News / USA

Spies Worry About 'Doomsday' Cache Stashed by Ex-NSA Contractor Snowden

FILE - Former National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden in Russia.
FILE - Former National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden in Russia.
Reuters
British and U.S. intelligence officials say they are worried about a “doomsday” cache of highly classified, heavily encrypted material they believe former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden has stored on a data cloud.

The cache contains documents generated by the NSA and other agencies, and includes names of U.S. and allied intelligence personnel, according to seven current and former U.S. officials and other sources briefed on the matter.

The data is protected with sophisticated encryption, and multiple passwords are needed to open it, said two of the sources, who like the others spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

The passwords are in the possession of at least three different people and are valid for only a brief time window each day, they said. The identities of persons who might have the passwords are unknown.

Spokespeople for both NSA and the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment.

One source described the cache of still unpublished material as Snowden's “insurance policy” against arrest or physical harm.

U.S. officials and other sources said only a small proportion of the classified material Snowden downloaded during stints as a contract systems administrator for NSA has been made public. Some Obama Administration officials have said privately that Snowden downloaded enough material to fuel two more years of news stories.

“The worst is yet to come,” said one former U.S. official who follows the investigation closely.

Snowden, who is believed to have downloaded between 50,000 and 200,000 classified NSA and British government documents, is living in Russia under temporary asylum, where he fled after traveling to Hong Kong. He has been charged in the United States under the Espionage Act.

Cryptome, a website which started publishing leaked secret documents years before the group WikiLeaks or Snowden surfaced, estimated that the total number of Snowden documents made public so far is over 500.

Given Snowden's presence in Moscow, and the low likelihood that he will return to the United States anytime soon, U.S. and British authorities say they are focused more on dealing with the consequences of the material he has released than trying to apprehend him.

It is unclear whether U.S. or allied intelligence agencies  - or those of adversary services such as Russia's and China's -  know where the material is stored and, if so, have tried to unlock it.

One former senior U.S. official said that the Chinese and Russians have cryptographers skilled enough to open the cache if they find it.

Snowden's revelations of government secrets have brought to light extensive and previously unknown surveillance of phone, email and social media communications by the NSA and allied agencies. That has sparked several diplomatic rows between Washington and its allies, along with civil liberties debates in Europe, the United States and elsewhere.

Among the material which Snowden acquired from classified government computer servers, but which has not been published by media outlets known to have had access to it, are documents containing names and resumes of employees working for NSA's British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters [GCHQ], according to sources familiar with the matter.

The sources said Snowden started downloading some of it from a classified GCHQ website, known as GC-Wiki, when he was employed by Dell and assigned to NSA in 2012.

Snowden made a calculated decision to move from Dell Inc to another NSA contractor, Booz Allen Hamilton, because he would have wide-ranging access to NSA data at the latter firm, one source with knowledge of the matter said.

'Extreme precuations'

Glenn Greenwald, who met with Snowden in Hong Kong and was among the first to report on the leaked documents for the Guardian newspaper, said the former NSA contractor had “taken extreme precautions to make sure many different people around the world have these archives to insure the stories will inevitably be published.”

“If anything happens at all to Edward Snowden, he has arranged for them to get access to the full archives,” Greenwald said in a June interview with the Daily Beast website. He added: “I don't know for sure whether has more documents than the ones he has given me... I believe he does.”

In an email exchange with Reuters, Greenwald, who has said he remains in contact with Snowden, affirmed his statements about Snowden's “precautions” but said he had nothing to add.

Officials believe that the “doomsday” cache is stored and encrypted separately from any material that Snowden has provided to media outlets.

Conservative British politicians, including Louise Mensch, a former member of parliament, have accused the Guardian, one of two media outlets to first publish stories based on Snowden's leaks, of “trafficking of GCHQ agents' names abroad.”

No names of British intelligence personnel have been published by any media outlet. After U.K. officials informed the Guardian it could face legal action, the newspaper disclosed it had destroyed computers containing Snowden material on GCHQ, but had provided copies of the data to the New York Times and the U.S. nonprofit group ProPublica.

Sources familiar with unpublished material Snowden downloaded said it also contains information about the CIA - possibly including personnel names - as well as other U.S. spy agencies, such as the National Reconnaissance Office and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which operate U.S. image-producing satellites and analyze their data.

U.S. security officials have indicated in briefings they do not know what, if any, of the material is still in Snowden's personal possession. Snowden himself has been quoted as saying he took no such materials with him to Russia.

You May Like

Bleak China Economic Outlook Rattles Markets

Several key European stock indexes were down up to three percent, while US market indexes were off around 2.5 percent in afternoon trading More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs