In Dutch: Meer over het wetsvoorstel voor de Tijdelijke wet cyberoperaties

October 6, 2023

The NSA's new organizational designators

For decades, the organizational structure of the NSA was classified, but since 2013 the Snowden documents provided hundreds of designators of internal divisions, branches and units, which allowed me to reconstruct the agency's internal structure.

From 2016 to 2017, the NSA was reorganized so that many of those designators may have changed. Some recent documents, however, provide designators from the current situation, which allows to start a reconstruction of the new structure as well.

The Integrated Cyber Center (ICC) and other new buildings at the NSA's East Campus
(photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

The reorganization of 2016

The organizational structure of the NSA as it emerged from the Snowden documents was established in the year 2000 under director Michael Hayden. In 2016, director Michael Rogers initiated a full reorganization under the name NSA21, in order to prepare the agency for the cyber challenges of the 21st century.

One of the most important (and controversial) changes was fusing the operational elements of the Signals Intelligence (SID) and Information Assurance (IAD) directorates into the new Directorate of Operations. The remaining information assurance activities were merged with the old Technology Directorate into the new Capabilities Directorate.

The hacking group Tailored Access Operations (TAO) was renamed into Computer Network Operations (CNO). The new structure as envisioned by NSA21 reached full operational capability in December 2017.

The new structure of the NSA as established by the NSA21 reorganization
(source: NSA - click to enlarge)

On October 1, 2019, an additional Cybersecurity Directorate (CSD) was established to unify the NSA's foreign intelligence and cyber defense missions and to prevent and eradicate threats to National Security Systems (NSS) and the Defense Industrial Base (DIB). The CSD pulled its workforce from several directorates, including the Operations Directorate and its Computer Network Operations group.

The new organizational structure

A number of new designators from the NSA's current structure can be found in the extensive NSA/CSS Policy 12-3 Annex C, which was issued on June 29, 2023. Some other documents and press reports provide additional information, which results in the following partial chart:

C: Cybersecurity Directorate

C? Cybersecurity Collaboration Center (CCC) *

C?? Artificial Intelligence Security Center (AISC)

D: Office of the Director

D2: Office of General Counsel (OGC)
D5: Civil Liberties, Privacy, and Transparancy (CLPT)
D9: Risk Management Office (RMO)

I: Office of the Inspector General (OIG)

P: ?

P1: ?
P12: Office of Policy
P13: ?
P131: Information Security/Classification *
P7: Office of Compliance
P75: Office of Compliance for Cybersecurity and Operations

X: Operations Directorate

X? Computer Network Operations (CNO)

Y: Chief Information Officer (CIO)

Some additional remarks

If we compare these current designators with the structure before 2016, we see that:

- The Office of the Director is still designated as "D" and may not have changed much, except for the Inspector General and the Chief Information Officer who were previously part of the Director's Office, but now have their own top-level designator (I and Y, respectively).

- For the Inspector General (IG) this reflects that since the FY2014 Intelligence Authorization Act this official is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Previously, the IG was appointed by the Director of the NSA, who could also remove him. The first presidentially appointed NSA IG was Rob Storch, who served from 2018 to 2022.

- The new position of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) seems to be very recent, as in 2020, the IG criticised that the CIO also served as head of the NSA's Capabilities Directorate and wasn't included in the organization charts of the agency.

- At least two other parts of the Director's Office seem to have been transferred to a newly created P division. This might be the Engagement & Policy Directorate mentioned in the diagram shown above.

- The new Cybersecurity Directorate was also assigned a top-level designator that wasn't used before: C.

- The new Operations Directorate is designated by the letter X, which was already used under the old structure, although we don't know for what kind of activity. Maybe the previous X division was just temporary as the only source that mentions it is a document from 2007.

> See also: The NSA's regional Cryptologic Centers

September 14, 2023

Some new snippets from the Snowden documents

(Updated: September 20, 2023)

It's been more than four years since the last regular publication of documents from the Snowden trove. Last year, however, some new snippets of information from the Snowden documents appeared in the PhD thesis of hacktivist Jacob Appelbaum.

The new information isn't very spectacular and also quite specialistic, but still worth to make it more easily accessible. Also for the record I added some corrections and additions to Appelbaum's discussion of NSA surveillance methods.

NSA headquarters - Appelbaum's thesis - Eindhoven University of Technology

Jacob Appelbaum

Jacob R. Appelbaum was born in 1983 in California and became a well-known hacker and activist for digital anonymity. He was a member of the Cult of the Dead Cow hacker collective and a core member of the Tor project, which provides a tool for anonymous internet communications.

In 2012, Appelbaum moved to Berlin, where he worked closely with Laura Poitras on the NSA documents which she had received from Edward Snowden in May and June 2013. However, he was also involved in the story about the eavesdropping on German chancellor Merkel and the publication of the NSA's ANT Product Catalog.

In both cases the documents were not attributed to Snowden and apparantly came from a still unidentified "second source". In his thesis, Appelbaum seems to refer to this source when he mentions "documents exposed by whistleblowers, known and unknown, or other anonymous insiders."

In 2015, several women accused Appelbaum of sexual abuse and he subsequently lost his position at the Tor project and various other organizations. Appelbaum denied the allegations, but an investigation ordered by the Tor project determined that they appeared to be true.

Meanwhile Appelbaum had moved to The Netherlands, where he started as a PhD student at the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e). There he finished his thesis and received his PhD on March 25, 2022. Currently he works as a postdoc at the Coding Theory and Cryptology group at TU Eindhoven.

Appelbaum's PhD thesis

The full title of Appelbaum's thesis is "Communication in a world of pervasive surveillance. Sources and methods: Counter-strategies against pervasive surveillance architecture". His promotors were prof.dr. Mark van den Brand, prof.dr. Daniel J. Bernstein and prof.dr. Tanja Lange.

The thesis was published on March 25, 2022 and became available for download as a 24.3 MB pdf-document on September 27, 2022. The contents of this 327-page thesis are as follows:

- Chapter 1: Introduction.

- Chapter 2: Background on network protocols common to all research.

- Chapter 3: Background on cryptography common to all research.

- Chapter 4: Review of historical, political, economic, and technical adversarial capabilities (including previously published leaked documents that are from works which Appelbaum has written about in his role as a journalist).

- Chapter 5: Review of the Domain Name System and an explanation of alternative methods to improve the security and privacy of domain name lookups.

- Chapter 6: Examination of a tweak to the WireGuard VPN protocol to protect historic encrypted traffic against future attacks by quantum computers.

- Chapter 7: Introduces the Vula protocol, which is a suite of free software tools for automatically protecting network traffic between hosts in the same Local Area Network.

- Chapter 8: Introduces REUNION, a privacy-preserving rendezvous protocol.

In the preface, Appelbaum writes that his thesis is the culmination of more than a decade of research into the topic of surveillance. He expresses a political and activist aim by saying that the "machinery of mass surveillance is simply too dangerous to be allowed to exist" and that "we must use all of the tools in our toolbox – economic, social, cultural, political, and of course, cryptographic – to blind targeted and mass surveillance."

He says more has to be done than simply criticize surveillance practices. Cryptography for example, "allows for resistance in a non-violent manner to the benefit of everyone except the ones who are spying on us." From this perspective Appelbaum's thesis discusses various cryptographic implementations to "protect individual liberty, while aspiring to a broader goal of achieving societal liberty."

New information from the Snowden documents

Throughout his thesis, Appelbaum reveals some new information from Snowden documents that has not been published, but which he had access to during his research that resulted in various publications in media outlets like Der Spiegel, NDR and Le Monde. The new information is only described, so no new original documents were released.

According to Appelbaum: "Many journalists who have worked on the Snowden archive know significantly more than they have revealed in public. It is in this sense that the Snowden archive has almost completely failed to create change: many of the backdoors and sabotage unknown to us before 2013 is still unknown to us today." (page 71)

Appelbaum also provides some new information about the Snowden documents in general, by saying that The Intercept "closed their Snowden archive and reportedly it has been destroyed." (page 63, note 17)

Below, I provide exact quotes from Appelbaum's thesis, including his sources, which are in square brackets, while I added some additional links for further information.

1. BULLRUN: manipulating protocol security

"How do they accomplish their goals with project BULLRUN? One way is that United States National Security Agency (NSA) participates in Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) community protocol standardization meetings with the explicit goal of sabotaging protocol security to enhance NSA surveillance capabilities." "Discussions with insiders confirmed what is claimed in as of yet unpublished classified documents from the Snowden archive and other sources." (page 6-7, note 8)

2. Selecting entropic internet traffic

"There are various rules governing what is selected for long-term data retention in [the NSA's] corporate repositories. One example is that some traffic which is considered entropic by a standard Shannon Entropy estimate is selected from the network in real time and saved to a database, preserving it for cryptanalysis using future technology." "This statement is based in part on an analysis of as of yet unpublished XKeyscore source code that performs a Shannon Entropy estimate. Some kinds of Internet traffic that is considered entropic is recorded for later analysis." (page 9, note 16)

3. Compromised lawful interception systems

"As part of our research, we uncovered evidence that the telecommunications infrastructure in many countries has been compromised by intelligence services. The Snowden archive includes largely unpublished internal NSA documents and presentations that discuss targeting and exploiting not only deployed, live interception infrastructure, but also the vendors of the hardware and software used to build the infrastructure. Primarily these documents remain unpublished because the journalists who hold them fear they will be considered disloyal or even that they will be legally punished. Only a few are available to read in public today." (page 41)

"Targeting lawful interception (LI) equipment is a known goal of the NSA. Unpublished NSA documents specifically list their compromise of the Russian SORM LI infrastructure as an NSA success story of compromising civilian telecommunications infrastructure to spy on targets within reach of the Russian SORM system." (page 41)

"The NSA slides have "you talk, we listen" written in Cyrillic on the jackets of two Russian officers." "Review of unpublished Snowden documents about NSA’s activities compromising deployed, lawful interception systems and as well as additional success against the vendors of such hardware or software. Needless to say, a compromised interception system is anything but lawful in the hands of an adversary." (page 41, note 4)

4. Compromised computer hardware

"While working on documents in the Snowden archive the thesis author learned that an American fabless semiconductor CPU vendor named Cavium is listed as a successful SIGINT "enabled" CPU vendor. By chance this was the same CPU present in the thesis author's Internet router (UniFi USG3). The entire Snowden archive should be open for academic researchers to better understand more of the history of such behavior." (page 71, note 21)

More information about whether Cavium CPUs may have a backdoor, as well as additional comments by Jacob Appelbaum can be found in an article published by Computer Weekly on September 19, 2023.


"The PRISM slide deck was not published in full, and the public does not fully understand aspects of the program such as the retrieval of voice content data as seen in Figure 4.24. Domains hosted by PRISM partners are also subject to selector based surveillance. Several pages of the PRISM slides list targets and related surveillance data, and a majority of them appear to be a matter of political surveillance rather than defense against terrorism. One example that is not well-known except among the journalists who had access to the full PRISM slide deck is the explicit naming of targets. An example shows a suggestion for targeting of the Tibetan Government in Exile through their primary domain name. The domain is named as an unconventional example that analysts should be aware of as also falling under the purview of PRISM. The email domain was hosted by Google Mail, a PRISM partner, at the time of the slide deck creation and it is still currently hosted by Google Mail as of early 2022." (page 76)

6. MYSTIC: Country X

"MYSTIC was revealed to impact a number of countries by name at the time of publication: the Bahamas, Mexico, the Philippines, Kenya and one mystery country: country X. The Bahamas, and country X are subject to SOMALGET full take data and voice collection. The publisher WikiLeaks observed that the monitoring of an entire country of people is a crime when done by outside parties, essentially an act of war by the surveillance adversary. WikiLeaks then revealed that the country in question, Country X, was Afghanistan [Yea14]. Through independent review of the Snowden archive, we confirm that this is the identity of Country X, and that WikiLeaks was correct in their claim." (page 78)

(Strangely enough, the source provided by Appelbaum ("Yea14") actually shows that already four days before Wikileaks' revelation, collaborative analysis by Paul Dietrich and the author of this weblog had already pointed to Afghanistan as being Country X. In his bibliography, Appelbaum attributes this source document to "John Young and et al." (the owners of the Cryptome website), while it was actually written by and first published on the blog of Paul Dietrich)

7. Manipulation of DUAL_EC_DRBG

"Many documents released in public from the Snowden archive and additional documents which are still not public make clear that this type of bug is being exploited at scale with help from NSA’s surveillance infrastructure. It is still unclear who authored the changes at Juniper and if bribery from the NSA was involved as with RSA’s deployment of DUAL_EC_DRBG to their customers as is discussed in Section 4.4." (page 81)

8. Software backdoors

"Example from the Snowden Archive of an as of yet unreleased backdoor in fielded software that is most certainly not an exclusively exploitable backdoor by NSA. The software’s secret key generation is sabotaged by design to ensure surveillance of the community of interest. There is a corresponding XKeyscore rule that has not yet been published. The goal of that rule is to gather up all ciphertext using this sabotaged system; it is clearly part of a larger strategy. As a flag in the ground for later, the thesis author presents the following SHA256 hash: [...]. There are additional examples from other sources that this is the general shape of the game being played with more than a few acts of sabotage by the NSA." (page 83, note 27)

Some corrections and additions

Chapter 4 of Appelbaum's thesis is about "The Adversary" and describes a wide range of digital surveillance methods which are used by intelligence agencies. He writes a little a bit about the capabilities of Russia and China, but the biggest part is about the methods of the NSA as revealed through the Snowden documents.

In general, this chapter is very similar to for example Glenn Greenwald's book No Place to Hide and Snowden's memoir Permanent Record as it reads like a one-sided accusation against the NSA without much context or the latest information. Chapter 4 also contains small errors which could easily have been prevented. Here I will discuss some examples:

- Page 20, note 12: "An example is Suite-A cryptography or Type-1 cryptography, so designated by the NSA. The NSA now calls this the Commercial National Security Algorithm Suite (CNSA)"

> Comment: Actually CNSA isn't the new name for the highly secure Suite A, but for the less secure Suite B algorithms.

- Page 41: "The BND and the CIA held secret co-ownership of CryptoAG until 1993, and then the CIA held sole ownership until 2018. The devices were vulnerable by design, which allowed unaffiliated intelligence services, such as the former USSR’s KGB, and the East German Ministry for State Security [MfS], to independently exploit CryptoAG’s intentional flaws."

> Comment: This exploitation by the KGB and the MfS was apparently suggested in a German television report, based upon claims by a former Stasi officer, but so far there are no documents that support this claim. See for more information: Operation RUBICON.

- Page 41: "It does not appear that those party to the Maximator alliance are using their agreement and relative positions to spy on the entire planet – in stark contrast to the Five-Eyes agreement."

> Comment: The Five Eyes and especially NSA and GCHQ have massive capabilities, but spying on "the entire planet" is still rather exaggerated: their collection efforts are limited by national priorities, the locations of where they can access satellite and cable traffic, as well as by technical constraints. While the five members of the European Maximator alliance have/had much smaller capabilities, they could nonetheless intercept and decrypt diplomatic communications from over 60 countries where the weakened encryption devices from Crypto AG were used (see the map below).

The countries that bought and used manipulated Crypto AG devices
(graphic: The Washington Post - click to enlarge)

- Page 47, note 8: "Narus mass surveillance and analysis systems were deployed by the NSA inside AT&T facilities to intercept all traffic flowing through their large capacity network cables as documented [KB09] by whistleblower Mark Klein."

> Comment: This suggests that the NSA is intercepting American communications, but actually this is part of Upstream collection, which is aimed at foreign targets and therefore the NSA applies various filter systems to select traffic from countries of interest and discard purely domestic communications.

- Page 52: "The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) is largely considered to rubber stamp requests from the FBI. The FBI has routinely misled the FISC, and from the little that is known, the FISC has neither the technical knowledge, nor the general temperament to actually act as a safeguard"

> Comment: Since the start of the Snowden revelations, numerous Top Secret documents from the FISC have been declassified, showing that the court examines the NSA's activities in great detail. The idea of being a "rubber stamp" is based upon the fact that the FISC denies just 0.5% of the applications, but later it became clear that American criminal courts only deny a tiny 0.06% of the requests for regular (so-called Title III) wiretaps.

- Page 53: "The CIA meanwhile, operates their own surveillance capabilities including capabilities that are entirely outside of the purview of the FISC, even now [cia22]."

> Comment: At least one of these cases is about the CIA's use of bulk datasets with financial information, which can of course contain information about Americans, but when the CIA obtained them in ways other than by intercepting communications, the FISC simply has no jurisdiction. It's up to lawmakers to impose privacy safeguards for creating and exchanging such bulk datasets.

- Page 56: "In the Snowden archive, we see lots of hacking and hacking related programs run by NSA, such as the TURBULENCE [Wik21u] program which is made up of modular sub programs [Amb13]. Those programs include TURMOIL [Gal14b], TUTELAGE [AGG+15a], TURBINE [GG14, Wik20d], TRAFFICTHIEF [Wik20c], and XKeyscore [Gre13d, Unk13, AGG+14b, Unk15a] as shown in Figure 4.12 and Figure 4.13, as well as data that was pilfered during those break-ins."

> Comment: This suggests that TURBULENCE and its sub-programs are about hacking operations, but actually, TURBULENCE is defined as "a next generation mission environment that created a unified system for MidPoint and Endpoint SIGINT", or in other words, an overarching framework for bulk and targeted tapping systems. Only the TURBINE sub-program can automatically trigger the implantation of malware into target computer systems. Furthermore, none of the sources mentioned in the thesis indicate that XKEYSCORE is a sub-program of TURBULANCE and XKEYSCORE is not a hacking tool either. A detailed explanation of the TURBULENCE system is given in an article by Robert Sesek, which was apparently not consulted by Appelbaum.

- Page 72: "US-984XN is the classified SIGAD while the program name PRISM is unclassified"

> Comment: There are no indications that "PRISM" is less secret than any other coverterm which the NSA uses for its collection, processing and analysis programs. That was likely also the reason that the big internet companies involved in this program initially denied that they had ever heard of something called PRISM.

- Page 91: "the NSA's Equation Group (EQGRP), which was later renamed Tailored Access Operations (TAO)"

> Comment: The name Equation Group was actually coined in February 2015 by the Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky for "one of the most sophisticated cyber attack groups in the world". Later on it became clear that this group was part of the NSA's hacking division TAO.

Given how many aspects of the NSA's operations Appelbaum mentions in chapter 4 of his thesis, one could say that it's inevitable that some mistakes are made and some sloppiness occurs. On the other hand, however, this is an academic publication for which the highest standards of accuracy should apply.

Finally, Appelbaum's activism is illustrated by the back cover of his thesis, which shows a logo very similar to that of the German terrorist organization Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF) from the 1970s, except that the original image of an AK-45 is replaced by that of a computer keyboard:

Comments at Hacker News and Schneier on Security

June 6, 2023

On the 10th anniversary of the Snowden revelations

(Updated: September 6, 2023)

To mark the 10-year anniversary of the start of the Snowden revelations I will look back at some of the most notable disclosures and how they developed, based upon the most recent books and the numerous blog posts I have written here. Still, it should be noted that this overview is not a complete coverage of this wide-ranging topic.

Books and archives

Between June 2013 and May 2019, the Snowden revelations resulted in over 200 press reports and more than 1200 classified documents published in full or in part. Additionally, The Intercept published 2148 editions of the NSA's internal newsletter SIDtoday. In total, that may be well over 5000 pages.

A collection that allows a useful visual recognition of the documents was found on the private website IC Off the Record, while text searches are possible at the Snowden Archive which is a collaboration between Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) and the University of Toronto. A private collection of the documents is also available at GitHub.

There are also at least 12 books about the Snowden revelations. Glenn Greenwald's No Place To Hide from 2014 reads like a pamphlet against perceived mass surveillance. A much more factual overview can be found in Der NSA Komplex, which is also published in 2014 and written by two journalists from Der Spiegel, but unfortunately only available in German.

Detailed insights into the political and legal background of the NSA's collection programs are provided in Timothy Edgar's Beyond Snowden from 2017, which is in contrast to Snowden's own memoir Permanent Record from 2019, which leaves more questions than answers.

Finally, there's also the long-awaited book Dark Mirror by Washington Post journalist Barton Gellman, which was published in 2020 and offers some important new angles to the initial stories told by Snowden and Greenwald.

> See also my review of Permanent Record: Part I: at the CIA - Part II: at the NSA


Some people assume that Snowden is a spy who worked for Russian intelligence, but nowadays, requests for information come from transparency activists as well. Wikileaks' wiki-page titled The Most Wanted Leaks of 2009 may have inspired Manning to search for information on SIPRNet and to download hundreds of thousands of military and diplomatic reports.

Likewise, the incentive for Snowden may have come from the news program Democracy Now!, in which on April 20, 2012, former NSA crypto-mathematician Bill Binney, documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras and hacktivist Jacob Appelbaum were interviewed by Amy Goodman (a full transcript can be found here).

In the program, Binney claimed that after 9/11 "all the wraps came off for NSA, and they decided to eliminate the protections on U.S. citizens and collect on domestically".

Appelbaum repeated what he said at the HOPE conference in 2010: "I feel that people like Bill need to come forward to talk about what the U.S. government is doing, so that we can make informed choices as a democracy" - which is exactly what Snowden would do: leaking documents because "the public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong."

Later that day, Binney and Appelbaum spoke at a "Surveillance Teach-In" in the Whitney Museum, where Appelbaum emphasized that disclosing secret information is also important for privacy and civil liberties organizations: because of a lack of hard evidence and concrete harm it was almost impossible for them to fight NSA surveillance in court.

Binney and Appelbaum at the Surveillance Teach-In on April 20, 2012


Just a month earlier, Snowden had started a new job as a SharePoint systems administrator at the NSA's regional cryptologic center in the Kunia Tunnel complex in Hawaii. There, he began automating his tasks to free up time for something more interesting, which he describes in Permanent Record:

"I want to emphasize this: my active searching out of NSA abuses began not with the copying of documents, but with the reading of them. My initial intention was just to confirm the suspicions that I'd first had back in 2009 in Tokyo. Three years later I was determined to find out if an American system of mass surveillance existed and, if it did, how it functioned." *

With this, Snowden basically admits that he isn't a whistleblower: he wasn't confronted with illegal activities or significant abuses and subsequently secured evidence of that, but acted the other way around, by first gathering as much information he could get and then look whether there was something incriminating in it.

In his memoir, Snowden doesn't come up with concrete misconducts or other things that could have triggered his decision to hand the files over to journalists. He even omits almost all the disclosures made by the press, which makes that Permanent Record contains hardly anything that justifies his unprecedented data theft.

The tunnel entrance to the former Kunia Regional Security Operations Center
in Hawaii, where Snowden worked from March 2012 to March 2013
(photo: NSA - click to enlarge)

The documents

The actual number of documents which Snowden eventually exfiltrated from the NSA has never been clarified. According to the 2016 report from the US House Intelligence Committee, Snowden removed more than 1.5 million documents from NSANet and the JWICS intelligence network.

Glenn Greenwald repeatedly said that number was "pure fabrication" and he could probably agree with former NSA director Keith Alexander who in November 2013 estimated that Snowden had exposed only between 50,000 and 200,000 documents.*

According to Barton Gellman, Snowden provided him and Laura Poitras with an encrypted archive of documents called "Pandora" on May 21, 2013. This archive was 8 gigabytes and contained over 50,000 separate documents, all neatly organized in folders.*

Poitras gave Greenwald a copy of the Pandora archive just before they boarded their flight to Hong Kong on June 1. There, Snowden gave Ewen MacAskill from The Guardian some 50,000 documents about GCHQ and handed over all the remaining files to Greenwald and Poitras, who are the only ones with a complete set. Other media outlets only got partial sets of documents.

Greenwald's cache eventually ended up at The Intercept, the online news outlet he co-founded with Jeremy Scahill and Laura Poitras in 2014 to report about the Snowden documents. In March 2019, however, The Intercept closed its Snowden archive and reportedly destroyed it.

Screenshot from a Brazilian television report, showing some of the Snowden files
opened in a TrueCrypt window on the laptop of Glenn Greenwald.
(screenshot by koenrh - click to enlarge)

Non-Snowden leaks

In a message to Gellman, Snowden said that "he was not resigned to life in prison or worse. He wanted to show other whistleblowers that there could be a happy ending".* Later, whistleblower attorney Jesselyn Radack hoped that "courage is contagious, and we see more and more people from the NSA coming through our door after Snowden made these revelations."

And indeed, other sources started to leak documents to the press. The first one was a so-called tasking record showing that the NSA had targeted the non-secure cell phone of German chancellor Angela Merkel. This was revealed by Der Spiegel on October 23, 2013, which is less than five months after the start of Snowden's revelations.

The second leaked document that wasn't attributed to Snowden was just as spectacular: the ANT product catalog with a range of sophisticated spying gadgets from the NSA's hacking division TAO. This catalog was also published by Der Spiegel and discussed by Jacob Appelbaum during the CCC on December 30, 2013.

Initially, hardly anyone noticed that these documents didn't come from Snowden, and so a mysterious "second source" was able to publish files that were sometimes even more embarrassing and damaging than those from the Snowden trove, like intercepted conversations from foreign government leaders.

Later, other piggybackers who called themselves The Shadow Brokers leaked highly sensitive information about NSA hacking tools. The sources of these leaks have never been identified, although it's often assumed that Russian intelligence was behind it. Snowden never addressed these other leaks, nor distanced himself from them.

NSA report about an intercepted conversation of French president Hollande.
Leaked by an unknown source and published by Wikileaks in 2015
(click to enlarge)

The Section 215 program

The very first disclosure of a document that did come from Snowden was the Verizon order of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). This court convenes behind closed doors and is often, but injustly referred to as a "rubber stamp". The order was published by The Guardian on June 6, 2013.

The Verizon order showed that the NSA was collecting domestic telephone metadata under the so-called Section 215 program. In the US, this became the most controversial issue and initially it seemed to confirm cryptic public warnings by US senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, as well as the aforementioned claims by Bill Binney about domestic mass surveillance.

In reaction, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper started an unprecedented declassification effort and released numerous FISC and NSA documents about the Section 215 program on a newly created Tumblr site called IC On the Record.


This was meant to clarify a central misunderstanding: the fact that the NSA collects data inside the US doesn't mean they are spying on Americans. The NSA is still focused on foreign targets, but because they are using American internet services, it proved to be fruitful to intercept their data not only abroad, but at telecoms and internet companies inside the US as well (the "home field advantage").

Accordingly, the purpose of the Section 215 program was to find out whether foreign terrorists were in contact with unknown conspirators inside the US, which was one of the failures that could have prevented the attacks of 9/11.

Therefore, the only thing the domestic telephone records were used for was simple contact chaining: NSA started with a phone number of a foreign terrorist and then the MAINWAY system presented the (foreign and domestic) phone numbers with which that initial number had been in contact with, as well as the numbers they, in their turn had been in contact with, the so-called "second hop":

In 2012, the NSA used 288 phone numbers as a "seed" for such a contact chaining query, resulting in 6000 phone numbers that analysts actually looked at. When this led to a suspicious American phone number, the NSA passed it on to the FBI for further investigation.

This true purpose of the domestic metadata collection was clearly laid out in a public report which the independent Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) published in January 2014. The PCLOB found "no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot", but Section 215 was of some value as it offered additional leads and could show that foreign terrorist plots had no US nexus.

Although these domestic telephone records were not used to spy on Americans, and the FISC limited their retention to 5 years and prohibited the collection of location data, many people would not like to have them in an NSA database because of what Binney and Snowden called the possibility of a "turnkey tyranny".*

The publication of the Verizon order did not only make the general public aware of the Section 215 program, but also gave civil liberty organizations standing in court, which fulfilled Jacob Appelbaum's wish from the 2012 Surveillance Teach-In.

Meanwhile there have been two cases in which a Circuit Court of Appeals ruled about the Section 215 program. They both found that the bulk collection of metadata exceeded the scope of Section 215 of the Patriot Act (because the actual practice hadn't been foreseen by lawmakers, although they had been briefed about it later). The courts didn't decide on whether the program was constitutional or not.

The first page of the Verizon order from April 25, 2013
(click for the full document)

The PRISM program

One day after the publication of the Verizon order, The Guardian and The Washington Post revealed the PRISM program, which became synonymous for an all encompassing NSA spying system, just like ECHELON was before.

In his book Dark Mirror, Barton Gellman tells a different story than Greenwald did in No Place to Hide. Greenwald presented himself as the one who was chosen by Snowden to lead the revelations and claimed that he and Laura Poitras were working with Snowden since February 2013, while Gellman only got "some documents" and that Snowden was angry about the fear-driven approach of The Washington Post.*

According to Gellman, the opposite was the case: on January 31, 2013, Laura Poitras already asked him for advice and on May 7, they agreed to work together. She introduced Gellman to her source, who still called himself Verax, and they started encrypted chat conversations. On May 20, Snowden sent them the full PRISM presentation, after which they signed a contract with The Washington Post on May 24.*

But Snowden was under severe time pressure and urged Gellman to rapidly publish the full PRISM presentation, which he had signed with a digital signature associated with his Verax alter ego. Only gradually did Gellman realize the implications of this. Snowden's plan was to ask political asylum at a foreign diplomatic mission in Hong Kong, where he wanted to use the cryptographic signature to identify himself as the source of the PRISM document (and didn't rule out to "provide raw source material to a foreign government").*

As a journalist, Gellman protected the identity of his source, but publishing the digitally signed PRISM presentation would make him and The Washington Post complicit in Snowden's flight from American law. After consulting Poitras, Gellman decided not to do so. On May 27, Snowden withdrew the exclusive right for the Washington Post and turned to Greenwald, who until that moment didn't know who Snowden was, nor had seen any of the documents.*

When Greenwald finally managed to get PGP working, Snowden sent him a zip-file with some 25 documents, including the 41-slide PRISM presentation. Greenwald started writing his own story about PRISM, which was published by The Guardian on June 6, 2013.* Just one hour earlier, The Washington Post had released its own PRISM story.

The most controversial part of these stories was the claim that "the National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants", which those companies vigorously denied.

That "direct access" was taken from one of the slides, but it's unclear why both Gellman and Greenwald stuck to the most simple interpretation of it. Fact is that they had access to the extensive accompanying speaker's notes, which clearly said: "PRISM access is 100% dependent on ISP provisioning".*

They also had all the other PRISM slides, including two that were published later on, which also show that the FBI is in between the NSA and the internet companies:

PRISM-slide published by Le Monde on October 22, 2013

In July 2014, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) published an extensive public report about PRISM as well, which confirms that individual selectors (like a target's e-mail address) are sent to internet companies, which are "compelled to give the communications sent to or from that selector to the government." According to the report, PRISM "has proven valuable in the government’s efforts to combat terrorism as well as in other areas of foreign intelligence."

In Dark Mirror, Gellman admits: "In retrospect, I do not love the way I wrote the [PRISM] story. I knew a lot less then than I learned later, with more time in the documents and many more interviews". A well-informed source told him that the systems of a company like Facebook are too complex to let the NSA plug in a cable. Only Facebook knows how to pull things out, which they can then hand over upon a valid request.* Google did that through secure FTP transfers and in person.

Another interesting addition provided by Gellman is about the date of the PRISM presentation, April 2013, which is less than one and a half months before Snowden left the NSA:

"Nothing Snowden had seen until now better suited his plan. He had been talking to Poitras for three months, but he still did not feel confident that his disclosures would seize attention from a public that had seldom responded strongly to privacy warnings. Most of the NSA programs that worried him were legally and technically intricate, not easy to explain. He needed examples that ordinary people would recognize. Along came [the PRISM] presentation, festooned at the top of every slide with iconic logos from the best-known Internet companies in the world. "PRISM hits close to people's hearts", he told me."*


While PRISM is no mass surveillance, but targeted collection against individual foreign targets, it still has a problematic aspect: overcollection. Snowden was eager to draw public attention to this issue and, according to Greenwald, took his last job at NSA Hawaii only in order to get access to the NSA's raw data repositories.* Snowden declined to repeat or explain that to Gellman though.*

He succeeded and was able to exfiltrate a cache of ca. 22,000 collection reports, containing 160,000 individual conversations (75% of which instant messages), which the NSA collected via the PRISM program between 2009 and 2012.*

Snowden handed them over to Barton Gellman who reported about these files in July 2014. Researchers at The Washington Post found that the intercepted communications contained valuable foreign intelligence information, but also that over 9 out of 10 accountholders were not the intended surveillance targets and that nearly half of the files contained US person identifiers.

It's probably technically impossible to prevent such overcollection, but instead of deleting irrelevant personal content, the NSA only "minimizes" it, which means that names of Americans are redacted before they are distributed. Gellman saw that NSA personnel takes these procedures seriously, but when he confronted former NSA deputy director Rick Ledgett with his unease, Ledgett's only reply was that the NSA really doesn't care about ordinary people.*

The Mission List

Ledgett's answer is confirmed by a comprehensive listing of the tasks of the NSA in the Strategic Mission List from January 2007. It was published by The New York Times in November 2013, but got hardly any attention, despite the fact that it clearly contradicts the claims by Snowden and Greenwald that the NSA has just one single goal: collect all digital communications from all over the world.

Equally less traction gained reports by Ewen MacAskill from The Guardian and Scott Shane from The New York Times, who tried to provide balance and nuance by showing that NSA and GCHQ also did many good things, like monitoring terrorists, the Taliban, hostage takers, human traffickers, and drug cartels.

The Mission List says that China, North-Korea, Iraq, Iran, Russia and Venezuela were "Enduring Targets", which means they are of long-term strategic importance and therefore require a holistic approach. Next there were 16 "Topical Missions", which are subject to some change, but can be considered legitimate targets for any large intelligence agency:

- Winning the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT)
- Protecting the US homeland
- Combating proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)
- Protecting US military forces deployed overseas
- Providing warning of impending state instability
- Providing warning of a strategic nuclear missile attack
- Monitoring regional tensions that could escalate
- Preventing an attack on US critical information systems
- Early detection of critical foreign military developments
- Preventing technological surprise
- Ensuring diplomatic advantage for the US
- Ensuring a steady and reliable energy supply for the US
- Countering foreign intelligence threats
- Countering narcotics and transnational criminal networks
- Mapping foreign military and civil communications infrastructure

In 2013, terrorism was replaced by cyber attacks as top threat to American national security. Since then, cyber threats are increasing in frequency, scale, sophistication and severity of impact.

Screenshot of the BOUNDLESSINFORMANT tool showing where the NSA collected most data

Spying among friends

For its mission of "Ensuring Diplomatic Advantage for the U.S.", the NSA intercepts the communications of numerous foreign governments and government leaders. Based upon documents from the Snowden trove, media reported about eavesdropping operations against the Mexican candidate for the presidency, Enrique Peña Nieto, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, the Venezuelan oil company PdVSA and many others.

The NSA's interest in Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel had the most far-reaching consequences. Merkel herself made clear to president Obama that "spying on friends is not acceptable" (Ausspähen unter Freunden, das geht gar nicht) and the German parliament started an official investigation into the spying activities of the NSA (NSA-Untersuchungsausschuss or #NSAUA). This inquiry lasted from March 2014 to June 2017, but soon shifted its focus to Germany's own foreign intelligence agency BND.

Extensive hearings of BND employees resulted in unprecedented insights into the details of the cable tapping and satellite interception operations which the BND conducted in cooperation with the NSA. Eventually it became clear that the NSA wasn't spying on German citizens, but did try to collect communications from European governments and companies of interest - just like the BND itself, which was also targeting American and French foreign ministers, the interior departments of EU member states, and many others.

German chancellor Angela Merkel holding a secure BlackBerry Z10 in 2013
(photo: Nicki Demarco/The Fold/The Washington Post)

Backdoor tapping Google

A disclosure that caused outrage in Silicon Valley was about MUSCULAR, a collection program in which the NSA cooperates with its British counterpart GCHQ. In October 2013, The Washington Post reported that under this program, the NSA had secretly broken into the main communications links between Yahoo and Google data centers around the world.

A big question was: why would the NSA do that, given that they already had "front door" access to Google and Yahoo via the PRISM program? Gellman asked Snowden, who didn't come much further than "Because it could" and: "I'm speculating, but NSA doesn't ignore low-hanging fruit". Eventually Gellman realized that inside the US, the NSA had to specify individual targets, but abroad it was possible to acquire such data in bulk and to search and analyse it with XKEYSCORE.*

The Post didn't mention the XKEYSCORE system by name and it's also not explained in Gellman's book Dark Mirror. That's unfortunate, because while Greenwald and Snowden presented XKEYSCORE as a global mass surveillance tool, it's actually a smart system to find targets who are communicating anonymously and therefore cannot be traced in the traditional way, via identifiers like phone numbers and e-mail addresses.

It seems that hardly anyone realized that the disclosure of XKEYSCORE must have been really damaging for the NSA. In the 1990s, ECHELON made clear that the agency targeted phone numbers, so terrorists and other adversaries began avoiding individual identifiers and switched to anonymous ways to communicate. It must have been an eye-opener that with XKEYSCORE, the NSA found a way to trace those as well.

> More about XKEYSCORE

NSA slide showing where to intercept data from the Google cloud


Where Section 215 was most controversial in the United States, but lesser-known in Europe, the opposite was the case with BOUNDLESSINFORMANT, which caused fury in Europe, but is hardly known across the ocean. BOUNDLESSINFORMANT isn't a system to collect data, but an internal visualization tool that counts metadata records to provide insights into the NSA's worldwide data collection.

The results are shown in heat maps and charts, like for individual countries and collection programs. Such charts for Germany and a few other countries were published on July 29, 2013 by Der Spiegel, but on August 5, the German foreign intelligence agency BND said that they collected these data during military operations abroad and subsequently shared them with the NSA.

Despite this statement, Glenn Greenwald interpreted these charts as evidence of American mass surveillance on European citizens and started publishing them in major European newspapers.

BOUNDLESSINFORMANT chart showing the numbers of
metadata which German BND shared with the NSA

On October 21, for example, the French paper Le Monde published a story saying that "telephone communications of French citizens are intercepted on a massive scale." After a similar story appeared in Spain, NSA director Keith Alexander came with a remarkable clarification, saying: "This is not information that we collected on European citizens. It represents information that we and our NATO allies have collected in defense of our countries and in support of military operations."

Greenwald continued his framing in Norwegian and Italian papers. Only in The Netherlands it was found out that the BOUNDLESSINFORMANT charts were not about content, but about metadata. Dutch interior minister Ronald Plasterk, however, still followed Greenwald's interpretation and assumed the Americans were spying on Dutch citizens. A court case forced the government to admit that Dutch military intelligence had collected the data during operations abroad.


It was only in May 2019 that The Intercept put the pieces together and set the record straight: the various BOUNDLESSINFORMANT charts showed cellphone metadata that had been collected by members of the Afghanistan SIGINT Coalition (AFSC, also known as the 9 Eyes) and fed them into the NSA's Real-Time Regional Gateway (RT-RG) big data analysis platform.

When The Intercept confronted Greenwald with this new research, he still tried to blame the NSA: "At the time, Der Spiegel had already reported this interpretation, the NSA wouldn’t answer our questions, and they wouldn’t give us any additional information. I am totally in favor of correcting the record if the reporting was inaccurate."

While Greenwald ignored the declaration by general Alexander, he was right when he said that the NSA's internal documentation about BOUNDLESSINFORMANT was somewhat confusing. Apparently, Greenwald had to rely on that documentation because Snowden was of little help, just like he was for various other programs that journalists did not fully understand.

Slide showing all the collection systems that fed the RT-RG platform
(click to enlarge)


Many of the documents that Snowden provided to the press have been misinterpreted or exaggerated, sometimes unintentional, but in other cases maybe deliberately. In Dark Mirror, Barton Gellman writes:

"There were signs that Snowden was capable of an instrumental approach to truth. In conversations about my work, when I got stuck on a hard reporting problem, he sometimes suggested that I provoke fresh disclosures from government officials by pretending to know more than I did."

"Another time he went further, proposing that I actually publish informed speculation as fact. If my story outran the evidence, he said, the government would be forced to respond and thereby reveal more. There would be a net gain for public information either way."

"He said misinformation from people like Mike Hayden, supporters of the intelligence establishment, pushed the terms of debate so far off center that only rhetorical counterforce could set the record straight."*

Gellman declined this approach because it would make his reporting unreliable and it undermines confidence in the press if it would turn out that certain things weren't true. However, claims made by Greenwald and Snowden himself showed that his "counterforce" method sometimes did work: the government came up with new facts - but those never got the same attention as the original story, which was already stuck in people's minds.


There's no doubt that the Snowden revelations provided unprecedented insight into modern-day signals intelligence as conducted by the NSA and its Five Eyes partners.

In part this was much needed to understand how the legal framework is implemented and where safeguards need improvement. That, however, requires a close examination of the documents, which shows the problems are smaller and more complex than the mythical "global mass surveillance" which Snowden and Greenwald tried to proof.

On the other hand, many things have been published that were merely sensational and weakened the US and its signals intelligence system. By revealing its workings and capacity, the Snowden revelations unintentionally set a new standard which other countries hurried to catch up with.


- Der Spiegel: Das Internet ist heute anders unsicher (June 9, 2023)
- The Atlantic: Did the Snowden Revelations Change Anything? (June 7, 2023)
- The Guardian: Snowden, MI5 and me: how the leak of the century came to be published (June 7, 2023)
- The Guardian: What’s really changed 10 years after the Snowden revelations? (June 7, 2023)
- Schneier on Security: Snowden Ten Years Later (June 6, 2023)
- System Update: SNOWDEN REVELATIONS 10-Year Anniversary: Glenn Greenwald Speaks with Snowden & Laura Poitras on the Past, Present, & Future of Their Historic Reporting (June 6, 2023)
- neues deutschland: 10 Jahre Snowden-Leaks: Enthüllungen nicht mehr erwünscht (June 6, 2023)
- neues deutschland: Snowden-Leaks: Geheimdokumente belegen globale Massenüberwachung (June 6, 2023)
- Heise: Edward Snowden: Die Enthüllungen des NSA-Whistleblowers 10 Jahre später (June 5, 2023)
- Der Tagesspiegel: Edward Snowden und die Whistleblower-Frage Feiert die Verräter! (June 2023)
- Netkwesties: Barton Gellman herziet NSA-onthullingen (Dec. 7, 2020)
- See also: Timeline of Edward Snowden

- Documentary: Edward Snowden: Whistleblower or Spy?

Comments at Hacker News

May 18, 2023

New details about the Pentagon Leak

(Updated: July 12, 2023)

Last month it became clear that junior airman Jack Teixeira had posted highly classified military intelligence information on a Discord server, which became known as the Discord or Pentagon Leak.

Here I will discuss some additional details from the documents filed by the public prosecutor on April 26 and May 17, which provide some more insight into Teixeira's training, clearance and working environment.

Technical training

Op September 26, 2019, Teixeira had joined the Massachusetts Air National Guard and started working at the 102nd Intelligence Wing as a "Cyber Transport Specialist" - according to a letter he wrote to a local law enforcement officer on November 15, 2020.

In that letter, Teixeira tried to convince the officer that he had matured and changed since he was suspended for a few days at his high school in March 2018 after making racial threats and remarks about guns and Molotov cocktails. After having enlisted and obtaining a Top Secret clearance, he thought he was eligible again for the Firearms ID that was denied after the incident.

A few months after joining the National Guard, on November 15, 2019, Teixeira had registred at the Community College of the Air Force (CCAF), which offers a variety of courses and programs to earn an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree. According to the transcript shown below, he completed the following courses:

- US Air Force Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base on August 13, 2020
- Information Technology Fundamentals at Keesler Air Force Base on February 16, 2021
- Cyber Transport Systems also at Keesler Air Force Base on April 29, 2021

Transcript of the courses which Jack Teixeira took at
the Community College of the Air Force (CCAF)
(click to enlarge)

Sensitive Compartmented Information

Sometime in fall 2020, after he finished his basic military training, Teixeira was granted a regular ("collateral") Top Secret clearance. This was required for starting technical training and just over two months after completing that in April 2021, his clearance was extended to Top Secret/SCI, which gave access to even more closely guarded information.

The prescribed Sensitive Compartmented Information Nondisclosure Agreement (SCINA) was signed by Teixeira and an undisclosed witness on July 7, 2021. This form has 12 spaces where the particular control systems for Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) or Special Access Programs (SAPs) can be filled in:

Jack Teixeira's Sensitive Compartmented Information Nondisclosure Agreement
(click to enlarge)

According to the form, Teixeira was briefed for access ("indoctrinated") to the following Sensitive Compartmented Information control systems:

- SI = Special Intelligence (communications intelligence)
- TK = TALENT-KEYHOLE (intelligence from satellite collection)
- G = GAMMA (sensitive communication intercepts)
- HCS-P = HUMINT Control System-Product (intelligence from human sources)

This shows that Teixeira had legitimate access to all the SCI compartments seen in the documents that he leaked, so apparently the only thing he lacked was the specific need-to-know.

According to the book Dark Mirror by Washington Post-journalist Barton Gellman, Edward Snowden had an SCI clearance for SI, TK, GAMMA and HCS as well - "the worst-case scenario for the NSA's internal defenses" according to Gellman.*

A week later, on July 15, 2021, Teixeira digitally signed the General Information Systems Acceptable Use Policy and User Agreement of the 102nd Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance Group, which says that his actual workplace was at the 102nd Intelligence Support Squadron (ISS).

Another two weeks later, on July 28, he also signed the Information Technology User Agreement of the 102nd Intelligence Wing, with numerous rules for using the organization's computer systems, including "I will not disclose any non-public Air Force or DoD information to unauthorized individuals."

Finally, on March 3, 2022, after one hour of e-learning, Jack Teixeira also completed a course about Unauthorized Disclosure (UD) of Classified Information and Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI), as provided by the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency.

The Intelligence Support Squadron

On October 1, 2021, Teixeira started as a Cyber Transport Systems Journeyman with the rank of Airman Basic (AB) and pay grade E-1 at the 102nd Intelligence Support Squadron (ISS).

The ISS comprises more than 100 military, civilian and contractor Cyberspace Support professionals who maintain their part of the Air Force Distributed Common Ground System (AF-DCGS), also known as the AN/GSQ-272 SENTINEL weapon system. This includes ensuring the availability and integrity of networks and equipment, software installation and support, information system security, communications security, and everything related.

The ISS is part of the 102nd Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance Group (ISRG), which in turn is part of the 102nd Intelligence Wing (IW). This wing was established in 2009 after the Air National Guard's 102nd Fighter Wing had lost its flying mission due to the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC).

Men and women from the former flying units were transitioned to the new Intelligence Wing and trained to work on the DCGS, learning to run its computers and analyze intelligence from spy planes and the ever-increasing number of drones. One of them was Jack Teixeira's stepfather.

Military personnel operating the Air Force Distributed Common Ground System
(photo: US Air Force - click to enlarge)

The Distributed Common Ground System

The Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) is a system-of-systems for passing data from intelligence collection platforms along to combatant commanders and warfighters. There are separate versions for the Navy (DCGS-N), the Army (DCGS-A), the Air Force (AF-DCGS), the Marine Corps (DCGS-MC) and the Special Operations Forces (DCGS-SOF).

In 2015, the DCGS of the Air Force exploited more than 50 manned and unmanned aircraft sorties, reviewed over 1200 hours of motion imagery, produced approximately 3000 signals intelligence reports, exploited 1250 still images and managed a total of 20 terabytes of data each day.

The AF-DCGS had started small at Langley AFB in Virginia, Beale AFB in California and Osan Air Base in South Korea, but expanded in the early 2000s as demand for airborne surveillance surged. Soon, Ramstein Air Base in Germany and Hickam AFB in Honolulu were added, which make a total of five core sites, or Distributed Ground Stations (DGS).

The system is also installed at 16 additional sites: DGS‑Experimental at Langley AFB, 7 Air National Guard (ANG) sites and 8 Distributed Mission Sites (DMS). These DGS and DMS sites are manned by a mixture of active-duty, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve and coalition partner units working to provide an integrated combat capability.

The Air Force Distributed Common Ground System (AF DCGS) in 2015
(source - click to enlarge)

The AF-DCGS core site at Ramstein Air Base is backed-up by the Distributed Ground Station-Massachusetts (DGS-MA), which was established in December 2009. This site is operated by the 102nd Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance Group (ISRG), which performs near-real-time exploitation and analysis of video feeds from the U-2 spy plane, as well as from the RQ-4 Global Hawk and MQ-9 Reaper surveillance drones.

Ramstein is a crucial hub for drone operations, first for those in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now in support of Ukraine in its war with Russia. Because of moral doubts about the American drone program, NGA intelligence analyst Daniel Hale leaked The Drone Papers to The Intercept in 2014.

Suspicious behaviour

Teixeira said that at the 102nd Intelligence Support Squadron he was initially "assigned to middle eastern intelligence gathering tasks". In November 2022 he wrote in his Discord server that he worked with "NRO, NSA, NGA, and DIA people mostly", that he was "on JWICS weekly" and "knowing what happens more than pretty much anyone else is cool."

JWICS stands for Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System and is a highly secured computer and communications network for collaboration and sharing intelligence up to the classification level Top Secret/SCI among US intelligence agencies.

According to documents filed by the public prosecutor on May 17, 2023, Teixeira had been observed looking for classified intelligence information in the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) of the 102nd Intelligence Wing, which is located in building 169 at Otis Air National Guard Base on Joint Base Cape Cod.

The entrance to Joint Base Cape Cod in Pocasset, Massachusetts
(photo: CJ Gunther/EPA - click to enlarge)

The first time was in September 2022, when a staff sergeant saw that Teixeira had taken notes of classified information and put the note in his pocket. The staff sergeant asked Teixeira if he planned to shread it and informed a master sergeant. They discussed the incident with Teixeira, who was "instructed to no longer take notes in any form on classified intelligence information."

On October 25, it became clear that Teixeira was "potentially ignoring the cease-and-desist order on deep diving into intelligence information", because five days earlier he had attended the ISS morning meeting where the weekly Current Intelligence Briefing (CIB) was being given, after which Teixeira proceeded to ask very specific questions.

Teixeira was once again instructed to cease-and-desist any deep dives into classified information and to focus on his job in supporting Cyber Defense Operations (Air Force Specialty Code 1D). Additionally, he was offered the opportunity to explore cross training for All Source Intelligence Analyst (1N0) or Cyber Intelligence (1N4), which he declined.

All this didn't stop him, because a third memorandum for the record filed by the prosecutor says that on January 30, 2023, a master sergeant "was walking the Ops [Operations] floor when she observed A1C [Airman 1st Class] Teixeira on a JWICS machine viewing content that was not related to his primary duty and was related to the intelligence field."

The Desktop Environment (DTE), a uniform platform for the
US Intelligence Community, running on the JWICS network.

The fact that apparently no further action was taken against Teixeira might have led to the suspension, last April, of the commander of the 102nd Intelligence Support Squadron and the detachment commander overseeing administrative support.

Teixeira's behaviour is very similar to that of Edward Snowden, who also had an almost insatiable desire for information regardless of whether he was entitled to it. In his book Permanent Record, Snowden proudly recalled how easy it was to circumvent auditing controls and internal monitoring systems.

Whether Teixeira circumvented such control systems as well is still unclear. While he could apparently access intelligence information on the JWICS network, he definitely didn't have the need-to-know for the material he eventually posted on his Discord server, which included intelligence briefings for senior military commanders and civilian policy makers.

Title of the Daily Intelligence Update for the Secretary of Defense and
the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from February 28, 2023
(leaked by Jack Teixeira - click to enlarge)

Network monitoring

After Jack Teixeira had been arrested on April 13, 2023, various agencies started an investigation into his case. One was an audit of an "Intelligence Community-wide system for which U.S. Government Agency 2 acts as a service provider", which most likely refers to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the JWICS network.

This audit, which yielded results dating back to February 26, 2022, revealed that Teixeira had accessed hundreds of classified reports and documents and conducted "hundreds of searches on the classified network on a number of subjects, many of which related to the Russia-Ukraine conflict."

In addition, on or around July 30, 2022, he also searched for the terms "Ruby Ridge", "Las Vegas shooting", "Mandalay Bay shooting", "Buffalo tops shooting", and "Uvalde" which are all (related to) mass shootings in the United States, which Teixeira had an unhealthy interest in.

While it's definitely useful to have these audit results for a criminal investigation, there's apparently still no insider threat detection system that is capable of near-real-time anomaly detection. The NSA, DISA and large defense contractors were already working on that over a decade ago, but this turned out to be rather difficult.

The DIA seems to be lagging behind even more, as only by the end of 2021, the agency came up with plans to modernize the JWICS network with for example Comply-to-Connect access control and behavioral-based vulnerability detection.


On May 19, 2023, a federal magistrate judge ruled that Jack Teixeira has to remain in prison pending his trial because he poses a continuing threat to national security and public safety.

On June 15, 2023, the Justice Department filed the indictment against Teixeira, with six counts of "willful detention and transmission of national defense information". While Teixeira leaked at least some 60 documents to his Discord server, the indictment includes only six of them: one classified Secret, the other five Top Secret/SCI.

On June 30, 2023, US secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued a memorandum with a range of actions the prevent compromise of classified information. One of those actions is the establishment of a Joint Management Office for Insider Threat and Cyber Capabilities to oversee user activity monitoring and improve threat monitoring across all DoD networks.

Links and Sources

- Court Listener: United States v. Jack Douglas Teixeira
- The Washington Post: Amid leak of U.S. secrets, Pentagon hunts how documents left air base (May 20, 2023)
- Emptywheel: Jack Teixeira’s Polish (or Croatian) Missile (May 18, 2023)
- Christian Science Monitor: Jack Teixeira, Edward Snowden, and plugging intelligence leaks (May 17, 2023)
- The Washington Post: Leak suspect shared classified secrets with foreigners, prosecutors say (May 17, 2023)
- The New York Times: Airman in Leaks Case Worked on a Global Network Essential to Drone Missions (April 30, 2023)
- US Air Force Unit History: 102 Intelligence Wing (Jan. 19, 2022)
- AutoNorms: Shortening the Kill Chain with Artificial Intelligence (Nov. 28, 2021)