What’s in Edward Snowden’s 41-slide PowerPoint deck that’s so hot that nobody dare publish it?
Now that Snowden has revealed himself to the world as the NSA whistleblower, details about his interaction with the press are surfacing. And at the center of the drama is a still mostly unpublished 41-slide presentation, classified top secret, that Snowden gave to the Washington Post and the Guardian to expose the NSA’s internet spying operation “PRISM.”
Only five slides from the presentation have been published. The other 36 remain a mystery. Both theGuardian’s Glenn Greenwald and the Post’s Barton Gellman have made it clear that the rest of the PowerPoint is dynamite stuff … which we’re not going to be seeing any time soon. “If you saw all the slides you wouldn’t publish them,” wrote Gellman on Twitter, adding in a second tweet: “I know a few absolutists, but most people would want to defer judgment if they didn’t know the full contents.”
Even Greenwald, who urged me rather strongly in 2010 to publish Bradley Manning’s personal chats, is taking a more conservative view of the NSA’s PowerPoint. “I’m not going to discuss our legal advice with you,” Greenwald wrote on Twitter, “but we’re not publishing NSA tech methods.”
To us geeks, the tech methods, of course, are the most interesting part. Snowden evidently wanted the entire presentation published, at least at one point in his discussions with the Post’s Gellman. On May 24, “Snowden asked for a guarantee that the Washington Post would publish — within 72 hours — the full text of [the] PowerPoint presentation,” Gellman wrote Sunday, in a fascinating account of his interactions with the whistleblower. “I told him we would not make any guarantee about what we published or when.”
That’s when Snowden looped in the Guardian, according to Gellman’s account. On Twitter, Greenwald disputed that timeline, and wrote that he’d been working with Snowden “since February, long before anyone spoke to Bart Gellman.”
Regardless of which reporter met Snowden first, both publications wound up handling the PowerPoint roughly the same, publishing only a small portion of the slide deck. The Guardian initially published three slides from the deck. The Post published the same three, plus a fourth slide illustrating the quantity of international internet traffic that flows through the U.S.
It’s strangely incongruent that a PowerPoint deck has taken on such importance. Indeed, the very properties of PowerPoint that make it one of the most hated conveyances of information in the world have contributed to the lingering uncertaintly about PRISM and what it really does. Crude vector art and bullet points leave too much to the imagination, even when it’s the most highly classified crude vector art and bullet points the public has ever seen.
After company executives and administration officials disputed the key finding in the newspapers’ first reports — that the NSA has unilateral access to backend servers of Google, Facebook, and seven other technology companies — the Guardian released a new slide (slide number eight, we’re told) to support the paper’s claim. This one includes this PRISM point: “Collection directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube [and] Apple.”
Source: The Guardian
But in context, that additional line adds little. The slide is intended to distinguish PRISM collection from the NSA’s raw internet wiretapping. It doesn’t address whether the collection is broad and automatic, or narrow and mediated by lawyers at the target companies, as subsequent reporting by other news outlets has indicated.
The most compelling part of the new slide is the top half, which seems to show (as first noted by ACLU technologist Chris Soghoian) the rough location of NSA fiber optic taps on cables in South America, eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean. Now that’s interesting.
Julian Assange, tweeting from his haven in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, weighed in yesterday, and made it clear what WikiLeaks would do in this situation. “Snowden demanded all 41 pages of PRISM document be published but neither WaPo nor Guardian had the courage,” he wrote.
In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Assange said today that WikiLeaks has had “indirect communication” with Snowden – a development that probably isn’t comforting to the NSA.
#Snowden demanded all 41 pages of #PRISM document be published but neither WaPo nor Guardian had the courage http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/code-name-verax-snowden-in-exchanges-with-post-reporter-made-clear-he-knew-risks/2013/06/09/c9a25b54-d14c-11e2-9f1a-1a7cdee20287_story.html …