Explaining the Edward Snowden Leak

The US National Security Agency (NSA) collecting the telephone records of tens of millions of Americans and a local involved employee decided to reveal the conspiracy to the society. Unfortunately, this is not a script for a movie, but the real-life story of Edward Snowden, formal NSA employee who in June 2013 exposed the US spy programme. This brief overview of the scandal will underline the most important revelations using the geographical principals. Were you affected? Find out below!

Read Also: Introduction to Edward Snowden 


According to the documents Edward Snowden made public, the secret spy programme began when a court order had directed the telecommunications companies to hand over all its telephone data to the NSA on a daily basis. Among those companies were Verizon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. They were tapped directly from their servers by NSA in a surveillance programme known as Prism. Not only was the NSA behind this conspiracy, but also Britain’s electronic eavesdropping agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).


The revelations became wide-spread via the two biggest newspapers in the US and UK – “The Washington Post” and “The Guardian”. The latter reported that the UK spy agency was tapping fiber-optic cables that carry global communications and sharing vast amounts of data with the NSA, its US counterpart. From the documents, obtained by Edward Snowden it became clear, that the UK operation was called Tempora and was already running for 18 months when Snowden decided to reveal to the conspiracy to the world. GCHQ was able to collect much more data than the NSA, tapping into 200 fiber-optic cables which give them the ability to monitor and track down up to 600 million communications every day. Then the collected data was stored for up to 30 days to be sifted and analysed.

It is important to mention that the GCHQ did not technically break the law as such interference is allowed in the interest of national security, but the law must have been applied very broadly to allow such a large volume of data to be collected.

Other spying methods used to intercept messages by the NSA included bugs, specialised antennae and wire taps.


Later in the affair, an Italian weekly newspaper “L’Espresso” reported that both NSA and GCHQ were also eavesdropping on Italian phone calls and internet traffic. The revelations were sourced to Edward Snowden again.


The next part of the revelations suggested that the US used a quite simple, yet genuine system to hack a number of Chinese networks. According to Snowden, the NSA had led more than 61,000 hacking operations worldwide, including many in Hong Kong and mainland China and the targets a Chinese University, public officials and businesses.

“We hack network backbones – like huge internet routers that give us access to the communications of hundreds of thousands of computers without having to hack every single one”  Snowden was quoted saying.


The German magazine “Der Spiegel” revealed on 29 of June 2013 that EU offices in the US and Europe were also spied on by the NSA. Apparently, the documents showed that the US had spied on EU internal computer networks in Washington and on the 28-member states in the UN office in New York. The information, published by the magazine came from “top secret” files showed by Edward Snowden. Among the documents, there was one, dated September 2010 that explicitly named the EU representation at the UN as a “location target”.

The files allegedly suggested that the NSA had also conducted an electronic eavesdropping operation in a building in Brussels, where the EU Council of Ministers and the European Council were located. It is unknown what information spies might have obtained. It is possible that details of European positions on trade and military matters could be useful to those involved in US-EU negotiations.


The German magazine “Der Spiegel” also claimed that the mobile phone of Chancellor Angela Merkel was tapped. Immediately after the reveal, the US ambassador was summoned by Merkel in order to give a full explanation and warning that allies should not spy on each other in the name of the trust between them. In order to close the case on the subject the German Chancellor discussed the matter by phone with US President at that time – Barack Obama. He assured her that her calls were not being monitored now and that it would not happen in the future, but he didn’t deny bugging her phone in the past.

Diplomatic missions and embassies

The list of officials been spied on continues with the total number of 38 embassies and missions, according to a secret file leaked to “The Guardian”. The affected states included France, Italy and Greece, as well as Japan, South Korea and India. EU embassies and missions in New York and Washington were also said to be under surveillance.

Latin America “under surveillance”

Latin America was not an exception from the global spy scandal. The local newspaper, engaged in the revelations was Brazil’s “O Globo”. Not only that Brazil was targeted for oil and energy firms, foreign visitors to Brazil, major players in Mexico’s drug wars, also on Brazil’s state-owned oil firm Petrobras, but according to the paper, until 2002 the NSA ran the operation from a base in Brazil, seizing web traffic and details of phone calls from around the region. As a result, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and Chile demanded answers from the US.

The Globe

The Globe was under surveillance as a whole due to the collected and stored almost 200 million text messages per day. The information was revealed again by ” The Guardian”. The NSA program is said to have extracted and stored data from  SMS messages to gather location information, contacts and financial data. Then GCHQ had used the NSA database to search for information on people in the UK. The special program, used for the purpose was called Dishfire, that analysed SMS messages to extract information including contacts from missed call alerts, locations from roaming and travel alerts, financial information from bank alerts and payments and names from electronic business cards.What is disturbing is that through the vast database, which was in use at least as late as 2012, the NSA also gained information on those who were not specifically targeted or under suspicion.

Nowadays Snowden is granted temporary asylum in Russia, but still faces espionage charges over his actions. A few similar organisations have declared their support for him, including Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, who called the state of Island to give asylum to Snowden.

1,551 thoughts on “Explaining the Edward Snowden Leak

  1. Danial Biondolillo says:

    Did you guys hear the news from Senator Bernie Sanders? From what I understand, he’s claiming want to end the prosecution of whistle blowers. I thnk Edward Snowden will be pretty happy about that! That is if it actually happens of course…

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