Category Archives: GWOT

Headlines of the day I: Spies, pols, phones, zones


Off to the world of dark arts, trenchcoats, and national security, starting with this from the Washington Post:

Spy agencies’ attorney has fiercely defended surveillance programs revealed by Snowden

Amid the initial wave of leaks by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, U.S. officials arranged closed-door briefings with lawmakers in a bid to contain the damage. As tensions rose in a session with members of the House of Representatives, Robert S. Litt, the intelligence community’s top lawyer, showed his pique:

“Well, you’re the ones who passed it,” he said, referring to the law being used to collect the phone records of virtually every U.S. citizen. “And if you don’t like it,” he added, according to participants, “you can always repeal it.”

Meant to quiet the crowd, the remark instead triggered hostile applause among members inclined to take Litt’s dare — a reaction that underscored how rapidly the political terrain was shifting for spy agencies and the level of antagonism their attorney could provoke.

Techdirt covers rollback:

NSA Goes From Saying Bulk Metadata Collection ‘Saves Lives’ To ‘Prevented 54 Attacks’ To ‘Well, It’s A Nice Insurance Policy’

  • from the this-is-why-no-one-trusts-them dept

Want to know why no one trusts anything NSA officials and their defenders have to say any more? When the bulk metadata collection was first revealed, those defenders went on and on about how the program “saved countless lives” and was instrumental in stopping terrorist attacks. Some skeptics then asked what terrorist attacks, and we were told “around 50″ though details weren’t forthcoming. Eventually, we were told that the real number was “54 terrorist events” (note: not attacks) and a review of them later revealed that basically none of them were legitimate. There was one “event” prevented via the program on US soil, and it was a taxi driver in San Diego sending some money to a terrorist group in Somalia, rather than an actual terrorist attack.

Businessweek does it on the cheap:

A Month of Surveillance by GPS Is up to 6,875 Times Cheaper Than Using People

When the U.S. Supreme Court said two years ago that hooking a GPS device onto someone’s car to track his movements for a month is unconstitutional, the FBI acknowledged that it had about 3,000 such devices installed around the country. Presumably, the agency would have to go back to trailing these people in unmarked cars. A paper published by two prominent privacy researchers on Thursday in the Yale Law Journal puts some numbers behind the obvious conclusion that doing so would be nearly impossible.

Kevin Bankston, policy director of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, and Ashkan Soltani, an independent researcher, quantified the per-hour costs of following someone around using various techniques. In order to do the work of those 3,000 GPS devices, the FBI would have to devote every single one of its special agents to surveillance 24 hours a day, and then go out and hire an additional 1,215.

The point of this thought exercise is to solve a question that privacy scholars have been mulling since the Supreme Court said in the 2012 United States v. Jones case that GPS surveillance amounted to a violation of the Fourth Amendment. It’s legal for the police to follow a suspect’s movements in public, but at some point automated surveillance fundamentally changes the equation. A previous Supreme Court ruling has established that putting a beeper on someone’s car, which allows two people to do the work of five people, is legal. You’ve crossed the line once you’ve put a GPS tracker on a car. But where, exactly, is that line?

TheLocal.no covers spooky phone-ys:

Britain lobbied to weaken security on GSM phones

One of the men who helped develop the GSM mobile standard has told Aftenposten that British intelligence probably lobbied to weaken security so that they could eavesdrop on calls.

“I was told by a British delegate that the British secret services wanted to weaken the security so they could eavesdrop more easily,” Thomas Haug, a former Ericsson engineer and one of the main architects of GSM, told the paper.

No less than four engineers involved in the GSM project in the late 1980s  told the paper that negotiators from Britain, and possibly other countries, had fought against the 128-bit encryption they had originally wanted.

“They wanted a key length of 48 bit. We were very surprised,” Jan Arild Audestad, from Norway’s Telenor, said. “The West Germans protested because they wanted a stronger encryption to prevent spying from East Germany. The result was an effective key length of 54 bits.”

RT hits the road:

License to kill? British spies to be authorized to break speed limit

Pedestrian safety is set to take a back seat to national security as British intelligence officers will be provided a free pass to zoom through zebra crossings and ignore red lights, according to new motoring laws.

Hollywood car-chase scenes, James Bond-style, may become a regular occurrence on the streets of Britain thanks to an overhaul of the national motoring law, which Transport minister, Robert Goodwill, is scheduled to announce on Monday.

The new law will allow MI5 and MI6 agents to go through red lights and ignore road markings – much the same as police officers, fire fighters and emergency medical crews – in the name of “protecting national security”.

The Independent lodges a complaint:

Revealed: How gangs used the Freemasons to corrupt police

  • Gangsters able to recruit police officers through secret society, says investigation for Scotland Yard

Secret networks of Freemasons have been used by organised crime gangs to corrupt the criminal justice system, according to a bombshell Metropolitan Police report leaked to The Independent.

Operation Tiberius, written in 2002, found underworld syndicates used their contacts in the controversial brotherhood to “recruit corrupted officers” inside Scotland Yard, and concluded it was one of “the most difficult aspects of organised crime corruption to proof against”.

The report – marked “Secret” – found serving officers in East Ham east London who were members of the Freemasons attempted to find out which detectives were suspected of links to organised crime from other police sources who were also members of the society.

Shameless pandering, via the Tribune Washington Bureau:

Hollywood figures spied for CIA, book asserts

It’s well-known that Hollywood loves a good spy story. But what is also true, according to a new memoir by a former senior CIA official, is that movie makers regularly do some real-life spying.

“The CIA has long had a special relationship with the entertainment industry, devoting considerable attention to fostering relationships with Hollywood movers and shakers – studio executives, producers, directors, big-name actors,” John Rizzo, the former acting CIA general counsel, wrote in his new book, “Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA.”

People might assume that since Hollywood leans to the political left, the CIA’s relationships “would be with the sort of conservative picket of Hollywood,” Rizzo said in an interview. “Well, that’s not true. People one would normally associate with liberal causes have assisted CIA.”

TheLocal.se, secure, sorta:

PM insists Sweden’s defence is strong enough

Just over one quarter of the Swedish public has faith in Sweden’s defence policy, new figures show, but the prime minister insisted at a conference on Sunday that the military strength was adequate.

Twenty-six percent of Swedes say they have a “high” or “quite high” level of confidence in Sweden’s defence policy, the annual public survey from the Civil Contingencies Agency (Myndigheten för samhällsskydd och beredskap – MSB) revealed.

This figure is down from 35 percent in 2012 and 40 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, 52 percent of Swedes say they have low or quite low confidence in the policy.

The survey prompted a reaction from Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, speaking at the annual defence and security conference Folk och Försvar in Sälen, who said that the biggest threat to Sweden is not military in nature, but was more likely to be a cyber or terrorist threat.

The Express Tribune counts bodies:

At least 1,623 militants killed in US drone strikes: Report

According to ‘Drone Wars Pakistan: Analysis,’  a report by the think tank New America Foundation, 370 US drone strikes have occurred in Pakistan since 2004 with the latest strike on December 25.

The report also gives a breakdown of the number casualties of the drone strikes. The year in which the most number of people who were killed in the strikes is 2010 as seen in the graph below. There is a downward trend of the drone strikes since 2010.

The total number of people who were killed in these strikes is between 2,080-3,428 people. Of these, 1,623-2,787 are reportedly militants and 258 – 307 civilians.

TheLocal.de has the latest:

German security contact dies in US drone attack

A German man has reportedly been killed in a US drone attack in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although a convert to Islam, he was said to be in contact with German security officials.

The man, identified only as Patrick K. from Offenbach in Hesse, was not only a convert to Islam, he had also been in touch with the German authorities for years, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported on Monday.

Although he was killed in the drone attack on February 16th 2012, his death has only now come to light, the paper said. Its reporting, in partnership with the NDR broadcaster, suggested the 27-year-old had moved to the Waziristan region with his wife, thought to be a Pakistani national.

After the jump, the latest Asia security/zone/militarization crises, censorship in India, and a major embarrassment for Bill Gates. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day I: Spies, pols, drones, zones


Todya’s walk of the spooky side begins in Washington with The Hill:

Obama legacy on line with NSA

President Obama is under pressure from all sides to announce major reforms to the National Security Agency on Friday.

Privacy and civil liberties groups as well as lawmakers on the left have urged for a wholesale termination of much of the government’s snooping. Silicon Valley, home to some of Obama’s biggest supports, is also pressing for change. So are foreign leaders, rankled by the notion that their ally might be spying on them.

The calls for reforms put Obama in a tough spot give his administration’s insistence that the NSA’s efforts are critical for national security.

While Obama is sure to announce some significant policy changes in his Jan. 17 address, it remains unclear just how far he is willing to go

The Guardian postures:

John McCain seeks congressional investigation into ‘broken’ NSA

  • ‘There has been overreach’ says Republican senator
  • Obama to announce surveillance proposals on Friday

John McCain, the Republican senator and former presidential candidate, has called for a congressional investigation into America’s “broken” National Security Agency, ahead of week in which the White House will announce its own reforms.

President Barack Obama will reveal a number of changes to the way the NSA and associated secret courts operate on Friday, concluding months of debate within the administration about the appropriate response to disclosures made by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Mashable pleads:

U.S. Senators Implore Obama to Rein in NSA Surveillance

Three U.S. senators say they think it’s time for U.S. President Barack Obama to rein in the National Security Agency’s surveillance tactics.

The three Democrats, Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, wrote a letter to Obama earlier this week, urging him to follow the advice of an independent panel that recently recommended ending the NSA’s bulk telephone metadata collection and storage program, as well as other proposed NSA reforms. Each of the three senators sits on the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

“While we have served on the Intelligence Committee for varying lengths of time, all three of us can attest that our nation’s intelligence professionals are overwhelmingly dedicated and patriotic men and women who make real sacrifices to help keep our country safe and free,” the senators wrote. “We believe that they should be able to do their jobs secure in the knowledge that their agencies have the trust and confidence of the American people.”

The senators said that trust in American surveillance organizations has been “undermined by overly intrusive domestic surveillance programs and misleading statements made by senior officials over a period of many years.”

And the McClatchy Washington Bureau dissents:

How New Mexico’s Sen. Heinrich came to be a critic of NSA

Last May, Senate Intelligence Committee rookie Martin Heinrich was just settling into his new Senate office, five floors above the committee’s fiercely guarded headquarters, and finally wrapping his head around some of the intelligence matters he’d recently been tasked to oversee when Edward Snowden happened.

Suddenly, the world was filled with news of National Security Agency surveillance programs whose scope Heinrich had only begun to grasp.

“All of that came to a head very quickly,” said Heinrich, who’d attended his first intelligence briefing just six months before Snowden’s leak of documents exposed the NSA’s massive collection of Americans’ cellphone and Internet data. “I started to realize that the program was much more expansive than my assumption when I was in the House.”

The Daily Dot investigates:

British government funding research to study online habits, hackers, and Anonymous

The British Ministry of Defence is now funding postgraduate research into data mining, social media habits, and hacktivist groups like Anonymous.

The MoD’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) has invested the equivalent of $15.6 million into various PhD programs researching subjects ranging from the social media behaviour of political protesters, to the development of “battle-winning technologies.”

The DSTL-funded programs often focus on topics that could be used by the military, such as underwater drones, but many of the recently-announced new PhDs branch out into more esoteric fields that have more in common with online counter-terrorism programs. One example is a $160,000 study of “digital insurgency” at Kings College London, a course that will include an investigation into understanding the activities of Anonymous. (Good luck with that.)

RT drones away:

El Drone: Correa presents ‘surprise’ Ecuadorian UAV

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa has unveiled the country’s first domestically made unmanned aerial vehicle. The drone is to help Quito fight drug traffic and will also be on sale in South America, costing “7 times less” than its Israeli equivalent.

“We have pleasant surprises… Whether you believe it or not, we are already producing unmanned aircraft,” Correa told the Ecuadorians, speaking on local television on Saturday.

The prototype drone, called the UAV-2 Gavilán (“Hawk”), has been designed by the Ecuadorian Air Force (FAE) to monitor borders and hard-to-reach areas, like the Amazon rainforest, as well as for assisting investigations.

And on to Asia, the theater of crises of late, starting with a linkup via the Yomiuri Shimbun:

Japan, Russia to expand defense exchanges

The Japanese and Russian governments are considering revising a memorandum on defense exchanges to expand the scope of their bilateral cooperation, a move that may make reciprocal visits by the two nations’ defense ministers regular events, according to government sources.

Envisaged measures will likely include shoring up joint maneuvers by the Self-Defense Forces and the Russian armed forces. The two governments hope to sign a new memorandum at a meeting of their defense ministers as early as this autumn, the sources said.

The main purpose of the revision is to ensure that an agreement reached at talks between the defense ministers in Tokyo last November is put in statutory form. Specific measures to be written into the new memorandum will include each defense minister visiting the other on a regular basis; starting discussions on sending Air Self-Defense Force transport aircraft to Russia for the purpose of promoting exchanges between troops from the two countries; and sharing information related to U.N. peacekeeping activities.

Channel NewsAsia Singapore blusters:

Japan vows defence as China ships near disputed isles

Japan’s defence minister vowed on Sunday to defend the country’s territory as three Chinese government ships entered disputed waters off Tokyo-controlled islands in the East China Sea, the first such incident this year.

The Chinese coastguard vessels sailed into the 12-nautical-mile territorial waters at about 8.30 am (2330 GMT Saturday) off one of the Senkaku islands, which China also claims and calls the Diaoyus, Japan’s coastguard said. They left less than two hours later.

“We can never overlook repeated incursions into territorial waters,” Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters.

The Mainichi updates:

3 Chinese ships sail in Japanese waters around Senkaku Islands

Three Chinese coast guard ships sailed in Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea on Sunday, the Japan Coast Guard said.

It is the first time since Dec. 29 that Chinese ships have been spotted in Japanese waters around the islands.

The three ships entered the waters around 8:35 a.m., and left by 10:40 a.m.

Want China Times charts another voyage:

USS Freedom conducted patrol operations in the South China Sea: admiral

The USS Freedom, the first littoral combat ship of the United States Navy, conducted patrol operations in the disputed South China Sea during its deployment to Singapore, reports the Washington DC-based US Naval Institute News, citing Vice Admiral Tom Copeman, commander of the Naval Surface Forces of the US Pacific Fleet.

The admiral made the remarks during a press conference held in San Diego, California on Jan. 6. Discussing the USS Freedom’s 10-month deployment to Singapore between March and December 2013, Copeman told reporters that it was a success despite several high-profile systems problems during its first deployment.

Want China Times takes wing:

Report puts China’s air power growth fastest in world: website

A global ranking shows that China is developing its air power faster than any other country in the world, propelled in part by its newest jet fighters and special mission military aircraft, according to Chinese-language site Sina Military.

The article cited a 2013-2014 world air power report published by UK-based weekly Flight International.

In 2013, China ranked second in the world for the number of fighter jets at 1,453, trailing the 2,740 fighters in the United States, and coming in just ahead of Russia, which placed third with 1,438, according to the web site.

The Asahi Shimbun counsels:

POLL: 60% of S. Koreans want Park to mend fences with Japan

Nearly 60 percent of South Koreans said President Park Geun-hye should take proactive measures to repair ties with Japan, which went from bad to worse after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Yasukuni Shrine last month, a survey showed.

According to the survey by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, a private think tank, 87.6 percent said Abe should not have visited the shrine, which memorializes 14 Class-A war criminals along with Japan’s war dead.

The telephone survey of about 1,000 people was conducted Dec. 29-31 after Abe visited Yasukuni on Dec. 26. In many parts of Asia, visits to the shrine by Japanese politicians are seen as glorifying the nation’s wartime past.

According to the survey, 57.7 percent of respondents called for Park to take proactive steps to improve relations with Japan.

SINA English declares:

Japan must show respect: France

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius urged Tokyo to draw lessons from France and Germany to resolve sensitive historical issues, Phoenix TV reported on Friday.

During a meeting with their French counterparts on Thursday, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera defended Abe’s visit to the Tokyo-based Yasukuni Shrine, which honors 14 Class-A war criminals.

Fabius responded that “these things have to be resolved through the work of historians, public opinion and with respect for others.” Speaking of the rift between China and Japan, Fabius said, “The tensions are a source of concern. … We want this part of the world to find solutions to ease tensions.”

Xinhua adds some heat from a past Japan has been unwilling to confront:

Japan’s state role in wartime sex slaves documented

Wartime documents show Japanese government’s role in forcing women to work as wartime sex slaves for Japanese occupying troops.

The files came out as a crushing blow to Japan’s right-wing politicians seeking to deny that Japan had played a state role in the issue and saying the “comfort women” were “transported by private businessmen.”

The 32 Japanese documents newly revealed by Jilin Provincial Archives regarding “comfort women” show in detail the Japanese government and military’s role in abducting, trafficking and forcing women to provide sex to Japanese soldiers.

According to documents dating from March 27 to April 19, 1945, the Anshan Branch of the then Japanese Central Bank of Manchou had transferred money to the Japanese troops under the name “public funds for the military’s use to buy comfort women.” Similar cases of “transfer of public funds” could also be found in other telephone records.

JapanToday splits the tab:

S Korea to pay $866.6 mil in 2014 to host U.S. troops

South Korea said Sunday it had agreed to pay about $866.6 million this year to keep on its soil U.S. troops who help guard against threats from North Korea.

Seoul’s foreign ministry, after months of negotiation with Washington, confirmed this year’s contribution of 920 billion won ($866.6 million), up 5.8% from last year.

The two allies also agreed on a maximum 4% annual increase in the amount until 2018, the ministry spokesman Cho Tai-Young told reporters.

And the Japan Times unearths:

U.S. Army tested biological weapons in Okinawa

  • Rice fungus released in at least two sites in early 1960s, documents show

The U.S. Army tested biological weapons in Okinawa in the early 1960s, when the prefecture was still under U.S. rule, according to U.S. documents obtained by Kyodo News.

In the tests, conducted at least a dozen times between 1961 and 1962, rice blast fungus was released over paddies to see how it affected production, the documents made available by U.S. authorities showed.

Rice blast disease causes lesions to form on the plant, threatening the crop. The fungus, which is known to occur in 85 countries, is estimated to destroy enough rice to feed 60 million people a year.

The Guardian probes:

Honeywell under investigation for Chinese-made parts in US warplanes

  • Sensors and magnets for F-35 fighter jet were made in China
  • Pentagon issued waivers to ban on Chinese-made components

The US Justice Department is investigating export and import procedures at Honeywell International Inc after the firm included Chinese parts in equipment it built for the F-35 fighter jet, three sources familiar with the matter said.

Reuters last week reported that the Pentagon twice waived laws banning Chinese-built components in US weapons in 2012 and 2013 for parts supplied by Honeywell for the $392bn Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 programme.

New details have now emerged about one of those waivers, which involved simple thermal sensors that Honeywell initially produced in Scotland before moving that production line to China in 2009 and 2010. The other waivers involved high-performance magnets built in China and elsewhere.

And South China Morning Post declines:

White House responds to petition, saying it can’t kill Kimmel show

  • Replying to petition over ‘kill Chinese’ quip on ABC show, US says free speech is paramount

The White House has weighed in on a petition calling for the US government to crack down on Jimmy Kimmel Live, a television talk show that sparked a furore in China in October with a joke about killing Chinese people to avoid paying down US debt to the country.

More than 105,000 people signed on to a White House petition calling for an apology after the show on the American Broadcasting Co included a segment where Kimmel asked a group of children how the United States should pay back the US$1.3 trillion it owes to China.

A six-year-old said: “Kill everyone in China.” Host Jimmy Kimmel replied: “That’s an interesting idea.”

For our final item, Spook Behaving Very, Very Badly [see bolded] from Business Insider:

Police Say Man With 48 Bombs Also Had Top Secret Clearance, Guns, A Vest, And Blueprints

A man caught speeding with 48 bombs in his car also had a remote detonating device, guns, and military base schematics and was on an 85 mph b-line toward a U.S. Navy SEALs training facility, Police tell Laura Arenschield of the Columbus Dispatch.

Andrew Scott Boguslawski, 43, was in a 70 mph zone and law enforcement caught up with him on New Years Eve, pulled him over, and eventually arrested him.

Now Boguslawski, who works as a trainer at the Indiana training facility for Navy SEALs, is under suspicion for potential terrorist aspirations.

Boguslawski is a specialist in the Army National Guard, where he works as an intelligence analyst and holds a compartmentalized Top Secret security clearance.

Headlines of the day I: Spies, Laws, Zones, Pols


We begin today’s tales from the dark side with a huge number from the Washington Post:

Snowden downloaded 1.7 million intelligence files, Pentagon report concludes

A classified Pentagon report concludes that former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden downloaded 1.7 million intelligence files from U.S. agencies in the single largest theft of secrets in the history of the United States, according to lawmakers.

The report, they said, asserts that the breach has the potential to put military personnel at risk.

“This report confirms my greatest fears — Snowden’s real acts of betrayal place America’s military men and women at greater risk. Snowden’s actions are likely to have lethal consequences for our troops in the field,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.

BBC News wants to talk:

MEPs seek video link with Snowden for NSA spying probe

Euro MPs have agreed to invite fugitive US whistleblower Edward Snowden to give evidence via live video link to a European Parliament inquiry into US surveillance.

Mr Snowden is in Russia, wanted by the US over his revelations about National Security Agency (NSA) snooping.

The parliamentary Civil Liberties Committee vote was passed by 36 votes in favour, two against and one abstention. No date has been fixed yet.

The Guardian reaches a solemn conclusion:

NSA and GCHQ activities appear illegal, says EU parliamentary inquiry

  • Civil liberties committee report demands end to indiscriminate collection of personal data by British and US agencies

Mass surveillance programmes used by the US and Britain to spy on people in Europe have been condemned in the “strongest possible terms” by the first parliamentary inquiry into the disclosures, which has demanded an end to the vast, systematic and indiscriminate collection of personal data by intelligence agencies.

The inquiry by the European parliament’s civil liberties committee says the activities of America’s National Security Agency (NSA) and its British counterpart, GCHQ, appear to be illegal and that their operations have “profoundly shaken” the trust between countries that considered themselves allies.

The 51-page draft report, obtained by the Guardian, was discussed by the committee on Thursday. Claude Moraes, the rapporteur asked to assess the impact of revelations made by the whistleblower Edward Snowden, lsocondemns the “chilling” way journalists working on the stories have been intimidated by state authorities.

More from Deutsche Welle:

EU report reveals massive scope of secret NSA surveillance

The European Parliament has wrapped up its inquiry into mass surveillance. In a draft report, politicians are being hard on all sides – the US government, the NSA, but also on hesitant EU governments and companies.

It was Thursday afternoon and the first week after the winter break – and it was hardly a surprise that only few seats were filled in room JAN 2Q2 at the European Parliament (EP) in Brussels. But Claude Moraes, British MEP from the group of Socialists and Social Democrats (S&D), woke the European Union from its winter slumber with a bang.

The rapporteur of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) had come to present the 52-page draft report on the committee’s inquiry into the NSA spying scandal and its implications on European citizens. The draft report is hard on all sides – including governments and companies in the EU.

The report summarizes the findings from the past six months. On page 16, the text says that the recent revelations in the press by whistleblowers and journalists, together with the expert evidence given during the inquiry, have resulted in “compelling evidence of the existence of far-reaching, complex and highly technologically advanced systems designed by US and some Member States’ intelligence services to collect, store and analyze communication and location data and metadata of all citizens around the world on an unprecedented scale and in an indiscriminate and non-suspicion-based manner.”

The 52-page report is posted in English here [PDF].

The Associated Press mulls:

Obama ponders limiting NSA access to phone records

President Barack Obama is expected to rein in spying on foreign leaders and is considering restricting National Security Agency access to Americans’ phone records, according to people familiar with a White House review of the government’s surveillance programs.

Obama could unveil his highly anticipated decisions as early as next week. On Thursday, the president met with congressional leaders at the White House to discuss the review, while White House staff planned to meet with privacy advocates. Representatives from tech companies are meeting with White House staff on Friday.

The White House says Obama is still collecting information before making final decisions.

Among the changes Obama is expected to announce is more oversight of the National Intelligence Priorities Framework, a classified document that ranks U.S. intelligence-gathering priorities and is used to make decisions on scrutiny of foreign leaders. A presidential review board has recommended increasing the number of policy officials who help establish those priorities, and that could result in limits on surveillance of allies.

National Journal has doubts:

Lawmakers Skeptical Obama Will Reform NSA After White House Summit

President Obama met with hand-picked lawmakers at the White House on Thursday to discuss the National Security Agency’s controversial spying programs, capping a week of meetings at the White House focused on potential reforms for the maligned federal agency.

The gathering in the Roosevelt Room occurred ahead of Obama’s planned announcement of possible NSA reforms the administration hopes to push out before his State of the Union address at the end of the month. It included top defenders of NSA surveillance, such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., as well as loud critics, such as Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.

At least some of the lawmakers left the meeting unconvinced that the president is going to do enough to curtail the NSA. House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said “it’s increasingly clear that we need to take legislative action to reform” the NSA’s intelligence gathering.

The Guardian presses:

Ron Wyden: the future of NSA programs is being determined now

  • Oregon senator attended key White House meeting Thursday
  • Obama met with ACLU, Epic and Open Technology Institute
  • Expectations mounting that Obama will propose changes

Privacy advocates pressed Barack Obama to end the bulk collection of Americans’ communications data at a series of meetings at the White House on Thursday, seizing their final chance to convince him of the need for meaningful reform of sweeping surveillance practices.

A key US senator left one meeting at the White House with the impression that President Obama has yet to decide on specific reforms. “The debate is clearly fluid,” senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a longtime critic of bulk surveillance, told the Guardian after the meeting. “My sense is the president, and the administration, is wrestling with these issues,” Wyden said.

The McClatchy Washington Bureau covers a defense:

FBI chief defends national security letters

FBI Director James Comey on Thursday pushed back against proposed changes in a controversial investigative tool he called key to fighting terrorists.

While a White House advisory panel is urging tighter judicial oversight of the FBI’s so-called “national security letter” program, Comey said the proposed revisions could fatally impede investigations.

Meeting with 20 reporters at FBI headquarters, Comey said the advisory panel’s recommendation to boost judicial oversight of the national security letters would “actually make it harder to conduct a national security investigation than a bank fraud investigation.”

USA TODAY bloviates:

FBI director: Snowden not a ‘hero whistle-blower’

FBI Director James Comey says he’s confused when he hears people referring to former national security contractor Edward Snowden as a “hero whistle-blower.”

“I have trouble applying the ‘whistle-blower’ label to someone who just disagrees with the way our country is structured and operates,” he told reporters Thursday.

The government program to conduct electronic surveillance through phone carriers and Internet service providers is an example of “the government operating in the way the framers intended,” with all three branches of government playing a role, Comey said.

But revelations about that program — which came from documents Snowden took with him when he left a contractor for the National Security Agency — “is a small piece of the information that was stolen,” Comey said. And that includes information about other operations that would not have whistle-blower protection, he said.

Reuters blows back:

India’s election regulator drops plan to partner Google after spying fears

India’s election regulator dropped plans on Thursday to partner Google Inc on a project to ease voter access to information, after a backlash against the move from campaigners who fear Google and the U.S. government could use it for spying.

India, the world’s largest democracy, will go to the polls in a general election due by May. Google, the world’s No.1 search engine, had pitched a project to the Election Commission to create a simpler and faster search tool for voters to check whether they were registered correctly or not.

But the plan was opposed by the Indian Infosec Consortium, a government and private sector-backed alliance of cyber security experts, who feared Google would collaborate with “American agencies” for espionage purposes.

PCMag.com has a request:

What It’s Like When The FBI Asks You To Backdoor Your Software

At a recent RSA Security Conference, Nico Sell was on stage announcing that her company—Wickr—was making drastic changes to ensure its users’ security. She said that the company would switch from RSA encryption to elliptic curve encryption, and that the service wouldn’t have a backdoor for anyone.

As she left the stage, before she’d even had a chance to take her microphone off, a man approached her and introduced himself as an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  He then proceeded to “casually” ask if she’d be willing to install a backdoor into Wickr that would allow the FBI to retrieve information.

This encounter, and the agent’s casual demeanor, is apparently business as usual as intelligence and law enforcement agencies seek to gain greater access into protected communication systems. Since her encounter with the agent at RSA, Sell says it’s a story she’s heard again and again. “It sounds like that’s how they do it now,” she told SecurityWatch. “Always casual, testing, because most people would say yes.”

After the jump, on to Asia, for the latest developments in the Game of Zones, Korean divisions, escalating semantics and zone enforcement, corruption at Scotland Yard, and a righteous question for the Washington Post. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day I: Spies, pols, zones, cons


Much happening, and we’ve still been recovering a bit from a two-weel-old bug, so without further ado. . .

From Boing Boing, Orwell’s nightmare realized:

UK legal proposal: authorities can prevent anyone from doing anything for any reason

The UK’s proposed new Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill creates a new kind of injunction, the Ipnas (“injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance”), which judges can hand down without proof of wrongdoing to anyone over ten, and send them to jail to violate them (kids go to young offenders centres for up to three months). Along with the Ipnas comes “dispersal orders,” which police can use to order anyone to leave any public place for any length of time, for any reason, on their own say-so.

As George Monbiot writes in the Guardian “The new injunctions and the new dispersal orders create a system in which the authorities can prevent anyone from doing more or less anything.”

More from The Guardian:

At last, a law to stop almost anyone from doing almost anything

  • Protesters, buskers, preachers, the young: all could end up with ‘ipnas’. Of course, if you’re rich, you have nothing to fear

On Wednesday the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill reaches its report stage (close to the end of the process) in the House of Lords. It is remarkable how little fuss has been made about it, and how little we know of what is about to hit us.

The bill would permit injunctions against anyone of 10 or older who “has engaged or threatens to engage in conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person”. It would replace asbos with ipnas (injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance), which would not only forbid certain forms of behaviour, but also force the recipient to discharge positive obligations. In other words, they can impose a kind of community service order on people who have committed no crime, which could, the law proposes, remain in force for the rest of their lives.

The bill also introduces public space protection orders, which can prevent either everybody or particular kinds of people from doing certain things in certain places. It creates new dispersal powers, which can be used by the police to exclude people from an area (there is no size limit), whether or not they have done anything wrong.

From The Hill, lily-gilding:

Obama to meet with intel officials, lawmakers ahead of NSA report

President Obama will meet with lawmakers and leaders of the intelligence community later this week before he announces the results of his review of the nation’s surveillance program, the White House said Tuesday.

He will host separate meetings on Wednesday with intelligence officials and members of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. Then he’ll talk with congressional leaders on Thursday, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement.

The meetings come as the White House nears “the final stages of our ongoing internal review” into the the government’s surveillance practices, Hayden said.

More blowback from across the pond, via EUobserver:

EU intelligence service needed as an NSA counterweight, says EU commissioner

EU justice commissioner Reding on Tuesday said the EU needs its own intelligence service as an NSA counterweight. “When you have rather smaller intelligence services of the different member states, you really do not have a counterweight and that is why have I proposed it in the future,” she noted.

BBC News scrutinizes:

What happens if authorities seize your laptop?

A federal judge in New York has ruled authorities can seize travellers’ laptops at the border without citing a legal reason, suspecting the traveller of a crime, or explaining themselves in any way. What happens if they take yours?

If the authorities take your laptop, expect they will copy everything on its hard drive. Afterwards they may send the copy to the US Army’s criminal-investigative division in Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

That is what they did after they seized the computer of David House, an activist who had been raising money for the legal defence of Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning).

House’s belongings were seized when he returned from holiday in Mexico in November 2010.

The Hill is uncompromising:

Hoyer: No special treatment for Snowden

Edward Snowden deserves no special treatment, if he returns to the United States to face charges of leaking a slew of national security secrets, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday.

“We cannot have people who are given secret clearances going to foreign governments — particularly hostile governments — and exposing information that could prove fatal to people, but also could prove very harmful to the interests of the United States,” Hoyer said during a press conference in the Capitol.

Hoyer acknowledged that Snowden has single-handedly raised “serious questions” about the government’s surveillance programs. But by fleeing the country for China and Russia, the former National Security Agency contractor forfeited his rights to leniency, Hoyer argued.

RT prepares to divulge:

More Israel disclosures in Snowden’s trove of ‘significant stories’ – Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald, the investigative journalist who first published Edward Snowden leaks, said that the NSA whistleblower still has “a huge number of very significant stories to reveal,” including those relating to Israel.

“There definitely are stories left that involve the Middle East, that involve Israel. The reporting is going to continue at roughly the same pace that has been happening,” the former Guardian journalist said in an interview with Channel 10 television station that aired Monday night.

“I don’t want to preview any stories that aren’t yet published, but it’s definitely the case that there are a huge number of very significant stories that are left to report,” the Brazil-based Greenwald said, adding that the journalists will continue releasing stories “at roughly the same pace that has been happening.”

Ars Technica maintains the status quo:

NSA employee will continue to co-chair influential crypto standards group

Standards boss rejects claims that the appointment opens standards up to NSA sabotage.

A National Security Agency employee will continue to co-chair an influential group that helps to develop cryptographic standards designed to protect Internet communications, despite calls that he should be removed.

There’s an elephant in the room at the Internet Engineering Task Force.
Kevin Igoe, a senior cryptographer with the NSA’s Commercial Solutions Center, is one of two co-chairs of the Crypto Forum Research Group (CFRG), which provides cryptographic guidance to working groups that develop widely used standards for the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). On Sunday, the chair of the group that oversees appointments to the CFRG rejected a recent call that Igoe be removed in light of recent revelations that the NSA has worked to deliberately weaken international encryption standards.

Nextgov spots a black hole:

Costs Could Climb for $1.5 Billion Terrorist Tracking System

A planned $1.5 billion upgrade of a computer database at the heart of the nation’s effort to thwart terrorists now has no foreseeable end-date or final cost estimate, according to government auditors.

The Treasury Enforcement Communications System is the main Homeland Security Department system that Customs and Border Protection personnel use to screen foreigners against myriad watchlists, and it manages case files for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE assignments tracked include money-laundering probes, online pornography investigations, and phone data analyses.

Originally built in the 1980s before DHS existed, TECS requires excessive support just to keep obsolete mainframe-technology running. Program offices within CBP and ICE are simultaneously modernizing their respective portions of the system but they have become seriously lost on the path to a hoped-for September 2015 completion, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Tribune Washington Bureau pleads ignorance:

Ex-CIA lawyer says Bush not told at first about waterboarding

The decision to waterboard al-Qaida prisoners in 2002 was made by CIA managers and government lawyers, and was not initially approved by President George W. Bush, according to a new account by a former CIA lawyer that revises the history of America’s response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

A memoir by John Rizzo, longtime acting general counsel for the CIA, says Bush was not initially informed about the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques that critics later called torture, despite Bush’s claim to the contrary in his 2010 book.

Bush later signed on, and Rizzo repeats previous CIA claims that key members of Congress, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., were fully briefed on what the CIA called “enhanced interrogation techniques” and did not object, something Pelosi has denied.

Homeland Security News Wire anticipates:

Russia’s most wanted terrorist eyes Olympic Games as target

The Russian authorities are on high alert following the recent attacks in Volgograd. With the Winter Olympics in Sochi opening on 7 February, there are serious concerns that spectators and athletes will be targets of future attacks. Russia’s most wanted terrorist, Doku Umarov, recently declared that he is prepared to use “maximum force” to prevent the Olympics from occurring.

The Russian authorities are on high alert following the recent attacks in Volgograd. With the Winter Olympics in Sochi opening on 7 February, there are serious concerns that spectators and athletes will be targets of future attacks.

DW reports that Russia’s most wanted terrorist, Doku Umarov, recently declared that he is prepared to use “maximum force” to prevent the Olympics from occurring. In a July 2013 video message, Umarov called on his followers to use “any methods allowed by the almighty Allah” to sabotage the games.

On to the ongoing Asian crises, starting with this from Nikkei Asian Review:

Kim tightening grip on North Korea’s reins

Nearly a month after executing his de facto No. 2, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is continuing his efforts to build up a power base through a mix of propaganda and intimidation.

A rally was held Monday in Pyongyang to hail the policies set forth in Kim’s New Year’s address. Prime Minister Pak Pong Ju and other top officials in attendance swore loyalty to their chief.

The Korean Central News Agency highlighted Kim’s leadership by reporting his inspection of a refrigeration facility for fishery products built by the Korean People’s Army. Kim was quoted as saying at the site that the army should continue to lead the way in fishing.

The Asahi Shimbun stockpiles:

Japan’s energy pact with Turkey raises nuclear weapons concerns

A pact required for Japan’s first nuclear plant export after the Fukushima disaster faces opposition over concerns about a possible proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Debate over the issue is expected when the government seeks Diet approval for the nuclear energy agreement with Turkey during a session that convenes this month.

Japan and Turkey agreed to conclude the nuclear energy pact, a precondition for exporting nuclear technology, in May. It requires the recipient country to use technology, as well as equipment and materials, only for peaceful purposes.

The Yomiuri Shimbun allies:

Erdogan: N-plant will boost ties

Visiting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that construction of a planned nuclear plant in Turkey will strengthen ties between Japan and Turkey.

In a speech delivered in Tokyo, Erdogan highlighted the importance of the nuclear plant construction project, which a consortium of Japanese and French companies will build in Sinop on the Black Sea coast.

He said investment in the project will significantly expand economic ties and enable more industries to connect.

After the jump, the Sino-Japanese confrontation ratchets up, spooky pipeline ties, television that watches you, and much, much more. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day I: Spooks. Fabricators, more


Today’s excursion into the black world begins with ominous news from Foreign Policy:

FBI Drops Law Enforcement as ‘Primary’ Mission

The FBI’s creeping advance into the world of counterterrorism is nothing new. But quietly and without notice, the agency has finally decided to make it official in one of its organizational fact sheets. Instead of declaring “law enforcement” as its “primary function,” as it has for years, the FBI fact sheet now lists “national security” as its chief mission. The changes largely reflect the FBI reforms put in place after September 11, 2001, which some have criticized for de-prioritizing law enforcement activities. Regardless, with the 9/11 attacks more than a decade in the past, the timing of the edits is baffling some FBI-watchers.

“What happened in the last year that changed?” asked Kel McClanahan, a Washington-based national security lawyer.

McClanahan noticed the change last month while reviewing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from the agency. The FBI fact sheet accompanies every FOIA response and highlights a variety of facts about the agency. After noticing the change, McClanahan reviewed his records and saw that the revised fact sheets began going out this summer. “I think they’re trying to rebrand,” he said. “So many good things happen to your agency when you tie it to national security.”

BuzzFeed covers the latest Congressional mood swing:

More Congressmen Say They’re Open To Clemency Deal To Bring Edward Snowden Back To U.S.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s more of a whistle-blower than a villain,” said Rep. Jim McGovern.

And Los Angeles Times makes the case for states’ rights:

Lawmaker wants to bar state from aiding spying without warrants

Reports of the National Security Agency collecting data on millions of Americans has spurred one of the first state bills of the year in California, a measure that would prohibit state agencies from assisting federal spying and data collection without warrants.

Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) introduced SB 828 Monday after NSA officials admitted collecting phone information on all Americans as part of a program aimed at identifying communications between possible terrorists.

The program is a “direct threat to our liberty and freedom,” Lieu said in a statement.

Techdirt goes Orwellian:

Court Decision Exempts Secret Memo From FOIA, Sets Stage For Future Secret Laws To Go Unchallenged

from the legally-binding-‘deliberations?’ dept

The “most transparent administration” received another win for continued secrecy, thanks to an appeals court decision that allowed it to continue to withhold a DOJ memo that created an exploitable loophole in consumer data privacy protections.

The document at issue is a classified memo issued by the Office of Legal Counsel on Jan. 8, 2010. A report later that year by the Justice Department’s inspector general at the time, Glenn A. Fine, disclosed the memo’s existence and its broad conclusion that telephone companies may voluntarily provide records to the government “without legal process or a qualifying emergency,” notwithstanding the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

TechWeekEurope covers the latest NSA-related scandal:

UAE Alleges US Backdoors Found In Its Spy Satellites

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is reportedly threatening to cancel a 3.4 billion dirhams (£570m) deal to purchase two military imaging satellites from France over claims that two US-supplied components compromise the security of the data transmitted between the satellite and the ground station.

While the US’ National Security Agency (NSA) is not directly named in the matter, the incident, reported by US-based Defense News, recalls concerns over the US spy agency’s allegedly widespread hacking activities, which are claimed to have included mobile and computing devices as well as cloud-based systems.

The satellite deal, signed in July after competition for more than a decade, involves the supply of two high-resolution Pleiades-type Falcon Eye military observation satellites, as well as a ground station and training for 20 engineers, with delivery set for 2018. Airbus Defence and Space is supplying the Astrobus-based satellite platform, with Italian-French joint venture Thales Alenia Space providing the observation and data transmission technology.

Nextgov makes a threat assessment:

Defense Leaders Say Cyber is Top Terror Threat

Defense officials see cyberattacks as the greatest threat to U.S. national security, according to a survey released Monday.

Forty-five percent of respondents to the Defense News Leadership Poll named a cyberattack as the single greatest threat—nearly 20 percentage points above terrorism, which ranked second.

The Defense News Leadership Poll, underwritten by United Technologies, surveyed 352 Defense News subscribers, based on job seniority, between Nov. 14 and Nov. 28, 2013. The poll targeted senior employees within the White House, Pentagon, Congress, and the defense industry.

Techdirt covers more Orwellian buffoonery, perhaps forgetting that once upon a time, he’d have been a chief suspect:

Rep. Peter King Says NSA Should Spy On Congress, Because They Might Be Talking To Al Qaeda

from the or-the-IRA? dept

Every day, Rep. Peter King seems more and more like a TV villain politician. He’s so… over the top in his crazy surveillance state opinions that it’s almost difficult to believe he’s real. Just take a stroll through his previous statements, in which he’s attacked the NY Times for supporting Ed Snowden, whom he calls both a “traitor” and a “terrorist appeaser.” He’s said that it’s a “disgrace” that anyone might call out the fact that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied to Congress. He’s argued that it’s “slander” to call the NSA’s activities “spying.” And he’s argued that Glenn Greenwald should be arrested and prosecuted for reporting on Snowden’s leaks.

A European Orwellian scenario from EUobserver:

EU data law hits set-back in Germany

Germany’s new justice minister, Heiko Maas, wants to delay turning the EU’s controversial data retention directive into German law.

His announcement, made in an interview with German weekly Der Spiegel on Sunday (5 January), comes amid legal action by the European Commission and despite the fact two leading parties in Germany’s grand coalition want to go ahead.

The directive allows governments and intelligence agencies to track the movements, meetings, phone and Internet use of every EU citizen by forcing operators to set up separate databases specifically for police access. The data is retained from anywhere between six months to two years.

Reuters seeks security:

U.S. wants Afghanistan to sign security deal in ‘weeks not months’

The United States wants the Afghanistan government to sign a bilateral security agreement in matter of weeks if a contingent of U.S. troops is to remain there after 2014, the White House said on Monday.

The Afghan government had ignored U.S. demands for it to sign a framework security agreement by the end of 2013, after protracted negotiations that have strained relations between the two countries.

U.S. officials say unless a deal is reached to keep upwards of 8,000 U.S. troops inside the country after 2014, the United States might instead completely withdraw from the country.

Off to Asia, starting with the latest from Korean with the London Daily Mail:

Is Kim Jong-Un’s aunt now dead as well? Reports claim wife of recently executed uncle has suffered fatal heart attack or committed suicide

  • Kim Kyong-hui, 67, is aunt of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, 30
  • Her husband Jang Song-Thaek was executed by Kim Jong-un last month
  • Mrs Kim, whose only child died in 2006, is said to have had heart disease
  • North Korean media say officials believe she is dead but not how or where

South China Morning Post covers a Korean shift:

North Korean coal minister replaced in wake of Jang’s execution

  • Fate of Rim Nam-su unclear after reshuffle in North Korea analyst links to recent purge

North Korea has replaced its coal minister, apparently after the shock execution of leader Kim Jong-un’s uncle, who had been accused of attempting to take control of the country’s lucrative coal export business.

Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency introduced Mun Myong-hak as “minister of coal industry” as it was reporting on the 30th anniversary of the Pukchang area coal-mining complex in the western province of South Phyongan yesterday.

And on to Japan, where Reuters covers the latest pitch from the increasingly bellicose Japanese prime minister:

Japan’s Abe wants to explain shrine visit to China, Korea

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Monday he wanted to meet Chinese and South Korean leaders to explain why he visited a controversial war shrine, seen by critics as a symbol of Tokyo’s wartime aggression.

Abe’s December 26 visit to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals are enshrined along with other war dead, infuriated China and South Korea and prompted concern from the United States, a key ally.

“Seeking dialogue with China and South Korea is extremely important for the peace and security of this region,” Abe told a news conference after paying a customary New Year’s visit to a shrine in the central Japanese city of Ise.

From China Daily, the immediate blowback:

Beijing rejects Abe’s call for official meeting

Beijing and Seoul responded coolly on Monday after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe again requested official meetings with his Chinese and South Korean counterparts.

“Abe has repeatedly claimed that he underscores improving relations with China, but what he said is hypocritical. It was he who closed the door on dialogue,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Monday.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye also blamed Japan on Monday for strained ties.

More from the Diplomat:

Shinzo Abe Is Not Welcome In China, And Never Will Be

As long as Abe remains Prime Minister, don’t expect China-Japan ties to thaw.

In a recent press conference, Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo expressed a desire to meet with Chinese and South Korean leaders to explain why he visited the controversial Yasukuni shrine in late December of 2013. “Seeking dialogue with China and South Korea is extremely important for the peace and security of this region,” Reuters quoted Abe as saying. “I would like to explain my true intentions regarding my visit to Yasukuni.”

The response from China was quick and predictable: no way, no how. Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying told the press that China had already “explicitly stated its position” towards the possibility of Abe meeting with Chinese leaders. The answer was (and remains) a resounding no. Hua accused Abe of “playing a double game in China-Japan relations ever since he took office.” Abe pays lip service to improving the relationship, but “the erroneous actions he takes jeopardize the overall interests of China-Japan relations and hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.”

After the jump, Japan and China hit hyperbolic heights, Russia joins the Game of Zones and Abe ups the ante, Japan creates a killing zone, a spooky murder, and criminal destruction of the commons. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day I: Spies, lies, clicks, more


A slow news day.

Our walk on the dark side begins with a tale of tokenism from the Tribune Washington Bureau:

Obama plans intelligence surveillance reforms, aides say

President Barack Obama is preparing a package of intelligence reforms that will probably put a public advocate for the first time in the secret court that approves surveillance practices and remove a controversial telephone records database from direct government control, aides said.

With plans to unveil the changes days before the State of the Union address on Jan. 28, key presidential advisers are looking skeptically at a separate proposal to require a federal judge to approve each use of a “national security letter” except in emergencies, however.

The first of two contrasting headlines, this one from Reuters:

Senator Paul wants light punishment of Snowden for NSA leaks

The public debate over the fate of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden intensified on Sunday with conservative Senator Rand Paul calling for a light prison term as punishment for Snowden’s disclosure of information on government surveillance programs.

Paul, a Republican, said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week” that Snowden does not deserve the death penalty or life in prison for the leaks, which have rattled the U.S. intelligence community, not to mention an American public that had been unaware of the extent of NSA data collection.

Instead, Paul spoke favorably of “some penalty of a few years in prison” if Snowden were to return to the United States from Russia, where he currently is living, to face trial.

The New York Times has a contrarian take:

Senators Differ Sharply on Penalty for Snowden

Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, took a directly opposing view.

“I disagree with Rand Paul that we should plea-bargain with him prior to him coming back,” Mr. Schumer said.

Mr. Schumer said that if Mr. Snowden considered himself part of the “grand tradition of civil disobedience in this country” — a tradition he said included the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers four decades ago — he should return to stand trial and face the consequences of his actions. Such a trial, the senator said, could be enlightening for the country.

On to Asia, starting with a security pledge from NHK WORLD:

Japan expected to lead nuclear disarmament

Japan is expected to come under pressure from the international community this year to play a leading role in the push for nuclear disarmament.

Government officials recently made the historic decision to commit Japan to a United Nations statement that opposes the use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances.

Previously they said this policy was incompatible with the country’s reliance on the US nuclear umbrella.

Advice from across the Pacific from Kyodo News:

Hagel urges Japan to improve ties with neighboring nations

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Saturday urged Japan to improve relations with its neighboring countries after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to a war-linked shrine in Tokyo in late December fueled anger in China and South Korea.

“Secretary Hagel underscored the importance of Japan taking steps to improve relations with its neighbors,” Defense Department Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement summarizing telephone talks between Hagel and Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera.

But then there’s this, also from NHK WORLD:

Ground Self-Defense Force to reorganize

Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force will undergo major reorganization under new defense program guidelines.

The guidelines adopted in December call for more operational integration of the Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defense Forces to increase the mobility of their units.

The Independent brings us a curious blast from the past:

Is this why the Profumo file is still secret?

Desire not to upset the Royal Family may be behind the Government’s continued refusal to release key documents relating to the Profumo affair of 1963, according to a leading British historian. The affair led to the resignation of a minister, John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War, after he lied in response to claims that he had compromised national security by having a relationship with a prostitute also known to a Soviet military attaché.

Speaking to The Independent on Sunday last night, Richard Davenport-Hines, author of An English Affair, published last year, said he believes unfounded allegations made against the Duke of Edinburgh at the time of the scandal may continue to give rise to jitteriness in high places.

Last week, it was confirmed that the papers, mostly of interviews with around 160 witnesses, will not be destroyed, as some had feared, but will remain under lock and key for up to a further 50 years.

From the Los Angeles Times, internal security takes a predictable turn:

Egyptian crackdown targets secular activists as well as Islamists

In a case that was seen as part of a broadening crackdown on secular activists, a brother and sister who were active in the uprising against Hosni Mubarak were given suspended one-year jail terms on Sunday in connection with an attack on a campaign headquarters in 2012.

Liberal activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, his sister Mona Seif and 10 others were found guilty by an Egyptian criminal court of assault, property damage and theft in the attack on the headquarters of former presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq.

The verdict comes as human rights advocates decry a crackdown that began by targeting Islamist supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi and now is reaching secular and leftist opposition youth.

From RT, another legacy:

‘Cutting the nose, lips and ears’: Brutality against Afghan women at record level

Violent crimes against women in Afghanistan reached an unprecedented level of brutality in 2013, an Afghan human rights watchdog has announced as the US-led coalition prepares to withdraw.

Chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), Sima Samar, told Reuters that the pace and the hideousness of attacks on women intensified in 2013 with a 25 per cent surge in cases from March through September.

“The brutality of the cases is really bad. Cutting the nose, lips and ears. Committing public rape,” Samar said. “Mass rape… It’s against dignity, against humanity.”

From Computerworld, can you Yahoo!?:

Malware delivered to thousands via Yahoo.com ads

Yahoo has removed an ad after malware delivery was found by security firm Fox-IT

Malicious ads served through Yahoo’s ad network delivered malware to thousands of site visitors, according to researchers at Fox-IT, but Yahoo subsequently blocked the attack.

Fox-IT’s post said that visitors who saw the ads in their browsers were redirected to a “Magnitude” exploit kit. “This exploit kit exploits vulnerabilities in Java and installs a host of different malware,” Fox-IT said, including ZeuS, Andromeda, Dorkbot/Ngrbot, ad-clicking malware,Tinba/Zusy and Necurs. The security company’s investigation dated the start of the infection to December 30 but it said it might have begun earlier.

And our final item, from the Associated Press, clickbaiting:

Selling social media clicks becomes big business

  • Selling clicks to boost social media accounts brings hundreds of millions of dollars

Celebrities, businesses and even the U.S. State Department have bought bogus Facebook likes, Twitter followers or YouTube viewers from offshore “click farms,” where workers tap, tap, tap the thumbs up button, view videos or retweet comments to inflate social media numbers.

Since Facebook launched almost 10 years ago, users have sought to expand their social networks for financial gain, winning friends, bragging rights and professional clout. And social media companies cite the levels of engagement to tout their value.

But an Associated Press examination has found a growing global marketplace for fake clicks, which tech companies struggle to police. Online records, industry studies and interviews show companies are capitalizing on the opportunity to make millions of dollars by duping social media.

Headlines of the day I: Spooks, pols, cons, hacks


Still struggling with that respiratory tract infection, so we’re slow posting.

That said, onward.

Our first headline comes from The Hill, featuring a decidedly draconian declaration from the new president of the University of California:

Napolitano: No clemency for Edward Snowden

Former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Friday that she “would not put clemency on the table” for NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

“I think Snowden has exacted quite a bit of damage and did it in a way that violated the law,” Napolitano said in an interview airing on “Meet the Press” this Sunday.

She said damage from Snowden’s actions will be seen for years to come.

Next, a go-ahead from the New York Times:

Court Grants Secrecy for Memo on Phone Data

A federal appeals court on Friday ruled that the Obama administration may continue to withhold a Justice Department memo that apparently opened a loophole in laws protecting the privacy of consumer data.

The memo establishes the legal basis for telephone companies to hand over customers’ calling records to the government without a subpoena or court order, even when there is no emergency, according to a 2010 report by the Justice Department’s inspector general. The details of the legal theory, and the circumstances in which it could be invoked, remain unclear.

The ruling, by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, came down on the side of a broad conception of the executive branch’s power to keep secret its interpretation of what the law permits it to do. The ruling may make it easier for the government to shield other memos by the Justice Department’s powerful Office of Legal Counsel from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

The dark side appeals, via Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

US appeals court ruling invalidating NSA surveillance

The US government said Friday it is appealing a judge’s ruling that the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records is unconstitutional and “almost Orwellian.”

The US government said Friday it is appealing a judge’s ruling that the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records is unconstitutional and “almost Orwellian.”

The Justice Department filed a notice of appeal with the court following last month’s ruling by Judge Richard Leon.

Deutsche Welle ponders:

Germany eyes parliamentary inquiry into NSA activities

German coalition and opposition politicians can hardly conceal their restment as more details about the extent of the US National Security Agency’s surveillance activities on private citizens are made public, including spy software for computers and mobile phones, mobile communication listening posts and manipulated USB ports. They don’t necessarily agree, however, on how to tackle the scandal in Germany.

Early on, the opposition Left Party and the Greens demanded setting up a Bundestag investigative committee, regarded as the chamber’s strongest weapon since, at least in theory, such a committee has the right to question an unlimited number of witnesses.

The opposition parties, however, lack the 25 percent of the vote needed to appoint a Bundestag parliamentary inquiry on their own. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) has more or less dismissed the idea, while the Social Democrats (SPD) have been hesitant.

The Guardian poses a question:

Senator presses NSA to reveal whether it spies on members of Congress

  • Vermont’s Bernie Sanders poses question to spy agency
  • NSA entering political minefield as it fights to keep programs

A US senator has bluntly asked the National Security Agency if it spies on Congress, raising the stakes for the surveillance agency’s legislative fight to preserve its broad surveillance powers.

Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent and socialist, asked army general Keith Alexander, the NSA’s outgoing director, if the NSA “has spied, or is the NSA currently spying, on members of Congress or other American elected officials”.

Sanders, in a letter dated 3 January, defined “spying” as “gathering metadata on calls made from official or personal phones, content from websites visited or emails sent, or collecting any other data from a third party not made available to the general public in the regular course of business”.

The Nation notes a notable plea:

‘New York Times’ Pleads for Justice for Edward Snowden—and Calls Government Officials Criminals

The Daily Dot notes two:

New York Times, Guardian call on Obama to pardon Snowden

As the picture continues to form about the NSA’s sweeping ability to infiltrate the computers, email, and phones of U.S. citizens, the New York Times and the Guardian both stepped forward to defend the man who risked his own freedom to bring the surveillance to light.

The two news outlets simultaneously published editorials Thursday praising Edward Snowden for his courage, and arguing for President Obama to grant him a pardon.

From The Hill, the sadly predictable:

King erupts over Snowden editorial

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) decried The New York Times as a “disgrace” following an editorial calling for clemency for National Security Agency leaker and fugitive Edward Snowden.

“Edward Snowden is either a traitor, or a defector, or both, and The New York Times is an accomplice,” King said in an appearance on Fox News. “They’re a disgrace. Their editors are a disgrace, and I wish they cared more about America than they did about the rights of terrorists’ appeasers.”

The Washington Post takes the quantum leap:

NSA seeks to build quantum computer that could crack most types of encryption

In room-size metal boxes -secure against electromagnetic leaks, the National Security Agency is racing to build a computer that could break nearly every kind of encryption used to protect banking, medical, business and government records around the world.

According to documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the effort to build “a cryptologically useful quantum computer” — a machine exponentially faster than classical computers — is part of a $79.7 million research program titled “Penetrating Hard Targets.” Much of the work is hosted under classified contracts at a laboratory in College Park, Md.

Quartz questions:

Will the NSA spying revelations hurt America’s nascent cyberforensics industry abroad?

The barrage of recent hacking attempts against businesses and institutions has given birth to a new US growth industry: cyber-forensics. But with the US government’s own espionage activities now fueling a new climate of international cyber-paranoia, exporting this lucrative corner of the American tech scene might not be so easy.

Via Computerworld, too much cost, too little benefit?:

Costs of NSA phone records collection program outweigh the benefits

The agency’s metadata collection efforts haven’t been key to thwarting terrorist attacks, researchers say

The National Security Agency (NSA) has often claimed that its data collection programs have helped thwart dozens of terrorist plots in the U.S. But an analysis of one such program, the NSA’s controversial bulk telephone records collection initiative, suggests that the cost of running and maintaining the effort may far outweigh any benefits.

The analysis, conducted by John Mueller, an adjunct professor in the department of political science at Ohio State University, and Mark Stewart, a professor at the University of Newcastle in Australia, is based on published reports, court records and publicly released government data.

It considers the NSA’s claimed successes in foiling terrorist plots with the costs that must have been incurred to stop any attacks.

From the Moscow Times, other security worries and the response:

Police Detain At Least 700 in Volgograd Anti-Terror Raid

Volgograd has been on high alert ever since two bomb attacks in the city killed at least 34 people.

Police in Volgograd have detained more than 700 people in an anti-terror sweep following two apparent suicide bombings that killed at least 34 people, Interior Ministry officials said.

The city remained on high alert, with increased security at bus and rail stations and “total inspections” of cars and trains arriving in the region, the Volgograd City Hall said in a statement on Thursday.

EUbusiness covers a release:

Croatia releases former top spy sought by Germany

A former Croatian top spy sought by Germany whose case sparked a row between the European Union and Croatia, its newest member, was released from detention Friday pending an extradition ruling.

A court in Zagreb ruled that Josip Perkovic should be freed following an appeal from his lawyer, but he will not be allowed to leave the Croatian capital and his passport was seized, spokesman Kresimir Devcic told reporters.

A ruling on his possible extradition to Germany is expected next week.

After the jump, the latest developments in the ongoing Asian security crises, and some dark world blasts from the past. . . Continue reading

A video tour of the NSA’s bag of cybertricks


Via Cory Doctor of Boing Boing, who writes:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Kurt Opsahl — a brillliant digital civil liberties attorney who has been suing the US government and the NSA over spying since 2006 — took to the stage at the 30th Chaos Communications Congress in Hamburg this week to explain in clear and simple language the history of NSA spying. Kurt lays out the tortured legal history of American bulk surveillance, showing how an interlocking set of laws, policies, lies and half-truths have been used to paper over an obviously, grossly unconstitutional program of spying without court oversight or particular suspicion.

If you’re mystified by the legal shenanigans that led up to the Snowden and Manning leaks, this is where you should start. And even if you’ve been following the story closely, Opsahl gives badly needed coherence to the disjointed legal struggle, connecting the dots and revealing the whole picture.

From vlogger Albert Veli:

30c3: Through a PRISM, Darkly — Everything we know about NSA spying

Program notes:

From Stellar Wind to PRISM, Boundless Informant to EvilOlive, the NSA spying programs are shrouded in secrecy and rubber-stamped by secret opinions from a court that meets in a faraday cage. The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Kurt Opsahl explains the known facts about how the programs operate and the laws and regulations the U.S. government asserts allows the NSA to spy on you.

Headlines of the day I: Spies, drones, bellicosity


We begin today’s tour of the black realm with a look, up in the sky! from CBC:

U.S. drone testing sites to be developed in 6 states

Test sites will work on how to introduce drones to U.S. skies

Drones have been mainly used by the military, but governments, businesses, farmers and others are making plans to join the market. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

The Federal Aviation Administration announced six states on Monday that will develop test sites for drones, a critical next step for the unmanned aircraft’s march into U.S. skies. The agency said Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia as states that will host research sites.

The Independent adds another draconian Orwellian touch to life in Old Blighty:

MoD tightens security at American spy bases linked to drone strikes

‘Draconian’ laws would help the US cover up illegal activities

The Ministry of Defence is set to introduce “draconian” new powers to tighten security and limit access to US airbases in Britain implicated in mass surveillance and drone strikes, The Independent can reveal.

The measures, which include powers to arrest for offences ranging from taking photographs to failing to clean up dog mess, would be put in place through a little-known project to overhaul the by-laws surrounding military facilities across the country.

Among the sites where the new rules are set to be imposed are two US Air Force bases used as key communication hubs for clandestine eavesdropping.

And the really big story the latest Snowden leaks bombshell, first from Spiegel:

Inside TAO: Documents Reveal Top NSA Hacking Unit

The NSA’s TAO hacking unit is considered to be the intelligence agency’s top secret weapon. It maintains its own covert network, infiltrates computers around the world and even intercepts shipping deliveries to plant back doors in electronics ordered by those it is targeting.

An internal description of TAO’s responsibilities makes clear that aggressive attacks are an explicit part of the unit’s tasks. In other words, the NSA’s hackers have been given a government mandate for their work. During the middle part of the last decade, the special unit succeeded in gaining access to 258 targets in 89 countries — nearly everywhere in the world. In 2010, it conducted 279 operations worldwide.

Indeed, TAO specialists have directly accessed the protected networks of democratically elected leaders of countries. They infiltrated networks of European telecommunications companies and gained access to and read mails sent over Blackberry’s BES email servers, which until then were believed to be securely encrypted. Achieving this last goal required a “sustained TAO operation,” one document states.

This TAO unit is born of the Internet — created in 1997, a time when not even 2 percent of the world’s population had Internet access and no one had yet thought of Facebook, YouTube or Twitter. From the time the first TAO employees moved into offices at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, the unit was housed in a separate wing, set apart from the rest of the agency. Their task was clear from the beginning — to work around the clock to find ways to hack into global communications traffic.

More from The Guardian:

NSA ‘hacking unit’ infiltrates computers around the world – report

  • NSA: Tailored Access Operations a ‘unique national asset’
  • Former NSA chief calls Edward Snowden a ‘traitor’

A top-secret National Security Agency hacking unit infiltrates computers around the world and breaks into the toughest data targets, according to internal documents quoted in a magazine report on Sunday.

Details of how the division, known as Tailored Access Operations (TAO), steals data and inserts invisible “back door” spying devices into computer systems were published by the German magazine Der Spiegel.

The magazine portrayed TAO as an elite team of hackers specialising in gaining undetected access to intelligence targets that have proved the toughest to penetrate through other spying techniques, and described its overall mission as “getting the ungettable”. The report quoted an official saying that the unit’s operations have obtained “some of the most significant intelligence our country has ever seen”.

Here’s one of the NSA slides revealed by Spiegel, revealing both the name of a TAO program and the peculiar attutudes of cybersnoopers:

ACHTUNG SPERRFRIST 30.12.2013 Quantum-Biga #01 Foxacid

The Verge takes its own focus:

NSA reportedly intercepting laptops purchased online to install spy malware

According to a new report from Der Spiegel based on internal NSA documents, the signals intelligence agency’s elite hacking unit (TAO) is able to conduct sophisticated wiretaps in ways that make Hollywood fantasy look more like reality. The report indicates that the NSA, in collaboration with the CIA and FBI, routinely and secretly intercepts shipping deliveries for laptops or other computer accessories in order to implant bugs before they reach their destinations. According to Der Spiegel, the NSA’s TAO group is able to divert shipping deliveries to its own “secret workshops” in a method called interdiction, where agents load malware onto the electronics or install malicious hardware that can give US intelligence agencies remote access.

While the report does not indicate the scope of the program, or who the NSA is targeting with such wiretaps, it’s a unique look at the agency’s collaborative efforts with the broader intelligence community to gain hard access to communications equipment. One of the products the NSA appears to use to compromise target electronics is codenamed COTTONMOUTH, and has been available since 2009; it’s a USB “hardware implant” that secretly provides the NSA with remote access to the compromised machine.

And the Verge finds still another focus:

The NSA’s elite hackers can hijack your Wi-Fi from 8 miles away

Attendees at the Chaos Communications Congress in Hamburg this weekend got a surprising rundown of the NSA’s surveillance capabilities, courtesy of security researcher Jacob Appelbaum. Appelbaum, who co-wrote the Der Spiegel article that first revealed the NSA catalog, went into further detail onstage, describing several individual devices in the catalog and their intended purposes.

Alongside pre-packaged exploits that allowed control over iOS devices and any phone communicating through GSM, Appelbaum detailed a device that targets computers through packet injection, seeding exploits from up to 8 miles away. He even speculated the exploits could be delivered by drone, although he conceded that in most cases, an unmarked van would likely be more practical.

The Daily Dot has another focus:

NSA has top-secret catalog of ‘keys’ into world’s security architecture

Around the world, corporations, nonprofits and government agencies depend on the computer security architecture made by companies like Cisco, Juniper, and Huawei to protect their most valuable secrets. But for years the vast majority of these systems have been compromised.

A 2008 document obtained by German newspaper Der Spiegel reveals the National Security Agency has been able to slip into the majority of systems made by the major players in the computer security industry, thanks to an entire catalog of resilient and hard-to-detect backdoors, some of which are capable of burrowing as deep as a computer’s motherboard.

The Daily Dot has another focus:

NSA has top-secret catalog of ‘keys’ into world’s security architecture

Around the world, corporations, nonprofits and government agencies depend on the computer security architecture made by companies like Cisco, Juniper, and Huawei to protect their most valuable secrets. But for years the vast majority of these systems have been compromised.

A 2008 document obtained by German newspaper Der Spiegel reveals the National Security Agency has been able to slip into the majority of systems made by the major players in the computer security industry, thanks to an entire catalog of resilient and hard-to-detect backdoors, some of which are capable of burrowing as deep as a computer’s motherboard.

While PandoDaily gets philosophical:

Snowden’s biggest revelation: We don’t know what power is anymore, nor do we care

That the US and Britain spy on our allies (and on each other) is not in and of itself a shocking revelation, but this is more important than mere novelty. What matters most about the Snowden leaks is what will come of them, and what we’ll do with them, if anything. There is no guarantee that leaks lead to positive change, nothing inherently transformative about leaking, not without a larger political movement – what Joe Costello would call “a politics” — pushing it. And right now, the only thing close to a politics around leaking is libertarianism, the worst of all political worlds.

Even with a politics, there’s no guarantee leaks end up making things better without a long fight. The last time frightening NSA spying programs (SHAMROCK, MINARET) were leaked in the 1970s, the political reforms that followed turned out to be far worse than what we had before: namely the secret FISA courts. The FISA courts were supposed to provide judicial check on the NSA, but instead turned into a nightmarish secret court that not only rubber stamps nearly every surveillance warrant the NSA asks for, but worse, has been used to restrict Americans’ constitutional rights.

Away from NSA and off to Moscow with the Buenos Aires Herald:

Russia calls for unity in fight against ‘terrorists’

Russia has likened two deadly suicide bombings in the southern city of Volgograd to attacks by militants in the United States, Syria and other countries and called for international solidarity in the fight against “terrorists.”

“We will not retreat and will continue our consistent fight against an insidious enemy that can only be defeated together,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

From BuzzFeed, the latest and possibly terminal entry in a long series:

Administration Won’t Comment On Israeli Report About Imprisoned Spy

An Israeli TV report says Secretary of State John Kerry is preparing to offer to release Jonathan Pollard. The White House and State Department refuse to comment.

The White House and State Department on Friday refused to confirm or deny an Israeli report that Secretary of State John Kerry was offering the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in return for Israel freeing Arab Israeli prisoners as part of its next round of Palestinian prisoner releases.

Pollard was convicted in 1987 of stealing classified information and passing it on to the Israeli government while working as an intelligence analyst. He was granted Israeli citizenship in 1995 and his eventual release has become a cause in Israeli politics, with 106 members of the Knesset signing a letter to Obama this week calling for Pollard to be freed from prison.

After the jump, tensions heat up n Asia with Afghan gloom, Pakistani violence, moves and countermoves in the China sea, more blowback from the Japanese prime minister’s visit to a war shrine housing remains of war criminals, hardening of the Japanese security state, corporate intel, and much more. . . Continue reading

Snowden’s revelations as seen by an ex-spook


While former British army intelligence officer Michael Smith initially seemingly categorizes Edward Snowden as a traitor, when questioned by RT’s Sophie Shevardnadze he acknowledges Snowden wasn’t a traitor. Rather, he says, he’s naive.

Their conversation ranges beyond Snowden’s revelations and their import, examining the larger issues of intelligence, law, and governance.

From RT:

‘Snowden showed us world sleepwalks into Orwellian horror’ – ex-intelligence officer

Program notes:

The art of espionage has changed — the internet has given the surveillance agencies unprecedented capabilities to snoop at anyone, anywhere. On the other side are the whistleblowers, to whom World Web has given the chance to see what is really going on behind the closed doors of Big Brother. Who is right? Is wrongdoing justified for the sake of security? Today we put these questions to the former intelligence officer, Michael Smith.

Headlines of the day I: Spooks, drones, bellicosity


Plus some corporate shenanigans and much, much more.

We begin with the story de jour via The Guardian:

NSA mass collection of phone data is legal, federal judge rules

  • Dragnet program deemed ‘controversial but lawful’
  • Lawsuit brought by ACLU dismissed

A legal battle over the scope of US government surveillance took a turn in favour of the National Security Agency on Friday with a court opinion declaring that bulk collection of telephone data does not violate the constitution.

The judgement, in a case brought before a district court in New York by the American Civil Liberties Union, directly contradicts the result of a similar challenge in a Washington court last week which ruled the NSA’s bulk collection program was likely to prove unconstitutional and was “almost Orwellian” in scale.

The Wire sounds the theme:

A Federal Judge Uses Every Known NSA Defense in Defense of the NSA

In the first bit of good news for the National Security Agency in some time, Judge William Pauley of the Federal District Court of Southern New York determined that the bulk collection of phone metadata is lawful. And in so doing, reiterated every conceivable argument put forward by NSA defenders.

The Register finds a wish list item:

Snowden leak journo leaks next leak: NSA, GCHQ dying to snoop on your gadgets mid-flight

Greenwald blasts US, UK during hacker confab speech

Deutsche Welle notes a phenomenon:

NSA surveillance eroded transatlantic trust

One year ago, most people on either side of Atlantic had scant or no knowledge of the NSA and its activities. Edward Snowden’s revelations changed all that and rocked one of the pillars of transatlantic relations.

The surveillance of Merkel’s phone was a game changer in Europe as well as the US. It forced both the White House and Congress to acknowledge that the practices of US intelligence needed closer inspection. It also drove Chancellor Merkel, Europe’s most important leader, to publicly take a tougher stance vis-à-vis Washington. Most importantly, it undermined one of the central pillars of the transatlantic relations: trust.

India joins the Orwell club, via the Economic Times:

Prepare yourself to be snooped in the interest of national security

You might as well settle down to the grim thought of every call on your cellphone or landline being tapped in the near future in the interest of national security. The same would also hold true for all forms of personal communication on the internet.

The telecom department (DoT) plans to introduce a new clause, Section 419B, in the Indian Telegraph Rules of 1951, to enable early implementation of the much discussed Centralised Monitoring System (CMS) – a new automated surveillance system that will be geared to track all kinds of private communication over landline, mobile, satellite, internet and even voice over internet protocol ( VoIP) calls.

The proposed Section 419B will pave the way for “designated officers of the Telegraph Authority to collect, store and analyse any message-related information for the purpose of enforcing licence conditions, investigation or pro-active action with regard to security of the network or the state”, says an internal DoT note seen by ET.

Francophone taps from PCWorld:

French authorities requested 6,145 phone and data taps in 2012

French government and police officials requested 6,145 phone and data taps in 2012, fewer than in 2011, according to figures released by the French National Commission for the Control of Security Interceptions (CNCIS) earlier this week.

The CNCIS acts as a check on wiretap authorizations by the Prime Minister’s office, which receives requests for connection data and for targeted interception of voice and data communications from law enforcement or security services.

It rejected 50 of the 6,145 interceptions requested in 2012, having rejected 55 of the 6,396 requests the previous year. It also ordered the termination of 52 ongoing interceptions.

The Guardian displays common sense:

Internet privacy as important as human rights, says UN’s Navi Pillay

Navi Pillay compares uproar over mass surveillance to response that helped defeat apartheid during Today programme

The UN human rights chief, Navi Pillay, has compared the uproar in the international community caused by revelations of mass surveillance with the collective response that helped bring down the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Pillay, the first non-white woman to serve as a high-court judge in South Africa, made the comments in an interview with Sir Tim Berners-Lee on a special edition of BBC Radio 4′s Today programme, which the inventor of the world wide web was guest editing.

DutchNews.nl keep track on the latest from the Netherlands:

Police, justice officials use public transport smart card info

TLS, the company which operates the public transport smart card ov-chipkaart, has confirmed it releases confidential information about users ‘several times a week’ to the police, the Telegraaf said on Friday.

The information is released in connection with missing persons and criminal investigations, the paper said. TLS keeps the information about people’s movements for a year.

The Independent threatens press freedom [such as it is]:

Press regulation: David Cameron warns newspapers to sign up to Royal Charter passed by Parliament

Having remained silent last month when Culture Secretary Maria Miller said that politicians had done all they could to induce the press into joining a charter-based form of regulation, David Cameron has now warned Britain’s newspapers that they should sign up urgently to the Royal Charter passed by Parliament earlier this year.

Playing a “good cop” PM, Mr Cameron said “a less liberal, enlightened government in the future” might play hard ball and enforce legislation. Translation? Do a deal with the Tories or Labour will bring out the big stick.

Curiously, however, Mr Cameron’s veiled threat only emerged today, despite being issued in an interview he gave before Christmas.

The Guardian omits:

Bletchley Park accused of airbrushing Edward Snowden from history

NSA whistleblower omitted from new exhibition on cyber security as museum says it does not want to be seen to back his actions

MPs have accused Bletchley Park, the wartime predecessor of GCHQ, of trying to airbrush history after it said it would ignore the whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations about mass surveillance by the security services in its museum’s new gallery on cyber security.

The MPs are urging the museum to explore the implications of mass surveillance, but it says it is reluctant to do so, despite planning a huge new installation devoted to the subject of cyber security, for fear that it “might imply it approves of Snowden’s actions”.

And on to our coverage of headlines from Asia, where security is in scarce supply, first with this from the Asahi Shimbun:

Freedom of navigation pits Japan, U.S. against China

With Japan and the United States in one corner, and China in the other, the issue of freedom of navigation is taking center stage as China’s growing maritime presence continues to set off alarm bells.

While Japan and the United States differ slightly in their interpretation of the issue, they are adamant that China must tow the line in what essentially boils down to international law.

The Japan Times returns:

South Korea to return ammunition provided by Japan

The South Korean Defense Ministry said Friday that ammunition provided by Japan via the United Nations to South Korean troops taking part in a U.N. peacekeeping mission in strife-torn South Sudan will soon be sent back.

The announcement followed criticism of the South Korean government domestically for its decision earlier this week to borrow 10,000 rounds of ammunition from Japan for the peacekeepers in the event its troops come under fire in the African nation.

And Kyodo News sets off the latest crisis:

Abe visits Yasukuni Shrine, 1st PM to do so in 7 years

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Thursday, the first premier to do so in seven years, triggering criticism not only from China and South Korea, which suffered Japan’s past militarism, but also its main ally, the United States.

“I expressed my sincere condolences, paid my respects and prayed for the souls of all those who made ultimate sacrifices,” Abe told reporters after visiting the Shinto shrine, which honors Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals along with millions of war dead.

Abe became the first Japanese prime minister to visit the shrine since Junichiro Koizumi in 2006. The latest visit came as Abe marked the first anniversary of his government’s launch.

After the jump, global denunciation of the Abe visit, snooping software, military-style assault in California, drones, pirates, the endangered press, boiok bannings, and corporate madness. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day I: Spooks and [in]security


First up, a carefully parsed denial via The Guardian:

Security company RSA denies knowingly installing NSA ‘back door’

Denial follows allegations that pioneering company made NSA algorithm its default in return for payment

The security company RSA has denied that it knowingly weakened the encryption it used in its products as part of a secret contract with the US’s National Security Agency.

A report from the Reuters news agency on Friday alleged that RSA arranged a $10m contract to use a mathematically weaker formula in a number of its products, which would in effect have created a “back door” for cracking encrypted messages or communications.

RSA initially declined to respond to the reports. But in a blogpost on its site posted Sunday, the company now says: “Recent press coverage has asserted that RSA entered into a ‘secret contract’ with the NSA to incorporate a known flawed random number generator into its BSAFE encryption libraries. We categorically deny this allegation.”

It adds that “We have worked with the NSA, both as a vendor and an active member of the security community. We have never kept this relationship a secret and in fact have openly publicized it. Our explicit goal has always been to strengthen commercial and government security.”

The Guardian demands:

Netanyahu ‘to demand release of spy in return for peace talks concessions’

Israeli PM will demand release of Jonathan Pollard, convicted of spying for Israel against US in 1987, reports say

The Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu will link the release of former US naval intelligence analyst Jonathan Pollard, convicted of spying against the US for Israel, to progress in the US-sponsored peace talks with the Palestinians, Israeli media reported on Tuesday.

The reports said Netanyahu would either demand Pollard’s release when Israel signed a framework agreement, or as part of a prisoner exchange involving Arab citizens of Israel held for terrorist offences, who have always been excluded from previous agreements.

More from the McClatchy Foreign Staff:

Netanyahu calls for probe of NSA spying in Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that he has ordered a probe into reports that the United States and Britain had monitored communications of the previous prime minister and defense minister, calling the actions unacceptable.

“Regarding the recent publications, I’ve asked that an inquiry be conducted into the matter,” Netanyahu said in remarks broadcast on Israel Radio. “In the close relationship between Israel and the United States, there are things that are forbidden to do, and which are unacceptable to us.”

The Associated Press names names:

Egypt names Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group

Egypt’s military-backed interim government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization Wednesday, intensifying its campaign of arrests and prosecutions targeting its members and tightening the noose on the group’s network of charities and businesses.

The unprecedented executive decision likely ends any chance of reconciliation between the government and the 85-year-old Brotherhood, still Egypt’s most organized political group. It marks a stunning reversal of fortunes for the long-outlawed organization that saw member Mohammed Morsi reach Egypt’s highest office in the country’s first democratic election, only to be ousted in a popularly backed military coup in July. And it takes a step that not even autocrat Hosni Mubarak took in his nearly 30-year rule.

Now, on to Asia, where a host of crises have been bubbling merrily away, starting with this from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

China legislators vote to end labour camps

China’s top legislative committee voted on Tuesday to abolish “re-education through labour” camps introduced more than half a century ago, saying they had served their purpose.

China introduced re-education through labour in 1957 as a speedy way to handle petty offenders. But the system — which allows a police panel to issue sentences of up to four years without trial — soon became rife with abuse.

Jiji Press reports gridlock [or is it zone-lock?]:

Japan’s Abe Remains in Stalemate with China, S. Korea

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe remains in a stalemate with China and South Korea one year after his inauguration while making some achievements on the economic front.

Thanks to positive effects of his economic policy package, Abenomics, the Nikkei stock average has topped 16,000 for the first time in six years, while the dollar has soared to 104 yen from 85 yen.

Public support ratings for Abe’s cabinet have remained high even after his Liberal Democratic Party rammed the unpopular bill to enhance the protection of state secrets through the Diet early this month.

The Mainichi defies:

Japan provides ammunition to S. Korean troops without discussing weapons export ban

The Japanese government has supplied ammunition to South Korean troops on a U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan because Tokyo has deemed it would help improve Japan’s strained relations with the country, in addition to the urgency of such needs.

However, the decision that opened the way for supplying weapons and ammunition to U.N. peacekeeping forces — which the government had maintained it did not plan under the Act on Cooperation in the U.N. Peace Keeping Operations — could stir controversy both in Japan and overseas.

The latest move by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Dec. 23 overstepped the government’s principle of not supplying weapons and ammunition to U.N. peacekeepers under the law as well as the three principles of the weapons export ban. Even though it is a response to an emergency situation, there is no denying that the government held insufficient debate on the issue before deciding on the action.

NHK WORLD has more:

Onodera comments on ammunition supply

Japan’s Defense Minister says the country’s supplying of ammunition to South Korean peacekeepers in South Sudan was out of urgency and humanitarian needs.

Itsunori Onodera made the remark on Tuesday after Japan provided about 10,000 bullets to South Korean troops deployed in the state of Jonglei via the United Nations. It provided the ammunition in response to a request from South Korea.

The ammunition belonged to the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force troops under the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan.

It was the first time Japan has provided weapons under its peacekeeping operation law. Onodera said the move had nothing to do with the government’s plan to review Japan’s ban on arms exports.

NHK WORLD offers a companion boast:

Suga: UN grateful for ammunition in S.Sudan

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga says the United Nations has expressed gratitude for a supply of ammunition provided by Japan to South Korean peacekeepers in South Sudan.

Suga told reporters on Tuesday that Japan received an official request from the UN on Sunday morning and from the South Korean government via the country’s embassy in Tokyo that afternoon.

He said after the bullets were handed over, the commander of South Korean troops in South Sudan thanked Japan’s Self Defense Force commander there. He said Japan has not yet heard from the South Korean government.

And JiJi Press flexes new muscle:

Japan Plans 2 Large Rocket Tests from FY 2020

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency reported to the science ministry on Tuesday that it plans to launch a new large-scale test rocket in fiscal 2020 and another the following year.

The rocket, provisionally dubbed H-3, is a successor to the H-2A launch vehicle of the agency known as JAXA.

The Yomiuri Shimbun adds muscle elsewhere:

China develops new ICBMs, adds to nuclear stockpile

China’s military is advancing the development of a new intercontinental ballistic missile and increasing its stockpile of nuclear warheads, an ambitious step to block U.S. engagement in the Asia-Pacific region by boosting not only its naval and air forces, but also its nuclear missile capabilities.

The Chinese military conducted a second test launch of its newest ICBM, the Dong Feng-41 (DF-41), from the Wuzhai missile launch center in Shanxi Province to western China on Dec. 13, according to the U.S. website Washington Free Beacon, which cited Pentagon officials.

China first tested the DF-41 in July 2012. With a range of up to 14,000 kilometers, the missile is capable of hitting most targets in North America. The Global Times, which is affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party organ, People’s Daily, quoted the Washington Free Beacon report and said the DF-41 will serve as the new basis of the country’s security in its Dec. 19 editorial, effectively confirming this month’s test fire.

And People’s Daily seeks an ally:

China, Malaysia eye closer military cooperation

China and Malaysia on Tuesday agreed to strengthen military cooperation through joint drills and exchanges between the two naval forces.

During the talks with Chief of Malaysian Armed Forces Zulkifeli Mohd. Zin, Chief of General Staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Fang Fenghui said the two armed forces have conducted fruitful cooperation in areas such as exchange of high-level visits, personnel training and exchange of visits of naval vessels.

China would like to lift bilateral military ties to a new height through joint drills, military education and exchanges between the two navies, said Fang.

After jump, the Korean crisis intensifies, nuclear rumblings in two trouble zones, Pinochet killings, Mossad claims, Indian LoveInt, Argentine missiles, IRA smuggling, Target hacking, and censorship in Britain and the U.S. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day I: Spooks, zones, hacks, lies


In the spirit of the season, we begin with this bit of news from the security sector via the London Daily Mail:

Churches are given GPS TRACKERS to stop thieves stealing baby Jesus from nativity scenes

  • Each year, baby Jesus figurines are stolen from Nativity scenes
  • Brickhouse Security is giving free GPS tracking devices to churches to monitor their Jesus figurines
  • The matchbox sized device is attached to the figurines and tracked online
  • This is the eighth year Brickhouse Security has offered its ‘Save Jesus’ program

Now down to the serious news.

While we’ll have plenty on the Asian zonal crises after the jump, weve pollued this from the Mainichi because it’s really an epochal event, the explicit shift of Japanese policy from the stance officially maintained throughout the post-World War II era:

Panel eyes submitting report on collective self-defense in spring

A key member of a panel on security affairs said Sunday he expects the panel to recommend as early as spring that the government lift a self-imposed ban on exercising the right of collective self-defense.

Shinichi Kitaoka, president of the International University of Japan who serves as acting chairman of the panel, said the panel plans to submit a report on its recommendation to the government immediately after parliament passes the state budget for fiscal 2014, which will start April 1.

“It’s not an issue that would require a few months. It is possible (for the panel to) file a proposal immediately after” the Diet approves the budget, Kitaoka said in a television program.

Our next headline and another notable development via USA TODAY:

Sen. Leahy sets January hearing on NSA surveillance

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., announced Sunday that his committee will hold a hearing Jan. 14 to review recommendations for overhauling government surveillance programs.

Last week, the White House released a report by a five-member panel appointed by President Obama spelling out 46 recommendations for revising surveillance programs. Obama had requested the report in the wake of revelations this year that the National Security Agency was collecting vast swaths of phone and computer records. Among other things, the panel recommended that the NSA shut down a massive database that includes nearly every phone call made and received in the USA, and that the president create a new process requiring high-level approval to spy on foreign leaders.

“The recommendations from the President’s Review Group make clear that it is time to recalibrate our government’s surveillance programs,” Leahy said in a statement issued after his appearance on Meet the Press to discuss the issue. “Momentum is building for real reform.” He said all of the panel members will be invited to testify at the committee hearing.

Meanwhile, the NSA’s defenders are growing more assetive. One exaple from Bloomberg :

NSA Didn’t Overreach With Phone Records, Morell Says

The U.S. National Security Agency didn’t abuse its authority in collecting the bulk phone records of millions of Americans and the spy program should continue under a new structure, said Michael Morell, a former deputy CIA director.

The collection of information such as numbers dialed and call durations is important to U.S. counterterrorism efforts, Morell said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program today.

“There was no abuse here,” said Morell, who served on an advisory panel picked by President Barack Obama that recommended limits on data collection and storage in a report released Dec. 18. “They were doing exactly what they were told to do.”

And another from The Hill:

King blasts Obama on NSA

A high-ranking House Republican on Sunday attacked President Obama for failing to defend the National Security Agency in the wake of massive leaks on the spy agency’s activities.

House Intelligence Committee member  Peter King (R-N.Y.) decried Obama’s posture on the beleaguered spying agency after revelations that it had been collecting “metadata” and holding it.

“I wish the president would step forward and defend the NSA. What he says is, he says ‘no abuse, the intelligence is absolutely necessary.’ But then he says we have to reform it. What does he want to reform if it’s working?” the New York lawmaker asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

More from the Mainichi:

Congress eyes spy review in surveillance logjam

A White House review of U.S. surveillance programs has given Congress some temporary political cover after lawmakers failed this year to overhaul spy operations, and could break the legislative snarl that followed months of global outrage over privacy intrusions.

Since last summer, a deeply divided Congress has tussled over competing plans to protect Americans’ privacy rights by limiting National Security Agency powers to track terrorists.

But a presidential advisory panel’s 46 tough recommendations, released this past week by the White House, offer a way ahead for lawmakers who face the voters next fall. They can point to the suggestions to save face politically with security-minded constituents if surveillance is scaled back aggressively.

From the Los Angeles Times, some perspective:

A spy world reshaped by Edward Snowden

Leaks from the former NSA contractor have been so illuminating that experts say they mark a turning point in U.S. intelligence operations.

Clapper and his colleagues now operate in a spy world reshaped by Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who claims responsibility for what officials deem the largest and most damaging compromise of classified information in U.S. history. Among the casualties is the assumption that some of the nation’s most carefully guarded secrets will stay secret.

NSA officials say Snowden downloaded and removed about 1.7 million documents from computer networks at an NSA listening post in Hawaii where he worked until June. The haul included about 2,000 specific requests for NSA surveillance that officials say make up a digital road map of spying successes and gaps in such high-profile targets as Iran, Russia, North Korea and China.

The requests have not been made public. But other leaks from Snowden’s cache have been so illuminating that experts say the disclosures will mark a turning point in U.S. spying, much as revelations of CIA assassinations and NSA domestic spying led to creation of the congressional oversight committees and new laws in the 1970s.

The Globe and Mail conducts the anatomy of a blowback:

How U.S. spying cost Boeing multibillion-dollar Brazil jet contract  How U.S. spying cost Boeing multibillion-dollar Brazil jet contract

Defence analysts struggled to recall a major contract decided on such grounds.

“The irony is that we expected politics to play a big role, but always on the selling side, not on the downside,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst with the Teal Group. “Then things went horribly wrong with this NSA story.”

And from the Associated Press, some ornamental rage and the inevitable whine:

Israel condemns US spying revelations

Officials call on US to stop spying on Israel amid renewed calls for release of Jonathan Pollard, jailed in 1980s for spying

Israeli protesters in Jerusalem hold posters of Jonathan Pollard, who was convicted for spying on the US in 1987. Photograph: Ammar Awad/Reuters

Senior Israeli officials have called on the US to stop spying on Israel, after revelations that the National Security Agency had intercepted emails from the offices of the country’s former leaders.

It is the first time Israeli officials have expressed anger since details of US spying on Israel began to trickle out in documents leaked by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The scandal has spurred renewed calls for the release of Jonathan Pollard, a former US intelligence analyst who has been imprisoned in the US for nearly three decades for spying for Israel.

From Boing Boing, the ultimate in IP idiocy:

FBI agent tries to copyright super-secret torture manual, inadvertently makes it public

The ACLU has spent years in court trying to get a look at a top-secret FBI interrogation manual that referred to the CIA’s notorious KUBARK torture manual. The FBI released a heavily redacted version at one point — so redacted as to be useless for determining whether its recommendations were constitutional.

However, it turns out that the FBI agent who wrote the manual sent a copy to the Library of Congress in order to register a copyright in it — in his name! (Government documents are not copyrightable, but even if they were, the copyright would vest with the agent’s employer, not the agent himself). A Mother Jones reporter discovered the unredacted manual at the Library of Congress last week, and tipped off the ACLU about it.

And off to Asia, starting with constraint from Kyodo News:

China to tighten control of universities’ journalism schools

The Chinese Communist Party has decided to become directly involved in the management of the country’s top journalism schools and strengthen the administration of those universities, it was learned Sunday from university and media sources.

The moves appear to be aimed at promoting “thought reform” to reject “Western values” such as freedom of the press and to foster human resources loyal to the party, according to the sources.

The leadership of President Xi Jinping senses a crisis, in the words of one party source, that “it is at universities and in the mass media where reformists (who support such values as democracy) have the most influence.”

NHK WORLD covers a provocation from the Japanese side:

Chinese patrol ships enter Japanese waters

Four Chinese patrol ships temporarily entered Japan’s territorial waters off the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture on Sunday.

The ships are now navigating in a contiguous zone just outside Japanese waters.

The Coast Guard is monitoring them, and is warning them not to approach Japanese waters again.

SINA English covers the story for Beijing, using the Chinese name for the islands:

China coast guard patrols Diaoyu Islands

Four China Coast Guard (CCG) vessels patrolled territorial waters surrounding the Diaoyu Islands on Sunday, according to the State Oceanic Administration.

The administration identified the four vessels as CCG 2337, 2102, 2112 and 2151

And another provocation elsewhere in Asia from the Times of India:

Chinese troops set up camp in Ladakh’s Chepzi area

Around 20 Chinese soldiers last week entered Indian territory near the line of actual control and pitched their tents in Chepzi area in Ladakh, sources said on Sunday.

Around 20-22 Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers had last week pitched around 8-10 tents in the west of Chepzi in Ladakh area, the sources said.

From RT, assertiveness:

China planning 110,000-ton ‘super aircraft carrier’ to rival US naval power

Following Washington’s move to increase its military footprint in Asia, China has declared it is building a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier of a size to compete with the mightiest in the US naval fleet.

Chinese website qianzhan.com, citing top sources in the People’s Liberation Army, said China’s first domestically produced aircraft carrier should be launched by 2020.

“By that time, China will be able to confront the most advanced US carrier-based fighter jets in high sea,” the Chinese-language article reads.

JapanToday amends:

Japan eyes revision of U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera says the Japanese government is considering asking the U.S. government to discuss a revision to the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).

Onodera made the remarks on a TV program over the weekend.

The proposal is seen as a way of securing Okinawan Gov Hirokazu Nakaima’s approval for the preliminary landfill work for the proposed new site of the Futenma air base.

And the Japan Times calls to digital arms:

Japan seeks cyberwarfare capability

Tokyo looks to U.S. for ways to keep computer systems safe

Discussions are under way to decide if Japan should have the ability to counter cyberattacks by a foreign nation, according to a government source.

This would include being able to attack a server in self-defense if government computer systems were attacked, the source said.

Japan is looking for deterrents to cyberattacks, which have become increasingly sophisticated in recent years, the source said, adding the government plans to cooperate with the United States, which has sophisticated counterattack technology.

SINA English covers another battle demarcated by newly declared zones:

H5N2 bird flu areas sealed off in N China

Areas within 3 km of a farm in north China’s Hebei Province, the site of an H5N2 bird flu outbreak in poultry, were confirmed to have been sealed off, according to local government.

The disease killed 4,000 chickens raised at the farm in Baoding City after they showed symptoms of suspected avian flu on Dec. 17, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

The National Avian Influenza Reference Laboratory on Saturday confirmed the epidemic was caused by the H5N2 avian influenza virus after testing samples collected at the farm

From Quartz, the sound of one hand surfing:

The US now watches the majority of its online porn on mobile phones

In 2013, the US earned the distinction of being the first country tracked by Pornhub to watch the majority of its online porn on mobile phones. About 52% of porn consumption was on mobile phones this year, compared to 46% last year, according to Pornhub. That’s significantly higher than anywhere else.

TechHive casts a look over their shoulders:

Smart devices get smarter, but are still short on security

As you shop for that new “smart” refrigerator that can do everything including figuring out when you’re low on milk, perhaps you should also think about the risk of some mischievous hacker taking control of it and having 5000 gallons of milk delivered to your door.

Unlikely, yes, but possible. And that’s just inconvenient. What about a hacker who unlocks your doors while you’re away?

That scenario is real. It has been demonstrated. Security experts have been saying for more than a decade that, in the world of electronic devices, “smart” does not mean secure. They have warned that if security is not made a priority, the convenience provided by those devices will be undermined by cyber criminals.

And for our final item, PCWorld covers fumblefingered exploitation:

Typos online aren’t just a hassle, they’re a hazard

More than a decade after typosquatting became an Internet hazard, criminals and opportunists are still abusing misspelled domains on a scale that is leaving users and businesses out of pocket, consultancy High-Tech Bridge has found.

The company used its ImmuniWeb SaaS Phishing system to analyze 946 “typo” domains that were close but not identical to legitimate domains used by ten well-known antivirus firms; for example, entering “kasperski.com” or “mcaffee.com.”

Of these, High-Tech Bridge detected 385 domains that appeared to be attempting to pass themselves off as one of these domains; just over 40 percent, or 164, turned out to be in some way fraudulent (such as redirecting to phishing sites, or displaying ads for bogus products and services). A further 73 were simply being squatted, presumably in the hope that one of the affected firms might buy them at some point.

Headlines of the day I: Spies, threats, hacks, pols


We begin today’s compendium of life on the dark side with an attempt to keep things dark, via the New York Times:

White House Tries to Prevent Judge From Ruling on Surveillance Efforts

The Obama administration moved late Friday to prevent a federal judge in California from ruling on the constitutionality of warrantless surveillance programs authorized during the Bush administration, telling a court that recent disclosures about National Security Agency spying were not enough to undermine its claim that litigating the case would jeopardize state secrets.

In a set of filings in the two long-running cases in the Northern District of California, the government acknowledged for the first time that the N.S.A. started systematically collecting data about Americans’ emails and phone calls in 2001, alongside its program of wiretapping certain calls without warrants. The government had long argued that disclosure of these and other secrets would put the country at risk if they came out in court.

But the government said that despite recent leaks by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor, that made public a fuller scope of the surveillance and data collection programs put in place after the Sept. 11 attacks, sensitive secrets remained at risk in any courtroom discussion of their details — like whether the plaintiffs were targets of intelligence collection or whether particular telecommunications providers like AT&T and Verizon had helped the agency.

And a Canadian judge has harsh things to say about his countries CIA counterpart, via CBC News:

CSIS slammed for end-running law to snoop on Canadians abroad

Spy agency made ‘deliberate decision to keep the court in the dark’

Canada’s spy agency deliberately withheld information from the courts in an effort to do an end-run around the law when it applied for top-secret warrants to intercept the communications of Canadians abroad, a Federal Court judge said Friday.

In doing so, the judge said in written reasons, the agency put Canadians abroad at potential risk.

The situation arose five years ago when Canadian Security Intelligence Service asked Federal Court for special warrants related to two Canadian citizens — already under investigation as a potential threat to national security — that would apply while they were abroad.

The Toronto Globe and Mail covers another Canadian case and discovers a pattern in a decision by the country’s highest court:

Reach of unanimous ruling extends beyond prostitution issue

Laws that heighten the dangers to vulnerable prostitutes violate Canada’s basic values and cannot stand, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled.

The unanimous 9-0 ruling shows that the country’s most influential court, which now has a majority of its members appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is as unwilling as ever to defer to government when it perceives government using criminal laws in ways that put vulnerable people at risk of severe harm or death.

Canada’s high court has struck down prostitution laws, giving Parliament one year to reshape social policy on the issue. Terri-Jean Bedford, a retired dominatrix involved in the case, says she wasn’t expecting the ruling.

The ruling is one of the biggest since Canada’s criminal law of abortion was struck down in 1988. A similar principle was at the heart of that case: Criminalizing people at risk will not be tolerated if it is done in such a way as to heighten risks. In this case, Ottawa argued that prostitutes bring the risks on themselves, but the court accepted that vulnerable people are not always in a position to avoid risk. “Many prostitutes have no meaningful choice,” Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote for the court.

The McClatchy Washington Bureau looks at a leak investigation with a Hollywood twist:

‘Zero Dark Thirty’ leak investigators now target of leak probe

More than two years after sensitive information about the Osama bin Laden raid was disclosed to Hollywood filmmakers, Pentagon and CIA investigations haven’t publicly held anyone accountable despite internal findings that the leakers were former CIA Director Leon Panetta and the Defense Department’s top intelligence official.

Instead, the Pentagon Inspector General’s Office is working to root out who might have disclosed the findings on Panetta and Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers to a nonprofit watchdog group and to McClatchy.

While the information wasn’t classified, the inspector general’s office has pursued the new inquiry aggressively, grilling its own investigators, as well as the former director of its whistle-blowing unit, according to several people, including a congressional aide. They requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issues surrounding the 2012 movie “Zero Dark Thirty.”

The Guardian looks at the past:

National intelligence chief declassifies Bush-era documents on NSA programs

  • James Clapper documents relate to bulk collection origins
  • Disclosures part of campaign to justify NSA surveillance

The director of national intelligence is declassifying more documents that show how the National Security Agency was first authorised to start collecting bulk phone and internet records in the hunt for al-Qaida terrorists.

James Clapper explained in a statement Saturday that President George W Bush first authorised the spying as part of the Terrorist Surveillance Program, just after 9/11.

Deutsche Welle suspects:

Snowden ally Appelbaum claims his Berlin apartment was invaded

Jacob Appelbaum, a US Internet activist and one of the people with access to Edward Snowden’s documents, has told a Berlin paper that his apartment was broken into, saying he suspected US involvement.

And CNBC seeks to preclude:

Germany should ban contractors from NSA links: Report

U.S. contracting companies such as Cisco, which manages much of the German armed forces’ data, should be contractually barred from passing sensitive information to the U.S. security services, a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives was quoted saying.

German news magazine Focus on Saturday cited Hans-Peter Uhl, parliamentary spokesman on interior policy for the conservatives, as saying Cisco needed to be required by contract not to pass sensitive material to the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).

He said the German government wanted to monitor U.S. contracting companies more closely in future.

Firstpost suspects:

Devyani Khobragade case: Maid may be CIA agent, says father

Uttam Khobragade, former IAS officer and father of Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York, today alleged her daughter’s former maid Sangeeta Richards could be a “CIA agent”.

He said her daughter had been made a “scapegoat” and the possibility of a conspiracy behind the visa fraud allegations against her could not be ruled out.

Phoenix New Times triumphs over censorship-by-jail:

Joe Arpaio Loses: New Times Co-Founders Win $3.75 Million Settlement for 2007 False Arrests

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors this afternoon voted unanimously to approve a $3.75 million settlement for New Times’ co-founders, whose false arrests in 2007 were orchestrated by Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin were taken from their homes in the middle of the night and jailed on misdemeanor charges alleging that they violated the secrecy of a grand jury — which turned out never to have been convened.

Lacey was pleased with the settlement but expressed disbelief that the arrests ever occurred six years ago: “It was outrageous! Where in America do you arrest journalists for what they write?”

Nextgov wages cyberwar:

Agencies to Focus on Illegal Cyberweapons Trade in 2014

Agencies governmentwide over the next nine months must work together on guidelines for controlling the trade of cyberwar technology, under newly approved military legislation.

In programming, a cyberweapon often refers to malicious code that takes advantage of a software glitch unknown to developers, called a “zero day,” to insert itself and manipulate data. For example, Stuxnet, an alleged U.S-Israeli cyberweapon, upended Iranian’s nuclear program by exploiting a flaw in the country’s centrifuge systems.

The concern in Congress is that war worms, let loose in the black market, are being sold to the public and overseas aggressors.

Boing Boing sells privatizes another piece of the Pentagon, one of deep concern to anyone seeking information:

US Department of Defense’s public domain archive to be privatized, locked up for ten years

Archivist Rick Prelinger sez, “The U.S. Department of Defense has entered into a contract with T3 Media to get its gigantic still and moving image collection digitized at no cost to the government. In exchange, T3 Media will become the exclusive public outlet for millions of images and videos for ten years. Unlike most other developed nations, the U.S. Government does not claim copyright on video, film, photographs and other media produced by its workers. The immense number of works in the U.S. public domain have enabled countless researchers, makers and citizens to read, view and make many new works. True, those wishing to use modern military materials (1940s-present) in DoD’s archives often need to negotiate their release with military public affairs, but these materials have traditionally been available for just the cost of duplication. This is soon to change.”

The Washington Post wages war on the dark side:

Covert action in Colombia

U.S. intelligence, GPS bomb kits help Latin American nation cripple rebel forces

The 50-year-old Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), once considered the best-funded insurgency in the world, is at its smallest and most vulnerable state in decades, due in part to a CIA covert action program that has helped Colombian forces kill at least two dozen rebel leaders, according to interviews with more than 30 former and current U.S. and Colombian officials.

From TheLocal.fr, in your heart you know he’s Reich:

French army to suspend Nazi slogan soldier

The French military has removed a picture from an army website in which one of its soldiers deployed in the Central African Republic was sporting an insignia with a Nazi slogan and said he will be suspended as soon as he is identified.

The picture showed a soldier with his gun in his hand wearing a shoulder insignia bearing the French flag, the number 32 and the motto of Adolf Hitler’s SS — “My honour is called loyalty” — said news channel BFMTV. The army took the photo down on Friday.

“This is an unacceptable attitude that doesn’t reflect the reality of the armed forces,” said army spokesman Colonel Gilles Jaron. He said the soldier would be “immediately suspended” as soon as he had been identified.

Channel NewsAsia Singapore does corruption:

More revelations due in US Navy’s bribery scandal

The civilian chief of the US Navy said on Friday he expects more revelations to emerge in a multi-million dollar bribery scandal that has already implicated several senior naval officers.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said he told investigators examining ship supply contracts from Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA) to take the case “wherever it leads.”

“I think it’s fair to say that there will be more disclosures coming on GDMA,” Mabus said when asked if others would be charged.

On to the Asian crises, first with another blast from Beijing from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

China slams Japan defence spending plan

China has denounced Japan’s plans to boost military purchases, accusing it of playing up regional tensions as an “excuse” to ramp up defence spending.

The cabinet of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed Tuesday to spend 24.7 trillion yen ($240 billion) between 2014 and 2019 — a five percent boost to the military budget over five years.

Japan plans to purchase stealth fighters, drones and submarines as part of its efforts to boost military hardware that will beef up defence of far-flung islands amid a simmering territorial row with China.

China is “firmly opposed” to Japan’s spending plans, defence ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said in a statement released late Friday. He accused Tokyo of playing up the perceived military threat from China as an “excuse” to expand its military.

Korea next, with the latest from the London Telegraph:

‘Hundreds’ of Jang’s relatives sent to gulags by North Korean regime

After Kim Jong-un regime ordered the execution of his uncle, it is reported that hundreds of his relatives have now been sent to prison camps

Several hundred relatives of Jang Song-thaek, executed recently on charges of plotting to overthrow the North Korean state, have been rounded up and sent to political prison camps.

NHK WORLD assesses:

Intelligence: Execution will not affect N.Korea

Japan’s security agency says it doesn’t see the North Korean regime being immediately affected by the recent execution of Jang Song Thaek, an uncle of the country’s leader Kim Jong Un.

The Public Security Intelligence Agency expressed this view in its annual report released on Friday.

It also says Kim Jong Un has tried to strengthen the regime’s ideological basis by revising for the first time in 39 years the “10 Fundamental Principles” of the ruling Workers’ Party. The principles are regarded as the country’s supreme rules.

South China Morning Post plays ball:

Dennis Rodman admits NBA veterans afraid to go to North Korea for game

Former NBA star Dennis Rodman held try-outs yesterday for a North Korean team to face a dozen NBA veterans in an exhibition game on leader Kim Jong-un’s birthday next month – though he hasn’t convinced all the players on the American team that it’s safe to come to Pyongyang.

The flamboyant Hall of Famer said plans for the January 8 game were moving ahead but some of the 12 Americans he wants were afraid to come.

Russia next, and more online censorship from RT:

Russia to block websites that call for rioting, ‘extremism’ without court ruling

Russia’s lawmakers have passed a bill authorizing prosecutors to issue emergency orders without a court ruling that block websites promoting rioting, racial hatred or extremism. Critics fear the law may infringe constitutional rights.

Under the bill, which has passed its third and final reading in the State Duma, a special agency can be set up within the Prosecutor General’s Office to surf the web in search of provocative messages. Only the Prosecutor General and his deputies will be able to order the blocking of websites.

The site owner will find out about the blocking after it happens. The website would be unblocked immediately after the content deemed to be illegal is removed.

From Techdirt, more web-watching, Italian style:

Italy’s Communications Watchdog Assigns Itself Extrajudicial Powers To Order ISPs To Stop Copyright Infringement

from the no-judges-required dept

The last six months have seen a fierce debate in Italy over a proposal by the Italian communications watchdog Agcom to grant itself wide-ranging powers to address alleged copyright infringement online.

PCWorld Googles gotcha:

Google fined $1.2 million by Spain over privacy practices

Spain’s data protection authority has fined Google $1.2 million and ordered the company to fall in line with the country’s data protection rules without delay.

The Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (AEPD), said Thursday that Google does not provide users enough information about the personal information it collects, and the purposes it uses it for. It also objects to Google combining data gathered from its various services in violation of local laws.

Want China Times has the latest on Amazon, cloud conjurer for the CIA and headed by the same fellow who publishes the Washington Post:

Amazon taps into China’s cloud computing market

US retail giant Amazon will set up a data center to pilot its cloud computing services in collaboration with enterprises in China in early 2014.

Since 2006, Amazon had been using its experience in e-commerce sales to launch its cloud computing services, namely Amazon Web Services, and has now become the largest service supplier in the sector.

News Corp Australia denies:

No evidence to back Nelson Mandela Mossad training claims, say Foundation

THE Nelson Mandela Foundation says it has no evidence that the anti-apartheid icon received training from Israel’s Mossad agency in 1962.

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported this week that intelligence documents from Mossad indicated the spy agency had given Mandela weapons training in Ethiopia.

“In 2009, the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s senior researcher travelled to Ethiopia and interviewed the surviving men who assisted in Mandela’s training,” the foundation said on Saturday. “No evidence emerged of an Israeli connection.”

Nature World News covers a disappearance:

Majority of Scientific Data Lost Due Within 20 Years, Study Finds

The vast majority of scientific data are evaporating, never to be heard from again.

The reason, based an analysis published in the journal Current Biology, is almost boring – old email addresses and obsolete storage devices are making off with hard-earned research, according to Tim Vines, a visiting scholar at the University of British Columbia, and his colleagues.

In all, Vines and his team estimated that some 80 percent of data are lost within 20 years of the publication of their accompanying study.

The Washington Post finds priorities:

Americans uneasy about surveillance but often use snooping tools, Post poll finds

The Post’s poll found that Americans’ attitudes about surveillance are anything but consistent, whether the sample is the entire nation or a single, conflicted person.

Nearly seven in 10 Americans are concerned about how much personal information government agencies and private companies collect, the poll found. But among parents 40 or older — the group most likely to have teenagers — 70 percent said they monitor the Web sites their children visit. Many also review their kids’ texts, e-mails and social-media use. A small number of Americans also report tracking the movements of their spouses or using video feeds to monitor elderly parents.

And for our final item, when spying goes bad from TheLocal.no:

Peeping tom installs spy camera in girls’ showers

A boy who fixed a spy camera in the girls’ showers at a high school in Skien unwittingly snapped a picture of himself as he mounted the camera on the wall, VG has reported.

The camera, which was disguised as a plastic clothes’ hook, was discovered by two schoolgirls on Thursday morning.

“It is disgusting to think that someone has hung a spy camera in the girls’ shower, with the clear purpose of filming us naked,”  Malene Austad, one of the girls, told VG newspaper.

Headlines of the day I: Spies, liars, hacks, ruses


Just one heckuva lot happening today, with yet more Snowden bombshells and lots of blowback.

From The Guardian, the headline-grabber:

GCHQ and NSA targeted charities, Germans, Israeli PM and EU chief

  • Unicef and Médecins du Monde were on surveillance list
  • Targets went well beyond potential criminals and terrorists
  • Revelations could cause embarrassment at EU summit

British and American intelligence agencies had a comprehensive list of surveillance targets that included the EU’s competition commissioner, German government buildings in Berlin and overseas, and the heads of institutions that provide humanitarian and financial help to Africa, top secret documents reveal.

The papers show GCHQ, in collaboration with America’s National Security Agency (NSA), was targeting organisations such as the United Nations development programme, the UN’s children’s charity Unicef and Médecins du Monde, a French organisation that provides doctors and medical volunteers to conflict zones. The head of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) also appears in the documents, along with text messages he sent to colleagues.

More from Spiegel:

Friendly Fire: How GCHQ Monitors Germany, Israel and the EU

Documents from the archive of whistleblower and former NSA worker Edward Snowden show that Britain’s GCHQ signals intelligence agency has targeted European, German and Israeli politicians for surveillance.

The documents SPIEGEL was able to examine do not indicate how intensively and during which periods of time the individual targets were actually monitored. However, the example of an African politician shows that even during a surveillance test run, the British intercepted and stored his mobile phone text messages in their entirety.

And from the New York Times:

N.S.A. Dragnet Included Allies, Aid Groups and Business Elite

Secret documents reveal more than 1,000 targets of American and British surveillance in recent years, including the office of an Israeli prime minister, heads of international aid organizations, foreign energy companies and a European Union official involved in antitrust battles with American technology businesses.

While the names of some political and diplomatic leaders have previously emerged as targets, the newly disclosed intelligence documents provide a much fuller portrait of the spies’ sweeping interests in more than 60 countries.

And from El País:

US spied on European Commission vice president, internal sources claim

NSA reported to have monitored Joaquín Almunia’s phone calls at the start of Europe’s financial crisis

The US National Security Agency (NSA) tapped the cellphone of European Commission Vice President Joaquín Almunia between 2008 and 2009, when the Spaniard served as commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, EC sources have told EL PAÍS.

The former leader of the Spanish Socialist Party is the first high-level EC official known to have been a target of the NSA’s spying activities. Sources said that the 65-year-old Almunia has been made aware that his phone was tapped.

And blowback from EUobserver:

EU: US spying on Almunia ‘unacceptable if true’

A European Commission spokeswoman said on Friday that, “if proven true,” it is “unacceptable” that the UK and US spied on EU competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia. The revelations, published Friday by The Guardian, are the latest in a series of leaks by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

And the usual huckin’ ‘n’ jivin’, from PCWorld:

NSA defends foreign surveillance after new reports of targets

An NSA spokeswoman defended the NSA’s surveillance programs, without commenting specifically on the report.

“We do not use our foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of—or give intelligence we collect to—U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line,” she said in an email. “The United States collects foreign intelligence just as many other governments do.”

The NSA collects information to understand other countries’ policies and to “monitor anomalous economic activities,” she said. Those efforts “are critical to providing policy-makers with the information they need to make informed decisions that are in the best interest of our national security.”

Meanwhile, Techdirt smells a rat in the official White House review:

Report Suggests NSA Engaged In Financial Manipulation, Changing Money In Bank Accounts

from the that-would-be-big dept

Matt Blaze has been pointing out that when you read the new White House intelligence task force report and its recommendations on how to reform the NSA and the wider intelligence community, that there may be hints to other excesses not yet revealed by the Snowden documents. Trevor Timm may have spotted a big one.

And here’s a screengrab of the section in question, notably the second point:

BLOG NSA reco

Global blowback to earlier revelations from MercoPress:

Brazil and Germany, with UN support hit back at US cyber spying

UN General Assembly has adopted a resolution aimed at protecting the right to privacy of internet users. The resolution was introduced by Brazil and Germany after allegations that the US had been eavesdropping on foreign leaders, including Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff and Germany’s Angela Merkel.

The two powerful ladies, Angela and Dilma are furious about US NSA spying into their countries and even their personal mobiles The two powerful ladies, Angela and Dilma are furious about US NSA spying into their countries and even their personal mobiles

The claims stem from leaks by US intelligence fugitive Edward Snowden.

General Assembly resolutions are non-binding but they can carry significant moral and political weight. The resolution calls for all countries to guarantee privacy rights to users of the internet and other forms of electronic communications.

Snowden gets Nordic conformation, via TheLocal.no:

Norway data helps target US drones: spy chief

Data collected by Norway’s intelligence services in Afghanistan is used by US and Nato forces to target controversial drone attacks, the organisation’s head has revealed.

Lieutenant General Kjell Grandhagen told Aftenposten newspaper that the data Norway’s E-Service handed over to the US’s National Security Agency was “part of an overall information base used for operations”.

“Such operations may include the use of drones or other legal weapons platforms,” he confirmed.

And yet another revelation, this time from Reuters:

Exclusive: Secret contract tied NSA and security industry pioneer

As a key part of a campaign to embed encryption software that it could crack into widely used computer products, the U.S. National Security Agency arranged a secret $10 million contract with RSA, one of the most influential firms in the computer security industry, Reuters has learned.

Documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden show that the NSA created and promulgated a flawed formula for generating random numbers to create a “back door” in encryption products, the New York Times reported in September. Reuters later reported that RSA became the most important distributor of that formula by rolling it into a software tool called Bsafe that is used to enhance security in personal computers and many other products.

Undisclosed until now was that RSA received $10 million in a deal that set the NSA formula as the preferred, or default, method for number generation in the BSafe software, according to two sources familiar with the contract. Although that sum might seem paltry, it represented more than a third of the revenue that the relevant division at RSA had taken in during the entire previous year, securities filings show.

We love the headline Metafilter gave to the story:

RSA Paid by the NSA to screw the USA

And here’s TechCrunch’s headline, which says it all:

NSA Reportedly Paid A Security Firm Millions To Ship Deliberately Flawed Encryption Technology

In a related development, Ars Technica headlines dismissively:

Critics: NSA agent co-chairing key crypto standards body should be removed

There’s an elephant in the room at the Internet Engineering Task Force.

Security experts are calling for the removal of a National Security Agency employee who co-chairs an influential cryptography panel, which advises a host of groups that forge widely used standards for the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).

Kevin Igoe, who in a 2011 e-mail announcing his appointment was listed as a senior cryptographer with the NSA’s Commercial Solutions Center, is one of two co-chairs of the IETF’s Crypto Forum Research Group (CFRG). The CFRG provides cryptographic guidance to IETF working groups that develop standards for a variety of crucial technologies that run and help secure the Internet. The transport layer security (TLS) protocol that underpins Web encryption and standards for secure shell (SSH) connections used to securely access servers are two examples. Igoe has been CFRG co-chair for about two years, along with David A. McGrew of Cisco Systems.

Igoe’s leadership had largely gone unnoticed until reports surfaced in September that exposed the role NSA agents have played in “deliberately weakening the international encryption standards adopted by developers.”

Meanwhile, Barry O spins away in the year’s last Wbite House presser. From Bloomberg:

Obama Says Surveillance Program Changes Coming in January

President Barack Obama said he will act in January on the recommendations of an advisory panel suggesting changes to government surveillance programs.

“What we’re doing now is evaluating all of the recommendations that have been made,” Obama said at a news conference today. “I’m going to make a pretty definitive statement about all of this in January.”

He’ll decide which recommendations “make sense” and which need further work, Obama said at a White House news conference, his final planned for 2013.

More from The Guardian:

Obama concedes NSA bulk collection of phone data may be unnecessary

  • President: ‘There may be a better way of skinning the cat’
  • ‘Potential abuse’ of collected data cited as concern

President Barack Obama speaks President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference at the White House. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Barack Obama has conceded that mass collection of private data by the US government may be unnecessary and said there were different ways of “skinning the cat”, which could allow intelligence agencies to keep the country safe without compromising privacy.

In an apparent endorsement of a recommendation by a review panel to shift responsibility for the bulk collection of telephone records away from the National Security Agency and on to the phone companies, the president said change was necessary to restore public confidence.

“In light of the disclosures, it is clear that whatever benefits the configuration of this particular programme may have, may be outweighed by the concerns that people have on its potential abuse,” Obama told an end-of-year White House press conference. “If it that’s the case, there may be a better way of skinning the cat.”

Still more from The Guardian:

Obama: Snowden leaks caused ‘unnecessary damage’

Obama said he could not comment specifically on possible amnesty because Snowden was ‘under indictment’

Barack Obama has declined to be drawn into a debate about possible amnesty for Edward Snowden, the whistleblower whose revelations about the NSA have sparked intense internal deliberation about changing US surveillance activities.

In a press conference at the White House, the president distinguished between Snowden’s leaks and the debate those leaks prompted, which he said was “an important conversation we needed to have”, but left open the question of whether he should still be prosecuted.

“The way in which these disclosures happened has been damaging to the United States and damaging to our intelligence capabilities,” he said. “I think that there was a way for us to have this conversation without that damage. As important and as necessary as this debate has been, it’s important to keep in mind this has done unnecessary damage.”

Let’s hear it for the little guy! From The Wire:

Report: The NSA Misses a Lot of Phone Call Records, Especially from Smaller Carriers

After the jump, Danish spy scandals, calling out the National Guard as cyber warriors, the latest saber-rattling in Asia, massive corporate data thefts, Turkish turmoil, and much more. . . Continue reading

Bernie Sanders lays open the defense budget


The Vermont senator, the only socialist in the national legislator, announces that he’s voting no on the Defense Authorization Bill, laying out his reasons in cold, hard numbers that should send chills down our collective spines.

It’s all there: Bloat, bellicosity, waste, and outright fraud:

From the senator’s vlog:

Pentagon Bloat

Headlines of the day I: Spies, zones, more


A long walk on the dark side today, with major developments afoot.

First, the day’s major breaking news story from the New York Times:

Obama Panel Recommends New Limits on N.S.A. Spying

A panel of presidential advisers who reviewed the National Security Agency’s surveillance practices urged President Obama on Wednesday to end the government’s systematic collection of logs of all Americans’ phone calls, and to keep those in private hands, “for queries and data mining” only by court order.

More from Reuters:

White House review panel proposes curbs on some NSA programs

A White House-appointed panel on Wednesday proposed curbs on some key National Security Agency surveillance operations, recommending limits on a program to collect records of billions of telephone calls and new tests before Washington spies on foreign leaders.

Among the panel’s proposals, made in the wake of revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the most contentious may be its recommendation that the eavesdropping agency halt collection of the phone call records, known as “metadata.”

Instead, it said, those records should be held by telecommunications providers or a private third party. In a further limitation, the U.S. government would need an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to search the data.

Still more from The Guardian:

Obama review panel: strip NSA of power to collect telephone data records

  • Government ‘should be banned from undermining encryption’
  • Recommends major telecoms companies hold data on NSA’s behalf
  • Forty-six recommendations in 300-page report released early

The Guardian has posted the full report here.

But California’s plutocratic senator hedges her bets, via Al Jazeera America:

Senate intel chair says NSA surveillance sweeps not ‘indispensable’

Dianne Feinstein’s comments come as tech firms call on Obama to ‘move aggressively’ on privacy reform

An influential senator who has doggedly backed the National Security Agency’s mass collection of private data indicated Tuesday that the program was not “indispensable,” but disagreed with the federal judge who said the program may be unconstitutional.

“I’m not saying it’s indispensable, but I am saying it is important,” Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who chairs the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee, told MSNBC.

From Deutsche Welle, celebration:

Vindicating Snowden, US judge rules NSA violates privacy, ACLU says

A US federal judge has ruled that the National Security Agency’s collection of telephone data violated a fundamental principle of the US Constitution. It’s a groundbreaking decision, says ACLU attorney Patrick Toomey.

Carlos Latuff offers his take on the issue of the day, with a cinematic twist:

BLOG Latuff

From RT, an evocation of spooky days past:

NSA methods reminiscent of those used in USSR under Stalin – Lavrov

Russia’s Foreign Minister has compared the way NSA obtains permission for its surveillance with the way Soviet people received sentences in Stalin-era courts.

Sergey Lavrov said the judicial entities which gave permission for NSA surveillance reminded him of “troikas,” or extrajudicial bodies that existed in the Soviet Union during the Great Purge of 1937-38. They consisted of only three people who passed sentences very quickly, based on very scanty evidence.

Fox News quotes a latter-day Stalinist [or so he sounds]:

Ex-CIA director: Snowden should be ‘hanged’ if convicted for treason

Former CIA Director James Woolsey had harsh words Tuesday for anyone thinking about giving Edward Snowden amnesty, and argued the NSA leaker should be “hanged” if he’s ever tried and convicted of treason.

Woolsey, along with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Hugh Shelton, spoke Tuesday in Washington in an interview with Fox News. “I think giving him amnesty is idiotic,” Woolsey said. “He should be prosecuted for treason. If convicted by a jury of his peers, he should be hanged by his neck until he is dead.”

Another major event came today in New York reported by the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

One Small Step for Privacy, One Giant Leap Against Surveillance

Today, the 193 members of the United Nations General Assembly unanimously approved a UN privacy resolution entitled “The right to privacy in the digital age.”  The resolution, which was introduced by Brazil and Germany and sponsored by more than 50 member states, is aimed at upholding the right to privacy for everyone at a time when the United States and the United Kingdom have been conducting sweeping mass surveillance on billions of innocent individuals around the world from domestic soil.

The resolution reaffirms a core principle of international human rights law: Individuals should not be denied human  rights simply because they live in another country from the one that is surveilling them.  We hope the resolution will make it harder for the US and its Five Eyes allies to justify their mass surveillance activities by claiming that their human rights obligations stop at their own borders.

Fox News covers a plea:

President of Brazilian Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee urges asylum for Snowden

The president of the Brazilian Senate’s Foreign Relations and Defense Committee says the country should grant political asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.

An aide to Senator Ricardo Ferraco says Wednesday the senator wants to meet with Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo to “request that Snowden be given asylum.” The aide did not give further details and declined to be identified because the person was not authorized to speak to the press.

And Techdirt makes us gag:

Hayden Says They Did Surveillance In A ‘Madisonian’ Way

from the floundering-father? dept

By now you probably know the name Michael Hayden. Former NSA and CIA Director Hayden now seems to focus all his time on pimping the security state to the American public. He steadfastly claims that all negative impact and lawlessness on the part of the spy agencies is fiction, and that state secrets and your privacy are ironically equal. He also enjoys the occasional wistful guffaw at the notion of assassinating Edward Snowden. When it comes to dealing honestly about the spying state of our nation, he’s the kind of man you could fit into briefcase if you gave him an enema.

The Guardian covers other spooks, other problems:

Senators clash with Justice Department lawyer over CIA intelligence memos

CIA nominee Caroline Krass angers intelligence committee by claiming legal opinions on torture are beyond its scope

Asked directly and repeatedly if the Senate panel was entitled to the memos, which several senators claimed were crucial for performing their oversight functions, Krass replied: “I do not think so, as a general matter.”

More from CNN:

Senator’s questions about CIA program may hold up nomination

A new congressional fight is brewing over the Central Intelligence Agency’s controversial use of harsh interrogations almost decade ago.

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado, is threatening to block the nomination of President Barack Obama’s choice for CIA general counsel unless the agency provides an internal report that he says bolsters findings made by a congressional investigation of the interrogation program.

The Senate Intelligence Committee produced a 6,300-page report on the program, which used methods such as waterboarding on prisoners held by the CIA in the years after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The Washington Post covers a spook who wasn’t:

EPA official, who pretended to work for CIA, sentenced to 32 months

A former high-level official at the Environmental Protection Agency, who pretended to work for the CIA to avoid the office, said he was motivated by a sense of excitement and the rush of getting away with something.

John C. Beale, a former EPA senior policy advisor, explained his motivations for the first time in a federal courtroom Wednesday before he was sentenced to more than 2 ½ years in prison for stealing nearly $900,000 in taxpayer funds.

With knickers twisted from EUobserver:

EU angst on US snooping is helping China to steal secrets, congressman says

The EU debate on US-led mass surveillance is helping China to rob Western companies, the head of the US congress’ intelligence oversight committee has said.

“Because of this confusion and of this muddling of the debate, it has allowed the Chinese to absolutely steal us blind when it comes to intellectual property for European and American companies,” Republican congressman Mike Rogers told MEPs and press in Brussels on Tuesday (17 December).

SecurityWeek competes:

NSA Seeks Best Cybersecurity Research Papers in New Competition

NSA Announces 2013 “Best Scientific Cybersecurity Paper” Competition

Despite being under fire for its highly controversial global surveillance programs, the National Security Agency (NSA) is calling upon the public to submit papers to help it make discoveries to support its intelligence initiatives.

The NSA announced on Monday that it is seeking nominations for its 2013 Annual Best Scientific Cybersecurity Paper Competition, and is looking for scientific papers that were published between October 1, 2012, and December 31, 2013, that show an outstanding contribution to cybersecurity science.

From CNN drones a-comin’?:

Senate confirms Jeh Johnson to lead homeland security

The Senate broke another Republican filibuster on Monday in confirming former top Pentagon lawyer Jeh Johnson to head the Homeland Security Department.

The vote to approve Johnson, a key architect of President Barack Obama’s anti-terrorism policies that have included stepped up drone use in terrorist hotspots, was 78-16

Channel NewsAsia Singapore covers the barely credible:

Egypt’s Morsi to stand trial for “espionage”

Egypt’s deposed president Mohamed Morsi and ex-aides will stand trial for “espionage” that helped a “terrorist” campaign involving the Palestinian militant group Hamas and jihadists, the prosecution said Wednesday.

If found guilty, they could face the death penalty.

German measures from TheLocal.de:

Parliament creates ‘internet committee’

Germany’s new government has confirmed it will set up a parliamentary committee for internet matters – six months after Chancellor Angela Merkel described the internet as “virgin territory”.

The idea was first put forward in November 2012, but took until now to materialize, and “internet and digital agenda” took centre stage in the Bundestag when it was announced on Tuesday.

From The Guardian, unaccountably:

Spy chiefs should not be accountable to parliament, says ex-GCHQ chief

Sir David Omand expresses view in debate on surveillance featuring Guardian editor and Wikipedia founder

After the jump, the Asian zonal crises continue, corporate spies, MSM hacks, and much, much more. . . Continue reading

Greenwald: NSA seeks to end personal privacy


Why? Because once we forget about it, their job will be so much easier.

From RT, Greenwald’s testimony to the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties and Home Affairs:

‘NSA’s goal is elimination of privacy worldwide’ – Greenwald to EU

From the accompanying RT story:

The NSA’s ultimate goal is to destroy individual privacy worldwide, working with its UK sidekick GCHQ, journalist Glenn Greenwald warned an EU inquiry, adding that they were far ahead of their rivals in their “ability to destroy privacy.”

Greenwald, the former Guardian journalist renowned for publishing Edward Snowden’s leaks, criticized EU governments’ muted response to the revelations about the NSA’s mass espionage. Most governments reacted with “apathy and indifference” to reports that ordinary citizens were being spied upon, Greenwald said, pointing out that EU politicians only took action when they discovered that they themselves were being targeted.

“I think western governments have inculcated people to accept that privacy does not really have much value,” said Greenwald, adding it was “to get populations accustomed to violations of their privacy.”

Greenwald testified before the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties and Home Affairs via a video link, contributing to an inquiry into the NSA’s surveillance on EU citizens.

Read the rest.

Headlines of the day I: Spies, lies, hawks, hacks


Today’s tales from the dark side begin with another Snowden leak, this one Norse. From Dagbladet:

Norway´s secret surveillance of Russian politics for the NSA

The Norwegian Intelligence Service conducts surveillance of politicians, energy policy and other civilian «targets» in Russia – and provides this information for the USA.

A Top Secret document shows the extensive cooperation between the Norwegian Intelligence Service (NIS) and the US National Security Agency (NSA). It confirms and specifies that Norway is conducting surveillance on Russia and that the NIS is sharing intelligence information with the NSA.

The NIS provides the NSA with information on:

  • Politicians
  •  Energy
  • Armament

Here’s a video report from RT, a news agency of the governmnent that’s the target of those NSA/Norse ops:

Revealed: Norway widely spies on Russia for NSA – new Snowden leak

Program notes:

The latest leak from Edward Snowden has exposed Norway’s role in America’s global spying operations. The Nordic country has been sharing intelligence with the U.S. on Russia’s political elite, as well as oil and gas companies and ordinary civilians. Helge Luras, director of the Center for International and Strategic Analysis, joins RT studio.

From the Associated Press, exultation:

Snowden: NSA’s indiscriminate spying ‘collapsing’

National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden wrote in a lengthy “open letter to the people of Brazil” that he’s been inspired by the global debate ignited by his release of thousands of National Security Agency documents, and that the NSA’s culture of indiscriminate global espionage “is collapsing.”

In the letter, released widely online, Snowden commended the Brazilian government for its strong stand against U.S. spying.

He said he’d be willing to help the South American nation investigate NSA spying on its soil, but could not fully participate in doing so without being granted political asylum, because the U.S. “government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak.”

BuzzFeed clarifies:

Snowden Not Renewing Request For Asylum In Brazil, Greenwald Says

Brazil has been one of the most outspoken opponents of NSA spying. Glenn Greenwald says Edward Snowden’s letter to the people of Brazil has been “wildly misreported.”

The Wire qualifies:

All Three Branches of Government Are Now Demanding NSA Reform

One of the National Security Agency’s primary defenses against criticism has been that it is subject to robust oversight from all three branches of the federal government. In the past week, however, all three branches have called for reform.

NSA oversight was never as robust as the “three branches” claim, which the agency has made repeatedly. (One quick example, from an August presentation: “all three branches of our government exercise oversight over NSA’s use of [FISA] authority.” Or just do a Google search.) The executive branch oversight is largely self-administered, as Ryan Lizza’s recent New Yorker article makes clear. Congressional oversight has been the sole purview of the House and Senate intelligence committees, each of which is chaired by a staunch defender of the agency. Judicial oversight has been conducted by a secret court that has been forced to defend allegations that it is merely a rubber-stamp.

Now, each of those branches is proposing — or, in some cases, insisting upon — significant reforms to how the NSA conducts its surveillance.

The Verge covers an urge:

NSA’s top defender wants Supreme Court to rule on metadata collection

Even some NSA proponents want to see its phone-record collection program tried in the Supreme Court. In a statement today, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) — a consistently strong supporter of the NSA’s programs — said that she would welcome a Supreme Court review of the agency’s collection of phone metadata so that there can be a definitive opinion on its legality. Naturally, Feinstein argues that it’ll be found legal, but she’d still like that belief to be held up. “I believe it is crucial to settling the issue once and for all,” Feinstein says.

PCWorld frets:

Snowden speech to EU parliament could torpedo U.S. trade talks.

A U.S. legislator warned the European Parliament Tuesday that inviting former NSA contractor Edward Snowden to address them could torpedo a transatlantic trade agreement worth more than $2.7 billion a year.

Mike Rogers, a Republican from Michigan who is chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told reporters at the European Parliament that his thoughts on Snowden were “not fit to print” and that it was “beneath the dignity” of the E.U. institution to invite him to speak.

From The Guardian, a blast from the past:

Merkel compared NSA to Stasi in heated encounter with Obama

German chancellor furious after revelations US intelligence agency listened in on her personal mobile phone

In an angry exchange with Barack Obama, Angela Merkel has compared the snooping practices of the US with those of the Stasi, the ubiquitous and all-powerful secret police of the communist dictatorship in East Germany, where she grew up.

The German chancellor also told the US president that America’s National Security Agency cannot be trusted because of the volume of material it had allowed to leak to the whistleblower Edward Snowden, according to the New York Times.

From the New York Times, oops!:

U.S.-Germany Intelligence Partnership Falters Over Spying

Nearly two months after President Obama assured Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany that the United States would never again target her cellphone, a broader effort to build a new intelligence relationship with Germany is floundering, with each side increasingly reluctant to make major changes in how it deals with the other.

American officials have refused to extend the “no spying” guarantee beyond Ms. Merkel, telling German officials in private sessions that if the White House agreed to forgo surveillance on German territory, other partners would insist on the same treatment.

“Susan Rice has been very clear to us,” one senior German official said, referring to Mr. Obama’s national security adviser. “The U.S. is not going to set a precedent.”

Sky News alerts:

GCHQ To Monitor Huawei Amid Cyber Spying Fears

The Government is to strengthen its oversight of a Chinese telecoms giant over fears that its equipment could be used for spying.

The Prime Minister’s national security adviser has said that senior members of Britain’s listening post should have a greater role at work being done at the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre, known as the Cell, which is based in Banbury, Oxfordshire..

From PCWorld, puttin’ on the squeeze:

German coalition favors German-owned or open source software, aims to lock NSA out

Germany’s new coalition government listed open source software among its IT policy priorities, and said it will take steps to protect its citizens against espionage threats from the NSA and other foreign intelligence agencies.

Coalition parties CDU, CSU and SPD signed up to the plans Monday in Berlin.

The new government’s goal is to keep core technologies, including IT security, process and enterprise software, cryptography and machine-to-machine communication on proprietary technology platforms and production lines in Germany or in Europe, according to the coalition agreement.

The Associated Press reminds:

Judge’s word on NSA program won’t be the last

A federal judge made headlines Monday by declaring that the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of millions of Americans’ telephone records is likely unconstitutional. But even he realized his won’t be the last word on the issue.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon put his decision to grant an injunction against the NSA on ice, predicting a government appeal would take at least six months. He said he was staying the ruling pending appeal “in light of the significant national security interests at stake in this case and the novelty of the constitutional issues.”

Even after the appeals court rules, the Supreme Court will probably have the last word.

Techdirt gasps:

Tone Deaf NSA Officials Tell Reporter It’s Time To Reform The First Amendment

from the how-about-reforming-the-nsa-out-of-existence dept

From the Washington Post, Silicon Valley blowback:

Tech executives to Obama: NSA spying revelations are hurting business

Leaders of the nation’s biggest technology firms warned President Obama during a lengthy meeting at the White House on Tuesday that National Security Agency spying programs are damaging their reputations and could harm the broader economy.

Cisco Systems has said it is seeing customers, especially overseas, back away from American-branded technology after documents revealed that the NSA enlisted tech firms and secretly tapped into their data hubs around the world as the agency pursued terrorism suspects. Companies such as IBM, AT&T and Verizon Communications are facing angry shareholders, some of whom have filed lawsuits demanding that the companies disclose their participation in NSA intelligence programs.

More from The Guardian:

Tech firms meet Obama to press their case for NSA surveillance reform

A delegation of 15 from Silicon Valley, including Tim Cook and Marissa Mayer, visit White House for face-to-face talks

Senior executives from some the world’s largest technology firms were meeting face to face with Barack Obama on Tuesday to press their case for a major rollback of National Security Agency surveillance.

The White House is hosting the 15-strong delegation from Silicon Valley, which includes the chief executives of Apple, Yahoo and Google, less than 24 hours after a federal judge ruled that the NSA program to collect telephone metadata is likely to be unconstitutional.

MIT Technology Review reflects:

Snowden’s Leaks Have Finally Forced Companies to Enhance Their Security

Revelations about NSA surveillance have prompted Yahoo, Microsoft, and other companies to deploy long-overdue security improvements.

The Guardian confirms:

Sunday’s NSA report confirms it: 60 Minutes is now in the spin business

The special NSA report was a promotional. It follows a string of spectacularly biased ‘news’ shows and shoddy reporting.

Rupert Murdoch’s premium brand takes a shot, via Techdirt:

Wall Street Journal Calls Snowden A Sociopath; Argues For Even Less NSA Oversight

from the the-nsa-journal dept

From MercoPress, national security:

UK investing in new generation of nuclear deterrent ‘Successor’ submarines

The ‘Successor’ submarine is expected to replace the Vanguard Class from 2028

The UK Defence Secretary has announced £79 million of investment in the next generation of Royal Navy submarines. The Successor submarines, which will carry the UK’s strategic nuclear deterrent will be the largest and most advanced boats operated by the Navy and their design and construction will be the most technologically complex in the history of the UK.

Reuters covers security-threatening umbrage:

India removes barriers to U.S. embassy as anger grows over diplomat’s arrest

Indian authorities removed concrete security barriers in front of the U.S. embassy in New Delhi on Tuesday in apparent retaliation for the arrest and allegedly heavy-handed treatment of an Indian diplomat in New York.

New Delhi police used tow trucks and a backhoe loader to drag away long concrete blocks from roads running past the embassy and leading up to gates of the compound, a Reuters witness said. The barriers had prevented vehicles approaching at high speeds.

More from the Press Trust of India:

Furious India hits back, strips US diplomats of privileges

In a strong retaliation, India today initiated a slew of steps to strip US diplomats and their families of privileges including withdrawing all airport passes and stopping import clearances for the US embassy, terming as “barbaric” the arrest and strip searching of India’s Deputy Consul General in New York Devyani Khobragade.

And on to the battle of the Asian zones with Jack Ohman of the Sacramento Bee:

BLOG China moon

After the jump, the Asian zone crises continue, Japan ups its arms, Rodman heads to North Korea, DC’s spooky police surveillance, Russia goes ballistic [missiles], and more. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day I: Spies, lies, zones, threats


Once again, we missed a day, leaving us with a lot of catching up on the latest development in the world of the dark arts, corporate snooping, and military posturing.

Most notable [and after the jump], rapid escalation of the Asian security crisis and the latest in corporate cyber-stalking.

We begin with a headline from Reuters:

Man arrested for suspected plot to blow up Kansas airport

Authorities have arrested a man suspected of plotting to blow up the Mid-Continent Airport in Wichita, Kansas, in a suicide attack with a carload of explosives, officials said Friday.

Terry Loewen, a 58-year-old aviation technician from Wichita, intended to die a martyr in the bombing, U.S. District Attorney for Kansas Barry Grissom said at a news conference.

Authorities said Loewen was believed to have been motivated, at least partly, by religious beliefs. Officials said Loewen had made statements prior to the attempted attack that he was resolved to commit an act of violent “jihad” on behalf of al Qaeda against the United States.

Now, on to the latest twist in the one story that has been capturing global headlines for months. From News Corp Australia:

US spy ‘open to cutting deal with Snowden’

A NATIONAL Security Agency official has said in an interview he would be open to cutting an amnesty deal with US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden if the fugitive agreed to stop divulging secret documents.

Rick Ledgett, who heads the NSA’s task force investigating the damage from the Snowden leaks, told CBS television’s 60 Minutes program that some but not all of his colleagues share his view.

And from The Guardian, vanishing hopes for reform:

NSA review to leave spying programs largely unchanged, reports say

  • Panel to propose bulk surveillance continue – with some curbs
  • Adviser calls apparent decision to leave core intact ‘shameful’

More from Wired:

White House Task Force Urges Curb on NSA’s Bulk Data Collection

A presidential task force charged with determining what reforms are needed for the NSA and its surveillance activities has recommended the agency be led by a civilian commander, instead of a military one, and that bulk phone records the NSA wants to collect be retained by phone companies or held by a third party, rather than being stored by the NSA.

The task force also recommended restrictions on when and how the NSA can search the data, according to the Wall Street Journal. And it recommended separating the code-making division of the NSA, which develops and promotes codes, from the NSA division that breaks electronic security codes. Documents recently leaked by Edward Snowden described a decade-long effort by the NSA to crack different types of encryption and other security mechanisms in order to provide access to protected data for surveillance, a task at odds with the NSA’s traditional role in helping to develop public algorithms.

Still more from Ars Technica:

Obama panel says NSA phone spying records should be held by third party

Intelligence officials likely to oppose restrictions on surveillance.

Reuters has the response from The Most Transparent Administration in History™:

White House says plans no split of NSA, Cyber Command

The Obama administration on Friday said it will keep one person in charge of both the National Security Agency spy agency and the military’s Cyber Command, despite growing calls for splitting the roles in the wake of revelations about the vast U.S. electronic surveillance operations.

The White House had considered splitting up the two agencies, possibly giving the NSA a civilian leader for the first time in its 61-year history to dampen controversy over its programs revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.

Dogs and ponies, via The Verge:

NSA officials go on tour to heal agency image amid surveillance scandal

The National Security Agency has endured six months of criticism from media outlets since Edward Snowden released documents disclosing the agency’s massive global surveillance apparatus. With its back against the wall, NSA head Keith Alexander and Snowden task force head Richard Ledgett are speaking directly to the press as a means of getting ahead of the story, with the hope of painting themselves — and Snowden himself — in a new light.

Another Snowden link, via Ars Technica:

Archaic but widely used crypto cipher allows NSA to decode most cell calls

Snowden docs make it official: The NSA can crack 30-year-old A5/1 crypto.

The National Security Agency can easily defeat the world’s most widely used cellphone encryption, a capability that means the agency can decode most of the billions of calls and texts that travel over public airwaves each day, according to published report citing documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

Bloomberg Businessweek has the latest form of blowback:

IBM Shareholder Sues the Company Over NSA Cooperation

Spying is not good for business. That’s been the message from many U.S. tech companies and industry groups in recent months following revelations last summer that several companies were cooperating with the National Security Agency over its Prism surveillance program. The industry says it stands to lose tens of billions of dollars as customers in other countries turn to homegrown technology instead.

Now one such company, IBM (IBM), is facing a lawsuit over its cooperation with the NSA. IBM was sued yesterday by a shareholder claiming it violated federal securities laws in seeking to hide losses that stemmed from disclosures of its relationship with the NSA.

While Business Insider has yet another disappointment from the land of Hope™ and Change™:

AP Photojournalist Blasts Obama’s Press Restrictions As ‘Orwellian Image Control’

A photojournalist for the Associated Press is pulling no punches in a scathing opinion piece published today in The New York Times, referring to the restrictions on press photographers covering the president as “draconian” and calling official photo releases “propaganda.”

The article written by Santiago Lyon, vice president and director of photography for the Associated Press, is titled “Obama’s Orwellian Image Control.”

Lyon takes issue with the release of pictures from official White House photographers as an “idealized portrayal of events” that could not be considered journalism. He also doesn’t mince words in his conclusion, calling these photos “propaganda.”

And the latest embarrassment for the folks at Langley from The Guardian:

CIA veterans say Robert Levinson affair may damage intra-agency co-operation

  • AP: former FBI agent missing in Iran was working with CIA
  • Relations between analysts and operatives likely to be strained

An unauthorized CIA spy operation initiated by agency analysts didn’t just lead to an American being seized in Iran. It may have damaged ties between intelligence analysts and operations specialists, according to CIA veterans.

More media embarrassment from Gawker:

ABC, NYT Repeatedly Lied About CIA Operative Robert Levinson

ABC News and The New York Times have known since 2007 that Robert Levinson, the ex-FBI agent who was kidnapped in Iran, was not, as the U.S. government and his family claimed, an independent businessman: He was working for the CIA. The Times’ report today discloses this timeline; ABC News’ report does not—but a source at the network confirmed to Gawker that ABC reporters discovered the CIA connection in 2007 as well. At the request of the government and Levinson’s family, however, both outlets repeatedly stated, without any caveats, that Levinson was on a “business trip” when he was captured. A review of their coverage indicates that ABC News did so at least 7 times, and the Times at least 3 times.

The Christian Science Monitor has more lies:

Levinson, Iran, the CIA, and lies

The US government has been lying for years about Robert Levinson, a man kidnapped in Iran after being sent there as part of a rogue CIA operation. Some media have been playing along.

While the AP reports that Levinson’s handlers were CIA employees, they all appear to have been analysts, rather than employees expert in gathering intelligence themselves and running assets in the field. The AP says the employees running Levinson as their own private collection agent weren’t authorized to do so, and that three analysts were quietly sacked in 2007 for their involvement and a further seven admonished.

BBC News offers the latest White House spin control:

White House: Robert Levinson not a government employee

The AP agency says the White House is choosing its words carefully – that Bob Levinson was not an “employee” but a “contractor”

The White House has said the ex-FBI agent believed to have been held in Iran for the last seven years was not working for the US government at the time of his disappearance.

White House spokesman Jay Carney spoke the day after the Associated Press news agency reported Mr Levinson was on an unauthorised mission for the CIA.

And more embarrassment via the London Daily Mail:

CIA star and ‘quirky’ office analyst who introduced her friend to the agency before he was sent on ‘rogue’ mission that led to disappearance

  • Anne Jablonski was forced to quit the CIA following the investigation into Levinson’s kidnapping
  • She is now working in the private sector and teaches yoga
  • She also blogs about finding inner peace and making her own cat food for her pets

BBC News has another imbroglio-in-the-making, this time for spooks across the pond:

Iran claims to have captured MI6 spy

Iran says it has captured a spy working for British intelligence agency MI6 in the south-eastern city of Kerman.

The head of Kerman’s revolutionary court said the alleged spy had admitted being in contact with four British intelligence officers 11 times, both inside and outside the country.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, California’s plutocratic senator pronounces:

Feinstein: vote soon on releasing parts of secret CIA detention report

The Senate Intelligence Committee will soon vote on releasing parts of a report that alleges that the CIA misled lawmakers and U.S. officials about the value of the information produced by the agency’s post-9/11 secret detention and harsh interrogation program, the panel chairwoman said.

But that doesn’t mean the public will get to see the excerpts any time soon.

The 300-page executive summary, findings and conclusions will still have to go through a process to determine which parts can be made public and which will be blacked out. The review – which will involve the White House and CIA – could take weeks or months, said a congressional aide, who requested anonymity.

McClatchy Washington Bureau again, this time with word of another report on another, much older Langley cockup:

Lawsuit seeks to unlock CIA’s secret history of Bay of Pigs invasion

The Obama administration on Thursday fought to keep secret a CIA account of the 1961 Bay of Pigs debacle.

Half a century after the failed invasion of Cuba, and three decades after a CIA historian completed his draft study, an administration lawyer told a top appellate court that the time still isn’t right to make the document public.

And the Washington Times lends a covert hand:

Leon Panetta named as source of ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ scriptwriter’s information

A Freedom of Information request filed by government watchdog Judicial Watch revealed that former CIA Director Leon E. Panetta was the source who gave up secret information to the scriptwriter of “Zero Dark Thirty,” the Hollywood movie about the raid on Osama bin Laden.

Judicial Watch said in an email that Mr. Panetta revealed the classified information during an awards ceremony on June 24, 2011, to mark the administration’s assault on Osama bin Laden. Mr. Panetta was giving a speech at the ceremony, during which he concluded: “You have made me proud of the CIA family. And you have made me proud as an Italian to know that bin Laden sleeps with the fishes.”

Next, a trip noth of the border with some unsurprising story about Canada’s NSA counterpart, the Communications Security Establishment Canada, via CBC News:

CSEC watchdog muzzled, defanged

The wish and ‘a prayer’ of keeping tabs on CSEC

The revelation that a little-known Canadian intelligence operation has been electronically spying on trading partners and other nations around the world, at the request of the U.S. National Security Agency, has critics wondering who’s keeping an eye on our spies.

The answer is a watchdog, mostly muzzled and defanged, whose reports to Parliament are first censored by the intelligence agency he is watching, then cleared by the minister politically responsible for any problems in the first place.

And from Reuters, some dronish blowback:

In Yemen, al Qaeda gains sympathy amid U.S. drone strikes

Despite the toll taken on militants, residents in various parts of Yemen told Reuters they worry that the drone program is counter-productive. In the capital Sanaa, Abdulrazzaq al-Jamal, a journalist who has interviewed several members of AQAP, acknowledged the group has taken some hits from the drones, but said the strikes have also brought it followers.

“The drones have limited their movements but it makes their ideology more attractive to people. When a Yemeni is killed, it doesn’t matter whether or not he’s al Qaeda,” said Jamal, who was wearing the dagger common among Yemeni men.

Off to Sweden for a helping hand via TheLocal.se:

US spies asked Sweden for translation help

Leaked documents from the US have shown that the NSA asked Sweden for translation help on their “high-priority” material that involved the Swedish language.

The request came in the form of an internal message at the US National Security Agency (NSA), which asked Sweden’s National Defence Radio Establishment (Svenska Försvarets Radioanstalt – FRA) for translation help in the fight against terrorism.

From The Guardian, gag us with a spoon:

Calling for abolition of monarchy is still illegal, UK justice ministry admits

Department wrongly announced that section of law threatening people with life imprisonment had been repealed

The Treason Felony Act 1848 has been the subject of repeated legal confusion this century. It was the subject of a high court challenge by the Guardian in 2003. This week, in a footnote to a list of new offences, the MoJ said the powers in section 3 of the Act had finally been swept away in a belated, legislative pruning of unwanted laws.

From EUobserver, legal blowback in the works?:

France’s new surveillance law under fire

A new law in France, which expands surveillance monitoring powers, without judicial review, to government agencies like tax and finance authorities, may be challenged in the Constitutional Court, reports Reuters. Pro-right groups, tech companies Google and Microsoft, want the constitutional watchdog to review the law adopted earlier this week.

Moscow next, with suppressive thoughts about another perceived security threat. From The Guardian:

Vladimir Putin defends anti-gay laws as bastion of global conservatism

President says Russia stands on international stage in defence of traditional values against ‘fruitless so-called tolerance’

After the jump, the Asian security crises continue, with heads rolling, internet purging, ships nearly colliding, secrecy law protests, alliance plays, drones a-buildin’, and legal bribes; corporate cyberstalking, civil servant muzzling, and more. . . Continue reading