Category Archives: Warfare

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

We begin today’s collection of headlines from the worlds of espionage and security with on ominous note with this entry from Threat Level:

Judges Poised to Hand U.S. Spies the Keys to the Internet

How does the NSA get the private crypto keys that allow it to bulk eavesdrop on some email providers and social networking sites? It’s one of the mysteries yet unanswered by the Edward Snowden leaks. But we know that so-called SSL keys are prized by the NSA – understandably, since one tiny 256 byte key can expose millions of people to intelligence collection. And we know that the agency has a specialized group that collects such keys by hook or by crook. That’s about it.

Which is why the appellate court challenge pitting encrypted email provider Lavabit against the Justice Department is so important: It’s the only publicly documented case where a district judge has ordered an internet company to hand over its SSL key to the U.S. government — in this case, the FBI.

If the practice — which may well have happened in secret before — is given the imprimatur of the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, it opens a new avenue for U.S. spies to expand their surveillance against users of U.S. internet services like Gmail and Dropbox. Since the FBI is known to work hand in hand with intelligence agencies, it potentially turns the judiciary into an arm of the NSA’s Key Recovery Service. Call it COURTINT.

The Guardian partially discloses:

Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Yahoo release US surveillance requests

  • Tech giants turn over data from tens of thousands of accounts
  • Limited disclosure part of transparency deal made last month

Tens of thousands of accounts associated with customers of Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Yahoo have their data turned over to US government authorities every six months as the result of secret court orders, the tech giants disclosed for the first time on Monday.

As part of a transparency deal reached last week with the Justice Department, four of the tech firms that participate in the National Security Agency’s Prism effort, which collects largely overseas internet communications, released more information about the volume of data the US demands they provide than they have ever previously been permitted to disclose.

But the terms of the deal prevent the companies from itemising the collection, beyond bands of thousands of data requests served on them by a secret surveillance court. The companies must also delay by six months disclosing information on the most recent requests – terms the Justice Department negotiated to end a transparency lawsuit before the so-called Fisa court that was brought by the companies.

MintPress News cozies up:

Google’s New Partnership With Law Enforcement Disquiets Privacy Advocates

What’s concerning most about the system for privacy advocates is that the information, which includes the photos and videos, is shared directly by Google with law enforcement.

Google may be in bed with U.S. government and law enforcement agencies more than the American public may have realized.

While the tech giant maintains it was unaware of the extent that the National Security Agency was using its cookie technology to gather information about the public, it was recently discovered that the company filed for two patents last year that actually benefit law enforcement.

Known as “Mob Source Phone Video Collaboration” and “Inferring Events Based On Mob Sourced Video,” the patents are for a system that would identify when and where a “mob” event takes place and would send multimedia alerts to those with a vested interest in the event, namely law enforcement and news agencies.

According to the patents, a “mob” event is anything that attracts an “abnormal” amount of attention in the form of photos and videos, which is determined by the system’s monitoring photos and videos for similar time and location stamps.

PCWorld ponders prosecution:

German federal prosecutor considers formal NSA investigation

Germany’s federal prosecutor is considering if there is enough evidence to warrant a formal, criminal investigation into the German government’s alleged involvement in the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) data collection program, a spokeswoman said Monday.

Privacy and human rights campaigners including the Chaos Computer Club (CCC), the International League for Human Rights (ILMR) and Digitalcourage on Monday filed a criminal complaint against the German federal government and the presidents of the German secret services for their alleged involvement in illegal and prohibited covert intelligence activities, they said in a news release.

The complaint also targeted German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the German Minister of the Interior as well as U.S., British and German secret agents who are all accused of violating the right to privacy and obstruction of justice by cooperating with the NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ to electronically spy on German citizens, they said.

The Guardian mulls disclosure:

Intelligence agencies should be subject to FoI, says information commissioner

  • John McMillan says FoI Act ‘can suitably apply to any agencies, parliamentary departments and the intelligence agencies’

Australia’s information commissioner has called for intelligence agencies to be subject to freedom of information laws and has expressed concern about “mixed messages” on open government and transparency.

In a wide-ranging interview with Guardian Australia on the state of privacy and freedom of information in Australia, the information commissioner, Professor John McMillan, said intelligence agencies should be subject to freedom of information (FoI) legislation.

“My preference would be at least for the FoI Act to apply to the intelligence agencies,” he said.

PCWorld hacks away:

Prominent cryptographers targeted by malware attacks

Belgian cryptographer Jean-Jacques Quisquater had his personal computer infected with malware as the result of a targeted attack that’s believed to be related to a security breach discovered last year at Belgian telecommunications group Belgacom. According to him, other cryptographers have also been targeted by the same attackers.

Belgacom, whose customers include the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council, announced in September that it had discovered sophisticated malware on some of its internal systems.

German news magazine Der Spiegel reported at the time, based on documents leaked by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, that British intelligence agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) was responsible for the attack on Belgacom as part of a project code-named Operation Socialist.

The magazine later reported that GCHQ used packet injection technology called Quantum Insert developed by the NSA to target network engineers from Belgacom and other companies when they visited the LinkedIn and Slashdot websites. This technology can impersonate websites and can force the target’s computer to visit an attack server that uses exploits to install malware.

National Post denies:

Stephen Harper’s top security advisor denies reports of illegal spying on Canadians using airport Wi-Fi

The head of Communications Security Establishment Canada defended the collection of “metadata” on Monday, saying it helped identify foreign adversaries without snooping on the private communications of Canadians.

Testifying before the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, John Forster shot back against allegations of overzealous government electronic surveillance that have arisen as a result of leaks by Edward Snowden.

In a rare public appearance that follows unprecedented scrutiny of the ultra-secretive spy agency, Mr. Forster denied CSEC had been monitoring the private communications of Canadians as it vacuumed up metadata, or “data about data.

While CBC News equivocates:

Spy agencies, prime minister’s adviser defend Wi-Fi data collection

  • ‘It’s data about data,’ Stephen Harper’s national security adviser says of metadata collection

The head of Canada’s communications surveillance agency defended its use of metadata Monday and argued a test using Canadian passengers’ data — revealed by CBC News last week — didn’t run in real-time and wasn’t an actual operation.

John Forster, chief of the Communications Security Establishment Canada, defended the cybersecurity agency over revelations contained in a document released by U.S. National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Forster appeared before the Senate national defence committee amid the report that CSEC used airport Wi-Fi to track the movements of Canadian passengers, including where they’d been before the airport.

Pushing for a conclusion with

Prosecutor pressed to speed up Assange case

The Swedish prosecutor handling the Julian Assange case lashed out on Monday to calls urging him to push on with efforts to interrogate the whistle blower over sex crimes allegations stemming from a 2010 visit to Sweden.

Assange, who is suspected of rape and sexual assault involving two Swedish women in connection with a visit to Stockholm in 2010, remains holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he has been for the last 18 months.

But Swedish MP Johan Pehrson, legal policy spokesperson for the Liberal Party (Folkpartiet), said on Sunday there was no point letting such a case fester.

“This is an exceptional case,” he said on the Agenda programme on Sveriges Television (SVT). “Which gets you thinking whether the prosecutor shouldn’t take one more look at it and take care of it once and for all.”

Military/industrial profiteering from Spiegel:

Arms Exports: Berlin Backs Large Defense Deal with Saudi Arabia

Berlin has often been criticized in recent years for selling weapons to questionable regimes. Now, the German government is backing a billion-euro deal for 100 patrol boats.

The German government has often drawn serious criticism for supporting defense deals with countries known to have democratic deficiencies. In the latest controversial move, SPIEGEL has learned that the new government in Berlin wants to secure a major defense deal with Saudi Arabia by offering Hermes export credit guarantees.

The information comes from a classified letter from a senior official in the Finance Ministry to the German parliament’s budget committee. The letter states that the German government intends to provide guarantees for the planned export of more than 100 patrol and border control boats to the Gulf state with a total value of around €1.4 billion ($1.9 billion). In the letter, official Steffen Kampeter writes of the “high importance in terms of economic and employment” of the deal, which includes contracts for the Bremen-based Lürssen Shipyard. Kampeter, a politician with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union, asked for the “confidential handling of the business data” because negotiations are still in progress and competition is expected from other countries.

Wasting it profligately, via Aero-News Network:

New C-27J Cargo Planes Stored In Arizona Boneyard

  • Military ‘Has No Use’ For For The Spartans

New C-27J Spartan cargo planes ordered by the U.S. Air Force are being delivered … directly to a storage “boneyard” in the Arizona desert. There are reportedly nearly a dozen new Spartans sitting on the ramp at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, AZ.

The Dayton Daily News reports that the Air Force has spent some $567 million to acquire 21 new Spartans since 2007, but has found that the Air Force does not have missions for many of the aircraft.

The planes had originally been acquired because of their ability to operate from unimproved runways. But sequestration forced the Air Force to re-think the airplane’s mission, and it determined that they were not a necessity, according to an analyst with the Project for Government Oversight.

World Socialist Web Site gets right to it:

Germany, US push aggressive policies at Munich Security Conference

This weekend, some 400 leading international political and military figures and representatives of defense contractors, banks and corporations gathered at the Munich Security Conference (MSC) to discuss the global military and security situation. Both John Kerry and Chuck Hagel participated, marking the first time the US secretaries of state and defense both attended the conference.

The MSC featured a series of speeches by top German officials announcing an aggressive military policy, effectively repudiating the traditional restraints on German militarism that have existed since the collapse of the Nazi regime at the end of World War II. The belligerent tone of the conference was laid down by the former East German pastor and current president of Germany, Joachim Gauck.

Declaring that Germany must stop using its past—i.e., its role in starting two world wars in the 20th century—as a “shield,” Gauck called for the country’s armed forces to be used more frequently and decisively. “Germany can’t carry on as before,” Gauck argued. It was necessary to overcome German indifference and European navel-gazing, he said, in the face of “rapid” and “dramatic” new threats to the “open world order.”

And that complex again, via the London Telegraph:

China and Russia help global defence spending rise for first time in five years

  • New forecasts show China’s defence spending will outstrip Britain, Germany and France combined by 2015

Soaring defence budgets in China and Russia mean global military spending is growing for the first time in five years, according to new forecasts.

Spending across Asia and the Middle East is surging even as the military powers of Europe and the US are forced to scale back dramatically in the face of austerity cuts – contributing to a steady change in the balance of military power.

The figures were disclosed as the secretary general of Nato issued a stark warning that the West will cede influence on the world stage because of its falling spending.

After the jump, Asian zone and militarism crises, censorship run amok, an assault on academic freedom, censorship in Egypt, a Spanish muckraker fired, military corruption, the German government hacked, and more. . . Continue reading

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

We begin today’s compendium of tales form the world of spooks and security with a video from RT America:

California to require warrants for drone surveillance

Program notes:

California lawmakers are considering legislation that would keep police agencies and other government entities from using drones to conduct warrantless surveillance in the Golden State. The bill would require law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant to use drone surveillance, except in some emergency cases, and that those agencies notify the public when they intend to use drones. The data those drones collect would have to be destroyed within six months. RT’s Ameera David takes a look at the bill that would create some of the nation’s strictest standards on the use of drones in law enforcement.

And now, on with the latest blowback from those Edward Snowden NSA revelations, via The Guardian:

Obama admits intelligence chief fault over false Senate testimony

  • President continues to defend James Clapper in the face of calls for his resignation after ‘untruthful’ statement about bulk collection

President Barack Obama has said his director of national intelligence, James Clapper, ought to have been “more careful” in Senate testimony about surveillance that Clapper later acknowledged was untruthful following disclosures by Edward Snowden.

But Obama signaled continued confidence in Clapper in the face of calls for the director to resign from members of Congress who warn of the dangerous precedent set by allowing an intelligence chief to lie to legislative bodies tasked with overseeing the powerful spy agencies.

“Jim Clapper himself would acknowledge, and has acknowledged, that he should have been more careful about how he responded,” Obama told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an interview that aired on Friday.

From the Secretary of State via, a plea to “trust us”:

Kerry in Berlin: ‘US is committed to privacy’

US Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged on Friday that relations with Germany had gone through a “rough period” of late over NSA snooping but he said the US was “committed to privacy”.

After talks in Berlin with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Kerry told reporters that the United States took Germany’s anger seriously, which was sparked by revelations that US intelligence monitored Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone.

“I want to say to the German people that it’s no secret that we’ve been through a rough period,” Kerry said.

Asked whether the US administration would sign a no-spying agreement that Germany has demanded in the wake of the scandal, Kerry said only that Merkel and US President Barack Obama were in “consultations” on the issue.

Similar words and a response from China Daily:

Obama speech on NSA welcome, but effects remain to be seen: EU official

European Union Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstroem on Friday welcomed a speech made by US President Barack Obama on curbing the activities of the National Security Agency (NSA), saying what that meant in practice was yet to be seen.

Malmstroem told participants at the 50th Munich Security Conference that there was a need to see the limits of the NSA and safeguards put in place.

Obama announced in a recent speech a reform of the NSA and its surveillance operations, mentioning the possibility of abuse while insisting operatives should consistently follow protocols.

Malmstroem made the remarks in a panel discussion about cyber security, which was joined by the German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizieere, the US chairman of the house permanent select committee on intelligence Michael Rogers and others.

The ol’ “They’re just jealous ploy” from Deutsche Welle:

Hayden: Every agency wants to do what the NSA does

Michael Hayden, a former director of the NSA, CIA and US national intelligence, tells DW he sees German anger at US spying as genuine and says the NSA shouldn’t have got caught tapping Chancellor Merkel’s phone.

“Have you been surprised how many Germans take this as a very personal issue? Do they take it very personally because they like the United States but they’ve been really taken aback by the surveillance?

“They have – and as I said before, that’s genuine. Also genuine is my belief that all nations conduct espionage and occasionally espionage gets conducted with people you truly do consider friends. So it’s a bit difficult having that discussion.

“Chairman Mike Rogers from our Intelligence Committee was here yesterday and I think he put a good program on the table. He said, “Let’s stick with the facts. Let’s actually have an adult conversation about what it is our security services do and don’t do.” And, frankly, in order for that to be a good conversation, I think German citizens are going to have to have a better idea about what their security organizations do and don’t do. I would be willing to bet that now, based on all these press accounts, most Germans know more about the NSA than about the BND [Germany’s federal intelligence service].”

Techdirt covers another ploy:

Canadian Gov’t Responds To Spying Revelations By Saying It’s All A Lie And Calling Glenn Greenwald A ‘Porn Spy’

  • from the wtf? dept

We’ve seen various government officials act in all sorts of bizarre ways after revelations of illegal spying on their own people (and foreigners), but none may be quite as bizarre as the response from the Canadian government, following the release late last night from the CBC (with help from Glenn Greenwald) that they’re spying on public WiFi connections. That report had plenty of detail, including an internal presentation from the Canadian electronic spying agency, CSEC. In the Canadian Parliament today, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s parliamentary secretary, Paul Calandra, decided to respond to all of this by by insisting it’s all a lie and then flat out insulting both the CBC and Glenn Greenwald.

Here’s the video via Maclean’s Magazine. Techdirt has the transcript. . .and more:

Paul Calandra calls Glenn Greenwald a porn spy

Program notes:

The Prime Minister’s parliamentary secretary, Paul Calandra, rose in the House before Question Period to bemoan the CBC’s journalistic integrity. Last night, the public broadcaster revealed top-secret documents that alleged a Canadian spy agency used airport WiFi to track Canadian travellers’ wireless activity. Communications Security Establishment Canada isn’t supposed to monitor innocent Canadians.

Glenn Greenwald, an American journalist who lives in Brazil, collaborated with the CBC on its report. Greenwald retains copies of a trove of U.S. intelligence docs leaked by infamous whistleblower Edward Snowden, and the journalist is working with the CBC—as a freelancer—to report stories relevant to a Canadian audience.

None of this impresses Calandra, who condemned the news report, questioned the CBC’s judgment, and mocked Greenwald’s past association with a porn company. He reacted in much the same way the first time the CBC published Greenwald’s work.

Calandra’s money line: “Why is furthering porn spy Glenn Greenwald’s agenda and lining his Brazilian bank account more important than maintaining the public broadcaster’s journalistic integrity?”

Hey, look at the bright side, CBC. He could have called you the state broadcaster.

SecurityWeek has saner umbrage:

Canada’s Eavesdropping Agency Blasts Tradecraft Leak

Canada’s ultra-secret eavesdropping agency on Friday blasted the disclosure of its tradecraft, after it was reported the agency had tracked airline passengers connected to Wi-Fi services at airports.

Communications Security Establishment Canada said: “The unauthorized disclosure of tradecraft puts our techniques at risk of being less effective when addressing threats to Canada and Canadians.”

On Thursday, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation said documents leaked by fugitive NSA contractor Edward Snowden showed that the CSEC could follow the movements of people who passed through airports and connected to Wi-Fi systems with mobile phones, tablets and laptops.

The documents showed the agency could track the travellers for a week or more as they and their wireless devices showed up in other Wi-Fi “hot spots” in cities across Canada and beyond.

While Deutsche Welle spurns:

Brazil continues to ignore Snowden asylum appeal

  • Over a million people have signed an online petition to grant asylum to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in Brazil. However, experts doubt that the country will give in to this demand.

An online petition started in November on the websites of the civic activism Avaaz has attracted over 1 million signatures. The petition was initiated by David Miranda, partner of American journalist Glenn Greenwald, who conducted the first media interviews with former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Miranda plans to present the petition to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff once it has attracted 1,250,000 supporters.

But it is not only the campaign’s signatories who believe Snowden would be in good hands if he received asylum in Brazil: Snowden himself has appealed for it. The request, however, has so far remained unanswered, according to Snowden’s official support website. In July 2013, Brazil’s foreign minister stated that Snowden would not be grated asylum in the country. Meanwhile, the Brazilian president has claimed that no official application has been submitted on Snowden’s behalf.

Rubbing the Belgians the wrong way, via De Standaard:

Belgian professor in cryptography hacked

A new Belgian episode in the NSA scandal: Belgian professor Jean-Jacques Quisquater, internationally renowned expert in data security was the victim of hacking. And, as was the case in the Belgacom hacking affair, there are indications the American secret service NSA and its British counterpart, the GCHQ might be involved.

There isn’t a card with an electronic chip available, or it has some sort of security technology that UCL professor Jean-Jacques Quisquater (67) was involved in developing. If you are able to withdraw money from a cashpoint safely, for example, that is to some extent due to Quisquater’s work on complicated mathematical algorithms. He was also involved in the development of the Proton payment system in Belgium. That very same Jean-Jacques Quisquater has now been the victim of a hacking attack, that has all the signs – as was the case in the Belgacom affair – of ‘state-sponsored espionage, De Standaard has discovered.

The authorities investigating the Belgacom hacking case confirm they have opened a case. Quisquater himself has lodged a formal complaint.

Earlier this week, whistle blower Edward Snowden gave an interview to German television channel ARD in which he claimed the NSA’s espionage activities are not only aimed at protecting US national security – in the so-called ‘war on terror’ – but also at companies and private individuals. The Quisquater case seems to indicate the Belgian justice department might be able to demonstrate Snowden’s claims are more than a mere figment of his imagination. As far as we are able to tell, this is the first instance in which a private person is seen as a victim in the NSA case.

And dis-Dane from Dagbladet Information:

For the NSA, espionage was a means to strengthen the US position in climate negotiations

At the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009, the world’s nations were supposed to reach an agreement that would protect future generations against catastrophic climate change. But not everyone was playing by the rules. A leaked document now reveals that the US employed the NSA, its signals intelligence agency, to intercept information about other countries’ views on the climate negotiations before and during the summit. According to observers, the spying may have contributed to the Americans getting their way in the negotiations.

From BBC News, a story about a proposal with a peculiar motivation [see last line]:

David Cameron wants fresh push on communications data

David Cameron wants a fresh push after the next election to “modernise” laws to allow monitoring of people’s online activity, after admitting there was little chance of progress before then.

The prime minister told a parliamentary committee that gathering communications data was “politically contentious” but vital to keep citizens safe.

He said TV crime dramas illustrated the value of monitoring mobile data.

After the jump, the latest Asian zone, drone, historical revisionism. Militarism, and secrecy crises. Plus Gitmo secrecy and a Canadian IP lawsuit, Fourth Estate under siege in UK and Russia, an Athenian terror scare, nuclear cheaters, drone warnings, email hacks, and more. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day I: Spies, lies, zones, security

We begin today’s headlines from the worlds of cloaks, daggers, and militarism with a story close to home via the Oakland Tribune:

Nuclear law again threatens Oakland surveillance hub

Once again a Cold War era law prohibiting Oakland from contracting with firms that work on nuclear weapon projects is threatening to derail completion of an intelligence center whose surveillance capabilities have spurred opposition from privacy advocates.

The City Council will meet Tuesday to decide whether to contract with Schneider Electronic Inc. to complete the Domain Awareness Center. The joint city and Port of Oakland project would establish a data hub where feeds from street cameras, gunshot sensors and other surveillance tools would be broadcast on a bank of constantly monitored television screens.

Should the council determine that Schneider violates the Oakland’s Nuclear Free Ordinance, the city and port most likely would lose $1 million in federal grant funding that is tied to the project being completed by the end of May, officials said.

And on to the latest Edward Snowden revelation from The Guardian:

Snowden revelations of NSA spying on Copenhagen climate talks spark anger

  • Documents leaked by Edward Snowden show NSA kept US negotiators abreast of their rivals’ positions at 2009 summit

Developing countries have reacted angrily to revelations that the United States spied on other governments at the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009.

Documents leaked by Edward Snowden show how the US National Security Agency (NSA) monitored communication between key countries before and during the conference to give their negotiators advance information about other positions at the high-profile meeting where world leaders including Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and Angela Merkel failed to agree to a strong deal on climate change.

Jairam Ramesh, the then Indian environment minister and a key player in the talks that involved 192 countries and 110 heads of state, said: “Why the hell did they do this and at the end of this, what did they get out of Copenhagen? They got some outcome but certainly not the outcome they wanted. It was completely silly of them. First of all, they didn’t get what they wanted. With all their hi-tech gizmos and all their snooping, ultimately the Basic countries [Brazil, South Africa, India and China] bailed Obama out. With all their snooping what did they get?”

Confrontation from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Senators grill spy chiefs, accuse them of lies

Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee lambasted the nation’s top intelligence chiefs on Wednesday, complaining of lies about gathering the phone records of Americans and failing to cooperate with Congress in an investigation of the CIA’s controversial interrogation programs.

Committee members grilled Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and CIA Director John Brennan at the first intelligence committee hearing since President Barack Obama proposed reforms to the spy program.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., told them an ongoing “culture of misinformation” has undermined the public’s trust in America’s intelligence leadership.

Whistyleblower hate from the Los Angeles Times:

Intelligence leakers pose ‘critical threat’ to U.S., say spy chiefs

Insiders such as Edward Snowden who leak secrets about sensitive U.S. intelligence programs pose a “critical threat” to the United States, America’s spy chiefs warned Congress in their annual report on global national security risks.

For the first time, the threat of unauthorized disclosures from “trusted insiders” was ranked as the second greatest potential threat to the country, after cyberattacks but ahead of international terrorism, in the document prepared by the 16 agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community.

Those individuals aren’t necessarily working with foreign intelligence agencies, the document says. Some members of Congress have all but accused Snowden of working for Russia’s spy service, but no clear evidence has emerged to support the contention.

“The capabilities and activities through which foreign entities — both state and nonstate actors — seek to obtain U.S. national security information are new, more diverse and more technically sophisticated,” the document says.

The Washington Post offers a plea:

U.S. intelligence director calls on Snowden to return NSA documents

The head of the U.S. intelligence community on Wednesday called on Edward Snowden, a former contractor with the National Security Agency, to return the massive trove of documents in his possession.

Speaking before a Senate panel, James R. Clapper Jr., delivered blistering criticism of Snowden, describing him as a hypocrite who has severely harmed national security.

Clapper said the materials exposed by Snowden have bolstered adversaries, caused allies to cut off cooperation with the United States, triggered changes in communications by terrorist networks and put lives of intelligence operatives and assets at risk.

RT gets hyperbolic:

US officials say Snowden disclosures will lead to deaths, plead for an end to leaks

Revelations made possible through documents leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden could cause the deaths of United States diplomats, citizens and soldiers, government officials said Wednesday, and remaining files should be surrendered immediately.

US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper implored Mr. Snowden during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in Washington, DC early Wednesday to hand over what remains of a trove of top-secret documents allegedly still in his possession after fleeing the country last year with a cache of classified material. Officials have claimed the total number of stolen documents could exceed 1.7 million.

Speaking before the committee, DNI Clapper and his colleagues testified that the documents that have already been released to the media by Snowden during the last seven months have caused a significant blow to national security because they exposed an array of sensitive intelligence gathering tactics that have been jeopardized as a result.

Nomination from the London Daily Mail:

Edward Snowden is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for ‘restoring balance between national security and individual freedom’

  • Norwegian members of parliament nominate Snowden for Peace Price
  • Socialist Left Party politicians say he has made world ‘a safer place’
  • Nobel Peace Prize committee accepts nominations until February 1st

Two Norwegian MPs have nominated NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden for the Nobel Peace Prize 2014.

Bård Vegar Solhjell and Snorre Valen, both parliamentary representatives of Sosialistisk Venstreparti, the Socialist Left Party, argue that Snowden’s release of classified documents has made the world a safer place.

The Project On Government Oversight plotting a coup:

Six House Members Seek to Oust Intelligence Director

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper should be removed because of untruthful statements he made before Congress concerning the intelligence community’s use of bulk data collection programs, six members of Congress said this week in a letter sent to President Obama (pdf).

The letter—signed by  Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Ted Poe (R-Texas), Paul Broun (R-Ga.), Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.)—refers  to testimony Clapper gave the  Senate Intelligence Committee in March, when Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked him whether the NSA collects “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.” Clapper’s responded without hesitation: “No, sir. Not wittingly. There are cases where they could, inadvertently perhaps, collect – but not wittingly.”

Justification from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Attorney General Holder defends legality of surveillance program

Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday aligned himself with the conclusions of judges who found the mass collection of telephone data to be constitutional.

But that legal conclusion, Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee, is not the end of the debate over the so-called Section 215 program.

“I believe (the judges) are correct that it is constitutional,” Holder said, under questioning by a skeptical committee chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. “The question is, just because we can do something, should we do it?”

Tokenism from Network World:

NSA gets its first civil liberties and privacy officer

Former Homeland Security official Rebecca Richards is said to have new role

The National Security Agency has reportedly appointed Rebecca Richards, a former deputy privacy official at the Department of Homeland Security, as its first privacy officer.

Richards will start her new role next month, according to a blog post Tuesday by former deputy assistant secretary at the DHS Paul Rosenzweig.

An NSA spokeswoman would neither confirm nor deny Rosenzweig’s report. Instead, she pointed to comments by President Obama last August about the NSA’s taking steps to install a full-time civil liberties and privacy officer following NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks about the agency’s surveillance practices.

The NSA spokeswoman confirmed that the appointee would start in the new role next month. Additional details would become available today, she said.

Boing Boing gets ominous for the Fourth Estate:

US intel chief James Clapper: journalists reporting on leaked Snowden NSA docs “accomplices” to crime

In a Senate Judiciary Hearing on NSA surveillance today, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper insinuated dozens of journalists reporting on documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden were “accomplices” to a crime. His spokesman further suggested Clapper was referring to journalists after the hearing had concluded.

If this is the official stance of the US government, it is downright chilling.

Clapper is engaged in the same treatment of journalists that the Justice Department allegedly repudiated just months ago.

Wired gets legal:

Terror Defendant Challenges Evidence Gathered by NSA Spying

A U.S. terrorism defendant who was formally notified that he was spied on by the NSA filed a challenge to the constitutionality of the surveillance today, in a case likely to be litigated all the way to the Supreme Court.

Jamshid Muhtorov, a native of Uzbekistan who immigrated to Colorado, is one of only two criminal defendants the government has conceded was charged on the basis of evidence scooped up by the NSA’s surveillance programs. The spying was authorized by the controversial FISA Amendments Act.

The Supreme Court last year rejected a suit challenging the law because the civil rights groups and others who brought the case could not prove their communications were intercepted, and hence didn’t have “standing” to sue. That issue won’t come up for Muhtorov, says the Americans Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Muhtorov.

“For five years the government insulated this statute from judicial review by concealing from criminal defendants how the evidence against them was obtained,” says Mark Silverstein, legal director of the ACLU’s Colorado chapter. “But the government will not be able to shield the statute from review in this case.”

From The Guardian, Trans-Atlantic ornamental blowback:

Angela Merkel warns US over surveillance in first speech of third term

  • ‘A programme in which the end justifies all means … violates trust,’ German chancellor says

Angela Merkel has used the first, agenda-setting speech of her third term in office to criticise America’s uncompromising defence of its surveillance activities.

In a speech otherwise typically short of strong emotion or rhetorical flourishes, the German chancellor found relatively strong words on NSA surveillance, two days before the US secretary of state, John Kerry, is due to visit Berlin.

“A programme in which the end justifies all means, in which everything that is technically possible is then acted out, violates trust and spreads mistrust,” she said. “In the end, it produces not more but less security.”

Network World offers the symbolic:

Hackers deface Angry Birds website following NSA spying claims

  • The hackers placed an image with the message ‘Spying Birds’ on the site’s home page

The official Angry Birds website was defaced by hackers following reports that U.S. and U.K. intelligence agencies have been collecting user information from the game and other popular mobile apps.

Some users trying to access the website late Tuesday were greeted by an image depicting the Angry Birds game characters accompanied by the text “Spying Birds.” The U.S. National Security Agency’s logo was also visible in the image.

The NSA and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) have been working together to collect geolocation data, address books, buddy lists, telephone logs and other pieces of information from “leaky” mobile apps, The New York Times reported Monday based on documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

From the Washington Post, cause for real insecurity:

Officials: 92 Air Force officers involved in test cheating scandal

At least 92 Air Force officers assigned to the nation’s nuclear arsenal have been implicated in a proficiency test cheating scandal and temporarily relieved of their duties, officials said Thursday, announcing they had temporarily taken out of commission nearly one-fifth of the nuclear force.

The widening scandal, which came to light after a probe into alleged drug use by nuclear operators, has exposed systemic integrity lapses in one of the Pentagon’s most critical, albeit largely unseen, missions.

The 92 personnel who were decertified are based at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. Officers at the base oversee 150 Minuteman 3 nuclear missiles, one-third of the nation’s Minuteman 3 arsenal. The base is one of three where America’s 450 intercontinental ballistic missiles are kept. Officials on Thursday did not say whether they are reviewing the possibility that cheating has been commonplace at the other facilities.

RT strikes a trans-English Channel drone deal:

Entente Lethal: Britain, France to sign military drone development deal

Britain and France are set to develop a new generation of armed drones which will free them of their dependence on US-manufactured unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

President François Hollande will arrive in Britain on Friday for a summit with David Cameron at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. The two leaders, flanked by their foreign, defense, and energy ministers, are set to ink multiple deals for developing combat drones, missile systems and submarines. There are also plans to establish a joint expeditionary force which will be applicable for a wide range of scenarios, including high intensity operations.

Friday’s summit stems from the Lancaster House Treaties of 2010, in which Cameron and then-French President Nickolas Sarkozy agreed on a raft of measures in defense and security cooperation.

And from, the old school method:

Israel jails Orthodox Jew who offered to spy for Iran

An Israeli citizen, who belongs to an Orthodox anti-Zionist Jewish group that rejects the existence of the state of Israel, has been jailed for offering to spy for Iran. Yitzhak Bergel, 46, a father of eight, who resides in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox Mea She’arim neighborhood, is a member of the Neturei Karta —which translates in English as “Guardians of the City”.

The Jewish group opposes Zionism —the belief that a state-sanctioned Jewish homeland ought to be created in the territory described as “Land of Israel” in Jewish scriptural texts. The group, which was founded in the 1930s and has thousands of adherents in Israel, the United States and Europe, is one of several branches of conservative Judaism whose members believe that Jews are forbidden by the Torah to create their own state before the coming of the Jewish Messiah.

After the jump, the escalating Asian zonal and historic crises, a Chinese web crackdown, journalism under siege on four continents, some newpaper hackery in Old Blighty, and more. . . Continue reading

Extended interview with Edward Snowden

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden granted German public broadcaster ARD an extended interview Saturday, and we’ve finally found a version without the German translation overdub.

Ir’s a wide-ranging discussion, focusing in turns on Snowden’s fears for his life, the ground rules of the Five Eyes digital snooping game, and still more details of NSA and GCHQ espionage programs, including the use of tools ostensibly developed to stave off national security threats to conduct industrial espionage.

From ARD:

“Governments official want to kill me”

Headlines of the day I: EspioZonalDronalHistory

Lots of breaking news from the realms of black ops, espionage, and security, even though it’s a Sunday. We open with this from CBC News:

Edward Snowden says NSA engages in industrial espionage

  • Ex-NSA contractor cites German engineering firm Siemens as one target

The U.S. National Security Agency is involved in industrial espionage and will grab any intelligence it can get its hands on regardless of its value to national security, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden told a German TV network.

In text released ahead of a lengthy interview to be broadcast on Sunday, ARD TV quoted Snowden as saying the NSA does not limit its espionage to issues of national security and he cited German engineering firm, Siemens as one target.

“If there’s information at Siemens that’s beneficial to U.S. national interests — even if it doesn’t have anything to do with national security  — then they’ll take that information nevertheless,” Snowden said, according to ARD, which recorded the interview in Russia where he has claimed asylum.

More from

Snowden to German TV: NSA wants to kill me

Fugitive intelligence leaker Edward Snowden voiced fears that US “government officials want to kill me”, in a TV interview to be broadcast in Germany on Sunday night.

The comment comes just days after Snowden’s Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena said the American feared for his life, following a report by US website BuzzFeed of explicit threats against him from unnamed Pentagon and National Security Agency (NSA) officials.

Snowden also told the German broadcaster: “These people, and they are government officials, have said they would love to put a bullet in my head or poison me when I come out of the supermarket, and then watch as I die in the shower.”

One consequence, via Reuters:

Snowden won’t return to U.S. without amnesty, says legal adviser

Edward Snowden would be willing to enter talks with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to negotiate his return to the United States but not without a guarantee of amnesty, his legal adviser said on Sunday.

Jesselyn Radack said she was glad Holder indicated last week he would talk to lawyers for the former U.S. spy agency contractor to negotiate his return from Moscow, but that Snowden would need better protection.

“It’s a little disheartening that he (Holder) seemed to take clemency and amnesty off the table, which are two of the negotiating points,” said Radack, who was interviewed via satellite from Moscow by NBC’s “Meet the Press”.

From the London Daily Mail, the NSA wants your kids:

Fears over NSA recruiting website for CHILDREN that says coding is ‘kewl’

  • The site launched in 2005, but has been refreshed multiple times since
  • It has been thrust into the spotlight as Edward Snowden’s revelations have cast an unfavorable light on the spy agency
  • It is one of many government agencies with children’s sites

The majority of visitors browse while at school, are male and from the U.S.

The NSA has a children’s website filled with characters that give the agency a Saturday morning cartoon feel.

Cryptokids comes replete with a buck-toothed rabbit, an Army fatigued-wearing bald eagle and a turtle wearing a backwards ball cap and sunglasses who thinks coding is ‘kewl.’

The site launched in 2005, but the New York Times brought into the broader consciousness Saturday after revelations made by former contractor Edward Snowden have cast an unfavorable light on the spy agency.

Homeland Security News Wire calls for moderation:

Expert calls for “surveillance minimization” to restore public trust

Surveillance minimization — where surveillance is the exception, not the rule — could help rebuild public trust following revelations about the collection of personal data, according to an expert on privacy and surveillance. “Surveillance minimization requires surveillance to be targeted rather than universal, controlled and warranted at the point of data gathering rather than of data access, and performed for the minimum necessary time on the minimum necessary people,” he says.

Surveillance minimization — where surveillance is the exception, not the rule — could help rebuild public trust following revelations about the collection of personal data, according to a law academic from the University of East Anglia.

Dr. Paul Bernal, whose research covers privacy, surveillance, and human rights, says the role of government surveillance and of surveillance by commercial groups and others must be reconsidered.

A UEA release reports that he suggests surveillance minimization as a way forward and presented the idea today at the 7th International Computers, Privacy and Data Protection conference which took place in Brussels, Belgium, 22-24 January.

The Verge critiques:

Cryptography experts pen open letter against NSA surveillance

The pressure on the US government to reform the NSA’s surveillance programs is growing. Apple, Google, and Microsoft all called for change last month alongside a petition from international authors calling for an end to mass surveillance. President Obama announced big changes to government surveillance programs, but most of them centered around the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records, not its spying on internet communications. In an open letter published on Friday, more than 50 cryptography experts are asking the US government to make more changes to protect privacy.

“The value of society-wide surveillance in preventing terrorism is unclear, but the threat that such surveillance poses to privacy, democracy, and the US technology sector is readily apparent,” the authors of the open letter state. “Because transparency and public consent are at the core of our democracy, we call upon the US government to subject all mass-surveillance activities to public scrutiny and to resist the deployment of mass-surveillance programs in advance of sound technical and social controls.”

Although the letter doesn’t mention Obama, it’s clear the president’s recent speech has not eased concerns from cryptographers over the weakening of encryption standards.

From the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a new body count:

Drone Warfare

More than 2,400 dead as Obama’s drone campaign marks five years

Across Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the Obama administration has launched more than 390 drone strikes in the five years since the first attack that injured [civilian Fahim] Qureshi – eight times as many as were launched in the entire Bush presidency. These strikes have killed more than 2,400 people, at least 273 of them reportedly civilians.

Although drone strikes under Obama’s presidency have killed nearly six times as many people as were killed under Bush, the casualty rate – the number of people killed on average in each strike – has dropped from eight to six under Obama. The civilian casualty rate has fallen too. Strikes during the Bush years killed nearly more than three civilians in each strike on average. This has halved under Obama (1.43 civilians per strike on average). In fact reported civilian casualties in Pakistan have fallen sharply since 2010, with no confirmed reports of civilian casualties in 2013.

The decline in civilian casualties could be because of reported improvements in drone and missile technology, rising tensions between Pakistan and the US over the drone campaign, and greater scrutiny of the covert drone campaign both at home and abroad.

And a key graphic from the report:

BLOG Drones

MintPress News drones on in the Show Me State:

Missouri Contemplating Drone Restrictions

  • The Feds “already spy on Americans so much that Rand Paul said it numbered in the ‘gazillions’ after a secret meeting last fall.”

For the second time in less than a year, the Missouri House of Representatives will be considering legislation that will regulate the use of unmanned aerial vehicles within the state. Missouri House Bill 1204, the Preserving Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act, states that “no person, entity, or state agency shall use a drone or other unmanned aircraft to conduct surveillance or observation of any individual, property owned by an individual, farm, or agricultural industry without the consent of that individual, property owner, farm or agricultural industry.”

The bill would also ban the use of photographs or recordings from drones in criminal investigations without a court warrant being issued first. This bill was preceded by a bill last April that was spurred on by a now-debunked story that the celebrity gossip website TMZ was planning to use an unmanned vehicle in order to get candid footage that its paparazzi had no access to.

The 2013 bill, which passed the Missouri House but stalled in the state Senate, would had made journalistic use of drones illegal, as well as outlaw warrantless use of unmanned aerial vehicles.

Off to England and a beast resurrected via The Guardian:

D-notice system to be reviewed in wake of Edward Snowden revelations

  • Inquiry into future of system that warns media not to publish stories leads to fears that compliance may become compulsory

Officials are planning to review the historic D-notice system, which warns the media not to publish intelligence that might damage security, in the wake of the Guardian’s stories about mass surveillance by the security services based on leaks from the US whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Sources said Jon Thompson, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Defence, was setting up an inquiry into the future of the committee, raising fears that the voluntary censorship system also known as the DA-notice could be made compulsory.

The committee is supposed to be consulted when news organisations are considering publishing material relating to secret intelligence or the military. It is staffed by senior civil servants and media representatives, who give advice on the publication of sensitive stories.

Latin blowback from AFP:

Ecuador firm on reducing US presence, spies

Ecuador on Saturday stressed it wanted the number of US military staff on its territory reduced, and warned it also would not allow US “espionage equipment.”

“It just makes no sense that an outsized number of US military staff, who report to the US Southern Command, would be here, at the US Embassy,” Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told reporters.

President Rafael Correa said Wednesday he would ask the United States to withdraw American military personnel assigned to its embassy in Quito.

New Europe scents hypocrisy:

Germany faces dilemma over NSA spy scandal

Germany’s Federal Prosecutor’s Office has told parliament there is insufficient evidence to pursue a formal investigation into allegations that American intelligence targeted German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile telephone in 2002.

Der Spiegel, Germany’s top-selling news magazine, was the first to report that Merkel’s phone was intercepted by America’s National Security Agency (NSA). The weekly also said that the NSA intercepted conversations and spied on a number of German politicians.  The public prosecutor’s decision not to investigate is turning out to be as controversial as the allegations against the United States.  Hans-Christian Ströbele, a member of parliament with Germany’s Green Party, told Der Spiegel that it is absurd. “They’re just looking for reasons to shirk responsibility because the issue is too controversial for them,” he says.

Gregor Gysi, who heads the parliamentary group of the Left Party, said: “The fact that the German government and the Federal Prosecutor isn’t acting shows that their fear of the US government is greater than their respect for our legal system”.

As for members of the government, Der Spiegel reports that Justice Minister Heiko Maas is sympathetic to the idea of opening an investigation. But Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Chancellor Merkel have yet to take a clear position on the matter.

And The Guardian finds good old fashioned deception:

Campaigner’s lawyers challenge secrecy over police spy accused of lying in court

John Jordan seeks explanation of why his conviction will be quashed after claims undercover officer gave false evidence

Prosecutors are due on Monday to defend their decision to keep secret the cause of a miscarriage of justice involving an undercover police officer who allegedly used his fictitious identity in a criminal trial to conceal his covert work.

The conviction of an environmental campaigner, John Jordan, for assaulting a police officer is to be overturned after it was revealed that one of his co-defendants was an undercover policeman who allegedly gave false evidence on oath during his prosecution.

The undercover spy, whose real name is Jim Boyling, was pretending to be an ardent environmental campaigner when he was prosecuted, alongside Jordan, following disorder at a protest.

While the London Telegraph discovers brothers in arms:

Comrades in arms: Britain and Russia to sign defence deal

  • Once they were Cold War foes. Now Britain and Russia are preparing to work together on defence projects

Britain could buy weapons from its former Cold War foe for the first time under a landmark defence treaty, the Telegraph can reveal.

Defence chiefs are preparing to sign a deal that would see British defence companies working jointly on projects with the Russian arms industry.

The treaty allows arms companies to buy kit from Russia – and Russian diplomatic sources said they hope one day to see British soldiers carrying the Red Army’s famous Kalashnikov rifle as a result.

From Kyodo News, a rational move as Japan sheds its traditional anti-militarism and forges a new, increasingly armed and confrontational national security machine. [Who do they think they are? The U.S.?]:

U.S. asks Japan to return plutonium exported during Cold War

Washington has been pressing Tokyo to return over 300 kilograms of mostly weapons-grade plutonium given to Japan for research purposes during the Cold War era, Japanese and U.S. government sources said Sunday.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration, which is keen on ensuring nuclear security, wants Japan to return the plutonium supplied for use as nuclear fuel at a fast critical assembly in Tokaimura, Ibaraki Prefecture, the sources told Kyodo News.

The highly concentrated plutonium could be used to produce 40 to 50 nuclear weapons.

After the jump, the ongoing regional game of military escalatio [H/T to Tom Lehrer], the ever escalating Asian zone crises, new military alliances emerge, a familial mass slaughter in North Korea. . .and more: Continue reading

Plutopia: Bombmaking cities of the U.S., U.S.S.R.

A stunning talk by University of Maryland historian Kate Brown, author of Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters, about the deadly consequences for the plutonium-making high security cities in the two principal Cold War adversaries.

From the wonderful collection of videos at TalkingStickTV:

Kate Brown — The Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters

From an account by the Kennan Institute’s Mattison Brady about a talk Brown presented there:

Brown observed that Chernobyl and Fukushima were disasters that “involved big meltdowns and occurred while the cameras were running.” That is, they were accidents that involved total failure of the plants and could not be hidden or covered up. The disasters at Hanford [Washington] and Maiak, however, were catastrophes “in slow motion” and, more importantly, were not truly accidents. They were, Brown contended, “intentional – part of the normal working order.” Brown did not, however, paint a picture of simple recrimination for the plant managers. Rather, she illustrated the dangerous combination of misinformation, miscommunication, hopefulness, and, above all, pressure that contributed to many of the recurring mistakes made at each plant.

The two plutonium plants and, by extension, their constituent populations “orbited each other and were produced in each other’s image.” Each time the project in one country was in danger of having its budget cut, the other would make some significant breakthrough, which would in turn spur production at the other. The rivalry fueled the growing arms race and ensured their continued existence and funding. The constant atmosphere of fear and pressure led each of the plants to taking dangerous short cuts to meet the mushrooming production goals.

One such shortcut was the length of time used uranium fuel was allowed to cool before being processed. This fuel, pulled from the cooling ponds long before the recommended 90-day period, was called “green” and, when processed, would release vastly more radioactive iodine than fuel left to cool longer. War-time pressure in 1944 called for this cooling period to be minimized, but the post-war arms race meant that the Soviet Maiak plant ran green fuel for many years and that in 1949 the Hanford plant ran a dangerous experiment with green fuel (called the “Green Run”) to see how they could trace the hot radioactive isotopes as they scattered across eastern Washington State.

Headlines of the day I: Spies, zones, laws, crises

Today’s collection of headlines from the realms of espionage, militarism, and corporate snooping begins with answers to a critical question. From Techdirt, where you may read the rest.

Open Letter From Security Researchers Explains How NSA Has Weakened Our Communications Infrastructure

  • from the read-it dept

Among the many problems with President Obama’s weak statement concerning NSA surveillance was the fact that he didn’t even address the serious issue of the NSA undermining cryptography with backdoors. The White House’s task force had included a recommendation to end this practice, and the President appeared to ignore it entirely. Now, a large group of US computer security and cryptography researchers have sent a strongly worded open letter to the President condemning these efforts (and his failure to stop the program).

And across the pond, blowback continues as the extent of “Washington consensus” control of the British agenda becomes clearer by the day. From The Independent:

Exclusive: Peers call for proper scrutiny of American military bases in UK used for drone strikes and mass spying

  • Britain’s oversight of US bases ‘in urgent need of revision’

Scrutiny of American military bases in Britain could be increased dramatically for the first time in more than 60 years under cross-party proposals provoked by evidence that the installations are being used for drone strikes and mass spying activities.

Draft proposals tabled by peers from all three major parties demand that the Government overhaul the “outdated” rules under which the Pentagon’s network of UK outposts operate following claims of British complicity in US drone missions in the Middle East and eavesdropping on European allies.

The Independent revealed last year that RAF Croughton, the US Air Force base and CIA relay station in Northamptonshire, was used to funnel back to Washington data from the network of diplomatic spy posts implicated in the monitoring of the mobile phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The same base has a secure data link to a US counter-terrorism facility in Djibouti used for drone strikes in Yemen while questions remain about the use of other US bases in Britain, in particular the National Security Agency eavesdropping facility at RAF Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire.

MintPress News highlights an issue of excruciatingly critical import:

Rise Of The Police State: “Commando Cops” Proliferating in the US

  • More SWAT teams exist than ever and the line between police officer and soldier is becoming more obscured.

The combination of a post-9/11 America and a government bent on prosecuting a war on drugs has not only expanded law enforcement powers in recent years, it’s created a new breed of police officer — commando-cops.

Now the police officers and sheriff deputies are armed with a grade of equipment previously reserved for the military, such as automatic rifles, grenade launchers, armored personnel carriers and soon — drones, previously used in hardened war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan. And police officers — often only required to have a high school diploma as a prerequisite for consideration into such a career field — feel emboldened as never before, adopting the mindsets of battlefront soldiers.

It is a dangerous precedent, as law enforcers target a civilian populace in a manner usually reserved for harsh environments. The new mindset is creating a new legal battlefront for American liberties that are being tested everyday across the U.S.

Another “security” abuse from ProPublica:

Guards May Be Responsible for Half of Prison Sexual Assaults

A new Justice Department study shows that allegations of sex abuse in the nation’s prisons and jails are increasing — with correctional officers responsible for half of it  — but prosecution is still extremely rare.

The report, released today by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, takes data collected by correctional administrators representing all of the nation’s federal and state prisons as well as many county jails. It shows that administrators logged more than 8,000 reports of abuse to their overseers each year between 2009 and 2011, up 11 percent from the department’s previous report, which covered 2007 and 2008.

It’s not clear whether the increase is the result of better reporting or represents an actual rise in the number of incidents.

On a more upbeat note, a question from the Daily Dot:

Is WikiLeaks turning the tide against the TPP?

A little over a year ago, it was easy, if you were one of the few people following the Trans-Pacific Partnership, to be pessimistic about the thing. A fortress of an international trade agreement, the TPP threatens to stifle freedom of expression online with its harsh copyright policies. It’s stands to be the U.S.’s biggest international financial agreement in two decades, and it’s been under fire since its inception as being too secretive, too big a decision to be made without public involvement.

At the same time, WikiLeaks was still at the peak of its notoriety. As the year started, the controversial whistleblower organization was still releasing emails from Stratfor, a private intelligence firm with military ties. It published millions of private emails from Syrian politicians and leaked U.S. State Department policies on handling detainees.

As 2013 came around, however, a curious thing happened: Both parties started clamming up. WikiLeaks’s blockbuster leaks slowed to a trickle, becoming a mere footnote in founder Julian Assange’s soap opera saga. Meanwhile, the TPP doubled down on its secrecy, banning public advocates and journalists alike from coming anywhere near its negotiators.

Yet the two entities were locked on a collision course, one that revitalized the former and might prove the beginning of the end for the latter.

On to Asia for our first headline from the ongoing zonal and militarization crises concerns an internal crisis. From Global Times:

12 terrorists killed in Xinjiang attack

Police in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region on Friday shot dead six attackers, while another six died in an explosion, local authorities revealed Saturday.

Two explosions took place in a beauty salon and a grocery market in Xinhe county, Aksu prefecture at around 6:40 pm Friday. A group of terrorist suspects threw explosives at police, who were making arrests, and police opened fire and gunned down six, the Xinjiang government announced on its official website

Six other suspects were killed later in an explosion they set off themselves in their vehicle when they were surrounded by police, according to local authorities.

On to our first zonal entry, via the Yomiuri Shimbun:

New land may expand EEZ

  • A new island created by a volcanic eruption in Tokyo’s Ogasawara Islands may expand Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

The Japan Coast Guard has announced Thursday that the new land connected to Nishinoshima island has expanded to more than 300,000 square meters—about 30 times larger from when it was first discovered.

The JCG said that the new land, which grew to be seven times bigger than Tokyo Dome, may expand the nation’s EEZ, which gives countries that have signed a relevant treaty exclusive rights to fish and to develop natural resources within 200 nautical miles (about 370 kilometers) of their coastlines.

South China Morning Post covers the political:

Japan row to loom over Sino-US talks, Beijing advisers say

  • Beijing will seek Washington’s help controlling Abe by making strained tensions with Tokyo top agenda item at upcoming summit, advisers say

Beijing will place its frayed ties with Tokyo front and centre at its next summit with US officials in an attempt to get Washington to rein in Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, leading Chinese policy advisers said.

Chinese strategists hope to exploit the United States’ frustration over Abe’s decision to visit the controversial Yasukuni war shrine last month, a move which drew a rare public rebuke of Tokyo from Washington.

“Japan is becoming a key factor influencing the Sino-US relationship,” said Jin Canrong , an international relations professor at Renmin University, who advises the government. “Even if Japan has stopped taking further actions that are provocative to its neighbours, it can still have an impact on Sino-US relationship because the US may exert pressure on China not to take steps that can raise tensions.”

More politics, this time cartographic, from NewsOnJapan:

U.S. supports using Sea of Japan name

The United States continues to refer the body of water between Japan and South Korea as the Sea of Japan, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Wednesday.

“The U.S. Government uses names decided by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, a well-named board. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names’ standard name for that body of water is the Sea of Japan,” she told a news conference.

South Korea demands that the name be changed to the East Sea.

Kyodo News postures afloat:

Japan, India agree to conduct naval drill with U.S.

Japan and India agreed Saturday to carry out a trilateral naval drill with the United States, a move apparently aimed at curbing China’s growing territorial claims in the South and East China seas with coercive measures.

In a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a total of around 200 billion yen, or $2 billion, in loans to India to help finance a project to expand the subway system in the capital, according to Japanese officials.

More cartography from South China Morning Post:

Beijing to step up aerial surveys of disputed islands

  • Monitoring aims to stamp sovereignty over disputed territory in East and South China Seas

The State Oceanic Administration (SOA) will conduct regular aerial patrols over all islands claimed by China, intensifying air and sea surveillance in the East and South China seas.

The SOA recently issued instructions for patrols that will be supported by high-resolution aerial photography and video, and new aerial remote sensing technology. The most important islands will be surveyed at least twice a year, Xinhua reported.

According to the 11-point set of instructions, aircraft will also photograph uncontested islands, both inhabited and uninhabited, at least once a year. A minimum of three photos must be taken of each island on each trip, it added.

After the jump, historical crises re-energized, Korean “comfort women” antagonisms flare, more boundary issues, a major Japanese move into industrial militarism, hints of domestic peace in the Philippines, corporations hacked [including Microsoft and Coke], plus a curious crime in Sweden, and more. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day I: Spies, lies, laws, & pols

Today’s excursion into the world of the dark arts and saber-rattling begins with a offer he could refuse via The Verge:

US willing to hold talks with Edward Snowden, but only if he pleads guilty first

The US Justice Department says it will hold talks with Edward Snowden’s lawyers, but only under one condition: the NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower must return home and plead guilty to the charges against him.

Snowden is currently living under asylum in Russia to avoid charges of espionage after he famously leaked thousands of documents outlining the alarming surveillance practices of the US government. Some lawmakers and civil liberties groups have called for the Obama administration to grant Snowden clemency for his actions, which put a spotlight on controversial data collection and mass snooping tactics of the NSA.

President Obama himself recently said he doesn’t have a straight yes or no answer as it relates to clemency for Snowden. “This is an active case, where charges have been brought,” he said during a wide-ranging interview with The New Yorker.

Ars Technica has teh stubborns:

White House refuses to accept that NSA phone dragnet is illegal

  1. Attorney General: “15 judges… have said that the program itself is legal.”

In a new interview with MSNBC, Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday that he had not read the new surveillance report from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB)—but nonetheless disagreed with its findings. That report, which was released on Thursday by the Congressionally approved board, argued that the NSA’s telephone metadata program was illegal.

“At least 15 judges on about 35 occasions have said that the program itself is legal,” Holder said. “I think that those other judges, those 15 judges, got it right.”

Holder and the White House have both expressed great skepticism at the PCLOB’s recommendations.

Group fights gov’t claim that “essentially all telephone records are relevant.”
On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters that while the Obama Administration took the PCLOB discussions and recommendations under advisement, it didn’t agree with the report’s conclusions.

The Hill slams from the right:

RNC condemns NSA surveillance

The Republican National Committee has formally renounced the “dragnet” surveillance program at the National Security Agency (NSA).

During its winter meeting in Washington, the committee on Friday overwhelmingly approved a measure calling for lawmakers to end the program and create a special committee to investigate domestic surveillance efforts.

The resolution, which declared that “unwarranted government surveillance is an intrusion on basic human rights,” among other condemnations, passed the committee on a voice vote with near-unanimous support. Only a small minority of the 168 RNC members dissented.

And the Washington Post goes black op:

Covert action in Colombia

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

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

The secret assistance, which also includes substantial eavesdropping help from the National Security Agency, is funded through a multibillion-dollar black budget. It is not a part of the public $9 billion package of mostly U.S. military aid called Plan Colombia, which began in 2000.

The previously undisclosed CIA program was authorized by President George W. Bush in the early 2000s and has continued under President Obama, according to U.S. military, intelligence and diplomatic officials. Most of those interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity because the program is classified and ongoing.

Trans-Atlantic blowback from Deutsche Welle:

EU justice ministers seek data security reform

The EU wants to improve its dated data protection policy. But in two years of debate, there’s been little progress and lots of blame. Proponents say EU citizens deserve the same privacy rights as Americans.

In the age of the Internet, 20 years is an eternity. But the existing EU Data Protection Directive, from 1995, is nearly that old. With the rise of online trading, Facebook and Google, the directive urgently needs an update – it is clear to the European Union that something needs to change. And the recent spying revelations of the US National Security Agency have underscored the urgency.

Nevertheless, EU member states and the European Parliament have been debating the finer points of reforming the outdated directive for two years now – without result. But at the recent informal meeting of EU justice ministers in Athens, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, representatives of the European Parliament, the current Greek and the upcoming Italian European presidencies have finally been able to make some headway. The new directive is expected to be unveiled by the end of the year.

Or maybe not, via EUobserver:

EU data bill delayed until after May elections

The EU’s revamped data protection law will not be adopted before the European Parliament elections with several member states seeking to weaken it.

The delays are caused, in part, by a handful of member states that want to weaken the regulation, which aims at harmonising data protection rules across the bloc.

Among the core group is the UK, along with Denmark, Hungary, and Slovenia. All four are pushing to turn the regulation into a directive. Unlike a regulation, a directive gives member states room to manoeuvre and interpret the EU law to their advantage.

Germany is also among the delaying camp of member states but for different reasons. The Germans support the regulation but do not want it applied to the public sector.

Worth a try, via MintPress News:

Civil Rights Groups Turn To Unorthodox Attempts To Stop The NSA At It’s Headquarters

The “anti-commandeering doctrine,” a 170-year-old legal principle, says the federal government cannot commandeer state agencies or resources to “administer or enforce a federal regulatory program.”

Legislation that has recently been introduced in California, Washington, Indiana, Oklahoma and Tennessee would, among other things, prohibit the states from “materially supporting” a federal agency “in collecting electronic data or metadata” of any person without a warrant. That material support includes providing water or power.

“We’re telling local officials not to cooperate with federal agencies who are searching and seizing electronic and other metadata without a warrant,” said Democratic state Sen. Ted Lieu, who co-authored California’s Fourth Amendment Protection Act.

The Tenth Amendment Center joined other civil rights organizations in November to launch a campaign for state action. Communications director Michael Maharrey expects a bill will be introduced in Utah in the “next several weeks.”

The Washington Post hovers overhead:

Blimplike surveillance craft set to deploy over Maryland heighten privacy concerns

They will look like two giant white blimps floating high above I-95 in Maryland, perhaps en route to a football game somewhere along the bustling Eastern Seaboard. But their mission will have nothing to do with sports and everything to do with war.

The aerostats — that is the term for lighter-than-air craft that are tethered to the ground — are to be set aloft on Army-owned land about 45 miles northeast of Washington, near Aberdeen Proving Ground, for a three-year test slated to start in October. From a vantage of 10,000 feet, they will cast a vast radar net from Raleigh, N.C., to Boston and out to Lake Erie, with the goal of detecting cruise missiles or enemy aircraft so they could be intercepted before reaching the capital.

The third degree [or less] from

Tromsø mayor grilled by spy agency on China link

The mayor of Norwegian town Tromsø, in the strategic Arctic region, said on Friday he had been “invited” to meet Norway’s secret services following repeated encounters with the Chinese ambassador.

“The reason (for the meeting) may have been that they knew that I had close relations with the embassy of China,” mayor Jens Johan Hjort told AFP.

The mayor said he met the Norwegian Police Security Service (PST) a day after being invited to a dinner and karaoke at the official residence in Oslo of Chinese ambassador Zhao Jun last December.

Hjort explained that he has received more than 80 ambassadors in Tromsø over the last two years, but that Zhao has been there more times than any other.

And that gives us the perfect bridge to the latest on the Asian zone and saber-rattling crises, plus blasts from the black ops past, executive action, corporate hacks, political ploys, and much more, , ,all after the jump: Continue reading

Headlines of the day I: Spies, Lies, Pols, Threats

Huge collection today, with lots of major developments. [We’ve been slow in posting because we’re a bit under the weather.]

From BBC News:

US privacy watchdog advises NSA spying is illegal

The bulk collection of phone call data by US intelligence agencies is illegal and has had only “minimal” benefits in preventing terrorism, an independent US privacy watchdog has ruled.

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board advised by a 3-2 majority that the programme should end.

In a major speech last week, President Barack Obama said he was ordering curbs on the use of such mass data. But he said the US must continue collecting data to prevent attacks.

The report from the PCLOB is the latest of several reviews of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) mass surveillance programme, the details of which caused widespread anger after they were leaked by Edward Snowden.

From the Los Angeles Times, the status quo:

NSA data gathering appears likely to continue for time being

But critics get a boost when a federal watchdog panel pronounces the National Security Agency’s practice an invasion of privacy that is of limited value.

The daily transfer of Americans’ telephone toll records to a government database is likely to continue at least for the next 18 months despite the president’s speech last Friday and a growing debate over the legality and effectiveness of the once-secret operation.

Critics got a boost Thursday when a federal privacy watchdog panel pronounced the NSA archiving of telephone metadata — numbers, times and lengths of calls, but not their content — an invasion of privacy that’s of “limited value” in counter-terrorism cases.

But the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board split, 3 to 2, on whether the program is illegal and should be shut down, a divide that reflects larger disagreements in Congress and the public. It helps explain why Obama gave mixed messages about what he called “the program that has generated the most controversy these past few months.”

An example from Wired:

Judge Enforces Spy Orders Despite Ruling Them Unconstitutional

A federal judge in California who ruled last year that the government’s use of ultra-secret National Security Letters is unconstitutional has defied her own ruling by enforcing other NSLs in the wake of that judgment, according to newly unsealed documents.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston ruled last March that the letters — a kind of self-issued FBI subpoena that comes with a gag order on the recipient — are an unconstitutional impingement of free speech, and ordered the government to stop using them.

She also ordered the government to cease enforcing the gag provision in other cases in which an NSL had already been issued. She stayed her order, however, for 90 days to give the government a chance to appeal to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which it did.

From The Hill, nostalgia:

Snowden expresses desire to ‘come home’ as US hints at talks

National Security Agency (NSA) leaker Edward Snowden on Thursday said he would be willing to return to the United States if he were able to mount a legal defense as a whistleblower.

“Returning to the US, I think, is the best resolution for the government, the public, and myself, but it’s unfortunately not possible in the face of current whistleblower protection laws, which through a failure in law did not cover national security contractors like myself,” Snowden wrote during an online chat.

The remark came the same day that Attorney General Eric Holder said the administration would be willing to “engage in conversations” with Snowden if he accepted responsibility for his actions.

More from The Guardian:

US hints at Edward Snowden plea bargain to allow return from Russia

  • Attorney general prepared to ‘engage in conversation’ with NSA whistleblower but says full clemency is ‘going too far’

The attorney general, Eric Holder, has indicated that the US could allow the national security whistleblower Edward Snowden to return from Russia under negotiated terms, saying he was prepared to “engage in conversation” with him.

Holder said in an MSNBC interview that full clemency would be “going too far”, but his comments suggest that US authorities are prepared to discuss a possible plea bargain with Snowden, who is living in exile in Russia.

Xinhua qualifies:

Snowden sees “no chance” to get fair trial in U.S.

Edward Snowden, a former U.S. defense contractor who revealed the U.S. secret surveillance programs, wrote on Thursday in an online chat that it is “not possible” for him to return to the United States under current whistleblower protection laws and he sees “no chance” to have a fair trial in his home country.

“Returning to the US, I think, is the best resolution for the government, the public, and myself, but it’s unfortunately not possible in the face of current whistleblower protection laws, which, through a failure in law, did not cover national security contractors like myself,” Snowden said, according to answers posted on the website of advocacy group “Free Snowden”.

“This is especially frustrating, because it means there’s no chance to have a fair trial, and no way I can come home and make my case to a jury,” Snowden answered.

Perspective from the Register:

Snowden speaks: NSA spies create ‘databases of ruin’ on innocent folks

  • ‘Not all spying is bad’ but bulk collection has to go, says whistleblower in web chat

Ex-NSA contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden used his first public Q&A to call for the US to lead a global initiative to ban mass surveillance of populations. He also wants governments to ensure that intelligence agencies can protect national security while not invading everyday privacy.

“Not all spying is bad. The biggest problem we face right now is the new technique of indiscriminate mass surveillance, where governments are seizing billions and billions and billions of innocents’ communication every single day,” he said.

“This is done not because it’s necessary – after all, these programs are unprecedented in US history, and were begun in response to a threat that kills fewer Americans every year than bathtub falls and police officers – but because new technologies make it easy and cheap.”

More from USA TODAY:

Snowden calls for global limits on spying

  • Ex-NSA contractor in Russia holds his first online chat since the surveillance story broke in June.

Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, entertaining questions in an online chat Thursday from Moscow, called for global limits on surveillance but said, “Not all spying is bad.”

He also said he never stole colleagues’ logons or duped them to gain access to secret files detailing mass-surveillance programs.

“I never stole any passwords, nor did I trick an army of co-workers,” he wrote during the live chat at the Free Snowden website, disputing a Reuters report in November as “simply wrong.”

Musings from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Days later, Obama’s spy speech has people scratching their heads

President Barack Obama’s response to the international uproar over the nation’s surveillance programs is leaving Americans with more questions than answers.

Where will millions of phone records be stored? What protections will foreigners have? Which secret documents will be declassified?

In what was designed to be his defining speech on the issue last Friday, Obama announced few specifics.

“For every answer he gave, there are several new questions about how he plans to implement these changes,” said Elizabeth Goitein, a co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program. “Ultimately, the full effect of these reforms remains to be seen.”

A corporate plea from CNNMoney:

Marissa Mayer calls for more NSA transparency

Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer is calling on the United States to be more transparent about its data collection practices, as other top tech CEOs urge the international community to establish privacy guidelines.

Mayer said that revelations about government snooping have hurt her company, and that Yahoo now wants “to be able to rebuild trust with our users.”

The Yahoo CEO was speaking as part of a technology panel with other tech executives at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

NSA fan support from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Australian FM lashes Snowden ‘treachery’ on US visit

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop lashed out on Wednesday at Edward Snowden, accusing the US intelligence leaker of “unprecedented treachery” after he unveiled Canberra’s efforts to spy on Indonesia.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop lashed out on Wednesday at Edward Snowden, accusing the US intelligence leaker of “unprecedented treachery” after he unveiled Canberra’s efforts to spy on Indonesia.

Bishop praised cooperation with Washington and reserved harsh words for Snowden, whose revelations led Indonesia to halt work with Australia to stem people smuggling, a key priority for new conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Shortly before a meeting with US Vice President Joe Biden in Washington, Bishop said Snowden “continues to shamefully betray his nation while skulking in Russia. “This represents unprecedented treachery; he is no hero,” she added, in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Delivery fail from the Daily Dot:

Washington state considers bill to cut off its NSA facility

In what would likely be the boldest step a state has yet taken against the National Security Agency for its recently-revealed spying, the state of Washington is considering cutting off supplies.

That means no water and no electricity to any NSA facility in the state that tracks Americans’ phone records, in bulk, without a warrant.

Several other states, including California, Indiana, and Oklahoma, have proposed similar legislation. But Washington’s unique among them in that it actually contains an NSA facility to ban: the Yakima Training Center, an Army training facility known to house NSA operations. The NSA declined to comment on current operations in Yakima, though it did announce in 2013 that it would be closing its facility there at an unspecified date.

The Verge offshores:

Microsoft offers overseas data storage in response to NSA concerns

Today, Microsoft announced an unpredecented response to concerns of NSA data access, offering customers in foreign countries the option of having their data stored outside US borders. According to a Financial Times report, the company decided to launch the program after discovering the NSA was using their networks to surveil citizens of Brazil and the European Union. So far, Microsoft is the only major company offering explicitly non-US data storage, despite evidence that the agency has broken into the private networks of both Google and Yahoo.

While there’s no guarantee the NSA won’t be able to reach servers outside US borders, the move would offer an additional layer of protection, as local law enforcement is likely to respond more aggressively to agents of a foreign country. It also continues recent moves to shift web traffic away from the US in response to the NSA scandal, in Brazil and elsewhere. If privacy-conscious users want to shift away from the American parts of web, this latest offer ensures they’ll be able to do so without shifting away from American companies like Microsoft.

The Guardian probes:

Independent commission to investigate future of internet after NSA revelations

  • Two-year inquiry headed by Swedish foreign minister, set up by Chatham House and CIGI thinktanks, is announced at Davos

A major independent commission headed by the Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt, was launched on Wednesday to investigate the future of the internet in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations.

The two-year inquiry, announced at the World Economic Forum at Davos, will be wide-ranging but focus primarily on state censorship of the internet as well as the issues of privacy and surveillance raised by the Snowden leaks about America’s NSA and Britain’s GCHQ spy agencies.

The investigation, which will be conducted by a 25-member panel of politicians, academics, former intelligence officials and others from around the world, is an acknowledgement of the concerns about freedom raised by the debate.

North of the border snoopery from the Globe and Mail:

Telecom firms being asked what data they are giving to police, intelligence agencies

Prominent privacy and digital-security researchers are mounting a campaign to learn more about the customer information that Canadian telecommunications companies are handing over to police and intelligence agencies.

The researchers – led by Chris Parsons, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab – have written an open letter to Bell, Rogers, Telus, Shaw and a dozen other companies, pushing for details about the kinds of requests that government officials are making – and how much the telcos are obliging them.

“Canadians have had only vague understandings of how, why, and how often Canadian telecommunications providers have disclosed information to government agencies,” Mr. Parsons wrote in an explanatory article on the Citizen Lab website.

“Given the importance of such systems to Canadians’ lives, and the government’s repeated allegations that more access is needed to ensure the safety of Canadians, more data is needed for scholars, civil rights organizations, and the public.”

And more blowback across the pond, from The Guardian:

Justify GCHQ mass surveillance, European court tells ministers

  • Judges order government to provide submission about whether spying activities violated European convention on human rights

The case was brought in the wake of the Guardian’s revelations about the data-trawling techniques at GCHQ. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Ministers have been ordered to justify GCHQ’s mass surveillance programmes by judges at the European court of human rights who have fast-tracked a case brought by privacy and human rights campaigners.

The court in Strasbourg has told the government to provide submissions by the beginning of May about whether GCHQ’s spying activities could be a violation of the right to privacy under article 8 of the European convention. Marking the case a priority, campaigners are hopeful the court will bring a ruling before the end of the year.

An incomplete from the Washington Post:

Justice Department says USIS submitted 665,000 incomplete background checks

Lawmakers said Thursday that new details emerging from the Justice Department’s civil case against a leading company that conducts security background checks for the federal government may speed legislation designed to clean up the once-burgeoning contracting business.

This week, the Justice Department filed a new complaint in a whistleblowers’ lawsuit it joined in October against USIS, a company that conducts background checks for nearly half of potential U.S. government hires.

The filing accuses the Falls Church, Va., firm of taking shortcuts in about 40 percent of the cases it handled — at least 665,000 in total — and, in the process, qualifying for nearly $12 million in performance bonuses from the federal government. Yet USIS officials told the government that all the necessary reviews had been done.

Consequences from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Feds seeks billions from Snowden security background check firm

The federal government is seeking billions of dollars in penalties and damages from the company that did the background security check on NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

The Justice Department says in a new court filing that U.S. Investigations Services Inc., the largest of the several firms that the government contracts with to investigate current and prospective federal employees, lied about 665,000 checks it conducted between 2008 and 2012.

USIS devised an elaborate scheme in which it told the government it had completed probes of people whose backgrounds it had not, in fact, thoroughly vetted, according to a 25-page document filed Wednesday in an Alabama court as part of an ongoing civil lawsuit against the Falls Church, Va.-based firm.

And the business beat goes on, via the Christian Science Monitor:

Booz Allen, Snowden’s old firm, looking to help US government with ‘insider threats’

  • Are defense and intelligence contractors the best choice to manage a threat they’ve contributed to?

More corporate blowback from The Guardian:

Mobile phone networks challenge government over text message trawling

  • EE, O2, Vodafone and Three demand answers on how spies can allegedly get around UK laws using NSA’s Dishfire program

All four British mobile phone networks are to ask the government to explain how spy agencies have been able to tap into a secret US database to trawl through the text messages of UK citizens without their knowledge.

In the first sign of a push back by the British telecoms industry against the mass surveillance of their customers, as exposed by the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, BT’s chief executive also waded into the debate, describing the laws on data collection as not fit for purpose.

Three, which has nearly 8 million customers, on Wednesday joined Vodafone, O2 and EE in demanding answers from the government on how spies are apparently able to get around UK laws by using the Dishfire database operated by the NSA, which has collected almost 200m text messages a day from across the globe.

From Britain’s Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills via the London Telegraph, the ominous nanny state:

Army of door-knocking neighbours should be paid to keep ‘bad parents’ in line, says Ofsted chief

  • ‘Good citizens’ should be given financial incentives to knock on their neighbours’ doors in the morning to make sure they are getting their children to school, says Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw

Teachers and social workers have a responsibility to tell some people they are “bad parents”, the chief inspector of schools and social care has insisted.

Sir Michael Wilshaw called for an army of “good citizens” to be given financial incentives to wake problem families up in the morning and make sure the children are fed and sent to school.

RT clears the streets:

UK police apply pressure on government for water cannons

Police chief constables in the UK are pressing the home secretary, Theresa May, to sanction the controversial deployment of water cannons across England and Wales in anticipation of ongoing protests against austerity in the country.

The Association of Chief Police Officers has stated that it will be necessary to use the harsh measures in order to control demonstrations which could be sparked by “ongoing and potential future austerity measures.”

In a document prepared on January 8 and newly released, when the plans first came to light, the ACPO recognized that “high-profile public disorder in recent years has led to a revision of the national public order framework.”

They added that “as part of this review, the need for water cannon to be available to support public order and public safety operations in England and Wales has been revisited.”

Francocybernoia from

France to shell out €1.5b on cyber defences

France is to take action after being targeted by hundreds of cyber attacks against its Defense Ministry last year. This week a government minister revealed Paris will soon launch a €1.5 billion project to bolster its defences against a “cyber war”.

France will soon launch a €1.5-billion ($2 billion) plan to defend itself against “cyber war” as a strategic priority, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Tuesday.

The project, to be launched “in a few weeks”, will be written into the French military budget over the next five years, Le Drian told a cyber-security forum in the northern city of Lille.

That old-fashioned espionage from BBC News:

Iran-American Mozaffar Khazaee indicted for F-35 document theft

An Iranian-American engineer accused of attempting to ship stolen documentation on a high-tech military plane to Iran has been indicted, US authorities say.

A grand jury in the US state of Connecticut charged Mozaffar Khazaee, 59, with two counts of transporting stolen goods. He was arrested on 9 January for trying to smuggle thousands of pages of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter documents.

If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

After the jump, the lastest Asian crises, zonal and military, plus escalating corporate hacks, eavesdropping browsers, money launderers, and singular failures. . . Continue reading

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

We begin today’s tales of [in]security with a particularly ominous headline from io9:

So now Homeland Security can detain suspected movie pirates?

This story is all kinds of weird. A guy wearing Google Glass in an Ohio movie theater was detained for hours by agents from . . . the Department of Homeland Security. What? Was this guy a terrorist with awful taste in consumer electronics? Nope. He was suspected of piracy.

OK, OK I get that wearing Google Glass is horribly obnoxious and probably not a good idea in a movie theater, where patrons are often told to put away their smart phones. But seriously? Unleashing DHS on somebody who wore Glass to a Jack Ryan movie? This is like some kind of parody of the surveillance state, where the government is the pawn of Hollywood, and citizens who post spoilers online are put on watch lists.

The Guardian keeps the lid on:

US withholding Fisa court orders on NSA bulk collection of Americans’ data

  • Justice Department refuses to turn over ‘certain other’ documents in ACLU lawsuit meant to shed light on surveillance practices

The Justice Department is withholding documents related to the bulk collection of Americans’ data from a transparency lawsuit launched by the American Civil Liberties Union.

US attorney Preet Bharara of the southern district of New York informed the ACLU in a Friday letter that the government would not turn over “certain other” records from a secret surveillance court, which are being “withheld in full” from a Freedom of Information Act suit the civil liberties group filed to shed light on bulk surveillance activities performed under the Patriot Act.

New Europe covers continental anxiety:

Parliament’s NSA scandal rapporteur says more effort needed to restore

MEPs called on US authorities to put an end to current discrimination whereby European citizens have lower levels of privacy rights than US citizens, including less privacy protection in US courts, and urged for the disclosure of more information on the proposed changes to the National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance practices.

US President Barack Obama has announced potential reforms to the US legal framework, following the continuing disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. In particular, the reforms foresee limiting the NSA programme that collects domestic phone records and halting eavesdropping on foreign leaders and governments that are friends or allies of the US. However, the European Parliament said more concrete actions are needed in order to restore the confidence of EU citizens.

Claude Moraes (S&D, UK), rapporteur for the European Parliament inquiry into the mass surveillance of EU citizens, said that Obama’s speech was ‘a substantial step forward in addressing the serious concerns from EU Member States in relation to NSA activities on mass surveillance and spying.’ However, he pointed out that there is a need for additional privacy protection and the US needs more effort to restore confidence.

Spiegel goes all law and order:

Probing America: Top German Prosecutor Considers NSA Investigation

The official line at the Public Prosecutor’s Office is that it remains unclear what will become of the allegations against the NSA. The office is treating the surveillance as two separate instances. One is the allegation that the NSA spied on the data of Germans millions of times. The other is the allegation that it eavesdropped on the chancellor’s mobile phone. Thus far, the Prosecutor’s Office has told parliament that there isn’t yet enough evidence to pursue a formal investigation.

It’s a position that Hans-Christian Ströbele, a member of parliament with the Green Party who gained global headlines by visiting Edward Snowden in Moscow in late 2012, considers absurd. “They’re just looking for reasons to shirk responsibility because the issue is too controversial for them,” he says. Gregor Gysi, the head of the parliamentary group of the far-left Left Party, rails against what he describes as government “yes-men” when it comes to America. “The fact that the German government and the Federal Prosecutor isn’t acting shows that their fear of the US government is greater than their respect for our legal system.”

Techdirt goes ironic:

Dianne Feinstein: NSA Would Never Abuse Its Powers Because It’s ‘Professional’

  • from the your-logical-fallacy-is…66t4r dept

Senator Dianne Feinstein, as we’ve noted, seems to have this weird blindness to even the very idea that the NSA might abuse its powers, despite a long history of it doing exactly that. The history of the US intelligence community is littered like a junk yard with examples of massive abuses of power by intelligence folks. And yet, Feinstein seems shocked at the idea that anyone questions the NSA’s ability to abuse the system. Why? Because the NSA is “professional.” Appearing on Meet the Press this weekend, Feinstein just kept repeating how “professional” the NSA is as if that was some sort of talisman that wards off any potential of abuse.

And the McClatchy Washington Bureau divides:

Lawmakers divided over what Obama’s NSA speech means for agency

Lawmakers on Sunday’s political talk shows continued to be divided over President Barack Obama’s proposed changes to the National Security Agency’s massive data dragnets, suggesting the debate over the programs is far from over.

Heavy-hitters from both political parties and both sides of the debate clashed over what the proposed changes could mean for the nation’s intelligence gathering, and discordant statements showed that even the agency’s chief congressional overseers don’t agree on what Friday’s speech actually meant.

Despite hope from NSA defenders that the President’s address would head off some of the more stringent legislative proposals on the Hill, lawmakers were clear that the speech didn’t placate congressional critics.

From Homeland Security News Wire, Orwellian as well:

Judge denies defense request to see whether NSA surveillance led to terrorism charges

U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman on Friday ruled that lawyers for Adel Daoud, a 20-year old resident of Hillside, a suburb west of Chicago, who was charged with plotting to set off a powerful bomb outside a crowded Chicago bar, will not be allowed to examine whether the investigators who initiated the sting operation which led to Doud’s arrest relied on information gleaned from NSA surveillance programs.

Attorneys for Daoud had asked Judge Coleman to instruct prosecutors to disclose “any and all” surveillance information used in Daoud’s case, including information disclosed to a U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence.

In a brief ruling posted late Friday, Coleman denied the motion, writing that the defense had “failed to provide any basis for issuing such an order.” Prosecutors would not confirm whether the FBI had initiated its operation against Doud as a result of a tip from the NSA, but they did say that even if such surveillance did exist, they have no plans of using it at trial and the defense was not entitled to it.

EUobserver measures red ink:

Snowden scandal to cost US cloud companies billions

The US cloud industry faces up to €25.8 billion in lost revenues following revelations about US-led snooping on EU citizens.

“The surveillance revelations will cost the US cloud computing industry USD 22 to 35 billion in lost revenues over the next three year,” said EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding on Sunday (19 January) at the Digital Life Design Conference in Munich.

Reding drew her estimates from a report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a think tank based in Washington.

The Guardian pleads ignorance:

Google’s Eric Schmidt denies knowledge of NSA data tapping of firm

  • Executive chairman says search company has ‘complained at great length’ to the US government over intrusion

Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, has insisted he had no knowledge of the US National Security Agency’s tapping of the company’s data, despite having a sufficiently high security clearance to have been told.

He said that he and other members of the search company were outraged by the tapping carried out by the NSA and the UK’s GCHQ – first revealed in the Guardian in June – and that they had “complained at great length” to the US government over the intrusion. Google had since begun encrypting internal traffic to prevent further spying, he said.

Speaking in a private session at the Guardian, Schmidt, 58, said: “I have the necessary clearances to have been told, as do other executives in the company, but none of us were briefed.

Setting the pace with RT:

NSA sets global trend for invasive state snooping – HRW

The United States’ dragnet surveillance programs have set a dangerous precedent, encouraging other states to bolster their own snooping capabilities and engage in censorship under the guise of security, Human Rights Watch warned in its annual report.

“The importance of privacy, a right we often take for granted, was thrown into sharp relief in 2013 by the steady stream of revelations from United States government files released by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden,” the New York-based group wrote in its 24th annual review of human rights practices around the globe.

“These revelations, supported by highly classified documents, showed the US, the UK, and other governments engaged in global indiscriminate data interception, largely unchecked by any meaningful legal constraint or oversight, without regard for the rights of millions of people who were not suspected of wrongdoing,” the report said.

Out for blood, via Techdirt:

Rep. Mike Rogers Keeps Insisting Snowden Is A Russian Spy, Even As NSA/FBI Officials Say No Such Evidence

  • from the do-you-trust-mike-rogers? dept

Rep. Mike Rogers sure loves the NSA and really, really hates Ed Snowden. It’s at the point where Rogers appears to not care at all about the truth, repeating multiple blatant falsehoods in TV interviews when it comes to Snowden. This past weekend, he went on TV to repeat an old favorite, claiming (without any proof, but just blind speculation) that he thinks that Snowden was a Russian spy all along. On Meet the Press, David Gregory asked Rogers about Snowden’s comments in his interview with Bart Gellman, in which Snowden pointed to Rogers’ (and Senator Dianne Feinstein’s) failure to uphold their role as overseers of the NSA as for why he had to leak the documents he gave to reporters. Rogers disagrees and hints that Snowden “had some help.”

The New Yorker rebuts:

Snowden Calls Russian-Spy Story “Absurd”

Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor turned whistleblower, strongly denies allegations made by members of Congress that he was acting as a spy, perhaps for a foreign power, when he took hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. government documents. Speaking from Moscow, where he is a fugitive from American justice, Snowden told The New Yorker, “This ‘Russian spy’ push is absurd.”

On NBC’s “Meet The Press,” Mike Rogers, a Republican congressman from Michigan who is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, described Snowden as a “thief, who we believe had some help.” The show’s host, David Gregory, interjected, “You think the Russians helped Ed Snowden?” Rogers replied that he believed it was neither “coincidence” nor “a gee-whiz luck event that he ended up in Moscow under the handling of the F.S.B.”

Snowden, in a rare interview that he conducted by encrypted means from Moscow, denied the allegations outright, stressing that he “clearly and unambiguously acted alone, with no assistance from anyone, much less a government.” He added, “It won’t stick…. Because it’s clearly false, and the American people are smarter than politicians think they are.”

RT seeks protection:

Snowden to ask Russian police for protection after US threats – lawyer

NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, will ask Russian law enforcers to protect him, his lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, has said. The former NSA contractor is concerned about his safety after seeing death threats coming from the US.

Snowden, who is currently living in Moscow under Russia’s temporary asylum, has been following the threats against him in various American media.

“We are concerned with the situation around Edward. We see the statements made by some US officials containing potential and implicit threats and openly calling for causing him bodily harm,” Kucherena said.

From the Associated Press, another reason why Snowden has grounds for his fears:

Snowden trial could be awkward for US

Putting former NSA contractor Edward Snowden on trial for leaking U.S. surveillance information could be an awkward public spectacle for the Obama administration.

More classified material could be at risk and jurors might see him as a whistle-blower exposing government overreach.

Snowden surely would try to turn the tables on the government, arguing that its right to keep information secret does not outweigh his constitutional right to speak out.

“He would no doubt bring First Amendment defenses to what he did, emphasizing the public interest in his disclosures and the democratic values that he served,” said David Pozen, a Columbia Law School professor and a former legal adviser at the State Department. “There’s been no case quite like it.”

The Associated Press cocks a snook:

NSA leaker Snowden nominated for university post

The University of Glasgow says Edward Snowden is among those running for the position of rector, the students’ representative to university management.

The former National Security Agency contractor leaked documents disclosing details of U.S. spies’ surveillance of the Internet and telephone communications. Variously hailed as a hero and condemned as a traitor, he has been granted asylum in Russia.

Glasgow students say they contacted Snowden through his lawyers and he agreed to run. Ph.D. student Chris Cassells said they wanted to support Snowden and send a message opposing “the intrusive practices of state security.”

Orwellian texting from GlobalPost:

Big Brother strikes again: Ukraine protesters get creepy text message

  • In another sign that the machines are taking over, Ukrainians near the site of protester clashes with police received a creepy text message from the government.

Paging George Orwell.

In a scene reminiscent of the dystopian novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” Ukrainians standing near the site of protester clashes with police in Kyiv received a creepy text message from the government early Tuesday.

“Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance,” it read.

The Guardian redefines:

Are you opposed to fracking? Then you might just be a terrorist

  • From North America to Europe, the ‘national security’ apparatus is being bought off by Big Oil to rout peaceful activism

Over the last year, a mass of shocking evidence has emerged on the close ties between Western government spy agencies and giant energy companies, and their mutual interests in criminalising anti-fracking activists.
Activists tarred with the same brush

In late 2013, official documents obtained under freedom of information showed that Canada’s domestic spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), had ramped up its surveillance of activists opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline project on ‘national security’ grounds. The CSIS also routinely passed information about such groups to the project’s corporate architect, Calgary-based energy company, Enbridge.

And a companion headline from The Guardian:

Police accused of brutality as fracking protester is left ‘battered and bruised’

  • Sean O’Donnell claims he sustained multiple injuries after being shoved to the ground by police at Barton Moss protest camp

A protester at an anti-fracking demonstration in Greater Manchester claims he was left “battered and bruised” after being assaulted by police officers.

Sean O’Donnell, who is known as Kris, shot a video of himself being apparently shoved to the ground by police at the Barton Moss protest camp in Irlam, Salford.

Moscow anxieties from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Security experts: Olympics-related terrorist threat ‘is very real’

Analysts who are following security relations with Russia ahead of next month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi said Tuesday that terrorism has potential to interrupt the games, even if an attack never happens at the games themselves.

“The terrorist threat is very real,” said Andrew C. Kuchins, director and senior fellow for the Russia and Eurasia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “Sochi is the holy grail, I would think, for terrorists.”

The Guardian takes precautions:

Privacy tools used by 28% of the online world, research finds

  • Concern about privacy, and frustration over censorship and content blocking is driving millions to use anonymity tools

The gathering crisis of trust around consumer web services and the fallout from Edward Snowden’s revelations is fuelling a significant uptake in anonymity tools, new research shows, as internet users battle censorship and assert their right to privacy online.

Globally, 56% of those surveyed by GlobalWebIndex reported that they felt the internet is eroding their personal privacy, with an estimated 415 million people or 28% of the online population using tools to disguise their identity or location.

After the jump, the latest in Asian zonal crises, militarization, and political bluster, plus black ops, massive hacks, black op blowback, NATO boondoglery, and censorship. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day I: Big Brother, zone zealots

Today’s walk on the dark side begins with the latest in provoked [by Edward Snowden] political posturing from the New York Times:

Obama Calls for Overhaul of N.S.A.’s Phone Data Collection Program

President Obama, declaring that advances in technology had made it harder “to both defend our nation and uphold our civil liberties,” announced carefully calculated changes to surveillance policies on Friday, saying he would restrict the ability of intelligence agencies to gain access to telephone data, and would ultimately move that data out of the hands of the government.

But Mr. Obama left in place significant elements of the broad surveillance net assembled by the National Security Agency, and left the implementation of many of his changes up to Congress and the intelligence agencies themselves.

Another take, from The Guardian:

Obama presents NSA reforms with plan to end government storage of call data

  • President stops short of ending controversial bulk collection
  • Obama assures allied foreign leaders on NSA surveillance
  • Reforms also include added Fisa court safeguards

US president Barack Obama forcefully defended the embattled National Security Agency on Friday in a speech that outlined a series of surveillance reforms but stopped well short of demanding an end to the bulk collection of American phone data.

In his widely anticipated address at the Justice Department on the future course of US surveillance policy, Obama said the government should no longer hold databases of every call record made in the United States, citing the “potential for abuse”.

But Obama did not say what should replace the databases and made it clear the intelligence agencies should still be able to access call records information in some unspecified way, signalling a new round in the battle between privacy advocates and the NSA’s allies.

Still another take, also from The Guardian:

Obama’s NSA ‘reforms’ are little more than a PR attempt to mollify the public

  • Obama is draping the banner of change over the NSA status quo. Bulk surveillance that caused such outrage will remain in place

In response to political scandal and public outrage, official Washington repeatedly uses the same well-worn tactic. It is the one that has been hauled out over decades in response to many of America’s most significant political scandals. Predictably, it is the same one that shaped President Obama’s much-heralded Friday speech to announce his proposals for “reforming” the National Security Agency in the wake of seven months of intense worldwide controversy.

The crux of this tactic is that US political leaders pretend to validate and even channel public anger by acknowledging that there are “serious questions that have been raised”. They vow changes to fix the system and ensure these problems never happen again. And they then set out, with their actions, to do exactly the opposite: to make the system prettier and more politically palatable with empty, cosmetic “reforms” so as to placate public anger while leaving the system fundamentally unchanged, even more immune than before to serious challenge.

And seen from Germany by

Obama: We won’t tap allies’ phones

US president Barack Obama announced on Friday in a speech that he would restrict the NSA’s powers. It will no longer be allowed to monitor phones of allied country leaders, including Germany.

The National Security Agency (NSA) will have to get the permission of a special court to view mass telephone data, Obama said from Washington, in a hotly anticipated speech following Edward Snowden’s revealing of the country’s mass spying programmes.

Mass data will also no longer be stored by the NSA, making it harder to access, he said. This curbing should “protect the privacy and civil liberties, no matter their nationality or where they are.”

A laconic techie take from The Register:

Obama reveals tiny NSA reforms … aka reforming your view of the NSA

  • Prez announces tweaks here and there for ordinary American citizens

From TheHill, a critical take:

Critics: Obama spy plan keeps status quo for NSA

Privacy rights advocates and tech companies on Friday dismissed President Obama’s proposed overhaul of government surveillance as preserving the status quo.

CNN parses semantics:

Despite Obama’s NSA changes, phone records still collected

After the firestorm over Edward Snowden’s disclosure of U.S. surveillance programs, the most contentious aspect revealed by last year’s classified leaks will continue under reforms announced Friday by President Barack Obama.

Someone will still collect records of the numbers and times of phone calls by every American.

While access to the those records will be tightened and they may be shifted from the National Security Agency to elsewhere, the storage of the phone metadata goes on.

The Guardian gets itchy:

US telecoms giants express unease about proposed NSA metadata reforms

  • AT&T concerned US may force company to retain data
  • Tech firms hail ‘positive progress’ on privacy protections

Privately, telecoms executives have expressed concern that they will be forced to retain customers’ metadata – information about call duration, recipients and location. Speaking anonymously, one executive said the firms were concerned about how long they would have to keep data, which government agencies would have access to it and what protections they would have should there be legal challenges to their retention or distribution of the information.

The Verge has the predictable praise:

Intelligence and defense leaders offer support for Obama’s NSA reforms

President Obama today announced his approach to reforming some government surveillance practices, and at least for right now, the US intelligence and defense communities are supportive of those ideas. Both Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper have issued statements vouching for the changes outlined in Obama’s speech. “These programs must always balance the need to defend our national security with the responsibility to preserve America’s individual liberties, and the President’s decisions and recommendations will do that,” said Hagel in a statement.

Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Mike Rogers, who lead the Senate Intelligence Committee and House Intelligence Committee respectively, also seemed happy with Obama’s speech. According to a joint statement, they “look forward to working with the president to increase confidence in these programs.” Not everyone was impressed with Obama’s remarks. Senator Rand Paul said the new strategy basically amounts to “the same unconstitutional program with a new configuration.”

Roseate musing from The Guardian:

NSA critics in Congress sense reform momentum after Obama speech

  • Three new co-sponsors for USA Freedom Act
  • Sensenbrenner: ‘Reform cannot be done by presidential fiat’

Critics of National Security Agency surveillance are hoping President Barack Obama’s call to stop government collection of telephone data will give fresh momentum to legislation aimed at banning the practice entirely.

On Friday, three new co-sponsors joined the 120 congressmen who have already backed the so-called USA Freedom Act, but their reform bill faces tough competition from rival lawmakers who claim the president’s broad support for the NSA favours separate efforts to protect its powers.

Reviews from abroad via The Guardian:

Obama NSA reforms receive mixed response in Europe and Brazil

  • EU commissioner says speech is a step in right direction, but German ex-minister says changes fail to tackle root problem

Europeans were largely underwhelmed by Barack Obama’s speech on limited reform of US espionage practices, saying the measures did not go far enough to address concerns over American snooping on its European allies.

A compendium of the  eurocommentariat from the McClatchy Foreign Staff:

European commentators see little to praise in Obama’s NSA changes

President Barack Obama’s highly anticipated revisions to the National Security Agency international spying program didn’t come close to satisfying European commentators.

The French newspaper Le Monde called them “timid and partial.” The British newspaper The Guardian referred to them as “sleight of hand.” The German newsmagazine Der Spiegel called them “Refoermchen,” meaning less than a real reform, or a “tiny reform.” The Russian news agency Novosti reminded its audience that “neither the reform nor the statement would have happened without the leaks from Edward Snowden,” a former NSA contract worker who began leaking secret files back in June. The German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau simply noted in a headline: “Obama disappoints the world.”

The reason? The speech made it clear to Europeans that the Obama administration intends to continue to collect almost as much data as it always has, but has promised not to use it unless necessary. To Europeans, who since last summer have grown increasingly distrustful of the intentions of the American spy program, such words are of little comfort.

Wired wonders:

So what did the tech companies get?

As expected, they will have more freedom to disclose the number and the nature of requests from the government for data related to national-security concerns. So we can expect more detailed transparency reports from the companies showing that they only provide a fraction of their information to the government.

Additionally, the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court will add members with expertise in civil liberties and technology and will declassify more of its decisions.

BuzzFeed gets to the bottom of it:

America’s Spies Want Edward Snowden Dead

  • “I would love to put a bullet in his head,” one Pentagon official told BuzzFeed.

The NSA leaker is enemy No. 1 among those inside the intelligence world.

Edward Snowden has made some dangerous enemies. As the American intelligence community struggles to contain the public damage done by the former National Security Agency contractor’s revelations of mass domestic spying, intelligence operators have continued to seethe in very personal terms against the 30-year-old whistle-blower.

“In a world where I would not be restricted from killing an American, I personally would go and kill him myself,” a current NSA analyst told BuzzFeed. “A lot of people share this sentiment.”

Also drawing considerable attention was the latest Snowden leak from The Guardian:

NSA collects millions of text messages daily in ‘untargeted’ global sweep

  • NSA extracts location, contacts and financial transactions
  • ‘Dishfire’ program sweeps up ‘pretty much everything it can’
  • GCHQ using database to search metadata from UK numbers

The National Security Agency has collected almost 200 million text messages a day from across the globe, using them to extract data including location, contact networks and credit card details, according to top-secret documents.

The untargeted collection and storage of SMS messages – including their contacts – is revealed in a joint investigation between the Guardian and the UK’s Channel 4 News based on material provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The documents also reveal the UK spy agency GCHQ has made use of the NSA database to search the metadata of “untargeted and unwarranted” communications belonging to people in the UK.

The NSA program, codenamed Dishfire, collects “pretty much everything it can”, according to GCHQ documents, rather than merely storing the communications of existing surveillance targets.

The Wire sums up:

NSA on Text Messages: ‘A Goldmine to Exploit’

If you were curious: Yes, the National Security Agency is collecting and filtering text messages to the tune of 194 million a day. It’s a collection of data that one agency slide, obtained by The Guardian from leaker Edward Snowden, called “a goldmine to exploit.”

The Guardian details the NSA’s text message collection infrastructure in a new report, including its massive scale.

  • The agencies collect 194 million messages a day.
  • They include 76,000 geocoordinates for users, thanks to people seeking directions or setting up meetings.
  • The agencies track 1.6 million border crossings and 5,000-plus occurrences in which someone is traveling.
  • They’re able to link hundreds of thousands of financial transactions.
  • They collect over 5 million missed call alerts, which then get pushed into the “contact-chaining” system, building out the NSA’s ad hoc social network.

More from The Guardian:

NSA leaks: Dishfire revelations expose the flaws in British laws on surveillance

How can we have a meaningful debate about excessive snooping when so much information is a state secret?

What we have no words for we cannot discuss except crudely. The latest revelation about the security services brings a new word to our growing vocabulary: Dishfire. This week’s exposé reveals the NSA collecting and extracting personal information from hundreds of millions of text messages a day. While messages from US phone numbers are removed from the database, documents show GCHQ used it to search the metadata of “untargeted and unwarranted” communications belonging to British citizens.

We are not so much free citizens, innocent until proven guilty, but rather, as one of the Dishfire slides says, a “rich data set awaiting exploitation”. Prism, Tempora, Upstream, Bullrun – as our language grows we begin to speak with greater clarity. We move from James Bond fantasies to a greater understanding of what the intelligence services actually do in our name and with our money. Is indiscriminate, dragnet surveillance the best way to protect democracy?

NSA Dishfire presentation on text message collection – key extracts

A pre-Obamacast declaration from The Hill:

Sen. Leahy on NSA claim: ‘Baloney’

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said Thursday the National Security Agency’s claim that they’re “very protective” of Americans’ information is “baloney.”

Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on MSNBC’s “The Daily Rundown” that the NSA’s bulk metadata collection program has not thwarted a single terrorist attack.

President Obama, NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander, and lawmakers, such as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), have said the program has helped stop at least 50 terrorist plots.

“The other thing that keeps striking me is that [the NSA says] ‘we’re very protective of this information.’ Baloney,” Leahy said. “They weren’t protective enough that they could stop a sub-contractor, Mr. Snowden, from stealing millions of their biggest secrets. To this day, they still don’t know all of what he’s stolen.”

Leahy has introduced several bills that would change the NSA’s operations. One bill, the USA Freedom Act, would end the NSA’s metadata program.

After the jump, European blowback, German inquiries, NSA-tech-enabled hackers,  compliant corporations, direct action claims, lethal attack on the press, another Mideast causus belli debunked, Asian crises hit the textbooks, claims, zones, corporate espionage, a Google setback, and more. . . Continue reading

Looking at the NSA through moral, legal lenses

A conversation among The Real News Network’s Paul Jay, activist and former New York Times Mideast Bureau Chief and Pulitzer-winner Chris Hedges, and William Binney, former technical director of the World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group and a senior NSA cryptomathematician at the NSA.

The topic is the NSA, its power, legality, and the morality of its actions.

From The Real News Network:

Hedges and Binney on Obama NSA guidelines – Reality Asserts Itself Pt.1

From the transcript:

HEDGES: You cannot talk about being free when all of your correspondence is captured and stored, you are monitored, and all of your movements are recorded. Freedom at that point does not exist. And I speak as a reporter who covered the Stasi state in East Germany, this being, of course, something that even the Stasi apparatus could only dream of.

The danger is that when states accrue to themselves this kind of power, to essentially have — to obliterate privacy and have a window into the most personal affairs of every citizen, then at a moment when the state feels threatened, at the flick of a switch the state becomes totalitarian. And there are numerous historical examples that illustrate this, one of the best being the 1953 uprisings that took place in East Germany, when the communist dictatorship realized how unpopular they were, how fragile their hold on power was, and it created this monster, the Stasi internal security apparatus, where, in a country of 17 million people, you had an estimated 2 million informants and over 100,000 full-time Stasi employees, which meant that for every 166 East German citizens, there was a Stasi agent assigned to watch over them. And these bureaucracies, these security bureaucracies, without any kind of check, evolved into almost — you know, it’s like a Jarry play or Ionesco, where they’re infiltrating stamp groups, as they were in East Germany, of retirees — I’m not making that up — because they have to perpetuate themselves. And that’s where we are.

And I think what’s so frightening is that it is clear, after Obama’s administration, that no one in the centers of power are going to step in, whether it’s Nancy Pelosi or anyone else, to protect us, that either we as a citizenry — and I think it’s interesting that the Germans have grasped the danger of this kind of wholesale surveillance, because they have, in recent memory, both the experience of the SS and the Stasi and understand how precarious such wholesale systems of surveillance are to basic democratic freedoms. But we are sitting passively. And the notion that Obama and this sort of kangaroo administrative review board is going to do anything substantial — you know, what they’ll do is cosmetic. It’s up to us. And if we don’t act now, then in a moment of unrest, in a moment of instability, we will be bound and shackled instantly.

Pt.2 Hedges and Binney on NSA Policy

  • On Reality Asserts Itself with Paul Jay, Chris Hedges and William Binney answer the question: “What should the NSA policy look like?”

From the transcript:

JAY: Now, this is all more or less justified by 9/11. But the roots of all this go way back before 9/11 into the Cold War, and this national security state, national surveillance state, it was all directed at domestic opposition, I mean, it was, you know, [incompr.] supposedly worried about, you know, Soviet infiltration and all that. But I can’t believe they ever took all that seriously. You talk to people like Ray McGovern, who was in the analysis section of the CIA, and he says they were telling various presidents that not only was there no real Soviet threat on the soil of the United States; there wasn’t really a Soviet threat in terms of expansionism. And the idea that you needed this infrastructure and spying all throughout the United States to protect national security, it was really directed at legitimate, mostly, if not entirely, legal dissent. And if that’s still going on, doesn’t there need to be a clear principle that this cannot be spied on, you know, the constitutional right to dissent cannot be spied on?

BINNEY: Well, I mean, that’s already written in the Constitution. We have the right to free association, to freedom of speech. You know. That’s all there. We have freedom in our affairs. That’s all written into the Fourth Amendment and the First Amendment. Also, as we had talked earlier in the earlier segment about the law enforcement using [incompr.] it’s a violation of the Fifth Amendment, the right to not testify against yourself. Well, when they’re using the emails that you send or anything that you’re doing that’s acquired through NSA, a non-warrant acquisition of data, that’s using that information against yourself. So it’s a violation of the Fifth Amendment.

But I would also argue — and this is one of the reasons I objected so quickly against what they were doing. I had been working the Soviet problem, the KGB, the MVD, and all the totalitarian state problems for almost 30 years. And it was very clear to me that the procedures they were setting in place after 9/11 from the Bush-Cheney administration, it was clear to me that they were setting in place all of these totalitarian procedures because that’s exactly what the KGB wanted to do. And that’s why I’ve said before that the KGB, the Stasi, the Gestapo, none of them could have dreamt of anything like this. But they would have thought — like, former lieutenant colonel in the East German Stasi Wolfgang Schmidt said, when he was commenting about the NSA collection, then the warrantless surveillance of all the citizens of the United States, he said, for us we could have only dreamt of this. So this would be a dream come true is what he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Techdirt covers rollback:

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

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

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

Businessweek does it on the cheap:

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

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

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

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

Britain lobbied to weaken security on GSM phones

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

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

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

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

RT hits the road:

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

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

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

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

The Independent lodges a complaint:

Revealed: How gangs used the Freemasons to corrupt police

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

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

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

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

Shameless pandering, via the Tribune Washington Bureau:

Hollywood figures spied for CIA, book asserts

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

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

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

PM insists Sweden’s defence is strong enough

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

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

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

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

The Express Tribune counts bodies:

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

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

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

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

German security contact dies in US drone attack

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

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

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

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

Annie Ominous: A surveillance state anthem

The title: “Just Trust Us.”

Program notes and lyrics:

Annie Ominous’ video lampoons the outrageous state of our national security state. The title of course begs the question, why should we? Annie O. reminds us that trust is earned, not granted freely and that absolute power corrupts absolutely—yes. How badly are our rights being violated? “It’s much worse than you realize”, says Annie O.

Lyrics: Just Trust Us!

Your metadata fills us in
On who you are and where you’ve been
On all your secrets all your sin
Just trust us!

Your credit card, your bank and phone
By Internet search, email and drone
What you thought was not is known!
Just trust us!

We all hoped you wouldn’t care
Pardon but we like to stare
Far into your underwear
Just trust us!

We’ve thrown your rights under the bus
With trillions that you spend on us
It’s fascism without the fuss!
Just trust us!

Judges, politicians too
We’re hacking them, we’re tracking you
We know everything you do
Just trust us!

We can cherry-pick a crime
For twice the busts in half the time
All for the corporate bottom line
Just trust us!

Oppression has been privatized
By moles and trolls and spooks and spies
Its much worse than you realize
Just trust us!

We’ll hack and track and snoop and spy
For evidence we classify
The rule of law does not apply
Just trust us!

Our tentacles you can’t avoid
We love to make you paranoid
We know about your hemmorhoid
Just trust us!

What we claim the truth belies
We just keep telling big fat lies,
Spinning spirals in your eyes!
Just trust us!

Perfidious, unscrupulous!
salac(ee)ous and slanderous!
scurrilous and scandalous!
Just trust us!

Yes, we know exactly where
That extra dark and kinky hair
Grows out of your derriere!
Just trust us!

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

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

Obama legacy on line with NSA

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

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

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

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

The Guardian postures:

John McCain seeks congressional investigation into ‘broken’ NSA

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

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

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

Mashable pleads:

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

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

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

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

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

And the McClatchy Washington Bureau dissents:

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

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

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

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

The Daily Dot investigates:

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

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

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

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

RT drones away:

El Drone: Correa presents ‘surprise’ Ecuadorian UAV

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

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

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

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

Japan, Russia to expand defense exchanges

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

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

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

Channel NewsAsia Singapore blusters:

Japan vows defence as China ships near disputed isles

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

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

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

The Mainichi updates:

3 Chinese ships sail in Japanese waters around Senkaku Islands

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

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

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

Want China Times charts another voyage:

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

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

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

Want China Times takes wing:

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

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

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

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

The Asahi Shimbun counsels:

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

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

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

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

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

SINA English declares:

Japan must show respect: France

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

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

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

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

Japan’s state role in wartime sex slaves documented

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

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

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

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

JapanToday splits the tab:

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

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

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

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

And the Japan Times unearths:

U.S. Army tested biological weapons in Okinawa

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

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

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

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

The Guardian probes:

Honeywell under investigation for Chinese-made parts in US warplanes

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

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

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

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

And South China Morning Post declines:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s excursion into the spooky realm negins with drones, first with a headline from NBC News:

US investigates Yemenis’ charge that drone strike ‘turned wedding into a funeral’

The Obama administration has launched an internal investigation into a Dec. 12 drone strike in Yemen that targeted an al Qaeda militant but which local villagers say ended up hitting a wedding party, killing 12 and injuring 14 others, U.S. officials tell NBC News.

NBC News has obtained exclusive videos and photos taken in the aftermath of the strike. The graphic images show the scorched bodies of young men who villagers say were part of a convoy on their way to the wedding celebration when they were killed in their pickups by two Hellfire missiles fired by a U.S. drone.

The video and photographs were shot by Nasser Al-Sane, a local Yemeni journalist, and given to NBC News by Reprieve, a human rights group critical of U.S. drone policy. NBC News showed the video to White House and Pentagon officials who declined comment on it. A Yemeni official said the images are consistent with what its government knows about what happened after the attack.

Droning on, via the Register:

US Navy trials GIANT ROBOTIC SPYBIRD for coastal patrols

  • MQ-4C’s 40m wingspan rivals commercial airliners

The US Navy has completed early test flights on a drone aircraft which sports a wingspan of more than 130 feet (39.9m).

Northrop Grumman said that its MQ-4C Triton aircraft has passed a series of nine test runs with the Navy. The trials are designed to test the craft’s endurance and manoeuvrability under normal flight conditions.

The MQ-4C, which was designed for military surveillance and reconnaissance activities, will be deployed by the Navy to patrol vast areas of sea and coastal regions. With a 39.9m (130.9ft) wingspan, the massive MQ-4C bests both the Boeing 757 and Airbus A320 commercial airliners.

The Guardian confers:

Obama nears decision on NSA reforms as spy leaders meet at White House

  • Decision on surveillance expected before state of the union
  • Congressional leaders to join as president mulls NSA review

The leaders of the US intelligence agencies were holding talks at the White House on Wednesday as US president Barack Obama neared a decision on curbing the National Security Agency’s controversial bulk surveillance powers.

Obama was meeting the leadership of the US spy agencies and his privacy and civil liberties oversight board, to be followed on Thursday by additional meetings with key congressional leaders.

The McClatchy Washington Bureau parts company:

Intelligence committee divided over NSA limits after hearing from White House panel

The Senate Intelligence Committee quietly invited the White House-appointed National Security Agency task force to a closed briefing Tuesday afternoon to discuss proposed changes to the agency’s programs. But despite what lawmakers said was a productive discussion, committee members remain sharply divided over possible revisions.

“There is a spirited conversation in there in regards to the president’s panel’s recommendations,” said Colorado Democrat Mark Udall, a critic of the NSA’s collection of Americans’ cellphone metadata. “There’s still a broad range of viewpoints. We have momentum. And I don’t say that in a gloating fashion, I respect everyone on the committee.”

PCWorld suspects:

EU politicians doubt that fighting terrorism is only reason for U.S. surveillance

E.U. politicians said that they doubt data collection by the U.S. National Security Agency has been purely for the fight against terrorism.

In a draft report from the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee, published Wednesday, members of the European Parliament (MEPs) say that it is “very doubtful that data collection of such magnitude is only guided by the fight against terrorism,” and that there may be other motives such as political and economic espionage.

The document urges E.U. countries to take legal action against the breach of their sovereignty perpetrated through such mass surveillance programs.

From the Verge, counsel:

US Commerce Department is advising the president on NSA spying reform

American tech companies whose customers and networks have been compromised by the National Security Agency’s sweeping surveillance efforts may have a new sympathetic ear inside Washington: the Commerce Department. “We’ve been talking to various constituencies within the business community, we understand their issues [with NSA spying],” said US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, speaking today at CES 2014 in Las Vegas, the first Commerce Secretary to do an open Q&A at the gadget conference. Pritzker also said that her division is “part of the conversation” going on now inside the White House about reviewing the NSA’s surveillance powers. “We very much have a voice at the table,” Pritzker added, saying that President Obama “would make something public shortly.”

“Inserting a cost-benefit analysis into the process is one of the things that’s being considered,” Pritzker told the panel attendees. “The president asked for a national conversation on the subject, and we’re having it.” Analysts have suggested that the US economy could see anywhere between $35 and $180 billion in losses to cloud-based companies by 2016 from concerns about NSA spying.

The Daily Dot appreciates:

Nearly half of U.S. security leaders say Snowden to thank for surveillance state debate

In a recent Defense News poll of 352 defense, military, and national security leaders in America, 47.2 percent said they believed that Edward Snowden’s disclosures helped the debate on limits to U.S. surveillance.

As Snowden disclosures continue and NSA-style surveillance spreads around the globe, the debate about Snowden’s ultimate value is still hot even in Washington’s inner circles.

PandoDaily crosses borders:

Thanks, NSA: 25% of UK and Canadian businesses are moving data outside the US, says report

Canada-based cloud hosting provider Peer 1 Hosting surveyed 300 UK and Canadian companies and found that 25% of those businesses are now moving their data outside the U.S. because of NSA security concerns. Meanwhile, a whopping 77% of decision-makers at these companies say they would sacrifice data performance and speed in favor of a more secure connection.

Peer 1 SVP Robert Miggins says this finding surprised him most. “You can find solutions that offer you both (security and speed). Even still, i was struck with how if you force someone to choose, they will pick security.”

Miggins was also surprised to find that 60% of decision-makers agree with the statement, “I do not know as much as I think I should about data security laws where my company’s data is stored.” This suggests, Miggins says, that the choice to move data outside the US may be borne more out of fear than out of having all the relevant information.

Ars Technica protests:

More researchers join RSA conference boycott to protest $10 million NSA deal

With seven weeks to go, at least 8 speakers cancel their RSA Conference plans.

More security researchers are pulling out of next month’s RSA security conference in protest of recent revelations that the event’s namesake, EMC-owned subsidiary RSA, received $10 million to make an NSA-favored random number generator the default setting in its BSAFE crypto tool.

By Tuesday afternoon, there were eight previously scheduled RSA participants who had publicly cancelled their engagements. They included Adam Langley and Chris Palmer, both on various security teams at Google; Chris Soghoian, principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union; EFF special counsel Marcia Hoffman; Mozilla Global Privacy and Public Policy Leader Alex Fowler; Josh Thomas, who is listed as “chief breaking officer” at Atredis Partners; and Jeffrey Carr, CEO of security consultancy Taia Global. They joined F-Secure Chief Research Officer Mikko Hypponen, who announced his plans to withdraw two weeks ago.

The Daily Dot readies action:

Sen. Rand Paul and 100,000+ supporters will sue the NSA

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky appeared on Fox News show Hannity late Friday night and said he planned to file a lawsuit against the Obama administration over the security agency’s sweeping data-collection policies.

Paul said he actually started collecting signatures for a class-action lawsuit about six months ago and more than 100,000 people have signed up to join the suit.

“It’s kind of an unusual class-action suit in the sense that we think everyone in America that has a cell phone would be eligible for this class-action suit,” Paul told Fox News.

Techdirt covers more hypocrisy from California’s plutocratic senator:

Dianne Feinstein Admits That Her ‘NSA Reform’ Bill Is About Protecting Existing Surveillance Programs

  • from the oops dept

See, there’s a problem when you lie: you always forget how to keep your story straight. You may remember, for example, that Senator Dianne Feinstein, at the end of October, released a bill that pretended to be about reforming the NSA and its surveillance programs. The bill was spun in a way that was designed to make people think it was creating real reforms, with a fact sheet claiming that it “prohibited” certain actions around bulk data collection, but which actually codified them in the law, by including massive loopholes. It was an incredibly cynical move by Feinstein and her staff, pretending that their bill to actually give the NSA even greater power and to legalize its abuses, was about scaling back the NSA. But that’s the spin they put on it — which almost no one bought.

EurActiv divides Angela Merkel’s new coalition:

EU anti-terror law puts German coalition to the test

The Social-Democrat Justice Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) has said he would wait on a decision by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) before issuing a legislative proposal to implement the EU’s 2006 Data Retention Directive in Germany.

Maas’s cautiousness follows a decision by Germany’s highest court, which in a 2010 ruling annulled the legal texts adopted to implement the directive into German law. The ruling triggered a court action by the European Commission, which referred the matter to the ECJ in 2012, requesting that fines be imposed on Berlin for non-compliance.

Many Germans were outraged by the directive, which required telecom firms to retain all citizen’s telephone and internet data for up to two years. The measures were adopted in 2006 as part of the EU’s drive to fight terrorism following the 2004 train bombing in Madrid and bus explosion in London the year after.

The Daily Dot allies:

How a major bank and the U.S. government joined forces to spy on Anonymous

New details have surfaced regarding the surveillance protocols used by Bank of America to keep tabs on social activists. Last year, Anonymous hacktivists published 14 gigabytes of private emails and spreadsheets which revealed that Bank of America was monitoring social media and other online services used by activists for basic communication. This time however, information about the bank’s recent surveillance activities were obtained legally through a public records request by a single petitioner.

The newly published documents reveal a coordinated effort by Bank of America, the Washington State Patrol (WSP), and federal counterterrorism agencies, to monitor activists as they prepared for a public demonstration in Olympia, Wash. Over 230 people originally signed up to attend the “Million Mask March” event, which was organized by the Anonymous movement and took place on November 5, 2013.

PandoDaily raises a good question:

Surveillance Valley scammers! Why hack our data when you can just buy it?

For those of us concerned about how private technology companies use our data, the last few weeks of 2013 provided a couple of “I told you so” moments.

A white glove hacker group exploited a well-known security flaw in supposedly ultra-secure Snapchat to dump 4.6 million Snapchat usernames and associated phone numbers on the Internet. Meanwhile, Target was hit by a mega exploit of its payment system allowing scam-hackers to siphon off credit and debit card info on 40 million people. The retailer then sat on the news for a few days, hoping no one would notice…

The horrible truth is we’ve become desensitized to news of credit card heists, and are no longer surprised when our favorite apps and websites play loose with our information. It’s become an expected part of Surveillance Valley’s corporate culture: pay lip service to security, while selling people’s most intimate data to the highest bidder — be they governments, predatory corporations or notorious identity thieves. covers an onslaught:

Foreign powers behind IT attacks in Sweden: FRA

Foreign intelligence services were behind a number of hacker attacks against Swedish authorities, companies, and universities last year, Swedish intelligence officials have confirmed.

“We can confirm that incidents occurred last year where we dealt with computer hacking that was carried out by foreign intelligence services,” Fredrik Wallin, spokesman from Sweden’s National Defence Radio Establishment (Försvarets radioanstalt – FRA) told the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper on Wednesday.

FRA, along with Sweden’s Civil Contingencies Agency (Myndigheten för samhällsskydd och beredskap -  MSB), participate in a national cyber-defence project to analyze and assess IT threats to Sweden’s national security.

After the jump, it’s off to Asia, where border and zone crises, plus a large dose of revanchism, are the order of the day, hack attacks, Google sanctions, and your car is telling its manufacturer where you go. . . Continue reading

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

A slow news day.

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

Obama plans intelligence surveillance reforms, aides say

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

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

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

Senator Paul wants light punishment of Snowden for NSA leaks

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

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

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

The New York Times has a contrarian take:

Senators Differ Sharply on Penalty for Snowden

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

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

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

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

Japan expected to lead nuclear disarmament

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

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

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

Advice from across the Pacific from Kyodo News:

Hagel urges Japan to improve ties with neighboring nations

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

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

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

Ground Self-Defense Force to reorganize

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

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

The Independent brings us a curious blast from the past:

Is this why the Profumo file is still secret?

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

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

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

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

Egyptian crackdown targets secular activists as well as Islamists

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

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

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

From RT, another legacy:

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

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

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

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

From Computerworld, can you Yahoo!?:

Malware delivered to thousands via ads

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

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

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

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

Selling social media clicks becomes big business

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

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

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

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

Headlines of the day: Spooks, lies, and history

Have a walk on the dark side, starting with a non-denial denial from The Guardian:

NSA statement does not deny ‘spying’ on members of Congress

  • Agency responds to questions from Senator Bernie Sanders
  • Statement cites ‘same privacy protections as all US persons’

The National Security Agency on Saturday released a statement in answer to questions from a senator about whether it “has spied, or is … currently spying, on members of Congress or other American elected officials”, in which it did not deny collecting communications from legislators of the US Congress to whom it says it is accountable.

We love the Boing Boing headline:

Congress: Are you spying on us? NSA: We don’t spy on you except to the extent that we spy on everydamnbody

When Senator Bernie Sanders asked the NSA whether it was spying on Congress, he was very clear: “gathering metadata on calls made from official or personal phones, content from websites visited or emails sent, or collecting any other data from a third party not made available to the general public in the regular course of business.”

When the NSA answered, it was a lot less clear: “Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all US persons.”

So, we’ll take that as a yes, then?

From the Department of He’s Just Ignorant, Not a Perjurer, via The Guardian:

Clapper did not lie to Congress on NSA, says national intelligence counsel

  • Robert Litt writes to New York Times to deny allegation
  • Says ‘inaccurate’ testimony could not be corrected publicly

In his letter to the newspaper, referring to one of the key Senate advocates of NSA reform, Litt continued: “Senator Ron Wyden asked about collection of information on Americans during a lengthy and wide-ranging hearing on an entirely different subject. While his staff provided the question the day before, Mr Clapper had not seen it. As a result, as Mr Clapper has explained, he was surprised by the question and focused his mind on the collection of the content of Americans’ communications. In that context, his answer was and is accurate.

“When we pointed out Mr Clapper’s mistake to him, he was surprised and distressed. I spoke with a staffer for Senator Wyden several days later and told him that although Mr Clapper recognized that his testimony was inaccurate, it could not be corrected publicly because the program involved was classified.”

The Times of India covers another form of very rational digital insecurity:

Security fears over Election Commission-Google tie-up

Google and EC have reportedly entered into an agreement under which the internet giant will help EC to manage online voter registration and facilitation services ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

A group of cyber security experts have questioned the Election Commission’s move to tie up with Google for voters’ registration, saying it could have possible impact on national security and democracy itself.

In the light of recent exposes about the penetrative and widespread intelligence gathering by the US agencies exposed by Edward Snowden, the activists also alleged that the EC’s move was done without any strategic considerations and could have long-term repercussions.

“It is shocking that in a country like India which is called world’s software superpower, Election Commission, instead of an Indian company, has chosen a foreign company like Google, which has colluded with American intelligence agencies like NSA (National Security Agency) for global cyber spying, to provide electoral registration and facilitation services by providing them the whole database of registered voters in India,” the Indian Infosec Consortium said in the capital on Saturday.

Computerworld talks corporate benefits:

Thanks to the NSA, quantum computing may some day be in the cloud

The spy agency is spending $80M on basic research related to quantum computing

The National Security Agency (NSA) is spending some $80 million in basic research on quantum computing. And what the NSA spends its research money on may ultimately help commercialize quantum computing — and even make it accessible via the cloud.

This is what Defense Department agencies do: They fund basic research that private industry sees as too risky, but if the work leads to breakthroughs, it’s the commercial sector that may benefit the most.

Historical perspective from MintPress News:

Edward Snowden Evolved From Gaming Geek To Conscientious Whistleblower

Once a computer gaming jock and fan of Japanese animation, Snowden became the most famous leaker in the annals of US intelligence.

But back in May 2003, Snowden was a little-known teenage tech geek helping friends at Ryuhana Press, a website where the young Snowden worked at what he described as “Web Editor/Coffee Boy. “His avatar was a geek, with a T-shirt emblazoned “I [heart] Me,” spiky hair, granny glasses on the tip of his nose and a green scarf draped around his neck. “I really am a nice guy,” was the intro to his online web profile that continued, “you see, I act arrogant and cruel because I was not hugged enough as a child, and the public education system turned it’s [sic] wretched, spiked back on me.”

For his 19th birthday in June 2003, friends of Snowden posted pictures of him lowering his pants for colleagues, pinning clothespins to his chest and dancing. One colleague jokingly posted, “Who is he? What does he do? Does he really love himself as much as his shameless marketing would make you believe?” Snowden – who was regularly cited by friends as well spoken, deliberate and intellectual – described himself in the following statement: “I like Japanese, I like girls, I like my girlish figure that attracts girls and I like my lamer friends.” In a prescient sense that eventually he’d be pursued by law enforcement, he wrote – “That’s the best biography you’ll get out of me, coppers!”

The Toronto Globe and Mail talks clemency:

Moves to curb spying help drive clemency argument for Snowden

To the prosecutors pursuing him, Edward J. Snowden has committed espionage by divulging U.S. national secrets. But the growing backlash against government surveillance has spurred a spirited debate about whether he should be forgiven.

The whistleblower-versus-traitor argument has taken on a new dimension with recent moves to curtail the programs that Snowden revealed. A federal judge ruled that one program was probably unconstitutional, technology companies are demanding changes, lawmakers are considering restrictions, and even a White House panel urged modifications.

From Just Security, the perfect Catch-22:

OLC Memos and FOIA: Why the (b)(5) Exemption Matters

The headline of yesterday’s D.C. Circuit decision in Electronic Frontier Foundation v. Department of Justice, in which the Court of Appeals rejected a FOIA request for a 2010 OLC opinion regarding the legality of the FBI’s controversial use of “exigent” National Security Letters (NSLs) (issued without many of the usual–mandatory–FBI certifications), is unsurprising. But the reasoning is another story. Indeed, as I explain in the brief post that follows, Judge Edwards’s analysis may have the effect, unintended or otherwise, of insulating virtually all nonpublic OLC memos and opinions from FOIA requests–regardless of their subject-matter or sensitivity.

Mirror, mirror on the wall. . .from RT:

US the biggest threat to world peace in 2013 – poll

The US has been voted as the most significant threat to world peace in a survey across 68 different countries. Anti-American sentiment was not only recorded in antagonistic countries, but also in many allied NATO partners like Turkey and Greece.

A global survey conducted by the Worldwide Independent Network and Gallup at the end of 2013 revealed strong animosity towards the US’s role as the world’s policeman. Citizens across over 60 nations were asked: “Which country do you think is the greatest threat to peace in the world today?”

The US topped the list, with 24 percent of people believing America to be the biggest danger to peace. Pakistan came second, with 8 percent of the vote and was closely followed by China with 6 percent. Afghanistan, Iran, Israel and North Korea came in joint fourth place with 5 percent of the vote.

German dreams of drones [the V-3?] from

Military calls for drones to protect soldiers

Germany’s military elite has called on the new coalition government to buy armed drones to protect the country’s soldiers.

The Armed Forces Association (Bundeswehrverband), commander of Germany’s troops in Afghanistan, and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Armed Forces have all spoken out in support of drones.

Germany’s drone buying programme stalled when the last defence minister, Thomas de Mazière, spent hundreds of millions of euros on Euro Hawk drones that were not allowed to fly in German airspace.

Mission unaccomplished, from euronews:

Iraqi army battles to flush al Qaeda from Fallujah

Iraqi troops are still fighting a pitch battle to regain control of two key cities from militants linked to al Qaeda.

In Ramadi, military anti-terrorist teams have been engaged in street fighting with army forces reluctant to enter residential areas.

At least eight people were killed and 30 others wounded in Fallujah as Iraqi troops shelled rebel positions.

A mixture of Sunni Islamist and tribal forces are dug into Ramadi and the western region’s other main city, Fallujah. The seizure on Monday of territory is the first time in years that Sunni insurgents have taken effective control of the region’s most important cities.

Some perspective from RT:

Confirmed: 2013 deadliest for Iraq since 2008, UN estimates

A total of 8,868 people, including 7,818 civilians, have been killed in violent attacks across Iraq in 2013, the United Nations reports – the highest annual death toll in the war-torn country in five years.

In December alone, at least 759 Iraqis were killed and another 1,345 wounded in terrorist attacks and violence, reports the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNIRAQ), which monitors the impact of armed violence and terrorism on Iraqi civilians.

On to those East Asian crises, first with this from the Global Times:

Chinese envoy urges world to stop Abe from reversing post-war order

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to a controversial war shrine is a deliberate political act aimed at reversing the verdict of history on World War II, Chinese Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai said Friday.

In a joint interview with Washington-based Chinese-language media, Cui added that the international community should not allow Abe to disrupt the post-war order and lead Japan back to the catastrophic path of militarism.

Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine in central Tokyo on Dec. 26 was not an isolated individual act, but rather a deliberate act with clear political aims, Cui said.

Abe coalition partners raise a warning, via the Japan News:

Komeito: Govt must listen to concerns on Yasukuni

New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi referred to worldwide concerns over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to controversial Yasukuni Shrine late last year.

Abe’s visit to the Tokyo shrine on Dec. 26 drew concern or stern rebukes from not only South Korea and China but also the United States, Russia and the European Union, Yamaguchi said in a street speech on Thursday. The shrine, which honors Class-A World War II criminals along with the war dead, is regarded as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism in other Asian countries.

The Japanese government must listen humbly and sincerely to these voices and show Japan’s stance of contributing to global peace and stability, Yamaguchi said.

Jiji Press goes head to head:

Japanese, U.S. Defense Chiefs Hold Talks over Phone

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel held talks over the phone Saturday night, conversations that were once canceled late last month.

The phone talks were initially scheduled for Dec. 27 but canceled at the request of the United States.

The cancellation came after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Tokyo’s controversial war-related Yasukuni shrine on Dec. 26, triggering protests from China and South Korea. Some Japanese Defense Ministry officials believed that the cancellation was caused by the shrine visit.

Sanctioned intimidation from Deutsche Welle:

Neo-Nazis get press cards to intimidate media

Neo-Nazis in Germany are increasingly using press cards to get access to media pools where they take pictures of journalists and other people and intimidate those who are fighting right-wing extremism.

Police usually ensure that neo-Nazis and counter-protesters keep their distance during demonstrations. Right-wing extremists, however, increasingly manage to overcome these barricades, but instead of applying force, they simply show their press badge. This card allows them to get up close with their enemies and journalists reporting on the event. Neo-Nazis videotape them and take pictures, and then threaten them.

Press card abuse has grown steadily over the past year, journalist Felix M. Steiner told DW. Steiner writes for Watchblog, the German public broadcaster NDR and Zeit Online’s Störungsmelder, a blog on Nazi activity, among others. Steiner mainly reports on right-wing extremism.

Bloomberg does the datatropic:

Human Behavior Trove Lures Economists to U.S. Tech Titans

Wooing this year’s best graduate students in economics will be familiar faces from Harvard, Princeton and other U.S. universities seeking assistant professors — and EBay Inc. (EBAY)’s not yet three-year-old economic research team.

The American Economic Association’s annual meeting kicks off today and EBay won’t be the only technology company aiming to tap more brainpower at what doubles as the discipline’s premier job fair. In the past few years, Google Inc. (GOOG), Inc. (AMZN) and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) have amassed teams of in-house economists to make sense of the oceans of data they’re collecting.

RT covers a loss of historical intelligence:

Thousands of books, manuscripts torched in fire at historic Lebanese library

Firefighters struggled to subdue the flames as the decades-old Al-Saeh library went up in smoke on Friday in the Serail neighborhood of Tripoli. Despite firefighters’ best efforts, little of the trove of historic books and manuscripts was recovered from the wreckage.

“Two thirds of some 80,000 books and manuscripts housed there,” a security source told Agence France Press, referring to the items destroyed. The source added that the blaze was started after a manuscript insulting the Prophet Mohammed was found hidden in the pages of one of the library books.

Our final headline from Boing Boing describes an unspeakable scientific environmental disaster:

Canadian libricide: Tories torch and dump centuries of priceless, irreplaceable environmental archives

Back in 2012, when Canada’s Harper government announced that it would close down national archive sites around the country, they promised that anything that was discarded or sold would be digitized first. But only an insignificant fraction of the archives got scanned, and much of it was simply sent to landfill or burned.

Unsurprisingly, given the Canadian Conservatives’ war on the environment, the worst-faring archives were those that related to climate research. The legendary environmental research resources of the St. Andrews Biological Station in St. Andrews, New Brunswick are gone. The Freshwater Institute library in Winnipeg and the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland: gone. Both collections were world-class.

An irreplaceable, 50-volume collection of logs from HMS Challenger’s 19th century expedition went to the landfill, taking with them the crucial observations of marine life, fish stocks and fisheries of the age.

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

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

That said, onward.

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

Napolitano: No clemency for Edward Snowden

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

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

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

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

Court Grants Secrecy for Memo on Phone Data

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

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

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

The dark side appeals, via Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

US appeals court ruling invalidating NSA surveillance

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

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

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

Deutsche Welle ponders:

Germany eyes parliamentary inquiry into NSA activities

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

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

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

The Guardian poses a question:

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

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

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

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

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

The Nation notes a notable plea:

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

The Daily Dot notes two:

New York Times, Guardian call on Obama to pardon Snowden

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

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

From The Hill, the sadly predictable:

King erupts over Snowden editorial

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

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

The Washington Post takes the quantum leap:

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

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

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

Quartz questions:

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

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

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

Costs of NSA phone records collection program outweigh the benefits

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

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

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

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

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

Police Detain At Least 700 in Volgograd Anti-Terror Raid

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

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

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

EUbusiness covers a release:

Croatia releases former top spy sought by Germany

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

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

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

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

A video tour of the NSA’s bag of cybertricks

Via Cory Doctor of Boing Boing, who writes:

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

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

From vlogger Albert Veli:

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

Program notes:

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