News you may have missed #854 (SIGINT edition)

NSA/GCHQ listening station in Menwith HillBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►British ex-minister accuses GCHQ of ignoring surveillance fears. Nick Brown, a former Labour Party cabinet minister, has warned that GCHQ and Britain’s other intelligence agencies appear to be undertaking mass surveillance without parliament’s consent because the country’s coalition failed to get the communications data bill –-dubbed the “snoopers’ charter” by critics– passed into law after Liberal Democrat opposition. Brown said there was an “uncanny” similarity between the GCHQ surveillance programs exposed by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden and proposals in the first part of the bill.
►►Analysis: The NSA’s new codebreakers. Matthew Aid writes: “There was a time when the codebreakers of the National Security Agency actually took the lead in solving enemy encryption systems. These days, not so much. In today’s NSA, it’s hackers, break-in artists, corporate liaisons, and shadow salesman using front companies who are at the forefront of this effort. Even so-called “hacktivists” play an unwitting role in helping the NSA gain access to computer networks –both hostile and friendly. Just about the only place that’s somewhat immune to the NSA’s new style of codebreaking attacks? North Korea, because it’s so disconnected from the rest of the world’s networks”.
►►UKUSA treaty countries collecting data for NSA. The latest leaks from former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden reveal a new dimension to the US-led electronic eavesdropping, with address books and ”buddy lists” from Yahoo!, Hotmail, Facebook and Gmail accounts being harvested across the globe. The documents, published by The Washington Post on Tuesday, show the clear involvement of Australia along with the US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand —the so-called “five eyes” intelligence-sharing nations.

NSA gives Israel raw intercepts containing US citizens’ data

NSA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The United States National Security Agency (NSA) shares raw intercepted data with Israeli intelligence without first deleting information pertaining to American citizens, according to a leaked document. British newspaper The Guardian published on Wednesday an informal memorandum of understanding between the NSA and the Israel SIGINT National Unit (ISNU). The five-page document was supplied to the newspaper by Edward Snowden, a technical contractor for the NSA who defected to Russia this past summer. It outlines an agreement reached in 2009 between the NSA and the ISNU, under which the American side provides the Israelis with raw intercepts, which often contain telephone and email data belonging to American citizens. The memorandum describes this type intelligence sharing as a “routine” aspect of a broader “SIGINT relationship between the two organizations”. SIGINT refers to signals intelligence, a term used in the intelligence community to describe the interception of communications data or content. Additionally, the document specifically mentions that the data shared with the Israelis is “raw” or “unminimized”, meaning it has not been subjected to the process of extracting and deleting information that identifies US citizens or residents —known as “US persons”. By law, the NSA is not permitted to spy on US persons and is required to ‘minimize’ intercepted data so that the communications of US persons remain private, unless they are absolutely indispensible in understanding a piece of foreign intelligence. The memorandum describes a number of restrictions on the use of this information by Israeli intelligence, stating that the ISNU is forbidden from using it in order to target US persons. It also states that the ISNU must shield the identities of US persons when sharing the information with other Israeli government agencies. Read more of this post

NSA operates ‘secret collection program’ out of US embassies

NSA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Documents leaked by American intelligence defector Edward Snowden point to the existence of a sizable signals intelligence collection program operating out of dozens of United States embassies and consulates located around the world. The documents, given by Snowden to German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, contain details of a monitoring program known as the Special Collection Service (SCS), which appears to operate under the auspices of the National Security Agency (NSA). The NSA is America’s largest intelligence agency —it is bigger than the CIA and the FBI combined— and is tasked by the US government with intercepting electronic communications worldwide. Snowden was a technical contractor for the NSA before he defected to Russia this past summer, where he was offered political asylum. Der Spiegel says that Snowden’s documents point to the existence of the SCS, which allegedly operates covert listening posts in over 80 American embassies and consulates worldwide. These listening posts operate clandestinely, without the knowledge or permission of the host countries. The German newsmagazine identifies the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York as being among the SCS’s principal listening targets. In the summer of 2012, says Spiegel, an SCS operation managed to compromise the UN headquarters’ internal video conferencing system, by breaking the encryption used to secure the communications of resident diplomats. One NSA document seen by Spiegel hails the “dramatic improvement of data [collected] from video teleconferencing and the ability to decrypt the traffic”. It goes on to state that intercepted communication exchanges rose from 12 to nearly 500 within three weeks following the SCS penetration. Read more of this post

Snowden leaks reveal GCHQ’s reliance on NSA money, data

GCHQ center in Cheltenham, EnglandBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Information provided by American defector and former intelligence insider Edward Snowden shows that Britain’s signals intelligence agency is very much the junior partner in an uneven relationship with its American counterpart. Snowden, a former computer expert for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), has been given political asylum in Russia. In June, he revealed a number of enormous intelligence-collection programs, including PRISM and TEMPORA. The latter is administered by the General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s signals intelligence organization. The program enables the agency to access communications traffic carried through fiber optic cables worldwide. But GCHQ also receives data from PRISM, a massive electronic surveillance program operated by the NSA, which provides access to millions of email and online chat exchanges facilitated by some of the world’s foremost Internet service providers. Because of these arrangements, GCHQ’s access to electronic data increased by 7,000 percent between 2008 and 2012, according to an internal GCHQ document provided to The Guardian newspaper by Snowden. The agency’s immense access to information has propelled it to a leading role within Britain’s intelligence establishment. It currently receives over half of Britain’s £1.9 billion annual intelligence budget, while its employee size is more than twice that of Britain’s domestic (MI5) and external (MI6) intelligence agencies combined. Its headquarters, the so-called “doughnut building” in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, was Europe’s largest single construction project when it was being built in the early 2000s.  But the documents provided by Snowden show that, despite its considerable wealth and access to resources, GCHQ’s intelligence planners are deeply concerned about “being left behind by technology” in the fiber optic age. One internal report highlights “the pressure on the agency to deliver” and warns that “the complexity of [GCHQ’s] mission has evolved to the point where existing mission management capability is no longer fit for purpose”. Read more of this post

Germany ends spy treaty with US, UK, in response to Snowden leaks

Edward SnowdenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The German government has announced the termination of a Cold-War era surveillance cooperation treaty with the United States and the United Kingdom in response to revelations made by American defector Edward Snowden. Snowden, a former computer expert for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), has been given political asylum in Russia. Earlier this summer, he told German newsmagazine Der Spiegel that the United States spies on the communications of Germany and other European Union countries with the same intensity it spies on China or Iraq. In an interview with British newspaper The Guardian, Snowden also revealed the existence of Project TEMPORA, operated by Britain’s foremost signals intelligence agency, the General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). Snowden told the paper that GCHQ collected and stored massive quantities of foreign telephone call data and email messages, many of them from Germany, and shared them with its US counterpart, the NSA. On Friday, Germany’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Guido Westerwelle, issued a statement saying that the government in Berlin had decided to scrap a longstanding surveillance cooperation agreement with Western countries in response to Snowden’s revelations. The agreement was signed in 1968 between the governments of West Germany, the US, UK, and France. It gave Western countries with military bases on West German soil the right to conduct surveillance operations in Germany in support of their military presence there. In the statement, Foreign Minister Westerwelle argued that the cancellation of the surveillance agreement was “a necessary and proper consequence of the recent debate about protecting personal privacy”. Read more of this post

Are Russian spies switching to typewriters to avoid interception?

Dmitri Medvedev and Vladimir PutinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
For the first time in over a decade, a Russian government department has decided to purchase typewriters, allegedly in order to safeguard classified documents against electronic interception. Russia’s Federal Protective Service has reportedly placed an order for the purchase of an estimated 20 typewriters, for 486,000 rubles –roughly US$15,000. The agency, known in Russia by its initials, FSO, is responsible for protecting high-ranking government officials, including the President of the Russian Federation, and is also tasked with operating federal emergency communications systems. It is the institutional descendant of the Soviet KGB’s Ninth Chief Directorate, which ceased to exist in 1992. According to the daily Russian broadsheet Izvestia, the FSO initially considered purchasing the typewriters in 2010, in response to a series of massive leaks of United States government classified documents by whistleblower website WikiLeaks. An unnamed source inside the FSO told the paper that the final decision to purchase the typewriters was made shortly after revelations made last month by former Central Intelligence Agency computer expert Edward Snowden. The self-styled whistleblower told Britain’s Guardian newspaper that British and American intelligence agencies targeted the electronic communications of heads of state and other senior officials during a G20 summit held in London in 2009. A principal target of the alleged spy operation was the then-Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, who headed the Russian delegation at the G20 summit. Interestingly, the FSO source told Izvestia that the initial purchase 20 typewriters will be followed by more orders, as large segments of Russia’s security establishment appear to be switching to typewriters as a means of producing classified documents. Read more of this post

US spies on Germany, EU agencies, as much as on China and Iraq

European Union offices in Washington, DCBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
America spies on the communications of German and other European Union agencies with the same intensity it spies on China and Iraq, documents show. German newsmagazine Der Spiegel aired these claims on Sunday, based on documents it said it obtained from American whistleblower Edward Snowden. Snowden, a former technical expert with the Central Intelligence Agency, remains holed up inside the transit section of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, as Russian authorities have rejected repeated requests by Washington to extradite him to the US. According to Spiegel, American intelligence operatives placed interception equipment in the offices of the European Union’s representation in Washington, DC, before infiltrating the building’s computer network. Similar methods were aimed at the EU’s official representation to the United Nations in New York, and even in Brussels, Belgium, where the EU is headquartered. In a separate article, also published on Sunday, Der Spiegel said the National Security Agency, America’s foremost communications interception agency, monitors data from over half a billion communications exchanges taking place in Germany each month. The data is derived from telephone calls, emails, mobile text messages, and even chat transcripts, said the newsmagazine. The information appears to suggest that United States communications intelligence agencies are far more active in Germany than in any other of the EU’s 28 member states. Late on Sunday, a spokeswoman at the Office of the German Federal Prosecutor told Spiegel that the question of whether German citizens’ rights have been violated by illegal American intelligence activities is currently being looked at, and that “criminal charges” relating to the spying revelations “appear likely”. Read more of this post