Spy agency consensus grows that Russia hacked DNC

The New York Times reports: American intelligence agencies have told the White House they now have “high confidence” that the Russian government was behind the theft of emails and documents from the Democratic National Committee, according to federal officials who have been briefed on the evidence.

But intelligence officials have cautioned that they are uncertain whether the electronic break-in at the committee’s computer systems was intended as fairly routine cyberespionage — of the kind the United States also conducts around the world — or as part of an effort to manipulate the 2016 presidential election.

The emails were released by WikiLeaks, whose founder, Julian Assange, has made it clear that he hoped to harm Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the presidency. It is unclear how the documents made their way to the group. But a large sampling was published before the WikiLeaks release by several news organizations and someone who called himself “Guccifer 2.0,” who investigators now believe was an agent of the G.R.U., Russia’s military intelligence service.

The assessment by the intelligence community of Russian involvement in the D.N.C. hacking, which largely echoes the findings of private cybersecurity firms that have examined the electronic fingerprints left by the intruders, leaves President Obama and his national security aides with a difficult diplomatic and political decision: whether to publicly accuse the government of President Vladimir V. Putin of engineering the hacking. [Continue reading…]

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Twitter bars intelligence agencies from using analytics service

The Wall Street Journal reports: Twitter Inc. cut off U.S. intelligence agencies from access to a service that sifts through the entire output of its social-media postings, the latest example of tension between Silicon Valley and the federal government over terrorism and privacy.

The move, which hasn’t been publicly announced, was confirmed by a senior U.S. intelligence official and other people familiar with the matter. The service — which sends out alerts of unfolding terror attacks, political unrest and other potentially important events — isn’t directly provided by Twitter, but instead by Dataminr Inc., a private company that mines public Twitter feeds for clients.

Twitter owns about a 5% stake in Dataminr, the only company it authorizes both to access its entire real-time stream of public tweets and sell it to clients.

Dataminr executives recently told intelligence agencies that Twitter didn’t want the company to continue providing the service to them, according to a person familiar with the matter. The senior intelligence official said Twitter appeared to be worried about the “optics” of seeming too close to American intelligence services. [Continue reading…]

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Warnings about risks posed by encryption have been wildly overblown by intelligence agencies, says report

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The New York Times reports: For more than two years the F.B.I. and intelligence agencies have warned that encrypted communications are creating a “going dark” crisis that will keep them from tracking terrorists and kidnappers.

Now, a study in which current and former intelligence officials participated concludes that the warning is wildly overblown, and that a raft of new technologies — like television sets with microphones and web-connected cars — are creating ample opportunities for the government to track suspects, many of them worrying.

“ ‘Going dark’ does not aptly describe the long-term landscape for government surveillance,” concludes the study, to be published Monday by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard.

The study argues that the phrase ignores the flood of new technologies “being packed with sensors and wireless connectivity” that are expected to become the subject of court orders and subpoenas, and are already the target of the National Security Agency as it places “implants” into networks around the world to monitor communications abroad. [Continue reading…]

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As Jonathan Pollard walks out of prison, a reminder of why he was there

The release of Jonathan Pollard after serving 30 years in prison for spying on the U.S. isn’t the end of the “free Pollard” campaign. His supporters, who see him as a loyal Zionist, now want him to be able to emigrate to Israel.

For this reason, it’s worth being reminded of the fact that Pollard’s motives for stealing classified documents had little to do with ideology and a lot to do with making money.

In 1998, W. O. Studeman, Sumner Shapiro, J. L. Butts, and T. A. Brooks wrote:

Jonathan Pollard is serving a life sentence for stealing massive amounts of highly classified and extremely sensitive U.S. national security information. In terms of sheer volume of sensitive information betrayed, Jonathan Pollard rivals any of the traitors who have plagued this nation in recent times. Nobody is clamoring for the release of traitors like Aldrich Ames, John Walker or Jerry Whitworth, but Pollard, by manipulating his supporters and conducting a clever public relations campaign both here and in Israel, has managed to generate a small but vocal movement advocating that he be released and allowed to emigrate to Israel, where he expects to be something of a national hero.

We, who are painfully familiar with the case, feel obligated to go on record with the facts regarding Pollard in order to dispel the myths that have arisen from this clever public relations campaign aimed at transforming Pollard from greedy, arrogant betrayer of the American national trust into Pollard, committed Israeli patriot.

Pollard pleaded guilty and therefore never was publicly tried. Thus, the American people never came to know that he offered classified information to three other countries before working for the Israelis and that he offered his services to a fourth country while he was spying for Israel. They also never came to understand that he was being very highly paid for his services — including an impressive nest egg currently in foreign banks — and was negotiating with his Israeli handlers for a raise as he was caught. So much for Jonathan Pollard, ideologue!

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Senior U.S. intelligence official says escalation of Russian bombing in Syria ‘should be fun’

When journalists grant government sources anonymity, the proforma explanation for doing so is the following line (or one of its common variants): officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they’re not authorized to comment publicly.

That claim is almost always false. Authorization is besides the point. The primary reason for an official wanting anonymity is so that his or her remarks will have no return address. No one other than the journalist offering their source camouflage will be in a position to come back with a follow-up question. When there is no risk of any comeback, assertions can be made and opinions expressed in the knowledge that they will escape critical scrutiny. Likewise, propositions can be floated and later easily abandoned.

Another reason sources want anonymity is for the same reason that internet trolls conceal their identities: they don’t want to be held responsible for the language they use. They imagine that invisibility creates space for unvarnished honesty — even though the evidence more often shows that this kind of freedom from social inhibitions has a habit of releasing the inner jerk.

The Daily Beast reports: [S]ix U.S. intelligence and military officials told The Daily Beast that they hoped an ISIS attack on Russian civilians would force Putin to finally take the gloves off and attack the group, which the U.S. has been trying to dislodge from Iraq and Syria for more than a year, without success.

“Now maybe they will start attacking [ISIS],” one senior defense official smugly wondered last week. “And stop helping them,” referring to ISIS gains in Aleppo that came, in part, because the group took advantage of Russian strikes on other rebels and militant outfits.

Since the plane crashed, Russia has struck two ISIS-controlled areas in Syria: Raqqa and Palmyra.

“I suppose now he’ll really let ISIS have it. This should be fun,” one senior intelligence official told The Daily Beast. [Continue reading…]

Fun, perhaps, if you’re an intelligence analyst with a 9-5 job in Langley, Virginia, or the Pentagon. But although Raqqa and Palmyra are under the control of ISIS, they still have civilian populations. And bombing isn’t fun for anyone on the receiving end.

It is already clear that in its bombing operations in Syria, Russia is not greatly concerned about the precision of its targeting. It’s definition of inefficiency is for a jet to return to its base without releasing its bombs.

Those U.S. officials who now relish the prospect of Russia “finally take the gloves off” against ISIS are conjuring images of what are euphemistically described as “robust kinetic operations” — the type that ISIS apparently deserves. Implicit in this characterization is the assumption that restraint is an expression of timidity, the antidote to which is unrestrained force.

In reality, the effect of indiscriminate bombing will be to tell local populations that there are no outside forces working for their liberation.

If the enemies of ISIS pose a greater threat than ISIS itself, the logic for joining ISIS only becomes more compelling.

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Senators investigating ‘revolt’ by U.S. military analysts over ISIS intelligence

The Daily Beast reports: Leading Congressmen from both parties said Thursday that they’re investigating allegations that intelligence on ISIS was being skewed to match the Obama’s administration’s rosy depictions of the war against the terror group.

The news comes less than a day after The Daily Beast revealed that more than 50 analysts with the U.S. military’s Central Command formally complained that higher-ups were improperly interfering with ISIS intelligence reports. Top d efense and intelligence officials also said they’re looking into the accusations.

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s chairman, Republican Sen. John McCain, told The Daily Beast, “We’re investigating… Our committee is looking at it, we have jurisdiction and oversight.” [Continue reading…]

The Hill reports: Defense Secretary Ash Carter has asked his under secretary of defense for intelligence to make clear to military officials that the Pentagon chief expects “unvarnished, transparent” intelligence, the Pentagon announced Thursday. [Continue reading…]

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50 intelligence analysts says ISIS intelligence is being politically manipulated

The Daily Beast reports: More than 50 intelligence analysts working out of the U.S. military’s Central Command have formally complained that their reports on ISIS and al Qaeda’s branch in Syria were being inappropriately altered by senior officials, The Daily Beast has learned.

The complaints spurred the Pentagon’s inspector general to open an investigation into the alleged manipulation of intelligence. The fact that so many people complained suggests there are deep-rooted, systemic problems in how the U.S. military command charged with the war against the self-proclaimed Islamic State assesses intelligence.

“The cancer was within the senior level of the intelligence command,” one defense official said. [Continue reading…]

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Spies: Obama’s brass pressured us to downplay ISIS threat

The Daily Beast reports: Senior military and intelligence officials have inappropriately pressured U.S. terrorism analysts to alter their assessments about the strength of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, three sources familiar with the matter told The Daily Beast. Analysts have been pushed to portray the group as weaker than the analysts believe it actually is, according to these sources, and to paint an overly rosy picture about how well the U.S.-led effort to defeat the group is going.

Reports that have been deemed too pessimistic about the efficacy of the American-led campaign, or that have questioned whether a U.S.-trained Iraqi military can ultimately defeat ISIS, have been sent back down through the chain of command or haven’t been shared with senior policymakers, several analysts alleged.

In other instances, authors of such reports said they understood that their conclusions should fall within a certain spectrum. As a result, they self-censored their own views, they said, because they felt pressure to not reach conclusions far outside what those above them apparently believed.

“The phrase I use is the politicization of the intelligence community,” retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told The Daily Beast when describing what he sees as a concerted push in government over the past several months to find information that tells a preferred story about efforts to defeat ISIS and other extremist groups, including al Qaeda. “That’s here. And it’s dangerous,” Flynn said. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. military officials suspected of covering up the lack of progress in the war against ISIS

The New York Times reports: The Pentagon’s inspector general is investigating allegations that military officials have skewed intelligence assessments about the United States-led campaign in Iraq against the Islamic State to provide a more optimistic account of progress, according to several officials familiar with the inquiry.

The investigation began after at least one civilian Defense Intelligence Agency analyst told the authorities that he had evidence that officials at United States Central Command — the military headquarters overseeing the American bombing campaign and other efforts against the Islamic State — were improperly reworking the conclusions of intelligence assessments prepared for policy makers, including President Obama, the government officials said.

Fuller details of the claims were not available, including when the assessments were said to have been altered and who at Central Command, or Centcom, the analyst said was responsible. The officials, speaking only on the condition of anonymity about classified matters, said that the recently opened investigation focused on whether military officials had changed the conclusions of draft intelligence assessments during a review process and then passed them on. [Continue reading…]

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Officials divided over which poses the greater threat to the U.S: ISIS or Al Qaeda?

The New York Times reports: The Obama administration’s top intelligence, counterterrorism and law enforcement officials are divided over which terrorist group poses the biggest threat to the American homeland, the Islamic State or Al Qaeda and its affiliates.

The split reflects a rising concern that the Islamic State poses a more immediate danger because of its unprecedented social media campaign, using sophisticated online messaging to inspire followers to launch attacks across the United States.

Many intelligence and counterterrorism officials warn, however, that Qaeda operatives in Yemen and Syria are capitalizing on the turmoil in those countries to plot much larger “mass casualty” attacks, including bringing down airliners carrying hundreds of passengers.

This is not an academic argument. It will influence how the government allocates billions of dollars in counterterrorism funds, and how it assigns thousands of federal agents, intelligence analysts and troops to combat a multipronged threat that senior officials say is changing rapidly. [Continue reading…]

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Spy software gets a second life on Wall Street

The Wall Street Journal reports: Spies are infiltrating Wall Street.

A wave of companies with ties to the intelligence community is winning over the world of finance, with banks and hedge funds putting the firms’ terrorist-tracking tools to work rooting out employee misconduct before it leads to fines or worse.

“Both Wall Street and the intelligence world want the same thing: to find unknown unknowns in the data,” said Roger Hockenberry, the former chief technology officer of the Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine services and now a partner at the consulting firm Cognitio Corp. in Washington.

“Financial firms aren’t looking for terrorists, but good customers and attempts at fraud,” he said.

The CIA gave many of these companies their big break: After the terror attacks of September 2001, a private-equity arm of the CIA known as In-Q-Tel began seeding companies that could help it sift through vast repositories of data to quickly identify threats. Those skills have become more valuable on Wall Street as firms try to keep up with rogue traders in increasingly complex and rapidly moving markets.

Of 101 companies publicly seeded by In-Q-Tel, 33 have taken on Wall Street clients in recent years, according to a review by The Wall Street Journal. [Continue reading…]

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Jonathan Pollard deserved to languish in prison as long as he did

Fred Kaplan writes: Jonathan Pollard, who’s been in prison the past 30 years for selling secrets to Israel, will be released on parole this November. Two things are worth noting. First, contrary to many skeptics, his release is not a political ploy to relax Israel’s opposition to the Iran nuclear deal. Second, contrary to claims by Pollard’s supporters, his punishment has been completely justified; he ranks as one of the 20th century’s most appalling American spies.

The first myth is easy to puncture. Pollard’s life sentence came with a mandatory-parole clause after 30 years. He started serving time in November 1985. So, 30 years is up in November 2015. It’s math.

The second myth takes longer to unravel. At his sentencing hearing, Pollard, who’d been a U.S. Navy intelligence official, painted himself as a devout Jew who’d stolen classified documents dealing only with Arab military might in order to help Israel stave off an invasion; none of his actions, he claimed, harmed American security.

Judge Aubrey Robinson Jr. called Pollard to the bench, showed him a classified affidavit that the Department of Defense had submitted, listing the range of sensitive secrets that he’d stolen, pointed to one of the items, and said, “What about this?” Pollard was silenced. Robinson sentenced him to life. [Continue reading…]

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