It would be dangerous to say that Tor is only a tool for nefarious people. On the other hand, it’s useful for protecting activists, whistleblowers, lawyers and journalists, former MI5 intelligence officer Annie Machon told RT.
Popular so-called ‘anonymous’ web browser Tor may not be living up to its name after it was revealed that Tor received funding from US government agency the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and cooperates with intelligence agencies.
The free software is a “privatized extension of the very same government that it claimed to be fighting,” claimed journalist Yasha Levine, who obtained 2,500 pages of correspondence about the project via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
RT discussed the revelations about Tor with former MI5 intelligence officer Annie Machon.
RT: Why would America’s Broadcasting Board of Governors need an internet cloaking project like Tor?
Annie Machon: That is very interesting question because this body organizes American propaganda international media channels such as Free Radio Europe, Free Radio Asia, which is there to spread American propaganda around the planet. Ironically, this is what the Mueller investigation in the US at the moment is accusing stations such as Sputnik and RT of doing on behalf of Russia. America has been doing this for decades. One would have thought they would want to contribute, because in that field, they would want to find sources and whistleblowers that they could talk to and interview with secure means so that whistleblowers and their sources don’t need to, or have to, be identified in what might be potentially-hostile environments.
RT: What kind of influence and control do you think the BBG and its bosses have over the Tor browser?
AM: I think not as much as people might suspect. As soon as people hear that the Tor project is being funded by propaganda organizations in the US or military groupings in the US, people are bound to become very paranoid and very suspicious about how it is being developed. But I think we need to recognize that the Tor project is using open source software and has had access to that license for well over a decade. And that means that all the source code is available for everyone to see. So even if these groups were trying to influence it and try and to put in backdoors, others working on the project with very pure motives would be in a very strong position to see any backdoors that were built into the code and to eradicate them.
That is the strength of open source software. That doesn’t negate the possibility that these organizations from the establishment side in America may not have encouraged people to come employees to work at Tor, potentially as sort of infiltrators. But I think the very democratic, very open nature of open sources software will in the long term mean that Tor remains a viable tool.
RT: Any technology that helps anonymize the internet is always bound to attract nefarious interest. But do you think Tor’s backers predicted the depth and depravity of the dark web?
AM: I think the dark web is interesting. One of the aspects that has driven its development and its growth over the years is the illicit sale and use of pornography. Pornography has always been a technology leader in developing new technologies over the centuries, from the Gutenberg press onwards. So, it was predictable in that sense that it could potentially be used that way. Tor can be used for those nefarious purposes, and it does get a very bad press because of that. It enables pedophiles and terrorists and whoever else on the dark web to do things which are currently illegal.
Having said that, though, it is very useful as a tool to protect activists, to protect whistleblowers, to protect lawyers, journalists. It can even be used to prevent cyberstalking. There is always two sides of the coin. It would be dangerous to say that it is only a tool used by people who have nefarious interest at heart.