Runa Sandvik | a.nolen

‘Member those stickers?

Regular readers know that I’ve supported Snowden very strongly over the past twelve months. Readers also know that I believe Tor is a US intelligence op designed to get ‘interesting’ targets to self-select for US surveillance.

Runa Sandvik, the patient Tor developer.

Well, Runa Sandvik has now decided to tell the world that a few weeks prior to Snowden’s leaks, she met Snowden in Hawaii where he hosted a “Crypto Party” meet-up for her to promote Tor and for him to promote the (now disgraced) encryption software TrueCrypt. Sandvik doesn’t live in Hawaii, she *just happened* to be going on vacation there when Snowden emailed her asking for a bunch of Tor bumper-stickers. She then suggested that she could give a talk about Tor to Snowdens’ work buddies, which Snowden followed by offering to organize the “Crypto Party” for her visit. Twenty people showed up for the event.

Kevin Poulsen’s WIRED article, Snowden’s First Move Against the NSA was a Party in Hawaii, stresses that Snowden organized the little party and Sandvik was a serendipitous addition, but this is a misrepresentation if you read what Sandvik says carefully– it was more like a collaborative effort between the two. Although Sandvik has decided to talk, Snowden didn’t seem to want to contribute to Sandvik’s WIRED story.

(Through his lawyer, ACLU attorney Ben Wizner, Snowden declined to comment for this story).

Runa Sandvik is a Washington D.C.-based “technologist” journalist, who used to be a Tor developer and now is part of the  Freedom of the Press Foundation’sTechnical Advisory Board , as is Kevin Poulsen, who wrote the WIRED article I’m quoting from. Snowden, Poitras and Greenwald sit on the Freedom of the Press Foundation’s board of directors, though it took the FPF over a month to get Snowden’s details up on their directors’ website after Daniel Ellsberg made the announcement that Snowden would join them. (FPF is a huge Tor supporter, surprise.)

According to Runa Sandvik, Snowden was a Tor activist before becoming internationally famous for his leaks. Not only did he organize an event to help educate people about Tor, but he also ran a couple of Tor exit nodes himself and tried to recruit other people at his work (NSA contractors?) to do the same.

You’ll remember that Tor exit nodes are the most sensitive nodes on the Tor network, because these nodes are where the encrypted information appears to come from just before it reaches its final destination. Exit nodes are Tor’s ‘Achilles’ heel’, because these exit nodes attract attention from ‘enemy’ intelligence and law enforcement. If these exit nodes stay running over a long period, then they’re signaling that they’re run by US/ US-aligned spooks, because no one else has the resources to deal with the day-to-day legal finagling necessary to keep their Tor host online. I explain that more fully here.

Spoiled Onions‘, the Swedish government’s not-so-subtle criticism of how their American partners are running Tor, focuses on how the Russians can use exit nodes to monitor the Tor network.

In short, you don’t run exit nodes unless 1) the US of A ultimately has your back or 2)  you’re very, very foolish. This is how the ‘Crypto Party’ went down, according to Sandvik:

Sandvik began by giving her usual Tor presentation, then Snowden stood in front of the white board and gave a 30- to 40-minute introduction to TrueCrypt, an open-source full disk encryption tool. He walked through the steps to encrypt a hard drive or a USB stick. “Then we did an impromptu joint presentation on how to set up and run a Tor relay,” Sandvik says. “He was definitely a really, really smart guy. There was nothing about Tor that he didn’t already know.”

Sandvik goes on to explain her dealings with Snowden further:

The roots of Snowden’s crypto party were put down on November 18, 2012, when he sent an e-mail to Sandvik, a rising star in privacy circles, who was then a key developer on the anonymous web surfing software Tor.


In his e-mail, Snowden wrote that he personally ran one of the “major tor exits”–a 2 gbps server named “TheSignal”–and was trying to persuade some unnamed coworkers at his office to set up additional servers. He didn’t say where he worked. But he wanted to know if Sandvik could send him a stack of official Tor stickers. (In some post-leak photos of Snowden you can see the Tor sticker on the back of his laptop, next to the EFF sticker).

“He said he had been talking some of the more technical guys at work into setting up some additional fast servers, and figured some swag might incentivize them to do it sooner rather than later,” Sandvik says. “I later learned that he ran more than one Tor exit relay.”

Sexy nerd Asher Wolf in typical ‘technorati’ avatar style.

In Poulsen’s article, he suggests that Australia-based “crypto party movement” founder Asher Wolf was contacted, *by someone*, for help setting up ‘Snowden’s’ Crypto Party. Poulsen goes on to say that Snowden used the same Cincinnatus@lavabit email to contact Sandvik that he used to contact Greenwald two weeks later, and that Snowden gave Sandvik his real name and address using Cincinnatus@lavabit. Snowden then used ‘Cincinnatus’ to post on the public ‘Crypto Party’ wiki board!

Snowden used the address — the same account he would use again less than two weeks later in his initial approach to journalist Glenn Greenwald. Snowden followed up by sending Sandvik his real name and street address in Hawaii, for the stickers.


Snowden used the Cincinnatus name to organize the event, which he announced on the Crypto Party wiki, and through the Hi Capacity hacker collective, which hosted the gathering. Hi Capacity is a small hacker club that holds workshops on everything from the basics of soldering to using a 3D printer.

Er, so much for the super-spy tech wizard legend, Ed. Asher Wolf, the promoter-being-promoted by WIRED,  says this about her contact with *whoever* emailed her for tips:

In Melbourne, Wolf received an e-mail asking for advice on putting together the Oahu event. She offered some tips: Teach one tool at a time, keep it simple. “If I’d known it was someone from the NSA, I’d have gone and shot myself,” she says.

Yes, Asher Wolf, I’m sure you’d shoot yourself if it got out that you had *anything* to do with the NSA. We’ve got that in writing.

So you see, a.nolen readers, either I was wrong to lionize Snowden (probably the case) or Snowden was an unwitting dupe being used all along by US intelligence (less likely, I believe). So, this is a sad day of reckoning for your blogger. Snowden was and probably still is NSA/CIA. (Is there really a difference?)

A few things to think about going forward.

1) Why did Runa wait so long to talk?

Surprisingly, she [Runa Sandvik] was never contacted by the FBI–who would probably not find her cooperative anyway. “That puzzled me a bit,” she says. “His girlfriend was filming it–the whole thing was on film. But the video was never put online, I’m told because the audio was bad.”

Last week Glenn Greenwald published his book on Snowden, No Place To Hide, which revealed the Cincinnatus nickname for the first time, leading me andothers to the Oahu crypto party post. It turns out Snowden sent his first anonymous e-mail to Greenwald just 11 days before the party. At the time of the event, he was still waiting for Greenwald to reply.

My thoughts: I’m not the only blogger to unmask Tor. Tor-Outing has gained critical mass. Perhaps Runa piped up now in a desperate attempt to save Tor as an intelligence asset by sprinkling it with Snowden’s pixie dust.

2) Snowden’s girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, who was lambasted for being an exotic dancer, seems to have got off pretty light, given that we now know she was more than a pretty face in the Snowden Saga. Watch this space.

3) Snowden’s leaks are damaging to US intelligence, yet Snowden and his helpers are *clearly* US intelligence agents. Why did they leak Snowden’s damaging information? Were they trying to cover up something more damaging? Is the real hero in the Snowden Saga someone we’ll never hear about, because Snowden successfully sucked up everyone’s attention with documents *that most of us will never see* ?

4) Russia and the US are cooperating over Snowden. If I can figure out that Snowden is, at best, being used by US intelligence, the Ruskies have done so looong ago. If they were acting against US interests, they could have blown Snowden’s cover by calling him a spy and sending him home. But they didn’t. If I were the Swedes, I’d reassess my relationship with Washington, pronto.


Either way, one less hero for my pantheon. :(