Edward Snowden, the US government contractor-turned-whistleblower, responded to a series of exhaustive questions from security specialist Jacob Appelbaum shortly before he revealed classified National Security Agency (NSA) material to the media last month, according to Germany's Der Spiegel.
Jacob Appelbaum, a 30-year-old computer whiz Rolling Stone called "the most dangerous man in cyberspace," was put in touch with Snowden by documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras in May, said Spiegel.
Poitras and Snowden's relationship "had cloak-and-dagger overtones, including his request that they communicate in encrypted type," according to the Associated Press, and Spiegel said Poitras wanted Appelbaum to help her vet Snowden.
Poitras later carried Snowden's revelations to the public at large, becoming a lead writer on his disclosures for the The Washington Post.
Snowden's exchange with Appelbaum reveals much about the mysterious whistleblower and his motivations (the 29-year-old is currently on the run and has sought asylum in dozens of countries).
For example, on Stuxnet — powerful malware that attacked Iran's nuclear facility in 2010 (the origins of which remain in dispute) — Snowden said matter-of-factly: The "NSA and Israel co-wrote it."
Snowden told Appelbaum that Facebook and email content can attract the authorities' attention to the average user (as it was later revealed). But once the authorities suspect someone, Snowden said, these people are "just owned," later adding, "the target's machine doesn't belong to them anymore, it belongs to the US government."
Here are some excerpts from the encrypted emails between Snowden and Appelbaum as published by Der Spiegel on Tuesday:
"Interviewer: Are German authorities or German politicians involved in the NSA surveillance system?"
"Snowden: Yes, of course. We're in bed together with the Germans the same as with most other Western countries. For example, we tip them off when someone we want is flying through their airports (that we for example, have learned from the cell phone of a suspected hacker's girlfriend in a totally unrelated third country -- and they hand them over to us. They don't ask to justify how we know something, and vice versa, to insulate their political leaders from the backlash of knowing how grievously they're violating global privacy."
Snowden also identified the surveillance system in Britain as TEMPORA but advised against routing internet through the UK because "even the Queen's selfies to the pool boy get logged."
The conversation also touched on the NSA's new one-million-square-foot building under construction in Utah. What's that about? "The massive data repositories," Snowden said.