Today’s collection of tales from the worlds of spooks, deep politics, resurgent militarism, and more opens with the latest — stunning — revelation from WikiLeaks:
Australia bans reporting of multi-nation corruption case involving Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam
Today, 29 July 2014, WikiLeaks releases an unprecedented Australian censorship order concerning a multi-million dollar corruption case explicitly naming the current and past heads of state of Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam, their relatives and other senior officials. The super-injunction invokes “national security” grounds to prevent reporting about the case, by anyone, in order to “prevent damage to Australia’s international relations”. The court-issued gag order follows the secret 19 June 2014 indictment of seven senior executives from subsidiaries of Australia’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA). The case concerns allegations of multi-million dollar inducements made by agents of the RBA subsidiaries Securency and Note Printing Australia in order to secure contracts for the supply of Australian-style polymer bank notes to the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and other countries.
The suppression order lists 17 individuals, including “any current or former Prime Minister of Malaysia”, “Truong Tan San, currently President of Vietnam”, “Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (also known as SBY), currently President of Indonesia (since 2004)”, “Megawati Sukarnoputri (also known as Mega), a former President of Indonesia (2001–2004) and current leader of the PDI-P political party” and 14 other senior officials and relatives from those countries, who specifically may not be named in connection with the corruption investigation.
The document also specifically bans the publication of the order itself as well as an affidavit affirmed last month by Australia’s representative to ASEAN Gillian Bird, who has just been appointed as Australia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. The gag order effectively blacks out the largest high-level corruption case in Australia and the region.
The last known blanket suppression order of this nature was granted in 1995 and concerned the joint US-Australian intelligence spying operation against the Chinese Embassy in Canberra.
Wikileaks has posted the court order here.
The Christian Science Monitor covers a concession:
US is no safer after 13 years of war, a top Pentagon official says
The outgoing head of the Defense Intelligence Agency says that new players on the scene are more radical than Al Qaeda, and the core Al Qaeda ideology has lost none of its potency.
The nation is no safer after 13 years of war, warns a top US military official who leads one of the nation’s largest intelligence organizations.
“We have a whole gang of new actors out there that are far more extreme than Al Qaeda,” says Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, which employs some 17,000 American intelligence collectors in 140 countries around the world.
That the United States is no safer – and in some respects may be less safe – even after two wars and trillions of dollars could prove to be disappointing news for Americans, noted the journalist questioning General Flynn at the Aspen Security Forum last week.
From the Guardian, a legislative battle against The Most Transparent Administration in History™:
Senators consider obscure rule in CIA torture report declassification debate
- Mark Udall said procedure could be invoked to compel Obama administration to release more of landmark Senate report
Senators are considering the use of an obscure parliamentary procedure to compel the Obama administration to release more of a landmark Senate report into the Central Intelligence Agency’s abusive post-9/11 interrogations should they be unsatisfied with the administration’s first version.
“If the redacted version of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s study that we receive appears to be an effort to obscure its narrative and findings — and if the White House is not amenable to working toward a set of mutually agreed-upon redactions — I believe the committee must seriously consider its other option,” Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat on the intelligence committee, told the Guardian on Monday.
It is believed that the White House will provide its completed redactions to sections of the Senate intelligence committee’s landmark torture report in the coming days. The committee will subsequently review the redactions as preparation for the report’s public release, something chairwoman Dianne Feinstein of California, a Democrat, had wanted to happen in early May.
From The Hill, groping toward compromise?:
Leahy unveils ‘historic’ NSA reform bill
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Tuesday introduced legislation to put sweeping new limits on U.S. surveillance and peel back the curtain on controversial spying programs.
The aggressive bill seeks to address concerns that tech companies and civil liberties proponents had over the House’s attempt to rein in the National Security Agency (NSA) by restricting agents to narrow, targeted searches of records about people’s phone calls as well as making the spying regime more transparent.
For civil libertarians, it is the best hope for reining in the NSA this year, though defenders of the spy agency in Congress are likely to push back.
“If we can enact this bill, get it signed into law, it would represent the most significant reform of government surveillance authorities since Congress passed the USA Patriot Act 13 years gap,” Leahy said on the Senate floor
But Ars Technica notes a subtlety with deep significance:
Analysis: Bill banning phone metadata collection gives NSA access to it
- Proposal “is not perfect” but less surveillance is better than mass surveillance.
A prominent senator unveiled legislation Tuesday that would end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of all telephone metadata—a package that still provides the nation’s spooks limited access to the data of every phone call made to and from the US. And the probable-cause standard under the Fourth Amendment is not present.
Conceding the realpolitik, civil rights groups and others are backing the proposal from Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, even though the NSA may acquire the data absent constitutional protections.
And signs of repair efforts from Techdirt:
Senators Wyden And Udall Pledge To Strengthen USA Freedom Act By Closing Surveillance Backdoor
- from the that-would-be-good dept
By now, it should be well known that Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall are the two key truth-tellers in Congress when it comes to what kind of surveillance is being done by the intelligence community. If they ask a question, assume the answer is “yes.”
With the introduction of the new USA Freedom Act in the Senate, we noted that, while it does take a big step forward, there is a lot more that can be done.
Wyden and Udall have released a statement noting that they plan to seek to strengthen the bill with an amendment to close the backdoor search “loophole” which is used by the entire intelligence community to spy on Americans. It’s unfortunate that Leahy didn’t include that in the original bill — and it suggests that there might not (yet) be enough support to close the backdoor. But
From The Verge, a profitable but hardly surprising transition:
Former NSA chief makes up to $1 million a month selling cybersecurity services
- Gen. Keith Alexander stepped down from the NSA after the Snowden leaks, now he’s back with a new security firm related to his government work
General Keith Alexander was in charge of the National Security Agency when all hell broke loose and former security contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents showing the organization was spying far beyond the extent to which most people were aware (or comfortable with). But he’s not letting that episode stop him from launching what looks to be an exceptionally lucrative private career selling…you guessed it, cybersecurity software.
As Bloomberg first reported last week, Alexander has spent the last few months since his retirement as NSA head in March giving paid talks on cybersecurity to banks and other large financial institutions. Bloomberg also noted that Alexander has charged up to $1 million a month for his services, and even co-founded his own private security firm, IronNet Cybersecurity, Inc. In a more recent interview with Foreign Policy, Alexander admitted that his firm has developed “unique” technology for detecting and fighting so-called “advanced persistent threats” — cyberattacks that can extend for months or years at a time without being noticed, and are directed against specific targets like big companies or governments.
Beyond the somewhat uncomfortable optics created by America’s leading spymaster turning his skill-set to the private security sector, there are other problems with Alexander’s new job. As Foreign Policy points out, the former NSA chief plans to file patents on his firm’s technology, patents that are “directly related to the job he had in government.” In other words, Alexander stands to profit directly off of his taxpayer-funded experience, and may do so with a competitive advantage over other competing private firms.
From the Dept. Of Extremely Curious, via the Guardian:
US government increases funding for Tor, giving $1.8m in 2013
- Despite attempts by the National Security Agency to crack the anonymous browser, the US increased state funding through third parties
Tor, the internet anonymiser, received more than $1.8m in funding from the US government in 2013, even while the NSA was reportedly trying to destroy the network.
According to the Tor Project’s latest annual financial statements, the organisation received $1,822,907 from the US government in 2013. The bulk of that came in the form of “pass-through” grants, money which ultimately comes from the US government distributed through some independent third-party.
Formerly known as “the onion router”, Tor is software which allows its users to browse the internet anonymously. It works by bouncing connections through encrypted “relays”, preventing any eavesdropper from determining what sites a particular user is visiting, or from determining who the users of a particular site actually are. That makes it popular amongst organisations trying to promote freedom of speech in nations like China and Syria – but also popular amongst users trying to evade surveillance in the West.
CBC News covers a trans-Pacific hack
Chinese cyberattack hits Canada’s National Research Council
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird raises issue during visit to Beijing
A “highly sophisticated Chinese state-sponsored actor” recently managed to hack into the computer systems at Canada’s National Research Council, according to Canada’s chief information officer, Corinne Charette.
The attack was discovered by Communications Security Establishment Canada.
In a statement released Tuesday, Charette, confirmed that while the NRC’s computers operate outside those of the government of Canada as a whole, the council’s IT system has been “isolated” to ensure no other departments are compromised.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird was in Beijing as news of the cyberattack became public.
The Guardian covers a done deal:
UK-US sign secret new deal on nuclear weapons
- Closed contents of updated Mutual Defence Agreement
- Vital for Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons system
- MPs also demand debate on UK’s future world role
A new agreement critical to Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons system, was signed the other day by British and US officials.
Whitehall was silent. We had to rely on the White House, and a message from Barack Obama to the US Congress, to tell us that the 1958 UK-US Mutual Defence Agreement (MDA) had been updated.
A new amendment to the treaty will last for 10 years. Obama told Congress it will “permit the transfer between the United States and the United Kingdom of classified information concerning atomic weapons; nuclear technology and controlled nuclear information; material and equipment for the development of defense plans; training of personnel; evaluation of potential enemy capability; development of delivery systems; and the research, development, and design of military reactors.”
From intelNews, high crime by a vanished regime?:
Did South African spy services kill Swedish prime minister in 1986?
The usually tranquil waters of Swedish national politics were stirred violently on February 28, 1986, when the country’s Prime Minister, Olof Palme, was shot dead. He was walking home from the cinema with his wife when he was gunned down by a single assassin who shot him from behind in Stockholm’s central street of Sveavägen. Following the 1988 acquittal of Christer Pettersson, who had been initially convicted of the assassination, several theories have been floating around, but the crime remains unsolved to this day.
Now the BBC has aired an investigation into the incident, which revisits what some say is the most credible theory behind the killing: that Palme was targeted by the government of apartheid-era South Africa because of his strong support for the African National Congress (ANC). Palme was among the leading figures of the left wing in Sweden’s Social Democratic Party.
He had served as Prime Minister from 1969 to 1976, and was reelected in 1982 on a left-wing program of “revolutionary reform” that included expanding the role of the trade unions and increasing progressive taxation rates. He was also a strong international opponent of South Africa’s apartheid system and under his leadership Sweden became the most ardent supporter of the ANC.
On to the Asian security from, starting with suspicion of security crimes from the New York Times:
China Says Zhou Yongkang, Former Security Chief, Is Under Investigation
In President Xi Jinping’s most audacious move yet to impose his authority by targeting elite corruption, the Communist Party on Tuesday announced an investigation of Zhou Yongkang, the retired former head of domestic security who accumulated vast power while his family accumulated vast wealth.
Mr. Zhou, who retired from the Politburo Standing Committee in late 2012, is the most senior party figure ever to face a formal graft inquiry. Until now, no standing or retired member of the Standing Committee has faced a formal investigation by the party’s anticorruption agency.
The party leadership has “decided to establish an investigation of Zhou Yongkang for grave violations of discipline,” Xinhua, the state-run news agency, reported Tuesday, citing a decision by the party’s anticorruption agency. The terse announcement gave no details of the charges against Mr. Zhou.
Want China Times covers a goose getting gander sauced:
‘Cradle of Chinese hackers’ sees 70-80 cyber attacks a day
Shandong Lanxiang Vocational School’s ties with the military have led it to be seen increasingly as an incubator for Chinese hackers, and as a result the school has experienced frequent cyber attacks.
The school began assisting the People’s Liberation Army in training soldiers in various fields shortly after its establishment in 1984.
The school has also worked with state businesses and agencies under the State Council.
School founder Rong Lanxiang acknowledges that the school worked with the military during its early days and had introduced members of the military into its management.
The Japan Times covers the latest symptoms of centuries’ old tensions:
Japan feels ‘strong concern’ over France-Russia warship deal
The government on Tuesday expressed “strong concern” about the planned sale of French helicopter carriers to Russia, joining some EU countries in opposing the deal as the West believes Russia has failed to meet international demands to end violence in Ukraine.
President Francois Hollande has defied allies Britain and the United States by confirming plans to deliver a helicopter carrier to Russia.
A €1.2 billion ($1.62 billion) contract for two warships, signed by France’s then-President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative government in 2011, was the first by a NATO member country to supply Russia with military equipment.
Jiji Press question resurgent militarism:
DPJ’s Noda Urges Abe to Clarify Risks of Collective Self-Defense
Former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda called on incumbent Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Tuesday to explain the risks involved in Japan exercising its right to collective self-defense.
“Obviously, risks increase when the scope of activities by the Self-Defense Forces is extended. Abe should fully explain if he raised the issue out of concern for the future of Japan,” Noda said in a speech to the Research Institute of Japan, a Jiji Press affiliate.
Noda, a member of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, urged Abe to tell the public about the risks including the possibility that the SDF may become involved in combat.
While the Japan Times covers a possible militarism-enabler:
Abe eyes Ishiba for new Cabinet post on defense legislation
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to replace Shigeru Ishiba as the No. 2 man in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and has sounded him out about assuming a newly created Cabinet post for defense legislation, a party source said Tuesday.
The envisioned changes would be part of Abe’s Cabinet reshuffle scheduled for the first week of September, his first since taking office in December 2012. Abe, who heads the LDP, also plans to reshuffle party executives.
Ishiba, the LDP’s secretary-general, is widely regarded as a potential future prime minister. He has refrained from making his stance clear on the proposed move, the LDP source said.
Nikkei Asian Review courts compromise:
Europe sees rule of law as key in South China Sea disputes
The European Union (EU) on Tuesday prodded countries with competing territorial claims in the South China Sea to resolve their disputes peacefully through the rule of law.
In a joint briefing with Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario following a bilateral meeting, Catherine Ashton, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, restated the EU position:
“The European Union encourages all parties to seek peaceful solutions through dialogue and cooperation in accordance with the international law, in particular with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Ashton said.
From Want China Times, a remarkable statistic:
North Korea has largest fleet of submarines worldwide
North Korea has the largest fleet of submarines in the world, with 78 currently in its arsenal, according to the Global Firepower Index of the Business Insider based in New York.
The United States has six fewer at 72, while China came in third place with 69 submarines. Russia was ranked fourth with 63 and Iran was in fifth place fifth with around 31 submarines, while Japan has 16 and South Korea has 14.
The Global Security website run by a group of defense and intelligence experts estimated that the Korean People’s Navy is in possession of at least 78 submarines, including eight semi-submersible infiltration crafts.
And for our final item, the London Daily Mail covers a costly security gesture:
Rick Perry: National Guard on US-Mexico border can’t make arrests but serve as ‘a powerful reminder that what you are doing is a crime’
- Texas governor deployed up to 1,000 National Guard troops to the US-Mexico border this month but didn’t give them arrest powers
- He argues that their deterrent factor alone is worth the exercise
- Troops will work alongside state police agencies Perry activated as a supplement to what he says are inadequate measures from Washington
- Hundreds of children and teens pour across the border from Mexico every day, following a 2012 amnesty announcement from President Obama that only affects illegal immigrants brought to America as children before 2007