Ex-NSA technical chief: How 9/11 created the surveillance state


The US National Security Agency’s mass electronic surveillance programme, known as PRISM, is widely regarded to be one of the biggest privacy invasions of all time, and yet it was US citizens themselves who had demanded to be kept safe at all costs, according to one former NSA technical director.

Brian Snow, who worked for the NSA for 34 years before joining UK-based data security company PQ Solutions, said that after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, there was massive pressure on the government from US citizens to do whatever it took to protect them from further terrorist attacks.

“My neighbours used to come up to me and say, Brian, just keep us safe, do whatever it takes. They were feeling very threatened,” said Mr Snow. “Even at that time I would tell them, back off, you don’t know what you’re asking for. It is not a straight line from surveillance to liberty. It’s a very complex process, and there are many other paths that can be taken that may not impact as much.”

Mr Snow himself was not directly involved in Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) – the division of the NSA responsible for gathering foreign intelligence. His job for six years was technical director of the Information Assurance Directorate (IAD) – the division responsible for protecting and defending national security information.

In that role, he advised senior management on the strengths and shortfalls of the technology they were using, as well as identifying emerging technologies, spotting technical gaps or risks in new systems and services, and identifying old products for withdrawal..

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