Fascinating profile of the Soviet KGB’s little-known tech wizard

US Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., displays the Soviet KGB's Great Seal bug at the United NationsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
It is often suggested by intelligence researchers that one major difference between Western and Soviet modes of espionage during the Cold War was their degree of reliance on technology. It is generally accepted that Western espionage was far more dependent on technical innovation than its Soviet equivalent. While this observation may be accurate, it should not be taken to imply that the KGB, GRU, and other Soviet intelligence agencies neglected technical means of intelligence collection. In a recent interview with top-selling Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, Russian intelligence historian Gennady Sokolov discusses the case of Vadim Fedorovich Goncharov. Colonel Goncharov was the KGB’s equivalent of ‘Q’, head of the fictional research and development division of Britain’s MI6 in the James Bond films. A veteran of the Battle of Stalingrad, Goncharov eventually rose to the post of chief scientific and technical consultant of KGB’s 5th Special Department, later renamed Operations and Technology Directorate. According to Sokolov, Goncharov’s numerous areas of expertise included cryptology, communications interception and optics. While working in the KGB’s research laboratories, Goncharov came up with the idea of employing the principles behind the theremin, an early electronic musical instrument invented by Soviet physicist Léon Theremin in 1928, in wireless audio surveillance. According to Sokolov, the appropriation of the theremin by the KGB under Goncharov’s leadership “changed the world of intelligence”. Read more of this post

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Leaked documents show capabilities of new surveillance technologies

Net Optics logo

Net Optics logo

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
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 #0128

  • US government appeals judge’s order in Cuban Five spy case. US government officials are contending a judge’s order because they say it would be detrimental to US national security. The order requires the US government to turn over any national security damage assessments in the Cuban Five case. Washington accuses the Five of spying on the US for Cuba. Three of the five are to be given new sentences on October 13 after an appeals court ruled that the initial sentences they received (ranging from 19 years to life) were too long.
  • Indian spies want access to missed calls. Indian security agencies have told the country’s Department of Telecommunications that they need access to missed calls because “anti-social elements” may be using the system to communicate without actually making a call. Last month, India’s Intelligence Bureau asked for all VOIP (internet-based) calls in the country to be blocked until it figures out a mechanism to track them. It also said it wants access to the content of all mobile phone calls in the country.
  • New book investigates Stasi’s scientific espionage. Documents from the vaults of HVA (Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung), the foreign department of the Stasi, the East German Ministry for State Security, which were purchased by the CIA from a German informant in 1992, were made available in 2005 to Kristie Macrakis professor of history at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Her book, Seduced by Secrets: Inside the Stasi’s Spy-Tech World, offers a rare look into the Stasi’s secret technical methods and sources. Macrakis’s analysis of the CIA material reportedly reveals that about 40% of all HVA sources planted in West German companies, research institutions and universities were stealing scientific and technical secrets.

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News you may have missed #0108

  • Fatah dismisses spy chief in West Bank. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has dismissed Palestinian General Intelligence Chief Mohammad Abu Assam. The dismissal appears to be part of a broader plan to unify the Palestinian Preventive Security Service and the General Intelligence Service, who have been fighting a notorious turf war for several years.
  • Indian Intelligence Bureau wants to block all VOIP Services. India’s Intelligence Bureau has instructed the country’s communications ministry to block all VOIP (internet-based) calls in the country until it figures out a mechanism to track them. It has also said it wants access to the content of all mobile phone calls in the country. Indian security agencies have been struggling with this issue since the 2008 Mumbai attacks, after it emerged that the attackers used VOIP software to communicate with the their handlers.
  • Is Afghan President’s brother a US informant? There is speculation that Ahmed Wali Karzai, notorious drug lord and younger brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, is in fact an informant for US intelligence agencies. It true, this would explain why he has been allowed by US agencies to operate freely in the country.

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News you may have missed #0029

  • Iranians revolting against Nokia for alleged spying complicity. Consumer sales of Nokia handsets in Iran have allegedly fallen by up to 50%, reportedly because of the company’s membership in the Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) partnership. As intelNews has been pointing out since last month, NSN allegedly helped supply the Iranian government with some of the world’s most sophisticated communications surveillance systems.
  • Analysis: Why NSA’s Einstein 3 project is dangerous. This editorial argues that US President Barack Obama’s decision to proceed with a Bush administration plan to task the National Security Agency with protecting government computer traffic on private-sector networks is “antithetical to basic civil liberties and privacy protections” in the United States.
  • New US government report says Bush secrecy hampered intelligence effectiveness. A new report from the Offices of Inspectors General of the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, CIA, NSA, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence, says that the Bush administration’s decision to keep NSA’s domestic wiretap program secret seriously hampered the broader intelligence community’s ability to use the program’s output.

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Fears raised of Iranian-style surveillance in the US

NSN Logo

NSN Logo

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Nokia Siemens Networks has denied allegations, published in The Wall Street Journal and reported by intelNews, that it helped the Iranian government acquire what experts describe as “one of the world’s most sophisticated mechanisms” for spying on Iranian telecommunications users. But critics remain unconvinced and are raising concerns about the use of similar intrusive capabilities by Internet service providers (ISPs) in the US. The Open Internet Coalition, a consortium of online business and consumer groups, has sent letters [.pdf] to US Congress members urging them to consider regulating the use of deep packet inspection technology. In addition to blocking or monitoring target communications, deep packet inspection enables ISPs and monitoring agencies to trace and alter the content of messages exchanged between users. Read more of this post

Western companies help Tehran spy on protestors

NSN Logo

NSN Logo

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Numerous celebratory articles have appeared recently in several blogs that praise Western Internet firms for “help[ing] out the pro-democracy movement inside [Iran]”. These articles overlook Tehran’s extremely powerful Internet and telephone spying capabilities, which experts describe as “one of the world’s most sophisticated mechanisms”. Moreover, as intelNews reported last April, the Iranian government acquired these mechanisms with the help of some of Europe’s leading telecommunications hardware and software manufacturers, who were all too happy to supply Tehran with advanced means to spy on its own people. Read more of this post

Western companies sold phone spy equipment to Iran

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
For about a year now, political dissidents in Iran have suspected that the Iranian government’s ability to spy on private communications has intensified, covering for the first time cell phone and instant messaging exchanges. Last Monday it emerged that two European telecommunications hardware manufacturers are actually behind the Iranian government’s increased surveillance capabilities. The Wall Street Journal reports that Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) sold Iran Telecom –Iran’s government-owned telecommunications provider– a sophisticated surveillance system, in the summer of 2008. NSN is an engineering partnership between Finland’s Nokia Corporation and German hardware manufacturer Siemens AG, Europe’s largest engineering firm. Read more of this post

Unprotected Wi-Fi now seen as security threat in India

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
IntelNews has been reporting on the interesting technical intelligence details of the November 2008 attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai. On January 7, we explained that the organizers of the attacks used a virtual number, 1-201-253-1824, set up by a California-based VOIP (voice-over-Internet protocol) telecommunications provider, to communicate with the assailants on the ground in real-time. Now the Mumbai Police have said they will start monitoring the city’s neighborhoods for unprotected Wi-Fi networks, and instructing their owners to secure them on the spot. This is because militant groups have apparently been logging on to unprotected wireless networks to sent emails claiming responsibility for several attacks in the country. Last November it emerged that the email claiming responsibility for the Mumbai attacks was sent by an individual with “technical expertise and their knowledge of sophisticated [anonymizing] software”.

Speculation about NSA vetting of Obama’s wireless gadgets

Obama calling

Obama calling

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Longtime technology correspondent Declan McCullagh has published a lengthy article speculating about the wireless communications options for incoming US President Barack Obama. He suggests that Obama’s heavy use of Blackberry distinctly raises “the possibility of eavesdropping [on wireless Presidential communications] by hackers and other digital snoops” and reminds that the President-Elect’s cell phone records with Verizon “were improperly accessed last year” by unauthorized company technicians. McCullagh speculates that the incoming President will be separated from his Blackberry and will be given instead a National Security Agency (NSA)-approved PDA phone designed under the US Pentagon’s SME-PED project, which stands for Secure Mobile Environment Portable Electronic Device. SME-PED communications are said to be user-friendly Blackberry replacements for high-level US government officials. McCullagh contacted the NSA for his article. The Agency, of course, declined to comment.

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