I'm not sure how the idea that there is only one copy of anything even manages to find its way into the plot of Hollywood movies and lame TV shows. You've seen it – there is a big struggle over some thumb drive with secret information that will ruin the world if it ever gets out. The person has to be stopped, the thumb drive has to be retrieved. Nobody ever mentions how easy it is to shove a USB drive into a port and another USB drive into another port and make a copy in seconds. You ditch the copy someplace or give it to a friend. In the movies the guy with the USB drive is finally nabbed and the drive is stomped or crushed. The world is saved.
It's crap. And that's why I have to roll my eyes at the "conclusive" video (opens in new tab) of The Guardian editors "destroying" what is purported to be the machine and the hard disks containing all the goodies provided to the newspaper by Edward Snowden.
Are you kidding me? Are people dumb enough to think that the data held on any machine is a one-off? Do they think that it was never copied? That data is already on a dozen USB thumb drives – each with a complete set of docs.
Nobody ever says exactly how much data Snowden took. An excellent blog called the Rancid Honeytrap (opens in new tab) discusses the ever-changing estimate of how many documents Snowden might have. The fact is that nobody knows.
US Senator Susan Collins, who sits on the Select Committee on Intelligence, said at a recent hearing that the Snowden theft entailed papers that "if printed out" would be a stack three miles high. This is the high end of the estimates thus far.
By my calculation a stack of 0.1 mm (approximate height of one sheet of paper) stacked 3 miles high would result in 48,280,000 sheets of paper. A sheet of paper would have around 500 words or 5,000 characters, which I'll equate to bytes. 5000 bytes multiplied by 48.28 million is 224.8GB of data. That seems like a lot to sift through. Nevertheless, it could be transferred onto one pocket-sized 1TB USB 3.0 flash drive with room to spare.
At a 5Gbps data transfer rate, it wouldn't take that long to move the entire cache of material to the thumb drive. The limiting factor would be the hard disk output – it might take an overnight download. Might…
Again, the US government has admitted that it does not know what Snowden took, how much he took and when and how he took it. Thus the claim of a 3 mile high stack of papers seems far-fetched, if you ask me.
Anyhow, while it's unlikely Snowden took 3 miles of documents, it’s even more unlikely that numerous copies were NOT ripped off from any of the original copies. The New York Times supposedly has a complete set of the documents. It's assumed that a lot of other copies exist. They have to. Everyone makes copies of everything because it is so easy.
Once something gets into the wild and begins to be copied there could be thousands of copies spread all over the place almost instantly.
So the video of The Guardian destroying the hard disks (and wrecking the motherboards for no apparent reason) was just more theatre to get attention and befuddle a few bureaucrats as well as the public. It's all a distraction. It is all baloney.
For more, check out our closer look at the NSA’s spying tactics (opens in new tab).