News you may have missed #789

Mikhail FradkovBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Putin adds spy chief to energy commission. Russian President Vladimir Putin has reinforced a presidential commission seen as Kremlin’s vehicle for vying for control over the country’s crucial oil and gas sector, by adding the country’s top police officer and senior spy to its ranks. They are Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev and Mikhail Fradkov, director of the Foreign Intelligence Service, formerly a department of the KGB. The commission is driven by Igor Sechin, a former KGB officer and close ally of President Putin.
►►US spy sat agency plans major expansion. The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), America’s secretive spy satellite agency, operates a vast constellation of spy satellites in orbit. But these surveillance spacecraft have traditionally only been able to gaze down on a few small areas of the planet at a time, like flashlights probing the dark. And this, only with careful advance planning by human operators on the ground. Now the NRO wants to expand the current flashlight-like satellite deployment to a horizon-spanning, overhead spotlight that can illuminate vast swaths of the planet all at once. The agency also wants new spacecraft that can crunch the resulting data using sophisticated computer algorithms, freeing the satellites somewhat from their current reliance on human analysts.
►►GCHQ warns of ‘unprecedented’ cyberattack threat. The British government’s electronic eavesdropping and security agency, GCHQ, has warned the chief executives of Britain’s biggest companies about an allegedly “unprecedented threat” from cyber-attacks. “GCHQ now sees real and credible threats to cybersecurity of an unprecedented scale, diversity, and complexity”, said Ian Lobban, the agency’s director. The magnitude and tempo of the attacks pose a real threat to Britain’s economic security’, Lobban adds, but notes that about 80% of known attacks would be defeated by embedding basic information security practices.

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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.

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

Lawsuit exposes rumored CIA-NRO turf war

NRO logo

NRO logo

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
After the CIA’s ongoing turf wars with the FBI and the office of the Director of National Intelligence (DCI), a new federal lawsuit appears to substantiate rumors of another turf war, this time between the CIA and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). Eric Feldman was recently removed from his position as inspector general of the super-secretive NRO, the agency that builds and operates the US government’s spy satellites, after he was found to have filed for the same travel expenses on two separate reimbursement accounts. But he now claims that his removal was part of a conspiracy by “senior officials in the CIA” to get rid of him. In his lawsuit, Feldman names former CIA inspector general John Helgerson and CIA agent Anthony Cipparone, who Feldman says “had a personal vendetta against him [because he] had passed him over for his deputy assistant position”. The former NRO inspector general claims Cipparone and Helgerson, along with other CIA officials, managed to terminate his position by illegally leaking information from the internal investigation into his reimbursement filings, in an attempt “to hurt his reputation”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0034

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News you may have missed #0028

  • Iran could have the bomb in six months, says German intelligence. Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND) alleges that if the Iranians “wanted to they could test a nuclear bomb within half a year.”
  • Australian PM threatens China over Rio Tinto spy case. Kevin Rudd warned China it has “economic interests at stake”, less than a week after Beijing arrested the Australian chief of the Anglo-Australian mine company’s iron ore operations in China.
  • 12 Mexico intelligence officers mutilated and killed. The mutilated bodies of the one female and 11 male federal intelligence officer were left in a heap beside a road in rural Michoacan state. Drug gangsters launched a brutal offensive against the Mexican government last Saturday, after the capture of their senior leader, Arnaldo “La Minsa” Rueda. “We’re waiting for you,” read a taunting sign left with the bodies.
  • NRO releases unclassified portions of 2009 budget. The super-secretive US National Reconnaissance Office, which is in charge of US satellite spying, has released fragments of its FY2009 Congressional Budget Justification Book. Incidentally, a couple of weeks ago there were rumors circulating in Washington that NRO may be broken up into several smaller agencies.

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News you may have missed #0012

  • New book on KGB activities in the United States. Based on archival material, authors John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr estimate that from the early 1920s more than 500 Americans, including many Ivy League graduates and Oxford Rhodes Scholars, were recruited to assist Soviet intelligence agencies, particularly in the State Department and America’s first intelligence agency, the OSS (forerunner of the CIA). 
  • South Korean spy agency launches video game. “Spot the Spy” video game is offered online by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) “to promote public awareness about security”. But pro-unification activists complain the game demonizes them. 
  • 2006 spy satellite failure a mystery, says NRO. The secretive US National Reconnaissance Office claims it still doesn’t know what caused the 2006 failure of one of its most expensive spy satellites, despite “an exhaustive formal failure investigation and three different independent review team investigations”. 
  • Memoir of fourth Cambridge spy soon to be unsealed. In early July the British Library will permit public access to the 30,000-word unfinished autobiographical manuscript of Anthony Blunt, Surveyor of Pictures for Queen Elizabeth II, and a member of the Cambridge Five, a group of spies working for the Soviet Union from the 1930s to the early 1950s.

News you may have missed #0008

  • Moderate Virginia Republican is Obama’s leading cybersecurity czar. Time magazine identifies Tom Davis as a leading candidate for the newly created position, citing “sources familiar with the White House’s deliberations on the subject”. Davis served in the House of Representatives for seven terms before retiring last fall. But Ryan Singel, of Wired, points out that Davis is “no friend of privacy”. While in the House of Representatives, “Davis voted repeatedly to expand the government’s internet wiretapping powers, and helped author the now-troubled national identification law known as REAL ID”, reminds Singel.
  • New Zealand spooks spied on high school students. Last February, intelNews reported on revelations that the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) has been keeping a file on an elected Green Party parliament Member, Keith Locke, since he was 11 years old. New information shows that NZSIS has been monitoring two other Green parliamentarians, Sue Bradford and Catherine Delahunty, since they were in high school. Moreover, their files remained active until 1999 and 2002, respectively. 
  • US Supreme Court refuses Plame CIA case. The Court declined to take up the case of Valerie Plame, a former CIA agent, who sought compensation after she was publicly revealed to be a secret operative. Plame and her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, wanted to sue several Bush administration officials, including former vice president Dick Cheney, over the 2003 revelation. 
  • US Homeland Security said to kill domestic spy satellite plan. A senior Homeland Security official has said that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has decided to kill a controversial Bush administration plan to use satellites for domestic surveillance in the US. The plan first surfaced in 2007, but it has been delayed due to concerns by privacy and civil liberties advocates that it would intrude on the lives of Americans. 
  • US National Security Advisor to visit India. Jim Jones will visit New Delhi at the request of President Obama, in order “to further deepen and strengthen our key bilateral partnership with India” says the White House. He will also be visiting Pakistan and Afghanistan. 
  • Researcher unearths declassified documents on NSA’s history. The documents, obtained by Matthew M. Aid for his new book, The Secret Sentry, confirm that prior to the launch of the first spy satellites into orbit by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) in the early 1960s, the Signals Intelligence collected by the National Security Agency and its predecessor organizations was virtually the only viable means of gathering intelligence information about what was going on inside the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, North Vietnam, and other communist nations.  However, the NSA and its foreign partners could collect bits and pieces of huge numbers of low-level, unencoded, plaintext messages.

Former CIA Director stripped of security clearance asked to join panel

John Deutch

John Deutch

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
John M. Deutch was Director of Central Intelligence (CIA) from 1995 to 1996, under US President Bill Clinton. In 1997, the CIA initiated an internal security investigation over Deutch’s handling of classified material and discovered that he routinely stored and worked on hundreds of CIA top-secret files on his unprotected home laptop computer. This was allegedly the same computer that Deutch’s wife and children used to view their email and browse the Internet. Following the results of the CIA investigation, Deutch was stripped of his top-secret security clearances by George Tenet, who in 1996 had succeeded him as DCI. In January 2001, shortly before leaving office, President Clinton pardoned Deutch, sparing him from prosecution by the Justice Department. It has now emerged, however, that the Obama Administration’s new National Intelligence Director, Admiral Dennis Blair, has asked the former DCI to join a National Reconnaissance Office advisory panel on surveillance satellites. President Barack Obama’s CIA Director nominee, Leon Panetta, was asked about this during his Congressional hearing earlier today, but refused to comment before having an opportunity to “sit down and talk with Admiral Blair about just exactly what he had in mind” when he asked Deutch to join the panel.

NRO leases new office facility in Chantilly

Yesterday we reported on the National Security Agency’s ongoing renovation of a huge building in San Antonio, TX, which is soon to serve as a data-mining warehouse. Now another secretive member-organization of the US intelligence community is looking to expand its facilities. The Washington Business Journal reports that an “unnamed” US intelligence agency has leased an entire 100,000-square foot office building located at 14151 Meadow Drive, along Route 28, in Chantilly, VA. According to Cryptome, the “unnamed” organization is no other than the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the agency that designs, builds, operates and maintains the spy satellites used by the US government. The NRO is headquartered in Chantilly. [IA].

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