Tag Archives: National Security Agency

Leaks like Snowden’s put lives at risk

Great Seal Bug from NSA archives
Great Seal Bug from NSA archives (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The seal of the U.S. National Security Agency....
The seal of the U.S. National Security Agency. The first use was in September 1966, replacing an older seal which was used briefly. For more information, see here and here. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
STU-III secure telephones on display at the Na...
STU-III secure telephones on display at the National Cryptologic Museum in 2005. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Leaks of sensitive intelligence like those of fugitive U.S. analyst Edward Snowden put lives and national security at risk, potentially jeopardising vital work to protect the public, Britain’s security minister said on Wednesday.
Revelations by Snowden, a former contractor with the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), published in Britain’s Guardian newspaper last month, led to claims that British spies have been circumventing the law and have stirred concern among London’s European allies.
In its reports, the Guardian said Britain’s eavesdropping agency GCHQ had tapped fibre-optic cables carrying international phone and Internet traffic and had shared vast amounts of personal data with the NSA under a project codenamed “Tempora”.
GCHQ also accessed data about Britons obtained by the NSA under its secret PRISM programme, the paper said.
“Disclosure of highly sensitive information can be damaging. It can certainly undermine our security, certainly it can put lives at risk,” Security Minister James Brokenshire told Reuters at a security conference in London.
“It provides a partial view and it can undermine the very security and actions our intelligence and other agencies are engaged in to keep us all safe,” he said, adding that he would not comment specifically on the leaks.
Snowden, 30, is believed to be still stranded in the transit area of a Moscow airport, where he has been trying since June 23 to find a country that will offer him refuge from prosecution in the United States on espionage charges.
Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism official Charles Farr echoed Brokenshire’s comments about national security.
“Ministers have said this damages our capabilities. Given that a significant part of what GCHQ does is about terrorism, you can draw your conclusions,” he said at the same conference.
The Guardian’s reports have angered some of Britain’s European Union partners, especially Germany, whose Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger has said it would be a “catastrophe” if the “Tempora” claims proved true.
Asked if the disclosures would damage intelligence sharing in the future, Brokenshire said countries recognised they had to work together to combat threats. “I have every confidence that will continue to be the case,” he said.
Brokenshire said balancing civil liberties and national security while allowing the spies to carry out vital covert work put the government in a “quandary”, but he repeated assurances that the intelligence agencies worked within the law.
“This isn’t about trying to read everybody’s emails, trying to spy and pry into everyone’s day to day activities,” he said.
“We must always be focused on ensuring our agencies are able to conduct their activities at times in secret because the threats that we face are prepared in secret,” he added.
Brokenshire is leading the Conservative-led coalition government‘s attempts to beef up the powers of police and spy agencies to access details of people’s Internet use in what critics have denounced as a “snoopers’ charter”.
Law enforcement agencies say the measures are vital to fighting serious crime and terrorism, but the Liberal Democrats, junior partner in the coalition, are opposed, and lawmakers from all parties have said it would be too intrusive.
“There is a recognition a solution needs to be found,” said Brokenshire, adding that the plans would need the confidence of parliament and the public. “We will take as long as it takes to get this right.”
The issue of security has come back into sharp focus in Britain after the murder of soldier Lee Rigby in southeast London in what authorities said was the first terrorist attack in Britain since the London suicide bombings of July 2005.
Rigby’s killing also led to calls for a clampdown on militant Islamist preachers such as Anjem Choudary and for the withdrawal of their state welfare benefits. A number of Choudary’s followers have been convicted of terrorism offences.
Brokenshire said a task force was considering a range of measures, including withdrawing benefits from those like Choudary who newspapers say receives 25,000 pounds ($37,900) a year from the state.
“I think it’s right we continue to … look at what can be done about extremist preachers and certainly benefits, … so we make sure those who seek to perpetrate a spiteful, vile message are challenged effectively and robustly,” Brokenshire said.
“I can’t confirm that proposals will be forthcoming, but clearly we look at a whole range of issues.”


GCHQ taps fibre-optic cables for secret access to world’s communications

Cray X-MP/24 (serial no. 115) used by NSA
Cray X-MP/24 (serial no. 115) used by NSA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: NSA chart as of 2001 Français : Organ...
English: NSA chart as of 2001 Français : Organigramme de la NSA en 2001 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The seal of the U.S. National Security Agency....
The seal of the U.S. National Security Agency. The first use was in September 1966, replacing an older seal which was used briefly. For more information, see here and here. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
GCHQ Building at Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
GCHQ Building at Cheltenham, Gloucestershire (Photo credit: Defence Images)

Britain’s spy agency GCHQ has secretly gained access to the network of cables which carry the world’s phone calls and internet traffic and has started to process vast streams of sensitive personal information which it is sharing with its American partner, the National Security Agency (NSA).

The sheer scale of the agency’s ambition is reflected in the titles of its two principal components: Mastering the Internet and Global Telecoms Exploitation, aimed at scooping up as much online and telephone traffic as possible. This is all being carried out without any form of public acknowledgement or debate.

One key innovation has been GCHQ’s ability to tap into and store huge volumes of data drawn from fibre-optic cables for up to 30 days so that it can be sifted and analysed. That operation, codenamed Tempora, has been running for some 18 months.

GCHQ and the NSA are consequently able to access and process vast quantities of communications between entirely innocent people, as well as targeted suspects.

This includes recordings of phone calls, the content of email messages, entries on Facebook and the history of any internet user’s access to websites – all of which is deemed legal, even though the warrant system was supposed to limit interception to a specified range of targets.

The existence of the programme has been disclosed in documents shown to the Guardian by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as part of his attempt to expose what he has called “the largest programme of suspicionless surveillance in human history”.

“It’s not just a US problem. The UK has a huge dog in this fight,” Snowden told the Guardian. “They [GCHQ] are worse than the US.”

However, on Friday a source with knowledge of intelligence argued that the data was collected legally under a system of safeguards, and had provided material that had led to significant breakthroughs in detecting and preventing serious crime.

Britain’s technical capacity to tap into the cables that carry the world’s communications – referred to in the documents as special source exploitation – has made GCHQ an intelligence superpower.

By 2010, two years after the project was first trialled, it was able to boast it had the “biggest internet access” of any member of the Five Eyes electronic eavesdropping alliance, comprising the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

UK officials could also claim GCHQ “produces larger amounts of metadata than NSA”. (Metadata describes basic information on who has been contacting whom, without detailing the content.)

By May last year 300 analysts from GCHQ, and 250 from the NSA, had been assigned to sift through the flood of data.

The Americans were given guidelines for its use, but were told in legal briefings by GCHQ lawyers: “We have a light oversight regime compared with the US”.

When it came to judging the necessity and proportionality of what they were allowed to look for, would-be American users were told it was “your call”.

The Guardian understands that a total of 850,000 NSA employees and US private contractors with top secret clearance had access to GCHQ databases.

The documents reveal that by last year GCHQ was handling 600m “telephone events” each day, had tapped more than 200 fibre-optic cables and was able to process data from at least 46 of them at a time.

U.S. charges Snowden with espionage

The Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Bu...
The Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building in Washington, D.C., headquarters of the United States Department of Justice. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Cray X-MP/24 (serial no. 115) used by NSA
Cray X-MP/24 (serial no. 115) used by NSA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The seal of the U.S. National Security Agency....
The seal of the U.S. National Security Agency. The first use was in September 1966, replacing an older seal which was used briefly. For more information, see here and here. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Federal prosecutors have filed a criminal complaint against Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked a trove of documents about top-secret surveillance programs, and the United States has asked Hong Kong to detain him on a provisional arrest warrant, according to U.S. officials.

Snowden was charged with theft, “unauthorized communication of national defense information” and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person,” according to the complaint. The last two charges were brought under the 1917 Espionage Act.
The complaint, which initially was sealed, was filed in the Eastern District of Virginia, a jurisdiction where Snowden’s former employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, is headquartered and a district with a long track record of prosecuting cases with national security implications. After The Washington Post reported the charges, senior administration officials said late Friday that the Justice Department was barraged with calls from lawmakers and reporters and decided to unseal the criminal complaint.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

Snowden flew to Hong Kong last month after leaving his job at an NSA facility in Hawaii with a collection of highly classified documents that he acquired while working at the agency as a systems analyst.

The documents, some of which have been published in The Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper, detailed some of the most-
secret surveillance operations undertaken by the United States and Britain , as well as classified legal memos and court orders underpinning the programs in the United States.

The 30-year-old intelligence analyst revealed himself June 9 as the leaker in an interview with the Guardian and said he went to Hong Kong because it provided the “cultural and legal framework to allow me to work without being immediately detained.”

Snowden subsequently disappeared from public view; it is thought that he is still in the Chinese territory. Hong Kong has its own legislative and legal systems but ultimately answers to Beijing, under the “one country, two systems” arrangement.

The leaks have sparked national and international debates about the secret powers of the NSA to infringe on the privacy of Americans and foreigners. Officials from President Obama on down have said they welcome the opportunity to explain the importance of the programs and the safeguards they say are built into them. Skeptics, including some in Congress, have said the NSA has assumed the power to soak up data about Americans that was never intended under the law.

There was never any doubt that the Justice Department would seek to prosecute Snowden for one of the most significant national security leaks in the country’s history. The Obama administration has shown a particular propensity to go after leakers and has launched more investigations than any previous administration. This White House is responsible for bringing six of the nine total indictments ever brought under the 1917 Espionage Act. Snowden will be the seventh individual when he is formally indicted.

Facebook and Microsoft release figures on government data requests

Publicité pour Twitter et Facebook sur la vers...
Publicité pour Twitter et Facebook sur la version hébreu de Wikipédia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Microsoft Building
Microsoft Building (Photo credit: Artotem)
English: The Aviation and Missile Command can ...
English: The Aviation and Missile Command can now be found on two popular social media sites, Facebook and Twitter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Google Chrome
Google Chrome (Photo credit: thms.nl)
Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...
Image via CrunchBase

Facebook and Microsoft have disclosed how many government requests they have received for user data following the Prism surveillance scandal that’s enveloped the tech world.
Following reports on Friday, Facebook revealed, after pushing the government for transparency, it had been granted permission to disclose the volume of requests from law enforcement and agencies like the NSA.
In the six months leading up to the end of December 2012, Facebook said it received between 8,000 and 9,000 requests relating to up to 18,000 to 19,000 individual profiles.
These requests, the company said, spanned cases like sheriffs hunting missing children, police investigating an assault, marshalls tracking a fugitive or the NSA probing a terrorist threat.
No specifics on FISA

In a blog post Facebook reiterated that, of these requests, some are rejected outright, while it often asks the government to scale back requests or simply doesn’t serve up everything the government asks.
What the figures don’t state is how many of those requests were made or granted under the controversial Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act (FISA), but Facebook said it will continue to push that data to be revealed.
The social network wrote: “We will continue to be vigilant in protecting our users’ data from unwarranted government requests, and we will continue to push all governments to be as transparent as possible.”
‘Great start,’ says Microsoft

Soon after Facebook’s disclosure, Microsoft followed up by revealing it had been subject to 6,000 to 7,000 requests in relation to 31,000 to 32,000 accounts, in the six months leading up to December 31 2012.
Those requests spanned “criminal and national security warrants, subpoenas and orders,” from local, state and national agencies, but the company said it wasn’t allowed to be more specific in relation to FISA requests.
In a blog post, John Frank, Microsoft’s Vice President & Deputy General Counsel, said the company will continue to push for more information.
He wrote: “We appreciate the effort by U.S. government today to allow us to report more information. We understand they have to weigh carefully the impacts on national security of allowing more disclosures. With more time, we hope they will take further steps. Transparency alone may not be enough to restore public confidence, but it’s a great place to start.”
Google and Twitter push for specifics

Meanwhile, both Google and Twitter have shunned the opportunity to make similar disclosures, with the former stating that lumping criminal requests in with national security requests would be a backward step.
In a statement Google told AllThingsD: “We have always believed that it’s important to differentiate between different types of government requests. We already publish criminal requests separately from National Security Letters. Lumping the two categories together would be a step back for users. Our request to the government is clear: to be able to publish aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures, separately.”
In a tweet, Twitter’s legal director Benjamin Lee concurred with Google’s assessment. He wrote: “We agree with @google: It’s important to be able to publish numbers of national security requests—including FISA disclosures—separately.”
Google has protested its innocence during the last week, writing to the government to request permission to release the information. Twitter had been somewhat incubated from the criticism following reports it had been one of the few companies to take a hard-line stance with the government.
So there you have it. Is this the first step towards greater transparency over what the US government is seeking through its controversial PRISM surveillance scheme or simply a little appeasement in the hope that the scandal will die down? The onus is now on tech companies to keep pushing.