Macau authorities deny CIA tried to assassinate Snowden

Authorities in the Chinese region of Macau have denied news reports that Chinese Special Forces averted an attempt by the United States Central Intelligence Agency to kill or capture American defector Edward Snowden. The reports were initially published on March 8 on the website of China News Service, China’s second-largest state-owned news agency after Xinhua. The news agency, which serves China’s Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau, said that a secretive unit of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army held a private function to celebrate its success against an alleged attempt by the CIA to kill Snowden. The American former computer expert worked for the CIA and the National Security Agency before defecting to Russia in the summer of 2013. Prior to arriving in Russia, however, Snowden first sought refuge in Hong Kong, where he stayed until June 23.

According to Chinese media reports, the US sent a CIA assassination squad to Hong Kong in mid-June 2013, in an effort to either abduct or kill Snowden. However, the defector’s life was allegedly saved by men from the so-called “Sharp Swords” Special Forces unit of the PLA’s Macao Quick Reaction Platoon. The latter, which is part of the PLA’s Macau Garrison, had reportedly been urgently dispatched to Hong Kong by the Chinese government, in order to guard the high-profile American defector. Some reports suggest that a fierce firefight took place between the Chinese Special Forces troops and the CIA hit squad, which eventually left four CIA officers dead, including “a senior member of the CIA’s network in Hong Kong”. When Snowden transferred to Russia, the PLA unit returned to its base in Macau, where it remains today. Chinese news media alleged that a special “special event” was held in honor of the PLA unit, during which several of its members received “first-class merit awards” for protecting Snowden and neutralizing the alleged CIA operatives.

On Monday, however, the First Secretary of the Security Office of Macau, Wong Sin Chat, told local media that the reports of a PLA award ceremony were “nothing more than rumors”. He added that there had been no attempt by anyone to assassinate Snowden, and noted that, on behalf of Macau’s state authorities, he could “absolutely confirm” that the news reports had been inaccurate. Washington has yet to comment on the allegations.

China hacking Hong Kong protesters’ smartphones, says security firm

Hong Kong protestersBy IAN ALLEN |
A mobile telephone security company has said the government of China is probably behind a sophisticated malware designed to compromise the smartphones of protesters in Hong Kong. Ever since the Hong Kong ‘umbrella revolution’ began to unfold, countless reports have referred to the use of smartphone applications as organizing tools by the protesters. According to one account, an application called FireChat was downloaded by more than 100,000 smartphone users in Hong Kong in less than 24 hours. FireChat is said to allow protesters to continue communicating with each other even when their individual devices are unable to connect to a mobile network. But a California-based mobile telephone security firm has warned that the Chinese government could be using such enabling applications to compromise the smartphones of pro-democracy protesters in the former British colony. Lacoon Mobile Security, which specializes in assessing and mitigating mobile security threats, said on Tuesday that it had detected several types of malware camouflaged as mobile phone applications designed to help the protesters organize. In a statement posted on its website, the security firm said that, once downloaded by a smartphone user, the malware gives an outsider access to the address book, communication logs and other private data stored on the unsuspecting user’s device. Lacoon added that what made the malware unusual was that it came in two different versions; one appears to target smartphones that run Apple’s iOS operating system, while the other is designed to compromise phones using Google’s Android software. The company noted that the types of malware that are circulating among Hong Kong protesters were some of the most sophisticated it had ever seen. They made use of a method called mRAT, which stands for multidimensional requirements analysis tool. Among other things, mRAT allows a hacker to take surreptitious pictures using the phone camera of a compromised smartphone. According to Lacoon, the design of the malware in question is so advanced that it is “undoubtedly backed by a nation state”. Read more of this post

Snowden flees to Russia despite US passport revocation

Edward SnowdenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
An American former intelligence contractor, who leaked classified information about intelligence operations, was able to leave Hong Kong for Russia on Sunday, despite having his United States passport revoked. Earlier this month, Edward Snowden, a former technical assistant for the Central Intelligence Agency, disclosed the existence of PRISM, a clandestine electronic surveillance program operated by the US National Security Agency (NSA). Shortly before leaking information about US intelligence operations to the world’s media, Snowden traveled to Hong Kong, a territory under the control of the People’s Republic of China. Last week, Washington charged Snowden, a self-described whistleblower, under the Espionage Act, and revoked his American passport, in an attempt to prevent him from leaving Hong Kong. But reports emerged on Sunday that Snowden had boarded an Aeroflot flight from Honk Kong to Russian capital Moscow, despite the revocation of his American passport. US authorities claim that Snowden’s transfer to Moscow occurred after Washington revoked his American passport, which raises the question of how the former CIA employee was able to exit Chinese territory. Several reports suggest that Snowden was accompanied by “unidentified diplomats” as he left Hong Kong for Moscow. Previously, the US had applied considerable diplomatic pressure on China, requesting Snowden’s extradition. But Hong Kong allowed the American fugitive to board a plane to Moscow, saying it had been given “no legal basis to restrict Mr. Snowden from leaving”. Read more of this post

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

Edward SnowdenBy IAN ALLEN | |
►►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 | |
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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Radio station names hundreds of Zimbabwe secret agents

Happton Bonyongwe


A Zimbabwean opposition radio station has begun disclosing the names of hundreds of Zimbabwe intelligence operatives, in what experts say could potentially decimate Zimbabwean intelligence collection activities around the world. On June 30, SW Radio Africa, which is based in London, United Kingdom, aired the names of 83 officers of Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), and promised to air over 400 more in the coming weeks. The revelation is based on a 2001 document, which was leaked to the station by an unnamed CIO insider. In a statement, SW Radio Africa station manager Gerry Jackson dismissed national security concerns, arguing that the CIO “is not used to protect national security and to safeguard Zimbabweans”, but rather as “the brains behind the regime” of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and his political grouping, ZANU PF. Jackson also cited a 2007 Human Rights Watch report, which found that the CIO is among the country’s most serious perpetrators of widespread human rights abuses. The station said that it decided to publish the names “in the interests of transparency and accountability and in the hope that by exposing these names […] some of the perpetrators of violence [will] think twice before they commit further human rights abuses”. Among the names included in the initial list of 83 persons is that of Hamad Adam, who is listed as a “political councilor” in the embassy of Zimbabwe in Berlin, Germany, as well as Paul Chikawa, who is a staffer in the country’s consulate in Hong Cong. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #520

  • CIA director returns from Pakistan empty-handed. CIA Director Leon Panetta’s surprise visit to Pakistan last week yielded little, according to US officials. Panetta bypassed the protocol of first meeting with the president and prime minister, and instead met with Pakistan’s military and intelligence directors.
  • Chinese spying devices found in Hong Kong cars. A Hong Kong newspaper has alleged that the Chinese authorities have been secretly installing spy devices on all dual-plate Chinese-Hong Kong vehicles since July of 2007. Photographic evidence is here.
  • NSA releases over 50000 pages of documents. The US National Security Agency has announced that it has declassified and released to the US National Archives and Records Administration over 50,000 pages of historic records, covering a time-frame from before World War I through the 1960s.

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