t just release his ppt on wikileaks, which would’ve eagerly published the presentation in its entirety. Instead, the western corporate media is just releasing this thing piecemeal for sensationalism, or worse yet, present it in a way that’s influenced by the US government.

  13. Black Pheonix
    June 14th, 2013 at 07:28 | #13

    Snowden is playing this one very close to his chest, meaning, he probably realized from the beginning that there was a high probability that Western media were going to distort some of what he said.

    So, he decides to go to Guardian 1st, then Wa Po, and then SCMP. Playing ante up each time, not just from his own perspective, but to force the media to publish more each time.

    Snowden himself probably doesn’t want to release EVERY THING all at once.

    (1) he may be committing acts more closely resembling “treason”, if he ended up causing too much damage to US intelligence.

    (2) if he released all of the information, he loses all bargaining chips with US and Chinese governments.

    Thus, he’s keeping some (most) of his cards.

    It reminds me of that movie “The Firm”, where Tom Cruise’s character bargains with the Mafia by telling them that he’s got their files, but he won’t disclose them, unless they force him to.

  14. Black Pheonix
    June 14th, 2013 at 08:48 | #14

    Undoubtedly, Snowden may be considering “defection”, to China or some other nation, as a last resort, the final backup plan.

    In which case, Snowden will need to save a portion of the document, the REALLY interesting stuff, as his final bargaining chip (for when negotiating the “defection”.)

    Of course, nothing is ever certain. The minute he turns over the document, the government could decide to renege their promises, and turn him over back to US.

    Which is probably why Snowden has NOT defected yet. He simply don’t really want to make that choice, unless he has no other choice.

    For now at least, I think Snowden just wants to float around near HK, under no government’s control.

    *If China is smart, it should offer a deal of “indirect protection” to Snowden ( to be generous).

    For example, China can discretely offer CASH “help” to Snowden to pay for his living expenses in HK, without having him in custody. (For humanitarian reasons).

    China should not try to force Snowden into custody or force him to turn over information. Snowden can provide/release whatever information he wishes to.

    Beside, having him in Chinese custody poses a diplomatic problem for China too. Thus, it’s rather pointless to do such a thing. I would even say that having him in custody may actually be more dangerous to Snowden. Then everyone would know where to start looking for him.

    Bottomline: Snowden wants to be on his own in HK right now, so let him be. China can still help him by giving him cash (dead dropped, “indirectly accessed” by Snowden).

    Additionally, since US intelligence will undoubtedly be sending people to look for Snowden in HK, China can use this opportunity to dragnet all those foreign spies in HK (or at least find out who they are).

    US/UK may unwittingly expose more of their operations to China while they are busy with their vendetta of a manhunt.

  15. Black Pheonix
    June 14th, 2013 at 09:11 | #15


    The real reason why Chinese telecomm companies are being kept out of US market.

    US spy agencies can’t send secret court order of espionage to foreign owned companies.

    If Huawei and ZTE are allowed to take over a significant portion of the US network equipment, NSA would lose the capability to conduct cyber-espionage on everyone.

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