Category Archives: Spooks

Schadenfreude alert: Who meddles in elections?


Now that Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State is claiming – based on no evidence whatsoever – Democrats have hacked his state’s election, it’s time for a reminder of the identity of the world’s number one election-rigger.

Guess what?

It’s Uncle Sam.

We begin with a video report from The Intercept:

A Short History of U.S. Meddling in Foreign Elections

Program notes:

Meddling in foreign elections is bad. I think we can all agree on that. And almost everyone – bar Donald Trump – seems to believe that the Russian government meddled in the 2016 election. So that should be condemned. Here’s the problem, though: U.S. politicians and pundits cannot credibly object to Russian interference in U.S. elections without also acknowledging that the United States doesn’t exactly have clean hands. Or are we expected to believe that Russian hackers were the first people in human history to try and undermine a foreign democracy? In this video, I examine the ways in which the the United States has, in fact, spent the past 70 odd years meddling in elections across the world.

From flagship public broadcaster WNYC in New York comes a glimpse of the depth of Uncle Sam’s ongoing meddling:

For decades, American intelligence agencies have historically used clandestine tactics to put leaders into office who are favorable to U.S. national interests. This practice of meddling dates back to the early days of the CIA and was seen as a necessary strategy to contain the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

It’s something Tim Weiner has explored in great detail. He’s won the Pulitzer Prize for his work on clandestine national security programs, and his books include “Enemies: A History of the FBI” and “Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA.” He says election meddling is not a grey area for the CIA.

“Several months after the CIA was created in 1947, it set out to steal the Italian election in 1948 to support the Christian Democrats who were pro-American, against the socialist Democrats, who were pro-Moscow, and they won,” says Weiner. “It’s just the beginning of a long, long story.”

After seeing success in Italy, the CIA took this formula — which involved using millions of dollars to run influence campaigns — and brought it across the world to places like Guatemala, Indonesia, South Vietnam, Afghanistan, and beyond.

“The president [of Afghanistan] after the American invasion post-9/11 was a paid CIA agent, Hamid Karzai,” Weiner says. “The list is very long, and it’s part of what the CIA does in political warfare.”

A report from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram adds up the numbers:

Dov Levin, a researcher with the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie Mellon University, created a historical database that tracks U.S. involvement in foreign elections. According to Levin, the U.S. meddled in other nation’s elections more than 80 times worldwide between 1946 and 2000. Examples include Italy in 1948; Haiti in 1986; Nicaragua and Czechoslovakia in 1990; and Serbia in 2000.

A more recent example of U.S. election interference occurred in Israel in 2015. A Washington Post report in 2016 revealed U.S. taxpayer dollars were used in an effort to oust Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to a bipartisan report from the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), $350,000 in grants from the U.S. State Department were used “to build valuable political infrastructure—large voter contact lists, a professionally trained network of grassroots organizers/activists, and an impressive social media platform” not only to support peace negotiations, but to launch a large anti-Netanyahu grassroots organizing campaign.

Through the years, the U.S. has also gone so far as to fund the election campaigns of specific parties; make public announcements in favor of the candidates they support; and threaten to withhold foreign aid should voters favor opposition candidates.

More on Levin’s numerical findings on American interference comes from across the pond, via Britain’s Channel 4 News:

According to his research, there were 117 “partisan electoral interventions” between 1946 and 2000. That’s around one of every nine competitive elections held since Second World War.

The majority of these – almost 70 per cent – were cases of US interference.

And these are not all from the Cold War era; 21 such interventions took place between 1990 and 2000, of which 18 were by the US.

“60 different independent countries have been the targets of such interventions,” Levin’s writes. “The targets came from a large variety of sizes and populations, ranging from small states such as Iceland and Grenada to major powers such as West Germany, India, and Brazil.”

It’s important to note that these cases vary greatly – some simply involved steps to publicly support one candidate and undermine another.

But almost two thirds of interventions were done in secret, with voters having no idea that foreign powers were actively trying to influence the results.

Forbes reports on some of the methods employed:

The U.S. uses numerous tools to advance its interests. Explained Nina Agrawal of the Los Angeles Times: “These acts, carried out in secret two-thirds of the time, include funding the election campaigns of specific parties, disseminating misinformation or propaganda, training locals of only one side in various campaigning or get-out-the-vote techniques, helping one side design their campaign materials, making public pronouncements or threats in favor of or against a candidate, and providing or withdrawing foreign aid.”

It’s not clear how much impact Washington’s efforts had: Levin figured the vote increase for U.S.-backed candidates averaged three percent. The consequences often didn’t seem to satisfy Washington; in almost half of the cases America intervened at least a second time in the same country’s electoral affairs.

Ironically, given the outrage directed at Moscow today, in 1996 Washington did what it could to ensure the reelection of Boris Yeltsin over the communist opposition. The U.S. backed a $10.2 billion IMF loan, an ill-disguised bribe were used by the Yeltsin government for social spending before the election. Americans also went over to Russia to help. Time magazine placed Boris Yeltsin on the cover holding an American flag; the article was entitled “Yanks to the Rescue: The Secret Story of How American Advisers Helped Yeltsin Win.”

The Hill gives a voice to the interventionist hidden hand:

When asked whether the U.S. interferes in other countries’ elections, James Woolsey said, “Well, only for a very good cause in the interests of democracy.”

“Oh, probably, but it was for the good of the system in order to avoid communists taking over,” he told Laura Ingraham on her Fox News show on Friday night.

Woolsey served as CIA director under former President Clinton. His comments follow a federal indictment released on Friday that accused 13 Russian individuals and three Russian groups of attempting to influence the 2016 presidential election.

The Russian embassy to the United Kingdom quoted Woolsey on Saturday, adding the comment: “Says it all.”

Yep.

There’s lot’s more, after the jump. . Continue reading

Headlines of the day: Surrealism in TrumpAmerica™


Today a collection of headlines form the London Daily Mail, revealing the surreal nature of life under President Pussygrabber:

We begin with a cancelled celebration:

Philadelphia Cinco de Mayo parade organizers make ‘sad but responsible’ decision to cancel this year’s event due to immigration crackdown fears

  • El Carnaval de Puebla, Philadelphia’s largest Cinco de Mayo celebration, will not be held this year
  • It normally attracts as many as 15,000 people from as far away as Chicago
  • Organizers decided not to hold due to fears over federal immigration crackdown

Next up, cause for cabinet paranoia in Big Brother’s world:

White House has eyes and ears in cabinet agencies: ‘Special assistants’ sit near secretaries’ offices and report back to the West Wing

  •  The White House has installed 16 senior advisors at cabinet agencies
  •  The officials keep watch over agency activities and report back to the White House
  • EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has shut the advisor out of some staff meetings, the Washington Post reports
  • The Pentagon’s minder has been nicknamed ‘commisar’ 
  • The advisors report back to the White House, and are charged with ensuring loyalty to White House objectives

And a denial:

‘I have no information that supports those tweets’: FBI Director Comey knocks down Trump’s claim Obama tapped his phones at Trump Tower – but there IS a probe into collusion with Russia

  • FBI Director James Comey appeared before the House Intelligence Committee today to talk about Russian meddling in the presidential election
  • He stated during questioning that he does not have information corroborating President Trump’s claim that he had his phones tapped at Trump Tower 
  • Denies engaging in ‘McCarthyism’ 
  • Was also there to talk about Trump’s claim that Obama wiretapped him 
  • ‘There was no FISA warrant that I’m aware of to tap Trump Tower,’ the California Republican stated on Fox News Sunday 
  • Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House panel, accused Trump of leading Congress on a ‘wild goose chase’ in a competing interview on NBC 
  • Will Hurd, a Republican on the panel, said Sunday that he believes it’s time for Trump to apologize for the incredible assault on the former president

And some hysteria:

Trump says Democrats ‘made up’ story about his campaign’s Russia ties: ‘This story is FAKE NEWS and everyone knows it’

  • President unleashed a barrage of tweets as Congress prepares to hear testimony about  alleged conspiracy between his campaign and Russia
  • ‘The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign,’ he claimed
  • ‘This story is FAKE NEWS and everyone knows it’ 
  • Trump also tweeted that the ‘real story that Congress, the FBI and all others should be looking into is the leaking of Classified information’

Plus some disbelief:

The Chancellor of shade! Angela Merkel’s epic side-eye to President Trump over Obama wiretapping claims becomes online sensation

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel looked incredulous on Friday when President Trump claimed that former President Obama wiretapped them both 
  • Photos and video of Merkel’s side-eye have since gone viral 
  • One Instagram user made a meme about the look, writing ‘That moment when you realize you are now the leader of the Western World!’

Plus outright rejection:

Majority of young adults see Trump’s presidency as ‘illegitimate’ including close to three-quarters of African Americans according to new poll

  • A new poll found that 57 percent of Americans age 18 to 30 believe that Trump is an ‘illegitimate’ president
  • Among young adults of color,  74 percent of African Americans and 71 percent of Latinos/as believe Trump’s presidency is illegitimate 
  • A majority of those polled in all racial groups said that they believe Russia has compromising information on President Trump 
  • Just 22 percent of young adults approve of the job Trump is doing as president according to the GenForward poll
  • That number if far lower than the 37 percent approval rating President Trmp received in a Gallup poll also released on Monday  
  • The poll was conducted by the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago with The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research

And to close, calling a spade a spade:

Fareed Zakaria accuses President Trump of ‘bulls***ing’ his way to the White House after spending his ‘whole life bulls***ing’, in foul-mouthed rant on CNN

  • Fareed Zakaria got brutally honest on his opinion about the President: that he is a bulls***ter 
  • The CNN Host said that he thinks that the President is indifferent to true and false
  • He used the word s*** four times in the interview, causing Twitter to go wild

Oh, and here’s the video of Zakaria’s interview:

Headlines of the day: Time for TrumpTales™


We begin with top two headlines from the New York Times:

White House Tries to Soothe Britain, Angry Over Spy Claim

  • The White House scrambled to deal with an unusual rupture after suggesting that former President Barack Obama used a British spy agency to wiretap Donald J. Trump during the campaign.
  • A spokesman for the prime minister said Britain had been assured the “allegations would not be repeated.”
Add a dash from the Guardian:

White House-GCHQ row reveals a leader willing to alienate allies to save face

  • The extraordinary public rebuke by the United States’ closest surveillance partner has revealed an emerging characteristic of Donald Trump’s White House: a willingness to antagonize even its allies instead of admitting error.
  • GCHQ, the UK surveillance mammoth intimately linked to the National Security Agency (NSA), has taken public exception to an allegation repeated from the White House podium that, if true, would probably shatter the Five Eyes intelligence alliance so dear to both Washington and London.
  • Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, credulously repeated on Thursday an account by a Fox News pundit, Andrew Napolitano, that GCHQ laundered surveillance on Trump at the behest of Barack Obama. Napolitano, who is in no position to actually know, made the allegation apparently to explain away the emerging consensus, even from senior Republicans on the intelligence committees, that there is no basis to Trump’s claim that Obama ordered that surveillance.
  • GCHQ practically never responds to stories about its operations. But the implications of this one are severe. There would be no way for the NSA and GCHQ, which are joined at the hip, to continue their partnership if GCHQ was willing to interfere in the US political process.

And top it all off with the London Daily Mail and an act from the sideshow:

Frantic search for Secret Service agent’s STOLEN laptop containing Trump Tower floor plans and Clinton email details after she left it in her parked car

  • A Secret Service agent’s laptop was reportedly stolen from her vehicle parked in her driveway in Brooklyn, New York Thursday morning 
  • The agency and the NYPD have been frantically trying to find the computer, which reportedly has ‘sensitive’ information that could harm national security
  • The contents of the computer include floor layouts for Trump Tower and information about the Clinton email investigation 
  • A thief was seen on surveillance footage breaking into the car and then walking away with a backpack

CIA spooks only doing what corporations do


Following up on our previous post; there’s this from New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice:

Don’t say we didn’t warn you about this one: your “smart” TV may be spying on you. Really.

According to classified documents leaked this week, the CIA found a way to hack the microphone on televisions equipped with voice control and send the audio back to headquarters. It can even record in “Fake-Off” mode – when the TV looks like it’s off but isn’t, according to notes on project “Weeping Angel.”

See, this is why we can’t have nice things.

Way back in 2014, we noticed a rather ominous waring in the novella-length privacy policy that came with our new smart TV: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.”

That news was bad enough, creating a big privacy problem thanks to the so-called “third-party doctrine,” a legal artifact of the pre-Internet age. It basically means you don’t have any privacy in the data you send through third parties like Google or Apple – or Samsung. We’re looking at you too, Amazon Echo.

Now, it appears the CIA has found a way to exploit this vulnerability directly. And it’s a safe bet they’re not the only ones.

To be clear, there is a big difference between tapping a phone line, bugging a hotel room, and breaking the internet – or in this case, the Internet of Things. And sometimes a cliché is worth repeating: this may be a means to an end, but it’s a hell of a means.

(Pro tip: You don’t have to connect your smart TV to the internet.)

We would also note that here at esnl, we’ve also covered the privacy threat from your television, and video game controllers as well,

That bottom line is that technology has rendered privacy virtually [pun intended] obsolete.

Chart of the day: How the CIA can spy on you


From Agence France Presse, which reports that the founder of Wikileaks said there more revelations to come, but he’s staying mum till tech companies can see what’s coming:

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Thursday accused the CIA of “devastating incompetence” for failing to protect its hacking secrets and said he would work with tech companies to develop fixes for them.

“This is a historic act of devastating incompetence, to have created such an arsenal and then stored it all in one place,” Assange said.

“It is impossible to keep effective control of cyber weapons… If you build them, eventually you will lose them,” Assange said.

Assange was speaking in a press conference streamed live from Ecuador’s embassy in London, where he has been living as a fugitive from justice since 2012.

He said his anti-secrecy website had “a lot more information” about the Central Intelligence Agency’s hacking operation but would hold off on publishing it until WikiLeaks had spoken to tech manufacturers.

CIA hackers in Germany; when TV watches you


Germans were alarmed when Edward Snowden’s NSA document dump revealed that American spies were eavesdropping on their government more intensely than was the case elsewhere in Europe, and the latest WikiLeaks dump reveals that their compatriots at the CIA may be busy in Germany doing much the same.

And they might be watching them through their big screen TVs.

From Der Spiegel:

WikiLeaks says the CIA has its own cyberwar division and that around 200 experts belonging to the division are able to infiltrate computers around the world using tools specifically developed to steal data. The CIA hackers work at the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, WikiLeaks says, but adds that the agency maintains at least one base outside of the United States.

The documents indicate that the CIA hacking experts are also active in the U.S. Consulate General in Frankfurt, Germany, the largest American consulate in the world. According to WikiLeaks documents, the consulate grounds also house a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF, a building that is only accessible to CIA agents and officers from other U.S. intelligence agencies. These digital spies apparently work independently of each other in the facility so as not to blow their cover.

There are apparent references in the documents to trips taken to Frankfurt by these CIA hacking experts, complete with what passes for humor in the intelligence agency: “Flying Lufthansa: Booze is free so enjoy (within reason),” one of the documents reads. There is advice for ensuring privacy in the recommended hotels: “Do not leave anything electronic or sensitive unattended in your room. (Paranoid, yes but better safe than sorry.)”

One of the tools described in the documents, codename “Weeping Angel,” is specifically designed for hacking into Samsung F8000-Series smart televisions. According to the document, CIA agents are able to switch the televisions into “Fake Off,” which fools their owners into thinking it has been switched off. But the hackers are nevertheless able to use the TV’s microphone and webcam for surveillance purposes.

Chart of the day: Who’s reading your messages?


From Wikileaks, the relevant section of a CIA organizational chart organizational revealing the names of the agency departments with the power to hack into every aspect of your life should you come under their ever-watchful gaze:


Implants branch?

Sound the tinfoil hat alarm.

And just so you don’t get confused, here’s their official seal:

And the announcement. . .

Finally, from the announcement Wikileaks made today about their latest remarkable haul of top secret documents:

Today, Tuesday 7 March 2017, WikiLeaks begins its new series of leaks on the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Code-named “Vault 7″ by WikiLeaks, it is the largest ever publication of confidential documents on the agency.

The first full part of the series, “Year Zero”, comprises 8,761 documents and files from an isolated, high-security network situated inside the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence in Langley, Virgina. It follows an introductory disclosure last month of CIA targeting French political parties and candidates in the lead up to the 2012 presidential election.

Recently, the CIA lost control of the majority of its hacking arsenal including malware, viruses, trojans, weaponized “zero day” exploits, malware remote control systems and associated documentation. This extraordinary collection, which amounts to more than several hundred million lines of code, gives its possessor the entire hacking capacity of the CIA. The archive appears to have been circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive.

“Year Zero” introduces the scope and direction of the CIA’s global covert hacking program, its malware arsenal and dozens of “zero day” weaponized exploits against a wide range of U.S. and European company products, include Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows and even Samsung TVs, which are turned into covert microphones.

Since 2001 the CIA has gained political and budgetary preeminence over the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). The CIA found itself building not just its now infamous drone fleet, but a very different type of covert, globe-spanning force — its own substantial fleet of hackers. The agency’s hacking division freed it from having to disclose its often controversial operations to the NSA (its primary bureaucratic rival) in order to draw on the NSA’s hacking capacities.

By the end of 2016, the CIA’s hacking division, which formally falls under the agency’s Center for Cyber Intelligence (CCI), had over 5000 registered users and had produced more than a thousand hacking systems, trojans, viruses, and other “weaponized” malware. Such is the scale of the CIA’s undertaking that by 2016, its hackers had utilized more code than that used to run Facebook. The CIA had created, in effect, its “own NSA” with even less accountability and without publicly answering the question as to whether such a massive budgetary spend on duplicating the capacities of a rival agency could be justified.

In a statement to WikiLeaks the source details policy questions that they say urgently need to be debated in public, including whether the CIA’s hacking capabilities exceed its mandated powers and the problem of public oversight of the agency. The source wishes to initiate a public debate about the security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons.

Headline of the day: Say goodbye to privacy


From the New York Times, the latest bombshell from WikiLeaks:

WikiLeaks Files Describe C.I.A. Tools to Break Into Phones

  • The documents describe software tools allegedly used by the C.I.A. to break into phones, computers and TVs.
  • The release said intelligence services managed to bypass encryption on popular messaging services such as Signal, WhatsApp and Telegram.

Obama wiretapped me: Trump goes full Breitbart


First, the tweetstorm:

blog-trumpet

And the story, first from the New York Times:

Speculation online quickly turned to the possibility that Mr. Trump had been reading an article on the Breitbart News site or listening to the conservative radio host Mark Levin; both have embraced the theory in recent days.

The Breitbart article, published on Friday, alleged a series of “known steps taken by President Barack Obama’s administration in its last months to undermine Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and, later, his new administration.”

It has been widely reported that there is a federal investigation, which began during the 2016 presidential campaign, into links between Trump associates and the Russians.

The New York Times reported in January that among the associates whose links to Russia are being scrutinized are Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s onetime campaign chairman; Carter Page, a businessman and foreign policy adviser to the campaign; and Roger Stone, a longtime Republican operative who has said he was in touch with WikiLeaks before it released a trove of Democratic National Committee emails last summer.

Mr. Trump appeared on Saturday to suggest that warrants had been issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, alleging that Mr. Obama’s administration had once been “turned down by court” in its supposed efforts to listen in on conversations by Mr. Trump and his associates.

The origins: Breitbart and wingnut radio

Yep, they’re even better than Fox News!

From the Guardian:

Trump’s tweets follow claims made by the conservative radio host Mark Levin on his Thursday night show about the alleged steps taken by the Obama administration to undermine the Republican candidate’s campaign to win the White House.

The presenter called the effort a “silent coup” by the Obama administration and called for a congressional investigation into the issue. That contrasts with demands from across the US political spectrum to examine Russian interference in the presidential election.

Levin’s comments were followed up by Breitbart News, the “alt-right” website formerly run by Steve Bannon, who ran the Trump campaign and is now the president’s chief strategist.

The article stated: “The Obama administration sought, and eventually obtained, authorisation to eavesdrop on the Trump campaign; continued monitoring the Trump team even when no evidence of wrongdoing was found; then relaxed the NSA [National Security Agency] rules to allow evidence to be shared widely within the government, virtually ensuring that the information, including the conversations of private citizens, would be leaked to the media.”

The Breitbart report references recent claims that the FBI asked the foreign intelligence surveillance court for a warrant last year to monitor members of the Trump team suspected of being in contact with Russian officials. The request for the warrant was initially rejected before being granted in October, the reports have said.

So let’s get this straight. . .

The FBI tried to get wiretaps on TeamTrump™ last year. Then when they failed in the normal federal court system, they headed to the one court that rolls over more than 99.97 percent of the time.

That the FISC granted the request was, then, hardly a surprise.

But what is noteworthy is that you only go to the FISC for a warrant in case of espionage and other national security matters.

We wonder on what grounds the regular court denied the requests. In normal criminal cases of the cases that require the FBI’s participation, wiretap subpoenas allow recordings of conversations between specific individuals named in an FBI agent’s sworn affidavit accompanying the wiretap request.

We’ve never covered the FISC, but in other jurisdictions, state and federal, documentation of wiretaps becomes public once the wiretap authorization ends.

But because the application was moved to the FISC, a whole different set of rules apply. Because the court deals in state secrets and the court itself is closed to public access, almost all of what happens there stays classified.

Trump may be correct in asserting his campaign offices were wiretapped, but unless he was named in the affidavit, any conversations he had would not have been monitored or recorded. If he was named, then an FBI agent was willing to go on record stating that the Bureau suspected him of involvement in criminal behavior.

We await further developments with interest.

A damning leak ignites another TrumpTantrum™


Two Associated Press stories reveal a classic case of abusive arrogance.

A leak reveals TrumpTeamTalks™ with Russian spooks

You really can’t fault Vladimir Putin if, as seems increasingly likely, he asked his former comrades in Russian foreign intelligence to see if they could find a friendlier ear in Washington.

After all, American presidents have used the CIA to gain friendlier ears in dozens of countries, with bloodshed often involved.

And no Russian politician could be unaware that Washington imposed the Russian political system in the wake of the fall of the U.S.S.R., itself a long-term goal of Washington.

The spark that ignited Trump’s tantrum, via the Associated Press:

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus asked top FBI officials to dispute media reports that Donald Trump’s campaign advisers were frequently in touch with Russian intelligence agents during the election, according to three White House officials who confirmed the unusual contact with law enforcement involved in a pending investigation.

The officials said that Priebus’ Feb. 15 request to FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe came as the White House sought to discredit a New York Times report about calls between Russian intelligence officials and people involved with Trump’s presidential run.

As of Friday, the FBI had not commented publicly on the veracity of the report and there was no indication it planned to, despite the White House’s request.

The White House officials would only discuss the matter on the condition of anonymity.

Then came the explosion. . .

And that second Associated Press story:

President Donald Trump escalated his criticism of the news media Friday, taking direct aim this time at the use of anonymous sources. Reporters “shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name,” he declared, just hours after members of his own staff held a press briefing and refused to allow their names to be used.

“A source says that Donald Trump is a horrible, horrible human being, let them say it to my face,” Trump told a large crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “Let there be no more sources.”

Members of Trump’s White House team regularly demand anonymity when talking to reporters.

Trump said he wasn’t against all media, just “the fake news media or press.”

“I’m against the people that make up stories and make up sources,” he said. “They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name.”

And who decides what’s fake?

The Fake-in-chief, of course!

Headlines of the day: More TrumpLandia™ Turmoil


We begin with the New York Times:

Republican Congress, Stuck at Starting Line, Jogs in Place

  • Republican lawmakers and President Trump have yet to deliver on any of the sweeping legislation they promised.
  • Disagreements, a lack of clarity from the White House and a slow confirmation process have stymied their plans.

Two from the Washington Post, starting with this:

Flynn saga shifts balance of power between president, Congress

  • In the wake of Michael Flynn’s resignation as national security adviser, Republican senators are vowing more aggressive oversight of the new administration, and Democrats are seizing an opportunity to ask pointed questions about President Trump’s ties to Russia.

And then this:

Trump looking at billionaire to lead review of U.S. spy agencies

  • Stephen A. Feinberg has been a major donor to Republican candidates and has served on Trump’s economic advisory council.

Next up, this from the Guardian:

Deutsche Bank examined Donald Trump’s account for Russia links

  • Bank looked for evidence of whether loans to president were underpinned by guarantees from Moscow, Guardian learns

Finally this inevitable TrumpTweetstorm™ subject-to-be from BBC News:

Israel-Palestinian conflict: UN warns Trump over two-state reversal

  • The UN chief has warned Donald Trump against abandoning the idea of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying there is “no alternative”.
  • It comes after Mr Trump went against decades of US policy, saying he would back whatever formula led to peace.
  • Palestinians reacted with alarm to the possibility that the US could drop support for Palestinian statehood.

Before win, Trump staff talked to Russian spooks


It just keeps getting better.

And potentially felonious.

From the New York Times:

Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.

American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.

The officials interviewed in recent weeks said that, so far, they had seen no evidence of such cooperation.

But the intercepts alarmed American intelligence and law enforcement agencies, in part because of the amount of contact that was occurring while Mr. Trump was speaking glowingly about the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin. At one point last summer, Mr. Trump said at a campaign event that he hoped Russian intelligence services had stolen Hillary Clinton’s emails and would make them public.

The officials said the intercepted communications were not limited to Trump campaign officials, and included other associates of Mr. Trump. On the Russian side, the contacts also included members of the government outside of the intelligence services, they said. All of the current and former officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the continuing investigation is classified.

More from the Guardian:

The New York Times report cites four current and former US intelligence officials who are unnamed and who conceded they had “so far” seen no evidence in the intercepted phone communications that Trump campaign officials had cooperated with Russian intelligence in Moscow’s efforts to skew the election in Trump’s favour. The officials do not explain what, in that case, the contacts were about.

A CNN report said “high-level advisers close to then-presidential nominee Donald Trump were in constant communication during the campaign with Russians known to US intelligence”.

Despite the uncertainties, the reports are threatening to the Trump administration on a number of levels.

  • They flatly contradict the White House spokesman, Sean Spicer, who on Tuesday repeated his earlier assertions that there had been no pre-election contacts between the Trump team and Russian officials. Last month, Trump himself also denied any such contacts.
  • They pile further pressure on the Republican congressional leadership to launch committee hearings on Russian election interference that were promised, but have so far failed to materialise.
  • They are a further sign that intelligence officials are willing to leak extensively against the Trump administration, making it extremely risky for the White House to try to shut down investigations into collusion with Moscow that are reportedly being carried out by several intelligence agencies.
  • They add circumstantial weight to the reports on the Trump campaign’s Kremlin links compiled last year and passed to the FBI by a former MI6 officer, Christopher Steele. His reports alleged active, sustained and covert collusion to subvert the election which, if confirmed, could constitute treason.

Saving the best for last: Obama frees Manning


Barack Obama, who has ordered the prosecution of more whistleblowers than all previous presidents combined, has finally decided to set one of them go.

From the Associated Press:

President Barack Obama granted clemency to Chelsea Manning on Tuesday, allowing the transgender Army intelligence officer convicted of leaking more than 700,000 U.S. documents to go free nearly three decades early.

Embracing his clemency powers days before leaving office, Obama also pardoned 64 individuals including retired Gen. James Cartwright, charged with making false statements during another leak probe. Manning was one of 209 inmates with sentences commuted by Obama, who has now granted more commutations than any other president in history.

>snip<

Manning has been serving a 35-year sentence for leaking classified government and military documents to WikiLeaks, along with some battlefield video. She was convicted in military court of violating the Espionage Act and other offenses and spent more than six years behind bars. She asked Obama last November to commute her sentence to time served.

Her case has pitted LGBT rights activists, who warned about her mental health and treatment as a transgender woman living in a men’s prison, against national security hawks who said she did devastating damage to U.S. interests. The former cheered Obama’s move, while the latter called it an outrageous act that set a dangerous precedent.

Yet Obama did not grant a pardon to another prominent leaker, former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, whom the U.S. has been unable to extradite from Russia. Snowden hasn’t formally applied for clemency, though his supporters have called for it. Yet the White House drew a distinction between the unapologetic Snowden and Manning, whom officials noted has expressed remorse and served several years already for her crime.

2016 proved a black year for personal privacy


In brief, new laws and executive orders have given uintelligence agencies in the U.S. and U.K. unprecedented powers to gather a near-infinite harvest of the digital traces of our lives.

And in the U.S., gleanings once accessible only to a handful of political, military, and diplomatic elites will now be open to a host of law enforcement agencies.

From the New York Times:

In its final days, the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.

The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the N.S.A. may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operations, which are largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws. These include collecting satellite transmissions, phone calls and emails that cross network switches abroad, and messages between people abroad that cross domestic network switches.

The change means that far more officials will be searching through raw data. Essentially, the government is reducing the risk that the N.S.A. will fail to recognize that a piece of information would be valuable to another agency, but increasing the risk that officials will see private information about innocent people.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch signed the new rules, permitting the N.S.A. to disseminate “raw signals intelligence information,” on Jan. 3, after the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., signed them on Dec. 15, according to a 23-page, largely declassified copy of the procedures.

Previously, the N.S.A. filtered information before sharing intercepted communications with another agency, like the C.I.A. or the intelligence branches of the F.B.I. and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The N.S.A.’s analysts passed on only information they deemed pertinent, screening out the identities of innocent people and irrelevant personal information.

More from the Intercept:

The change was in the works long before there was any expectation that someone like Trump might become president. The last-minute adoption of the procedures is one of many examples of the Obama administration making new executive powers established by the Bush administration permanent, on the assumption that the executive branch could be trusted to police itself.

Executive Order 12333, often referred to as “twelve triple-three,” has attracted less debate than congressional wiretapping laws, but serves as authorization for the NSA’s most massive surveillance programs — far more than the NSA’s other programs combined. Under 12333, the NSA taps phone and internet backbones throughout the world, records the phone calls of entire countries, vacuums up traffic from Google and Yahoo’s data centers overseas, and more.

In 2014, The Intercept revealed that the NSA uses 12333 as a legal basis for an internal NSA search engine that spans more than 850 billion phone and internet records and contains the unfiltered private information of millions of Americans.

In 2014, a former state department official described NSA surveillance under 12333 as a “universe of collection and storage” beyond what Congress has authorized.

And a Snooper’s Charter takes effect in the U.K.

It’s called the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, more familiarly known as the Snooper’s Charter [full text here].

The Guardian reported on the measure’s passage on 19 November:

A bill giving the UK intelligence agencies and police the most sweeping surveillance powers in the western world has passed into law with barely a whimper, meeting only token resistance over the past 12 months from inside parliament and barely any from outside.

The Investigatory Powers Act, passed on Thursday, legalises a whole range of tools for snooping and hacking by the security services unmatched by any other country in western Europe or even the US.

The security agencies and police began the year braced for at least some opposition, rehearsing arguments for the debate. In the end, faced with public apathy and an opposition in disarray, the government did not have to make a single substantial concession to the privacy lobby.

US whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted: “The UK has just legalised the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy. It goes further than many autocracies.”

One major organization, the National Council for Civil Liberties [counterpart of the American Civil Liberties Union in the U.S.], is on the legal offensive.

From their website:

Liberty is launching a landmark legal challenge to the extreme mass surveillance powers in the Government’s new Investigatory Powers Act – which lets the state monitor everybody’s web history and email, text and phone records, and hack computers, phones and tablets on an industrial scale.

Liberty is seeking a High Court judicial review of the core bulk powers in the so-called Snoopers’ Charter – and calling on the public to help it take on the challenge by donating via crowdfunding platform CrowdJustice.

Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, said: “Last year, this Government exploited fear and distraction to quietly create the most extreme surveillance regime of any democracy in history. Hundreds of thousands of people have since called for this Act’s repeal because they see it for what it is – an unprecedented, unjustified assault on our freedom.

“We hope anybody with an interest in defending our democracy, privacy, press freedom, fair trials, protest rights, free speech and the safety and cybersecurity of everyone in the UK will support this crowdfunded challenge, and make 2017 the year we reclaim our rights.”

The Investigatory Powers Act passed in an atmosphere of shambolic political opposition last year, despite the Government failing to provide any evidence that such indiscriminate powers were lawful or necessary to prevent or detect crime. A petition calling for its repeal

Liberty will seek to challenge the lawfulness of the following powers, which it believes breach the public’s rights:

  • the Act lets police and agencies access, control and alter electronic devices like computers, phones and tablets on an industrial scale, regardless of whether their owners are suspected of involvement in crime – leaving them vulnerable to further attack by hackers.
  • the Act allows the state to read texts, online messages and emails and listen in on calls en masse, without requiring suspicion of criminal activity.

Bulk acquisition of everybody’s communications data and internet history

  • the Act forces communications companies and service providers to hand over records of everybody’s emails, phone calls and texts and entire web browsing history to state agencies to store, data-mine and profile at its will. This provides a goldmine of valuable personal information for criminal hackers and foreign spies.
  • the Act lets agencies acquire and link vast databases held by the public or private sector. These contain details on religion, ethnic origin, sexuality, political leanings and health problems, potentially on the entire population – and are ripe for abuse and discrimination.

The secret agreements giving those new laws more power

From a review [open access] of the implications of revelations contained in the Snowden leaks in the International Journal of Law and Information Technology:

The US and UK’s signals intelligence agencies, National Security Agency (NSA) and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), have gained access to very large volumes of Internet communications and data, for extremely broad ‘foreign intelligence’ purposes. A declassified 2011 US court order shows that NSA was already accessing more than 250 million ‘Internet communications’ each year. GCHQ is recording 3 days of international Internet traffic transiting the UK and 30 days of ‘metadata’ about these communications, and has gained access to ‘the majority’ of European Internet and telephone communications. NSA and GCHQ ‘collection’ of data is via intercepts of Internet traffic flowing through international fibre optic cables operated by telecommunications companies, and through automated searches carried out by Internet companies such as Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook on their internal systems, as well as the provision of complete records of all US telephone calls by AT&T, Verizon and others. NSA Director Keith Alexander asked his staff in 2008: ‘Why can’t we collect all the signals all the time?’—and they have set out to implement this vision.

The US and UK laws compel this cooperation by telecommunications and Internet companies (including ‘cloud computing’ providers that increasingly provide the infrastructure for Internet services).5 Other European governments cooperate with the USA–UK–Canada–Australia–New Zealand ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence alliance, notably an additional four countries in a ‘9-Eyes’ group (France, The Netherlands, Norway and Denmark) and a further five (Germany, Sweden, Spain, Belgium and Italy) in a ‘14-Eyes’ configuration.

NSA has further bugged EU offices and computer networks in Washington DC and New York, and gained access to UN internal videoconferencing systems. It has interception equipment and staff (jointly with the CIA) at 80 US embassies.

NSA has compromised at least 85,000 ‘strategically chosen’ machines in computer networks around the world; each device ‘in some cases … opens the door to hundreds or thousands of others.’ A new automated system is capable of managing ‘potentially millions’ of compromised machines for intelligence gathering and ‘active attack’. NSA conducted 231 ‘offensive operations’ in 2011, which represents ‘an evolution in policy, which in the past sought to preserve an international norm against acts of aggression in cyberspace, in part because U.S. economic and military power depend so heavily on computers’. NSA is spending $250 million each year to sabotage security standards and systems so that it can maintain access to encrypted data. GCHQ has developed methods to access encrypted data communications to Hotmail, Google, Facebook and Yahoo!

And if is those international agreements that magnify the impact of the increased panoptical powers in the United States and Great Britain.

And foremost among those pacts in the UKUSA Agreement, an accord granting London and Washington unparalleled access to each others intelligence gleanings.

Headline of the day: Assange offers U.S. a deal


From the London Daily Mail:

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange agrees to extradition if Barack Obama releases U.S. military whistleblower Chelsea Manning

  • WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to agree to be extradited to United States if President Obama grants Chelsea Manning clemency
  • Manning is serving a 35-year sentence for leaking U.S. military documents
  • WikiLeaks tweeted on Thursday saying Assange will agree to extradition
  • He has been in Ecuadoran embassy in London since June 2012

Images of the day: Whistle while you work


First a tweet from security researcher Dan Staples, taking it to the man:

blog-nsa-shirt

And the image on his T-shirt [which you can find online here]:

blog-nsa-shirt-2

Headline of the day II: And still more curioser


A dramatic turnaround just posted by the New York Times:

‘I Think It Was Russia,’ Trump Says About D.N.C. Hacking

  • President-elect Trump conceded for the first time that Russia was behind the hacking of Democrats during the presidential campaign.
  • But at the news conference he vigorously denied the swirl of allegations about his ties to Russia.

Headline of the day: Curiouser and curiouser


From the New York Times:

Chart of the day: An election-rigging score card


From When the Great Power Gets a Vote: The Effects of Great Power, by Dov H. Levin, Post Doctoral Fellow in the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie-Mellon University, and published as an open access report in International Studies Quarterly, a look at electoion-fixing efforts by the U.S. and the Soviet Union between 1946 and 2000.

From When the Great Power Gets a Vote: The Effects of Great Power, by Dov H. Levin, Post Doctoral Fellow in the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie-Mellon University, and published as an open access report in International Studies Quarterly, a look at election-fixing efforts by the U.S. and the Soviet Union between 1946 and 2000.

More from the Los Angeles Times:

The CIA has accused Russia of interfering in the 2016 presidential election by hacking into Democratic and Republican computer networks and selectively releasing  emails. But critics might point out the U.S. has done similar things.

The U.S. has a long history of attempting to influence presidential elections in other countries – it’s done so as many as 81 times between 1946 and 2000, according to a database amassed by political scientist Dov Levin of Carnegie Mellon University.

That number doesn’t include military coups and regime change efforts following the election of candidates the U.S. didn’t like, notably those in Iran, Guatemala and Chile. Nor does it include general assistance with the electoral process, such as election monitoring.

Levin defines intervention as “a costly act which is designed to determine the election results [in favor of] one of the two sides.” These acts, carried out in secret two-thirds of the time, include funding the election campaigns of specific parties, disseminating misinformation or propaganda, training locals of only one side in various campaigning or get-out-the-vote techniques, helping one side design their campaign materials, making public pronouncements or threats in favor of or against a candidate, and providing or withdrawing foreign aid.

Fearful photographers call for camera encryption


While the security-conscious among us rely on encryption to protect our phones and computers, there’s another piece of hardware where matters just as much — the digital camera.

And for journalists, camera encryption can be a matter of life and death, both for the photographer and for her sources.

The increasing intrusiveness of state law enforcement and security makes encryption all the more necessary, and now some of the world’s leading photographers are calling on camera manufacturers to include sophisticated encryption in their hardware.

It’s a call we heartily endorse.

From Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation:

Freedom of the Press Foundation is publishing an open letter to the world’s leading camera manufacturers—including Nikon, Sony, Canon, Olympus, and Fuji—urging them to build encryption into their still photo and video cameras to help protect the filmmakers and photojournalists who use them.

The letter is signed by over 150 documentary filmmakers and photojournalists from around the world, including fifteen Academy Award nominees and winners, such as Laura Poitras, Alex Gibney, Joshua Oppenheimer, and many more.

Documentary filmmakers and photojournalists work in some of the most dangerous parts of the world, often risking their lives to get footage of newsworthy events to the public. They face a variety of threats from border security guards, local police, intelligence agents, terrorists, and criminals when attempting to safely return their footage so that it can be edited and published. These threats are particularly heightened any time a bad actor can seize or steal their camera, and they are left unprotected by the lack of security features that would shield their footage from prying eyes.

The magnitude of this problem is hard to overstate: Filmmakers and photojournalists have their cameras and footage seized at a rate that is literally too high to count. The Committee to Protect Journalists, a leading organization that documents many such incidents, told us:

“Confiscating the cameras of photojournalists is a blatant attempt to silence and intimidate them, yet such attacks are so common that we could not realistically track all these incidents. The unfortunate truth is that photojournalists are regularly targeted and threatened as they seek to document and bear witness, but there is little they can do to protect their equipment and their photos.” (emphasis added)

Camera manufacturers are behind the times compared to other technology companies. All iPhones and many Android phones come with encryption built into their devices. Communications services like Apple’s iMessage and FaceTime, plus Facebook’s WhatsApp, encrypt texts messages and calls by default. And major operating systems on PCs and Macs give users the ability to encrypt the hard drives on their computers. Yet footage stored on the professional cameras most commonly used today are still left dangerously vulnerable.

Finding the right way to do provide encryption in their products will take some research and development from these camera manufacturers, and we welcome having a conversation with Nikon, Sony, Canon and others about how to best move forward on this important initiative. However, we are hopeful they will publicly respond with a commitment to building encryption into their products to protect many of their most vulnerable customers.

We’d like to thank Field of Vision, the International Documentary Association, National Press Photographers Assocation, and Sundance’s Documentary Films Program, who we partnered with on this project and who all helped organize this effort. The letter below is addressed to Canon, and nearly identical letters have been sent to Sony, Nikon, Fuji, and Olympus:


Dear Canon,

We, the undersigned documentary filmmakers and photojournalists, are writing to urge your company to build encryption features into your still photo and video camera products. These features, which are currently missing from all commercial cameras on the market, are needed to protect our safety and security, as well as that of our sources and subjects worldwide.

Without encryption capabilities, photographs and footage that we take can be examined and searched by the police, military, and border agents in countries where we operate and travel, and the consequences can be dire.

We work in some of the most dangerous parts of the world, often attempting to uncover wrongdoing in the interests of justice. On countless occasions, filmmakers and photojournalists have seen their footage seized by authoritarian governments or criminals all over the world. Because the contents of their cameras are not and cannot be encrypted, there is no way to protect any of the footage once it has been taken. This puts ourselves, our sources, and our work at risk.