Mercury Rising 鳯女

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Archive for June 14th, 2015

Better liars, please

Posted by Charles II on June 14, 2015

Tom Harper, Richard Kerbaj, and Tim Shipman of The Sunday Times of London printed a story claiming that

RUSSIA and China have cracked the top-secret cache of files stolen by the fugitive US whistleblower Edward Snowden, forcing MI6 to pull agents out of live operations in hostile countries, according to senior officials in Downing Street, the Home Office and the security services.

Western intelligence agencies say they have been forced into the rescue operations after Moscow gained access to more than 1m classified files held by the former American security contractor, who fled to seek protection from Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, after mounting one of the largest leaks in US history.

Senior government sources confirmed that China had also cracked the encrypted documents, which contain details of secret intelligence techniques and information that could allow British and American spies to be identified.

This is self-evidently nonsense because, as Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian notes,

Snowden said he handed over tens of thousands of leaked documents to journalists he met in Hong Kong and has not had them in his possession since. So what cache is the government talking about?

If the UK had evidence that Russia and China managed to penetrate his document cache or of agents being forced to move, the UK would have shared this with Washington. The White House would have happily briefed this openly…

[It helps deflect attention from the recent QC {Queen’s Counsel, I think}report, which calls the legal framework for surveillance] intolerable and undemocratic…

it is the Home Office rather than the Foreign Office that is quoted in the story [which is very peculiar considering that this is really a matter of agents abroad]

[The Times article is riddled with inaccuracies such as statements that] Snowden “fled to seek protection from Vladimir Putin…[actually, he was forced to seek asylum because the U.S. denied him transit to Latin America] ” whether Russia and China stole Snowden’s data or “whether he voluntarily handed over his secret documents in order to remain at liberty in Hong Kong and Moscow” [actually, he gave them to journalists]. … “David Miranda, the boyfriend of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, was seized at Heathrow in 2013 in possession of 58,000 ‘highly-classified’ intelligence documents after visiting Snowden in Moscow.[actually, Miranda was stopped after visiting Laura Poitras in Berlin; the Guardian didn’t notice, but he wasn’t carrying any documents According to the Guardian, I’m wrong on this point]”

I think there’s a much more obvious explanation for the appearance of the article in The Times. The U.S. was just hacked, exposing the names of millions of its employees. While covert employees presumably have covers, it wouldn’t take all that much effort for a foreign state to figure out which ones have traveled. So, the U.S. government has to come up with a scapegoat for its failure to protect data… a matter for which our government is significantly responsible, since it has made computers so amenable to hacking. All the Chinese have to do is find out what defects have been built into commercial software by the NSA and engineer an entry through the same hole.

Until we get better governments, could we at least have better liars? The UK/US governments and the Sunday/NY Times are just awful at it.

And, via Jeffraham Prestonian commenting on Eschaton, we get this:

George Howell: How do senior officials at No. 10 Downing Street know these files were breached?

Tom Harper: Well, uh, I don’t know, to be honest with you, George. All we know is that this is effectively the official position of the British government…

Howell: How do they know what was in them if they were encrypted? Has the British government also gotten into these files?

Harper: Well. Um, I mean, the files came from America and the UK. So, uh, they may already have known for sometime what Snowden took. Again, that’s not something that we’re clear on, so we don’t go into that level of detail in the story. We just publish what we believe to be the position of the British government at the moment.

Howell: Your article asserts that it is not clear if the files were hacked or if Snowden gave these files over when he was in Hong Kong and Russia. So which is it?

Harper: Well, again, sorry to just repeat myself, George, but we don’t know so we haven’t written that in the paper. Um, you know, it could be, it could be another scenario. When you’re dealing with the world of intelligence there are so many unknowns and so many possibilities, it’s difficult to state anything with certainty…

Howell: So we’re just really hearing, you know, what the British government is saying at this point. The article mentions these MI6 agents. Were they directly under threat as a result of the information leaked, or was it just a precautionary measure?

Harper: Again, I’m afraid to disappoint you, we just don’t know…

Howell: So essentially you’re reporting what the government is saying, but as far as the evidence to substantiate it, you’re not really able to comment or to explain that at this point. Right?

Harper: No… obviously when you’re dealing with intelligence, you know, it’s the toughest nut to crack. And, um, unless you actually have leaked intelligence documents, like Snowden had, it’s very difficult to say anything with certainty.

It’s just incredible.

Posted in computers and software, NSA eavesdropping | 1 Comment »

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