Category: Surveillance


Miracle stowaway survives five hour jet flight hidden in wheel well

 

Published on Apr 22, 2014

Airport authorities in the US are trying to work out how a 16 year-old boy survived a five hour flight hidden in the wheel well of a jet liner.

During the journey from San Jose airport in California to Maui in Hawaii, the plane climbed to 12,000 meters.

The 16-year-old who was picked up by police after being spotted by ground crew, apparently lost consciousness due to a lack of oxygen and temperatures in the compartment dropping to minus 62 degrees Celsius.

But how did he get onto the plane in the first place?

Spokesperson for Mineta San Jose International airport, Rosemary Barnes gave her theory:

“No system is 100 percent secure and it is possible to scale a perimeter fence line, especially under cover of darkness and remain undetected and it appears that is what this teenager did.”

Lucky to be alive, the stowaway arrived in Hawaii with nothing but a hair comb. When questioned he told FBI officials he had run away from home.

The authorities are reviewing whether to file criminal charges against the boy.

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Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.,said on Twitter that the incident “demonstrates vulnerabilities that need to be addressed.”

 

Actually Mr Swalwell of California, it reflects on the government’s inept  and overreaching attempts  at  ensuring security. 

While the TSA  focuses on tormenting and  harassing  the  elderly the handicapped and  toddlers; the real security threats  are  left unattended. 

Inept , inexperienced and  unqualified  agents are entrusted  with  the safety of  passengers who are groped and fondled in the  name  of  National  security. 

Isn’t it about time the government  left that  job to the airports  and  the  private  security  firms who  know  what they are  doing and have never had  to  molest a  passenger  to do it ?

But the TSA  was  never  really  about  security  was it?  It was  rather  a  weapon  of  indoctrination  to ensure  the slow  but steady subjugation of a  people.  It was  more  about  familiarizing  the  American People  with the  violatuion of  their freedom and  personal  space.   As well as the knowledge of helplessness against said violations.  All in the name of National Security , of course.

Wasn’t it ?

Had it been  otherwise.  Had  the  desire  to  provide  security  been  real.   The bungling, ineptitude and depraved abuse of power  that  has been  witnessed  would not have been  tolerated.  This  has all been a  sham  to  train the  people to knuckle  under and  be  humiliated.  As  much as  it  has  been  about  making  millions  for  Chertoff  and  his scanners …..all strategically  placed in  airports  …..for  our own  good  of  course.

Never allowing a good crisis to go to waste……..

Isn’t that right?

~Desert Rose~

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NBC News

Teen Stowaway Walked Right Through San Jose Airport Security Gap

Surveillance video at two airports shows how a 16-year-old boy managed to stow away in the wheel well of a flight from California to Hawaii — He simply climbed a fence without anyone stopping him, authorities told NBC News on Monday.

The boy from Santa Clara, Calif., who is believed to have run away after an argument with his father, first hopped a fence Sunday at about 1 a.m. local time (4 a.m. ET) near a fuel farm at Mineta San Jose International Airport, officials said.

About 12 minutes later, video shows him climbing into the wheel well of Hawaiian Airlines Flight 45, which was parked between gates two and three. He apparently chose the plane at random, authorities said.

The jet plane landed at Kahului Airport at 10:30 a.m. local (4:30 p.m. ET) Sunday.

It’s ‘Miraculous’ Hawaii Stowaway Survived

Nightly News

About 45 minutes later, the boy can be seen on video at that airport climbing out of the left main landing gear wheel — disoriented but in good condition, despite having been unconscious with little oxygen for most of the 5½-hour flight. Airline personnel immediately noticed him on the tarmac and called authorities.

While the fact that the boy beat the odds of survival is good news, the episode raises troubling questions about security at airports.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., a member of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, said on Twitter that the incident “demonstrates vulnerabilities that need to be addressed.”

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 Bloomberg

NSA Said to Exploit Heartbleed Bug for Intelligence for Years

The U.S. National Security Agency knew for at least two years about a flaw in the way that many websites send sensitive information, now dubbed the Heartbleed bug, and regularly used it to gather critical intelligence, two people familiar with the matter said.

The agency’s reported decision to keep the bug secret in pursuit of national security interests threatens to renew the rancorous debate over the role of the government’s top computer experts. The NSA, after declining to comment on the report, subsequently denied that it was aware of Heartbleed until the vulnerability was made public by a private security report earlier this month.

“Reports that NSA or any other part of the government were aware of the so-called Heartbleed vulnerability before 2014 are wrong,” according to an e-mailed statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Heartbleed appears to be one of the biggest flaws in the Internet’s history, affecting the basic security of as many as two-thirds of the world’s websites. Its discovery and the creation of a fix by researchers five days ago prompted consumers to change their passwords, the Canadian government to suspend electronic tax filing and computer companies including Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO) to Juniper Networks Inc. to provide patches for their systems.

Photographer: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

A computer workstation bears the National Security Agency (NSA) logo inside the Threat… Read More

Putting the Heartbleed bug in its arsenal, the NSA was able to obtain passwords and other basic data that are the building blocks of the sophisticated hacking operations at the core of its mission, but at a cost. Millions of ordinary users were left vulnerable to attack from other nations’ intelligence arms and criminal hackers.

Controversial Practice

“It flies in the face of the agency’s comments that defense comes first,” said Jason Healey, director of the cyber statecraft initiative at the Atlantic Council and a former Air Force cyber officer. “They are going to be completely shredded by the computer security community for this.”

Experts say the search for flaws is central to NSA’s mission, though the practice is controversial. A presidential board reviewing the NSA’s activities after Edward Snowden’s leaks recommended the agency halt the stockpiling of software vulnerabilities.

 

 Read More Here

 

Related:

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Forbes

Larry Magid Contributor

NSA Denies Report It Knew About And Exploited Heartbleed For Years

Updated with NSA denial

Bloomberg is reporting that the National Security Agency knew about the Heartbleed flaw for at least two years and “regularly used it to gather critical intelligence,” according to two sources.

NSA denial

The NSA has denied the Bloomberg report. “Reports that NSA or any other part of the government were aware of the so-called Heartbleed vulnerability before April 2014 are wrong. The Federal government was not aware of the recently identified vulnerability in OpenSSL until it was made public in a private sector cybersecurity report,” according to a blog post from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

NSA also tweets a denial

If the Bloomberg story is true, it would be a major bombshell that is certain to add fuel to the already contentious debate about the NSA’s role in surveillance. Last year it was reported that the NSA paid security firm RSA $10 million to intentionally weaken an encryption algorithm and had circumvented or cracked other encryption schemes. Reuters recently reported that “NSA infiltrated RSA security more deeply than thought.”

Bloomberg said that the NSA was able to use the Heartbleed flaw to obtain passwords and other user data.

Is NSA making us less secure?

 

Read More Here

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Edward J. Snowden, the N.S.A. leaker, speaking to European officials via videoconference last week. Credit Frederick Florin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Stepping into a heated debate within the nation’s intelligence agencies, President Obama has decided that when the National Security Agency discovers major flaws in Internet security, it should — in most circumstances — reveal them to assure that they will be fixed, rather than keep mum so that the flaws can be used in espionage or cyberattacks, senior administration officials said Saturday.

But Mr. Obama carved a broad exception for “a clear national security or law enforcement need,” the officials said, a loophole that is likely to allow the N.S.A. to continue to exploit security flaws both to crack encryption on the Internet and to design cyberweapons.

The White House has never publicly detailed Mr. Obama’s decision, which he made in January as he began a three-month review of recommendations by a presidential advisory committee on what to do in response to recent disclosures about the National Security Agency.

But elements of the decision became evident on Friday, when the White House denied that it had any prior knowledge of the Heartbleed bug, a newly known hole in Internet security that sent Americans scrambling last week to change their online passwords. The White House statement said that when such flaws are discovered, there is now a “bias” in the government to share that knowledge with computer and software manufacturers so a remedy can be created and distributed to industry and consumers.

Caitlin Hayden, the spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said the review of the recommendations was now complete, and it had resulted in a “reinvigorated” process to weigh the value of disclosure when a security flaw is discovered, against the value of keeping the discovery secret for later use by the intelligence community.

“This process is biased toward responsibly disclosing such vulnerabilities,” she said.

Until now, the White House has declined to say what action Mr. Obama had taken on this recommendation of the president’s advisory committee, whose report is better known for its determination that the government get out of the business of collecting bulk telephone data about the calls made by every American. Mr. Obama announced last month that he would end the bulk collection, and leave the data in the hands of telecommunications companies, with a procedure for the government to obtain it with court orders when needed.

But while the surveillance recommendations were noteworthy, inside the intelligence agencies other recommendations, concerning encryption and cyber operations, set off a roaring debate with echoes of the Cold War battles that dominated Washington a half-century ago.

One recommendation urged the N.S.A. to get out of the business of weakening commercial encryption systems or trying to build in “back doors” that would make it far easier for the agency to crack the communications of America’s adversaries. Tempting as it was to create easy ways to break codes — the reason the N.S.A. was established by Harry S. Truman 62 years ago — the committee concluded that the practice would undercut trust in American software and hardware products. In recent months, Silicon Valley companies have urged the United States to abandon such practices, while Germany and Brazil, among other nations, have said they were considering shunning American-made equipment and software. Their motives were hardly pure: Foreign companies see the N.S.A. disclosures as a way to bar American competitors.

 

Read More Here

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 Holder: We Want to Explore Gun Tracking Bracelets

DOJ requesting $2 million for ‘Gun Safety Technology’ grants

Attorney General Eric Holder / AP

BY:
April 7, 2014 1:21 pm

Attorney General Eric Holder said on Friday that gun tracking bracelets are something the Justice Department (DOJ) wants to “explore” as part of its gun control efforts.

When discussing gun violence prevention programs within the DOJ, Holder told a House appropriations subcommittee that his agency is looking into technological innovations.

 

“I think that one of the things that we learned when we were trying to get passed those common sense reforms last year, Vice President Biden and I had a meeting with a group of technology people and we talked about how guns can be made more safe,” he said.

“By making them either through finger print identification, the gun talks to a bracelet or something that you might wear, how guns can be used only by the person who is lawfully in possession of the weapon.”

“It’s those kinds of things that I think we want to try to explore so that we can make sure that people have the ability to enjoy their Second Amendment rights, but at the same time decreasing the misuse of weapons that lead to the kinds of things that we see on a daily basis,” Holder said.

 

Read More and  Watch Video Here

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Government Claims EFF’s Lawsuits Don’t Cover Ongoing Surveillance – Raising Fears Key Documents May Have Been Destroyed

UPDATE: Judge White today continued his temporary restraining order in these two cases until a more permanent order could be put in place. The question of whether the government improperly destroyed evidence so far will be briefed over the next several weeks.

San Francisco – The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) will fight disturbing new government claims in an emergency court hearing Wednesday – claims that may imply records documenting ongoing government surveillance have been destroyed despite a judge’s order.

Over the last several weeks, EFF has been battling to ensure that evidence of the NSA surveillance program will be preserved as part of its two cases challenging the illegal government spying: Jewel v. NSA and First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. NSA. But in a court filing late Monday, the government made shocking new assertions, arguing that its obligation to preserve evidence was limited to aspects of the original Bush-era spying program, which the government contends ended eight years ago with a transition to FISA court orders.

“This argument simply does not make sense. EFF has been demanding an injunction to stop this illegal spying program, regardless of the government’s shifting justifications,” said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn, who will argue in front of U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey S. White at the hearing Wednesday. “But these government claims aren’t just nonsensical – they are extremely worrisome and dangerous. The government is suggesting it may have destroyed years’ worth of evidence about its illegal spying, justified by its own secret interpretation of our case. This is about more than just phone records; it’s about evidence concerning all of the government’s spying. EFF is asking the court for a full accounting of just what is going on here, and it’s time for the government to come clean.”

Read More Here

 

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 photo facebook-nsaspying_zpsd164f9c0.png

Desert Rose Creations  (C)  2014

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Snowden Docs Expose How the NSA “Infects” Millions of Computers, Impersonates Facebook Server

democracynow democracynow

Guests

Ryan Gallagher, reporter for The Intercept.

New disclosures from Edward Snowden show the NSA is massively expanding its computer hacking worldwide. Software that automatically hacks into computers — known as malware “implants” — had previously been kept to just a few hundred targets. But the news website The Intercept reports that the NSA is spreading the software to millions of computers under an automated system codenamed “Turbine.” The Intercept has also revealed the NSA has masqueraded as a fake Facebook server to infect a target’s computer and exfiltrate files from a hard drive. We are joined by The Intercept reporter Ryan Gallagher.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to our last segment, the latest on leaks from Edward Snowden. TheIntercept.org reported last week the National Security Agency is dramatically expanding its ability to covertly hack into computers on a mass scale by using automated systems that reduce the level of human oversight in the process. The Intercept also revealed the NSA has masqueraded as a fake Facebook server to infect a target’s computer and exfiltrate files from a hard drive.

Joining us now is Ryan Gallagher from The Intercept, co-wrote the piece, “[How] the NSA Plans to Infect ‘Millions’ of Computers with Malware.” Explain, Ryan.

RYAN GALLAGHER: Hi, Amy. Yeah, and the story we wrote last week, really, the key thing about it is the extent to which these techniques have really rapidly escalated in the last decade. And what we can see and what we reported was that, since about 2004, the National Security Agency has expanded the use of what it calls these “implants,” which are sort of malicious software implants within computers and computer networks, and even phone networks, to basically steal data from those systems. About 10 years ago, they had, they say, about a hundred and a hundred and—between a hundred and 150 of these implants, but within the last decade that expanded to an estimated 100,000, in some reports, and they’re building a system to be capable of deploying “millions,” in their own words, of these implants.

AMY GOODMAN: The revelation around the issue of Facebook has led Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to call President Obama on Wednesday and demand an explanation. He later wrote in a blog post, quote, “I’ve been so confused and frustrated by the repeated reports of the behavior of the US government. When our engineers work tirelessly to improve security, we imagine we’re protecting you against criminals, not our own government.”

RYAN GALLAGHER: Yeah, and Mark Zuckerberg was definitely very agitated, we think, about the report and seems to have got on the phone to Obama. And interestingly, the NSA later issued a—actually claimed that they hadn’t impersonated U.S. websites. However, their own documents actually say that they pretended to be the Facebook server for this particular surveillance technique, so their denial sort of doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny when compared with their own documents. And there’s a bit of sort of a—you know, there’s questions to be asked about that.

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“Giving Hypocrisy a Bad Name”: NSA-Backing Senate Intel Chair Blasts CIA for Spying on Torture Probe

democracynow democracynow

Published on Mar 12, 2014

http://www.democracynow.org- The spat between the CIA and its Congressional overseers has intensified after Senator Dianne Feinstein took to the Senate floor to directly accuse the CIA of spying in an effort to undermine a probe of the agency’s torture and rendition program. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report has yet to be released but reportedly documents extensive abuses and a cover-up by CIA officials. Feinstein says the CIA broke the law in secretly removing more than 900 documents from computers used by panel investigators. She also accused the CIA of intimidation in requesting an FBI inquiry of the panel’s conduct. CIA Director John Brennan has rejected Feinstein’s allegations. Meanwhile, former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden has weighed in by accusing Feinstein of hypocrisy for criticizing alleged CIA spying on U.S. senators while condoning government surveillance of private citizens. We host a roundtable discussion with three guests: former FBI agent Mike German, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, and Pulitzer-winning journalist Julia Angwin, author of the new book, “Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance.”

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FULL: Edward Snowden and ACLU at SXSW

T Bert·

 

 

Published on Mar 10, 2014

Edward Snowden speaks about privacy and technology with the ACLU’s Ben Wizner and Christopher Soghoian at SXSW Interactive. -Links are below-

http://washingtonexaminer.com/edward-…

https://www.aclu.org/

https://www.aclu.org/time-rein-survei… – Main “Time to Rein in the Surveillance State
https://www.aclu.org/time-rein-survei… – Patriot Act Info
https://www.aclu.org/time-rein-survei… – FISA Amendments
https://www.aclu.org/time-rein-survei… – FISA Court Info

Edward Snowden warns of personal data vulnerability

The former NSA contractor takes part in a video conference at the South by Southwest tech event in Texas and answers questions via Twitter to an enthusiastic audience.

Edward Snowden

Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden speaks remotely to the South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Texas, superimposed over an image of the Constitution. (Spencer Bakalar / Los Angeles Times / March 10, 2014)

AUSTIN, Texas — Edward Snowden brought no bombshells when he arrived to an excited round of applause Monday, his stubbled face relaxed as it was beamed in from across the continents for a “virtual conversation” about the vulnerability of personal data. His presence was event enough.

Public appearances by the former National Security Agency contractor and U.S. exile are rare, and this one was beamed in from an undisclosed location in Russia via several online proxies for his own security, a bit of technological cloak-and-dagger that could only add to his mystique for the three roomfuls of international tech specialists struggling to hear his words in video that was choppy and often inaudible.

His message still got through: Personal information is vulnerable not only to government prying but to growing numbers of outside infiltrators because companies have failed to adequately protect the data of their customers. His own exile after leaking to reporters secret information he had gathered while an NSA consultant has made him a central figure in that conversation, and he says he has no regrets.

“Would I do it again? Absolutely,” Snowden said into the camera, in response to one of several questions submitted to him via Twitter (#AskSnowden) and screened backstage at the South by Southwest Interactive conference. “I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution. And I saw the Constitution was being violated on a massive scale.”

He warned, “If we allow the NSA to continue unrestrained, every other government will accept that as a green light to do the same.”

The chosen Twitter questions were notably nonconfrontational for a figure often the subject of heated debate even among supporters. One asked whether the mass surveillance was driven by privatization. Another wondered about the potential for society to “reap benefits” from the “big data.” None asked about his life in Russia, or what further revelations might be coming.

The first question came from Timothy John Berners-Lee, a British scientist known as the inventor of the World Wide Web, who asked Snowden how he would create an accountability system for governance.

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Edward Snowden discusses NSA leaks at SXSW: ‘I would do it again’

• Whistleblower patches in to Texas conference from Russia
• Snowden insists leaks have strengthened national security

Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower whose unprecedented leak of top-secret documents led to a worldwide debate about the nature of surveillance, insisted on Monday that his actions had improved the national security of the United States rather than undermined it, and declared that he would do it all again despite the personal sacrifices he had endured.

In remarks to the SXSW culture and technology conference in Texas, delivered by video link from his exile in Russia, Snowden took issue with claims by senior officials that he had placed the US in danger. He also rejected as demonstrably false the suggestions by some members of Congress that his files had found their way into the hands of the intelligence agencies of China or Russia.

Snowden spoke against the backdrop of an image of the US constitution, which he said he had taken an oath to protect but had seen “violated on a mass scale” while working for the US government. He accepted praise from Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, accorded the first question via Twitter, who described him as “acting profoundly in the public interest”.

The session provided a rare and extensive glimpse into the thoughts of Snowden, granted temporary asylum by Russia after the US revoked his passport. He struck back strongly against claims made again last week by the NSA director, General Keith Alexander, that his release of secret documents to the Guardian and other outlets last year had weakened American cyber-defences.

“These things are improving national security, these are improving the communications not just of Americans, but everyone in the world,” Snowden said. “Because we rely on the same standard, we rely on the ability to trust our communications, and without that, we don’t have anything.”

He added later that thanks to the more secure communication activity that had been encouraged by his disclosures, “the public has benefited, the government has benefited, and every society in the world has benefited”.

 

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• 1.8m users targeted by UK agency in six-month period alone
• Optic Nerve program collected Yahoo webcam images in bulk
• Yahoo: ‘A whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy’
• Material included large quantity of sexually explicit images
Yahoo webcam image.

The GCHQ program saved one image every five minutes from the users’ feeds. Photograph: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Britain’s surveillance agency GCHQ, with aid from the US National Security Agency, intercepted and stored the webcam images of millions of internet users not suspected of wrongdoing, secret documents reveal.

GCHQ files dating between 2008 and 2010 explicitly state that a surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve collected still images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and saved them to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were an intelligence target or not.

In one six-month period in 2008 alone, the agency collected webcam imagery – including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications – from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally.

Yahoo reacted furiously to the webcam interception when approached by the Guardian. The company denied any prior knowledge of the program, accusing the agencies of “a whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy“.

GCHQ does not have the technical means to make sure no images of UK or US citizens are collected and stored by the system, and there are no restrictions under UK law to prevent Americans’ images being accessed by British analysts without an individual warrant.

The documents also chronicle GCHQ‘s sustained struggle to keep the large store of sexually explicit imagery collected by Optic Nerve away from the eyes of its staff, though there is little discussion about the privacy implications of storing this material in the first place.

NSA ragout 4

 

Optic Nerve, the documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden show, began as a prototype in 2008 and was still active in 2012, according to an internal GCHQ wiki page accessed that year.

The system, eerily reminiscent of the telescreens evoked in George Orwell’s 1984, was used for experiments in automated facial recognition, to monitor GCHQ‘s existing targets, and to discover new targets of interest. Such searches could be used to try to find terror suspects or criminals making use of multiple, anonymous user IDs.

Rather than collecting webcam chats in their entirety, the program saved one image every five minutes from the users’ feeds, partly to comply with human rights legislation, and also to avoid overloading GCHQ‘s servers. The documents describe these users as “unselected” – intelligence agency parlance for bulk rather than targeted collection.

One document even likened the program’s “bulk access to Yahoo webcam images/events” to a massive digital police mugbook of previously arrested individuals.

“Face detection has the potential to aid selection of useful images for ‘mugshots’ or even for face recognition by assessing the angle of the face,” it reads. “The best images are ones where the person is facing the camera with their face upright.”

The agency did make efforts to limit analysts’ ability to see webcam images, restricting bulk searches to metadata only.

However, analysts were shown the faces of people with similar usernames to surveillance targets, potentially dragging in large numbers of innocent people. One document tells agency staff they were allowed to display “webcam images associated with similar Yahoo identifiers to your known target”.

Optic Nerve was based on collecting information from GCHQ‘s huge network of internet cable taps, which was then processed and fed into systems provided by the NSA. Webcam information was fed into NSA’s XKeyscore search tool, and NSA research was used to build the tool which identified Yahoo’s webcam traffic.

Bulk surveillance on Yahoo users was begun, the documents said, because “Yahoo webcam is known to be used by GCHQ targets”.

NSA ragout 3

 

Programs like Optic Nerve, which collect information in bulk from largely anonymous user IDs, are unable to filter out information from UK or US citizens. Unlike the NSA, GCHQ is not required by UK law to “minimize”, or remove, domestic citizens’ information from its databases. However, additional legal authorisations are required before analysts can search for the data of individuals likely to be in the British Isles at the time of the search.

 

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Why the outrage? Some say Obama's foot-on-the-desk style is too casual for the gravity of the office, and others suggest his display of masculinity is better suited to the basketball court

‘And then I was like pew, pew, pew and I got bin Laden’: Photo of Obama with his foot on the Oval Office’s desk sparks outrage and ridicule online

By David Martosko

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Imagine this: a president and his top officials as self-professed assassins — and proud of it, even attempting to gain political capital from it.  It’s not that American presidents have never been associated with assassination attempts before.  At a National Security Council meeting, Dwight D. Eisenhower personally ordered the CIA to “eliminate” Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, then feared as a future “Castro of Africa.”  “After a dead silence of fifteen seconds,” Tim Weiner tells us in Legacy of Ashes, his history of the CIA, “the meeting went on.”  And of course, the Kennedy brothers were directly involved in at least one of the many Agency attempts to kill Fidel Castro, while the CIA of Lyndon Johnson’s era mounted a massive assassination program in Vietnam.  Still, in those days, something dark and distasteful clung to the idea and presidents preferred to maintain what was called “plausible deniability” when it came to such efforts. (In 1981, by Executive Order, President Ronald Reagan actually banned assassination by the U.S. government.)

Now, top officials connected to the White House proudly leak details about their ongoing efforts to use drones to assassinate obscure suspected terrorists in the backlands of the planet.  They take pride in comparing their activities to a religious calling.  They want the public to know that they and the president spend significant time and effort on such “targeted killings.”  The most recent case to see the light of day is the prospective assassination of an American citizen and suspected “al-Qaeda facilitator,” evidently in the tribal borderlands of Pakistan.  When it comes to this possible future assassination, they seem eager to emphasize via leaks the care they are taking in preparing the way.

In the process, they have produced legalistic documents so secret that they can’t be shown to the public, though their existence and import can indeed be publicized.  These justify to their satisfaction the killing of Americans without what once would have been considered “due process” or any role whatsoever for the actual legal system.  The president and his top officials are ready at a moment’s notice to discuss in public, with a legalistic turn of mind and a finicky attention to bureaucratic detail, whether such killings can properly be carried out in the U.S. as they are abroad, or whether the angels of death should be the U.S. military or the CIA — as if this were of any legally binding import. (Congress, in turn, has been balking at appropriating money for the military to take over more of the CIA’s drone killings.)  No less striking, the media is by now almost instantly bored with such reports, which prove, at best, to be minor one-day ripples in the vast tide of the news.

And in the face of all this, Americans seem to exhibit a remarkable lack of interest.  The transformation of the White House into a killing machine?  Whether any of this has anything to do with legality?  More than 12 years after the 9/11 attacks, it’s evidently just everyday life in America.  That the president is our assassin-in-chief and that drones are acceptable weapons of choice in such killings are givens.  It’s also a given that, in the name of American security, anything goes as long as it’s wrapped in an exculpatory, feel-good legalistic package, even if it bears no actual relationship to what Americans might once have called legality.  Today, Peter Van Buren, ex-State Department whistleblower, TomDispatch regular, and author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, explores the deep derangement of all this and what it means in the building of a “post-Constitutional America.” Tom

Drone Killing the Fifth Amendment
How to Build a Post-Constitutional America One Death at a Time
By Peter Van Buren

Terrorism (ter-ror-ism; see also terror) n. 1. When a foreign organization kills an American for political reasons.

Justice (jus-tice) n. 1. When the United States Government uses a drone to kill an American for political reasons.

How’s that morning coffee treating you? Nice and warming? Mmmm.

While you’re savoring your cup o’ joe, imagine the president of the United States hunched over his own coffee, considering the murder of another American citizen. Now, if you were plotting to kill an American over coffee, you could end up in jail on a whole range of charges including — depending on the situation — terrorism. However, if the president’s doing the killing, it’s all nice and — let’s put those quote marks around it — “legal.” How do we know? We’re assured that the Justice Department tells him so.  And that’s justice enough in post-Constitutional America.

Through what seems to have been an Obama administration leak to the Associated Press, we recently learned that the president and his top officials believe a U.S. citizen — name unknown to us out here — probably somewhere in the tribal backlands of Pakistan, is reputedly planning attacks against Americans abroad. As a result, the White House has, for the last several months, been considering whether or not to assassinate him by drone without trial or due process.

Supposedly, the one thing that’s held up sending in the drones is the administration’s desire to make sure the kill is “legal.” (Those quotes again.)

Last May, Obama gave a speech on the subject.  It was, in part, a response to growing anger in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere over the CIA’s ongoing drone assassination campaigns with all their “collateral damage,” and to the White House’s reported “kill list.” In it, he insisted that any target of the drones must pose “a continuing and imminent threat to the American people.” At the time, the White House also issued a fact sheet that stated: “Lethal force must only be used to prevent or stop attacks against U.S. persons, and even then, only when capture is not feasible and no other reasonable alternatives exist to address the threat effectively.” While that sounds like a pretty imposing set of hurdles to leap, all of the “legal” criteria are determined in secret by the White House with advice from the Justice Department, but with no oversight or accountability.

Even then, it turns out that the supposedly tortured deliberations of the administration are not really necessary. Despite the president’s criteria, according to an unnamed administration official quoted by the Associated Press, Obama could make an exception to his policy and authorize the CIA to strike on a one-time basis, no matter what the circumstances. One way or another, it is Obama who decides who to kill and when.

Short-Term Questions

At this point, it’s unclear just why the Obama administration leaked its plans in reference to this errant American abroad. After all, official after official has insisted that Edward Snowden’s revelations of secret NSA documents have caused terrorists to change their communication tactics, yet the one American up to no good somewhere in the terrorist world apparently has not done so in response to the leak about his potential fate, and will remain locatable whenever needed as a target. And yet giving notice of a possible attack in advance in the media would, on the face of it, seem both counterproductive and an invitation to the very barrage of criticisms leveled by key officials at Snowden. After all, under the circumstances, an American connected with al-Qaeda wouldn’t exactly have to be a Bond villain to decide to change his behavior and his location, stay indoors or outdoors more, keep off his phone for a while or trade it in for another.

Could the administration leak have been a trick to flush the bad guy out, causing him to panic and run? Was it an elaborate ruse designed to induce widespread concern in al-Qaeda about the liabilities of having American compatriots? Was it a bone thrown to Republicans otherwise eager to paint the president as weak? Could it have been some kind of geopolitical muscle tussle with once compliant but now more assertively anti-drone Pakistan? Or could the leak have been a PSYOP on the American people, an attempt to manipulate us into feeling better about government decisions to kill American citizens by revealing the deliberative and heart-wrenching process Obama goes through?  Or could it simply have been an attempt to normalize such acts for us, to make them part of the understandable everyday background noise of a dangerous world?

The answer is: we don’t know.  Not yet anyway.

Not the First Time

The Obama administration admits to killing four Americans as part of its war on (or is it “war of”?) terror. We’ll pause here a moment for you to contemplate whether there could have been other, undocumented killings of the same sort awaiting the revelations of some future Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning.

On May 7, 2011, a U.S. drone fired a missile in Yemen aimed at American citizen and key terror suspect Anwar al-Awlaki. The missile blew up a car with two other people in it, quickly labeled “al-Qaeda operatives” after we killed them.

Such collateral killings should be no surprise. The inaugural article by Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill at their new media venture notes that the National Security Agency regularly identifies targets for CIA assassinations based on metadata analysis and cell-phone tracking. Rather than confirming that target’s identity, the CIA is evidently ready and willing to blow a suspect away based on the location of a mobile phone he assumedly is using. In other words, people can be killed because they borrowed the wrong cell phone. (So much for a deliberative process.)

 

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New York Times

Spying by N.S.A. Ally Entangled U.S. Law Firm

The list of those caught up in the global surveillance net cast by the National Security Agency and its overseas partners, from social media users to foreign heads of state, now includes another entry: American lawyers.

A top-secret document, obtained by the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden, shows that an American law firm was monitored while representing a foreign government in trade disputes with the United States. The disclosure offers a rare glimpse of a specific instance in which Americans were ensnared by the eavesdroppers, and is of particular interest because lawyers in the United States with clients overseas have expressed growing concern that their confidential communications could be compromised by such surveillance.

The government of Indonesia had retained the law firm for help in trade talks, according to the February 2013 document. It reports that the N.S.A.’s Australian counterpart, the Australian Signals Directorate, notified the agency that it was conducting surveillance of the talks, including communications between Indonesian officials and the American law firm, and offered to share the information.

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The Indonesian Embassy in Washington, left, and the building where Mayer Brown has an office. Indonesia retained the American law firm for help in trade talks. Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

The Australians told officials at an N.S.A. liaison office in Canberra, Australia, that “information covered by attorney-client privilege may be included” in the intelligence gathering, according to the document, a monthly bulletin from the Canberra office. The law firm was not identified, but Mayer Brown, a Chicago-based firm with a global practice, was then advising the Indonesian government on trade issues.

On behalf of the Australians, the liaison officials asked the N.S.A. general counsel’s office for guidance about the spying. The bulletin notes only that the counsel’s office “provided clear guidance” and that the Australian agency “has been able to continue to cover the talks, providing highly useful intelligence for interested US customers.”

The N.S.A. declined to answer questions about the reported surveillance, including whether information involving the American law firm was shared with United States trade officials or negotiators.

Duane Layton, a Mayer Brown lawyer involved in the trade talks, said he did not have any evidence that he or his firm had been under scrutiny by Australian or American intelligence agencies. “I always wonder if someone is listening, because you would have to be an idiot not to wonder in this day and age,” he said in an interview. “But I’ve never really thought I was being spied on.”

A Rising Concern for Lawyers

Most attorney-client conversations do not get special protections under American law from N.S.A. eavesdropping. Amid growing concerns about surveillance and hacking, the American Bar Association in 2012 revised its ethics rules to explicitly require lawyers to “make reasonable efforts” to protect confidential information from unauthorized disclosure to outsiders.

Last year, the Supreme Court, in a 5-to-4 decision, rebuffed a legal challenge to a 2008 law allowing warrantless wiretapping that was brought in part by lawyers with foreign clients they believed were likely targets of N.S.A. monitoring. The lawyers contended that the law raised risks that required them to take costly measures, like traveling overseas to meet clients, to protect sensitive communications. But the Supreme Court dismissed their fears as “speculative.”

The N.S.A. is prohibited from targeting Americans, including businesses, law firms and other organizations based in the United States, for surveillance without warrants, and intelligence officials have repeatedly said the N.S.A. does not use the spy services of its partners in the so-called Five Eyes alliance — Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand — to skirt the law.

Still, the N.S.A. can intercept the communications of Americans if they are in contact with a foreign intelligence target abroad, such as Indonesian officials. The N.S.A. is then required to follow so-called minimization rules to protect their privacy, such as deleting the identity of Americans or information that is not deemed necessary to understand or assess the foreign intelligence, before sharing it with other agencies.

An N.S.A. spokeswoman said the agency’s Office of the General Counsel was consulted when issues of potential attorney-client privilege arose and could recommend steps to protect such information.

“Such steps could include requesting that collection or reporting by a foreign partner be limited, that intelligence reports be written so as to limit the inclusion of privileged material and to exclude U.S. identities, and that dissemination of such reports be limited and subject to appropriate warnings or restrictions on their use,” said Vanee M. Vines, the spokeswoman.

The Australian government declined to comment about the surveillance. In a statement, the Australian Defense Force public affairs office said that in gathering information to support Australia’s national interests, its intelligence agencies adhered strictly to their legal obligations, including when they engaged with foreign counterparts.Several newly disclosed documents provide details of the cooperation between the United States and Australia, which share facilities and highly sensitive intelligence, including efforts to break encryption and collect phone call data in Indonesia. Both nations have trade and security interests in Indonesia, where Islamic terrorist groups that threaten the West have bases.

The 2013 N.S.A. bulletin did not identify which trade case was being monitored by Australian intelligence, but Indonesia has been embroiled in several disputes with the United States in recent years. One involves clove cigarettes, an Indonesian export. The Indonesian government has protested to the World Trade Organization a United States ban on their sale, arguing that similar menthol cigarettes have not been subject to the same restrictions under American antismoking laws. The trade organization, ruling that the United States prohibition violated international trade laws, referred the case to arbitration to determine potential remedies for Indonesia.

Another dispute involved Indonesia’s exports of shrimp, which the United States claimed were being sold at below-market prices.

The Indonesian government retained Mayer Brown to help in the cases concerning cigarettes and shrimp, said Ni Made Ayu Marthini, attaché for trade and industry at the Indonesian Embassy in Washington. She said no American law firm had been formally retained yet to help in a third case, involving horticultural and animal products.

Mr. Layton, a lawyer in the Washington office of Mayer Brown, said that since 2010 he had led a team from the firm in the clove cigarette dispute. He said Matthew McConkey, another lawyer in the firm’s Washington office, had taken the lead on the shrimp issue until the United States dropped its claims in August. Both cases were underway a year ago when the Australians reported that their surveillance included an American law firm.

Mr. Layton said that if his emails and calls with Indonesian officials had been monitored, the spies would have been bored. “None of this stuff is very sexy,” he said. “It’s just run of the mill.”

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The Seattle Times

NSA, Australian liaison office monitored U.S. law firm

A top-secret document obtained by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden shows that a U.S. law firm was monitored while representing a foreign government in trade disputes with the United States, The New York Times reports.

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The National Security Agency (NSA) was involved in the surveillance of a U.S. law firm while it represented a foreign government in trade disputes with the United States, The New York Times reported in a story based on a top-secret document obtained by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The February 2013 document shows that the Indonesian government had retained the law firm for help in trade talks, The Times reported in a story posted on its website Saturday. The law firm was not identified in the document, but the Chicago-based firm Mayer Brown was advising the Indonesian government on trade issues at the time, according to the newspaper.

The document itself is a monthly bulletin from an NSA liaison office in Canberra, the capital of Australia. The NSA’s Australian counterpart, the Australian Signals Directorate, had notified the NSA that it was conducting surveillance of the talks, including communications between Indonesian officials and the U.S. law firm, and offered to share the information, The Times reported.

Liaison officials asked the NSA general counsel’s office, on behalf of the Australians, for guidance about the spying. The bulletin notes only that the counsel’s office “provided clear guidance” and that the Australian eavesdropping agency “has been able to continue to cover the talks, providing highly useful intelligence for interested U.S. customers,” according to the article.

The NSA and the Australian government declined to answer questions about the surveillance. In statements to the newspaper and The Associated Press, the NSA said it “does not ask its foreign partners to undertake any intelligence activity that the U.S. government would be legally prohibited from undertaking itself.”

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