Security

Snowden: NSA accidentally caused Syria's Internet blackout while trying to install malware

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Image Credit: Flickr user Sonietta46

America’s most-wanted whistleblower claims that the National Security Agency was the cause of Syria’s 2012 blackout. The NSA was allegedly trying to install malware into the government’s computer systems when the plan went haywire and knocked the country off the grid.

The claim follows a wide-ranging interview that NSA historian James Bamford conducted with Snowden in Moscow. Given the potential implications of this accusation, I’ll quote Bamford in full, below:

One day an intelligence officer told him that TAO — a division of NSA hackers — had attempted in 2012 to remotely install an exploit in one of the core routers at a major Internet service provider in Syria, which was in the midst of a prolonged civil war. This would have given the NSA access to email and other Internet traffic from much of the country. But something went wrong, and the router was bricked instead — rendered totally inoperable. The failure of this router caused Syria to suddenly lose all connection to the Internet — although the public didn’t know that the U.S. government was responsible. (This is the first time the claim has been revealed.)

Many journalists (including myself) laid blame on the Syrian government. An expert from Internet monitoring firm Cloudflare explained to me that since Syria’s Internet is controlled by a small number of cables, blacking out the entire Internet “would have to be a very orchestrated sort of event.”

The obvious suspect was the totalitarian government trying to suppress dissident speech. The idea the United States could have been responsible for blacking out a country in the middle of a political upheaval wasn’t even something folks were throwing around as conspiracy theories.

A Congressional investigation will likely follow this claim, but the conclusions could be classified. Either way, the NSA is now a suspect in all Internet meddling. That is very bad for the agency and the reputation of America abroad.