Analysis: How serious is the Edward Lin spy case?

Edward LinFor the first time since 1985, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation broke the John Walker spy ring, an active United States Navy officer has been charged with espionage. On Sunday, the US Navy reported the arrest Lt. Cmdr. Edward C. Lin, who faces two counts of espionage and three counts of attempted espionage, among other charges. Aside from a three-page, heavily redacted charge sheet released by the US Navy, almost nothing is known about this case. However, there are several clues that point to the seriousness of the charges against Lin, and their potential ramifications for US national security, which are likely to be extensive.

Lin was a signals intelligence (SIGINT) specialist with the Navy, focusing on the airborne collection of maritime intelligence, mostly in the Pacific Ocean. Given that he is a naturalized citizen from Taiwan and speaks fluent Mandarin, it is almost certain that he was tasked with collecting SIGINT from targets in China and Taiwan. If that is so, then the prospect that Lin may have given classified information to Chinese or Taiwanese intelligence officers will be especially unsettling for Washington. Moreover, Lin is believed to have worked with some of the most advanced airborne intelligence-gathering platforms in the Pentagon’s arsenal, including the MQ-4C Triton, the P-3C Orion, the P-8A Poseidon, and the EP-3 Aries II, which is arguably the most advanced maritime surveillance aircraft ever used by the US Navy.

It also appears that Lin had a relatively senior position in the US Navy’s chain of command. He was a departmental head in the Navy’s Patrol and Reconnaissance Group, overseeing the work of over 7,000 sailors. Prior to that post, he served as the Congressional Liaison for the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Financial Management and Comptroller. Lin’s critical positions in the chain of command may explain why US authorities arrested him nearly eight months ago in absolute secrecy and been holding him in pre-trial confinement without releasing any information to the media until last weekend. This level of secrecy in a national security investigation is rare and possibly points to the extent of damage assessment that needed to be completed following Lin’s arrest. Read more of this post

NSA director made secret visit to Israel last week

Michael RogersThe head of the United States’ largest intelligence agency secretly visited Israel last week, reportedly in order to explore forging closer ties between American and Israeli cyber intelligence experts. Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz said on Sunday that Admiral Michael Rogers, who directs the United States National Security Agency (NSA), was secretly in Israel last week. The NSA is America’s signals intelligence (SIGINT) agency, which is responsible for electronic collection, as well as protecting US government information and communication systems from foreign penetration and sabotage.

According to Ha’aretz, Rogers was hosted in Israel by the leadership of the Israel Defense Forces’ SIGINT unit, which is known as Intelligence Corps Unit 8200. The secretive group, which is seen as Israel’s equivalent to the NSA, is tasked with collecting SIGINT from Middle Eastern locations and protecting Israel’s electronic information infrastructure from adversaries. According to the Israeli newspaper, Rogers’ visit was aimed at exploring ways in which the NSA and Unit 8200 can enhance their cooperation, especially against regional Middle Eastern powers like Iran or non-state groups like Hezbollah.

IntelNews readers will recall that the IDF’s Unit 8200 is viewed by some Middle East observers as the creator of the Stuxnet virus. Stuxnet is a sophisticated malware that is believed to have been designed as an electronic weapon against Iran’s nuclear program. Among these observers is New York Times correspondent David Sanger; in his 2012 book, Confront and Conceal, Sanger claimed that Stuxnet was designed by NSA and Unit 8200 programmers as part of a joint offensive cyber operation codenamed OLYMPIC GAMES. According to Sanger, the two agencies collaborated very closely between 2008 and 2011 in order to bring about Stuxnet and other carefully engineered malware, including Flame.

Ha’aretz said that Rogers’ visit was meant to solidify US and Israeli cooperation on offensive cyber operations, based on the legacy of Stuxnet and Flame. During his visit to Israel, the US intelligence official also met with the heads of other Israeli intelligence agencies, said Ha’aretz.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 March 2016 | Permalink

Joint British-American operation hacked Israeli drones, documents show

RAF base CyprusBritish and American intelligence services worked together to hack Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles in order to acquire information on the Jewish state’s military intentions in the Middle East, according to documents leaked last week. Online publication The Intercept, said the operation was code-named ANARCHIST and was a joint project of Britain’s General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and America’s National Security Agency (NSA). The publication said it acquired documents about the operation from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who defected to Russia in 2013 and was offered political asylum by Moscow.

In an article published on Thursday, The Intercept said the joint GCHQ-NSA operation was headquartered in a Royal Air Force military facility high on the Troodos Mountains in the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. The documents provided by Snowden suggest that British and American spies were able to collect footage captured by the Israeli drone for at least two years, namely in 2009 and 2010. It is not clear whether that period included the first three weeks of January 2009, when the Gaza War was fought between Israel and Hamas. During that time, there were persistent rumors that Tel Aviv was seriously considering launching air strikes against Iran.

According to The Intercept, the main goal of operation ANARCHIST was to collect information about Israeli “military operations in Gaza” and watch “for a potential strike against Iran”. Additionally, the UK-US spy program “kept tabs on the drone technology Israel exports around the world”, said the article. According to one GCHQ document cited by The Intercept, the access to Israeli drone data gained through ANARCHIST was “indispensable for maintaining an understanding of Israeli military training and operations”.

Speaking on Israel’s Army Radio on Friday, Israel’s Minister for National Infrastructure, Energy and Water, Yuval Steinitz, said he was not surprised by the revelations. “We know that the Americans are spying on the whole world, including their friends”, said Steinitz. But it was “disappointing”, he said, given that Israel had “not spied” on the US “for decades”. Israeli intelligence agencies had “not collected intelligence or attempted to crack the encryption of the United States”, said the Minister, implying that recent revelations of US spying on Israel may cause a change of strategy in Israeli intelligence policy.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 February 2016 | Permalink

Canada stops sharing intelligence with Five Eyes partners over data breach

CSE CanadaCanada says it will stop sharing certain types of intelligence with some of its closest international allies until it ensures that Canadian citizens’ information is not included in the data given to foreign spy agencies. The announcement follows an official admission, made earlier this week, that a Canadian intelligence agency failed to remove Canadian citizens’ data from information it shared with member-agencies of the so-called Five Eyes Agreement. The pact, which is sometimes referred to as the UK-USA Security Agreement, has been in existence since World War II. It provides a multilateral framework for cooperation in signals intelligence (SIGINT) between the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

On Thursday, the Commissioner of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) of Canada, Jean-Pierre Plouffe, published a report on the activities of the CSE —the country’s primary SIGINT agency. The document, which is published annually by the Commissioner, states that the majority of the CSE’s SIGINT collection activities took place in accordance with Canadian law. However, the report found that some of the data shared by CSE with its Five Eyes partners contained data that could potentially be used to identify the identities of Canadian citizens. According to Canadian law, the CSE is not allowed to specifically target the communications of —or information about— Canadian citizens or Canadian companies. Moreover, information pertaining to those, which may be indirectly collected in the course of legitimate targeting of foreign citizens, is supposed to be immediately purged by CSE collection staff.

However, the Commissioner’s report found that some metadata —namely information pertaining to communications other than their content— that could be used to identify Canadian citizens had been shared by the CSE with Five Eyes spy agencies. Later on Thursday, Harjit Sajjan, Canada’s Minister of Defense, announced that SIGINT intelligence-sharing would be suspended until the metadata breach identified in the Commissioner’s report could be adequately addressed and corrected. Minister Sajjan said the roots of the breach had to do with “technical deficiencies” at the CSE, but added that it was crucial that the privacy of Canadians was protected. Therefore, he said, the spy agency would “not resume sharing this information with our partners” until he was “fully satisfied” that the proper control systems were in place.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 January 2016 | Permalink

Russia says it uncovered spy satellites disguised as space debris

Space debrisBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The Russian government says it recently detected a group of satellites that are spying on Russia while orbiting the Earth camouflaged as “space junk”. The finding was announced on Sunday, April 12, on the Moscow-based Zvezda television station, which is wholly owned by Russia’s Ministry of Defense. For much of the day, Zvezda marked “Space Day”, which has been annually commemorated in Russia ever since 1961, when cosmonaut Yury Gagarin journeyed in outer space.

The station hosted Major General Oleg Maidanovich, of the country’s Aerospace Defense Forces (ADF), in a program entitled “Special Operations in Space”. Maidanovich told the program that specialists in the ADF’s Intelligence Center uncovered “a newly deployed group of space satellites” that were designed to collect signals intelligence (SIGINT) from Russian telecommunications and other electronic systems. However, the satellites had been disguised to appear and behave like “space junk”, he said. By “space junk”, Maidanovich was referring to rocket stages, old and defunct communications satellites, and various other fragments of manmade devices that have ended up in outer space since the 1950s and are endlessly orbiting the Earth.

Maidanovich said that it was not unusual for space reconnaissance agencies to camouflage their spy satellites as space debris and deploy them into Earth’s orbit in a dormant state for several years. Then, once the target country’s space reconnaissance counterintelligence forces disregard the device as a piece of space junk, the satellite is suddenly reawakened and begins to collect SIGINT. For that reason, he said, Russia’s ADF monitors at least a fifth of a total of 100,000 objects orbiting planet Earth on any given day, due to concerns that such objects may be used for SIGINT collection by rival spy agencies.

The Russian ADF commander declined a request to identify the country believed to be behind the alleged camouflaged spy satellites, saying it was “not necessary to do so at the present time”. He added that his office typically notifies the Kremlin when it detects disguised spy satellites, and that the decision on whether to shoot them down is made “on a national level”.

American spies use NZ embassies to collect intelligence

NSA headquartersBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Embassies belonging to the government of New Zealand are secretly being used by the United States as part of a worldwide network of intelligence-collection facilities, according to documents leaked over the weekend. The documents were released by Edwards Snowden, an American former technical expert for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), who is currently living in Russia and is responsible for countless leaks of classified information in recent years. The latest disclosure concerns Project STATEROOM, a highly secretive signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection program targeting international Internet, radio and telecommunications traffic. The existence of the program was disclosed in the summer of 2013 by Snowden, who told German newsmagazine Der Spiegel that it consisted of SIGINT collection facilities in nearly 100 US embassies and consulates in almost as many countries. According to the Snowden, STATEROOM operations are handled by a unit called Special Collection Service (SCS), which is jointly operated by the CIA and the NSA. In October of 2013, Professor Des Ball, an intelligence expert, claimed that Australian embassies served as collection sites for Project STATEROOM, by helping the SCS monitor the Asia Pacific region. Dr. Ball said the Australian Signals Directorate was sharing information with the NSA as part of the UKUSA agreement (also known as Five Eyes), an intelligence cooperation network comprising agencies from Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Canada and the United States. Now new documents made available by Snowden appear to show that New Zealand’s embassies and consulates around the world are also being used as part of Project STATEROOM. The documents date from 2003, and contain a synopsis of a number of NSA intelligence-collection programs, along with their operational titles and status. The list, which is marked “Top Secret” is titled “Exceptionally Controlled Information”, and contains several entries under the heading “STATEROOM”. Underneath the heading appears the description: “SIGINT from diplomatic missions abroad”. The document then states that “this activity is conducted by USA, AUS, CAN, GBR and NZL”. Although the existence of STATEROOM has been known for over a year, this is the first time that New Zealand diplomatic missions are specifically identified in documents as collection sites for the program. Read more of this post

Secret Russian spy base in Syria seized by Western-backed rebels

Screenshot from FSA videoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Rebel forces aligned to Syria’s Western-backed opposition have announced the seizure of a joint Syrian-Russian spy base, which observers say reveals the extent of Russia’s intelligence cooperation with Syria. The base is located at the base of the Tel Al-Hara Mountain, in southern Syria’s Golan Heights region, just south of the border crossing with Israel in the now largely destroyed Syrian city of Quneitra. The Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) said it took over the spy base on Sunday, following several weeks of fighting against rival groups, including Syrian government soldiers and members of Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria. The FSA said the base, referred to as “Center C” by Russian intelligence, had been under Russian command until it was abandoned at a time and for reasons that remain unknown. In a three-minute video released by the Western-backed rebel group on YouTube, an FSA officer appears to be guiding the cameraman around part of the seized base. He points to several diagrams and captions on the walls, which are both in Arabic and in Russian. At some point in the video, the seal of Syrian intelligence is clearly visible, placed next to the seal of the GRU’s 6th Directorate, the branch of Russian military intelligence that is tasked with collecting signals intelligence (SIGINT). At another point in the video, a series of photographs can be seen that depict Syrian and Russian intelligence officers working together in gathering and analyzing intelligence. Interestingly, one of the walls in the base features a map of northern Israel, an area that is adjacent to the Golan Heights, and appears to show the location of Israeli SIGINT stations and military encampments. It is unclear when exactly the spy base was abandoned by the Russian and Syrian intelligence officers that staffed it, Read more of this post

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