Screen shot from interview with Edward Snowden posted on Wired Magazine’s website

National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden in an interview with journalist James Bamford for Wired Magazine has revealed for the first time that he was disturbed by a “Strangelovian cyberwarfare program in the works,” which was codenamed “MonsterMind.”

According to the interview, the program “would automate the process of hunting for the beginnings of a foreign cyberattack. Software would constantly be on the lookout for traffic patterns indicating known or suspected attacks. When it detected an attack, MonsterMind would automatically block it from entering the country—a ‘kill’ in cyber terminology.”

While programs like this had been used by the government before, the program would also have the potential to accidentally start a war because it would have the capability to “automatically fire back, with no human involvement.”

…That’s a problem, Snowden says, because the initial attacks are often routed through computers in innocent third countries. “These attacks can be spoofed,” he says. “You could have someone sitting in China, for example, making it appear that one of these attacks is originating in Russia. And then we end up shooting back at a Russian hospital. What happens next?”…

As Snowden explained to Bamford, such a program would be “the ultimate threat to privacy” because the NSA would have to have access to “virtually all private communications coming in from overseas to people in the US” in order for it to work.

…“The argument is that the only way we can identify these malicious traffic flows and respond to them is if we’re analyzing all traffic flows,” he says. “And if we’re analyzing all traffic flows, that means we have to be intercepting all traffic flows. That means violating the Fourth Amendment, seizing private communications without a warrant, without probable cause or even a suspicion of wrongdoing. For everyone, all the time.”…

The “MonsterMind” program was going to be paired with the massive secret data storage facility the NSA was building in Bluffdale, Utah.

Also, according to the interview with Bamford, an intelligence officer informed Snowden while he was working for Booz Allen Hamiliton in 2013 that the NSA had attempted to “remotely install an exploit in one of the core routers at a major Internet service provider in Syria.”

“This would have given the NSA access to email and other Internet traffic from much of the country,” according to Bamford. “But something went wrong, and the router was bricked instead—rendered totally inoperable. The failure of this router caused Syria to suddenly lose all connection to the Internet—although the public didn’t know that the US government was responsible.”

The NSA hackers had an “‘oh shit’ moment and “raced to remotely repair the router, desperate to cover their tracks and prevent the Syrians from discovering the sophisticated infiltration software used to access the network. But because the router was bricked, they were powerless to fix the problem.”

Apparently, the Syrian government was more interested in restoring the Internet than figuring out why the outage had occurred, although NSA hackers in the Tailored Access Operations (TAO) center joked, “If we get caught, we can always point the finger at Israel.”

During the same interview, Bamford suggests that one of the discoveries the most shocked Snowden was that the NSA was “regularly passing raw private communications—content as well as metadata—to Israeli intelligence.”

Journalist Glenn Greenwald previously revealed the fact that this was going on and the information being shared was not “minimized,” meaning personal identifiable information of Americans could be gleaned easily. However, Snowden was a bit more explicit in expressing why this was shocking to him.

“This included the emails and phone calls of millions of Arab and Palestinian Americans whose relatives in Israel-occupied Palestine could become targets based on the communications,” Bamford added.

Snowden said, “I think that’s amazing,” and, “It’s one of the biggest abuses we’ve seen.”

At Booz Allen, Snowden would focus on “analyzing potential cyberattacks from China.” Targets included “institutions normally considered outside the military’s purview,” and he believed this work overstepped “the intelligence agency’s mandate.”

“It’s no secret that we hack China very aggressively,” Snowden explained. “But we’ve crossed lines. We’re hacking universities and hospitals and wholly civilian infrastructure rather than actual government targets and military targets. And that’s a real concern.”

Despite the fact that should be bothersome, numerous people in government, politics and media have reacted hysterically to Snowden’s disclosures, which have to do with China. Critics have insinuated and sometimes outright suggested Snowden was working as a Chinese spy and his disclosures have made it impossible for the US to fight Chinese hacking.

Snowden was tired of the banality of evil consistently manifesting itself in the workplace. He was bothered by the way his colleagues could so casually shrug off the fact that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper would engage in routine deception.

He noted that his colleagues were not phased by Clapper lying to Congress because it was not shocking to them. They were used to the dishonesty. And, Clapper did not think he would get punished for deceiving Congress, which Snowden added “says a lot about the system and a lot about our leaders.”

Overall, this latest interview with Snowden is yet another example of how he had clear whistleblower motives which drove him to leave the United States with documents on top secret surveillance, which could be handed over to journalists who would then responsibly expose the acts the NSA was engaged in with sheer disregard for the privacy of everyone throughout the entire world.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."