Islamic State shuts down phones in Mosul to stop informants

The Islamic State has cut off all telephone service provision in the largest city under its control, reportedly in an effort to stop spies from passing information to Syrian, Iraqi and American intelligence services. Militants from the Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), conquered the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in June. They encountered almost no resistance upon entering the Sunni city of over a million inhabitants, as the crumbling Iraqi military kept hastily retreating south. Today Mosul is the most populous urban center under direct Islamic State rule. In July, the group’s seldom-seen leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, used Mosul as the backdrop of his propaganda video, in which he announced the official establishment of the Islamic State, a militant Sunni caliphate that is administered strictly through sharia law. Just weeks later, on August 8, the United States military began conducting airstrikes in Mosul, targeting senior Islamic State personnel there. The precise effects of these airstrikes are under debate in strategy circles in Washington, Baghdad and elsewhere. Last Thursday, however, residents of Mosul told the Associated Press news agency that Islamic State authorities had decreed the temporary termination of all telephone provision in the city. The measure was allegedly taken in order to prevent informants in and around Mosul from tipping off adversary intelligence agencies as to the physical whereabouts of senior Islamic State commanders. The measure was reportedly announced in the evening of Wednesday, November 26, through a radio station in Mosul that acts as the official news organ of the Islamic State in the Iraqi city. The Associated Press reported scenes of “chaos” and “paralysis” in the streets of Mosul on Thursday, as businesses came to a virtual standstill following the decision by the Islamic State to terminate telephone provision throughout the city. Some observers note that this move by the Islamic State constitutes a drastic change from the group’s standard tactic so far, which has centered in the efficient provision of basic services to the Sunni populations under its control, in an effort to win over their ideological support and political allegiance. Moreover, Mosul, whose population is almost uniformly Sunni, and is viscerally opposed to the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad, is generally believed to be an Islamic State stronghold. If the militant group is finding it difficult to ensure the allegiance of Mosul’s population, then this could be a sign of fragmentation within the ranks of its supporters in all of northern Iraq. The Associated Press said some residents of Mosul are reportedly still able to access the Internet, which operates through a network that is separate from that of the telephone system.

White House review ‘found no evidence’ of Huawei spying for China

Huawei TechnologiesBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
A review commissioned by the government of the United States has reportedly found no evidence that Chinese telecommunications hardware manufacturer Huawei Technologies spied for the Chinese government. The 18-month-long review, which was ordered directly by the White House, examined the question of security vulnerabilities posed by telecommunications hardware suppliers, which could theoretically harm US service providers and pose a danger to US national security. The report, which was allegedly aided by several US intelligence agencies and other federal government departments, was based on detailed interviews with nearly 1,000 telecommunications equipment consumers across the United States. It was concluded at the start of 2012, but remains largely classified. However, Reuters news agency cites “two people familiar with the probe”, who claim that the probe contains “no clear evidence” that Huawei spied for the government of China. At the same time, however, the probe concluded that Huawei telecommunications hardware contains numerous structural vulnerabilities which could help hackers exploit telecommunications networks supported by the Chinese company. According to one source quoted by Reuters, the White House report found that the telecommunications hardware sold by Huawei was “riddled with holes”. Read more of this post

Situation Report: Samsung accuses LG of corporate espionage

Samsung smartphones on display in KoreaBy TIMOTHY W. COLEMAN | |
Most technology companies spar with rivals over patent portfolio infringement, pricing arrangements, bundling of products and services with partners, and other trade practices. More recently, technology companies have been waging a war for talent and human capital. But in Korea, a dispute between Samsung and LG Electronics has been taken to a new level with Samsung publicly accusing LG of conducting corporate espionage. According to VenterBeat, Samsung has leveled corporate espionage charges against an employee at LG regarding particularly sensitive display technology that is used in smartphones and other mobile devices. This technology is of great value to Samsung, as its displays are used in nearly 98 percent of mobile phones around the globe. The critical display technology, active-matrix organic light-emitting diode, or MOLED, technology, is an extremely thin-film, which is a lynchpin technology for televisions and mobile devices. This technology replaced previously existing display technologies because it required significantly less power and therefore less battery drain and it also increased response rates to mere milliseconds. Such technology was perfectly positioned to help spur on the proliferation of the mobile and smartphone boom. Read more of this post

Did cell phone companies help India spy on the United States?

Page from the Lords of Dharamraja document leakBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
Leaked documents acquired by a computer hacker collective appear to show that international cell phone manufacturers helped Indian intelligence agencies spy on the United States, in return for access to the Indian cellular phone market. The documents, which are written in English, were posted online on Saturday by a group of Indian hackers calling themselves Lords of Dharamraja. In a statement, the group said they obtained the documents by breaking into the computer servers of Indian Military Intelligence, after managing to acquire the source code of Symantec Corporation, makers of Norton antivirus software. According to the documents, the companies arm-twisted to assist Indian intelligence agencies to spy on the US included Apple, Nokia, and Research in Motion, the company that builds BlackBerry devices. The documents also appear to show that Indian intelligence agencies were particularly eager to spy on the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission. Established by the US Congress in 2000, the Commission is tasked with researching and reporting on the national security implications of bilateral trade between the US and China. Allegedly, the cellular telephone makers provided Indian intelligence agencies with backdoor access to personal phones used by Commission members. These back doors allegedly allowed the Indian Military Intelligence Directorate and India’s Central Bureau of Investigation to spy on Commission members beginning in April of 2011. Read more of this post

Analysis: How serious a blow did the CIA suffer in Lebanon?



Late last month, the Central Intelligence Agency admitted that a number of its agents in Lebanon had been captured by Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group that controls large parts of the country. The group announced the arrests in the summer, but in was only on November 21 that the Associated Press confirmed the accuracy of Hezbollah’s claims from a US intelligence source. Neither Hezbollah nor the CIA have offered details of the arrests, but it is generally assumed that the captured agents were not officers of the CIA, but rather Lebanese or Iranian citizens who had been recruited as assets by CIA case officers. Regardless, the incident has undoubtedly directly impacted the Agency’s operations in Lebanon, and maybe Iran. The question is, how much? Former CIA operations officer Robert Baer, who spent several years in Lebanon in the 1980s, has penned an analysis article in Time magazine, in which he says that his sources tell him the arrests of the CIA agents represent “a serious compromise”, and that the Agency is “still trying to get to the bottom of [it]”. Baer also provides some new information about the method used by Hezbollah counterintelligence to capture the CIA agents. Last week, ABC News reported that the arrests were caused by careless spy tradecraft on behalf of the CIA. Specifically, according to ABC, “Hezbollah operatives figured out that CIA informants, who had infiltrated the Iranian proxy group, were meeting with their agency handlers at a Beirut Pizza Hut. How could Hezbollah deduce that location? The CIA used the codeword ‘PIZZA’ when discussing where to meet with the agents”. But Baer says that the arrests were not necessarily caused by CIA errors; rather it may have been advanced counterintelligence analysis by Hezbollah that compromised the agents. He claims that Hezbollah is using telephone link analysis, a type of signals intelligence testing that utilizes advanced software “capable of combing through trillions of gigabytes of phone-call data”. The aim of telephone link analysis is to search for unusual communications patterns —such as too many brief calls, or heavy reliance on prepaid cell phones that seem to become disused after only a few calls. Read more of this post

Leaked documents show capabilities of new surveillance technologies

Net Optics logo

Net Optics logo

A trove of hundreds of documents, obtained by participants in a secretive surveillance conference, displays in unprecedented detail the extent of monitoring technologies used by governments around the world. The Wall Street Journal, which obtained the leaked documents, says they number in the hundreds; they were reportedly authored by 36 different private companies that specialize in supplying government agencies with the latest surveillance hardware and software. They were among dozens of vendors that participated in an unnamed conference near Washington, DC, in October, which attracted interested buyers from numerous government agencies in America and beyond. The Journal, which has uploaded scanned copies of the leaked documents, says that many include descriptions of computer hacking tools. The latter enable government agencies to break into targeted computers and access data stored in hard drives, as well as log keystrokes by the targeted computers’ users. Other applications target cellular telecommunications, especially the latest models of so-called ‘smartphones’; one vendor in particular, Vupen Security, gave a presentation at the conference, which describes how its products allow for electronic surveillance of cell phones by exploiting security holes unknown to manufacturers. Some of the most popular products at the conference related to what the industry calls “massive intercept” monitoring, namely large-scale software systems designed to siphon vast amounts of telephonic or email communications data, or to capture all Internet exchanges taking place within a country’s computer network. One conference participant, California-based Net Optics Inc., bragged in its presentation about having enabled “a major mobile operator in China” to conduct “real-time monitoring” of all cell phone [and] Internet content on its network. The stated goal of the surveillance was to “analyze criminal activity” and “detect and filter undesirable content”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #598 (US edition)

Brian Kelley

Brian Kelley

►►CIA officer wrongly accused of being KGB mole dies. CIA officer Brian J. Kelley, who was falsely accused by his own agency, as well as by the FBI, of supplying covert information to Moscow, has died at the age of 68. The real mole, the FBI agent-turned-spy Robert P. Hanssen, was apprehended in 2001, but not before Mr Kelley had been followed, interrogated, suspended and told that he might well be charged with a capital offense.
►►NSA working on secure smartphone technology. Troy Lange,  mobility mission manager at the US National Security Agency, says he is developing a secure smartphone that can be used to access classified information and apps while on the move. He is working on a pilot project using a smartphone that looks like any bought in stores but with security configurations to allow top-secret communication.
►►Kabul attack kills CIA contractor. An Afghan working for the US government killed a CIA contractor and wounded another American in an attack on the intelligence agency’s office in Kabul, making it the latest in a series of high-profile attacks this month on US targets. An anonymous US official in Washington said the Afghan attacker was providing security to the CIA office and that the American who died was working as a contractor for the CIA.


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