Canada watchdog body to hold secret hearings over illegal spying claims

CSIS canadaA government watchdog in Canada is preparing to hold a series of closed-door hearings to weigh accusations that the country’s intelligence services illegally spied on law-abiding activists opposing the construction of oil pipelines. The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) sued the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) in February 2014, claiming they spied on Canadian citizens engaging in legal protest. The lawsuit was filed after nearly 150 pages of internal records were accessed by The Vancouver Observer, following an official Access to Information request made by the newspaper.

The BCCLA argues that information contained in the released documents shows that the RCMP and the CSIS gathered data on individuals and groups —including the Sierra Club— who are opposed to the construction of oil pipelines connecting Alberta’s so-called tar-sands to a number of ports in British Columbia. According to the BCCLA’s lawsuit, the documents demonstrate a series of clear violations of the 1985 Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act, which expressly forbids intelligence-collection activities targeting individuals or groups engaged in “lawful advocacy, protest or dissent”. Additionally, the BCCLA claims that the RCMP and the CSIS communicated the illegally acquired information to members of the Canadian Energy Board, officials in the country’s petroleum industry, and even employees of private security companies.

The hearings will be conducted in Vancouver by the Security and Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), a government body that monitors Canada’s intelligence agencies. Josh Paterson, a lawyer for the BCCLA, told The Vancouver Sun newspaper that the hearings would be so secretive that even the legal teams representing the two sides of the dispute would not be allowed to remain in the room for the entire length of the proceedings.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 August 2015 | Permalink

South Korean spy’s suicide reportedly linked to wiretap controversy

NIS South KoreaA suicide note found next to the body of a South Korean intelligence officer mentions a phone hacking scandal that has caused controversy in the country. The 45-year-old man, identified only as “Lim” by South Korean authorities, worked for the country’s primary intelligence organization, the National Intelligence Service (NIS). He was found dead late on Saturday morning inside his car, which had been parked on a deserted rural road on the outskirts of South Korean capital Seoul. According to local reports, authorities found a metal plate with burnt-out coal inside his car, which had been locked from the inside. Finding no apparent marks on his body, the police have ruled his death a suicide.

The man reportedly left a three-page handwritten note on the passenger seat of his car, which is said to contain his will and a list of the reasons that drove him to kill himself. South Korean media cited a “senior government insider” who said that among the reasons mentioned in the suicide note is a controversial phone tapping scandal that has made national news in recent days. According to the insider, the program is identified in the letter as a wiretapping scheme “of national importance”.

The program appears to refer to the the disclosure made this month by a group of unidentified hackers that exposed the dealings of a surveillance software manufacturer with a markedly poor civil-liberties record. The disclosure, made by British newspaper The Guardian, shows that the Italian company, Hacking Team Ltd, is believed to have sold powerful surveillance software to governments with a history of civil-rights violations, including Nigeria, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. Among the customers, however, are a number of countries with stronger civil-rights protections, including South Korea and Cyprus, which is a member of the European Union. Cyprus’ intelligence chief resigned earlier this month as a result of the disclosure. According to technical experts, the software sold by Hacking Team can intercept data exchanged via cellular phones and other wireless devices. It can also spy on all communications devices connected to the Internet using malware that is undetectable by commonly used antivirus software. Moreover, software supplied by Hacking Team cannot be removed from a compromised cellular device unless it is reset at the factory.

NIS authorities in Seoul issued a press statement last week, claiming that the phone hacking software had been used only against North Korean targets abroad, including agents of Pyongyang operating around the world. But human rights organizations, as well as opposition parties in South Korea, said they believed the software had been used to monitor domestic dissent. Earlier this year, a former director of NIS was jailed for organizing an online propaganda campaign to dissuade citizens to vote for the liberal opposition. The NIS issued a statement last week saying that it would be willing to share the operational details and records of the controversial software with lawmakers in order to dispel rumors that it was used against domestic political activity.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 20 July 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/07/20/01-1738/

We must spy because of Turks, ISIS, says outgoing Cyprus spy chief

CyprusThe head of the main intelligence agency of the island state of Cyprus has resigned after an invoice leaked online showed that the agency made several purchases of controversial surveillance software. Andreas Pentaras, who has led the Cyprus Intelligence Service (KYP) since 2013, resigned on Saturday, less than a week after an unidentified group of hackers posted the controversial invoice online. The document, leaked to British broadsheet The Guardian and posted on Cypriot news site Sigmalive, shows that the KYP made numerous purchases of communications surveillance software from an Italian manufacturer with a markedly poor standing among civil-liberties advocates. The company, Hacking Team Ltd, is believed to have sold powerful surveillance software to governments that have documented records of civil-rights violations, including Nigeria, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan.

According to technical experts in Cyprus, the software purchased by KYP can intercept data exchanged via cellular phones and other wireless devices. It can also spy on all communications devices connected to the Internet using malware that is undetectable by commonly used antivirus software. Moreover, software supplied by Hacking Team cannot be removed from a compromised cellular device unless it is reset at the factory. Pentaras also came under pressure to resign because the interception of communications is currently outlawed by the Cypriot Constitution. In 2011, the Cypriot parliament amended the Constitution to allow communications interception in extreme circumstances, but the legal interpretation of the amendment has yet to be officially outlined and approved. Technically, therefore, the interception of communications by the KYP remains illegal.

In an official statement issued on Friday, Pentaras said the surveillance software was purchased because of “the need and importance of maintaining a reliable operational intelligence service due to the circumstances caused by the occupation and due to the asymmetric threats caused by the instability in our region”. He was referring to the presence of up to 45,000 Turkish troops in the northern part of the island, which Turkey invaded in 1974 in response to a military coup organized by a group of far-right colonels who ruled Greece at the time. Pentaras was also referring to the arrest last month of a suspected Lebanese Hezbollah operative, who was captured in the Cypriot city of Larnaca while in possession of 67 thousand packages of ammonium nitrate. In September of last year, Pentaras said it was possible that Sunni nationalists in occupied north Cyprus were assisting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

According to Cypriot media, the country’s President, Nicos Anastasiades, accepted Pentaras’ resignation, saying he did so “in order to protect the commendable accomplishments of the KYP in recent years”. Late on Saturday, another Cypriot senior official, Public Health Minister Filippos Patsalis, surrendered from his post. Sources from Nicosia said that Patsalis’ resignation was not related to the KYP controversy.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 July 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/07/13/01-1733/

News you may have missed #892 (legislative update)

Jens MadsenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Canadian lawmakers vote to expand spy powers. Legislation that would dramatically expand the powers of Canada’s spy agency has cleared a key hurdle. The House of Commons on Wednesday approved the Anti-Terror Act, which was spurred by last year’s attack on parliament. The act would give the Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s (CSIS) the ability to operate overseas and make preventative arrests. It also makes it easier for police to arrest and detain individuals without charge. Dominated by the Conservative party, the Senate is expected to approve the act before June.
►►Danish spy chief resigns over Islamist attacks. The head of Denmark’s Police Intelligence Service (PET), Jens Madsen, quit just hours before a report was due to be released into February’s fatal shootings in Copenhagen by an Islamist. Omar El-Hussein killed two people at a free speech debate and a synagogue before being shot dead by police. “It’s no secret that it is a very demanding position,” said Madsen, without giving a reason for his resignation. Justice Minister Mette Frederiksen declined to say whether the move was linked to criticisms of the police response to the attack.
►►OSCE urges France to reconsider controversial spying bill. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe urged French lawmakers to reconsider provisions of a proposed law that would expand government surveillance, a measure that was backed by French parliamentarians on Tuesday, despite criticism from rights groups. “If enforced, these practices will impact the right of journalists to protect the confidentiality of sources and their overall work”, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic said Wednesday. “If confidentiality of sources is not safeguarded within a trusted communications environment, the right of journalists to seek and obtain information of public interest would be seriously endangered”, he added

France approves sweeping spy bill in response to Islamist attacks

Attack on Charlie HebdoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Lawmakers in the French National Assembly have overwhelmingly approved a new bill giving the country’s intelligence services unprecedented domestic spy capabilities. The bill, which is dismissed by critics as France’s version of the United States’ PATRIOT Act, was drafted by the ruling Socialist Party just days after a group of armed Islamists attacked several targets in Paris. The attacks were primarily directed against France’s popular satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo (see photo). A dozen members of the magazine’s staff, including several internationally-known cartoonists, were killed at the magazine’s headquarters in the French capital on January 7 of this year.

The newly approved bill provides blanket-approval for the wholesale interception and storage of communications metadata, which include information about the location and size of Internet-based communications exchanges. They also include information on the identities of those sending or receiving electronic messages. The legislation also includes a provision for the establishment of a new supervisory body called the National Commission for Control of Intelligence Techniques. Its mission will be to supervise the use of surveillance powers by France’s six intelligence agencies, as well as to handle complaints relating to communications interception from members of the public.

As the bill progressed through France’s houses of parliament, the French government and its supporters argued that the country needed national legislation that would take into consideration the rapid technical changes in digital telecommunications. But critics, which included most of France’s Internet service providers, claimed that the new law would give intelligence agencies unreasonably broad surveillance powers and would hamper online commerce. These claims, however, failed to convince lawmakers; the bill was thus approved by 438 votes for to 86 against. Most parliamentarians from France’s three main parties —the Socialist Party, the rightwing Union for a Popular Movement, and the centrist Union of Democrats and Independents— voted in favor of the bill. Observers noted with surprise that most lawmakers from the Radical Party of the Left also voted in favor of the bill. In contrast, the communist-led Left Front, as well as the Greens, voted overwhelmingly against the bill.

UK spies intercepted emails from top European, American media

GCHQ center in Cheltenham, EnglandBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Britain’s communications-interception agency captured private emails from journalists and editors in some of the world’s top media, including The New York Times, the BBC, The Washington Post, and NBC. British broadsheet The Guardian said on Monday that the interception occurred in 2008 by experts in the General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), which spies on international communications on behalf of the British government. The London-based newspaper said the emails were among 70,000 that were captured during a 10-minute interception drill that took place in 2008. The exercise involved the installation of a number of taps on fiber-optic cables, which function as superhighways of digital signals exchanged between users around the world. The messages captured included emails sent by journalists and editors working for some of the world’s most recognizable media in Britain, France and the United States. Following the exercise, the content of the intercepted messages was posted on GCHQ’s internal servers, where any one of its employees with access to the organization’s intranet could read them. The Guardian said it based its revelation on internal GCHQ files disclosed by Edward Snowden, a former contractor for GCHQ’s American counterpart, the National Security Agency, who defected to Russia in 2013. The purpose of the British spy agency’s exercise is not known, nor is there any information in the leaked documents to show whether journalists and their editors were deliberately targeted by GCHQ. However, the paper said that another document leaked by Snowden contains an “information security assessment”, in which GCHQ targeting officers listed “investigative journalists” in a detailed hierarchical list of security threats, which included computer hackers and terrorists. The document cautions that “journalists and reporters […] specializing in defence-related exposés […] represent a potential threat to security”. The Guardian contacted GCHQ but was told by a spokesman that the organization has a “longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters”. The spokesman added, however, that the agency’s interception activities are subject to “rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state”.

News you may have missed #887 (Anglosphere edition)

Ian FletcherBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Canadian military deploys spies during Arctic exercise. The Canadian military has been routinely deploying a counter-intelligence team to guard against possible spying, terrorism and sabotage during its annual Arctic exercise, according to internal documents. In the view of intelligence experts, the move is unusual because Operation NANOOK is conducted on Canadian soil in remote locations of the Far North.
►►Sudden resignation of NZ spy chief raises questions. Opposition parties in New Zealand have raised questions over the sudden resignation of Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), Ian Fletcher, who is stepping down after three years in the role. Chris Finlayson, the minister responsible for the spy agency, said Fletcher was making the move for family reasons. Fletcher will finish in the role on 27 February and an acting director will be appointed from that date.
►►British government argues for more powers for spy agencies. Britain’s spying agencies need more powers to read the contents of communications in the wake of the Paris terror attacks, British Prime Minister David Cameron has said. Speaking in Nottingham, he said the intelligence agencies need more access to both communications data –records of phone calls and online exchanges between individuals– and the contents of communications. This is compatible with a “modern, liberal democracy”, he said.

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