Secret program gave CIA ‘unfiltered access’ to German communications

CIAThe United States Central Intelligence Agency had direct and unfiltered access to telecommunications data exchanged between German citizens, according to a new document that has surfaced in the German press. The program, codenamed GLOTAIC, was a collaboration between the CIA and Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, known as BND. According to German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, which revealed the existence of the program last week, it lasted from 2004 to 2006. During those years, the CIA was given access to telephone and fax data carried by US telecommunications provider MCI Communications, which is owned by Verizon. The US-headquartered company owns a network switching facility in the German city of Hilden, located 10 miles east of Düsseldorf near the country’s border with Holland.

The existence of joint collection programs between the BND and American intelligence agencies has been established in the past, and has prompted the creation of a special investigative committee in the German parliament. The Committee of Inquiry into Intelligence Operations was set up in 2014, after files leaked by American defector Edward Snowden revealed that the US had been spying on the telephone communications of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. But it has also been investigating whether the BND’s collaboration with American intelligence agencies violated the rights of German citizens.

The committee had previously been told that all telecommunications data given to the US by German agencies had previously been vetted by BND officers. But the GLOTAIC documents published by Der Spiegel states that audio recordings of intercepted telephone calls were “directly routed to the US” in the interests of technical efficiency. The parliamentary committee had also been told that the data shared with the CIA concerned non-German citizens using German telecommunications networks. But the documents published last week state that a “technical glitch” in the GLOTAIC system allowed “massive German traffic” to be directly accessed by the CIA without having been first filtered by the BND.

Another document published by Spiegel reveals that the BND warned project CLOTAIC supervisors that the agency faced “serious risks” should the secret operation become public, because it had allegedly violated German federal privacy regulations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 September 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:

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:

Calls in France to offer asylum, citizenship, to Snowden and Assange

Assange and SnowdenLeaders from all sides of the French political spectrum urged the French government on Thursday to offer political asylum, and even French citizenship, to the American defector Edward Snowden and to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The calls were made in response to news earlier this week that the United States National Security Agency spied on the personal communications of three French presidents from the 1990s to at least 2012. The files were published on Tuesday by the international whistleblower website WikiLeaks. They consist of what the website described as “top secret intelligence reports and technical documents”, which detail NSA spying operations against the French presidency, as well as espionage directed at several French government ministers and at France’s ambassador to the US. As intelNews predicted on Wednesday, the French government’s response to the revelations has been relatively muted. But many French politicians, including one minister in the government of French President Francois Hollande, called for Paris to extend offers of political asylum, and even French citizenship, to Assange and Snowden.

The initial call was issued by Laurent Joffrin, the influential managing editor of Libération, the Paris-based newspaper that partnered with WikiLeaks to release the NSA documents earlier this week. In a leading editorial published in the paper on Thursday, Joffrin said that French protests against NSA spying “have no more effect than scolding a rude toddler”, and added that by offering asylum to Snowden, France would “stand up [to America] and send a clear and effective message to Washington”.

Shortly after Joffrin’s editorial, Jean-Christophe Lagarde, president of the centrist Union of Democrats and Independents in the French Parliament, said that France should have given Snowden political asylum back in 2013, when he originally requested it. Lagarde was quoted in the French press as saying that “the French nation has already been dishonored by refusing to accept Edward Snowden’s request for political asylum when he asked for it in 2013”. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leftist member of the European Parliament, agreed with Lagarde, adding that Assange and Snowden must not only receive political asylum in France, but also be given “the French nationality”.

On Thursday afternoon, Jean-Pierre Mignard, a close friend and longtime political advisor to President Hollande, said that “given the service they have rendered to the cause of human freedom, France could accommodate a request for asylum from Assange and Snowden, should they request it”. Mignard added that “French law allows the Republic to grant asylum to any foreign subject who faces persecution for taking action in favor of human freedom”.

When asked by BFM TV, France’s most popular news channel, whether political asylum could be extended to Snowden and Assange, France’s Justice Minister Christiane Taubira said that she was “absolutely shocked by the idea”, because such a course of action would drive a powerful wedge between France and the US, two countries with deep historical ties. But she added that such a move would constitute a strong “symbolic gesture” against espionage, and thus remained on the table as a possible policy maneuver to be adopted by the government of France.

Late on Thursday, however, France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls indicated that any discussion of an offer of asylum to Assange and Snowden by the government of France was premature. Speaking at a hastily organized press conference to discuss the NSA espionage revelations during an official visit to Colombia, Valls told reporters that the question of offering asylum to the two men “did not arise” during internal government talks. “And in any case”, said Valls, such an initiative “would not address the issue at hand”, namely American espionage against the French presidency. France’s goal is to extract guarantees from Washington that all espionage against French officials would stop, noted the French prime minister. If France offered asylum to Assange and Snowden, American espionage against French targets would likely reach unprecedented levels, he added.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 June 2015 | Permalink:

French president calls crisis meeting to discuss US spy revelations

France Hollande ObamaThe president of France has convened an emergency meeting of the country’s highest national security forum in response to revelations that the United States spied on three French presidents. The Conseil de la Défense is to convene in Paris on Wednesday to discuss the emergence of documents that appear to implicate the US National Security Agency (NSA) in spying on Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy, who ruled France from 1995 to 2012. The documents further indicate that the NSA may have also targeted the personal communications of Francois Hollande, France’s current head of state.

The files were published on Tuesday by the international whistleblower website WikiLeaks. They consist of what WikiLeaks described as “top secret intelligence reports and technical documents”, which detail NSA spying operations against the French presidency, as well as espionage directed at several French government ministers and at France’s ambassador to the US. WikiLeaks would not indicate whether it acquired the documents from American defector Edward Snowden, who is currently living in Russia. But it said that “French readers can expect more timely and important revelations in the near future”.

The material –termed “Espionnage Élysée” by WikiLeaks– features a list of “selectors”, which includes French government telephone numbers targeted for interception. One of the numbers is identified as belonging to the president of France. The document collection also includes a handful of intelligence briefs, which are presumably based on intercepted communications from the telephone lines listed among the “selectors”. They detail the thoughts and diplomatic maneuvers by French presidents and other senior officials on subjects such as the Greek economic crisis, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, and the United Nations.

French newspaper Liberation, which partnered with WikiLeaks to release the NSA material, said on Tuesday that the revelation should not surprise anyone in the post-Snowden era, but that it was still likely to cause a significant rift in French-American relations. In 2014, Germany expelled the station chief of the Central Intelligence Agency in Berlin –essentially the highest-ranking American intelligence officer in the country– over revelations that the US spied on the personal communications of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Liberation contacted the NSA but was told by its spokesman, Ned Price, that the Agency was “not going to comment on specific intelligence allegations”. A spokesman from the Élysée Palace told the paper that an official statement would be issued following the Conseil de la Défense meeting on Wednesday.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 June 2015 | Permalink:

Belgium launches official probe into alleged German-US espionage

BelgacomThe Belgian government has announced the start of an official investigation into allegations that the country’s tele- communications networks were spied on by a consortium of German and American intelligence agencies. A press release issued Friday by the Belgian Ministry of Justice said the minister, Koen Geens, had authorized an examination of claims of espionage by the United States National Security Agency and Germany’s Bundesnach-richtendienst (BND). The statement was referring to EIKONAL, an alleged collaboration between the NSA and the BND, which was revealed last month by Austrian politician Peter Pilz. Pilz told a press conference in Bern, Switzerland, that EIKONAL had targeted European telecommunications carriers for at least four years, from 2005 to 2008. The governments of Switzerland and the Netherlands have already launched their own investigations into EIKONAL.

After speaking with Pilz, Belgian politician Stefaan Van Hecke told Belgian media last month that the BND-NSA consortium had penetrated the network of Proximus, the mobile subsidiary of Belgacom, Belgium’s national telecommunications carrier. Speaking anonymously about the investigation, a Belgian official told the country’s largest French-language newspaper, Sud Presse, that if the alleged espionage is confirmed, it would have “not only legal implications, but will also affect relations between Belgium, Germany and the US”. A Justice Ministry spokeswoman said on Friday that if the allegations of espionage were confirmed “the government would take appropriate action”, but she refused to elaborate.

IntelNews regulars will remember the last time Belgacom surfaced in the news: in 2013, we reported that the company’s technicians had detected an “unidentified virus” that had infected several dozen mainframe computers. The virus specifically targeted telecommunications traffic carried by Belgacom’s international subsidiaries in Africa and the Middle East. Belgium’s Federal Prosecutor’s Office said at the time that the malware’s complexity, coupled with its grand scale, “pointed towards international state-sponsored cyber espionage”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 8 June 2015 | Permalink:

Switzerland to probe claims it was spied on by US, German agencies

SwisscomThe office of the Swiss Federal Prosecutor has launched an investigation into claims that the country’s largest telecommunications provider was spied on by a consortium of German and American intelligence agencies. The spy project was reportedly a secret collaboration between Germany’s BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst) and America’s National Security Agency (NSA). According to Austrian politician Peter Pilz, who made the allegations on Wednesday, the BND-NSA collaboration was codenamed EIKONAL and was active from 2005 to 2008. Speaking during a press conference in Bern, Switzerland, Pilz said many European phone carriers and Internet service providers were targeted by the two agencies.

Among EIKONAL’s targets, said Pilz, was Swisscom AG, Switzerland’s largest telecommunications provider and one of the successor companies to the country’s national carrier, the PTT (short for Post, Telegraph, Telephone). The government of Switzerland still retains a majority of Swisscom shares, which makes the Bern-based company the closest thing Switzerland has to a national telecommunications carrier. Under the EIKONAL agreement, the BND accessed Swisscom traffic through an interception center based in Frankfurt, Germany. From there, said Pilz, the intercepted data was transferred to a BND facility in Bad Aibling to be entered into NSA’s systems. Pilz shared numerous documents at the press conference, among them a list of key transmission lines that included nine Swisscom lines originating from Zurich and Geneva.

Switzerland’s Office of the Federal Prosecutor said on Wednesday that a criminal investigation was already underway into Peter Pilz’s claims, and that the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service was in contact with Swisscom and other actors targeted by EIKONAL. Meanwhile, Pilz refused to answer questions about where he got the documents about the alleged spy operation. He said, however, that he did not think Swisscom was aware of the BND-NSA actions against it. The company issued a statement on Wednesday saying it had “no agreements with the NSA, the BND, or any other foreign intelligence agency that permit eavesdropping” on company lines.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 28 May 2015 | Permalink:


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