Shhh… A Cyber-Geopolitical Threats 2019 Roundup

The year 2019 has been setting the scene on the cyber-geopolitical scene for the 2020s. Here’s a nice sum up.

And on the personal front the best defense is to keep yourself informed – Watch out for fake news and facts-check everything you read especially anything that seems too perfectly outrageous.

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… 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… 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… AirBus Plans Legal Actions Against NSA/BND Spying Claims – NSA Involved in Industrial Espionage

(Above) Photo Credit: APA/EPA/GUILLAUME HORCAJUELO

It shouldn’t be any surprise if one has been following related news, including an earlier post this week on how the German foreign intelligence agency BND has been supporting NSA spying activities in Europe via a former US espionage base in Bad Aibling. Expect other similar actions against the NSA following the lead by Airbus (see video clip below).

And expect not just a tirade of questions on the German authorities but also the NSA and Obama administration. The NSA massive eavesdropping program was designed solely to protect America against terrorist threats? And nothing to do with industrial corporate espionage? Look who’s talking…

Shhh… Mangfall Kaserne in Bad Aibling – Surveillance-Proof Site for German Intelligence BND to Cooperate with the NSA

(Above) Photo credit: Reuters.

The former US espionage base, Bad Aibling, was supposedly returned to the German foreign intelligence agency BND back in 2004. But that’s what “happened” only on surface. Check out the Spiegel special report below:

Spying Close to Home: German Intelligence Under Fire for NSA Cooperation

US intelligence spent years spying on European targets from a secretive base. Now, it seems that German intelligence was aware of the espionage — and did nothing to stop it.

April 24, 2015 – 07:20 PM

It was obvious from its construction speed just how important the new site in Bavaria was to the Americans. Only four-and-a-half months after it was begun, the new, surveillance-proof building at the Mangfall Kaserne in Bad Aibling was finished. The structure had a metal exterior and no windows, which led to its derogatory nickname among members of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), the German foreign intelligence agency: The “tin can.”

The construction project was an expression of an especially close and trusting cooperation between the American National Security Agency (NSA) and the BND. Bad Aibling had formerly been a base for US espionage before it was officially turned over to the BND in 2004. But the “tin can” was built after the handover took place.

The heads of the two intelligence agencies had agreed to continue cooperating there in secret. Together, they established joint working groups, one for the acquisition of data, called Joint Sigint Activity, and one for the analysis of that data, known as the Joint Analysis Center.

But the Germans were apparently not supposed to know everything their partners in the “tin can” were doing. The Americans weren’t just interested in terrorism; they also used their technical abilities to spy on companies and agencies in Western Europe. They didn’t even shy away from pursuing German targets.

The Germans noticed — in 2008, if not sooner. But nothing was done about it until 2013, when an analysis triggered by whistleblower Edward Snowden’s leaks showed that the US was using the facility to spy on German and Western European targets.

On Thursday, though, SPIEGEL ONLINE revealed that the US spying was vastly more extensive than first thought. The revelations have been met with extreme concern in the German capital — partly because they mark the return of a scandal that two successive Merkel administrations have never truly sought to clear up.

It remains unclear how much the BND knew, and to what extent German intelligence was involved, either intentionally or not. More crucially, it demonstrates the gap in trust that exists between two close allies.

Humiliating Efforts

The German government will have to quickly come up with answers. It will also have to decide how it will confront Washington about these new accusations. In the past two years, Berlin has made little to no progress in its largely humiliating efforts to get information from Washington.

The issue that could have been cleared up, at least internally, shortly after the NSA scandal began in the summer of 2013. But BND decision-makers chose not to go public with what they knew.

When media reports began emerging that the NSA had scooped up massive amounts of data in Germany and Europe, and that this data surveillance was not being performed exclusively for the global fight against terrorism, BND agents became suspicious. In previous years, BND agents had noticed on several occasions that the so-called “Selector Lists,” that the Germans received from their American partners and which were regularly updated, contained some oddities.

Selectors are targets like IP addresses, mobile phone numbers or email accounts. The BND surveillance system contains hundreds of thousands, possibly more than a million, such targets. Analysts are automatically notified of hits.

In 2008, at the latest, it became apparent that NSA selectors were not only limited to terrorist and weapons smugglers. Their searches also included the European defense company EADS, the helicopter manufacturer Eurocopter and French agencies. But it was only after the revelations made by whistleblower Edward Snowden that the BND decided to investigate the issue. In October 2013, an investigation came to the conclusion that at least 2,000 of these selectors were aimed at Western European or even German interests.

That would have been a clear violation of the Memorandum of Agreement that the US and Germany signed in 2002 in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. The agreement pertained to joint, global surveillance operations undertaken from Bad Aibling.

Cease and Desist

Washington and Berlin agreed at the time that neither Germans nor Americans — neither people nor companies or organizations — would be among the surveillance targets. But in October 2013, not even the BND leadership was apparently informed of the violations that had been made. The Chancellery, which is charged with monitoring the BND, was also left in the dark. Instead, the agents turned to the Americans and asked them to cease and desist.

In spring 2014, the NSA investigative committee in German parliament, the Bundestag, began its work. When reports emerged that EADS and Eurocopter had been surveillance targets, the Left Party and the Greens filed an official request to obtain evidence of the violations.

At the BND, the project group charged with supporting the parliamentary investigative committee once again looked at the NSA selectors. In the end, they discovered fully 40,000 suspicious search parameters, including espionage targets in Western European governments and numerous companies. It was this number that SPIEGEL ONLINE reported on Thursday. The BND project group was also able to confirm suspicions that the NSA had systematically violated German interests. They concluded that the Americans could have perpetrated economic espionage directly under the Germans’ noses.

Only on March 12 of this year did the information end up in the Chancellery. Merkel administration officials immediately recognized its political explosiveness and decided to go on the offensive. On Wednesday, the Parliamentary Control Panel met, a body that is in charge of monitoring Germany’s three intelligence agencies. The heads of the agencies normally deliver their reports in the surveillance-proof meeting room U1.214.

Panel members suspected something was different at this week’s meeting when Chancellery head Peter Altmaier, a cabinet-level position in Germany, indicated that he would be attending. The heads of the parliamentary NSA investigative committee were also invited to attend. BND President Gerhard Schindler, however, was asked to stay away. The day after the meeting, the government announced bluntly that Schindler’s office had displayed “technical and organizational deficits.”

Recast in a Different Light

With that, Germany’s foreign intelligence agency has some explaining to do. The BND, after all, doesn’t just report to the Chancellery. It has also provided testimony on its activities at Bad Aibling several times to the Parliamentary Control Panel and to the NSA investigative committee. That testimony now appears in a different light.

According to a classified memo, the agency told parliamentarians in 2013 that the cooperation with the US in Bad Aibling was consistent with the law and with the strict guidelines that had been established.

The memo notes: “The value for the BND (lies) in know-how benefits and in a closer partnership with the NSA relative to other partners.” The data provided by the US, the memo continued, “is checked for its conformance with the agreed guidelines before it is inputted” into the BND system.

Now, we know better. It remains to be determined whether the BND really was unaware at the time, or whether it simply did not want to be aware.

The NSA investigative committee has also questioned former and active BND agents regarding “selectors” and “search criteria” on several occasions. Prior to the beginning of each session, the agents were informed that providing false testimony to the body was unlawful. The BND agents repeatedly insisted that the selectors provided by the US were precisely checked.

A senior analyst from the department responsible, known as “Signals Intelligence,” testified in March that BND lawyers would check “each individual search term” and “each individual selector” to ensure that it conformed with the Memorandum of Agreement. That didn’t just apply to government officials and German companies, he said, but to Europeans more broadly.

‘Prosecutors Must Investigate’

“Sneaking in” such search terms would “become apparent” in such a long-term operation, the witness said. “To try, over all these years, to sneak selectors by us to perpetrate economic espionage, I don’t think that is possible,” the witness said. He added: “We never noticed such a thing.”

Members of the NSA investigative committee now feel that they have been lied to, and the reactions have been harsh. “At least since the Snowden revelations in 2013, all those involved at all levels, including the Chancellery, should have been suspicious of the cooperation with the NSA,” says Konstantin von Notz, the senior Green Party member on the investigative committee.

“The spying scandal shows that the intelligence agencies have a life of their own and are uncontrollable,” says the senior Left Party representative Martina Renner. “There have to be personnel consequences and German public prosecutors must investigate.”

But as of late Thursday, the German government hadn’t even informed the public prosecutor’s office of the incident.

By Maik Baumgärtner, Nikolaus Blome, Hubert Gude, Marcel Rosenbach, Jörg Schindler and Fidelius Schmid

Shhh… CIA Stand-down in Western Europe?

The CIA has undertaken an unprecedentedly long stand-down on friendly Western European allies following the recent furor in the aftermath of an exposed German agent and accumulated impacts from the Snowden revelations in order to re-examine its strategy, according to current and former US officials, which if true would prove an unfortunate timing for the United States given its concerns about Europe’s response to Russian aggression and monitoring of European extremists in Syria.

The so-called pause means CIA officers based in Europe have to withdraw covert clandestine meetings to gather intelligence from their well-placed sources, or roping in new recruits for that matter, though they are not barred from meeting their counterparts in the host country and conduct joint operations with host country services, according to the Associated Press.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper reportedly said Thursday that the US is assuming more risks given its pullback from spying on “specific targets”.

The stand-down was part of the fallout from the July 2 arrest of a 31-year old employee of the German intelligence service who later confessed he worked for the CIA. The CIA station chief in Berlin was (unprecedentedly) forced out of Germany a few days later, which underscored the German stance on the US who have already been stung from earlier Snowden revelations that the NSA had been tapping on the mobile phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

While such halts are common after an operation was compromised they were “never this long or this deep”, which has been in effect for about 2 months now.

Now the question is, would a NSA stand-down follow? Bet not and probably never.

Shhh… WikiLeaks Released Weaponized German Surveillance Malware (For Download) Used by Intelligence Agencies Around the World

Intelligence agencies around the world have been spying on journalists, activists and political dissidents using a surveillance malware produced by FinFisher, a German company specializing in computer intrusion systems, the exploitation of software and remote monitoring systems capable of intercepting communications and data from various devices, according to WikiLeaks which revealed Monday the latest published batch of secret documents.

The whistleblower website also released a list of FinFisher customers, which includes “Slovakia, Mongolia, Qatar State Security, South Africa, Bahrain, Pakistan, Estonia, Vietnam, Australia NSW Police, Belgium, Nigeria, Netherlands KLPD, PCS Security in Singapore, Bangladesh, Secret Services of Hungary, Italy and Bosnia & Herzegovina Intelligence”.

The FinFisher’s spyware is able to intercept communications and data from computers installed with the Mac OS X, Windows and Linux operating systems, as well as Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Symbian and Windows Mobile portable devices.

“FinFisher continues to operate brazenly from Germany selling weaponised surveillance malware to some of the most abusive regimes in the world. The Merkel government pretends to be concerned about privacy, but its actions speak otherwise. Why does the Merkel government continue to protect FinFisher? This full data release will help the technical community build tools to protect people from FinFisher including by tracking down its command and control centers,” said WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

But what makes the latest WikiLeaks release really stands out this time is that it did not simply release documents but posted the actual software for anyone to download- YES, the actual zip files containing the malware on its site but with this warning:

In order to prevent any accidental execution and infection, the following files have been renamed and compressed in password protected archives (the password is “infected”). They are weaponised malware, so handle carefully.”

The Walls that Spy

Bad news for those who say ‘If only the walls could talk’. They can.

Hotel rooms are never safe havens as spies know only too well, but warnings of the risk often fall on deaf ears, to the sorrow or sometimes embarrassment of the tenants. Two recent news stories and the episode that I describe below hopefully change the public perceptions.

The stories describe how the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has traced and wiretapped top diplomats in their hotel suites over the past three years through its secret “Royal Concierge” program, which tracked some 350 hotels across the world, according to documents exposed by the former US intelligence contractor turned fugitive Edward Snowden.

Separately, it emerged in media reports last week that US President Barack Obama takes extreme measures to ward off any threats of secret video or audio surveillance by setting up an anti-spy portable tent in his hotel suite when traveling abroad, including in allied countries that the US allegedly targeted in conducting massive surveillance against foreign leaders and citizens. That amplifies the deep US concerns about being spied upon as much as spying on its friends and risks inviting potential hypocritical labeling of the White House.

I have written previously about the risk but there is much more than meets the eye, including an interesting exchange I once had with a foreign agent about the spy trade and hotel room risks.

Please find the entire column here and there.

Security Lapse at the EU Summit

Security officials leave an easily tapped device in closed-door conferences of European leaders

In photos made public of several closed-door bilateral meetings between various European leaders last week, there were two common denominators. One was the presence of the French President Francois Hollande. The other was the VoIP phone on the desk. The question is: What is that phone doing there?

In the middle of a major brouhaha over charges that the US National Security Agency had allegedly monitored the phone conversations of foreign diplomats, the officials in those photos were speaking to each other in the presence of this easily-tapped device.

What these these photos highlight is a security lapse, thus generating many questions: What else have European countries missed and not done to better protect their leaders from American or any eavesdropping?

You can find the entire column here and there.