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Snowden claims NSA, not Assad, caused Syrian Internet outage in 2012

Edward Snowden has claimed that the US accidentally took most of Syria off the Internet while attempting to bug the country's online traffic.

Speaking to National Security Agency journalist James Bamford for Wired, the whistleblower claimed that a US intelligence officer told him that the NSA was responsible for Syria's disconnect from the web in late 2012, and not the Assad regime.

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The NSA's Tailored Access Office (TAO), Snowden claimed, had been attempting to redirect traffic by exploiting a vulnerability in the router of a "major Internet service provider in Syria." This would have given the NSA access to enclosures in emails which would otherwise have remained inaccessible.

Snowden said that the TAO hackers inadvertently "bricked" the router, before unsuccessfully trying to cover their tracks.

"Fortunately for the NSA, the Syrians were apparently more focused on restoring the nation's Internet than on tracking down the cause of the outage," Bamford wrote. Snowden claims that someone at the agency joked, "If we get caught, we can always point the finger at Israel."

With the Syrian Internet outage lasting nearly three days, cutting off all traffic from the outside world, it is likely that the country's Telecommunications Establishment removed Syrian networks from Internet routing tables to stop further attacks while it discovered the cause of the disruption.

National television blamed terrorists for the outage, which began on 29 November, but outside media agencies speculated that the Assad regime may have instigated it to cut off communications to rebel groups.

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The Syrian government had previously used illegally acquired network monitoring gear from Blue Coat to identify dissidents posting online.