The Tor Files: Transparency for the Dark Web

In the process of writing Surveillance Valley, I was able to obtain via FOIA roughly 2,500 pages of correspondence — including strategy and contracts and budgets and status updates — between the Tor Project and its main funder, a CIA spinoff now known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).

Tor, a private non-profit that underpins the dark web, is almost 100% funded by the US government. You won't believe how closely they collaborate.

I tell the story of this relationship and its evolution in detail in Surveillance Valley.

But I plan on releasing the files that informed my investigation to the public starting next week.

Internal email to the BBG from president of Radio Free Asia, Libby Liu. Date: March 2, 2015. Source: FOIA request.

When I first reported on the deep ties between the privacy community and the U.S. government, emails showed that managers at the BBG were extremely concerned. In one email thread, the head of Radio Free Asia worried that the information would "spook" the USG-funded Internet Freedom community.

Lucky for the BBG and Radio Free Asia, anti-government surveillance activists didn't care that their salaries were being paid by CIA cutouts.

—Yasha Levine

PS: Here is an example of the kind of documents the Tor Files contain.

The email thread below from 2008 shows Tor cofounder Roger Dingledine asking his handler at the Broadcasting Board of Governors to recommend a new member for Tor's board of directors. That's how intimately involved BBG is with Tor's internal business.

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