Category Archives: Spooks

DiFi loses fight over digital backdoor demands


From Reuters:

After a rampage that left 14 people dead in San Bernardino, key U.S. lawmakers pledged to seek a law requiring technology companies to give law enforcement agencies a “back door” to encrypted communications and electronic devices, such as the iPhone used by one of the shooters.

Now, only months later, much of the support is gone, and the push for legislation dead, according to sources in congressional offices, the administration and the tech sector.

Draft legislation that Senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Intelligence Committee, had circulated weeks ago likely will not be introduced this year and, even if it were, would stand no chance of advancing, the sources said.

Key among the problems was the lack of White House support for legislation in spite of a high-profile court showdown between the Justice Department and Apple Inc over the suspect iPhone, according to Congressional and Obama Administration officials and outside observers.

Someone was very happy:

BLOG Snowden

Spooky news: Here’s lookin’ at you kid


Two items of note in the world of spooky panoptical perception, including a nasty bit of corporate spyware that targets your kids.

First, from the Intercept, news of a bill that would give the FBI the right to look at your email data and more, all without a warrant or even eventual disclosure to the target of their snooping:

A provision snuck into the still-secret text of the Senate’s annual intelligence authorization would give the FBI the ability to demand individuals’ email data and possibly web-surfing history from their service providers without a warrant and in complete secrecy.

If passed, the change would expand the reach of the FBI’s already highly controversial national security letters. The FBI is currently allowed to get certain types of information with NSLs—most commonly information about the name, address, and call information associated with a phone number or details about a bank account.

Since a 2008 Justice Department legal opinion, the FBI has not been allowed to use NSLs to demand “electronic communication transaction records” such as email subject lines and other metadata, or URLs visited.

The spy bill passed the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, with the provision in it. The lone no vote came from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who wrote in a statement that one of its provisions “would allow any FBI field office to demand email records without a court order, a major expansion of federal surveillance powers.”

And then there’s this, a little corporate cyber-pedophilia — except this time it isn’t your child’s body they’re lusting for, but her thoughts.

From the Guardian:

In a promotional video for Amazon’s Echo virtual assistant device, a young girl no older than 12 asks excitedly: “Is it for me?”. The voice-controlled speaker can search the web for information, answer questions and even tell kids’ jokes. “It’s for everyone,” enthuses her on-screen dad.

Except that it isn’t. An investigation by the Guardian has found that despite Amazon marketing the Echo to families with young children, the device is likely to contravene the US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), set up to regulate the collection and use of personal information from anyone younger than 13.

Along with Google, Apple and others promoting voice-activated artificial intelligence systems to young children, the company could now face multimillion-dollar fines.

“This is part of the initial wave of marketing to children using the internet of things,” says Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a privacy advocacy group that helped write the law. “It is exactly why the law was enacted in the first place, to protect young people from pervasive data collection.”

Pentagon whistleblowers face a stacked deck


John Crane, who investigated whistleblower complaints for the Pentagon for a quarter-century, and author Mark Hertsgaard talk with Democracy Now! about the stacked deck faced by would-be whistleblowers like Edward Snowden.

With Mark Hertsgaard, who details Crane’s allegations in a new book, Bravehearts: Whistle-Blowing in the Age of Snowden, Crane talks about the story of NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, and the Pentagon’s notoriously abysmal record of investigating abuses reported by employees.

Given such a record, Edward Snowden could realistically expect no action on his discovery of massive illegal surveillance of American citizens, leaving him only one sure out for exposing what he had found.

From Democracy Now!:

Part 1: Source Reveals How Pentagon Ruined Whistleblower’s Life and Set Stage for Snowden’s Leaks

Part 2: Source Reveals How Pentagon Ruined Whistleblower’s Life and Set Stage for Snowden’s Leaks

Part 3: Source Reveals How Pentagon Ruined Whistleblower’s Life and Set Stage for Snowden’s Leaks

From the transcript:

JOHN CRANE: Yes, yes. I think that in terms of when you think whether or not you should be a whistleblower, that you’re concerned about whether or not the system works. And there are various statistics out there, from the IG DOD semi-annual report, for instance, that in regard to the way the IG even investigates senior officials, over a two-and-a-half-year period, regarding senior officials in the Army, that the IG DOD received 482 allegations, accepted 10 allegations, substantiated one allegation.

AMY GOODMAN: Of 404, the Inspector General’s Office in the Pentagon, in the Department of Defense—

JOHN CRANE: Substantiated one, which is 0.2 percent. The Army, however, also investigating senior officials, under IG DOD oversight, they had 372 allegations. They investigated all 372 allegations. They had 102 substantiated. They had a 27 percent substantiation rate. So, this is a very major statistical anomaly. Why does the Army, looking at the same group of senior officials, have a 27 percent substantiation rate versus the IG with a 0.2 percent?

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to the case of Tom Drake.

JOHN CRANE: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: You allege documents were destroyed.

JOHN CRANE: I don’t allege that. Documents were destroyed. Because when the IG DOD—

AMY GOODMAN: You said you don’t allege that, that in fact you know that documents were destroyed.

JOHN CRANE: Because that is what the IG DOD said. Documents were destroyed according to a standard document destruction policy. And that was a statement that they made to the Department of Justice in regard to the Drake trial, because Drake’s attorneys wanted to find exculpatory information. The IG DOD response was, it just doesn’t exist.

AMY GOODMAN: It had existed.

JOHN CRANE: It had existed, and it should have existed.

MARK HERTSGAARD: Yeah, they made sure it didn’t exist.

Whistleblower retaliation claim backs Snowden


While both Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton insists whistleblowers have nothing to fear in they take their allegation of official abuse through official channels, new revelations back up Edward Snowden’s contention that he acted out of fear of retaliation if he followed the official doctrine.

From the Guardian:

Edward Snowden has called for a complete overhaul of US whistleblower protections after a new source from deep inside the Pentagon came forward with a startling account of how the system became a “trap” for those seeking to expose wrongdoing.

The account of John Crane, a former senior Pentagon investigator, appears to undermine Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other major establishment figures who argue that there were established routes for Snowden other than leaking to the media.

Crane, a longtime assistant inspector general at the Pentagon, has accused his old office of retaliating against a major surveillance whistleblower, Thomas Drake, in an episode that helps explain Snowden’s 2013 National Security Agency disclosures. Not only did Pentagon officials provide Drake’s name to criminal investigators, Crane told the Guardian, they destroyed documents relevant to his defence.

Snowden, responding to Crane’s revelations, said he had tried to raise his concerns with colleagues, supervisors and lawyers and been told by all of them: “You’re playing with fire.”

Whistleblowers, including Drake, had exposed the secret NSA programs implemented after 9./11 intercepting, without legally mandated warrants, the communications of American citizens.

There was strong pressure for prosecution of the others even after Drake had plead guilty and received no jail time.

From Der Spiegel, an account of what happened next, during the Obama administration:

John Crane remembers his boss, in an internal meeting, presenting the idea of passing the names of the whistleblowers on to the Justice Department officials investigating the case. Crane says he objected at the time and noted that this would be in violation of the legally guaranteed protection of anonymity for whistleblowers. The dispute continued outside the meeting room and he finally even pulled out his pamphlet with the law written on it. Crane says his boss answered by saying that he was in charge of relations with the Justice Department and that he would deal with it as he saw fit.

Those affected, the Pentagon and the Office of the Inspector General declined to respond in detail to SPIEGEL inquiries about the events. Crane’s former boss cited his oath of confidentiality. He said he was confident that an investigation into the events would show he was innocent of any wrongdoing.

Crane’s suspicions continued to grow, especially after important documents pertaining to the Drake case disappeared from the inspector general’s office. Drake’s lawyer Jesselyn Raddack asked the court to demand the documents, saying they would prove that Drake was only in possession of the NSA documents on his private computer because he wanted to provide them to the inspector general. This would have granted Drake source protection and prevented him from prosecution.

But the files could allegedly no longer be found in the Office of the Inspector General — it was claimed that they had been shredded. Staff had accidently “fucked up,” Crane remembers one of his superiors telling him before adding that Crane needed to be a “team player.” Crane’s superior told the judge that the disappearance of the files had resulted from an error made during the routine elimination of files. Crane didn’t believe a word of it. He was convinced that that files had been deliberately destroyed. “Lying to a judge during criminal proceedings is a punishable offense,” he says.

Crane decided against being a “team player.” He stopped toeing the line, he countered and complained. He also sent the message that he would not keep silent. As had been the case with Drake, this would result in painful personal consequences for Crane. In 2013, the then-inspector general ordered him into her office and slid his termination papers across the table. In front of the office, a security guard stripped him of his ID card.

A rare glimpse inside a dictator’s prison camps


Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte reigned as  dictator of Chile amd commander of its armed forces between 1973 and 1990, seizing power in an 11 September 1973 American-backed coup that ended in the death of the first elected Marxist president in Latin America, Salvador Allende.

The 11 September date of the Pinochet’s coup would lead some CIA analysts to believe initially that the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon had been carried out by Chileans as retribution for the earlier coup, in which then-U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had played a key role.

As many as 3,000 people were executed in the course of the coup itself, tens of thousands were tortured, and thousands more were “disappeared.”

Some of those who vanished first passed through concentration camps, and thanks to a rare video we now have a glimpse inside two of those camps, thanks to an East German camera crew.

From Journeyman Pictures:

Inside Pinochet’s Prisons: The horrifying story of what went on inside General Pinochet’s secret prisons.

Program notes:

In September 1973 Augusto Pinochet, backed by America, overthrew Chile?s Marxist but democratically elected government. Under his direct orders the Chilean secret police erected vast prison camps to detain left wing sympathisers. No-one was safe – doctors, lawyers, trade unionists and Communists were all rounded up in the night. Held without trial in Pinochet’s prisons they were brutally tortured and many executed; an attempt by Pinochet to stamp his ideological mark on the consciousness of a nation. Dressed in his pristine white military jacket Pinochet chillingly told the camera, “Marxism is like a ghost, it’s very difficult to catch – even impossible to trap.”

As the numbers of Chileans arrested and imprisoned grew into hundreds of thousands their communist allies watched in horror. The media was banned from Pinochet’s prisons, but the crew behind this film was working with East Germany’s Stasi intelligence services. They managed to persuade Pinochet to allow them into two of the camps. Operating on Western passports they made 2 visits, pretending they were producing Western-backed propaganda. It was a classic case of the cold war double-bluff. Though their permits said they could visit the camps, but not speak to the prisoners, incredibly the prison authorities missed that vital information.

Out of the desert camp come the faces of frightened men ‘ uncertain of the future Pinochet had in store for them. One by one they tell their stories to the camera. Some admit they are politically active, others say they were arrested for reasons as simple as having studied in Cuba. Some are old people, some are women. None know what charges they face, or when they will come to trial. The camp doctor describes the neurosis and mental illness suffered by the prisoners who can only imagine the worst of fates. Young men in particular are forced through ‘re-education’ and the camera captures groups of them marching and singing military songs.

Many prisoners had been held at the National Stadium many miles away. The survivors were the lucky ones. The film crew secretly captured what went on there with telephoto lenses. The powerful images show men kneeling with their hands in the air, being kicked and beaten with the butts of soldiers’ guns. Others show men being marched into the stadium stripped naked with blankets over their heads, their fate probably electric torture or death by firing squad. They only hint at the full horrific story of a cleansing of leftist sympathisers.

A transcript of the film is posted here.

Spooky metdata can reveal your deepest secrets


When the NSA and other intelligence agencies say you shouldn’t be concerned because they only want to collect your metadata, you’re right to be suspicious their claims that such data is “harmless” and reveals nothing consequential about matters you’d prefer to keep to yourself.

Indeed, the very fact they want to collect should tell you something in and of itself.

And now comes confirmation that metadata can, in fact,  be quite revealing.

From Stanford University:

Most people might not give telephone metadata – the numbers you dial, the length of your calls – a second thought. Some government officials probably view it as similarly trivial, which is why this information can be obtained without a warrant.

But a new analysis [open source — esnl] by Stanford computer scientists shows that it is possible to identify a person’s private information – such as health details – from metadata alone. Additionally, following metadata “hops” from one person’s communications can involve thousands of other people.

The researchers set out to fill knowledge gaps within the National Security Agency’s current phone metadata program, which has drawn conflicting assertions about its privacy impacts. The law currently treats call content and metadata separately and makes it easier for government agencies to obtain metadata, in part because it assumes that it shouldn’t be possible to infer specific sensitive details about people based on metadata alone.

The findings, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provide the first empirical data on the privacy properties of telephone metadata. Preliminary versions of the work, previously made available online, have already played a role in federal surveillance policy and have been cited in litigation filings and letters to legislators in both the United States and abroad. The final work could be used to help make more informed policy decisions about government surveillance and consumer data privacy.

The computer scientists built a smartphone application that retrieved the previous call and text message metadata – the numbers, times and lengths of communications – from more than 800 volunteers’ smartphone logs. In total, participants provided records of more than 250,000 calls and 1.2 million texts. The researchers then used a combination of inexpensive automated and manual processes to illustrate both the extent of the reach – how many people would be involved in a scan of a single person – and the level of sensitive information that can be gleaned about each user.

From a small selection of the users, the Stanford researchers were able to infer, for instance, that a person who placed several calls to a cardiologist, a local drugstore and a cardiac arrhythmia monitoring device hotline likely suffers from cardiac arrhythmia. Another study participant likely owns an AR semiautomatic rifle, based on frequent calls to a local firearms dealer that prominently advertises AR semiautomatic rifles and to the customer support hotline of a major firearm manufacturer that produces these rifles.

There’s more, after the jump. . .

Continue reading

CIA sends torture report down the memory hole


Oh, the irony. We’ll leave rest of the the comments to you, gentle reader.

From Yahoo News:

The CIA inspector general’s office — the spy agency’s internal watchdog — has acknowledged it “mistakenly” destroyed its only copy of a mammoth Senate torture report at the same time lawyers for the Justice Department were assuring a federal judge that copies of the document were being preserved, Yahoo News has learned.

Although other copies of the report exist, the erasure of the controversial document by the CIA office charged with policing agency conduct has alarmed the U.S. senator who oversaw the torture investigation and reignited a behind-the-scenes battle over whether the full unabridged report should ever be released, according to multiple intelligence community sources familiar with the incident.

The deletion of the document has been portrayed by agency officials to Senate investigators as an “inadvertent” foul-up by the inspector general. In what one intelligence community source described as a series of errors straight “out of the Keystone Cops,” CIA inspector general officials deleted an uploaded computer file with the report and then accidentally destroyed a disk that also contained the document, filled with thousands of secret files about the CIA’s use of “enhanced” interrogation methods.

“It’s breathtaking that this could have happened, especially in the inspector general’s office — they’re the ones that are supposed to be providing accountability within the agency itself,” said Douglas Cox, a City University of New York School of Law professor who specializes in tracking the preservation of federal records. “It makes you wonder what was going on over there?”