Posts Tagged ‘National Security Agency’

Russian Hackers Stole NSA Data on U.S. Cyber Defense

October 5, 2017

The breach, considered the most serious in years, could enable Russia to evade NSA surveillance and more easily infiltrate U.S. networks

The National Security Agency campus in Fort Meade, Md. An NSA contractor took highly sensitive data from the complex and put it on his home computer, from which it was stolen by hackers working for the Russian government, people familiar with the matter said.
The National Security Agency campus in Fort Meade, Md. An NSA contractor took highly sensitive data from the complex and put it on his home computer, from which it was stolen by hackers working for the Russian government, people familiar with the matter said.PHOTO: PATRICK SEMANSKY/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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WASHINGTON—Hackers working for the Russian government stole details of how the U.S. penetrates foreign computer networks and defends against cyberattacks after a National Security Agency contractor removed the highly classified material and put it on his home computer, according to multiple people with knowledge of the matter.

The hackers appear to have targeted the contractor after identifying the files through the contractor’s use of a popular antivirus software made by Russia-based Kaspersky Lab, these people said.

The theft, which hasn’t been disclosed, is considered by experts to be one of the most significant security breaches in recent years. It offers a rare glimpse into how the intelligence community thinks Russian intelligence exploits a widely available commercial software product to spy on the U.S.

The incident occurred in 2015 but wasn’t discovered until spring of last year, said the people familiar with the matter.

The stolen material included details about how the NSA penetrates foreign computer networks, the computer code it uses for such spying and how it defends networks inside the U.S., these people said.

Having such information could give the Russian government information on how to protect its own networks, making it more difficult for the NSA to conduct its work. It also could give the Russians methods to infiltrate the networks of the U.S. and other nations, these people said.

The breach is the first known incident in which Kaspersky software is believed to have been exploited by Russian hackers to conduct espionage against the U.S. government. The company, which sells its antivirus products in the U.S., had revenue of more than half a billion dollars in Western Europe and the Americas in 2016, according to International Data Corp. By Kaspersky’s own account it has more than 400 million users world-wide.

The revelation comes as concern over Russian infiltration of American computer networks and social media platforms is growing amid a U.S. special counsel’s investigation into whether Donald Trump’s presidential campaign sought or received assistance from the Russian government. Mr. Trump denies any impropriety and has called the matter a “witch hunt.”

Intelligence officials have concluded that a campaign authorized by the highest levels of the Russian government hacked into state election-board systems and the email networks of political organizations to damage the candidacy of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

A spokesman for the NSA didn’t comment on the security breach. “Whether the information is credible or not, NSA’s policy is never to comment on affiliate or personnel matters,” he said. He noted that the Defense Department, of which the NSA is a part, has a contract for antivirus software with another company, not Kaspersky.

In a statement, Kaspersky Lab said it “has not been provided any information or evidence substantiating this alleged incident, and as a result, we must assume that this is another example of a false accusation.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov in a statement didn’t address whether the Russian government stole materials from the NSA using Kaspersky software. But he criticized the U.S. government’s decision to ban the software from use by U.S. agencies as “undermining the competitive positions of Russian companies on the world arena.”

The Kaspersky incident is the third publicly known breach at the NSA involving a contractor’s access to a huge trove of highly classified materials. It prompted an official letter of reprimand to the agency’s director, Adm. Michael Rogers, by his superiors, people familiar with the situation said.

National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers.
National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers. PHOTO: SAUL LOEB/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Adm. Rogers came into his post in 2014 promising to staunch leaks after the disclosure that NSA contractor Edward Snowden the year before gave classified documents to journalists that revealed surveillance programs run by the U.S. and allied nations.

The Kaspersky-linked incident predates the arrest last year of another NSA contractor, Harold Martin, who allegedly removed massive amounts of classified information from the agency’s headquarters and kept it at his home, but wasn’t thought to have shared the data.

Mr. Martin pleaded not guilty to charges that include stealing classified information. His lawyer has said he took the information home only to get better at his job and never intended to reveal secrets.

The name of the NSA contractor in the Kaspersky-related incident and the company he worked for aren’t publicly known. People familiar with the matter said he is thought to have purposely taken home numerous documents and other materials from NSA headquarters, possibly to continue working beyond his normal office hours.

The man isn’t believed to have wittingly worked for a foreign government, but knew that removing classified information without authorization is a violation of NSA policies and potentially a criminal act, said people with knowledge of the breach.

It is unclear whether he has been dismissed from his job or faces charges. The incident remains under federal investigation, said people familiar with the matter.

Kaspersky software once was authorized for use by nearly two dozen U.S. government agencies, including the Army, Navy and Air Force, and the departments of Defense, State, Homeland Security, Energy, Veterans Affairs, Justice and Treasury.

The headquarters of the Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab.
The headquarters of the Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab. PHOTO: SAVOSTYANOV SERGEI/TASS/ZUMA PRESS

NSA employees and contractors never had been authorized to use Kaspersky software at work. While there was no prohibition against these employees or contractors using it at home, they were advised not to before the 2015 incident, said people with knowledge of the guidance the agency gave.

For years, U.S. national security officials have suspected that Kaspersky Lab, founded by a computer scientist who was trained at a KGB-sponsored technical school, is a proxy of the Russian government, which under Russian law can compel the company’s assistance in intercepting communications as they move through Russian computer networks.

Kaspersky said in its statement: “As a private company, Kaspersky Lab does not have inappropriate ties to any government, including Russia, and the company has never helped, nor will help, any government in the world with its cyberespionage efforts.”

Suspicions about the company prompted the Department of Homeland Security last month to take the extraordinary step of banning all U.S. government departments and agencies from using Kaspersky products and services. Officials determined that “malicious cyber actors” could use the company’s antivirus software to gain access to a computer’s files, said people familiar with the matter.

The government’s decision came after months of intensive discussions inside the intelligence community, as well as a study of how the software works and the company’s suspected connections to the Russian government, said people familiar with the events. They said intelligence officials also were concerned that given the prevalence of Kaspersky on the commercial market, countless people could be targeted, including family members of senior government officials, or that Russia could use the software to steal information for competitive economic advantage.

“The risk that the Russian government, whether acting on its own or in collaboration with Kaspersky, could capitalize on access provided by Kaspersky products to compromise federal information and information systems directly implicates U.S. national security,” the DHS said Sept. 13 in announcing the government ban.

All antivirus software scans computers looking for malicious code, comparing what is on the machine to a master list housed at the software company. But that scanning also gives makers of the software an inventory of what is on the computer, experts say.

“It’s basically the equivalent of digital dumpster diving,” said Blake Darché, a former NSA employee who worked in the agency’s elite hacking group that targets foreign computer systems.

Kaspersky is “aggressive” in its methods of hunting for malware, Mr. Darché said, “in that they will make copies of files on a computer, anything that they think is interesting.” He said the product’s user license agreement, which few customers probably read, allows this.

“You’re basically surrendering your right to privacy by using Kaspersky software,” said Mr. Darché, who is chief security officer for Area 1, a computer security company.

“We aggressively detect and mitigate malware infections no matter the source and we have been proudly doing it for 20 years,” the company said in its statement. “We make no apologies for being aggressive in the battle against malware and cybercriminals.”

U.S. investigators believe the contractor’s use of the software alerted Russian hackers to the presence of files that may have been taken from the NSA, according to people with knowledge of the investigation. Experts said the software, in searching for malicious code, may have found samples of it in the data the contractor removed from the NSA.

But how the antivirus system made that determination is unclear, such as whether Kaspersky technicians programed the software to look for specific parameters that indicated NSA material. Also unclear is whether Kaspersky employees alerted the Russian government to the finding.

Kaspersky Lab Chief Executive Eugene Kaspersky. The company said it never would help ‘any government in the world with its cyberespionage efforts.’
Kaspersky Lab Chief Executive Eugene Kaspersky. The company said it never would help ‘any government in the world with its cyberespionage efforts.’ PHOTO: SHARIFULIN VALERY/TASS/ZUMA PRESS

Investigators did determine that, armed with the knowledge that Kaspersky’s software provided of what files were suspected on the contractor’s computer, hackers working for Russia homed in on the machine and obtained a large amount of information, according to the people familiar with the matter.

The breach illustrates the chronic problem the NSA has had with keeping highly classified secrets from spilling out, former intelligence personnel say. They say they were rarely searched while entering or leaving their workplaces to see if they were carrying classified documents or removable storage media, such as a thumb drive.

The incident was considered so serious that it was given a classified code name and set off alarms among top national security officials because it demonstrated how the software could be used for spying. Members of Congress also were informed, said people familiar with the matter.

Then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter and then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper pushed President Barack Obama to remove Adm. Rogers as NSA head, due in part to the number of data breaches on his watch, according to several officials familiar with the matter.

The NSA director had fallen out of White House favor when he traveled to Bedminster, N.J., last November to meet with president-elect Donald Trump about taking a job in his administration, said people familiar with the matter. Adm. Rogers didn’t notify his superiors, an extraordinary step for a senior military officer, U.S. officials said.

Adm. Rogers wasn’t fired for a number of reasons, including a pending restructuring of the NSA that would have been further complicated by his departure, according to people with knowledge of internal deliberations. An NSA spokesman didn’t comment on efforts to remove Adm. Rogers.

Write to Gordon Lubold at Gordon.Lubold@wsj.com and Shane Harris at shane.harris@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/russian-hackers-stole-nsa-data-on-u-s-cyber-defense-1507222108

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U.S. lawmakers want to restrict internet surveillance on Americans

October 5, 2017

By Dustin Volz

Reuters

(Reuters) – A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers unveiled legislation on Wednesday that would overhaul aspects of the National Security Agency’s warrantless internet surveillance program in an effort to install additional privacy protections.

The bill, which will be formally introduced as soon as Thursday, is likely to revive debate in Washington over the balance between security and privacy, amid concerns among some lawmakers in both parties that the U.S. government may be too eager to spy on its own citizens.

The legislation, written by the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, is seen by civil liberties groups as the best chance in Congress to reform the law, known as Section 702 of the  Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, before its expiration on Dec. 31.

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Senior U.S. intelligence officials consider Section 702 to be among the most vital tools they have to thwart threats to national security and American allies.

It allows U.S. intelligence agencies to eavesdrop on and store vast amounts of digital communications from foreign suspects living outside the United States.

But the program, classified details of which were exposed in 2013 by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, also incidentally scoops up communications of Americans, including if they communicate with a foreign target living overseas. Those communications can then be subject to searches without a warrant by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

A discussion draft of the legislation, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, partially restricts the FBI’s ability to access American data collected under Section 702 by requiring the agency to obtain a warrant when seeking evidence of a crime.

That limit would not apply, however, to requests of data that involve counterterrorism or counter-espionage.

The narrower restriction on what some have called a “backdoor search loophole” has disappointed some civil liberties groups. Several organizations sent a letter this week saying they would not support legislation that did not require a warrant for all queries of American data collected under Section 702.

The legislation would also renew the program for six years and codify the National Security Agency’s decision earlier this year to halt the collection of communications that merely mentioned a foreign intelligence target. But that codification would end in six years as well, meaning NSA could potentially resume the activity in 2023.

The spy agency has said it lost some operational capability by ending so-called “about” collection due to privacy compliance issues and has lobbied against a law that would make its termination permanent.

Republican senators introduced a bill earlier this year to renew Section 702 without changes and make it permanent, a position backed by the White House and

(Reuters) – A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers unveiled legislation on Wednesday that would overhaul aspects of the National Security Agency’s warrantless internet surveillance program in an effort to install additional privacy protections.

The bill, which will be formally introduced as soon as Thursday, is likely to revive debate in Washington over the balance between security and privacy, amid concerns among some lawmakers in both parties that the U.S. government may be too eager to spy on its own citizens.

The legislation, written by the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, is seen by civil liberties groups as the best chance in Congress to reform the law, known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, before its expiration on Dec. 31.

Senior U.S. intelligence officials consider Section 702 to be among the most vital tools they have to thwart threats to national security and American allies.

It allows U.S. intelligence agencies to eavesdrop on and store vast amounts of digital communications from foreign suspects living outside the United States.

But the program, classified details of which were exposed in 2013 by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, also incidentally scoops up communications of Americans, including if they communicate with a foreign target living overseas. Those communications can then be subject to searches without a warrant by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

A discussion draft of the legislation, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, partially restricts the FBI’s ability to access American data collected under Section 702 by requiring the agency to obtain a warrant when seeking evidence of a crime.

That limit would not apply, however, to requests of data that involve counterterrorism or counter-espionage.

The narrower restriction on what some have called a “backdoor search loophole” has disappointed some civil liberties groups. Several organizations sent a letter this week saying they would not support legislation that did not require a warrant for all queries of American data collected under Section 702.

The legislation would also renew the program for six years and codify the National Security Agency’s decision earlier this year to halt the collection of communications that merely mentioned a foreign intelligence target. But that codification would end in six years as well, meaning NSA could potentially resume the activity in 2023.

The spy agency has said it lost some operational capability by ending so-called “about” collection due to privacy compliance issues and has lobbied against a law that would make its termination permanent.

Republican senators introduced a bill earlier this year to renew Section 702 without changes and make it permanent, a position backed by the White House and intelligence agencies.

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Data swamped US spy agencies put hopes on artificial intelligence

September 9, 2017

AFP

© GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP / by Paul HANDLEY | The US National Security Agency, which operates this ultra-secure data collection center in Utah, is one of the key US spying operations turning to artificial intelligence to help make sense of massive amounts of digital data they collect every day.

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Swamped by too much raw intel data to sift through, US spy agencies are pinning their hopes on artificial intelligence to crunch billions of digital bits and understand events around the world.Dawn Meyerriecks, the Central Intelligence Agency’s deputy director for technology development, said this week the CIA currently has 137 different AI projects, many of them with developers in Silicon Valley.

These range from trying to predict significant future events, by finding correlations in data shifts and other evidence, to having computers tag objects or individuals in video that can draw the attention of intelligence analysts.

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Officials of other key spy agencies at the Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington this week, including military intelligence, also said they were seeking AI-based solutions for turning terabytes of digital data coming in daily into trustworthy intelligence that can be used for policy and battlefield action.

– Social media focus –

AI has widespread functions, from battlefield weapons to the potential to help quickly rebuild computer systems and programs brought down by hacking attacks, as one official described.

But a major focus is finding useful patterns in valuable sources like social media.

Combing social media for intelligence in itself is not new, said Joseph Gartin, head of the CIA’s Kent School, which teaches intelligence analysis.

“What is new is the volume and velocity of collecting social media data,” he said.

In that example, artificial intelligence-based computing can pick out key words and names but also find patterns in data and correlations to other events — and continually improve on that pattern finding.

AI can “expand the aperture” of an intelligence operation looking for small bits of information that can prove valuable, according to Chris Hurst, the chief operating officer of Stabilitas, which contracts with the US intelligence community on intel analysis.

“Human behavior is data and AI is a data model,” he said at the Intelligence Summit.

“Where there are patterns we think AI can do a better job.”

– Eight million analysts –

The volume of data that can be collected increases exponentially with advances in satellite and signals intelligence collection technology.

“If we were to attempt to manually exploit the commercial satellite imagery we expect to have over the next 20 years, we would need eight million imagery analysts,” Robert Cardillo, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, said in a speech in June.

Cardillo said his goal is to automate 75 percent of analysts’ tasks, with a hefty reliance on AI operations that can build on what they learn automatically.

Washington’s spies are not the only ones turning to AI for future advantage: Russian President Vladimir Putin declared last week that artificial intelligence is a key for power in the future.

“Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world,” he said, according to Russian news agencies.

The challenge, US officials said, is gaining trust from the “consumers” of their intelligence product — like policy makers, the White House and top generals — to trust reports that have a significant AI component.

“We produce a presidential daily brief. We have to have really, really good evidence for why we reach the conclusions that we do,” said Meyerriecks.

“You can’t go to leadership and make a recommendation based on a process that no one understands.”

by Paul HANDLEY
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Attack and sabotage North Korea’s computer networks by using viruses — But will it stop Kim Jong-un?

September 4, 2017

Military invasion. Sending in a hit squad. Tougher sanctions. Over the past months, with increasing alarm, world leaders have analysed every option in the battle to halt Kim Jong-un and his nuclear ambitions.

But after his latest military exercise, another strategy is being discussed: cyber-warfare.

Just days ago, Theresa May refused four times to rule out whether our Government would employ such covert techniques to attack and sabotage North Korea’s computer networks by using viruses.

Her caginess is, of course, understandable. When dealing with maverick dictators such as Kim Jong-un, it makes no sense to tell the world what cards you hold, or indeed, whether you are considering playing them.

When dealing with maverick dictators such as Kim Jong-un, it makes no sense to tell the world what cards you hold, or indeed, whether you are considering playing them

When dealing with maverick dictators such as Kim Jong-un, it makes no sense to tell the world what cards you hold, or indeed, whether you are considering playing them

But after his latest military exercise, another strategy is being discussed: cyber-warfare

But after his latest military exercise, another strategy is being discussed: cyber-warfare

However, what is the reality of Britain’s cyber-warfare capabilities? Is the Government really capable of mounting sophisticated electronic attacks that could cripple Kim’s nuclear missile programme? How exactly would we do it? And who else would be doing it?

Naturally, the world of state-operated cyber-warfare is highly secret.

But it is possible to make some educated suppositions about what we and the Americans are capable of, and to make a reasonable assessment about whether we could use cyber-warfare against Kim.

Although experts are divided about many specific issues, they agree on one thing – cyber-warfare against the North Koreans is already taking place.

Three years ago, President Obama ordered Pentagon officials to step up such attacks on North Korea’s missile programme to sabotage test launches in the moment after lift-off. It was not long before a number of Kim’s military rockets exploded, veered off course, disintegrated in midair and plunged into the sea.

Such operations are undoubtedly being masterminded by America’s clandestine Office of Tailored Access Operations – or TAO – which is part of the National Security Agency (NSA).

Much of what is known about it comes from the documents stolen by renegade former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, and disgracefully made public – putting at risk the undercover work of spies.

What is unclear is whether British agencies such as GCHQ in Cheltenham (pictured), or the various units that comprise the military’s Joint Forces Cyber Group, have been assisting with these attacks

What is unclear is whether British agencies such as GCHQ in Cheltenham (pictured), or the various units that comprise the military’s Joint Forces Cyber Group, have been assisting with these attacks

With several hundred employees, many being the most elite computer hackers on the planet, TAO is thought to have already carried out successful cyber-attacks that have gathered intelligence from North Korea.

What is unclear is whether British agencies such as GCHQ in Cheltenham, or the various units that comprise the military’s Joint Forces Cyber Group, have been assisting with these attacks.

‘We have to assume that the UK has been assisting in some way,’ says Dr Andrew Futter, of the University of Leicester. ‘There are certainly links with GCHQ and the NSA, and Britain is one of the foremost cyber-powers in the world.’

If we assume that Britain and the US are working together to cripple North Korea’s nuclear missile programme, how are they doing it?

The most important thing to bear in mind is that hacking into Kim’s missile facilities is certainly not like hacking a bank or email account. For a start, as the most secretive and isolated state in the world, North Korea is scarcely connected to the internet, which means that few, if any, of its computers and networks are accessible.

And ironically enough, the secretive country’s backwardness is an advantage.

‘The North Koreans do not use the same technology as the rest of the world,’ says Conor Deane-McKenna, a researcher in cyber-warfare at Birmingham University. ‘Much of it is older and outdated, which means that it can’t even connect to the internet. And there’s no doubt that every computer and person associated with the missile programme won’t be online.’

Thus Korean military teams will physically visit the location of the target network, and connect some form of hardware – such as a USB stick or a laptop – so TAO, for example, can gain access remotely.

This method is thought to have been successfully used by the Americans and the Israelis against Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility in 2012 and 2013, during which a computer ‘worm’ was responsible for crippling scores of uranium enrichment centrifuges.

However, to work against the North Koreans, a human agent would have to be involved.

Of course, if the real world were like Hollywood, that agent would gain access to the regime’s missile programme computers, plug in a memory stick, and watch with satisfaction as Kim’s missiles blew up on their launch pads.

Although that may still happen, it’s most likely that there are much more mundane techniques being used.

These may involve nearby ships from the US Navy or Royal Navy.

The American military has a huge presence in the area – with an estimated 40,000 personnel in Japan and 35,000 in South Korea, while using the island of Guam as a ‘permanent aircraft carrier’. Pictured: US Navy ships and planes off GUam 

The American military has a huge presence in the area – with an estimated 40,000 personnel in Japan and 35,000 in South Korea, while using the island of Guam as a ‘permanent aircraft carrier’. Pictured: US Navy ships and planes off GUam

Indeed, the American military has a huge presence in the area – with an estimated 40,000 personnel in Japan and 35,000 in South Korea, while using the island of Guam as a ‘permanent aircraft carrier’.

Reports suggest there are more US military personnel in Japan than in any other country. According to Department of Defense data, they are stationed across 112 bases.

Headquartered in Japan, the Seventh Fleet is the largest of the US Navy’s deployed sea forces, with up to 70 ships and submarines, 140 aircraft and about 20,000 sailors in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.

The USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered aircraft supercarrier, is permanently deployed in Japan, as the fleet’s flagship carrier.

Dr Futter concedes that this infrastructure could be being used for cyber-warfare.

‘After all,’ he says, ‘it has long been suspected that the Israelis managed to cripple the Syrians’ air defence radar with some sort of drone, so it’s not implausible a ship could be used.’

Some have speculated that the relatively high failure rate of North Korea’s missiles means the Americans or the British have hacked into their systems and sabotaged their efforts.

In any case, cyber-warfare works on two levels. Not only is it a potent weapon, but its very existence gives the enemy a crisis of confidence.

‘You need to think of it as psychological warfare,’ says Dr Futter. ‘You use it to sow the seeds of doubt.

‘So whenever something goes wrong with a missile, the North Koreans are worried whether it is a problem with their engineering, or whether they have actually been cyber-attacked.’

It’s for this reason that Theresa May did not rule out the use of cyber-warfare.

Considering the expertise of the Pentagon and GCHQ, this is surely not a bluff. Indeed, security experts say the public would be shocked to learn the extent of details such organisations can find about the most personal aspects of our daily lives.

Meanwhile, Kim Jong-un and his generals are trying to keep one step ahead – and have their own cyber-boffins trying to sabotage America’s infrastructure.

Earlier this year, a report on cyber vulnerabilities commissioned by the Pentagon warned that North Korea might acquire the ability to cripple the American power grid.

What is certain is that global power is no longer based on economic and military might (even with Pyongyang’s display of hydrogen bomb technology), but on having better cyber experts than your enemies.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4849332/GUY-WALTERS-cyber-warfare-way-rid-Kim.html#ixzz4rhdMKlYb
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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.

http://www.dw.com/en/nsa-spying-scandal-committee-presents-controversial-final-report/a-39453668

NSA Leaker Called Trump A “Piece Of Shit”, Is A Fan Of Bernie Sanders

June 6, 2017

ZERO HEDGE

Step aside Edward Snowden: the world has another leaking NSA contractor to obsess with, if only for the next 15 minutes.

As reported earlier, Reality Leigh Winner is the 25-year-old woman who stole “Top secret” documents from the National Security Agency and leaked them to The Intercept, “confirming” that the Russian military intelligence GRU was behind an attempt to hack more than 100 local election officials.

There may be more here, however, than meets the eye.

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First, dome details on her background.

Winner was born in Texas in December 1991. She was raised in Kingsville, a small city in the south of the state, about 40 miles from Corpus Christi.

Sometime later she moved to Maryland. According to public records, she had on her record was one citation, issued December 13, 2016, in Howard, Maryland for failing to control her vehicle’s speed on a highway to avoid a collision. She reportedly went to H.M. King High School and lived in Columbia, Maryland at a time. She has a sister, Brittany, who is studying for a PhD in Pharmacology and Toxicology at Michigan State University.

Reality began working defense contractor Pluribus International Corporation,in Augusta, Georgia, in February this year, according to court filings (see below). She previously served in the US air force since January 2013 and held a top-secret security clearance, indicating she first got her top secret clearance in her early 20s.

Winner-Davis told the Guardian that her daughter had joined the military soon after graduating from H M King high school. As well as being bright academically, she excelled in tennis and athletics. “But she had gotten a little tired of school,” said her mother, and decided against continuing with college. The Guardian’s Jon Swaine adds that according to Winner’s mother, the leaker is a former US Air Force linguist who speaks Pashto, Farsi and Dari. “She speaks the middle eastern languages – Farsi, Dari and Pashto,” said Winner-Davis, who laughed when asked if she had taught them to her daughter. “No, she did it all on her own,” she said.

According to the affidavit filed by arresting FBI agent Justin Garrick, Winner was a contractor with Pluribus International Corporation, who was assigned to aNSA facility in Georgia. She was employed at the facility since February 13, 2017, and has held a Top Secret clearance during that time. Less than a month after she joined, on May 9, 2017, Winner printed and improperly removed classified intelligence reporting, which contained classified national defense information and was dated on or about May 5, 2017 from an Intelligence Community Agency and unlawfully retained it. A few days later, Winner then sent the classified material – apparently using the work email associated with her desk computer – to the Intercept.

Speaking to the Guardian, On Monday evening, her mother struggled to say whether her daughter’s alleged leak would constitute an act of bravery or a painful mistake. “I don’t know, I don’t know,” Winner-Davis said. “I don’t know what the hacking thing all means. Has it made a difference in the election? Who knows.” Her family knows little except that they are bewildered and concerned about the possible 10-year prison sentence that Winner could receive if convicted. “She’s a beautiful girl,” said her mother. “Everyone who meets her loves her, and she’s kind.”

Some details on how Winner was arrested:

on June I, 2017, the FBI was notified by the U.S. Government Agency that the U.S. Government Agency had been contacted by the News Outlet [Intercept] on May 30, 2017, regarding an upcoming story. The News Outlet informed the U.S. Government Agency that it was in possession of what it believed to be a classified document authored by the U.S. Government Agency. The News Outlet provided the U.S. Government Agency with a copy of this document. Subsequent analysis by the U.S. Government Agency confirmed that the document in the News Outlet’s possession is the intelligence reporting. The intelligence reporting is classified at the Top Secret level, indicating that its unauthorized disclosure could reasonably result in exceptionally grave damage to the national security, and is marked as such.

The U.S. Government Agency examined the document shared by the News Outlet and determined the pages of the intelligence reporting appeared to be folded and/or creased, suggesting they had been printed and hand-carried out of a secured space.

The U.S. Government Agency conducted an internal audit to determine who accessed the intelligence reporting since its publication. The U.S. Government Agency determined that six individuals printed this reporting. WINNER was one of these six individuals. A further audit of the six individuals’ desk computers revealed that WINNER had e-mail contact with the News Outlet. The audit did not reveal that any of the other individuals had e-mail contact with the News Outlet.

The moment of her arrest:

On June 3, 2017, [Garrick] spoke to WINNER at her home in Augusta, Georgia. During that conversation, WINNER admitted intentionally identifying and printing the classified intelligence reporting at issue despite not having a “need to know,” and with knowledge that the intelligence reporting was classified. WINNER further admitted removing the classified intelligence reporting from her office space, retaining it, and mailing it from Augusta, Georgia, to the News Outlet, which she knew was not authorized to receive or possess the documents. WINNER further acknowledged that she was aware of the contents of the intelligence reporting and that she knew the contents of the reporting could be used to the injury of the United States and to the advantage of a foreign nation.

There are more notable details about Winner’s social profile and her political leanings.

Three days before Americans voted last November, Reality Winner joked with her sister online that Moscow’s efforts to influence the US presidential election could have an upside for her as a keen weightlifter.
When we become the United States of the Russian Federation,” she said on Facebook, “Olympic lifting will be the national sport.”

A 25-year-old federal contractor named Reality Winner has been arrested for allegedly leaking a doc to The Intercept http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/nsa-russia-intercept_us_5935cab7e4b013c4816a54ab?oi5 

Here’s what Reality Winner posted on Facebook before the election: pic.twitter.com/vWDFnKkVNM

View image on Twitter

Seven months later, Winner, 25, called home to Texas on Saturday to let her family know that the Russian hacking saga had ended up landing her in a far more serious situation. “She said that she had been arrested by the FBI and that she couldn’t really talk about it,” her mother, Billie Winner-Davis, told the Guardian in a telephone interview. “I am still in shock.”

As HuffPost’s Ryan Reilly writes, looking at another of her facebook comments, “don’t think Reality Winner is a Trump fan.”

That much is clear, and just to make her sentiment about Trump abundantly clear, she recently referred to President Trump as a “piece of shit” because of his position on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protests. Lashing out at Trump, Winner posted on February 9:

“There have been protests for months, at both the drilling site and and outside the White House. I’m losing my mind. If you voted for this piece of shit, explain this. He’s lying. He’s blatantly lying and the second largest supply of freshwater in the country is now at risk. #NoDAPL #NeverMyPresident #Resist”

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FRealityWinner%2Fposts%2F1596892380337247&width=500

Her sentiments toward Trump aside, she appears to be a supporter of Bernie Sanders and other progressive icons, such as Bill Maher and Michael Moore. As the Caller’s Chuck Ross reports, Reality Winner’s apparent social media footprint also shows that she is a supporter of other liberal causes, including the Women’s March and the Islamic Society of North America, the Muslim civil rights group.

Judging by the following autographed photo of Anderson Cooper, Winner was a fan of the CNN anchor.

Alleged NSA Leaker posted autographed photo of CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Facebook.

Other than her left-leaning Facebook page, Winner has a limited online footprint. One news article from the Kingsville (Tex.) Record shows that she graduated from Air Force basic training in March 2011. A photo of Winner has not been publicly released, but her Facebook page includes information that matches details contained in a federal indictment filed against her in New York on Monday.

Winner’s posts on Facebook suggest that she is politically active. On Feb. 14, a day after Winner took her Top Secret job at Pluribus, Winner posted a photo outside of the Atlanta offices of Georgia Sen. David Perdue.

Winner wrote that she had a 30-minute private meeting with the Republican lawmaker. She said they discussed “my concerns regarding climate change and what the state of Georgia is doing to reduce dependency on fossil fuels.”

“Meanwhile, my plea that our senators not be afraid to directly state when our president or his cabinet tell outright lies was well heard. I was able to draw the parallel between the 2011 interview of President Bashar al Assad claiming utter ignorance of the human rights violations his citizens were protesting to Trump’s statement last week that the White House hadn’t received any calls about the DAPL, nor were there any protests before last week. They got the message,” she wrote.

Winner was heavily critical of Trump just after he took office. She used the hashtag “NeverMyPresident” and “Resist” in a Facebook post about his position on DAPL.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FRealityWinner%2Fposts%2F1596892380337247&width=500

Winner posted on Facebook most recently on Friday, the day before she was interviewed by the FBI. “You are what you love, not who loves you,” she wrote.

Finally, based on her profile, Reality inexpicably was at the White House, approximately one year before leaking.

* * *

Winner faces 10 years in a federal prison if convicted. The charge, “gathering, transmitting or losing defense information” is contained under Chapter 37 of federal law: espionage and censorship. The law went into effect as of February 1, 2010.

The prosecution of Winner is being handled by Julie A. Edelstein of the Department of Justice’s National Security Divisions Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, a news release by the agency said.

However, what is most perplexing is that her anti-Trump tirades and her anti-government, liberal leanings were all part of the public record at the time she was hired as a NSA contractor for Pluribus in February. How she succeeded in receiving top secret level clearance with such a highly politicized public record remains a mystery.

 http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-06-05/nsa-leaker-called-trump-piece-shit-fan-bernie-sanders

House Intelligence Panel Issues Seven Subpoenas in Russia Probe

May 31, 2017

Four are related to Russia investigation, three to ‘unmasking’ controversy, individuals say

Former CIA Director John Brennan testifying before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence last week.

Former CIA Director John Brennan testifying before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence last week. PHOTO: DREW ANGERER/GETTY IMAGES

The House Intelligence Committee issued seven subpoenas on Wednesday, in a sign that its investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election is ramping up in scope and intensity, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Republican-led committee issued four subpoenas related to the Russia investigation. Three subpoenas are related to questions about how and why the names of associates of President Donald Trump were unredacted and distributed within classified reports by Obama administration officials during the transition between administrations.

The committee has subpoenaed the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency for information about what is called “unmasking.” Republicans on the committee have been pushing for a thorough investigation of how the names of Trump campaign officials became exposed in classified intelligence reports based off intelligence community intercepts.

Those subpoenas seek information on requests made by former national security adviser Susan Rice, former CIA Director John Brennan and former United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power for names to be unmasked in classified material. The three didn’t personally receive subpoenas, the people familiar with the matte said. Mr. Brennan, Ms. Rice and Ms. Power didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Ms. Power hasn’t previously been reported as a potential witness in the probe so her inclusion in the subpoenas may mean Republicans are broadening their areas of investigation.

Typically, information about Americans intercepted in foreign surveillance is redacted, even in classified reports distributed within the government, unless a compelling need exists to reveal them. Unmasking requests aren’t uncommon by top intelligence community officials but Republicans want to know whether any of the unmaskings of Trump campaign officials during the transition were politically motivated.

The four subpoenas related to the Russia investigation remain unknown but Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the panel, has previously said that former national security adviser Mike Flynn would be subpoenaed by the panel. It is unclear if Mr. Flynn is one of the four targeted Wednesday.

The House Intelligence Committee is one of two bodies currently probing the question of whether Russian meddled in the 2016 election and whether anyone from Mr. Trump’s campaign played a role. The Senate Intelligence Committee is conducting its own investigation and has already issued subpoenas to Mr. Flynn and his businesses. Mr. Trump has said there was no collusion with Russia and called the investigation a witch hunt. Russia has denied the allegations.

The House panel also sent a letter to former White House press aide Boris Epshteyn asking him to voluntarily submit information to the committee. Mr. Epshteyn briefly served as special assistant to the president in the Trump administration before departing his post earlier this year.

“Like many others, Mr. Epshteyn has received a broad, preliminary request for information from the House Intelligence Committee,” an attorney for Mr. Epshteyn said Wednesday. “This is a voluntary request. Mr. Epshteyn has not been subpoenaed nor do we anticipate that he will be. We have reached out to the committee with several follow up questions and we are awaiting their response in order to better understand what information they are seeking and whether Mr. Epshteyn is able to reasonably provide it.”

Write to Byron Tau at byron.tau@wsj.com

Jared Kushner Considered Setting Up Secret Communications With Russia

May 27, 2017

Jared Kushner Considered Setting Up Secret Communications With Russia

Idea was broached in meeting Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser had with Russian ambassador

Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to President Donald Trump

Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to President Donald Trump PHOTO: AARON P. BERNSTEIN/REUTERS

WASHINGTON— Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, considered setting up a secret communications line with Russia during the presidential transition to discuss the country’s military operations in Syria and other issues, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The idea was broached in a meeting that Mr. Kushner had last December with Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak, this person said. Such a line would have allowed Mr. Kushner to communicate securely with a Russian military official, but it was never set up, this person said.

A secure communications line like the one considered could have made it more difficult for the U.S. intelligence agencies to intercept and listen to any conversations. The Russian ambassador was under routine surveillance at the time by American authorities.

It was unclear why the transition team would have felt the need to establish a secure line to Moscow or whether Mr. Trump’s advisers realized that Mr. Kislyak was likely the target of U.S. surveillance. But two other people with knowledge of Mr. Kushner’s activities during the transition said his interest in creating what they described as a “backchannel” with Russia raised concerns among law enforcement and national security officials.

Jamie Gorelick, a lawyer for Mr. Kushner, couldn’t be reached late Friday. Previously she said in a statement about Mr. Kushner’s meetings with Russians: “Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry.”

A White House spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Washington Post reported earlier Friday, citing U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports, that Mr. Kislyak had reported to Moscow that Mr. Kushner had discussed establishing a secure line.

At the time, the Obama administration was still in charge of U.S. foreign policy. But retired Gen. Mike Flynn, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and a senior adviser to Mr. Trump, was engaged in his own discussions with the Russians that eventually became part of a sprawling FBI investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The Russians have denied interfering in the election.

Mr. Kushner’s known contacts with the Russians, which include a December meeting he had with a Russian banker, have been scrutinized by federal investigators for months, these people said. The FBI, which is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, would eventually like to speak to Mr. Kushner about his meetings with the Russian ambassador and the banker, as well as any other interactions he may have had with Russians linked to that country’s intelligence services, according to a person familiar with the probe.

Investigators haven’t taken formal steps to interview Mr. Kushner, this person said.

The Trump administration has denied any collusion with Russia.

Ties between Russia and Trump associates and his campaign are also the subject of two congressional investigations. As part of those probes, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have asked the Treasury Department for information that could be used to find any financial links between Mr. Trump, his businesses and associates, and Russian individuals or entities.

Among the questions investigators are also considering is whether any of Mr. Kushner’s business interests also have Russian links, according to a person with knowledge of the congressional investigations. Before joining the Trump administration, Mr. Kushner was the CEO of the Kushner family’s real-estate business.

Mr. Kushner isn’t considered a target or a focus of the FBI investigation, according to the person familiar with the probe.

The White House has said that Mr. Kushner’s previously disclosed meetings with Russian officials were part of his role in the transition as the main point of contact for foreign government officials. In addition to Mr. Kislyak, Mr. Kushner also met in December with Sergey Gorkov, the head of Vnesheconombank, a Russian bank that was placed on a U.S. sanctions list following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Write to Carol E. Lee at carol.lee@wsj.com and Shane Harris at shane.harris@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/jared-kushner-considered-setting-up-secret-communications-with-russia-1495863533?mod=e2fb

Related:

Russian ambassador told Moscow that Kushner wanted secret communications channel with Kremlin

May 27, 2017
The Washington Post
May 26 at 7:01 PM
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Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.
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Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, son-in-law and confidant to then-President-elect Trump, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.
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Image result for Jared Kushner,photosJared Kushner, left, has the ear of his father-in-law.  (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.

The White House disclosed the meeting only in March, playing down its significance. But people familiar with the matter say the FBI now considers the encounter, as well as another meeting Kushner had with a Russian banker, to be of investigative interest.

Kislyak reportedly was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate — a proposal that would have carried security risks for Moscow as well as the Trump team.

Neither the meeting nor the communications of Americans involved were under U.S. surveillance, officials said.

The White House declined to comment. Robert Kelner, a lawyer for Flynn, declined to comment. The Russian Embassy did not respond to requests for comment.

Russia at times feeds false information into communication streams it suspects are monitored as a way of sowing misinformation and confusion among U.S. analysts. But officials said that it’s unclear what Kislyak would have had to gain by falsely characterizing his contacts with Kushner to Moscow, particularly at a time when the Kremlin still saw the prospect of dramatically improved relations with Trump.

Kushner’s apparent interest in establishing a secret channel with Moscow, rather than relying on U.S. government systems, has added to the intrigue surrounding the Trump administration’s relationship with Russia.

To some officials, it also reflects a staggering naivete.

The FBI closely monitors the communications of Russian officials in the United States, and it maintains a nearly constant surveillance of its diplomatic facilities. The National Security Agency monitors the communications of Russian officials overseas.

Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said that although Russian diplomats have secure means of communicating with Moscow, Kushner’s apparent request for access to such channels was extraordinary.

“How would he trust that the Russians wouldn’t leak it on their side?” said one former senior intelligence official. The FBI would know that a Trump transition official was going in and out of the embassy, which would cause “a great deal” of concern, he added. The entire idea, he said, “seems extremely naive or absolutely crazy.”

The discussion of a secret channel adds to a broader pattern of efforts by Trump’s closest advisers to obscure their contacts with Russian counterparts. Trump’s first national security adviser, Flynn, was forced to resign after a series of false statements about his conversations with Kislyak. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from matters related to the Russia investigation after it was revealed that he had failed to disclose his own meetings with Kislyak when asked during congressional testimony about any contact with Russians.

Kushner’s interactions with Russians — including Kislyak and an executive for a Russian bank under U.S. sanctions — were not acknowledged by the White House until they were exposed in media reports.

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Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak

It is common for senior advisers of a newly elected president to be in contact with foreign leaders and officials. But new administrations are generally cautious in their handling of interactions with Moscow, which U.S. intelligence agencies have accused of waging an unprecedented campaign to interfere in last year’s presidential race and help elect Trump.

Obama administration officials say members of the Trump transition team never approached them about arranging a secure communications channel with their Russian contacts, possibly because of concerns about leaks.

The State Department, the White House National Security Council and U.S. intelligence agencies all have the ability to set up secure communications channels with foreign leaders, though doing so for a transition team would be unusual.

Trump’s advisers were similarly secretive about meetings with leaders from the United Arab Emirates. The Obama White House only learned that the crown prince of Abu Dhabi was flying to New York in December to see Kushner, Flynn and Stephen K. Bannon, another top Trump adviser, because U.S. border agents in the UAE spotted the Emirate leader’s name on a flight manifest.

Russia would also have had reasons of its own to reject such an overture from Kushner. Doing so would require Moscow to expose its most sophisticated communications capabilities — which are likely housed in highly secure locations at diplomatic compounds — to an American.

The Post was first alerted in mid-December to the meeting by an anonymous letter, which said, among other things, that Kushner had talked to Kislyak about setting up the communications channel. This week, officials who reviewed the letter and spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence said the portion about the secret channel was consistent with their understanding of events.

For instance, according to those officials and the letter, Kushner conveyed to the Russians that he was aware that it would be politically sensitive to meet publicly, but it was necessary for the Trump team to be able to continue their communication with Russian government officials.

In addition to their discussion about setting up the communications channel, Kushner, Flynn and Kislyak also talked about arranging a meeting between a representative of Trump and a “Russian contact” in a third country whose name was not identified, according to the anonymous letter.

The Post reported in April that Erik Prince, the founder of the private security firm Blackwater, now called Academi, and an informal adviser to the Trump transition team, met on Jan. 11 — nine days before Trump’s inauguration — in the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean with a representative of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Includes videos:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/russian-ambassador-told-moscow-that-kushner-wanted-secret-communications-channel-with-kremlin/2017/05/26/520a14b4-422d-11e7-9869-bac8b446820a_story.html?tid=sm_tw&utm_term=.09ed6ca39df4

Former CIA Chief Brennan Says Russians Were in Contact With Trump Campaign Associates

May 23, 2017

Brennan said Russia ‘brazenly’ interfered in the presidential election despite a direct warning to a top Kremlin official

 Former CIA director John Brennan

WASHINGTON—Former CIA director John Brennan testified Tuesday that contacts by Donald Trump campaign associates with Russian officials last year raised concerns that the Kremlin could try to cultivate people close to Mr. Trump, shedding light on why federal agents began a full investigation.

Mr. Brennan also disclosed that the intelligence community’s alarm about Russia “brazenly” interfering in the 2016 presidential election prompted him to warn his Russian intelligence counterpart last summer to stop meddling in U.S. politics.

In testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. Brennan explained the basis for the Federal Bureau of Investigation counterintelligence investigation that was opened after the election, which is looking at potential collusion between the campaign and Russia.

“I encountered and I’m aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign,” said Mr. Brennan, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency under former President Barack Obama.

Mr. Brennan said he didn’t know if these contacts by people tied to the campaign amounted to “collusion” with Russian officials, but said that a common Russian intelligence technique involved cultivating Americans as either witting or unwitting intelligence assets.

Mr. Brennan said he was concerned because of “known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals.”

He said that the contacts picked up by U.S. intelligence justified the opening of an FBI investigation that has overshadowed Mr. Trump’s presidency.

“I know that there was a sufficient basis of information and intelligence that required further investigation by the bureau to determine whether or not U.S. persons were actively conspiring, colluding with Russian officials,” said Mr. Brennan.

Mr. Brennan declined to discuss the specific information that his assessments were based on in the open hearing, saying that much of the information was classified. The House Intelligence Committee subsequently continued the hearing with Mr. Brennan in a classified, closed-door setting.

Mr. Trump has denied that he or his campaign coordinated with any foreign entity, and Russia has denied meddling in the election. Mr. Trump has said continuing questions about his campaign’s Russia contacts amount to a “witch hunt.”

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Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats

The FBI investigation is now being overseen by a special counsel, Robert Mueller, after Mr. Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey raised questions about whether the president was trying to quash the probe into whether his associates had contacts with Russians.

Mr. Trump asked Mr. Comey to end an investigation into his former national security adviser, Mike Flynn, according to people close to Mr. Comey. Mr. Trump has denied he made the request.

In a separate hearing Tuesday morning, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats declined to confirm or deny that Mr. Trump had asked him to publicly state there was no collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and the Russian government in response to a Washington Post report.

The Post reported that the president asked Mr. Coats and the National Security Agency director, Adm. Mike Rogers, to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion between the campaign and Russia.

Mr. Coats said it wasn’t appropriate to comment about the topic in his public testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“We discuss a number of topics on a very regular basis,” Mr. Coats said. “On this topic, as well as other topics, I don’t feel it’s appropriate to characterize discussions, conversations with the president.”

Mr. Coats was asked if he had discussed with Adm. Rogers any request from Mr. Trump regarding collusion. Mr. Coats responded: “That is something that I would like to withhold, that question, at this particular point in time.”

Mr. Coats was also asked if he knew of any efforts by the White House to interfere in other aspects of the Russia inquiry, including allegations the president asked Mr. Comey to ease off investigating Mr. Flynn. “I am not aware of that,” Mr. Coats said.

Mr. Brennan, the former CIA chief, said in his testimony that the intelligence community determined by last August that there was a “very aggressive” effort by Russia to intervene in the 2016 election.

Mr. Brennan described a previously undisclosed warning he made to his counterpart in Russian intelligence, Alexander Bortnikov, the head of the Russian FSB service, not to interfere in the U.S. election in an August phone call. According to Mr. Brennan’s account, Mr. Bortnikov denied any attempt to intervene and said Moscow is routinely and falsely blamed for such efforts by the U.S. government.

Write to Byron Tau at byron.tau@wsj.com and Joshua Jamerson at joshua.jamerson@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/former-cia-chief-brennan-says-russians-brazenly-interfered-in-u-s-election-1495551045?mod=e2fb