Posts Tagged ‘NSA’

U.S. Will Sugest Openness, Transparency To China On Cyberattacks

April 7, 2014

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By
The New York Times

WASHINGTON — In the months before Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s arrival in Beijing on Monday, the Obama administration quietly held an extraordinary briefing for the Chinese military leadership on a subject officials have rarely discussed in public: the Pentagon’s emerging doctrine for defending against cyberattacks against the United States — and for using its cybertechnology against adversaries, including the Chinese.

The idea was to allay Chinese concerns about plans to more than triple the number of American cyberwarriors to 6,000 by the end of 2016, a force that will include new teams the Pentagon plans to deploy to each military combatant command around the world. But the hope was to prompt the Chinese to give Washington a similar briefing about the many People’s Liberation Army units that are believed to be behind the escalating attacks on American corporations and government networks.

The effort, senior Pentagon officials say, is to head off what Mr. Hagel and his advisers fear is the growing possibility of a fast-escalating series of cyberattacks and counterattacks between the United States and China. This is a concern especially at a time of mounting tensions over China’s expanding claims of control over what it argues are exclusive territories in the East and South China Seas, and over a new air defense zone. In interviews, American officials say their latest initiatives were inspired by Cold-War-era exchanges held with the Soviets so that each side understood the “red lines” for employing nuclear weapons against each other.

“Think of this in terms of the Cuban missile crisis,” one senior Pentagon official said. While the United States “suffers attacks every day,” he said, “the last thing we would want to do is misinterpret an attack and escalate to a real conflict.”

Mr. Hagel’s concern is spurred by the fact that in the year since President Obama explicitly brought up the barrage of Chinese-origin attacks on the United States with his newly installed counterpart, President Xi Jinping, the pace of those attacks has increased. Most continue to be aimed at stealing technology and other intellectual property from Silicon Valley, military contractors and energy firms. Many are believed to be linked to cyberwarfare units of the People’s Liberation Army acting on behalf of state-owned, or state-affiliated, Chinese companies.

“To the Chinese, this isn’t first and foremost a military weapon, it’s an economic weapon,” said Laura Galante, a former Defense Intelligence Agency cyberspecialist. She now works for the Mandiant division of FireEye, one of the largest of the many cybersecurity firms seeking to neutralize attacks on corporations from China and other countries, as well as criminal groups and hackers.

Administration officials acknowledge that Mr. Hagel, on his first trip to China as defense secretary, has a very difficult case to make, far more complicated than last year. The Pentagon plans to spend $26 billion on cybertechnology over the next five years — much of it for defense of the military’s networks, but billions for developing offensive weapons — and that sum does not include budgets for the intelligence community’s efforts in more covert operations. It is one of the few areas, along with drones and Special Operations forces, that are getting more investment at a time of overall Pentagon cutbacks.

President Xi Jinping of China and President Obama last month in The Hague. They discussed the issue of computer spying. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

Moreover, disclosures about America’s own focus on cyberweaponry — including American-led attacks on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and National Security Agency documents revealed in the trove taken by Edward J. Snowden, the former agency contractor — detail the degree to which the United States has engaged in what the intelligence world calls “cyberexploitation” of targets in China.

The revelation by The New York Times and the German magazine Der Spiegel that the United States has pierced the networks of Huawei, China’s giant networking and telecommunications company, prompted Mr. Xi to raise the issue with Mr. Obama at a meeting in The Hague two weeks ago. The attack on Huawei, called Operation Shotgiant, was intended to determine whether the company was a front for the army, but also focused on learning how to get inside Huawei’s networks to conduct surveillance or cyberattacks against countries — Iran, Cuba, Pakistan and beyond — that buy the Chinese-made equipment. Other cyberattacks revealed in the documents focused on piercing China’s major telecommunications companies and wireless networks, particularly those used by the Chinese leadership and its most sensitive military units.

Mr. Obama told the Chinese president that the United States, unlike China, did not use its technological powers to steal corporate data and give it to its own companies; its spying, one of Mr. Obama’s aides later told reporters, is solely for “national security priorities.” But to the Chinese, for whom national and economic security are one, that argument carries little weight.

“We clearly don’t occupy the moral high ground that we once thought we did,” said one senior administration official.

For that reason, the disclosures changed the discussion between the top officials at the Pentagon and the State Department and their Chinese counterparts in quiet meetings intended to work out what one official called “an understanding of rules of the road, norms of behavior,” for China and the United States.

The decision to conduct a briefing for the Chinese on American military doctrine for the use of cyberweapons was a controversial one, not least because the Obama administration has almost never done that for the American public, though elements of the doctrine can be pieced together from statements by senior officials and a dense “Presidential Decision Directive” on such activities signed by Mr. Obama in 2012. (The White House released declassified excerpts at the time; Mr. Snowden released the whole document.)

Mr. Hagel alluded to the doctrine a week ago when he went to the retirement ceremony for Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the first military officer to jointly command the N.S.A. and the military’s Cyber Command. General Alexander was succeeded last week by Adm. Michael S. Rogers, who as the head of the Navy’s Fleet Cyber Command was a central player in developing a corps of experts who could conduct cyberwarfare alongside more traditional Navy forces.

“The United States does not seek to militarize cyberspace,” Mr. Hagel said at the ceremony, held at the N.S.A.’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Md. He went on to describe a doctrine of “minimal use” of cyberweaponry against other states. The statement was meant to assure other nations — not just China — that the United States would not routinely use its growing arsenal against them.

 

In Beijing, the defense secretary “is going to stress to the Chinese that we in the military are going to be as transparent as possible,” said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, “and we want the same openness and transparency and restraint from them.”

Experts here and in China point out that a lot was left out of Mr. Hagel’s statement last week. The United States separates offensive operations of the kind that disabled roughly 1,000 centrifuges in Iran’s nuclear program, America’s best-known (and still unacknowledged) cyberattack against another state, from the far more common computer-enabled espionage of the kind carried out against the Chinese to gather information about a potential adversary.

“It’s clear that cyberspace is already militarized, because we’ve seen countries using cyber for military purposes for 15 years,” said James Lewis, an expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The Chinese have had offensive capabilities for years as well,” he said, along with “more than a dozen countries that admit they are developing them.”

Obama’s NSA Plan Wins Early Praise But Faces a Long Legislative Process

March 26, 2014

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“It marks the beginning of a new effort to reclaim our rights from the NSA and restore the public’s seat at the table of government.”

President Obama’s plan to end the sweeping collection of phone records while giving the NSA access to cellphone numbers faces a long legislative process. But many in Congress cheer the idea.

By Ken Dilanian
The Los Angeles Times

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WASHINGTON — President Obama‘s new plan for the National Security Agency would significantly curb its authority, ending its vast collection of Americans’ telephone records, but at the same time give the spy agency access to millions of cellphone records it currently does not reach.

The compromise, which would require Congress‘ approval, won praise Tuesday from prominent lawmakers, including leading defenders and critics of the agency. But it faces a lengthy legislative process during which the agency will continue to collect and store the records of millions of U.S. telephone calls.

At a news conference in The Hague, where he took part in a world meeting on nuclear security, Obama said the Justice Department and intelligence agencies had given him “an option that I think is workable” and that “addresses the two core concerns that people have” about the most controversial surveillance program revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

 

The first concern, Obama said, was that the government not control a vast archive of U.S. telephone call data. Currently, the NSA collects records of virtually all land-line telephone calls in the U.S. and stores them for five years.

Under the administration proposal, the government would no longer keep that archive. Instead, all telephone companies, including cellphone providers, would be required to keep call records for 18 months, the current industry standard.

The second concern, Obama said, was that the NSA be allowed to search only those phone records under a specific court order. Previously, a blanket court order required telephone companies to turn call records over to the NSA, but no judge scrutinized analysts’ decisions about which numbers to look at.

In February, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved Obama’s request to require judicial approval for each search. The new proposal would write that requirement into law, with an exception for emergencies.

U.S. intelligence agencies have to “win back the trust, not just of governments but more importantly of ordinary citizens” around the world, Obama said. Doing so is “not going to happen overnight because I think that there’s a tendency to be skeptical of government and to be skeptical, in particular, of U.S. intelligence services,” he added.

The new plan should help make Americans more comfortable with the surveillance program, he said. Obama repeated his belief that “some of the reporting here in Europe, as well as the United States, frankly, has been pretty sensationalized,” and he said that U.S. intelligence analysts had exercised their authority judiciously. But such power could be abused in the future, he said.

“The fears about our privacy in this age of the Internet and big data are justified,” he said.

The NSA does not obtain the contents of communications under the telephone program. But the ability to map a person’s communications with times, dates and the numbers called can provide a window into someone’s activities and connections.

Snowden’s disclosures to journalists made the existence of the program public in June. It was the first of a stream of stories that have revealed some of the government’s most sensitive electronic intelligence efforts.

In a statement through his lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union, Snowden, who has taken refuge in Russia, called Obama’s proposal a “turning point.”

“It marks the beginning of a new effort to reclaim our rights from the NSA and restore the public’s seat at the table of government,” his statement said.

The NSA director, Gen. Keith Alexander, also embraced the proposal. “I think it’s the right thing to do, and I think it addresses our counter-terrorism operational mission requirements,” he said in an interview.

Alexander, who is retiring Friday, has been lobbying members of Congress to adopt the plan. NSA officials consider the compromise the best outcome the agency could hope for, particularly since its authority to collect phone records will expire in 18 months unless Congress reauthorizes it.

Congressional critics of the spy agency praised some aspects of the proposal, but urged the NSA to immediately halt further collection of telephone records until Congress acts.

“This is the start of the end of dragnet surveillance in America,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Joined by Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in an unusual bipartisan alliance, Wyden has pressured the White House over the NSA’s activities.

“They can stop immediately,” Paul said. “There’s nothing forcing them to keep collecting the data.”

Administration officials, however, say they plan to continue the collection for at least three more months while Congress debates. They have not ruled out continuing longer if Congress does not act.

Two leading NSA supporters, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, unveiled their own proposal Tuesday that tracks the White House plan in most respects, with a major exception: It would not require court approval each time phone records are searched.

The parts of the administration proposal dealing with cellphone companies would provide significant benefits for the NSA, Alexander acknowledged in the interview. Although the agency’s archive includes hundreds of millions of telephone records, U.S. officials disclosed last month that it did not reach a large segment of cellphone calls. As a result, the NSA may collect only about 30% of call data in the country.

The administration’s new plan would require cellphone providers to keep records much as land-line companies do, significantly expanding the NSA’s access to information.

“This could actually make the program more efficient and more effective [and] at the same time more protective of civil liberties,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), who proposed legislation in January similar to the White House plan.

White House officials have been laying the groundwork with phone service providers, which would be required to standardize their records and make them available on a continuously updated basis. The NSA would be allowed to search up to two “hops” of phone numbers connected to a number linked to a terrorist, meaning all the numbers connected to the suspect number and all the numbers connected to that first set of connections.

The once-secret program, authorized by Section 215 of the Patriot Act, is used by the NSA to analyze links between callers in an effort to identify hidden terrorist plots in the United States. Intelligence officials have said it played a role in thwarting at least a dozen terrorist plots. Critics say only one case was discovered as a direct result of a phone record search — an Anaheim cab driver who was sentenced last month to six years in prison for sending money to Somalia’s Al Qaeda affiliate.

ken.dilanian@latimes.com

Lisa Mascaro in the Washington bureau and Times staff writer Kathleen Hennessey in The Hague contributed to this report.

http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-nsa-phone-records-20140326,0,6343193.story#ixzz2x3WDgxcc

Obama: US must ‘win back the trust of ordinary citizens’ over data collection

March 25, 2014

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President confirms plans to end NSA bulk telephone collection, and admits revelations have shaken faith in US intelligence

By Spencer Ackerman and Julian Borger
The Guardian

Barack Obama in The Hague..

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Barack Obama in The Hague. ‘There’s a tendency to be sceptical of government, and to be sceptical of US intelligence services,’ he said. Photograph: Sean Gallup/AP

Barack Obama confirmed on Tuesday that the US plans to end the National Security Agency’s systematic collection of Americans’ telephone data, admitting that trust in country’s intelligence services had been shaken and pledging to address the concerns of privacy advocates.

Under plans to be put forward by the Obama administration in the next few days, the NSA would end the so-called bulk collection of telephone records, and instead would be required to seek a new kind of court order to search data held by telecommunications companies.

The proposals come nine months after the practice was first disclosed by the Guardian, based on leaks from the whistleblower Edward Snowden. Obama conceded on Tuesday that the revelations had caused trust in the US to plunge around the world.

“We have got to win back the trust not just of governments, but, more importantly, of ordinary citizens. And that’s not going to happen overnight, because there’s a tendency to be sceptical of government and to be sceptical of the US intelligence services,” Obama said at a news conference in The Hague, where world leaders were meeting to discuss their response to the crisis in Crimea.

Legislators in the House of Representatives unveiled a separate bill on Tuesday that would significantly curtail the practice of bulk collection but lower the legal standards for the collection of such information. The House proposal would not necessarily require a judge’s prior approval to access phone or email data.

Neither the White House nor the House intelligence committee proposal would require telecommunications firms to keep such records any longer than the current 18-month maximum, a significant shift away from the five years during which they are currently held by NSA. The moves represent a significant overhaul of the secret mass collection practices of the past 13 years, as exposed by Snowden.

But under the White House proposals, the National Security Agency would still be able to gain access to the data from thousands of phone calls from a single court order. Phone companies would be required to provide phone records up to two “hops” – or degrees of separation – from a phone number suspected of wrongdoing.

Speaking in the Hague, Obama said he believed the reform proposals presented to him by the US intelligence agencies were “workable” and would “eliminate” the concerns of privacy campaigners. “I am confident that it allows us to do what is necessary in order to deal the threat of a terrorist attack but does so in a way that addresses people’s concerns,” he said.

In a statement, Senate judiciary committee chairman Patrick Leahy, co-author of the USA Freedom bill to reform the NSA, welcomed Obama’s plan to end collection of US phone records. “That is a key element of what I and others have outlined in the USA Freedom Act, and that is what the American people have been demanding,” he said.

“I look forward to having meaningful consultation with the administration on these matters and reviewing its proposal to evaluate whether it sufficiently protects Americans’ privacy. In the meantime, the president could end bulk collection once and for all on Friday by not seeking reauthorization of this program. Rather than postponing action any longer, I hope he chooses this path.”

Senator Mark Udall, the Colorado Democrat who has been a prominent critic of bulk surveillance, said he was “encouraged” by the president’s plans. “The constitution is clear … the ongoing bulk collections of Americans’ call records is an unacceptable invasion of our privacy that doesn’t make us safer and must be brought to an end,” he said.

Obama Assures NATO but Says Force Won’t Be Used in Crimea

March 25, 2014

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By and
The New York Times

THE HAGUE — President Obama vowed on Tuesday that the United States would use its military to come to the defense of any NATO country that is threatened, sending a warning to the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, about the consequences of further aggression along the border with Eastern Europe.

“We will act in their defense against any threats,” Mr. Obama said at a news conference in The Hague. “That’s what NATO is all about. When it comes to a potential military response, that is defined by NATO membership.”

The president said the United States and other world powers rejected Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a region of Ukraine that voted to secede on March 16. But he acknowledged that military force would not be used to return that region to Ukraine, which is not a member of NATO.

“There’s no expectation that they will be dislodged by force,” Mr. Obama said of the Russian forces who are in Crimea. He said the world was limited to trying to use legal and economic pressure against Russia. “It would be dishonest to suggest that there is a simple solution to resolving what has already taken place in Crimea,” he said.

President Obama with Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, and other world leaders and officials in The Hague on Tuesday. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

 

But Mr. Obama quickly added, “History has a funny way of moving in twists and turns, and not just in a straight line.”

He also said his plan to let bulk telephone data records remain in the hands of communications companies would allow the government to effectively combat terrorism while eliminating concerns that law enforcement could abuse the database to invade people’s privacy.

A day after leading a meeting of the industrialized democratic nations known as the G-8 group until Monday, when members voted to oust Russia, Mr. Obama accused Mr. Putin of acting from a position of weakness in Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

“The fact that Russia felt compelled to go in militarily,” Mr. Obama said, “indicates less influence, not more.”

The president said Russia’s buildup of troops on its border with Ukraine appeared to be “intimidation,” while acknowledging that “Russia has a right legally to have its troops on its own soil.”

But Mr. Obama rejected an assertion made during the 2012 presidential campaign by Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger, that Russia would be the “No. 1 geopolitical foe” for the United States in the years ahead. He said Russia was largely a threat to its neighbors, not to the United States.

 

He said he continued to be more concerned about “the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan.”

On the telephone records, Mr. Obama said the proposal he intended to submit to Congress “ensures that the government is not in possession of this bulk data.”

He added, “I’m confident that it allows us to do what is necessary in order to deal with the dangers of a terrorist attack, and it does so in a way that deals with the concerns.”

Obama May End NSA Bulk Phone Records Collection

March 25, 2014

By Charlie Savage
The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is preparing to unveil a legislative proposal for a far-reaching overhaul of the National Security Agency’s once-secret bulk phone records program in a way that — if approved by Congress — would end the aspect that has most alarmed privacy advocates since its existence was leaked last year, according to senior administration officials.

Under the proposal, they said, the N.S.A. would end its systematic collection of data about Americans’ calling habits. The bulk records would stay in the hands of phone companies, which would not be required to retain the data for any longer than they normally would. And the N.S.A. could obtain specific records only with permission from a judge, using a new kind of court order.

In a speech in January, President Obama said he wanted to get the N.S.A. out of the business of collecting call records in bulk while preserving the program’s abilities. He acknowledged, however, that there was no easy way to do so, and had instructed Justice Department and intelligence officials to come up with a plan by March 28 — Friday — when the current court order authorizing the program expires.

As part of the proposal, the administration has decided to ask the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to renew the program as it exists for at least one more 90-day cycle, senior administration officials said. But under the plan the administration has developed and now advocates, the officials said, it would later undergo major changes.

The new type of surveillance court orders envisioned by the administration would require phone companies to swiftly provide records in a technologically compatible data format, including making available, on a continuing basis, data about any new calls placed or received after the order is received, the officials said.

They would also allow the government to swiftly seek related records for callers up to two phone calls, or “hops,” removed from the number that has come under suspicion, even if those callers are customers of other companies.

The N.S.A. now retains the phone data for five years. But the administration considered and rejected imposing a mandate on phone companies that they hold on to their customers’ calling records for a period longer than the 18 months that federal regulations already generally require — a burden that the companies had resisted shouldering and that was seen as a major obstacle to keeping the data in their hands. A senior administration official said that intelligence agencies had concluded that the operational impact of that change would be small because older data is less important.

The N.S.A. uses the once-secret call records program — sometimes known as the 215 program, after Section 215 of the Patriot Act — to analyze links between callers in an effort to identify hidden terrorist associates, if they exist. It was part of the secret surveillance program that President George W. Bush unilaterally put in place after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, outside of any legal framework or court oversight.

In 2006, as part of a broader Bush administration effort to put its programs on a firmer legal footing, the Justice Department persuaded the surveillance court to begin authorizing the program. It claimed that Section 215, which allows the F.B.I. to obtain court orders for business records deemed “relevant” to an investigation, could be interpreted as allowing the N.S.A. to systematically collect domestic calling records in bulk.

Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, called the administration’s proposal a “sensible outcome, given that the 215 program likely exceeded current legal authority and has not proved to be effective.” While he said that he would like to see more overhauls to other surveillance authorities, he said the proposal was “significant” and addressed the major concerns with the N.S.A.’s bulk records program.

Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union said, “We have many questions about the details, but we agree with the administration that the N.S.A.’s bulk collection of call records should end.” He added, “As we’ve argued since the program was disclosed, the government can track suspected terrorists without placing millions of people under permanent surveillance.”

The administration’s proposal will join a jumble of bills in Congress ranging from proposals that would authorize the current program with only minor adjustments, to proposals to end it.

In recent days, attention in Congress has shifted to legislation developed by leaders of the House Intelligence Committee. That bill, according to people familiar with a draft proposal, would have the court issue an overarching order authorizing the program, but allow the N.S.A. to issue subpoenas for specific phone records without prior judicial approval.

The Obama administration proposal, by contrast, would retain a judicial role in determining whether the standard of suspicion was met for a particular phone number before the N.S.A. could obtain associated records.

The administration’s proposal would also include a provision clarifying whether Section 215 of the Patriot Act, due to expire next year unless Congress reauthorizes it, may in the future be legitimately interpreted as allowing bulk data collection of telephone data.

The proposal would not, however, affect other forms of bulk collection under the same provision. The C.I.A., for example, has obtained orders for bulk collection of records about international money transfers handled by companies like Western Union.

The existence of the N.S.A. program was disclosed and then declassified last year following leaks by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor. The disclosure set off a controversy that scrambled the usual partisan lines in Congress.

 

The government has been unable to point to any thwarted terrorist attacks that would have been carried out if the program had not existed, but has argued that it is a useful tool.

A review group appointed by Mr. Obama and an independent federal privacy watchdog both called for major changes to the program; the latter also concluded that the bulk collection is illegal, rejecting the government’s Patriot Act interpretation.

In January, Mr. Obama narrowed how far out from suspects N.S.A. analysts could go in analyzing calling records, reducing the limit to two steps from three. He also began requiring N.S.A. analysts to obtain court approval before using a phone number to make queries of the database.

 

Putin’s Coup: U.S. Intelligence Failed To Warn Of Russia’s Crimea Invasion — “It was classic maskirovka.”

March 24, 2014

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Russia might have evaded the U.S.’s eavesdropping in Crimea. Above, armed men outside Simferopol airport.  Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

By Adam Entous, Julian E. Barnes and Siobhan Gorman
The Wall Street Jounal

U.S. military satellites spied Russian troops amassing within striking distance of Crimea last month. But intelligence analysts were surprised because they hadn’t intercepted any telltale communications where Russian leaders, military commanders or soldiers discussed plans to invade.

America’s vaunted global surveillance is a vital tool for U.S. intelligence services, especially as an early-warning system and as a way to corroborate other evidence. In Crimea, though, U.S. intelligence officials are concluding that Russian planners might have gotten a jump on the West by evading U.S. eavesdropping.

“Even though there was a warning, we didn’t have the information to be able to say exactly what was going to happen,” a senior U.S. official says.

To close the information gap, U.S. spy agencies and the military are rushing to expand satellite coverage and communications-interception efforts across Russia, Ukraine and the Baltic states. U.S. officials hope the “surge” in assets and analysts will improve tracking of the Russian military and tip off the U.S. to any possible intentions of Russian President Vladimir Putin before he acts on them.

The U.S. moves will happen quickly. “We have gone into crisis-response mode,” a senior official says.

Still, as Russia brings additional forces to areas near the border with eastern Ukraine, America’s spy chiefs are worried that Russian leaders might be able to cloak their next move by shielding more communications from the U.S., according to officials familiar with the matter. “That is the question we’re all asking ourselves,” one top U.S. official says.

The Obama administration is “very nervous,” says a person close to the discussions. “This is uncharted territory.”

It all comes amid the backdrop of a worried government in Kiev. Ukraine’s foreign minister said Sunday that the troop buildup is increasing the possibility of war with Russia.

Months before the takeover, U.S. spy agencies told White House policy makers that Mr. Putin could make a play for Crimea, home to strategically important Russian naval installations. That led to an unsuccessful diplomatic push by the Obama administration.

When the moment arrived, U.S. attention was focused on the troops on Russian soil. Instead, forces already inside Crimea were spearheading the takeover of the peninsula, before U.S. spy agencies fully realized what was happening.

Citing conflicting assessments from intelligence agencies, Rep. Michael Rogers, Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has launched a review of whether spy agencies misjudged Mr. Putin’s intentions. Agency officials say the differences were relatively small and reflected the competing analysis that policy makers expect intelligence agencies to conduct.

Some Obama administration, military and intelligence officials say they doubt the U.S. could have done much differently. Even with a clearer understanding of Mr. Putin’s plans, the Obama administration thought it had few options to stop him. U.S. spy chiefs told President Barack Obama three days before the Crimea operation that Russia could take over the peninsula so fast that Washington might find out only when it was done.

Some U.S. military and intelligence officials say Russia’s war planners might have used knowledge about the U.S.’s usual surveillance techniques to change communication methods about the looming invasion. U.S. officials haven’t determined how Russia hid its military plans from U.S. eavesdropping equipment that picks up digital and electronic communications.

Crimean and Russian flags on the Crimean parliament Feb. 27. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Since the end of the Cold War, U.S. spy satellites and other intelligence-gathering assets have been focused less on Russia and more on counterterrorism, the Middle East and Asia, reflecting shifting U.S. priorities.

“This is the kind of thing young military officers are going to be reading about in their history books,” says one senior U.S. official.

As early as December, U.S. intelligence analysts and diplomats got indications that Mr. Putin had his eye on Crimea. Widespread protests in Kiev against then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych concerned the Kremlin. The analysts and diplomats warned that Moscow could take unspecified measures to protect Russian interests in Crimea if the situation worsened.

The U.S. military’s European Command asked the Pentagon to increase intelligence-collection efforts in the region, including satellite coverage. Images showed what U.S. officials described as typical military movements at Russian bases in Crimea.

Looking back, some U.S. officials now suspect Russia might have been trickling more highly trained units into Crimea in small numbers. But U.S. intelligence analysts didn’t pick up any such indications before the takeover, officials briefed on the intelligence-gathering effort say.

In early February, Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, dispatched a team of embassy officers to Crimea. The details they brought back were sketchy but raised concerns in diplomatic circles.

Human-rights activists, members of the Tartar community and other local contacts told the American team that new political groups were being formed in Crimea with a clear anti-Kiev agenda. Yet nothing in the internal reports written about the visit made Mr. Pyatt and other diplomats think Russia was planning to invade, according to officials.

A turning point came after violence started to grow on Feb. 18, a U.S. intelligence official says. Officials began to examine whether a “rapid change in government” in Kiev would draw Moscow into the conflict militarily.

U.S. suspicions peaked on Feb. 25, four days before the Russians seized Crimea. Russia’s Defense Ministry invited the U.S. military attaché in Moscow to a briefing, where officials spelled out plans for a massive military exercise near Ukraine and Crimea.

U.S. defense and intelligence officials say they worried the exercise was cover for a move on Ukraine, a tactic Moscow used in 2008 before its intervention in Georgia. Intelligence assessments delivered to policy makers after the briefing put the word “exercises” in quotation marks, reflecting skepticism among analysts. Satellite images showed a clear troop buildup near Ukraine.

European Command officials again asked for more intelligence-collection resources. The military increased satellite coverage of Ukraine and Russia but couldn’t steer too many resources away from Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran and other hot spots, U.S. officials say.

In Feb. 26 briefings to Mr. Obama and other policy makers, James Clapper,  the director of national intelligence, and other spy chiefs singled out Crimea as a flashpoint. The assessment said the Russian military was likely making preparations for possible operations in Crimea. Mr. Obama was told the operations could be launched with little warning.

But U.S. intelligence agencies didn’t have corroborating evidence. Mr. Putin and other Russian leaders gave little away in internal communications picked up by the U.S. “We didn’t have someone saying: ‘Let’s do this,’ ” one U.S. official recalls.

It isn’t clear if Russian leaders deliberately avoided communicating about the invasion or simply found a way to do so without detection by the U.S. Another possibility: Mr. Putin made a last-minute decision to seize Crimea—and told almost no one other than those responsible for carrying out the invasion. Some U.S. and U.K. officials believe that Russia’s takeover plan was drawn up in advance and ready to go, reducing the need to discuss it.

Inside Crimea, Russian troops exercised what U.S. officials describe as extraordinary discipline in their radio and cellphone communications. Remarks that were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies revealed no hint of the plans.

On Feb. 27, Mr. Pyatt sent an urgent note to Washington. A picture attached to his note showed Russian flags flying at Crimea’s parliament building. U.S. officials didn’t know if the forces that seized the building were Russian or a rogue unit of the Ukrainian police force involved in the crackdown on protesters in Kiev.

There were no Americans on the ground in Crimea to check reports of Russian military movements, U.S. officials say. The U.S. also didn’t have drones overhead to gather real-time intelligence, officials say. That increased the U.S.’s reliance on satellite imagery and information gleaned from an analysis of social media, which was muddled by Russian disinformation. State Department officials declined to discuss any technical-intelligence activities.

If Mr. Putin decided to launch a takeover, many U.S. intelligence analysts thought he would use troops participating in the military exercises. Officials now say they underestimated the quality of Russian forces inside Crimea.

One intelligence official says the U.S. had “definitive information that Russia was using its military to take control of the peninsula” by the night of Feb. 27, declining to be more specific. The next morning, as armed gunmen in unmarked uniforms seized strategic points in Crimea, U.S. intelligence agencies told policy makers that the gunmen likely were Russian troops.

Still, the consensus assessment from Mr. Clapper’s office to Mr. Obama couldn’t assign “high confidence” to reports that Russia was seizing Crimea by force because of a lack of corroborating information.

Later on Feb. 28, Mr. Obama issued his final public warning to Mr. Putin about violating Ukraine’s sovereignty. By then, though, the Crimean peninsula was under Russian military control, U.S. intelligence officials said later.

Pentagon officials say much of their real-time intelligence came from local reports filed through the embassy in Kiev. The defense attache and other embassy officials worked the phones, calling Ukrainian border patrol and navy contacts. Some of those contacts told the Americans they were burning sensitive documents and reported details of Russian movements.

U.S. military officials also made urgent calls to their counterparts in Russia. Not surprisingly, Russian military officials offered little information. Some of them claimed to be surprised. “It was classic maskirovka,” says a senior U.S. official, using the Russian word for camouflage. Spies use the word to describe Moscow’s tradition of sophisticated deception tactics.

Write to Adam Entous at adam.entous@wsj.com, Julian E. Barnes at julian.barnes@wsj.com and Siobhan Gorman at siobhan.gorman@wsj.com

China’s Huawei Objects To Cyberspying from NSA

March 23, 2014

File photo shows a cleaner wiping the glass door of a Huawei office in Wuhan

BERLIN (Reuters) – Chinese telecom and internet company Huawei defended is independence on Sunday and said it would condemn any infiltration of its servers by the U.S. National Security Agency if reports of such activities by the NSA were true.

The New York Times and German magazine Der Spiegel reported this weekend, citing documents leaked by former U.S. security contractor Edward Snowden, that the NSA had obtained sensitive data and monitored Huawei executives’ communications.

“If the actions in the report are true, Huawei condemns such activities that invaded and infiltrated into our internal corporate network and monitored our communications,” Huawei’s global cyber security officer, John Suffolk, told Reuters.

“Corporate networks are under constant probe and attack from different sources – such is the status quo in today’s digital age,” said Suffolk, defending Huawei’s independence and security record, saying it was very successful in 145 countries.

The New York Times said one goal of the NSA operation, code-named “Shotgiant”, was to uncover any connections between Huawei and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. But it also sought to exploit Huawei’s technology and conduct surveillance through computer and telephone networks Huawei sold to other nations.

If ordered by the U.S. president, the NSA also planned to unleash offensive cyber operations, the newspaper said.

The paper said the NSA gained access to servers in Huawei’s sealed headquarters in Shenzhen and got information about the workings of the giant routers and complex digital switches the company says connect a third of the world’s people.

Der Spiegel said the NSA copied a list of more than 1,400 clients and internal training documents for engineers. It said the agency was pursuing a digital offensive against the Chinese political leadership, naming former prime minister Hu Jintao and the Chinese trade and foreign ministries as targets.

“If we can determine the company’s plans and intentions,” an analyst wrote in a 2010 document cited by the Times, “we hope that this will lead us back to the plans and intentions” of the Chinese government.

The Times noted that U.S. officials see Huawei as a security threat and have blocked the company from making business deals in the United States, worried it would furnish equipment with “back doors” that could enable China’s military or Chinese-backed hackers to swipe corporate and government secrets.

“We certainly don’t build ‘back doors’,” Huawei security chief Suffolk said. Suffolk, who is British, said the company never handed over its source codes to governments either.

“I can’t say what American firms do. We have never been asked to hand over any data to a government or authority or to facilitate access to our technology,” he said. “And we wouldn’t do this either. Our position on this point is very clear.”

U.S. officials deny the NSA spies on foreign companies to give U.S. firms a competitive edge, though they acknowledge that in the course of assessing the economic prospects or stability of other countries, U.S. agencies might collect data on firms.

The Times and Der Spiegel articles were published just days before Chinese President Xi Jinping visits Europe and will hold talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, herself reportedly a target of surveillance by the NSA, like some German companies.

Former NSA chief Michael Hayden – who ran the agency from 1999-2005 and then ran the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) until 2009 – told Der Spiegel in a separate interview that the United States had underestimated the reaction of the chancellor and the German population to revelations of mass surveillance.

Hayden said he was not prepared to apologize for U.S. intelligence agencies having had another nation under surveillance. “But I am ready to apologize for having us having made a good friend look bad,” he said. “Shame on us, it was our mistake.”

(Reporting by Andreas Rinke; Additional reporting by Will Dunham in Washington; Writing by Stephen Brown. Editing by Jane Merriman)

N.S.A. Breached Chinese Servers — Chinese telecommunications giant Huaweia considered a security threat

March 23, 2014

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Huawei’s offices in Shenzhen, China. Credit Forbes Conrad/Bloomberg, via Getty Images

By  and
The New York Times

WASHINGTON — American officials have long considered Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant, a security threat, blocking it from business deals in the United States for fear that the company would create “back doors” in its equipment that could allow the Chinese military or Beijing-backed hackers to steal corporate and government secrets.

But even as the United States made a public case about the dangers of buying from Huawei, classified documents show that the National Security Agency was creating its own back doors — directly into Huawei’s networks.

The agency pried its way into the servers in Huawei’s sealed headquarters in Shenzhen, China’s industrial heart, according to N.S.A. documents provided by the former contractor Edward J. Snowden. It obtained information about the workings of the giant routers and complex digital switches that Huawei boasts connect a third of the world’s population, and monitored communications of the company’s top executives.

One of the goals of the operation, code-named “Shotgiant,” was to find any links between Huawai and the People’s Liberation Army, one 2010 document made clear. But the plans went further: to exploit Huawai’s technology so that when the company sold equipment to other countries — including both allies and nations that avoid buying American products — the N.S.A. could roam through their computer and telephone networks to conduct surveillance and, if ordered by the president, offensive cyberoperations.

China's Huawei Technologies could be investigated.

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In 2012, a House of Representatives report said US firms should avoid doing business with Huawei. Photo: Shepherd Zhou/AP

“Many of our targets communicate over Huawei-produced products,” the N.S.A. document said. “We want to make sure that we know how to exploit these products,” it added, to “gain access to networks of interest” around the world.

The documents were disclosed by The New York Times and Der Spiegel, and are also part of a book by Der Spiegel, “The N.S.A. Complex.” The documents, as well as interviews with intelligence officials, offer new insights into the United States’ escalating digital cold war with Beijing. While President Obama and China’s president, Xi Jinping, have begun talks about limiting the cyber conflict, it appears to be intensifying.

The N.S.A., for example, is tracking more than 20 Chinese hacking groups — more than half of them Chinese Army and Navy units — as they break into the networks of the United States government, companies including Google, and drone and nuclear-weapon part makers, according to a half-dozen current and former American officials.

If anything, they said, the pace has increased since the revelation last year that some of the most aggressive Chinese hacking originated at a People’s Liberation Army facility, Unit 61398, in Shanghai.

The Obama administration distinguishes between the hacking and corporate theft that the Chinese conduct against American companies to buttress their own state-run businesses, and the intelligence operations that the United States conducts against Chinese and other targets.

American officials have repeatedly said that the N.S.A. breaks into foreign networks only for legitimate national security purposes.

A White House spokeswoman, Caitlin M. Hayden, said: “We do not give intelligence we collect to U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line. Many countries cannot say the same.”

But that does not mean the American government does not conduct its own form of corporate espionage with a different set of goals. Those concerning Huawei were described in the 2010 document.

“If we can determine the company’s plans and intentions,” an analyst wrote, “we hope that this will lead us back to the plans and intentions of the PRC,” referring to the People’s Republic of China. The N.S.A. saw an additional opportunity: As Huawei invested in new technology and laid undersea cables to connect its $40 billion-a-year networking empire, the agency was interested in tunneling into key Chinese customers, including “high priority targets — Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kenya, Cuba.”

The documents offer no answer to a central question: Is Huawei an independent company, as its leaders contend, or a front for the People’s Liberation Army, as American officials suggest but have never publicly proved?

Two years after Shotgiant became a major program, the House Intelligence Committee delivered an unclassified report on Huawei and another Chinese company, ZTE, that cited no evidence confirming the suspicions about Chinese government ties. Still, the October 2012 report concluded that the companies must be blocked from “acquisitions, takeover or mergers” in the United States, and “cannot be trusted to be free of foreign state influence.”

Huawei, which has all but given up its hopes of entering the American market, complains that it is the victim of protectionism, swathed in trumped-up national security concerns. Company officials insist that it has no connection to the People’s Liberation Army.

William Plummer, a senior Huawei executive in the United States, said the company had no idea it was an N.S.A. target, adding that in his personal opinion, “The irony is that exactly what they are doing to us is what they have always charged that the Chinese are doing through us.”

“If such espionage has been truly conducted,” Mr. Plummer added, “then it is known that the company is independent and has no unusual ties to any government, and that knowledge should be relayed publicly to put an end to an era of mis- and disinformation.”

Blocked at Every Turn

Washington’s concerns about Huawei date back nearly a decade, since the RAND Corporation, the research organization, evaluated the potential threat of China for the American military. RAND concluded that “private Chinese companies such as Huawei” were part of a new “digital triangle” of companies, institutes and government agencies that worked together secretly.

Huawei is a global giant: it manufactures equipment that makes up the backbone of the Internet, lays submarine cables from Asia to Africa and has become the world’s third largest smartphone maker after Samsung and Apple.

The man behind its strategy is Ren Zhengfei, the company’s elusive founder, who was a P.L.A. engineer in the 1970s. To the Chinese, he is something akin to Steve Jobs — an entrepreneur who started a digital empire with little more than $3,000 in the mid-1980s, and took on both state-owned companies and foreign competitors. But to American officials, he is a link to the People’s Liberation Army.

 

U.S. RELATIONS WITH HUAWEI

2003–4 Cisco sues Huawei for stealing source code; the suit is settled with neither side revealing terms.

 

2005 The Air Force hires the RAND corporation to examine threats from Chinese networking firms; it concludes there is a “digital triangle” of Chinese military, state research groups, and companies like Huawei.

 

2007 The National Security Administration begins its “Shotgiant” effort to pierce Huawei’s networks and exploit its systems.

 

2008 The U.S. blocks Huawei from buying 3Com on national security grounds.

 

2010 The U.S. persuades Australia to kill a plan to let Huawei build a national broadband network.

2011 In an open letter to the U.S., Huawei denies that it is a front for the Chinese government, and invites investigation.

 

2012 The House Intelligence Committee produces a long report urging the U.S. to “block acquisitions, takeovers or mergers” with Huawei, and to exclude its equipment from U.S. systems.

 

2013 The U.S. approves purchase of Sprint Nextel by Softbank Corporation, but under conditions that probably exclude Huawei equipment.

 

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., on a trip to Seoul, urges South Korea to kill a contract for Huawei to build an advanced telecom network for Seoul.

 

They have blocked his company at every turn: pressing Sprint to kill a $3 billion deal to buy Huawei’s fourth generation, or 4G, network technology; scuttling a planned purchase of 3Com for fear that Huawei would alter computer code sold to the United States military; and pushing allies, like Australia, to back off from major projects.

As long ago as 2007, the N.S.A. began a covert program against Huawei, the documents show. By 2010, the agency’s Tailored Access Operations unit — which breaks into hard-to-access networks — found a way into Huawei’s headquarters. The agency collected Mr. Ren’s communications, one document noted, though analysts feared they might be missing many of them.

N.S.A. analysts made clear that they were looking for more than just “signals intelligence” about the company and its connections to Chinese leaders; they wanted to learn how to pierce its systems so that when adversaries and allies bought Huawei equipment, the United States would be plugged into those networks. (The Times withheld technical details of the operation at the request of the Obama administration, which cited national security concerns.)

The N.S.A.’s operations against China do not stop at Huawei. Last year, the agency cracked two of China’s biggest cellphone networks, allowing it to track strategically important Chinese military units, according to an April 2013 document leaked by Mr. Snowden. Other major targets, the document said, are the locations where the Chinese leadership works. The country’s leaders, like everyone else, are constantly upgrading to better, faster Wi-Fi — and the N.S.A. is constantly finding new ways in.

Hack Attacks Accelerate

Chinese state attacks have only accelerated in recent years, according to the current and former intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity about classified information.

A dozen P.L.A. military units — aside from Unit 61398 — do their hacking from eavesdropping posts around China, and though their targets were initially government agencies and foreign ministries around the world, they have since expanded into the private sector. For example, officials point to the First Bureau of the army’s Third Department, which the N.S.A. began tracking in 2004 after it hacked into the Pentagon’s networks. The unit’s targets have grown to include telecom and technology companies that specialize in networking and encryption equipment — including some Huawei competitors.

For some of its most audacious attacks, China relies on hackers at state-funded universities and privately owned Chinese technology companies, apparently as much for their skills as for the plausible deniability it offers the state if it gets caught. The N.S.A. is tracking more than half a dozen such groups suspected of operating at the behest of the Chinese Ministry of State Security, China’s civilian spy agency, the officials said.

Their targets, they noted, closely align with China’s stated economic and strategic directives. As China strove to develop drones and next-generation ballistic and submarine-launched missiles in recent years, the N.S.A. and its partners watched as one group of privately employed engineers based in Guangzhou in southern China pilfered the blueprints to missile, satellite, space, and nuclear propulsion technology from businesses in the United States, Canada, Europe, Russia and Africa.

 

And as China strove to make its own inroads on the web, officials said another group of private hackers infiltrated Google, Adobe and dozens of other global technology companies in 2010. Lately, the officials said, that group and its counterparts are also going after security firms, banks, chemical companies, automakers and even nongovernment organizations.

“China does more in terms of cyberespionage than all other countries put together,” said James A. Lewis, a computer security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“The question is no longer which industries China is hacking into,” he added. “It’s which industries they aren’t hacking into.”

A version of this article appears in print on March 23, 2014, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: U.S. Penetrated Chinese Servers it Saw as Spy Risk.

See the entire story:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/23/world/asia/nsa-breached-chinese-servers-seen-as-spy-peril.html?hp&_r=0

Related:

NSA targeted Chinese telecoms

March 23, 2014

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Participants hold a Chinese national flag and shout slogans after three minutes of mourning for the Sichuan earthquake victims at Tiananmen Square in Beijing 

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By Martin Pengelly
The Guardian

“China does more in terms of cyberespionage than all other countries put together.”

  • NSA created ‘back doors’ into networks Huawei networks
  • Company claims to connect a third of world’s population
  • Report comes as Obama set to meet Xi Jinping on Monday

China's Huawei Technologies could be investigatedIn 2012, a House of Representatives report said US firms should avoid doing business with Huawei. Photo: Shepherd Zhou/AP

The National Security Agency created “back doors” into networks maintained by the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei, according to a report released on Saturday.

The report comes from a document provided by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and disclosed by the New York Times and Der Spiegel. It will add to embarrassment in US government circles, in light of an October 2012 US House of Representatives intelligence committee report which said US firms should avoid doing business with Huawei and another Chinese telecoms company, ZTE, because they posed a national security threat.

President Barack Obama is scheduled to meet Chinese president Xi Jinping in the Hague on Monday, during a six-day trip to Europe in which he will attempt to strengthen international opinion against Russia’s occupation of Crimea. The first lady, Michelle Obama, is currently in China with her mother and two daughters; on Saturday she told an audience of students at Peking University’s Stanford Centre that web access should be “a universal right”.

On Saturday, William Plummer, Huawei’s vice-president of external affairs, said in an email to the Associated Press: “Huawei has declared its willingness to work with governments, industry stakeholders and customers in an open and transparent manner, to jointly address the global challenges of network security and data integrity.

“The information presented in Der Spiegel and the New York Times article reaffirms the need for all companies to be vigilant at all times.”

At the time of the 2012 House report’s release, intelligence committee chairman Mike Rogers said in comments broadcast on the CBS programme 60 Minutes: “Find another vendor [than Huawei] if you care about your intellectual property; if you care about your consumers’ privacy and you care about the national security of the United States of America.”

In July 2013 Huawei rebutted such claims – the former CIA director General Michael Hayden also said he believed the company supplied information to the Chinese government – calling them “racist”. The same month, the UK government opened a review of the firm. In October 2013, the company’s deputy chairman, Ken Hu, denied ever having been told to spy on customers.

The Times and Spiegel reports said that in an operation code-named Shotgiant, the NSA gained access to the company’s servers in Shenzhen, obtaining information and monitoring communications between executives. Among those whose emails the NSA was able to read was the president of Huawei, Ren Zhengfei.

Huawei, which maintains operations in the UK despite all but ending its attempts to access the US market, due to government resistance, claims to connect a third of the world’s population. It is also the world’s third-largest maker of smartphones, after Apple and Samsung.

Saturday’s reports quoted from the 2010 document: “Many of our targets communicate over Huawei-produced products. We want to make sure that we know how to exploit these products.”

In response to previous stories derived from documents obtained by Snowden and leaked to media outlets including the Guardian last year, the US government has repeatedly said the NSA breaks into foreign networks only for reasons of national security.

On Saturday an NSA spokeswoman, Caitlin Hayden, told the Times: “We do not give intelligence we collect to US companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line. Many countries cannot say the same.”

The Times quoted Plummer as saying: “The irony is that exactly what they are doing to us is what they have always charged that the Chinese are doing through us.”

Security against cyber warfare carried out by China is an increasing concern to the US. In February 2013 a US security company said it had pinpointed the existence of a unit within the People’s Liberation Army responsible for a number of cyber attacks against the US.

The Times also quoted James A Lewis, a cyber security expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, who said: “China does more in terms of cyberespionage than all other countries put together.”

Related:

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A man looks at a Huawei mobile phone as he shops at an electronic market in Shanghai January 22, 2013. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

A man looks at a Huawei mobile phone as he shops at an electronic market in Shanghai January 22, 2013. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Navy database tracks civilians’ parking tickets, fender-benders, raising fears of domestic spying

March 21, 2014

By Mark Flatten
The Washington Examiner

A parking ticket, traffic citation or involvement in a minor fender-bender are enough to get a person’s name and other personal information logged into a massive, obscure federal database run by the U.S. military.

The Law Enforcement Information Exchange, or LinX, has already amassed 506.3 million law enforcement records ranging from criminal histories and arrest reports to field information cards filled out by cops on the beat even when no crime has occurred.

LinX is a national information-sharing hub for federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. It is run by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, raising concerns among some military law experts that putting such detailed data about ordinary citizens in the hands of military officials crosses the line that generally prohibits the armed forces from conducting civilian law enforcement operations.

Those fears are heightened by recent disclosures of the National Security Agency spying on Americans, and the CIA allegedly spying on Congress, they say.

Eugene Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale Law School, called LinX “domestic spying.”

“It gives me the willies,” said Fidell, a member of the Defense Department’s Legal Policy Board and a board member of the International Society for Military Law and the Law of War.

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The Law Enforcement Information Exchange, or LinX, has already amassed 506.3 million law enforcement records ranging from criminal histories and arrest reports to field information cards filled out by cops on the beat even when no crime has occurred. (Thinkstock)

Fidell reviewed the Navy’s LinX website at the request of the Washington Examiner to assess the propriety of putting such a powerful database under the control of a military police entity.

“Clearly, it cannot be right that any part of the Navy is collecting traffic citation information,” Fidell said. “This sounds like something from a third-world country, where you have powerful military intelligence watching everybody.”

The military has a history of spying on Americans. The Army did it during the Vietnam War and the Air Force did it after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Among the groups subjected to military spying in the name of protecting military facilities from terrorism was a band of Quakers organizing a peace rally in Florida.

LinX administrators say it is nothing more than an information-sharing network that connects records from participating police departments across the country.

LinX was created in 2003 and put under NCIS, which has counterterrorism and intelligence-gathering missions in addition to responsibility for criminal investigations. LinX was originally supposed to help NCIS protect naval bases from terrorism.

More than 1,300 agencies participate, including The FBI and other Department of Justice divisions, the Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon. Police departments along both coasts and in Texas, New Mexico, Alaska and Hawaii are in LinX.

The number of records in the system has mushroomed from about 50 million in 2007 to more than 10 times that number today.

Background checks for gun sales and applications for concealed weapons permits are not included in the system, according to NCIS officials and representatives of major state and local agencies contacted by the Examiner.

The director of NCIS, Andrew Traver, drew stiff opposition from the National Rifle Association after President Obama twice nominated him to be head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The nomination failed to go forward in the Senate both times, largely because of what the NRA described as Traver’s advocacy for stricter gun laws.

He became NCIS director in October.

NCIS officials could not say how much has been spent on LinX since it was created 2003. They provided figures since the 2008 fiscal year totaling $42.3 million. Older records are not available from NCIS.

Incomplete data from USAspending.gov shows at least $7.2 million more was spent between 2003 and 2008. The actual figure is probably much higher, since the spending listed on the disclosure site only totals $23 million since 2003.

Other law enforcement databases have limited information on things like criminal histories, said Kris Peterson, LinX division chief at NCIS.

More detailed narratives and things like radio dispatch logs and pawn shop records don’t show up in those databases, but are available in LinX, he said.

Participating agencies must feed their information into the federal data warehouse and electronically update it daily in return for access.

Why LinX wound up in the NCIS, a military law enforcement agency, is not clear. Current NCIS officials could not explain the reasoning, other than to say it grew out of the department’s need for access to law enforcement records relevant to criminal investigations.

A 2008 investigation into the removal of nine U.S. attorneys during the George W. Bush administration found that an overly aggressive push for DOJ to embrace LinX led to the firing of John McKay, then the U.S. attorney for western Washington state.

A DOJ inspector general’s report said McKay developed the initiative with NCIS officials, and that NCIS agreed to fund it.

Neither McKay nor David Brant, head of NCIS at the time, could be reached for comment.

The FBI, a DOJ entity, has since built its own system similar to LinX, called the National Data Exchange or N-Dex.

The systems are connected, and much of the information in N-Dex comes from LinX, said Christopher Cote, assistant director for information technology at NCIS.

Putting the military in control of so much information about civilians is what makes people like Fidell nervous.

Americans have distrusted the use of the military for civilian law enforcement since before the Revolutionary War, he said.

Since the passage of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, it has been illegal for the military to engage in domestic law enforcement except in limited circumstances, such as quelling insurrections.

The limits in the law were largely undefined for almost a century. In 1973, the Army provided logistical support for FBI agents trying to break the standoff with American Indian Movement militants at Wounded Knee, S.D.

Several criminal defendants later argued the use of the military was illegal under Posse Comitatus.

Ensuing court decisions decreed that using the military for direct policing, such as making arrests or conducting searches, was illegal and should be left to civilian departments. Providing logistical support, equipment and information are allowed.

Since then, the law has been loosened to allow limited military participation in certain large-scale anti-drug investigations.

Aside from the legal issues is the problem of “mission creep,” said Gene Healy, vice president of the Cato Institute and an Examiner columnist, who has written about the overreach of the military in civilian law enforcement.

What begins as a well-meaning and limited effort to assist local police can grow into a powerful threat to constitutional protections, Healy said.

A recent example of mission-creep gone awry is the Threat And Local Observation Notice, or TALON, program created by the Air Force at the same time LinX was launched.

Like LinX, TALON’s purpose was to create a network for information-sharing among federal, state and local police agencies that could be used to help protect military facilities.

In 2005, media reports showed TALON was being used to spy on anti-war groups, including the Quakers. TALON was disbanded in 2007.

“The history of these programs is that they tend to metastasize and that there is mission creep that involves gathering far more information than is needed,” said Healy.

“In general, what you see in these programs is they start out very narrow and they expand beyond the limits of their original logic. Repeatedly throughout American history, what starts small becomes larger, more intrusive, more troubling,” he said.

LinX can only be used for law enforcement purposes, though intelligence and counter-terror officers at NCIS do have access to the system, Cote said. TALON was primarily an intelligence-gathering network.

The rules governing LinX are almost identical to those controlling other federal databases run by the FBI, he said.

While NCIS is a military police unit, its agents are civilian employees equivalent to those at the FBI and other federal agencies, said NCIS spokesman Ed Buice.

While there are limits on military enforcement of civilian laws, it is allowed if it is done “primarily for a military purpose,” which is how NCIS uses the system, Buice said.

Before LinX was launched, NCIS briefed representatives of the ACLU, “who didn’t even blink,” he added.

Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel for the ACLU, said he doesn’t know who, if anyone, in the organization would have told the Navy that LinX raised no concerns.

Calabrese was not particularly troubled about LinX being run by the military, though he did question why it is necessary since most of the same information is available in the FBI’s N-Dex database.

Generally, the ACLU recognizes the need for police to collect and share information about criminal activity — things like felony histories and outstanding warrants.

Civil libertarians get more concerned as more trivial information on average citizens is collected under the guise of protecting the public, especially absent some reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed, he said.

Pawn shop records and parking tickets are that kind of questionable information.

“To me, that may be where you are starting to cross the line on mass collection of information on innocent people just because you can,” Calabrese said.

“We live now in a world of records where everything we do is generating a record. So the standard can’t be, ‘We have to keep it all because it might be useful for something some day.’ The rationale has to be more finely tuned than that,” he said.


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