Category Archives: Spooks

How a British company enabled mass spying


When it comes to sheer quantities of information hoovered up from the global data stream, the U.S. National Security Agency is a piker compared to Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters [GCHQ], as Edward Snowden’s leaks conclusively demonstrate.

In these videos from Britain’s Channel 4 News, the extent and scope of Britain’s monitoring is revealed, focusing on the island nation’s role as the central hub for the world’s network of data cables [a fact that is leading the BRICs nations to announce plans to develop their own cable system independent of the GCHQ-monitored cables].

As noted in a text story Channel 4 News posted online:

One of the UK’s largest communications firms had a leading role in creating the surveillance system exposed by Edward Snowden, it can be revealed.

Cable and Wireless even went as far as providing traffic from a rival foreign communications company, handing information sent by millions of internet users worldwide over to spies.

The firm, which was bought by Vodafone in July 2012, was part of a programme called Mastering the Internet, under which British spies used private companies to help them gather and store swathes of internet traffic; a quarter of which passes through the UK. Top secret documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden and seen by Channel 4 News show that GCHQ developed what it called “partnerships” with private companies under codenames. Cable and Wireless was called Gerontic.

Under the moniker, the company carried out tests on equipment used to carry out the surveillance, it came up with suggestions on how the spies could go about tapping its network, and even had a GCHQ employee working full-time within the company.

And a 2011 document reveals that Cable and Wireless went further. The company rented space on a cable owned by Indian telecoms company Reliance Communications that stretched from Asia across the Middle East and landed in Porthcurno in Cornwall. Reliance’s transatlantic cable lands in Sennen Cove six miles to the north. And the two cables come together at nearby Skewjack Farm. Documents show that in 2011, this allowed Britain’s spies to access all traffic from Reliance’s main cable and send it to the GCHQ base up the coast in Bude.

Top secret documents from GCHQ show it was this access point, codenamed Nigella and run by Cable and Wireless, that allowed Britain’s spies to gather the private communications of millions of internet users worldwide.

The first video examines the program itself and how it works.

From Channel 4 News:

Spy cable revealed: How telecoms firm worked with GCHQ

Program notes:

An unprecedented grab of personal data: this programme reveals that a communications firm not only handed over its own information to GCHQ, but also allowed access to the internet traffic of another telecoms company.

The second video features an aborted debate between a German member of parliament — Green Party legislator Konstanin von Notz — and former GCHQ Director Sir David Omand, a debate that ends abruptly when Omand storms out during questions over the controversy that erupted after it was revealed that the German provider serving the German government — including Chancellor Angela Merkel — was providing GCHQ access to its cables:

Sir David Omand walks out of live interview

Program notes:

Sir David Omand was debating German Green MP Konstantin von Notz, who is part of an inquiry into allegations that Angela Merkel’s conversations were intercepted by the NSA, on Channel 4 News’ main story.

InSecurityWatch: War, terror, spooks, hacks


We begin with the Guardian:

Ferguson protesters and police clash as grand jury decision nears

  • Police charge at demonstrators in freezing temperatures as Ferguson awaits decision on whether officer will be charged

Police in riot gear clashed with a small group of protesters in a sub-freezing Ferguson, Missouri, on Wednesday night, as tensions grew over a coming announcement on whether a white officer will be charged for killing an unarmed black 18-year-old.

About 50 officers wearing riot helmets and carrying batons and shields repeatedly charged at demonstrators, who were gathered outside the Ferguson police headquarters to demand the indictment of officer Darren Wilson, who shot dead Michael Brown on 9 August.

In the most serious confrontation since a grand jury decision on Wilson became imminent in mid-November, protesters sounded sirens, shouted abuse at police and revived chants of “hands up – don’t shoot” from the nights of unrest in the St Louis suburb after Brown’s death.

And elsewhere, from the Washington Post:

Fear of deadly ‘religious war’ between Jews and Muslims raised after synagogue attack

Israelis and Palestinians expressed fear Wednesday that their decades-old conflict was moving beyond the traditional nationalist struggle between two peoples fighting for their homelands and spiraling into a raw and far-reaching religious confrontation between Jews and Muslims.

The threat — perhaps more accurately the dread — of an incipient but deadly “religious war” was expressed by Muslim clerics, Christian leaders and Jewish Israelis one day after a pair of Palestinian assailants, wielding meat cleavers and a gun, killed five Israelis, including a prominent American Israeli rabbi, in a Jerusalem synagogue.

“All of us are scared that there will be a religious war, that extremists from both sides will start fighting each other,” said Oded Wiener, an Israeli Jew from the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land.

More from the Associated Press:

Israeli mayor’s ban on Arab workers ignites uproar

The mayor of a southern Israeli city sparked a national uproar Thursday by barring Israeli Arab construction workers from jobs in local preschools, citing security concerns after a rash of attacks by Palestinian assailants elsewhere in the country.

The proposal was condemned as racist by Israeli leaders, but it reflected the tense mood in the country and deepened longstanding divisions between the nation’s Jewish majority and Arab minority. An opinion poll showed solid public support for the measure.

Israel has been on edge following a wave of Palestinian attacks that has killed 11 people over the past month, including five this week in a bloody assault on a Jerusalem synagogue. Most of the attacks have occurred in Jerusalem — whose population is roughly one-third Palestinian — with deadly stabbings in Tel Aviv and the West Bank as well.

From The Hill, a hint of things to come:

Pentagon, in reversal, won’t wait for Congress to deploy Iraq troops

The Pentagon said Thursday that it would begin deploying 1,500 new troops to Iraq “in the next weeks” without first securing funding from Congress, reversing previous comments.

“We can deploy troops to the theater, but — so that — that process can and will continue,” said Defense Department press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby.
Kirby also said Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command, has also moved about 50 U.S. forces within Iraq to Anbar Province to get a “jump start” on expanding the advise-and-assist mission, as well as starting to train Iraqi forces in their fight against Islamic militants.

“But it doesn’t mean that we still don’t need the authorization in terms of the resources that will go with the much more robust program that we’re trying to get done,” Kirby said. “He can start it and he is.”

The origins of the specie, via the McClatchy Foreign Staff:

Islamic State reportedly buying silver, gold as it prepares to issue currency

The Islamic State is accumulating gold, silver and copper in markets throughout northern and western Iraq, dealers report, in an apparent effort to stockpile enough precious metal to follow through on a pledge to mint its own currency.

On Nov. 11, the Islamic State’s Beit al Mal, an ancient Islamic term akin to “Department of Treasury,” announced that the group would reintroduce the dinar currency of the Umayyad Caliphate, which ruled an empire that stretched from modern Iran to Spain for much of the seventh and eighth centuries. The announcement – which included images of three types of coins in gold, copper and silver – drew skepticism from experts, who doubted that the Islamic State could arrange a system to mint and issue a modern currency.

But interviews with dealers in precious metals indicate that the Islamic State has begun the complex process of issuing the currency, a reminder that as the best-financed non-state actor in history – with a revenue stream from oil sales and aggressive taxation – it’s been able to install bureaucratic controls over the large swath of territory it’s claimed in Iraq and Syria.

From the Guardian, commitment:

French Isis fighters filmed burning passports and calling for terror at home

  • Emergence of video showing four men comes as France reels from the identification of two of its nationals partaking in a mass beheading in Syria

A film released by Islamic State (Isis) shows jihadi fighters burning French passports and calling on others to bring terror to the streets of the European country.

Released by one of Isis’s main media outlets, Al Hayat, the video shows four men who purport to be from France, including three who deliver messages in French to camera.

Burning what appear to be several French passports in a campfire, a masked man can be heard saying: “We disbelieve in you and your passports, and if you come here we will fight you.”

The Guardian brings it on home:

Three men planned Isis-inspired public beheading, court hears

  • Nadir Ali Sayed, Yousaf Shah Syed and Haseeb Hamayoon charged over alleged plot to decapitate member of public with knives

Three men were preparing a terrorist plot to behead a member of the public, inspired by the propaganda of Islamic State militants, a court has heard .

The men were arrested a fortnight ago, shortly before Remembrance Sunday, and were preparing to carry out an imminent plan to decapitate a person with knives, Westminster magistrates court was told on Thursday.

Nadir Ali Sayed, 21, from Hounslow, west London, Yousaf Shah Syed, 19, from High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, and Haseeb Hamayoon, 27, from Hayes, west London, are accused of planning acts of terrorism.

And the McClatchy Washington Bureau covers death from afar:

Use of drones against Islamic State changes the meaning of warfare

In America’s war against the Islamic State, many of those fighting sit in a dark, cold room and stare at computer screens for 12 hours at a stretch.

There are dozens of them, men and women, each wearing camouflage, looking for suspected Iraqi and Syrian jihadists scurrying across the screen. If something changes on the screen – a group of dark figures crossing a street, a string of vehicles racing down a road – they pass the information to another pilot, who might decide to open fire with a Hellfire missile or an electronically guided bomb.

The greatest combat hazard they face is from the Red Bull and other sugary drinks they devour to stay awake; their unit has the worst rate of cavities in the Air Force.

“I would rather be deployed,” said Capt. Jennifer, a reservist and intelligence analyst whose full name the Air Force withheld for security reasons. “My daughter calls me because she is sick and I have to pick her up from school. When I am deployed forward I am deployed. I don’t have to worry about the day-to-day.”

Cyberwar, via the Washington Post:

Foreign powers steal data on critical U.S. infrastructure, NSA chief says

Several foreign countries, including China, have infiltrated the computers of critical industries in the United States to steal information that could be used in the planning of a destructive attack, the director of the National Security Agency said Thursday.

That was one of the cyberthreats outlined at a congressional hearing by Adm. Michael S. Rogers, who also said he expects criminal gangs may become proxies for nations carrying out attacks on other nations.

“There are multiple nation states that have the capability and have been on the [industrial] systems,” he said before the House Intelligence Committee.

From the New York Times, gee, what a surprise:

N.S.A. Phone Data Collection Could Go On, Even if a Law Expires

A little-known provision of the Patriot Act, overlooked by lawmakers and administration officials alike, appears to give President Obama a possible way to keep the National Security Agency’s bulk phone records program going indefinitely — even if Congress allows the law on which it is based to expire next year.

Senate Republicans on Tuesday night used a filibuster to block consideration of a bill to end and replace the N.S.A. phone records program. The debate about what may happen next has played out based on a widely held premise: that the legal basis for the program, Section 215 of the Patriot Act, will expire on June 1, so if Congress remains gridlocked, the program will automatically shut down.

“I believe that if we do not pass this bill, the metadata program is at risk because the 215 program sunsets next year,” Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, said in Tuesday night’s debate. But that premise may be incorrect. If the summer arrives and the program is facing a shutdown, Mr. Obama could invoke the provision to ask the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to keep it going.

From the Associated Press via the Japan Times, notable:

Years before the Snowden revelations, senior NSA codebreaker objected to mass surveillance program

Years before Edward Snowden sparked a public outcry with the disclosure that the National Security Agency had been secretly collecting American telephone records, some NSA executives voiced strong objections to the program, current and former intelligence officials say. The program exceeded the agency’s mandate to focus on foreign spying and would do little to stop terror plots, the executives argued.

The 2009 dissent, led by a senior NSA official and embraced by others at the agency, prompted the Obama administration to consider, but ultimately abandon, a plan to stop gathering the records.

The secret internal debate has not been previously reported. The Senate on Tuesday rejected an administration proposal that would have curbed the program and left the records in the hands of telephone companies rather than the government. That would be an arrangement similar to the one the administration quietly rejected in 2009.

The now-retired NSA official, a longtime code-breaker who rose to top management, had just learned in 2009 about the top-secret program that was created shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against the U.S. He says he argued to then-NSA Director Keith Alexander that storing the calling records of nearly every American fundamentally changed the character of the agency, which is supposed to eavesdrop on foreigners, not Americans.

From the Washington Post, piping down:

Utah legislature considers shutting off NSA’s water

A Utah state legislative committee will consider a bill that could eventually cut off millions of gallons of water for a major National Security Agency facility south of Salt Lake City as a protest against the mass collection of Americans’ data.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Marc Roberts (R), would prohibit any municipality from providing “material support or assistance in any form to any federal data collection and surveillance agency.”

That’s a barely veiled reference to the Utah Data Center, a massive collection facility operated by the NSA in Bluffdale, a small suburb of Salt Lake City. The facility, completed last year at a cost of about $1.7 billion, houses super computers that require 65 megawatts of power, enough to power about 33,000 homes, according to the Associated Press.

Homeland Security News Wire sounds an alarm:

NSA director: China and “one or two” other nations can damage U.S. critical infrastructure

Adm. Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency and head of U.S. Cyber Command, told lawmakers yesterday that China and “one or two” other countries are capable of mounting cyberattacks which would paralyze the U.S electric grid and other critical infrastructure systems across the country.

A cyberattacks of such scope has been discussed in the past – it was even dubbed a “cyber Pearl Harbor” – but Rogers was the first high official to confirm that such a crippling attack on the United States was not a mere speculation.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Rogers, speaking at a hearing of the House intelligence committee, said U.S. adversaries are conducting electronic “reconnaissance” on a regular basis so that they will be well-positioned to damage and disrupt the industrial control systems which run chemical facilities, nuclear power plants, water treatment facilities, dams, and much more.

On a similar note and interesting time, from Sky News:

NATO’s Cyber War Games Amid Surge In Attacks

  • NATO faces cyber attacks almost daily, data shows, as Sky News gains access to the organisation’s biggest ever security exercise

NATO’s computer servers are detecting 200 million suspicious cyber events every single day, the alliance has revealed.

On average the military organisation is the victim of five major cyber attacks each week and that has increased “significantly” since Russian aggression in Ukraine started. The figures were published as NATO carried out its biggest ever cyber security exercise involving hundreds of computer analysts.

The three-day event, taking in 28 nations, was held on a former Soviet base in the city of Tartu, close to the Russian border.

The Washington Post covers considerately:

CIA Director John Brennan considering sweeping organizational changes

CIA Director John Brennan is considering sweeping organizational changes that could include breaking up the separate spying and analysis divisions that have been in place for decades to create hybrid units focused on individual regions and threats to U.S. security, current and former U.S. intelligence officials said.

The proposal would essentially replicate the structure of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center and other similar entities in the agency — an idea that reflects the CTC’s expanded role and influence since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

U.S. officials emphasized that the proposal is in its preliminary stages, and could still be scaled back or even discarded. Already the idea has encountered opposition from current and former officials who have voiced concern that it would be too disruptive and might jeopardize critical capabilities and expertise.

And from the London Telegraph, an ominous development in Old Blighty:

Theresa May to give MI5 and police power to force terror suspects to move

  • Terror suspects will be forced to move towns and leave their associates behind under plans to revive relocation powers

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is to give police and the security services the power to force terror suspects to move to towns far away from their homes as she restores a key element of control orders.

The ability to relocate suspects to other areas was abandoned when control orders were replaced by the weaker terrorism prevention and investigation measures (Tpims) following a series of court rulings.

The Conservatives said that they wanted to re-introduce them earlier this year amid growing concerns about British jihadists returning from Syria and Iraq, but were met with opposition from the Liberal Democrats.

After the jump, British cops snooping on the press, a very curious California prosecution, curious customers of American spyware makers, allegations of security cam hacking by the Russians, Cuban slams cyberwar attacks, an Assange appeal denied, Gitmo detainees get gone, automotivation for cyberterror, a Colombian kidnap resolution mooted, Chilean justice long delayed, China and Russia strengthen military ties, signs of a split in the Hong Kong Occupy movement, a momentary Great Firewall loosening, Tokyo and Washington play war games, and a critical take on Greenwald’s technomyopia. . . Continue reading

InSecurityWatch: Spies, cops, war, terror, more


On with the show, starting with the London Daily Mail:

US falls below FRANCE in global ‘personal freedom’ rankings, plummeting 12 places during the Obama administration

  • Global ranking put America on top for health but in 21st place for personal freedom
  • Was ninth place for freedom in 2009, the first year President Obama was in office
  • Now France, the UK and Costa Rica rank higher, based on citizens’ own descriptions of how ‘free’ they think they are

The United States has plummeted 13 places on a global index of ‘personal freedom’ since President Barack Obama’s second year in office, according to a London-based think tank, landing behind 20 other countries.

The Legatum Prosperity Index surveys people worldwide on their perceptions of a wide range of factors including health and education. The U.S. placed first globally in the health category, but Americans’ view of how their personal liberties are treated put the nation in 21st place.

Four years ago, America ranked ninth in that category, based on polling conducted during 2009 – President Barack Obama’s first year in office.

From the Guardian, numbers:

FBI tracking 150 people who may have travelled to Syria ‘to fight’

  • Number of Americans suspected of fighting for Islamic State in Syria much higher than previously thought

The US is tracking as many as 150 people who traveled from the United States to Syria in recent months, “a significant number of them to fight”, FBI director James Comey told reporters at a briefing in Boston on Tuesday.

The number was much higher than previously acknowledged figures for Americans thought to have joined Islamic State (Isis) fighters in Syria. Last month Comey told CBS News that the FBI knew of “a dozen or so” Americans fighting in Syria “on the side of the terrorists”.

Comey repeated that appraisal on Tuesday. “There we see somewhere in excess of a dozen [Americans who have joined Isis] that we have a pretty good handle on,” Comey said. “I don’t have high confidence that I see the entire universe,” he added.

On a related note, via Homeland Security News Wire:

RAND study assesses threat posed by Americans joining jihadist fronts abroad

Although it is difficult to pin down the exact numbers of Western fighters slipping off to join the jihadist fronts in Syria and Iraq – the number is estimated to be around 100 — U.S. counterterrorism officials believe that those fighters pose a clear and present danger to American security. Some of these fighters will be killed in the fighting, some will choose to remain in the Middle East, but some will return, more radicalized than before and determined to continue their violent campaigns back in the United States.

Only about 100 Americans have left their homeland to join jihadist terrorist groups fighting in Syria and Iraq, including the Islamic State, according to a new RAND Corporation analysis.

Although it is difficult to pin down the exact numbers of Western fighters slipping off to join the jihadist fronts in Syria and Iraq, U.S. counterterrorism officials believe that those fighters pose a clear and present danger to American security.

A new analysis from RAND concludes there is no mass exodus to Syria and Iraq. Brian Michael Jenkins, RAND terrorism expert, outlines some of the potential fates of these people: some will be killed in the fighting, some will choose to remain in the Middle East, but some will return, more radicalized than before and determined to continue their violent campaigns back in the United States.

From the Miami Herald, solidarity in the American gulag:

Top nursing group backs Navy nurse who wouldn’t force-feed at Guantánamo

One of America’s leading nursing organizations is trying to save the U.S. Navy career of an officer, a nurse like them, who refused to force-feed hunger strikers this summer.

In a private letter, the American Nurses Association wrote Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel last month arguing that the nurse should not be punished for making an independent ethical decision. The Physicians for Human Rights set up a conference call for Wednesday with the Navy nurse’s attorney and the advocacy group’s president to disclose the letter, which has been obtained by the Miami Herald.

It says: “These actions are resulting from the nurse’s expressing an ethical objection to participating in the force-feeding of detainees who are engaging in a form of protest at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp.” The Pentagon has not responded.

Corruption in in Old Blighty, via the London Telegraph:

Metropolitan Police detective’s fears of Westminster paedophile ‘cover-up’

  • Jackie Malton says investigation into Vishal Mehrotra’s death in 1981 could have been compromised by the ‘power of politicians’ at the time

A detective who investigated the murder of a young boy more than 30 years ago has voiced fears of a “cover-up” following claims that the child died at the hands of a Westminster paedophile ring.

Jackie Malton, the inspiration behind Dame Helen Mirren’s character in the ITV series Prime Suspect, said the investigation into Vishal Mehrotra’s death in 1981 could have been compromised by the “power of politicians” at the time.

“During my time in the police there was a feeling of misuse of power,” she told The Telegraph. “There were a lot of powerful people saying, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’”

Googling Dutch secrets, via DutchNews.nl:

Police investigate security breach after confidential files are found via Google

Dozens of confidential police files have ended up in the public domain following an internet security leak, the NRC says on Wednesday. The files concern murders, armed robberies, gangs and suspect jihadis.

The information was easy to find using internet search engine Google, the paper says. Police have confirmed the leak and taken the information off line. The NRC says the information from ongoing police investigations was placed on the personal website of an accountant, apparently by a relative who works for the police IT department.

It is unclear why and how this happened, the NRC says.

From the Los Angeles Times, inflammatory retribution:

Israeli forces demolish home of Palestinian attacker

Israel said early Wednesday its forces had demolished the family home of an east Jerusalem Palestinian who had used his vehicle to ram a crowd of pedestrians at a tram stop last month. The overnight demolition revived a controversial practice that had largely been abandoned in recent years.

The move came less than 24 hours after a shooting-and-slashing rampage in a synagogue in west Jerusalem killed four Jewish religious scholars worshiping there, together with a police officer responding to the attack, who died overnight of his injuries.

Three of those slain held U.S. citizenship and one was a dual British-Israeli national; five injured Israelis remained hospitalized. The two assailants were shot and killed at the scene by police.

More from Israel, via Al Jazeera English:

Jerusalem conflict spreads to Bethlehem

  • Jerusalem tension is spilling over into Bethlehem where Palestinians fear ‘something big coming’

For months, the world has been fixated on Jerusalem. Car attacks, revenge killings, settler violence, demolition of Palestinian homes, and the fate of the al-Aqsa compound, The third most holy site in Islam, have kept the city planted on the edge.

Just yesterday, the killing of four Israelis  in a Jerusalem synagogue – three Americans and a Briton who all held Israeli citizenship – by two members of the leftist group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, may have succeeded in pushing things over the edge it has been sitting on.

However, Jerusalem is not the only holy city experiencing daily unrest. Bethlehem and the surrounding area, home to both ancient biblical villages and refugee camps set up after the creation of Israel in in 1948, have been host to intensifying clashes between Israelis and Palestinians.

A battle over the spooky memory hole in Washington, via The Hill:

Senate, CIA face off on deleting agency emails

Key senators are pushing back against a CIA plan to destroy older emails of “non-senior” agency officials.

The heads of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday sent a letter opposing the proposal, under which only the highest ranking CIA workers would have their email correspondence permanently saved.

The plan “could allow the destruction of crucial documentary evidence regarding the CIA’s activities that is essential for Congress, the public and the courts to know,” Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) wrote to the National Archives, which, along with the Records Administration, has tentatively approved the plan.

“The National Archives must ensure there is a thorough, systematic and orderly way to preserve these important documents,” the senators added.

Evolutionary malware, via Network World:

Long-running Android botnet evolves, could pose threat to corporate networks

An Android Trojan program that’s behind one of the longest running multipurpose mobile botnets has been updated to become stealthier and more resilient.

The botnet is mainly used for instant message spam and rogue ticket purchases, but it could be used to launch targeted attacks against corporate networks because the malware allows attackers to use the infected devices as proxies, researchers from security firm Lookout said.

Dubbed NotCompatible, the mobile Trojan was discovered in 2012 and was the first Android malware to be distributed as a drive-by download from compromised websites.

From the San Francisco Chronicle, and we’re sure they’ll be zealous, right?:

Uber investigating if exec broke ‘God’ app rules

Uber Technologies confirmed Wednesday that it is investigating whether one of its general managers violated the popular car-booking service’s privacy policies by snooping on a reporter’s ride.

The probe stems from allegations that Josh Mohrer, general manager of Uber’s New York office, used a company tracking tool called “God View” to monitor the location of a BuzzFeed reporter earlier this month. Internet news service BuzzFeed first reported the investigation.

In a statement, Uber said access to the personal data of anyone using its car service is limited to “legitimate business purposes.” The San Francisco company said employees violating the rules may be disciplined or fired.

News of the investigation followed a separate BuzzFeed story, which reported that another Uber executive recently threatened to look into the personal lives of journalists that have criticized Uber. Emil Michael, Uber senior vice president for business, made his remarks in New York during a dinner that was also attended by Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and a list of prominent guests including actor Ed Norton, New York Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman and Huffington Post CEO Arianna Huffington, according to a USA Today column published Wednesday.

After the jump, Turkish cops indicted for presidential wiretapping, curiously under-reported ethnic cleansing in Asia, mediated messaging criminalized, hints of a major North Korean nuclear more, Anti-Occupy action imminent in Hong Kong, video of an attack on government headquarters condemned by other activists, Abe makes a state secrets vow, a hitch in his remilitarization get-along. . .   Continue reading

Googleplexed: Is it more evil than the NSA?


A fascinating segment from Abby Martin’s Breaking the Set poses the question, Is thew private panopticon as embodied in the omnipresence of Google really any less potentially malevolent than the panopticon embodied by the National Security Agency, which, after all, is at least theoretically answerable to democratically elected [snicker] representatives:

Why Google May Be More ‘Evil’ than the NSA | Think Tank

Program notes:

Abby Martin speaks with Taylor Lincoln, Director of Research at Public Citizen’s Congressional Watch Division about a new report detailing how Google is invading users privacies and becoming the most powerful and influential political force in Washington.

InSecurityWatch: Serfs, drones, war, hacks. . .


And more, much more.

We begin with an official endorsement oif penal servitude from a very strange place, via BuzzFeed News:

California AG “Shocked” To Learn Her Office Wanted To Keep Eligible Parolees In Jail To Work

Lawyers for California Attorney General Kamala Harris argued releasing non-violent inmates early would harm efforts to fight California wildfires. Harris told BuzzFeed News she first heard about this when she read it in the paper.

Lawyers for California Attorney General Kamala Harris argued in court this fall against the release of eligible nonviolent prisoners from California’s overcrowded prisons — because the state wanted to keep them as a labor force.

Harris, a rising star in the Democratic Party, said she learned about the argument when she read it in the paper.

“I will be very candid with you, because I saw that article this morning, and I was shocked, and I’m looking into it to see if the way it was characterized in the paper is actually how it occurred in court,” Harris told BuzzFeed News in an interview Monday. “I was very troubled by what I read. I just need to find out what did we actually say in court.”

Next, the latest madness from Ferguson, via the London Daily Mail:

Navy veteran FIRED and ‘branded a terrorist’ for taking pictures of scores of Homeland Security SUVs parked at Ferguson hotel where he works – as town awaits grand jury decision on Michael Brown shooting

  • Mark Paffrath worked for the Drury hotel chain in Missouri
  • Paffrath, a Navy veteran, posted photos of dozens of vehicles marked with the logos of the Department of Homeland Security to his Facebook
  • He was asked to take them down, then a day later he was fired
  • Vehicles were located about a 30-minute drive from Ferguson, Missouri

A Navy veteran has been fired and branded a terrorist for posting Facebook pictures of Homeland Security SUVs parked at a hotel where he works near Ferguson.

Mark Paffrath, who worked for the Drury hotel chain, took photos and a video of dozens of vehicles marked with the logos of the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Protection Services which arrived in the parking lot of Chesterfield’s Drury Plaza Hotel last week.

The vehicles are parked about a 30-minute drive from Ferguson, Missouri.

More Ferguson madness, from AJ+:

These Guns Aren’t Being Sold For Hunting Near Ferguson

Program notes:

People living near Ferguson are worried. Guns sales have exploded since the killing of Michael Brown. Local gun store owners say customers are preparing for the worst by buying up home defense weapons.

And some context from VICE News:

Ferguson’s State of Emergency Proves America’s Social Contract Has Been Broken

In Ferguson, Missouri, a festering truth about the entire United States has come to light. It is not a truth about flagrant racism, police impunity, or the systematic quashing of free speech. It is not even the truth that, in the eyes of US justice, black lives don’t matter. These truths, while bolstered by events in Ferguson, have made themselves perfectly evident via prison populations and police statistics for decades.

What Ferguson has made clear, specifically, is that the social contract has been broken. With the expected grand jury non-indictment of Officer Darren Wilson likely to provoke renewed and righteous unrest, we are seeing nothing less than the state proving itself illegitimate.

I mean this in a very particular sense. When the decisions of a justice system are so repugnant to a significant mass of people that the state apparatus expects and must contend with popular unrest, then this political system has lost the grounds on which political legitimacy is based. When, on Monday, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency in Ferguson ahead of the grand jury decision, I like to think the ghost of Jean Jacques Rousseau looked on and whispered through the icy Missouri air, “Rise up.”

From the Guardian, the storm before the calm:

Critics of surveillance bill lash out hours before vote in US Senate

  • Mitch McConnell: ‘worst possible time to be tying our hands behind our back’
  • USA Freedom Act faces uphill battle despite ‘strong support’ of White House
  • Privacy advocates believe bill lacks the teeth to end dragnet surveillance

Acrimony erupted in the US Senate over a major surveillance overhaul on Tuesday, hours before legislators are due to vote on moving it forward, as opponents labeled it a gift to terrorism.

The incoming Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, sharply warned that the USA Freedom Act, which, if passed, would be the first law to constrain the National Security Agency in decades, would cripple US intelligence against the Islamic State (Isis) in Iraq and Syria.

“This is the worst possible time to be tying our hands behind our back,” said McConnell, who will become majority leader in January.

“At the moment, we should not be doing anything to make the situation worse.”

And the outcome, from United Press International:

NSA reform bill dies in the Senate

  • Under the potential legislation, the NSA would not have been able to collect phone records of Americans not suspected of a crime

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday narrowly defeated a bill designed to overhaul the National Security Agency by halting the collection of phone records of Americans who are not suspected of a crime.

The bill was two votes shy of getting the 60 it needed to pass the USA Freedom Act.

Minority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., supported the defeat of the bill.

From Reuters, one in six hundred:

Top German spy says Berlin under cyber attack from other states

German government and business computers are coming under increasing cyber attack every day from other states’ spy agencies, especially those of Russia and China, Germany’s domestic intelligence (BfV) chief said on Tuesday.

Addressing a cybersecurity conference in Berlin, Hans Georg Maassen said that of an estimated 3,000 daily attacks by hackers or criminals on German government systems, around five were the handiwork of intelligence services. The latter are so sophisticated that they can easily be overlooked, he added.

“We have seen that there are ever more frequent attacks by foreign intelligence agencies on the German government IT infrastructure,” he said.

Imitation, flattery, and all that, via Want China Times:

PLA has set up Chinese version of PRISM in HK: Kanwa

The People’s Liberation Army has established a large-scale signals and information monitoring facility in Hong Kong similar to the US PRISM monitoring program exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, according to the Canada-based Kanwa Information Center.

In a report obtained by CNA, Kanwa, which publishes a monthly magazine on Asian defense issues, said that intelligence experts have made the findings after observing the facility from the top of Tai Mo Shan, the highest mountain in Hong Kong with a altitude of 950 meters.

The facility was reportedly constructed in 2011.

Opting out with Network World:

Swedish ISP to let users shield Internet activity from police

Swedes have started to sign up for a free service from ISP Bahnhof to hide their Internet communications metadata from the police, and the company’s CEO is urging other European ISPs to follow suit.

The Swedish ISP will start offering a free VPN (virtual-private-network) service to its customers on Monday. That same day it will also resume retaining customer location and traffic metadata for law enforcement purposes to comply with Swedish law, something it stopped doing in May. By complying again with the data retention rules, the ISP will avoid a fine of 5 million Swedish Kronor, or about US$678,000.

The free VPN service will let customers be anonymous online and avoid being subject to mass surveillance, Bahnhof CEO Jon Karlung said on Tuesday. “It is an alternative. It allows customers to choose whether they want data retention or not,” he said. The ISP is launching the VPN service on the same day it starts to retain customer data again “so we can countermeasure the effect of the data retention.”

And on the the military from, first with Der Spiegel:

The ‘Caliphate’s’ Colonies: Islamic State’s Gradual Expansion into North Africa

Chaos, disillusionment and oppression provide the perfect conditions for Islamic State. Currently, the Islamist extremists are expanding from Syria and Iraq into North Africa. Several local groups have pledged their allegiance.

The caliphate has a beach. It is located on the Mediterranean Sea around 300 kilometers (186 miles) south of Crete in Darna. The eastern Libya city has a population of around 80,000, a beautiful old town and an 18th century mosque, from which the black flag of the Islamic State flies. The port city is equipped with Sharia courts and an “Islamic Police” force which patrols the streets in all-terrain vehicles. A wall has been built in the university to separate female students from their male counterparts and the disciplines of law, natural sciences and languages have all been abolished. Those who would question the city’s new societal order risk death.

Darna has become a colony of terror, and it is the first Islamic State enclave in North Africa. The conditions in Libya are perfect for the radical Islamists: a disintegrating state, a location that is strategically well situated and home to the largest oil reserves on the continent. Should Islamic State (IS) manage to establish control over a significant portion of Libya, it could trigger the destabilization of the entire Arab world.

The IS puts down roots wherever chaos reigns, where governments are weakest and where disillusionment over the Arab Spring is deepest. In recent weeks, terror groups that had thus far operated locally have quickly begun siding with the extremists from IS.

And then there’s this, from the Los Angeles Times:

Israel vows tough response in killing of 4 rabbis, 3 of them Americans

Israel vowed a harsh response after two Palestinian attackers slashed and shot to death four rabbis who were praying in a Jerusalem synagogue early Tuesday — an attack that horrified Israelis, drew international condemnation and threatened to further inflame Jewish-Muslim tensions that were already running high over a contested holy site.

At least seven Israelis were hospitalized in the wake of the attack, the deadliest in Jerusalem since 2008. The two attackers, shot dead by police units that converged on the scene within minutes, were identified as Palestinian cousins from predominantly Arab East Jerusalem, which has been a flashpoint for attacks in recent months.

The attackers — armed with cleavers and handguns and said to have been shouting “God is great!” — burst into the synagogue in the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Nof during morning prayers, witnesses said. Many devoutly religious immigrants to Israel have settled in the area, and three of the four rabbis killed held American citizenship, the State Department said. A fourth was a Briton, according to Israeli officials.

Next, corporate thuggery threatened, via the Guardian:

Uber executive apologises after suggesting the firm dig dirt on hostile journalists

  • Emil Michael says his comments that a journalist should have her private life exposed after criticising the site ‘did not reflect his actual views’

Luxury cab firm Uber has been forced to apologise after a senior executive suggested the company hire a team of opposition researchers to dig up dirt on hostile journalists.

Speaking at a dinner in Manhattan hosted by the Uber consultant and political “fixer” Ian Osborne, the company’s head of business, Emil Michael, singled out Sarah Lacy, the editor of tech news site PandoDaily, as somebody who could be targeted by the researchers.

Ben Smith, the editor of Buzzfeed, reported the comments after he was invited to the dinner by the media columnist Michael Wolff. He writes that Uber’s Michael was particularly incensed by an article in which Lacy accused Uber of “sexism and misogyny” after the firm was reported to be working with a French escort service.

“At the dinner, Michael expressed outrage at Lacy’s column and said that women are far more likely to get assaulted by taxi drivers than Uber drivers,” says Smith. “He said that he thought Lacy should be held ‘personally responsible’ for any woman who followed her lead in deleting Uber and was then sexually assaulted.

“Then he returned to the opposition research plan. Uber’s dirt-diggers, Michael said, could expose Lacy. They could, in particular, prove a particular and very specific claim about her personal life.”

After the jump, peeping drones Down Under, a game-changing ruling for photographers who drone, a Colombian capture acknowledged, on to China and a Game of Zones proposal, an ironically timed Internet crackdown, a massive police rollout in preparation for an Occupy crackdown as the first moves are made while protesters stage an attack of their own, an Aussie submarine deal with Tokyo draws near, tensions rise over an American base relocation in Okinawa, and Abe’s militarists continue to deny the past. . . Continue reading

InSecurityWatch: Threats, war, cops, hacks, Asia


We begin with the New York Times:

Governor Activates Missouri National Guard

Anticipating protests after the grand jury’s decision in the death of Michael Brown, Gov. Jay Nixon of Missouri activated the National Guard on Monday.

The governor said the National Guard will play a limited role as it did during protests in August, providing security at command posts, fire stations and other locations.

“As part of our ongoing efforts to plan and be prepared for any contingency, it is necessary to have these resources in place in advance of any announcement of the grand jury’s decision,” Governor Nixon said in a statement.

Under the executive order, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, St. Louis County Police Department and St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department will operate as a unified command, with the St. Louis County police responsible for security in Ferguson.

And then there’s this from the Independent:

Terrorism fuelled by state violence, extra-judicial killings and ethnic tensions

Terrorism has become dramatically more deadly and more widespread across the globe with a 60 per cent rise in the number of deaths and countries affected by major attacks, a study has found.

Fatalities from terrorist incidents rose from just over 11,000 in 2012 to nearly 18,000 last year, while the number of countries which experienced more than 50 deaths from terror attacks rose from 15 to 24, according to the Global Terrorism Index (GTI).

The authors of the comprehensive annual survey of terrorist incidents and trends said that the vast majority of the bloodshed was restricted to five countries – Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria – where groups such as Isis (also known as Islamic State or Isil) adhering to extreme Wahhabist interpretations of Islam are leading attacks.

From the Los Angeles Times:

CIA intelligence gap hinders counter-terrorism efforts in Syria, Iraq

“It’s a black hole,” one U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in discussing intelligence, on the challenge of tracking terrorists and assessing casualties in a war zone that is in effect off-limits to U.S. personnel.

U.S. counter-terrorism officials have identified about a dozen Americans fighting with militants in Syria or Iraq, for example, including some who have joined Islamic State. But U.S. intelligence analysts have struggled to develop a complete picture of their movements or what roles they play in the militant groups.

U.S. intelligence agencies have poured resources into the war since the spring, and the CIA has set up a training camp in Jordan for Syrian fighters. They also rely on information gathered from U.S.-backed rebel groups, including the Free Syrian Army.

Nordic suspicions from TheLocal.se:

Isis sleeper cells suspected in Sweden

A defector from the rebel group Isis has told a Scandinavian broadcaster that his former organization has terrorist sleeper cells in Sweden awaiting orders.

The man told Norwegian news network NRK: “There are cells awaiting orders, and there is more than one group.” NRK met the defector at a secret location in Turkey, near the border to Syria.

The man claimed to have a background as a special soldier for Isis (also known as the Islamic State or IS) and said he had defected from the terror group a few months ago.

From Homeland Security News Wire:

Terror financiers operate freely in Qatar: U.S.

Qatar’s massive financial support of the most extreme Jihadist movements in the Middle East and North Africa is not exactly a secret – notwithstanding the sheikhdom rulers’ half-hearted denials, and the nominal membership of Qatar in the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition.

Qatar, with a small territory, about 250,000 citizens, and a lot of oil money – some derisively call it “a bank, not a country” — some years ago made the strategic decision that, in order be taken seriously as a regional actor, it had to do things differently. It could not compete with regional power-houses such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, so it decided to undermine and weaken both countries by undermining and weakening their rulers and their allies in the region.

Qatar has been doing so in two ways.

In November 1996 Qatar has launched Al Jazeera, which, in addition to some mainstream news reporting and relatively open studio debates and call-in shows, has been a tool of the Qatari government in its propaganda and disinformation campaign to undermine the governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, other Gulf Sheikhdoms, and other moderate states in the region (note that this applies to Al Jazeera in Arabic. The English-language Al Jazeera operates in a manner which is largely similar to Western news outlets).

The other way Qatar has sought to weaken moderate government in the region is by providing massive financial aid to Jihadist groups in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and the Palestinian Territories.

Notable, from the Los Angeles Times:

Putin vows to protect Ukraine separatists from defeat

Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed to prevent the defeat of allied separatists in eastern Ukraine while clinging to his insistence that Russia hasn’t been involved in the deadly, 7-month-old conflict.

In an interview with Germany’s ARD television, Putin repeated his claim that ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers in Ukraine are in danger of repression by a Kiev leadership he suggested was plotting to oust them en route to creating a fascist state.

“We are very concerned about any possible ethnic cleansings and Ukraine ending up as a neo-Nazi state,” Putin said, according to the Kremlin news service account of the interview. “What are we supposed to think if people are bearing swastikas on their sleeves? Or what about the SS emblems that we see on the helmets of some military units now fighting in eastern Ukraine?”

A shotgun wedding from Taiwan’s Want China Times:

US makes ‘fatal mistake’ driving China and Russia closer: Duowei

The United States is making a “fatal mistake” by antagonizing both China and Russia and forcing the two primary opponents closer together, says Duowei News, a US-based Chinese political news website.

Washington turned against Moscow following the start of the Ukraine crisis in February this year, leading the European Union and Japan in imposing heavy sanctions against Russia. The increasing distrust between the two countries has been apparent, with Russian president Vladimir Putin and US president Barack Obama coming into contact for only 20-30 minutes during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders summit in Beijing last week, with neither leader having much to say to the other.

Putin also berated the US shortly before the ensuing G20 in Australia, accusing Washington of undermining the very trade institutions it created by imposing sanctions on Russia, a “mistake” that it said went against international law and trade agreements.

Trackin’ pistol-packin’, from MIT Technology Review:

Police in California and Texas Test Networked Guns

  • A chip that tracks how a police officer’s gun is being used could prove useful in investigations and court cases

When a police officer draws a firearm he or she often doesn’t have an opportunity to radio for backup.

YardArm, a California-based company, is building technology that will automatically alert headquarters in such situations. The company makes a chip that goes into the handle of a regular firearm and transmits data over a cell-phone network connection. The data transmitted includes the location of a gun and whether it has been unholstered or discharged. The company is also working to track the direction in which a gun is pointing. The data can be fed to a police dispatch system or viewed on a smartphone.

Founded in 2013, YardArm started out making a consumer product for monitoring a firearm’s location. But since many American gun owners object to technology or policies aimed at regulating firearms, it did not find many customers.

The despicable, enabling the despicable, via the New York Times:

Indictment of Ex-Official Raises Questions on Mississippi’s Private Prisons

In 1982, Christopher B. Epps, a young schoolteacher, took a second job as a guard at the facility known as Parchman Farm, the only prison operated at the time by the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

Eventually he had to choose a path. “It worked out that I was making more as a correctional officer than as a teacher,” Mr. Epps would later recall in an interview for a corrections newsletter.

By the time he spoke those words in 2009, Mr. Epps was being feted as Mississippi’s longest-serving corrections commissioner. The state inmate population had quadrupled, five private prisons had been built to help house them, and, according to a federal grand jury indictment, Mr. Epps had found a new, secretive way to bolster his income.

The 49-count indictment, unsealed last week, accuses Mr. Epps of receiving more than $1 million in bribes from a former Mississippi lawmaker named Cecil McCrory, beginning in 2007. In exchange, the indictment charges, Mr. Epps helped secure lucrative corrections department contracts for private prison companies owned or represented by Mr. McCrory.

More penal despicability, via the Miami Herald:

Detention at Guantánamo grinds on: 13 years and counting, 148 captives remain

It’s the first Tuesday in November, just another day as Guantánamo grinds on toward the detention center’s 14th year as the most expensive prison on earth with no end in sight. President Barack Obama ordered it emptied in 2009, on his second day in office, and people here are dubious that it will be done before his last.

It will close “a year from now, six months from now, 10 years from now — I don’t know,” says Zak, a Pentagon employee who has served as the prison’s Muslim cultural adviser since 2005.

“My focus is to ensure that I have operationally effective and safe facilities for a mission with an indeterminate end date,” says Rear Adm. Kyle Cozad, the 14th commander of the prison operation.

Bobby despicability, via the London Telegraph:

A million crimes reported by public left out of police figures

  • Watchdog warns that police are failing to record one in five crimes because of the ‘target culture’ in forces

Almost a million crimes a year are disappearing from official figures as chief constables attempt to meet targets, a study by the police watchdog has disclosed.

Its report exposed “indefensible” failures by forces to record crime accurately, and said that in some areas up to a third of crimes are being struck out of official records.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary said violent crimes and sex attacks were particularly vulnerable to being deleted under “inexcusably poor” systems.

Although the report stopped short of accusing police of widespread “fiddling” it said there was an “undercurrent of pressure not to record a crime across some forces” and “wrongful pressure” by managers.

From Network World, a criminal marketing twist:

New ransomware CoinVault allows users to decrypt one file for free

Cybercriminals behind a new ransomware program called CoinVault are trying out a new psychological tactic to convince users to pay up—freebies.

The new threat was discovered by security researchers from Webroot and is similar in functionality to more prevalent ransomware programs like CryptoWall. It uses strong 256-bit AES encryption with keys stored on a remote server, it kills the Windows Volume Shadow Copy Service so that users can’t use it to recover their files and only supports Bitcoin as a payment method.

Users are asked to pay 0.5 bitcoins—around $200 at the current exchange rate—in order to receive the key that decrypts their files, but the cost increases every 24 hours.

One aspect that sets CoinVault apart from other file-encrypting ransomware programs is that it allows users to see a list of encrypted files on their computer and choose one they can decrypt for free.

SecurityWeek covers more criminal despicability:

Research Finds 1 Percent of Online Ads Malicious

One percent does not sound like a lot, but multiple it by the right number, and it can be.

Such is the case when it comes to malicious advertising. In research recently presented at the 2014 Internet Measurement Conference in Vancouver, a team of security experts from Ruhr-University Bochum, University College London and the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) examined more than 600,000 online advertisements on 40,000 websites over a three-month period and used multiple detection systems to assess whether they were good or bad. The end result: one percent of the ads were found to be involved in suspicious or malicious activity such as drive-by downloads and link hijacking.

“While this is bad news for the advertising networks, advertisers and Internet users who are all under attack from the malware producers, the good news is there are several things available today that can stop malvertising,” said Giovanni Vigna, co-founder and CTO of Lastline, one of the members of the team that worked on the research. “One of these is the use of the sandboxing attribute in iframes within HTML5. None of the 40,000 websites we observed leveraged this mechanism, even though it could stop the link-hijacking that is by far the most prevalent method by which miscreants are getting past other security measures in order to distribute malware through advertisements.”

After the jump, hard times intolerance in Britain, attacks on immigrant housing in Germany, a Columbian general captured by rebels and a massive manhunt ensues, a disillusioned Mossad agent speaks out, Pakistani police thuggery, a killer Indian medical mob, illegal student protests in Myanmar, a crackdown on Hong Kong Occupy camp nears, more repercussions from the election of an Okianawa govenor opposed to a U.S. base move as activists work to expose the toxic legacy of Vietnam War-era Agent Orange exposures on the island, and a unique Californian match made in prison. . . Continue reading

InSecurityWatch: War, crime, hacks, cops, zones


First, via the Guardian, one of those responsible warns of collapse:

David Cameron warns that second global crash is looming

  • PM says ‘red warning lights are flashing’ against a backdrop of instability and uncertainty, as G20 summit draws to a close

David Cameron has issued a stark message that “red warning lights are flashing on the dashboard of the global economy” in the same way as when the financial crash brought the world to its knees six years ago.

Writing in the Guardian at the close of the G20 summit in Brisbane, Cameron says there is now “a dangerous backdrop of instability and uncertainty” that presents a real risk to the UK recovery, adding that the eurozone slowdown is already having an impact on British exports and manufacturing.

His warning comes days after the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, claimed a spectre of stagnation was haunting Europe. The International Monetary Fund managing director, Christine Lagarde, expressed fears in Brisbane that a diet of high debt, low growth and unemployment may yet become “the new normal in Europe”.

From the Guardian again, boots ahoy:

Western combat troops may be needed to defeat Isis, says Lord Dannatt

  • Former army chief says west may have to ‘think the unthinkable’ and engage forces on ground to counter Islamic State

British combat troops could be required to fight in Iraq and Syria to eradicate the threat posed by Islamic State (Isis), a former army chief has said.

Lord Dannatt said western leaders might have to “think the unthinkable” and send in troops if the combination of air strikes and local forces was unable to counter the jihadis.

The former chief of the general staff said the British government should think again about whether to join in air strikes against Isis targets in Syria, but that ultimately bombing missions may not be enough.

From the New York Times, fanning flames:

U.S. Believes ISIS Video Shows Peter Kassig, American Hostage, After Beheading

The Islamic State released a video Sunday showing a black-clad executioner standing over the severed head of a man it identified as the American aid worker Peter Kassig, a former Army Ranger who disappeared over a year ago at a checkpoint in northeastern Syria while delivering medical supplies.

In recent days, American intelligence agencies received strong indications that the Islamic State had killed Mr. Kassig. But without a body or other corroborating evidence, officials could not be certain.

After the video was released and intelligence analysts were able to conduct an initial assessment, one senior American official said Sunday that the government was increasingly convinced that the video was authentic and that Mr. Kassig was dead.

While Al Jazeera English spun differently:

ISIL beheads Syria troops and US aid worker

  • US confirms footage showing killing of at least 12 Syrian military officers and US aid worker Peter Kassig is authentic

The US has said a video circulated online showing members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group beheading several Syrian soldiers and US aid worker Peter Kassig is authentic.

The footage, released and confirmed by Washington on Sunday, showed the beheading of at least 12 people whom ISIL said were pilots and officers in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military.

From Reuters, more fuel for flames:

Lieberman tells German Foreign Minister no limits on East Jerusalem settlements

Rebuffing international criticism, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told his German counterpart point-blank on Sunday that Israel will not stop building homes for Jews in East Jerusalem.

His remarks were likely to compound Western frustration over Israeli settlement policy on occupied land that Palestinians seek for a state.

“We won’t accept any limitations on building in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem,” Lieberman told a joint news conference with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

The Associated Press covers business as usual:

Prosecutors troubled by extent of military fraud

In a period when the nation has spent freely to support wars on multiple fronts, prosecutors have found plentiful targets: defendants who bill for services they do not provide, those who steer lucrative contracts to select business partners and those who use bribes to game a vast military enterprise.

Despite numerous cases that have produced long prison sentences, the problems have continued abroad and at home with a frequency that law enforcement officials consider troubling.

“The schemes we see really run the gamut from relatively small bribes paid to somebody in Afghanistan to hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of contracts being steered in the direction of a favored company who’s paying bribes,” Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell, head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, said in an interview.

In the past few months alone, four retired and one active-duty Army National Guard officials were charged in a complex bribery and kickback scheme involving the awarding of contracts for marketing and promotional materials. A trucking company driver pleaded guilty to bribing military base employees in Georgia to obtain freight shipments — often weapons which required satellite tracking — to transport to the West Coast.

A Foggy Bottom shutdown, via the Guardian:

State Department shuts down email system after suspected hacker attack

  • ‘Activity of concern’ occurred at same time as attack on White House
  • Entire unclassified email system closed to repair possible damage

The State Department has taken the unprecedented step of shutting down its entire unclassified email system as technicians repair possible damage from a suspected hacker attack.

A senior department official said Sunday that “activity of concern” was detected in the system around the same time as a previously reported incident that targeted the White House computer network. That incident was made public in late October, but there was no indication then that the State Department had been affected. Since then, a number of agencies, including the US Postal Service and the National Weather Service, have reported attacks.

The official said none of the State Department’s classified systems were affected. However, the official said the department shut down its worldwide email late on Friday as part of a scheduled outage of some of its internet-linked systems to make security improvements to its main unclassified computer network. The official was not authorised to speak about the matter by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

So you thought you were keeping secret? From the Stack:

81% of Tor users can be de-anonymised by analysing router information, research indicates

Research undertaken between 2008 and 2014 suggests that more than 81% of Tor clients can be ‘de-anonymised’ – their originating IP addresses revealed – by exploiting the ‘Netflow’ technology that Cisco has built into its router protocols, and similar traffic analysis software running by default in the hardware of other manufacturers.

Professor Sambuddho Chakravarty, a former researcher at Columbia University’s Network Security Lab and now researching Network Anonymity and Privacy at the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology in Delhi, has co-published a series of papers over the last six years outlining the attack vector, and claims a 100% ‘decloaking’ success rate under laboratory conditions, and 81.4% in the actual wilds of the Tor network.

When iGnorance isn’t bliss, via PandoDaily:

Apple downplays Masque Attack, but don’t be fooled: It’s a problem

It’s true that there isn’t much more Apple can do to protect consumers from Masque Attack. Its software already warns them against installing third-party applications, and tells people when they’re trying to launch software from an untrusted developer for the first time. Masque Attack is only a problem because some people might be too stupid not to use third-party apps anyway.

But that doesn’t mean that the feature doesn’t make people vulnerable to attack, like some have argued. Apple could at least make it easier for people to remove information from their smartphones, like it should have done already, or limit third-party downloads to consumers who enable the feature on their own. Not knowing how to fix a problem isn’t an excuse for not at least trying to solve it.

To repeat the ribcage metaphor: there are obvious advantages to the design we have now, and it seems like it’s worked out for us in the past. But that doesn’t mean someone wouldn’t wish their bodies were a little different when something slides through their ribs — the same idea applies to users whose personal data was stolen because they mistakenly used masquerading malware.

From Salon, compromising:

Google’s secret NSA alliance: The terrifying deals between Silicon Valley and the security state

  • Inside the high-level, complicated deals — and the rise of a virtually unchecked surveillance power

Google took a risk forming an alliance with the NSA. The company’s corporate motto, “Don’t be evil,” would seem at odds with the work of a covert surveillance and cyber warfare agency. But Google got useful information in return for its cooperation. Shortly after the China revelation, the government gave Sergey Brin, Google’s cofounder, a temporary security clearance that allowed him to attend a classified briefing about the campaign against his company. Government analysts had concluded that the intrusion was directed by a unit of the People’s Liberation Army. This was the most specific information Google could obtain about the source of the intrusion. It could help Google fortify its systems, block traffic from certain Internet addresses, and make a more informed decision about whether it wanted to do business in China at all. Google’s executives might pooh-pooh the NSA’s “secret sauce.” But when the company found itself under attack, it turned to Fort Meade for help.

Up in the air, junior birdmen, via the Verge:

Drones over US soil: the calm before the swarm

An explosion of advanced flying vehicles is about to hit the skies, but regulation lags way behind technology

The Federal Aviation Administration expects there to be more than 30,000 UAVs over our skies by the year 2020 doing work for private companies and law enforcement. Add in the the number of highly advanced vehicles being flown by hobbyists, and that number gets much higher. “I would guess there are already forty or fifty thousand aircraft in the hands of civilians capable of autonomous flight,” says Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired, who recently left the magazine to focus full time on his drone company, 3D Robotics, and community, DIY Drones. “That’s far more than our best estimates of what the military has, and the number is going to grow rapidly over the next few years.”

How have things changed so fast? “10 years ago, drones were military industrial technology, extremely expensive and some of it classified,” says Anderson. “What happened over the last decade is that the revolution in your pocket, has made that technology so cheap, and easy, and ubiquitous that regular people could do it.”

Once-rare components like accelerometers, magnetometers, gyroscopes, and GPS trackers have all been driven down in cost by the explosion of mobile devices. “A lot of the technologies to pilot a drone used to be covered under what’s called export control, which is to say they were regulated as military technology,” explains Anderson. That meant you couldn’t simply order these technologies online or find them at your local hobby shop. “But there is a provision in the export control laws that exempts public domain.” In other words, once all these parts became readily available in the smartphones you could pick up at Best Buy, they were no longer banned for civilian use. “Because the stuff became so easy and so cheap, suddenly regular people could do the stuff only defense contractors could do before.”

From the New York Times, junior G-men:

More Federal Agencies Are Using Undercover Operations

The federal government has significantly expanded undercover operations in recent years, with officers from at least 40 agencies posing as business people, welfare recipients, political protesters and even doctors or ministers to ferret out wrongdoing, records and interviews show.

At the Supreme Court, small teams of undercover officers dress as students at large demonstrations outside the courthouse and join the protests to look for suspicious activity, according to officials familiar with the practice.

At the Internal Revenue Service, dozens of undercover agents chase suspected tax evaders worldwide, by posing as tax preparers, accountants drug dealers or yacht buyers and more, court records show.

At the Agriculture Department, more than 100 undercover agents pose as food stamp recipients at thousands of neighborhood stores to spot suspicious vendors and fraud, officials said.

After the jump, killer cops in Brazil, looking at it from Putin’s angle, Egyptian students face a military court over campus protests, environmentalists versus Big Oil in a Congo park, hints that Obama nears an Iranian nuclear deal, another alliance forms to challenge Russia, Hong Kong cops preapre to evict Occupy encampments, Jaspanese election deals setback to Obama/Abe, the dynamic duo draws closer nonetheless while the Okinawa deal grows more elusive, while Obama and Abe partner with the Aussies against China. . . Continue reading