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It's Becoming Clear That The NSA's Nightmare Has Just Begun

Michael B. Kelley
Head of Audience Development


Edward Snowden is seen in front of the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in central Moscow.

The National Security Agency and its allies face a long, painful drip of classified documents relating to their intelligence operations.

The quantity and range of leaks facilitated by Edward Snowden have become clear in recent news stories.

First, The Australian reports that Edward Snowden stole as many as 20,000 Aussie signals intelligence files from the NSA's systems. Australia's  attorney general called the disclosures the most damaging in the country's history.

That, combined with 58,000 documents from Britain's GCHQ intelligence agency and an unknown but substantial number of NSA files, means the claim Snowden took as many as 200,000 files is not far-fetched. 

Second, on Thursday Swedish television reported that S weden's signals intelligence agency, the FRA,  has been a key partner for the United States in spying on Russia and its leadership. A previous report said that Sweden is also a key partner of the GCHQ.

Glenn Greenwald, who provided the documents for at least the Swedish TV report, tweeted: ' The closeness of the US/Sweden relationship cannot be overstated - this is just the first of many stories that will show this."

The Swedish TV report is especially striking because the disclosures seem to fly in the face of something  Greenwald told the Daily Beast in June:  "We won’t publish things that might ruin ongoing operations from the U.S. government that very few people would object to the United States doing.”  

Russia is one of America's  top five priority spying targets and the NSA's primary mission is foreign signals intelligence. It's hard to fathom that  many people object to the U.S. spying on the Kremlin.

No matter the editorial parameters, there is clearly more material to report: As of November 27, about 552 pages of Snowden's documents have been published in a variety of media outlets. This week Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger testified that the paper p ublished 1% of the 58,000 files it had received from Snowden.

Given that the leaks appear to be exposing not only government spying on citizens but also basic functions of the NSA and that the documents provided to Greenwald spurred the creation of a new media organization, this could theoretically go on for years.

A further concern is that Snowden apparently had documents that he didn't give to journalists — including 30,000 documents that do not deal with NSA surveillance, "but primarily with standard intelligence  about other countries’ military capabilities , including weapons systems"  — and it is unclear what he did with those files.

Snowden currently lives under Kremlin protection in Russia.

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