South Korean court convicts ex-spy director of interfering in elections

Won Sei-hoonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A former director of South Korea’s intelligence agency has been convicted in court of directing intelligence officers to post online criticisms of liberal politicians during a presidential election campaign. Won Sei-hoon headed South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) from 2008 to 2013, during the administration of conservative President Lee Myung-bak. Since his replacement in the leadership of NIS, Won has faced charges of having ordered a group of NIS officers to “flood the Internet” with messages accusing liberal political candidates of being “North Korean sympathizers”. Prosecutors alleged that Won initiated the Internet-based psychological operation because he was convinced that “leftist adherents of North Korea” were on their way to “regaining power” in the South. The illegal operation took place during the 2012 presidential election campaign, which was principally fought by Moon Jae-in, of the liberal-left Democratic Party, and Park Geun-hye, of the conservative Saenuri party. Park eventually won the election and is currently serving South Korea’s eleventh President. The court heard that a secret team of NIS officers had posted nearly 1.5 million messages on social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, in an effort to garner support for the Saenuri party candidate in the election. On Thursday, a court in Seoul sentenced Won to two and a half years in prison, which was much shorter than the maximum five-year penalty he was facing if found guilty. In reading out its decision, the court said on Thursday that “direct interference [by the NIS] with the free expression of ideas by the people with the aim of creating a certain public opinion cannot be tolerated under any pretext”. The new jail conviction comes right after the defendant completed a 14-month sentence stemming from charges of accepting bribes in return for helping a private company acquire government contracts. Read more of this post

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US created fake social network firm to foster dissent in Cuba

Cell phone user in CubaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A United States government agency secretly created a bogus social networking platform in order to foment political unrest in Cuba, according to a report by the Associated Press. Over 40,000 subscribers regularly used the ZunZuneo social networking service that began operating in the communist Caribbean island in 2009. The service, dubbed “Cuba’s Twitter” was based on SMS messages sent via mobile telephone subscribers. Its rapid success was attributed to the strict controls over Internet usage that are in place in Cuba, as well as the population’s relative lack of access to networked computers. But The Associated Press revealed on Thursday that ZunZuneo was in fact a secret program devised by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which is a federal body operating under the Department of State. The news agency reported that the US government was able to conceal its role in building and sustaining the network by operating through a complex system of front companies set up in the Cayman Islands and in Spain. The latter were used to register ZunZuneo’s parent company and to pay the company’s bills, as well as to route millions of subscribers’ text messages without the involvement of servers based on US soil. The report stated that ZunZuneo’s corporate website even carried “bogus advertisements” strategically placed to give the site a realistic corporate look. It is worth noting that the social networking service suddenly stopped working in 2012, without providing a warning or an explanation to its tens of thousands of subscribers. But the Associated Press said the reason the service was terminated was that the US taxpayer’s money used to sustain the program simply run out. The news agency argued in its report that the program was covert in nature and should have been subjected to Presidential authorization and Congressional scrutiny. Read more of this post

Announcement: Conference on social media and intelligence

Social networkingBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
During the past four years, this blog has reported several incidents pointing to the increasing frequency with which spy agencies of various countries are utilizing social networking media as sources of tactical intelligence. But are we at a point where we can speak of a trend? In other words, is the rapid rise of social networking creating the conditions for the emergence of a new domain in tactical intelligence collection? Some experts now contend that the growth of social networking has given rise to a new form of intelligence-gathering: social media intelligence (SOCMINT). There are even some who believe SOCMINT should become a separate entity altogether in the intelligence process. On March 7, 2014, the Netherlands Intelligence Studies Association (NISA) will be holding a one-day conference in Amsterdam, to discuss this new phenomenon and consider some of the practical, ethical and political dilemmas involved in SOCMINT. The conference will open with a keynote speech by Sir David Omand, former director of Britain’s’ signals intelligence agency, the GCHQ, who currently teaches at the War Studies Department at King’s College, London. Other speakers come from intelligence and security services in Holland and Belgium, as well as from a variety of academic centers and non-governmental organizations in Europe and the United States. Longtime readers of this website will be familiar with NISA. The group was founded in 1991 with a mission to help focus and streamline academic work on intelligence, security and law enforcement. Read more of this post

Belgian intelligence employees ‘outed themselves’ on LinkedIn

LinkedIn logoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Several alleged employees of Belgian security and intelligence agencies have revealed their identities on social networking sites, it has been reported. Belgian newspaper De Standaard, which made the revelation in a leading article on Tuesday, said that many LinkedIn and Facebook users appear to list their employer as Belgium’s State Security Agency (Sûreté de l’État or SE/SV) or the Coordinating Body for Threat Analysis (OCAM/OCAD). The SE is Belgium’s foremost civilian intelligence agency, operating under the country’s Ministry of Justice. OCAM is one of Belgium’s several anti-terrorist intelligence collection and analysis agencies, which operates under the joint supervision of the Justice and Interior Ministries. De Standaard contacted the two agencies, which refused to comment on whether the social networking profiles are authentic. But the paper spoke with an unnamed Belgian senior intelligence official, who said that this was potentially a very serious issue for Belgian national security. “Russian and Chinese intelligence services employ thousands of people”, said the official, “and have the resources and time to manually search for such profiles and then exploit the information they provide. Our people could, by their very presence on such sites, become the target of hostilities”. De Standaard also spoke to Belgian Senator Dirk Claes, who is a member of the country’s Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence. He told the paper that his colleagues in the Committee would be up in arms if the profiles turned out to be authentic. “These individuals have security clearances and are obligated to stay in the background, as much as possible. I will be raising this issue in the [Intelligence] Committee”, Claes told De Standaard. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #791

Liang GuanglieBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►India sees espionage behind Chinese cash payments to Indian pilots. According to Indian government sources, Chinese Defense Minister General Liang Guanglie gave two envelopes to the two Indian pilots, both wing commanders, who had flown him in a special Indian Air Force aircraft to New Delhi from Mumbai. After seeing off Liang, the pilots opened the sealed envelopes and found cash gifts inside. They immediately reported this to their superiors, who, in turn, informed the Indian Defense Ministry. India is now planning to lodge a protest with China over the incident.
►►NSA says foreign cyberattacks increasingly reckless. Debora Plunkett, of the secretive National Security Agency, whose responsibilities include protecting US government computer networks, has said that other nations are increasingly employing cyberattacks without “any sense of restraint”, citing “reckless” behaviors that neither the United States nor the Soviet Union would have dared at the height of Cold War tensions. She also predicted that Congress would pass long-stalled cybersecurity legislation within the next year. One wonders whether the Stuxnet incident is included in such “reckless” cyberattacks?
►►Taliban ‘using Facebook to lure Australian soldiers’. According to a review of social media by the Australian federal government, Australian soldiers are being warned by their commanders that enemies are creating fake Facebook profiles to spy on them. The report says that Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan are posing as “attractive women” on Facebook to befriend coalition soldiers and gather intelligence about operations. It adds that family and friends of soldiers are inadvertently jeopardizing missions by sharing confidential information online. This is not the first such warning in recent years.

News you may have missed #786

Richard Masato AokiBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►US Pentagon wants to share intel with Egypt. The US Department of Defense is offering Egypt a package of classified intelligence-sharing capabilities designed to help it identify military threats along its border with Israel. According to an unnamed senior US official, the Pentagon leadership is concerned about “rising militancy” along the Egyptian-Israeli border. The purported intelligence package includes satellite imagery, data collected through unmanned drones, as well as intercepts of cell phone and other communications among militants suspected of planning attacks. The Egyptian intelligence chief was summarily fired earlier this month, after more than a dozen Egyptian soldiers were killed near Israel’s border when gunmen attacked a post and tried to enter Israel.
►►Researcher disputes Aoki was FBI informant. Last week author Seth Rosenfeld alleged that prominent 1960s Black Panther Party member Richard Masato Aoki, who gave the Black Panthers some of their first firearms and weapons training, was an undercover FBI informer. But the claim, which is detailed in Rosenfeld’s new book, Subversives, is disputed by another researcher, Diane C. Fujino. A professor and chair of Asian American studies at UC Santa Barbara, and author of the recently published Samurai Among Panthers, Fujino argues that Rosenfeld has not met the burden of proof on Aoki, and that he “made definitive conclusions based on inconclusive evidence”.
►►Russian intelligence to monitor blogosphere. Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, the FSB, says it plans to fund a program that monitors the Internet’s “blogosphere”, with an aim to “shape public views through social networking”. Citing unnamed sources from inside the FSB, Russian newspaper Kommersant said that the project’s research stage will cost around $1 million. The article implies that the online surveillance and opinion-shaping program will target both Russian- and foreign-language online users. This is not the first time that the FSB has displayed interest in online social networking in recent years.

News you may have missed #769 (analysis edition)

John McLaughlinBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Is S. Korea’s spy agency losing its capabilities? The National Intelligence Service, South Korea’s primary external intelligence agency, is presumed to spend around US $1 billion a year, most of which it uses to spy on its northern neighbor. But when asked about the identity of the young woman who frequently accompanies new North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in his public appearances, the state intelligence agency offers no clear answer. Although it was seven months ago, at the time of Kim Jong-il’s funeral, that the woman was first spotted, the agency still does not know who she is. In the past 20 years, NIS has undergone a process of transformation to rid it of political functions. But the lingering question is: have the changes compromised the overall capabilities of the giant organization?
►►How 10 years of war has changed US spies. John McLaughlin, who was a CIA officer for 32 years and served as Deputy Director and Acting Director from 2000-2004, says he is often asked how American intelligence has changed in the 11 years since 9/11. His answer is that the changes are profound and have been transformative. Perhaps the most important thing to realize about American intelligence officers in 2012, he says, is that this is the first generation since Vietnam to have been “socialized” –that is hired, trained, and initiated– in wartime. And to a greater degree than even the Vietnam generation, their experience approximates that of their World War II forbears in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) –the organization to which most American intelligence officers trace their professional roots.
►►Assessing the Social Media Battlefield in Syria. While the numerous insurgent factions and the Syrian security forces engage each other in combat in towns and cities to secure tangible battlefield gains, the warring parties are also waging a contentious information war in cyberspace, specifically within the virtual arena of online social media. The various strands of the opposition in Syria —political and violent— have taken to social media since the earliest stages of the uprising to advance their agendas. Analogous to their role in facilitating communication and information exchange during the wave of revolts that have been sweeping the Arab world since 2011, new media platforms such as the array of social media websites and related technologies that are available to the public at virtually little or no cost have become crucial to shaping how the crisis in Syria is portrayed and perceived.

News you may have missed #718 (GCHQ edition)

GCHQ center in Cheltenham, EnglandBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►GCHQ releases Alan Turing papers. Britain’s signals intelligence agency, GCHQ has released two mathematical papers written by cryptographer Alan Turing after keeping the works secret for over half a century. The intelligence agency believes the handwritten papers were produced by Turing during his time at Bletchley Park, the World War II code-breaking center. The year 2012 marks the centenary of Alan Turing’s birth. Turing, whose work heavily contributing to the Allied war effort, committed suicide in 1954 by taking cyanide. Turing had been convicted of homosexuality, which was then a crime, and was given the choice between prison or chemical castration. The UK government officially apologized over Turing’s treatment in 2009, over 50 years after his death.
►►Britain’s GCHQ sued for ‘racism’. Alfred Bacchus, 42, claims he was bullied by bosses while he was a senior press officer at the Government Communications Headquarters in Cheltenham. He says he wanted to publish an official report in 2010 into race bias inside GCHQ which warned that not enough ethnic minority staff were being recruited to help fight terrorism. It found that black and Asian intelligence officers at GCHQ complained of a racist culture in which they were insulted by white colleagues and challenged over their loyalty to Britain.
►►Ex-GCHQ chief wants more surveillance of Facebook and Twitter. Sir David Omand, an ex-Cabinet Office security chief and former director of Britain’s GCHQ electronic eavesdropping agency, said it was essential that monitoring of social media was put on a proper legal footing. A report by the think-tank Demos, which Sir David co-authored, said existing laws regulating the interception of communications by police and intelligence agencies needed to be overhauled to meet the complexities of social media. However, the ability of state security agencies and the police to intercept social network communications such as tweets must be placed on a clear legal footing, the report says.

Spies seen behind fake Facebook profile of senior NATO commander

James G. StavridisBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| intelNews.org |
A Facebook account bearing the name of a senior commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was set up by Chinese spies to siphon information from unsuspecting Western military officials, according to a British newspaper. The London-based Daily Telegraph said in an article that the fake Facebook account was discovered a year ago by NATO counterintelligence officers. It bore the name of United States Admiral James Stavridis, who serves as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe and currently leads the Organization’s mission in Libya. The account was reportedly used to befriend Western military officials, primarily in Britain and other European countries, probably in an attempt to collect personal information found on their personal pages on the popular social networking site. This sort of practice is known as ‘spear phishing’, and consists of messages sent to carefully targeted individuals, seemingly sent from a trusted source. The operation involving Admiral Stavridis appears to have been purposely targeted at high-ranking Western officials, a technique sometimes known as ‘whaling’. The London-based daily says NATO officials have been “reluctant to say publicly who was behind the attack”. But the paper claims it has been told that declassified briefings from NATO point to a series of Internet protocol addresses belonging to Chinese government facilities. Organization officials insist —correctly— that the individuals or government agencies behind the operation to falsify Stavridis’ social networking identity are unlikely to have acquired any actual military secrets. However, the information collected from Western military officials befriended online by Admiral Stavridis’ fake Facebook account could aid the compilation of personal and psychological profiles of these officials produced by foreign intelligence agencies. Read more of this post

Research: Spies increasingly using Facebook, Twitter to gather data

Spying on social networkingBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
During the past four years, this blog has reported several incidents pointing to the increasing frequency with which spy agencies of various countries are utilizing social networking media as sources of tactical intelligence. But are we at a point where we can speak of a trend? In other words, is the rapid rise of social networking creating the conditions for the emergence of a new domain in tactical intelligence collection? This past week saw the publication of a new research paper (.pdf), which I co-authored with Micah-Sage Bolden, entitled “Social Networking as a Paradigm Shift in Tactical Intelligence Collection”. In it, we argue that recent case studies point to social networking as the new cutting edge in open-source tactical intelligence collection. We explain that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a host of other social networking platforms are increasingly viewed by intelligence agencies as invaluable channels of information acquisition. We base our findings on three recent case studies, which we believe highlight the intelligence function of social networking. The first case study comes out of the Arab Spring, which, according to one report, “prompted the US government to begin developing guidelines for culling intelligence from social media networks”. We also examine NATO’s operations during the 2011 Libyan civil war (Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR), when Western military forces systematically resorted to social networking media to gather actionable intelligence, by utilizing open sources like Twitter to pinpoint targets for attack. Finally, we examine the sabotage by Israeli security services of the 2011 “Welcome to Palestine Air Flotilla” initiative, a campaign organized by several European groups aiming to draw worldwide attention to the travel restrictions imposed by Israeli authorities on the Occupied Territories. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #659

China and PakistanBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►China wants military bases in Pakistan. An Indian intelligence report leaked in the country’s press appears to reveal that China and Pakistan are in secret negotiations to allow Beijing to build military bases on Pakistani soil. The report states that “China’s desire for a military presence in Pakistan has been discussed by the political and military leadership of that country in the recent months. China’s deepening strategic penetration of Pakistan and joint plans to set up [...] oil pipelines/rail/roads as well as naval and military bases are a matter of concern”.
►►Turkey ‘almost shot down’ Israeli spy drone. An Israeli drone flying over Turkey was nearly intercepted by Turkish aerial defense forces, an Istanbul-based media outlet reported on Tuesday. According to the report, “by the time the order [to shoot down the Israeli drone] was given, [it] had already left the area”. A spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces refused to comment on the Turkish report.
►►Analysis: Global apparatus for drone killing emerges under Obama. “The Obama administration’s counterterrorism accomplishments are most apparent in what it has been able to dismantle, including CIA prisons and entire tiers of al-Qaeda’s leadership. But what the administration has assembled, hidden from public view, may be equally consequential”. Excellent analysis by Greg Miller, who argues that “the rapid expansion of the drone program has blurred long-standing boundaries between the CIA and the military”.

Announcement: intelNews gets down with social networking

Social networkingBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
This blog first boarded the social-networking train by joining Twitter, in June of 2009. Back then Leon Panetta was in the hot seat at the CIA, US troops (of the non-mercenary kind) were still in Iraq, Osama bin Laden was living the high life in exotic Abbottabad, and South Korean intelligence were trying to kill the North’s “dear leader”, Kim Jong-Il. We’ve since managed to post over 1,200 Tweets, and have attracted a microblogging community numbering a moderately respectable 600 members. If you haven’t signed up, you can do so, here. Today we’d also like to invite you to join our newest adventure in the land of social networking, by signing onto Facebook and becoming a member of our new breathtaking, awe-inspiring page, which is located here. Our grand plan is to use the new page as a way to interact with our readers on a more frequent basis, and to invite further feedback and discussion on issues of concern to intelNews readers. Check us out, and let us know of your thoughts. We also have a hip new channel on YouTube, where we post audiovisual content relating to our work, including our research and periodic media appearances. You can find the YouTube channel here. In case you didn’t know, you can also share or bookmark articles that appear on intelNews, you can subscribe to read intelNews in one of the popular readers out there, you can get intelNews articles on your email, and you can even place our headlines on your website or blog. So there. I think we’ve covered everything. Or, have we? If you have any suggestions or advice for our growing social-networking empire, get in touch.

News you may have missed #646

Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai

Syed Fai

►►Analysis: Reorganizing Colombia’s disgraced spy agency. One former director of Colombia’s Administrative Department of Security, or DAS, has been convicted of conspiring to kill union activists. A former high-ranking manager is accused of collaborating with death squads to assassinate a television humorist. Dozens of agents have been implicated in what prosecutors call a systematic effort to illegally spy on the Supreme Court and opposition politicians, which some former DAS agents said was done with US equipment and funding. The new man in charge, however, Ricardo Giraldo, is an affable bankruptcy lawyer and former university professor, and his role is decidedly different from his predecessors’: namely to dismantle the agency.
►►Russian site snubs FSB request to block opposition networking. Russia’s top social networking site on Thursday defiantly rejected a request by the Federal Security Service to block opposition groups from using it to organize street protests accusing the authorities of rigging this week’s election. Over 45,000 people in Moscow alone have pledged on Facebook and the Russian site, VKontakte, to join fresh protests on Saturday against the 12-year rule of Vladimir Putin and the victory of his United Russia party in last Sunday’s parliament vote.
►►American citizen admits he took Pakistan spy money. Ghulam Nabi Fai, who is accused of working in Washington for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, to lobby for Kashmiri independence, has pleaded guilty to secretly receiving millions of dollars from Pakistan’s spy agency in violation of US federal laws.

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

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