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Snowden Was Disturbed by ‘Strangelovian Cyberwarfare Program’ Called ‘MonsterMind’ Developed by NSA

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.”

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Firedoglake.com. Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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