Category Archives: Spooks

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.

Did the FBI agents go to Iceland to frame Assange?


That’s the claim of the nation’s former Interior Minister, who says that the bureau dispatched a slew of agents to the Island nation, only to be met with a stern Nordic rebuke.

From the London Daily Mail:

Ögmundur Jonasson, who currently serves as a member of the Icelandic Parliament, said US authorities told him in June 2011 that hackers were trying to destroy software systems in the country.

The authorities said there was an ‘imminent attack’ on Iceland’s government databases and that the FBI would send agents to investigate.

Jonasson said he was immediately skeptical of the FBI’s intentions.

‘I was suspicious,’ he told Katoikos. ‘Well aware that a helping hand might easily become a manipulating hand!’

Jonasson said it was only when a ‘planeload’ of FBI agents arrived in August that he realized the true reason for their visit.

The former minister claims the FBI was seeking Iceland’s ‘cooperation in what I understood as an operation set up to frame Julian Assange and WikiLeaks’.

Jonasson said he immediately told the FBI agents to leave the country.

And here’s the reason for Jonasson’s decision, from the Katoikos interview:

I also made it clear at the time that if I had to take sides with either WikiLeaks or the FBI or CIA, I would have no difficulty in choosing: I would be on the side of WikiLeaks.

Do you think that whistleblowers should be protected?

Yes, I think that it is very important. The role played by whistleblowers could be seen as public service. We owe a lot to Chelsea Manning. We owe a lot to Edward Snowden. We owe a lot to Assange. We owe a lot to WikiLeaks.

Headline of the day: Besides, he’s got Fox News


From the London Daily Mail,, an oxymoron from a moron on oxy?:

‘I’m a smart person. I don’t need to be told the same thing every single day’: Trump says he doesn’t need daily intelligence briefings

  • Donald Trump on Sunday said he’s not interested in getting daily briefings
  • This is an unprecedented dismissal by a president-elect of the nation’s massive and sophisticated intelligence apparatus 
  • Said he would leave it up to the briefers to decide when a development represents a ‘change’ big enough to notify him
  • Trump also called a recent CIA assessment of Russian hacking ‘ridiculous’

Headline of the day: Share and share alike, folks


From the New York Times:

U.S. Agencies Believe Russia Hacked G.O.P. but Kept Data

  • U.S. intelligence agencies found that Russia hacked the Republican National Committee’s computer systems but did not release the information, officials said.
  • Partly because of that finding, they are said to have “high confidence” Russia was acting covertly to help Donald J. Trump in the election.

A vengeful Trump has all of Big Brother’s tools


And more. . .

Donald J. Trump is a man who reacts to legitimate criticism with rage, taking to Twitter to denounce and defame anyone who dares question His Regal Purulence, even if it’s just a college student with legitimate questions.

But once in office, this man of arrogance and hubris will have at his fingertips, the most powerful espionage apparatus in the history of the Homo sapiens.

And because of laws and precedents set by legislators, courts, and his predecessors in office, Trump will have the power to enlarge that spook machine to levels a Hitler and Stalin could only envy.

Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program at New York University, spells out those powers and their implications in a post for the center’s blog:

President-elect Donald Trump is about to inherit the most powerful surveillance apparatus in history. Combining unprecedented technological capabilities with a lax legal regime, his spying powers dwarf anything the notorious FBI director J. Edgar Hoover could have fathomed.

Many privacy and civil rights advocates worry Trump will seek to expand these powers further in order to spy on Muslim Americans, activists and political opponents. The truth is, he won’t have to. Because of our country’s rush to strip civil liberty protections from surveillance laws after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Trump will already have all the powers he needs and more.

How did we get here? The laws that until recently safeguarded Americans from sweeping government intrusion were established in the 1970s, after a special Senate investigation revealed widespread abuses of intelligence-gathering. Almost every president dating to Franklin D. Roosevelt had a version of Richard Nixon’s infamous “enemies list,” resulting in wiretaps of congressional staffers, executive officials, lobbyists, law firms and reporters. Between 1956 and 1971, under the program dubbed COINTELPRO (short for “counterintelligence program”), the FBI routinely spied on anti-war protesters and civil rights organizations. The bureau targeted Martin Luther King Jr. with particular ferocity, bugging his hotel rooms and using the resulting evidence of infidelity to try to induce him to commit suicide.

To stem the abuses, the government implemented laws and regulations that shared a common principle: Law enforcement and intelligence agencies could not collect information on an American unless there was reason to suspect that person of wrongdoing. In some cases, this meant showing probable cause and obtaining a warrant, but even when no warrant was required, spying without any indication of criminal activity was forbidden.

The thinking was that if officials had to cite objective indications of misconduct, they wouldn’t be able to use racial bias, political grudges or other improper motives as a reason to spy on people. This logic was borne out, as government surveillance abuses went from being routine to being the occasional scandalous exception.

Then came Sept. 11. As swiftly as the principle had been established, it was rooted out. In 2002, the FBI abolished a rule barring agents from monitoring political or religious gatherings without suspicion of criminal activity. A 2007 law allowed the National Security Agency to collect calls and emails between Americans and foreign “targets” with no warrant or demonstration of wrongdoing by the American or the foreigner. Revisions to Justice Department guidelines in 2008 created a category of FBI investigation requiring no “factual predicate” — meaning no cause for suspicion. The list of erosions goes on.

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