News you may have missed #882 (cybersecurity edition)

Andrew LewmanBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►GCHQ launches ‘Cyber Security Challenge’. Britain’s signals intelligence agency, GCHQ, has created a new online game to find new recruits and test the public’s ability to deal with hacking attacks. The new game, named Assignment: Astute Explorer, will give registered players the chance to analyze code from a fictitious aerospace company, identify vulnerabilities and then suggest fixes.
►►Chinese hackers spied on investigators of Flight MH370. Malaysian officials investigating the disappearance of flight MH370 have been targeted in a hacking attack that resulted in the theft of classified material. The attack hit around 30 PCs assigned to officials in Malaysia Airlines, the country’s Civil Aviation Department and the National Security Council. The malware was hidden in a PDF attachment posing as a news article that was distributed on 9 March, just one day after the ill-fated Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
►►Developer alleges NSA and GCHQ employees are helping Tor Project. Tor is a free software used for enabling online anonymity and resisting censorship. It directs Internet traffic through a free, worldwide, volunteer network consisting of more than five thousand relays to conceal a user’s location or usage. Interestingly, its executive director, Andrew Lewman, has told the BBC that employees of the NSA and GCHQ offer his team of programmers tips “on probably [a] monthly” basis about bugs and design issues that potentially could compromise the [Tor] service”. He added that he had been told by William Binney, a former NSA official turned whistleblower, that one reason NSA workers might have leaked such information was because many were “upset that they are spying on Americans”.

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News you may have missed #873 (controversy edition)

Alvaro UribeBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►German parliament confirms NSA inquiry to start in April. Germany’s four major parties have unanimously approved a parliamentary inquiry into surveillance by the NSA and its allied counterparts, like the GCHQ in the UK. Another key question for the committee will likely be whether the German intelligence agencies were either aware of, or complicit in, the gathering of people’s data. A German newspaper reported that whistleblower Edward Snowden, currently in Russia, may testify via Skype.
►►Former Colombia spy chief sentenced over illegal wiretapping. Carlos Arzayus, former director of Colombia’s now-defunct intelligence agency DAS was sentenced to nearly ten years in prison on Thursday for his role in the illegal wiretapping of Supreme Court justices and government critics during the Alvaro Uribe administrations during the years 2002 to 2010. Additionally, Arzayus was ordered to pay damages to the victims of the wiretapping.
►►French spies allegedly spy on Orange customer data. The French intelligence agency in charge of military and electronic spying is massively collecting data and monitoring networks of telecoms giant Orange, Le Monde newspaper reported in its Friday edition. “The DGSE can read, like an open book, the origin and destination of all communications of Orange customers”, the paper said.

Leftist group behind 1971 burglary of FBI office comes forward

FBI field office in Media, PaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Members of an American leftwing group, who in 1971 burgled a regional branch of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), stealing documents that revealed illegal government activities, have come forward. The mysterious group, which called itself The Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI, is credited by historians as having unearthed the initial revelations that eventually led to the exposure of COINTELPRO. The acronym stood for COunter INTELligence PROgram; it incorporated a host of questionable and often illegal activities by the FBI, which were aimed at discrediting domestic political organizations considered ‘radical’ by longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. The program targeted mostly nonviolent antiwar groups and black civil rights organizations and leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was regarded by Hoover as a communist agent. In association with the Watergate scandal, the COINTELPRO revelations led to the creation of the Church and Pike committees in Congress, which radically restructured the oversight of the United States Intelligence Community. The burglary took place on the evening of March 8, 1971, in the town of Media, Pennsylvania. It resulted in the theft of over 1,000 documents, which were then reproduced and mailed anonymously to several national newspapers, including The New York Times and The Washington Post. Nearly half of the stolen documents concerned surveillance and disruption operations —mainly blackmail, intimidation and sabotage— against liberal groups. They also included a controversial directive by Director Hoover to place “an FBI agent behind every mailbox” in America. A furious Hoover placed as many as 200 agents on the burglary case; but the investigation got nowhere, and the Bureau was forced to close the case in March 1976, having failed to conclusively identify the burglars. But now a new book written by Betty Medsger, who at the time of the burglary was working for The Washington Post, has revealed for the first time the identities of four of the eight-member team that carried out the burglary. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #853

NSA's Utah Data CenterBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Meltdowns hobble NSA data center. Electrical surges at the National Security Agency’s massive data center in Utah have delayed the opening of the facility for a year as well as destroying hundreds of thousands of dollars in kit, the Wall Street Journal reports. Ten “meltdowns” in the past 13 months have repeatedly delayed the Herculean effort to get the spy agency’s colossal snooping facility up and running, according to project documents reviewed by the newspaper.
►►Uganda expels Sudan diplomat accused of spying. Sudanese diplomat Jad-el-Seed Mohammed Elhag has been expelled from Uganda on suspicion of espionage, Ugandan foreign ministry officials said Tuesday. “The reasons why he was expelled was that the activities he was involved in were beyond the norms and requirements of his tenure”, Uganda Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Tayebwa Katureebe said. “These are issues of diplomacy and of two countries, which are not addressed normally in the press, but basically the main reason was espionage”, he said, declining to go into detail.
►►FBI accused of using no-fly list to recruit informants. A lawsuit in New York alleges that the FBI is violating the law by putting Muslim-Americans on the no-fly list not because of a “reasonable suspicion” of terrorist associations, but as a form of blackmail to coerce them into becoming informants at mosques and in their communities. Is this the beginning of the end for the US federal government’s no-fly list? According to the complaint, New York resident Muhammad Tanvir landed on the no-fly list after refusing an FBI request to work as an informant in his predominantly Muslim community.

NSA ‘broke, circumvented Internet encryption standards’

NSA headquartersBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The United States National Security Agency (NSA) has been able to crack or get around basic encryption standards used daily by hundreds of millions of Internet users, according to newly leaked documents. The New York Times said on Friday that it was in possession of documents that prove that the NSA is not restrained by universal encryption standards used in the US and abroad. The NSA, which is America’s largest intelligence agency, and is tasked by the US government with intercepting electronic communications worldwide, is now able to routinely circumvent Secure Sockets Layer or virtual private networks, as well as encryption protection standards used on fourth-generation cell phones. It therefore has instant access to the content of billions of encrypted messages exchanged by users of some of the Internet’s most popular email companies, including Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo and Facebook. The paper said it obtained the documents from Edward Snowden, a technical contractor for the NSA who defected to Russia this past summer. They include internal NSA memoranda that suggest the NSA deployed specially built supercomputers to break Internet encryption standards. In other cases, the Agency worked with selected companies and convinced them to “build entry points into their products”. The multi-billion effort was apparently launched by the NSA in the early 2000s, soon after the US government lost a lengthy battle with the communications industry centering on the so-called ‘clipper chip’. Read more of this post

New documents reveal massive NSA surveillance capabilities

General Keith AlexanderBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Documents provided by American former intelligence technician Edward Snowden show that the United States National Security Agency has unprecedented surveillance capabilities, which allow it to monitor nearly every online activity of targeted Internet users. Snowden, a self-styled whistleblower, who is currently in Russia, provided British newspaper The Guardian with an NSA training presentation. The visually based presentation explains the inner workings of an intelligence collection program called XKeyscore, which the NSA describes as its “widest-reaching” digital collection program. The system allows NSA data collectors to sift through massive online databases containing millions of individual users’ browsing histories, emails and chats —what the NSA calls digital network intelligence (DNI). According to the training presentation, authorized NSA analysts are able to target individual Internet users by entering their name, email address, IP address or telephone number. The presentation states that, upon entering the identifying information, an NSA analyst can tap into “nearly everything a typical user does on the Internet”, including the content and metadata of emails, website browsing and search terms used. Snowden told The Guardian that an NSA analyst only needs to know a user’s personal email address in order to “wiretap anyone [while] sitting at [his] desk, from you or your accountant to a federal judge or even the President”. What is more, it appears that NSA analysts are able to target individual Internet users by simply “filling in an [...] on-screen form”, and by giving only a very broad justification for the probe. Additionally, individual digital collection operations are not approved by a court or senior NSA officers. According to Snowden, all an NSA analyst has to do is suspect that the targeted online user is in contact with “a foreign target”. Meanwhile, NSA Director Keith Alexander was jeered by participants during his keynote speech at the Black Hat Technical Security conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #841 (Snowden leak analysis)

Edward SnowdenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►US officials defend spy programs as safeguards against terror. Intelligence officials sought to convince US House lawmakers in an unusual briefing that the government’s years-long collection of phone records and Internet usage is necessary for protecting Americans —and does not trample on their privacy rights. The parade of FBI and intelligence officials who briefed the entire House on Tuesday was the latest attempt to soothe outrage over NSA programs which collect billions of Americans’ phone and Internet records.
►►Some in US intelligence see Chinese behind Snowden leak. Former CIA officer Bob Baer told CNN that some US intelligence officials “are seriously looking at [the revelations made by Edward Snowden] as a potential Chinese covert action. Hong Kong is controlled by Chinese intelligence”, Baer told CNN Sunday evening. “It’s not an independent part of China at all. I’ve talked to a bunch of people in Washington today, in official positions, and they are looking at this as a potential Chinese espionage case”.
►►Leak highlights risk of outsourcing US spy work. The explosive leak uncovering America’s vast surveillance program highlights the risks Washington takes by entrusting so much of its defense and spy work to private firms, experts say. Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old man whose leak uncovered how spy agencies sift through phone records and Internet traffic, is among a legion of private contractors who make up nearly 30 percent of the workforce in intelligence agencies. From analyzing intelligence to training new spies, jobs that were once performed by government employees are now carried out by paid contractors, in a dramatic shift that began in the 1990s amid budget pressures.

Ex-CIA technician who leaked Verizon court order comes forward

Edward SnowdenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Last week, British newspaper The Guardian revealed a secret court order that enables the United States government to collect the telephone records of millions of customers of Verizon, one of America’s largest cellular phone service providers. On the morning of Sunday, June 9, the individual responsible for leaking the secret court order came forward on his own volition. He is Edward Snowden, a former technical assistant for the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The 29-year-old computer expert, who has been working for the National Security Agency (NSA) for the last four years, told The Guardian that he decided to leak the injunction because he felt it posed “an existential threat to democracy”. He added that he was not motivated by money in disclosing the document. Were he after money, he said, he “could have sold these documents to any number of countries and gotten very rich”. In a video published on The Guardian’s website, Snowden told the paper that his disillusionment with America’s “federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers” began even before 2007, when he was stationed under diplomatic cover at the CIA station in Geneva, Switzerland. He finally decided to act three weeks ago, he said, after careful consideration of the ramifications of his decision for his life and career.

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US government secretly obtained phone records of journalists

Associated PressBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The Associated Press (AP) accused the United States government on Monday of secretly obtaining telephone records of its reporters, as part of a leak inquiry related to an intelligence operation. The news agency, which is owned cooperatively by news outlets worldwide, said the Department of Justice had secretly obtained pen-register information on 20 AP telephone lines in the US. Pen-register data includes lists of all numbers contacted from a particular telephone line and the duration of each call over a defined period. The agency said the government investigation included “the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters”, as well as AP office telephone lines in New York and Washington, and even the main telephone line used by AP correspondents at the US Capitol Building. It is believed that government prosecutors were probing the source(s) of a May 7, 2012, AP report, which disclosed that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had prevented a terrorist plot by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Arabian Peninsula. AP correspondents Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman had cited anonymous sources in claiming that the plot, allegedly hatched in Yemen, involved placing a bomb on a US-bound civilian airplane on the one-year anniversary of the death of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. Less than a fortnight later, sources told the Reuters news agency that the White House and CIA were furious with AP’s revelation, because it allegedly forced the termination of an “operation which they hoped could have continued for weeks longer”. Read more of this post

Court rejects release of spy records on iconic Canadian politician

Tommy DouglasBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Canada’s highest court has rejected a legal argument in favor of releasing surveillance records on Tommy Douglas, an iconic Canadian politician who was monitored for most of his life by the security services. Douglas was a Scottish-born Baptist minister who later became the leader of the New Democratic Party and Premier of the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. Under his Premiership, which lasted from 1944 to 1961, Saskatchewan’s government became the first democratic socialist administration in North America and the first in the Americas to introduce a single-payer universal healthcare program. But Douglas, who is widely recognized as the father of Canada’s healthcare system, was under constant surveillance by Canadian intelligence throughout most of his life. Government records show that the now-defunct Security Service of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) began monitoring the socialist politician shortly before the outbreak of World War II. It appears that, in the political context of the Cold War, Douglas had drawn the attention of Canada’s security establishment by supporting antiwar causes, which led some to suspect him of holding pro-communist sympathies. The government surveillance, which was at times extensive, lasted until shortly before the politician’s death in 1986. Under Canada’s legal system, security dossiers on individuals are typically released 20 years after the target’s death. However, even though several hundred pages from Douglas’ dossier have already been released, many hundreds more remain secret. In 2005, Canadian Press reporter Jim Bronskill launched a legal campaign aimed at securing the release of the remaining pages in Douglas’ dossier. His campaign is supported by Douglas’ family, notably Douglas’ daughter, Shirley. But the Canadian government has resisted Bronskill’s effort from the very beginning. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #821 (civil liberties edition)

Bernard SquarciniBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►French domestic spy chief cleared of snooping charges. Back in October of 2011, intelNews reported that Bernard Squarcini, who then headed France’s domestic intelligence agency, the DCRI, had been charged with spying on a journalist with the daily Le Monde. The accusation was part of a wider case of domestic snooping, in which Squarcini was believed to have been trying to detect the source of government leaks to the press, allegedly on orders by then-President Nicolas Sarkozy. Earlier this month, however, an appeals court in Paris rejected two of three charges against the former DCRI chief. Squarcini could face up to five years in prison if convicted of the remaining charge.
►►FBI documents termed Occupy movement as ‘terrorism’. A number of heavily redacted US government documents, released following a Freedom of Information Act request, reveal that the FBI organized a nationwide law enforcement investigation and monitoring of the Occupy Wall Street movement beginning in August of 2011. In some documents, the FBI refers to the Occupy Wall Street protests as a “criminal activity” and “domestic terrorism”.
►►Wiretapping by Russian spy agencies doubled in five years. Wiretapping by Russia’s intelligence agencies has nearly doubled over the past five years, according to The Moscow Times. In Western countries, intelligence agencies were given wider powers after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But in Russia, the exponential growth of wiretapping began after 2007, when terrorism by Islamic-inspired separatists was already on the decline. A federal law passed in 2010 expanded the legal grounds for wiretapping Russian citizens. Now, intelligence officers can wiretap someone’s phones or monitor their Internet activity simply because they allegedly received reports that an individual is preparing to commit a crime.

News you may have missed #794

GCHQ center in Cheltenham, EnglandBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Racism charge against GCHQ settled out of court. The British government’s SIGINT agency, GCHQ has been spared having its inner workings broadcast in public after a potentially embarrassing racism case was settled out of court at the last minute. The racial harassment and constructive dismissal lawsuit had been filed by Alfred Bacchus, a 42-year-old former employee. There are unconfirmed reports that, as part of the settlement, the plaintiff has signed a non-disclosure agreement banning him from revealing any more details about his complaints.
►►US spy agencies renew call for electronic surveillance rights. US intelligence officials had made a public plea on Tuesday, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks, for quick Congressional action to extend a sweeping but controversial US electronic surveillance law. If the law, which expires at the end of 2012, is not extended, US spy agencies say they would lose access to what they describe as a “very, very important source of valuable intelligence information”. But at least one congressional critic of the surveillance law, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, says he is willing to use legislative tactics to stall the bill, which has been passed by the House, unless the administration and other legislators agree to include stronger provisions to protect Americans’ civil liberties.
►►Yemen claims arrest of ‘Mossad agent’. Al-Nas, a Yemeni weekly associated with the Islamist Yemeni Reform Party, reported last weekend that an Israeli citizen, identified only by his initials and year of birth, 1982, was arrested in the southwestern city of Taizz. He reportedly admitted to smuggling children out of Yemen to neighboring countries and from there to Israel “through Zionist organizations”. Bizarrely, the man reportedly told his Yemeni interrogators that he “spent three years in a Greek prison for researching the biographies of well-known computer hackers”.

News you may have missed #773

Tamir PardoBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Conflicting reports on CIA-ISI meeting. Lieutenant General Zahir ul-Islam, who heads Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, the ISI, held talks in Washington with his CIA counterpart General David Petraeus, between August 1 and 3. It was the first time in a year that the chief of the ISI made the trip to the US, signaling a possible thaw in relations. Depending on the source, the meeting was either “substantive, professional and productive”, or “made no big strides on the main issues”.
►►Senior Mossad official suspected of financial misconduct. A senior Mossad official is suspected of financial misconduct and has been forced to take a leave of absence until Israeli police complete an investigation into his alleged deeds, Israeli media reported on Sunday. The official, a department head in Israel’s spy organization, has reportedly denied any wrongdoing, but sources said he would likely not be reinstated in light of investigation findings and is effectively being forced to retire. The nature of the official’s alleged misconduct has not been reported, but it is said that the official in question has close ties to Mossad Director Tamir Pardo, who appointed him to his position last year.
►►Ex-NSA official disputes DefCon claims by NSA chief. William Binney, a former technical director at the NSA, has accused NSA director General Keith Alexander of deceiving the public during a speech he gave at the DefCon hacker conference last week. In his speech, Alexander asserted that the NSA does not collect files on Americans. But Binney accused Alexander of playing a “word game” and said the NSA was indeed collecting and indexing e-mails, Twitter writings, Internet searches and other data belonging to Americans. “The reason I left the NSA was because they started spying on everybody in the country. That’s the reason I left”, said Binney, who resigned from the agency in late 2001.

News you may have missed #748 (US edition)

Michael HaydenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►US lawmakers probe China companies over spy concerns. In letters sent last week to Chinese communications hardware firms Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corporation, a group of senior members of the US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee have outlined concerns about the companies’ ties with the Chinese government, including the role of a “party committee” at Huawei. The lawmakers have also asked about Huawei’s relationships with five US consulting firms and requested an expansive collection of documents, including the contracts between the firms and Huawei.
►►Lone Senator resists Bush/Obama NSA wiretapping plan. The Obama administration wanted a quick, no-questions-asked-or-answered renewal of broad electronic eavesdropping powers that largely legalized the Bush administration’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program. That’s despite President Barack Obama’s campaign promise to revisit and revise the rules to protect Americans’ rights. Everything seemed to be going to plan after a Senate committee approved the re-authorization in secret last month. But Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) has stepped in to stop the bill because the government refuses to say how often the spy powers are being used.
►►What did Hayden tell Obama in January 2009? In December of 2008, a meeting took place between the incoming US Presiden Barack Obama and the departing CIA Director Michael Hayden. Several days later, on January 15, Hayden told journalists that Obama had privately assured him that “no plans to launch a legal inquiry” into the CIA’s use of controversial interrogation methods during the Bush administration. Now, several years later, Salon has published an insider’s account of what was said in that meeting between Obama and Hayden, as well as during the days that followed.

News you may have missed #739

The US Department of DefenseBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►US Supreme Court to consider case on secret wiretapping. The Supreme Court has agreed to consider blocking a constitutional challenge to the government’s secret wiretapping of international phone calls and emails. At issue is whether Americans who have regular dealings with overseas clients and co-workers can sue to challenge the sweep of this surveillance if they have a “reasonable fear” their calls will be monitored. The case, to be heard in the fall, will put a spotlight on a secret surveillance program that won congressional approval in the last year of President George W. Bush’s presidency.
►►Analysis: Why is CIA applauding DoD’s intel grab? Last month, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced the creation of a new US espionage agency: the Defense Clandestine Service, or DCS. The new agency is expected to expand the Pentagon’s espionage personnel by several hundred over the next few years, while reportedly leaving budgets largely unchanged. The news nonetheless surprised some observers in Washington because the move appeared, at least initially, to be a direct challenge to the Central Intelligence Agency, whose National Clandestine Service leads the country’s spy work overseas. Then came a second surprise: former CIA officers and other intelligence experts started applauding. The question is why.
►►FBI forms secretive online surveillance unit. On May 22, CNet’s Declan McCullagh revealed that the FBI had quietly formed a new Domestic Communications Assistance Center (DCAC), tasked with developing new electronic surveillance technologies, including intercepting Internet, wireless, and VoIP communications. According to McCullagh, DCAC’s goal is “to invent technology that will [...] more readily eavesdrop on Internet and wireless communications”. Read more of this post

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