The Snowden revelations not only told us what happened in the past, but what’s brewing in the present and what’s coming in the future.

December 26, 2022

By: Bobby Casey, Managing Director GWP

SnowdenGovernment spying is not a new thing. In the top ten most surveilled (measured as cameras per 1,000 people), London is the only western city in a list of Chinese cities. It’s crazy to think that London has surveillance on par with China’s cities!

W​e are coming up on 10 years since the release of Edward Snowden’s revelations regarding the depth and breadth of the US surveillance state.

H​e’s been in exile this entire time, and finally received Russian citizenship this year.

T​he US says it protects whistle-blowers, but the protocols for doing so don’t really yield the effects they should.

Take the notorious Hunter Biden Laptop. It was submitted to the FBI in December 2019. When the story was about to be released in 2020 leading up to the election, it was suppressed by the FBI as “Russian Disinformation”. All the major Big Tech platforms were told to either block it or deprioritize it in some way.

T​he New York Post was the only news outlet willing to actually report on it, and they were silenced.

W​hen James O’Keefe at Project Veritas received Ashley Biden’s diary, the FBI raided his and his coworkers’ homes to seize it.

T​hen you have individuals like Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden who politicians want to prosecute. You can’t trust the US government to actually honor its whistle-blower protocols; nor can you trust them to actually allow people to know what the whistle-blower was exposing.

This is why Assange went from holing up in an Ecuadorian embassy, and is now in a category A prison in London. And this is likewise why Snowden is now a Russian citizen. Manning was sentenced to 35 years in a military prison, which was later commuted down to seven years.

Whistleblowers are people politicians posture about in public with praise for their courage toward protecting the liberties of the lowly citizens. But when faced with them in real life, suddenly we start to hear about legality, and how “we are a nation of laws”, and there needs to be respect for “law and order”.

S​nowden’s revelations were hardly insignificant:

  • Secret court orders allowing the NSA to access Americans’ phone records

  • P​RISM, which allowed the NSA to request user data from companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Meta, while requiring them to be silent on these requests.

  • The NSA and its British counterpart Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) tapped fiber optic cables all over the world to intercept data

  • N​SA spies on foreign countries and at least 122 world leaders

  • The tool the NSA uses to search “nearly everything a user does on the Internet” called XKeyscore

  • N​SA efforts to weaken security, or asking for the creation of back doors into encrypted data for easier access

  • N​SA has its own elite hacking team: The NSA has at its disposal an elite hacker team code-named “Tailored Access Operations” (TAO) that hacks into computers worldwide, infects them with malware and does the dirty job when other surveillance tactics fail.

  • N​SA cracked Google and Yahoo data center links for when the bulk collections through PRISM were insufficient

  • N​SA was collecting text messages from around the world

  • N​SA intercepts and stores all calls made in the Bahamas and Afghanistan; and collects metadata from Mexico, Kenya, and the Philippines

Some court trials came from that. We were told it would stop. But who really knows? It’s not like the stories of the US surveillance state have stopped or slowed.

People know their privacy isn’t respected by the state. This is the appeal of VPNs and cryptocurrency and even LLCs: that extra layer of privacy.

The latest threat comes for your anonymity, and it’s not looking good.

T​here is an intelligence company called Anomaly 6. If you go to their website you will find their company name, an email alias, and the city and state they are in.

They are marketing a product that likely violates several national and international data protection acts… but that’s not for them to decide. They’ll just let the highest bidder contend with that.

It starts with the software development kits (SDKs) that are installed in people’s phones. There have been a few case studies and trials run in both Venezuela and North Korea the tracking capabilities in these SDKs, and their proprietary method for organizing and recognizing patterns, they isolated “persons of interest” with recommendations for further investigation.

Leaked documents reviewed by The Grayzone indicate the smartphone and IoT data Anomaly 6 harvests is so precise, it can pinpoint the floor of a building where a user is located, their telecom provider, the make and model of their device, its battery level, and more.

I​t’s accuracy is questionable. While the use case in Venezuela was accurate, the one in North Korea is questionable. It followed a US academic who denies ever going to North Korea, for example. Yet there were very specific in their findings:

Linking the smartphone user to hotels, schools, residences, and other sites across the US, Anomaly 6 pinpointed their “most likely bed down location,” or where they sleep. Using “open source information,” the spy firm then determined who this individual was, where they worked, their address, marital status, names and photos of their children and the schools and universities they attend.

W​hat made “metadata” seem benign was the nebulous nature of the conclusions that could be drawn. The analytics of the data was such that you could know someone called an oncologist, which isn’t much different than seeing that person enter an oncologist’s office, and conclude they are looking into something to do with cancer.

Anomaly 6 streamlined the process in isolating persons of interest and their goings. Naturally the NSA and GCHQ are interested parties in this technology.

T​his information is based on leaked files from the intelligence company, which means we don’t know the full extent to which Anomaly 6 has been involved with or has been used by governments.

Given the granularity of information they distil down from broad sweeping surveillance, it makes you wonder if they were involved in solving the Colonial Pipeline case:

In June 2021, it was revealed that the F.B.I. had successfully traced and recovered $2.3 million in Bitcoin extorted by hackers from Colonial Pipeline in a ransomware attack, which had shut down the company’s computer systems, causing fuel shortages and a spike in gas prices.

U.S. officials declined to reveal how they tracked where the ill-gotten funds had ended up, and identified the ultimate owners of 23 separate cryptocurrency accounts belonging to DarkSide, the hacking collective responsible for the cyberattack, although public statements by C.I.A. director William Burns in December that year may provide a clue. Speaking at a Wall Street Journal summit, he acknowledged that his Agency was engaged in “a number of different projects focused on cryptocurrency.”

T​his sounds like a noble use for the product! Finding hackers who threatened the security of US energy. But you don’t need to scrape that deep to see how this would be more of an exception than a rule.

I​f in fact its capabilities could somehow tangentially track crypto transactions by parallel pathing the transactions and transmissions from your phone, what does that mean for the larger contingent of cryptocurrency users?

W​hat does that mean for countries like Venezuela where their currency is completely debased and their country is under such heavy sanctions that the people can’t access basic resources? What does that mean for places like El Salvador that has recently accepted Bitcoin as a legitimate currency?

T​his product can monitor up to 3 billion smartphones simultaneously. The dragnet of this technology is immense. The presumption of innocence it gone. Maybe the intelligence agencies backed away from the stuff Snowden exposed. If they did, then it’s pretty safe to assume they drove off to find a detour.

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