Tagged: NSA

UK terrorism case ends in acquittal – no one allowed to say why

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Ian Cobain

Ian Cobain, a reporter with The Guardian, is one of very few people who know why a student arrested by armed British police officers in 2013 was finally acquitted this year of terrorism charges.

Problem is, he cannot report what he knows. He was allowed to observe much of the trial, but only under strict conditions intended to keep classified material secret. His notebooks are being held by Britain’s domestic intelligence agency. And if he writes — or even talks — about the reason that the student, Erol Incedal, 27, was acquitted, Mr. Cobain faces prosecution and possibly jail.

“I know the essence of what was happening,” Mr. Cobain said, “but I can’t tell, I can’t even talk to my editor about this.”

Having initially gone along reluctantly with the reporting restrictions, a number of British news organizations are now challenging them in court. And yes, the challenge itself is being heard under secrecy rules that leave the public mostly excluded. Were Mr. Cobain to break the law and disclose what he knows publicly, his prosecution would also take place in secret…

The case is among the latest to highlight the growing debate about the proper balance between civil liberties and national security in the age of terrorism. That debate has intensified this year in the United States and across much of Europe, with nations reflecting on decisions they have made since the Sept. 11 attacks and reacting to more recent developments, from the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris to disclosures in Germany about eavesdropping by the United States National Security Agency…

But the Incedal case has focused attention on whether governments are cloaking too many of their activities in national security classifications, insulating themselves from public debate and accountability for mistakes or collusion with suspects.

It’s hard to know quite who is being protected in all this,” said David Davis, a lawmaker from the governing Conservative Party and a former minister…“The implication is that this is more about the embarrassment of the agencies than it is about real questions of national security…”

Please RTFA. This case, the repressive manipulation by government, courts and the thought police is not happening in isolation. The parallels with the American FISA court and actions of the NSA, FBI, other alphabetized fascists is striking.

The good fortune is that journalism in the UK is willing to challenge restrictions – even in roundabout ways – while most US media is self-restricted to entertainment. And it ain’t folks who believe in Free Speech who get to determine what is entertainment.

There is beaucoup detail, anecdotal adventures in the dreamland nightmares of our spooks and politicians.

Another corrupt politician goes up the river

Former Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), the Staten Islander best known for threatening on-camera to “break” a reporter “in half—like a boy,” has been sentenced by a federal judge to eight months in prison for tax evasion.

The sentencing, by US District Judge Pamela Chen, comes seven months after Grimm pleaded guilty to his role in filing a false tax return. Grimm had been indicted in April 2014 on 20 counts related to accounting practices at Healthalicious, a Manhattan restaurant he owned before his time in Congress. The restaurant’s co-owner, Bennett Orfaly, has previously been accused of having ties to a convicted Gambino family mobster.

Despite his indictment, last year, Grimm ran for reelection to his third term in Congress—and won. It was not until December 30—seven days after entering his guilty plea—that he announced his intentions to resign his seat.

Before Grimm was the target of an investigation by the FBI, he served for two decades as one of its agents. It was during this time that Grimm reportedly pulled a gun in a Queens nightclub, and, after a bouncer ejected him, stormed the nightclub with another FBI agent and members of the NYPD. “I’m a fucking F.B.I. agent,” Grimm reportedly said. “Ain’t nobody gonna threaten me.”

Sad commentary on the more criminal side of today’s Republican constituency. Just as the loony, creationist side of Christianity slanders well-meaning religious folk – just as Confederate flag-toting racists with teabags dangling from their AR-15s slander anyone who used to join the NRA to support their classes in hunting safety – conservatism as a political class is now deeply defined as the last bastion of fear and hatred. Better Dead Than Red is back and voting for more of the same.

NSA’s “zombie dragnet” still bulk collecting our phone data


While TV talking heads tell us to fear hackers accessing government records…

The leading civil liberties group in the United States has requested a federal court to stop the National Security Agency from collecting Americans’ phone data in bulk through the end of the year.

While the surveillance dragnet was phased out by Congress and Barack Obama last month, an American Civil Liberties Union suit seeks to end a twilight, zombie period of the same US phone records collection, slated under the new law to last six months.

“Today the government is continuing – after a brief suspension – to collect Americans’ call records in bulk on the purported authority of precisely the same statutory language this court has already concluded does not permit it,” the ACLU writes in a motion filed on Tuesday before the second circuit court of appeals.

The venue is significant. On 7 May, as Congress debated ending the domestic phone-records collection, the second circuit ruled the collection was illegal. Yet it did not order Obama’s administration to cease the bulk collection, writing that a preferable option would be to stay out of the unfolding legislative battle over the future scope of US surveillance.

That debate ended on 2 June with the passage of the USA Freedom Act, which reinstated expired provisions of the Patriot Act that the government had since 2006 relied upon – erroneously, in the second circuit’s view – for the bulk collection. Yet it ended the NSA’s bulk US phone records collection and created a new mechanism for the NSA to gather “call data records” from telecoms pursuant to a court order.

Within hours of signing the bill, Obama requested that the secret surveillance panel known as the Fisa court reinstate the dragnet, relying on a provision permitting a six-month “transition” period. Judge Michael Mosman granted the request on 29 June.

The ACLU, which was the plaintiff in the case the second circuit decided, has indicated since the Fisa court began considering resumption of the dragnet that it would seek an injunction.

Its major contention in support of the requested injunction is that despite the Freedom Act’s provision for a transition period, the underlying law authorizing the bulk surveillance remains the same Patriot Act provisions that the second circuit held do not justify the NSA phone-records collection.

Obama dare not say the program works. He’s admitted it doesn’t.

That still didn’t stop him supporting reauthorization. That didn’t stop Congress authorizing the imitation – with puerile footnotes. The usual coalition of conservative Republicans, Blue Dog Democrats plus out-and-out cowards rolled over in predictable “patriotic” style.

FBI wants easy access to all our communications or Isis will KILL US ALL!


Quillian and Comey

The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation has warned US senators that the threat from the Islamic State merits a “debate” about limiting commercial encryption – the linchpin of digital security – despite a growing chorus of technical experts who say that undermining encryption would prove an enormous boon for hackers, cybercriminals, foreign spies and terrorists.

In a twin pair of appearances before the Senate’s judiciary and intelligence committees on Wednesday, James Comey testified that Isis’s use of end-to-end encryption, whereby the messaging service being used to send information does not have access to the decryption keys of those who receive it, helped the group place a “devil” on the shoulders of potential recruits “saying kill, kill, kill, kill”…

He added: “I am not trying to scare folks.”

Since October, following Apple’s decision to bolster its mobile-device security, Comey has called for a “debate” about inserting “back doors” – or “front doors”, as he prefers to call them – into encryption software, warning that “encryption threatens to lead us all to a very, very dark place”.

But Comey and deputy attorney general Sally Quillian Yates testified…they did not wish the government to itself hold user encryption keys and preferred to “engage” communications providers for access, though technicians have stated that what Comey and Yates seek is fundamentally incompatible with end-to-end encryption.

Comey, who is not a software engineer, said his response to that was: “Really?”…

…Comey’s campaign against encryption has run into a wall of opposition from digital security experts and engineers. Their response is that there is no technical way to insert a back door into security systems for governments that does not leave the door ajar for anyone – hackers, criminals, foreign intelligence services – to exploit and gain access to enormous treasure troves of user data, including medical records, financial information and much more.

The cybersecurity expert Susan Landau, writing on the prominent blog Lawfare, called Comey’s vision of a security flaw only the US government could exploit “magical thinking”…

In advance of Comey’s testimony, several of the world’s leading cryptographers, alarmed by the return of a battle they thought won during the 1990s “Crypto Wars”, rejected the effort as pernicious from a security perspective and technologically illiterate.

A paper they released on Tuesday, called “Keys Under Doormats”, said the transatlantic effort to insert backdoors into encryption was “unworkable in practice, raise[s] enormous legal and ethical questions, and would undo progress on security at a time when internet vulnerabilities are causing extreme economic harm”.

I guess all these years spent successfully stopping enemies of democracy [excluding politicians and elected officials] before encrypted communications were broadly, cheaply possible were just a fluke.

Perhaps time spent hiring and training talented well-educated people to work within a system that respects democratic freedoms may have something to do with it. Perhaps aiding folks, domestic and foreign, to build a better life – instead of simply insisting upon obedience – might diminish the danger from demagogues.

Of course a country that spies on its citizens spies on its allies?

American security

France has summoned the US envoy in Paris over claims that the US spied on President Francois Hollande and his two predecessors…

Whistleblower website Wikileaks reports the US National Security Agency (NSA) spied on Mr Hollande, Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac between 2006-12.

Mr Hollande called the allegations “unacceptable” and is expected to speak with President Obama over the claims.

The US said it would not comment on “specific intelligence allegations”.

Is there any reason to expect the United States to tell the truth about trust and honesty?

The French president called an emergency meeting to discuss the issue and insisted France would “not tolerate” acts that threaten its security…

The NSA has previously been accused of spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and on Brazilian and Mexican leaders…

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has summoned US Ambassador Jane Hartley to discuss the latest claims…

A statement from the French presidency said the US must respect a promise not to spy on French leaders. The statement came after the emergency meeting of security chiefs in Paris.

A senior French intelligence official is meanwhile expected to visit Washington to discuss the spying claims…

The NSA has come under increased scrutiny since revelations by former employee Edward Snowden…One of the files, dated 2012, is about Mr Hollande discussing Greece’s possible exit from the eurozone. Another one – from 2011 – alleges that Mr Sarkozy was determined to resume peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, possibly without US involvement…

According to the summary of an intercepted exchange, the French envoy to Washington and Mr Sarkozy’s diplomatic adviser discussed Mr Sarkozy’s plan to express his “frustration” over US unwillingness to sign a “bilateral intelligence co-operation agreement”.

The main sticking point is the US desire to continue spying on France,” the intercept says.

“Lafayette we are here” no longer describes the arrival of American forces coming to aid of our oldest ally. France, the one nation that stood beside American rebels in our struggle for freedom and democracy.

Not anymore, man.

NSA and Brit spy-flunkies responsible for cyberattacks on security software firms


NSA burning the midnight oil in Utah

The U.S. National Security Agency and its British equivalent, the Government Communications Headquarters, have both been launching attacks against security software in order to track individuals and break into networks…

One of the primary targets has been Russia’s Kaspersky Lab, according to documents leaked by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden, obtained by The Intercept. The agencies have been reverse-engineering Kaspersky software to discover potential exploits, the documents show, and the NSA in particular has allegedly taken things a step further by intercepting data sent from Kaspersky apps to the company’s servers. Much of that app data is reportedly unencrypted, although Kaspersky told The Intercept that it was unable to reproduce similar findings in testing.

One specific piece of evidence for reverse engineering is a GCHQ warrant renewal request from 2008, asking for the legal sanction to deconstruct apps from Kasperksy and others because they “pose a challenge to GCHQ’s CNE [Computer Network Exploitation] capability and SRE [Software Reverse Engineering] is essential in order to be able to exploit such software and to prevent detection of our activities.” The agency also indicated that SRE was being used to judge the suitability of anti-virus programs for use by separate government organizations…

Another NSA method involves scanning the email traffic of foreign anti-virus companies in order to pick up hints of new exploits and malware. In the case of malware, the agency has a group that can repurpose it to launch an attack against a desired target.

An internal 2010 presentation on the monitoring program, known as “Project CAMBERDADA,” mentions 23 foreign anti-virus firms apart from Kaspersky such as Avast, F-secure, and Check Point. Major American and British companies are excluded, such as McAfee, Symantec and Sophos.

Which raises the inevitable question: are the major security software corporations excluded because they’re already cooperating with the NSA?

Obama wants to restart bulk phone record collection as a proper “transition”

cia-fbi-nsa
So, then, I fed him some techy-sounding crap and he rolled over!

The Obama administration intends to use part of a law banning the bulk collection of US phone records to temporarily restart the bulk collection of US phone records.

US officials confirmed to the Guardian that in the coming days they will ask a secret surveillance court to revive the program – deemed illegal by a federal appeals court – all in the name of “transitioning” the domestic surveillance effort to the telephone companies that generate the so-called “call detail records” the government seeks to access.

The unconventional and unexpected legal circumstance depends on a section of the USA Freedom Act, which Obama signed into law on Tuesday, that provides a six-month grace period to prepare the surveillance and legal bureaucracies for a world in which the National Security Agency is no longer the repository of bulk US phone metadata.

During that time, the act’s ban on bulk collection will not yet take effect.

But the NSA stopped its 14-year-old collection of US phone records at 8pm ET on Sunday, when provisions of the Patriot Act that authorized it until that point lapsed. The government will argue it needs to restart the program in order to end it…

One of the leading congressional advocates for surveillance reform, Senator Ron Wyden, warned the Obama administration not to restart a program now roundly rejected by Congress and repudiated by a federal appeals court as illegal.

“I see no reason for the executive branch to restart bulk collection, even for a few months, and I urge them not to attempt to do so. This illegal dragnet surveillance violated Americans’ rights for 14 years without making our country any safer, and the administration should leave it on the ash heap of history,” Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and member of the Senate intelligence committee, told the Guardian…

It is unclear why the NSA believes it needs, as a technical matter, to restart the bulk collection that it has already ended…Representatives for the NSA and the director of national intelligence did not respond to requests for an explanation.

Through a spokesperson, the current presiding judge on the Fisa court, Thomas Hogan, declined to comment.

RTFA if you want additional discussion points, relevant issues.

I’m confounded by the speed and grace by which almost every politician in the United States drops to their knees before the godlike authority given to our spy agencies. From Nixon to Bush, Kennedy to Obama, whenever these pimples on the ass of American history raise the slightest question about policy, our presidents fall over themselves to come up with a response acceptable to our red-white-and-blue version of the Gestapo.

In the post-World War 2 era, only once or twice has any oversight of our foreign and domestic agencies been considered authoritative by the spies, themselves. Mostly, they sit back, nod their heads, pat whichever schoolboy bureaucrat asked a silly question about liberty – on the head – and carry on exactly as they were. The current resident of the White House then says, “Sorry I interrupted your important work”…and resumes distribution of the lies de jour.

Those few moments of divergence were sparked by courageous individuals in Congress who led uprisings of conscience. Not likely to happen, nowadays, in those marble halls which more closely resemble the front office for Corporate Lobbyist Central – with the added aroma of Confederate elitism and racism.

NSA makes up for loss of surveillance powers — returns to Facebook


Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty

The National Security Agency is compensating for the expiration of its power to collect the American people’s personal information by logging on to Facebook, the agency confirmed on Monday.

The director of the N.S.A., Admiral Michael S. Rogers, said that when parts of the Patriot Act expired at midnight on Sunday, intelligence analysts immediately stopped collecting mountains of phone metadata and started reading billions of Facebook updates instead.

“From a surveillance point of view, the transition has been seamless,” Rogers said.

While the N.S.A. has monitored Facebook in the past, it is now spending twenty-four hours a day sifting through billions of baby pictures, pet videos, and photographs of recently enjoyed food to detect possible threats to the United States…

Citing one possible downside of the new surveillance regime, Rogers said that some N.S.A. analysts who now do nothing but monitor Facebook all day report feelings of worthlessness and despair. “I remind them that they’re doing this for America,” he said.

I think this is satire. Harder to tell, nowadays.

Patriot Act powers to lapse [legally] at midnight – Senate hawks FAIL


“What do we do, now?”

No doubt those who value security over liberty will return to Congress in coming days and weeks to rebuild a legal framework for keeping an eye on all of us. I have no confidence they will relent – even if illegal means are their core methods. We will need to continue the fight.

Meanwhile, read this GUARDIAN article to get up-to-date.

Apple and Google invited to debate a confidential summit for spies


Click to enlargeDownton Abbey for spies

At an 18th-century mansion in England’s countryside last week, current and former spy chiefs from seven countries faced off with representatives from tech giants Apple and Google to discuss government surveillance in the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s leaks.

The three-day conference, which took place behind closed doors and under strict rules about confidentiality, was aimed at debating the line between privacy and security…

According to an event program obtained by The Intercept, questions on the agenda included: “Are we being misled by the term ‘mass surveillance’?” “Is spying on allies/friends/potential adversaries inevitable if there is a perceived national security interest?” “Who should authorize intrusive intelligence operations such as interception?” “What should be the nature of the security relationship between intelligence agencies and private sector providers, especially when they may in any case be cooperating against cyber threats in general?” And, “How much should the press disclose about intelligence activity?”

The list of participants included:

Richard Salgado, Google’s legal director for law enforcement and information security; Verity Harding, Google’s U.K. public policy manager and head of security and privacy policy; Jane Horvath, Apple’s senior director of global privacy; Erik Neuenschwander, Apple’s product security and privacy manager; Matthew Kirk, Vodafone Group’s external affairs director; and Phillipa McCrostie, global vice chair of transaction advisory services, Ernst & Young…

From the U.S.:

John McLaughlin, the CIA’s former acting director and deputy director; Jami Miscik, the CIA’s former director of intelligence; Mona Sutphen, member of President Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board and former White House deputy chief of staff; Rachel Brand, member of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board; George Newcombe, board of visitors, Columbia Law School; David Ignatius, Washington Post columnist and associate editor; and Sue Halpern, New York Review of Books contributor…

The event was chaired by the former British MI6 spy chief Sir John Scarlett and organized by the Ditchley Foundation, which holds several behind-closed-doors conferences every year at its mansion in Oxfordshire in an effort to address “complex issues of international concern.” The discussions are held under what is called the Chatham House Rule, meaning what is said by each attendee during the meetings cannot be publicly revealed, a setup intended to encourage open and frank discussion. The program outlining the conference on surveillance told participants they could “draw afterwards on the substance of what has been said” but warned them “not under any circumstances to reveal to any person not present at the conference” details exposing what particular named individuals talked about…

Investigative reporter Duncan Campbell, who attended the event, told The Intercept that it was a “remarkable” gathering that “would have been inconceivable without Snowden,” the National Security Agency whistleblower.

“Away from the fetid heat of political posturing and populist headlines, I heard some unexpected and surprising comments from senior intelligence voices, including that ‘cold winds of transparency’ had arrived and were here to stay,” said Campbell, who has been reporting on British spy agencies over a career spanning four decades.

He added: “Perhaps to many participants’ surprise, there was general agreement across broad divides of opinion that Snowden – love him or hate him – had changed the landscape; and that change towards transparency, or at least ‘translucency’ and providing more information about intelligence activities affecting privacy, was both overdue and necessary.”

Since none of us were invited to the discussion we’ll have to rely upon “interpretations” leaked over coming weeks. Certainly, some of those attending were on the side of privacy and transparency. Not governed by government-level paranoia or bound by class-dependent arrogance.