FBI launches criminal investigation into WikiLeaks’ CIA disclosures

WikiLeaksThe United States federal government has launched a criminal investigation into the public disclosure of thousands of documents that purportedly belong to the Central Intelligence Agency. The documents were released on Tuesday by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. They reveal what appear to be technical collection methods used by the CIA to extract information from digital applications and electronic devices, ranging from flash drives to smart screen televisions. WikiLeaks named the collection “Vault 7”, and said that it consists of nearly 8,000 web pages and 1,000 attachments. It also said that its editors redacted hundreds of pages of computer code, in order to prevent the public release of advanced cyberweapons allegedly used by the CIA to sabotage electronic devices and systems.

On Wednesday, former director of the CIA Michael Hayden told the BBC that the disclosure appeared “incredibly damaging”, because it revealed some of the methods that the CIA uses to acquire information. But some cybersecurity experts said that the techniques contained in the leaked documents did not appear to be uniquely advanced, and most focused on exploiting technical vulnerabilities that were generally known. Still, The New York Times reported on Wednesday that the CIA had begun to assess the damage caused by the release. The agency was also trying to contain the extent of the damage, and had even “halt[ed] work on some projects”, said The Times. Officials from the CIA are reportedly in communication with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which on Wednesday launched a criminal investigation into the “Vault 7” release.

The main purpose of the FBI investigation is to find out how WikiLeaks acquired the files. The website said that the documents were leaked by a CIA contractor, which would imply that they were accessed from a server outside the CIA’s computer network. However, federal investigators are not excluding the possibility that the leaker of the information may be a full-time CIA employee. Reports suggest that the FBI is preparing to conduct hundreds, and possibly thousands, of interviews with individuals who are believed to have had access to the documents that were released by WikiLeaks. Meanwhile, neither the FBI nor the CIA have commented on the authenticity of the information contained in “Vault 7”. WikiLeaks said that Tuesday’s release, which it codenamed “Year Zero”, was the first part of several installments of documents that will be released under its Vault 7 program.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 March 2017 | Permalink

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Files released by WikiLeaks show advanced CIA technical collection methods

Julian AssangeThousands of documents belonging to the United States Central Intelligence Agency, which were released on Tuesday by the international anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, are almost certainly genuine. They reveal an entire universe of technical intelligence collection methods used by the CIA to extract information from digital applications and electronic devices, ranging from flash drives to smart screen televisions. WikiLeaks named the collection Vault 7, and said that it consists of nearly 8,000 web pages and 1,000 attachments. It also said that its editors redacted hundreds of pages of computer code, in order to prevent the public release of advanced cyberweapons that are allegedly used by the CIA to sabotage electronic devices and systems.

The information contained in the leaked documents is almost certainly genuine, and most likely belongs to the CIA —though many of the programs listed may be jointly run by the CIA and the National Security Agency (NSA). These programs, with names such as McNUGGET, CRUNCHYLIMESKIES, ELDERPIGGY, ANGERQUAKE and WRECKINGCREW, appear to be designed to compromise computer systems using a series of sophisticated methods that force entry or exploit built-in vulnerabilities or systems. Targets include popular communications systems like Skype and WhatsApp, smartphones produced by Google and Apple, commercial software like PDF and Microsoft Windows, and even so-called smart televisions that connect to the Internet.

The WikiLeaks revelations are most likely related to operations conducted under the auspices of the Special Collection Service (SCS), a joint CIA/NSA program that dates to the earliest days of the Cold War. The program was started by the United States Armed Forces but was eventually transferred to civilian hands and monitored by the CIA. It used advanced communications-interception facilities around the world to collect information. Over the years, the CIA collaborated with the NSA and developed many SCS projects targeting several foreign countries using technical and human means. In recent years the SCS has been primarily operated by the NSA, which oversees the program’s technical platforms.

WikiLeaks did not reveal the source of the documents. But it said that they had been “circulated [by the CIA] among former US government hackers and contractors” and that it was one of the latter that leaked them to the anti-secrecy website. A statement by WikiLeaks said that Tuesday’s release, which it codenamed “Year Zero”, was part one of several installments of documents that will be released under its Vault 7 program. The site also claimed that the information in “Year Zero” has “eclipsed the total number of pages published over the first three years of the Edward Snowden NSA leaks”. The CIA, the NSA and the White House have not commented on this development.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 March 2017 | Permalink

Brazil’s new acting president was US embassy intelligence source in 2006

Temer RousseffThe new acting president of Brazil briefed American diplomats on sensitive political matters in 2006, according to cables published by the international whistleblower website WikiLeaks. Michel Temer is leader of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, known as PMDB. Although it is one of Brazil’s largest political parties, the PMDB has been unable to muster enough electoral support to govern the country on its own. As a result, under Temer’s leadership, the PMDB has been a partner of every governing coalition in Brazil since 1995. During the administration of leftwing President Dilma Rousseff, Temer held the post of Vice President.

But in March of this year, the PMDB dropped its support of Rousseff, accusing her of financial irregularities. In April, the speaker of Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of the Brazilian Parliament), Eduardo Cunha, who is himself a PMDB member, spearheaded impeachment proceedings against Rousseff. Eventually, these efforts were successful, leading to the suspension of the president, who is currently undergoing an impeachment trial. In the meantime, Temer assumed the role of president, as stipulated by the Brazilian constitution. This has led Rousseff to denounce the proceedings as a coup orchestrated by the PMDB.

Throughout this process, the United States, which has had a tense relationship with President Rousseff, and her predecessor, the leftwinger Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, has maintained a discrete silence. But two leaked cables produced by the US embassy in Brazil in 2006, show that Temer, who led the impeachment proceedings against Rousseff, was considered an intelligence informant by US diplomats. The cables, which were published on Friday by WikiLeaks, appear to show that Temer briefed US diplomats at length on sensitive matters relating to domestic Brazilian politics on at least two occasions. The cables, dated January 11 and June 21, 2006, are marked “sensitive but unclassified” and “Political Affairs—Intelligence” by their author, Christopher McMullen, who was then US consul general in Brazil. They detail the content of conversations that Temer, who was then a member of Congress, had with McMullen and an unnamed US official in the embassy’s political section.

There is no reason to assume from these cables that Temer was a paid informant, or that he was even a regular source of information for US diplomats. Nor is there any evidence that the US officials who met with Temer worked for US intelligence. However, it is clear in the cables that the Brazilian politician relayed sensitive information about his personal electoral plans, the plans of the PMDB, as well as the domestic politics of his party, which includes an analysis of various factions. Moreover, he appears to discuss matters of political strategy that are not meant for general consumption.

Ironically, the June 21 cable contains McMullen’s unfavorable assessment of Temer and the PMDB, which he describes as a “a group of opportunistic regional leaders” who have “no ideology or policy framework” and thus lack “a coherent national political agenda”. Temer was sworn in as president on May 12 and will remain in the post for no more than 180 days, during which time the outcome of the impeachment proceedings against Rousseff will be determined.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 May 2016 | Permalink

UK police to end 24/7 surveillance of embassy that houses WikiLeaks founder

Embassy of Ecuador in LondonPolice in London will no longer physically monitor the embassy of Ecuador in the British capital, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been living for over two years, fighting against extradition to Sweden. Assange was granted political asylum by the government of Ecuador in June of 2012, after Swedish authorities charged him with rape. But the Australian-born Assange claims that the charges are part of a plot to extradite him to the United States, where he is wanted for having leaked hundreds of thousands of documents belonging to the Department of Defense and the Department of State.

Acting on a request from the Swedish government, London’s Metropolitan Police Service, known informally as Scotland Yard, has been patrolling the streets around the embassy 24 hours a day, in order to prevent Assange from being smuggled out of the building by Ecuadorean officials. Standard diplomatic protocol prevents British authorities from entering the embassy, which is technically considered Ecuadorean territory.

On Monday, however, the Metropolitan Police said they would cease their 24/7 patrols around the Ecuadorean embassy, which is located in London’s fashionable Knightsbridge district. According to a police official, constant physical surveillance of the embassy was “no longer proportional” to Assange’s charges, which meant that Scotland Yard would be unable to continue “to commit officers to a permanent presence”. The official said that the decision had been taken after consultation with the British Home Office, and that the reasons for the change in policy were primarily financial. According to reports by the British government, the intensive monitoring of the Ecuadorean embassy has cost the British taxpayer in excess of £11 million, which amounts to nearly $18 million. The resulting strain on policing resources has prompted some British politicians to dismiss Scotland Yard’s operation as a misuse of taxpayer funds.

However, Scotland Yard said it would substitute overt physical surveillance of the Ecuadorean embassy with “a number of overt and covert tactics to arrest” Assange if he tries to leave the building. It did not elaborate on that statement. Last summer, the Swedish government dropped three of the four charges against the WikiLeaks founder. The remaining charge is expected to expire in August 2020.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 October 2015 | Permalink

New documents show US spied ‘on every major French company’

NSANew information published by international whistleblower website WikiLeaks seems to suggest that the United States National Security Agency (NSA) collected information on export contracts by French companies and sought inside information on France’s position in international trade negotiations. According to the website, which published the new material on Monday, the documents appear to suggest concerted efforts by Washington to obtain secret information about the economic policies of the French government and the country’s financial sector.

The WikiLeaks release contains a list of “Information Needs” (IN), which signifies collection requirements on France that are part of the US National Signals Intelligence Requirements List. The latter is updated regularly to reflect wide-ranging intelligence requirements put to the NSA by its customers, who include US policy makers and other members of the US Intelligence Community. The IN list is labeled “2002-204”, which means it was created in 2002 and has been updated ever since. The documents also include an “Essential Elements of Information” (EEI) list, which points to more narrow areas of interest that the NSA’s collection teams are instructed to focus on. The EEI list released by WikiLeaks includes France’s economic relations with the US and other Western countries and France’s dealings with international financial agencies and institutions. It also includes France’s international economic and trade policies, as well as its policy maneuvers in the G-8 and G-20 group of nations.

At one point, the EEI list appears to instruct NSA collection units to target every French-registered company involved in negotiations for international projects or other sales contracts valued at over $200 million. According to WikiLeaks, the target list would inevitably include every major French company, including car makers Peugeot and Renault, banking conglomerate BNP Paribas, as well as Credit Agricole, one of Europe’s leading agricultural credit unions.

Representatives of the US Intelligence Community do not deny spying on foreign companies. But they insist that Washington does not use information collected from such operations to benefit American companies competing for international contracts. However, the latest WikiLeaks revelations are bound to fuel speculation in Europe that US intelligence-collection priorities may include an economic component. Last week, US President Barack Obama had to personally assure his French counterpart, Francois Hollande, that he was not being spied on by the NSA, after WikiLeaks released documents showing that the American spy agency had targeted the communications of three successive French presidents.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 June 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/06/30/01-1725/

Calls in France to offer asylum, citizenship, to Snowden and Assange

Assange and SnowdenLeaders from all sides of the French political spectrum urged the French government on Thursday to offer political asylum, and even French citizenship, to the American defector Edward Snowden and to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The calls were made in response to news earlier this week that the United States National Security Agency spied on the personal communications of three French presidents from the 1990s to at least 2012. The files were published on Tuesday by the international whistleblower website WikiLeaks. They consist of what the website described as “top secret intelligence reports and technical documents”, which detail NSA spying operations against the French presidency, as well as espionage directed at several French government ministers and at France’s ambassador to the US. As intelNews predicted on Wednesday, the French government’s response to the revelations has been relatively muted. But many French politicians, including one minister in the government of French President Francois Hollande, called for Paris to extend offers of political asylum, and even French citizenship, to Assange and Snowden.

The initial call was issued by Laurent Joffrin, the influential managing editor of Libération, the Paris-based newspaper that partnered with WikiLeaks to release the NSA documents earlier this week. In a leading editorial published in the paper on Thursday, Joffrin said that French protests against NSA spying “have no more effect than scolding a rude toddler”, and added that by offering asylum to Snowden, France would “stand up [to America] and send a clear and effective message to Washington”.

Shortly after Joffrin’s editorial, Jean-Christophe Lagarde, president of the centrist Union of Democrats and Independents in the French Parliament, said that France should have given Snowden political asylum back in 2013, when he originally requested it. Lagarde was quoted in the French press as saying that “the French nation has already been dishonored by refusing to accept Edward Snowden’s request for political asylum when he asked for it in 2013”. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leftist member of the European Parliament, agreed with Lagarde, adding that Assange and Snowden must not only receive political asylum in France, but also be given “the French nationality”.

On Thursday afternoon, Jean-Pierre Mignard, a close friend and longtime political advisor to President Hollande, said that “given the service they have rendered to the cause of human freedom, France could accommodate a request for asylum from Assange and Snowden, should they request it”. Mignard added that “French law allows the Republic to grant asylum to any foreign subject who faces persecution for taking action in favor of human freedom”.

When asked by BFM TV, France’s most popular news channel, whether political asylum could be extended to Snowden and Assange, France’s Justice Minister Christiane Taubira said that she was “absolutely shocked by the idea”, because such a course of action would drive a powerful wedge between France and the US, two countries with deep historical ties. But she added that such a move would constitute a strong “symbolic gesture” against espionage, and thus remained on the table as a possible policy maneuver to be adopted by the government of France.

Late on Thursday, however, France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls indicated that any discussion of an offer of asylum to Assange and Snowden by the government of France was premature. Speaking at a hastily organized press conference to discuss the NSA espionage revelations during an official visit to Colombia, Valls told reporters that the question of offering asylum to the two men “did not arise” during internal government talks. “And in any case”, said Valls, such an initiative “would not address the issue at hand”, namely American espionage against the French presidency. France’s goal is to extract guarantees from Washington that all espionage against French officials would stop, noted the French prime minister. If France offered asylum to Assange and Snowden, American espionage against French targets would likely reach unprecedented levels, he added.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 June 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/06/26/01-1723/

Analysis: French are upset, but not surprised, by news of US spying

Before Edward Snowden, the revelation that the United States National Security Agency spied on three successive French presidents would have shocked many. But in the post-Snowden era, the news came and went without much tumult. The French President, Francois Hollande, called two emergency meetings of senior government officials at the Élysée Palace; the American ambassador to France was summoned for an official protest; but nothing more came of it. It was reported that US President Barack Obama spoke directly with his French counterpart on Wednesday, and assured him in no uncertain terms “that the US is no longer spying on France”.

The French leader, who is one of three French presidents mentioned in the WikiLeaks documents as a target of the NSA, is genuinely upset. And there will be some in his government who will push for a harder response than simply summoning the American envoy in Paris to file an official protest. But nobody in Paris or Washington thinks that Mr. Hollande, or indeed any other senior French official, was shocked or even surprised by the revelations of American espionage against France. Nor will the revelation cause any drastic disruption in the intelligence cooperation between France and the US. The two countries depend on each other to address a number of international issues that affect both, such the worrying situatioQ Quoten in Syria and Iraq, the continuing crises in Ukraine and in Libya, as well as the financial meltdown in Greece. So there is a recognition that their intelligence agencies must continue to work together on several pressing issues.

However, the French response may become a lot more direct if WikiLeaks publish further revelations about US espionage against French officials. The whistleblower website noted on Tuesday that “French readers can expect more timely and important revelations in the near future”. Unlike Edward Snowden, who is known to release progressively more damning documents in stages, WikiLeaks does not have a history of aiming for a crescendo through progressive releases of classified information. But there is speculation that Edward Snowden may in fact be the source of this latest WikiLeaks disclosure. If that is the case, we should not exclude further releases of relevant documents, and thus a more robust French response.

And what about America’s retort? Washington has suffered considerable diplomatic blowback from revelations in 2013 and 2014 that it spied on the leaders of Germany, Brazil and Argentina. Is the NSA still spying on America’s allied leaders? I am of the opinion that the NSA is not currently targeting the personal communications of allied government leaders as a matter of Q Quoteroutine practice. However, I do believe that this regimen can easily be changed to address particular needs, through what is called a “presidential finding”, basically a direct order issued by the president of the United States to target an individual foreign leader.

In the past two years, we have witnessed the diplomatic fallout that can result from publicly revealing these practices. However, for an intelligence agency like the NSA, having access to the personal communications of a foreign head of state is a temptation that is simply too difficult to resist. Moreover, it should not be assumed that political leaders are always completely in the know about the practices of their country’s intelligence agencies. American intelligence history amply demonstrates this truism. Finally, I would point to the well known maxim that intelligence agencies do not typically distinguish between adversaries and allies. All targets are considered fair game. This will admittedly do little to appease the French, but it will at least give them an accurate impression of what to expect in the brave new world of wholesale communications interception.

* This editorial is based on an interview given by the author to the Spanish newspaper La Razón.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 25 June 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/06/25/01-1722/