NSA ‘high-target’ list includes names of 122 world leaders

NSA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A list of high-priority intelligence targets published over the weekend includes the names of over a hundred current and former heads of state, who were systematically targeted by the United States National Security Agency (NSA). The list appears to be part of a wider “Target Knowledge Base” assembled by the NSA in order to help produce “complete profiles” of what the NSA calls “high-priority intelligence targets”. The list is contained in a classified top-secret briefing created by the NSA in 2009. It was published by German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, which said it acquired it from American intelligence defector Edward Snowden. Snowden, a former computer expert for the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency, is currently living in Russia, where he has been offered political asylum. The leaked briefing explains the function of an extensive NSA signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection program codenamed NYMROD. The computer-based program is allegedly able to sift through millions of SIGINT reports and collate information on individual targets from the transcripts of intercepted telephone calls, faxes, as well as computer data. The list provided to Der Spiegel by Snowden contains 122 names of international political figures, said the newsmagazine, adding that all of them were “heads of foreign governments”. It includes the name of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, Ukraine’s Yulia Tymoshenko, as well as Belarussian strongman Alexander Lukashenko. Colombia’s former President, Alvaro Uribe, and Malaysia’s Prime Minster from 2003 to 2009, Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi, also figure on the list. Interestingly, the leaders of Malaysia, Somalia, the Palestinian Authority and Peru top the NSA’s list of high-value executive targets. Read more of this post

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News you may have missed #873 (controversy edition)

Alvaro UribeBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►German parliament confirms NSA inquiry to start in April. Germany’s four major parties have unanimously approved a parliamentary inquiry into surveillance by the NSA and its allied counterparts, like the GCHQ in the UK. Another key question for the committee will likely be whether the German intelligence agencies were either aware of, or complicit in, the gathering of people’s data. A German newspaper reported that whistleblower Edward Snowden, currently in Russia, may testify via Skype.
►►Former Colombia spy chief sentenced over illegal wiretapping. Carlos Arzayus, former director of Colombia’s now-defunct intelligence agency DAS was sentenced to nearly ten years in prison on Thursday for his role in the illegal wiretapping of Supreme Court justices and government critics during the Alvaro Uribe administrations during the years 2002 to 2010. Additionally, Arzayus was ordered to pay damages to the victims of the wiretapping.
►►French spies allegedly spy on Orange customer data. The French intelligence agency in charge of military and electronic spying is massively collecting data and monitoring networks of telecoms giant Orange, Le Monde newspaper reported in its Friday edition. “The DGSE can read, like an open book, the origin and destination of all communications of Orange customers”, the paper said.

News you may have missed #864

Otis G. PikeBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Germany says Obama’s NSA promise fails to address concerns. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government said yesterday that President Barack Obama’s pledge for new restrictions on mass surveillance by US spy agencies so far offered “no answer” to Germany’s concerns over spying. Merkel’s chief spokesman, Steffen Seibert, told reporters that Berlin would “look very closely at what practical consequences the announcements of the US president carry”, but added that key German concerns had not yet been addressed.
►►Longtime US Congressman who took on CIA dies. Otis G. Pike, a longtime Democratic Congressman from New York, who took on the CIA following the Watergate revelations, has died, aged 92. In 1975, he became chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, which began examining suspicions that the CIA had had its hand in coups in Chile and other countries and was spying on American citizens. The inquiry paralleled one in the Senate, chaired by Frank Church. These committees marked the first time that Congress looked into allegations of abuse by the CIA and other US intelligence agencies.
►►East Timor slams Australia at The Hague over alleged spying.  The International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, is hearing a case brought against Australia by the government of East Timor. The small island nation accuses Australia of bugging the offices of key Timorese officials in an attempt to acquire inside information on a crucial energy deal. It alleges that a group of Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) officers disguised themselves as a refurbishing crew and planted numerous electronic surveillance devices in an East Timorese government office. The information collected from the listening devices allegedly allowed Australia to gain an upper hand during negotiations that led to the Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) treaty.

German magazine reveals more information on elite NSA spy unit

NSA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Last June, we reported on the existence of an elite cyberatack unit within the United States National Security Agency (NSA), which operates under the Agency’s Office of Tailored Access Operations. Veteran NSA watcher Matthew M. Aid, who made the initial revelation, said at the time that the Office, known at NSA simply as TAO, maintains a substantial “hacker army” that works in close cooperation with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Now German newsmagazine Der Spiegel says it viewed internal documents that confirm the existence of TAO as the NSA’s elite operational unit. The publication describes TAO as “something like a squad of plumbers that can be called in when normal access to a target is blocked”. It adds that TAO operatives are routinely detailed to a host of American intelligence agencies to help conduct intelligence operations ranging from traditional espionage to counterterrorism and cyberwarfare. Furthermore, TAO’s personnel, which are allegedly far younger than the average NSA officer, are experts in exploiting the technical deficiencies of the information-technology industry. They have therefore been able to compromise communications hardware and software produced by some of the world’s biggest IT companies and service providers, including Huawei, Cisco and Microsoft. The Spiegel article claims that TAO was established in 1997, several years before the Internet became a prominent engine of economic and cultural activity around the world. Its personnel, which initially consisted of a few select technical experts, was housed at the NSA headquarters in Fort George Meade, Maryland, but “in a separate wing, set apart from the rest of the agency”. Notably, Der Spiegel cites a paper produced by a former TAO unit head, which states that the program has produced “some of the most significant intelligence our country has ever seen” and urges for its continued growth. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #862

Cyprus, Israel, Syria, LebanonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Covert CIA program helped Colombia kill rebel leaders. A covert CIA program has helped Colombia’s government kill at least two dozen leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the rebel insurgency also known as FARC, The Washington Post reported Saturday. The National Security Agency has also provided “substantial eavesdropping help” to the Colombian government, according to The Post.
►►Israel asks US not to spy on it. Israeli officials broke their silence over the US surveillance scandal Sunday, angrily demanding an end to Washington’s spying on Israel. Last week more documents leaked by former NSA technical expert Edward Snowden uncovered a partnership between the NSA and British intelligence agency GCHQ from 2008 to 2011 to monitor office email addresses from the then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
►►Germany reacts coolly to French request on Central Africa. Germany reacted coolly last week to a French request that European countries step up support for its military mission in Central African Republic, playing down the likelihood of any financial assistance on the eve of an EU summit. France has deployed 1,600 troops there to prevent worsening violence between Christian militias and largely Muslim Seleka rebels who ousted ex-President Francois Bozize.

News you may have missed #860

Edward SnowdenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Top US-backed rebel commander flees Syria. General Salim Idris of the Free Syrian Army, who was the most senior Western-backed rebel commander in Syria, has fled the country amid growing infighting with Islamist rebels, American officials have said. The rebel military leader fled into Turkey and flew to Doha, Qatar on Sunday, after Islamist rebel groups took over his headquarters and warehouses of US-supplied military gear along the border between Turkey and Syria.
►►NSA co-worker calls Snowden ‘genius among geniuses’. Forbes magazine’s Andy Greenberg says he was contacted by a former co-worker of NSA technical expert Edward Snowden, who described the defector as “a principled and ultra-competent, if somewhat eccentric employee, and one who earned the access used to pull off his leak by impressing superiors [at NSA] with sheer talent”. The unnamed source continued: “that kid was a genius among geniuses [...], I’ve never seen anything like it”.
►►Iran claims to have captured MI6 spy. Iran says it has captured a spy working for British intelligence agency MI6 in the south-eastern city of Kerman. The head of Kerman’s revolutionary court said the alleged spy had admitted being in contact with four British intelligence officers 11 times, both inside and outside the country. He said the accused was now on trial and had confessed. The nationality of the alleged spy is not yet known. The UK Foreign Office said it did not comment on intelligence matters.

News you may have missed #858

Recep Tayyip ErdoğanBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►The FBI facilitates NSA’s domestic surveillance. Shane Harris writes in Foreign Policy: “When the media and members of Congress say the NSA spies on Americans, what they really mean is that the FBI helps the NSA do it, providing a technical and legal infrastructure that permits the NSA, which by law collects foreign intelligence, to operate on US soil. It’s the FBI, a domestic US law enforcement agency, that collects digital information from at least nine American technology companies as part of the NSA’s PRISM system. It was the FBI that petitioned the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to order Verizon Business Network Services, one of the United States’ biggest telecom carriers for corporations, to hand over the call records of millions of its customers to the NSA”.
►►Egypt expels Turkish ambassador. Egypt says it has ordered the Turkish ambassador to be expelled, following comments by Turkey’s prime minister. Saturday’s decision comes after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan renewed his criticism of Egypt’s new leaders earlier in the week. Turkey and Egypt recalled their ambassadors in August following Turkey’s sharp criticism of Egypt’s leaders and Mohamed Morsi’s ouster. Turkey’s ambassador returned to Egypt a few weeks later, but Egypt has declined to return its ambassador to Turkey. Turkey’s government had forged a close alliance with Morsi since he won Egypt’s first free presidential election in June of 2012.
►►The internet mystery that has the world baffled. For the past two years, a mysterious online organization has been setting the world’s finest code-breakers a series of seemingly unsolvable problems. It is a scavenger hunt that has led thousands of competitors across the web, down telephone lines, out to several physical locations around the globe, and into unchartered areas of the “darknet”. Only one thing is certain: as it stands, no one is entirely sure what the challenge —known as Cicada 3301— is all about or who is behind it. Depending on who you listen to, it’s either a mysterious secret society, a statement by a new political think tank, or an arcane recruitment drive by some quasi-military body. Which means, of course, everyone thinks it’s the CIA.

Analysis: FBI monitors foreign diplomats far more than NSA

FBIBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Over the past several months, the Edward Snowden affair has turned the typically reclusive National Security Agency into a news media sensation. The signals intelligence agency, which is tasked by the United States government with communications interception, is said to have spied on a host of foreign government officials and diplomats. But in an article published this week in Foreign Policy, the American military historian and author Matthew Aid reminds us that American intelligence operations against foreign diplomats do not usually involve the NSA. They are typically carried out by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has been in the business of monitoring the activities of foreign diplomats on US soil long before the NSA even existed. The author of Intel Wars and The Secret Sentry states in his article that the FBI’s cryptologic operations targeting foreign envoys are today far more sensitive and the NSA’s. The vast majority of these operations take place on US soil. There are currently over 600 foreign embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions in the US, maintained by 176 countries. They include over 200 consulates located in cities ranging from Miami to Los Angeles and from San Francisco to Boston. New York alone hosts over 100 permanent diplomatic missions at the United Nations headquarters. Aid points out that “every one of these embassies and consulates is watched by the FBI’s legion of counterintelligence officers” in varying degrees. Additionally, the Bureau relies on the close cooperation of large American telecommunications providers in its effort to intercept the landline and cellular communications “of virtually every embassy and consulate in the United States”. FBI communications technicians also intercept the personal telephone calls and emails of foreign diplomats on a regular basis, adds Aid. Sometimes the Bureau employs specially trained teams of agents who physically break into embassies and consulates, in what is known in intelligence lingo as ‘black bag jobs’. Read more of this post

Is the NSA spying on senior Israeli government officials?

Israeli Heron UAVBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A series of hard-hitting revelations by Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the United States National Security Agency, have tested America’s relationship with a host of allied nations in recent months. Last week, Malaysia and Indonesia were added to the list of countries whose leaders were allegedly spied on by the US agency tasked with communications interception. Germany, Brazil, France and Greece, all of them American allies, are also said to be included on the list of NSA targets. One US partner, however, has been markedly absent from Snowden’s revelations: Israel. The Jewish state, which is routinely described as America’s strongest ally in the Middle East, has rarely been mentioned in Snowden’s sensational leaks. This changed slightly last weekend, when The New York Times published a lengthy piece describing Israel as “an important NSA target”. Based on information provided by the self-styled American whistleblower, who has been offered political asylum in Russia, the paper said Washington’s intelligence relationship with Tel Aviv is complex. The Times confirmed previous reports, which suggest that the NSA shares raw intercepted data with Israeli intelligence. According to a 2009 agreement between the NSA and its Israeli counterpart, the Israel SIGINT National Unit (ISNU), the American side provides the Israelis with raw intercepts, which often contain telephone and email data belonging to American citizens. The Israelis probably do the same in return, though one document seen by British newspaper The Guardian alleges that the sharing agreement as is “tilted heavily in favor of Israeli security concerns”. At the same time, while the NSA and ISNU collaborate, they also spy on each other. The Times noted that the American signals intelligence agency is tracking a host of “high priority Israeli military targets” on a routine basis. These include Israel’s drone aircraft systems (see photo), as well as the Jewish state’s Black Sparrow medium-range air-launched ballistic missile system. Is it true that the US spies on what is ostensibly its closest ally in the Middle East? Read more of this post

News you may have missed #856

Communications Security Establishment CanadaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Expert says Australia spies for the United States. Intelligence expert Professor Des Ball claims Australia is playing a role in America’s intelligence networks by monitoring vast swathes of the Asia Pacific region and feeding information to the US. Dr. Ball says the Australian Signals Directorate –formerly known as the Defence Signals Directorate– is sharing information with the National Security Agency (NSA). He adds that Australia has four key facilities that are part of the XKeyscore program, the NSA’s controversial computer system that searches and analyses vast amounts of internet data.
►►Canada silent on allegations of spying. A spokeswoman for Communications Security Establishment Canada has refused to comment on allegations that the agency mounts foreign operations through Canada’s embassies abroad. German magazine Der Spiegel says Canada is using diplomatic facilities to support surveillance operations in league with key allies the United States, Britain and Australia. The German newsmagazine indicates the Canadian spy agency hosts “Stateroom” sites —a term for covert signals-intelligence gathering bases hidden in consulates and embassies.
►►Russia denies spying on G20 leaders during summit. Russia has denied reports it attempted to spy on foreign powers meeting at the G20 summit in St Petersburg earlier this year, denouncing the allegations as a “clear attempt to divert attention” from revelations concerning the United States’ National Security Agency. Two Italian newspapers claimed on Tuesday that USB flash drives and cables to charge mobile phones that were given to delegates —including heads of state— at the September meeting were equipped with technology to retrieve data from computers and telephones.

US surveillance or Merkel’s phone prompts angry German reaction

Philipp Rösler and Angela MerkelBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
News of an invasive intelligence-gathering operation by the United States, which allegedly targeted the official communications of German chancellor Angela Merkel, has prompted angry responses from the European Union. The news prompted the French government to request that US surveillance of European heads of state be discussed during an upcoming EU summit, while The New York Times warned yesterday that “invasive American intelligence gathering” against Europe could “severely damage [...] decades of hard-won trans-Atlantic trust”. The latest row between Washington and Brussels was sparked by a report aired on ARD, Germany’s state television station. It said that the National Security Agency (NSA), America’s foremost communications interception agency, had monitored the official cellular telephone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. A spokesperson for the German government told journalists yesterday that the German leader had “angrily” called US President Barack Obama and demanded assurances that her communications were “not the target of an American intelligence tap”. The German leader reportedly told Mr. Obama that there should be “no such surveillance of the communications of a head of government” belonging to a “friend and partner of the US”. The Times reported that Washington’s responded by assuring Chancellor Merkel that her communications were “not the target of current surveillance and would not be in the future”. But the White House is said to have refused to enter into a discussion of past interception activities. Mrs. Merkel’s telephone call was the second time in less than two days that Mr. Obama had to provide assurances of privacy to a European head of state. Read more of this post

Revealed: NSA spied on millions of French, Mexican phone calls

NSA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The United States has been spying on millions of private telephone communications in France and Mexico, and even managed to hack into the Mexican president’s personal email account, according to media reports from France and Germany. French newspaper Le Monde said on Monday that France has been targeted for years by the US National Security Agency (NSA). The NSA, America’s largest intelligence agency, is tasked with intercepting communications messages from around the world. The newspaper alleged that most targets of the NSA’s interception have no links to terrorism; instead, the US target list is primarily focused on “high-profile individuals in the politics and business domains”. Le Monde said it acquired the information on the NSA operations in France from former NSA and Central Intelligence Agency technical expert Edward Snowden. Snowden defected from the US last summer and is currently living in Russia, were he has been offered political asylum. According to the French daily, over 70 million French telephone exchanges were intercepted by the NSA between December 10, 2012, and January 8, 2013, under an NSA collection program codenamed US-985D. The number represents over 2.5 million intercepted telephone calls per day in France. Another report, which appeared in German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, claimed that the NSA targeted the email communications of the Mexican government, and managed to hack personal email accounts belonging to numerous senior Mexican government officials. The article, which appeared on Sunday, said that the American signals intelligence agency had implemented Operation FLATLIQUID, which aimed at exploiting mail servers used by senior government officials in Mexico. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #854 (SIGINT edition)

NSA/GCHQ listening station in Menwith HillBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►British ex-minister accuses GCHQ of ignoring surveillance fears. Nick Brown, a former Labour Party cabinet minister, has warned that GCHQ and Britain’s other intelligence agencies appear to be undertaking mass surveillance without parliament’s consent because the country’s coalition failed to get the communications data bill –-dubbed the “snoopers’ charter” by critics– passed into law after Liberal Democrat opposition. Brown said there was an “uncanny” similarity between the GCHQ surveillance programs exposed by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden and proposals in the first part of the bill.
►►Analysis: The NSA’s new codebreakers. Matthew Aid writes: “There was a time when the codebreakers of the National Security Agency actually took the lead in solving enemy encryption systems. These days, not so much. In today’s NSA, it’s hackers, break-in artists, corporate liaisons, and shadow salesman using front companies who are at the forefront of this effort. Even so-called “hacktivists” play an unwitting role in helping the NSA gain access to computer networks –both hostile and friendly. Just about the only place that’s somewhat immune to the NSA’s new style of codebreaking attacks? North Korea, because it’s so disconnected from the rest of the world’s networks”.
►►UKUSA treaty countries collecting data for NSA. The latest leaks from former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden reveal a new dimension to the US-led electronic eavesdropping, with address books and ”buddy lists” from Yahoo!, Hotmail, Facebook and Gmail accounts being harvested across the globe. The documents, published by The Washington Post on Tuesday, show the clear involvement of Australia along with the US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand —the so-called “five eyes” intelligence-sharing nations.

News you may have missed #853

NSA's Utah Data CenterBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Meltdowns hobble NSA data center. Electrical surges at the National Security Agency’s massive data center in Utah have delayed the opening of the facility for a year as well as destroying hundreds of thousands of dollars in kit, the Wall Street Journal reports. Ten “meltdowns” in the past 13 months have repeatedly delayed the Herculean effort to get the spy agency’s colossal snooping facility up and running, according to project documents reviewed by the newspaper.
►►Uganda expels Sudan diplomat accused of spying. Sudanese diplomat Jad-el-Seed Mohammed Elhag has been expelled from Uganda on suspicion of espionage, Ugandan foreign ministry officials said Tuesday. “The reasons why he was expelled was that the activities he was involved in were beyond the norms and requirements of his tenure”, Uganda Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Tayebwa Katureebe said. “These are issues of diplomacy and of two countries, which are not addressed normally in the press, but basically the main reason was espionage”, he said, declining to go into detail.
►►FBI accused of using no-fly list to recruit informants. A lawsuit in New York alleges that the FBI is violating the law by putting Muslim-Americans on the no-fly list not because of a “reasonable suspicion” of terrorist associations, but as a form of blackmail to coerce them into becoming informants at mosques and in their communities. Is this the beginning of the end for the US federal government’s no-fly list? According to the complaint, New York resident Muhammad Tanvir landed on the no-fly list after refusing an FBI request to work as an informant in his predominantly Muslim community.

News you may have missed #852

North and South KoreaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Did US deny entry to German author because he criticized the NSA? Questions have arisen after the German author Ilija Trojanow was denied entry to the United States, apparently without reason. Trojanow had been invited to a German language convention in the US city of Denver. However, he was left stranded at Salvador da Bahia airport, in Brazil. A colleague of the writer claims his call for clarity about US spying activity is the answer. A spokeswoman for Trojanow’s publisher said he was on his way back to Germany on Tuesday.
►►Analysts stress ‘sophisticated tradecraft’ after Iranian spy arrested in Israel. Israeli officials over the weekend released details regarding the arrest of an Iranian-Belgian citizen accused of conducting extensive espionage against Israeli and American targets inside the Jewish state, deepening concerns regarding the scope and sophistication of Iranian intelligence tradecraft. Ali Mansouri, in his mid-50s, was arrested on September 11 at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport by the Shin Bet intelligence service. One Israeli military correspondent observed that, in the case of Mansouri, “Iran followed the playbooks of the most advanced intelligence agencies in the world”.
►►Northern spy lifts cloak on Koreas’ deadly rivalry. Kim Dong-sik is a North Korean agent captured in the South in 1995. He underwent four years of interrogations before joining the South Korean military counterintelligence command. He is now an analyst at the Institute for National Security Strategy, a research organization affiliated with the National Intelligence Service. His tale, detailed in a new memoir, provides a rare, firsthand look at the often lethal spy war that the rival Koreas waged for decades and that many fear may persist today.

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