Posts Tagged ‘National Security Agency’

Russian hacks against the Democrats and the NSA expose the weaknesses of our democracy

August 20, 2016

Vladimir Putin examines a new presidential website in 2004. Credit Alexander Natruskin, Reuters

By David Blair
Chief Foreign Correspondent David Blair

The Telegraph

A capital city is paralysed by the failure of its electricity supply. A nuclear power station suffers meltdown. Banks go haywire and cash machines run dry. No one can have missed the nightmare scenarios associated with cyber-attacks and their potential to wreak havoc on a networked society.

“I completely rule out a possibility that the (Russian) government or the government bodies have been involved in this.”
Russian spokesman

But all the focus on these obvious camalities risks distracting us from what is actually happening. Instead of trying to inflict physical destruction or general mayhem, the signs are that the West’s most sophisticated adversaries are using their high-tech tools in more subtle and insidious ways.

Take Russia’s attempt to influence the US election campaign. The lengths to which the Kremlin is going to help Donald Trump and discredit Hillary Clinton are remarkable. The repeated hacks of the Democratic National Committee – which bear all the hallmarks of Russian intelligence – are designed to inflict maximum damage on Mrs Clinton, notably by driving as many wedges as possible between her and much of the Democratic party.

Donald Trump tries to clarify Hillary Clinton Second Amendment comment Donald Trump tries to clarify Hillary Clinton Second Amendment comment.

© Getty/AFP/File / by Rob Lever | Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign rally with democratic vice presidential nominee, US Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 29, 2016


There was the deluge of 20,000 stolen emails, carefully released just before the Democratic convention, showing how senior party figures had tried to thwart the Bernie Sanders campaign. Then came the hacks of the Clinton Foundation, apparently designed to unearth damaging material on the candidate herself. Along the way, Russian hackers even established a fake fundraising website for Mrs Clinton’s campaign, designed to entrap ordinary Democrats into giving away login information and email addresses.

“Does [Sanders] believe in a God? He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist. This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.”
Brad Marshall, Democrat CFO

Political espionage targeted against candidates for high office is, of course, as old as the hills. The new twist in 2016 is how the information has been made public, with the obvious aim of tipping the balance of the election in favour of Mr Trump.

Then, this week, hackers calling themselves the “Shadow Brokers” claimed to have stolen digital tools used by the US National Security Agency to break into foreign computer networks. Experts think they are authentic, and while some believe the culprit is an NSA mole, others suspect Russian involvement. Again unusually, the tools were posted publicly online, suggesting that their aim was to discredit or embarrass their owners.

Democratic national CEO Amy Dacey was forced to step down due to leaked emails Credit: Andrew Burton/Getty

Behind all this lies one crucial imbalance. In any situation short of all-out war, a country like Russia is probably not going to launch sudden cyber attacks designed to knock out electricity supplies or disable banking systems. The reason is simple: Russia has power stations and banks that are just as vulnerable. When two adversaries are equally exposed, they will not do their worst for fear of the possible consequences. Equal vulnerability keeps all parties in check; when everyone lives in a greenhouse, no-one throws stones.

But there is one asymmetry that will never go away. America has free and fair elections; Russia does not. The Kremlin can do its best to turn the race for the White House upside down, safe in the knowledge that America cannot hit back in kind. After all, when your elections are as predictable and stage-managed as Russia’s, they are also proof against foreign manipulation. Who cares if a sudden cascade of leaked emails were to sweep Russia? Assuming he stands, the winner of the next presidential election in 2018 will be Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.

Western countries are not going to abandon their habit of holding free and fair elections, so this imbalance is permanent. For as long as Russia remains an authoritarian state, meanwhile, Mr Putin will be able to target this vulnerability without fear of retribution.

And there are plenty of other openings for him to exploit. When Mr Putin sends Russian forces into action, he does not have to worry about such trifles as a vote in the country’s parliament. Today’s British MPs, by contrast, expect to have the final say whenever a Government tries to order any form of military action whatever. And experience suggests that even the flimsiest propaganda can influence a debate in the House of Commons.

“The Syrian rebels definitely had sarin gas, because they were caught with it by the Turkish Government”
George Galloway, 2013

A prime example was the vote on whether to strike Syria after Bashar al-Assad’s regime killed 1,400 people with poison gas in 2013. Russia’s propaganda line – endlessly debunked then and now – was that Assad had been framed and the rebels had actually carried out this attack. Many MPs who took part in that debate voiced doubts about the dictator’s culpability when, in truth, there was no reason for any doubt. It’s hard to avoid concluding that they were bamboozled by the disinformation and lies peddled in cyberspace, often by Russian outlets.

When a country holds genuine elections and allows free parliamentary debate on questions of war or peace, it lays itself open to manipulation of this kind. Russia, closed and authoritarian, is largely immune. There is no getting away from this asymmetry: the only defence is to be aware of the danger.


The Shadow Brokers promised that the auctioned material would contain 'cyber weapons' developed by the Equation Group, a hacking group that cyber security experts widely believe to be an arm of the NSA (file above)

The Shadow Brokers promised that the auctioned material would contain ‘cyber weapons’ developed by the Equation Group, a hacking group that cyber security experts widely believe to be an arm of the NSA (file above)

Shadow Brokers Hacking Group Auctions Stolen ‘Cyber-Weapons’ Used By American Intelligence — Linked to U.S. National Security Agency?

August 17, 2016


© AFP/File | Mysterious hackers calling themselves the “Shadow Brokers” leaked online what appears to be classified NSA computer code

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US National Security Agency, which gained international notoriety in 2013 after Edward Snowden revealed its data snooping techniques, has itself become the target of an apparent data breach.

Mysterious hackers calling themselves the “Shadow Brokers” leaked online what appears to be classified NSA computer code.

Several security experts told US media the code appears genuine, and Snowden said “circumstantial evidence” pointed to Russian involvement.

As of Wednesday, the NSA still had not responded to multiple requests for comment.

The hackers over the weekend posted two sets of files, one that is freely accessible and another that remains encrypted.

The Shadow Brokers said they would release this additional information subject to raising 1 million Bitcoins — digital currency, in this case worth about $575 million — through an online auction.

According to the New York Times, much of the code was created to peer through the computer firewalls of foreign powers like Russia, China and Iran.

Such access would enable the NSA to plant malware in rivals’ systems and monitor — or even attack — their networks.

Whoever obtained the code would have had to break into NSA servers that store the files, the Times said.

Former NSA employees who worked at the agency’s hacking division known as Tailored Access Operations told the Washington Post the hack appeared genuine.

“Without a doubt, they’re the keys to the kingdom,” one former TAO employee told the Post.

“The stuff you’re talking about would undermine the security of a lot of major government and corporate networks both here and abroad,” the employee was quoted as saying.

Former NSA contractor Snowden, who has been living in Russia since leaking documents revealing the scope of the agency’s monitoring of private data, said the hack could be a warning to the United States after Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign accused Moscow of hacking into Democratic National Committee emails.

“7) Why did they do it? No one knows, but I suspect this is more diplomacy than intelligence, related to the escalation around the DNC hack,” Snowden said in a series of more than a dozen tweets about the Shadow Brokers hack.

“8) Circumstantial evidence and conventional wisdom indicates Russian responsibility. Here’s why that is significant:” he added, explaining that the hack could be an effort to influence US officials wondering how aggressively to respond to the DNC hack.

A website initially used by the group to publicize its hack had been taken down as of Wednesday morning.


Powerful NSA hacking tools have been revealed online — The Washington Post

 (August 16, 2016 —



The Shadow Brokers promised that the auctioned material would contain 'cyber weapons' developed by the Equation Group, a hacking group that cyber security experts widely believe to be an arm of the NSA (file above)

The Shadow Brokers promised that the auctioned material would contain ‘cyber weapons’ developed by the Equation Group, a hacking group that cyber security experts widely believe to be an arm of the NSA (file above)


The Shadow Brokers said the programs they will auction will be ‘better than Stuxnet,’ a malicious computer worm widely attributed to the United States and Israel that sabotaged Iran’s nuclear program.

Reuters could not contact the Shadow Brokers or verify their assertions. Some experts who looked at the samples posted on Tumblr said they included programs that had previously been described and therefore were unlikely to cause major damage.

‘The data [released so far] appears to be relatively old; some of the programs have already been known for years,’ said researcher Claudio Guarnieri, and are unlikely ‘to cause any significant operational damage.’

Still, they appeared to be genuine tools that might work if flaws have not been addressed. The Tumblr blog has since been taken down.

Other security experts warned the posting could prove to be a hoax.

The group said interested parties had to send funds in advance of winning the auction via Bitcoin currency and would not get their money back if they lost.

The auction will end at an unspecified time, Shadow Brokers said, encouraging bidders to ‘keep bidding until we announce winner.’

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‘Shadow Brokers’ Leak Raises Alarming Question: Was the N.S.A. Hacked?

The release on websites this week of what appears to be top-secret computer code that the National Security Agency has used to break into the networks of foreign governments and other espionage targets has caused deep concern inside American intelligence agencies, raising the question of whether America’s own elite operatives have been hacked and their methods revealed.

Most outside experts who examined the posts, by a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers, said they contained what appeared to be genuine samples of the code — though somewhat outdated — used in the production of the N.S.A.’s custom-built malware.

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Shadow Brokers to sell stolen surveillance tools “better than Stuxnet” — Possibly linked to U.S. National Security Agency

August 16, 2016
Hackers going by the name Shadow Brokers said on Monday they will auction stolen surveillance tools they say were used by a cyber group linked to the U.S. National Security Agency.
To arouse interest in the auction, the hackers released samples of programs they said could break into popular firewall software made by companies including Cisco Systems Inc, Juniper Networks Inc and Fortinet Inc.
The companies did not respond to request for comment, nor did the NSA.
Writing in imperfect English, the Shadow Brokers promised in postings on a Tumblr blog that the auctioned material would contain “cyber weapons” developed by the Equation Group, a hacking group that cyber security experts widely believe to be an arm of the NSA.
The Shadow Brokers said the programs they will auction will be “better than Stuxnet,” a malicious computer worm widely attributed to the United States and Israel that sabotaged Iran’s nuclear program.
Reuters could not contact the Shadow Brokers or verify their assertions. Some experts who looked at the samples posted on Tumblr said they included programs that had previously been described and therefore were unlikely to cause major damage.
“The data [released so far] appears to be relatively old; some of the programs have already been known for years,” said researcher Claudio Guarnieri, and are unlikely “to cause any significant operational damage.”
Still, they appeared to be genuine tools that might work if flaws have not been addressed. After examining the code released Monday, Matt Suiche, founder of UAE-based security startup Comae Technologies, concluded they looked like “could be used.”
Other security experts warned the posting could prove to be a hoax. The group said interested parties had to send funds in advance of winning the auction via Bitcoin currency and would not get their money back if they lost.
The auction will end at an unspecified time, Shadow Brokers said, encouraging bidders to “keep bidding until we announce winner.”

Snapping up cheap spy tools, nations ‘monitoring everyone’ — “If you said it, somebody likely recorded it.”

August 2, 2016


Pedestrians talk on their cellphones in Lima, Peru, on Monday, Aug. 1, 2016. Under a July 2015 decree, police now track cellphone locations without a court order but would need one to listen in. All four Peruvian phone companies are cooperating. They signed a pact with the government in Octoboer the details of which were not disclosed. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

Pedestrians talk on their cellphones in Lima, Peru, on Monday, Aug. 1, 2016. Under a July 2015 decree, police now track cellphone locations without a court order but would need one to listen in. All four Peruvian phone companies are cooperating. They signed a pact with the government in October the details of which were not disclosed. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia) (The Associated Press)

By Frank Bajak, Jack Gillum and several other AP writers (see end of article)

The Associated Press

August 2, 2016

It was a national scandal. Peru’s then-vice president accused two domestic intelligence agents of staking her out. Then, a top congressman blamed the spy agency for a break-in at his office. News stories showed the agency had collected data on hundreds of influential Peruvians.

Yet after last year’s outrage, which forced out the prime minister and froze its intelligence-gathering, the spy service went ahead with a $22 million program capable of snooping on thousands of Peruvians at a time. Peru — a top cocaine-producing nation — joined the ranks of world governments that have added commercial spyware to their arsenals.

The purchase from Israeli-American company Verint Systems, chronicled in documents obtained by The Associated Press, offers a rare, behind-the-scenes look into how easy it is for a country to purchase and install off-the-shelf surveillance equipment. The software allows governments to intercept voice calls, text messages and emails.

Except for blacklisted nations like Syria and North Korea, there is little to stop governments that routinely violate basic rights from obtaining the same so-called “lawful intercept” tools that have been sold to Western police and spy agencies. People tracked by the technology have been beaten, jailed and tortured, according to human rights groups.

Targets identified by the AP include a blogger in the repressive Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan, opposition activists in the war-ravaged African nation of South Sudan, and politicians and reporters in oil-rich Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean.

“The status quo is completely unacceptable,” said Marietje Schaake, a European Union lawmaker pushing for greater oversight. “The fact that this market is almost completely unregulated is very disturbing.”

The Verint documents that AP obtained in Peru, including training manuals, contracts, invoices and emails, offer more detail than previously available on the inner workings of a highly secretive industry.

“There is just so little reliable data on this,” said Edin Omanovic, a researcher at Privacy International, a London-based advocacy group. “These commercial tools are being used in a strategic and offensive way in much the same way that military tools are used.”

The scope and sophistication revealed in the Peru documents approximates, on a small scale, U.S. and British surveillance programs catalogued in 2013 by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. That trove showed how the U.S. government collected the phone records of millions of Americans, few suspected of crimes. Even after some reforms, there is still much to be done in the U.S. and abroad to rein in Big Brother, privacy advocates say.

Reached at Verint’s corporate headquarters in Melville, New York, an assistant to CEO Dan Bodner said the company would have no comment. “We typically don’t comment to reporters,” said Barbara Costa.

Verint and its main competitors hail from nations with well-funded spy agencies, including the United States, Israel, Britain and Germany, and have operated with limited oversight.

With more than $1 billion in yearly sales, Verint is a major, longtime player in an industry whose secrecy makes its size difficult to quantify. Verint Systems Ltd., the subsidiary that sold the surveillance package to Peru, is based in Herzliya, Israel, outside Tel Aviv.

In regulatory filings, the parent corporation boasts upward of 10,000 customers in more than 180 countries, including most of the world’s largest companies and U.S. law-enforcement agencies. The company says its products help businesses run better and “make the world a safer place.” In 2007, Verint provided Mexico with a U.S.-funded, $3 million surveillance platform aimed at fighting drug cartels.

Surveillance sales account for about a third of its business. However, the company discloses little about those products, which it says collect and parse massive data sets to “detect, investigate and neutralize threats.”

It also does not identify its law enforcement and intelligence agency clients, but the AP independently confirmed through interviews and documents that it has sales in countries including Australia, Brazil, the United States, Mexico, Colombia and Switzerland.

About half of Verint’s surveillance dealings are in the developing world, said analyst Jeff Kessler of Imperial Capital in New York.

The Peru installation — known as Pisco, a nod to the local brandy — illustrates how the private surveillance industry has piggybacked on multibillion-dollar government research in the West. Many security experts who honed their skills in Israel’s military have gone to work in the private sector, effectively putting their tech chops at the service of less sophisticated nations for a fraction of the cost.

Like spy tools wielded by larger nations, Pisco lets officials “intercept and monitor” satellite networks that carry voice and data traffic, potentially putting private communications of millions of Peruvians at risk.

A software manual offers step-by-step instructions on how to intercept those communications with Verint equipment: Connect to a satellite, identify the callers, then “open a voice product” — their jargon for a phone call.

Next on the flow chart:

“Voice is heard.”



Since the early 2000s, Verint and top competitor Nice Systems have sold mass surveillance products to the secret police in Uzbekistan, according to extensive research by Mari Bastashevski for Privacy International, a London-based advocacy group. She found the companies also sold such systems to neighboring Kazakhstan, also a tightly governed nation.

Israeli technicians from both companies have rotated in and out of Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, for tech support and maintenance, Bastashevski found. Nice Systems sold its surveillance business to Israeli defense heavyweight Elbit Systems last year.

That equipment has let Uzbek secret police quickly locate and arrest people who discuss sensitive information on the phone or via email, dissidents say.

“The authorities’ main weapon is people’s fear,” said Tulkin Karayev, a Sweden-based exile. “Freedom of speech, freedom of expression — all this is banned.”

Asked by the AP whether Nice Systems’ sales had enabled political repression, Elbit spokeswoman Dalia Rosen would not comment. “We follow the leading standards of corporate governance and focus on ethical behavior in our business dealings,” she said.

Over the past two decades, Uzbekistan has “imprisoned thousands to enforce repressive rule,” Human Rights Watch reported last year. The price of dissent is arbitrary detention, forced labor and torture, the group said. A report submitted to the U.N. by three rights groups deemed torture by the secret police systematic, unpunished and encouraged.

Three years ago, metal worker Kudrat Rasulov reached out to Karayev from Uzbekistan via Facebook seeking advice on how he could help promote free expression in his country. The exile said he suggested that Rasulov, now 46, write critical commentary on local media reports. Rasulov’s weekly reports were then published online under a pseudonym. Rasulov thought he was being careful. He created a new email account for every article he sent, and the two men discussed the articles over Skype. But after six months, Rasulov was arrested. He is serving an 8-year-prison sentence for subversion.

Karayev believes Rasulov was undone by surveillance, and Human Rights Watch agreed. The court’s sentence found he was convicted based in part on his Skype communications and contact with Karayev, the group said in a report.

“They were reading Skype. They were listening to his phone calls. That’s the way they build their cases,” said Steve Swerdlow, the report’s author.

In Colombia, Verint has racked up millions in sales. As recently as 2015, U.S. customs officials funded maintenance for a wiretapping system, according to government contracts. Nearly a decade ago, its products were abused by officials who were later sacked for illegal eavesdropping, senior police and prosecutors told the AP at the time, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

Like the United States, most countries require court orders to use the technology. But where rule of law is weak, abuse is not uncommon.

The Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago saw a government fall after a wiretapping scandal involving Verint-supplied equipment. In 2009, a total of 53 people, including politicians and journalists, were illegally monitored, according to a former senior security official who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal. The Verint equipment remains operative, though now a court order is needed to use it.

One piece of the Verint product mix that Trinidad and Tobago bought is Vantage Broadway. A promotional brochure published by Israel’s defense ministry for a 2014 trade show in India describes it as data-analysis and pattern-seeking software. It pairs with a product called Reliant to “intercept, filter and analyze huge volumes of Internet, voice and satellite communication.” The package Peru bought includes both Reliant and Vantage, documents show.

The little regulation that exists in the commercial mass-surveillance trade falls under a non-binding international arms export-control regime called the Wassenaar Arrangement. In December 2013, it was amended to add monitoring products like Reliant and Vantage and “attack-ware” that breaks into smartphones and computers and turns them into listening posts.

The United States has not ratified the amendment; the federal Commerce Department proposed rules that raised objections in Silicon Valley. Israel says it is complying, and the European Union ratified the update. But Schaake, the EU lawmaker, said its 28 member states act independently and “technologies continue to be exported to countries that are known human rights violators.”

Surveillance technology from Israel, meanwhile, is being used in South Sudan, where a 2 ½-year-old civil war has claimed tens of thousands of lives, a panel of U.N. experts reported in January. U.N. and human rights groups say the government deploys it to track down, jail and torture dissidents and journalists.

The ability of South Sudan’s intelligence agency “to identify and illegally apprehend individuals has been significantly enhanced” through the acquisition of “additional communications interception equipment from Israel,” the U.N. experts wrote.

They did not name the suppliers, and a government spokesman declined to discuss the issue. While there is no direct evidence that Verint is a supplier, an AP reporter confirmed the names of two company employees on a flight in May from Ethiopia to the South Sudanese capital of Juba. Typing on a laptop, one was working on a presentation that named the three telecoms that operate in the country.

Verint did not respond to questions about whether it supplied surveillance technology to South Sudan.

An activist jailed for four months in Juba said his interrogators spoke openly about tapping his phone, played recordings of him in intercepted phone conversations and showed him emails he had sent. He spoke to the AP on condition he not be identified, saying he fears for his life.

Joseph Bakosoro, a former South Sudanese state governor who was also held without charge for four months, said his interrogators played for him a voicemail that had been left on his cellphone. They claimed it was evidence he backed rebels.

Bakosoro said the voicemail proved only that he was being bugged.

His interrogators didn’t hide that.

“They told me they are monitoring me,” he said. “They are monitoring my phone, and they are monitoring everyone, so whatever we say on the telephone, they are monitoring.”



Three years after Peru acquired the Verint package, it’s not yet up and running, Carlos Basombrio, the incoming interior minister said just before taking office last week. “When it becomes operative, it will be used against organized crime (in coordination) with judges and prosecutors.”

Located in a three-story building next to the country’s DINI spy agency, Pisco sits on a Lima military base off-limits to the public. It can track 5,000 individual targets and simultaneously record the communications of 300 people, according to agency documents, with eight listening rooms and parabolic antennae affixed outside to capture satellite downlinks.

Control of Pisco was shifted to the national police after the spying scandal that crippled the intelligence agency. Verint sent Israeli personnel to train Peruvian operators, adding eight months of instruction at the host government’s request, records show.

One major eavesdropping tool has, however, been active in Peru since October. It can physically track any phone in real time using geolocation. Under a July 2015 decree, police can locate phones without a court order, but would need one to listen in.

Government officials wouldn’t offer details on what software was being used to track cellphones. But two months before the decree, DINI officials said payment had been authorized for a Verint geolocation product called SkyLock. That software enables phone-tracking within the country, and a premium version can pinpoint any mobile phone in most countries.

All four Peruvian phone companies agreed to cooperate on geolocation, signing a pact with the government the details of which were not disclosed.

Civil libertarians consider warrantless geolocation a dangerous invasion of privacy, especially in a nation with pervasive public corruption. Peru’s incoming congress is dominated by Fuerza Popular, a party associated with imprisoned former President Alberto Fujimori. He ran one of the most corrupt Latin American regimes in recent history.

In July 2015, the Verint surveillance platform got caught in the chaos of Peruvian politics.

Word of the purchase was leaked, triggering a government audit. The Miami-based Verint vice president who made the sale, Shefi Paz, complained about the phone companies’ apparent foot-dragging in emails and letters to DINI officials. They weren’t making themselves available for meetings.

“Verint should not have to suffer from political delays,” Paz wrote. Reached by phone, Paz declined to comment.

The eavesdropping products Verint and its peers sell play an important role in fighting terrorism, said Ika Balzam, a former employee of both Verint and Nice. That is a common industry claim, echoed by politicians.

And yet, Balzam acknowledged, there are no guarantees that nation-states won’t abuse surveillance tools.

“There is a saying,” Balzam said: “‘Who will guard the guards?'”


Associated Press writer Frank Bajak reported this story in Lima and AP writer Jack Gillum reported from Washington. AP writers Maria Danilova in Washington; Josef Federman in Jerusalem; Jason Patinkin in Juba, South Sudan; Tony Fraser in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago; Jamey Keaten in Geneva and Kristen Gelineau in Sydney contributed to this report.


Frank Bajak on Twitter:

Jack Gillum on Twitter:


US believed to ‘hack back’ at Russia following Democratic Party email leaks

August 2, 2016

The FSB claimed to have found ‘professional’ spyware on roughly 20 agency systems.

Headquarters of the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Maryland, US.US DoD

While tensions between the world’s superpowers in relation to hacking and cyber-espionage continues to escalate, the suspected state-sponsored hack at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) by alleged Kremlin-linked groups threatens to turn the term ‘cyberwar’ from rhetoric into reality.

Amid mounting evidence that at least two hacking groups – dubbed Cosy Bear and Fancy Bear – were able to infiltrate computer networks used by the US Democratic Party, the National Security Agency (NSA) has openly reaffirmed it has the capability – and legal authority – to “hack back” against chosen foreign targets, including government-linked adversaries.
“In terms of the foreign intelligence mission, one of the things we have to do is try to understand who did a breach, who is responsible for a breach,” Robert Joyce, chief of the NSA’s secretive ‘Tailored Access Operations’ told NBC News in an interview.

“We will use the NSA’s authorities to pursue foreign intelligence to try to get back into that collection, to understand who did it and get the attribution. That’s hard work, but that’s one of the responsibilities we have.”

While Joyce declined to discuss the DNC breach specifically, which the FBI is now investigating, he did note the NSA has the “technical capabilities and legal authorities” which allows the agency to ‘hack back’ against suspected groups for intelligence gathering purposes. At least three intelligence sources told ABC News such NSA activities are already likely to have started.

The comments came on the same day that Russian intelligence service, the FSB, claimed to have found evidence of a “professional” spyware attack that targeted roughly 20 state agencies and military institutions. While it did not speculate on who was behind the attacks, Russian intelligence said “entities involved in crucial infrastructure” were impacted.

The full scope of the TAO was exposed following the Edward Snowden revelations in 2013. In one profile by German publication Der Spiegel, it was branded the NSA’s “secret weapon”. Based on analysis from the trove of leaked NSA files, it was revealed the highly specialised hacking unit’s operations ranged from counterterrorism to cyberattacks to traditional espionage.

Meanwhile Snowden, who now resides in Russian under asylum, recently made headlines for asserting that the NSA would have no problem tracing the culprits of the DNC hack. “Evidence that could publicly attribute responsibility for the DNC hack certainly exists at #NSA,” he tweeted on 25 July.

As the FBI-led investigation continues, the Obama Administration has remained reluctant to point a finger directly towards Russia. “What we do know is that the Russians hack our systems,” the US president said during one recent interview with NBC News. “Not just government systems, but private systems. But you know, what the motives were in terms of the leaks, all that — I can’t say directly.”

Vladimir Putin
The Kremlin has denied involvement with the hack at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Reuters

Other officials, including Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, have become more assertive in how they are choosing to attribute the recent DNC hack and data leak, which eventually resulted in the release of 20,000 sensitive internal emails by whistleblowing outfit WikiLeaks.

“We know that Russian intelligence services, which are part of the Russian government, which is under the firm control of Vladimir Putin, hacked into the DNC. We know that they arranged for a lot of those emails to be released,” Clinton said in an interview with Fox News aired on 31 July. For its part, the Russian government has repeatedly denied involvement in the breach.

Meanwhile, experts from multiple firms – including US-based CrowdStrike, Fidelis Security and FireEye’s Mandiant – continue to stand by assertions that malware used by known Russian hacking groups was deployed in the attack. None are likely to state the claim with 100% certainty as attribution in cyberspace remains unpredictable at best.

Writing on Lawfare, Matt Tait, former GCHQ security specialist and current CEO of UK security consultancy Capital Alpha Security, said officials need to “proceed with care and precision” on how they now respond to the attack.

“If future similar leaks are to be properly discouraged, we need to carefully consider whether the hackers are really the Russian government; if so, what part or parts of the DNC leak operation we fundamentally object to; and finally what domains and what scale of response is proportionate and appropriate to respond to the attack,” he noted.

“[The response] will set the normative precedent for responses to attributed-but-denied collateral mass leaks of private citizen data by foreign governments in the future.”

Clinton Foundation Breached by Russian Hackers

June 21, 2016

Are Democrats Soft on Terror?

June 16, 2016

In security matters, Republicans are from Mars and Democrats are from Venus.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign event in Orlando last December. Credit Willie J. Allen, Jr. AP


June 15, 2016 6:32 p.m. ET

The day after Donald Trump accused Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton of refusing to say “radical Islamic terrorism,” President Obama called Mr. Trump’s charge a “distraction” from fighting terrorism. Possibly so, but it wasn’t the only distraction.

Within hours of Omar Mateen verbally dedicating his slaughter of 49 people to Islamic State, terrorism got drowned out by an outpouring of other subjects.

Here, for example, is the New York Times editorializing on the “many factors” that caused the Orlando massacre: “a vicious and virulent homophobia; a failure to identify and intercept those with histories of domestic abuse or threats of violence; a radicalized strain of Islam . . . .” The Times editors then added to this list “one other factor,” which of course is “easy access to guns.”

Hard as it may be to focus, the subject this week is, once again, just terrorism. Back in February after the New Hampshire presidential primaries, something in the exit polls caught my eye. It was that of the four “most important” issues facing the country, Democratic voters put terrorism fourth, at 10%. For Granite State Republicans it was 23%.

At the time, the 10% figure struck me mainly as an intriguing result from a small state early in the primary season. Still, the terrorist attack in San Bernardino had just occurred in December and the horrific Paris massacres a month before.

But that pattern—Democrats ranking terrorism fourth at 10%—held throughout the 2016 primary season. Even in military-minded South Carolina, terrorism registered at 10% with Democrats. For South Carolina Republicans, terrorism was the top issue at 32%.

In April, a study by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations of the primaries’ exit polls noticed the phenomenon: “Terrorism has been named as the top issue on average by one in ten (Democratic) voters, far behind the economy/jobs, income inequality, and health care.”

Does this mean Republicans are from Mars and Democrats are from Venus? Yes it does, and the Democrats know it.

A Wednesday Washington Post article titled “A Fight Over Nation’s Values” said: “Both Clinton and Obama were eager to shift the focus away from terrorism and the battle against Islamic State, an area of relative weakness for Democrats.”

The article itself was about an effort by Democrats to transfer the post-Orlando political conversation to Donald Trump’s “values.”

Donald Trump can certainly tweet for himself about his values. But Islamic State and its horrors, which do include San Bernardino and Orlando, began and metastasized while Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton presided over national security. Voters may reasonably ask themselves in November: Can the post-Obama Democrats be trusted to do what needs to be done to shut down you-know-who in their homicidal havens across the Middle East? Put differently, why is fighting terrorism recognized as “an area of relative weakness for Democrats”?

To the last man and woman, Democrats would go ballistic, if one may use that word, at the notion they are “soft” on terrorism, even if they’ve created a microagression-free vocabulary for the subject.

A less tendentious reading of the exit polls, they’d say, is that nearly all Democrats think terrorism is a problem, but most believe domestic concerns, such as income inequality, deserve more attention. They’d say the differences between the two parties, or between conservatives and progressives, is a matter of degree and not common concern.

I don’t think that’s true. The differences of degree are large, big enough to create significant margins of risk for the American public’s safety.


That difference is reflected not just in attitudinal preferences, but in policy results across a broad spectrum of real-world security matters, both domestic and international.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress passed the Patriot Act with virtual unanimity, presumably in recognition that the nation’s security apparatus was inadequate for the nature of this new threat.

The left argued that liberal Democrats voted for it because of post-9/11 “panic.” Soon, Democrats were legislating or filing lawsuits to pare back the Patriot Act’s provisions. The law’s title itself became a shorthand derision of then-President George W. Bush.

The experience with the Patriot Act, however, tracks with the divide on virtually every security issue: the many lawsuits to constrain the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the battles over the National Security Agency, litigation to end “stop-and-frisk” policing or the endless tensions over the Fourth Amendment and police investigations.

There are indeed serious constitutional issues raised by these disputes, but Democrats always end up on the same side of any policy affecting domestic or national security—conveying unmistakably that they find these functions morally distasteful, rather than morally necessary.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Obama told the Air Force Academy’s graduating cadets he had “put aside 50 years of failed policies” by using “diplomacy, not war.” That Air Force commencement was the 10% mind-set reflected in those exit polls. Now Hillary Clinton is wrapping herself in the Obama foreign policy. For the security threats that lie ahead, it still won’t be enough.

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Hillary Clinton’s Damning Emails — Democrats Don’t Seem To Care

May 1, 2016

Before the Democrats lock in their choice for President, they might want to know if Hillary Clinton broke the law with her unsecure emails and may be indicted, a question that ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern addresses.

Then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton preparing to testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in 2012.  (Photo: House Committee on Foreign Affairs/flickr/cc)


A few weeks after leaving office, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have breathed a sigh of relief and reassurance when Director of National Intelligence James Clapper denied reports of the National Security Agency eavesdropping on Americans. After all, Clinton had been handling official business at the State Department like many Americans do with their personal business, on an unsecured server.

In sworn testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on March 12, 2013, Clapper said the NSA was not collecting, wittingly, “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans,” which presumably would have covered Clinton’s unsecured emails.

But NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations — starting on June 5, 2013 — gave the lie to Clapper’s testimony, which Clapper then retracted on June 21 – coincidentally, Snowden’s 30th birthday – when Clapper sent a letter to the Senators to whom he had, well, lied. Clapper admitted his “response was clearly erroneous – for which I apologize.”  (On the chance you are wondering what became of Clapper, he is still DNI.)

I would guess that Clapper’s confession may have come as a shock to then ex-Secretary Clinton, as she became aware that her own emails might be among the trillions of communications that NSA was vacuuming up. Nevertheless, she found Snowden’s truth-telling a safer target for her fury than Clapper’s dishonesty and NSA’s dragnet.

In April 2014, Clinton suggested that Snowden had helped terrorists by giving “all kinds of information, not only to big countries, but to networks and terrorist groups and the like.” Clinton was particularly hard on Snowden for going to China (Hong Kong) and Russia to escape a vengeful prosecution by the U.S. government.

Clinton even explained what extraordinary lengths she and her people went to in safeguarding government secrets: “When I would go to China or would go to Russia, we would leave all my electronic equipment on the plane with the batteries out, because …they’re trying to find out not just about what we do in our government, they’re … going after the personal emails of people who worked in the State Department.” Yes, she said that. (emphasis added)

Hoisted on Her Own Petard

Alas, nearly a year later, in March 2015, it became known that during her tenure as Secretary of State she had not been as diligent as she led the American people to believe. She had used a private server for official communications, rather than the usual official State Department email accounts maintained on federal servers. Thousands of those emails would retroactively be marked classified – some at the TOP SECRET/Codeword level – by the department.

During an interview last September, Snowden was asked to respond to the revelations about highly classified material showing up on Clinton’s personal server: “When the unclassified systems of the United States government, which has a full-time information security staff, regularly gets hacked, the idea that someone keeping a private server in the renovated bathroom of a server farm in Colorado is more secure is completely ridiculous.”

Hillary Clinton. Credit Andrew Burton, Getty Images

Asked if Clinton “intentionally endangered US international security by being so careless with her email,” Snowden said it was not his place to say. Nor, it would seem, is it President Barack Obama’s place to say, especially considering that the FBI is actively investigating Clinton’s security breach. But Obama has said it anyway.

“She would never intentionally put America in any kind of jeopardy,” the President said on April 10. In the same interview, Obama told Chris Wallace, “I guarantee that there is no political influence in any investigation conducted by the Justice Department, or the FBI – not just in this case, but in any case. Full stop. Period.”

But, although a former professor of Constitutional law, the President sports a checkered history when it comes to prejudicing investigations and even trials, conducted by those ultimately reporting to him. For example, more than two years before Bradley (Chelsea) Manning was brought to trial, the President stated publicly: “We are a nation of laws. We don’t let individuals make decisions about how the law operates. He [Bradley Manning] broke the law!”

Not surprisingly, the ensuing court martial found Manning guilty, just as the Commander in Chief had predicted. Though Manning’s purpose in disclosing mostly low-level classified information was to alert the American public about war crimes and other abuses by the U.S. government, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

On March 9, when presidential candidate Clinton was asked, impertinently during a debate, whether she would withdraw from the race if she were indicted for her cavalier handling of government secrets, she offered her own certain prediction: “Oh, for goodness sake! It’s not going to happen. I’m not even answering that question.”

Prosecutorial Double Standards

Merited or not, there is, sadly, some precedent for Clinton’s supreme confidence. Retired General and ex-CIA Director David Petraeus, after all, lied to the FBI (a felony for “lesser” folks) about giving his mistress/biographer highly classified information and got off with a slap on the wrist, a misdemeanor fine and probation, no jail time – a deal that Obama’s first Attorney General Eric Holder did on his way out the door.

We are likely to learn shortly whether Attorney General Loretta Lynch is as malleable as Holder or whether she will allow FBI Director James Comey, who held his nose in letting Petraeus cop a plea, to conduct an unfettered investigation this time – or simply whether Comey will be compelled to enforce Clinton’s assurance that “it’s not going to happen.”

Last week, Fox News TV legal commentator Andrew Napolitano said the FBI is in the final stages of its investigation into Clinton and her private email server. His sources tell him that “the evidence of her guilt is overwhelming,” and that the FBI has enough evidence to indict and convict.

Whether Napolitano has it right or not, it seems likely that Clinton is reading President Obama correctly – no profile in courage is he. Nor is Obama likely to kill the political fortunes of the now presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Yet, if he orders Lynch and Comey not to hold Hillary Clinton accountable for what – in my opinion and that of most other veteran intelligence officials whom I’ve consulted – amounts to at least criminal negligence, another noxious precedent will be set.

Knowing Too Much

This time, however, the equities and interests of the powerful, secretive NSA, as well as the FBI and Justice, are deeply involved. And by now all of them know “where the bodies are buried,” as the smart folks inside the Beltway like to say. So the question becomes would a future President Hillary Clinton have total freedom of maneuver if she were beholden to those all well aware of her past infractions and the harm they have done to this country.

One very important, though as yet unmentioned, question is whether security lapses involving Clinton and her emails contributed to what Clinton has deemed her worst moment as Secretary of State, the killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. personnel at the lightly guarded U.S. “mission” (a very small, idiosyncratic, consulate-type complex not performing any consular affairs) in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012.

Somehow the terrorists who mounted the assault were aware of the absence of meaningful security at the facility, though obviously there were other means for them to have made that determination, including the State Department’s reliance on unreliable local militias who might well have shared that inside information with the attackers.

However, if there is any indication that Clinton’s belatedly classified emails contained information about internal State Department discussions regarding the consulate’s security shortcomings, questions may be raised about whether that information was somehow compromised by a foreign intelligence agency and shared with the attackers.

We know that State Department bureaucrats under Secretary Clinton overruled repeated requests for additional security in Benghazi. We also know that Clinton disregarded NSA’s repeated warnings against the use of unencrypted communications. One of NSA’s core missions, after all, is to create and maintain secure communications for military, diplomatic, and other government users.

Clinton’s flouting of the rules, in NSA’s face, would have created additional incentive for NSA to keep an especially close watch on her emails and telephone calls. The NSA also might know whether some intelligence service successfully hacked into Clinton’s server, but there’s no reason to think that the NSA would share that sort of information with the FBI, given the NSA’s history of not sharing its data with other federal agencies even when doing so makes sense.

The NSA arrogates to itself the prerogative of deciding what information to keep within NSA walls and what to share with the other intelligence and law enforcement agencies like the FBI. (One bitter consequence of this jealously guarded parochialism was the NSA’s failure to share very precise information that could have thwarted the attacks of 9/11, as former NSA insiders have revealed.)

It is altogether likely that Gen. Keith Alexander, head of NSA from 2005 to 2014, neglected to tell the Secretary of State of NSA’s “collect it all” dragnet collection that included the emails and telephone calls of Americans – including Clinton’s. This need not have been simply the result of Alexander’s pique at her disdain for communications security requirements, but rather mostly a consequence of NSA’s modus operandi.

With the mindset at NSA, one could readily argue that the Secretary of State – and perhaps the President himself – had no “need-to-know.” And, needless to say, the fewer briefed on the NSA’s flagrant disregard for Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures the better.

So, if there is something incriminating – or at least politically damaging – in Clinton’s emails, it’s a safe bet that at least the NSA and maybe the FBI, as well, knows. And that could make life difficult for a Clinton-45 presidency. Inside the Beltway, we don’t say the word “blackmail,” but the potential will be there. The whole thing needs to be cleaned up now before the choices for the next President are locked in.