Posts Tagged ‘Edward Snowden’

Germany Committee Investigating U.S. Spy Efforts in Germany Submits Report — Without Consensus

June 28, 2017

Report is critical of both the US and German governments

A German investigative committee has presented its findings to the Bundestag on US spying on Germany – and Germany’s spying on its allies. The report is more than 1800 pages long but contains little consensus.

Patrick Sensburg handing the report to Norbert Lammert

More than three years work went into the report presented by investigative committee chairman Patrick Sensburg to the Bundestag on Wednesday, but in the end no one is happy with it.

The multi-party parliamentary investigation was sparked by the 2013 revelation by former National Security Agency employee Edward Snowden that US intelligence services had kept allies under surveillance, even going so far  as to eavesdrop on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone.

“It’s not okay for friends to spy on one another,” Merkel said in her most famous statement when the affair broke.

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But investigators soon found out that Germany’s foreign intelligence service the BND had cooperated with the NSA and also kept tabs on its allies, for instance, by using so-called selectors – search terms for dragnet surveillance. The investigation was soon expanded to include the question of whether the US had piloted drones used in combat from its bases in Germany – an accusation that was never proven, although the report finds  that the German government often “looked the other way.

The committee’s report contains a head-spinning plethora of minutiae about everything from the technical specifications or capabilities of drones to various national and international intelligence operations. But it rarely reaches clear conclusions about what, if anything, was done wrong by whom. That was – as the report admits – down to fighting between political parties.

Angela Merkel testifying before the committeeMerkel testified before the committee in February

“Unfortunately, despite the common conviction of all parliamentary groups about the necessity of the investigation when it began, there were substantial disagreements between the governing and opposition groups about the methodology and goals of the committee’s work,” the report reads.

The report is being published by the governing coalition of the conservative CDU-CSU and Social Democrats alone, after a row last week about a 450-page dissent written by the opposition Left Party and the Greens. The chairman of the committee refused to publish that document, claiming it revealed classified information, whereupon the Left and Greens refused to sign off on the final version of the report as a whole and were removed from the committee.

A massive document of dissent

Although the report is critical of both the US and German governments on a number of topics, on the underlying question of whether the US essentially betrayed Germany’s trust, it reaches many “surprisingly positive” conclusions.

For example, one such passage reads: “The committee is of the opinion that despite all the difference concerning NSA spying in the past there is relatively large agreement about the rigor and establishment of intelligence service oversight by the parliaments in Germany and the US.”

The opposition Left Party and Greens see the situation entirely differently. In a section that was included in the official report, the two parties make a series of extremely critical recommendations, including subjecting German intelligence services to increased external and parliamentary oversight, strengthening IT security and ending what they call “a secret war in, from and with Germany.”

“Germany and facilities located in Germany are not permitted to play any role in drone warfare that violates international law,” the opposition parties write. “The German government must immediately and forcefully insist that all actions of this sort cease and must monitor it.”

“Unprecedented, unparliamentary behavior”

The opposition also criticizes the fact that Snowden, who currently lives in asylum in Russia, was never able to testify in front of the committee because the German government refused to guarantee him safe conduct. In a TV interview on Wednesday morning ahead of the Bundestag debate, Green parliamentarian Konstantin von Notz called Snowden’s absence “a damning indictment.”

The Left Party and the Greens say they are evaluating whether to legally challenge what Notz called the governing coalition’s “unprecedented un-parliamentary behavior.”

The committee only succeeded in “scraping free” a part of the “surveillance infrastructure,” Notz complained to the Tagesspiegel newspaper.

Konstantin von Notz Opposition committee members like Notz heavily criticized the findings

Members of the governing parties disagree with that assessment and accuse the opposition trying to create a scandal in an election year.

“There are no indications that Germans were spied upon en masse,” conservative committee chairman Sensburg that newspaper.

The Social Democrats’ lead figureb on the committee Christian Flisek accused the opposition of a “complete refusal” to cooperate. But he also aimed a barb at conservatives and Merkel.

“There was a system of the very top of the Chancellery of not wanting to know anything,” Flisek told dpa news agency.

The verbal jousting over the NSA investigative committee report will continue as the Bundestag debates it on Wedsnesday evening.

Japan passes controversial anti-terror law despite protests

June 15, 2017


© AFP / by Kyoko HASEGAWA | Protesters demonstrate against a controversial anti-terror bill near parliament in Tokyo. Rights groups say it is so broad it could be abused to allow wiretapping of innocent citizens and threaten privacy and freedom of expression

TOKYO (AFP) – Japan passed a controversial anti-terror law Thursday that critics warned would stomp on privacy rights and lead to over-the-top police surveillance.

Thousands protested outside the legislature after a full night of debate by sleepy parliamentarians and unsuccessful efforts by Japan’s weak opposition to block the law’s passage.

The government said the law, which criminalises the planning of serious offenses, is necessary to prevent terrorism ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

It doesn’t give police new powers, but critics say the legislation could be abused to allow wiretapping of innocent citizens and threaten privacy and freedom of expression guarantees in the constitution.

Terrorism “won’t disappear because of this law,” said 29-year-old demonstrator Yohei Sakano outside parliament.

“It’s mostly designed to crack down on citizens’ movements, not terrorism.”

Retired government worker Toshiaki Noguchi added: “We’re turning into a society of censorship.”

US surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden and Joseph Cannataci, UN special rapporteur on the right to privacy, have both criticised the law, and polls show the public is divided on its merits.

The bill’s passage overcame a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet and a censure bid aimed at Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda.

Tokyo insists the law — which calls for a prison term of up to five years for planning serious crimes — is a prerequisite for implementing a UN treaty against transnational organised crime which Japan signed in 2000.

“We will uphold the law in an appropriate and effective way to protect people’s lives,” Abe told reporters after the legislation passed.

“Three years ahead of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, we hope to cooperate with the international community to prevent terror,” he added.

– ‘Forced vote’ –

The bill was revised several times over the years as earlier versions met with fierce resistance and never made it through parliament.

The latest version reduced the number of targeted crimes to around 270 offences and narrowed the definition of terrorist and criminal organisations. Earlier versions encompassed more than 600 crimes, many unrelated to terrorism or crime syndicates.

The opposition has warned that petty crimes could fall under the scope of the law, and mocked Japan’s justice minister when he earlier conceded that, hypothetically, mushroom hunting could be targeted if the fungi were stolen to raise money to fund terrorism.

But even the slimmed-down legislation gives police and investigators too much leeway, some said.

“What comes next will probably be legislation allowing police to wiretap and eavesdrop on telephone and every day conversations,” said Setsu Kobayashi, a constitutional expert and professor emeritus at Keio University.

Japanese police have relatively limited access to wiretapping.

“The law makes it possible for authorities to investigate even before a crime has been committed,” said Hisako Tsuruta, 63, at a protest outside parliament Thursday afternoon.

“The activities of civil society and labour groups could come under surveillance.”

The opposition chastised Abe for trying to push the law through quickly, as he faces mounting criticism over allegations that he gave friends special consideration in a couple of unrelated business deals.

“This is an ultimate form of forced vote — it shut down sensible debate,” Renho, head of the leading opposition Democratic Party who goes by one name, told reporters.

Some Japanese media have likened the bill to the World War II-era “public order maintenance law” under which ordinary people were arrested for political offences, exercising labour rights and anti-war activities.


Snowden lashes out at Hong Kong for rejecting refugees who helped him evade authorities in 2013

May 18, 2017


© GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File | Fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden hit back at the Hong Kong government for rejecting the protection bids of a group of refugees who sheltered him while he was hiding out in the city

HONG KONG (AFP) – Fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden hit back at the Hong Kong government Thursday for rejecting the protection bids of a group of refugees who sheltered him while he was hiding out in the city.

The impoverished Philippine and Sri Lankan refugees helped the former National Security Agency contractor evade authorities in 2013 by hiding him in their cramped homes after he initiated one of the largest data leaks in US history.

They have spent years hoping the Hong Kong government would recognise their cases and save them from being sent back to their home countries where they say they were persecuted.

But the family of four, a mother and her daughter and a single man saw their protection claims rejected Monday by the city’s immigration authorities, which said there were “no substantial grounds” for believing they would be at risk if they went home.

They now face deportation.

“These are good people that were driven from their homes by torture, rape, abuse, blackmail and war, circumstances that are really difficult for us to imagine,” Snowden said in a video released Thursday.

“Now what they’re facing is a transparent injustice from the very people that they asked to protect them,” he said.

“Someone in the Hong Kong government has decided that they want to make these families disappear immediately, no matter the cost,” Snowden added in the video in which he spoke against a plain white background.

He has been living in exile in Russia since the summer of 2013. Russia’s immigration service in January extended Snowden’s residency permit to 2020.

After leaving his initial Hong Kong hotel bolthole for fear of being discovered, he went underground, fed and looked after by the refugees for around two weeks.

Their stories only emerged late last year.

The refugees’ lawyer, Robert Tibbo has called the decision by Hong Kong authorities “completely unreasonable”, and said he had less than two weeks to submit appeals before the families were deported.

He said there was a risk his clients could be detained and their children placed in government custody.

Hong Kong is not a signatory to the UN’s refugee convention and does not grant asylum.

However, it is bound by the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) and considers claims for protection based on those grounds.

One of the refugees, Vanessa Rodel from the Philippines, who lives in Hong Kong with her five-year-old daughter, broke down over the news of the decision.

Another of the refugees, Ajith Pushpakumara from Sri Lanka, told AFP the government had “taken his whole life”.

Lawyers for the Snowden refugees have separately lodged an asylum petition with the Canadian government and are calling for to be expedited.

The video of Snowden can be seen here:


Global pushback curbs cyberattacks but disruption goes on

May 15, 2017


The world’s biggest ransomware attack levelled off in Europe on Monday thanks to a pushback by cyber security officials after causing havoc in 150 countries, as Microsoft urged governments to heed the “wake-up call”.

The cross-border police agency Europol said the situation was “stable”, easing fears that attacks that struck computers in British hospital wards, European car factories and Russian banks would spread further at the start of the working week.

“The number of victims appears not to have gone up and so far the situation seems stable in Europe, which is a success,” senior spokesman for Europol, Jan Op Gen Oorth, told AFP.

“It seems that a lot of internet security guys over the weekend did their homework and ran the security software updates,” he said.

The indiscriminate attack was unleashed Friday, striking hundreds of thousands of computers worldwide by exploiting known vulnerabilities in older Microsoft computer operating systems.

– Like stealing missiles –

Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, said in a blog post Sunday that it was in fact the NSA that developed the code being used in the attack.

He warned governments against stockpiling such vulnerabilities and said instead they should report them to manufacturers — not sell, store or exploit them, lest they fall into the wrong hands.

“An equivalent scenario with conventional weapons would be the US military having some of its Tomahawk missiles stolen,” Smith wrote.

“The governments of the world should treat this attack as a wake up call.”

AFP / Jonathan JACOBSEN, Valentina BRESCHIThe ‘Wannacry’ ransomware attack

US package delivery giant FedEx, Spanish telecoms giant Telefonica and Germany’s Deutsche Bahn rail network were among those hit in the attacks, which demanded money to allow users to unblock their computers.

In China, “hundreds of thousands” of computers were affected, including petrol stations, cash machines and universities, according to Qihoo 360, one of China’s largest providers of antivirus software.

French carmaker Renault said its Douai plant, one of its biggest sites in France employing 5,500 people, would be shut on Monday as systems were upgraded.

Europol executive director Rob Wainwright told Britain’s ITV television on Sunday that the attack had been “unprecedented”.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” he said.

– ‘Ooops’ message, $300 ransom –

The attack blocks computers and puts up images on victims’ screens demanding payment of $300 (275 euros) in the virtual currency Bitcoin, saying: “Ooops, your files have been encrypted!”

AFP/File / Peter PARKSThe attack blocks computers and puts up images on victims’ screens demanding payment of $300 (275 euros) in the virtual currency Bitcoin, saying: “Ooops, your files have been encrypted!”

Payment is demanded within three days or the price is doubled, and if none is received within seven days the locked files will be deleted, according to the screen message.

Bitcoin, the world’s most-used virtual currency, allows anonymous transactions via heavily encrypted codes.

Experts and governments alike warn against ceding to the demands and Wainwright said few victims so far had been paying up.

Security firm Digital Shadows said on Sunday that transactions totalling $32,000 had taken place through Bitcoin addresses used by the ransomware.

The culprits used a digital code believed to have been developed by the US National Security Agency — and subsequently leaked as part of a document dump, according to researchers at the Moscow-based computer security firm Kaspersky Lab.

A hacking group called Shadow Brokers released the malware in April, claiming to have discovered the flaw from the NSA, Kaspersky said.

AFP/File / Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDSEuropol says more than 200,000 computers around the world were affected over the weekend in what it describes as “an unprecedented attack” 

The attack is unique, according to Europol, because it combines ransomware with a worm function, meaning once one machine is infected, the entire internal network is scanned and other vulnerable machines are infected.

The attack therefore spread faster than previous, smaller-scale ransomware attacks.

– Banks, trains and automobiles –

Anti-virus experts Symantec said the majority of organisations affected were in Europe.

Europol said few banks in Europe had been affected, having learned through the “painful experience of being the number one target of cyber crime” the value of having the latest cyber security in place.

Russia said its banking system was among the victims of the attacks, along with the railway system, although it added that no problems were detected.

French carmaker Renault was forced to stop production at sites in France, Slovenia and Romania, while FedEx said it was “implementing remediation steps as quickly as possible”.

Dozens of hospitals in Britain’s National Health Service were affected and several still had to cancel appointments on Monday, as doctors warned of delays as they cannot access medical records.



 Image result for NSA, photos

Putin Blames U.S. for WannaCry Computer Virus

May 15, 2017

.Putin, NHS hack

Putin blamed the US for creating tools to exploit Microsoft flaw and denies Russian involvement in the hack

By Max Seddon
FT (Financial Times)

Russian president Vladimir Putin says US intelligence services are to blame for the WannaCry virus that affected tens of thousands of computers worldwide last week.

Speaking in Beijing on Monday, Mr Putin said:

“Microsoft said it directly: the initial source of this virus is the United States security agencies, Russia’s got absolutely nothing to do with it. Given that, it’s strange to hear anything else.”

Russia was the country most affected by the attack, which hit its interior ministry, mobile provider MegaFon, Sberbank, as well as a number of other ministries and state-run firms.

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“There was no significant damage for us or for our institutions – whether it’s banking, healthcare, or anything else. But in general it’s worrying, there’s nothing good about it, it’s concerning,” Mr Putin said.

President Putin repeated Russia’s calls to sign a legal memorandum with the US on cybersecurity, which was rejected by Barack Obama’s White House last year.

“Genies let out of bottles like these, especially if they’ve been created by the secret services, can then harm even their own authors and creators. We need to discuss this issue without delay at a serious political level and develop a defense system against events like this.”

See also:

“The governments of the world should treat this attack as a wake-up call,” In a statement, Microsoft president Brad Smith said. “Repeatedly, exploits in the hands of governments have leaked into the public domain and caused widespread damage. An equivalent scenario with conventional weapons would be the U.S. military having some of its Tomahawk missiles stolen.”

Microsoft released a patch over the weekend for the Eternal Blue vulnerability that defends against it even with older versions of Windows.


 Image result for NSA, photos

Edward Snowden says NSA should have prevented cyber attack

May 15, 2017

The malicious software was developed by the National Security Council and funded by American taxpayers before being leaked

By Chloe Farand
The Independent



Edward Snowden said the NSA had been warned it attack tools could be used to target western softwares

Edward Snowden has blamed the National Security Agency for not preventing a cyber attack which infiltrated the computer systems of organisations in 74 countries around the world.

In a tweet, the National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower said: “Despite warnings, @NSAGov built dangerous attack tools that could target Western software. Today we see the cost.”

Dozens of hospital trusts across the UK have been hit by a huge cyber attack, believed to be the biggest of its kind ever recorded, which plunged the NHS into chaos.

 Image result for NSA, photos

The malicious software, which locked up computers and held users’ files for ransom, is believed to have been stolen from the NSA and leaked.

Reports say the ransomware is taking advantage of EternalBlue, an exploit used by NSA spies to secretly break into Windows machines.

According to the New York Times, a group calling itself the “Shadow Brokers” began to post software tools that came from the US government’s stockpile of hacking weapons last summer.

The malware, called Wanna Detector, is also believed to have been leaked in WikiLeaks’ Vault 7 release earlier this year.

If NSA builds a weapon to attack Windows XP—which Microsoft refuses to patches—and it falls into enemy hands, should NSA write a patch? 

Mr Snowden said the US Congress should be asking the NSA if it is aware of any vulnerabilities of the software that could be exploited.

“If @NSAGov had privately disclosed the flaw used to attack hospitals when they *found* it, not when they lost it, this may not have happened,” he tweeted.

The whistleblower pointed the finger of blame at the NSA and said that if it had disclosed system vulnerabilities, “hospitals would have had years – not months – to prepare”.

The Times reported this was the first time a cyber weapon developed by the NSA, which was funded by American taxpayers, had been stolen and unleashed against patients, hospitals, businesses and governments.

The US never acknowledged the cyber weapons posted by “Shadow Brokers” belonged to the NSA but it was reportedly confirmed by former intelligence officials.

Mr Snowden said the NSA had been warned of the dangers of building these cyber weapons but now the attack will raise questions over countries’ intelligence services’ ability to prevent the tools from being stolen and turned against them.

Hackers seemingly took advantage of the fact hospitals had not updated their IT systems.

Dr Krishna Chinthapalli, a doctor who predicted a cyber attack on the NHS in an article published just two days ago, has said hackers had been targeting hospitals for a couple of years.

His article, ‘The hackers holding hospitals to ransom’, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) on Wednesday, described NHS organisations as the “ideal victims” of cyber attacks, and said dozens of smaller hacks had happened in the past.

Earlier this week, the BMJ said up to 90 per cent of NHS computers still ran Windows XP and previous reports found public health organisations were using an outdated version of Microsoft Windows that was not equipped with security updates.

Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre said teams were working “round the clock” to restore hospital computer systems. The cost of the cyber attack is not yet known.

The attack has been reported in 74 countries, including Ukraine, India, Taiwan, Japan and Spain, with Russia believed to have been hit the hardest.

Hong Kong: Refugees That Shielded Edward Snowden to be Deported

May 15, 2017


© AFP | Lawyer Robert Tibbo (C) and his colleague Marc-Andre Seguin (centre R) speak to the press, with one of their clients, Sri Lankan refugee Supun Thilina Kellapatha (L), who helped shelter fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden


A group of refugees who sheltered fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden in Hong Kong are facing deportation after the city’s authorities rejected their bid for protection, their lawyer said Monday.

The impoverished Philippine and Sri Lankan refugees helped the former National Security Agency contractor evade authorities in 2013 by hiding him in their cramped homes after he initiated one of the largest data leaks in US history.

They have spent years hoping the government would recognise their cases and save them from being sent back to their home countries, where they say they were persecuted.

However, immigration authorities rejected their protection claims Monday.

“The decisions are completely unreasonable,” their lawyer Robert Tibbo told reporters, saying the procedures had been “manifestly unfair” towards his clients.

Tibbo said their cases had been rejected because their home countries were deemed safe.

The refugees have said previously they were specifically asked about their links to Snowden by Hong Kong authorities.

“We now have less than two weeks to submit appeals before the families are deported,” said Tibbo alongside the refugees, who were visibly distressed.

He said there was a risk his clients could be detained and their children placed in government custody.

After leaving his initial Hong Kong hotel bolthole for fear of being discovered, Snowden went underground, fed and looked after by the refugees for around two weeks.

Their stories only emerged late last year.

The group includes a Sri Lankan couple with two young children and a mother from the Philippines and her five-year-old daughter.

The adults say they experienced torture and persecution in their own countries and cannot safely return.

Their lawyers and some city legislators have said two of the Sri Lankan refugees have been targeted by agents from their home country who travelled to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is not a signatory to the UN’s refugee convention and does not grant asylum.

However, it is bound by the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) and considers claims for protection based on those grounds.

It also considers claims based on risk of persecution.

After government screening, claimants found to be at risk of persecution are referred to the UN’s refugee agency, which can try to resettle them to a safe third country.

But with fewer than one percent of cases successfully substantiated by city authorities, most refugees live in fear of deportation.

Hong Kong’s 11,000 marginalised refugees spend years in limbo, hoping the government will eventually support their claims.

Lawyers for the Snowden refugees separately lodged an asylum petition with the Canadian government in March and called for that process to be expedited Monday.

Human Rights Watch also urged the Canadian government to “intervene swiftly and protect them” following the rejection of their petitions in Hong Kong.

The refugees faced “dire risk if sent back to their countries”, said Dinah PoKempner, general counsel at the rights group.

See also:

US spies hacked global banking system – report

April 16, 2017

Deutsche Welle

A hacker group has claimed the US National Security Agency hacked into the global bank payment system known as SWIFT. It says the intelligence agency monitored payments in the Middle East and Latin America.

USA NSA Hauptquartier in Fort Meade, Maryland (picture-alliance/AP Photo/P. Semansky)

The mysterious hacker group known as “Shadow Brokers” released files late on Friday showing that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had found and exploited numerous vulnerabilities that allowed them to penetrate the SWIFT banking network.

The breach, which was carried out due to vulnerabilities in older versions of Microsoft Windows software, allowed NSA spies to monitor money flows among some Middle Eastern and Latin American banks.

Former CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden described the NSA’s hack as the “Mother Of All Exploits,” in reference to the massive US bomb dropped last week on Afghanistan. Snowden previously released files showing the NSA had the ability to intercept SWIFT messages.

knew their hacking methods were stolen last year, but refused to tell software makers how to lock the thieves out. Are they liable?

Several analysts have said that the revelations by “Shadow Brokers” are credible and that the files have almost certainly come from the NSA, as some of them bear the agency’s seals.

Bank vulnerabilities exposed

The hacking report also contained computer code that could be adapted by criminals to break into SWIFT servers and monitor messaging activity between banks, according to cybersecurity consultant Shane Shook.

Shook warned that the code could be used in operations similar to last year’s theft of $81 million from the Bangladesh central bank.

Sommercamp GenCyber NSA (picture alliance/landov)SWIFT links more than 11,000 financial institutions in more than 200 countries and territories

Another prominent security researcher, Cris Thomas, said the NSA hack was carried out “presumably as a way to monitor, if not disrupt, financial transactions to terrorist groups.”

The SWIFT messaging system, which is headquartered in Belgium, is used by banks to transfer trillions of dollars each day.

The released files appear to indicate that the NSA had infiltrated two of SWIFT’s service bureaus, allowing the monitoring of transactions of financial institutions in Kuwait, Dubai, Bahrain, Jordan, Yemen and Qatar. Service bureaus handle transactions on behalf of smaller banks.


Revelations downplayed

The NSA could not immediately be reached for comment, but SWIFT said in a statement that the hacking involved only its service bureaus and not its own network.

“There is no impact on SWIFT’s infrastructure or data, however we understand that communications between these service bureaus and their customers may previously have been accessed by unauthorized third parties.”

“We have no evidence to suggest that there has ever been any unauthorized access to our network or messaging services.”

One of SWIFT’s service bureaus, the Dubai-based EastNets, which was allegedly among those hacked, strongly rejected the claims as “totally false and unfounded.”

Microsoft, meanwhile, said it has already patched the vulnerabilities found in the hack. In a statement, the tech giant said it had not been contacted by the NSA about the breach.

“Shadow Brokers” has previously released leaked malware which it attempted to sell for tens of millions of dollars. But the group’s identity remains a secret.



 (Contains links to several related articles)

Claims GCHQ wiretapped Trump ‘nonsense’ — U.S. National Security Agency source says

March 18, 2017

BBC News

People sit at computers in the 24 hour Operations Room inside GCHQ, Cheltenham on 17 November, 2015.
GCHQ, a British intelligence agency, wholly denies it helped wiretap Donald Trump

The claim that GCHQ carried out surveillance on Donald Trump during the election campaign is “arrant nonsense”, Rick Ledgett, the number two at the US National Security Agency (NSA) has told the BBC in an exclusive interview.

A commentator on Fox News had claimed that GCHQ had carried out the activity on America’s behalf, but Mr Ledgett said the claim showed “a complete lack of understanding in how the relationship works”.

Each side, he said, was prohibited from asking the other partner to carry out acts that they were prohibited from doing.

He also said the huge risks to the UK in carrying out such an act would completely outweigh any benefits.

“Of course they wouldn’t do it. It would be epically stupid,” he told me.

GCHQ had also dismissed the allegation as nonsense.

Mr Ledgett’s comments came in a wide-ranging – and long-scheduled – interview in his office at NSA headquarters at Fort Meade. He acknowledged that these were unusual times when it came to the political maelstrom surrounding America’s intelligence agencies and their relationship with the new administration.

“Our job in the intelligence community is to be apolitical. Our job is to speak truth to power,” he emphasised.

The origins of much of the tension lie in the assessment by the US intelligence community that Russia interfered in the presidential election, and the subsequent reaction from Donald Trump.

Mr Ledgett said the evidence of Russian involvement was “extraordinarily strong” and “irrefutable” and that the NSA had played a key role in establishing the case.

Mr Ledgett said he was “dead solid 100% confident” that the Russian state was behind the attempts – although he said it was not for the intelligence community to evaluate the actual impact of those attempts on the vote itself.

Russian President Vladimir Putin pictured on 16 March, 2017.
President Vladimir Putin insists that Russia did not interfere in the US election. AP photo

There has been speculation that Russia will interfere in upcoming European elections, but the NSA deputy director said it was hard for him to talk about any evidence supporting that.

There has been a shift towards more aggressive action in cyberspace in recent years – from Russia but also other states – with some commentators claiming that “cyber war” is breaking out.

Low-intensity conflict rather than war is a better description, Mr Ledgett said.

“Cyber war is going to look very different – you are going to see massive failures of key infrastructure systems in the countries that are being targeted in a way we have not seen yet.”

The problems in attributing attacks and the lower barriers for entry mean that this trend may well continue, though.

The US last week indicted a group of Russian hackers as part of a broader strategy of trying to develop layered deterrence. Chinese and Iranian hackers have been indicted in the past.

“Our assessment is that it does cause actors to pause,” Mr Ledgett said, while acknowledging it did not provide absolute deterrence.

The spread of internet-connected devices in the home is another concern.

“It’s a truism that the more things you connect to a network, the more vulnerabilities you introduce,” Mr Ledgett argued, adding that he did not have what are called “Internet of Things” devices in his own home.

Last week there were claims that the CIA – along with Britain’s MI5 – had found vulnerabilities in some “smart” TV sets which allowed them to be turned into bugging devices.

CIA logo
It has been claimed that the CIA devised a spyware attack for Samsung TVs. Getty Images

Mr Ledgett emphasised that the mission of the NSA was to focus on foreign intelligence and not domestic.

He said that 90% of vulnerabilities in systems that the NSA spotted were reported to companies so they could fix them. And any vulnerabilities that the agency sought to leave in place to exploit for intelligence gathering needed to be approved by other government agencies.

“There’s a fringe narrative out there that the US and UK and all these other governments are willy-nilly just exploiting every vulnerability in every device they can in order to gather information into a big pile and then root through it for interesting things. That’s not what we do at all.”

He acknowledged that the debate around the NSA’s power was healthy, but said the way it came about was bad, referring to the Edward Snowden revelations.

He said that while he would not point to specific terrorist attacks or deaths as a result of disclosures, the NSA had seen one thousand “entities” (such as terrorist groups or foreign military units) which had tried to change behaviour to avoid surveillance.

An aerial view shows the National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters in Ft. Meade, Maryland, US on 29 January, 2010.
Mr Ledgett spoke to the BBC at the NSA’s headquarters in Fort Meade. Reuters photo

Mr Ledgett is due to step down in the coming months after a 40-year career in national security. Twenty-nine of those years were spent at the NSA, where he ended up as its most senior civilian.

He acknowledged that the current environment – with the intelligence agencies drawn into political debate – was unprecedented.

“It is an uncomfortable place to be,” he said. “Intelligence needs to not be politicised to be at its best.”



Trump tells Merkel: ‘At least we have something in common’ about wiretapping

March 17, 2017

Updated 2:44 PM ET, Fri March 17, 2017

Washington (CNN)  President Donald Trump finally addressed his claim that his White House predecessor wiretapped him Friday, joking that he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had “something in common, perhaps.”

The President was asked by a German reporter why his White House had cited a Fox News report that claimed that the British surveillance agency GCHQ had been used to wiretap Trump Tower during the election campaign.
He did not apologize to the British government after it said that the report of UK surveillance was “ridiculous.”
Turning to Merkel, who was angry to find out after leaks by Edward Snowden that the US National Security Agency had tapped her phone, Trump said “at least we have something in common”.
Trump appeared to be irritated to be asked the question by the German reporter, in the latest twist of a two-week controversy ignited by early morning tweets by the President that claimed that President Barack Obama had ordered wiretaps against him last year.
Senior members of the intelligence committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate have said that there was no wiretapping of Trump Tower.
Trump also knocked NATO nations who do not pay their “fair share” for their defense, as he stood side-by-side with Merkel.
He said that many nations owe “vast sums” of money in unpaid dues to the organization.
“These nations must pay what they owe,” Trump said during the joint news conference between the two leaders.
The President, however, also expressed strong support for the NATO alliance after raising questions about its utility and relevance during his election campaign.
The German government fell well short of its NATO target of 2% last year, hitting 1.19%. Though it has committed to boosting defense spending this year, Germany will still fall short again.

Trump defends ban, Trudeau has opposing view

Trump defends ban, Trudeau has opposing view 01:15
Trump also said that the US would respect “historic institutions” in what may have been a reference to the European Union, which has always been seen by the US as a bulwark of Western security but about which senior figures in Trump’s government have expressed skepticism.
In her remarks, Merkel also referred to past tensions with Trump, as she seeks to build a new relationship with the third US president she has encountered as German Chancellor.
“It’s always much better to talk to one another than about one another,” she said.
She also said she was glad to hear Trump’s support for NATO and said that Trump had committed to the Minsk process, designed to monitor a ceasefire in Ukraine and look toward an eventual solution to the crisis.
Apart from the domestic political storms that are battering the White House, the news conference and Merkel’s visit to the White House are coming at a crucial moment for US-German relations.
The German Chancellor is trying to forge a relationship with Trump despite suspicion over his political views. She congratulated the President after his election win in a statement that also contained a defense of Western values — amid concern in Germany that his stances on issues like immigration run counter to the principles that have sustained the Western alliance.
Germany, the most powerful political force in the European Union, has also been deeply concerned by Trump criticisms of NATO and deep skepticism inside the White House about the EU itself.
Friday’s meeting will attempt to stir some personal chemistry between two leaders who seem far removed in temperament and instinct.
Merkel, who takes a cautious, analytical approach to politics, was also one of the few world leaders who appeared to forge a deep connection with Obama, with whom she was something of a kindred spirit.
Trump is more outspoken and improvisational and has little time for diplomatic niceties. He has, for example, heavily criticized Merkel’s decision to allow hundreds of thousands of refugees into Germany, a move that is a key issue in her re-election race this year.
But both sides are likely to try to move on from past tensions. The pragmatic Merkel is now on her third US president and appears to be looking to find a way to forge a relationship with Trump without buying into his political values.
Another administration official said before the meeting that the President hoped to get Merkel’s advice for dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who, according to US intelligence, ordered cyber-meddling in last year’s presidential election and tried to help Trump.
Merkel hoped to appeal to the President’s focus on business, bringing with her to Washington the chief executives of Siemens and BMW with her to Washington.
The two companies employ thousands of American workers, a point Merkel hopes will come through when the pair get to discussing trade issues — including Germany’s trade surplus, which has rankled the Trump camp.