Archives for July 2013

How secret is X-Keyscore?

Here’s a telling insight into the operation of American intelligence.

How does the NSA spot a foreigner? It’s easy. Those are the people who use “foreign” languages.

The name X-Keyscore hadn’t appeared in the mainstream English-language media until today, but for Brazilians this news is close to a month old.

An article in Brazil’s O Globo newspaper published on July 9 co-authored by Glenn Greenwald included several of the X-Keyscore slides. A translation provided by Cryptome describing the slide (shown above) titled “Where is X-Keyscore?” says:

Map in 2008 shows Brazil among countries surveilled by the X-Keystore [sic] program, which details the presence of foreigners by the language used in emails and phone calls.

From this description it’s reasonable to deduce that the NSA — like many American bigots — figures it’s easy to identify foreigners, ’cos those are the folks that talk and write funny. And that probably explains why the NSA can boast no more than a 51 percent level of confidence in identifying their target’s “foreignness.”

The PowerPoint slides published today in The Guardian have been described as “training materials,” but I think Shane Harris’ description of this as a “marketing document” is closer the mark. In other words, this looks more like a presentation of a product’s claimed value as that would be promoted to a customer (such as the Department of Defense), rather than instructions on how to use the application.

A June 20 job posting by the major defense technology contractor SAIC for an “XKEYSCORE Systems Engineer” could indicate that SAIC itself created X-Keyscore and now provides its customers with support for its “fielded mission systems.”

Even if this application was created for the NSA, it appears to be accessible by multiple agencies and contractors.

CGI, a multinational information technology corporation which handles defense contracts for the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps, has since July 19 been advertising a position for a Computer Network Operations (CNO) Analyst whose required skills include: “Familiarity using the following tools: Cadence, Surrey, TrafficThief, CNE Portal and X-Keyscore.” (If the name “TrafficThief” sounds familiar, that might be because it showed up on an earlier NSA slide: “PRISM Collection Dataflow.”)

Interestingly, such an analyst also requires: “Working knowledge of system and network exploitation, attack pathologies and intrusion techniques; denial of service attacks, man in the middle attacks, malicious code delivery techniques, fuzzing, automated network vulnerability and port scanning, botnets, password cracking, social engineering, network and system reconnaissance.”

This sounds like a position for an experienced hacker whose job is to defend the U.S. Army from other hackers. The analyst will: “Review threat data from various sources, including appropriate Intelligence databases, to establish the identity and modus operandi of hackers active in customer networks and posing potential threat to customer networks.” Accessing those appropriate intelligence databases presumably involves, among other things, the use of X-Keyscore.

That this is a widely used application is also evident from LinkedIn where numerous intelligence analysts proudly include use of X-Keyscore in their background experience:

However secret the use of X-Keyscore might be, it’s certainly not so secret that anyone seems particularly nervous about mentioning its name.


White House unable to confirm whether Congress was briefed on XKeyscore

The Guardian: The White House declined to say on Wednesday whether the administration ever briefed the US Congress about a top-secret NSA spy program that, according to documents, allows analysts to to search through huge databases of emails, online chats and the browsing histories without prior authorisation.


XKeyscore: NSA tool collects ‘nearly everything a user does on the internet’

Glenn Greenwald reports: A top secret National Security Agency program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals, according to documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The NSA boasts in training materials that the program, called XKeyscore, is its “widest-reaching” system for developing intelligence from the internet.

The latest revelations will add to the intense public and congressional debate around the extent of NSA surveillance programs. They come as senior intelligence officials testify to the Senate judiciary committee on Wednesday, releasing classified documents in response to the Guardian’s earlier stories on bulk collection of phone records and Fisa surveillance court oversight.

The files shed light on one of Snowden’s most controversial statements, made in his first video interview published by the Guardian on June 10.

“I, sitting at my desk,” said Snowden, could “wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email”.

US officials vehemently denied this specific claim. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, said of Snowden’s assertion: “He’s lying. It’s impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do.”

But training materials for XKeyscore detail how analysts can use it and other systems to mine enormous agency databases by filling in a simple on-screen form giving only a broad justification for the search. The request is not reviewed by a court or any NSA personnel before it is processed. [Continue reading…]

The complete XKeyscore Power Point presentation can be viewed here.


Video: Lon Snowden tells Obama: Your job is to protect the Constitution


The ECHELON trail — Part Three: The Special Branch raid on Lancaster University

By Steve Wright

(The first part in this series can be read here, second part here, and an introduction to the series here.)

The Special Branch Raid On Lancaster University

Not all knowledge is from rational sources. Even the term paranoia literally means ‘beyond knowledge (para: beyond; noia: knowledge). On the night of 5th April 1977 I had a stormy, seemingly pointless argument with my wife. In frustration I declared that my wife didn’t understand the work in which I was engaged and ‘one day my work would walk through the front door.’ The instant response, quite deservedly, was ‘you’re being melodramatic – I’m going to bed!’ I reflected on this afterwards thinking it was a bit melodramatic and that I was making needless emotional waves.

A few hours later loud knocks on the door heralded the arrival of six Special Branch officers who make it clear that they wanted co-operation otherwise they will use ‘blatant search techniques’. This implied that not only would they turn the place over but that the search would become very obvious to the neighbours. Without the argument of the night before, I might have caved in. Because of it and a silly sense of ‘I told you so’ I calmly suggested that what they were doing infringed academic freedom and was unprecedented. This episode of déjà vu was so well documented in the light of subsequent events, Brian Inglis used it in his book, the Hidden Power. The lesson here is whilst one should never give way to paranoia, it is useful to develop and trust your intuition. Our minds are capable of intuitive leaps which are ours to use even if we can not necessarily rationally explain them and the history of science is full of such episodes. Our challenge is to use hunches as a methodology to conjecture with or refute.

In fact my then neighbours were so alarmed by the presence of six burly strangers strolling around our house they called the local police! The officer knocked on our door and was given short shrift by Detective Chief Inspector Moffat of Scotland Yard, who told him, ‘It’s official so piss off’. I queried what it was that I was alleged to have done and the Kafkaesque atmosphere was heightened by the response that it is an official secret and I cannot be told. In the meantime, my diaries and entire research correspondence were removed. I discovered later that the police don’t steal, the technical term is detinue – i.e. they hold on to items longer than they should, a matter which can be devastating if a researcher is working to pre-set deadlines.

In this heavy atmosphere of confrontation with secret police officers, it would have been easy to roll over but I felt it was important to stand up to their infringement of my rights to research. How was another matter. I could easily see how my academic future could be blown out of the water if a full secrets trial resulted from what was to all intents and purposes a fishing expedition.

I was taken by car to Lancaster University. It was the Easter holiday period and the special branch officers expected ‘that a bit of arm twisting’ would give them easy access to my offices in an otherwise empty campus. But the politics department was crawling with academics who were demanding proper procedures be followed. After some delay, I thanked the officers for their lift to campus and announced that I had work to do and proceeded to exit the car. This forced their hand and I was arrested under the official secrets legislation and taken to meet with Professor Phillip Reynolds the Pro-Vice Chancellor, together with various university and college officials who had assembled: Dr Roxbee Cox, Fylde principal and Mr. Forrester, Academic Registrar.

The atmosphere was tense. Special Branch demanded access to my room and I pointed out that principles of academic freedom were involved. After all I had only ever used open sources, had simply followed the university motto and no one had explained the nature of any charges laid against me. Detective Chief Inspector Moffat replied that ‘this was an issue of national security’ and told me that they had a warrant. Professor Reynolds demanded that they go through the proper channels, to which Moffat replied that he had six men present and would start breaking down doors in the department if access was denied. People began sweating – it was an unforgettable moment. I broke it by emphasizing that I had nothing to hide and suggested that they could search to their hearts’ content.1 The atmosphere was thankfully lightened a bit later with the arrival of my supervisor, Dr Paul Smoker, who amidst the hub bub in the corridors managed to give me a burst of the Beatles hit, ‘Listen Do You Want To Know A Secret – Do you Promise Not to Tell?’ Perfect: but I was later held in Lancaster Police Station for several hours, refused a solicitor and when finally released was told, sometimes you fellows are too clever for your own good.’

The raid turned my research plans upside down not to mention the impact it had on my personal life. However it was many times worse for the main researchers, Crispin Aubrey, John Berry and Duncan Campbell (now deemed the ABC defendants), who were facing the full rigours of an official secrets act trial. And yet there was a puzzle: why had Special Branch undertaken such a foolhardy exercise as to raid a British University – how come I’d touched on a raw nerve? It quickly dawned on me that I had inadvertently stumbled on a network connected with the configuration of the antennae I had photographed on the Quenmore Moor, which the authorities were desperate to keep secret. It seemed incomprehensible. I knew that Menwith Hill was a US base, but what was the link with UK phone lines, and especially the link to Northern Ireland? Just where were the results being transmitted – to the US, but how – by satellite? The system must be huge. It felt like a science fiction movie. [Read more…]


McClatchy asks whether U.S. spied on its reporter

The Associated Press reports: The McClatchy news organization asked National Intelligence Director James Clapper on Tuesday whether U.S. intelligence agencies monitored cellphone calls between a McClatchy freelance reporter and his sources in Afghanistan.

In a letter to Clapper, Anders Gyllenhaal, McClatchy’s vice president of news, and Karole Morgan-Prager, vice president, corporate development and general counsel, called the allegations that U.S. intelligence agencies helped target a journalist working for a U.S. news organization “disturbing.”

“Absent a well-founded, good faith belief that a journalist is engaged in terrorist activities, compiling and analyzing a journalist’s metadata would violate core First Amendment principles, and U.S. law,” Gyllenhaal and Morgan-Prager wrote.

They asked Clapper whether any U.S. intelligence agencies helped in the “collection, use or analysis” of any metadata from McClatchy freelancer Jon Stephenson’s cellphone while he worked in Afghanistan last year.


Senators sick of being lied to by intelligence officials

The Guardian reports: The bipartisan leaders of a powerful Senate committee questioned the truthfulness of the US intelligence community in a heated Wednesday morning hearing as intelligence officials conceded that their controversial bulk phone records collection of millions of Americans was not “the most important tool”.

“We need straightforward answers, and I’m concerned we’re not getting them,” said Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate judiciary committee.

Leahy, joined by ranking Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa, blasted James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence, for making untruthful statements to Congress in March about the bulk phone records collection on Americans, and NSA director Keith Alexander for overstating the usefulness of that collection for stopping terrorist attacks.

Grassley called Clapper’s recent apology to senator Ron Wyden and the intelligence community “especially disturbing”.

“Nothing can excuse this kind of behavior from a senior administration official,” Grassley said. “Especially on a matter of such importance.” [Continue reading…]


Manning’s conviction seen as making prosecution of WikiLeaks’ Assange likely

The Washington Post reports: The conviction of Army private Bradley Manning on espionage charges Tuesday makes it increasingly likely that the United States will prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as a co-conspirator, according to his attorney and civil liberties groups.

Judge Denise Lind, an Army colonel, found Manning guilty of several violations of the Espionage Act, and he could face life in prison. Press freedom advocates said the verdict adds to their alarm that the Obama administration’s aggressive pursuit of leakers will discourage whistleblowers from providing critical information on military and intelligence matters.

Military prosecutors in the court-martial portrayed Assange as an “information anarchist” who encouraged Manning to leak hundreds of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents. And they insisted that the anti-secrecy group cannot be considered a media organization that published the leaked information in the public interest.

Defense attorneys denied “the claim that Bradley Manning was acting under the direction of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, but the government kept trying to bring that up, trying to essentially say that Julian was a co-conspirator,” said Michael Ratner, Assange’s American attorney and the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. “That’s a very bad sign about what the U.S. government wants to do to Julian Assange.” [Continue reading…]


Bradley Manning trial: what we know from the leaked WikiLeaks documents

The Guardian: Bradley Manning, a 25-year-old US private, downloaded more than 700,000 classified documents from US military servers and passed them to WikiLeaks. The Guardian was one of several news organisations to publish a series of stories based on the contents of the files. Below are 10 of the most revelatory: [Continue reading…]


Aaron Swartz’s father blasts MIT report, says school wasn’t neutral

Time reports: Aaron Swartz’s father is sharply critical of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s new report on the school’s role in the criminal investigation and subsequent death of his son. Aaron, a celebrated young computer programmer and Internet activist, committed suicide in January. He was facing a federal prison sentence on felony data-theft charges for downloading academic articles using MIT’s network. Swartz’s death triggered an outpouring of grief in the technology and Internet community, and prompted soul-searching questions among policy experts, lawmakers and MIT officials.

MIT has come under intense criticism for its handling of the Swartz affair. Two days after Swartz’s death, MIT president L. Rafael Reif asked Hal Abelson, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, to conduct an investigation into MIT’s actions leading up to Swartz’s suicide. Abelson’s 182-page report, which was released Tuesday, asserts that MIT remained neutral throughout the Swartz investigation, and did not publicly advocate on Swartz’s behalf because to do so “might make circumstances worse” for Swartz.

In an interview with TIME, Robert Swartz, Aaron’s father, praised Abelson for assembling the facts, but said that a clear reading of those facts shows that MIT was not neutral in Aaron’s case. “The report is a contradiction because it says that MIT was neutral, and yet it makes very clear that MIT was actually not neutral,” Robert Swartz said. “MIT called in the police and then violated the law by providing the government with information and material from Aaron’s computer without a court order. Then they lied to me about those facts.” [Continue reading…]


Spiders have personalities

Wired: Armed with branch cutters, pillowcases, and a vibrator, a team of scientists has discovered how social spiders in India assign chores within their colonies – and they say it has to do with spider personalities.

Big and bold? Go get that grasshopper! Slightly more timid? Maybe stay home, take care of the brood, and clean the nest or something.

“Bolder individuals were the ones that engaged in prey attack,” said Lena Grinsted, now a postdoc at the University of Sussex, and coauthor of the study describing the spiders that appeared July 30 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. “We hypothesize that the ones who don’t participate in prey attack participate in brood care, but it’s something we haven’t tested yet.”

The researchers say their findings support the idea that spiders have personalities. Sure, they’re not as complex as human personalities, but they’re defined by behavior differences that are consistent over time and context. In this study, scientists tested whether the division of labor was related to personality in the social spiders Stegodyphus sarasinorum. [Continue reading…]


Dolphins gain unprecedented protection in India

Deutsche Welle reports: India has officially recognized dolphins as non-human persons, whose rights to life and liberty must be respected. Dolphin parks that were being built across the country will instead be shut down.

India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests has advised state governments to ban dolphinariums and other commercial entertainment that involves the capture and confinement of cetacean species such as orcas and bottlenose dolphins. In a statement, the government said research had clearly established cetaceans are highly intelligent and sensitive, and that dolphins “should be seen as ‘non-human persons’ and as such should have their own specific rights.”

The move comes after weeks of protest against a dolphin park in the state of Kerala and several other marine mammal entertainment facilities which were to be built this year. Animal welfare advocates welcomed the decision.

“This opens up a whole new discourse of ethics in the animal protection movement in India,” said Puja Mitra from the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations (FIAPO). Mitra is a leading voice in the Indian movement to end dolphin captivity.

“The scientific evidence we provided during the campaign talked about cetacean intelligence and introduced the concept of non-human persons,” she said in an interview with DW.

Indiais the fourth country in the world to ban the capture and import of cetaceans for the purpose of commercial entertainment – along with Costa Rica, Hungary, and Chile. [Continue reading…]


Video: Glenn Greenwald takes on CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin


Video: Jeremy Scahill on Bradley Manning verdict


Video: Michael Ratner’s response to the Bradley Manning verdict


Obama protects war criminals while punishing whistleblowers

Center for Constitutional Rights: While the “aiding the enemy” charges (on which Manning was rightly acquitted) received the most attention from the mainstream media, the Espionage Act itself is a discredited relic of the WWI era, created as a tool to suppress political dissent and antiwar activism, and it is outrageous that the government chose to invoke it in the first place against Manning. Government employees who blow the whistle on war crimes, other abuses and government incompetence should be protected under the First Amendment.

We now live in a country where someone who exposes war crimes can be sentenced to life even if not found guilty of aiding the enemy, while those responsible for the war crimes remain free. If the government equates being a whistleblower with espionage or aiding the enemy, what is the future of journalism in this country? What is the future of the First Amendment?

Manning’s treatment, prosecution, and sentencing have one purpose: to silence potential whistleblowers and the media as well. One of the main targets has been our clients, WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, for publishing the leaks. Given the U.S. government’s treatment of Manning, Assange should be granted asylum in his home country of Australia and given the protections all journalists and publishers deserve.

We stand in solidarity with Bradley Manning and call for the government to take heed and end its assault on the First Amendment.


The Bradley Manning verdict is still bad news for the press

Following the Bradley Manning verdict, Dan Gillmor writes: The ever-more-essential field of national security journalism was already endangered. It remains so. The Obama administration’s war on leaks and, by extension, the work of investigative reporters who dare to challenge the most secretive government in our lifetimes, has been unrelenting.

The Manning verdict had plenty of bad news for the press. By finding Manning guilty of five counts of espionage, the judge endorsed the government’s other radical theories, and left the journalism organization that initially passed along the leaks to the public, Wikileaks, no less vulnerable than it had been before the case started. Anyone who thinks Julian Assange isn’t still a target of the US Government hasn’t been paying attention; if the US can pry him loose from Ecuador’s embassy in London and extradite him, you can be certain that he’ll face charges, too, and the Manning verdict will be vital to that case.

The military tried its best to make life difficult for journalists covering the Manning trial, but activists – not traditional journalists – were the ones who fought restrictions most successfully. Transcripts weren’t provided by the government, for example. Only when the Freedom of the Press Foundation crowd-sourced a court stenographer did the public get a record, however flawed, of what was happening.

That public included most of the press, sad to say. Only a few American news organizations (one is the Guardian’s US edition) bothered to staff the Manning trial in any serious way. Independent journalists did most of the work, and did it as well as it could be done under the circumstances. [Continue reading…]


Bradley Manning found guilty of most charges

Reuters: Military judge Col. Denise Lind on Tuesday found U.S. soldier Bradley Manning not guilty of aiding the enemy – the most serious charge he faced for handling over documents to WikiLeaks. She found him guilty of most of the other 20 criminal counts in the biggest breach of classified information in the nation’s history.

The U.S. government was pushing for the maximum penalty for what it viewed as a serious breach of national security, which included battlefield reports from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, while anti-secrecy activists praised Manning’s action as shining a light on shadowy U.S. operations abroad.

Army prosecutors contended during the court-martial that U.S. security was harmed when the WikiLeaks anti-secrecy website published combat videos of an attack by an American Apache helicopter gunship, diplomatic cables and secret details on prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay that Manning provided the site while he was a junior intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2009 and 2010.

The Guardian reports: Colonel Denise Lind, the military judge presiding over the court martial of the US soldier, delivered her verdict in curt and pointed language, writes Ed Pilkington from Fort Meade: “Guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty,” she repeated over and over, as the reality of a prolonged prison sentence for Manning on top of the three years he has already spent in detention dawned.

The one ray of light in an otherwise bleak outcome for the Army private was that he was found not guilty of the single most serious charge against him – that he knowingly “aided the enemy”, in practice al-Qaida, by disclosing information to the WikiLeaks website that in turn made it accessible to all users including enemy groups. Lind’s decision to avoid setting a precedent by applying the swingeing “aiding the enemy” charge to an official leaker will invoke a sigh of relief from news organisations and civil liberties groups who had feared a guilty verdict would send a chill across public interest journalism.

Lind also found Manning not guilty of having leaked an encrypted copy of a video of a US airstrike in the Farah province of Aghanistan in which many civilians died. Manning’s defence team had argued vociferously that he was not the source of this video, though the soldier did admit to later disclosure of an unencrypted version of the video and related documents.

The judge also accepted Manning’s version of several of the key dates in the WikiLeaks disclosures, and took off some of the edge from other less serious charges. But the overriding toughness of the verdict remains: the soldier was found guilty in their entirety of 17 out of the 22 counts against him, and of an amended version of four more.