FOIA Requests Revealed That Tor Project Has Ties To U.S. Government


The Tor Project which was first launched in 2002, uses "onion routing", purposely developed by the U.S. Navy to provide anonymity over computer networks.

As a private nonprofit known as the "NSA-proof" gateway to the dark web, investigation by journalist and author Yasha Levine revealed that the network is almost "100% funded by the US government", according to documents he obtained.

In his blog post, Levine detailed how he was able to get his hands on 2,500 pages of correspondence via FOIA requests while performing research for a book.

The documents he found show the strategy, contract, budgets and status updates between the Tor Project and its primary source of funding: a CIA spinoff called as the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which “oversees America’s foreign broadcasting operations.

"By following the money, I discovered that Tor was not a grassroots. I was able to show that despite its indie radical cred and claims to help its users protect themselves from government surveillance online, Tor was almost 100% funded by three U.S. National Security agencies: the Navy, the State Department and the BBG. Following the money revealed that Tor was not a grassroots outfit, but a military contractor with its own government contractor number. In other words: it was a privatized extension of the very same government that it claimed to be fighting."

"The documents conclusively showed that Tor is not independent at all. The organization did not have free reign to do whatever it wanted, but was kept on a very short leash and bound by contracts with strict contractual obligations. It was also required to file detailed monthly status reports that gave the U.S. government a clear picture of what Tor employees were developing, where they went and who they saw."

Edward Snowden himself is a fan of Tor and told his followers to use it. Journalists from many agencies, including Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald and Andy Greenberg - have all helped increase Tor's popularity as an anti-state rebel.

But here, the FOIA documents showed Tor has been collaborating with the federal government and some key members of the privacy and Internet Freedom movement. Like for instance, it was revealed that Tor employees were taking orders from the federal government, including plans to deploy the anonymity tool in countries that the U.S. was working to destabilize: China, Iran, Vietnam, Russia. It also revealed discussions about the needs to influence news coverage and to control bad press.

It also featured monthly updates with regular meetings and trainings with the CIA, NSA, FBI, DOJ and State Department.

Most importantly, the FOIA documents put under question about Tor's pledge that it would never put in any backdoors into their software, and also by saying that Tor has "no qualms with privately tipping off the federal government to security vulnerabilities before alerting the public, a move that would give the feds an opportunity to exploit the security weakness long before informing Tor users."

The documents show that Tor is not independent at all, as it was bound by contracts and obligations.

While it has no backdoor, the only apparent Tor weakness resides in the exit nodes. At this node, traffic leaves the secure "onion" protocol because it needs to be decrypted. As a result, anyone who can get to the end node, including the government, can see the real data.