Shhh… Duncan Campbell – Global Spying Program ECHELON & the Decades-long Cosy NSA-GCHQ Relationship

(Above) Photo Credit: The Intercept

DuncanCampbell-ABCcase

Above photo: From left to right Duncan Campbell, Crispin Aubrey and John Berry in the ‘ABC’ case (Source: The Intercept – ANL/Re/REX Shutterstock)

The Register: Special Report Duncan Campbell has spent decades unmasking Britain’s super-secretive GCHQ, its spying programmes, and its cosy relationship with America’s NSA. Today, he retells his life’s work exposing the government’s over-reaching surveillance, and reveals documents from the leaked Snowden files confirming the history of the fearsome ECHELON intercept project. This story is also published simultaneously today by The Intercept, as is – at long last – Duncan’s Register Christmas Lecture from last year.

Find out more on this insightful article printed by The Intercept and The Register.

Shhh… US-Canada Border – Secret Deal Between Canada’s Spies and Border Guards

Check out this article from The Star:

Secret deal between Canada’s spies and border guards raises concerns

A memorandum of understanding between the two agencies allowed info sharing, joint operations without political oversight.

By: Alex Boutilier Ottawa Bureau Reporter, Published on Thu Jul 02 2015

OTTAWA—A secret deal between Canada’s spies and border guards proposed more information sharing and joint operations without the need for political sign-off, the Star has learned.

A 2014 deal between the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Canada Border Services Agency proposed the two agencies be allowed to share information and resources without the prior approval of their political masters.

“The Framework (Memorandum of Understanding) will also authorize (CSIS) to enter into more specific arrangements with CBSA, as required, without the necessity to seek your approval each time,” wrote CSIS director Michel Coulombe in a memo explaining the deal to Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney.

Blaney’s office won’t say whether or not the deal has been approved.

The deal, obtained under access to information law, would permit the two agencies to share “investigative techniques, the provision of equipment, the sharing of information, resources or personnel” to assist one another to meet shared objectives.

CSIS is allowed to enter into agreements with other departments and agencies, including foreign partners, and routinely does. But the rules governing the spy agency state that CSIS needs the express permission from the public safety minister to do so.

But Coulombe explicitly stated that, under the new deal, Blaney’s approval would not be required for further co-operation between the two agencies. Both would otherwise have to follow their respective mandates, the deal states.

The Star requested an interview with Blaney, and provided a detailed list of questions. That interview request was denied. Blaney’s office would not say if the minister approved the deal, and did not respond to the Star’s questions.

Jeremy Laurin, a spokesperson for the minister, instead provided a written statement referencing the threat of “jihadi terrorists” and the necessity for national security agencies to work together.

“In today’s global threat environment, national security is a team effort — which means that CSIS works with many domestic partners,” Laurin wrote. “CBSA is one of those partners.”

It’s not clear when the deal itself was drafted — the documents themselves are undated, but were released in a batch of briefing notes written last summer. That means the proposal would have crossed Blaney’s desk well before the Conservatives introduced controversial new terror laws that drastically expanded the agency’s mandate.

Bill C-51 allows CSIS to “disrupt” real or perceived threats to national security, rather than passing the intelligence they gather to an enforcement agency. The legislation, which recently became law, also greatly expands government agencies’ ability to share information deemed relevant to national security.

While the scope of the information sharing provisions alarmed security researchers and privacy experts, the majority Conservatives said they were necessary to ensure Canadians were kept safe. But The Canadian Press reported Wednesday that CSIS had told senior bureaucrats that improvements to their access to information could be achieved within the existing law.

Wesley Wark, a security researcher at the University of Ottawa, said it’s not uncommon for agencies to have formal agreements governing joint operations. But this deal in particular, Wark said, appears to diminish political accountability.

“It also shows a tendency on (the) part of the Harper government to allow for an erosion of ministerial accountability,” Wark wrote after reviewing the documents. “And it reminds us of one of the big holes in the fabric of accountability for security and intelligence — namely the absence of independent, external review of CBSA.”

Craig Forcese, also a University of Ottawa professor and vocal critic of Bill C-51, said the “stovepipe” nature of Canada’s intelligence review bodies is a major concern with these type of agreements.

The Security Intelligence Review Committee, for instance, can review actions taken by CSIS after the fact. But the committee has no ability to “follow the thread” of an operation when CSIS partners with another agency like CBSA, the RCMP, or Canada’s electronic spying agency, the Communications Security Establishment.

“If I had set out to intentionally design a system of accountability likely to break, it would look a lot like our current system of stovepiped review,” Forcese said.

“Add to that CBSA has no review body of its own — and, as best I know, is the only agency with a law enforcement or intelligence mandate in the country without some form of external, independent review or oversight.”

The Star requested the text of CSIS’s memorandums of understanding with other agencies. The agency declined to provide them, or to list which agencies it co-operates with, saying that the agency operates within its mandate, ministerial direction, and internal policy.

Before:

CSIS is permitted to enter into partnerships, both domestic and international, under Section 17 of the CSIS Act. The act requires the agency to get the go-ahead from the public safety minister beforehand.

After:

If the CSIS-CBSA deal was accepted, the two agencies could co-operate without bothering to get approval from politicians.

Under C-51:

The Conservatives’ controversial terror law allows for the free flow of information between 17 domestic law enforcement agencies and departments. Canada’s privacy commissioner has called the provision excessive.

Shhh… SPIEGEL: US Attack on Press Freedom

As more details emerge, it is becoming increasingly clear that representatives of the German government at best looked away as the Americans violated the law, and at worst supported them…

Journalists, who scrutinize and criticize those who govern, are an elementary part of the “checks and balances” — an American invention — aimed at ensuring both transparency and accountability. When it comes to intelligence issues, however, it appears this system has been out of balance for some time…

Everything the government said was a lie. As far back as 2013, the German government was in a position to suspect, if not to know outright, the obscene extent to which the United States was spying on an ally…

See original Spiegel story below.


An Attack on Press Freedom: SPIEGEL Targeted by US Intelligence

By SPIEGEL Staff

Revelations from WikiLeaks published this week show how boundlessly and comprehensively American intelligence services spied on the German government. It has now emerged that the US also conducted surveillance against SPIEGEL.

Walks during working hours aren’t the kind of pastime one would normally expect from a leading official in the German Chancellery. Especially not from the head of Department Six, the official inside Angela Merkel’s office responsible for coordinating Germany’s intelligence services.

Walks during working hours aren’t the kind of pastime one would normally expect from a leading official in the German Chancellery. Especially not from the head of Department Six, the official inside Angela Merkel’s office responsible for coordinating Germany’s intelligence services.

But in the summer of 2011, Günter Heiss found himself stretching his legs for professional reasons. The CIA’s station chief in Berlin had requested a private conversation with Heiss. And he didn’t want to meet in an office or follow standard protocol. Instead, he opted for the kind of clandestine meeting you might see in a spy film.

Officially, the CIA man was accredited as a counsellor with the US Embassy, located next to Berlin’s historic Brandenburg Gate. Married to a European, he had already been stationed in Germany once before and knew how to communicate with German officials. At times he could be demanding and overbearing, but he could also be polite and courteous. During this summer walk he also had something tangible to offer Heiss.

The CIA staffer revealed that a high-ranking Chancellery official allegedly maintained close contacts with the media and was sharing official information with reporters with SPIEGEL.

The American provided the name of the staffer: Hans Josef Vorbeck, Heiss’ deputy in Department Six. The information must have made it clear to Heiss that the US was spying on the German government as well as the press that reports on it.

The central Berlin stroll remained a secret for almost four years. The Chancellery quietly transferred Vorbeck, who had until then been responsible for counterterrorism, to another, less important department responsible dealing with the history of the BND federal intelligence agency. Other than that, though, it did nothing.

Making a Farce of Rule of Law

Officials in the Chancellery weren’t interested in how the CIA had obtained its alleged information. They didn’t care to find out how, and to which degree, they were being spied on by the United States. Nor were they interested in learning about the degree to which SPIEGEL was being snooped on by the Americans. Chancellery officials didn’t contact any of the people in question. They didn’t contact members of the Bundestag federal parliament sitting on the Parliamentary Control Panel, the group responsible for oversight of the intelligence services. They didn’t inform members of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the agency responsible for counterintelligence in Germany, either. And they didn’t contact a single public prosecutor. Angela Merkel’s office, it turns out, simply made a farce of the rule of law.

As a target of the surveillance, SPIEGEL has requested more information from the Chancellery. At the same time, the magazine filed a complaint on Friday with the Federal Public Prosecutor due to suspicion of intelligence agency activity.

Because now, in the course of the proceedings of the parliamentary investigative committee probing the NSA’s activities in Germany in the wake of revelations leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden, details about the event that took place in the summer of 2011 are gradually leaking to the public. At the beginning of May, the mass-circulation tabloid Bild am Sonntag reported on a Chancellery official who had been sidelined “in the wake of evidence of alleged betrayal of secrets through US secret services.”

Research conducted by SPIEGEL has determined the existence of CIA and NSA files filled with a large number of memos pertaining to the work of the German newsmagazine. And three different government sources in Berlin and Washington have independently confirmed that the CIA station chief in Berlin was referring specifically to Vorbeck’s contacts with SPIEGEL.

An Operation Justified by Security Interests?

Obama administration sources with knowledge of the operation said that it was justified by American security interests. The sources said US intelligence services had determined the existence of intensive contacts between SPIEGEL reporters and the German government and decided to intervene because those communications were viewed as damaging to the United States’ interests. The fact that the CIA and NSA were prepared to reveal an ongoing surveillance operation to the Chancellery underlines the importance they attached to the leaks, say sources in Washington. The NSA, the sources say, were aware that the German government would know from then on that the US was spying in Berlin.

As more details emerge, it is becoming increasingly clear that representatives of the German government at best looked away as the Americans violated the law, and at worst supported them.

Just last Thursday, Günter Heiss and his former supervisor, Merkel’s former Chief of Staff Ronald Pofalla, were questioned by the parliamentary investigative committee and attempted to explain the egregious activity. Heiss confirmed that tips had been given, but claimed they hadn’t been “concrete enough” for measures to be taken. When asked if he had been familiar with the issue, Pofalla answered, “Of course.” He said that anything else he provided had to be “in context,” at which point a representative of the Chancellery chimed in and pointed out that could only take place in a meeting behind closed doors.

In that sense, the meeting of the investigative committee once again shed light on the extent to which the balance of power has shifted between the government and the Fourth Estate. Journalists, who scrutinize and criticize those who govern, are an elementary part of the “checks and balances” — an American invention — aimed at ensuring both transparency and accountability. When it comes to intelligence issues, however, it appears this system has been out of balance for some time.

Government Lies

When SPIEGEL first reported in Summer 2013 about the extent of NSA’s spying on Germany, German politicians first expressed shock and then a certain amount of indignation before quickly sliding back into their persona as a loyal ally. After only a short time and a complete lack of willingness on the part of the Americans to explain their actions, Pofalla declared that the “allegations are off the table.”

But a number of reports published in recent months prove that, whether out of fear, outrage or an alleged lack of knowledge, it was all untrue. Everything the government said was a lie. As far back as 2013, the German government was in a position to suspect, if not to know outright, the obscene extent to which the United States was spying on an ally. If there hadn’t already been sufficient evidence of the depth of the Americans’ interest in what was happening in Berlin, Wednesday’s revelations by WikiLeaks, in cooperation with Süddeutsche Zeitung, filled in the gaps.

SPIEGEL’s reporting has long been a thorn in the side of the US administration. In addition to its reporting on a number of other scandals, the magazine exposed the kidnapping of Murat Kurnaz, a man of Turkish origin raised in Bremen, Germany, and his rendition to Guantanamo. It exposed the story of Mohammed Haydar Zammar, who was taken to Syria, where he was tortured. The reports triggered the launch of a parliamentary investigative committee in Berlin to look also into the CIA’s practices.

When SPIEGEL reported extensively on the events surrounding the arrest of three Islamist terrorists in the so-called “Sauerland cell” in Germany, as well as the roles played by the CIA and the NSA in foiling the group, the US government complained several times about the magazine. In December 2007, US intelligence coordinator Mike McConnell personally raised the issue during a visit to Berlin. And when SPIEGEL reported during the summer of 2009, under the headline “Codename Domino,” that a group of al-Qaida supporters was believed to be heading for Europe, officials at the CIA seethed. The sourcing included a number of security agencies and even a piece of information supplied by the Americans. At the time, the station chief for Germany’s BND intelligence service stationed in Washington was summoned to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

The situation escalated in August 2010 after SPIEGEL, together with WikiLeaks, the Guardian and the New York Times, began exposing classified US Army reports from Afghanistan. That was followed three months later with the publication of the Iraq war logs based on US Army reports. And in November of that year, WikiLeaks, SPIEGEL and several international media reported how the US government thinks internally about the rest of the world on the basis of classified State Department cables. Pentagon officials at the time declared that WikiLeaks had “blood on its hands.” The Justice Department opened an investigation and seized data from Twitter accounts, e-mail exchanges and personal data from activists connected with the whistleblowing platform. The government then set up a Task Force with the involvement of the CIA and NSA.

Not even six months later, the CIA station chief requested to go on the walk in which he informed the intelligence coordinator about Vorbeck and harshly criticized SPIEGEL.

Digital Snooping

Not long later, a small circle inside the Chancellery began discussing how the CIA may have got ahold of the information. Essentially, two possibilities were conceivable: either through an informant or through surveillance of communications. But how likely is it that the CIA had managed to recruit a source in the Chancellery or on the editorial staff of SPIEGEL?

The more likely answer, members of the circle concluded, was that the information must have been the product of “SigInt,” signals intelligence — in other words, wiretapped communications. It seems fitting that during the summer of 2013, just prior to the scandal surrounding Edward Snowden and the documents he exposed pertaining to NSA spying, German government employees warned several SPIEGEL journalists that the Americans were eavesdropping on them.

At the end of June 2011, Heiss then flew to Washington. During a visit to CIA headquarters in Langley, the issue of the alleged contact with SPIEGEL was raised again. Chancellery staff noted the suspicion in a classified internal memo that explicitly names SPIEGEL.

One of the great ironies of the story is that contact with the media was one of Vorbeck’s job responsibilities. He often took part in background discussions with journalists and even represented the Chancellery at public events. “I had contact with journalists and made no secret about it,” Vorbeck told SPIEGEL. “I even received them in my office in the Chancellery. That was a known fact.” He has since hired a lawyer.

It remains unclear just who US intelligence originally had in its scopes. The question is also unlikely to be answered by the parliamentary investigative committee, because the US appears to have withheld this information from the Chancellery. Theoretically, at least, there are three possibilities: The Chancellery — at least in the person of Hans Josef Vorbeck. SPIEGEL journalists. Or blanket surveillance of Berlin’s entire government quarter. The NSA is capable of any of the three options. And it is important to note that each of these acts would represent a violation of German law.

Weak Arguments

So far, the Chancellery has barricaded itself behind the argument that the origin of the information had been too vague and abstract to act on. In addition, the tip had been given in confidentiality, meaning that neither Vorbeck nor SPIEGEL could be informed. But both are weak arguments, given that the CIA station chief’s allegations were directed precisely at SPIEGEL and Vorbeck and that the intelligence coordinator’s deputy would ultimately be sidelined as a result.

And even if you follow the logic that the tip wasn’t concrete enough, there is still one committee to whom the case should have been presented under German law: the Bundestag’s Parliamentary Control Panel, whose proceedings are classified and which is responsible for oversight of Germany’s intelligence services. The nine members of parliament on the panel are required to be informed about all intelligence events of “considerable importance.”

Members of parliament on the panel did indeed express considerable interest in the Vorbeck case. They learned in fall 2011 of his transfer, and wanted to know why “a reliable coordinator in the fight against terrorism would be shifted to a post like that, one who had delivered excellent work on the issue,” as then chairman of the panel, Social Demoratic Party politician Thomas Oppermann, criticized at the time.

But no word was mentioned about the reasons behind the transfer during a Nov. 9, 2011 meeting of the panel. Not a single word about the walk taken by the CIA chief of station. Not a word about the business trip to Washington taken by Günter Heiss afterward. And not a word about Vorbeck’s alleged contacts with SPIEGEL. Instead, the parliamentarians were told a myth — that the move had been made necessary by cutbacks. And also because he was needed to work on an historical appraisal of Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the BND.

Deceiving Parliament

Officials in the Chancellery had decided to deceive parliament about the issue. And for a long time, it looked as though they would get away with it.

The appropriate way of dealing with the CIA’s incrimination would have been to transfer the case to the justice system. Public prosecutors would have been forced to follow up with two investigations: One to find out whether the CIA’s allegations against Vorbeck had been true — both to determine whether government secrets had been breached and out of the obligation to assist a longtime civil servant. It also would have had to probe suspicions that a foreign intelligence agency conducted espionage in the heart of the German capital.

That could, and should, have been the case. Instead, the Chancellery decided to go down the path of deception, scheming with an ally, all the while interpreting words like friendship and partnership in a highly arbitrary and scrupulous way.

Günter Heiss, who received the tip from the CIA station chief, is an experienced civil servant. In his earlier years, Heiss studied music. He would go on as a music instructor to teach a young Ursula von der Leyen (who is Germany’s defense minister today) how to play the piano. But then Heiss, a tall, slightly lanky man, switched professions and instead pursued a career in intelligence that would lead him to the top post in the Lower Saxony state branch of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. Even back then, the Christian Democrat was already covering up the camera on his laptop screen with tape. At the very least “they” shouldn’t be able to see him, he said at the time, elaborating that the “they” he was referring to should not be interpreted as being the US intelligence services, but rather the other spies – “the Chinese” and, “in any case, the Russians.” For conservatives like Heiss, America, after all, is friendly territory.

‘Spying Among Friends Not Acceptable’

If there was suspicion in the summer of 2011 that the NSA was spying on a staff member at the Chancellery, it should have set off alarm bells within the German security apparatus. Both the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which is responsible for counter-intelligence, and the Federal Office for Information Security should have been informed so that they could intervene. There also should have been discussions between the government ministers and the chancellor in order to raise government awareness about the issue. And, going by the maxim the chancellor would formulate two years later, Merkel should have had a word with the Americans along the lines of “Spying among friends is not acceptable.”

And against the media.

If it is true that a foreign intelligence agency spied on journalists as they conducted their reporting in Germany and then informed the Chancellery about it, then these actions would place a huge question mark over the notion of a free press in this country. Germany’s highest court ruled in 2007 that press freedom is a “constituent part of a free and democratic order.” The court held that reporting can no longer be considered free if it entails a risk that journalists will be spied on during their reporting and that the federal government will be informed of the people they speak to.

“Freedom of the press also offers protection from the intrusion of the state in the confidentiality of the editorial process as well as the relationship of confidentiality between the media and its informants,” the court wrote in its ruling. Freedom of the press also provides special protection to the “the secrecy of sources of information and the relationship of confidentiality between the press, including broadcasters, and the source.”

Criminalizing Journalism

But Karlsruhe isn’t Washington. And freedom of the press is not a value that gives American intelligence agencies pause. On the contrary, the Obama administration has gained a reputation for adamantly pursuing uncomfortable journalistic sources. It hasn’t even shied away from targeting American media giants.

In spring 2013, it became known that the US Department of Justice mandated the monitoring of 100 telephone numbers belonging to the news agency Associated Press. Based on the connections that had been tapped, AP was able to determine that the government likely was interested in determining the identity of an important informant. The source had revealed to AP reporters details of a CIA operation pertaining to an alleged plot to blow up a commercial jet.

The head of AP wasn’t the only one who found the mass surveillance of his employees to be an “unconstitutional act.” Even Republican Senators like John Boehner sharply criticized the government, pointing to press freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. “The First Amendment is first for a reason,” he said.

But the Justice Department is unimpressed by such formulations. New York Times reporter James Risen, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, was threatened with imprisonment for contempt of court in an effort to get him to turn over his sources — which he categorically refused to do for seven years. Ultimately, public pressure became too intense, leading Obama’s long-time Attorney General Eric Holder to announce last October that Risen would not be forced to testify.

The Justice Department was even more aggressive in its pursuit of James Rosen, the Washington bureau chief for TV broadcaster Fox. In May 2013, it was revealed that his telephone was bugged, his emails were read and his visits to the State Department were monitored. To obtain the necessary warrants, the Justice Department had labeled Rosen a “criminal co-conspirator.”

The strategy of criminalizing journalism has become something of a bad habit under Obama’s leadership, with his government pursuing non-traditional media, such as the whistleblower platform WikiLeaks, with particular aggression.

Bradley Manning, who supplied WikiLeaks with perhaps its most important data dump, was placed in solitary confinement and tormented with torture-like methods, as the United Nations noted critically. Manning is currently undergoing a gender transition and now calls herself Chelsea. In 2013, a military court sentenced Manning, who, among other things, publicized war crimes committed by the US in Iraq, to 35 years in prison.

In addition, a criminal investigation has been underway for at least the last five years into the platform’s operators, first and foremost its founder Julian Assange. For the past several years, a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia has been working to determine if charges should be brought against the organization.

Clandestine Proceedings

The proceedings are hidden from the public, but the grand jury’s existence became apparent once it began to subpoena witnesses with connections to WikiLeaks and when the Justice Department sought to confiscate data belonging to people who worked with Assange. The US government, for example, demanded that Twitter hand over data pertaining to several people, including the Icelandic parliamentarian Brigitta Jonsdottir, who had worked with WikiLeaks on the production of a video. The short documentary is an exemplary piece of investigative journalism, showing how a group of civilians, including employees of the news agency Reuters, were shot and killed in Baghdad by an American Apache helicopter.

Computer security expert Jacob Appelbaum, who occasionally freelances for SPIEGEL, was also affected at the time. Furthermore, just last week he received material from Google showing that the company too had been forced by the US government to hand over information about him – for the time period from November 2009 until today. The order would seem to indicate that investigators were particularly interested in Appelbaum’s role in the publication of diplomatic dispatches by WikiLeaks.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has referred to journalists who worked with material provided by Edward Snowden has his “accomplices.” In the US, there are efforts underway to pass a law pertaining to so-called “media leaks.” Australia already passed one last year. Pursuant to the law, anyone who reveals details about secret service operations may be punished, including journalists.

Worries over ‘Grave Loss of Trust’

The German government isn’t too far from such positions either. That has become clear with its handling of the strictly classified list of “selectors,” which is held in the Chancellery. The list includes search terms that Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the BND, used when monitoring telecommunications data on behalf of the NSA. The parliamentary investigative committee looking into NSA activity in Germany has thus far been denied access to the list. The Chancellery is concerned that allowing the committee to review the list could result in uncomfortable information making its way into the public.

That’s something Berlin would like to prevent. Despite an unending series of indignities visited upon Germany by US intelligence agencies, the German government continues to believe that it has a “special” relationship with its partners in America — and is apparently afraid of nothing so much as losing this partnership.

That, at least, seems to be the message of a five-page secret letter sent by Chancellery Chief of Staff Peter Altmaier, of Merkel’s Christian Democrats, to various parliamentary bodies charged with oversight. In the June 17 missive, Altmaier warns of a “grave loss of trust” should German lawmakers be given access to the list of NSA spying targets. Opposition parliamentarians have interpreted the letter as a “declaration of servility” to the US.

Altmaier refers in the letter to a declaration issued by the BND on April 30. It notes that the spying targets passed on by the NSA since 2005 include “European political personalities, agencies in EU member states, especially ministries and EU institutions, and representations of certain companies.” On the basis of this declaration, Altmaier writes, “the investigative committee can undertake its own analysis, even without knowing the individual selectors.”

Committee members have their doubts. They suspect that the BND already knew at the end of April what WikiLeaks has now released — with its revelations that the German Economics Ministry, Finance Ministry and Agriculture Ministry were all under the gaze of the NSA, among other targets. That would mean that the formulation in the BND declaration of April 30 was intentionally misleading. The Left Party and the Greens now intend to gain direct access to the selector list by way of a complaint to Germany’s Constitutional Court.

The government in Berlin would like to prevent exactly that. The fact that the US and German intelligence agencies shared selectors is “not a matter of course. Rather, it is a procedure that requires, and indicates, a special degree of trust,” Almaier writes. Should the government simply hand over the lists, Washington would see that as a “profound violation of confidentiality requirements.” One could expect, he writes, that the “US side would significantly restrict its cooperation on security issues, because it would no longer see its German partners as sufficiently trustworthy.”

Altmaier’s letter neglects to mention the myriad NSA violations committed against German interests, German citizens and German media.

Shhh… US Government Hacks at OPM Exposed More Than 21Million People

It was much worse than previously reported: more than 21 million people were “swept up in a colossal breach of government computer systems that was far more damaging than initially thought”. Find out more from the New York Times.

Shhh… FBI, DEA & US Army Bought Italian Spyware

Find out more from The Intercept article below:

Leaked Documents Show FBI, DEA and U.S. Army Buying Italian Spyware

By Cora Currier and Morgan Marquis-Boire @coracurrier@headhntr

The FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Army have all bought controversial software that allows users to take remote control of suspects’ computers, recording their calls, emails, keystrokes and even activating their cameras, according to internal documents hacked from the software’s Italian manufacturer.

The company, Hacking Team, has also been aggressively marketing the software to other U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies, demonstrating their products to district attorneys in New York, San Bernardino, California, and Maricopa, Arizona; and multi-agency task forces like the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation in Florida and California’s Regional Enforcement Allied Computer Team. The company was also in conversation with various other agencies, including the CIA, the Pentagon’s Criminal Investigative Service, the New York Police Department, and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

The revelations come from hundreds of gigabytes of company information, including emails and financial records, which were released online Sunday night and analyzed by The Intercept. Milan-based Hacking Team is one of a handful of companies that sell off-the-shelf spyware for hundreds of thousands of euros — a price point accessible to smaller countries and large police forces. Hacking Team has drawn fire from human rights and privacy activists who contend that the company’s aggressive malware, known as Remote Control System, or RCS, is being sold to countries that deploy it against activists, political opponents and journalists.

Even in the U.S., where the software would presumably be used only with a judge’s approval, the tactic is still controversial. Just last month, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, wrote to the director of the FBI asking for “more specific information about the FBI’s current use of spyware,” in order for the Senate Judiciary Committee to evaluate “serious privacy concerns.”

The leaked emails show that the FBI has been using Hacking Team’s software since 2011, apparently for the secretive Remote Operations Unit. It’s long been reported that the FBI has deployed malware in investigations, but details on the agency’s efforts are thin, with the tactic only surfacing rarely in court cases — such as one instance last year when the FBI spoofed an Associated Press article to get a target to click on a link. The FBI reportedly develops its own malware and also buys pre-packaged products, but the relationship with Hacking Team has not been previously confirmed.

Hacking Team’s spokesperson, Eric Rabe, said in a statement that “we do not disclose the names or locations of our clients” and “we cannot comment on the validity of documents purportedly from our company.”

The director of the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation in Florida told The Intercept that it “does not have plans to purchase any product from Hacking Team.” The Manhattan District Attorney’s office said, “It would be an overstatement to say that our office is planning to purchase this type of software. This company is one of several in the industry whom we’ve requested meetings with in order to keep pace with rapid technological advancements in the private sector.”

The CIA declined to comment, and ICE said it “does not discuss law enforcement tools and techniques.” (The Intercept will update this story if other agencies named in the documents respond to requests for comment.)

The leaked emails show that U.S. agencies worried about the legality and perception of Hacking Team’s tools.

Hacking Team refers to its U.S. clients by code names. The FBI unit is “Phoebe” (initially “f-client,” but one employee complained “it sounds like an antivirus),” the DEA is “Katie,” and the CIA, which appears to have sampled, but not bought Remote Control System, is “Marianne.”

In 2011, a representative of the DEA’s Office of Investigative Technology told Hacking Team that its budget request for Remote Control System had been denied because it was considered “too controversial,” according to an email. “We are working on the foreign angle,” the DEA said, according to Hacking Team’s U.S. account manager.

“I imagine Katie [DEA] is referring to the fact that they as the DEA could buy RCS for other countries (Colombia) where it’s less problematic to use it,” an employee replied in Italian.

The purchase did go through in 2012, and it appears to have been used mainly in conjunction with Colombian law enforcement. As one email explained, “Katie will be administrator of the system, while the locals will be collecting the data. They are saying if this works out, they will bring it to other countries around the world. Already they are speaking of El Salvador and Chile.”

Robotec, a company that manages Hacking Team’s sales to several Latin American countries, also mentions clients in Colombia using DEA funding.

Local police in the U.S. also had their worries. Florida law enforcement told Hacking Team this year that the software could create legal problems without the ability to have “‘minimization’ of the calls and messages — (ie. deleting portions which are not relevant to the search.)”

In 2013, San Bernardino’s district attorney wanted to go to a judge to obtain a warrant targeting a “known bad guy” even for a trial run of the software. “If the systems [sic] proves itself in this live trial, and the judge is convinced of both its value and proper protection of privacy, they would then move into the purchase phase,” one of Hacking Team’s U.S. business partners, from the security giant SS8, explained.

“One of the concerns of this segment is that the HT product is ‘too powerful,’” Fred D’Alessio, who sits on the board of SS8 and is identified on LinkedIn as a senior advisor to Hacking Team, wrote about local agencies. “They have also said, their biggest challenge is ‘getting the lawyers and the District Attorneys to agree on what they can do legally.”

Hacking Team’s FBI contacts worried that the spread of Hacking Team software around the country could cause word to get out (as has happened with technology like Stingrays, the devices that police use to track cell phone location.) “If San Bernardino gets exposed, they might also expose Phoebe,” Hacking Team’s U.S. point man, Alex Velasco, wrote in September 2013.

The FBI’s use of Hacking Team’s software also informs the public debate about the growing use of encryption to protect Internet communications. FBI and other top U.S. law enforcement officials have been calling for a law that would provide for a “backdoor” into commercial encryption technologies — something privacy advocates and many cybersecurity researchers see as a undermining Internet security.

Hacking Team claims that its software offers a way around encryption, obviating the need for a backdoor. Vincenzetti regularly sends out articles about the encryption debate to his email list with a plug for Remote Control System. Last February, he wrote that law enforcement and security agencies could use “technologies to ACCESS THE DATA they need IN CLEARTEXT, BEFORE it gets encrypted by the device and sent to the network and AFTER it is received from the network and decrypted by the device itself. Actually THIS IS precisely WHAT WE DO.”

The Buyers

The push into the local district attorney market, for which the company considered San Bernardino a pilot, appears to have been facilitated by SS8, a massive California-based security company that markets to law enforcement agencies in the United States and abroad. (Rabe denied that SS8 is working with Hacking Team, despite emails between the companies.) The local market could be lucrative: a budget for the district attorney in New York that Hacking Team proposed in April totaled $760,000 in upfront license fees, and another $382,000 in services and maintenance.

“As with so many other surveillance technologies that were originally created for the military and intelligence community, they eventually trickle down to local law enforcement who start using them without seeking the approval of legislators — and, in many cases, keeping the courts in the dark too,” said Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The DEA, FBI and Army bought Hacking Team’s software through a company called Cicom, which for several years served as a middleman for Hacking Team’s U.S. business. The DEA and Army contracts to buy Remote Control System through Cicom were first revealed by the advocacy group Privacy International this spring. Reporters noted that Cicom shared the same corporate address in the United States as Hacking Team, but when asked about the connection by Ars Technica, Hacking Team’s U.S. spokesperson Eric Rabe said, “I cannot confirm any relationship between the company Cicom and Hacking Team.”

Alex Velasco, Cicom’s general manager, has in fact been a consultant under contract to represent Hacking Team to clients in North America since 2012, company emails show. The relationship ended in March, after Hacking Team accused Velasco of scheming to market competing products, according to an internal investigation commissioned by Hacking Team. Velasco declined to comment to The Intercept on the allegations, because he is in legal proceedings with Hacking Team.

Hacking Team was also in talks in 2014 with the FBI’s National Domestic Communications Assistance Center, a secretive unit formed in 2012 and focused on interception technologies. Velasco claims in an email that the group came to them after Citizen Lab, a research group at the University of Toronto focused on Internet technology and human rights, published a highly critical report on Hacking Team’s global sales. “If anything good came out of the Citizen lab articles is that it brought them to contact us to see if it was true,” he wrote. “Thank you Citizen Lab!!”

It’s not clear from Hacking Team emails what Army component bought an RCS system in 2011, but it was based at Fort Meade and apparently sat unused for years. According to a 2013 email from Velasco, “they purchased a system right before they got their budget cut…They were never given permission to pull an internet line to their office to install the system. (ridiculous but true!)”

Hacking Team was in the midst of negotiations for a new FBI contract from Cicom after Velasco’s firing, but the agency decided to go with another vendor due to budget timing issues, according to an email from Phillipe Vinci, Hacking Team’s vice president for business development. Besides, the product was “seen as a ‘nice to have’ by FBI,” but “they confessed they were using it for low level types of investigations. For critical operations, they were using another platform,” wrote Vinci. He said the FBI wanted more ability to go after users of Tor, the anonymizing web browser; those users accounted for 60 percent of its targets.

But Hacking Team appeared determined to continue its conquest of the U.S. market.

“There will be a process to have ‘HT Usa Inc.’ accredited,” wrote operations manager Daniele Milan. He pledged to stay in touch with the FBI, marketing new features, and identifying problems “to resolve for them (in exchange for $$$).”

While Hacking Team’s emails reveal the company to be stringent about selling only to governments, the company officials appear to worry less about how its technology is used once it gets to those customers. Responding to concerns raised by the district attorney of New York in 2013, Hacking Team’s chief operating officer Giancarlo Russo wrote that “all the consideration regarding the ‘legal framework’ cannot be addressed by us.”

Instead, he was more concerned about local customers’ ability to use the product effectively. “If you buy a Ferrari… they can teach you how to drive. They cannot grant you will be the winner of the race,” he wrote to his colleagues in English. “If Beretta sell you a gun, the most peculiar and sophisticated one, they can teach how to use it. They can not grant you are going to shoot your target properly on the field.”

–– Sheelagh McNeill contributed research to this report.

Shhh… WikiLeaks: NSA’s Been Bugging Top Brazilian Political and Financial Targets

To celebrate the US Independence Day on 4 July, WikiLeaks, together with The Intercept, released its latest disclosure “Bugging Brazil“, “a top secret US National Security Agency target list of 29 key Brazilian government phone numbers that were selected for intensive interception”.

“The US targeted not only those closest to the President, but waged an economic espionage campaign against Brazil, spying on those responsible for managing Brazil’s economy, including the head of its Central Bank. The US also extensively targetted Brazil’s diplomacy, targeting the phones of its Foreign Minister and its ambassadors to Germany, France, the EU, the US and Geneva as well as its military chiefs,” according to WikiLeaks.

“Our publication today shows the US has a long way to go to prove its dragnet surveillance on ‘friendly’ governments is over. The US has not just being targetting President Rouseff but the key figures she talks to every day. Even if US assurances of ceasing its targetting of President Rousseff could be trusted, which they cannot, it is fanciful to imagine that President Rousseff can run Brazil by talking to herself all day. If President Rousseff wants to see more US investment in Brazil on the back of her recent trip as she claims, how can she assure Brazilian companies that their US counterparts will not have an advantage provided by this surveillance, until she can really guarantee the spying has stopped – not just on her, but on all Brazilian issues,” said WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange.

Check out the full list of NSA high priority targets for Brazil here.

Shhh… XKEYSCORE – The NSA Insight Into Everything We Do Online

Glenn Greenwald and his colleagues at The Intercept has just released an extensive report on the NSA use of XKEYSCORE. And here’s a video on the same topic:

Shhh… What Message is the US Sending to France with Bulk Data Collection to Resume Following WikiLeaks' Espionnage Élysée Expose?

As I have said previously, it’s all a farce and now becoming a circus… And consider the timing, what kind of message is this for France given the recent WikiLeaks’ Espionnage Élysée exposé of NSA spying on not only 3 French Presidents but also French companies?

See the New York Times article below.


Surveillance Court Rules That N.S.A. Can Resume Bulk Data Collection

By CHARLIE SAVAGEJUNE 30, 2015

WASHINGTON — The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruled late Monday that the National Security Agency may temporarily resume its once-secret program that systematically collects records of Americans’ domestic phone calls in bulk.

But the American Civil Liberties Union said Tuesday that it would ask the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which had ruled that the surveillance program was illegal, to issue an injunction to halt the program, setting up a potential conflict between the two courts.

The program lapsed on June 1, when a law on which it was based, Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, expired. Congress revived that provision on June 2 with a bill called the USA Freedom Act, which said the provision could not be used for bulk collection after six months.

The six-month period was intended to give intelligence agencies time to move to a new system in which the phone records — which include information like phone numbers and the duration of calls but not the contents of conversations — would stay in the hands of phone companies. Under those rules, the agency would still be able to gain access to the records to analyze links between callers and suspected terrorists.

But, complicating matters, in May the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, ruled in a lawsuit brought by the A.C.L.U. that Section 215 of the Patriot Act could not legitimately be interpreted as permitting bulk collection at all.

Congress did not include language in the Freedom Act contradicting the Second Circuit ruling or authorizing bulk collection even for the six-month transition. As a result, it was unclear whether the program had a lawful basis to resume in the interim.

After President Obama signed the Freedom Act on June 2, his administration applied to restart the program for six months. But a conservative and libertarian advocacy group, FreedomWorks, filed a motion in the surveillance court saying it had no legal authority to permit the program to resume, even for the interim period.

In a 26-page opinion made public on Tuesday, Judge Michael W. Mosman of the surveillance court rejected the challenge by FreedomWorks, which was represented by a former Virginia attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican. And Judge Mosman said the Second Circuit was wrong, too.

“Second Circuit rulings are not binding” on the surveillance court, he wrote, “and this court respectfully disagrees with that court’s analysis, especially in view of the intervening enactment of the USA Freedom Act.”

When the Second Circuit issued its ruling that the program was illegal, it did not issue any injunction ordering the program halted, saying it would be prudent to see what Congress did as Section 215 neared its June 1 expiration. Jameel Jaffer, an A.C.L.U. lawyer, said on Tuesday that the group would now ask for one.

“Neither the statute nor the Constitution permits the government to subject millions of innocent people to this kind of intrusive surveillance,” Mr. Jaffer said. “We intend to ask the court to prohibit the surveillance and to order the N.S.A. to purge the records it’s already collected.”

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The bulk phone records program traces back to October 2001, when the Bush administration secretly authorized the N.S.A. to collect records of Americans’ domestic phone calls in bulk as part of a broader set of post-Sept. 11 counterterrorism efforts.

The program began on the basis of presidential power alone. In 2006, the Bush administration persuaded the surveillance court to begin blessing it under of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which says the government may collect records that are “relevant” to a national security investigation.

The program was declassified in June 2013 after its existence was disclosed by the former intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden.

It remains unclear whether the Second Circuit still considers the surveillance program to be illegal during this six-month transition period. The basis for its ruling in May was that Congress had never intended for Section 215 to authorize bulk collection.

In his ruling, Judge Mosman said that because Congress knew how the surveillance court was interpreting Section 215 when it passed the Freedom Act, lawmakers implicitly authorized bulk collection to resume for the transition period.

“Congress could have prohibited bulk data collection” effective immediately, he wrote. “Instead, after lengthy public debate, and with crystal-clear knowledge of the fact of ongoing bulk collection of call detail records,” it chose to allow a 180-day transitional period during which such collection could continue, he wrote.

The surveillance court is subject to review by its own appeals panel, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review. Both the Second Circuit and the surveillance review court are in turn subject to the Supreme Court, which resolves conflicts between appeals courts.

Wyn Hornbuckle, a Justice Department spokesman, said in a written statement that the Obama administration agreed with Judge Mosman.

Since the program was made public, plaintiffs have filed several lawsuits before regular courts, which hear arguments from each side before issuing rulings, unlike the surveillance court’s usual practice, which is to hear only from the government. Judge Mosman’s disagreement with the Second Circuit is the second time that the surveillance court has rejected a contrary ruling about the program by a judge in the regular court system.

In a lawsuit challenging the program that was brought by the conservative legal advocate Larry Klayman, Judge Richard J. Leon of Federal District Court in the District of Columbia ruled in December 2013 that the program most likely violated the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.

But in March 2014, Judge Rosemary M. Collyer, a Federal District Court judge who also sits on the secret surveillance court, rejected Judge Leon’s reasoning and permitted the program to keep going. The Obama administration has appealed Judge Leon’s decision to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The Freedom Act also contains a provision saying that whenever the surveillance court addresses a novel and significant legal issue, it must either appoint an outside “friend of the court” who can offer arguments contrary to what the government is saying, or explain why appointing one is not appropriate.

The first test of that reform came last month when another judge on the court, F. Dennis Saylor IV, addressed a separate issue raised by the passage of the Freedom Act. Judge Saylor acknowledged that it was novel and significant, but declined to appoint an outside advocate, saying the answer to the legal question was “sufficiently clear” to him without hearing from one.

A version of this article appears in print on July 1, 2015, on page A19 of the New York edition with the headline: Surveillance Court Rules That N.S.A. Can Resume Bulk Data Collection.

Shhh… WikiLeaks: US Also Had a Decade-long Policy of Economic Espionage Against French Companies

(Above) photo credit: Focus

Assume this is no surprise to many? Following the recent WikiLeaks’ Espionnage Élysée exposé about the NSA spying on 3 French presidents, new WikiLeaks documents revealed how “the US has had a decade- long policy of economic espionage against France, including the interception of all French corporate contracts and negotiations valued at more than $200 million”.

“That covers not only all of France’s major companies, from BNP Paribas, AXA and Credit Agricole to Peugeot and Renault, Total and Orange, but it also affects the major French farming associations,” according to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

“Central within the cache of documents are two long-term spying orders (“collection requirements”) which define the kinds of intelligence the NSA is tasked with collecting in its surveillance operations against France. The documents make clear that the NSA has been tasked with obtaining intelligence on all aspects of the French economy, from government policy, diplomacy, banking and participation in international bodies to infrastructural development, business practices and trade activities,” according to WikiLeaks.

Here’s a related story from Techcrunch:

New WikiLeaks Documents Reveal NSA Spied On Top French Companies

by Romain Dillet (@romaindillet)

Following last week’s eavesdropping reports, WikiLeaks shared new documents with Libération and Mediapart. This time, the new documents reveal that the NSA was spying on France’s best performing companies for economic intelligence purposes.

In addition to eavesdropping French Economy Ministers François Baroin and Pierre Moscovici between 2004 and 2012, the NSA gathered as much data as possible on big French companies. In particular, the agency wanted to know more about the companies that signed expensive export contracts for industrial goods, such as nuclear power plants, planes, high speed trains, etc.

According to an economic espionage order, the NSA intercepted all French corporate contracts and negotiations valued at more than $200 million in many different industries, such as telecommunications, electrical generation, gas, oil, nuclear and renewable energy, and environmental and healthcare technologies.

A second economic espionage order called “France: Economic Developments” shows that information was then shared with other U.S. agencies and secretaries, including the Secretary of Energy, the Secretary of Commerce, the Federal Reserve and the Secretary of Treasury. Eventually, this data could have been used to help sign export deals.

According to France’s IT security agency Anssi, the NSA could have spied on at least a hundred French companies, including most public CAC40 companies. Airbus filed a complaint for intelligence gathering earlier today.

The second document also states that the NSA could share this information with its closest allies — the U.K., Canada, New Zealand and Australia. It’s unclear whether the NSA is still actively spying on French companies. Today’s news is particularly interesting as it proves that the NSA is not only a geopolitical intelligence agency. It also plays an important role when it comes to economic intelligence.

Shhh… French Asylum Offer to Snowden & Assange as Ultimate US Contempt

(Above) Photo credit: The Intercept

No surprise, that’s the ultimate official French reaction to the WikiLeaks’ Espionnage Élysée exposé on the NSA “unspeakable practice” earlier this week – check out The Intercept article below.

French Justice Minister Says Snowden and Assange Could Be Offered Asylum

By Jenna McLaughlin @JennaMC_Laugh

French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira thinks National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange might be allowed to settle in France.

If France decides to offer them asylum, she would “absolutely not be surprised,” she told French news channel BFMTV on Thursday (translated from the French). She said it would be a “symbolic gesture.”

Taubira was asked about the NSA’s sweeping surveillance of three French presidents, disclosed by WikiLeaks this week, and called it an “unspeakable practice.”

Her comments echoed those in an editorial in France’s leftist newspaper Libération Thursday morning, which said giving Snowden asylum would be a “single gesture” that would send “a clear and useful message to Washington,” in response to the “contempt” the U.S. showed by spying on France’s president.

Snowden, who faces criminal espionage charges in the U.S., has found himself stranded in Moscow with temporary asylum as he awaits responses from two dozen countries where he’d like to live; and Assange is trapped inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden. (See correction below.)

Taubira, the chief of France’s Ministry of Justice, holds the equivalent position of the attorney general in the United States. She has been described in the press as a “maverick,” targeting issues such as poverty and same-sex marriage, often inspiring anger among French right-wingers.

Taubira doesn’t actually have the power to offer asylum herself, however. She said in the interview that such a decision would be up to the French president, prime minister and foreign minister. And Taubira just last week threatened to quit her job unless French President François Hollande implemented her juvenile justice reforms.

Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article improperly described the state of Assange’s case in Sweden and his reason for avoiding extradition. He has refused to go to Sweden, where he faces accusations of sexual assault, because he fears he could then be extradited to the United States.

(This post is from our blog: Unofficial Sources.)

Shhh… Snowden Supports Apple’s Public Stance On Privacy

Edward Snowden Supports Apple’s Public Stance On Privacy

by Josh Constine (@joshconstine)

Edward Snowden says we should support Apple’s newly emphasized commitment to privacy rather than a business model driven by personal data collection, whether or not Tim Cook is being genuine. Snowden spoke over video conference during the Challenge.rs conference in Barcelona today.

I asked Snowden his thoughts on Cook’s recent acceptance speech for an Electronic Privacy Information Center award, saying:

CEO Tim Cook recently took a stand on privacy and Apple’s business, saying “some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information. They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong. And it’s not the kind of company that Apple wants to be.”

Do you think Cook’s perspective genuine and honest, and how do you think it will play out long-term with regards to it hurting or helping Apple’s business, or whether Apple will keep this promise to privacy?

Snowden responded:

I think in the current situation, it doesn’t matter if he’s being honest or dishonest. What really matters is that he’s obviously got a commercial incentive to differentiate himself from competitors like Google. But if he does that, if he directs Apple’s business model to be different, to say “we’re not in the business of collecting and selling information. We’re in the business of creating and selling devices that are superior”, then that’s a good thing for privacy. That’s a good thing for customers.

And we should support vendors who are willing to innovate. Who are willing to take positions like that, and go “You know, just because it’s popular to collect everybody’s information and resell it..to advertisers and whatever, it’s going to serve our reputation, it’s going to serve our relationship with our customers, and it’s going to serve society better. If instead we just align ourselves with our customers and what they really want, if we can outcompete people on the value of our products without needing to subsidize that by information that we’ve basically stolen from our customers, that’s absolutely something that should be supported. And regardless of whether it’s honest or dishonest, for the moment, now, that’s something we should support, that’s something we should incentivize, and it’s actually something we should emulate.

And if that position comes to be reversed in the future, I think that should be a much bigger hammer that comes against Apple because then that’s a betrayal of trust, that’s a betrayal of a promise to its customers. But I would like to think that based on the leadership that Tim Cook has shown on this position so far, he’s spoken very passionately about private issues, that we’re going to see that continue and he’ll keep those promises.

It’s reasonable to wonder how much of Cook’s chest-beating on privacy is philosophy and how much is marketing. Since the iCloud celebrity photo hack last year, we’ve written about how Apple needs to be more transparent about security and privacy. Snowden seems to agree it could benefit the company as well as society.

Apple’s steps in that direction through press releases and public appearances by Cook have been positively received. They resonate especially well with the public in contrast to other tech giants like Google and Facebook that are aggressively collecting private personal data, and the widespread security breaches of big brands.

Yet while people frequently say privacy is important to them, their unwillingness to stray from products that rely on mining their data seems to suggest otherwise. We’re just at the start of the age of personalized computing, and those that embrace it may get an advantage in the market.

Apple is experimenting with ways to personalize with privacy in mind. Its new Proactive update to Siri scans your email to remind you about events, but only does this on your device rather than copying your data to its servers for processing. To keep up while remaining true to its ideals, Apple will need more creative solutions like this to deliver convenience without being creepy.

Shhh… Conspiracy Theories on Latest Snowden Claims?

The latest news on Snowden’s encrypted files being decoded by Russian and Chinese spies would surely do no good for the former NSA contractor but conspiracy theorists would certainly question not just the validity of these claims but the timing – consider recent attempts to restore NSA surveillance and let’s not forget how closely the the NSA works with its British counterparts GCHQ, or MI6 for that matter.

Shhh… Hackers Target Database of Chinese with Ties to US Government

Check out the NYT article below.

Hackers May Have Obtained Names of Chinese With Ties to U.S. Government

By DAVID E. SANGER and JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVISJUNE 10, 2015

WASHINGTON — Investigators say that the Chinese hackers who attacked the databases of the Office of Personnel Management may have obtained the names of Chinese relatives, friends and frequent associates of American diplomats and other government officials, information that Beijing could use for blackmail or retaliation.

Federal employees who handle national security information are required to list some or all of their foreign contacts, depending on the agency, to receive high-level clearances. Investigators say that the hackers obtained many of the lists, and they are trying to determine how many of those thousands of names were compromised.

In classified briefings to members of Congress in recent days, intelligence officials have described what appears to be a systematic Chinese effort to build databases that explain the inner workings of the United States government. The information includes friends and relatives, around the world, of diplomats, of White House officials and of officials from government agencies, like nuclear experts and trade negotiators.

“They are pumping this through their databases just as the N.S.A. pumps telephone data through their databases,” said James Lewis, a cyberexpert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It gives the Chinese the ability to exploit who is listed as a foreign contact. And if you are a Chinese person who didn’t report your contacts or relationships with an American, you may have a problem.”

Officials have conceded in the briefings that most of the compromised data was not encrypted, though they have argued that the attacks were so sophisticated and well hidden that encryption might have done little good.

The first attack, which began at the end of 2013 and was disclosed in the middle of last year, was aimed at the databases used by investigators who conduct security reviews. The investigators worked for a contracting firm on behalf of the Office of Personnel Management, and the firm was fired in August.

The broader attack on the personnel office’s main databases followed in December. That attack, announced last week, involved the records of more than four million current and former federal employees, most of whom have no security clearances.

White House and personnel office officials have provided few details about the latest breach. But the Department of Homeland Security has been telling outside experts and members of Congress that it regards the detection of the attack as a success, because it made use of new “signatures” of foreign hackers, based on characteristics of computer code, to find the attack.

In a statement, the personnel office said Wednesday that “it was because of these new enhancements to our IT systems that O.P.M. was able to identify these intrusions.” But the detection happened in April, five months after the attack began.

The list of relatives and “close or continuous contacts” is a standard part of the forms and interviews required of American officials every five years for top-secret and other high-level clearances, and government officials consider the lists to be especially delicate.

In 2010, when The New York Times was preparing to publish articles based on 250,000 secret State Department cables obtained by WikiLeaks, the newspaper complied with a request by the department to redact the names of any Chinese citizens who were described in the cables as providing information to American Embassy officials. Officials cited fear of retaliation by the Chinese authorities.

Officials say they do not know how much of the compromised data was exposed to the Chinese hackers. While State Department employees, especially new ones, are required to list all their foreign friends, diplomats have so many foreign contacts that they are not expected to list them all.

But other government officials are frequently asked to do so, especially in interviews with investigators. The notes from those interviews, conducted by a spinoff of the personnel office called the United States Investigative Service, were obtained by hackers in the earlier episode last year.

Intelligence agencies use a different system, so the contacts of operatives like those in the C.I.A. were not in the databases.

But the standard form that anyone with a national security job fills out includes information about spouses, divorces and even distant foreign relatives, as well as the names of current or past foreign girlfriends and boyfriends, bankruptcies, debts and other financial information. And it appears that the hackers reached, and presumably downloaded, images of those forms.

“I can’t say whether this was more damaging than WikiLeaks; it’s different in nature,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff, a California Democrat who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee, which was briefed by intelligence officials, the Department of Homeland Security and the personnel office on Tuesday. Mr. Schiff, who declined to speak about the specifics of the briefing, added, “But it is certainly one of the most damaging losses I can think of.”

Investigators were surprised to find that the personnel office, which had already been so heavily criticized for lax security that its inspector general wanted parts of the system shut down, did not encrypt any of the most sensitive data.

The damage was not limited to information about China, though that presumably would have been of most interest to the hackers. They are likely to be particularly interested in the contacts of Energy Department officials who work on nuclear weapons or nuclear intelligence, Commerce Department or trade officials working on delicate issues like the negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and, of course, White House officials.

In a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine on both the Intelligence Committee and the Armed Services Committee, called for the United States to retaliate for these kinds of losses. “Nation-states need to know that if they attack us this way, something bad is going to happen to their cyberinfrastructure,” he said.

But Mr. King said he could not say if the attacks on the personnel office were state-sponsored, adding, “I have to be careful; I can’t confirm the identity of the entity behind the attack.” The Obama administration has not formally named China, but there has been no effort to hide the attribution in the classified hearings.

The scope of the breach is remarkable, experts say, because the personnel office apparently learned little from earlier government data breaches like the WikiLeaks case and the surveillance revelations by Edward J. Snowden, both of which involved unencrypted data.

President Obama has said he regards the threat of cyberintrusions as a persistent challenge in a world in which both state and nonstate actors “are sending everything they’ve got at trying to breach these systems.”

The problem “is going to accelerate, and that means that we have to be as nimble, as aggressive and as well resourced as those who are trying to break into these systems,” he said at a news conference this week.

The White House has stopped short of blaming Katherine Archuleta, the director of the personnel office, for the breach, emphasizing that securing government computer systems is a challenging task.

Correction: June 10, 2015

An earlier version of a photo caption with this article misstated the name of the federal office building where employees handle national security information are required to list their foreign contacts. It is the Office of Personnel Management building, not Office of Personal Management.

Matt Apuzzo contributed reporting.

Shhh… Latest Cyberattacks on US Government a Hoax – To Restore NSA Surveillance?

You may have read and heard about the latest cyberattacks on the US government (see video above) over the weekend? Reckon you can’t help wondering how coincidental this “incident” was, judging by the following Guardian article. Nice strategy, Congress??

Shhh… FBI Operate Surveillance Planes – With Fictitious Names and Video & Cellphone Technologies

Now the question is: how long has this been going on and is this a “Plan B” in the aftermath of the recent NSA Surveillance stand-down?

Find out more from the Guardian.

Shhh… What About Snowden Now with NSA Surveillance on Hold?

(Above) Photo credit: http://glenngreenwald.net/

Check out the following Guardian article:

Charges against Edward Snowden stand, despite telephone surveillance ban

The former NSA contractor revealed the banned surveillance programme, but an Obama administration spokesman says they will not review his charges

The White House refused to reconsider its legal pursuit of Edward Snowden on Monday, while it sought to take credit for outlawing the bulk telephone surveillance programme he revealed.

Obama administration spokesman Josh Earnest rejected the argument that the imminent passage of legislation banning the practice meant it was time to take a fresh look at the charges against the former National Security Agency contractor.

“The fact is that Mr Snowden committed very serious crimes, and the US government and the Department of Justice believe that he should face them,” Earnest told the Guardian at the daily White House press briefing.

“That’s why we believe that Mr Snowden should return to the United States, where he will face due process and have the opportunity to make that case in a court of law.”

Earnest refused to comment on whether Snowden could be allowed to employ a whistleblower defence if he choose to return voluntarily, something his supporters have argued is impossible under current Espionage Act charges.

“Obviously this is something that the Department of Justice would handle if they are having [those conversations],” said Earnest. “The thing I would put out is that there exists mechanisms for whistleblowers to raise concerns about sensitive national security programmes.”

“Releasing details of sensitive national security programmes on the internet for everyone, including our adversaries to see, is inconsistent with those protocols that are established for protecting whistleblowers,” he added.

But the White House placed itself firmly on the side of NSA reform, when asked if the president was “taking ownership” of the USA Freedom Act, which is expected to pass Congress later this week.

“To the extent that we’re talking about the president’s legacy, I would suspect [it] would be a logical conclusion from some historians that the president ended some of these programmes,” replied Earnest.

“This is consistent with the reforms that the president advocated a year and a half ago. And these are reforms that required the president and his team to expend significant amounts of political capital to achieve over the objection of Republicans.”

The administration also avoided four separate opportunities to warn that the temporary loss of separate Patriot Act surveillance provisions that expired alongside bulk collection on Sunday night had put the safety of Americans at risk, as some have claimed.

“All I can do is I can illustrate to you very clearly that there are tools that had previously been available to our national security professionals that are not available today because the Senate didn’t do their job,” said Earnest.

“As a result, there are programmes and tools that our national security professionals themselves say are important to their work that are not available to them right now, as we speak.”

Asked four times by reporters whether that meant Americans were markedly less safe as a result of the standoff in the Senate, the White House spokesman repeatedly said it was up to these national security staff, not him, to say.

Shhh… USA Freedom Act Fails Again – Senators Reject Bill to Scrap NSA Bulk Collection

And check out the following Guardian article below:

USA Freedom Act fails as senators reject bill to scrap NSA bulk collection

Ben Jacobs and Sabrina Siddiqui in Washington and Spencer Ackerman in New York
Saturday 23 May 2015 05.46 BST

Bill fails for the second time after vote in the small hours of Saturday morning, but Rand Paul thwarts Republican leaders’ attempts to extend Patriot Act

For the second time in less than a year, US senators rejected a bill to abolish the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of American phone records.

By a vote of 57-42, the USA Freedom Act failed on Friday to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to advance in the Senate after hours of procedural manoeuvering lasted into the small hours Saturday morning.

The result left the Senate due to reconvene on May 31, just hours before a wellspring of broad NSA and FBI domestic spying powers will expire at midnight.

Architects of the USA Freedom Act had hoped that the expiration at the end of May of the Patriot Act authorities, known as Section 215, provided them sufficient leverage to undo the defeat of 2014 and push their bill over the line.

The bill was a compromise to limit the scope of government surveillance. It traded the end of NSA bulk surveillance for the retention through 2019 of Section 215, which permits the collection of “business records” outside normal warrant and subpoena channels – as well as a massive amount of US communications metadata, according to a justice department report.

Although the bill passed the House of Representatives by a massive 338-88 margin last week, it was unable to overcome concerns from Republicans about the process of letting telecom companies take responsibility about the collection data from the NSA.

Republican leadership was hoping for a short-term extension of the Patriot Act which would push debate into early June, once the Senate returns from its Memorial Day recess.

This was considered far more likely than a two-month extension of the legislation, which was considered a forlorn hope and failed by a 45-54 vote shortly after the USA Freedom Act failed to reach cloture on Saturday morning.

Nevada Republican Dean Heller, a co-sponsor of the bill, told reporters early on Friday: “We’re losing the ‘politics of going home’ argument with our conference.”

He added that proponents of a short term extension were able to argue that supporting the bill meant staying on Capitol Hill all week. “So how do you win that argument?” Heller said.

The answer was by making senators stay regardless of how they voted as Kentucky Republican Rand Paul, a virulent opponent of NSA surveillance, torpedoed any attempt to kick the can down the road.

On Saturday morning, after both cloture votes failed, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell asked for unanimous consent to extend the Patriot Act for a week. Paul objected. Objections were then heard from Paul, as well as from Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden and New Mexico Democrat Martin Heinrich on four-day, two-day and one-day extensions. Eventually McConnell gave up and announced that the Senate would adjourn until 31 May, the day before the key provisions of the Patriot Act expire.

The failure of the USA Freedom Act leaves the Senate in an impasse.

Republican whip John Cornyn, a strident supporter of extending the Patriot Act, divided the Senate into three groups on Friday.

As he put it, there are those who want a “straight extension, those who like USA Freedom and those who like nothing”.

Those who want a straight extension of the Patriot Act are in a distinct minority and supporters of the USA Freedom Act still cannot muster the necessary super majority to advance the bill. The result means those who are more than happy to simply let Section 215 expire on May 31 are in the driver’s seat.

When reporters asked Paul on Saturday morning whether he was concerned about the provisions of the Patriot Act expiring at the end of the month, the Kentucky Republican seemed unworried “We were liking the constitution for about 200 years and I think we could rely on the constitution.”

There still is some room for compromise. Arizona Republican John McCain, when asked if the USA Freedom Act was better than a lapse, said: “There are some programs that are affected by ‘Freedom USA’ that I would be very concerned about shutting down.” He added “but obviously anything is better than shutting down the whole operation.”

McCain also noted that “you can argue whether we should be doing the mega data thing but you can’t argue that it’s a good idea to shut down the whole thing.”

However, that shouldn’t be seen as any sort of endorsement of the NSA reform bill by hawks in Senate GOP caucus. Representative Tom Massie, a Kentucky Republican who came to the Senate floor to witness the vote Saturday morning, told reporters he was surprised at how strongly many of his fellow Republicans felt about the compromise reform bill. “They really don’t like the Freedom Act,” he said.

In the meantime, barring a breakthrough in the coming days, “the whole operation may be shutdown regardless” as the May 31 deadline looms closer.

Mitch McConnell may still be majority leader but for now, it’s Rand Paul’s Senate.

Shhh… US Congress on Track to End NSA's Bulk Phone Collection Program?

The House overwhelmingly approved Wednesday legislation to end the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records. Are you counting on it? I’m not as it’s highly likely secret “alternatives” have already been paved to have the NSA continue business as usual…

Shhh… Jack Barsky – The Spy Among US

(Above) Photo credit: CBS 60 Minutes

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Shhh… Former CIA Officer Sentenced for Leaks to NYT Reporter

(Above) photo credit: RT (Image from twitter.com @Manuel_Rapalo)

No matter what the judge thinks, one can’t help feeling sorry for Jeffrey Sterling (see the New York Times story below) considering how David Petraeus got away so lightly.

Ex-C.I.A. Officer Sentenced in Leak Case Tied to Times Reporter

By MATT APUZZOMAY 11, 2015

LEXANDRIA, Va. — A former Central Intelligence Agency officer on Monday was sentenced to three and a half years in prison on espionage charges for telling a journalist for The New York Times about a secret operation to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program. The sentence was far less than the Justice Department had wanted.

The former officer, Jeffrey A. Sterling, argued that the Espionage Act, which was passed during World War I, was intended to prosecute spies, not officials who talked to journalists. He asked for the kind of leniency that prosecutors showed to David H. Petraeus, the retired general who last month received probation for providing his highly classified journals to his biographer.

The case revolves around an operation in which a former Russian scientist provided Iran with intentionally flawed nuclear component schematics. Mr. Sterling was convicted in January of disclosing the operation to James Risen, a reporter for The Times, who had revealed it in his 2006 book, “State of War.” Mr. Risen described it as a botched mission that may have inadvertently advanced Iran’s nuclear program.

The Justice Department said that Mr. Sterling’s disclosures compromised an important C.I.A. operation and jeopardized the life of a spy. Under federal sentencing guidelines, he faced more than 20 years in prison, a calculation with which the Justice Department agreed. Prosecutors sought a “severe” sentence in that range.

Prosecutors maintain that the program was successful, and said Mr. Sterling’s disclosure “was borne not of patriotism but of pure spite.” The Justice Department argued that Mr. Sterling, who is black, had a vendetta against the C.I.A., which he had sued for racial discrimination.

Judge Leonie M. Brinkema gave no indication that she was swayed by the government’s argument that the book had disrupted a crucial operation, or harmed national security. She said she was most bothered that the information revealed in “State of War” had jeopardized the safety of the Russian scientist, who was a C.I.A. informant. Of all the types of secrets kept by American intelligence officers, she said, “This is the most critical secret.”

She said Mr. Sterling had to be punished to send a message to other officials. “If you knowingly reveal these secrets, there’s going to be a price to be paid,” she said.

Mr. Sterling, 47, spoke only briefly to thank the judge and court staff for treating him kindly as the case dragged on for years. Barry J. Pollack, a lawyer for Mr. Sterling, said jurors got the verdict wrong when they voted to convict. “That said, the judge today got it right,” he said.

Under federal rules, Mr. Sterling will be eligible for release from prison in just under three years.

The sentence caps a leak investigation that began under President George W. Bush and became a defining case in the Obama administration’s crackdown on government leaks. Under Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., the Justice Department prosecuted more people for having unauthorized discussions with reporters than all prior administrations combined.

For years, Mr. Sterling’s case was known most for the Justice Department’s efforts to force Mr. Risen to reveal his source. At the last minute, under pressure from journalist groups and liberal advocates, Mr. Holder relented and did not force Mr. Risen to choose between revealing his source or going to jail. Prosecutors won the case without Mr. Risen’s testimony.

Since the conviction, the case has been notable because of the stark differences in sentences handed down to leakers. Midlevel people like Mr. Sterling have been charged most aggressively. John C. Kiriakou, a former C.I.A. officer, served about two years in prison. Two former government contractors, Donald J. Sachtleben and Stephen J. Kim, are serving prison time. Thomas A. Drake, a former National Security Agency official, faced the prospect of years in prison but received a plea deal on a minor charge and avoided serving time after his lawyers won critical rulings before the trial.

By comparison, the F.B.I. investigated a decorated military leader, retired Gen. James E. Cartwright, after public reports described a highly classified wave of American cyberattacks against Iran. But that investigation has stalled because investigators considered the operation too sensitive to discuss at a public trial.

Mr. Petraeus, meanwhile, retains his status as an adviser to the Obama administration despite giving Paula Broadwell, his biographer, who was also his lover, notebooks containing handwritten classified notes about official meetings, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and the names of covert officers. Ms. Broadwell had a security clearance but was not authorized to receive the information.

Mr. Petraeus also admitted lying to the F.B.I., and the leniency of his plea deal infuriated many prosecutors and agents.

In court documents filed in Mr. Sterling’s case, the Justice Department argued that Mr. Petraeus’s crimes were not comparable. “None of this classified information was included in his biography, made public in any other way, or disclosed by his biographer to any third parties.”

Shhh… NSA Rats Exposed – The "Facebook-NSA Queen" & Mysterious Death of Dave Goldberg

Some thoughts for the weekend… listen especially to the first six and a half minutes of this clip below about the conspiracy theories surrounding the recent mysterious death of Dave Goldberg, the husband of Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg – the “Facebook-NSA Queen”.

Shhh… NSA Have More Data Than They Can Handle

Are you wondering why this “problem” (data overload – see article below) did not happen earlier…?

NSA is so overwhelmed with data, it’s no longer effective, says whistleblower

Summary:One of the agency’s first whistleblowers says the NSA is taking in too much data for it to handle, which can have disastrous — if not deadly — consequences.

By Zack Whittaker for Zero Day | April 30, 2015 — 14:29 GMT (22:29 GMT+08:00)

NEW YORK — A former National Security Agency official turned whistleblower has spent almost a decade and a half in civilian life. And he says he’s still “pissed” by what he’s seen leak in the past two years.

In a lunch meeting hosted by Contrast Security founder Jeff Williams on Wednesday, William Binney, a former NSA official who spent more than three decades at the agency, said the US government’s mass surveillance programs have become so engorged with data that they are no longer effective, losing vital intelligence in the fray.

That, he said, can — and has — led to terrorist attacks succeeding.

Binney said that an analyst today can run one simple query across the NSA’s various databases, only to become immediately overloaded with information. With about four billion people — around two-thirds of the world’s population — under the NSA and partner agencies’ watchful eyes, according to his estimates, there is too much data being collected.

“That’s why they couldn’t stop the Boston bombing, or the Paris shootings, because the data was all there,” said Binney. Because the agency isn’t carefully and methodically setting its tools up for smart data collection, that leaves analysts to search for a needle in a haystack.

“The data was all there… the NSA is great at going back over it forensically for years to see what they were doing before that,” he said. “But that doesn’t stop it.”

Binney called this a “bulk data failure” — in that the NSA programs, leaked by Edward Snowden, are collecting too much for the agency to process. He said the problem runs deeper across law enforcement and other federal agencies, like the FBI, the CIA, and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which all have access to NSA intelligence.

Binney left the NSA a month after the September 11 attacks in New York City in 2001, days after controversial counter-terrorism legislation was enacted — the Patriot Act — in the wake of the attacks. Binney stands jaded by his experience leaving the shadowy eavesdropping agency, but impassioned for the job he once had. He left after a program he helped develop was scrapped three weeks prior to September 11, replaced by a system he said was more expensive and more intrusive. Snowden said he was inspired by Binney’s case, which in part inspired him to leak thousands of classified documents to journalists.

Since then, the NSA has ramped up its intelligence gathering mission to indiscriminately “collect it all.”

Binney said the NSA is today not as interested in phone records — such as who calls whom, when, and for how long. Although the Obama administration calls the program a “critical national security tool,” the agency is increasingly looking at the content of communications, as the Snowden disclosures have shown.

Binney said he estimated that a “maximum” of 72 companies were participating in the bulk records collection program — including Verizon, but said it was a drop in the ocean. He also called PRISM, the clandestine surveillance program that grabs data from nine named Silicon Valley giants, including Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, just a “minor part” of the data collection process.

“The Upstream program is where the vast bulk of the information was being collected,” said Binney, talking about how the NSA tapped undersea fiber optic cables. With help from its British counterparts at GCHQ, the NSA is able to “buffer” more than 21 petabytes a day.

Binney said the “collect it all” mantra now may be the norm, but it’s expensive and ineffective.

“If you have to collect everything, there’s an ever increasing need for more and more budget,” he said. “That means you can build your empire.”

They say you never leave the intelligence community. Once you’re a spy, you’re always a spy — it’s a job for life, with few exceptions. One of those is blowing the whistle, which he did. Since then, he has spent his retirement lobbying for change and reform in industry and in Congress.

“They’re taking away half of the constitution in secret,” said Binney. “If they want to change the constitution, there’s a way to do that — and it’s in the constitution.”

An NSA spokesperson did not immediately comment.

Shhh… NSA Too Late With "Snowden-Proof" Cloud Storage

Or better late than never? Check out the article below:

Too little too late? NSA starting to implement ‘Snowden-proof’ cloud storage

Published time: April 14, 2015 10:28
Edited time: April 14, 2015 18:04

The NSA is implementing a huge migration to custom-designed cloud architecture it says will revolutionize internal security and protect against further leaks by data analysts with unfettered access to classified information.

Put simply, the NSA hopes to keep future Edward Snowdens out by employing a cloud file storage system it built from scratch. A major part of the system is that all the data an analyst will have access to will be tagged with new bits of information, including that relating to who can see it. Data won’t even show up on an analyst’s screen if they aren’t authorized to access it, NSA Chief Information Officer Lonny Anderson told NextGov.

The process has been slowly taking place over the last two years following the Snowden leaks. This means any information stored after the fact now comes meta-tagged with the new security privileges, among other things.

The agency has Snowden to thank for expediting a process that was actually started in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in 2001. The idea for storing all information on cloud servers had been in the making, but hadn’t come to fruition until it was too late.

Now it’s moving at an expanded pace to implement something called GovCloud, which is a scaled version of the NSA’s entire universe of mined data. It is set to become pre-installed on the computers of all 16 US intelligence agencies, a move that started with the NSA.

At first glance, the idea appears counter-intuitive. Edward Snowden pretty much used the fact that all the information was in one place to find what he needed and access it.

However, as Anderson explains, “While putting data to the cloud environment potentially gives insiders the opportunity to steal more, by focusing on securing data down at cell level and tagging all the data and the individual, we can actually see what data an individual accesses, what they do with it, and we can see that in real time.”

The agency’s cloud strategist Dave Hurry explained the strategy further: “We don’t let people just see everything; they’re only seeing the data they are authorized to see.”

And if a situation arises where an employee needs access to information that’s off-limits, the program tells them who to ask to get it sorted out.

A further advantage to this is accelerating the analysis of the log data generated when an analyst wants to access particular information. Edward Snowden’s computer history, for some reason, did not set off any alarms until it was too late. That’s because the security logs had to be manually reviewed at a later time, NSA officials told NextGov.

They say this could have been averted with GovCloud, which would immediately raise a red flag if an analyst attempted to “exceed limits of authority.” The agency would have the former analyst in handcuffs before he managed to pack his bags for the airport.

GovCloud isn’t marketing itself as just a security feature that rescues the intelligence agencies from outdated practices and hardware. It is also touted as the answer to privacy advocates, who had a field day with the NSA when it turned out it was indiscriminately mining citizens’ communications.

“We think from a compliance standpoint, moving from a whole mess of stovepipes into a central cloud that has a lot more functionality gives us more capability,” Tom Ardisana, technology directorate compliance officer at NSA, said.

It’s not clear whether the general public will know if the NSA is ‘complying’, but its officials claim that GovCloud is a step in the right direction. Outdated hardware and an over-reliance on data centers built before the shifts in privacy and security policies meant the process of compliance had to be manual and tedious.

“Whenever you bolt on compliance to address a particular issue, there is always a second- and third-order effect for doing that,” Anderson continued. “It’s an extremely manual process. There is risk built in all over that we try to address. The cloud architecture allows us to build those issues in right from the start and in automated fashion address them,” he explained.

In broader terms, the new trend toward automation will also ensure analysts can drastically cut the time they spend on doing a whole plethora of tasks like cross-checking information between databases manually.

“It’s a huge step forward,” Anderson believes, adding how entire agencies – starting with the NSA and the Defense Department – were being transitioned into the new operating environment starting three weeks ago, meaning all their work tools and applications will now also have to be accessed from there.

Other agencies will follow, but for now it’s all about trial periods and seeing how smoothly the system works.

The agency hopes the move toward cloud computing will herald the end of data centers, although whether the system is hacker-proof remains to be seen.

Shhh… Anonymous: CyberSecurity Bill's a Scam

The article below sums it up nicely: the Protecting Cyber Networks Act passed by the Congress this week was a surveillance bill in disguise.

Check out this video by the Anonymous:

House of Representatives Passes Cybersecurity Bills Without Fixing Core Problems

April 22, 2015 | By Mark Jaycox

The House passed two cybersecurity “information sharing” bills today: the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence’s Protecting Cyber Networks Act, and the House Homeland Security Committee’s National Cybersecurity Protection Advancement Act. Both bills will be “conferenced” to create one bill and then sent to the Senate for advancement. EFF opposed both bills and has been urging users to tell Congress to vote against them.

The bills are not cybersecurity “information sharing” bills, but surveillance bills in disguise. Like other bills we’ve opposed during the last five years, they authorize more private sector spying under new legal immunity provisions and use vague definitions that aren’t carefully limited to protect privacy. The bills further facilitate companies’ sharing even more of our personal information with the NSA and some even allow companies to “hack back” against potentially innocent users.

As we’ve noted before, information sharing is not a silver bullet to stopping security failures. Companies can already share the necessary technical information to stop threats via Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs), public reports, private communications, and the DHS’s Enhanced Cybersecurity Services.

While we are disappointed in the House, we look forward to the fight in the Senate where equally dangerous bills, like the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, have failed to pass every year since 2010.

Contact your Senator now to oppose the Senate bills.

Shhh… The Protecting Cyber Networks Act Gets Greenlight from Congress

Time to brace up for further loss of privacy as the PCNA would amount to voluntary wholesale transfer of data to the NSA (see story below).

And the Congress actually believe it’s in the name of stopping hackers and cyber attacks?

House Passes Cybersecurity Bill Despite Privacy Protests

Andy Greenberg
04.22.15

Congress is hellbent on passing a cybersecurity bill that can stop the wave of hacker breaches hitting American corporations. And they’re not letting the protests of a few dozen privacy and civil liberties organizations get in their way.

On Wednesday the House of Representatives voted 307-116 to pass the Protecting Cyber Networks Act, a bill designed to allow more fluid sharing of cybersecurity threat data between corporations and government agencies. That new system for sharing information is designed to act as a real-time immune system against hacker attacks, allowing companies to warn one another via government intermediaries about the tools and techniques of advanced hackers. But privacy critics say it also threatens to open up a new backchannel for surveillance of American citizens, in some cases granting the same companies legal immunity to share their users’ private data with government agencies that include the NSA.

“PCNA would significantly increase the National Security Agency’s (NSA’s) access to personal information, and authorize the federal government to use that information for a myriad of purposes unrelated to cybersecurity,” reads a letter signed earlier this week by 55 civil liberties groups and security experts that includes the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, Human Rights Watch and many others.

“The revelations of the past two years concerning the intelligence community’s abuses of surveillance authorities and the scope of its collection and use of individuals’ information demonstrates the potential for government overreach, particularly when statutory language is broad or ambiguous,” the letter continues. “[PCNA] fails to provide strong privacy protections or adequate clarity about what actions can be taken, what information can be shared, and how that information may be used by the government.”

Specifically, PCNA’s data-sharing privileges let companies give data to government agencies—including the NSA—that might otherwise have violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act or the Wiretap Act, both of which restrict the sharing of users’ private data with the government. And PCNA doesn’t even restrict the use of that shared information to cybersecurity purposes; its text also allows the information to be used for investigating any potential threat of “bodily harm or death,” opening its application to the surveillance of run-of-the-mill violent crimes like robbery and carjacking.

Congressman Adam Schiff, who led the advocacy for the bill on the House floor, argued in a statement to reporters that PCNA in fact supports privacy by protecting Americans from future hacker breaches. “We do this while recognizing the huge and growing threat cyber hacking and cyber espionage poses to our privacy, as well as to our financial wellbeing and our jobs,” he writes.

“In the process of drafting this bill, protecting privacy was at the forefront throughout, and we consulted extensively with privacy and civil liberties groups, incorporating their suggestions in many cases. This is a strong bill that protects privacy, and one that I expect will get even better as the process goes forward—we expect to see large bipartisan support on the Floor.”

Here’s a video [above] of Schiff’s statement on the House floor.

PCNA does include some significant privacy safeguards, such as a requirement that companies scrub “unrelated” data of personally identifying information before sending it to the government, and that the government agencies pass it through another filter to delete such data after receiving it.

But those protections still don’t go far enough, says Robyn Greene, policy counsel for the Open Technology Institute. Any information considered a “threat indicator” could still legally be sent to the government—even, for instance, IP address innocent victims of botnets used in distributed denial of service attacks against corporate websites. No further amendments that might have added new privacy restrictions to the bill were considered before the House’s vote Wednesday. “I’m very disappointed that the house has passed an information sharing bill that does so much to threaten Americans’ privacy and civil liberties, and no real effort was made to address the problems the bill still had,” says Greene. “The rules committee has excluded amendments that would have resolved privacy concerns…This is little more than a backdoor for general purpose surveillance.”

In a surprise move yesterday, the White House also publicly backed PCNA and its Senate counterpart, the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act in a statement to press. That’s a reversal of its threat to veto a similar Cybersecurity Information Sharing and Protection Ac in 2013 over privacy concerns, a decision that all but killed the earlier attempt at cybersecurity data sharing legislation. Since then, however, a string of high-profile breaches seems to have swayed President Obama’s thinking, from the cybercriminal breaches of Target and health insurer Anthem that spilled millions of users’ data, to the devastating hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment, which the FBI has claimed was perpetrated as an intimidation tactic by the North Korean government to prevent the release of its Kim Jong-un assassination comedy the Interview.

If the White House’s support stands, it now leaves only an upcoming Senate vote sometime later this month on the Senate’s CISA as the deciding factor as to whether it and PCNA are combined to become law.

But privacy advocates haven’t given up on a presidential veto. A new website called StopCyberspying.com launched by the internet freedom group Access, along with the EFF, the ACLU and others, includes a petition to the President to reconsider a veto for PCNA, CISA and any other bill that threatens to widen internet surveillance.

OTI’s Greene says she’s still banking on a change of heart from Obama, too. “We’re hopeful that the administration would veto any bill that doesn’t address these issues,” she says. “To sign a bill that resembles CISA or PCNA would represent the administration doing a complete 180 on its commitment to protect Americans’ privacy.”

Shhh… Spy On Spies – A New Breed of Spies

Here’s an interesting story:


Meet the privacy activists who spy on the surveillance industry

by Daniel Rivero | April 6, 2015

LONDON– On the second floor of a narrow brick building in the London Borough of Islington, Edin Omanovic is busy creating a fake company. He is playing with the invented company’s business cards in a graphic design program, darkening the reds, bolding the blacks, and testing fonts to strike the right tone: informational, ambiguous, no bells and whistles. In a separate window, a barren website is starting to take shape. Omanovic, a tall, slender Bosnian-born, Scottish-raised Londonite gives the company a fake address that forwards to his real office, and plops in a red and black company logo he just created. The privacy activist doesn’t plan to scam anyone out of money, though he does want to learn their secrets. Ultimately, he hopes that the business cards combined with a suit and a close-cropped haircut will grant him access to a surveillance industry trade show, a privilege usually restricted to government officials and law enforcement agencies.

Once he’s infiltrated the trade show, he’ll pose as an industry insider, chatting up company representatives, swapping business cards, and picking up shiny brochures that advertise the invasive capabilities of bleeding-edge surveillance technology. Few of the features are ever marketed or revealed openly to the general public, and if the group didn’t go through the pains of going undercover, it wouldn’t know the lengths to which law enforcement and the intelligence community are going to keep tabs on their citizens.

“I don’t know when we’ll get to use this [company], but we need a lot of these to do our research,” Omanovic tells me. (He asked Fusion not to reveal the name of the company in order to not blow its cover.)

The strange tactic– hacking into an expo in order to come into close proximity with government hackers and monitors– is a regular part of operations at Privacy International, a London-based anti-surveillance advocacy group founded 25 years ago. Omanovic is one of a few activists for the group who goes undercover to collect the surveillance promotional documents.

“At last count we had about 1,400 files,” Matt Rice, PI’s Scottish-born advocacy officer says while sifting through a file cabinet full of the brochures. “[The files] help us understand what these companies are capable of, and what’s being sold around the world,” he says. The brochures vary in scope and claims. Some showcase cell site simulators, commonly called Stingrays, which allow police to intercept cell phone activity within a certain area. Others provide details about Finfisher– surveillance software that is marketed exclusively to governments, which allows officials to put spyware on a target’s home computer or mobile device to watch their Skype calls, Facebook and email activity.

The technology buyers at these conferences are the usual suspects — the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service– but also representatives of repressive regimes —Bahrain, Sudan, pre-revolutionary Libya– as the group has revealed in attendees lists it has surfaced.

At times, companies’ claims can raise eyebrows. One brochure shows a soldier, draped in fatigues, holding a portable device up to the faces of a somber group of Arabs. “Innocent civilian or insurgent?,” the pamphlet asks.

“Not certain?”

“Our systems are.”

The treasure trove of compiled documents was available as an online database, but PI recently took it offline, saying the website had security vulnerabilities that could have compromised information of anyone who wanted to donate to the organization online. They are building a new one. The group hopes that the exposure of what Western companies are selling to foreign governments will help the organization achieve its larger goal: ending the sale of hardware and software to governments that use it to monitor their populations in ways that violate basic privacy rights.

The group acknowledges that it might seem they are taking an extremist position when it comes to privacy, but “we’re not against surveillance,” Michael Rispoli, head of PI’s communications, tells me. “Governments need to keep people safe, whether it’s from criminals or terrorists or what it may be, but surveillance needs to be done in accordance with human rights, and in accordance with the rule of law.”

The group is waging its fight in courtrooms. In February of last year, it filed a criminal complaint to the UK’s National Cyber Crime Unit of the National Crime Agency, asking it to investigate British technology allegedly used repeatedly by the Ethiopian government to intercept the communications of an Ethiopian national. Even after Tadesse Kersmo applied for– and was granted– asylum in the UK on the basis of being a political refugee, the Ethiopian government kept electronically spying on him, the group says, using technology from British firm Gamma International. The group currently has six lawsuits in action, mostly taking on large, yet opaque surveillance companies and the British government. Gamma International did not respond to Fusion’s request for comment on the lawsuit, which alleges that exporting the software to Ethiopian authorities means the company assisted in illegal electronic spying.

“The irony that he was given refugee status here, while a British company is facilitating intrusions into his basic right to privacy isn’t just ironic, it’s wrong,” Rispoli says. “It’s so obvious that there should be laws in place to prevent it.”

PI says it has uncovered other questionable business relationships between oppressive regimes and technology companies based in other Western countries. An investigative report the group put out a few months ago on surveillance in Central Asia said that British and Swiss companies, along with Israeli and Israeli-American companies with close ties to the Israeli military, are providing surveillance infrastructure and technical support to countries like Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan– some of the worst-ranking countries in the world when it comes to freedom of speech, according to Freedom House. Only North Korea ranks lower than them.

PI says it used confidential sources, whose accounts have been corroborated, to reach those conclusions.

Not only are these companies complicit in human rights violations, the Central Asia report alleges, but they know they are. Fusion reached out to the companies named in the report, NICE Systems (Israel), Verint Israel (U.S./ Israel), Gamma (UK), or Dreamlab (Switzerland), and none have responded to repeated requests for comment.

The report is a “blueprint” for the future of the organization’s output, says Rice, the advocacy officer. “It’s the first time we’ve done something that really looks at the infrastructure, the laws, and putting it all together to get a view on how the system actually works in a country, or even a whole region,” says Rice.

“What we can do is take that [report], and have specific findings and testimonials to present to companies, to different bodies and parliamentarians, and say this is why we need these things addressed,” adds Omanovic, the researcher and fake company designer.

The tactic is starting to show signs of progress, he says. One afternoon, Omanovic was huddled over a table in the back room, taking part in what looked like an intense conference call. “European Commission,” he says afterwards. The Commission has been looking at surveillance exports since it was revealed that Egypt, Tunisia, and Bahrain were using European tech to crack down on protesters during the Arab Spring, he added. Now, PI is consulting with some members, and together they “hope to bring in a regulation specifically on this subject by year’s end.”

***

Privacy International has come a long way from the “sterile bar of an anonymous business hotel in Luxembourg,” where founder Simon Davies, then a lone wolf privacy campaigner, hosted its first meeting with a handful of people 25 years ago. In a blog post commemorating that anniversary, Davies (who left the organization about five years ago) described the general state of privacy advocacy when that first meeting was held:

“Those were strange times. Privacy was an arcane subject that was on very few radar screens. The Internet had barely emerged, digital telephony was just beginning, the NSA was just a conspiracy theory and email was almost non-existent (we called it electronic mail back then). We communicated by fax machines, snail mail – and through actual real face to face meetings that you travelled thousands of miles to attend.”

Immediately, there were disagreements about the scope of issues the organization should focus on, as detailed in the group’s first report, filed in 1991. Some of the group’s 120-odd loosely affiliated members and advisors wanted the organization to focus on small privacy flare-ups; others wanted it to take on huge, international privacy policies, from “transborder data flows” to medical research. Disputes arose as to what “privacy” actually meant at the time. It took years for the group to narrow down the scope of its mandate to something manageable and coherent.

Gus Hosein, current executive director, describes the 90’s as a time when the organization “just knew that it was fighting against something.” He became part of the loose collective in 1996, three days after moving to the UK from New Haven, Connecticut, thanks to a chance encounter with Davies at the London Economics School. For the first thirteen years he worked with PI, he says, the group’s headquarters was the school pub.

They were fighting then some of the same battles that are back in the news cycle today, such as the U.S. government wanting to ban encryption, calling it a tool for criminals to hide their communications from law enforcement. “[We were] fighting against the Clinton Administration and its cryptography policy, fighting against new intersections of law, or proposals in countries X, Y and Z, and almost every day you would find something to fight around,” he says.

Just as privacy issues stemming from the dot com boom were starting to stabilize, 9/11 happened. That’s when Hosein says “the shit hit the fan.”

In the immediate wake of that tragedy, Washington pushed through the Patriot Act and the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, setting an international precedent of invasive pat-downs and extensive monitoring in the name of anti-terrorism. Hosein, being an American, followed the laws closely, and the group started issuing criticism of what it considered unreasonable searches. In the UK, a public debate about issuing national identification cards sprung up. PI fought it vehemently.

“All of a sudden we’re being called upon to respond to core policy-making in Western governments, so whereas policy and surveillance were often left to some tech expert within the Department of Justice or whatever, now it had gone to mainstream policy,” he says. “We were overwhelmed because we were still just a ragtag bunch of people trying to fight fights without funding, and we were taking on the might of the executive arm of government.”

The era was marked by a collective struggle to catch up. “I don’t think anyone had any real successes in that era,” Hosein says.

But around 2008, the group’s advocacy work in India, Thailand and the Philippines started to gain the attention of donors, and the team decided it was time to organize. The three staff members then started the formal process of becoming a charity, after being registered as a corporation for ten years. By the time it got its first office in 2011 (around the time its founder, Davies, walked away to pursue other ventures) the Arab Spring was dominating international headlines.

“With the Arab Spring and the rise of attention to human rights and technology, that’s when PI actually started to realize our vision, and become an organization that could grow,” Hosein says. “Four years ago we had three employees, and now we have 16 people,” he says with a hint of pride.

***

“This is a real vindication for [Edward] Snowden,” Eric King, PI’s deputy director says about one of the organization’s recent legal victories over the UK’s foremost digital spy agency, known as the Government Communications Headquarters or GCHQ.

PI used the documents made public by Snowden to get the British court that oversees GCHQ to determine that all intelligence sharing between GCHQ and the National Security Administration (NSA) was illegal up until December 2014. Ironically, the court went on to say that the sharing was only illegal because of lack of public disclosure of the program. Now that details of the program were made public thanks to the lawsuit, the court said, the operation is now legal and GCHQ can keep doing what it was doing.

“It’s like they’re creating the law on the fly,” King says. “[The UK government] is knowingly breaking the law and then retroactively justifying themselves. Even though we got the court to admit this whole program was illegal, the things they’re saying now are wholly inadequate to protect our privacy in this country.”

Nevertheless, it was a “highly significant ruling,” says Elizabeth Knight, Legal Director of fellow UK-based civil liberties organization Open Rights Group. “It was the first time the [courts have] found the UK’s intelligence services to be in breach of human rights law,” she says. “The ruling is a welcome first step towards demonstrating that the UK government’s surveillance practices breach human rights law.”

In an email, a GCHQ spokesperson downplayed the significance of the ruling, saying that PI only won the case in one respect: on a “transparency issue,” rather than on the substance of the data sharing program. “The rulings re-affirm that the processes and safeguards within these regimes were fully adequate at all times, so we have not therefore needed to make any changes to policy or practice as a result of the judgement,” the spokesperson says.

Before coming on board four years ago, King, a 25-year old Wales native, worked at Reprieve, a non-profit that provides legal support to prisoners. Some of its clients are at Guantanamo Bay and other off-the-grid prisons, something that made him mindful of security concerns when the group was communicating with clients. King worried that every time he made a call to his clients, they were being monitored. “No one could answer those questions, and that’s what got me going on this,” says King.

Right now, he tells me, most of the group’s legal actions have to do with fighting the “Five Eyes”– the nickname given to the intertwined intelligence networks of the UK, Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand. One of the campaigns, stemming from the lawsuit against GCHQ that established a need for transparency, is asking GCHQ to confirm if the agency illegally collected information about the people who signed a “Did the GCHQ Illegally Spy On You?” petition. So far, 10,000 people have signed up to be told whether their communications or online activity were collected by the UK spy agency when it conducted mass surveillance of the Internet. If a court actually forces GCHQ to confirm whether those individuals were spied on, PI will then ask that all retrieved data be deleted from the database.

“It’s such an important campaign not only because people have the right to know, but it’s going to bring it home to people and politicians that regular, everyday people are caught up in this international scandal,” King says. “You don’t even have to be British to be caught up in it. People all over the world are being tracked in that program.”

Eerke Boiten, a senior lecturer at the interdisciplinary Cyber Security Centre at the University of Kent, says that considering recent legal victories, he can’t write off the effort, even if he would have dismissed it just a year ago.

“We have now finally seen some breakthroughs in transparency in response to Snowden, and the sense that intelligence oversight needs an overhaul is increasing,” he wrote in an email to me. “So although the [British government] will do its best to shore up the GCHQ legal position to ensure it doesn’t need to respond to this, their job will be harder than before.”

“Privacy International have a recent record of pushing the right legal buttons,” he says. “They may win again.”

A GCHQ spokesperson says that the agency will “of course comply with any direction or order” a court might give it, stemming from the campaign.

King is also the head of PI’s research arm– organizing in-depth investigations into national surveillance ecosystems, in tandem with partner groups in countries around the world. The partners hail from places as disparate as Kenya and Mexico. One recently released report features testimonials from people who reported being heavily surveilled in Morocco. Another coming out of Colombia will be more of an “exposé,” with previously unreported details on surveillance in that country, he says.

And then there’s the stuff that King pioneered: the method of sneaking into industry conferences by using a shadow company. He developed the technique Omanovic is using. King can’t go to the conferences undercover anymore because his face is now too well known. When asked why he started sneaking into the shows, he says: “Law enforcement doesn’t like talking about [surveillance]. Governments don’t talk about it. And for the most part our engagement with companies is limited to when we sue them,” he laughs.

When it comes to the surveillance field, you would be hard pressed to find a company that does exactly what it says it does, King tells me. So when he or someone else at PI sets up a fake company, they expect to get about as much scrutiny as the next ambiguous, potentially official organization that lines up behind them.

Collectively, PI has been blacklisted and been led out of a few conferences over the past four years they have been doing this, he estimates.

“If we have to navigate some spooky places to get what we need, then that’s what we’ll do,” he says. Sometimes you have to walk through a dark room to turn on a light. Privacy International sees a world with a lot of dark rooms.

“Being shadowy is acceptable in this world.”

Shhh… Shutting Down Network of 12,000 Computers Used by Cyber-criminals

No arrest yet but the good news is that the US and Europe have, via the FBI and Europol’s European Cybercrime Center, dismantled on Wednesday a network of as many as 12,000 computers that cyber-criminals used to elude security firms and law enforcement agencies for some years. Check out the video clip and Bloomberg article below.

Meanwhile, recall yesterday’s blog on data breach and the 22 countries where stolen data were most frequently accessed.


Police Shut Europe Computer Network Enabling Theft, Extortion

by Cornelius RahnChris Strohm

European and U.S. police shut down a computer network on Wednesday used by cybercriminals to facilitate the theft of banking passwords and extortion which had eluded security companies and law enforcement for years.

Agents of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the European Cybercrime Center seized servers across Europe that had been responsible for spreading malware on thousands of mainly U.S.-based victim computers, said Raj Samani, chief technology officer for Intel Corp.’s security unit in the region, which helped prepare the takedown.

Governments are responding to increasing frequency and impact of online attacks by setting up dedicated cybercrime units and working with security-software companies to weed out threats before more damage is done. The network functioned as a portal offered by criminals to others seeking to spread their own malware, according to Paul Gillen, head of operations at Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre.

“If that carried on in earnest, it had great potential from a criminal perspective,” Gillen said. “People set up infrastructure like that and rent it out to others, saying ‘here are a lot of infected computers so you can upload all your banking malware or other things on them.’”

FBI and Europol said there had been no arrests yet as it was too early to say who the perpetrators were, or what damage the malware had caused. Police will now sift through the data gained from the seized machines before notifying victims and determining the culprits, according to Gillen.

The malicious code, labeled W32/Worm-AAEH, was first detected in 2009 but was difficult to weed out because it changed its shape as many as six times a day, Intel’s Samani said. The worm had evolved capabilities such as shutting down connections with servers from antivirus companies and disabling tools that could terminate it, he said.

Even after the control servers are no longer available to the criminals to morph existing pieces of malware, users must still clean up their machines. Computer owners can stop the software’s core function by setting rules that prevent new software from running automatically and shutting certain ports, Intel said.

Shhh… Turning the White House into a Russian House?

Photo (above) credit: http://www.freakingnews.com

Here’s a breaking news (below) from the CNN:

WhiteHouse-Russian

How the U.S. thinks Russians hacked the White House

By Evan Perez and Shimon Prokupecz, CNN
Updated 0037 GMT (0737 HKT) April 8, 2015

Washington (CNN)Russian hackers behind the damaging cyber intrusion of the State Department in recent months used that perch to penetrate sensitive parts of the White House computer system, according to U.S. officials briefed on the investigation.

While the White House has said the breach only affected an unclassified system, that description belies the seriousness of the intrusion. The hackers had access to sensitive information such as real-time non-public details of the president’s schedule. While such information is not classified, it is still highly sensitive and prized by foreign intelligence agencies, U.S. officials say.

The White House in October said it noticed suspicious activity in the unclassified network that serves the executive office of the president. The system has been shut down periodically to allow for security upgrades.

The FBI, Secret Service and U.S. intelligence agencies are all involved in investigating the breach, which they consider among the most sophisticated attacks ever launched against U.S. government systems. ​The intrusion was routed through computers around the world, as hackers often do to hide their tracks, but investigators found tell-tale codes and other markers that they believe point to hackers working for the Russian government.

National Security Council spokesman Mark Stroh didn’t confirm the Russian hack, but he did say that “any such activity is something we take very seriously.”

“In this case, as we made clear at the time, we took immediate measures to evaluate and mitigate the activity,” he said. “As has been our position, we are not going to comment on [this] article’s attribution to specific actors.”

Neither the U.S. State Department nor the Russian Embassy immediately responded to a request for comment.

Ben Rhodes, President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said the White House’s use of a separate system for classified information protected sensitive national security-related items from being obtained by hackers.

“We do not believe that our classified systems were compromised,” Rhodes told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday.

“We’re constantly updating our security measures on our unclassified system, but we’re frankly told to act as if we need not put information that’s sensitive on that system,” he said. “In other words, if you’re going to do something classified, you have to do it on one email system, one phone system. Frankly, you have to act as if information could be compromised if it’s not on the classified system.”

To get to the White House, the hackers first broke into the State Department, investigators believe.

The State Department computer system has been bedeviled by signs that despite efforts to lock them out, the Russian hackers have been able to reenter the system. One official says the Russian hackers have “owned” the State Department system for months and it is not clear the hackers have been fully eradicated from the system.

As in many hacks, investigators believe the White House intrusion began with a phishing email that was launched using a State Department email account that the hackers had taken over, according to the U.S. officials.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, in a speech at an FBI cyberconference in January, warned government officials and private businesses to teach employees what “spear phishing” looks like.

“So many times, the Chinese and others get access to our systems just by pretending to be someone else and then asking for access, and someone gives it to them,” Clapper said.

The ferocity of the Russian intrusions in recent months caught U.S. officials by surprise, leading to a reassessment of the cybersecurity threat as the U.S. and Russia increasingly confront each other over issues ranging from the Russian aggression in Ukraine to the U.S. military operations in Syria.

The attacks on the State and White House systems is one reason why Clapper told a Senate hearing in February that the “Russian cyberthreat is more severe than we have previously assessed.”

The revelations about the State Department hacks also come amid controversy over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server to conduct government business during her time in office. Critics say her private server likely was even less safe than the State system. The Russian breach is believed to have come after Clinton departed State.

But hackers have long made Clinton and her associates targets.

The website The Smoking Gun first reported in 2013 that a hacker known as Guccifer had broken into the AOL email of Sidney Blumenthal, a friend and advisor to the Clintons, and published emails Blumenthal sent to Hillary Clinton’s private account. The emails included sensitive memos on foreign policy issues and were the first public revelation of the existence of Hillary Clinton’s private email address​ now at the center of controversy: hdr22@clintonemail.com. The address is no longer in use.

Wesley Bruer contributed to this report

Shhh… Did Obama Know What He's Doing When He Signed the new Executive Order on Cybercrimes?

Was that a brainfart?

President Barack Obama signed an executive order Wednesday that permits the US to impose economic sanctions on individuals and entities anywhere in the world for destructive cyber-crimes and online corporate espionage – see the Bloomberg article below.

Now what’s this about? An all-out effort on cyber-criminals or just plain window dressing?

For all their abilities to trace the attacks right down to the identities of the hackers, have the US authorities been able to do anything? Recall the Mandiant Report two years ago that allegedly traced Chinese hackers down to the very unit of a military base in Shanghai?

Hackers-Chinese

Recall also the five Chinese military hackers (above) on the FBI wanted list last year? Where has that led to (see video clip below)? And what about the alleged North Korean hacks on Sony Pictures?

With all good intent and seriousness to go on the offensive, Obama has yet to put his words into action on this front…


Hackers, Corporate Spies Targeted by Obama Sanctions Order

by Justin SinkChris Strohm

President Barack Obama signed an executive order Wednesday allowing the use of economic sanctions for the first time against perpetrators of destructive cyber-attacks and online corporate espionage.

That will let the Treasury Department freeze the assets of people, companies or other entities overseas identified as the source of cybercrimes. The federal government also will be able to bar U.S. citizens and companies from doing business with those targeted for sanctions.

“Cyberthreats pose one of the most serious economic and national security challenges to the United States,” Obama said in a statement. “As we have seen in recent months, these threats can emanate from a range of sources and target our critical infrastructure, our companies and our citizens.”

Under the order, sanctions only will be used if a cyber-attack threatens to harm U.S. national security, foreign policy or the broader economy. It’s aimed at cybercriminals who target critical infrastructure, disrupt major computer networks, or are involved in the “significant” theft of trade secrets or intellectual property for competitive advantage or private financial gain.

Data Breaches

The administration is using the threat of sanctions to help prevent large-scale data theft after breaches at major U.S. corporations, including retailer Target Corp., health-insurer Anthem Inc. and home-improvement chain Home Depot Inc. It’s also a recognition that companies are facing increasingly destructive attacks, such as the hack against Sony Pictures Entertainment that crippled thousands of computers and delayed release of a comedy movie.

Sanctions imposed under the executive order will help disrupt the operations of hackers who may be in countries outside the reach of U.S. law enforcement, John Carlin, U.S. assistant attorney general for national security, said in a phone interview.

Banks and other companies connected to the U.S. financial system will be required to prohibit sanctioned hackers and entities from using their services, cutting them off from valuable resources, Carlin said.

“It’s a new powerful tool and we intend do to use it,” Carlin said. “It has the capability to significantly raise the cost for those who steal or benefit through cybercrime.”

Transcends Borders

The unique aspect of the executive order is that it allows the U.S. to impose sanctions on individuals or entities over hacking attacks regardless of where they are located, White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel told reporters on a conference call. While other sanctions are tied to a particular country or group of persons, hacking attacks transcend borders.

“What sets this executive order apart is that it is focused on malicious cyber-activity,” Daniel said. “What we’re trying to do is enable us to have a new way of both deterring and imposing costs on malicious cyber-actors wherever they may be.”

The order is a signal of the administration’s “clear intent to go on offense against the full range of very serious cyberthreats that are out there,” said Peter Harrell, the former principal deputy assistant secretary for sanctions at the State Department.

“This is a message that if folks around the world don’t cut out these activities, they’re going to find themselves cut off from the American banking system,” Harrell said in an interview.

Hidden Identities

Harrell said there are potential stumbling blocks to effective implementation. For one, hackers work hard to conceal their identity. Even though the U.S. and private companies have improved their ability to trace attacks, attribution can sometimes be difficult.

Daniel acknowledged that determining who is actually behind hacking attacks is still a challenge but said the U.S. is getting better at it.

In other cases, diplomatic considerations may be at play. The administration’s decision in 2014 to file criminal charges against five members of the Chinese military over their role in cyber-espionage strained relations with Beijing.

In January, Obama authorized economic sanctions against 10 North Korean officials and government entities in connection with the Sony attack. The North Korean government has denied any involvement in the Sony case.

Overseas Governments

Harrell said the use of sanctions can provide leverage as the U.S. registers complaints with governments overseas about cyber-attacks. Targeted use of the new sanctions powers also may help deter criminals.

“A number of these cyber-attacks are organized by fairly significant actors out there — large hacking collectives, or organized by foreign intelligence agencies,” Harrell said. “They all have real potential costs if they were put on sanctions lists.”

The Obama administration has been under pressure to take action to help companies protect their networks from cyber-attacks. In early March, Premera Blue Cross announced that hackers may have accessed 11 million records, including customer Social Security numbers, bank account data and medical information.

Home Depot in September said 56 million payment cards and 53 million e-mail addresses had been stolen by hackers. And just days earlier, JPMorgan Chase & Co. announced a data breach affecting 76 million households and 7 million small businesses.

The highest-profile breach, however, may have been the hacking of Sony Pictures. The U.S. government said North Korean hackers broke into the studio’s network and then exposed e-mails and private employment and salary records. U.S. authorities said it was in retaliation for plans to release “The Interview,” a satirical film depicting the assassination of leader Kim Jong Un.

Shhh… Anatomy of a Hack – What Should You Do After You're Hacked?

Ever wonder what happens when one’s hacked?

Here’s an insightful chilling account of how one victim attempted to trace the hacker who invaded into his onlife life and Bitcoin wallet.

Hacked-AnatomyOfAHack

Anatomy of a Hack

In the early morning hours of October 21st, 2014, Partap Davis lost $3,000. He had gone to sleep just after 2AM in his Albuquerque, New Mexico, home after a late night playing World of Tanks. While he slept, an attacker undid every online security protection he set up. By the time he woke up, most of his online life had been compromised: two email accounts, his phone, his Twitter, his two-factor authenticator, and most importantly, his bitcoin wallets.

Davis was careful when it came to digital security. He chose strong passwords and didn’t click on bogus links. He used two-factor authentication with Gmail, so when he logged in from a new computer, he had to type in six digits that were texted to his phone, just to make sure it was him. He had made some money with the rise of bitcoin and held onto the bitcoin in three protected wallets, managed by Coinbase, Bitstamp, and BTC-E. He also used two-factor with the Coinbase and BTC-E accounts. Any time he wanted to access them, he had to verify the login with Authy, a two-factor authenticator app on his phone.

Other than the bitcoin, Davis wasn’t that different from the average web user. He makes his living coding, splitting time between building video education software and a patchwork of other jobs. On the weekends, he snowboards, exploring the slopes around Los Alamos. This is his 10th year in Albuquerque; last year, he turned 40.

After the hack, Davis spent weeks tracking down exactly how it had happened, piecing together a picture from access logs and reluctant customer service reps. Along the way, he reached out to The Verge, and we added a few more pieces to the puzzle. We still don’t know everything — in particular, we don’t know who did it — but we know enough to say how they did it, and the points of failure sketch out a map of the most glaring vulnerabilities of our digital lives.

Mail.com

It started with Davis’ email. When he was first setting up an email account, Davis found that Partap@gmail.com was taken, so he chose a Mail.com address instead, setting up Partap@mail.com to forward to a less memorably named Gmail address.

Some time after 2AM on October 21st, that link was broken. Someone broke into Davis’ mail.com account and stopped the forwarding. Suddenly there was a new phone number attached to the account — a burner Android device registered in Florida. There was a new backup email too, swagger@mailinator.com, which is still the closest thing we have to the attacker’s name.

For simplicity’s sake, we’ll call her Eve.

How did Eve get in? We can’t say for sure, but it’s likely that she used a script to target a weakness in Mail.com’s password reset page. We know such a script existed. For months, users on the site Hackforum had been selling access to a script that reset specific account passwords on Mail.com. It was an old exploit by the time Davis was targeted, and the going rate was $5 per account. It’s unclear how the exploit worked and whether it has been closed in the months since, but it did exactly what Eve needed. Without any authentication, she was able to reset Davis’ password to a string of characters that only she knew.

AT&T

Eve’s next step was to take over Partap’s phone number. She didn’t have his AT&T password, but she just pretended to have forgotten it, and ATT.com sent along a secure link to partap@mail.com to reset it. Once inside the account, she talked a customer service rep into forwarding his calls to her Long Beach number. Strictly speaking, there are supposed to be more safeguards required to set up call forwarding, and it’s supposed to take more than a working email address to push it through. But faced with an angry client, customer service reps will often give way, putting user satisfaction over the colder virtues of security.

Once forwarding was set up, all of Davis’ voice calls belonged to Eve. Davis still got texts and emails, but every call was routed straight to the attacker. Davis didn’t realize what had happened until two days later, when his boss complained that Davis wasn’t picking up the phone.


Google and Authy

Next, Eve set her sights on Davis’ Google account. Experts will tell you that two-factor authentication is the best protection against attacks. A hacker might get your password or a mugger might steal your phone, but it’s hard to manage both at once. As long as the phone is a physical object, that system works. But people replace their phones all the time, and they expect to be able to replace the services, too. Accounts have to be reset 24 hours a day, and two-factor services end up looking like just one more account to crack.

Davis hadn’t set up Google’s Authenticator app, the more secure option, but he had two-factor authentication enabled — Google texted him a confirmation code every time he logged in from a new computer. Call forwarding didn’t pass along Davis’ texts, but Eve had a back door: thanks to Google’s accessibility functions, she could ask for the confirmation code to be read out loud over the phone.

Authy should have been harder to break. It’s an app, like Authenticator, and it never left Davis’ phone. But Eve simply reset the app on her phone using a mail.com address and a new confirmation code, again sent by a voice call. A few minutes after 3AM, the Authy account moved under Eve’s control.

It was the same trick that had fooled Google: as long as she had Davis’ email and phone, two-factor couldn’t tell the difference between them. At this point, Eve had more control over Davis’s online life than he did. Aside from texting, all digital roads now led to Eve.

Coinbase

At 3:19AM, Eve reset Davis’s Coinbase account, using Authy and his Mail.com address. At 3:55AM, she transferred the full balance (worth roughly $3,600 at the time) to a burner account she controlled. From there, she made three withdrawals — one 30 minutes after the account was opened, then another 20 minutes later, and another five minutes after that. After that, the money disappeared into a nest of dummy accounts, designed to cover her tracks. Less than 90 minutes after his Mail.com account was first compromised, Davis’ money was gone for good.

Authy might have known something was up. The service keeps an eye out for fishy behavior, and while they’re cagey about what they monitor, it seems likely that an account reset to an out-of-state number in the middle of the night would have raised at least a few red flags. But the number wasn’t from a known fraud center like Russia or Ukraine, even if Eve might have been. It would have seemed even more suspicious when Eve logged into Coinbase from the Canadian IP. Could they have stopped her then? Modern security systems like Google’s ReCAPTCHA often work this way, adding together small indicators until there’s enough evidence to freeze an account — but Coinbase and Authy each only saw half the picture, and neither had enough to justify freezing Partap’s account.


BTC-E and Bitstamp

When Davis woke up, the first thing he noticed was that his Gmail had mysteriously logged out. The password had changed, and he couldn’t log back in. Once he was back in the account, he saw how deep the damage went. There were reset emails from each account, sketching out a map of the damage. When he finally got into his Coinbase account, he found it empty. Eve had made off with 10 bitcoin, worth more than $3,000 at the time. It took hours on the phone with customer service reps and a faxed copy of his driver’s license before he could convince them he was the real Partap Davis.

What about the two other wallets? There was $2,500 worth of bitcoin in them, with no advertised protections that the Coinbase wallet didn’t have. But when Davis checked, both accounts were still intact. BTC-e had put a 48-hour hold on the account after a password change, giving him time to prove his identity and recover the account. Bitstamp had an even simpler protection: when Eve emailed to reset Davis’s authentication token, they had asked for an image of his driver’s license. Despite all Eve’s access, it was one thing she didn’t have. Davis’ last $2,500 worth of bitcoin was safe.


Twitter

It’s been two months now since the attack, and Davis has settled back into his life. The last trace of the intrusion is Davis’ Twitter account, which stayed hacked for weeks after the other accounts. @Partap is a short handle, which makes it valuable, so Eve held onto it, putting in a new picture and erasing any trace of Davis. A few days after the attack, she posted a screenshot of a hacked Xfinity account, tagging another handle. The account didn’t belong to Davis, but it belonged to someone. She had moved onto the next target, and was using @partap as a disposable accessory to her next theft, like a stolen getaway car.

Who was behind the attack? Davis has spent weeks looking for her now — whole afternoons wasted on the phone with customer service reps — but he hasn’t gotten any closer. According to account login records, Eve’s computer was piping in from a block of IP addresses in Canada, but she may have used Tor or a VPN service to cover her tracks. Her phone number belonged to an Android device in Long Beach, California, but that phone was most likely a burner. There are only a few tracks to follow, and each one peters out fast. Wherever she is, Eve got away with it.

Why did she choose Partap Davis? She knew about the wallets upfront, we can assume. Why else would she have spent so much time digging through the accounts? She started at the mail.com account too, so we can guess that somehow, Eve came across a list of bitcoin users with Davis’ email address on it. A number of leaked Coinbase customer lists are floating around the internet, although I couldn’t find Davis’ name on any of them. Or maybe his identity came from an equipment manufacturer or a bitcoin retailer. Leaks are commonplace these days, and most go unreported.

Davis is more careful with bitcoin these days, and he’s given up on the mail.com address — but otherwise, not much about his life has changed. Coinbase has given refunds before, but this time they declined, saying the company’s security wasn’t at fault. He filed a report with the FBI, but the bureau doesn’t seem interested in a single bitcoin theft. What else is there to do? He can’t stop using a phone or give up the power to reset an account. There were just so many accounts, so many ways to get in. In the security world, they call this the attack surface. The bigger the surface, the harder it is to defend.

Most importantly, resetting a password is still easy, as Eve discovered over and over again. When a service finally stopped her, it wasn’t an elaborate algorithm or a fancy biometric. Instead, one service was willing to make customers wait 48 hours before authorizing a new password. On a technical level, it’s a simple fix, but a costly one. Companies are continuously balancing the small risk of compromise against the broad benefits of convenience. A few people may lose control of their account, but millions of others are able to keep using the service without a hitch. In the fight between security and convenience, security is simply outgunned.

3/5 11:10am ET: Updated to clarify Bitstamp security protocols.