10 December 2013
NY Times IT Describes Snowden Files Transfer
Snowden docs had NYTimes exec fearing for his life
By Jose Pagliery @Jose_Pagliery December 9, 2013: 11:46 AM ET
Informing the American people about how their government spies on them can
be risky business for journalists.
Rajiv Pant, chief technology officer at The New York Times (NYT), thought
he could be killed for it.
It was the IT help request from hell. British newspaper The Guardian provided
the Times with top-secret electronic documents exposed by former National
Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. Pant oversaw the handoff between
the Guardian and the New York Times.
At the recent AppSec USA cybersecurity conference, the Times' chief technology
officer described those tense initial moments.
The Times had to quietly sneak hard drives containing the top-secret documents
back to its New York headquarters. Pant didn't explain how the newspaper
did it but said, "We smuggled it into the country, basically."
After the Times set up a special, highly guarded room to isolate the sensitive
files, Pant made sure he didn't take a single peek as the PowerPoint slides
and files made their way into the newsroom's computers.
"It can get scary. I told myself: 'I don't want to see anything on those
drives. I could be putting my life at risk,'" Pant said.
When pressed to further explain his fears, Pant said he's worried about how
far the U.S. government will go to hunt down anyone who's seen this batch
of classified data without a clearance.
Then came the most harrowing part. Pant had to buy extra hard drives to serve
as backup copies of the top-secret files. He made his way to a local Radioshack
(there's one directly in front of the New York Times' building).
He was about to purchase a hard drive on his credit card when he realized
that the same government secretly monitoring journalists' phone records could
also be tracking their purchases. He grabbed five other random items and
bought them in cash.
"You almost become paranoid," Pant said.
His fears about retribution aren't completely the stuff of tinfoil hat conspiracy
theorists. Federal prosecutors have filed charges against Snowden, citing
the 1917 Espionage Act. Congressman Peter King, a Republican from New York,
has called for the prosecution of Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist
who first exposed Snowden's revelations.
And this week, the Guardian's top editor, Alan Rusbridger, told British
Parliament that the government has engaged in a campaign of intimidation
against his organization. Politicians have threatened prosecution, and officials
demanded that the Guardian destroy hardware housing top-secret documents.
Rusbridger said his staff complied in August, taking to the basement and
using power tools to ruin the hard drives -- under the careful watch of two
agents from Britain's NSA equivalent, the Government Communications Headquarters,