New documents reveal massive NSA surveillance capabilities

General Keith AlexanderBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Documents provided by American former intelligence technician Edward Snowden show that the United States National Security Agency has unprecedented surveillance capabilities, which allow it to monitor nearly every online activity of targeted Internet users. Snowden, a self-styled whistleblower, who is currently in Russia, provided British newspaper The Guardian with an NSA training presentation. The visually based presentation explains the inner workings of an intelligence collection program called XKeyscore, which the NSA describes as its “widest-reaching” digital collection program. The system allows NSA data collectors to sift through massive online databases containing millions of individual users’ browsing histories, emails and chats —what the NSA calls digital network intelligence (DNI). According to the training presentation, authorized NSA analysts are able to target individual Internet users by entering their name, email address, IP address or telephone number. The presentation states that, upon entering the identifying information, an NSA analyst can tap into “nearly everything a typical user does on the Internet”, including the content and metadata of emails, website browsing and search terms used. Snowden told The Guardian that an NSA analyst only needs to know a user’s personal email address in order to “wiretap anyone [while] sitting at [his] desk, from you or your accountant to a federal judge or even the President”. What is more, it appears that NSA analysts are able to target individual Internet users by simply “filling in an [...] on-screen form”, and by giving only a very broad justification for the probe. Additionally, individual digital collection operations are not approved by a court or senior NSA officers. According to Snowden, all an NSA analyst has to do is suspect that the targeted online user is in contact with “a foreign target”. Meanwhile, NSA Director Keith Alexander was jeered by participants during his keynote speech at the Black Hat Technical Security conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday. Read more of this post

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News you may have missed #773

Tamir PardoBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Conflicting reports on CIA-ISI meeting. Lieutenant General Zahir ul-Islam, who heads Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, the ISI, held talks in Washington with his CIA counterpart General David Petraeus, between August 1 and 3. It was the first time in a year that the chief of the ISI made the trip to the US, signaling a possible thaw in relations. Depending on the source, the meeting was either “substantive, professional and productive”, or “made no big strides on the main issues”.
►►Senior Mossad official suspected of financial misconduct. A senior Mossad official is suspected of financial misconduct and has been forced to take a leave of absence until Israeli police complete an investigation into his alleged deeds, Israeli media reported on Sunday. The official, a department head in Israel’s spy organization, has reportedly denied any wrongdoing, but sources said he would likely not be reinstated in light of investigation findings and is effectively being forced to retire. The nature of the official’s alleged misconduct has not been reported, but it is said that the official in question has close ties to Mossad Director Tamir Pardo, who appointed him to his position last year.
►►Ex-NSA official disputes DefCon claims by NSA chief. William Binney, a former technical director at the NSA, has accused NSA director General Keith Alexander of deceiving the public during a speech he gave at the DefCon hacker conference last week. In his speech, Alexander asserted that the NSA does not collect files on Americans. But Binney accused Alexander of playing a “word game” and said the NSA was indeed collecting and indexing e-mails, Twitter writings, Internet searches and other data belonging to Americans. “The reason I left the NSA was because they started spying on everybody in the country. That’s the reason I left”, said Binney, who resigned from the agency in late 2001.

Situation Report: Hacker convention brings out top NSA spy

DefConBy TIMOTHY W. COLEMAN | intelNews.org |
In less than a week, the 20th annual DefCon Hackers convention will take place in Las Vegas, Nevada. The yearly gathering brings out the good, the bad and the script kiddies alike. Computer security practitioners, cyber-criminals, grey and white hat hackers, law enforcement, and members of both the US intelligence community as well as probably foreign government representatives will be on hand to listen to presentations, see novel techniques, and view new innovative methods for cyber intrusion. DefCon has become a Mecca of sorts for those interested in groundbreaking developments and nefarious possibilities within the computer security and cyber realm. As organizers of the event explain in their call for presentations, “DefCon is all about thinking up cool and new ways to approach everything from the most complex modern technology to hacking grandma’s toaster [...] what attack exploits, defensive techniques, or unique research [have] you have been working on”. The focus is often two-fold “how to break it”, followed by a segment on “how to fix it”. “Spot the Fed” is an ongoing and widely popular contest at the convention. The task of regular attendees is to properly identify plain-clothed members of law enforcement or the intelligence community. As DefCon explains, “if you see some shady MIB (Men in Black) earphone penny loafer sunglass wearing Clint Eastwood to live and die in LA type lurking about, point him out”.

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News you may have missed #758

Heinz FrommBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►NSA head claims Americans’ emails ‘won’t be read’. The House of Representatives in April approved a bill that would allow the government and companies to share information about hacking. Critics have raised privacy concerns about the sharing of such information, fearing it would allow the National Security Agency, which also protects government computer networks, to collect data on American communications, which is generally prohibited by law. But in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, NSA Director Keith Alexander said that the new law would not mean that the NSA would read their personal email.
►►German spy chief quits in neo-Nazi files scandal. The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Verfassungsschutz, Heinz Fromm, resigned last week, after admitting that his agency had shredded files on a neo-Nazi cell whose killing spree targeting immigrants rocked the country late last year. The “National Socialist Underground” (NSU), which went undetected for more than a decade despite its murder of 10 people, mostly ethnic Turkish immigrants. German media have said an official working in the intelligence agency is suspected of having destroyed files on an operation to recruit far-right informants just one day after the involvement of the NSU in the murders became public. Fromm had led the Verfassungsschutz since 2000.
►►US spy agency accused of illegally collecting data. The US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is pressuring its polygraphers to obtain intimate details of the private lives of thousands of job applicants and employees, pushing the ethical and legal boundaries of a program that is designed to catch spies and terrorists, an investigation has found. The NRO appears so intent on extracting confessions of personal or illicit behavior of its employees, that its officials have admonished polygraphers who refused to go after them and rewarded those who did, sometimes with cash bonuses. And in other cases, when it seems the NRO should notify law enforcement agencies of its candidates’ or employees’ past criminal behavior, it has failed to do so.

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.

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

Analysis: Cloud computing causes ‘cosmic shift’ in US spy community

Cloud computing

Cloud computing

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
While many are focusing on recent reports of arrests of CIA operatives in Lebanon and Iran, American intelligence planners have other things on their minds: the latest buzzword is ‘cloud’; specifically, ‘cloud computing’. The term means storing information and software on a network, which can then be shared on demand by users of interconnected electronic devices. The US intelligence community’s interest in this form of data organizing has been known for quite some time. But according to specialist publication Federal Computer Week, cloud computing is rapidly becoming a reality, as one after the other, US intelligence agencies are “moving their classified, sensitive information off their own servers and into the cloud”. Such a change “might have sounded crazy five years ago”, says FCW, and the fact that it is happening marks nothing less than a “cosmic shift” for American intelligence. The migration unto the cloud was spearheaded two years ago by the National Security Agency; the NSA was later joined by the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and the super-secretive National Reconnaissance Office. Soon the CIA wanted in: in 2009, Jill Tummler Singer, the CIA’s deputy Chief Intelligence Officer, told ComputerWorld that the CIA was becoming one of the US government’s strongest advocates for cloud computing, even though “the term really didn’t hit our vocabulary until a year ago”. Not everyone is super-excited about the cloud. Last year, Brian Snow, the NSA’s former Technical Director, said at a conference that he didn’t trust cloud services, mostly because of the existence of countless unpatched software vulnerabilities. But the move is heavily supported by two of America’s most senior intelligence officials: Keith Alexander, commander of US Cyber Command and director of NSA —America’s largest intelligence agency— and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #350

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News you may have missed #333

  • Ex-MI6 officer allegedly betrayed spies. Daniel Houghton was arrested last month while trying to sell classified documents to MI5 spooks posing as foreign agents. But now the former MI6 employee is accused by British authorities of trying to trade lists of British intelligence personnel. It is unclear which nation’s spy service Houghton believed he was selling to at the time of his arrest, though it is believed that Dutch intelligence tipped off MI5.
  • NSA director under friendly fire in US Senate. US National Security Agency director, Army Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, spoke last Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He addressed the synergies among the NSA, the newly created Cyber Command, and the Department of Homeland Security, as well as the concept of cyberwar: “In general terms, I do think a cyberwar could exist”, he said, but only “as part of a larger military campaign”.

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News you may have missed #0025

  • BREAKING NEWS: Several news outlets are reporting this morning that it was former US vice-President Dick Cheney who ordered the CIA to conceal from Congress key information about a covert action intelligence program of an undisclosed nature. See here for more.
  • New book claims Ernest Hemingway was KGB agent. The new book Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America (Yale University Press), co-written by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassiliev, alleges that the Nobel prize-winning novelist was on the KGB’s list of agents in America from 1941, when he was given the codename “Argo” by the Soviets.
  • Thousands of former Stasi spies still working in German civil service. A report in the German edition of The Financial Times claims that over 17,000 former members of East Germany’s Stasi remain employed as civil servants in reunified Germany. Stasi is the name commonly used for the Ministry for State Security, communist East Germany’s secret police.
  • NSA director’s secret visit to New Zealand revealed. A reporter accidentally spotted Lieutenant-General Keith Alexander, director of the US National Security Agency, entering a Wellington building accompanied by security personnel. The revelation prompted a spokesperson at the US embassy in Wellington to admit that Alexander was indeed in New Zealand “for consultations with government officials”. The close signals intelligence relationship between the US and New Zealand have been known since 1996.
  • Chinese national caught trying to purchase crypto hardware. Chi Tong Kuok was arrested by the FBI at the Atlanta International Airport en route from Paris to Panama, where he allegedly planned to purchase US military radios. The US government claims Kuok has admitted he was “acting at the direction of officials for the People’s Republic of China”.
  • Taliban say cell phone SIM cards guide US drone strikes. A Taliban circular says SIM cards planted by informants in cell phones used by militants are used to signal American drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As IntelNews recently explained, there are suspicions that this and similar discoveries are gradually prompting the Taliban and al-Qaeda to stop using cell phones altogether.

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