Skype set up secret project to enable government snooping

SkypeBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Skype, the world-famous company that provides Internet-based communications between registered users, set up a secret project five years ago to facilitate persistent requests by government agencies to listen in on users’ phone calls. The New York Times revealed the secret project, codenamed Project CHESS, on Wednesday, citing individuals with inside knowledge of the program, who asked to remain anonymous so as “to avoid trouble with the intelligence agencies”. For many years, it was believed that the US National Security Agency (NSA) and other intelligence agencies had found it impossible to intercept Skype’s instant messaging and voice traffic. This was because, like other voice-over-Internet protocol (VOIP) communications providers, Skype uses technology that converts audio signals to data, and transports them through most of the Internet infrastructure in binary, rather than audio, format. Furthermore, Skype uses very complex algorithms to encrypt its customers’ communications. The company had repeatedly pointed to the technical complexities of VOIP communications in arguing that it was often technically impossible to facilitate communications interception requests by government authorities. In 2009, rumors began to circulate in the cybersecurity community that Skype’s VOIP encryption system had been cracked. It now seems that, around that time, the company, which was then still owned by eBay, was already negotiating with the United States government in order to help intelligence agencies gain access to its users’ communications. Read more of this post

Analysis: PRISM revelations harm US political, financial interests

NSA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Ever since June 6, when Edward Snowden, a former United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) technician, exposed a vast communications spying system called PRISM, observers have focused on the ramifications of this controversy inside America. But in an excellent analysis written for ComputerWorld magazine’s New Zealand edition, Taylor Armerding points out that Snowden’s revelation could result in extensive international blowback for the United States, in both the political and economic realms. Armerding quotes Toronto University political science professor Ron Deibert, who argues that this latest revelation of massive communications interception activity by the National Security Agency (NSA) carries with it “unintended consequences […] that will undermine US foreign policy interests”. Deibert points out that the spy scandal has the potential to undercut America’s role and influence in global Internet governance. In the words of renowned security expert Bruce Schneier, many around the world are beginning to view the US as “simply too untrustworthy to manage the Internet”. Even policymakers and ordinary users friendly to Washington are worried about what they perceive as the “huge disadvantages” of their dependence on US-managed Internet networks that host the content of social media sites, cloud computing databases, or telecommunications exchanges, says Deibert. But the biggest potential damage to US interests, argues Armerding, is not political, but economic. “It is not just personal information that is being swept into the NSA’s massive databases”, he notes; “it is corporate data as well”. Indeed, the vast foreign and domestic spying represented by PRISM poses a direct threat to the global competitiveness of the American technology sector. Read more of this post

Swiss parliament halts US tax deal following CIA espionage claims

Swiss National Council chamberBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The lower house of the Swiss parliament has voted to stop considering a legislation designed to help the United States identify tax evaders, just days after a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee revealed an espionage operation targeting a Swiss bank executive. The legislation, which was drafted by the government of Switzerland, is aimed at addressing demands by Washington for Swiss banks to turn over to US authorities the identities of American tax dodgers. It is believed that tens of thousands of wealthy Americans manage to evade their tax obligations each year by exploiting strict Swiss banking privacy laws, which effectively shield them from US internal revenue authorities. The legislation has already been approved by the upper house of the Swiss Federal Assembly (the Council of States), but it needs to be cleared by the lower house (the National Council) before it can be officially enacted. Interestingly, the legislation was halted in the lower house just days after American intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed a US espionage operation aimed at recruiting a Swiss bank official. Snowden, a former technical assistant for the CIA, disclosed the existence of PRISM, a clandestine national security electronic surveillance program operated by the United States National Security Agency (NSA). In addition to PRISM, Snowden, 29, spoke about a CIA operation in 2007, when he was allegedly stationed under diplomatic cover at the CIA station in Geneva, Switzerland. Read more of this post

UK/US spy agencies targeted heads of state at London G20 meeting

NSA/GCHQ listening station in Menwith HillBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
British and American intelligence agencies targeted the communications of heads of state and other senior officials during a G20 summit held in London in 2009, according to documents. The summit was hosted by the then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and was attended by delegates from 20 major world economies, including then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who was specifically targeted in the spy operation. British newspaper The Guardian, which published the information, said that delegates had their personal computers and cellular telephones monitored during a joint effort by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain’s General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). The two agencies, which are tasked with intercepting communications signals on behalf of their respective governments, maintain a jointly administered listening base inside the Royal Air Force station in Menwith Hill near Harrogate, North Yorkshire. According to one of the documents, entitled “Russian Leadership Communications in support of President Dmitry Medvedev at the G20 summit in London —Intercept at Menwith Hill station”, the listening facility was utilized to spy on the communications of the Russian President during his stay in London. The targeting began as soon as President Medvedev and the Russian delegation arrived in the British capital on April 1, and continued for several days. The top-secret document, which was shared between British, American, Australian, Canadian, and New Zealand intelligence services, noted “a change in the way Russian leadership signals have been normally transmitted” through satellite links from the Russian embassy in London. Another set of documents, also published by The Guardian, indicate that some G20 summit delegates were “tricked into using Internet cafes [that] had been set up by British intelligence agencies” in order to intercept their email communications. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #842 (world reaction to Snowden leak)

Edward SnowdenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Chinese media focus on Snowden leaks. The front pages of Chinese state media were covered Thursday with the allegations of ex-CIA employee Edward Snowden, who says the US government has been hacking computers in China for years. Speaking to media in Hong Kong, where he is currently staying, Snowden said the US has been hacking computers in Hong Kong and mainland China since 2009. He said targets include public officials, businesses and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Those claims by Snowden were the top story on most of China’s major news portals on Thursday
►►Switzerland furious about Snowden’s charge that CIA spies on Swiss banks. One of the many lurid details in The Guardian’s remarkable interview with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was his account of what initially prompted him to leak: namely a CIA tour in Switzerland, where CIA officers recruited Swiss banking officials. The Snowden disclosure could not come at a worse time for the Swiss government, which is trying to convince parliament to back its emergency plan that would allow Swiss banks to turn over data on tax evaders to the US government.
►►Is Russia considering giving asylum to Snowden? Asked if the 29-year-old could claim asylum from Russia, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin told the newspaper Kommersant: “If such a request is received, it will be considered”. Any attempt by the Kremlin to give refuge to Mr Snowden, amid calls for his prosecution under the US Espionage Act, is likely to infuriate the White House and provoke a major diplomatic standoff.

News you may have missed #841 (Snowden leak analysis)

Edward SnowdenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►US officials defend spy programs as safeguards against terror. Intelligence officials sought to convince US House lawmakers in an unusual briefing that the government’s years-long collection of phone records and Internet usage is necessary for protecting Americans —and does not trample on their privacy rights. The parade of FBI and intelligence officials who briefed the entire House on Tuesday was the latest attempt to soothe outrage over NSA programs which collect billions of Americans’ phone and Internet records.
►►Some in US intelligence see Chinese behind Snowden leak. Former CIA officer Bob Baer told CNN that some US intelligence officials “are seriously looking at [the revelations made by Edward Snowden] as a potential Chinese covert action. Hong Kong is controlled by Chinese intelligence”, Baer told CNN Sunday evening. “It’s not an independent part of China at all. I’ve talked to a bunch of people in Washington today, in official positions, and they are looking at this as a potential Chinese espionage case”.
►►Leak highlights risk of outsourcing US spy work. The explosive leak uncovering America’s vast surveillance program highlights the risks Washington takes by entrusting so much of its defense and spy work to private firms, experts say. Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old man whose leak uncovered how spy agencies sift through phone records and Internet traffic, is among a legion of private contractors who make up nearly 30 percent of the workforce in intelligence agencies. From analyzing intelligence to training new spies, jobs that were once performed by government employees are now carried out by paid contractors, in a dramatic shift that began in the 1990s amid budget pressures.

Ex-CIA technician who leaked Verizon court order comes forward

Edward SnowdenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Last week, British newspaper The Guardian revealed a secret court order that enables the United States government to collect the telephone records of millions of customers of Verizon, one of America’s largest cellular phone service providers. On the morning of Sunday, June 9, the individual responsible for leaking the secret court order came forward on his own volition. He is Edward Snowden, a former technical assistant for the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The 29-year-old computer expert, who has been working for the National Security Agency (NSA) for the last four years, told The Guardian that he decided to leak the injunction because he felt it posed “an existential threat to democracy”. He added that he was not motivated by money in disclosing the document. Were he after money, he said, he “could have sold these documents to any number of countries and gotten very rich”. In a video published on The Guardian’s website, Snowden told the paper that his disillusionment with America’s “federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers” began even before 2007, when he was stationed under diplomatic cover at the CIA station in Geneva, Switzerland. He finally decided to act three weeks ago, he said, after careful consideration of the ramifications of his decision for his life and career.

Read more of this post