US government publicly admits existence of rogue phone-tapping devices in DC

Embassy RowThe United States government has for the first time admitted publicly that it has detected devices known to be used by foreign intelligence services to spy on cellular communications in the nation’s capital. Known commonly as Stingrays, after a leading hardware brand, these devices are primarily used by government agencies, including law enforcement. But they can be purchased by anyone with anywhere from $1,000 to $200,000 to spare. They work by simulating the activity of legitimate cell towers and tricking cell phones into communicating with them. That allows the users of these cellphone-site simulators to monitor the physical whereabouts of targeted cell phones. Some of the more expensive Stingray models can intercept the actual content of telephone conversations and can even plant Trojans on the compromised phones of unsuspecting users.

Many governments have expressed concerns about the use of these devices, which are known to be used by intelligence agencies to monitor cellular communications on foreign soil. Major cities around the world, including Washington, are major targets of cellphone-site simulators, which are frequently located inside foreign embassies. However, the US government has never publicly commented on this issue, despite intense rumors that government agencies headquartered in Washington are major targets of Stingray devices. This changed recently, however, after Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) wrote a letter to the Department of Homeland Security seeking information about the use of such devices in Washington. Wyden received a written response from Christopher Krebs, who heads the DHS’ National Protection and Programs Directorate. In the letter, dated March 26, Krebs confirmed that the DHS detected a number of active Stingrays in the DC area in 2017, which he referred to as “anomalous activity consistent with Stingrays”. But he added that the DHS lacks both funding and equipment needed to detect the full number of the devices and the full spectrum of Stingrays that are active in the nation’s capital.

The Associated Press, which published Krebs’ letter, said it acquired it from Wyden’s office in the US Senate. The news agency noted that the letter from DHS did not provide the technical specifications of the cellphone-site simulators, and did not enter into speculation about who might be employing them. Additionally the letter did not provide the exact number of Stingrays detected in DC in 2017, nor did it provide the exact locations in DC where Stingray activity was traced. In response to Krebs’ letter, Senator Wyden’s office released a statement blaming the US Federal Communications Commission for having failed to hold the cellular telecommunications industry accountable for the lack of security against Stingrays. “Leaving security to the phone companies has proven to be disastrous”, Senator Wyden’s statement concluded.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 4 April 2018 | Permalink

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Mystery death of Putin’s ex-adviser in DC was accident, say US authorities

Mikhail LesinThe mysterious death in Washington, DC, of a former senior adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had fallen out with the Russian president, was the result of an accident, US authorities have concluded after a year-long investigation. The body of Mikhail Yuriyevich Lesin, a well-known Russian media mogul, was found in the luxury Dupont Circle Hotel on November 5, 2015. According to reports, his body bore considerable injuries on his torso and limbs. Some unconfirmed updates suggested that Lesin had died from several “blunt force injuries to the head”. But United States authorities refused to speculate on the cause of Lesin’s death and opened an official investigation into the matter.

Lesin became famous in Russia soon after the collapse of the communist system, when he founded Video International, an advertising and public-relations agency that was hired by Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1995 to run his reelection campaign. Yeltsin’s electoral success was partly attributed to the well-tailored media message projected by Lesin’s company. The media magnate was rewarded by Yeltsin, who offered him influential government posts, including that of director of Russia’s state-owned news agency Novosti. Meanwhile, Lesin became a media personality and frequently gave interviews espousing a free-enterprise model for the Russian media industry. But soon after Vladimir Putin’s ascendance to the presidency, Lesin saw the writing on the wall and began advocating for increased government regulation of media and telecommunications conglomerates. In 1999, Putin made him Minister of Press, Broadcasting and Mass Communications, a post he held for nearly six years, until 2004. In 2006, Lesin was awarded the Order for Merit to the Fatherland, one of the most prestigious civilian decorations in Russia.

But in late 2009, Putin abruptly fired Lesin from his post in the Kremlin’s Media Advisory Commission, allegedly because the media mogul had developed close contacts with Russian organized crime. Lesin’s ties with Putin’s inner circle were further strained in 2014, when he resigned from his position as head of Gazprom Media, after he clashed with pro-Putin executives on the board. Last November, when Lesin’s body was found in his hotel room by a member of the staff, some suggested that he may have been killed by the Kremlin. But On Friday, the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, DC, in cooperation with the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, said that Lesin’s death had been the result of injuries “induced by falls”, which came after “days of excessive consumption of alcohol”. The two agencies said that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which had assisted in the investigation into Lesin’s death, concurred with the results. Consequently, the investigation is now closed, they said. The Kremlin, the Russian embassy in Washington, and the FBI, have not commented on the case.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 October 2016 | Permalink

US spies on Israel (shock, horror)

Shamai Leibowitz

Shamai Leibowitz

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Ever since Monday, when The New York Times exposed the reason behind the May 2010 incarceration of FBI linguist Shamai Leibowitz, US and international media have been buzzing with prominent headlines like: “US government spied on Israel’s Washington embassy”. Although these headlines are accurate, they —like the articles themselves— miss the actual story behind the revelations: namely the extent of Israeli covert propaganda operations inside the United States. As intelNews reported in May 2010, Leibowitz, a lawyer with dual American-Israeli citizenship, who worked as a translator for the FBI, was sentenced to right under two years in prison, for leaking classified information. The government disclosed no further information at the time of Leibowitz’s conviction, saying only that he had been jailed for “having unlawfully disclosed classified documents to an unidentified blogger”. Now the “unidentified blogger” has come forward to reveal the details of Leibowitz’s court case, and to defend the former FBI linguist “as an American patriot and a whistle-blower”. Richard Silverstein, a Jewish American scholar, who writes a blog called Tikun Olam, said that Leibowitz gave him about 200 pages containing transcripts of conversations intercepted by the FBI in its monitoring of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC. Most of the transcripts contain what appear to be telephone exchanges between staff at the Israeli embassy and outside contacts, though some appear to be the products of eavesdropping of face-to-face conversations conducted inside the Israeli embassy premises. This may be seen as evidence that the FBI’s Operational Technology Division, which is responsible for maintaining interception systems targeting foreign embassies on US soil, conducts extensive monitoring of the goings on at the Israeli embassy. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #392

  • Soviet spy stood ready to poison DC’s water, says Ex-KGB general. A Soviet deep-cover agent, who was in the United States from around 1963 to 1965, had orders to poison Washington DC’s water and to sabotage its power supply if war with the United States became imminent, according to Oleg Kalugin, former chief of KGB operations in North America.
  • Two interesting interviews. George Kenney, of Electric Politics, has aired two interesting interviews, one with Dr. Thomas Fingar, former US Deputy Director of National Intelligence, touching on a variety of issues, and one with Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, who comments on the CIA drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  • Lawyers who won NSA spy case want $2.63 million. Eight lawyers, who managed to prove that Saudi charity al-Haramain was illegally wiretapped by the US National Security Agency (see here for previous intelNews coverage), are demanding millions of dollars in damages from the US government.

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Comment: Defector’s Wish to Return to Iran Not Unusual

Shahram Amiri

Shahram Amiri

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
This website has covered extensively the case of Dr. Shahram Amiri, a scientific researcher employed in Iran’s nuclear program, who disappeared during a religious pilgrimage to Mecca in May or June of 2009. Tehran maintains that Dr. Amiri was abducted by CIA agents. However, most intelligence observers, including this writer, believe that the Iranian researcher willfully defected to the West, following a long, carefully planned intelligence operation involving the CIA, as well as French and German intelligence agencies.

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News you may have missed #391 (Russia-US spy swap edition II)

  • Expelled spies to experience life in changed Russia. Like those before them, the sleeper spies who were deported to Russia last week in one of the biggest espionage exchanges in decades will probably miss the United States, picket fences and all. But what perhaps most distinguishes this affair from its cold war precursors is what awaits these Russians in their motherland.
  • Past Russian spies have found post-swap life gets a bit sticky. While life in Moscow may be duller than New York, Boston, New Jersey, Seattle and Washington, DC, where the 11 Russians charged last week allegedly lived as long-term, deep-penetration agents, it won’t be too bad, either, if their predecessors’ experience is any guide.
  • Life a nightmare for spies returning to Russia, says Soviet dissident. Vladimir Bukovsky, 67, a Soviet dissident exiled to Europe in a 1976 prisoner swap, says the Russian spies expelled from America to Russia last week “will go from living affluent lives with real freedom, to living under constant surveillance by the Russian secret services”.

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News you may have missed #0227

  • British politicians sue CIA over rendition flights. A group of British members of parliament, led by Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie, has filed a complaint in a district court in Washington, DC, asking for a judicial review of secret agreements between the US and UK on renditioning terrorism suspects.
  • US DHS broke domestic spying rules. The US Department of Homeland Security gathered intelligence on the Nation of Islam for eight months in 2007, and broke the law by taking longer than 180 days to determine whether the US-based group or its American members posed a terrorist threat.
  • Expert says UK ex-spy chief misled Iraq War probe. Sir John Scarlett, Britain’s former spy chief has misled the Iraq inquiry by exaggerating the reliability of crucial claims about Saddam Hussein’s ability to launch weapons of mass destruction, according to Dr. Brian Jones, the leading UK Ministry of Defense expert who assessed the intelligence behind London’s decision to go to war in 2003.

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