NSA ‘high-target’ list includes names of 122 world leaders

NSA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A list of high-priority intelligence targets published over the weekend includes the names of over a hundred current and former heads of state, who were systematically targeted by the United States National Security Agency (NSA). The list appears to be part of a wider “Target Knowledge Base” assembled by the NSA in order to help produce “complete profiles” of what the NSA calls “high-priority intelligence targets”. The list is contained in a classified top-secret briefing created by the NSA in 2009. It was published by German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, which said it acquired it from American intelligence defector Edward Snowden. Snowden, a former computer expert for the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency, is currently living in Russia, where he has been offered political asylum. The leaked briefing explains the function of an extensive NSA signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection program codenamed NYMROD. The computer-based program is allegedly able to sift through millions of SIGINT reports and collate information on individual targets from the transcripts of intercepted telephone calls, faxes, as well as computer data. The list provided to Der Spiegel by Snowden contains 122 names of international political figures, said the newsmagazine, adding that all of them were “heads of foreign governments”. It includes the name of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, Ukraine’s Yulia Tymoshenko, as well as Belarussian strongman Alexander Lukashenko. Colombia’s former President, Alvaro Uribe, and Malaysia’s Prime Minster from 2003 to 2009, Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi, also figure on the list. Interestingly, the leaders of Malaysia, Somalia, the Palestinian Authority and Peru top the NSA’s list of high-value executive targets. Read more of this post

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Australia spied on US law firm representing Indonesia in trade talks

Australian Signals DirectorateBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Australian intelligence spied on an American law firm representing the government of Indonesia in a trade dispute with the United States, according to leaked documents. The documents, from February 2003, show that the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) specifically targeted the law firm because it represented the commercial interests of the Indonesian state. The ASD is Australia’s intelligence organization responsible for signals intelligence and information security. The leaked documents also show that that the Australian spy agency offered to share the intelligence collected from the operation with its American counterpart, the National Security Agency (NSA). The New York Times, which published the leaked information, said the operation appeared to have been aimed strictly at subverting the Indonesian government’s international commercial interests and had nothing to do with national security. The paper said it acquired the documents from Edward Snowden, an American intelligence defector currently living in Russia, who used to work for the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency. The leaked papers do not specify the precise trade negotiations between Washington and Jakarta, which appear to have been targeted by the ASD. Nor do they identify the American law firm spied on by the Australians. But the paper suggested that Mayer Brown, one of the world’s largest law firms, with offices in over 22 cities around the globe, was acting as the Indonesian government’s legal consultant at the time the leaked documents were drafted. A memorandum included in the leaked documents notes that the ASD had “been able to continue to cover the [trade] talks [between the US and Indonesia], providing highly useful intelligence for interested US customers”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #866

Blackwater/Academi headquartersBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Academic study into the behavioral traits of contract killers. Using off-the-record interviews with informants, interviews with offenders and former offenders, court transcripts and newspaper archives, academics from Britain’s Birmingham City University identified patterns of ‘hitman’ behavior in an attempt to demystify their secret world. The criminologists, who examined 27 cases of contract killing between 1974 and 2013 committed by 36 men and one woman, found that the killers typically murder their targets on a street close to the victim’s home, although a significant proportion get cold feet or bungle the job.
►►Interview with Blackwater founder Erik Prince. The founder of private security group Blackwater is now based in Hong Kong and chairs Frontier Services Group, an Africa-focused security and logistics company with intimate ties to China’s largest state-owned conglomerate, Citic Group. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Prince says he would “rather deal with the vagaries of investing in Africa than in figuring out what the hell else Washington is going to do to the entrepreneur next”. The controversial businessman calls the US State Department “fickle” and the US “federal bureaucracy” a “bunch of rabid dogs”.
►►New book accuses Edward Snowden of ‘treason’. Economist columnist Edward Lucas says his new book, The Snowden Operation: Inside the West’s Greatest Intelligence Disaster, does not argue that Snowden is a Russian agent. But he says that the damage caused by the former NSA technical expert’s revelations “neatly and suspiciously fits the interests of one country: Russia”. Moreover, argues Lucas, “Snowden’s published revelations include material that has nothing to do with his purported worries about personal privacy”.

News you may have missed #865

Emad ShahinBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Renowned Egyptian scholar charged with espionage. Emad Shahin, a scholar of political Islam who has taught at Harvard, Notre Dame and the American University in Cairo and edited the Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics, has been charged along with several senior leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood with conspiring with foreign organizations to undermine Egypt’s national security. He is listed as ‘Defendant 33’ in a lengthy criminal complaint that also names former President Mohamed Morsi, who was deposed in last summer’s military takeover.
►►Al-Qaeda training Western Islamists in Syria to set up cells abroad. British newspaper The Telegraph reports that, according to security sources, Westerners fighting for the Islamist opposition in Syria are being trained and then encouraged to return to the UK to launch attacks on home soil. The paper quotes an “al-Qaeda defector” from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), who says that “recruits from Britain, Europe and the US were being indoctrinated in extremist anti-Western ideology, trained in how to make and detonate car bombs and suicide vests and sent home to start new terror cells”.
►►Snowden has “no plans” to return to the United States. Former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden has said he has “no chance” of a fair trial in the US and has no plans to return there. “There’s no no way I can come home and make my case to a jury”, he told the Free Snowden website. “Returning to the US, I think, is the best resolution for the government, the public, and myself, but it’s unfortunately not possible in the face of current whistleblower protection laws, which, through a failure in law, did not cover national security contractors like myself”, he said.

US lawmakers say Snowden was coached by foreign spy agency

Edward SnowdenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Two American lawmakers with senior positions in Congressional intelligence committees have expressed strong views that American defector Edward Snowden was probably coached by Russian intelligence prior to his defection. Speaking separately on Sunday, the two lawmakers —both Republican— said they suspected that Snowden had “acted in concert” with Russian intelligence in order expose Washington’s worldwide surveillance programs and steal military secrets. Snowden, a former technical expert for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), is currently in Russia, where he has been granted political asylum. On Sunday, Mike Rogers, who chairs the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence at the United States House or Representatives, said he was convinced Moscow had “at least in some part something to do” with Snowden’s defection. During separate interviews at NBC’s Meet The Press and CBS’ Face the Nation, Rogers said he thought it highly unlikely that Snowden’s defection was “a gee-whiz luck event”. He added that the former intelligence technician’s arrival in Russia had been likely pre-arranged by the FSB —the Russian Federal Security Service (though he likely meant the SVR, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, which is responsible for intelligence activities outside the borders of the Russian Federation). The Republican lawmaker said that Snowden’s defection plan, ranging “from how he prepared to leave [to] his route of departure and how quickly [he] ended up in Moscow”, points to involvement by Russian intelligence. Also on Sunday, Republican Congressman Michael McCaul told ABC’s This Week that he did not think “Snowden woke up one day and had the wherewithal to do this all by himself”. The lawmaker, who chairs the US House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, cautioned that he could not prove definitively that Russia had a role in Snowden’s defection. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #862

Cyprus, Israel, Syria, LebanonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Covert CIA program helped Colombia kill rebel leaders. A covert CIA program has helped Colombia’s government kill at least two dozen leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the rebel insurgency also known as FARC, The Washington Post reported Saturday. The National Security Agency has also provided “substantial eavesdropping help” to the Colombian government, according to The Post.
►►Israel asks US not to spy on it. Israeli officials broke their silence over the US surveillance scandal Sunday, angrily demanding an end to Washington’s spying on Israel. Last week more documents leaked by former NSA technical expert Edward Snowden uncovered a partnership between the NSA and British intelligence agency GCHQ from 2008 to 2011 to monitor office email addresses from the then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
►►Germany reacts coolly to French request on Central Africa. Germany reacted coolly last week to a French request that European countries step up support for its military mission in Central African Republic, playing down the likelihood of any financial assistance on the eve of an EU summit. France has deployed 1,600 troops there to prevent worsening violence between Christian militias and largely Muslim Seleka rebels who ousted ex-President Francois Bozize.

News you may have missed #860

Edward SnowdenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Top US-backed rebel commander flees Syria. General Salim Idris of the Free Syrian Army, who was the most senior Western-backed rebel commander in Syria, has fled the country amid growing infighting with Islamist rebels, American officials have said. The rebel military leader fled into Turkey and flew to Doha, Qatar on Sunday, after Islamist rebel groups took over his headquarters and warehouses of US-supplied military gear along the border between Turkey and Syria.
►►NSA co-worker calls Snowden ‘genius among geniuses’. Forbes magazine’s Andy Greenberg says he was contacted by a former co-worker of NSA technical expert Edward Snowden, who described the defector as “a principled and ultra-competent, if somewhat eccentric employee, and one who earned the access used to pull off his leak by impressing superiors [at NSA] with sheer talent”. The unnamed source continued: “that kid was a genius among geniuses [...], I’ve never seen anything like it”.
►►Iran claims to have captured MI6 spy. Iran says it has captured a spy working for British intelligence agency MI6 in the south-eastern city of Kerman. The head of Kerman’s revolutionary court said the alleged spy had admitted being in contact with four British intelligence officers 11 times, both inside and outside the country. He said the accused was now on trial and had confessed. The nationality of the alleged spy is not yet known. The UK Foreign Office said it did not comment on intelligence matters.

News you may have missed #859

GCHQ center in Cheltenham, EnglandBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Some fear terrorists are exploiting online computer games. American and British spies have infiltrated the fantasy worlds of World of Warcraft and Second Life, conducting surveillance and scooping up data in the online games played by millions of people across the globe, according to documents disclosed by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden. The documents show that intelligence operatives fear that terrorist or criminal networks could use the games to communicate secretly, move money or plot attacks.
►►Niger’s president says Libya risks becoming like Somalia. Libya risks becoming a failed state like Somalia, Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou said last week, a day after gunmen shot dead an American teacher in the eastern city of Benghazi. “Our fear is that Libya falls into the hands of Salafist terrorists and that the state becomes like Somalia”, Issoufou told reporters ahead of a Franco-African summit in Paris. His country adjoins Libya to the south and has fought Islamists at home.
►►Secret memos show British spies’ efforts to keep Cyprus base. Heavily redacted documents show how determined British security and intelligence agencies –including GCHQ, Britain’s signals intelligence agency– were to maintain an effective presence in Cyprus after the strategically important island became independent in 1960. The files also reveal that Archbishop Makarios, the Greek Cypriot leader who became the first president of Cyprus when the island gained independence in August 1960, agreed not only to the UK bases but to British help in setting up his country’s own security and intelligence agencies.

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

Is the NSA spying on senior Israeli government officials?

Israeli Heron UAVBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A series of hard-hitting revelations by Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the United States National Security Agency, have tested America’s relationship with a host of allied nations in recent months. Last week, Malaysia and Indonesia were added to the list of countries whose leaders were allegedly spied on by the US agency tasked with communications interception. Germany, Brazil, France and Greece, all of them American allies, are also said to be included on the list of NSA targets. One US partner, however, has been markedly absent from Snowden’s revelations: Israel. The Jewish state, which is routinely described as America’s strongest ally in the Middle East, has rarely been mentioned in Snowden’s sensational leaks. This changed slightly last weekend, when The New York Times published a lengthy piece describing Israel as “an important NSA target”. Based on information provided by the self-styled American whistleblower, who has been offered political asylum in Russia, the paper said Washington’s intelligence relationship with Tel Aviv is complex. The Times confirmed previous reports, which suggest that the NSA shares raw intercepted data with Israeli intelligence. According to a 2009 agreement between the NSA and its Israeli counterpart, the Israel SIGINT National Unit (ISNU), the American side provides the Israelis with raw intercepts, which often contain telephone and email data belonging to American citizens. The Israelis probably do the same in return, though one document seen by British newspaper The Guardian alleges that the sharing agreement as is “tilted heavily in favor of Israeli security concerns”. At the same time, while the NSA and ISNU collaborate, they also spy on each other. The Times noted that the American signals intelligence agency is tracking a host of “high priority Israeli military targets” on a routine basis. These include Israel’s drone aircraft systems (see photo), as well as the Jewish state’s Black Sparrow medium-range air-launched ballistic missile system. Is it true that the US spies on what is ostensibly its closest ally in the Middle East? Read more of this post

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

Brazil accuses Canada of economic espionage

CanadaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The Brazilian government has demanded that Canada explain the role of its intelligence services in “unacceptable” incidents of espionage, which targeted the Latin American country’s Ministry of Mines and Energy. The announcement came just hours after a television report accused Canada of spying on Brazil’s mining and energy sector, allegedly for commercial gain. The report, which aired on O Globo television on Sunday night, said the spying had been carried out by Canada’s Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC). Staffed by around 2,200 employees, the CSEC is Canada’s foremost signals intelligence agency, tasked with carrying out communications interception around the world. According to O Globo, the CSEC collected the metadata of emails and calls associated with computer and telephone systems belonging to the Ministry of Mines and Energy. The information allowed Canadian intelligence to effectively map the communications structure of the government Ministry, through a network mapping program codenamed OLYMPIA. O Globo said its report was based on a CSEC PowerPoint presentation titled “Advanced Network Tradecraft”, which was produced in the summer of 2012 and shared with Canada’s allies, including the United Kingdom and the United States. The television station said that the information was based on a batch of documents leaked by former Central Intelligence Agency and National Security 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. The Brazilian television station spoke to Edison Lobao, Brazil’s Mines and Energy Minister, who said that Canada’s primary economic interests in Brazil centered on “the mining sector”, and hinted that the alleged CSEC spying might have “served corporate interests”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #851

EuropolBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Allegations that NSA has a listening post in Vienna. Both the US and Austrian governments have denied reports claiming to expose a major surveillance operation by the National Security Agency from within a villa in the Austrian capital Vienna. Austrian media reported last week that the US government had decided to end operations at the site because its cover was blown. Meanwhile, the allegations have turned into an Austrian affair of state.
►►Europol fighting unprecedented crime levels. Europe is dealing with an unprecedented surge in organized crime as sophisticated multinational groups, including child sex abusers and counterfeit gangs, expand their networks, according to Rob Wainwright, the British head of the European Union’s criminal intelligence agency, Europol. Wainwright says that thousands of gangs are capitalizing on the rise of smartphone and internet technology.
►►Are NSA revelations helping US tech industry? Edward Snowden’s unprecedented exposure of US technology companies’ close collaboration with national intelligence agencies, widely expected to damage the industry’s financial performance abroad, may actually end up helping. Despite emphatic predictions of waning business prospects, some of the big Internet companies that the former National Security Agency contractor showed to be closely involved in gathering data on people overseas –such as Google and Facebook– say privately that they have felt little if any impact on their businesses.

NSA gives Israel raw intercepts containing US citizens’ data

NSA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The United States National Security Agency (NSA) shares raw intercepted data with Israeli intelligence without first deleting information pertaining to American citizens, according to a leaked document. British newspaper The Guardian published on Wednesday an informal memorandum of understanding between the NSA and the Israel SIGINT National Unit (ISNU). The five-page document was supplied to the newspaper by Edward Snowden, a technical contractor for the NSA who defected to Russia this past summer. It outlines an agreement reached in 2009 between the NSA and the ISNU, under which the American side provides the Israelis with raw intercepts, which often contain telephone and email data belonging to American citizens. The memorandum describes this type intelligence sharing as a “routine” aspect of a broader “SIGINT relationship between the two organizations”. SIGINT refers to signals intelligence, a term used in the intelligence community to describe the interception of communications data or content. Additionally, the document specifically mentions that the data shared with the Israelis is “raw” or “unminimized”, meaning it has not been subjected to the process of extracting and deleting information that identifies US citizens or residents —known as “US persons”. By law, the NSA is not permitted to spy on US persons and is required to ‘minimize’ intercepted data so that the communications of US persons remain private, unless they are absolutely indispensible in understanding a piece of foreign intelligence. The memorandum describes a number of restrictions on the use of this information by Israeli intelligence, stating that the ISNU is forbidden from using it in order to target US persons. It also states that the ISNU must shield the identities of US persons when sharing the information with other Israeli government agencies. 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

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