Swiss vote to give unprecedented surveillance powers to spy agencies

Federal Intelligence Service SwitzerlandVoters in Switzerland have strongly approved a proposed law that aims to expand the surveillance powers of Swiss intelligence agencies. The move is uncharacteristic of the Swiss, who have historically been skeptical of giving far-reaching surveillance powers to their government. In the late 1980s, Swiss public opinion was shocked by the revelation that the country’s Federal Military Department had spied without permission on tens of thousands of Swiss citizens for many decades under a top-secret project codenamed P-27. In response to the revelations, P-27 was ended, the Swiss intelligence agencies were reorganized, and stricter parliamentary controls were imposed on their activities. Today, even CCTV cameras are rarely used in Switzerland, while Google has not been given permission to incorporate the country’s streets into its Streetview application due to strict local privacy laws.

Opponents of the proposed law warned that it would end Switzerland’s long history of protecting civil liberties and would increase cooperation between Swiss and foreign spy agencies, thus harming the country’s tradition of political neutrality. But terrorist attacks in nearby Belgium and France have shaken public opinion in the small alpine country, which is home to numerous international agencies, including a regional branch of the United Nations. Consequently, nearly 66 percent of voters backed the proposal in elections on Sunday, which saw a 41 percent rate of participation. The result will allow the Swiss intelligence and security services, such as the Federal Intelligence Service, to put suspects under electronic surveillance using wiretaps, internet-based software, and hidden devices such as cameras and microphones.

Despite its long history of political neutrality, Switzerland is not unaccustomed to espionage scandals. In 2009, Switzerland’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper said that a number of listening devices, most likely of Israeli origin, had been discovered in a room designated for sensitive meetings on disarmament issues at the United Nations building in Geneva. In June 2013, the Swiss parliament blocked legislation designed to help the United States identify tax evaders, just days after it was revealed that the US Central Intelligence Agency had conducted an espionage operation targeting a Swiss bank executive. And in 2015, the Swiss Federal Prosecutor launched an investigation into claims that the country’s largest telecommunications provider, Swisscom AG, had been spied on by a consortium of German and American intelligence agencies.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 26 September 2016 | Permalink

Did domestic snooping by Canadian spy agency increase 26-fold in a year?

CSE Canada - IAThe volume of domestic communications that were intercepted by Canada’s spy agency increased 26 times between 2014 and 2015, according to a recently released report by a government watchdog. The same report states that intercepted information about Canadian citizens, which is given to Canada’s spy agency by the intelligence organizations of other Western countries, has increased so much that it now requires an elaborate mechanism to analyze it. When asked to explain the reasons for these increases, Canadian government officials said they could not do so without divulging secrets of national importance.

Information about these increases is contained in the latest annual report by the Office of the Commissioner of the Communications Security Establishment. The body was set up in 1996 to review the operations of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE). Founded in 1946, CSE is Canada’s primary signals intelligence agency. It is responsible for interception foreign communications while at the same time securing the communications of the Canadian government. The Office of the Commissioner monitors CSE’s activities and ensures that they conform with Canadian law. It also investigates complaints against the CSE’s conduct of and its officers.

Canadian law forbids the CSE from intercepting communications in which at least one of the parties participating in the exchange is located in Canada. If that happens, the message exchange is termed “private communication” and CSE is not allowed to intercept it, unless it gets written permission from Canada’s National Defense minister. Such permission is usually given only if the interception is deemed essential to protect Canadian national security or national defense. If a “private communication” is inadvertently intercepted, CSE is required to take “satisfactory measures” to protect the personal privacy of the participant in the exchange that is located inside Canada.

According to the CSE commissioner’s report for 2015, which was released in July, but was only recently made available to the media, CSE intercepted 342 “private communications” in 2014-2015. The year before, the spy agency had intercepted just 13 such exchanges. The report states that all 342 instances of interception during 2014-2015 were either unintentional or critical for the protection of Canada’s security. It further states that the reason for the huge increase is to be found in “the technical characteristics of a particular communications technology and of the manner in which private communications are counted”.

Canadian newspaper The Ottawa Citizen asked the CSE commissioner, Jean-Pierre Plouffe, to explain what he meant by “technical characteristics of a particular communications technology” in his report. His office responded that the commissioner could not explain the subject in more detail, because doing so would “reveal CSE operational capabilities” and thus hurt Canada’s national security. The newspaper also contacted CSE, but was given a similar answer. Some telecommunications security experts speculate that the increase in intercepted “private communications” may be due to exchanges in social media, whereby each message is counted separately.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 25 August 2016 | Permalink

Ukraine gives Britain intel about Russian ‘hybrid war’ tactics in Crimea

UkraineUkrainian intelligence and defense officials are sharing intelligence with Britain about cutting-edge Russian military tactics in the Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine. Since the 2014 Russian military intervention in Ukraine, observers have noted the sophisticated tactics used by Moscow. The Russian forces seem to be combining their advanced conventional arsenal with electronic warfare and information operations. The latter include the use of deception, spreading propaganda through social media, and computer hacking. Some experts have described Russia’s tactics in the Crimean Peninsula and the Donbass region of Ukraine as a form of “hybrid warfare”, which has its roots in Soviet times. The difference in the contemporary operational landscape is the prominence of electronic resources, which the Russians are simultaneously employing as disinformation channels and tools of sabotage. Following the Ukrainian crisis of 2014, the former Soviet republic is today seen as being at the forefront of Russia’s experimentation with “hybrid warfare”.

According to British newspaper The Times, a delegation of Ukrainian military officials, with considerable experience in studying Russia’s war tactics in Donbass and Crimea, secretly visited the United Kingdom in July for consultations. The paper quoted an anonymous British military source saying that the visit was part of a series of meetings between Ukrainian and British officials. The goal of the meetings, it said, is to understand Russia’s military tactics in the 21st century. The agenda of the secret meetings includes discussion on topics such as the use of radio-electric weapons that disrupt GPS and drone signals, the deployment of sabotage and covert action, or the use of social media to spread disinformation. Russian tactics that have been discussed include the use of acoustics to locate snipers in an urban battlefield, tactical coordination of drones in fleets, and the widespread use of cellular telephone messages to target civilian populations.

A representative of the UK’s Ministry of Defense, who was contacted by The Times, admitted that “a small delegation from Ukraine was hosted” in Britain “as part of a think-tank sponsored visit”, but refused to provide further details. The paper said the meetings will probably continue and may even widen in scope to include staff from North Atlantic Treaty Organization member states.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 12 August 2016 | Permalink

Sophisticated spy malware found on Russian government computers

FSB - IAAccording to the predominant media narrative, the United States is constantly defending itself against cyber-attacks from countries like China and Russia. But, as intelNews has argued for years, this narrative is misleading. Recent intelligence disclosures clearly show that the US cyber-security posture is as offensive as that of its major adversaries. Additionally, China and Russia have to defend their computer networks as much as America does. Last weekend’s report from Moscow helps restore some of the balance that is missing from media reporting on cyber-security. According to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), a meticulously coded and sophisticated virus has been found on the computer networks of at least 20 major Russian agencies and organizations. The targets appear to have been carefully selected by the malware’s authors. They include government bodies, weapons laboratories and defense contractors located throughout Russia.

The FSB said that once installed, the virus gave its handler control of the infected computer system. It permitted an outside hacker to turn on a computer’s microphone or camera, and capture screenshots. It also stealthily installed keylogging software, thus allowing an outside party to monitor keyboard strokes on an infected system. Based on its functions, the malicious software seems to be designed to conduct deep surveillance on infected computers and their physical surroundings. The FSB would not attribute the malware to a specific hacking group or nation. But it said it believed that the malware attack was “coordinated”, “planned and planned professionally”. It also said that the coding of the virus “required considerable expertise”. In a brief statement released Saturday, the FSB said that aspects of the coding of the virus, as well as other identifying information, resembled those detected in preceding hacking attacks on computer servers in Russia and other countries. The statement did not elaborate, however.

The news about hacked Russian computers comes less than two weeks after it was claimed that Russian government-backed hackers stole electronic data belonging to the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in the United States. The Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, publicly accused the Russian government of orchestrating the hacking of the DNC computer systems in an attempt to damage her campaign.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 01 August 2016 | Permalink

Did Russian intelligence warn Turkish government of impending coup?

Turkey coupRussian and Turkish authorities will not confirm or deny reports that the Kremlin warned Turkey’s intelligence services about an impending coup on July 15, several hours before tanks appeared on the streets of major Turkish cities. On Wednesday, several Arab and Iranian news outlets claimed that Russian intelligence officials told the government in Ankara that the Turkish military was preparing a coup. The reports cited anonymous Turkish diplomats who said that Turkish intelligence was urgently alerted by the Russians “hours before [the military coup] was initiated on Friday”.

According to the unconfirmed reports, the secret preparations for the coup first came to the attention of Russian military intelligence. Its radio interceptors captured —and were subsequently able to read— a series of encoded radio messages exchanged between Turkish commanders in the early hours of July 15. There is no information about the precise circumstances of the alleged interception, though media reports note the significant presence of Russian military intelligence in the northern Syrian province of Latakia, a few miles south of the Turkish border. The reports state that the intercepted messages contained “highly sensitive army exchanges” involving a plan to send army helicopters to the Turkish resort port of Marmaris, where the Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan was holidaying, in order to kill or capture him. Russian intelligence officials reportedly shared the information with senior members of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT). The alleged exchange allegedly took place “several hours before the start of the coup” in Turkey.

However, government officials in Ankara will not comment on the possibility that Russian intelligence services may have warned the MİT about the coup. On Thursday, Russian government spokesman Dmitri Peskov was asked directly by journalists whether the Kremlin warned Turkish officials of an impending coup by the military. He responded saying “I have no information of that kind and I do not know which sources [the media reports] are citing in making these claims”. Russia’s TASS news agency interpreted Peskov’s comment as a denial. However, the wording in his response shows that he simply denies having personal knowledge of the incident. He does not deny it happened.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 22 July 2016 | Permalink

German intelligence spied on EU and NATO allies, report finds

Bad Aibling - IAA major parliamentary inquiry into the operations of Germany’s main intelligence agency has concluded that it spied on nearly 3,500 foreign targets in recent years, most of which belonged to allied countries. The inquiry was initiated by the German government in response to a number of recent public controversies involving the Bundesnachrichtendienst, Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, known as BND.

In 2015, the BND was found to have secretly collaborated with the US National Security Agency (NSA) in spying on several European governments and private companies. According to German investigative magazine Der Spiegel, the BND used its facilities at Germany’s Bad Aibling listening station to help the NSA spy on, among other targets, the palace of the French president in Paris, the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels, and the France-based European conglomerate Airbus. In response to the revelations, Airbus filed a criminal complaint against the German government, while Belgium and Switzerland launched official investigations into the joint BND-NSA activities. The extent of the BND-NSA collaboration prompted widespread public criticism in Germany. In response to the criticism, German Chancellor Angela Merkel promptly fired the director of the BND in April of this year. Additionally, the German chancellor authorized a parliamentary inquiry into the operations of the BND, which was completed last spring.

The resulting 300-page report has not been made public. But summaries leaked to the German media reveal that the BND spied on 3,300 targets until the end of 2013. Nearly 70 percent of these targets belonged to countries that are members of the European Union or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and are thus some of Germany’s closest international allies. The targets allegedly included “hundreds of diplomatic missions” in Europe and elsewhere, as well as heads of state, government ministers, aides to foreign cabinet officials, and heads of foreign militaries. The report summary also states that the BND targeted non-governmental organizations and private corporations that are operate in the areas of aviation, weapons design, transportation, advertising and the media.

Last month, the German cabinet approved draft legislation that aims to reform the BND. The legislation explicitly bans the agency from spying on foreign governments or corporations for the benefit of German companies. It also prevents it from spying on targets within the European Union, unless the operation pertains to “information to recognize and confront threats to internal or external security”. The legislation also calls for the establishment of a new independent oversight body consisting of senior judges and representatives of the Office of the Federal Prosecutor, whose job will be to evaluate and approve the BND’s proposed espionage activities against foreign targets.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 12 July 2016 | Permalink

Video footage shows alleged CIA spy tackled outside US Moscow embassy

US embassy scuffleA Russian television station has aired footage allegedly showing a Russian guard stationed outside the United States embassy in Moscow trying to stop an American diplomat from entering the embassy. The Kremlin claims that the alleged US diplomat was in fact a Central Intelligence Agency officer who was returning to the embassy in disguise following a spy operation. As intelNews reported on July 1, the incident took place in the early hours of Monday, June 6. The American diplomat was making his way to the front entrance of the US embassy complex, which is located in the Presnensky District in downtown Moscow.

According to American sources, the diplomat was approached by an employee of the Russian Federal Security Service, the FSB, which regularly stations security personnel around the sizeable US embassy complex. The FSB claims that the guards are there to protect US diplomats, though it is common knowledge that the Russian agency, which is responsible for counterespionage, is primarily there to monitor activities in and around the US embassy. American sources claim that the diplomat presented the Russian guard with proof of identification when asked to do so. But he was then physically attacked and struck repeatedly by the FSB officer, which left him with several injuries, including a broken shoulder. The diplomat managed to enter the embassy grounds and had to be flown out of the country for urgent medical treatment. He has not returned to Russia.

On Thursday, Russian television channel NTV aired video footage purporting to show the altercation between the US diplomat and the FSB guard. The video aired on NTV shows a man exiting a taxi in a hurry and heading to what appears to be the US embassy’s front-perimeter entrance. However, as the man makes heads for the entrance, a uniformed individual jumps out of a guard station located nearby and tackles the man, throwing him on the ground. A scuffle ensues, during which the alleged diplomat is seen desperately trying to reach the entrance of the US embassy, which is American soil. He eventually manages to enter the embassy grounds, despite the effort of the uniformed guard to prevent him from entering. The same NTV report identified the American diplomat as Daniel Van Dyken and showed the photograph of a man said to be him. The report states that Van Dyken serves as third secretary of the US embassy’s Political Department.

Last week, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova alleged that the diplomat in question was an intelligence officer. “It is well known”, said Zakharova, “that this very diplomat was in fact an agent of the CIA and was returning [to the US embassy], in disguise, after conducting an intelligence operation the previous night”. She also said that the Russian government employee involved in the altercation was a “police officer” who was attacked by the alleged spy when he asked to be shown proof of identification. Instead of supplying identification documents, the American diplomat “struck the guard in the face with his elbow before disappearing into the embassy”, said Zakharova. The US State Department and the CIA have refused to comment on Zakharova’s allegations.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 08 July 2016 | Permalink