Category Archives: Uncategorized

Eric J. Garcia: The Terminator


From his Tumblr, El Machete Illustrated:

BLOG O drone

InSecurityWatch: Snowden, spooks, hacks, zones


We begin our latest edition with more on that bombshell Snowden interview, first with this from Reuters:

Planned U.S. cyber warfare program could hurt innocent countries: Snowden

A developing U.S. cyber security program would not only hunt down and halt potential computer attacks but also strike back without staff oversight, according to former U.S. National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden.

In an interview with WIRED magazine made public Wednesday, Snowden said the program – MonsterMind – could hurt countries caught in the middle as hackers could disguise the origin of their attacks by routing them through computers in other nations.

“These attacks can be spoofed,” Snowden told the magazine. “You could have someone sitting in China, for example, making it appear that one of these attacks is originating in Russia. And then we end up shooting back at a Russian hospital. What happens next?”

It could also potentially start an accidental war, he said.

Ars Technica covers another revelation:

Snowden: The NSA, not Assad, took Syria off the Internet in 2012

Snowden says TAO tried to install exploit on routers and crashed them

In a Wired interview with well-known National Security Agency journalist James Bamford that was published today, Edward Snowden claimed that the US accidentally took most of Syria off the Internet while attempting to bug the country’s traffic.

Snowden said that back in 2013 when he was still working with the US government, he was told by a US intelligence officer that NSA hackers—not the Assad regime—had been responsible for Syria’s sudden disconnect from the Internet in November and December of 2012.

The NSA’s Tailored Access Office (TAO), Snowden said, had been attempting to exploit a vulnerability in the router of a “major Internet service provider in Syria.” The exploit would have allowed the NSA to redirect traffic from the router through systems tapped by the agency’s Turmoil packet capture system and the Xkeyscore packet processing system, giving the NSA access to enclosures in e-mails that would otherwise not have been accessible to its broad Internet surveillance.

Instead, the TAO’s hackers “bricked” the router, Snowden said. He described the event as an “oh shit” moment, as the TAO operations center team tried to repair the router and cover their tracks, to no avail.

“Fortunately for the NSA, the Syrians were apparently more focused on restoring the nation’s Internet than on tracking down the cause of the outage,” Bamford wrote.  Snowden told him that someone joked, “If we get caught, we can always point the finger at Israel.”

The Register has another:

Naughty NSA was so drunk on data it forgot collection rules

Declassified court docs show systematic breaches over [REDACTED] years

Declassified documents from America’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) shows that even the NSA didn’t know the limits of what it was supposed to collect, and overstepped its authorisations for years.

The documents were released to the Electronic Privacy Information Centre in response to an FOI request, and record FISC judges’ disquiet about the program. Seeking a renewal for the NSA’s use of “pen register and trap and trace (PR/TT)” devices in US networks to collect subscriber metadata, the papers note that “the government acknowledges that NSA exceeded the scope of authorised acquisition continuously during the more than [REDACATED] years of acquisition under these orders”.

The court says NSA’s overcollection of metadata was “systematic” over a number of years.

More from Techdirt:

Snowden Says He Purposely Left Clues For NSA To See What He Took; Shocked By NSA’s Incompetence In Figuring It Out

from the nyah-nyah-nyah dept

Long time NSA watcher James Bamford spent a bunch of time with Ed Snowden in Moscow recently, leading to an absolutely fascinating story in Wired. There’s lots of interesting stuff in there, but this seems particularly interesting. After noting how the US government — over a year later — is still scrambling to figure out exactly what Snowden took, he notes:

    Snowden tells me it doesn’t have to be like this. He says that he actually intended the government to have a good idea about what exactly he stole. Before he made off with the documents, he tried to leave a trail of digital bread crumbs so investigators could determine which documents he copied and took and which he just “touched.” That way, he hoped, the agency would see that his motive was whistle-blowing and not spying for a foreign government. It would also give the government time to prepare for leaks in the future, allowing it to change code words, revise operational plans, and take other steps to mitigate damage. But he believes the NSA’s audit missed those clues and simply reported the total number of documents he touched—1.7 million. (Snowden says he actually took far fewer.) “I figured they would have a hard time,” he says. “I didn’t figure they would be completely incapable.”

Still more from the Guardian:

Snowden casts doubt on NSA investigation into security disclosures

NSA whistleblower says he left detectable digital traces of his removal of documents which the agency did not pick up on

National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden has called into question the competence of the investigation into the aftermath of his disclosures, which was overseen by the NSA’s new deputy director, Rick Ledgett.

In a new cover story for Wired magazine, the former NSA contractor provided writer James Bamford with previously unreported allegations of NSA cyberattack tools, including a piece of software, codenamed MonsterMind, that would automate a hostile response when it detected a network intrusion. He also alleged that a 2012 incident that took Syria’s internet offline was the fault of the NSA.

Snowden told Bamford, a longtime chronicler of the agency, that he left detectable digital traces of his removal of scores of documents from the technically sophisticated agency, allowing the NSA to know precisely what he did and did not take. Yet making a specific determination of the extent of the data breach has escaped the agency, which has simultaneously made vast and dire claims about the damage Snowden caused.

The Guardian questions:

When will Obama’s administration stop trying to send this man to jail for telling the truth about spies, nukes and Iran?

James Risen is out of chances. It’s time for the government to stop harassing a journalist for doing his job

If you blinked at the end of June, you may have missed one of the best pieces of journalism in 2014. The New York Times headline accompanying the story was almost criminally bland, but the content itself was extraordinary: A top manager at Blackwater, the notorious defense contractor, openly threatened to kill a US State Department official in 2007 if he continued to investigate Blackwater’s corrupt dealings in Iraq. Worse, the US government sided with Blackwater and halted the investigation. Blackwater would later go on to infamously wreak havoc in Iraq.

But what makes the story that much more remarkable is that its author, journalist James Risen, got it published amidst one the biggest legal battles over press freedom in decades – a battle that could end with the Justice Department forcing him into prison as early as this fall. It could make him the first American journalist forced into jail by the federal government since Judith Miller nearly a decade ago.

For years, the Justice Department, first under the Bush administration and now under Obama, has been aggressively pursuing Risen to testify against one of his alleged sources who is the subject of a leak prosecution. Risen’s most well-known scoop is the one that won him a Pulitzer Prize in 2006: exposing the Bush-era illegal warrantless wiretapping by the NSA, under threat of Espionage Act prosecution. But the Justice Department has been officially pursuing him about another story for years – a tale first published around the same time, in his book State of War.

More from the Freedom of the Press Foundation:

More Than a Dozen Pulitzer Winners Call on the Justice Dept to End its Pursuit of James Risen

UPDATE: The list has increased to twenty Pulitzer winners after adding statements from David Rohde, Michael LaForgia and Will Hobson, David Cay Johnston, Eric Lichtblau, and Dan Fagin.

Today, fourteen Pulitzer Prize winners have issued statements in support of journalist James Risen and in protest of the Justice Department’s attempt to force Risen to testify against his sources. Risen has vowed to go to jail rather than give up his source, but the Justice Department has steadfastly refused to drop its pursuit. On Thursday, many of the major US press freedom organizations will hold a press conference in Washington DC and deliver a petition with over 100,000 signatures to the Justice Department, calling on them to do the same.

Below are the statements from the fourteen Pulitzer Prize winners. Special thanks to Norman Solomon, co-founder of Roots Action, for gathering them all together. . .

From the East Bay Express, another kind of information control much closer to home:

The High Cost of Justice

Alameda County is now charging high fees to look at court documents online — a new cost that legal experts say may be unconstitutional.

Ben Rosenfeld is the sort of litigator that many young attorneys start out hoping they’ll become: He defends political activists, victims of police misconduct, and injured bicyclists. Many of his clients have little to no money, meaning Rosenfeld only gets paid if he wins. It also means that when courts charge for access to documents, it undermines his ability to research the legal landscape — and threatens his ability to keep assisting low-income clients.

In April, the Alameda County Superior Court quietly began charging $1 per page to view most of its legal documents online. Although the price drops to 50 cents after the fifth page, and the total cost for any document is capped at $40, those costs add up quickly when Rosenfeld is studying similar cases to determine which legal arguments are most likely to help his client. “It caught me by surprise,” he said. “I represent almost exclusively indigent plaintiffs in civil-rights cases, and it’s my responsibility to do everything I can to try to limit my clients’ costs.”

In response, Rosenfeld launched a petition urging the court to reconsider its fees, which are ten times higher than the cost of accessing files in the federal court’s system, PACER. In the petition, hosted at MoveOn.org, Rosenfeld contends that the fees might violate the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution, which protect citizens’ right to counsel, due process, and access to justice.

Just Security reaches a troubled hand across the Atlantic:

Spying Among Friends: The Troubled Waters of the CIA and BND

The rapid erosion of US-German relations continues to prompt much attention and consternation on both sides of the Atlantic. The new era urged by presidential candidate Barack Obama in Berlin in 2008— one based on “allies who will listen to one another, learn from one another and, most of all, trust each other”— has conspicuously failed to materialize. With the enthralled crowds that had gathered at the Victory Column now a distant memory, recent German public opinion polls reflect a widespread disillusionment; only 29% regard the United States as a trustworthy partner, while 57% feel their country should be more independent of their longtime ally in matters of foreign policy.

No one appears more aggrieved about this development than German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Not only was her cell phone tapped by the CIA from the rooftop of the US embassy in Berlin, causing her to break her normally low-key demeanor and object personally to Obama, but upon receiving the report that two German citizens—a midlevel staffer in the Bundesnachrichtendient (Federal Intelligence Serivice; BND) and a civilian employee in the Defense Ministry—were suspected of having been recruited by the CIA, she promptly expelled the US chief-of-station in Berlin. Moreover, according to secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden (who enjoys a decidedly favorable reputation among Germans), the National Security Agency maintains more than 150 listening posts in the country.

Various explanations have been advanced regarding this turn of events, but few have taken into consideration the deeper historical and cultural factors at play, especially in the realm of espionage. The relationship of the CIA to the Bundesnachrichtendienst (Federal Intelligence Service; BND) has complex roots originating in the mid-to-late 1940s. The pivotal figure was Reinhard Gehlen, who had served as head of Foreign Armies East (FHO), the organization responsible for collating and analyzing intelligence on the Eastern front during World War II.

IntelligenceWorld spooks up:

UK School children to be trained in cyber warfare

Teenagers in the UK are being offered the opportunity to learn cyber defence skills from Northrop Grumman, manufacturer of the USAF’s B-2 Stealth Bomber.

The defence giant is partnering with the government-backed Cyber Security Challenge UK to engage thousands of 12- to 18-year-old Army cadets, scout groups, schools and colleges across Britain in national team-based cyber security competitions.

The programme, called CyberCenturion, will allow anyone interested in the world of cyber security to get their first real experience of the scenarios and challenges existing professionals have to undertake on a daily basis.

And the Darwin Award for failing to learn the Snowden lesson, via the Independent:

Florida man accused of killing his roommate asked Siri where to hide the body, court hears

US police say a Florida man accused of killing his roommate asked Apple’s digital assistant Siri for advice on hiding the body the day the man went missing.

Pedro Bravo, 20, is accused of kidnapping and strangling his friend Christian Aguilar in September 2012 after an argument started over Aguilar dating Bravo’s ex-girlfriend.

Bravo was charged with murder on Friday September 28, 2012, though his friend’s body was not found until weeks later when hunters stumbled across Aguilar in a shallow grave in a nearby forest.

Evidence collected from Bravo’s iPhone includes records of him using the phone’s flashlight function nine times from 11.31pm to 12:01am on the day that Bravo disappeared and asking the phone: “I need to hide my roommate”.

According to evidence reproduced from the trial by local news stations and picked up by Buzzfeed, Siri responded “What kind of place are you looking for?” before offering four options: “Swamps, reservoirs, metal foundries, dumps”.

More telephonic woes, via Homeland Security News Wire:

Two major security vulnerabilities found in majority of world’s smartphones

Researchers have uncovered two major vulnerabilities in smart phones from manufacturers including Apple, Google Android, and Blackberry, among others. These flaws could put up to 90 percent of the world’s two billion smartphones at risk for stolen data, password theft, and the potential for hackers even to take control of the device.

This week, researchers at Denver, Colorado-based Accuvant and Bluebox Security in San Francisco have uncovered two major vulnerabilities in smart phones from manufacturers including Apple, Google Android, and Blackberry, among others.

As Insurance Journal reports, these flaws could put up to 90 percent of the world’s two billion smartphones at risk for stolen data, password theft, and the potential for hackers even to take control of the device.

From intelNews, yet more blowback from the American imperial adventure:

ISIS views spread in Balkans as Kosovo police nab 40 militants

Over 40 people have been arrested in Kosovo on strong suspicion of maintaining close links with the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

Authorities in the small Balkan nation said the Monday arrests were part of “a major police operation” aimed at preventing Kosovar citizens from joining the violent Islamist group. Kosovo gained independence from Serbia in 2008, following several revolts and uprisings in the 1990s.

The vast majority of its citizens are ethnic Albanians, most of whom practice Islam. However the lifestyle of its largely pro-American population remains markedly secular. Observers have thus been startled by reports that an estimated 100 to 200 Kosovars have so far traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State, known previously as the State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS.

Channel NewsAsia Singapore covers another:

Spy chief warns Australians becoming ‘extremist propagandists’

Australians are becoming key players in the successful “social media wars” being waged from Iraq and Syria, increasingly acting as “English-language Islamic extremist propagandists”, the country’s spy chief has warned.

Australian Security Intelligence Organisation director-general David Irvine said the bloody and often gruesome conflicts were creating a new generation of militants, “the scale and scope of which we have not seen elsewhere”. “The number of Australians who have sought to take part in the Syria and Iraq conflicts, or have sought to support extremists fighting there, is unprecedented,” he said in a speech late Tuesday (Aug 12).

Irvine said what was particularly worrying was that many of the fluent English speakers were being used by the Islamic State to get their message out to a broad audience through graphic and highly emotive social media coverage.

The Toronto Globe and Mail has old fashioned espionage:

Canadian ex-researcher pleads guilty to smuggling bacteria to China

A former lead researcher at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has pleaded guilty to attempting to smuggle dangerous bacteria to China.

Klaus Nielsen, who faced 11 charges accusing him of trying to take Brucella bacteria to China with the help of another former CFIA employee, was arrested two years ago as he headed to the Ottawa airport for a trip to China. Undercover police who had Nielsen under surveillance discovered several Brucella vials in his baggage.

Brucella causes an infectious disease called brucellosis. People get the disease when they’re in contact with infected animals or animal products contaminated with the bacteria.

And from The Week, the latest SkyNet proposal:

This laser-armed drone could blow fighter jets out of the sky

An Air Force officer proposes a robot fighter with minimal human control

Here’s an idea for an awesome dogfighting aircraft. Make it small, light, and fast. Build it out of materials that are hard to detect on radar. Even give it a laser cannon.

Oh, and don’t put a human in the cockpit. In fact, don’t even closely tie the drone to human ground control. Because in an aerial knife fight, a computer-controlled machine will beat a human pilot.

That’s the idea behind a controversial proposal by U.S. Air Force captain Michael Byrnes, an experienced Predator and Reaper drone pilot. Byrnes is calling for the development of a robotic dogfighter, which he calls the FQ-X, that could blow manned fighters out of the sky.

After the jump, Orwellian tech, the latest from the Asian Game of Zones — including Indo-Pakistani tensions and Afghan anxieties, Russo–Japanese tensions, ever-enlarging arsenals, and another rare earth lament — and something to make you really insecure. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day: Blood on the newsroom floor


From Pueblo Lands and drawn from data from the California Employment Development Department, a look at projected job growth and decline anticipated during the current decade in the Golden State, with journalism jobs continuing to fall while corporate, NGO, and government PR jobs continue to growth. Call it a clear win for the spin amidst the ongoing strangulation of what’s left of the free press [which continues to be swallowed up corporate giants and banksters with their fellows than with the public and the notion of an informed electorate], with spinners outnumbering the spun by a five-to-one ratio:

BLOG Media

Accompanying the job growth/decline rate was another sober reminder of the power of spinners, and one of the key reasons the nation’s journalism school graduates no longer flock to jobs in the pitifully diminished press corps[e]:

BLOG Press pay

Chart of the day: Europe’s most hated


From the Pew Research Center, evidence that the Roma [commonly called Gypsies] and Muslims have replaced Jews as the continents favorite scapegoats:

Microsoft Word - Pew Global Attitudes European Union Report FINA

Chart of the day II: A decided Japanese downer


From the Yomiuri Shimbun:

BLOG Japan econ

Mr. Fish: Lap Top Flyer


From Clowncrack, his blog of umbratilous umbrage:

BLOG Fish

Dan Piraro: Semantic monkeyshines


From the creator of the venerable Bizarroworld:

BLOG Monkeyshines

Just some random headlines. . .or are they?


First, from the London Telegraph:

Infants ‘unable to use toy building blocks’ due to iPad addiction

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers warn that rising numbers of children are unable to perform simple tasks such as using building blocks because of overexposure to iPads

Next, from the London Daily Mail:

Pregnant women who take SSRI antidepressants are three times more likely to have a child with autism

  • The effect of  the drugs is particularity pronounced during third trimester
  • Researchers suggest rising rates of autism and SSRI use may be linked

Next up, from the Los Angeles Times:

Household rat poison linked to death and disease in wildlife

Evidence of rat poison is found in a sickly puma whose territory includes Griffith Park. Researchers suspect a link between poisons and mange.

During nearly two decades of research in and around the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, park service scientists have documented widespread exposure in carnivores to common household poisons. Of 140 bobcats, coyotes and mountain lions evaluated, 88% tested positive for one or more anticoagulant compounds. Scores of animals are known to have died from internal bleeding, researchers said.

The poisons also affect protected or endangered species including golden eagles, northern spotted owls and San Joaquin kit foxes.

And the Los Angeles Times again:

EPA drastically underestimates methane released at drilling sites

Drilling operations at several natural gas wells in southwestern Pennsylvania released methane into the atmosphere at rates that were 100 to 1,000 times greater than federal regulators had estimated, new research shows.

Using a plane that was specially equipped to measure greenhouse gas emissions in the air, scientists found that drilling activities at seven well pads in the booming Marcellus shale formation emitted 34 grams of methane per second, on average. The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that such drilling releases between 0.04 grams and 0.30 grams of methane per second.

The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, adds to a growing body of research that suggests the EPA is gravely underestimating methane emissions from oil and gas operations. The agency is expected to issue its own analysis of methane emissions from the oil and gas sector as early as Tuesday, which will give outside experts a chance to assess how well regulators understand the problem.

Next, from the East Bay Express:

Environmental Activist Forcibly Removed from Chevron-Sponsored Event in Oakland for Mocking the Company’s ‘News’ Website

Security guards forcibly removed Paul Paz y Miño, an employee of the environmental group Amazon Watch, from a Chevron-sponsored event today in Oakland because he was carrying flyers that he said he had planned to distribute outside the building after the program. When Miño, who had paid $75 for a ticket to the public event, refused to leave, guards forcibly removed him.

Called the “Illuminating Ideas: ENERGY & Sustainability Summit,” the economic development event was held at the Oakland Marriott. It was organized by the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and primarily sponsored by Chevron. PG&E, Bank of America, and Merrill Lynch were also sponsors. The event offered several panel discussions on green infrastructure, energy smart cities, and private and public partnerships. The keynote speaker was Jon Wellinghoff, the immediate past president of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan was also a speaker at the event.

And them this, from VentureBeat:

The future of Silicon Valley may lie in the mountains of Afghanistan

The future of Silicon Valley’s technological prowess may well lie in the war-scarred mountains and salt flats of Western Afghanistan.

United States Geological Survey teams discovered one of the world’s largest untapped reserves of lithium there six years ago. The USGS was scouting the volatile country at the behest of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations. Lithium is a soft metal used to make the lithium-ion and lithium-polymer batteries essential for powering desktop computers, laptops, smartphones, and tablets. And increasingly, electric cars like Tesla’s.

The vast discovery could very well propel Afghanistan — a war-ravaged land with a population of 31 million largely uneducated Pashtuns and Tajiks, and whose primary exports today are opium, hashish, and marijuana — into becoming the world’s next “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” according to an internal Pentagon memo cited by the New York Times.

Finally, from the New York Times:

The Environmentalist Who Decided It Was Too Late

After decades of fervent environmental activism, Paul Kingsnorth concluded that collapse is inevitable. So now what?

Okay, so maybe they’re not such random headlines after all.

Rather, they are examples that should stir a form of thinking that the late UC Santa Barbara ecologist Garrett Hardin called ecolacy, the much-needed complement to the more commonly cultivated skills of literacy and numeracy.

Hardin, who was tragically wrong about what he called “the tragedy of the commons” [mistaking what economists term a free-for-all for the community-engendered commons], was spot on in his formulation of his First Law of Human Ecology, which states with deceptive simplicity: “You cannot do only one thing.”

Many of the headlines we have cited are examples of Hardin’s law, proof that actions hailed as desirable in one context can be devastating in the second. . .as in children skilled at screens and inept at manipulating real world objects. . . and as mothers relieved of depression and rewarded with the depressing burden of autistic offspring. . .and as when posons designed to kills household vermnin spread to destroy the wildlife around us.

Another grouping reminds us of the distortion of information to suit the interests of the few at the peril of the many. . .as when producing a fuel touted as a way to cut greenhouse gases actually produces vastly more atmosphere-imperiling emissions that the corporateers would have us believe. . .and when a corporation that touts itself as a bastion of community responsibility censors those who proclaim otherwise. . .and when a glimpse is revealed of deeper causes behind devastating flag-draped bloodshed.

The last headline speaks for itself.

David Horsey: Portrait of a job creator


Parsing neoliberal semantics with the editorial cartoonist of the Los Angeles Times:

BLOG Job creator

Rising poverty accompanies the German boom


From RT’s Peter Oliver, a timely reminder that behind the rosy glow emanating from Europe’s economic powerhouse is a darker reality, with poverty dramatically on the rise:

‘When need is stronger than shame’: Charities are last hope for more Germans

Program notes:

European politicians are in high spirits, as the latest statistics show a modest recovery across the euro zone. Germany performed slightly better than expected in the last quarter. The country is seen as the main driver of the European economy, and yet the number of Germans living below the poverty line has actually risen in recent years.

Chart of the day: Geography of joblessness


From the Bureau of Labor Statistics, contrasting areas of above [red] and below [yellow] average unemployment rates. Click on the image to enlarge:

BLOG Jobless

Quote of the day: The Panopticon opportunity


From Alfred McCoy, a brilliant scholar of the world of spies, lies, and black ops, writing at TomDispatch:

For more than six months, Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency (NSA) have been pouring out from the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Guardian, Germany’s Der Spiegel, and Brazil’s O Globo, among other places.  Yet no one has pointed out the combination of factors that made the NSA’s expanding programs to monitor the world seem like such a slam-dunk development in Washington.  The answer is remarkably simple.  For an imperial power losing its economic grip on the planet and heading into more austere times, the NSA’s latest technological breakthroughs look like a bargain basement deal when it comes to projecting power and keeping subordinate allies in line — like, in fact, the steal of the century.  Even when disaster turned out to be attached to them, the NSA’s surveillance programs have come with such a discounted price tag that no Washington elite was going to reject them.

For well over a century, from the pacification of the Philippines in 1898 to trade negotiations with the European Union today, surveillance and its kissing cousins, scandal and scurrilous information, have been key weapons in Washington’s search for global dominion. Not surprisingly, in a post-9/11 bipartisan exercise of executive power, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have presided over building the NSA step by secret step into a digital panopticon designed to monitor the communications of every American and foreign leaders worldwide.

Read the rest.

Headlines of the day I: Spies, Lies, Hacks, & Pols


Posting’s been slow of late, mostly because we’re into the eighth day of a nast respiratory bug.

But let’s get right to it, starting with this headline from Digital Trends:

NSA can gain complete access to iPhones, but Apple denies it helped install spyware

The National Security Agency can intercept the world’s Internet communications, tap Google’s and Yahoo’s corporate networks, collect revealing data on every phone call in America, and covertly divert new PC shipments to install monitoring software. And now, as newly revealed NSA documents show, we know it can take complete control over virtually anyone’s Apple iPhone.

Apple, for its part, says it knew nothing about the iPhone exploit, and has vowed to protect customers from any “malicious hackers.”

First revealed by security researcher Jacob Appelbaum and Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine, the NSA installs a piece of spyware called DROPOUTJEEP, which enables the agency to intercept SMS text messages; snag voicemail, geolocation data, cell tower location, and contact lists; capture conversations over the iPhone’s microphone; and snap pictures via the camera.

More from The Guardian:

Top secret program to target iPhones: Australian agencies may have known

  • Apple denies knowledge of the tool, saying it ‘has never worked with the NSA to create a back door in any of our products’

Australian intelligence agencies may have had knowledge of a top secret US National Security Agency program for targeting iPhones, according to newly-released documents.

The Guardian debunks:

President Obama claims the NSA has never abused its authority. That’s false

The facts that we know so far – from Fisa court documents to LOVEINT – show that the NSA has overstepped its powers

Digital Trends ironizes:

TURBOPANDA, RAGEMASTER, and 13 other NSA codenames that prove spies laugh, too

The National Security Agency gets a lot of flack for, you know, violating the entire world’s right to privacy and whatnot. But after seeing the codenames the NSA gives its spyware and other snooping tech, we’re starting to wonder if we’re thinking of these guys all wrong. They’re not clandestine cyberspies who seek to infiltrate every nook and cranny of the digital world – they’re just misunderstood comedians! Seriously, whoever thought “BANANAGLEE” was a good name for anything this side of a Lemon Party has a fantastic sense of humor.

Computerworld havests the Blue Screen of Death:

Unencrypted Windows crash reports give ‘significant advantage’ to hackers, spies

  • Microsoft transmits a wealth of information from Windows PCs to its servers in the clear, claims security researcher

Windows’ error- and crash-reporting system sends a wealth of data unencrypted and in the clear, information that eavesdropping hackers or state security agencies can use to refine and pinpoint their attacks, a researcher said today.

Not coincidentally, over the weekend the popular German newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) collects Windows crash reports from its global wiretaps to sniff out details of targeted PCs, including the installed software and operating systems, down to the version numbers and whether the programs or OSes have been patched; application and operating system crashes that signal vulnerabilities that could be exploited with malware; and even the devices and peripherals that have been plugged into the computers.

From Wired, another gotcha:

Court Upholds Willy-Nilly Gadget Searches Along U.S. Border

A federal judge today upheld a President Barack Obama administration policy allowing authorities along the U.S. border to seize and search laptops, smartphones and other electronic devices for any reason.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Edward Korman in New York comes as laptops, and now smartphones, have become virtual extensions of ourselves, housing everything from email to instant-message chats to our papers and effects.

Reuters seeks enlightenment:

ACLU sues for details of U.S. surveillance under executive order

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on Monday, seeking to force the U.S. government to disclose details of its foreign electronic surveillance program and what protections it provides to Americans whose communications are swept up.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in New York, came three days after the ACLU lost a bid to block a separate program that collects the phone calls of millions of Americans.

The Verge has a body count:

Covert US targeted killings took 253 lives in 2013, report estimates

The Council on Foreign Relations has released its estimates on the year’s covert targeted killings in Yemen and Pakistan, carried out primarily by drones. The numbers are based on reports from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, The Long War Journal, and The New America Foundation. Each source provides slightly different numbers, but the Long War Journal figures estimate a total of 54 strikes and 253 casualties, of whom 31 were civilians. The Council estimates a total of 3,520 casualties since the drone strike program began in 2004, of whom 457 have been civilians.

The numbers are only estimates, as data on civilian casualties is notoriously unreliable, but CFR is straightforward about its goals in releasing the report. “The current trajectory of US drone strike policies is unsustainable,” author Micah Zenko wrote in his initial report last year, to which these new numbers are an update. “Without reform from within, drones risk becoming an unregulated, unaccountable vehicle for states to deploy lethal force with impunity.”

USA TODAY has just the job for you:

Looking for a college major? How about drone technology

The controversial use of drones in business and everyday life is leading to more and more interest on an academic level

And from Deutsche Welle, another educational opportunity:

Master in Cyber Spying — Britain’s University for Secret Agents

Program notes:

If James Bond were to hit the books again, he’d likely attend the University of Buckingham in South East England. The private institution offers a Master’s degree in Security and Intelligence Studies. Cyber espionage is also part of the curriculum.

People come from around the world to study at the university’s Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies. Graduates hope to work in counter-terrorism or help businesses ward off cyber-attacks.

CBC affirms:

Vladimir Putin vows vengeance after Volgograd bus bombing

  • Police sweeps lead to detention of dozens in southern Russian city

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday vowed to annihilate “terrorists” following two deadly bomb attacks in less than 24 hours in the southern city of Volgograd that raised security fears ahead of the Winter Olympics.

The uncompromising remarks in a New Year’s Eve address were Putin’s first public comments since suicide bombers killed at least 34 people in attacks on a railway station and a trolleybus on Sunday and Monday.

The bombings raised fears of further attacks before Russia hosts the Winter Olympics in less than six weeks in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, a major prestige project for Putin.

Off to Asia, where crises are the order of the day, first with a very troubling headline from Want China Times:

Japan has enough plutonium to build 1,000 nuclear bombs: report

The real reason why Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, refuses to abandon nuclear power is because he wants to develop a nuclear weapons program, claims the Hong Kong-based Wen Wei Po, citing Koide Hiroaki, an assistant professor at the Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute.

There have been strong calls for Tokyo to reconsider its position on nuclear energy after the Fukushima nuclear incident in March 2011, when the Fukushima Daiichi plant north of Tokyo was hit by an earthquake and tsunami, triggering the world’s worst nuclear incident since Chernobyl.

Despite the risks, Hiroaki said that Tokyo is determined to develop a nuclear bomb. As Japan is not allowed to legally import weapons-grade plutonium, he says it is able to extract the plutonium it needs from the nuclear waste from the country’s power plants.

After the jump, the latest stunningly aggressive moves by the administration of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, North Krean nightmares, American electoral insecurity, and the reinicarnation of Pepper Spraying Cop. . . Continue reading

Mr. Fish: Red Faced


From Clowncrack, his blog of gratulatory gorgeosity:

BLOG Fish

Mr. Fish: Board to Death


From his blog of fabulously frumuous bandersnatchery,  Clowncrack:

BLOG Fish

Chart of the day III: Targets of opportunity


Key targets of sigint [signals intelligence] operations are the fiber optic cables connecting us beneath the world’s oceans and seas, where they can be tapped out of sight to mortal eyes.

From National Programmes for Mass Surveillance of Personal Data in EU Member States and Their Compatibility with EU Law [PDF], a report from the European Parialment’s Directorate General for Internal Policies Department C: Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs, Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. The document looks at large-scale surveillance programs in the UK, Sweden, France, Germany, and the Netherlands

Via Cryptome, click on the image to enlarge:

Microsoft Word - pe493032_en

Boxing match: A Ford gets stuck in a hole


Behold the front age box greeting folks in Toronto this morning, featuring Hizzoner’s belated confession. Having written thousands of print headlines and loving puns as we do, we’re simply stuporfied [via MediaWire]:

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Stunning video: Markets enter realm of chaos


With the advent of high frequency trading and the ability to buy and sell stocks in increasingly smaller minute factions of a second, investment has become a computer game, based on taking advantage of minuscule price movements instead of investing in companies deemed to be solid or holding great poential.

With the transformation of the marketplace from a forum ruled by analysts trained in reading spreadsheets into the equivalent of a high-speed computer game [with the Easter eggs in the form of massive profits], Wall Street became a magnet for a different kind of genius, spawned not by business schools but by the world’s leading scientific schools, we all became prey to the forces unleashed.

Now add another layer of complexity to a market already running at a pace measured in picoseconds — the creation of software that changes the prices in orders already entered and not yet completed to allow buyers to make the greatest possible profits on stock that may then be sold, well inside the same second in which it was purchased.

Now factor in that the market had already entered the realms of the complex system, in which cause can no longer be attributable to single events, which themselves can spring forth as wholly unpredictable emergent properties. The world of the linear no longer exists.

We’ve already seen near-catastrophic glitches, such as the Flash Crash of 6 May 2010, when computer-spawned orders drove the Down Jones down 1010 — the single largest drop in market history.

Regulators who investigated the crash attributed the debacle to “combined selling pressure from the sell algorithm.” In other words, a decision arising outside the scope of human consciousness.

We’re huge fans of Dutch public television’s VPRO Backlight documentaries, especially their investigations of the financial world, and their brilliant in-depth looks at high-speed trading [e.g., Quants: The Alchemists of Wall Street].

In their latest video, released today, director Marjie Meerman focuses on an exile from the Quant world, and his very disturbing explanation of just how perilous the financial realm has become.

From VPRO International:

The Wall Street Code [Marije Meerman, VPRO]

The program notes:

A thriller about a genius algorithm builder who dared to stand up against Wall Street. Haim Bodek, aka The Algo Arms Dealer.

From the makers of the much-praised Quants: the Alchemists of Wall Street and Money & Speed: Inside the Black Box. Now the long-awaited final episode of a trilogy in search of the winners and losers of the tech revolution on Wall Street. Could mankind lose control of this increasingly complex system?

Director: Marije Meerman
Research: Gerko Wessel

Charts of the day: Is it just me, or is it getting hot?


First, this from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration via Arctic News:

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And then there’s this, from GOP Deeply Divided Over Climate Change, a new report [PDF] from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press:

[Title]

Chart of the day II: Good news for bibliophiles


With about 2500 books in our own library, we  definitely qualify. From The Digital Reader:

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