The Crypto- Keepers
It’s 7:30 p.m. on a Monday in June at an undisclosed location somewhere in northern Europe. I’m sitting in a private dining room in an upscale hotel, talking to Pavel Durov—the “Mark Zuckerberg of Russia,” a young internet mogul who had built the country’s most popular social network and lost it to the Kremlin all before he turned thirty. Not long after the famed American whistleblower Edward Snowden had fled to Russia to avoid federal prosecution, Durov had offered Snowden a job—but then himself had to flee Russia because of a widening conflict with the Russian government. Initially hailed as a cyber-dissident because of his spat with the Kremlin, Durov has since drawn the repeated, aggressive interest of American intelligence officials, as well.HT: naked capitalism, Dec. 1
A group of wealthy tourists milled around in the lobby, excitedly chattering about their day of sightseeing and museum tours. Our conversation was of a darker nature. Durov and I were talking about the murky, hyper-paranoid world of the crypto-obsessed privacy movement—a place where spies ruled, nothing was what it seemed, and no one could be trusted.
For me, the paranoia made sense. For the last three years I had been investigating the grassroots crypto tech accessories at the heart of today’s powerful privacy movement: internet anonymizers, encrypted chat apps, untraceable drop boxes for whistleblowers, and super-secure operating systems that even the NSA supposedly couldn’t crack. These tools were promoted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, hackers, whistleblowers, and the biggest and most credible names in the privacy trade—from Edward Snowden to the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union. Apps like Tor and Signal promised to protect users from America’s all-seeing surveillance apparatus. And the cryptographers and programmers who built these people’s crypto weapons? Well, many of them claimed to live on the edge: subversive crypto-anarchists fighting The Man, pursued and assailed by shadowy U.S. government forces. Citing harassment, some of them had fled the United States altogether, forced to live in self-imposed exile in Berlin.At least that’s how they saw themselves. My reporting revealed a different reality. As I found out by digging through financial records and FOIA requests, many of these self-styled online radicals were actually military contractors, drawing salaries with benefits from the very same U.S. national security state they claimed to be fighting. Their spunky crypto-tech also turned out, on closer inspection, to be a jury-rigged and porous Potemkin Village version of secure digital communications. What’s more, the relevant software here was itself financed by the U.S. government: millions of dollars a year flowing to crypto radicals from the Pentagon, the State Department, and organizations spun off from the CIA....MUCH MORE