Monthly Archives: July 2013

Marry Young !! Else Your Children May be Born Defective

How Older Parenthood Will Upend American Society The scary consequences of the grayest generation.


Over the past half century, parenthood has undergone a change so simple yet so profound we are only beginning to grasp the enormity of its implications. It is that we have our children much later than we used to. This has come to seem perfectly unremarkable; indeed, we take note of it only when celebrities push it to extremes—when Tony Randall has his first child at 77; Larry King, his fifth child by his seventh wife at 66; Elizabeth Edwards, her last child at 50. This new gerontological voyeurism—I think of it as doddering-parent porn—was at its maximally gratifying in 2008, when, in almost simultaneous and near-Biblical acts of belated fertility, two 70-year-old women in India gave birth, thanks to donor eggs and disturbingly enthusiastic doctors. One woman’s husband was 72; the other’s was 77.

These, though, are the headlines. The real story is less titillating, but it tells us a great deal more about how we’ll be living in the coming years: what our families and our workforce will look like, how healthy we’ll be, and also—not to be too eugenicist about it—the future well-being of the human race.

That women become mothers later than they used to will surprise no one. All you have to do is study the faces of the women pushing baby strollers, especially on the streets of coastal cities or their suburban counterparts. American first-time mothers have aged about four years since 1970—as of 2010, they were 25.4 as opposed to 21.5. That average, of course, obscures a lot of regional, ethnic, and educational variation. The average new mother from Massachusetts, for instance, was 28; the Mississippian was 22.9. The Asian American first-time mother was 29.1; the African American 23.1. A college-educated woman had a better than one-in-three chance of having her first child at 30 or older; the odds that a woman with less education would wait that long were no better than one in ten.

It badly misstates the phenomenon to associate it only with women: Fathers have been getting older at the same rate as mothers. First-time fathers have been about three years older than first-time mothers for several decades, and they still are. The average American man is between 27 and 28 when he becomes a father. Meanwhile, as the U.S. birth rate slumps due to the recession, only men and women over 40 have kept having more babies than they did in the past. 

In short, the growth spurt in American parenthood is not among rich septuagenarians or famous political wives approaching or past menopause, but among roughly middle-aged couples with moderate age gaps between them, like my husband and me. OK, I’ll admit it. We’re on the outer edge of the demographic bulge. My husband was in his mid-forties and I was 37—two years past the age when doctors start scribbling AMA, Advanced Maternal Age, on the charts of mothers-to-be—before we called a fertility doctor. The doctor called back and told us to wait a few more months. We waited, then went in. The office occupied a brownstone basement just off the tonier stretches of New York’s Madison Avenue, though its tan, sleek sofas held a large proportion of Orthodox Jewish women likely to have come from another borough. The doctor, oddly, had a collection of brightly colored porcelain dwarves on the shelf behind his desk. I thought he put them there to let you know that he had a sense of humor about the whole fertility racket.

The steps he told us we’d have to take, though, were distinctly unfunny. We’d start with a test to evaluate my fortysomething husband’s sperm. If it passed muster, we’d move on to “injectables,” such as follicle-stimulating and luteinizing hormones. The most popular fertility drug is clomiphene citrate, marketed as Clomid or Serophene, which would encourage my tired ovaries to push those eggs out into the world. (This was a few years back; nowadays, most people take these as pills, which are increasingly common and available, without prescription and possibly in dangerously adulterated form, over the Internet.) I was to shoot Clomid into my thigh five days a month. Had I ever injected anything, such as insulin, into myself? No, I had not. The very idea gave me the willies. I was being pushed into a world I had read about with intense dislike, in which older women endure ever more harrowing procedures in their desperation to cheat time.

If Clomid didn’t work, we’d move into alphabet-soup mode: IVF (in vitro fertilization), ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection), GIFT (gamete intrafallopian transfer), even ZIFT (zygote intrafallopian transfer). All these scary-sounding reproductive technologies involved taking stuff out of my body and putting it back in. Did these procedures, or the hormones that came with them, pose risks to me or to my fetus? The doctor shrugged. There are always risks, he said, especially when you’re older, but no one is quite sure whether they come from advanced maternal age itself or from the procedures.

My husband passed his test. I started on my routines. With the help of a minor, non–IVF-related surgical intervention and Clomid, which had the mild side effects of making me feel jellyfish-like and blurring my already myopic vision, I got pregnant.

My baby boy seemed perfect. When he was three, though, the pediatrician told me that he had a fine-motor delay; I was skeptical, but after a while began to notice him struggling to grasp pencils and tie his shoes. An investigator from the local board of education confirmed that my son needed occupational therapy. This, I discovered, was another little culture, with its own mystifying vocabulary. My son was diagnosed with a mild case of “sensory-integration disorder,” a condition with symptoms that overlapped with less medical terms like “excitable” and “sensitive.”

Sitting on child-sized chairs outside the little gyms in which he exercised an upper body deemed to have poor muscle tone, I realized that here was a subculture of a subculture: that of mothers who spend hours a week getting services for developmentally challenged children. It seemed to me that an unusually large proportion of these women were older, although I didn’t know whether to make anything of that or dismiss it as the effect of living just outside a city—New York—where many women establish themselves in their professions before they have children.

I also spent those 50-minute sessions wondering: What if my son’s individual experience, meaningless from a statistical point of view, hinted at a collective problem? As my children grew and, happily, thrived (I managed to have my daughter by natural means), I kept meeting children of friends and acquaintances, all roughly my age, who had Asperger’s, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention-deficit disorder, sensory-integration disorder. Curious as to whether there were more developmental disabilities than there used to be, I looked it up and found that, according to the Centers for Disease Control, learning problems, attention-deficit disorders, autism and related disorders, and developmental delays increased about 17 percent between 1997 and 2008. One in six American children was reported as having a developmental disability between 2006 and 2008. That’s about 1.8 million more children than a decade earlier.

Soon, I learned that medical researchers, sociologists, and demographers were more worried about the proliferation of older parents than my friends and I were. They talked to me at length about a vicious cycle of declining fertility, especially in the industrialized world, and also about the damage caused by assisted-reproductive technologies (ART) that are commonly used on people past their peak childbearing years. This past May, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 8.3 percent of children born with the help of ART had defects, whereas, of those born without it, only 5.8 percent had defects.

A phrase I heard repeatedly during these conversations was “natural experiment.” As in, we’re conducting a vast empirical study upon an unthinkably large population: all the babies conceived by older parents, plus those parents, plus their grandparents, who after all have to wait a lot longer than they used to for grandchildren. It was impressed upon me that parents like us, with our aging reproductive systems and avid consumption of fertility treatments, would change the nature of family life. We might even change the course of our evolutionary future. For we are bringing fewer children into the world and producing a generation that will be subtly different—“phenotypically and biochemically different,” as one study I read put it—from previous generations.


What science tells us about the aging parental body should alarm us more than it does. Age diminishes a woman’s fertility; every woman knows that, although several surveys have shown that women—and men—consistently underestimate how sharp the drop-off can be for women after age 35. The effects of maternal age on children aren’t as well-understood. As that age creeps upward, so do the chances that children will carry a chromosomal abnormality, such as a trisomy. In a trisomy, a third chromosome inserts itself into one of the 23 pairs that most of us carry, so that a child’s cells carry 47 instead of 46 chromosomes. The most notorious trisomy is Down syndrome. There are two other common ones: Patau syndrome, which gives children cleft palates, mental retardation, and an 80 percent likelihood of dying in their first year; and Edwards syndrome, which features oddly shaped heads, clenched hands, and slow growth. Half of all Edwards syndrome babies die in the first week of life.

The risk that a pregnancy will yield a trisomy rises from 2–3 percent when a woman is in her twenties to 30 percent when a woman is in her forties. A fetus faces other obstacles on the way to health and well-being when born to an older mother: spontaneous abortion, premature birth, being a twin or triplet, cerebral palsy, and low birth weight. (This last leads to chronic health problems later in children’s lives.)

We have been conditioned to think of reproductive age as a female-only concern, but it isn’t. For decades, neonatologists have known about birth defects linked to older fathers: dwarfism, Apert syndrome (a bone disorder that may result in an elongated head), Marfan syndrome (a disorder of the connective tissue that results in weirdly tall, skinny bodies), and cleft palates. But the associations between parental age and birth defects were largely speculative until this year, when researchers in Iceland, using radically more powerful ways of looking at genomes, established that men pass on more de novo—that is, non-inherited and spontaneously occurring—genetic mutations to their children as they get older. In the scientists’ study, published in Nature, they concluded that the number of genetic mutations that can be acquired from a father increases by two every year of his life, and doubles every 16, so that a 36-year-old man is twice as likely as a 20-year-old to bequeath de novo mutations to his children.

The Nature study ended by saying that the greater number of older dads could help to explain the 78 percent rise in autism cases over the past decade. Researchers have suspected links between autism and parental age for years. One much-cited study from 2006 argued that the risk of bearing an autistic child jumps from six in 10,000 before a man reaches 30 to 32 in 10,000 when he’s 40—a more than fivefold increase. When he reaches 50, it goes up to 52 in 10,000. It should be noted that there are many skeptics when it comes to explaining the increase of autism; one school of thought holds that it’s the result of more doctors making diagnoses, better equipment and information for the doctors to make them with, and a vocal parent lobby that encourages them. But it increasingly looks as if autism cases have risen more than overdiagnosis can account for and that parental age, particularly paternal age, has something to do with that fact.

Why do older men make such unreliable sperm? Well, for one thing, unlike women, who are born with all their eggs, men start making sperm at puberty and keep doing so all their lives. Each time a gonad cell divides to make spermatozoa, that’s another chance for its DNA to make a copy error. The gonads of a man who is 40 will have divided 610 times; at 50, that number goes up to 840. For another thing, as a man ages, his DNA’s self-repair mechanisms work less well.

To the danger of age-related genetic mutations, geneticists are starting to add the danger of age-related epigenetic mutations—that is, changes in the way genes in sperm express themselves. Epigenetics, a newish branch of genetics, studies how molecules latch onto genes or unhitch from them, directing many of the body’s crucial activities. The single most important process orchestrated by epigenetic notations is the stupendously complex unfurling of the fetus. This extra-genetic music is written, in part, by life itself. Epigenetically influenced traits, such as mental functioning and body size, are affected by the food we eat, the cigarettes we smoke, the toxins we ingest—and, of course, our age. Sociologists have devoted many man-hours to demonstrating that older parents are richer, smarter, and more loving, on the whole, than younger ones. And yet the tragic irony of epigenetics is that the same wised-up, more mature parents have had longer to absorb air-borne pollution, endocrine disruptors, pesticides, and herbicides. They may have endured more stress, be it from poverty or overwork or lack of social status. All those assaults on the cells that make sperm DNA can add epimutations to regular mutations.

At the center of research on older fathers, genetics, and neurological dysfunctions is Avi Reichenberg, a tall, wiry psychiatrist from King’s College in London. He jumps up a lot as he talks, and he has an ironic awareness of how nervous his work makes people, especially men. He can identify: He had his children relatively late—mid-thirties—and fretted throughout his wife’s pregnancies. Besides, he tells me, the fungibility of sperm is just plain disturbing. Reichenberg likes to tell people about all the different ways that environmental influences alter epigenetic patterns on sperm DNA. That old wives’ tale about hot baths or tight underwear leading to male infertility? It’s true. “Usually when you give that talk, men sitting like that”—he crossed his legs—“go like this,” he said, opening them back up.

Dolores Malaspina, a short, elegantly coiffed psychiatrist who speaks in long, urgent paragraphs, has also spent her life worrying people about aging men’s effects on their children’s mental state—in fact, she could be said to be the dean of older-father alarmism. In 2001, Malaspina co-authored a ground-breaking study that concluded that men over 50 were three times more likely than men under 25 to father a schizophrenic child. Malaspina and her team derived that figure from a satisfyingly large population sample: 87,907 children born in Jerusalem between 1964 and 1976. (Luckily, the Israeli Ministry of Health recorded the ages of their fathers.) Malaspina argued that the odds of bearing a schizophrenic child moved up in a straight line as a man got older. Other researchers dismissed her findings, arguing that men who waited so long to have children were much more likely to be somewhat schizophrenic themselves. But Malaspina’s conclusions have held up. A 2003 Danish study of 7,704 schizophrenics came up with results similar to Malaspina’s, although it concluded that a man’s chances of having a schizophrenic child jumped sharply at 55, rather than trending steadily upward after 35.

“I often hear from teachers that the children of much older fathers seem more likely to have learning or social issues,” she told me. Now, she said, she’d proved that they can be. Showing that aging men have as much to worry about as aging women, she told me, is a blow for equality between the sexes. “It’s a paradigm shift,” she said.

This paradigm shift may do more than just tip the balance of concern away from older mothers toward older fathers; it may also transform our definition of mental illness itself. “It’s been my hypothesis, though it is only a hypothesis at this point, that most of the disorders that afflict neuropsychiatric patients—depression, schizophrenia, and autism, at least the more extreme cases—have their basis in the early processes of brain maturation,” Dr. Jay Gingrich, a professor of psychobiology at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and a former colleague of Malaspina’s, told me. Recent mouse studies have uncovered actual architectural differences between the brains of offspring of older fathers and those of younger fathers. Gingrich and his team looked at the epigenetic markings on the genes in those older-fathered and younger-fathered brains and found disparities between them, too. “So then we said: ‘Wow, that’s amazing. Let’s double down and see whether we can see differences in the sperm DNA of the older and younger fathers,’” Gingrich said. And they didn’t just see it, he continued; they saw it “in spades—with an order of magnitude more prominent in sperm than in the brain.” While more research needs to be done on how older sperm may translate into mental illness, Gingrich is confident that the link exists. “It’s a fascinating smoking gun,” he says.

Epigenetics is also forcing medical researchers to reopen questions about fertility treatments that had been written off as answered and done with. Fertility doctors do a lot of things to sperm and eggs that have not been rigorously tested, including keeping them in liquids (“culture media,” they’re called) teeming with chemicals that may or may not scramble an embryo’s development—no one knows for sure. There just isn’t a lot of data to work with: The fertility industry, which is notoriously under-regulated, does not give the government reports on what happens to the children it produces. As Wendy Chavkin, a professor of obstetrics and population studies at Columbia University’s school of public health, says, “We keep pulling off these technological marvels without the sober tracking of data you’d want to see before these things become widespread all over the world.”

Clomid, or clomiphene citrate, which has become almost as common as aspirin in women undergoing fertility treatments, came out particularly badly in the recent New England Journal of Medicine study that rang alarm bells about ART and birth defects. “I think it’s an absolute time bomb,” Michael Davies, the study’s lead researcher and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Adelaide in Australia, told me. “We estimate that there may be in excess of 500 preventable major birth defects occurring annually across Australia as a direct result of this drug,” he wrote in a fact sheet he sent me. Dr. Jennita Reefhuis, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control, worries that Clomid might build up in women’s bodies when they take it repeatedly, rather than washing out of the body as it is supposed to. If so, the hormonal changes induced by the drug may misdirect early fetal development.

Another popular procedure coming under renewed scrutiny is ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection). In ICSI, sperm or a part of a sperm is injected directly into an extracted egg. In the early ’90s, when doctors first started using ICSI, they added it to in vitro fertilization only when men had low sperm counts, but today doctors perform ICSI almost routinely—procedures more than doubled between 1999 and 2008. And yet, ICSI shows up in the studies as having higher rates of birth defects than any other popular fertility procedure. Among other possible reasons, ICSI allows sperm to bypass a crucial step in the fertilization of the egg—the binding of the head of the sperm with the coat of the egg. Forcing the sperm to penetrate the coat may be nature’s way of maintaining quality control.


A remarkable feature of the new older parenting is how happy women seem to be about it. It’s considered a feminist triumph, in part because it’s the product of feminist breakthroughs: birth control, which gives women the power to pace their own fertility, and access to good jobs, which gives them reason to delay it. Women simply assume that having a serious career means having children later and that failing to follow that schedule condemns them to a lifetime of reduced opportunity—and they’re not wrong about that. So each time an age limit is breached or a new ART procedure is announced, it’s met with celebration. Once again, technology has given us the chance to lead our lives in the proper sequence: education, then work, then financial stability, then children.

As a result, the twenties have turned into a lull in the life cycle, when many young men and women educate themselves and embark on careers or journeys of self-discovery, or whatever it is one does when not surrounded by diapers and toys. This is by no means a bad thing, for children or for adults. Study after study has shown that the children of older parents grow up in wealthier households, lead more stable lives, and do better in school. After all, their parents are grown-ups.

But the experience of being an older parent also has its emotional disadvantages. For one thing, as soon as we procrastinators manage to have kids, we also become members of the “sandwich generation.” That is, we’re caught between our toddlers tugging on one hand and our parents talking on the phone in the other, giving us the latest updates on their ailments. Grandparents well into their senescence provide less of the support younger grandparents offer—the babysitting, the spoiling, the special bonds between children and their elders through which family traditions are passed.

Another downside of bearing children late is that parents may not have all the children they dreamed of having, which can cause considerable pain. Long-term studies have shown that, when people put off having children till their mid-thirties and later, they fail to reach “intended family size”—that is, they produce fewer children than they’d said they’d meant to when interviewed a decade or so earlier. A matter of lesser irritation (but still some annoyance) is the way strangers and even our children’s friends confuse us with our own parents. My husband has twice been mistaken for our daughter’s grandfather; he laughs it off, but when the same thing happened to a woman I know, she was stung.

What haunts me about my children, though, is not the embarrassment they feel when their friends study my wrinkles or my husband’s salt-and-pepper temples. It’s the actuarial risk I run of dying before they’re ready to face the world. At an American Society for Reproductive Medicine meeting last year, two psychologists and a gynecologist antagonized a room full of fertility experts by making the unpopular but fairly obvious point that older parents die earlier in their children’s lives. (“We got a lot of blowback in terms of reproductive rights and all that,” the gynecologist told me.) A mother who is 35 when her child is born is more likely than not to have died by the time that child is 46. The one who is 45 may have bowed out of her child’s life when he’s 37. The odds are slightly worse for fathers: The 35-year-old new father can hope to live to see his child turn 42. The 45-year-old one has until the child is 33.

These numbers may sound humdrum, but even under the best scenarios, the death of a parent who had children late, not to mention the long period of decline that precedes it, will befall those daughters and sons when they still need their parents’ help—because, let’s face it, even grown-up children rely on their parents more than they used to. They need them for guidance at the start of their careers, and they could probably also use some extra cash for the rent or the cable bill, if their parents can swing it. “If you don’t have children till your forties, they won’t be launched until you’re in your sixties,” Suzanne Bianchi, a sociologist who studies families, pointed out to me. In today’s bad economy, young people need education, then, if they can afford it, more education, and even internships. They may not go off the parental payroll until their mid- to late-twenties. Children also need their parents not to need them just when they’ve had children of their own.

There’s an entire body of sociological literature on how parents’ deaths affect children, and it suggests that losing a parent distresses young adults more than older adults, low-income young adults more than high-income ones, and daughters more than sons. Curiously, the early death of a mother correlates to a decline in physical health in both sexes, and the early death of a father correlates to increased drinking among young men, perhaps because more men than women have drinking problems and their sons are more likely to copy them.

All these problems will be exacerbated if we aging parents are, in fact, producing a growing subpopulation of children with neurological or other disorders who will require a lifetime of care. Schizophrenia, for instance, usually sets in during a child’s late teens or early twenties. Avi Reichenberg sums up the problem bluntly. “Who is going to take care of that child?” he asked me. “Some seventy-five-year-old demented father?”

This question preys on the mind of every parent whose child suffers a disability, whether that parent is elderly or not. The best answer to it that I’ve ever heard came from a 43-year-old father I met named Patrick Spillman, whose first child, Grace, a four-and-a-half-year-old, has a mild case of cerebral palsy. (Her mother was 46 when Grace was born.) In his last job, Spillman, stocky and blunt, directed FreshDirect’s coffee department. Now, he’s a full-time father and advocate for his daughter. He spends his days taking Grace to doctors and therapists and orthotic-boot-makers, as well as making won’t-take-no-for-an-answer phone calls to state and city agencies that might provide financial or therapeutic assistance. How does he face the prospect of disappearing from her life? A whole lot better than I would. (My lame-joke answer, when my children ask me that question, is that I plan to live forever.) “We’re putting money aside now,” he said. Into a trust, he adds, so that government agencies can’t count it against her when she or a caregiver goes looking for Medicaid or other benefits.

Spillman also prepares Grace for the future by practicing tough love on her, refusing to do for her anything she could possibly do for herself. Her mother, he says, sometimes pleads with him to help Grace more as she stumbles over the tasks of daily life. But he won’t. At her tender age, Grace already dresses and undresses herself; every morning, Spillman explained, they do a little “tag check dance” to make sure nothing’s inside out. When, he says, someone makes fun of her way of walking and chewing and speaking, as he believes someone will inevitably do, “I want her to have years and years of confidence behind her.” He adds, “She’s going to go to college. She will be well-adjusted. She won’t be able to live on a nineteenth-floor walk-up, but she will live a normal life.”


When we look back at this era from some point in the future, I believe we’ll identify the worldwide fertility plunge as the most important legacy of old-age parenting. A half-century ago, demographers were issuing neo-Malthusian manifestoes about the overpeopling of the Earth. Nowadays, they talk about the disappearance of the young. Fertility has fallen below replacement rates in the majority of the 224 countries—developing as well as developed—from which the United Nations collects such information, which means that more people die in those places than are born. Baby-making has slumped by an astonishing 45 percent around the world since 1975. By 2010, the average number of births per woman had dropped from 4.7 to 2.6. No trend that large has a simple explanation, but the biggest factor, according to population experts, is the rising age of parents—mothers, really—at the birth of their first children. That number, above all others, predicts how large a family will ultimately be.

Fewer people, of course, means less demand for food, land, energy, and all the Earth’s other limited resources. But the environmental benefits have to be balanced against the social costs. Countries that can’t replenish their own numbers won’t have younger workers to replace those who retire. Older workers will have to be retrained to cope with the new technologies that have transmogrified the workplace. Retraining the old is more expensive than allowing them to retire to make way for workers comfortable with computers, social media, and cutting-edge modes of production. And who will take care of the older generations if there aren’t enough in the younger ones?

If you’re a doctor, you see clearly what is to be done, and you’re sure it will be. “People are going to change their reproductive habits,” said Alan S. Brown, a professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at the Columbia University medical school and the editor of an important anthology on the origins of schizophrenia. They will simply have to “procreate earlier,” he replied. As for men worried about the effects of age on children, they will “bank sperm and freeze it.”

Would-be mothers have been freezing their eggs since the mid-’80s. Potential fathers don’t seem likely to rush out to bank their sperm any time soon, though. Dr. Bruce Gilbert, a urologist and fertility specialist who runs a private sperm bank on Long Island, told me he has heard of few men doing so, if any. Doctors have a hard enough time convincing men to store their sperm when they’re facing cancer treatments that may poison their gonads, Gilbert said. The only time he saw an influx of men coming in to store sperm was during the first Gulf war, when soldiers were being shipped out to battlefields awash in toxic agents. Moreover, sperm banking is too expensive to undertake lightly, up to $850 for processing, then $300 to $500 a year for storage. “There needs to be a lot more at stake than concern about aging and potential for genetic alterations,” Gilbert said. “It has to be something more immediate.”

What else can be done? Partly the same old things that are already being done, though perhaps not passionately enough. Doctors will have to get out the word about how much male and female fertility wanes after 35; make it clear that fertility treatments work less well with age; warn that tinkering with reproductive material at the very earliest stages of a fetus’s growth may have molecular effects we’re only beginning to understand.

But I’m not convinced that medical advice alone will lead people to “procreate earlier.” You don’t buck decades-old, worldwide trends that easily. The problem seems particularly hard to solve in the United States, where it’s difficult to imagine legislators adopting the kinds of policies it will take to stop the fertility collapse.

Demographers and sociologists agree about what those policies are. The main obstacle to be overcome is the unequal division of the opportunity cost of babies. When women enjoy the same access to education and professional advancement as men but face penalties for reproducing, then, unsurprisingly, they don’t. Some experts hold that, to make up for mothers’ lost incomes, we should simply hand over cash for children: direct and indirect subsidies, tax exemptions, mortgage-forgiveness programs. Cash-for-babies programs have been tried all over the world—Hungary and Russia, among other places—with mixed results; the subsidies seem to do little in the short term, but may stem the ebbing tide somewhat over the long term. One optimistic study done in 2003 of 18 European countries that had been giving families economic benefits long enough for them to kick in found a 25 percent increase in women’s fertility for every 10 percent increase in child benefits.

More immediately effective are policies in place in many countries in Western Europe (France, Italy, Sweden) that help women and men juggle work and child rearing. These include subsidized child care, generous parental leaves, and laws that guarantee parents’ jobs when they go back to work. Programs that let parents stay in the workforce instead of dropping out allow them to earn more over the course of their lifetimes.

Sweden and France, the two showcases for such egalitarian family policies, have among the highest rates of fertility in the Western half of Europe. Sweden, however, ties its generous paid parental leaves to how much a parent has been making and how long she has been working, which largely leaves out all the people in their twenties who aren’t working yet because they’re still in school or a training program. In other words, even a country with one of the most liberal family policies in the world gives steeply reduced benefits to its most ambitious and promising citizens at the very moment when they should be starting their families.

It won’t be easy to make the world more baby-friendly, but if we were to try, we’d have to restructure the professions so that the most intensely competitive stage of a career doesn’t occur right at the moment when couples should be lavishing attention on infants. We’d have to stop thinking of work-life balance as a women’s problem, and reframe it as a basic human right. Changes like these are going to be a long time coming, but I can’t help hoping they happen before my children confront the Hobson’s choices that made me wait so long to have them.


Snowden Der-Spiegel Interview

8 July 2013

Shortly before he became a household name around the world as a whistleblower, Edward Snowden answered a comprehensive list of questions. They originated from Jacob Appelbaum, 30, a developer of encryption and security software. Appelbaum provides training to international human rights groups and journalists on how to use the Internet anonymously.

Appelbaum first became more broadly known to the public after he spoke on behalf of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at a hacker conference in New York in 2010. Together with Assange and other co-authors, Appelbaum recently released a compilation of interviews in book form under the title “Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet.” [Link by Cryptome.]

Appelbaum wound up on the radar of American authorities in the course of their investigation into the WikiLeaks revelations. They have since served legal orders to Twitter, Google and Sonic to hand over information about his accounts. But Appelbaum describes his relationship with WikiLeaks as being “ambiguous,” and explains here how he was able to pose questions to Snowden.

“In mid-May, documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras contacted me,” Appelbaum said. “She told me she was in contact with a possible anonymous National Security Agency (NSA) source who had agreed to be interviewed by her.”

“She was in the process of putting questions together and thought that asking some specific technical questions was an important part of the source verification process. One of the goals was to determine whether we were really dealing with an NSA whistleblower. I had deep concerns of COINTELPRO-style entrapment. We sent our securely encrypted questions to our source. I had no knowledge of Edward Snowden’s identity before he was revealed to the world in Hong Kong. He also didn’t know who I was. I expected that when the anonymity was removed, we would find a man in his sixties.”

“The following questions are excerpted from a larger interview that covered numerous topics, many of which are highly technical in nature. Some of the questions have been reordered to provide the required context. The questions focus almost entirely on the NSA’s capabilities and activities. It is critical to understand that these questions were not asked in a context that is reactive to this week’s or even this month’s events. They were asked in a relatively quiet period, when Snowden was likely enjoying his last moments in a Hawaiian paradise — a paradise he abandoned so that every person on the planet might come to understand the current situation as he does.”

“At a later point, I also had direct contact with Edward Snowden in which I revealed my own identity. At that time, he expressed his willingness to have his feelings and observations on these topics published when I thought the time was right.”


Editor’s note: The following excerpts are taken from the original English-language version of the interview. Potential differences in language between the German and English versions can be explained by the fact that we have largely preserved the technical terms used by Snowden in this transcript. Explanations for some of the terminology used by Snowden as well as editor’s notes are provided in the form of footnotes. 

Interviewer: What is the mission of America’s National Security Agency (NSA) — and how is the job it does compatible with the rule of law?

Snowden: They’re tasked to know everything of importance that happens outside of the United States. That’s a significant challenge. When it is made to appear as though not knowing everything about everyone is an existential crisis, then you feel that bending the rules is okay. Once people hate you for bending those rules, breaking them becomes a matter of survival.

Interviewer: Are German authorities or German politicians involved in the NSA surveillance system?

Snowden: Yes, of course. We’re 1 in bed together with the Germans the same as with most other Western countries. For example, we 2 tip them off when someone we want is flying through their airports (that we for example, have learned from the cell phone of a suspected hacker’s girlfriend in a totally unrelated third country — and they hand them over to us. They 3 don’t ask to justify how we know something, and vice versa, to insulate their political leaders from the backlash of knowing how grievously they’re violating global privacy.

Interviewer: But if details about this system are now exposed, who will be charged?

Snowden: In front of US courts? I’m not sure if you’re serious. An investigation found the specific people who authorized the warrantless wiretapping of millions and millions of communications, which per count would have resulted in the longest sentences in world history, and our highest official simply demanded the investigation be halted. Who “can” be brought up on charges is immaterial when the rule of law is not respected. Laws are meant for you, not for them.

Interviewer: Does the NSA partner with other nations, like Israel?

Snowden: Yes. All the time. The NSA has a massive body responsible for this: FAD, the Foreign Affairs Directorate.

Interviewer: Did the NSA help to create Stuxnet? (Stuxnet is the computer worm that was deployed against the Iranian nuclear program.)

Snowden: NSA and Israel co-wrote it.

Interviewer: What are some of the big surveillance programs that are active today and how do international partners aid the NSA?

Snowden: In some cases, the so-called Five Eye Partners 4 go beyond what NSA itself does. For instance, the UK’s General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has a system called TEMPORA. TEMPORA is the signals intelligence community’s first “full-take” Internet buffer that doesn’t care about content type and pays only marginal attention to the Human Rights Act. It snarfs everything, in a rolling buffer to allow retroactive investigation without missing a single bit. Right now the buffer can hold three days of traffic, but that’s being improved. Three days may not sound like much, but remember that that’s not metadata. “Full-take” means it doesn’t miss anything, and ingests the entirety of each circuit’s capacity. If you send a single ICMP packet and it routes through the UK, we get it. If you download something and the CDN (Content Delivery Network) happens to serve from the UK, we get it. If your sick daughter’s medical records get processed at a London call center … well, you get the idea.

Interviewer: Is there a way of circumventing that?

Snowden: As a general rule, so long as you have any choice at all, you should never route through or peer with the UK under any circumstances. Their fibers are radioactive, and even the Queen’s selfies to the pool boy get logged.

Interviewer: Do the NSA and its partners across the globe do full dragnet data collection for telephone calls, text and data?

Snowden: Yes, but how much they get depends on the capabilities of the individual collection sites — i.e., some circuits have fat pipes but tiny collection systems, so they have to be selective. This is more of a problem for overseas collection sites than domestic 6 ones, which is what makes domestic collection so terrifying. NSA isn’t limited by power, space and cooling PSC constraints.

Interviewer: The NSA is building a massive new data center in Utah. What is its purpose?

Snowden: The massive data repositories.

Interviewer: How long is the collected data being stored for?

Snowden: As of right now, full-take collection ages off quickly ( a few days) due to its size unless an analyst has “tasked” 7 a target or communication, in which the tasked communications get stored “forever and ever,” regardless of policy, because you can always get a waiver. The metadata 8 also ages off, though less quickly. The NSA wants to be at the point where at least all of the metadata is permanently stored. In most cases, content isn’t as valuable as metadata because you can either re-fetch content based on the metadata or, if not, simply task all future communications of interest for permanent collection since the metadata tells you what out of their data stream you actually want.

Interviewer: Do private companies help the NSA?

Snowden: Yes. Definitive proof of this is the hard part because the NSA considers the identities of telecom collaborators to be the jewels in their crown of omniscience. As a general rule, US-based multinationals should not be trusted until they prove otherwise. This is sad, because they have the capability to provide the best and most trusted services in the world if they actually desire to do so. To facilitate this, civil liberties organizations should use this disclosure to push them to update their contracts to include enforceable clauses indicating they aren’t spying on you, and they need to implement technical changes. If they can get even one company to play ball, it will change the security of global communications forever. If they won’t, consider starting that company.

Interviewer: Are there companies that refuse to cooperate with the NSA?

Snowden: Also yes, but I’m not aware of any list. This category will get a lot larger if the collaborators are punished by consumers in the market, which should be considered Priority One for anyone who believes in freedom of thought.

Interviewer: What websites should a person avoid if they don’t want to get targeted by the NSA?

Snowden: Normally you’d be specifically selected for targeting based on, for example, your Facebook or webmail content. The only one I personally know of that might get you hit untargeted are jihadi forums.

Interviewer: What happens after the NSA targets a user?

Snowden: They’re just owned. An analyst will get a daily (or scheduled based on exfiltration summary) report on what changed on the system, PCAPS 9 of leftover data that wasn’t understood by the automated dissectors, and so forth. It’s up to the analyst to do whatever they want at that point — the target’s machine doesn’t belong to them anymore, it belongs to the US government.


1 “We’re” refers to the NSA.

2 “We” refers to the US intelligence service apparatus

3 “They” refers to the other authorities.

The “Five Eye Partners” is a reference to the intelligence services of United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

5 “ICMP” is a reference to Internet Control Message Protocol. The answer provided here by Snowden was highly technical, but it was clear that he was referring to all data packets sent to or from Britain.

“Domestic” is a reference to the United States.

7 In this context, “tasked” refers to the full collection and storage of metadata and content for any matched identifiers by the NSA or its partners.

8 “Metadata” can include telephone numbers, IP addresses and connection times, among other things. Wired Magazine offers a solid primer onmetadata.

9 “PCAPS” is an abbreviation of the term “packet capture”.


Cryptome/A English translation of Der Spiegel Magazine article, July 7, 2013:

Just before Edward Snowden became a world famous whistleblower, he answered an extensive catalog of questions. These came from, amongst others, Jacob Appelbaum, 30, a developer of encryption and security software. Appelbaum educates international human rights groups and journalists on how to work with the Internet in safe and anonymous way.

He became more publicly know in 2010, when he represented WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaking at a hacker conference in New York. Along with Assange and other co-authors he has recently published the interview recording “Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet.” [Link by Cryptome.]

In the course of investigations into the WikiLeaks disclosures, Appelbaum came to the attention of American authorities, who demanded companies such as Twitter and Google to divulge his accounts. He himself describes his attitude to WikiLeaks as “ambivalent” – and describes below how it came about that he was able to ask Snowden these questions.

In mid-May I was contacted by the documentary-maker Laura Poitras. She told me, that at this time she was in contact with an anonymous NSA source, which had consented to be interviewed by her.

She put together questions and asked me to contribute questions. This was, among other reasons, to determine whether she was really dealing with a NSA whistleblower. We sent our questions via encrypted e-mails. I did not know that the interlocutor was Edward Snowden until he revealed himself as such in public in Hong Kong. He did not know who I was. I had expected that he was someone in his sixties.

The following is an excerpt from a extensive interview which dealt with further points, many of them technical in nature. Some of the questions now appear in a different order to understand the context.

The discussion focused almost exclusively on the activities of the National Security Agency. It is important to know that these questions were not asked as relating to the events of the past week or the last month. They were entirely asked without any unrest, since, at that point, Snowden was still in Hawaii.

At a later stage I was again in direct contact with Snowden, at which time I also revealed my own my identity. He told me then that he gave consent to publish his statements.


Question: What is the mission of the National Security Agency (NSA) – and how is their job in accordance with the law?

Snowden: It is the mission of the NSA, to be aware of anything of importance going on outside of the United States. This is a considerable task, and the people there are convinced that not knowing everything about everyone could lead to some existential crisis. So, at some point, you believe it’s all right to bend the rules a little. Then, if people hate it that you can bend the rules, it suddenly becomes vital even to break them.

Question: Are German authorities or politicians involved in the monitoring system ?

Snowden: Yes of course. They (the NSA people — ed.) are in cahoots with the Germans, as well as with the most other Western countries. We (in the U.S. intelligence apparatus — ed.) warn the others, when someone we want to catch, uses one of their airports – and they then deliver them to us. The information on this, we can for example pull off of the monitored mobile phone of a suspected hacker’s girlfriend — who used it in an entirely different country which has nothing to do with the case. The other authorities do not ask us where we got the leads, and we do not ask them anything either. That way, they can protect their political staff from any backlash if it came out how massive the global violation of people’s privacy is.

Question: But now as details of this system are revealed, who will be brought before a court over this?

Snowden: Before U.S. courts? You’re not serious, are you? When the last large wiretapping scandal was investigated – the interception without a court order, which concerned millions of communications – that should really have led to the longest prison sentences in world history. However, then our highest representatives simply stopped the investigation. The question, who is to be accused, is theoretical, if the laws themselves are not respected. Laws are meant for people like you or me – but not for them.

Question: Does the NSA cooperate with other states like Israel?

Snowden: Yes, all the time. The NSA has a large section for that, called the FAD – Foreign Affairs Directorate.

Question: Did the NSA help to write the Stuxnet program? (the malicious program used against the Iranian nuclear facilities — ed.)

Snowden: The NSA and Israel wrote Stuxnet together.

Question: What are the major monitoring programs active today, and how do international partners help the NSA?

Snowden: The partners in the “Five Eyes” (behind which are hidden the secret services of the Americans, the British, the Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians — ed.) sometimes go even further than the NSA people themselves. Take the Tempora program of the British intelligence GCHQ for instance. Tempora is the first “I save everything” approach (“Full take”) in the intelligence world. It sucks in all data, no matter what it is, and which rights are violated by it. This buffered storage allows for subsequent monitoring; not a single bit escapes. Right now, the system is capable of saving three days’ worth of traffic, but that will be optimized. Three days may perhaps not sound like a lot, but it’s not just about connection metadata. “Full take” means that the system saves everything. If you send a data packet and if makes its way through the UK, we will get it. If you download anything, and the server is in the UK, then we get it. And if the data about your sick daughter is processed through a London call center, then … Oh, I think you have understood.

Question: Can anyone escape?

Snowden: Well, if you had the choice, you should never send information over British lines or British servers. Even the Queen’s selfies with her lifeguards would be recorded, if they existed.

Question: Do the NSA and its partners apply some kind of wide dragnet method to intercept phone calls, texts and data?

Snowden: Yes, but how much they can record, depends on the capabilities of the respective taps. Some data is held to be more worthwhile, and can therefore be recorded more frequently. But all this is rather a problem with foreign tapping nodes, less with those of the U.S. This makes the monitoring in their own territory so terrifying. The NSA’s options are practically limitless – in terms of computing power, space or cooling capacity for the computers.

Question: The NSA is building a new data center in Utah. What is it for?

Snowden: These are the new mass data storage facilities.

Question: For how long will the information there be stored?

Snowden: Right now it is still so, that the full text of collected material ages very quickly, within a few days, especially given its enormous amount. Unless an analyst marked a target or a particular communication. In that case the communication is saved for all eternity, one always get an authorization for that anyway. The metadata ages less quickly. The NSA at least wants all metadata to be stored forever. Often the metadata is more valuable than the contents of the communication, because in most cases, one can retrieve the content, if there is metadata. And if not, you mark all future communications that fits this metadata and is of interest, so that henceforth it will be recorded completely. The metadata tells you what you actually want from the broader stream.

Question: Do private companies help the NSA?

Snowden: Yes. But it’s hard to prove that. The names of the cooperating telecom companies are the crown jewels of the NSA… Generally you can say that multinationals with headquarters in the USA should not be trusted until they prove otherwise. This is unfortunate, because these companies have the ability to deliver the world’s best and most reliable services – if they wanted to. To facilitate this, civil rights movements should now use these revelations as a driving force. The companies should write enforceable clauses into their terms, guaranteeing their clients that they are not being spied on. And they should include technical guarantees. If you could move even a single company to do such a thing, it would improve the security of global communications. And when this appears to not be feasible, you should consider starting one such company yourself.

Question: Are there companies that refuse to to cooperate with the NSA?

Snowden: Yes, but I know nothing of a corresponding list that would prove this. However, there would surely be fewer companies of this type if the companies working with the NSA would be punished by the customer. That should be the highest priority of all computer users who believe in the freedom of thoughts.

Question: What are the sites you should beware, if you do not want to become targeted by the NSA?

Snowden: Normally one is marked as a target because of a Facebook profile or because of your emails. The only place which I personally know where you can become a target without this specific labeling, are jihadist forums.

Question: What happens if the NSA has a user in its sights?

Snowden: The target person is completely monitored. An analyst will get a daily report about what has changed in the computer system of the targeted person. There will also be… packages with certain data which the automatic analysis systems have not understood, and so on. The analyst can then decide what he wants to do – the computer of the target person does not belong to them anymore, it then more or less belongs to the U.S. government.


Scan of original German version:

Kurz bevor Edward Snowden zum weltweit bekannten Whistleblower wurde, beantwortete er einen umfangreichen Katalog von Fragen. Sie stammten unter anderem von Jacob Appelbaum, 30, einem Entwickler von Verschlüsselungs- und Sicherheitssoftware. Appelbaum unterweist internationale Menschenrechtsgruppen und Journalisten im sicheren und anonymen Umgang mit dem Internet.

Einer breiteren Öffentlichkeit wurde er 2010 bekannt, als er den WikiLeaks-Gründer Julian Assange als Redner bei einer Hacker-Konferenz in New York vertrat. Zusammen mit Assange und weiteren Co-Autoren veröffentlichte er unlängst den Gesprächsband „Cypherpunks: Unsere Freiheit und die Zukunft des Internets“.

Im Zuge der Ermittlungen rund um die WikiLeaks-Enthüllungen ist Appelbaum ins Visier amerikanischer Behörden geraten, die Unternehmen wie Twitter und Google aufgefordert haben, seine Konten preiszugeben. Er selbst bezeichnet seine Haltung zu WikiLeaks als „ambivalent“ – und beschreibt im Folgenden, wie er dazu kam, Fragen an Snowden stellen zu können:

Mitte Mai hat mich die Dokumentarfilmerin Laura Poitras kontaktiert. Sie sagte mir zu diesem Zeitpunkt, sie sei in Kontakt mit einer anonymen NSA-Quelle, die eingewilligt habe, von ihr interviewt zu werden. Sie stellte dafür gerade Fragen zusammen und bot mir an, selbst Fragen beizusteuern.

Es ging unter anderem darum festzustellen, ob es sich wirklich um einen NSA-Whistleblower handelt. Wir schickten unsere Fragen über verschlüsselte E-Mails. Ich wusste nicht, dass der Gesprächspartner Edward Snowden war – bis er sich in Hongkong der Öffentlichkeit offenbarte. Er wusste auch nicht, wer ich war. Ich hatte damit gerechnet, dass es sich um jemanden in den Sechzigern handeln würde.

Das Folgende ist ein Auszug aus einem umfangreicheren Interview, das noch weitere Punkte behandelte, viele davon sind technischer Natur. Einige der Fragen erscheinen jetzt in anderer Reihenfolge, damit sie im Zusammenhang verständlich sind.

Bei dem Gespräch ging es fast ausschließlich um die Aktivitäten der National Security Agency und um ihre Fahig – keiten. Es ist wichtig zu wissen, dass diese Fragen nicht im Zusammenhang mit den Ereignissen der vergangenen Woche oder des vergangenen Monats gestellt wurden. Sie wurden in einer Zeit totaler Ruhe gestellt, als Snowden noch auf Hawaii war.

Ich hatte zu einem spateren Zeitpunkt noch einmal direkten Kontakt mit Snowden, an dem ich auch meine eigene Identitat offenbarte. Er hat mir damals die Einwilligung gegeben, seine Aussagen zu veroffentlichen.


Frage: Was ist die Aufgabe der National Security Agency (NSA) . und wie ist deren Job mit den Gesetzen in Ubereinstimmung zu bringen?

Snowden: Aufgabe der NSA ist es, von allem Wichtigen zu wissen, das auserhalb der Vereinigten Staaten passiert. Das ist eine betrachtliche Aufgabe, und den Leuten dort wird vermittelt, dass es eine existentielle Krise bedeuten kann, nicht alles uber jeden zu wissen. Und dann glaubt man irgendwann, dass es schon in Ordnung ist, sich die Regeln etwas hinzubiegen. Und wenn die Menschen einen dann dafur hassen, dass man die Regeln verbiegt, wird es auf einmal uberlebenswichtig, sie sogar zu brechen.

Frage: Sind deutsche Behorden oder deutsche Politiker in das Uberwachungssystem verwickelt?

Snowden: Ja naturlich. Die (NSALeute .Red.) stecken unter einer Decke mit den Deutschen, genauso wie mit den meisten anderen westlichen Staaten. Wir (im US-Geheimdienstapparat .Red.) warnen die anderen, wenn jemand, den wir packen wollen, einen ihrer Flughafen benutzt. und die liefern ihn uns dann aus. Die Informationen dafur konnen wir zum Beispiel aus dem uberwachten Handy der Freundin eines verdachtigen Hackers gezogen haben, die es in einem ganz anderen Land benutzt hat, das mit der Sache nichts zu tun hat. Die anderen Behorden fragen uns nicht, woher wir die Hinweise haben, und wir fragen sie nach nichts. So konnen sie ihr politisches Fuhrungspersonal vor dem Backlash (deutsch etwa: Ruckschlag .Red.) schutzen, falls herauskommen sollte, wie massiv weltweit die Privatsphare von Menschen missachtet wird.

Frage: Aber wenn jetzt Details dieses Systems enthullt werden, wer wird dafur vor Gericht gestellt werden?

Snowden: Vor US-Gerichte? Das meinen Sie doch nicht ernst, oder? Als der letzte grose Abhorskandal untersucht wurde . das Abhoren ohne richterlichen Beschluss, das Abermillionen von Kommunikationsvorgangen betraf . hatte das eigentlich zu den langsten Haftstrafen der Weltgeschichte fuhren mussen. Aber dann haben unsere hochsten Vertreter die Untersuchung einfach gestoppt. Die Frage, wer theoretisch angeklagt werden konnte, ist hinfallig, wenn die Gesetze nicht respektiert werden. Gesetze sind gedacht fur Leute wie Sie oder mich . nicht aber fur die.

Frage: Kooperiert die NSA mit anderen Staaten wie Israel?

Snowden: Ja, die ganze Zeit. Die NSA hat eine grose Abteilung dafur, sie heist FAD . Foreign Affairs Directorate.

Frage: Hat die NSA geholfen, Stuxnet zu programmieren? (Jenes Schadprogramm, das gegen iranische Atomanlagen eingesetzt wurde .Red.)

Snowden: Die NSA und Israel haben Stuxnet zusammen geschrieben.

Frage:Welche grosen Uberwachungsprogramme sind heute aktiv, und wie helfen internationale Partner der NSA?

Snowden: Die Partner bei den “Five Eyes” (dahinter verbergen sich die Geheimdienste der Amerikaner, der Briten, der Australier, der Neuseelander und der Kanadier .Red.) gehen manchmal weiter als die NSA-Leute selbst. Nehmen wir das Tempora-Programm des britischen Geheimdienstes GCHQ. Tempora ist der erste .Ich speichere allesg-Ansatz (.Full takeg) in der Geheimdienstwelt. Es saugt alle Daten auf, egal worum es geht und welche Rechte dadurch verletzt werden. Dieser Zwischenspeicher macht nachtragliche Uberwachung moglich, ihm entgeht kein einziges Bit. Jetzt im Moment kann er den Datenverkehr von drei Tagen speichern, aber das wird noch optimiert. Drei Tage, das mag vielleicht nicht nach viel klingen, aber es geht eben nicht nur um Verbindungsdaten. .Full takeg heist, dass der Speicher alles aufnimmt. Wenn Sie ein Datenpaket verschicken und wenn das seinen Weg durch Grosbritannien nimmt, werden wir es kriegen. Wenn Sie irgendetwas herunterladen, und der Server steht in Grosbritannien, dann werden wir es kriegen. Und wenn die Daten Ihrer kranken Tochter in einem Londoner Call Center verarbeitet werden, dann c Ach, ich glaube, Sie haben verstanden.

Frage: Kann man dem entgehen?

Snowden: Na ja, wenn man die Wahl hat, sollte man niemals Informationen durch britische Leitungen oder uber britische Server schicken. Sogar Selfies (meist mit dem Handy fotografierte Selbstportrats .Red.) der Konigin fur ihre Bademeister wurden mitgeschnitten, wenn es sie gabe.

Frage: Arbeiten die NSA und ihre Partner mit einer Art Schleppnetz-Methode, um Telefonate, Texte und Daten abzufangen?

Snowden: Ja, aber wie viel sie mitschneiden konnen, hangt von den Moglichkeiten der jeweiligen Anzapfstellen ab. Es gibt Daten, die fur ergiebiger gehalten werden und deshalb haufiger mitgeschnitten werden konnen. Aber all das ist eher ein Problem bei auslandischen Anzapf-Knotenpunkten, weniger bei US-amerikanischen. Das macht die Uberwachung auf eigenem Gebiet so erschreckend. Die Moglichkeiten der NSA sind praktisch grenzenlos . was die Rechenleistung angeht, was den Platz oder die Kuhlkapazitaten fur die Computer angeht.

Frage: Die NSA baut ein neues Datenzentrum in Utah. Wozu dient es?

Snowden: Das sind die neuen Massendatenspeicher.

Frage: Für wie lange werden die gesammelten Daten aufbewahrt?

Snowden: Jetzt im Moment ist es noch so, dass im Volltext gesammeltes Material sehr schnell altert, innerhalb von ein paar Tagen, vor allem durch seine gewaltige Masse. Es sei denn, ein Analytiker markiert ein Ziel oder eine bestimmte Kommunikation. In dem Fall wird die Kommunikation bis in alle Ewigkeit gespeichert, eine Berechtigung dafür bekommt man immer. Die Metadaten (also Verbindungsdaten, die verraten, wer wann mit wem kommuniziert hat –Red.) altern weniger schnell. Die NSA will, dass wenigstens alle Metadaten für immer gespeichert werden können. Meistens sind die Metadaten wertvoller als der Inhalt der Kommunikation. Denn in den meisten Fällen kann man den Inhalt wiederbesorgen, wenn man die Metadaten hat. Und falls nicht, kann man alle künftige Kommunikation, die zu diesen Metadaten passt und einen interessiert, so markieren, dass sie komplett aufgezeichnet wird. Die Metadaten sagen einem, was man vom breiten Datenstrom tatsächlich haben will.

Frage: Helfen Privatunternehmen der NSA?

Snowden: Ja. Aber es ist schwer, das nachzuweisen. Die Namen der kooperie – renden Telekom-Firmen sind die Kronjuwelen der NSA … Generell kann man sagen, dass man multinationalen Konzernen mit Sitz in den USA nicht trauen sollte, bis sie das Gegenteil bewiesen haben. Das ist bedauerlich, denn diese Unternehmen hätten die Fähigkeiten, den weltweit besten und zuverlässigsten Service zu liefern – wenn sie es denn wollten. Um das zu erleichtern, sollten Bürgerrechtsbewegungen diese Enthüllungen jetzt nutzen, um sie anzutreiben. Die Unternehmen sollten einklagbare Klauseln in ihre Nutzungsbedingungen schreiben, die ihren Kunden garantieren, dass sie nicht ausspioniert werden. Und sie müssen technische Sicherungen einbauen. Wenn man auch nur eine einzige Firma zu so etwas bewegen könnte, würde das die Sicherheit der weltweiten Kommunikation verbessern. Und wenn das nicht zu schaffen ist, sollte man sich überlegen, selbst eine solche Firma zu gründen.

Frage: Gibt es Unternehmen, die sich weigern, mit der NSA zu kooperieren?

Snowden: Ja, aber ich weiß nichts von einer entsprechenden Liste. Es würde jedoch sicher mehr Firmen dieser Art geben, wenn die kollaborierenden Konzerne von den Kunden abgestraft würden. Das sollte höchste Priorität aller Computernutzer sein, die an die Freiheit der Gedanken glauben.

Frage: Vor welchen Websites sollte man sich hüten, wenn man nicht ins Visier der NSA geraten will?

Snowden: Normalerweise wird man aufgrund etwa des Facebook-Profils oder der eigenen E-Mails als Zielobjekt markiert. Der einzige Ort, von dem ich persönlich weiß, dass man ohne diese spezifische Markierung zum Ziel wer – den kann, sind die Foren von Dschihadisten.

Frage: Was passiert, wenn die NSA einen Nutzer im Visier hat?

Snowden: Die Zielperson wird komplett überwacht. Ein Analytiker wird täglich einen Report über das bekommen, was sich im Computersystem der Zielperson geändert hat. Es wird auch … Pakete jener Daten geben, die die automatischen Analysesysteme nicht verstanden haben, und so weiter. Der Analytiker kann entscheiden, was er tun will – der Computer der Zielperson gehört nicht mehr ihr, er gehört dann quasi der USRegierung.

Jacob Appelbaum,


Laura Poitras

Electric Cars Get a Boost by breakthrough in Battery Technology

Battery breakthrough promises phone, car revolution

PARIS (AFP) — Think of an electric car that can accelerate swiftly to cruising speed, laptop computers that can recharge in a couple of minutes rather than hours and a generation of super-miniature mobile phones.

That’s the vision sketched on Wednesday by a pair of scientists in the United States, unveiling an invention that they say could lead to a smaller, lighter and more power-packed lithium battery than anything available today.

Current batteries made of lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) are good at storing large amounts of electricity but stumble at releasing it.

They are better at dispensing the power in a steady flow than at discharging it or gaining it in a sudden burst.

As a result, electric cars perform best when travelling along the motorway at a constant speed rather than when they are accelerating, and their batteries take hours to recharge when they run down.

Until now, the finger of blame has pointed at charged lithium atoms. These ions, along with electrons, move too sluggishly through the battery material before arriving at the terminal to deliver their charge — or so it was thought.

But a pair of materials experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) say the problem lies not with the ions but rather at how the ions gain access to nano-scale tunnels that riddle the material and transport the electrons to their destination.

Their solution was a lithium phosphate coating that, like a system of feeder roads, nudges the ions towards the tunnels. The ions then zip instantly down the tunnel entrance and to the terminal.

A small cellphone battery can be recharged in just 10 seconds thanks to the improved ion flow, they report in the British journal Nature.

In theory, a large battery that would be used to power a plug-in hybrid electric car could be recharged in just five minutes, compared to up to six or eight hours at present. But this would only be possible if a beefed-up electricity supply were available.

Unlike other battery materials, the tweaked LiFePO4 does not degrade as much when repeatedly charged and recharged. This opens the way to smaller and lighter batteries, which will not need such heft to deliver the same power, MIT said in a press release.

The invention, which was supported by US government funds, has already been licensed by two companies, MIT said.

Because the material involved is not new — the difference is the way it is made — “the work could make it into the marketplace within two to three years,” it said.

The invention is the latest claimed advance in the quest to replace conventional electro-chemical batteries, which are heavy, lack energy density and take time to recharge.

Research in this field ranges from updated lithium-ion technology to hydrogen batteries and combinations of a battery with so-called ultracapacitors that harness exotic materials such as barium titanate to deliver a jolt.