Secretive US cyber unit has been spying on China for 15 years

NSA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A secretive cyberattack unit within the United States National Security Agency (NSA) has been engaged in protracted offensive cyberespionage operations against China for nearly 15 years. The revelation, made this week by veteran NSA watcher Matthew M. Aid, appears to confirm recent allegations made by Chinese government officials that Beijing’s secrets come under regular attack by US government-sponsored hackers. It also agrees with claims made by several intelligence observers, including this blog, that America’s cyber-security posture is not purely defensive. According to Aid’s article, published this past Monday in Foreign Policy, China’s allegations that it has been the target of sustained cyberespionage attacks by the US “are essentially correct”. Citing “a number of highly confidential sources”, Aid alleges that the NSA maintains a substantial “hacker army”. These ‘cyberwarriors’ allegedly operate under the NSA’s Office of Tailored Access Operations, known inside NSA simply as TAO. Its personnel is said to have successfully penetrated the Chinese government’s telecommunications networks and servers since the late 1990s, generating “some of the best and most reliable intelligence information” gained by Washington. It does so through computer network exploitation (CNE) techniques, such as surreptitious hacking, password exploitation, and even by compromising Chinese network security technicians. Aid alleges that TAO works closely with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), through a small “clandestine intelligence gathering unit”. The latter employs CIA and FBI operatives who perform what are known as “off-net operations”, a term that refers to physical break-ins of Chinese and other foreign diplomatic facilities, in order to compromise the security computer hardware. Read more of this post

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News you may have missed #702

James BamfordBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►NSA chief denies domestic spying allegations. In a rare break from the NSA’s tradition of listening but not speaking, National Security Agency chief General Keith Alexander was grilled last week on the topic of eavesdropping on Americans in front of a House subcommittee. The questioning from Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Georgia) was prompted by Wired magazine’s cover story earlier this month on the NSA’s growing reach and capabilities. But author James Bamford (photo) and NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake insist that the NSA is quietly building America’s the largest spy center in Utah, as part of a secret domestic surveillance program codenamed STELLAR WIND.
►►NY police says it monitored Iran operatives taking photos. Speaking before the US House Homeland Security Committee, Michael Silber, director of New York Police Department Intelligence Analysis, said New York City Police have observed Iranian operatives photographing key transportation sites at least six times since September 11, 2001. He gave an example of six men on an East River sightseeing cruise in 2005, who paired off with maps and cell phones while taking photographs and videos of the bridges over the river. The NYPD determined each was on the payroll of Iranian government, one employed at Iran’s mission to the United Nations.
►►Major Canadian Cold War era mole hunt operation revealed. Newly released archival records show that even the cream of Canada’s foreign service was not immune from scrutiny in a top secret RCMP investigation known as Operation FEATHER BED. The probe, which stretched from the late 1950s into the 1970s, saw RCMP security branch investigators pore over the backgrounds of possible Communist sympathizers in the public service and political sphere —including a future Mountie spy chief. There is no evidence the highly confidential investigation ever identified a Soviet agent.

News you may have missed #696

NSA's Utah Data CenterBy IAN ALLEN| intelNews.org |
►►French spies to stage labor protest. The main union representing French domestic intelligence officers, those charged with counter-espionage and anti-terror investigations, called Wednesday on its members to stage a protest. The head of the SNOP union, which represents senior police officers and is the main labor body for members of the DCRI security agency, said his members planned a “gathering” at their Paris headquarters. A smaller union said it wanted no part in the protest, and it was not clear how many of the agency’s 4,000 intelligence officers planned to take part.
►►James Bamford on the NSA’s new spy center in Utah. Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built in Bluffdale for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013.
►►Author of unauthorized CIA book gave proceeds to charity. After former CIA officer Ishmael Jones wrote a book about the CIA without gaining prior approval from the Agency, the government sought and won a judicial ruling that Jones had acted in violation of his CIA secrecy agreement, and that he could be held liable for the breach. But the government’s current efforts to seize the financial proceeds from Jones’ 2010 book, The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture, have been frustrated by the fact that the author has already given the proceeds away to charity.

News you may have missed #426 (Gareth Williams edition II)

  • ‘Turf war’ over Williams killing. British media claim that a turf battle has erupted between British police and the country’s external intelligence agency, MI6, with some police officers complaining that MI6 personnel are hindering their investigation into the death of former MI6 and GCHQ employee Gareth Williams.
  • Williams reported ‘being tailed’ before death. British tabloid The Daily Express claims that Gareth Williams feared he was being followed and told his superiors at MI6 he thought he was being targeted by foreign agents, several weeks before his death.
  • NSA expert doubts Williams killing was spy-related. Intelligence commentator James Bamford, who has authored several books on the NSA, GCHQ’s equivalent agency in the US, says that “leaving a body in a canvas bag sounds more like a jealous lover or drug deal gone bad than a political assassination”.

NSA bugging more widespread than thought, says ex-analyst

Wayne Madsen

Wayne Madsen

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A former NSA analyst and US Navy intelligence officer has alleged that the National Security Agency’s (NSA) domestic spying program was more widespread than originally thought, and that it was authorized by the Bush Administration prior to 9/11. Wayne Madsen, who authors the Wayne Madsen Report, says the NSA consulted with US telecommunications service providers about aspects of its STELLAR WIND program in as early as February 27, 2001, several months prior to the events of 9/11. STELLAR WIND was a massive domestic surveillance program involving spying on US citizens. Under the guidance of the office of the US Attorney General, the NSA was systematically allowed to circumvent the standard authorization process under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court, composed of 11 federal judges, and thus conduct what is known as warrantless wiretapping within the United States, which is illegal. Read more of this post

Analysis: NSA emerging as the world’s most powerful spy agency

James Bamford

James Bamford

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Regular readers of this blog know that the US National Security Agency is in the process of renovating its soon-to-be-unveiled Texas Cryptology Center, a 470,000-square-foot facility that will cost “upwards of $130 million” and be used primarily to store intercepted communications data. They also know that the gigantic Agency, which is tasked with worldwide communications surveillance, as well as communications security, is also building a 1 million square foot data center at Utah’s Camp Williams. Finally, as we reported last August, the NSA is currently laying out a 20-year plan to construct 5.8 million square feet of new working and storage space on its Fort George G. Meade headquarters in Maryland, and staff it with 11,000 people. What does all this mean? Read more of this post

NSA looking to build 5.8 million square feet by 2029

NSA HQ

NSA HQ

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The US National Security Agency filed a notice in last month’s Federal Register, laying out a 20-year plan to construct 5.8 million square feet of new working and storage space on its Fort George G. Meade headquarters, and staff it with 11,000 people. The Baltimore Business Journal and The Baltimore Sun, which first spotted the notice, said the NSA will not say how many of the 11,000 jobs will be new. The Sun asked the gigantic agency, which already employs over 25,000 people around Baltimore alone, for more details on its plans. But the NSA, which is tasked by the US government with worldwide communications surveillance as well as communications security, merely repeated the information contained in the Federal Register, saying it needs new buildings to “meet mission growth requirements” and to “consolidate” its output. Read more of this post

NSA spying more aggressive than ever, says Bamford

James Bamford

James Bamford

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The US National Security Agency (NSA) has for the first time in its history appointed a “director of compliance”, whose office will supervise the lawfulness of NSA’s communications surveillance and other spy activities. The Agency, America’s largest intelligence organization, which is tasked with worldwide communications surveillance as well as communications security, has appointed John DeLong to the new post. But in a new column for Salon magazine, James Bamford argues that the gigantic agency is still overstepping its legal framework in both domestic and international spying. Read more of this post

Wiretap whistleblower shunned by US Congress, media

Mark Klein

Mark Klein

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Those of you who have been following the ongoing revelations about STELLAR WIND, the National Security Agency (NSA) warrantless wiretapping scheme authorized by the Bush Administration in the wake of 9/11, will know about Thomas M. Tamm. Tamm was the Justice Department official who in 2005 first notified The New York Times about the existence of the project. But Tamm was not the only whistleblower in the case. He was joined soon afterwards by another insider, Mark Klein. Klein had just retired from AT&T as a communications technician when he read The New York Times revelations about STELLAR WIND. As soon as he read the paper’s vague description of the NSA project, Klein realized he had in his possession AT&T documents describing exactly how the company shared its customers’ telephone communications with the NSA, through a secret room at the AT&T Folsom Street facility in San Francisco. To this day, Klein remains the only AT&T employee to have come forward with information on STELLAR WIND. But, apparently, nobody cares. Read more of this post

Analysis: Rare film on National Security Agency aired

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The Nova documentary series on PBS has aired a rare look at the National Security Agency (NSA), America’s signals intelligence and cryptological organization that rarely releases information to outsiders. The ultra-secret Agency is said to be the world’s largest intelligence institution, employing tens of thousands of technicians, analysts and mathematicians. The PBS film, titled The Spy Factory, features veteran author James Bamford, who has authored books on NSA for nearly 30 years. The primary focus of the documentary is on NSA’s share of the intelligence failure in detecting and preventing the 9/11 attacks. The film also examines NSA’s STELLAR WIND program, a warrantless eavesdropping scheme targeting communications of American citizens, which the Bush Administration authorized shortly after 9/11. Read more of this post

A rare look at the new NSA center in Texas

Based on revelations in James Bamford’s new book, The Shadow Factory, Greg Schwartz has produced a rare piece on the new National Security Agency (NSA) data mining facility San Antonio, TX. The gigantic Agency, which is tasked with worldwide communications surveillance, as well as communications security, is in the process of renovating its soon-to-be-unveiled Texas Cryptology Center. The 470,000-square-foot facility will cost “upwards of $130 million” and be used primarily to store intercepted communications data. Bamford speculates that “[c]onsidering how much data can now be squeezed onto a small flash drive, the new NSA building may eventually be able to hold all the information in the world”. Read more of this post

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