The United States has a secret cybersecurity program dubbed “MonsterMind” that is designed to detect and automatically respond to threats, according to former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
The program — which had never before been revealed — is capable of intercepting all foreign communications to people in the U.S., detecting and disarming cyberattacks and can “automatically fire back, with no human involvement,” Wired reported in a lengthy profile of Snowden published Wednesday.
The program was the “last straw” for Snowden, who remains a wanted man in the United States for leaking reams of information about secret intelligence programs.
Snowden warned an automatic program like MonsterMind could harm innocent countries, as cyberattacks are often routed through computers in other places.
“You could have someone sitting in China, for example, making it appear that one of these attacks is originating in Russia,” Snowden said.
“And then we end up shooting back at a Russian hospital. What happens next?”
A spokesperson for the NSA declined to comment to Wired about the specific operations mentioned in the article, but agency spokesperson Vanee Vines said Snowden should have a conversation with the Department of Justice.
“He needs to return to the United States to face the charges against him,” she said.
Snowden told Wired that he is willing to “volunteer for prison.”
“I care more about the country than what happens to me,” he said.
Snowden also claimed in the Wired interview that the U.S. government, through a hacking operation gone wrong, was responsible for Internet outages in Syria in 2012.
As NSA hackers attempted to hack into routers of a major Internet provider in Syria, the router was rendered inoperable, leaving Syria without Internet and the NSA unable to fix the problem, Snowden said.
He expressed concern about U.S. intelligence operations that hack into civilian institutions in China.
“It's no secret that we hack China very aggressively,” he told Wired. “But we've crossed lines.”
According to Snowden, the U.S. government has hacked “universities and hospitals and wholly civilian infrastructure rather than actual government targets and military targets. And that's a real concern.”
The profile documents what Snowden says was his growing disillusion with U.S. intelligence tactics — including drone strikes and questionable sourcing methods — as he moved up the ranks from a junior spot on the CIA’s computer team.
He said he saw complacency within the intelligence agency about the spying programs and the ways the government keeps them secret.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper — who critics say lied to lawmakers under oath about U.S. spying — “saw deceiving the American people as what he does, as his job, as something completely ordinary,” Snowden said.
“And he was right that he wouldn't be punished for it, because he was revealed as having lied under oath and he didn't even get a slap on the wrist for it. It says a lot about the system and a lot about our leaders.”
Snowden declined to comment to Wired on the possibility that another person may be leaking documents about surveillance capabilities. U.S. officials fear recent disclosures about the terrorist watch list came from a second leaker inspired by Snowden.
He told Wired that he worries about “NSA fatigue” — or apathy towards continuing surveillance revelations — and pushed for strong technical protections over legislative changes.
“By basically adopting changes like making encryption a universal standard — where all communications are encrypted by default — we can end mass surveillance not just in the United States but around the world,” he said, adding that more revelations are on their way.
“We haven’t seen the end.”