• Archive of "NSA" Category

    America’s Real Loss of Prestige and Leadership Abroad

    June 19, 2017 // 13 Comments »




    Because we traded the smooth talking guy for the clumsy boob with no manners, it is popular to bleat that America has given up its role as leader of the free world, to say other nations don’t respect us anymore, or look to us for moral guidance — in the extreme, that we are no longer that shining city on the hill we see ourselves as.

    What such cliches overlook is that not everyone in the free world is as blind as a typical American op-ed writer. Some in fact see past who the current Spokesmodel of Democracy in the White House is, and look to what America actually does. And what it does is often not pretty, and when revealed suggests our nation is and has been morally bankrupt a lot longer than the Trump administration has been in charge.

    One of the more recent revelations of what much of the world already knew comes, again, via Wikileaks, America’s conscience.

    Leaked documents show home internet routers, that blinking thing in the corner of the room where you’re reading this, from ten American manufacturers, including Linksys, DLink, and Belkin, can be turned into covert listening posts that allow the Central Intelligence Agency to monitor and manipulate incoming and outgoing traffic and infect connected devices.

    Short: American-made devices sold globally to allow the free world to use the Internet have been repurposed by the CIA as spy tools.

    The CIA’s technique requires new firmware to be added to the router. This can be done remotely, over WiFi, at the factory, or at any point along the supply chain. It is unknown if America’s leading electronics manufacturers actively helped the CIA do this, passively allowed the CIA to do this after sharing technical data, or simply looked the other way.


    The results of this CIA hack are spectacular.

    The firmware allows the CIA full access to the router, and all connected devices and networks. The spooks can insert malware, copy passwords, see what is being sent and received, redirect browsers to fake websites, why there is little-to-no limit. Apparently the user interface the CIA created for itself is quite friendly. There’s even a Quick Start Guide.

    And you know what?

    The CIA has been doing all this since at least 2007. That means it started under the George W. Bush administration, ran during both Obama terms, and continues without a break right into the Trump years. Three very different presidents, three very different self-images for America, yet underlying all was the same CIA, turning American products to their own needs and spying on well, everyone. Anyone. Free world or not.


    From a global perspective, it doesn’t really matter whether the person in the White House is a Nobel Peace Prize winner or a bumbling oaf. Because the real America, the one that spies on a global scale for its own ends, never changes. That guy on TV you hate? He’s just a placeholder, maybe a distraction, about as consequential to the real role of the United States as a professional wrestler.




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    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Post-Constitution America

    Hey Intercept, Something is Very Wrong with Reality Winner and the NSA Leak

    June 6, 2017 // 31 Comments »




    An NSA document purporting to show Russian military hacker attempts to access a Florida company which makes voter registration software is sent anonymously to The Intercept. A low-level NSA contractor, Reality Winner, above, is arrested almost immediately. What’s wrong with this picture? A lot.


    Who Benefits?

    Start with the question of who benefits — cui bono— same as detectives do when assessing a crime.

    — Trump looks bad as another trickle of information comes out connecting something Russian to something 2016 election. Intelligence community (IC) looks like they are onto something, a day or so before ousted FBI Director James Comey testifies before Congress on related matters.

    — The Intercept looks like it contributed to burning a source. Which potential leaker is going to them in the future? If potential leakers are made to think twice, another win for the IC.

    — The FBI made an arrest right away, nearly simultaneous to the publication, with the formal charges coming barely an hour after The Intercept published. The bust is sure thing according to the very publicly released information. No Ed Snowden hiding out in Russia this time. IC looks good here.

    — More evidence is now in the public domain that the Russians are after our election process. Seems as if the IC has been right all along.



    What Happened is… Curious and Curiouser…

    Now let’s look at what we know so far about how this happened.

    A 25-year-old improbably-named Reality Winner leaves behind a trail long and wide on social media of anti-Trump stuff, including proclaiming herself a member of The Resistance. Never mind, she takes her Top Secret clearance with her out of the Air Force (she had been stationed with the military’s 94th Intelligence Squadron out of Fort Meade, Maryland, co-located with the NSA’s headquarters) and scores a job with an NSA contractor. Despite the lessons of too-much-access the Snowden episode should have taught the NSA, Winner apparently enjoys all sorts of classified documents — her Air Force expertise was in Afghan matters, so it is unclear why she would have access to info on Russia hacking of U.S. domestic companies.

    Within only about 90 days of starting her new job, she prints out the one (and only one apparently, why not more?) document in question and mails it to The Intercept. She also uses her work computer inside an NSA facility to write to the Intercept twice about this same time.

    Winner has a clearance. She was trained as a Dari, Pashto, and Farsi linguist by the Air Force. She knows how classified stuff works. She has been told repeatedly, as all persons with a clearance are, that her computer, email, printing, and phone are monitored. She mailed the document from Augusta, Georgia, the city where she lives and where the NSA facility is located. She practiced no tradecraft, did nothing to hide her actions and many things to call attention to them. It is very, very unclear why she took the actions she did under those circumstances.


    The Document

    The Intercept meanwhile drops by their friendly neighborhood NSA contact and shows them the document. NSA very publicly confirms the veracity of the document (unusual in itself, officially the Snowden and Manning documents remain unconfirmed) and then makes sure the open-court document filed is not sealed and includes the information on how the spooks know the leaked doc was printed inside the NSA facility. Winner went on to make a full confession to the FBI. The upshot? This document is not a plant. The NSA wants you to very much know it is real. The Russians certainly are messing with our election.

    But funny thing. While the leaked NSA document seems to be a big deal, at least to the general public, it sort of isn’t. It shows one piece of analysis suggesting but not confirming the GRU, Russian military intelligence, tried to steal some credentials and gain access to a private company. No U.S. sources and methods, or raw technical intel, are revealed, the crown jewel stuff. There is no evidence the hack accomplished anything at all, never mind anything nefarious. The hack took place months ago and ran its course, meaning the Russian operation was already dead. The Russians were running a run-of-the-mill spearfishing attack, potentially effective, but nothing especially sophisticated. You get similar stuff all the time trying to harvest your credit card information. The leaked document looks like a big deal but isn’t.

    Another issue. The Intercept has a lot of very smart people working for it, people with real-world intelligence and tradecraft experience. People who know about microdot encoding on printed documents, one of the tells here, and people who know they don’t show their whole hand when asking the NSA for a comment. The Intercept journalist volunteered to an NSA contracting company that the envelope received was postmarked to Augusta, where Winner lived and worked. Like Reality Winner and her own security training, it is very, very unclear why the Intercept took the actions it did under those circumstances.



    So For Now…

    So, look, what we know about this story may represent .01% of the whole picture, and that tiny sliver of visible information is only what the government has chosen to reveal. And sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence. Sometimes smart people make dumb mistakes.

    But that’s not the way you place your bets, especially when dealing with the IC who are good at these kinds of games. At this very early stage I’m going to say there are too many coincidences and too many mistakes to simple shrug it all off. Too many of the benefits in this have accrued on the side of the IC than is typical when a real whistleblower shares classified documents with a journalist.

    If it frightens you that I invoke the question of the Deep State using journalists to smear the President, just forget I said anything. But if we’re willing to believe the Russians somehow successfully manipulated our entire society to elect their favored candidate, then we can at least ask a few questions.

    Otherwise, if anyone hears Winner’s lawyer use the word “patsy,” let me know, OK?

    BONUS: Matt Cole, one of The Intercept journalists credited to this story, was also involved in the outing of source CIA officer John Kiriakou in connection with CIA torture claims. Small world!



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    The Russians, Trump and the Deep State (Rising)

    January 9, 2017 // 33 Comments »




    I want to scare the hell out of you.

    People talk of the Deep State, a kind of shorthand to refer to the entrenched parts of the government, particularly inside the military, intelligence, and security communities, who don’t come and go with election cycles. The information they hold, and their longevity, allows them to significantly influence, perhaps control, the big picture decisions that change the way America works on a global scale. Who the enemies are, where the power needs to be applied, which wars will start and what governments should fall.

    One of the features of the Deep State is that it prefers to work behind the scenes, in the shadows if you like. The big name politicians are out front, smiling for the cameras, and the lesser pols have to tend to the day-to-day stuff of government. The Deep State doesn’t trouble itself with regulating agriculture or deciding which infrastructure bill to fund. That is in large part why there will never be a full-on coup; why would the Deep State want to take on responsibility for the Department of Transportation?

    When the Deep State does accidentally expose itself, it is often by accident, such as in the panic right after 9/11 when the president was sitting around reading a children’s book while Cheney, Rice, and Rumsfeld were calling the shots. Same for in the 1980s when a set of cock-ups exposed U.S. arms sales to Iran to pay for U.S. proxy forces in Central America while with U.S. support the Saudis paid for jihadists to fight in Afghanistan, laying the early groundwork for what would become the War on Terror.

    Forget for a moment what you think of their actions, but pay attention: both our domestic intelligence service (the FBI) and our overseas intelligence service (the CIA) played significant roles in our election. Still not sure what the Deep State is? It’s that.

    Forget what you “agree” with, and focus on what happened. In July the FBI exonerated Hillary Clinton of any wrongdoing in connection with her private email server. Yep, there was highly classified material, but that didn’t matter. Nope, the Russians and/or everybody else never hacked into her server, and nobody on her staff ever clicked Podesta-like on a phishing link. Nothing to see here. And then in October the FBI swung again and said well maybe there was something to see, buried conveniently on known-idiot Anthony Weiner’s laptop already in their possession. Funny about that. Anybody seen once marked-to-go places Huma Abedin lately?

    As for the CIA, they managed to leak like Grandpa’s adult diapers throughout the campaign that Trump and Putin… something. Trump owes money to Russia. Trump’s computers communicate with Russia. Trump’s advisors work for Russia. Trump wants to build hotels in Russia. When none of that really stuck, it turned out the hacks into the DNC servers were done by Russians — in cahoots with arch-villian Julian Assange — ordered personally by Putin to elect Trump. All because Trump was Putin’s stooge, as the argument completed its circle.

    UPDATE: When last week’s intelligence community report that “proved” the Russians did the DNC hack failed to really do much past a news cycle or two, it should be no surprise at all that this week a leak dropped on CNN that the Russians may have “compromising material” on Trump. Now, that leak supposedly came from anonymous sources from a classified synopsis included in a version of last week’s report that was based on allegation made public in the summer but only very recently “confirmed” by a former British intelligence officer who worked privately doing opposition research for an unnamed Trump Republican opponent.

    If Trump could not be defeated, he would be delegitimized. Overnight the left/liberals/progressives/whatever turned into red-blooded supporters of the CIA and 21st century Cold Warriors, with anyone from that one asshole on Facebook you argue with to Pulitzer-prize winning journalists who disagree, labeled as Russian stooges, spies, fellow travelers and the like.

    The result? A new Cold War, sold to the American people over the course of about a month.


    When the Soviet Union collapsed and the old Cold War wrapped up, there was left a gaping hole for the Deep State. They nearly literally had nothing to do. Budgets were being cut, power in Washington defused. 9/11 was a helpful and timely accident; the War on Terror would provide the much-needed Cause to blow up spending and reconstruct status and power.

    And the War on Terror started off with great promise for the Deep State, dovetailing nicely with long-sought Conservative projects such as remaking the Middle East and controlling the Persian Gulf. The future was wide open, Afghanistan a stupid but necessary prelude to the real first act in Iraq.

    But despite the power of the Deep State, mistakes are made and nature finds a way. The War on Terror became a global clusterf*ck. Failures accumulated: Iraq and Afghanistan, of course. Libya, Syria, the messy Arab Spring, relations with Pakistan. You can’t really trust any of those folks to get it, we want a war that doesn’t end but looks good. Beheadings on TV simply stir people up at home and there is not much we can do about them.

    Now, to be fair to the War on Terror, it had a good run. It normalized domestic spying and the omni-presence of security everywhere in America, and set up a nice bureaucracy to manage all that in Homeland Security. It got Americans used to see armed military, and militarized cops, on the streets.

    But what was needed was a global struggle that made us look like we were winning without it ever ending.

    If only there was some sort of model for that…

    The Russians. Every American fear rolled into one guy, Putin, who might as well come from a Hollywood super-villian workshop. Unlike messy terrorists, who wanted, whatever, Sharia or a Caliphate, damn foreign words, Russia wanted old-fashioned territory, stuff on maps like Crimea and the Ukraine that mattered not a whit to America, but could be played domestically as Struggles for Freedom (C). The Russkies had troops with actual uniforms, and all the old propaganda materials were laying around. The Russians also knew how to play ball, blasting back through their RT and Sputnik channels nobody really watches but are right there to label as threats to our democracy. The Russian version of the Deep State knows a good deal when they see one, too.

    Clinton was the perfect figurehead, already warm friends with one of the last dessicated Cold Warriors, Henry Kissinger, and already more than predisposed to cast the Russians into their role. Trump, well, he didn’t seem to get it, and, when it was becoming clearer he might win, he needed to be made to get it. The Deep State appeared to have some internal dissension; that publicly popped up when it appeared the FBI and CIA were not sure which horse to back in the latter days of the campaign and how to do it. Hey, mistakes were made, sorry, even the Deep State is kinda human.

    Well, it was messy and dragged on past the actual election, but everything is settled now. The intelligence report that just came out made things clear: Russia is the bad guy, Trump now the cuck of the Deep State, things are back to “normal.” Funding will pour into the military, intelligence, and security communities. Since the war will be a cold one, the U.S. can declare periodic victories just like in the old days over things like the Olympics, chess matches, dissidents saved, spy stuff We Can’t Tell You About but will leak out anyway. We can have proxy wars and skirmishes that seem like huge deals but can usually be managed in scope. Any troublemakers at home, in or out of the White House, can be labeled Russian sympathizers on CNN and Maddow and dealt away quickly.

    Overall, the 1950s weren’t that bad now were they?



    BONUS: One currently outstanding question is whether the manipulations of the Deep State in our election became public by accident, such as after 9/11, or whether someone (us? Trump? Putin?) was meant to see them for some purpose. Hang on to that question.

    MORE BONUS: Yes, yes, this is all conspiracy nonsense. The moon landings were faked and 9/11 was an inside job by the Mossad. There is no Deep State, or Trump really is a Russian Manchurian candidate, or the spiders from Mars are actually pulling the strings or I am reading those weird Geocities-like websites for preppers and soon will be posting cheesy animated GIFs of flags waving, whatever. I’m also a Russian, or Edward Snowden, or being paid by someone to write this. Whatever you need to tell yourself, and you should never believe what I say and say how sad it is that this is what I’ve come too. I’ll kill a puppy in your honor. Thanks!



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    Thinking Like an Intelligence Officer: Anthony Weiner and Russian Spies

    November 5, 2016 // 31 Comments »

    weiner

    There are many reasons why Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey is interested in the emails on Anthony Weiner’s home computer, emails which may include United States government information pertinent to Hillary Clinton or those communicating with her.

    The majority of those reasons for Comey’s involvement, for good or for bad depending on your political position, have been laid out across the media spectrum.

    But there may be one more reason not yet discussed. Since we seem to be spending so much time this election cycle on the Russians this year, let’s think like Russian intelligence officers. Comey may be looking at an intelligence operation.

    Professional intelligence officers do not risk international incidents to play the equivalent of pranks on nation states, say by embarrassing the Democratic National Committee with leaked documents months before the election. That’s Wikileaks level stuff. No, when you want to rig an election, you rig an election. Have a look at the way the CIA historically manipulated elections — assassinations, massive demonstrations, paid off protesters and journalists, serious stuff that directly affected leaders and votes. You don’t mess around with half-measures.

    Now have a look at the Edward Snowden documents, and the incredible efforts the National Security Agency went to to gather information, and then let’s think like intelligence officers. The world of real “spies” is all about “the take,” information. Putin (or Obama, or…) doesn’t likely have on his desk a proposal to risk cyberwar to expose a CNN contributor for handing over debate questions. He wants more of hard information he can use to make decisions about his adversary. What is Obama (or Putin, et al) thinking, what are his plans, what are his negotiating points ahead of the next summit… information at a global strategic level.

    That’s worth risking retaliation, maybe even a confrontation, for. So let’s think like intelligence officers. How do you get to that kind of stuff?

    How the great game of intelligence gathering works is in the end very basic: who has access to the information you want, what are their vulnerabilities, and how do you exploit those vulnerabilities to get to the information. What do they want and how can you give it to them?

    Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State had access to extraordinarily sensitive information, both classified and unclassified. Huma Abedin is arguably the most powerful person in Clinton’s circle, and had access to much or all of that pool of information. What Huma knows would be of great interest to Moscow.

    How to get the info? Huma’s husband is a publicly outed sexual predator. Everyone in the world knows he sexts, trolls online message boards, and seemingly does little to hide his identity while doing it all. He is a target, the kind of dream package of vulnerabilities an intelligence officer waits a whole career to have fall into their lap.

    Baiting the trap appears to be easy. As recently as August Weiner was in a flirty chat with someone he thought was a young woman named Nikki, but was actually Nikki’s male, Republican friend using the account in order to manipulate him (Weiner later claimed he knew he was being set up.)

    So perhaps for the Russians, contacting Weiner would have been as easy as posting a few fake sexy photos and waiting for him to take a bite. Placing malware on his computer to see what was there was as easy as trading a few more sexy photos with him. He clicks, he loads the malware, NSA 101 level stuff. An intelligence officer then has access to Weiner’s computer, as well as his home wireless network, and who knows what else. An Internet-enabled nanny cam? A smartphone camera? Huma’s own devices?

    To be fair, I doubt any intelligence agent could have believed their own eyes when they realized Weiner’s computer was laden with (presumably unencrypted) official U.S. government documents. Depending on the time period the documents covered, it is possible the Russian intelligence could have been reading Clinton’s mail in near-real time. Somebody in Moscow may have gotten a helluva promotion this year.

    If I was a sloppy journalist these days, I guess I could package all this for you by claiming it came from “several anonymous government officials. Instead, you know it’s all made up. Just like a spy novel. Because no real intelligence agent could have put these pieces together like this.

    Right?



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    Why Snowden the Movie Matters

    October 6, 2016 // 44 Comments »

    snowden



    I’ve reviewed Oliver Stone’s movie Snowden elsewhere, and it’s well worth seeing just as a movie. But of course the issues brought up by Snowden the man, and Snowden the movie, are more complex than fit into two hours.


    I had this hit home in a recent discussion with a friend who keeps insisting he has nothing to hide in his emails, phone calls, social media, etc., so why should he care if the NSA looks at all that?

    Friend, here’s why:



    NSA surveillance is legal.

    True, as was slavery in the U.S., the Holocaust under Nazi Germany, Apartheid in South Africa and so forth. Laws serve higher purposes. They can be manipulated for evil. That’s why we need checks and balances to protect us.



    Well, there are checks and balances in the system to protect us.

    The king of all checks and balances in this, the Fourth Amendment, has been treated by the government like a used Kleenex.

    As for the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Court (FISA), set up to review government requests for wiretapping, it approved all 1,789 requests submitted to it in 2012. The FBI made 15,229 National Security Letter requests in 2012 on Americans. None of those even require FISA rubber-stamping. And here’s DOJ trying to keep classified a court ruling that says it might have acted unconstitutionally.

    The first FISA ruling ever released in full came from Edward Snowden. Before that, no one outside a small circle inside the government had ever seen one.

    And you know who represents the “suspect” (i.e., you) in front of the FISA court? No one. You don’t even know they’re reviewing you.

    If all the NSA’s activities are legal, why not allow them to be tested openly and unambiguously in public, in front of the Supreme Court. After all, if you’ve done nothing wrong there is nothing to hide. Unfortunately, when Amnesty International tried to bring such a case before the Court, the case was denied because Amnesty could not prove it was subject to monitoring– that was a secret!– and thus was denied standing to even bring the suit.

    Unfettered surveillance violates both the Fourth Amendment protections against search, and the First Amendment protections on the right to peaceably assemble, online in this instance.

    Anyway, whatever, FISA. I’m not doing anything wrong, so why should I care? If you’re doing nothing wrong, then you’ve got nothing to hide!

    The definition of “wrong” can change very quickly, especially if you have no way to defend yourself, or even know you’re under suspicion. Are you really, really ready to risk everything on what is right and wrong today staying that way forever? Seems like a fool’s bet, given America’s witch hunts in the 1950s for communists, and Islamophobia today. Things do change.



    Well, I trust Obama on this.

    Good for you. There’ll be a new president soon. You also trust him or her? How about the one after that, and the one after that? Data collected is forever. Trusting anyone with such power is foolish.

    FYI, whether you trust Obama, Trump, Hillary or the next presidents, do remember your personal data is in the hands of the same people that run the TSA, the IRS and the DMV. Do you trust all of them all the time to never make mistakes or act on personal grudges or political biases? Do you believe none of them would ever sell your data for personal profit ever? That they have your information so well protected hackers will never get to it and dump it out onto the Internet?

    How about other governments? The NSA is already sharing your data with, at minimum, British and Israeli intelligence. Those are foreign governments that your American government is informing on you to.


    Distasteful as this all is, it is necessary to keep us safe. It’s for our own good.

    The United States, upholding to our beautiful Bill of Rights, has survived (albeit on a sometimes bumpy road) two world wars, the Cold War and innumerable challenges without a massive, all-inclusive destruction of our civil rights. Keep in mind that the Founders created the Bill of Rights, point-by-point, specifically to address the abuses of power (look up the never-heard-from-again Third Amendment) they experienced under an oppressive British government.

    A bunch of angry jihadis, some real and many imagined, seems a poor reason to change that system. Prior to 9/11 we did not have a mass-scale terror act (by foreigners; American Citizen Timothy McVeigh pulled one off.) Since 9/11 we have not had a mass-scale terror attack. More than 15 years in, we must accept 9/11 was a one-off, an aberration, and cannot be a justification for everything the government wishes to do.

    There is also the question of why, if the NSA is vacuuming up everything, and even sharing that collection abroad, this all needs to be kept secret from the American people. If it is for our own good, the government should be proud to tell us what they are doing for us, instead of being embarrassed when it leaks.

    After all, if you’re not doing anything wrong then you’ve got nothing to hide, right?


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    Oliver Stone’s New Movie ‘Snowden’ Tackles the Myth

    September 14, 2016 // 40 Comments »

    snowden


    Snowden is a helluva movie, kicking an audience’s ass on a number of levels. I had a chance to see the film last night at a preview event; it opens everywhere on September 16. Go see it.


    On one level the film presents Snowden’s story as a political thriller. A brave but frightened man, certain he is doing the right thing but worried if he can pull it off, smuggles some of the NSA’s most secret information out of a secure facility. He makes contact with skeptical journalists in Hong Kong, convinces them of the importance of what he has to say, and then goes on the run from a U.S. government out to arrest, or, possibly assassinate, him. In interviews Stone has made clear that he has dramatized and/or altered some events, and that his film is not a documentary. It does keep you on the edge of your beliefs, watching a story you know as if you don’t.


    The next level of the film is a carefully constructed vision of the national security state, seen through Snowden’s eyes. For many Americans, this may be the first time they will react emotionally to the way our government spies on us. It is one thing to “know” the NSA can access webcams at will, it is another to watch a technician “spy” on a Muslim woman undressing in her bedroom.

    When Snowden (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) slaps a piece of tape over his own webcam before an intimate moment with his girlfriend (played by Shailene Woodley), he has the wool taken from his eyes, his trust in government shattered. He is all of us.


    The final level of Snowden is perhaps the most important.

    Director Oliver Stone is in the business of creating counter-myths at critical points in time, and his work is best understood in that context.

    Even as most Americans still believed the myth that while the Vietnam was bad, the warriors were not, Stone showed us the dark side in Platoon. In the 1980s, when making money was seen as the best of America, Stone gave us Wall Street, and turned the myth “greed is good” from an instructional line out of an MBA program to a condemnation of how we all suffered when the bubble broke in the financial markets.

    And so with Snowden, which makes clear the myth of a benign national security (“nothing to hide, nothing to fear,” they’re the good guys protecting us) is anything but. The NSA and other agencies want to vacuum it all up, every communication, everywhere. They then move on to controlling our communications; the movie illustrates the depth of NSA’s penetration into the Japanese electrical grid by imagining a black out of Tokyo, and shows us how an NSA technical mistake reveals how they could shut down the Internet across the Middle East.

    In what is the most Oliver Stone-like scene in perhaps any of his movies, Snowden’s CIA boss confronts him, suspicious of wrongdoing. Their video conference discussion starts with Snowden at one end of the table, the boss’ face on a monitor at the other. As the scene unfolds and the intensity increases, Snowden moves closer to the screen until his head is a small dot, and the boss’ face takes over the audience’s whole field of view. The government itself has morphed into Big Brother before your eyes.


    For many aware viewers, a lot of this may seem old hat — of course the NSA is doing all that.

    But imagine the impact of Snowden. Thoughts that have largely been laid out only on blogs and left-of-center, non-main stream media, are now in suburban multiplexes, all carefully wrapped inside a thriller Tom Clancy fans will enjoy.

    You can’t get much more radical than that.






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    Did Russian Intelligence Hack the DNC Servers?

    July 26, 2016 // 42 Comments »

    russianbear

    Short answer: nobody knows, but the media is treating it as a fact based primarily on a single technical source employed by the Democratic National Committee. I read the source’s publically available explanation. Here’s what I found.

    A Quick Taste of Media Conclusions

    Despite a line in paragraph five saying “Proving the source of a cyberattack is notoriously difficult,” the New York Times offers the following statements.

    — “researchers have concluded that the national committee was breached by two Russian intelligence agencies;”

    — “Though a hacker claimed responsibility for giving the emails to WikiLeaks, the same agencies are the prime suspects;”

    — “Whether the thefts were ordered by Mr. Putin, or just carried out by apparatchiks who thought they might please him, is anyone’s guess.”

    — “It is unclear how WikiLeaks obtained the email trove. But the presumption is that the intelligence agencies turned it over, either directly or through an intermediary. Moreover, the timing of the release, between the end of the Republican convention and the beginning of the Democratic one, seems too well planned to be coincidental.”

    There’s more, but you get the picture. The article also quotes Clinton staffers citing unnamed experts and researchers.

    Who Are These Experts?

    The only experts cited work for a company hired by the Democratic National Committee to investigate the hack. There is no indication of any neutral third party investigation. The company, Crowdstrike, issued a publicly available report on what they found.

    The report title makes clear the company’s conclusion: Bears in the Midst: Intrusion into the Democratic National Committee.


    What Does the Report Say?

    The report has some technical explanations, but focuses on conclusions that seem to be at best presumptions, despite the media treating them as fact.

    — The key presumptive conclusion seems to be that the sophistication of the hacks points to a nation-state actor. “Their tradecraft is superb, operational security second to none and the extensive usage of ‘living-off-the-land’ techniques enables them to easily bypass many security solutions they encounter. In particular, we identified advanced methods consistent with nation-state level capabilities.”

    — The hackers, two separate entities Crowdstrike says worked independently, used techniques known to be used by Russians. Better yet, with no evidence at all presented, Crowdstrike concludes, “Both adversaries engage in extensive political and economic espionage for the benefit of the government of the Russian Federation and are believed to be closely linked to the Russian government’s powerful and highly capable intelligence services.” Also, for one of the alleged hackers, “Extensive targeting of defense ministries and other military victims has been observed, the profile of which closely mirrors the strategic interests of the Russian government.”

    — By the end of the report Crowdstrike is just plain out called the hackers “Russian espionage groups.”

    FYI: Fidelis, another cybersecurity company, was hired by Crowdstrike to review the findings. Fidelis worked exclusively and only with data provided by Crowdstrike (as did several other companies.) Fidelis They concluded the same two hackers, COZY BEAR and FANCY BEAR APT, committed the intrusion, but made no comments on whether those two were linked to the Russian government.


    Um, Valid Conclusions?

    Despite the citing with certainty of experts and researchers by the media and the Clinton campaign, the only such expert who has made any findings public has basically thrown out little more than a bunch of presumptions and unsubstantiated conclusions.

    Left undiscussed are:

    — the commonality of hackers using “false flags,” say where an Israeli hackers will purposely leave behind false clues to make it seem that a Hungarian did the work. As one commentator put it sarcastically “The malware was written in Russian? It was a Russian who attacked you.
    Chinese characters in the code? You’ve been hacked by the Peoples Liberation Army.”

    — the question of if the hackers were “Russians,” can anyone tie them to the Russian government? Joe Black Hat breaking into some system in Ireland may indeed be an American person, but it is quite a jump to claim he thus works for the American government.

    — there is also a significant question of motive. For Putin to be the bad guy here, we have to believe that Putin wants Trump in power, bad enough to risk near-war with the U.S. if caught in the hack, and bad enough to really p.o. Clinton who will be nominated this week anyway, and hoping of course that evidence of dirty tricks by the DNC released in July will be enough to defeat her in November. That’s a real s-t-r-e-t-c-h, Sparky.

    — other than those private persons who hack for their own entertainment or personal political beliefs, most work for money. They steal something and sell it. Information from the DNC system would find an easy buyer.

    — Who might be intersted in buying these emails? Along the range of actors who would benefit from exposing these emails, why would the Russians come out on top? Perhaps the Republicans? China? Pretty much any of the many enemies the Clintons have amassed over the years? Hell, even Bernie Sanders, whose complaints about the DNC were validated by the email release. The suspects based on motive alone make up a very long list.



    Learning More

    For some intelligent analysis suspicious that the DNC hack was a Russian intelligence job, try this.

    For some more technical information on one of the alleged DNC infiltrators, here you go.




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    Was Hillary Clinton’s Email Hacked? The Case

    July 14, 2016 // 14 Comments »

    putin


    If you were Vladimir Putin, or President Xi of China, what would you do if you had the entire archive of Hillary Clinton’s emails, classified and unclassified, “deleted” and not, in your hands? What value to you would that be in your next round of negotiations with the president of the United States?

    Unencrypted Email

    Hillary Clinton traveled to 19 foreign locations during her first three months in office, inlcuding China, South Korea, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, and a meeting in Switzerland with her Russian counterpart. During that period of time her email system was unencrypted. She transmitted data over wireless networks in those countries, networks almost certainly already monitored 24/7 by intelligence and security officials. To say her email was not collected is to say the Russian, Chinese, Israeli and other intelligence services are complete amateurs.

    They are not complete amateurs.



    A System Wide Open to Monitoring

    While FBI director James Comey said his investigators had no “direct evidence” that Hillary Clinton’s email account had been “successfully hacked,” both private experts and federal investigators, according to the New York Times, “immediately understood his meaning: It very likely had been breached, but the intruders were far too skilled to leave evidence of their work.”

    Comey described a set of email practices that left Clinton’s systems wide open to monitoring. She had no full-time cyber security professional monitoring her system. She took her BlackBerry everywhere she went, “sending and receiving work-related emails in the territory of sophisticated adversaries.” Her use of “a personal email domain was both known by a large number of people and readily apparent… Hostile actors gained access to the private commercial email accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact.”

    The FBI director was generous in his assessment. See, no hacking was really necessary.



    But No Hacking was Really Needed

    Online security company Venafi TrustNet has the world’s largest database of digital certificates and associated metadata, allowing it to go back in time and identify how digital certificates were used in the past, a kind of forensics capability for IT security. Here’s what they found on the clintonemail.com server, and it is not good.

    Using non-intrusive Internet scanning tests routinely performed throughout by IT security teams (meaning foreign intelligence agencies have them too), Venafi learned the Clinton server was enabled for logging in via web browser, smartphone, Blackberry, and tablet. That automatically makes it vulnerable to interception, as the information Clinton was sending and receiving abroad was traveling via other nations’ web infrastructure and open-air cellular networks.

    Clinton’s email log-in page was also on the web, meaning anyone who stumbled on it could try and log in, or employ the standard array of password hacking and brute force attacks against it, much like they did with your Gmail account that was hacked.

    The Clinton email setup also was initially running a standalone Microsoft Windows Server, which is very vulnerable to attack, with at least 800 known trojans/spyware in existence that can steal keys and certificates. If the credentials on the server were compromised in those first three months, then the next years of encryption might have meant nothing.

    How could someone have gained access to the credentials? Clinton’s most recent digital security certificate was issued by GoDaddy. Her domain’s landing page was at one time hosted by Confluence Networks, a web firm in the British Virgin Islands.



    No Smoking Gun?

    If anyone had picked up Clinton’s emails from the airwaves or in transit over the Internet (as we know, via Snowden, the NSA does), while they were encrypted, or had acquired the encrypted versions and used the resources of a state security apparatus to decrypt them, there would of course be no forensic evidence to find. Persons working at NSA-like levels actually breaking into systems expend significant energies hiding their intrusions, and such high level “hacks” have been known to stay hidden for years.

    Sure, if the standard is a “smoking gun,” there is none. But such proof is rarely available in the world of global espionage, and decisions and conclusions are made accordingly on a daily basis.

    Clinton’s email was extremely vulnerable, and her decision to run it off a private server put at significant risk the security of the United States. This is not a partisan attack or a conspiracy; it is technology.



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    Burn It All Down

    June 29, 2016 // 10 Comments »

    Reichstag fire

    Here’s where things stand.


    The only mainstream candidate in recent decades to come along with new ideas, a model of not accepting big money with strings attached, and willing to address the critical issues in America of economic inequality and lack of health care for many, is done.


    Unless Lin-Manuel Miranda does a musical of his life, Bernie’s just a footnote in the history books. But the stigma that he won via a set of tricks to include the “superdelegate system,” some election fraud, and overt partisanship by the Democratic National Committee and much of the media, never mind what Obama does with the FBI report into her mishandling of classified information, lingers like the smell of ripe sh*t in a stadium toilet.

    The Republican candidate pulled in a helluva lotta votes via old-fashioned demagoguery, modern racism, and some clever Tweets. Trump is running strong in swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. But his own party hates him, many refuse to endorse him, a lot of people are hoping he self-destructs, and many more want some magic process to replace him with one of the “good Republicans” who already failed in the primaries.

    And then Hillary. She has famously high negatives, is distrusted by a vast number of Americans, believed to be an actual criminal by large numbers, and has yet to answer for her emails and her corrupt Clinton Foundation. She is the textbook case of big money, big donor politics, and a lifetime Washington insider. Republican hatred for her assures Congress will do as little as possible for any agenda she puts forward if elected, assuming she has one other than to immediately start her campaign for a second term while further enriching herself.



    That all adds up to a miserable picture of America in 2016. We have a reality TV star and real estate developer running against the only candidate in American history seeking the White House while under an active FBI criminal investigation.

    What’s a voter with still intact critical thinking skills to do? Fall victim to the emerging meme of both candidates, vote for the lesser of two evils, pick me or you’ll get the other one? Are we really supposed to participate in an electoral process that is subtitled “Pick the One That Sucks a Little Less?”

    No. Let the whole damn thing burn down and collapse.

    Let Trump/Clinton take us into as many wars as they hope to, bleed our youth and our treasury dry. Stand back as three military personnel a day commit suicide. Fight the Russians, ISIS, the Chinese, militarize Africa like 21st century colonialists, set up more secret prisons, expand Guantanamo, torture, hell, rape the families of “terrorists” in front of them to force confessions on anything and everything and then use that info for a new war. Fake WMDs in Iraq? That was amateur work.

    Let them concentrate more and more wealth into a tiny group, such that the concept of the “One Percent” is quaint; let it be the .01 percent. Let them deliver cash and gold directly to the front door of the White House and stop pretending such things are “contributions.” Let people go hungry, make higher education only for the rich or those stupid enough to take on a lifetime of student loan debt. Watch people suffer from lack of basic health care. Stop wasting money on infrastructure that wealthy people never use anyway. Thin out the herd with lead-soaked water.

    Throw up billboards reminding everyone that the NSA is spying on everything they do, and make kids rat out their parents who smoke weed. Unleash the drones over America and stop wasting money “prosecuting” American terrorists. Keep the prisons looking like plantations.


    And then stand back and watch it all burn down. Turn us loose to eat each other. Make us fight for scraps and scavenge trash piles. If anything is left after all that, then maybe we can try again. If not, we should all just smile and welcome Chelsea Clinton to the White House in 2024.




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    Google, YouTube, Facebook, Others, Now Using Automated Blocking of ‘Extremist’ Content

    June 25, 2016 // 25 Comments »

    GoogleEvil



    The web’s biggest content providers have started using automation to remove “extremist propaganda” videos from their sites.



    Censoring Content

    YouTube (owned by Google) and Facebook are among the sites deploying systems to block or rapidly take down Islamic State videos and other similar material, sources said, though no company would confirm the action.

    The technology employed was originally developed to remove copyright-protected content on video sites. It looks for “hashes,” unique digital fingerprints that Internet companies automatically assign to specific videos, allowing all content with matching fingerprints to be removed rapidly. Someone finds an offensive video, tags it, and then searches find other copies across the Internet.

    Newly posted videos would be checked against a database of banned content to identify unauthorized information.

    The system was kicked off in late April, amid pressure from an Obama White House concerned about online radicalization. Internet companies held a conference call to discuss options, including use of a content-blocking system put forward by the private Counter Extremism Project, a nonprofit controlled in part by George W. Bush Homeland Security Advisor Frances Townsend.



    Get it yet?

    Government and private industry will decide what content you (as well as journalists and academics) may see on the Internet. What is and is not allowable will be decided by a closed process, and will be automated. A database will be drawn upon for decision making.

    Databases and tagging can be hacked/manipulated, perhaps by governmental intelligence organizations, maybe some bad guys, hell, even by advertisers to control what is available to you online.

    Since content removed equals content prohibited, you’ll never know what you can’t see. The obvious slippery slope is in decisions about what is “extremist” and what is legitimate free, political speech that, while offensive, has a right to be heard and a place in the market of ideas.

    So how about blocking all videos of police violence during say a Ferguson/Baltimore scenario, so as not to “inflame” a situation?

    And even if Government A plays nicely, Government B may not, and dictatorships and oligarchies will have a new tool for repression. In the same way Western companies are forced now by China, for example, to adjust content, they will likely be forced to add things to the no-fly database of ideas. Corporations will be in a position to censor things on behalf of governments.

    Via the Edward Snowden documents, we already know that many tech companies cooperate directly with the NSA and others, either voluntarily, or under pressure from secret national security practices and laws. It is not a matter of “it can happen here,” but one of “it is already happening here.”

    But, some will say, Google, et al, are private companies. They can do what they want with their businesses, and you don’t have to use them.

    Certain private businesses, such as power companies and transportation providers, have become clearly so much a part of society that they indeed can’t just do what they want. They become public utilities, and there is no doubt that organizations like Google are squarely in the category.

    Lastly, for those who prefer dictionary things, do check up on the definition of true fascism: a collusion between government and industry.



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    New Service Sends Summaries of Your Social Media to Landlords, Employers to ‘Assess’ You

    June 24, 2016 // 14 Comments »

    social_media

    Here’s a shout out to all of you who said “If I’ve got nothing to hide I’ve got nothing to fear” after the Snowden revelations. And this little gem deals only with publicly available information about you. Imagine what it’s like when it gets into the good stuff you think is private.


    An Orwellian startup called Tenant Assured will to take a deep dive into your social media, including chats, check-ins, how many times you’ve posted words like pregnant, wasted, busted, no money, broke, moving back in with the parents, weed, or loan, and deliver to potential landlords and employers a “personality score.”

    While many people already Google folks they might rent to or hire, this new service aggregates a mountain of information and then evaluates it. At the end, someone gets some numbers that describe you (see sample reports, below,) with little idea how those numbers came to be determined.

    How many times did you check-in at a bar? Are you a drunk who’ll screw up at work? How often does your relationship status change? Same sex relationships? Evidence of drug use? Political affiliation?


    The report will also assess your “financial stress level” as a breakdown of five personality traits: extraversion, neuroticism, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.

    The company says it is aware that some of the information it gathers cannot legally be used to decline a loan, lease or job, but nicely covers itself. “All we do is give them the information,” a spokesperson said. “It’s up to landlords to do the right thing.”

    The company states its goal as “you won’t hire a dog sitter or book an Airbnb without first viewing a social media dossier,” as compiled by the company.

    Welcome to your future. We’ll soon be looking back on the Snowden revelations as quaint.


    A sample report:




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    The FBI ‘Missed’ Orlando Shooter Omar Mateen. What Should We Do?

    June 16, 2016 // 21 Comments »

    omar

    If I had to choose one phrase to sum up America’s efforts against terrorism since 9/11, it would be that lay definition of mental illness, doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.


    Following 9/11 we had to go after the terrorists in their dark lairs. So we did, in Afghanistan, then Iraq, then Libya, then Yemen, then by militarizing Africa, the Iraq again and then Syria. We’ve been bombing and invading places in the Middle East continuously since 9/11, every day expecting different results.

    Literally days after 9/11, it was felt that the problem was the government did not know enough about what was happening inside the U.S. vis-vis terrorists, so the vast capabilities of the NSA and FBI were pointed inward. From a relatively modest start, we advanced to Snowden-esque levels where every phone call, every email and every GPS-tracked move of everyone is monitored, every day expecting different results.

    When it seemed we did not have the intelligence and enforcement tools needed, we created a new cabinet level agency, the Department of Homeland Security. That quickly grew into one of the largest bureaucracies in America. We created terror fusion centers, staffed up at the FBI and CIA, every day expecting different results.



    Orlando Shooter Omar Mateen

    And that of course brings us to Orlando Shooter Omar Mateen, whom the FBI stalked for 10 months, interviewed twice and then ignored. Through that we learned that there are some 10,000 FBI terrorism investigations open, with new cases added daily as Americans are encouraged to see something and say something. The New York Times tells us tens of thousands of counterterrorism tips flow into the FBI each year, some maybe legitimate, others from “vengeful ex-spouses or people casting suspicion on Arab-Americans.”

    The flood of leads is so relentless that counterterrorism agents hung a section of fire hose outside their offices in Northern Virginia as a symbol of their mission.


    Intelligence Surge, or a Surge of Intelligence?

    So having missed the Orlando shooter, the Boston Marathon bombers, angry white anti-abortion shooters here and there, the answer is obvious. We need more FBI resources (Hillary Clinton has already called for an “intelligence surge”), of course every day thereafter expecting different results.

    It is almost as if by trying to track every branch, leaf and dirt clod in the forest we are missing the trees. By running down every panicked tip (can you imagine how many calls have come in since Sunday in Orlando?) as a CYA exercise, we get bitten in the YA part over and over.

    The Obama administration has quietly approved a substantial expansion of the terrorist watchlist system, authorizing a secret process that requires neither “concrete facts” nor “irrefutable evidence” to designate an American or foreigner as a terrorist, according to a key government document obtained by The Intercept. If so many are terrorists in one form or another, how can anyone pinpoint the real bad guys, should many of them exist at all?

    By imagining we can track everyone and then sort them out, we are leaving outside the door the discussion of just why terrorists seem to keep attacking the U.S. Could it have something to do with our scorched earth policy in the Middle East?

    By becoming terrified of every brown-skinned person and Muslim in America, we are leaving outside the door the discussion of how throwing innocent people off planes, maintaining secret no-fly lists, spying on whole communities, and giving media platforms to every nut job that wants to rant about what they don’t know but hate anyway about Islam might be helping “radicalize” folks here at home and abroad.

    And certainly never admitting that our culture of easily available weaponry might play a role shuts down any useful discussions about gun control.

    I am sure it is reasonable to expect different results by tomorrow.




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    Twitter ‘Blocks’ Intel Agencies From Tweet-Mining Service

    May 11, 2016 // 7 Comments »

    twitter-bird-white-on-blue



    Or have they?

    Twitter claims it does not want intelligence agencies using a Tweet-mining service for surveillance purposes. The company recently restated its “longstanding” policy of preventing a company called Dataminr from selling information to intelligence agencies that want to monitor Tweets.


    “Dataminr uses public Tweets to sell breaking news alerts to media organizations, corporations and government agencies,” a spokesman for Twitter said in a statement. “We have never authorized Dataminr or any third party to sell data to a government or intelligence agency for surveillance purposes. This is a longstanding policy, not a new development.”


    There are multiple issues worth unpacking here.

    — The reality-to-b*llshit level on this is very high. Twitter sounds nicely righteous, but the whole affair is one FBI front company signing up with Dataminr away from being meaningless.

    — In fact, Dataminr retains its contract with the Department of Homeland Security, which it classifies as something other than an intel agency.

    — Can Twitter actually stop Dataminr from gathering information about Tweets? Not really, as Dataminr uses public Tweets to do its work. It seems Twitter just asked Dataminr nicely to stop. And how many other companies out there are doing the same thing?

    — Small world: The CIA’s own non-profit investment arm, In-Q-Tel, is a Dataminr investor. And Twitter itself is an investor in Dataminr.



    But questions about the actual impact of Twitter’s statements aside, the worst thing about all this is that Americans are now fully dependent on corporate good deeds for the protection of their privacy. Yes, yes, we all “choose” to use social media, as we choose to use smartphones and have bank accounts and fly to Chicago. But c’mon, absent moving off the grid next to the Unabomber’s old cabin, how realistic is it for surveillance zealots to keep hiding behind the choice argument?

    And for those familiar with the actual definition of fascism, collusion between the state and corporate interests, welcome to your latest piece of evidence. We have only has much privacy as Twitter and the government agree we may have.


    Sample Dataminr screen:




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    Tor Developer Created Malware for FBI to Hack Tor Users

    May 5, 2016 // 6 Comments »

    tor

    Espionage works like this: identify a target who has the info you need. Determine what he wants to cooperate (usually money.) Be sure to appeal to his vanity and/or patriotism. Create a situation where he can never go back to his old life, and give him a path forward where it favors his ongoing cooperation in a new life. Recruit him, because you own him.

    The FBI appears to have run a very successful, very classic, textbook recruitment on the guy above, Matt Edman, to use his insider-knowledge to defeat one of the best encryption/privacy software tools available. Aloha, privacy, and f*ck you, Fourth Amendment rights against unwarranted search and seizure.

    Edman is a former Tor Project developer who created malware for the FBI that allows agents to unmask users of the anonymity software.



    Tor is part of a software project that allows users to browse the web and send messages anonymously. In addition to interfacing with encryption, the basic way Tor works is by bouncing your info packets from server to server around the Internet, such that each server knows only a little bit about where the info originated. If you somehow break the chain, you can only trace it back so far, if at all. Tor uses various front ends, graphic user interfaces that make it very easy for non-tech people to use.

    Tor is used by (a small number of) bad guys, but it is also used by journalists to protect sources, democracy advocates in dangerous countries, and simply people choosing to exercise their rights to privacy because they are in fact entitled to do so and don’t need a reason to do so. Freedom and all that. It is up to me if I want to lock the door to my home and close the blinds, not anyone else.



    Our boy Edman worked closely with the FBI to customize, configure, test, and deploy malware he called “Cornhusker” to collect identifying information on Tor users. The malware is also known as Torsploit. Cornhusker used a Flash application to deliver a user’s real Internet Protocol (IP) address to an FBI server outside the Tor network. Cornhusker was placed on three servers owned by a Nebraska man who ran multiple child pornography websites.


    We all hate child pornographers and we all would like to see them crammed up Satan’s butthole to suffocate in a most terrible way. But at the same time, we should all hate the loss of our precious rights. Malware has a tendency to find its way into places it should not be, including into the hands of really bad dictators and crooks, and even if we fully trusted the FBI to only use its Tor-cracking tools for good, the danger is there.

    And of course we cannot trust the FBI to use its Tor-cracking tools only for good. If Tor can be taken away from a few bad actors, then it can be taken away from all of us. Our choice to browse the web privately and responsibly is stripped from us. Encryption and tools like Tor are like any tool, even guns, in that they can be used for good or for evil. You never want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, especially when fundamental Constitutional rights are at stake.


    Rough and unpleasant as it is to accept, the broad, society-wide danger of the loss of those fundamental rights in the long run out-shadows the tragedy of child pornography.



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    ‘Snowden’ Movie Trailer: Can Oliver Stone Make Whistleblowing Suspenseful?

    April 29, 2016 // 20 Comments »




    Of course he can. Have a look at the latest trailer for the upcoming Oliver Stone movie, SNOWDEN, due out in September.

    The Edward Snowden story is many things, but at some level, well apart from politics, it is a helluva thriller. Think of it: a young programmer, at great personal risk, figures out a way to gain access to a vast trove of very highly classified documents from one of America’s most secret agencies. He then discovers a way to beat all of NSA’s security to smuggle that information out of secure facilities. With the Feds no doubt on his heals, he finds his way to a foreign country, meets up with journalists, and reveals to Americans (and the world) that their own government has been illegally spying on them — reading their emails, listening to their calls, looking in their very bedrooms via hijacked webcams — for years. He then successfully eludes the full resources of the U.S. government and settles into a new life in Russia.

    So if that isn’t suspenseful, then not much can be.


    And it is hard to imagine a filmmaker more equipped to handle this story than Oliver Stone. Stone’s work has been all about creating narratives, often narratives contradictory to the mainstream, around significant historical and social events (Wall Street, W. Platoon, JFK). Snowden’s story may have found its natural storyteller.

    The trailer looks good, and shows a movie that is structured as a thriller, but one with a larger message. This film looks to be an excellent addition to the conversations about the changes he brought to the United States, and the world.



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    Is This What’s in Those 28 Pages? And Does it Matter?

    April 27, 2016 // 24 Comments »

    Bush-Saudi-Arabia


    Did the CIA meet with some of the 9/11 hijackers ahead of the attacks on New York? Did the Saudi government help finance those hijackers? Someone knows the answers, and soon, you might know as well.


    This Summer?

    James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, told the New York Times the so-called “28 pages,” a still-classified section from the official report of the Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001, may be released to the public as early as this summer. The full 838-page report, minus those pages, was published in December 2002.

    The pages detail Saudi Arabia involvement in funding the 9/11 hijackers, and were classified by then-President George W. Bush.

    So what do they say?


    The 28 Pages

    Richard Clarke is the former National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counterterrorism for the United States. He is best-known for trying to warn the George W. Bush administration that a terror attack was imminent in the days preceding 9/11. As late as a July 5, 2001, White House meeting with the FAA, the Coast Guard, the FBI, Secret Service and the INS, Clarke stated that “something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it’s going to happen soon.”

    Here’s what Clarke said at a security forum held this week in New York about what those 28 pages will reveal:

    — 9/11 hijackers and Saudi citizens (15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis) Khalid Al-Midhar and Nawaq Al Hamzi met in San Diego with several other Saudis, including one who may have been a Saudi intelligence agent and another who was both an al Qaeda sympathizer and an employee of the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles.

    — The CIA also made contact with Midhar and Hamzi in San Diego, and unsuccessfully tried to “turn them,” i.e., recruit them to work for the United States. The CIA did not inform the FBI or others of this action until just before 9/11. (In a 2009 interview, Clarke speculated that the CIA would have used Saudi intelligence as an intermediary to approach the two al-Qaeda operatives.)

    — The 28 pages may include speculation that the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs funded mosques and other locations in the U.S. used by al Qaeda as meeting places and for recruitment.

    — The rumors that Saudi charities and/or the spouse of then-Saudi ambassador to the United States Bandar bin Sultan (who went on to be director general of the Saudi Intelligence Agency from 2012 to 2014) directly funded the 9/11 hijackers per se are “overblown,” according to Clarke.

    However, elements of Saudi charities and the ambassador himself did regularly provide funding to various Saudi citizens in the United States, for example, those needing money for medical care. It is possible that the 9/11 hijackers defrauded Saudi sources to obtain funds, but less clear that any Saudi government official knowingly funded persons for the purpose of committing 9/11.

    Alongside Clapper, Clarke too believes the 28 pages will be released to the public within the next five to six weeks.

    Others have suggested more clear ties between the hijackers and the Saudis, including multiple pre-9/11 phone calls between one of the hijackers’ handlers in San Diego and the Saudi Embassy, and the transfer of some $130,000 from Bandar’s family checking account to yet another of the hijackers’ Saudi handlers in San Diego.


    Not the What, But the Why

    Should the full 28 pages be released, there will no doubt be enormous emphasis placed on what they say, specifically the degree to which they implicate elements of Saudi Arabia and/or the Saudi royal family in funding or supporting the 9/11 hijackers. If the CIA contact with some of the hijackers is confirmed, that will be explosive.

    But as pointed out in Oliver Stone’s movie JFK (below), after the what is the why, and that answer has the potential to affect the future, not just document the past.


    — Why were the pages classified in the first place (who benefited?) and why did they stay classified now into a second administration, some 15 years after the events they discuss took place?

    — Why did the United States allow officials of the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs to work in the U.S. under diplomatic status? That Ministry’s existence goes back to the 1991 Gulf War. The presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia was a shattering event in the country’s history, calling into question the bargain between the royal family and the Wahhabi clerics, whose blessing allows the Saud family to rule. In 1992, a group of the country’s most prominent religious leaders issued the Memorandum of Advice, which implicitly threatened a clerical coup.

    The royal family, shaken by the threat to its rule, accommodated most of the clerics’ demands, giving them more control over Saudi society. One of their directives called for the creation of a Ministry of Islamic Affairs, which would be given offices in Saudi embassies and consulates. As the journalist Philip Shenon writes, citing John Lehman, the former Secretary of the Navy and a 9/11 commissioner, “it was well-known in intelligence circles that the Islamic affairs office functioned as the Saudis’ ‘fifth column’ in support of Muslim extremists.”

    Only one official in the Ministry of Islamic Affairs inside the U.S., Fahad al-Thumairy, was stripped of his diplomatic visa and deported because of suspected ties to terrorists. That was in 2002.


    — Why does the U.S. still allow allow officials of the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs to work in the U.S. under diplomatic status?

    — Why did the American government not arrest Omar al-Bayoumi, a Saudi national and employee of the Saudi aviation-services company Dallah Avco. Although he drew a salary, according to the New Yorker he apparently never did any actual work for the company during the seven years he spent in America. Bayoumi was in frequent contact with the Saudi Embassy and with the consulate in Los Angeles; he was widely considered in the Arab expat community to be a Saudi spy, though the Saudi government has denied that he was.

    — Why did the CIA not reveal its contacts with the two 9/11 hijackers? Who benefited?




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    With Whistleblowers Jesselyn Radack and Tom Drake

    April 16, 2016 // 8 Comments »

    jess and tom

    I am very proud to call these two people friends:


    Jesselyn Radack, who blew the whistle on Department of Justice malfeasance in the handling of the “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh. Jess went on to become a key part of Edward Snowden’s defense team (full disclosure: Jess was also one of my lawyers in my own whistleblower struggle with the State Department.)


    Tom Drake, who blew the whistle on NSA domestic spying in the years right after 9/11, and who is cited by Edward Snowden as an important example as he decided whether or not to further expose the unconstitutional acts of the National Security Agency. In return for his truth telling, Tom was rewarded by being prosecuted under the Espionage Act, a tactic the Obama administration has now used seven times against intelligence whistleblowers, more than all previous administrations combined.

    We had a terrific lunch, and if only the walls could talk…




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    Freedom in North Korea (I Hate Travel Stories About North Korea)

    March 31, 2016 // 7 Comments »

    North-Korean-Propaganda-Poster-01



    Every travel story about North Korea reads the same:

    We went to North Korea voluntarily, and were shocked to find that we couldn’t like hang out at clubs with everyday Koreans, and the dudes there, like, spied on us.

    And we couldn’t use WhatsApp or take selfies anywhere we wanted, or like mock the hell out of the fat guy who dictates the place LOL. It’s like so oppressive and I’m so glad to be back in the U.S. where sh*t is totally free, I mean literally, bro.

    Wash, rinse, repeat.


    So here’s another one, from the New York Times who should know better but clearly had space to fill or something. This story not only drops the mic on the usual tired *ss tropes about North Korea, but it is written by a Korean-American so offended by the bad Korea she can barely contain herself spewing dumbbuttery.

    The writer, “Marie” Myung-Ok Lee, has a lot to say.

    She opens with this:

    North Korea recently sentenced Otto Warmbier, an American college student and tourist, to 15 years of hard labor. Not surprisingly in the surveillance state to end all surveillance states, there are security camera images of Mr. Warmbier trying to steal a propaganda sign from an off-limits area of the hotel. In photographs from the trial, he seemed utterly shocked that he was being prosecuted.

    Let’s unpack that.

    “Security camera images of a theft?” This is a surprise? Hell, every minute of my life in America is captured on security cameras, “Marie,” and yours, too. My apartment building has them in the halls and public areas, the police have them on the streets, the stores I shop in have them everywhere and the NSA uses my webcam to look into my bedroom.

    As for Warmbier looking “utterly shocked that he was being prosecuted,” the dude tried to steal something. What did he expect to happen to him, a pat on the back? You get prosecuted for theft anywhere in the world. Sure, 15 years is heavy, but we all know the North Koreans won’t keep him that long. At least he’s not a black guy in America, where he’d risk being beaten or shot for “resisting arrest” after his crime.


    Later in her article, Marie is outraged she can’t photograph what she wants to, because Government. I’d invite her here in the Homeland to take her camera out to snap a few photos at the nearest military base or nuke facility in her state, and see how the guardians of freedom react. Better yet, let her be beaten by a cop who objects to her exercising her right to film him doing his duty beating up peaceful protesters for “resisting arrest.”


    On her way out of North Korea, Marie discovers her luggage was searched, and expresses her shock and outrage, that sense of being violated.

    You’re right Marie, that certainly doesn’t happen in America. Except in major subway systems like New York and Washington DC where the cops do “random” bag searches as a condition of riding. Or at the airport where full-body scanners are employed on children, the elderly and the disabled.

    As someone who, during my whistleblower fight against the State Department, found myself “randomly selected” for detailed searches by TSA, and who has friends on the No Fly list with no explanation offered, and who is aware how the U.S. government detained and searched and confiscated the electronics of journalists like Laura Poitras because she covered Edward Snowden’s story, yeah, f*ck yeah, I can understand that sense of being violated.


    Only I didn’t need to go all the way to North Korea for it. I just had to open my eyes here at home. And yes, I understand about “matters of degree,” but caution that it is just a matter of degree, and the North Koreans have been in the police state game longer than the U.S. has. But we’re catching on.

    Look around; there’s no place like home.



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    Talking More About Apple, Encryption and the Fourth Amendment

    March 19, 2016 // Comments Off on Talking More About Apple, Encryption and the Fourth Amendment



    I had a chance to drop by Ron Paul’s web show to talk more about Apple, Encryption, the evil genius of the FBI/NSA, and the Fourth Amendment.





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    FBI Has New Plan to Spy on High School Students

    March 11, 2016 // 10 Comments »

    cve


    The FBI is instructing high schools across the country to report students who criticize government policies as potential future terrorists, warning that such “extremists” are in the same category as ISIS.

    The FBI’s Preventing Violent Extremism in Schools guidelines try to avoid the appearance of specific discrimination against Muslim students by targeting every American teenager who is politically outspoken, as if that somehow makes all this better. The FBI’s goal is to enlist every teacher and every student as informants. The concept is not dissimilar to attempts by the FBI to require tech companies such as Apple to become extensions of the FBI’s power. FYI, the FBI also now has full access to data collected on Americans by the NSA.


    You really do need to scan through the FBI’s materials, which are aimed directly at our children; my words cannot describe the chilling 1984-tone purposely adopted.


    As author Sarah Lazare points out, the FBI’s justification for such mass teenage surveillance is based on McCarthy-era theories of radicalization, in which authorities monitor thoughts and behaviors that they claim without any proof lead to acts of subversion, even if the people being watched have not committed any wrongdoing. This model is now (again, welcome back to the 1950s) official federal policy.

    The FBI guidelines claim “High school students are ideal targets for recruitment by violent extremists seeking support for their radical ideologies, foreign fighter networks, or conducting acts of violence within our borders… youth possess inherent risk factors.” In light of this, the FBI instructs teachers to “incorporate a two-hour block of violent extremism awareness training” into the core curriculum for all youth in grades 9 through 12.


    Here are the danger signs the FBI directs teachers keep a sharp eye out for:

    — “Talking about traveling to places that sound suspicious”;

    — “Using code words or unusual language”;

    — “Using several different cell phones and private messaging apps”;

    — “Studying or taking pictures of potential targets (like a government building);”

    — “Some immigrant families may not be sufficiently present in a youth’s life due to work constraints to foster critical thinking”;

    — “Encryption is often used to facilitate extremism discussions.”


    And just to make sure the connection with McCarthyism and the red baiting days of the 1950s is clear enough, the FBI materials warn “Anarchist extremists believe that society should have no government, laws, or police, and they are loosely organized, with no central leadership. Violent anarchist extremists usually target symbols of capitalism they believe to be the cause of all problems in society — such as large corporations, government organizations, and police agencies.”

    So, sorry, Bernie Sanders supporters.



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    FBI and Access to NSA Data on Americans

    March 10, 2016 // 11 Comments »

    firstamendment_0



    Hear that hissing sound? That is the last gasps for air from the Bill of Rights. The Bill is one breath away from hell.


    The FBI has quietly revised its rules for searching data involving Americans’ communications collected by the National Security Agency.

    The classified revisions were accepted by the secret U.S. FISA court that governs surveillance, under a set of powers colloquially known as Section 702. That is the portion of law that authorizes the NSA’s sweeping PRISM program, among other atrocities.

    PRISM, and other surveillance programs, first came to mainstream public attention with the information leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, preceeded by other NSA whistleblowers such as Thomas Drake and Bill Binney.

    Since at least 2014 the FBI has been allowed direct access to the NSA’s massive collections of international emails, texts and phone calls – which often include Americans on one end of the conversation, and often “inadvertently” sweep up Americans’ domestic communications as well. FBI officials can search through the NSA data, using Americans’ identifying information, for “routine” queries unrelated to national security.

    As of 2014, the FBI has not been required to make note of when it searched NSA-gathered metadata, which includes the “to” or “from” lines of an email. Nor does it record how many of its data searches involve Americans’ identifying details.


    So, quick summary: secret surveillance programs enacted in secret ostensibly to protect America from terrorism threats are now turning over data on American citizens to the FBI, fully unrelated to issues of national security. The rules governing all this are secret, decided by a secret court.

    If that does not add up to a chilling definition of a police state that would give an old Stasi thug a hard-on, than I don’t know what is.



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    You Should Care About Apple, Your iPhone and the FBI

    March 8, 2016 // 9 Comments »

    spy

    Yep, you should care. Very much. Hang up the phone and listen.



    What This is All About

    The FBI wants Apple to help unlock an iPhone used by one of the attackers who killed 14 people in the December San Bernardino shooting. Specifically, the Bureau wants Apple to create new software that would override a security system on the phone designed to erase its contents after ten unsuccessful password tries. The new software would also eliminate the built-in pause required between tries.

    The software on the San Bernardino shooter’s phone, after ten tries, will automatically destroy any data on it as a security measure. The FBI needs that ten try limit, plus the required pauses between tries, taken away so that they can run a “brute force” attack against the password. A brute force attack runs an unlimited number of passwords (a1, a2, a3… aa1, aa2, aa3…) at high speed against the system until one works.

    Apple said no. The FBI took Apple to court, where it successfully argued an 1789 law that compelled cooperation with simple court orders applied to Apple’s encryption in 2016. Apple is appealing.



    What This is Really All About

    This is really all about encryption, and whether the U.S. government can force companies to bypass their own security systems on demand. It is about whether a tech company’s primary obligation is to provide secure products that protect the privacy of its customers (good and bad people), or to act as a tool of American law enforcement to strip away that privacy as the government requires.

    The battle is actually even more significant. Since the Ed Snowden revelations exposed the NSA spying on persons worldwide, including inside the United States, the Federal government has been demanding a “back door” into commercial encryption systems.

    Some simplified tech talk: encryption turns data from something that can be read into 23hd892k*&^43s. Two “keys” are needed; one to turn the data into unreadable text, and one to reverse the process. In the case of the iPhone, Apple holds the encrypting key, and the user the unencryption key, her password. A backdoor is a bit of computer code that would allow law enforcement to bypass that second key and read anyone’s data. That’s what the Feds want, as, per Snowden, some current, commercially available encryption may still be beyond the NSA’s ability to break, and some other encryption can only be broken slowly, with expensive computers.



    What This is Really, Really All About

    The fight isn’t over whether Apple can comply with the government’s request; technically it can. It’s whether it should.

    Efforts to force companies to create that desired back door have proven unsuccessful. Many tech companies resent that the NSA hacked into their systems whenever possible up until the Snowden revelations, and others fear a consumer backlash if they cooperate too broadly. Congress so far has been unable to pass laws compelling the creation of back doors. The FBI is so desperate that they even deleted “safety” advice they once issued recommending people do encrypt their phones.

    The San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone is seen by many as a test case.

    The request is technologically doable, the shooter is dead, fully without privacy and cannot countersue, a search warrant for the phone exists, the phone is physically in the FBI’s possession on U.S. soil and the circumstances are very much PR-friendly — the guy was a terrorist, and who knows, maybe the phone holds clues to prevent some future attack. You really can’t do better than that.

    Some 40% of Americans agree that Apple should unlock the phone. And just in case you still don’t get it, remember the government took the provocative step of asking the court to unseal the case, which would normally be secret by default.

    Apple is pushing back.

    The company filed a request to vacate response to the court order, claiming it violated the First and Fifth Amendments, and exceeded the powers granted to the government in the All Writs Act, that 1789 law. Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and Google plan to file briefs supporting Apple’s position. Meanwhile, both the FBI and Apple want Congress to weigh in, and indeed the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on encryption issues.

    It is very likely the case will reach the Supreme Court.



    The Broader Implications

    The case the Supreme Court will almost certainly hear is not about a single phone, but about creating a legal precedent for the United States government to demand whatever cooperation it needs from private companies with stockholder obligations to bypass security and encryption as it wishes; FBI director Comey stated the case will “be instructive for other courts” when interpreting how far third parties have to go in helping the government hack their products.

    In an op-ed, the New York Police Department Commissioner and his intelligence and counterterrorism chief admitted that what Apple has been asked to do will drive how the government demands tech companies provide access to secured devices in the future.

    Apple CEO Tim Cook said this “is, in our view, the software equivalent of cancer.” Indeed, the Justice Department is already seeking court orders for at least twelve other iPhones.



    Why You Should Care

    If Apple fails, the U.S. government will be able to read the contents of any electronic device in the U.S., regardless of encryption. The legal precedent will absolutely spill out past the iPhone to all other devices. For anyone who lives, travels or passes through America, this will touch you. In addition, phone, email and social media data passes through the U.S. from many parts of the world even if the users on both ends are outside the country.

    In addition, what would Apple’s (Google’s, et al) response be to a request from your favorite bad government? What if China were to require it hold a backdoor key as a condition for sales in the Mainland? What if your favorite bad government overtly decided to use that backdoor to “legally” gather proprietary data from your company, against journalists and dissidents, or to amass blackmail information on a colleague?

    A win for the government in the Apple case would also further stretch the applicability of the All Writs Act to ever more information inside the U.S., or held by companies with ties to the U.S. — medical records, for example.

    For investors, will knowing the U.S. and your favorite bad government now have access to a device help or hinder sales (Apple has already claimed compliance will “tarnish the Apple brand”)?

    And of course once backdoors exist, who, in the age of leaks (Snowden hacked the NSA itself), can assure that the knowledge will not end up your favorite set of wrong hands, say perhaps those Russian gangsters who are always sending you Spam emails?

    Bottom Line: everyone has something they wish to keep to themselves. The Apple case will significantly affect how possible that will be going forward.



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    Judge Orders Apple to Help FBI Hack San Bernardino Shooter’s Phone

    February 18, 2016 // 15 Comments »

    iphone-563069_960_720



    A magistrate judge in California on Tuesday ordered Apple to help the FBI retrieve encrypted data on an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino killers. Investigators have so far been unable to gain access to the data on killer Syed Rizwan Farook’s phone, which could contain communications between him and his wife and co-conspirator, Tashfeen Malik, and potentially others, prior to the December 2 shooting rampage that killed 14 people.

    “Prosecutors said they needed Apple’s help accessing the phone’s data to find out who the shooters were communicating with and who may have helped plan and carry out the massacre, as well as where they traveled prior to the incident,” NBC News reports. “The judge ruled Tuesday that Apple had to provide ‘reasonable technical assistance’ to the government in recovering data from the iPhone 5c, including bypassing the auto-erase function and allowing investigators to submit an unlimited number of passwords in their attempts to unlock the phone.”

    The court filing by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles said “Apple has the exclusive technical means which would assist the government in completing its search, but has declined to provide that assistance voluntarily.” Apple has five days to respond to the ruling.

    Can the Feds Break Into the iPhone?

    Some interesting issues afoot here. First, it appears the FBI cannot figure out a way to bypass Apple’s security feature, the one that bricks the phone after a certain number of unsuccessful login attempts. If Apple modified the phone so an unlimited number of attempts can be made, then the Feds would simply brute force the password, trying potentially millions of combinations.


    Or is it?

    America’s intelligence agencies have so far been unsuccessful in persuading manufacturers and/or Congress to create and pass on to them backdoors around security and encryption. The FBI may indeed know how to get into the iPhone, but wants to make this a public example case — who can complain about learning more about real terrorists (no ambiguity issues), and of course the phone’s owners are dead, and so cannot claim their Fourth Amendment rights against search and seizure/privacy are being violated.

    Also of interest would be an Apple claim that while they will cooperate, it is technically impossible to comply with the request, i.e., the phone simply cannot be modified as the FBI wishes. Could a court require Apple to turn over all of their code and engineering documents so that the NSA could have a shot at what Apple said it could not do on its own?

    Equally interesting would be even if Apple can comply this time, would Apple run into future legal issues if they created a next generation phone that truly could not be modified no matter what, making it fully unhackable, even by their own engineers?

    Either way, the suit against Apple sets a precedent, likely making it easier for the Feds to compel cooperation from tech companies in more legally hazy cases in the future.


    Apple Responds

    Apple has vowed to aggressively fight the federal order to unlock the iPhone. CEO Tim Cook published a public response that said “We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI, and we believe their intentions are good. Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them. But now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.”

    So the good (?) news is in 2016 we are now depending on a private company to protect our privacy against the wishes of our own government.




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    Two Americans Detained in Iran Are Not Coming Home

    January 20, 2016 // 6 Comments »

    levinson


    Four American prisoners, including detained Washington Post journalist Jason Resaian, Saeed Adedini, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, were released as part of a deal with the United States alongside the ending of many trade sanction against Iran. Iran also released a fifth American prisoner unrelated to the swap, student Matthew Trevithick.

    However good that news is, the fate of two other Americans believed to still be in Iran remains unknown.

    Authorities in Tehran said they would not be freeing a Iranian-American businessman arrested in October, and were silent on the fate of an CIA/DEA/FBI semi-undercover contractor who disappeared in the country.

    It was unclear why businessman Siamak Namazi, 44, an Iranian-American based in Dubai, was arrested in October in the first place. He was visiting a friend in Tehran, where he had done consultant work for over ten years without incident. Namazi is the son of a prominent family in Tehran. He immigrated to the United States in 1983, and he later returned to Iran after graduating from college to serve in the Iranian military.


    The fate of Robert Levinson, 67, pictured, is also unclear. Levinson, who worked at one time for the FBI, and also for the CIA, went missing on an Iranian island in March 2007. The island was reportedly a well-known stopover for smugglers bringing goods into Iran. Levinson is believed to have been looking into Iranian government corruption related to cigarette smuggling out of Dubai. The Iranians have never acknowledged holding Levinson.

    Levinson joined the FBI’s New York field office in 1978 after spending six years with the Drug Enforcement Administration. Eventually he moved to the Miami office, where he tracked Russian organized-crime figures.

    After retiring from the FBI in 1998, Levinson worked as a CIA contractor. Levinson was supposed to produce academic papers for the agency, but operated much like a case officer. Levinson traveled the globe to meet with potential sources, sometimes using a fake name. CIA station chiefs in those countries were allegedly never notified of Levinson’s activities overseas, even though the agency reimbursed him for his travel.


    In the world of covert intelligence, the use of such contractors can be a convenient means of gathering information without creating any true responsibility of the agency to protect or repatriate an American who is technically not a “spy” and officially not an employee of the U.S. government. For the sake of long-term relations, this also allows all nations involved to not be pressed into raising a disappearance into a significant bilateral issue if desired, as appears in the case of Levinson.



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    White House Meets With Silicon Valley Execs to “Disrupt” ISIS Online

    January 14, 2016 // 5 Comments »

    google

    Since our providers and tech makers in Silicon Valley are already deep in bed with the NSA to help spy on us, it should be little surprise that the White House now wants them to climb on board another Bill of Rights busting train and help “disrupt” ISIS online by editing the Internet.


    This new strategy is based on the government’s firm belief that the real cause of radicalization is because some suburban kid reads a Tweet and then poof! skips Spring Break for jihad. The idea that the roots of radical actions lie deep and involve complex motivations, including being torqued off at bloodthirsty U.S. foreign policy, meh, let’s blame social media and that damn rock ‘n roll you kids like and use it all as a way to clamp down on political speech the government doesn’t like.


    And now, mighty tech giants, you can help.

    Silicon Valley executives met with top government officials in a private (of course!) meeting this week to game out strategies to counter Islamic State online. The goal is for technology companies to crack down on ISIS’ social media. See, if Google does it based on government instructions instead of the government doing it directly, it does not technically violate the First Amendment.

    According to America’s best newspaper, the UK Guardian, executives from Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Apple, and Microsoft attended along with FBI Director James Comey, NSA Director Mike Rogers, NIA Director James Clapper, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.


    The Guardian obtained a copy of the agenda for the meeting, which focuses heavily on the devil’s tool, social media. So here’s how the government thinks ISIS will be defeated online:

    a. How can we make it harder for terrorists to leveraging [sic] the internet to recruit, radicalize, and mobilize followers to violence?

    b. How can we help others to create, publish, and amplify alternative content that would undercut ISIL?

    c. In what ways can we use technology to help disrupt paths to radicalization to violence, identify recruitment patterns, and provide metrics to help measure our efforts to counter radicalization to violence?

    d. How can we make it harder for terrorists to use the internet to mobilize, facilitate, and operationalize attacks, and make it easier for law enforcement and the intelligence community to identify terrorist operatives and prevent attacks?

    I especially love the bit in Item C about providing “metrics to help measure our efforts to counter radicalization to violence.” Exactly how does one gather metrics to prove a negative, i.e., how many people allegedly don’t join ISIS because of something they read online?


    Anyway, as a loyal American myself, and as a public service, I offer the following suggestions:

    — Hack each ISIS site so that it includes pop-ups, multiple invitations to sign up for newsletters and take surveys, autoplay videos set to high volume and use banner ads, lots of banner, ads for payday loan places and boner pills. No one will stay long enough to read the ISIS content.

    — Include more photos of Kim Kardashian interspersed with the ISIS Twitter feed as a distraction. Offer an hour with Kim (she’s a patriotic gal but maybe not a virgin) for each person who denounces ISIS with an emoticon. 🙂

    — Redirect any ISIS phone numbers to a call center in India with an endless loop of “Press or say 145.89 for customer service” prompts.

    — Stop killing Muslims and stop throwing gasoline into Middle East fires, close Guantanamo, have a truth commission expose American torture practices, and realign U.S. foreign policy to stop sucking up to the Saudis as its mainstay.




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    We Are Still Alive (Non-Terrorism Edition)

    January 1, 2016 // 11 Comments »

    Passed out


    I survived. America, and the world, and you, survived. We awoke the first day of 2016 to find that once again, using the extraordinary power of fear, we defeated the terrorists.


    Hard as it is to persuade a constantly re-frightened American public, there have been only 38 Americans killed inside the Homeland by so-called Islamic terrorism since 9/11.

    Argue the number, hell, go ahead and double or triple it, and it still a tragic, sad, but undeniable drop in the bucket. Throw in a few mysterious “foiled plots” the government never seems to have many specifics on to share and tack on some more to the terror body count. No matter how hard you drive, you just can’t get the number of Americans killed or even in clear danger of being killed to a very large number.

    And do spare the tired trope of “well, security measures such as at our airports have saved us from who knows how many attacks.” Leaving aside the idea that the argument itself demands a kind of negative logic (the “who knows” part) to even make sense, a recent test by the Department of Homeland’s own Inspector General’s Office, posing as travelers, showed 95 percent of contraband, including weapons and explosives, got through during clandestine testings. If a failure rate of 95 percent did not have planes falling from the sky, one must conclude security has little to affect terrorism.

    CNN on the Eve told us that over one million people were in Times Square to see in the New Year, along with 6,000 cops. The guest being interviewed helpfully said that meant each cop would have to watch 166 people (actually, the guy said 300-500 to upgrade the worry) for signs that they were terrorists, and worried that the ratio was not enough to protect those out of each bunch of 166 who were not bad guys. Guess what? None of them were. More Americans died of alcohol poisoning (booze terror!) last night than terrorism.

    We are not terrorists. No one was hurt. No bombs went off. Almost all of our homegrown lone wolves are all Google and no game. It was all panic, designed to keep us in a state of fear. Fearful people are easy to manipulate.

    Stop being afraid.



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    Your Business Been Hacked? Thanks NSA!

    December 23, 2015 // 4 Comments »

    feedthrough

    It appears that the NSA (“or someone”) hacked into the code of a popular firewall and planted a password in there that would allow them access as needed.


    That means the NSA (“or someone”) would be able to bypass the security features of a network and do what they wanted inside. This is basically an act of sabotage. Given that American organizations as well as foreign ones use these same firewalls, and that the planted password could be discovered by others outside the NSA, the act made vulnerable a multitude of innocent, untargeted systems.

    Juniper Networks makes a popular line of enterprise firewalls whose operating system is called Screen OS. The company raised alarm bells with an advisory announcing that they’d discovered “unauthorized code” in some versions of Screen OS, a strange occurrence that hinted that a security agency had managed to tamper with the product before it shipped. One possible route would be for any such agency to have its own people inside the company, acting under cover.


    An investigator for Juniper reported that he and his team have confirmed that the “unauthorized code” is a backdoor whose secret password enables the wielder to telnet or ssh into Juniper’s appliances. The password is <<< %s(un='%s') = %u, "presumably chosen so that it would be mistaken for one of the many other debug format strings in the code." Further investigation located 26,000 Juniper devices that are vulnerable to this attack until patched.

    The code appears to have been in multiple versions of the company’s ScreenOS software going back to at least August 2012.

    The next mystery to solve is where this unauthorized code comes from. In this case, someone deliberately inserted a backdoor password into Juniper's devices. Juniper says the hack is sophisticated enough that it had to have been made by a state-level actor. This was not done by your movie-version basement hacker.

    “The weakness in the VPN itself that enables passive decryption is only of benefit to a national surveillance regime like the British, the U.S., the Chinese, or the Israelis,” said one researcher at the International Computer Science Institute and UC Berkeley. “You need to have wiretaps on the Internet for that to be a valuable change to make in the software.”


    That’s a huge deal.

    If it’s the NSA (which looks possible, given a Snowden leak about a program called FEEDTROUGH that installs persistent backdoors in Juniper devices) then it will mean that the U.S. government deliberately sabotaged tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of networks that were protected by products from a U.S. company that is the second-largest provider of networking equipment in the world (after Cisco.)

    Or was the second-largest provider. Discovery of the backdoor is unlikely to be good for business.



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    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Post-Constitution America

    Web Ads (and the NSA) Use Inaudible Sound to Link and Track Your Devices

    December 2, 2015 // 5 Comments »

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    Remember how Ed Snowden told us to stick black tape over our webcams, as the NSA had learned to turn them on remotely without triggering the little light?

    Well, you better stick some tape over your speakers now, too.


    Silverpush, along with several other companies to include Adobe, has found a way to use ultrasonic bleeps emitted by apps, websites, and even TV commercials to combine the identities associated with different devices (tablets, phones, computers, etc), so that your activity on all of them can be aggregated.

    The system works by implanting software (malware?) into various apps you run on your devices and computers. Silverpush will not say which companies are using its technology. When one app is triggered, say by an ultrasonic tone emitted by a website you visit, the other devices nearby hear it and can transmit a unique signal that IDs all your devices as belonging to the same family. You do not know this is happening, you cannot opt out, and you have no idea what data is being collected or where it is going.

    And given the NSA’s proven ability to insert software remotely, you likely do not even need to install an app to become part of this scheme. The NSA has been said to already use ultrasonic sounds to in part bridge air-gapped computers.


    In comments filed with the Federal Trade Commission, the Center for Democracy and Technology raised a warning about these technologies and the ways in which they compromise user privacy. They claim as of April of 2015, SilverPush’s software is used by 67 apps and the company monitors 18 million smartphones.

    Here are some of the marketing firms selling the systems.

    Here is a partial list of the apps.

    The Center for Democracy and Technology pointed out just one way the technology could be misused.

    “For example, an organization could see that a user searched for sexually transmitted disease symptoms on her personal computer, looked up directions to a Planned Parenthood on her phone, and then checked the opening hours of a nearby pharmacy on her tablet. While previously the various components of this journey would be scattered among several services, cross-device tracking allows companies to infer that the user received treatment for an STD. The combination of information across devices not only creates serious privacy concerns, but also allows for companies to make incorrect and possibly harmful assumptions about individuals.”


    Welcome to your future, Citizens.




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    Post-Constitutional America: What We’ve Lost Since 9/11

    October 13, 2015 // 10 Comments »

    obama_burns_constitution


    Ed Snowden is right. We have lost too many of our freedoms. What the hell happened?


    The United States has entered its third great era is what happened. The first, starting from the colonists’ arrival, saw the principles of the Enlightenment used to push back the abuses of an imperial government and create the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The next two hundred some years, imperfect as they were, saw those principles progress, putting into practice what an evolving government of the people might look like.

    We are now wading in the shallow waters of the third era, Post-Constitutional America, a time when our government is abandoning the basic ideas that saw our nation through centuries of challenges. Those ideas– enshrined in the Bill of Rights– are disarmingly concise, the haiku of a People’s government. Deeper, darker waters lay in front of us, and we are drawn down into them. The king, jealous of the People’s power, wants some back.


    Pre-Constitutional America: 1765-1789

    History turns out to be everything that matters. America in its Pre-Constitutional days may seem familiar to even casual readers of current events. We lived under the control of a king, a powerful executive who was beholden only to the rich landowners and nobles who supported him. The king’s purpose was simple: to use his power over Americans to draw the maximum financial gain out of the colony, suppressing dissent in service to the goal and to maintain his own power.

    If you lived in Pre-Constitutional America, you knew that imposed laws could be brutal, and punishments swift and often extra-judicial. Protest was dangerous. Speech could make you the enemy of the government that ruled you. Journalism could be a crime.


    Nothing to Hide, Nothing to Fear?

    There were many offenses against liberty in Pre-Constitutional America. One pivotal event, the Stamp Act of 1765, stands out. To enforce the taxes imposed by the Act, the king’s men used “writs of assistance” that allowed them to burst into any home or business, with or without suspicion. Americans’ property and privacy were torn apart, ransacked, often times more as a warning of the king’s power than any “legitimate” purpose the original approved law might have held. Some American was then the first to mutter in ignorance “But if I have nothing to hide, why should I be afraid?” He learned soon enough everyone was treated as an enemy of the government, everyone, it seemed, had something to hide, even if it turned out they did not.

    The Stamp Act, and the flood of similar offenses, created in the Founders a profound suspicion of government unchecked, a confirmation that power and freedom cannot coexist in a democracy. What was needed, in addition to the body of the Constitution which outlined what the new nation’s government could do, was a remuneration of what that government could not do. The answer was the Bill of Rights.


    Never Again: 1789 – 9/11/2001

    There was no mistaking it: the Bill of Rights was written to make sure that America’s new government would not be the old government of a king. Each important amendment spoke directly to a specific offense committed by the king. The Bill would protect Americans from their government. The rights enumerated in the Bill were not granted by the government, but already present within the People. The Bill said what the government could not take away. Never again, the Founders said.

    For over 200 years the Bill of Rights expanded and contracted. Yet through out, the basic principles that guided America were sustained despite war, depression and endless challenges. It was a bumpy road, but it was a road that traveled forward.

    (The Founders were imperfect men, and very much of their era. As such, the rights of women and Native Americans were not addressed. Shamefully, the Bill of Rights did not destroy the institution of slavery, our nation’s Original Sin. It would take many years, and often much blood, to make up for those mistakes.)


    Post-Constitutional America: 9/12/2001 to the Present

    Then, one sharp, blue September 11 morning, everything changed, and our Post-Constitutional era began.

    You know the story: NSA spying, drone killing, Guantanamo, arbitrary arrests and police violence. And for every short-hand example, there are many other motes of shame you have probably thought of as you read. If not, open today’s newspaper or Google “NSA” and they’ll most likely be there. Remember too that Manning, Snowden and other whistleblowers were able to pass on only relatively small portions of the information the government is trying to hide, and we haven’t even seen all of the Snowden documents yet.

    But isn’t it all legal? Taking the most generous position, all the things the king did, and the government now does, were (albeit often in classified form) approved in (albeit often secret) courts. But in Constitutional America, there was a standard above the law, the Constitution itself. The actions of the executive and the laws passed by Congress were only legal when they did not conflict with the underlying principles of our democracy.

    The accepted history of our descent into a Post-Constitutional state is following 9/11, evil people under the leadership of Dick Cheney, with the tacit support of a dunce like George W. Bush, pushed through legally-lite measures to allow kidnapping, torture, imprisonment and indefinite detention, all direct contraventions of the Bill of Rights. Obama, elected on what are now seen as a series of false promises to roll back the worst of the Bush era-crimes, went full-in for the same or more. That’s the common narrative, and it is mostly true.

    What is missing is a more complete view. Even today, years after 9/11, 45 percent of Americans say that torture is “sometimes necessary and acceptable to gain information that may protect the public.” Snowden’s revelations about the NSA revealed in depth how far the government has gone, though much of the raw outlines of what he filled in have been known for several years without much exposure in the mainstream media.

    Americans, ignorant of their own history, seem unsure whether or not the NSA’s actions are indeed justified, and many feel Snowden and the journalists who published his material are criminals. The most common meme related to whistleblowers is “Patriot or Traitor?” and toward the war on terror, “Security or Freedom?” There is no widespread movement toward any real change in what the government has been doing. It seems many Americans like it, and support it.

    To return to the set of rules, laws and beliefs that we still claim in high school civics classes define us, the Bill of Rights, means first deciding we will no longer agree to have those rights taken away from us. No, no, not taken away– given away, too easily. Too many Americans, compelled by fear and assured by propaganda, want the government to expand its powers further, embracing dumb-headly the idea that freedom is in conflict with security. The Founders, even as they remained under significant threat from the then-World’s Most Powerful Nation, knew all along the real dangers did not lie out over the water, but on land, at home, inside.

    But wait, people say. I write angry emails all the time and nobody has kicked down my door. I went to court for something and it worked just the way the rules said. I was randomly selected at the airport and it took five minutes, no big deal. True all. For people who’s last strongly held belief was over who got cheated on the last round of Dancing with the Stars, life isn’t very different.

    At issue in post-Constitutional America is not that all rights for all people all the time will disappear (though privacy seems on the chopping block.) It is that the government now decides when, where and how the rights which were said to be inalienable still apply. Those decisions will likely be made in secret and will be enforced without recourse. You’ll never know who is next.

    We are the first to see what is post-Constitutional America, and perhaps the last who might stop it.



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    NSA Summer Camps Look to Recruit Them When They’re Young

    July 24, 2015 // 10 Comments »

    nsa summer camp

    Get to them while they’re young, and you’ll have them for life. Who said that? Was it Walt Disney? Willy Wonka? The director of the Hitler Youth?

    Maybe all of them, but it also applies to the NSA. Long a fan of generosity on undergrad campuses, handing out scholarships, grants and internships around the math and foreign language departments, the NSA is now reaching out to become the pedos of the national security state by sponsoring summer spying camps for kids.

    The New York Times tells us about a new National Security Agency cybersecurity program that reaches down into the ranks of American high school and middle school students to teach them the fine art of cracking encrypted passwords. “We basically tried a dictionary attack,” said one patriotic youth as he typed a new command into “John The Ripper,” a software tool that helps test and break passwords. “Now we’re trying a brute-force attack.”

    “Now, I don’t want anybody getting in trouble now that you know how to use this puppy,” one of the camp’s instructors, warned. Of course not. It’s all legal, right?

    Thanks to the NSA, 1,400 youths are attending 43 free overnight and day camps across the country as this summer the agency is making sure that middle- and high-school-age students are learning how to hack, crack and “defend” in cyberspace. The broader goal of GenCyber, as the summer camp programs are called, is to catch the attention of potential cybersecurity recruits and seed interest in an exploding field. No doubt generating a little positive mindspace among the impressionable couldn’t hurt, either, right?

    The NSA’s goal is to grow the program to 200 camps in all 50 states by 2020.

    And each camp is different, given the global reach of the NSA. At California State San Bernardino, the NSA camp open only to local Girl Scouts, and campers will build, program and fly drones. Campers at Norwich University in Vermont will put together their own computers. At Marymount University, visits to nearby NSA HQ break up classroom time. A camp run right on the NSA campus in Maryland will offer soccer, cooking, basketball, recycled art, painting, hockey, drama, board games and jewelry making in addition to hacking classes. At UC Berkeley, many of the students claim they don’t know who Edward Snowden, but they’ll learn about him soon enough — from the NSA — since current events are part of the curriculum.

    But it’s cool. “We’re not trying to make these camps something to make people pro-NSA or to try to make ourselves look good,” NSA’s director of the camps said. “I think we’ll look good naturally just because we’re doing something that I think will benefit a lot of students and eventually the country as a whole.”




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