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… Out of Africa: Spies & Leaked Intelligence from the New "El Dorado of Espionage"

Here is an interesting story from The Guardian, based on a leaked cache of secret intelligence documents and cables.

Africa is new ‘El Dorado of espionage’, leaked intelligence files reveal

Continent emerges as the focus of international spying, with South Africa becoming a regional powerhouse and communications hub

Seumas Milne and Ewen MacAskill
Tuesday 24 February 2015 18.01 GMT

Africa emerges as the 21st century theatre of espionage, with South Africa as its gateway, in the cache of secret intelligence documents and cables seen by the Guardian. “Africa is now the El Dorado of espionage,” said one serving foreign intelligence officer.

The continent has increasingly become the focus of international spying as the battle for its resources has intensified, China’s economic role has grown dramatically, and the US and other western states have rapidly expanded their military presence and operations in a new international struggle for Africa.

With South Africa a regional powerhouse and communications hub, Pretoria has become a centre of the continent’s new Great Game, intelligence officials say, and a target of global espionage. The leaked documents obtained by al-Jazeera and shared with the Guardian contain the names of 78 foreign spies working in Pretoria, along with their photographs, addresses and mobile phone numbers – as well as 65 foreign intelligence agents identified by the South Africans as working undercover. Among the countries sending spies are the US, India, Britain and Senegal.

The United States, along with its French and British allies, is the major military and diplomatic power on the continent. South Africa spends a disproportionate amount of time focused on Iran and jihadi groups, in spite of internal documents showing its intelligence service does not regard either as a major threat to South Africa. “The Americans get what they want,” an intelligence source said.

The targets of foreign intelligence are myriad, ranging from jihadi groups to economic or technological theft. China has emerged as one of the biggest economic players on the continent, investing heavily in infrastructure, building a strong presence in many countries, in large part motivated by its huge appetite for fuel and resources.

Chinese intelligence is identified in one secret South African cable as the suspect in a nuclear break-in. A file dating from December 2009 on South Africa’s counter-intelligence effort says that foreign agencies had been “working frantically to influence” the country’s nuclear energy expansion programme, identifying US and French intelligence as the main players. But due to the “sophistication of their covert operations”, it had not been possible to “neutralise” their activities.

However, a 2007 break-in at the Pelindaba nuclear research centre – where apartheid South Africa developed nuclear weapons in the 1970s – by four armed and “technologically sophisticated criminals” was attributed by South African intelligence to an act of state espionage. At the time officials publicly dismissed the break-in as a burglary.

Several espionage agencies were reported to have shown interest in the progress of South Africa’s Pebble Bed Modular Reactor. According to the file, thefts and break-ins at the PBMR site were suspected to have been carried out to “advance China’s rival project”. It added that China was “now one year ahead … though they started several years after PBMR launch”.

In an October 2009 report by South Africa’s intelligence service, the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), on operations in Africa, Israel is said to be “working assiduously to encircle and isolate Sudan from the outside, and to fuel insurrection inside Sudan”. Israel “has long been keen to capitalise on Africa’s mineral wealth”, the South African spying agency says, and “plans to appropriate African diamonds and process them in Israel, which is already the world’s second largest processor of diamonds”.

The document reports that members of a delegation led by then foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman had been “facilitating contracts for Israelis to train various militias” in Africa.

The NIA’s relationship with its highly active Israeli counterpart, Mossad, has been mixed: close during the apartheid era, distant in the early years of the rule of the pro-Palestinian African National Congress, and more ambiguous in recent years.

One factor in South Africa’s attraction for rival spy agencies is the porous nature of its security services. A South African intelligence document, Security Vulnerabilities in Government, dated October 2009, offers an uncompromising look at the weakness of its security, a point rammed home by the fact it is marked secret but ended up among the leaked files.

The document says: “Foreign governments and their intelligence services strive to weaken the state and undermine South Africa’s sovereignty. Continuing lack of an acceptable standard of security … increases the risk.” It lists theft of laptop computers, insufficient lock-up facilities, limited vetting of senior officials in sensitive institutions, no approved encryption on landlines or mobiles, total disregard by foreign diplomats for existing regulations, ease of access to government departments allowed to foreign diplomats, and the lack of proper screening for foreigners applying for sensitive jobs.

According to one intelligence officer with extensive experience in South Africa, the NIA is politically factionalised and “totally penetrated” by foreign agencies: “Everyone is working for someone else.” The former head of the South African secret service, Mo Shaik, a close ally of the president, Jacob Zuma, was described as a US confidant and key source of information on “the Zuma camp” in a leaked 2008 Wikileaks cable from the American embassy in Pretoria.

The cables disclose an apparent assassination plot in Ethiopia against the South African politician Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, days after she became the new chair of the African Union Commission in 2012, giving a flavour of the day-to-day tribulations of intelligence operations in Africa.

South Africa’s head of station in Addis Ababa was warned of the plot, but instructed not to give details to the Ethiopians. Eventually, the Ethiopians were tipped off but the bodyguards assigned to Dlamini-Zuma’s hotel to protect her left their positions to get food and water.

In a frantic series of cables to Pretoria and in meetings with Ethiopian officials, South African intelligence officials are shown struggling to protect Dlamini-Zuma’s security without creating an impression of no confidence in Ethiopian security. When South Africa hands over a list of suspects, Ethiopian intelligence blames Sudan but is unable to link the names with Khartoum.

Shhh… Snowden's Girlfriend at the Oscars for CitizenFour

Congratulations to Laura Poitras and her team behind “CitizenFour” in winning the Oscars for Best Documentary Feature. And did you notice Snowden‘s girlfriend Lindsay Mills was on the stage (see picture above (Credit: YouTube) and video clips below)?

The film on the Snowden revelations during his hiding in Hong Kong in 2013 will be aired on HBO later today.

Edward Snowden & Hervé Falciani Knew Each Other Before Their Respective Exposé?

As it so happened, everything started and ended in Geneva…

It was a cold morning in mid-December 2008. Hervé Falciani has just finished packing his favorite black Rimowa luggage and a small handy leather bag with his five precious CDs safely tucked to the bottom.

“Mate I’m getting ready to leave for Nice for a few days, to do you know what,” he wrote on his encrypted email.

“Good luck mate. That’s the spirit. Am actually planning to get myself out of Geneva and home for good shortly after the New Year. Keep those stuff safe,” the reply promptly appeared on the computer screen.

“Will do. Thanks so much for all the guidance. Take care!” Falciani penned off, half-wishing his pal Snowden was not serious about leaving Geneva.

Well, that was probably how John le Carré approached his next best-selling spy novel but this opening scene may not be too far from the truth.

Falciani was widely dubbed the Snowden of the banking world when the HSBC exposé stole global headlines early this week. According to his profile, the then-36-year-old dual French-Italian national joined the British banking giant HSBC in 2000, in Monaco where he grew up, and was transferred to HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) in Geneva, Switzerland in 2006.

That was the same year Edward Snowden joined the CIA and the now famous whistleblower behind the NSA revelations was posted to Geneva the following year under diplomatic cover, where he admitted having grown disillusioned with American spy craft. He left Geneva and the agency in 2009.

And as an undercover CIA operative based in Geneva, Snowden probably knew some bankers as The Guardian once reported:

He described as formative an incident in which he claimed CIA operatives were attempting to recruit a Swiss banker to obtain secret banking information. Snowden said they achieved this by purposely getting the banker drunk and encouraging him to drive home in his car. When the banker was arrested for drunk driving, the undercover agent seeking to befriend him offered to help, and a bond was formed that led to successful recruitment.

The possibility that Snowden and Falciani knew each other may be a novelist’s creation and a trivial even if it’s true. But nevertheless, it would open up many possibilities.

Consider, for example, both claimed to have reported to their superiors, who ignored their respective complaints and warnings. Both became whistleblowers and accused for their actions. The two IT experts stole and released troves of internal data to the media – Falciani, the systems specialist of the HSBC Private Bank in Geneva now under the global spotlights, reportedly met French tax investigators at a cafe in Nice airport before Christmas of 2008 and handed them five CDs worth of confidential data pertaining to some 130,000 clients and 300,000 private accounts from 200 countries – which eventually reached then Finance Minister of France Christine Lagarde, who subsequently shared it with other countries.

And the rest was history as we know today.

Snowden is scheduled to speak via video-conference this Friday to the International Students For Liberty Conference in downtown Washington, D.C. Would be interesting to hear what he has to say about the HSBC exposé and… his friend Falciani.

The Enemies of the US

Take your pick: Edward Snowden, Internet and phone service providers, or just everybody?

The furor over the past week about how US intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have for years scooped up massive loads of private communications data raises one critical and distressing question.

Who, worldwide and in the US, are the general public supposed to trust now that it seems all forms of digital and cyber communications risk being read by the American authorities? The Americans, it seems, don’t believe it’s that big a deal. By 62-34, according to the latest poll by Pew Research and the Washington Post, they say it’s more important to investigate the threats than protect their privacy. But what about the rest of the world?

The immediate acknowledgement, rather than point blank denial, of the massive clandestine eavesdropping programs is no doubt alarming even for those long suspicious of such covert undertakings. But the more disturbing part is that the official response amounts to plain outright lies.

Please read this entire Opinion Column here.