US Pentagon computers cannot be protected, says NSA head

General Keith AlexanderBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The man in charge of America’s most powerful intelligence agency says the United States Department of Defense computer network is so disordered and chaotic that it cannot be defended from cyberattacks. General Keith Alexander directs the National Security Agency, America’s wealthiest intelligence institution, which expert James Bamford has described as “the world’s most powerful spy agency”. As America’s foremost signals intelligence agency, the NSA is largely responsible for protecting the integrity, security and cohesion of the country’s public and restricted military communications networks, including computer networks. To do so, it consumes an annual budget that dwarfs those of most other intelligence agencies, and employs entire armies of computer security experts and other professionals. But, according to General Alexander, who also heads the US Pentagon’s new Cyber Command, there is not much his army of cyberwarriors can do to either prevent or repel possible large-scale cyberattacks directed against the DoD’s computer networks. The NSA chief was speaking yesterday at the International Conference on Cyber Security, a high-profile gathering of experts at New York’s Fordham University. He told the conference, which is sponsored by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, that the Pentagon’s computer infrastructure is too anarchic and chaotic to be successfully defended from cyberespionage, cyberterrorism, or cyberwarfare assaults. He said the DoD computer system consists of so many interconnected networks —over 15,000 in all— that the NSA “can’t see them all [let alone] defend them all”. As a result, said Alexander, the DoD’s current communications infrastructure “is indefensible”. Read more of this post

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News you may have missed #657

Israel and IranBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Israeli company exported Internet-monitoring hardware to Iran. Israel bans all trade with its enemy, Iran. It turns out, however, that Israeli Internet-monitoring equipment has been finding its way to Iran for years, through Denmark. An Israeli company shipped the equipment to Denmark, where workers stripped away the packaging and removed the labels, before forwarding it to Iran. Now Israeli trade, customs and defense officials say they “did not know” that the systems were ending up in Iran.
►►Court decision revives NSA lawsuits. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the case of Jewel v NSA, which claims that after the 2001 terrorist attacks the NSA began large-scale monitoring of digital traffic, with the assistance of AT&T and others, can proceed. At the same time, the court denied leave to continue on a linked case against AT&T, for aiding and abetting the surveillance. The court upheld the 2008 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) revision, voted for by the current president, which grants the telecommunications companies retroactive immunity from any actions carried out during the period.
►►Czechs charged with espionage in Zambia sent home. Three Czech citizens, who were detained in Zambia on October 12, 2011, and charged with espionage, have returned home, the Czech Foreign Ministry said Sunday. A ministry spokesman declined to give any details on the return of the three Czechs, who were arrested after they were found taking pictures near military sites.

News you may have missed #628 (analysis edition)

Michael Scheuer

Michael Scheuer

►►Should intelligence agencies chase tax evaders? Three years ago, Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the BND, paid a whistleblower close to $7 million for DVDs containing information on thousands of secret accounts at a leading Liechtenstein bank. The discs contained data on 4,527 Liechtenstein foundations and financial entities, 1,400 of which were owned by Germans. But should a spy agency like the BND take part in the unglamorous and politically charged business of collecting information on tax cheats?
►►UK ex-spy chief says Google makes spies work harder. The rise of the web and Google means Britain’s spies have to work harder to produce genuinely secret intelligence, according to Sir David Pepper, the former director of GCHQ, Britain’s signals intelligence agency. He said “the Google effect” of so much information being readily available online had “very substantially” raised the “threshold for producing intelligence” for MI5, MI6 and GCHQ.
►►Ex-CIA official says America ‘creates its own enemies’. Americans are in the crosshairs of terrorists worldwide purely due to Washington’s policy in the Muslim world, according to former CIA officer Michael Scheuer, who spoke to Russia Today. Scheuer, author of Through Our Enemies’ Eyes, worked for the CIA for over 20 years and at one time was the chief of the agency’s ‘Bin Laden unit’.

Analysis: CIA Open Source Center monitors Facebook, Twitter, blogs

CIA HQ

CIA HQ

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The Associated Press has been given unprecedented access to the United States Central Intelligence Agency’s Open Source Center, which is tasked with, among other things, monitoring social networking media. The Center, which was set up in response to the events of 9/11, employs several hundred multilingual analysts. Some are dispatched to US diplomatic missions abroad, but most work out of “an anonymous industrial park” in the US state of Virginia, which the Associated Press agreed not to disclose. The analysts, who are jokingly known in CIA OSINT (open-source intelligence) parlance as “ninja librarians”, engage in constant mining of publicly available information. The latter ranges from articles found in scholarly journals, to civilian television and radio station programs, as well as information available on the Internet. According to the Associated Press report, the Center began paying particular attention to social networking websites in 2009, when Facebook and Twitter emerged as primary organizing instruments in Iran’s so-called “Green Revolution”. The term describes the actions that Iranians opposed to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took to protest the disputed election results that kept him in power. Since that time, the CIA’s Open Source Center has acquired the ability to monitor up to five million tweets a day, and produces daily snapshots of global opinion assembled from tweets, Facebook updates and blog posts. Its executive briefings reportedly find their way to President Barack Obama’s Daily Brief on a regular basis. The Associated Press was given access to the Center’s main facility, and interviewed several of its senior staff members, including its Director, Doug Naquin. He told the news agency that the CIA Open Source Center had “predicted that social media in places like Egypt could be a game-changer and a threat to the regime”, but had been unable to foresee the precise development of Internet-based social activism in the Arab world. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #616

CSIS seal

CSIS seal

►►S. Koreans say several N. Korean assassination bids stopped. South Korea has arrested several North Korean agents for plotting to assassinate anti-Pyongyang activists, according to Won Sei-Hoon, head of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, who spoke to the parliament’s intelligence committee. Earlier this month, Seoul prosecutors charged a North Korean agent with trying to murder Park Sang-Hak, an outspoken activist in Seoul, with a poison-tipped weapon.
►►MI5 inspectors’ website shut down after security blunder. A new website for the former High Court judges responsible for oversight of MI5, MI6 and wiretapping has been shut down after it emerged that anyone could edit any page of it. The security blunder forced the Intelligence Services Commissioner, Sir Mark Waller, and the Interception of Communications Commissioner, Sir Paul Kennedy, to pull the plug on their new website.
►►Report urges Canadian spies to share more info with diplomats. Canada’s spy agency needs to share more information with the Department of Foreign Affairs so the department is better prepared for negative reactions to Canadian intelligence work overseas, according to a new report by Canada’s Security Intelligence Review Committee. The Committee, which reports to Parliament on the work of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, found the organization had “limited exchanges” with Canada’s diplomats on its operations.

News you may have missed #585 [updated]

GCHQ

GCHQ

►►GCHQ recovers £300m worth of stolen information. Details stolen from more than a million credit cards across Europe, worth an estimated £300 million, have been recovered by Britain’s GCHQ signals intelligence spy agency, according to The Daily Telegraph.
►►Kuwait arrests alleged Iraqi spy. Kuwait security forces have arrested a man of Iraqi origin for alleged intelligence links with Iraq, a Kuwaiti daily said on Sunday. The man, who was arrested on Friday, and is referred to by the media as “Abu Ahmad”, was staying illegally in the country and allegedly provided Iraq with sensitive information about vital facilities in Kuwait. This is the third time in recent months that the government of Kuwait has pressed espionage charges against a spy suspect. [Update: Kuwait denies reports of spy's arrest]
►►Hackers steal CIA and Mossad SSL certificates. The tally of digital certificates stolen from a Dutch company in July has exploded to more than 500, including ones for intelligence services like the CIA, the UK’s MI6, and Israel’s Mossad, a Mozilla developer said Sunday. According to some sources, the hackers were Iranian.

News you may have missed #544

Google

Google

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Russia a ‘leading suspect’ in cyberespionage attack on US. I wrote on Monday about the cyberespionage operation that targeted a leading US defense contractor last March, and resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of classified documents. US Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III, who disclosed the operation, said only that it was conducted by “a foreign intelligence service”. According to the last sentence of this NBC report, US officials see Russian intelligence as “one of the leading suspects” in the attack. ►►Al-Qaeda acquires Pakistani spy service manuals. Jamestown Foundation researcher Abdul Hameed Bakier reports that al-Qaeda operatives have managed to get access to espionage training manuals used by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI). Copies of the documents have apparently been posted on Internet forums that are sympathetic to al-Qaeda, and bear the mark of the As-Sahab Foundation, al-Qaeda’s media wing. ►►Google-NSA collaboration documents to remain secret —for now. Even before Google shut down its operations in China, following a massive cyberattack against its servers in early 2010, the company has maintained close contact with American intelligence agencies. But after the 2010 cyberattack, some believe that Google’s relationship with the US intelligence community has become too cozy. In February of 2010, the ACLU said it was concerned about Google’s contacts with the US National Security Agency (NSA). Other groups, including the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), have filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests seeking access to the inner workings of Google’s relationship with NSA. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #495

News you may have missed #489

  • Russian spies want their stuff back from the FBI. Two of the ten Russians deported from the United States in a spy row last July have demanded that some of the property they were forced to leave behind be returned to them. The claim was lodged on behalf of Vladimir and Lidia Guryev, better known as Richard and Cynthia Murphy.
  • Kuwait sentences three to death for espionage. Two Iranians and a Kuwaiti national, all serving in Kuwait’s army, were condemned to death yesterday for belonging to an Iranian spy ring, which allegedly passed on information to the Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. A Syrian and a stateless Arab, who are also members of the alleged spy ring, were handed life terms.
  • ‘Foreign spies’ hacked Australian leader’s computer. Chinese hackers seeking information on commercial secrets are suspected of having broken into a computer used by Julia Gillard, the Australian prime minister. Her computer was among 10 machines used by senior government ministers which were compromised by the hackers. According to one source, the Australians were tipped off to the hacking by the CIA and the FBI.

News you may have missed #481

  • Who brought down the CIA website last Thursday? US Federal officials as of Monday afternoon were still investigating the cause of a Thursday cyber incident that knocked offline the public website of the CIA and its unclassified e-mail system. The interference was isolated to CIA networks. Some cyber experts say the disruption may have been caused by a denial of service attack perpetrated by pranksters to show off their skills, rather than an act committed by a foreign government.
  • Israeli cabinet minister to visit jailed spy in US. Israel’s Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon is to make a visit next week to see Jonathan Pollard, an American serving a life term in a US jail for spying on the US for Israel. Israeli media claim that Kahlon will give Pollard a “verbal message” from Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • Egypt’s spies dragged from shadows. New evidence of spying and torture by Egypt’s General Intelligence Services (GIS) has piled pressure on the country’s military rulers to abolish the agency. After breaking into the GIS Cairo headquarters and ransacking archives, activists posted videos showing a torture chamber with a bloodstained floor and equipped with chains.

Analysis: Understanding WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| intelNews.org |
The WikiLeaks cablegate revelations appear to be subsiding in the new year, and so is the public debate about their meaning and consequences. And yet, as calmer moods prevail, now is the appropriate time to probe the WikiLeaks phenomenon. To do so constructively, it is necessary to move beyond a mere political assessment of WikiLeaks. The question of whether the website, its founder, and its hundreds of volunteers, are criminals, heroes, terrorists, or dissidents, cannot even begin to be answered until WikiLeaks is understood, first and foremost. By ‘understood’, I don’t mean empathize. I mean comprehending WikiLeaks as an ideological paradigm, a technological vehicle reflective of the personal philosophies of its members, but also representative of a much wider sociotechnical trend. Click here to read my analysis brief published today by the Research Institute for European and American Studies.

News you may have missed #463

  • Iranian spy minister admits hacking emails. Iran’s Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi has publicly admitted that the Iranian government has hacked into the emails of Iranian opposition members. He claimed the hacking, conducted by Iran’s Intelligence Ministry, revealed messages exchanged between “foreigners and their elements inside Iran”.
  • Details on CIA officer killed in Afghanistan. An interesting article in The Washingtonian offers an interesting background story on Jennifer Matthews, a CIA officer who was killed nearly a year ago in Afghanistan in a suicide bombing by Taliban double-agent Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi.
  • China jails South Korean alleged spy. China is getting tougher with South Korean spies caught on Chinese soil collecting intelligence on North Korea, and has jailed one of them for more than a year, despite pleas from Seoul, according to news reports.

Israel sabotaged Egypt’s Internet, says alleged Mossad spy

Undersea Internet cable

Undersea cable

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Israeli sabotage was behind the nationwide crippling of Egypt’s Internet in 2008, according to an alleged Mossad agent. The accused agent, Abdel Razeq Hussein Hassan, is an Egyptian businessman who was arrested earlier this year by Egyptian counterintelligence and is accused of working for the Israeli spy agency. Two of his alleged Israeli handlers, Joseph Daymour and Idid Moushay, are reportedly on the run and are wanted by the Egyptian government.  Hassan is due to go on trial next month, but transcripts of his interrogation records have been leaked to Egyptian media. In one instance, Hassan appears to tell his police interrogators that a team of Mossad operatives deliberately cut two undersea cables about 5 miles off the north Egyptian port city of Alexandria, disrupting the country’s Internet service for several days. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #455

  • Israel says it did not kill German politician. Israel has rejected a claim by a Swiss chemistry professor that the 1987 murder of German politician Uwe Barschel had the hallmarks of a Mossad assassination. For more on Barschel see previous intelNews story here.
  • Foreign cyber spies targeted UK defense official. Foreign spies, probably working for the People’s Republic of China, targeted senior British defense official Joanna Hole, in a sophisticated spear phishing operation that aimed to steal military secrets. The plan was foiled last year when Hole became suspicious of an email she received from a contact she had met at a conference.
  • The 10 most interesting CIA-backed startups. America’s only federally funded venture capital firm, In-Q-Tel, was created in 1999 during the tech boom. The company invests in startups developing technologies that could prove useful to the CIA and other intelligence agencies.

News you may have missed #438 (Stuxnet edition)

[Research credit to Arthur Sbygniew]

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