Monday, January 13, 2014

What Was Edward Snowden Doing in India?

By Shane Harris

Nearly three years before he revealed himself as the source of leaked documents about NSA surveillance, Edward Snowden traveled to New Delhi, India. There, he spent six days taking courses in computer hacking and programming at a local professional school, according to school officials and people familiar with Snowden's trip. Working with a private instructor, Snowden, who was then a contractor for the spy agency, took a course in "ethical hacking," where he learned advanced techniques for breaking into computer systems and exploiting flaws in software. The class's ostensible purpose is to train students to protect computers and their contents from thieves and spies. But in order to do that, they learn how to break into computers and steal information. Snowden also inquired about methods to reverse-engineer the world's most popular kits for committing widespread online crime.

Snowden didn't disclose his India trip to investigators when renewing his top-secret security clearance the following year. It was that clearance, NSA officials say, that gave Snowden access to the 1.7 million classified files he later stole from the agency's computer networks and databases. U.S. intelligence officials have faulted the company that conducted Snowden's background check for not more thoroughly questioning him about overseas travel and what foreign nationals he may have met with, which is standard procedure for detecting whether someone is spying for a foreign power. They have characterized the background check as flawed and incomplete.

But Foreign Policy has learned that Snowden's trip to India should not have been a mystery to the U.S. government or intelligence agencies. Snowden was in the country in his capacity as an NSA contractor "to assist as a technical expert" at the U.S. embassy in New Delhi, according to an individual with knowledge of the situation who asked not to be identified. Snowden also told his computer instructor that he worked for the NSA and that he was in the city "on business," said Rohit Aggarwal, the CEO and founder of the school, Koenig Solutions. Government employees and contractors are not required to disclose foreign trips of an official nature, and may even be instructed not to, in order to avoid compromising intelligence operations and programs, according to two former U.S. intelligence officials.

Snowden's time in India has been covered in the Indian press but has received little attention in the United States. The travels offer a rare glimpse into his activities in the years before he became arguably the most famous leaker of classified secrets in American history.

Read the rest here.


  1. "... The most famous Leaker... "? No, Snowden is a whistleblower.

  2. A further NSA document obtained by the Hindu suggests the agency selected the office of India's mission at the UN in New York and the country's Washington embassy as "location targets" where records of Internet traffic, emails, telephone and office conversations – and even official documents stored digitally – could potentially be accessed after programs had been clandestinely inserted into computers.

    In March 2013, the NSA collected 6.3bn pieces of information from internet networks in India and 6.2bn pieces of information from the country's telephone networks during the same period, the Hindu said.

    After the Guardian reported in June that Pm program allowed the NSA "to obtain targeted communications without having to request them from the service providers and without having to obtain individual court orders", both US and Indian officials claimed no content was being taken from the country's networks and that the programs were intended to aid "counter-terrorism".

    Syed Akbaruddin, an external affairs ministry spokesperson, said on Wednesday there was no further comment following the latest revelations.

    Siddharth Varadajaran, editor of the Hindu, said the Indian government's "remarkably tepid and even apologetic response to the initial set of disclosures" made the story a "priority for Indians".

    A home ministry official told the newspaper the government had been "rattled" to discover the extent of the the programme's interest in India. "It's not just violation of our sovereignty, it's a complete intrusion into our decision-making process," the official said.

  3. I wonder why Foreign Policy, an establishment mouthpiece, is putting this out now? It's been covered widely before. Red herring much?

  4. Parallel, militarized female police force introduced into Delhi, under the pretext of the increase in rapes (drummed up sensationally, of course), ostensibly to thwart rapists.

    Actually, this police force is not under Delhi govt. but parallel to it and seemingly responsible to the AAP Party - which is heavily funded by FOUNDATIONS.
    (Ford etc.)

    Delhi is thus effectively under Foundation rule and they now have their own private police force..

    Following on the fact that the US embassy security and anti-terror chief (who was buying and selling duty free goods, and violating tax law) was able to obstruct the Indian judiciary, evacuate the maid, and instigate the arrest and strip search of a senior diplomat over her protests of immunity, this suggests where real power in Delhi lies.

  5. You can have all the screening you want. It is not going to stop the truth. People have a change of heart all the time. Beholding evil and corruption close up will generate more and more whistle blowers. You can't fight an ideological war with force of arms.