Recent events seem to indicate Russian moles have made off with every surveillance secret held by the United States, according to a former NSA analyst, which means the country probably has the ability to crack almost any form of virtual security, including that of American intelligence agencies.
"It's not exactly a secret that NSA has one or more Russian moles in its ranks," John Schindler wrote in a Tuesday column for the Observer. He pointed especially to the case of Jeffrey Delisle, a Canadian navy junior officer arrested in 2012 for selling intelligence secrets to the GRU, or Russian military intelligence.
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The most valuable information Delisle could offer came from the Five Eyes network, Schindler noted, the surveillance partnership between the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Yet Russian intelligence expressed little interest in obtaining encryption information needed to hack agencies like the NSA or Britain's GCHQ, suggesting they had already obtained them from an alternative source.
"During the Cold War, the KGB referred to NSA as Target OMEGA, and for the Kremlin there was no higher-priority espionage target on earth," Schindler wrote. "That's because by penetrating NSA you get access not just to that agency's signals intelligence, the richest espionage source on earth, you can also crack into the top secret communications of the United States and its closest allies."
"If GRU wasn't interested in that when Delisle offered it to them, the only explanation is that Moscow already had that very sensitive information," he added. "Which means Russia can listen in on anything it wants."
Schindler clarified that the information could not have been passed along by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. "The mole who gave this up could not have been Snowden. Between 2007 and 2012, when Delisle was spying for GRU in Canada, Snowden was working for CIA as an IT contractor, and then for NSA in Japan and Hawaii in a similar role. In that capacity, he did not have the access he needed to betray what the Kremlin already knew about Five Eyes code-making."
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The takeaway, Schindler said, is that at least one mole remains at the agency. "In fairness to NSA, the record of our Intelligence Community, indeed our whole government, in counterintelligence is nothing less than dismal. And it's gotten markedly worse during Barack Obama's two terms in the White House, with their unprecedented losses of America's secrets to spies, traitors, and hackers."
"However, given the importance of NSA to our collective security — it's the backbone of counterterrorism operations across the Western world, our vital shield against jihadism — it's important that the agency at last starts getting serious about security," he added. "Catching some Russian moles would be a solid beginning."