Tagged: FBI

Snowden addresses HOPE Conference


Barton Gellman/Getty Images/AP

Edward Snowden, the former U.S. spy agency contractor who leaked details of major U.S. surveillance programs, called on supporters at a hacking conference to spur development of easy-to-use technologies to subvert government surveillance programs around the globe.

Snowden, who addressed conference attendees on Saturday via video link from Moscow, said he intends to devote much of his time to promoting such technologies, including ones that allow people to communicate anonymously and encrypt their messages…

At the HOPE hacking conference, several talks detailed approaches for thwarting government surveillance, including a system known as SecureDrop that is designed to allow people to anonymously leak documents to journalists.

Attorneys with the Electronic Frontier Foundation answered questions about pending litigation with the NSA, including efforts to stop collection of phone records that were disclosed through Snowden’s leaks.

Snowden is seen as a hero by a large segment of the community of hackers attending the HOPE conference [and the nation and the world], which includes computer experts, anti-surveillance activists, artists and other types of hackers.

HOPE in this case stands for Hackers On Planet Earth.

And if you think every kind of government snoop wasn’t doing their best to photogrqph, record and trace everyone at the conference – you’re still living in cloud cuckoo-land — watching Father Knows Best on TV.

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Vials of deadly smallpox from 1950s found in federal storage

Stray vials of the deadly smallpox virus from the 1950s have been discovered at a federal lab near Washington, U.S. health officials said on Tuesday, the second lapse discovered in a month involving a deadly pathogen at a government facility.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that workers discovered the vials in a cardboard box on July 1 while clearing out an old lab on the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Maryland.

The six glass vials contained freeze-dried smallpox virus and were sealed with melted glass. The vials appeared intact and there is no evidence that lab workers or the general public are at risk…

The mishandling of smallpox follows the CDC’s recent mishap in which the agency believed it may have transferred live anthrax samples to a CDC lab that was not equipped to handle them, potentially exposing dozens of employees to the pathogen.

The CDC is testing the vials to see if the smallpox is viable and could make someone sick, said Skinner. After those tests, which could take up to two weeks, the samples will be destroyed, CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said…

The CDC said it has notified WHO about the discovery. If the specimens turn out to be viable, the CDC said it will invite the WHO to witness the destruction of the smallpox samples.

Skinner said the CDC is working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to determine how and when the samples were prepared and how they came to be stored and forgotten in the FDA lab.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Michael Osterholm said the discovery of abandoned vials of smallpox is a reminder to labs globally to take stock of what is in their freezers.

I sense the plot for yet another less-than-stellar movie made for the SyFy Channel.

Thanks, Mike

Your tax dollars at work: The FBI guide to acronyms and slang

They may be the most feared group of investigators in the world, but FBI agents still need a hand understanding internet slang like LOL and BRB, it has been revealed.

Agents who find themselves baffled by abbreviations on message boards or social media have an extensive guide to turn to, which has been released to the public under Freedom of Information laws.

The document – which is 83 pages long – includes 2,800 translations, from everyday terms such as LOL (‘laughing out loud’) and BRB (‘be right back’).

Any crack investigators left scratching their heads at 2DAY or L8R also have them helpfully parsed to ‘today’ and ‘later’, according to the document published by Muckrock.

But as well as the commonplace and the obvious, it also features lengthier and more exotic examples like PMYMHMMFSWGAD (‘Pardon me, you must have mistaken me for someone who gives a damn’) or EOTWAWKI (‘end of the world as we know it’).

Some seem particular appropriate to agents working in counter-intelligences, who may not be surprised to find their targets writing phrases like SIW (‘someone is watching’) and IKWYL (‘I know where you live’).

One particularly relevant – and worrying – entry is IITYWIMIWHTKY (‘If I tell you what it means I will have to kill you’).

The instructional forward notes — The list has about 2,800 entries you should find useful in your work – or for keeping up with your children and/or grandchildren.

Now reflect for a moment on the fact the FBI [a] had to write a limited edition field manual to explain acronyms that you can look up online – and [b] classified it so the public didn’t have access to it. Cripes, I wonder just how much this little exercise in bureaucratic nonsense cost us?

Is Google buying satellites to spy on you? — gasp!


National Reconnaissance Office — Fifty years of vigilance from above

With the $500 million purchase of Skybox, a startup that shoots high-res photos and video with low-cost satellites, Google can extend its reach far across the offline world. Thanks to its knack for transforming mass quantities of unstructured data into revenue-generating insights, the unprecedented stream of aerial imagery to which the company is gaining access could spark a whole new category of high-altitude insights into the workings of economies, nations, and nature itself.

But this acquisition will also demand assurances from Google that it will incorporate privacy safeguards into its vast new view of the world. Already Google gets a lot of flack for tracking user behavior online. With Skybox’s satellites, Google may gain a window into your everyday life even if you don’t use Google at all.

Not too often do we get the paranoid response BEFORE the technical part of an article.

In a statement, Google has said that, in the short term, it plans to use Skybox’s satellites to keep Google Maps up to date. And, in the future, the company says, it could use them to help spread internet access to remote areas, something that will help improve the reach of its existing services.

But imagine all the other things Google could do turns its artificial intelligence expertise onto a constant stream of images beamed down from above…

One Skybox insider told David Samuels that satellite images alone could be used to estimate any country’s major economic indicators. Take, for example, this Skybox case study of Saudi oil reserves measured from space. Now consider the insights that could come from marrying that visual data with Google’s Knowledge Graph, leveraging all the company’s algorithmic might. Google could learn all kinds of new things about the world.

But it could also learn all kinds of new things about you. Skybox can take photos from 500 miles up with a sub-one-meter resolution of the ground below. That isn’t likely to sit well with privacy activists who already don’t trust Google. What does the right to be forgotten mean when Google can always see you anyway?

Skybox’s pedigree likely won’t help assuage anyone who likes a good conspiracy theory. According to Samuels, one of the company’s co-founders, John Fenwick, had previously worked as as a liaison in Congress for the National Reconnaissance Office, “the ultrasecret spy agency that manages much of America’s most exotic space toys.” A major investor had worked as an intelligence officer in the French army, while its CEO held previous jobs that brought him into close contact with the Department of Defense…

Yes, these worries are legitimate. As legitimate as worrying about your DirecTV DVR listening in on conversation in the living room – or Microsoft Link turning over travel information in your new car to the NSA.

If Google finds ways of using these satellites that ends up making users’ lives more interesting and convenient, most people are unlikely to object, just like revelations of NSA surveillance haven’t exactly dented Gmail’s market share. But people may find the idea of Google looking down from the heavens on their physical selves more discomfiting than peering through their browsers at their virtual personas. After all, putting an all-seeing Google eye in space gives a whole new meaning to “do not track.”

It’s not the paranoia that I question. It’s the ignorance. Apparently, ignorance about how long governments have had this capability in spades. I learned both Soviet and American spy satellites were capable of reading the license plate on my car – in 1965. The US project started in 1957. I doubt that David Samuels or Marcus Wohlsen were born yet.

I don’t doubt Skybox has advanced beyond the software and hardware pioneered by Itek and whoever did Soviet satellite optics. But, if you think the alphabet soup of federally-funded spies and snoops haven’t been updating and upgrading – with a lot more moolah than a startup less than a decade in the air – you’re kidding yourself.

I don’t doubt there are or will be the occasional near-Earth project that’s cheap enough to attract Uncle Sugar’s spooks. Maybe there might be a view of something snapped at just the right place and time. I just don’t think relying on conspiracy theory to explain a half-billion$ purchase – especially when the spies who it for a living have a half-century head start. And all the taxpayers in the country to fund their work.

Maybe folks are primarily worried about Google spying for its own end…”imagine all the other things Google could do” could be all this is about. But, it’s still a heckuva lot cheaper to lease time or buy info from eyes in the sky than to acquire your own NASA. Unless, um, maybe you’d like to sell Android satphones to half the folks in Africa or South Asia and the Middle East.

The Edward Snowden interview with NBC’s Brian Williams


Click to reach interview at NBC News site

Of course, there is a commercial before you get to part 1. And NBC News offers a page full of government punditry trying to counter the Snowden revelations. Just because Brian Williams scored the beat of the year with his interview of Edward Snowden – and did it in a fashion worthy of Edward R. Murrow – doesn’t transform NBC/Universal/ComCast into a bastion of free speech and democracy.

They’re covering their butts in predictable fashion.

Meanwhile –

Let me repeat my reaction right after the interview:

First, let me give credit where due to NBC and Brian Williams. I expected something better than Fox Noise or John Kerry. I was able to watch an essentially Socratic interview with interesting questions generally free of jingoism and pap. Maybe I should drop by and watch this wee corner of network television once in a while. At least on this single important issue, they did American journalism proud.

Second, Ed Snowden was about what I expected ideologically. Pretty much a centrist libertarian – that’s with a small “L” – who cares about the history and standards of our constitution. He was much more articulate and detailed in his defense of civil disobedience against a distorted and hypocritical government – than I expected. He was kinder to the pimps who malign him than I ever could be – but, then, he’s dedicated to a single issue, our privacy, our freedom to be Americans in the traditional sense that our government used to support. He did a great job.

I expect nutballs on the Right to be out of their mind with hating this interview. I expect Democrat apologists for the policies of Bush and Obama to be equally incensed. I’m confident those who supported Snowden before tonight – as I have – will continue. And will recommend – as I do – that you watch the video of the interview and draw your own conclusions.

Even Jimmy Carter figures the NSA spies on him

Former presidents — they’re just like us (minus the generous pension, 24-hour-a-day Secret Service protection, dedicated presidential library and a few other perks that come to mind).

If you want to keep something private, send an old-fashioned letter, advises former President Jimmy Carter. The 89-year-old former president told NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell in a new interview that he thinks the U.S. intelligence community is probably monitoring his communications, too.

“When I want to communicate with a foreign leader privately, I type or write a letter myself, put it in the post office, and mail it,” he told Mitchell with a chuckle. “Because I believe if I send an email, it will be monitored.”

They probably snooped on his correspondence when he was in office.

Is FBI being good little bureaucrats or are they using the law to endanger legal marijuana dealers?

The FBI is refusing to run nationwide background checks on people applying to run legal marijuana businesses in Washington state, even though it has conducted similar checks in Colorado – a discrepancy that illustrates the quandary the Justice Department faces as it allows the states to experiment with regulating a drug that’s long been illegal under federal law.

Washington state has been asking for nearly a year if the FBI would conduct background checks on its applicants, to no avail. The bureau’s refusal raises the possibility that people with troublesome criminal histories could wind up with pot licenses in the state – undermining the department’s own priorities in ensuring that states keep a tight rein on the nascent industry…

The Obama administration has said it wants the states to make sure pot revenue doesn’t go to organized crime and that state marijuana industries don’t become a cover for the trafficking of other illegal drugs. At the same time, it might be tough for the FBI to stomach conducting such background checks – essentially helping the states violate federal law.

…Stephen Fischer, a spokesman for the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, referred an Associated Press inquiry to DOJ headquarters, which would only issue a written statement: “To ensure a consistent national approach, the department has been reviewing its background check policies, and we hope to have guidance for states in the near term,” it said in its entirety…

In the meantime, officials are relying on background checks by the Washington State Patrol to catch any in-state arrests or convictions. Applicants must have lived in Washington state for three months before applying, and many are longtime Washington residents whose criminal history would likely turn up on a State Patrol check. But others specifically moved to the state in hopes of joining the new industry.

The Colorado background checks were performed for medical marijuana – which convinced the FBI to get off their rusty dusty. Those clearances were expanded by the state for recreational use sales.

Once again, a federal bureaucracy is more willing to spend time regulating morality instead of aiding commerce and a peaceful legal life. If their non-cooperation results in felons being licensed it’s no sweat off their disfunctional butts.

This smartphone will self-destruct in 3… 2…1…


“What do you mean…sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander?”

Boeing has unveiled a smartphone that appears to come straight from a James Bond spy movie…In addition to encrypting calls, any attempt to open the casing of the Boeing Black Smartphone deletes all data and renders the device inoperable.

The secure phone marks an extension of the communications arm of the Chicago-based aerospace and defense contractor, which is best known for jetliners and fighter planes…

Boeing’s tamper-proof phone is aimed at government agencies and contractors who need to keep communication and data secure, according to Boeing and filings with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission…

Due to the phone’s security features, Boeing is releasing few details about the wireless network operators or manufacturer it is working with, and has not provided a price or date by which the phone might be widely available, but said it has begun offering the phone to potential customers.

Boeing’s website says the phone can be configured to connect with biometric sensors or satellites. Other attachments can extend battery life or use solar power…

“We saw a need for our customers in a certain market space” that Boeing could meet with its technology expertise, she said.

That’s a polite way of saying – “we already deal with the creepiest paranoids in the United States government. This is one more way we can rake in more taxpayer dollars.”

Kansas jihadist fails at fundamentalist murder and violence

A Kansas man was arrested today after trying to take what he thought was a bomb onto the tarmac of Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, federal prosecutors and the FBI said.

Terry Lee Loewen, a 58-year-old avionics technician from Wichita, planned to use his access card to conduct a suicide bombing at the airport, government officials said.

There was no danger to the public because the supposed explosives were inert and the man was accompanied by an undercover FBI employee, government officials said. Loewen had been under investigation by the FBI since earlier this year…

Loewen was charged in a criminal complaint with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against people and property, attempting to use an explosive to destroy property, and trying to provide material support to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

No additional arrests are expected, federal officials said. Loewen would face as much as life in prison if convicted…

The complaint said Loewen left a letter dated Dec. 11 that said, “By the time you read this I will — if everything went as planned — have been martyred in the path of Allah.” It said he added, “I expect to be called a terrorist (which I am), a psychopath and a homicidal maniac.”

Federal officials said Loewen spent months preparing for an attack and communicating over the Internet with a person he didn’t realize was an FBI employee…

Loewen said he wanted to kill as many people as possible, and he explained where to park a vehicle full of explosives to accomplish that, the complaint said. He provided components to make a bomb and worked with a second undercover FBI employee to assemble it, it said.

Loewen was arrested today while trying to get into a security gate at the airport…

Idiot – most of all because of his commitment to terrorism as some sort of positive political tactic. It never has been. Hitler’s initiative dive-bombing the civilians of Madrid, LBJ and Nixon carpet-bombing Indo-China, jihadists murdering office workers in New York City, neo-Confederate racists lynching civil rights activists in the South – they all achieved nothing more than mustering the forces you would expect to band together against evil.

Idiot – because his reason for living became a monomaniacal focus on murder. Not the killing that accompanies war. The indiscriminate murder of civilians who most likely aren’t participants in any political conflict. Sectarian justification for wholesale murder.

Spies worry about Snowden’s doomsday cache

British and U.S. intelligence officials say they are worried about a “doomsday” cache of highly classified, heavily encrypted material they believe former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden has stored on a data cloud.

The cache contains documents generated by the NSA and other agencies and includes names of U.S. and allied intelligence personnel, seven current and former U.S. officials and other sources briefed on the matter said.

The data is protected with sophisticated encryption, and multiple passwords are needed to open it, said two of the sources, who like the others spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

The passwords are in the possession of at least three different people and are valid for only a brief time window each day, they said. The identities of persons who might have the passwords are unknown…

One source described the cache of still unpublished material as Snowden’s “insurance policy” against arrest or physical harm.

U.S. officials and other sources said only a small proportion of the classified material Snowden downloaded during stints as a contract systems administrator for NSA has been made public. Some Obama Administration officials have said privately that Snowden downloaded enough material to fuel two more years of news stories.

The worst is yet to come,” said one former U.S. official who follows the investigation closely.

Lots more in the article if you need to be updated on this part of the Snowden affair.

I have to laugh over the inevitably-unnamed American officials who qualify “truth” as the same as the “worst”.