Category Archives: Spooks

Quote of the day: Was NSA ‘hack’ an inside job?


The posting of a catalog offering the supersecret National Security Agency’s hacking tools has been blamed on Russia by the Obama administration, but America’s most respected journalist covering the NSA beat writes that rather than a Russia hack, the raid on the NSA’s family jewels was more likely an inside job.

From James Bamford, writing for Reuters:

Like a bank robber’s tool kit for breaking into a vault, cyber exploitation tools, with codenames like EPICBANANA and BUZZDIRECTION, are designed to break into computer systems and networks. Just as the bank robber hopes to find a crack in the vault that has never been discovered, hackers search for digital cracks, or “exploits,” in computer programs like Windows.

The most valuable are “zero day” exploits, meaning there have been zero days since Windows has discovered the “crack” in their programs. Through this crack, the hacker would be able to get into a system and exploit it, by stealing information, until the breach is eventually discovered and patched. According to the former NSA officials who viewed the Shadow Broker files, they contained a number of exploits, including zero-day exploits that the NSA often pays thousands of dollars for to private hacking groups.

The reasons given for laying the blame on Russia appear less convincing, however. “This is probably some Russian mind game, down to the bogus accent,” James A. Lewis, a computer expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, told the New York Times. Why the Russians would engage in such a mind game, he never explained.

Rather than the NSA hacking tools being snatched as a result of a sophisticated cyber operation by Russia or some other nation, it seems more likely that an employee stole them. Experts who have analyzed the files suspect that they date to October 2013, five months after Edward Snowden left his contractor position with the NSA and fled to Hong Kong carrying flash drives containing hundreds of thousands of pages of NSA documents.

So, if Snowden could not have stolen the hacking tools, there are indications that after he departed in May 2013, someone else did, possibly someone assigned to the agency’s highly sensitive Tailored Access Operations.

>snip<

[W]e now have entered a period many have warned about, when NSA’s cyber weapons could be stolen like loose nukes and used against us. It opens the door to criminal hackers, cyber anarchists and hostile foreign governments that can use the tools to gain access to thousands of computers in order to steal data, plant malware and cause chaos.

It’s one more reason why NSA may prove to be one of Washington’s greatest liabilities rather than assets.

Headline of the day: What’s sauce for the goose


From the New York Times:

‘Shadow Brokers’ Leak Raises Alarming Question: Was the N.S.A. Hacked?

The release on websites this week of what appears to be top-secret computer code that the National Security Agency has used to break into the networks of foreign governments and other espionage targets has caused deep concern inside American intelligence agencies, raising the question of whether America’s own elite operatives have been hacked and their methods revealed.

Headline of the day: When spooks go very wrong


From the Intercept:

The Raid

  • In Bungled Spying Operation, NSA Targeted Pro-Democracy Campaigner
  • Tony Fullman is a middle-aged former tax man and a pro-democracy activist. But four years ago, a botched operation launched by New Zealand spies meant he suddenly found himself deemed a potential terrorist — his passport was revoked, his home was raided, and he was placed on a top-secret National Security Agency surveillance list.

Quote of the day: What’s sauce for the goose. . .


James Bamford is the journalist who’s done  the most to expose the inner workings of the U.S. National Security Agency, and in an essay for Reuters he puts the whole matter of those Clinton email hacks into much-needed perspective:

National attention is focused on Russian eavesdroppers’ possible targeting of U.S. presidential candidates and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Yet, leaked top-secret National Security Agency documents show that the Obama administration has long been involved in major bugging operations against the election campaigns — and the presidents — of even its closest allies.

The United States is, by far, the world’s most aggressive nation when it comes to cyberspying and cyberwarfare. The National Security Agency has been eavesdropping on foreign cities, politicians, elections and entire countries since it first turned on its receivers in 1952. Just as other countries, including Russia, attempt to do to the United States. What is new is a country leaking the intercepts back to the public of the target nation through a middleperson.

There is a strange irony in this. Russia, if it is actually involved in the hacking of the computers of the Democratic National Committee, could be attempting to influence a U.S. election by leaking to the American public the falsehoods of its leaders. This is a tactic Washington used against the Soviet Union and other countries during the Cold War.

In the 1950s, for example, President Harry S Truman created the Campaign of Truth to reveal to the Russian people the “Big Lies” of their government. Washington had often discovered these lies through eavesdropping and other espionage.

Today, the United States has morphed from a Cold War, and in some cases a hot war, into a cyberwar, with computer coding replacing bullets and bombs. Yet the American public manages to be “shocked, shocked” that a foreign country would attempt to conduct cyberespionage on the United States.

Read the rest.

Quote if the day: There’s too much democracy


That’s not our opinion: In esnl‘s opinion there’s too little of it, because democratic governance governance depends first and foremost on free and informed decisions by a fully informed citizenry, and we live in an information age characterized, sadly, by the lack of a broad-based common forum.

Instead,m we exist in a world characterized by an increasingly fragmented mediascape, where each of us in enclosed by a filter bubble, where we receive information tailored by us and the corporateers running the media to prey upon our basest impulses and desires, while excluding other inputs that might challenge us to actually think about viewpoints other than our own.

Additionally, he rise of the anonymous comment system has brought about the rise of new levels of incivility, where the commenter is freed from any responsibility for her/his own remarks, allowing for new levels of sheer ugliness in public discourse.

One of those who has profited most handsomely from this new mediascape is Peter Thiel, Silicon Valley venture capitalist and co-founder of Pay-Pal and a major early investor in Facebook.

Thiel is also the co-founder of Palantir Technologies, a cyberspook firm with corporate and government clients and one of the principals in a Bank of America-backed plan to sink Wikileaks and journalist Glenn Greenwald.

From Palantir's proposal to use cybertechology to destroy Wikileaks.

From Palantir’s proposal to use cybertechology to destroy Wikileaks.

Thiel has garnered abundant headlines of late from his successful backing of Hulk Hogan’s invasion of privacy action against Gawker Media, owners of the website that also outed the German-American billionaire as gay.

And now he’s taking the platform at the GOP convention in Cleveland tonight to hail the virtues of his chosen exemplar, Donald Trump.

And with that, our QOTD from Ben Tarnoff of the Guardian:

What Trump offers Thiel isn’t just an excuse to be contrary and politically incorrect. Trump gives Thiel something far more valuable: a way to fulfill his long-held ambition of saving capitalism from democracy.

In a 2009 essay called The Education of a Libertarian, Thiel declared that capitalism and democracy had become incompatible. Since 1920, he argued, the creation of the welfare state and “the extension of the franchise to women” had made the American political system more responsive to more people – and therefore more hostile to capitalism. Capitalism is not “popular with the crowd”, Thiel observed, and this means that as democracy expands, the masses demand greater concessions from capitalists in the form of redistribution and regulation.

The solution was obvious: less democracy. But in 2009, Thiel despaired of achieving this goal within the realm of politics. How could you possibly build a successful political movement for less democracy?

Fast forward two years, when the country was still slowly digging its way out of the financial crisis. In 2011, Thiel told George Packer that the mood of emergency made him “weirdly hopeful”. The “failure of the establishment” had become too obvious to ignore, and this created an opportunity for something radically new, “something outside the establishment”, to take root.

Now, in 2016, Thiel has finally found a politician capable of seizing that opportunity: a disruptor-in-chief who will destroy a dying system and build a better one in its place. Trump isn’t just a flamethrower for torching a rotten establishment, however – he’s the fulfillment of Thiel’s desire to build a successful political movement for less democracy.

Snowden: ‘This is not about me. This is about us.’


Visitors to the Roskilde Festival, the massive music festival held ever year in Denmark, were greeted by an unexpected guest lats month, Edward Snowden.

From the festival:

Amongst the sense of community, exotic food, colourful camps, unique live shows and much more, there is something else that stands out clearer than most other things from the festival for thousands of guests: Edward Snowden’s talk about digital surveillance related to the festival’s focus on equality.

Focus on digital surveillance

The famous whistleblower’s talk – via satellite from Moscow – followed a much-debated prank conducted by the activist art group The Yes Men that involved them setting up fake signs stating that the festival would be collecting and indefinitely storing all text and phone conversations while on festival grounds.

Before the nature of the signs was revealed, many festival-goers showed both despair and anger. This was exactly what The Yes Men had hoped to achieve with the stunt: to put emphasis on digital surveillance as a topic that needs to be discussed on a much broader scale.

The whole process has been documented by The Yes Men. Their 12-minute film about digital surveillance, the data stunt and Edward Snowden’s talk at Roskilde Festival 2016 is out now.

And with that, here’s the video, just posted by festival organizers:

Edward Snowden and The Yes Men surprise crowd at Roskilde Festival

Program notes:

At Roskilde Festival 2016, activist art group The Yes Men set up signs at the festival site saying that the festival would collect, store and pass on data from the festival-goers whenever they texted and talked on the phone.

But the message on the signs was of course untrue: it was all part of an art project thought up by the satirical activist and art group The Yes Men in collaboration with Edward Snowden. They wanted people to be aware of the consequences of digital surveillance. The festival-goers were in for a surprise…

German spooks want to target foreign reporters


And for the same reason they targeted German reporters until they were slapped down by the Bundestag. . .for that matter, for the same reason Richard Nixon illegally spied on reporters in the U.S.

What’s the German word for Plumbers? Oh, yeah: Klempner.

You remember the Plumbers, don’t you?

They were the squad of ex-spooks and other devious souls dispatched by the Nixon White House to find out who was leaking embarrassing things to the White House press corps.

Targets included reporters for the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times.

One special target, syndicated columnist Jack Anderson, was even earmarked for assassination before it all went bad for tricky Dick.

So what about those Klempner?

German spooks slapped down

From the 27 May edition of Deutsche Welle:

The German government’s parliamentary committee has confirmed allegations that Foreign Intelligence Agency (BND) agents illegally spied on journalists to expose their sources.

The 180-page parliamentary report made public determined that measures taken by the BND against German reporters in an effort to shut off leaks violated the law.

“Regarding the accusations in the press that the Federal Intelligence Service … illegally spied on journalists in order to expose their sources, it is to be ascertained that such observations did take place … these measures were predominantly illegal,” the report read.

BND agents picked through the journalists’ rubbish and traced their research, the report stated. While none of the reporters were bugged, agents used other measures against them to try to uncover their sources, including stealing a box of his papers that one journalist had thrown away and tracing another’s research in the federal archive.

The report, compiled by Gerhard Schäfer on behalf of the committee, also called for the agency “to formally apologize” to the journalists whom it spied on.

>snip<

The head of the BND, Ernst Uhrlau, apologized to the media shortly after it was released and promised to take steps to prevent such abuses in future.

“As president of the BND, I apologize for all rights abuses that resulted because of steps taken by the service,” he said.

If at first you don’t succeed. . .

Caught black-handed and dressed down for spying on their own country’s journalists, Germany spooks are trying an end run by getting legislation to spy on non-German reporters covering their country.

During our own journalism career, we’ve encountered lots of reporters from other countries, and one thing we can say for certain is that there’s always a lot of communication between foreign correspondents and domestic reporters in the countries they’re covering.

So spying on the foreign correspondents is sure to turn up a lot of information on and communications with the German press corps.

But the whole idea of spying on the Fortuh Estate has raised a lot of hackles, including officials of the world’s largest intergovernmental security agency, with responsibility for arms control, press freedom, human rights and the promotion of human rights, and fair elections

From the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, an official body with representatives from 57 jurisdictions:

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic, today expressed concern about a proposed law on the German Foreign Intelligence Agency (BND, Bundesnachrichtendienst), which was debated in the Bundestag, Germany’s Federal Parliament, today.

“Increasing surveillance capabilities of journalists is a clear threat to media freedom,” Mijatovic said. “This draft law runs counter to the very core of fundamental freedoms such as media freedom and freedom of expression.”

The draft law increases BND’s capabilities to place foreign journalists under surveillance. Moreover, no exemption is made for the work of journalists, and journalists without citizenship of the European Union can be subjected to surveillance without an explicit court order.

“I call on the German Bundestag to revise the current draft law and ensure proper the protection of journalists regardless of their nationality,” Mijatovic said.

More opposition to the law

Needless to say, journalists themselves are up in arm, as is a leading journalism NGO.

From Reporters Without Borders:

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the German ruling coalition’s parliamentary groups to immediately amend a proposed law on the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence service, in order to prevent the BND from spying on journalists.

The bill empowering the BND to place foreign journalists under surveillance is to be debated in parliament.

Instead of clarifying issues, the federal government has completely abandoned the protection of foreign journalists and is poised to legalize measures that would constitute grave violations of two fundamental rights – freedom of expression and media freedom.

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