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Archive for the ‘NSA eavesdropping’ Category

NYT: We were wrong to support a police state

Posted by Charles II on November 20, 2015

New York Times Editorial Board

Mass Surveillance Isn’t the Answer to Fighting Terrorism

By THE EDITORIAL BOARDNOV. 17, 2015

It’s a wretched yet predictable ritual after each new terrorist attack: Certain politicians and government officials waste no time exploiting the tragedy for their own ends. The remarks on Monday by John Brennan, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, took that to a new and disgraceful low.

In June, President Obama signed the USA Freedom Act, which ends bulk collection of domestic phone data by the government (but not the collection of other data, like emails and the content of Americans’ international phone calls) and requires the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to make its most significant rulings available to the public.

These reforms are only a modest improvement on the Patriot Act, but the intelligence community saw them as a grave impediment to antiterror efforts. In his comments Monday, Mr. Brennan called the attacks in Paris a “wake-up call,” and claimed that recent “policy and legal” actions “make our ability collectively, internationally, to find these terrorists much more challenging.”

It is hard to believe anything Mr. Brennan says. Last year, he bluntly denied that the C.I.A. had illegally hacked into the computers of Senate staff members conducting an investigation into the agency’s detention and torture programs when, in fact, it did. In 2011, when he was President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, he claimed that American drone strikes had not killed any civilians, despite clear evidence that they had. And his boss, James Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, has admitted lying to the Senate on the N.S.A.’s bulk collection of data. Even putting this lack of credibility aside, it’s not clear what extra powers Mr. Brennan is seeking.

In fact, indiscriminate bulk data sweeps have not been useful.

The intelligence agencies’ inability to tell the truth about surveillance practices is just one part of the problem. The bigger issue is their willingness to circumvent the laws, however they are written. The Snowden revelations laid bare how easy it is to abuse national-security powers, which are vaguely defined and generally exercised in secret.

In truth, intelligence authorities are still able to do most of what they did before — only now with a little more oversight by the courts and the public. There is no dispute that they and law enforcement agencies should have the necessary powers to detect and stop attacks before they happen. But that does not mean unquestioning acceptance of ineffective and very likely unconstitutional tactics that reduce civil liberties without making the public safer.

A version of this editorial appears in print on November 18, 2015, on page A26 of the New York edition with the headline: Mass Surveillance Isn’t the Answer.

Maybe this is the beginning of the NYT becoming a newspaper, rather than an organ of government.

Posted in NSA, NSA eavesdropping, Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Comments Off on NYT: We were wrong to support a police state

US wiretap of Greece may have led to death of Vodafone technician who discovered it

Posted by Charles II on October 3, 2015

James Bamford, The Intercept (excerpts, not necessarily in order):

According to previously undisclosed documents from the Snowden archive, NSA has a long history of tapping into Olympic Games, both overseas and within the U.S.

The key to the operation was hijacking a particular piece of software, the “lawful intercept” program. Installed in most modern telecom systems, it gave a telecom company the technical capability to respond to a legal warrant from the local government to monitor a suspect’s communications. Vodafone’s central switching equipment was made by Ericsson, the large Swedish company, and on January 31, 2002, Ericsson delivered to Vodafone an upgrade containing the lawful intercept program, a piece of software known as the Remote Control Equipment Subsystem (RES).

On March 4, after weeks of investigation, Ericsson notified Vodafone that it had discovered a sophisticated piece of malware, containing a hefty 6,500 lines of code — evidence of a large bugging operation. The company also turned up the target phone numbers of the prime minister and his wife, the mayor of Athens, members of the Ministerial Cabinet, and scores of high officials, as well as the numbers for the shadow phones and the metadata describing when the calls were made.

In his testimony, Ericsson’s managing director for Greece, Bill Zikou, laid out the “how,” describing the method by which the bugging was accomplished. “What happened in this incident,” he said, “is that a complex, sophisticated, non-Ericsson intruder piece of software was planted into the Vodafone Greece network,” which by activating the RES function “thus made illegal interceptions possible.”

Sitting in his apartment overlooking Athens’ Plaka, John Brady Kiesling could make little sense of it all. “I don’t see a shred of evidence that this wiretapping did the U.S. government any good,” he said. “I think it’s just important to underscore that intelligence gathering is never free. It always comes at a human and political cost to someone. In this case it was paid by an innocent Vodafone technician [Costas Tsalikidis, who apparently uncovered the mass wiretap].”

Posted in crimes, international, NSA eavesdropping | Comments Off on US wiretap of Greece may have led to death of Vodafone technician who discovered it

From the Dale Carnegie School…

Posted by Charles II on July 9, 2015

Markus Feldenkirchen, Der Spiegel:

The German-American friendship no longer exists. It may still remain
between citizens of both countries, but not between their governments.
Perhaps it has always been an illusion, perhaps the United States pulled
away over the course of time. But what binds these two nations today
cannot be considered friendship.

The German government has engaged in a devil’s pact with the US and its Orwellian spying machine.

Posted in abuse of power, NSA eavesdropping, wrong way to go about it | Comments Off on From the Dale Carnegie School…

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 »

National Security Apparatus: The law is for you to obey, not for us to obey

Posted by Charles II on May 28, 2015

From Democracy Now:

JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, ICWatch is a database of more than 27,000 profiles of people associated with the U.S. intelligence community or intelligence industry, so that includes people who work for government and people who work for private industry. It was created by a little journalism startup … called Transparency Toolkit. … This information was all originally … from LinkedIn, so these are CVs of people involved in various intelligence activities. By searching LinkedIn for key wor[d]s… say, Joint Priority Effects List, the assassination program in Afghanistan, these were scraped out and then linked together so you can easily see, for example, who claims that they had worked at the National Security Agency at some stage or on various code-worded projects that the National Security Agency uses.

JULIAN ASSANGE: [They faced death threats for] Indexing what was already public. An example of one of those death threats, from Washington, D.C., from a counterintelligence operative, who was also a former marine, saying that he would hunt them down and kill them no matter where they were in the world, and there’s no place in the world that they can hide.

JULIAN ASSANGE: … Now, I think this—it actually perfectly explains why the U.S. intelligence community must itself be scrutinized. What do we have in that statement? Murderous criminal arrogance…—and I should add one further point: and deeply incompetent […for a] a counterintelligence person […to] they themselves put that information on LinkedIn. They themselves are irritated about their own incompetence, to the degree where they get threatening to kill people involved with a journalism project.

That’s right: breach security by posting your claim to be a code-word program professional assassin onto LinkedIn and then get angry because someone notices. Please don’t give these people actual guns. They might hurt themselves.

And (ibid) in addition, a larger institutional hypocrisy, which could amount to a crime:

JULIAN ASSANGE:…So, the U.S. has kind of made a bit of a legal—the Pentagon has made a bit of a legal ruse in terms of how it describes these assassination lists. They always say it’s a kill/capture list. And this is to create some kind of ambiguity, which is you go in to capture them, but they resist, and then they’re killed. But, in fact…there’s no actual attempt to capture. And here we have evidence, confessions even… bragging on their CV about how they were involved in these programs to assassinate people.

So, when it comes down to the USG, they don’t have to obey the law. And this is nowhere more evident than in the persecution of Assange:

JULIAN ASSANGE:…There are some 500 information requests from the media and us, that have been blocked by the U.S. government, into what has been happening with WikiLeaks. And they’ve been blocked under the excuse that to release such information would be to help us resist the prosecution, and that they want to use that in the prosecution, and therefore they can’t release it to anyone. Now, the FBI has admitted that they have more than 42,135 pages just in the FBI file. There’s the DOJ file. There’s the grand jury file. And they’re not going to release a single sentence, not a single paragraph.

EPIC lost that case to get those documents, because the court accepted that to release any information about the WikiLeaks prosecution would affect the WikiLeaks prosecution, that we could use this to defend ourselves. And the argument used is quite incredible…. It is that …the court doesn’t have a right to, itself, make this determination [about what should be released and what restricted]

the government argues, “The court does not have a right to make this assessment. This is a question of a national security fact. Either it is a fact that the information held by the DOJ and held by the FBI would—about WikiLeaks, would affect national security or not. And it is the government that is best placed to determine this fact, not the court.” And so, in the judgment, the judge states that it is necessary to show, quote, “appropriate deference to the executive on matters of national security,” and therefore she is simply going to defer to the government’s claim without looking at the material at all.

If the Tea Party gave an actual d–n about overweening Executive actions, the Wikileaks case would be a central rallying point. The excuse of national security is being used to gut the power of the judiciary to oversee the Executive’s administration of the laws, pushing us quite close–since Congress is so ineffectual–to being a totalitarian state.

But just in case we didn’t get the point that our government is not just completely above the law, but totally incompetent,

the U.S. picked up a statement, a supportive statement made in Moscow by President Evo Morales, and appears to have picked up our codeword for the actual operation [to smuggle Edward Snowden to Latin America], and put two and two together and made 22, and then pressured France—successfully pressured France, Portugal and Spain to close their airspace to President Evo Morales’s jet in its flight from Moscow to the Canary Islands for refueling and then back to Bolivia. And as a result, it was forced to land in Vienna. And then, once in Vienna, there was pressure to search the plane.

So, it’s really a quite extraordinary situation that reveals the true nature of the relationship between Western Europe and the United States and what it claims are its values of human rights and asylum and the rights to asylum and so, and respecting the rule of law, the Vienna Convention. Just a phone call from U.S. intelligence was enough to close the airspace to a booked presidential flight, which has immunity. And they got it wrong.

The United States is a very powerful country. It does not have to get its way in everything, or suppress every bit of adverse publicity, or force every world leader to heel. By trying to do so, it–by which I mean the cabal inside the national security apparatus that is committing these abuses– shows how dangerous the government–by which I mean that cabal– itself has become.

And, on top of that, see how completely ineffectual it is at actually stopping terrorism, guarding secrets, or persuading other nations to join with us. How ashamed this nation’s Founders would be at what their dream has become.

Posted in abuse of power, NSA eavesdropping, totalitarianism, Wikileaks | 2 Comments »

What I love about America

Posted by Charles II on April 6, 2015

Image from HuffPo

Alan Yuhas, The Guardian:

The New York parks department on Monday removed a large bust of Edward Snowden that was installed in a Brooklyn park, shortly after covering it up with a tarp and thwarting the artists’ stated intent “to highlight those who sacrifice their safety in the fight against modern-day tyrannies”.

The Snowden bust still stood at Fort Greene Park’s Prison Ship Martyrs monument, atop a single Doric column. But it was wrapped in a blue tarpaulin, as city workers debated what to do with it.

The monument stands to the memory of 11,000 prisoners who died in British captivity during the Revolutionary war.

The bust, about 4ft tall and resembling both Snowden and former White House spokesman Jay Carney, was wrapped up by two park employees before noon, hiding the face and column but not the eagle statue that stands at its foot. A park ranger removed a plexiglass stand with Snowden’s name that had been placed at the base of the column.

The Brooklyn-based artists also wrote that they hoped passersby would “ponder the sacrifices made for their freedoms”.

“We hope this inspires them to reflect upon the responsibility we all bear to ensure our liberties exist long into the future,” they said.

What a beautiful protest.

Posted in Good Things, NSA eavesdropping | 1 Comment »

Because we’re the good guys

Posted by Charles II on September 17, 2014

James Bamford, NYT (via Atrios):

IN Moscow this summer, while reporting a story for Wired magazine, I had the rare opportunity to hang out for three days with Edward J. Snowden. …

Among his most shocking discoveries, he told me, was the fact that the N.S.A. was routinely passing along the private communications of Americans to a large and very secretive Israeli military organization known as Unit 8200. This transfer of intercepts, he said, included the contents of the communications….

Mr. Snowden stressed that the transfer of intercepts to Israel contained the communications — email as well as phone calls — of countless Arab- and Palestinian-Americans whose relatives in Israel and the Palestinian territories could become targets based on the communications.
….
It appears that Mr. Snowden’s fears were warranted. Last week, 43 veterans of Unit 8200 — many still serving in the reserves — accused the organization of startling abuses. In a letter to their commanders, to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to the head of the Israeli army, they charged that Israel used information collected against innocent Palestinians for “political persecution.” In testimonies and interviews given to the media, they specified that data were gathered on Palestinians’ sexual orientations, infidelities, money problems, family medical conditions and other private matters that could be used to coerce Palestinians into becoming collaborators or create divisions in their society.

The veterans of Unit 8200 declared that they had a “moral duty” to no longer “take part in the state’s actions against Palestinians.” An Israeli military spokesman disputed the letter’s overall drift but said the charges would be examined.

But of course it’s ok, because we’re the good guys. Jodi Rudoren, NYT:

For a 29-year-old captain whose eight years in the unit ended in 2011, the transformational moment came in watching “The Lives of Others,” a 2006 film about the operations of the East German secret police.

“I felt a lot of sympathy for the victims in the film of the intelligence,” the captain said. “But I did feel a weird, confusing sense of similarity, I identified myself with the intelligence workers. That we were similar to the kind of oppressive intelligence in oppressive regimes really was a deep realization that makes us all feel that we have to take responsibility.”

Posted in abuse of power, israel, NSA eavesdropping | Comments Off on Because we’re the good guys

Land of the free, and the home of the brave

Posted by Charles II on July 10, 2014

Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian:

The White House has instructed US security agencies to review their training and policy materials for racial or religious bias after documents leaked by Edward Snowden showed training material for the intelligence agencies referring to “Mohammed Raghead”.

The original work is here.


(Greenwald et al. on The Intercept)

Posted in NSA eavesdropping | 6 Comments »

Bad bits

Posted by Charles II on July 7, 2014

DemocracyNow:

JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, because it is our specialty to understand surveillance systems of various kind, and it was my profession beforehand, the broad—many of the broad parameters, we already knew about. But the confirmation of each one of those parameters was extremely important for others to realize it. I think what is most surprising is not any one thing. It’s the scale, the incredible scale, and that at any point where you could guess, “Are they doing this, or are they not doing it?” they are doing it. So, for example, intercepting packages that are sent out in the post and backdooring them, backdooring chips. So we see the corporation list between National Security Agency and U.S. hardware manufacturers, so Intel, Qualcomm, that makes the chips for telephones and so on. That’s quite surprising. That had been rumored and speculated on, but that the actual physical hardware is backdoored before you even get it, that, I think, is—that is a bit surprising. And then the absolute numbers, the billions of interceptions that are occurring per day. Actually, people who were studying this knew that, but to see a map of the world and the different countries with how many millions or billions of intercepts per day were coming in, I think that is probably the most consequential. (emphasis added)

The rest of the interview is pretty interesting. Somehow Assange was able to communicate with Snowden without the NSA any the wiser. That has got to sting.

My unsolicited advice to the NSA: focus on actual threats to US citizens, and leave everyone else alone.

Posted in NSA eavesdropping | Comments Off on Bad bits

Incidental collection

Posted by Charles II on July 6, 2014

Barton Gellman, Jule Tate, and Ashkan Soltani, WP:

No government oversight body, including the Justice Department, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, intelligence committees in Congress or the president’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, has delved into a comparably large sample of what the NSA actually collects — not only from its targets but also from people who may cross a target’s path.

Among the latter are medical records sent from one family member to another, résumés from job hunters and academic transcripts of schoolchildren. In one photo, a young girl in religious dress beams at a camera outside a mosque.

Scores of pictures show infants and toddlers in bathtubs, on swings, sprawled on their backs and kissed by their mothers. In some photos, men show off their physiques. In others, women model lingerie, leaning suggestively into a webcam or striking risque poses in shorts and bikini tops.

“None of the hits that were received were relevant,” two Navy cryptologic technicians write in one of many summaries of nonproductive surveillance. “No additional information,” writes a civilian analyst. Another makes fun of a suspected kidnapper, newly arrived in Syria before the current civil war, who begs for employment as a janitor and makes wide-eyed observations about the state of undress displayed by women on local beaches.

Posted in NSA eavesdropping | Comments Off on Incidental collection

 
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