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​NYT improperly redacted latest NSA leak doc, revealing name of agent and a target

Published time: January 29, 2014 00:47
AFP Photo / Paul J. Richards

AFP Photo / Paul J. Richards

As part of its latest reporting on leaked NSA documents, the New York Times did not properly redact a PDF that listed the name of a National Security Agency employee who prepared the document as well as a target of the program.

The Times published Monday the latest revelation stemming from leaks supplied by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, that US spy agency and its UK cohort, GCHQ, have the ability to harvest sensitive personal data from phone apps that transmit users’ data across the web, such as the extremely popular Angry Birds game.

As part of the publication, the newspaper uploaded an internal presentation document - part of the Snowden trove - that outlined the program’s operations. Though the Times did attempt to redact the name of the NSA agent who prepared the 2010 document, the name of an exemplary target of the program - Al-Qaeda's branch in Mosul, Iraq - and information of what can be gathered about location of targets, it did not do so properly.

Cryptography website Cryptome realized that the three redactions could be seen by highlighting, copying and pasting the text. Cryptome then issued two tweets alerting followers to its discovery. The tweets were subsequently deleted, presumably to avoid repeating the disclosure.

The Daily Banter’s Bob Cesca, an opponent of Snowden’s release of NSA disclosures, soon noticed Cryptome’s Twitter declarations and excoriated all involved since the “identity of an NSA agent is out there in public view within the same document in which a target of this program is named.”

“All of this is due to the incompetence of whoever failed to properly redact the pdf before publishing it for the world to see - as well as for the aforementioned cryptography site to nab and republish it,’” he wrote, adding this “was bound to happen at some point,” based on how Snowden distributed the “stolen” files.

TechDirt’s Tim Cushing downplayed the revelations, writing, “Al Qaeda has been the focus of counterterrorism efforts since before the 9/11 attacks and the revelation that the NSA is targeting mobile networks in Mosul shouldn't come as a shock to anybody, least of all Al Qaeda members.”

Cushing also wrote the exposed name of an NSA agent is hardly reason to condemn Snowden’s actions, even though the Times erred in improperly redacting the document.

“Cesca somehow feels the privacy of a single NSA agent trumps the public's interest in infringements on their own privacy -- not just here in the US but all over the world.”

The NSA employee exposed in the document did not return phone or email messages, the AP reported Tuesday. A spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence said the agency requested the redaction. A Times spokeswoman said the ultimately unredacted information was a production error, which the paper has since removed.