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.

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Comment: Nuland’s leaked phone call is ‘populist intelligence’

Victoria NulandBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
My phone started ringing off the hook on Thursday evening, when a video appeared on YouTube containing a frank conversation between Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt. Nuland, Assistant Secretary at the United States Department of State, and Pyatt, US Ambassador to Ukraine, were discussing US diplomatic moves on the political standoff in Ukraine. In the conversation, which was clearly meant to be private, Nuland expresses frustration with efforts by the European Union, which she deems weak and inadequate. In a shocking display of candor, Nuland tells Pyatt that the US should “help glue this thing and [...] have the UN help glue it and, you know, f**k the EU”.

On Thursday night I spoke at the main news program of BBC television, where I agreed with most observers —some of the US government officials— that Russia was the obvious culprit behind the leaked conversation. The geopolitical interests of Washington and Brussels coincide almost completely when it comes to Ukraine, as both wish to detach the former Soviet republic from the Russian sphere of influence. So driving a wedge between the two allied sides is clearly to the benefit of Moscow. I added that the two American officials should have known better than to speak so frankly on the phone, given the constant monitoring of diplomatic communications by both adversary and friendly intelligence services, which is common knowledge in diplomatic circles. Read more of this post

British agency spies on foreign diplomats’ hotel reservations

GCHQ center in Cheltenham, EnglandBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Britain’s signals intelligence agency operates a system that monitors the hotel bookings of international diplomats and foreign government officials around the world, according to information published on Sunday. German newsmagazine Der Spiegel said the revelation came from the personal archive of American intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden, who has been offered political asylum in Russia. In an article published last weekend, the magazine said the classified program is codenamed ROYAL CONCIERGE, and it is operated by the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). The classified documents allegedly show that ROYAL CONCIERGE was launched on an experimental basis in 2010; the program was apparently “so successful” that it was approved for “further development” by GCHQ’s intelligence planners. Since that time, the British signals intelligence agency has been able to compromise the booking systems of at least 350 high-end hotels around the world, which are frequented by international diplomats and foreign government officials. As soon as a room booking is confirmed by an email to an account in a governmental Internet domain, GCHQ receives an alert, allowing it to know the name and arrival details of the guest(s). This information, says Der Spiegel, enables the British “technical operations community” to target the hotel guests according to the intelligence requirements set out by the British government. In some cases, the hotel room’s telephone and fax machine are monitored, while unsuspecting hotel guests have their computers and personal cellphones targeted by GCHQ. Read more of this post

US surveillance or Merkel’s phone prompts angry German reaction

Philipp Rösler and Angela MerkelBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
News of an invasive intelligence-gathering operation by the United States, which allegedly targeted the official communications of German chancellor Angela Merkel, has prompted angry responses from the European Union. The news prompted the French government to request that US surveillance of European heads of state be discussed during an upcoming EU summit, while The New York Times warned yesterday that “invasive American intelligence gathering” against Europe could “severely damage [...] decades of hard-won trans-Atlantic trust”. The latest row between Washington and Brussels was sparked by a report aired on ARD, Germany’s state television station. It said that the National Security Agency (NSA), America’s foremost communications interception agency, had monitored the official cellular telephone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. A spokesperson for the German government told journalists yesterday that the German leader had “angrily” called US President Barack Obama and demanded assurances that her communications were “not the target of an American intelligence tap”. The German leader reportedly told Mr. Obama that there should be “no such surveillance of the communications of a head of government” belonging to a “friend and partner of the US”. The Times reported that Washington’s responded by assuring Chancellor Merkel that her communications were “not the target of current surveillance and would not be in the future”. But the White House is said to have refused to enter into a discussion of past interception activities. Mrs. Merkel’s telephone call was the second time in less than two days that Mr. Obama had to provide assurances of privacy to a European head of state. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #855

Jean-Claude JunckerBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Russian spy agency seeks to expand internet surveillance. Under an order drafted by Russia’s Communications Ministry, communications service providers would have to install equipment that would record and save all internet traffic for at least 12 hours and grant the security services exclusive access to the data. The draft order, made public on Monday, has been drafted with the help of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the Soviet-era KGB spy agency. It would take effect in July if it receives final government approval.
►►World War I spy Mata Hari’s birthplace gutted by fire. A fire in the Netherlands has gutted the birthplace of exotic dancer and World War I spy Mata Hari, Dutch media said on Sunday. Mata Hari was born as Margaretha Geertruida Zelle on August 7, 1876, the daughter of a local shopkeeper. She was arrested and executed by firing squad in October 1917, aged 41, after being accused of being a German spy during the First World War. The fire consumed the hair salon that now occupies the place of Mata Hari’s birth, the only remainder untouched by the flames was a small statuette of her dancing, erected outside the shop.
►►Luxembourg PM survives spy scandal in elections. Luxembourg’s Christian Democrat party of long-serving Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker easily remained the biggest party and the first choice to form a new coalition government following yesterday’s elections. Luxembourg was shocked into snap elections this summer after Juncker failed to contain a spying scandal centering on allegations of eavesdropping and wiretapping on politicians, and the keeping of files on ordinary citizens and leading figures dating back to the Cold War.

Revealed: NSA spied on millions of French, Mexican phone calls

NSA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The United States has been spying on millions of private telephone communications in France and Mexico, and even managed to hack into the Mexican president’s personal email account, according to media reports from France and Germany. French newspaper Le Monde said on Monday that France has been targeted for years by the US National Security Agency (NSA). The NSA, America’s largest intelligence agency, is tasked with intercepting communications messages from around the world. The newspaper alleged that most targets of the NSA’s interception have no links to terrorism; instead, the US target list is primarily focused on “high-profile individuals in the politics and business domains”. Le Monde said it acquired the information on the NSA operations in France from former NSA and Central Intelligence Agency technical expert Edward Snowden. Snowden defected from the US last summer and is currently living in Russia, were he has been offered political asylum. According to the French daily, over 70 million French telephone exchanges were intercepted by the NSA between December 10, 2012, and January 8, 2013, under an NSA collection program codenamed US-985D. The number represents over 2.5 million intercepted telephone calls per day in France. Another report, which appeared in German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, claimed that the NSA targeted the email communications of the Mexican government, and managed to hack personal email accounts belonging to numerous senior Mexican government officials. The article, which appeared on Sunday, said that the American signals intelligence agency had implemented Operation FLATLIQUID, which aimed at exploiting mail servers used by senior government officials in Mexico. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #854 (SIGINT edition)

NSA/GCHQ listening station in Menwith HillBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►British ex-minister accuses GCHQ of ignoring surveillance fears. Nick Brown, a former Labour Party cabinet minister, has warned that GCHQ and Britain’s other intelligence agencies appear to be undertaking mass surveillance without parliament’s consent because the country’s coalition failed to get the communications data bill –-dubbed the “snoopers’ charter” by critics– passed into law after Liberal Democrat opposition. Brown said there was an “uncanny” similarity between the GCHQ surveillance programs exposed by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden and proposals in the first part of the bill.
►►Analysis: The NSA’s new codebreakers. Matthew Aid writes: “There was a time when the codebreakers of the National Security Agency actually took the lead in solving enemy encryption systems. These days, not so much. In today’s NSA, it’s hackers, break-in artists, corporate liaisons, and shadow salesman using front companies who are at the forefront of this effort. Even so-called “hacktivists” play an unwitting role in helping the NSA gain access to computer networks –both hostile and friendly. Just about the only place that’s somewhat immune to the NSA’s new style of codebreaking attacks? North Korea, because it’s so disconnected from the rest of the world’s networks”.
►►UKUSA treaty countries collecting data for NSA. The latest leaks from former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden reveal a new dimension to the US-led electronic eavesdropping, with address books and ”buddy lists” from Yahoo!, Hotmail, Facebook and Gmail accounts being harvested across the globe. The documents, published by The Washington Post on Tuesday, show the clear involvement of Australia along with the US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand —the so-called “five eyes” intelligence-sharing nations.

Files reveal names of Americans targeted by NSA during Vietnam War

NSA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The names of several prominent Americans, who were targeted by the United States National Security Agency (NSA) during the height of the protests against the Vietnam War, have been revealed in declassified documents. The controversial communications interception operation, known as Project MINARET, was publicly acknowledged in the mind-1970s, during Congressional inquiries into the Watergate affair. We know that MINARET was conducted by the NSA between 1967 and 1973, and that it targeted over a thousand American citizens. Many believe that MINARET was in violation of the Agency’s charter, which expressly prevents it from spying on Americans. But despite the media attention MINARET received during the Watergate investigations, the names of those targeted under the program were kept secret until Wednesday, when the project’s target list was declassified by the US government. The declassification decision was sparked by a Freedom of Information Request filed by George Washington University’s National Security Archive. The two Archive researchers who filed the declassification request, William Burr and Matthew Aid, said MINARET appears to have targeted many prominent Americans who openly criticized America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. The reason for the surveillance was that US President Lyndon Johnson, who authorized the operation, was convinced that antiwar protests were promoted and/or supported by elements outside the US. The newly declassified documents show that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a major surveillance target of the government. Read more of this post

Belgian state telecom targeted by ‘international espionage’

Belgacom headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Belgium’s largest telecommunications service provider has fallen victim to a sophisticated cyberespionage operation that was most likely carried out by a government agency of another country. According to Flemish newspaper De Standaard, the operation targeted Belgacom, which is Belgium’s state-owned telecommunications company. The paper said that the cyberhacking was uncovered in June of this year during a routine maintenance check by technicians, who detected an “unidentified virus” that had infected several dozen mainframe computers. Belgacom’s technical experts seem to think that the malware had been active for at least two years on Belgacom’s computers, and that it specifically targeted telecommunications traffic carried by Belgacom’s international subsidiaries. Among them is Belgacom International Carrier Services (BCIS), which specializes in providing wholesale carrier services to over 1,000 telecommunications service providers across Africa and the Middle East. De Standaard’s article said that the sophisticated malware had been designed so as to prevent disruption of BCIS’ voice and Internet traffic, thus remaining unnoticed. Its ultimate goal, said the paper, was “not sabotage, but rather collecting strategic communications content”. Federal prosecutors told the Reuters news agency that the technical complexity of the virus meant that it must have been designed by “an intruder with significant financial and logistic means”. The malware’s complexity, coupled with its grand scale, “points towards international state-sponsored cyber espionage”, said the Federal prosecutors. Commenting on the story, De Standaard claimed that “everything points to the [United States] National Security Agency as the culprit” of the cyberespionage. Read more of this post

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 Snowden leaks reveal thousands of NSA privacy violations

NSA headquartersBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
New documents leaked by an American intelligence defector reveal that the National Security Agency (NSA) violated privacy protections nearly 3,000 times in 2012, many of them under an interception program that was later ruled unconstitutional. The documents were supplied to The Washington Post by former NSA and Central Intelligence Agency technical expert Edward Snowden, who recently defected to Russia. The paper published the documents on Thursday, indicating that they form part of an internal NSA audit completed in May of 2012. They detail 2,776 separate incidents of what the NSA describes as “unauthorized data collection”, between May 2011 and May 2012. The documented instances involve unauthorized interception of both email and telephone data belonging to American citizens and foreign nationals operating on American soil. The NSA is forbidden from spying on American citizens, while its interception activities targeting foreign nationals inside the US are severely limited by law. According to the audit report, some of the privacy violations occurred when foreign citizens targeted by the NSA entered US soil and continued to be monitored without prior permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). In other instances, the NSA’s auditors reported “inadvertent collection incidents” relating to targets believed to be foreign, and later proved to be American citizens. The report notes that the privacy violations were unintentional results of “errors and departures from standard [NSA] processes”, which occurred “due to operator errors” and the failure of NSA personnel to “follow procedures”. Read more of this post

Germany plans to limit NSA’s access to European communications

Philipp Rösler and Angela MerkelBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The government of Germany plans to implement a series of measures designed to limit America’s access to the communications of European citizens and institutions, according to senior German cabinet officials. The move is part of a broader German response to news in July that the United States spies on the communications of Germany and other European Union countries with the same intensity it spies on China or Iraq. The information was leaked by American defector Edward Snowden, a former computer expert for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), who is now living in Russia. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Germany’s Vice Chancellor and Minister of Economics and Technology, Philipp Rösler, said Germany will take action to limit NSA’s ability to spy on European Union communications traffic. The first step in the process will be to build “a strong European information technology industry which can offer alternatives” to American-owned firms that collaborate with the NSA, said Rösler. Further steps will include augmenting the security of European cloud computing processes and structures, and strengthening contacts between established information technology companies and start-up enterprises. At the same time, Germany will enter negotiations with the European Commission (the European Union’s executive arm) aimed at strengthening European data protection legislation and legally forcing the US to stop its indiscriminate surveillance of European communications networks. Read more of this post

Are Russian spies switching to typewriters to avoid interception?

Dmitri Medvedev and Vladimir PutinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
For the first time in over a decade, a Russian government department has decided to purchase typewriters, allegedly in order to safeguard classified documents against electronic interception. Russia’s Federal Protective Service has reportedly placed an order for the purchase of an estimated 20 typewriters, for 486,000 rubles –roughly US$15,000. The agency, known in Russia by its initials, FSO, is responsible for protecting high-ranking government officials, including the President of the Russian Federation, and is also tasked with operating federal emergency communications systems. It is the institutional descendant of the Soviet KGB’s Ninth Chief Directorate, which ceased to exist in 1992. According to the daily Russian broadsheet Izvestia, the FSO initially considered purchasing the typewriters in 2010, in response to a series of massive leaks of United States government classified documents by whistleblower website WikiLeaks. An unnamed source inside the FSO told the paper that the final decision to purchase the typewriters was made shortly after revelations made last month by former Central Intelligence Agency computer expert Edward Snowden. The self-styled whistleblower told Britain’s Guardian newspaper that British and American intelligence agencies targeted the electronic communications of heads of state and other senior officials during a G20 summit held in London in 2009. A principal target of the alleged spy operation was the then-Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, who headed the Russian delegation at the G20 summit. Interestingly, the FSO source told Izvestia that the initial purchase 20 typewriters will be followed by more orders, as large segments of Russia’s security establishment appear to be switching to typewriters as a means of producing classified documents. Read more of this post

World reaction to Snowden’s spying revelations continues

Edward SnowdenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Governments around the world continue to issue sharp official reactions to the revelations of large-scale spying by the United States, as Washington attempts to minimize the diplomatic fallout from the disclosures. The President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, told a session of the European Parliament on Tuesday that, if confirmed, the claims of US espionage against European Union institutions would be “very disturbing”. He was referring to allegations, aired last week by German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, that America spies on the communications of many of its allies, including European Union (EU) agencies, with the same intensity it spies on China and Iraq. The claims were based on documents supplied by American whistleblower Edward Snowden, a former technical expert with the Central Intelligence Agency, who is currently believed to be in Russia. Numerous EU officials have contacted the US with requests for clarification, while EU ambassadors are scheduled to hold a meeting in Brussels, Belgium, on Thursday, to discuss how to commonly respond to Der Spiegel’s revelations. Some of the strongest criticisms against US intelligence policies have been issued by German officials, as some business figures in the country are raising concerns about US economic espionage against German financial interests. Christian Social Union politician Hans Michelbach reminded participants in a German parliamentary session this week that the EU may be a political ally of the US, but “is indeed a strong competitor in the global economy”. He added that business circles in Berlin are concerned that US intelligence collection aimed at German businesses would give Washington “dishonest advantages”. In Italy, the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Emma Bonino, attended a special parliamentary session on Thursday, in which she assured those present that the Italian embassy in Washington was not being spied upon by US intelligence services. She noted that Italy’s “secret services have not unearthed elements of espionage in our [Washington] embassy”. The government of India, meanwhile, expressed strong concerns on Wednesday over reports that US intelligence services have especially targeted nearly 40 diplomatic missions in Washington, including that of India. Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said New Delhi would “take up the issue with US authorities”. But the strongest reactions to Snowden’s revelations have come from the government of Bolivia. Read more of this post

Bugging device found in Ecuador’s UK embassy where Assange lives

Ricardo PatinoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The government of Ecuador has announced the discovery of a “hidden listening device” inside its embassy in London, United Kingdom, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has taken refuge. Ecuador’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Integration, Ricardo Patino, said the device was discovered during a security sweep on June 14, in preparation for his official visit there. Speaking during a press conference on Wednesday in Ecuadorean capital Quito, Patino told journalists that the microphone was discovered inside the office of Ambassador Ana Alban, Ecuador’s envoy to the UK. Patino arrived in London two days later and met with Assange, as well as with Britain’s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, William Hague, to discuss Assange’s case. The WikiLeaks founder has been hosted inside the Ecuadorean embassy for over a year, resisting extradition to Sweden, where his is facing charges of rape and sexual assault. Assange denies the charges are valid and maintains that the Swedish government is intent on extraditing him to the United States, where he is likely to face more charges over Cablegate. This is the term commonly used to describe the unauthorized release in 2010 by WikiLeaks of thousands of classified cables sent to the US State Department by American diplomatic missions around the world. Patino told journalists on Wednesday that he “regretted to have to inform” them about the discovery, which he characterized as “another instance of declining ethics in the international relations between governments”. Read more of this post

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