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

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News you may have missed #842 (world reaction to Snowden leak)

Edward SnowdenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Chinese media focus on Snowden leaks. The front pages of Chinese state media were covered Thursday with the allegations of ex-CIA employee Edward Snowden, who says the US government has been hacking computers in China for years. Speaking to media in Hong Kong, where he is currently staying, Snowden said the US has been hacking computers in Hong Kong and mainland China since 2009. He said targets include public officials, businesses and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Those claims by Snowden were the top story on most of China’s major news portals on Thursday
►►Switzerland furious about Snowden’s charge that CIA spies on Swiss banks. One of the many lurid details in The Guardian’s remarkable interview with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was his account of what initially prompted him to leak: namely a CIA tour in Switzerland, where CIA officers recruited Swiss banking officials. The Snowden disclosure could not come at a worse time for the Swiss government, which is trying to convince parliament to back its emergency plan that would allow Swiss banks to turn over data on tax evaders to the US government.
►►Is Russia considering giving asylum to Snowden? Asked if the 29-year-old could claim asylum from Russia, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin told the newspaper Kommersant: “If such a request is received, it will be considered”. Any attempt by the Kremlin to give refuge to Mr Snowden, amid calls for his prosecution under the US Espionage Act, is likely to infuriate the White House and provoke a major diplomatic standoff.

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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News you may have missed #718 (GCHQ edition)

GCHQ center in Cheltenham, EnglandBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►GCHQ releases Alan Turing papers. Britain’s signals intelligence agency, GCHQ has released two mathematical papers written by cryptographer Alan Turing after keeping the works secret for over half a century. The intelligence agency believes the handwritten papers were produced by Turing during his time at Bletchley Park, the World War II code-breaking center. The year 2012 marks the centenary of Alan Turing’s birth. Turing, whose work heavily contributing to the Allied war effort, committed suicide in 1954 by taking cyanide. Turing had been convicted of homosexuality, which was then a crime, and was given the choice between prison or chemical castration. The UK government officially apologized over Turing’s treatment in 2009, over 50 years after his death.
►►Britain’s GCHQ sued for ‘racism’. Alfred Bacchus, 42, claims he was bullied by bosses while he was a senior press officer at the Government Communications Headquarters in Cheltenham. He says he wanted to publish an official report in 2010 into race bias inside GCHQ which warned that not enough ethnic minority staff were being recruited to help fight terrorism. It found that black and Asian intelligence officers at GCHQ complained of a racist culture in which they were insulted by white colleagues and challenged over their loyalty to Britain.
►►Ex-GCHQ chief wants more surveillance of Facebook and Twitter. Sir David Omand, an ex-Cabinet Office security chief and former director of Britain’s GCHQ electronic eavesdropping agency, said it was essential that monitoring of social media was put on a proper legal footing. A report by the think-tank Demos, which Sir David co-authored, said existing laws regulating the interception of communications by police and intelligence agencies needed to be overhauled to meet the complexities of social media. However, the ability of state security agencies and the police to intercept social network communications such as tweets must be placed on a clear legal footing, the report says.

Western companies provide Syrian regime with monitoring systems

Syria

Syria

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
An Italian communications company is working with the Syrian government to provide it with a sophisticated email surveillance system, using equipment created by American, French and German firms. The Syrian regime has come under sustained pressure by Western governments in recent months. The latter urge Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad, to stop using lethal violence against protesters, citing independent reports that over 3,000 civilians have been killed by government forces since March. But Bloomberg News Agency cites an unnamed insider who claims Area SpA, a telecommunications surveillance company based in Milan, Italy, has technicians in several Syrian cities working feverishly to provide the  Syrian authorities with a state-of-the-art email surveillance system. According to the unnamed source, when completed, the surveillance system will be able to “intercept, scan and catalog virtually every e-mail that flows through the country”. The project, which has been codenamed ASFADOR, is directed by senior Syrial intelligence officials, who are supervising the work of several Italian technicians working in Damascus and elsewhere. Bloomberg reports that numerous Area SpA technicians have been traveling to Syria “in shifts”, as the company is anxiously trying to accommodate pressures by Syrian officials, who say “they urgently need to track people”. The Italian company, known for providing Italian law enforcement with telephone surveillance hardware and software, is apparently using equipment by European and American firms, including France’s Qosmos SA, Germany’s Ultimaco Safeware AG, and America’s NetApp Inc. Bloomberg, which claims it has seen blueprints of the surveillance system, contacted Area SpA’s chief executive officer, Andrea Formenti, who refused to comment on the case, except to say that his company “follows all laws and export regulations”. Wondering where you’ve heard all this before? Read more of this post

Turkish spy agency in secret Oslo talks with Kurdish PKK

PKK banner

PKK banner

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The war between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which culminated in the early 1990s, has flared up again, ever since the creation of the US-protected Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Iraq. Currently, the Turkish military is technically at war with the PKK, a leftist secessionist movement that aspires to create a Kurdish homeland comprising mostly of territories in Turkey’s Anatolia region. But a leaked audio recording posted on the Internet last week shows that senior Turkish intelligence officials have been participating in secret talks with the leadership of the PKK, since at least 2010. Several Kurdish news agencies published the recording of one such secret meeting, involving the leadership of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT). The recording features a frank discussion between, on the one side, the head of MİT, Hakan Fidan, and its deputy director, Afet Güneş; the two are heard deliberating with Sabit Ok, Zübeyr Aydar and Mustafa Karasu, all of whom are senior PKK officials and wanted dead or alive by the Turkish state. A voice of an apparent mediator —marked by a distinct Scandinavian accent— can be heard speaking at the beginning. The mediator mentions that the meeting is the fifth installment of a series of encounters called “The Oslo Talks”. According to Turkish daily Hürriyet, the mediator appears to be a government official from Norway, which probably hosted the secret meeting(s) somewhere in its capital city. Shortly following the mediator’s introduction, Fidan is heard saying that he is acting as a “special envoy of [...] prime minister” Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The leaked recording disappeared from Kurdish websites soon after it was posted, and some Kurdish media sources said that it had been aired by “anonymous hackers”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #592

Nguyen Van Tau

Nguyen Van Tau

►►Tripoli Internet spy room packed with Western technology. Excellent technical analysis of how several Western –and some Chinese– Internet software and hardware suppliers provided the Gaddafi regime with the tools to exercise mass online surveillance against the country’s citizens. Where have we seen this before?
►►Interview with Vietnamese ex-master spy. Interesting interview with Nguyen Van Tau, who led the Vietnamese H63 clandestine intelligence group during the war with the United States. H63 maintained extensive spy cells in South Vietnam, playing a major role in the 1968 Tet Offensive.
►►MI5 seeks ‘telephone spies’ for London 2012 security. MI5 is recruiting ‘telephone spies’ to listen in on plots against the 2012 Olympics. The Security Service hopes to find candidates able to eavesdrop on potential terrorists by getting foreign language speakers to play an interactive “game” online. By logging on to the official MI5 website, wannabe spooks can tune into an audio tape of a conversation in a foreign language and are later quizzed about it.

US spies on Israel (shock, horror)

Shamai Leibowitz

Shamai Leibowitz

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Ever since Monday, when The New York Times exposed the reason behind the May 2010 incarceration of FBI linguist Shamai Leibowitz, US and international media have been buzzing with prominent headlines like: “US government spied on Israel’s Washington embassy”. Although these headlines are accurate, they —like the articles themselves— miss the actual story behind the revelations: namely the extent of Israeli covert propaganda operations inside the United States. As intelNews reported in May 2010, Leibowitz, a lawyer with dual American-Israeli citizenship, who worked as a translator for the FBI, was sentenced to right under two years in prison, for leaking classified information. The government disclosed no further information at the time of Leibowitz’s conviction, saying only that he had been jailed for “having unlawfully disclosed classified documents to an unidentified blogger”. Now the “unidentified blogger” has come forward to reveal the details of Leibowitz’s court case, and to defend the former FBI linguist “as an American patriot and a whistle-blower”. Richard Silverstein, a Jewish American scholar, who writes a blog called Tikun Olam, said that Leibowitz gave him about 200 pages containing transcripts of conversations intercepted by the FBI in its monitoring of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC. Most of the transcripts contain what appear to be telephone exchanges between staff at the Israeli embassy and outside contacts, though some appear to be the products of eavesdropping of face-to-face conversations conducted inside the Israeli embassy premises. This may be seen as evidence that the FBI’s Operational Technology Division, which is responsible for maintaining interception systems targeting foreign embassies on US soil, conducts extensive monitoring of the goings on at the Israeli embassy. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #531 (US edition)

  • US spy agencies looking into cloud computing. In-Q-Tel, the investment arm of the US intelligence community, recently sunk money into a cloud-based storage company called Cleversafe. The CIA has emerged as one of the US government’s strongest advocates of cloud computing, but some US intel insiders are not so hot on the idea.
  • Obama administration drops most CIA torture probes. So, this is how one of the darkest chapters in US counterterrorism ends: with practically every instance of suspected CIA torture dodging criminal scrutiny. Wired’s Danger Room blog calls it “one of the greatest gifts the Justice Department could have given the CIA as David Petraeus takes over the agency”.
  • US report shows increase in authorized wiretaps. US federal and state applications for orders authorizing or approving the interception of wire, oral or electronic communications increased 34 percent in 2010, compared to the number reported in 2009.

News you may have missed #425 (US edition)

  • US Pentagon considering pre-emptive cyber-strikes? This is what The Washington Post is reporting, noting that military officials are “still wrestling with how to pursue the strategy legally”. If anyone in the DoD discovers a legal method of launching pre-emptive aggression, we’d sure like to know.
  • More changes in US FISA court. After a recent change of leadership, the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court is considering new compliance rules for handling surveillance requests by US counterspy agencies. The court authorizes requests by agencies for surveillance of foreign suspects operating inside the US.
  • Why do US officials want to deport Chinese defector? Washington wants to deport Li Fengzhi, a Chinese ex-intelligence agent who defected to the US in 2004, back to China, where he could be executed for treason. There are rumors that Li may have “oversold” himself to the FBI and the CIA.

News you may have missed #389

  • Secrecy over attack on Syrian nuclear plant unjustified, says ex-CIA chief. The secrecy surrounding the Israeli attack on the nuclear plant in eastern Syria in September 2007 was justified only for the period immediately after the operation, according to the CIA head at the time, Gen. Michael Hayden. That secrecy had been meant to save Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from embarrassment that could have provoked him to retaliate, argues Hayden in an authorized scholarly journal article.
  • No proof yet of Colombian spying, says Ecuador. Ecuadorean Security Minister Miguel Carvajal said Thursday that allegations that Colombian security agency DAS spied on Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and other officials is “so far just a newspaper story”. Late last month, the Ecuadorean government threatened to break off diplomatic ties with Colombia over the media revelations.
  • GCHQ releases Stalin-era Soviet intercepts. A series of newly released telegrams and telephone conversations, intercepted by the UK’s General Communications Headquarters, paint a picture of Joseph Stalin’s regime in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War.

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Israel abducts American survivor of USS Liberty bombing onboard Gaza flotilla

USS Liberty

USS Liberty

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Among nine US citizens abducted in international waters by Israeli troops on Monday was a survivor of the attack on the USS Liberty, an American intelligence ship that was napalm-bombed by the Israeli Air Force in 1967. US Navy veteran Joe Miduras, of Corpus Christi, Texas, was among the nearly 700 civilians from 40 different countries, who were illegally abducted by the Israeli Defense Forces following a bloody raid on the Gaza  Freedom Flotilla on May 31. The 67-year old veteran was a soldier onboard the Liberty, an unarmed US National Security Agency communications surveillance vessel, when it was napalm-bombed in international waters by Israeli jets during the fourth day of the 1967 Six-Day War. Although the ship did not sink, Israeli jets machine-gunned the Liberty lifeboats carrying American servicemen, ultimately killing 34 and seriously injuring over 150 US crew members. Read more of this post

Australian premier in ministerial spying scandal

Nathan Rees

Nathan Rees

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The premier of Australia’s state of New South Wales has been accused of trying to spy on local government officials by planning to install telephone surveillance equipment in their work offices. Nathan Rees, a Labour Party politician, who is one of six Australian state chief executives, is reportedly planning to employ phone-tracking software in an attempt to “put the screws on suspected dissidents” within his cabinet. The technology in question appears to be a real-time phone call data monitoring system, which records basic information of telephone exchanges (i.e. who calls whom, at what time, etc), but not their content. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, Rees’ envoys have already contacted at least one telephone surveillance equipment provider, KNet Technology, whose representatives say they briefed the Premier’s people. Read more of this post

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