What Snowden won't tell you: The conflicted government ties of the Tor Project

Edward Snowden joined Twitter a few weeks ago — and it didn't take him long to start promoting the Tor Project. So now might be a good time to refresh people's memories and roll out some of the reporting I've done on the Tor Project, an anonymity service that has a cult following among privacy activists.

My investigative series, published in Pando, traced the history of Tor and the US military-intelligence apparatus that spawned it — from Tor's initial development by military researchers in the mid-1990s at the US Naval Laboratory in Washington DC, through its quasi-independent period after it was spun off as a nonprofit in 2004 but continued to receive most of its funding from a variety of government branches: Pentagon, State Department, USAID, Radio Free Asia. It also revealed that Tor was created not to protect the public from government surveillance, but rather, to cloak the online identity of intelligence agents as they snooped on areas of interest.

Even more damning: there is a side to Tor that its supporters hate to talk about. That Tor is deployed as a regime change weapon — a tool of soft power used by the United States government to destabilize countries it considers hostile to its economic interests: Iran, China, Russia, Belarus. This regime change function is why Tor continues to receive over 90 percent of its funding from US government agencies — agencies like the State Department and the Pentagon that are responsible for so much of the death and destruction in the world today.

What's particularly interesting is that in the final months before fleeing the United States and ending up in Russia under Kremlin protection, Edward Snowden ran multiple high-bandwidth Tor exit nodes while working as an NSA contractor in Hawaii.

I'll be writing more about the Tor Project in my book Surveillance Valley. For now, check out my past reporting on the topic below.

—Yasha Levine

False promises of security

Internet privacy, funded by spies

On the vicious smear campaign against me and Pando as a result of my Tor reporting

Breakdown of Tor's government funding

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