Russians use front-company to access US federal employees’ contact info, says report

EFIS EstoniaRussian spy agencies use front companies to purchase directorates that contain the contact details of United States government employees, according to a new intelligence report. The contact details are contained in multi-page directories of Congressional staff members and employees of US federal agencies. They are published every January by a specialist vendor called Leadership Connect with the cooperation of a Washington, DC-based provider of publishing services. The directories contain the names, job titles, professional addresses and telephone numbers of US government employees.

But according to the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service (EFIS), copies of the directorate are purchased every year by the Russian intelligence services, such as the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). The two Russian spy agencies allegedly use a front company in order to purchase copies of the directory. In reality, however, the purchases are made on behalf of Russian intelligence units, such as Military Unit 71330 of the FSB. This allegation is contained in the 2019 security environment assessment, which was published this week by the EFIS. Titled International Security and Estonia, the report is an overview of the main threats to Estonia’s internal security and a description of how these threats relate to international developments.

The directories, says EFIS, are not classified. On the contrary, they contain information that is publicly available in the US. However, the job descriptions and contact information of US federal employees are difficult to access in a collected format. The directories are therefore useful to Russian intelligence, which routinely tries to access large quantities of open-source information from foreign countries. Russian spy agencies are known to incorporate this open-source information into recruitment or surveillance plans that target specific individuals or foreign government agencies. They also use them to fill gaps in intelligence collection about specific agencies or parts of agencies, according to Robert Dannenberg, a former CIA officer who spoke to Yahoo News about the EFIS report.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 14 March 2019 | Permalink

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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

US report links telecoms company to Chinese spy services

Sun Yafang

Sun Yafang

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
For the first time a United States government agency has openly linked one of China’s main telecommunications companies with the country’s intelligence services. The alleged link is provided in a new report by the US Open Source Center, which acts as the open-source intelligence (OSINT) arm of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The report concludes that the company, Huawei Technologies, relies on a series of formal and informal contacts with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and the Ministry of State Security (MSS), which oversee and administer China’s military and civilian intelligence apparatus. Founded in 1987 to import Western office telephone systems to China, the company has become one of the country’s leading exporters of all kinds of communications hardware equipment, ranging from routers to cell towers and undersea cables. But Huawei’s export growth has been hampered in recent years by widely circulated suspicions that the company maintains close ties to the Chinese military and intelligence establishments. The Open Source Center report adds to these suspicions, by pointing out that Huawei’s current chairperson, Sun Yafang (pictured), was an employee of the MSS Communications Department prior to joining Huawei in 1989. It also says that, prior to joining the company, Sun utilized her personal contacts at MSS to “help Huawei through financial difficulties at critical moments when the company was founded in 1987”. The close contacts between the —ostensibly private— company and the Chinese government have persisted ever since, says the report, and points out that the Chinese state has funded Huawei with nearly a quarter-billion dollars for “research and development” projects in the past three years alone. This is not the first time that Huawei has been accused of maintaining close contacts with Chinese intelligence agencies. In 2009, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) investigated one of Huawei’s Australian-based subsidiaries for links to Chinese intelligence operations. In the following year, the Indian government barred the company from operating in India, citing its allegedly “strong links with the Chinese military”. Read more of this post

Israel used Facebook to stop European pro-Palestine activists

Facebook

Facebook

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Israeli intelligence services managed to stop dozens of European pro-Palestine activists from flying to Israel, by gathering open-source intelligence about them on social media sites, such as Facebook. According to Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor, intelligence gathered on Facebook formed the basis of a blacklist containing over 300 names of European activists, who had signed up on an open-access Facebook page of a group planning nonviolent actions in Israel this summer. Israeli intelligence agencies forwarded the names on the lists to European airline carriers, asking them not to allow the activists onboard their flights, as they were not going to be allowed into the country. This action prompted airline carriers to prevent over 200 activists from boarding scheduled flights to Israel. Israeli security officers detained over 310 other activists, who arrived in Israel on several European flights last week. Of those, almost 70 were denied entry to the country, while more detentions are expected to take place later this week, according to Israeli Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Hadad. Read more of this post

Egypt intelligence highlights Congress-CIA tensions

Egypt uprising

Egypt uprising

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A US Congressional hearing over a career CIA official’s promotion turned into a heated exchange on Thursday, as Congress members accused America’s intelligence community of failing to provide forewarning of the political instability in Egypt. Speaking before the US Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, Stephanie O’Sullivan, former Director of the CIA Directorate of Science and Technology, was faced with an unexpected barrage of questions concerning the Agency’s alleged failure to provide US policy planners with accurate warning of the Egyptian popular uprising. Shortly after the start of the hearing, which was intended to deliberate O’Sullivan’s nomination for the position of Deputy Director of the Office of Director of National Intelligence, attention turned to Egypt, with members of the Committee pressuring the CIA executive to explain why the US intelligence community had failed to issue ample warnings on Egypt. O’Sullivan responded repeatedly that the CIA and other US intelligence services had provided warnings to Obama Administration officials in November and December of 2010, about extreme political volatility in North Africa. Read more of this post

US government urged to release data on social networking spying

Facebook

Facebook

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
An Internet watchdog has filed a court complaint to force the US government to disclose how its law enforcement and spy agencies monitor social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. IntelNews regulars have known since October that the CIA has invested in a private software company specializing in monitoring online social media, such as YouTube, Twitter and Flickr. Additionally, we have previously reported on persistent rumors that the National Security Agency, America’s communications spying outfit, is actively monitoring popular social networking sites in order to make links between individuals and construct maps of who associates with whom. Now the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) wants to find out the extent to which US intelligence and law enforcement agencies are secretly monitoring social networking sites on the Internet. Read more of this post

US spy agencies invest in Internet-monitoring company

In-Q-Tel logo

In-Q-Tel logo

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture-capital investment arm, is funding a private software company specializing in monitoring online social media, such as YouTube, Twitter and Flickr. The company, Visible Technologies, unleashes web crawlers that scan and sift through over half a million Internet sites a day, looking for open-source intelligence (OSINT) of interest to its customers. The latter receive real-time updates of Internet activity, based on specific sets of keywords they provide. Noah Shachtman, of Wired’s Danger Room blog, correctly notes that In-Q-Tel’s latest investment is indicative of a wider trend within US intelligence agencies to enhance their foreign OSINT collection and analysis. Incidentally, the US Pentagon has shown similar interests since 2006. Read more of this post