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Did a Self-Identified Spy Hunter Leak an NSA Secret on LinkedIn?

The American government built underwater drones in the 1990s to tap into fiber-optics cables, he claims.

National Security Agency headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. (Photo: NSA/Public Domain)

James Atkinson’s LinkedIn profile is epic—over 42,000 words to be more precise—outlining a long career spent in surveillance and engineering.

Or, as he calls himself at the top: “Student, Soldier, Spy Hunter, Scientist, Electronics Engineer, Computer Programmer, Cyberoperations, Computer and Digital Devices Forensics.”

Part of that career, he claims, was spent working with the National Security Agency on a variety of projects, one of which, called SCARAB, caught the eye of Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union. 

SCARAB, apparently, was a massive leak sitting in plain sight. 

The relevant section on Atkinson’s LinkedIn reads:

Classified design work on the Semi-Autonomous underwater Remotely Operated Undersea Vehicles called SCARABs or AUV, or “Submersible Crafts Assisting Repair and Burial” used to locate undersea fiber optic cables, and then to splice into these cables in an essentially undetectable manner by way of fusion slices to intercept the multi-gig-bit traffic on the cables. Taking the 70’s and 80’s era systems and creating a new generation of splicing and tapping that could be deployed from military submarines.

He later called it a “new series of fiber optic [remotely operated vehicles].”

Edward Snowden, who knows some things about secrets, called the disclosure ”probably the most incredible leak of compartmented [top secret] material I’ve ever seen on LinkedIn.”

But was it true? Neither the NSA nor Atkinson returned requests for comment, and Snowden himself later added a caveat: 

In addition, for a guy who claims to run a firm focused on cybersecurity, it’s odd that Google says his company’s website might be hacked. 

The question here ends up being, in other words, whether you should trust a man with a 42,000-word LinkedIn profile.