Quinn Norton: “It’s called ‘the crackpot realism of the present’” someone said to me, and handed me a note. I folded up the note, and stuffed it in my purse. This was a phrase used to explain, much more clearly than I was doing at the time, the bias of thinking that now is right, forgetting that the future will look back on our ideas with the same curious and horrified amusement we watch the human past with. It’s believing, without any good reason, that right now makes sense.
The present I was in right then didn’t make a lot of sense.
I was sitting in a cleared facility near Tyson’s Corner in Virginia, the beating heart of the industrial-military-intelligence-policing complex, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. I was there to help the government. Of the places I did not expect to ever go, at least not of my free will, the ODNI would be up there.
A few weeks ago, a friend from the Institute for the Future [IFTF] asked me if I would fly to DC for a one day workshop on the future of identity with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “What?” I sputtered, “Did they google me?” and then, mentally: Duh. The ODNI can do a lot more than google me.
I knew IFTF had intel clients, with whom I have occasionally chatted at events in the past. My policy when confronted with spooks asking questions about how the world works is to give them as much information as I can — one of my biggest problems with how security services work is their lack of wisdom. If I can reach people in positions of power and persuade them to critically examine that power, I consider that a win. I also consider it a long shot.
An invite from the ODNI is a strange thing. I’ve been publicly critical of them, sometimes viciously so. A few days earlier I tweeted that their director should be publicly tried for lying to Congress. I’ve written about the toxicity of the NSA spying (under ODNI direction), the corrupt fictions of Anonymous staged by the FBI (FBI/NSB is within ODNI’s area) and spoken out countless times in the last eight years against warrantless spying. I have even less love for the FBI and DOJ.
I turned the offer over in my head. I was influenced by a few things –yes it was paid, but not well paid. It was what I normally get from IFTF for a day of my time, and given the travel commitment, a bit low. I weighed the official imprimatur of involvement, and that was a factor. I am afraid of being pursued and harassed by my government. This has never happened to me in relation to my work, though I have been turned down for housing by people who feared I might bring police attention. It has to my friends, sources and associates. I know what it feels like, what they do when you’re a target, because I have been subject to terrorizing tactics and harassment because of whom I chose to love. I have publicly acknowledged that I self-censor because of this fear. I have a child to raise, and you can’t do that while you fight for your life and freedom in court. Raising my profile with the government as an expert probably makes me harder to harass.
I told my IFTF contact I don’t sign NDAs (which he already knew) and that I’d have to be public about my attendance and write about it. He told me they were publicly publishing their work for the ODNI too. “Huh,” I said to my screen. The organizers were on board with all of it. They wanted me in particular.
Finally, I thought about the hell I would get from the internet — like government harassment, internet harassment is part of the difficult and hated process of self-censorship for me.
In the end, I said yes, because you only get so far talking to your friends. [Continue reading...]
In “The most wanted man in the world,” his feature article for Wired on Edward Snowden, James Bamford writes: The massive surveillance effort was bad enough, but Snowden was even more disturbed to discover a new, Strangelovian cyberwarfare program in the works, codenamed MonsterMind. The program, disclosed here for the first time, would automate the process of hunting for the beginnings of a foreign cyberattack. Software would constantly be on the lookout for traffic patterns indicating known or suspected attacks. When it detected an attack, MonsterMind would automatically block it from entering the country — a “kill” in cyber terminology.
Programs like this had existed for decades, but MonsterMind software would add a unique new capability: Instead of simply detecting and killing the malware at the point of entry, MonsterMind would automatically fire back, with no human involvement. That’s a problem, Snowden says, because the initial attacks are often routed through computers in innocent third countries. “These attacks can be spoofed,” he says. “You could have someone sitting in China, for example, making it appear that one of these attacks is originating in Russia. And then we end up shooting back at a Russian hospital. What happens next?”
In addition to the possibility of accidentally starting a war, Snowden views MonsterMind as the ultimate threat to privacy because, in order for the system to work, the NSA first would have to secretly get access to virtually all private communications coming in from overseas to people in the US. “The argument is that the only way we can identify these malicious traffic flows and respond to them is if we’re analyzing all traffic flows,” he says. “And if we’re analyzing all traffic flows, that means we have to be intercepting all traffic flows. That means violating the Fourth Amendment, seizing private communications without a warrant, without probable cause or even a suspicion of wrongdoing. For everyone, all the time.”
As I have written here before, as much as we should fear the immense power of intelligence agencies such as the NSA, it’s important to recognize that secrecy does not merely function as an instrument of power — just as importantly it functions to conceal incompetence.
The agencies want to sustain their mystique as the valiant and stealthy defenders of national security. What they dread is being seen as over-funded bunglers.
On November 29, 2012, the internet went down in Syria. The following day, the Washington Post reported:
Though the rebels and the Syrian government blamed each other for the prolonged outage, most technology experts believe Syrian authorities caused the blackout to try to impede the rebels’ interactions and online broadcasts of the fighting.
More honest reporting might have said, it’s anyone’s guess what happened, but for what it’s worth here’s some speculation from some so-called experts.
It turns out, apparently, that the experts were wrong and the cause of the outage was a bungled NSA operation.
James Bamford has just done an extended interview with Edward Snowden which includes this:
By the time he went to work for Booz Allen in the spring of 2013, Snowden was thoroughly disillusioned, yet he had not lost his capacity for shock. One day an intelligence officer told him that TAO — a division of NSA hackers — had attempted in 2012 to remotely install an exploit in one of the core routers at a major Internet service provider in Syria, which was in the midst of a prolonged civil war. This would have given the NSA access to email and other Internet traffic from much of the country. But something went wrong, and the router was bricked instead—rendered totally inoperable. The failure of this router caused Syria to suddenly lose all connection to the Internet—although the public didn’t know that the US government was responsible. (This is the first time the claim has been revealed.)
Inside the TAO operations center, the panicked government hackers had what Snowden calls an “oh shit” moment. They raced to remotely repair the router, desperate to cover their tracks and prevent the Syrians from discovering the sophisticated infiltration software used to access the network. But because the router was bricked, they were powerless to fix the problem.
Fortunately for the NSA, the Syrians were apparently more focused on restoring the nation’s Internet than on tracking down the cause of the outage. Back at TAO’s operations center, the tension was broken with a joke that contained more than a little truth: “If we get caught, we can always point the finger at Israel.”
RT reports: Edward Snowden has received a residence permit in Russia, which is valid for three years, starting on August 1, the former NSA contractor’s lawyer announced.
David Cole writes: On Tuesday, Senator Patrick Leahy introduced the revised USA Freedom Act, a bipartisan bill to rein in the National Security Agency’s collection of telephone and Internet records. If Congress enacts Senator Leahy’s bill in its current form, it will mark the most significant reform of US intelligence gathering since the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, enacted in the 1970s in response to the Church Committee’s revelations of abusive spying practices on political dissidents and activists.
This time, of course, the calls for reform were sparked not by a congressional inquiry, but by information leaked by Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who risked criminal prosecution and de facto banishment to let Americans know what its most expansive spy agency was doing to their rights in the name of their security. In December 2013, six months after Snowden’s first revelations, the president’s own expert panel recommended changes to the NSA program. In May, the House passed an earlier version of the USA Freedom Act, which unfortunately had been watered down at the behest of Obama administration officials in secret last-minute negotiations. Senator Leahy’s bill would significantly strengthen the House bill.
Leahy’s bill comes not a moment too soon. Two reports issued on Monday bring into full view the costs of a system that allows its government to conduct dragnet surveillance without specific suspicions of wrongdoing. In With Liberty to Monitor All, Human Rights Watch and the ACLU make a powerful case that mass surveillance has already had a devastating effect on journalists’ ability to monitor and report on national security measures, and on lawyers’ ability to represent victims of government overreaching. And the same day, the New America Foundation issued Surveillance Costs, a report noting the widespread economic harm to US tech companies that NSA surveillance has inflicted, as potential customers around the world take their business elsewhere. [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: Fiction and films, the nearest most of us knowingly get to the world of espionage, give us a series of reliable stereotypes. British spies are hard-bitten, libidinous he-men. Russian agents are thickset, low-browed and facially scarred. And defectors end up as tragic old soaks in Moscow, scanning old copies of the Times for news of the Test match.
Such a fate was anticipated for Edward Snowden by Michael Hayden, a former NSA and CIA chief, who predicted last September that the former NSA analyst would be stranded in Moscow for the rest of his days – “isolated, bored, lonely, depressed… and alcoholic”.
But the Edward Snowden who materialises in our hotel room shortly after noon on the appointed day seems none of those things. A year into his exile in Moscow, he feels less, not more, isolated. If he is depressed, he doesn’t show it. And, at the end of seven hours of conversation, he refuses a beer. “I actually don’t drink.” He smiles when repeating Hayden’s jibe. “I was like, wow, their intelligence is worse than I thought.”
Oliver Stone, who is working on a film about the man now standing in room 615 of the Golden Apple hotel on Moscow’s Malaya Dmitrovka, might struggle to make his subject live up to the canon of great movie spies. The American director has visited Snowden in Moscow, and wants to portray him as an out-and-out hero, but he is an unconventional one: quiet, disciplined, unshowy, almost academic in his speech. If Snowden has vices – and God knows they must have been looking for them – none has emerged in the 13 months since he slipped away from his life as a contracted NSA analyst in Hawaii, intent on sharing the biggest cache of top-secret material the world has ever seen.
Since arriving in Moscow, Snowden has been keeping late and solitary hours – effectively living on US time, tapping away on one of his three computers (three to be safe; he uses encrypted chat, too). If anything, he appears more connected and outgoing than he could be in his former life as an agent. Of his life now, he says, “There’s actually not that much difference. You know, I think there are guys who are just hoping to see me sad. And they’re going to continue to be disappointed.” [Continue reading...]
electrospaces.net: [O]n July 9, 2014, Glenn Greenwald published an article which he earlier announced as being the grand finale of the Snowden-revelations. It would demonstrate that NSA is also spying on ordinary American citizens, something that would clearly be illegal.
The report is titled “Meet the Muslim-American Leaders the FBI and NSA Have Been Spying On” and it tells the story of Faisal Gill, Asim Ghafoor, Hooshang Amirahmadi, Agha Saeed and Nihad Awad whose e-mail addresses were found in an NSA file from the Snowden-trove. Although the article confusingly mentions both FBI and NSA, many people and media got the impression that this was the long-awaited major NSA abuse scandal.
But as we will show here, the document that was published contains no evidence of any involvement of the NSA in this particular case. Everything indicates that it was actually an FBI operation, so it seems not justified to have NSA mentioned in the article. [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: The NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has condemned the new surveillance bill being pushed through the UK’s parliament this week, expressing concern about the speed at which it is being done, lack of public debate, fear-mongering and what he described as increased powers of intrusion.
In an exclusive interview with the Guardian in Moscow, Snowden said it was very unusual for a public body to pass an emergency law such as this in circumstances other than a time of total war. “I mean we don’t have bombs falling. We don’t have U-boats in the harbour.”
Suddenly it is a priority, he said, after the government had ignored it for an entire year. “It defies belief.”
He found the urgency with which the British government was moving extraordinary and said it mirrored a similar move in the US in 2007 when the Bush administration was forced to introduce legislation, the Protect America Act, citing the same concerns about terrorist threats and the NSA losing cooperation from telecom and internet companies. [Continue reading...]
IntelNews.org reports: The German government has instructed its intelligence agencies to limit their cooperation with their American counterparts “to the bare essentials” until further notice, according to media reports. The move follows news that Berlin requested on Thursday the immediate removal from Germany of the United States Central Intelligence Agency chief of station — essentially the top American official in the country. The request came after two German citizens, one working for the BND, Germany’s main external intelligence organization, and one working for the country’s Federal Ministry of Defense, were allegedly found to have been secretly spying for the US. German media reported on Thursday that the temporary halt in Berlin’s intelligence collaboration with Washington applies across the spectrum, with the exception of areas directly affecting tactical security concerns for Germany, such as the protection of its troops in Afghanistan, or defending against immediate terrorist threats. Sources in the German capital claimed that the removal of the CIA station chief was technically a “recommendation for his departure”, and did not constitute an official diplomatic expulsion. However, German observers described the incident as a “diplomatic earthquake”, which would have been unthinkable as a policy option for the German government, barring actions against “pariah states like North Korea or Iran”. [Continue reading...]
Shane Harris writes: Believe it or not, some officials at the National Security Agency are breathing a sigh of relief over Glenn Greenwald’s new exposé on the government’s secret surveillance of U.S. citizens. That’s because it’s the FBI that finds itself in the cross-hairs now, in a story that identifies by name five men, including prominent Muslim American civil rights activists and lawyers, whose emails were monitored by the FBI using a law meant to target suspected terrorists and spies. The targets of the spying allege that they were singled out because of their race, religion, and political views — accusations that, if true, would amount to the biggest domestic intelligence scandal in a generation and eclipse any of the prior year’s revelations from documents provided by leaker Edward Snowden.
After a year in which the digital spies at the NSA have taken unrelenting heat on Capitol Hill and in the media, it’s rare for the FBI to come under scrutiny — and that’s surprising, given the central role that the bureau plays in conducting surveillance operations, including all secret intelligence-gathering aimed at Americans inside the United States. “It’s an important point of distinction that it was the FBI directing this, not the NSA,” said a former senior intelligence official, welcoming the shift in focus away from the beleaguered spy agency to its often-overlooked partner.
Ever since the 9/11 attacks, the FBI has been frequently cast as the judicious and measured army of the war on terror, the home to interrogation experts who know how to coax secrets out of detained terrorists without resorting to the “enhanced techniques” of the CIA. But now, the FBI, and with it the Justice Department, finds itself exposed for spying on Americans who were never accused of any crime, and in the position of having to defend and explain its reasoning for taking that intrusive step. [Continue reading...]
Nihad Awad writes: As a student at the University of Minnesota decades ago, the more I learned about America’s history, the more I was inspired by our Founding Fathers. They were initially voices of dissent, who stood up and spoke on issues they thought would advance this country, with the understanding that it would not endear them to the powers of the day. This was the foundation for the Bill of Rights and the ideals that every American remains proud to enjoy to this day.
I am saddened, but not surprised, by recent revelations that I am on the list of Muslim-American leaders who have been targets for NSA surveillance. My First Amendment rights have been compromised simply because, over the years, I have expressed my views on issues relevant to public discourse. The fact that I have been individually targeted puts me on a list with very good company.
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was spied on, along with Washington Post columnist Art Buchwald and boxer Muhammad Ali. Earlier this year, it came to light that the CIA had spied on the Senate Intelligence Committee, a Congressional body charged with oversight of the CIA.
Senator Frank Church, who led investigations in the 1970s uncovering FBI, CIA and NSA surveillance and illegal activity targeting minority activists, was spied on. In 1975 Church warned, “If this government ever became a tyrant, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny.” [Continue reading...]
The Intercept reports: The National Security Agency and FBI have covertly monitored the emails of prominent Muslim-Americans—including a political candidate and several civil rights activists, academics, and lawyers—under secretive procedures intended to target terrorists and foreign spies.
According to documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the list of Americans monitored by their own government includes:
• Faisal Gill, a longtime Republican Party operative and one-time candidate for public office who held a top-secret security clearance and served in the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush;
• Asim Ghafoor, a prominent attorney who has represented clients in terrorism-related cases;
• Hooshang Amirahmadi, an Iranian-American professor of international relations at Rutgers University;
• Agha Saeed, a former political science professor at California State University who champions Muslim civil liberties and Palestinian rights;
• Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights organization in the country.
The individuals appear on an NSA spreadsheet in the Snowden archives called “FISA recap” — short for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Under that law, the Justice Department must convince a judge with the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that there is probable cause to believe that American targets are not only agents of an international terrorist organization or other foreign power, but also “are or may be” engaged in or abetting espionage, sabotage, or terrorism. The authorizations must be renewed by the court, usually every 90 days for U.S. citizens.
The spreadsheet shows 7,485 email addresses listed as monitored between 2002 and 2008. Many of the email addresses on the list appear to belong to foreigners whom the government believes are linked to Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Among the Americans on the list are individuals long accused of terrorist activity, including Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, who were killed in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen.
But a three-month investigation by The Intercept — including interviews with more than a dozen current and former federal law enforcement officials involved in the FISA process — reveals that in practice, the system for authorizing NSA surveillance affords the government wide latitude in spying on U.S. citizens. [Continue reading...]
The Washington Post reports: Ordinary Internet users, American and non-American alike, far outnumber legally targeted foreigners in the communications intercepted by the National Security Agency from U.S. digital networks, according to a four-month investigation by The Washington Post.
Nine of 10 account holders found in a large cache of intercepted conversations, which former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided in full to The Post, were not the intended surveillance targets but were caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else.
Many of them were Americans. Nearly half of the surveillance files, a strikingly high proportion, contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents. NSA analysts masked, or “minimized,” more than 65,000 such references to protect Americans’ privacy, but The Post found nearly 900 additional e-mail addresses, unmasked in the files, that could be strongly linked to U.S. citizens or U.S.residents.
The surveillance files highlight a policy dilemma that has been aired only abstractly in public. There are discoveries of considerable intelligence value in the intercepted messages — and collateral harm to privacy on a scale that the Obama administration has not been willing to address. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: In the latest turn in the yearlong tensions with Germany over American spying, a German man was arrested this week on suspicion of passing secret documents to a foreign power, believed to be the United States. The American ambassador, John B. Emerson, was summoned to the Foreign Office here and urged to help with what German officials called a swift clarification of the case.
The arrest came as Washington and Berlin were trying to put to rest a year of strains over the National Security Agency’s monitoring of Germans’ electronic data, including Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone, and just months after the collapse of an effort by Germany to strike a “no spy” accord with the White House.
While the White House and American intelligence officials refused to comment on the arrest, one senior American official said that reports in the German news media that the 31-year-old man under arrest had been working for the United States for at least two years “threaten to undo all the repair work” the two sides have been trying to achieve.[Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: A 27-year-old informatics student in southern Germany was identified in news reports on Thursday as the first German citizen known to be under surveillance by the National Security Agency since it was revealed last year that the agency had once tapped the cellphone of Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The news came on the same day that two former American security officials testified to a parliamentary inquiry about reports of sweeping digital surveillance and monitoring in Germany by American intelligence, which touched off a major controversy and put strains on German-American relations.
The student, Sebastian Hahn of Erlangen in Bavaria, said he had been active for six years in the Tor network, a group that works to encrypt digital communications, and that he had rented space on a computer in Nuremburg that he said was one of several around the world that direct other computers involved in Tor. Two German state broadcasting channels reported that there was evidence that the N.S.A. was tracking the Nuremberg computer as part of an operation called “XKeyscore.” A server at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that is used by Roger Dingledine, a well-known web activist, was also tracked in the operation, the German broadcasters reported. [Continue reading...]
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., released the following statement in response to a letter provided by the Office of Director of National Intelligence, which details the number of backdoor searches performed by U.S. intelligence agencies. As this response makes clear, intelligence agencies are searching through communications collected under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act – an authority that Congress intended to be used to target foreigners – and are deliberately conducting warrantless searches for the communications of individual Americans.
“The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has now responded to my longstanding question regarding warrantless searches for Americans’ emails and other communications, and I appreciate the candid and straightforward nature of their reply.
When the FBI says it conducts a substantial number of searches and it has no idea of what the number is, it shows how flawed this system is and the consequences of inadequate oversight. This huge gap in oversight is a problem now, and will only grow as global communications systems become more interconnected. The findings transmitted to me raise questions about whether the FBI is exercising any internal controls over the use of backdoor searches including who and how many government employees can access the personal data of individual Americans. I intend to follow this up until it is fixed.
While intelligence officials have often argued that it is impossible to estimate how many Americans’ communications are getting swept up by the government under Section 702, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has noted that the NSA acquires more than two hundred and fifty million Internet communications every year using Section 702, so even if US communications make up a small fraction of that total, the number of U.S. communications being collected is potentially quite large. The scale of this activity seems to be something that could be conducted pursuant to probable cause warrants, particularly given the exceptions that are included in the bipartisan bicameral legislation that I and others have proposed.
I and other reformers in Congress have argued that intelligence agencies should absolutely be permitted to search for communications pertaining to counterterrorism and other foreign threats, but if intelligence officials are deliberately searching for and reading the communications of specific Americans, the Constitution requires a warrant. The bipartisan, bicameral legislation that I and other reformers have supported would permit the government to conduct these searches pursuant to a probable cause warrant or emergency authorization, and it would include an exception for searches for individuals who are believed to be in danger.
Last week the House of Representatives voted 293-123 to require a warrant for these searches, and I’ll be urging my colleagues in the Senate to follow suit. Reformers believe that it is possible to protect Americans’ security and American liberty at the same time, and the American public expects nothing less.”