Posts Tagged ‘Snowden’

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

May 18, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

They now face deportation.

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

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

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

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

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

Their stories only emerged late last year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The video of Snowden can be seen here:



Can Americans Trust Their Spies?

March 16, 2017

If intelligence agencies can’t keep their secrets, they can’t credibly assure us they follow other rules.

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The spy world is cloaked in secrecy, but last week’s leak of documents from the Central Intelligence Agency offers a tiny glimpse into what America’s operatives can do. It seems the CIA can hack smart televisions to listen in on conversations, even when the set appears to be off. Smartphones might be less secure than many assumed. The CIA can supposedly penetrate a computer network and leave fingerprints implicating someone else. Man, these guys are good!

Personally, I’m thrilled to hear that the CIA has developed these capabilities. Stealing information from other countries is what spies do. But it’s devastating to see details about America’s intelligence operations leaked to the press. These kinds of intrusions recently have compromised billions of dollars worth of sources and methods, showing the world—including Islamic State and al Qaeda—how Washington knows what it does. They have also caused Americans to ask serious questions about their spy agencies.

The leaks by Chelsea (née Bradley) Manning in 2010, Edward Snowden in 2013, and now at the CIA demonstrate that the intelligence community does not have in place the systems and controls necessary to protect its most sensitive information. That raises the question of whether spy agencies can credibly say that these capabilities are not used against the American people.

The intelligence community can explain what the law says and even cite internal policies that exist to inhibit spying on Americans. But a spy agency that is incapable of keeping its secrets cannot say with confidence that it has effective means of controlling itself. When James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, says America does not spy on its citizens, he doesn’t really know. He hopes that the internal controls and culture will prevent abuse, but he cannot be certain.


After the Manning leak, I’m sure that America’s spymasters thought they had learned their lesson and put in place new, more effective controls. After the Snowden leak, I’m sure they thought those controls had been updated enough to solve the problem. Yet here we are, reading about the CIA’s secrets on the front page of the newspaper.

In 2013 Mr. Clapper testified in an open congressional hearing that the intelligence community did not maintain a cyberdatabase on Americans. That wasn’t true. He misled Congress and the public. The Snowden leak soon showed that the NSA did indeed have a massive database of telephone metadata.

Now the intelligence community has been implicated in the release of information damaging to the incoming president. Telephone conversations involving Mike Flynn, who briefly served as President Trump’s national security adviser, were collected and leaked to the media.

For 10 years I served on the House Intelligence Committee, and the men and women I met from America’s spy agencies were dedicated, hardworking and committed to serving their country. But these episodes indicate that at least a few within that cadre are willing to risk the security of the U.S. for what they must see as some higher purpose. In the process, they betray their oath and tarnish the reputations of their organizations.

This has helped create a second credibility problem for the intelligence community. The public worries that America’s cyberwarfare capabilities may be falling behind. For the past 75 years the U.S. has been blessed with a military that is second to none, with technology to match—from smart bombs and cruise missiles to stealthy submarines and antimissile defenses. America dominates the traditional battlefield.

But the cyber battlefield is very different. There the U.S. faces the usual threats and then some. Russia and China are good in cyberspace, and so are the Iranians and Israelis. Does America retain any discernible edge over North Korea or nonstate actors like ISIS or criminal cartels? If so, how great is it?

These are important questions. Cyberspace may become the great equalizer in modern warfare, allowing lesser countries and organizations to pose the kind of threat they never could on the traditional battlefield. Many experts believe that America is dangerously vulnerable. Could a foreign enemy cripple the financial system, shut down part of the electrical grid, or even cause a meltdown at a nuclear power plant?

Just as Americans deserve to know their government is not spying on them, they need assurance that the U.S. is capable of winning wars in cyberspace and protecting the country’s critical infrastructure. On both points, the intelligence community faces a credibility gap.

That is the challenge for the new director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, and the CIA director, Mike Pompeo. In addition to keeping the nation secure, they need to restore trust between America’s spies and its citizens. A good first step would be teaching intelligence agencies to keep their own secrets—so that Americans must once again merely imagine what their spies can do.

Mr. Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican, was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, 2004-07.

Authorities Question CIA Contractors in Connection With WikiLeaks Dump

March 12, 2017

Digital trail has pointed investigators to a team of developers working with CIA’s Engineering Development Group

In recent months, there has been talk of “bad blood” in the small world of CIA contractors who are vital to the agency’s hacking projects, people familiar with the investigation have said.

In recent months, there has been talk of “bad blood” in the small world of CIA contractors who are vital to the agency’s hacking projects, people familiar with the investigation have said. PHOTO: CAROLYN KASTER/ASSOCIATED PRESS


March 11, 2017 8:59 p.m. ET

Investigators probing who may have provided WikiLeaks with classified information about the Central Intelligence Agency’s purported computer-hacking techniques are zeroing in on a small number of contractors who have worked for the agency and may have been disgruntled over recent job losses, according to people familiar with the investigation.

Authorities on Thursday questioned a handful of contractors working in at least two locations in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., these people said. Law-enforcement officials said no arrests had been made, but one person familiar with the investigation said it was “rapidly unfolding.”

This person added that a digital trail has pointed authorities, at least initially, to a team of software developers working with the CIA’s Engineering Development Group. The group designs tools that, according to the documents released this week by WikiLeaks, the CIA uses to break into smartphones, personal computers and televisions connected to the internet. The more than 8,000 pages of documents that WikiLeaks disclosed appear to have been taken last December from a server that the Engineering Development Group uses, this person said, and that “only a few contractors would have access to.”

More than a dozen companies work for the CIA on hacking projects, the bulk of them at a facility near Chantilly, Va. It wasn’t clear which companies the people who were questioned worked for. In recent months, there has been talk of “bad blood” in the small world of CIA contractors who are vital to the agency’s hacking projects, the people familiar with the probe said. One group of contractors recently had been working for the CIA overseas and expected to be given new jobs with the agency in the U.S., but their positions were later eliminated, one person said.

“There were definitely disgruntled people internally,” this person said, adding that he believes these individuals may have been among those questioned by investigators.

The CIA hasn’t confirmed whether the documents that WikiLeaks posted to its website are authentic. A spokesman for the agency declined to comment.

If CIA contractors ultimately are found to have been responsible for the massive leak, it will be the third disclosure of intelligence secrets in the past four years attributed to the hired experts that the intelligence community depends on to fill all kinds of sensitive jobs, from technology support for espionage programs to the design and testing of hacking tools.

One source familiar with the investigation said the people who have been questioned so far all have top-secret level security clearances and recently passed polygraph examinations. But prior leakers had also been investigated and deemed trustworthy enough to work in some of the government’s most sensitive intelligence organizations.

In 2013, National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden disclosed classified information about surveillance programs and the agency’s relationship with major technology companies. U.S. prosecutors have charged him under the Espionage Act, and he is now living in Russia under a grant of asylum. Current and former intelligence officials have said Mr. Snowden’s leaks caused the NSA to suspend many intelligence-gathering operations and gave terrorists and spies clues into how the U.S. monitors global communications.

And this year, Harold “Hal” Martin III, also a former NSA contractor, was indicted on a charge of removing a huge amount of classified material from the agency’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Md. Mr. Martin has pleaded not guilty. A group that calls itself Shadow Brokers claims to have some of the same information that Mr. Martin allegedly took and has tried to auction the material online.

One person with direct knowledge of the investigation of Mr. Martin said it is still not clear how the information, which the ex-contractor is suspected of taking to his home in suburban Maryland, ended up in others’ hands. But the volume of information is staggering—far more than what Mr. Snowden disclosed—and more sensitive because it pertains to the NSA’s own hacking operations by its elite Tailored Access Operations unit, this person said.

The WikiLeaks disclosure has put the White House in the awkward position of criticizing a group that President Donald Trump praised on the campaign trail.

“I love WikiLeaks,” Mr. Trump told supporters at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania last October, after the group began publishing emails stolen from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. Some of those emails described paid speeches that Mrs. Clinton gave to financial-services firms.

But over the past week, White House spokesman Sean Spicer has struck a far different tone, blasting the antisecrecy group for damaging U.S. national security.

“This is the kind of disclosure that undermines our country, our security and our well-being,” Mr. Spicer said.

On Thursday, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange offered to give companies the technical details of how the CIA has apparently hacked their products. Mr. Spicer suggested that companies who took up Mr. Assange on his offer could be breaking the law if they received classified information and advised that the firms consult the Justice Department.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said he has additional information about ways the CIA tries to mask its attacks.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said he has additional information about ways the CIA tries to mask its attacks. PHOTO: DOMINIC LIPINSKI/ZUMA PRESS

The same day, the CIA blasted Mr. Assange, who has previously published classified government information, including from the military and the State Department.

“Julian Assange is not exactly a bastion of truth and integrity,” CIA spokesman Jonathan Liu said. “Despite the efforts of Assange and his ilk, [the] CIA continues to aggressively collect foreign intelligence overseas to protect America from terrorists, hostile nation states and other adversaries.”

Write to Shane Harris at and Robert McMillan at


German Prosecutors Examining WikiLeaks Report on CIA Base

March 8, 2017

BERLIN — Germany’s federal prosecutors say they are examining a WikiLeaks report suggesting that the Central Intelligence Agency used the U.S. consulate in Frankfurt as a base for covert hackers.

The federal prosecutors’ office says the reports published Tuesday are being reviewed, but that this is a standard procedure.

Prosecutors said Wednesday that “if it turns out there is an initial suspicion of a concrete crime committed by a specific person then a preliminary investigation may be opened.”

German foreign ministry spokesman Sebastian Fischer said authorities were trying to verify the authenticity of the alleged CIA documents published WikiLeaks.

“The rest remains to be seen,” he said.

Relations between Berlin and Washington took a hit after Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA eavesdropping. It later transpired Germany had partly cooperated with the NSA.


Frankfurt used as remote hacking base for the CIA: WikiLeaks

March 8, 2017

WikiLeaks documents reveal CIA agents were given cover identities and diplomatic passports to enter the country. The base was used to develop hacking tools as part of the CIA’s massive digital arsenal.

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WikiLeaks released a trove of CIA documents on Tuesday that it claimed revealed details of its secret hacking arsenal.

The release included 8,761 documents that it claimed revealed details of “malware, viruses, trojans, weaponized ‘zero day’ exploits, malware remote control systems and associated documentation.”
Wikileaks reveals CIA spy techniques

The leaks purportedly revealed that a top secret CIA unit used the German city of Frankfurt am Main as the starting point for numerous hacking attacks on Europe, China and the Middle East.

Frankfurt base

WikiLeaks reported that the group developed trojans and other malicious software in the American Consulate General Office, the largest US consulate in the world. The programs focused on targets in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The documents revealed that CIA experts worked in the building under cover and included advice for life in Germany.

“Do not leave anything electronic or sensitive unattended in your room,” it told employees, also advising them to enjoy Lufthansa’s free alcohol “in moderation.”


The Frankfurt hackers, part of the Center for Cyber Intelligence Europe, were said to be given diplomatic passports and a State Department identity. It instructed employees how to safely enter Germany. A WikiLeaks tweet published an section of the Frankfurt information.

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CIA tips for its hackers going to the covert CIA hacking base hidden in the US consulate in Frankfurt 


The consulate was the focus of a German investigation into US intelligence capabilities following the 2013 revelation that NSA agents had tapped Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone.

German daily “Süddeutsche Zeitung” reported the building was known to be home to a vast network of intelligence personnel including CIA agents, NSA spies, military secret service personnel, Department of Homeland Security employees and Secret Service employees. It reported the Americans had also established a dense network of outposts and shell companies in Frankfurt.

Televisions turned into bugs

An intelligence expert who examined the dump, Rendition Infosec founder Jake Williams, told news agency Associated Press the documents appeared legitimate.

Bob Ayers, a retired US intelligence official currently working as a security analyst told AP the release was “real bad” for the agency.

Jonathan Liu, a spokesman for the CIA, told AP: “We do not comment on the authenticity or content of purported intelligence documents.”

According to WikiLeaks the documents revealed that the CIA could remotely activate certain Samsung smart televisions equipped with cameras and microphones to turn them into bugs.

Smartphones hacked

WikiLeaks also claimed that if the CIA had hacked a cell phone, it could then bypass encryption methods used by popular chat programs such as Whatsapp, Telegram, Signal and Confide. This prompted some concern at first online that all such messaging “Apps” were no longer effectively encrypted – but the exploit only applied to people whose phones are already compromised. According to the leaks, the CIA has undocumented exploits on popular smartphone models.

In a series of tweets NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden said deliberately leaving vulnerabilities in software and hardware open left public users susceptible to attacks.

If you’re writing about the CIA/@Wikileaks story, here’s the big deal: first public evidence USG secretly paying to keep US software unsafe.

The CIA reports show the USG developing vulnerabilities in US products, then intentionally keeping the holes open. Reckless beyond words.

Evidence mounts showing CIA & FBI knew about catastrophic weaknesses in the most-used smartphones in America, but kept them open — to spy. 


Snowden said the documents appeared to be genuine.

The documents also revealed that the CIA had the ability to conduct false flag attacks using malware stolen from other nations.

According to WikiLeaks the trove showed that the CIA had lost control of its arsenal of hacking tools.

WikiLeaks said it was given the files by an anonymous source who wanted to shed public light on the hacking programs.

The collection of documents vastly outnumbered the trove on the NSA released by Snowden.

aw/msh (dpa, AP)

Russia says Snowden can stay two more years

January 18, 2017


© GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File | US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden has been living in exile in Russia since 2013

MOSCOW (AFP) – Russian authorities have extended US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden’s Russian residency permit by two years, the foreign ministry said Wednesday.The former National Security Agency contractor shook the American intelligence establishment to its core in 2013 with a series of devastating leaks on mass surveillance in the US and around the world.

The announcement came as outgoing US President Barack Obama commuted the sentence of army private Chelsea Manning, who was sentenced to 35 years in prison for handing classified US documents to WikiLeaks.

Snowden was not on Obama’s list of commutations or pardons.

“Snowden’s residence permit has just been extended by two years,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on her Facebook page.

His lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, could not be reached on Wednesday morning to confirm Zakharova’s statement.

Snowden has been living in exile in Russia since 2013, where he ended up after spending weeks in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.

He was initially granted permission to stay in Russia for one year amid the rapid deterioration in Moscow’s relations with Washington.

The revelations from the documents he leaked sparked a massive row over the data sweeps conducted by the United States domestically and in allied nations, including of their leaders.

Snowden welcomed the action on Manning’s sentence, writing on Twitter: “Let it be said here in earnest, with good heart: Thanks, Obama.”

Obama shrugs off Russian hacking — until Donald Trump elected president — By allowing the U.S. to become complacent about cyber threats, the U.S. now must play catch up

January 15, 2017
– The Washington Times – Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Foreign governments have launched numerous cyberattacks on the U.S. government and sensitive industrial sites, but Republicans say President Obama has not responded in a forceful way to years of Russian hacking.

A more assertive response might have headed off the type of hacking Russia is accused of launching during the presidential election, they say.

Russia, whose supposed cyberoffensive now is generating a Democratic Party movement that would delegitimize the incoming presidency of Donald Trump, has hacked Pentagon systems. In 2014 it penetrated computer networks at the White House and the State Department. Neither the White House nor the mainstream media reacted with any great alarm.

In one of the most extensive hacks on America, Chinese hackers invaded the massive files of the Office of Personnel Management and stole personnel data and security background checks of millions of federal workers.

In other examples, the Federal Reserve, which sets monetary policy and oversees the banking industry, detected more than 50 cyberbreaches between 2011 and 2015, and some were called espionage, Reuters reported in June, citing federal records. The IRS also has acknowledged that taxpayer files have been stolen by hackers.

Mr. Obama’s record on defeating hackers has come into focus during the transition as he orders a sweeping probe of Russia’s alleged hack on the president’s own Democratic Party.

His White House spokesman has joined Democratic politicians in issuing a blistering attack on Mr. Trump and his aides for ties to Russia, even as it was this administration that early on reached out to the Kremlin and asked for a “reset” in relations. In 2010 then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton helped Moscow create a “Russian Silicon Valley.” White House press secretary Josh Earnest even seemingly questioned the patriotism of Trump supporters in Congress.

House intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes accused Mr. Obama of not taking Russia’s cyberthreat seriously until now, a month before he leave office, when Democratic Party politics are involved.

“Russia’s cyberattacks are no surprise to the House intelligence committee, which has been closely monitoring Russia’s belligerence for years,” Mr. Nunes said. “As I’ve said many times, the intelligence community has repeatedly failed to anticipate [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s hostile actions.


“Unfortunately, the Obama administration, dedicated to delusions of ‘resetting’ relations with Russia, ignored pleas by numerous intelligence committee members to take more forceful action against the Kremlin’s aggression. It appears, however, that after eight years the administration has suddenly awoken to the threat,” said Mr. Nunes, California Republican.

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RESET — Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov press a red button symbolizing the intention to reset US-Russian relations in March 2009. In 2017 the Obama team is telling Donald Trump to “go slow” with his ideas to reset with Russia. AP photo.jpg

CIA Director John O. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s former campaign adviser and White House aide, has taken the extraordinary step of having his agency add to the climate of illegitimacy Democrats are trying to wrap around the Republican president-elect.

The Washington Post reported last week that CIA briefers told senators that Mr. Putin had ordered the hacking to help elect Mr. Trump, who sporadically has praised the former KGB officer as a stronger leader than Mr. Obama.

The CIA assessment goes well beyond a statement by James R. Clapper, director of national intelligence. He told the House intelligence committee on Nov. 17 that his agency does not have good intelligence on any link between the Putin regime and WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy website that published emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and from John Podesta, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman.

Mr. Clapper assessed Russia’s motives as a desire to “interfere” in elections in the West, as it has done in Europe. He did not say it was designed to get Mr. Trump elected.

Former CIA officer Kent Clizbe charges that Mr. Brennan has politicized the spy agency, and with the hacking brief to Congress, even more so today.

“But all the politicization of the CIA of the previous eight years is nothing compared to Brennan’s current operation — his vile use of the good name of the CIA in an attempt to invalidate our presidential election,” Mr. Clizbe said. “Brennan’s misuse of the CIA in an effort to serve his political masters is unprecedented and unforgivable. These are the actions of totalitarian dictators, using foreign security services to sully political opponents. Someone needs to stop him before it’s too late.”

Mr. Earnest, the White House press secretary, was asked Monday what the administration did to thwart Russia from hacking U.S. sites.

“Our intelligence community, our national security agencies, including the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, were closely watching Russia’s malicious cyberactivity,” he said. “There was an ongoing investigation. It was being investigated. It was being closely watched in order to protect our democracy.”

Mr. Earnest unleashed a long attack on Mr. Trump, a recitation that might be unprecedented for a White House during what is supposed to be a smooth transition.

“You didn’t need a security clearance to figure out who benefited from malicious Russian cyberactivity,” Mr. Earnest said. “The president-elect didn’t call it into question. He called on Russia to hack his opponent. He called on Russia to hack Secretary Clinton. So he certainly had a pretty good sense of whose side this activity was coming down on. The last several weeks of the election were focused on a discussion of emails that had been hacked and leaked by the Russians. These were emails from the DNC and John Podesta — not from the RNC and Steve Bannon.”

Mr. Bannon, a former Breitbart News executive, is a senior Trump adviser headed to the White House.

Mr. Trump said in July that perhaps Russia could find the 33,000 emails deleted from Mrs. Clinton’s secret server during her tenure at the State Department. A federal judge ruled that her exclusive use of a private server for government business violated federal information laws.

Mr. Earnest also attacked Mr. Trump’s supporters in Congress.

“So what I’ve stated is not an argument but really just a presentation of objective facts about what all of you and the American public knew in advance of the election,” he said. “And, yes, this was all material that was known by Republican politicians in the Congress that endorsed the president-elect. And how they reconcile their political strategy and their patriotism is something they’re going to have to explain.”

One of those supporters is Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and a former Marine Corps officer who deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.

“How misinformed. I think this statement verifies just how out of touch and clueless this administration truly is to the demands and expectations of the public,” said Joe Kasper, Mr. Hunter’s chief of staff. “There’s a reason why Democrats don’t have the House and the Senate, and have lost seats in various elections. I can tell you that Rep. Hunter was not duped by any stretch, and to question his patriotism means that he’s being questioned both as a lawmaker who loves this country and will fight for its interests and a U.S. Marine who did three tours.”

He added: “If the administration and Democrats are so worried about Russian hacking, they should have done something about it. They didn’t, but stating concerns now sure makes it one heck of an argument of convenience.”

As Mr. Obama began his second term, a number of experts said the U.S. still had not adjusted to the new world of hundreds of hackers attacking America daily.

“We are in a conflict — some would call it war,” Oracle’s security chief Mary Ann Davidson told Congress. “Let’s call it what it is. Given the diversity of potentially hostile entities building cadres of cyberwarriors probing our systems for weakness, infiltrating government networks and making similar attempts against businesses and critical industries, including our defense systems, is there any other conclusion to be reached?”

It was not until February that the White House proposed $3 billion in new funding to upgrade cyberdefenses and appoint a federal czar to oversee network protection.

When Russia hacked the White House two years ago, there did not appear any public threats against Moscow. The news media treated the story as a sign of the times: China, Russia and other adversaries are trying to hack into thousands of computer networks.

What makes the election hacking different, Democrats say, is that a foreign power was interfering in an election by targeting Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman and the DNC. WikiLeaks periodically dumped huge volumes of emails, creating news stories on Clinton aides’ intolerance toward Christians and, sometimes, toward each other.

Mr. Earnest stopped short of saying that the embarrassing disclosures released by WikiLeaks were a main factor in the election’s outcome, noting that analysts have cited a number of issues, such as Mrs. Clinton’s official emails and her strategy in battleground states.


Russia’s D.N.C. Hack Was Only the Start

January 10, 2017

Imagine the headlines if, in 2015, Russian agents had leapt out of a van at 2 a.m. in Southeast Washington and broken into the Democratic National Committee offices using sophisticated tools and techniques to steal tens of thousands of documents, including the names and Social Security numbers of donors and employees, and confidential memorandums about campaign strategy for the presidential election.

The world would have been aghast. It would have been, people would say, worse than Watergate.

Something similar did, in fact, happen at the D.N.C. two years ago, and it was worse than Watergate. This wasn’t just one party spying on the other; these were hackers under orders from President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia who were trying to “undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process,” according to a report released Friday by the office of the director of national intelligence. But the immediate reaction to the break-in was nothing like what followed Watergate.

That’s because most of us don’t think of hacking as a crime like breaking and entering. Before the D.N.C. break-in, I thought of hacking as a prank by mischievous tech-savvy people to get revenge. When North Koreans hacked Sony Pictures in 2014 in retaliation for making the satire “The Interview,” I was much more disturbed by the embarrassing things the movie executives said in emails to one another than by how easy it was for a dictator to punish critics in the United States. It wasn’t until I lived through the Russian hackings of Democratic staff members and organizations that I realized how dangerous such an attitude could be.

I saw it firsthand in July, when I was asked about the first wave of stolen documents on ABC’s “This Week” and CNN’s “State of the Union.” I thought it was a bombshell — Russians hacked into the Democratic National Committee! — but my alarm was dismissed by the news media and our opponents as merely campaign spin, feigned distress meant to dodge real questions about how the embarrassing messages might hurt Hillary Clinton’s prospects.

This perception has to change. I’m not referring to the D.N.C. incident in particular, but about cybercrimes in general. Unless we realize how vulnerable we are, we are playing into the hands of foreign aggressors like Mr. Putin.

The chilling effect of these attacks can be very public, and very personal. But they can also be more subtle, impeding dialogue within an organization. For all the fanfare we give the internet for freeing speech, when it is weaponized against you, it can also be used to stifle speech. At the D.N.C., certain conversations could take place only on an encrypted phone app, which made communicating more complicated logistically.

Skeptics, including President-elect Donald J. Trump, have compared the hacks to leaks to the news media. They’re not the same. A leak occurs when someone who is authorized to have information gives it to a reporter without authorization. The “Access Hollywood” video of Mr. Trump talking about assaulting women was a leak. When someone on my staff shared a memo about our campaign launch without permission, that was a leak. Leaks are frustrating, and they happen all the time.

What Mr. Putin did by dumping Democrats’ emails wasn’t a leak; it was an attack with stolen information.

Until we start to see these situations in this light, “Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order,” as the national intelligence office report called it, will remain potent, and the democratic process will remain vulnerable. The news media needs to spend at least as much time reporting on the source of these foreign-led cybercrimes as they do on the contents.

This isn’t a partisan issue, as Republican senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham have already made clear. Mr. Putin and Kim Jong-un of North Korea aren’t registered Democrats or Republicans — they’re anti-American, and they want to hurt democracy itself. To justify what Mr. Putin did, or to blame the victim, as Mr. Trump and his staff have chosen to do, simply leaves them, and all of us, under threat, because the next attack may be aimed not at a political party, but at the White House or the Pentagon.

Of course, Americans need to do a better job protecting ourselves. Law enforcement needs to create better bridges between the intelligence services that monitor attacks and the individuals and organizations they affect. There are very few protocols for the F.B.I. and C.I.A. to alert and assist potential victims. Our democratic structures — elections equipment and officials, elected officials and candidates, activists and reporters — must be elevated as a priority.

At the time of the D.N.C. attack, water treatment plants, nuclear power plants and even casinos were on the Department of Homeland Security’s “critical infrastructure” list. Voting equipment was added last Friday, but we must do much more to protect the people who animate our democratic process. Imagine how stolen information could be (or already has been) used to influence or corrupt officeholders, or voters themselves.

Watergate inspired greater vigilance in the press and prompted major reforms to safeguard our democratic institutions. We need to do that again.

The Fable of Edward Snowden

December 31, 2016

As he seeks a pardon, the NSA thief has told multiple lies about what he stole and his dealings with Russian intelligence.

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Updated Dec. 30, 2016 10:21 p.m. ET

Of all the lies that Edward Snowden has told since his massive theft of secrets from the National Security Agency and his journey to Russia via Hong Kong in 2013, none is more provocative than the claim that he never intended to engage in espionage, and was only a “whistleblower” seeking to expose the overreach of NSA’s information gathering. With the clock ticking on Mr. Snowden’s chance of a pardon, now is a good time to review what we have learned about his real mission.

Mr. Snowden’s theft of America’s most closely guarded communication secrets occurred in May 2013, according to the criminal complaint filed against him by federal prosecutors the following month. At the time Mr. Snowden was a 29-year-old technologist working as an analyst-in-training for the consulting firm of Booz Allen Hamilton at the regional base of the National Security Agency (NSA) in Oahu, Hawaii. On May 20, only some six weeks after his job there began, he failed to show up for work, emailing his supervisor that he was at the hospital being tested for epilepsy.

This excuse was untrue. Mr. Snowden was not even in Hawaii. He was in Hong Kong. He had flown there with a cache of secret data that he had stolen from the NSA.

This was not the only lie Mr. Snowden told. As became clear during my investigation over the past three years, nearly every element of the narrative Mr. Snowden has provided, which reached its final iteration in Oliver Stone’s 2016 movie, “Snowden,” is demonstrably false.

This narrative began soon after Mr. Snowden arrived in Hong Kong, where he arranged to meet with Laura Poitras, a Berlin-based documentary filmmaker, and Glenn Greenwald, a Brazil-based blogger for the Guardian. Both journalists were longtime critics of NSA surveillance with whom Mr. Snowden (under the alias Citizen Four) had been in contact for four months.

To provide them with scoops discrediting NSA operations, Mr. Snowden culled several thousand documents out of his huge cache of stolen material, including two explosive documents he asked them to use in their initial stories. One was the now-famous secret order from America’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court requiring Verizon to turn over to the NSA its billing records for its phone users in the U.S. The other was an NSA slide presentation detailing its ability to intercept communications of non-American users of the internet via a joint program with the FBI code-named Prism.

These documents were published in 2013 on June 5 and 6, followed by a video in which he identified himself as the leaker and a whistleblower.

At the heart of Mr. Snowden’s narrative was his claim that while he may have incidentally “touched” other data in his search of NSA files, he took only documents that exposed the malfeasance of the NSA and gave all of them to journalists.

Yet even as Mr. Snowden’s narrative was taking hold in the public realm, a secret damage assessment done by the NSA and Pentagon told a very different story. According to a unanimous report declassified on Dec. 22 by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the investigation showed that Mr. Snowden had “removed” (not merely touched) 1.5 million documents. That huge number was based on, among other evidence, electronic logs that recorded the selection, copying and moving of documents.

The number of purloined documents is more than what NSA officials were willing to say in 2013 about the removal of data, possibly because the House committee had the benefit of the Pentagon’s more-extensive investigation. But even just taking into account the material that Mr. Snowden handed over to journalists, the December House report concluded that he compromised “secrets that protect American troops overseas and secrets that provide vital defenses against terrorists and nation-states.” These were, the report said, “merely the tip of the iceberg.”

The Pentagon’s investigation during 2013 and 2014 employed hundreds of military-intelligence officers, working around the clock, to review all 1.5 million documents. Most had nothing to do with domestic surveillance or whistle blowing. They were mainly military secrets, as Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before the House Armed Services Committee on March 6, 2014.

It was not the quantity of Mr. Snowden’s theft but the quality that was most telling. Mr. Snowden’s theft put documents at risk that could reveal the NSA’s Level 3 tool kit—a reference to documents containing the NSA’s most-important sources and methods. Since the agency was created in 1952, Russia and other adversary nations had been trying to penetrate its Level-3 secrets without great success.

Yet it was precisely these secrets that Mr. Snowden changed jobs to steal. In an interview in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post on June 15, 2013, he said he sought to work on a Booz Allen contract at the CIA, even at a cut in pay, because it gave him access to secret lists of computers that the NSA was tapping into around the world.

He evidently succeeded. In a 2014 interview with Vanity Fair, Richard Ledgett, the NSA executive who headed the damage-assessment team, described one lengthy document taken by Mr. Snowden that, if it fell into the wrong hands, would provide a “road map” to what targets abroad the NSA was, and was not, covering. It contained the requests made by the 17 U.S. services in the so-called Intelligence Community for NSA interceptions abroad.

On June 23, less than two weeks after Mr. Snowden released the video that helped present his narrative, he left Hong Kong and flew to Moscow, where he received protection by the Russian government. In much of the media coverage that followed, the ultimate destination of these stolen secrets was fogged over—if not totally obscured from the public—by the unverified claims that Mr. Snowden was spoon feeding to handpicked journalists.

In his narrative, Mr. Snowden always claims that he was a conscientious “whistleblower” who turned over all the stolen NSA material to journalists in Hong Kong. He has insisted he had no intention of defecting to Russia but was on his way to Latin America when he was trapped in Russia by the U.S. government in an attempt to demonize him.

For example, in October 2014, he told the editor of the Nation, “I’m in exile. My government revoked my passport intentionally to leave me exiled” and “chose to keep me in Russia.” According to Mr. Snowden, the U.S. government accomplished this entrapment by suspending his passport while he was in midair after he departed Hong Kong on June 23, thus forcing him into the hands of President Vladimir Putin’s regime.

None of this is true. The State Department invalidated Mr. Snowden’s passport while he was still in Hong Kong, not after he left for Moscow on June 23. The “Consul General-Hong Kong confirmed that Hong Kong authorities were notified that Mr. Snowden’s passport was revoked June 22,” according to the State Department’s senior watch officer, as reported by ABC news on June 23, 2013.

Mr. Snowden could not have been unaware of the government’s pursuit of him, since the criminal complaint against him, which was filed June 14, had been headline news in Hong Kong. That the U.S. acted against him while he was still in Hong Kong is of great importance to the timeline because it points to the direct involvement of Aeroflot, an airline which the Russian government effectively controls. Aeroflot bypassed its normal procedures to allow Mr. Snowden to board the Moscow flight—even though he had neither a valid passport nor a Russian visa, as his newly assigned lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, said at a press conference in Russia on July 12, 2013.

By falsely claiming his passport was invalidated after the plane departed Hong Kong—instead of before he left—Mr. Snowden hoped to conceal this extraordinary waiver. The Russian government further revealed its helping hand, judging by a report in Russia’s Izvestia newspaper when, on arrival, Mr. Snowden was taken off the plane by a security team in a “special operation.”

Nor was it any kind of accident. Vladimir Putin personally authorized this assistance after Mr. Snowden met with Russian officials in Hong Kong, as Mr. Putin admitted in a televised press conference on Sept. 2, 2013.

To provide a smokescreen for Mr. Snowden’s escape from Hong Kong, WikiLeaks (an organization that the Obama administration asserted to be a tool of Russian intelligence after the hacking of Democratic Party leaders’ email in 2016) booked a dozen or more diversionary flight reservations to other destinations for Mr. Snowden.

WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange also dispatched Sarah Harrison, his deputy at WikiLeaks, to fly to Hong Kong to pay Mr. Snowden’s expenses and escort him to Moscow. In short, Mr. Snowden’s arrival in Moscow was neither accidental nor the work of the U.S. government.

Mr. Snowden’s own narrative asserts that he came to Russia not only empty-handed but without access to any of the stolen material. He wrote in Vanity Fair in 2014 that he had destroyed all of it before arriving in Moscow—the very data that he went to such lengths to steal a few weeks earlier in Hawaii.

As it turns out, this claim is also untrue. It is belied by two Kremlin insiders who were in a position to know what Mr. Snowden actually brought with him to Moscow. One of them, Frants Klintsevich, was the first deputy chairman of the defense and security committee of the Duma (Russia’s parliament) at the time of Mr. Snowden’s defection. “Let’s be frank,” Mr. Klintsevich said in a taped interview with NPR in June 2016, “Mr. Snowden did share intelligence. This is what security services do.”

The other insider was Anatoly Kucherena, a well-connected Moscow lawyer and Mr. Putin’s friend. Mr. Kucherena served as the intermediary between Mr. Snowden and Russian authorities. On Sept. 23, 2013, Mr. Kucherena gave a long interview to Sophie Shevardnadze, a journalist for Russia Today television.

When Ms. Shevardnadze directly asked him if Mr. Snowden had given all the documents he had taken from the NSA to journalists in Hong Kong, Mr. Kucherena said Mr. Snowden had only given “some” of the NSA’s documents in his possession to journalists in Hong Kong. “So he [Mr. Snowden] does have some materials that haven’t been made public yet?” Ms. Shevardnadze asked. “Certainly,” Mr. Kucherena answered.

This disclosure filled in a crucial piece of the puzzle. It explained why NSA documents that Mr. Snowden had copied, but had not given to the journalists in Hong Kong—such as the embarrassing revelation about the NSA targeting the cellphone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel—continued to surface after Mr. Snowden arrived in Moscow, along with NSA documents released via WikiLeaks.

As this was a critical discrepancy in Mr. Snowden’s narrative, I went to Moscow in October 2015 to see Mr. Kucherena. During our conversation, Mr. Kucherena confirmed that his interview with Ms. Shevardnadze was accurate, and that Mr. Snowden had brought secret material with him to Moscow.

Mr. Snowden’s narrative also includes the assertion that he was neither debriefed by nor even met with any Russian government official after he arrived in Moscow. This part of the narrative runs counter to findings of U.S. intelligence. According to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence report, Mr. Snowden, since he arrived in Moscow, “has had, and continues to have, contact with Russian intelligence services.” This finding is consistent with Russian debriefing practices, as described by the ex-KGB officers with whom I spoke in Moscow

Mr. Snowden also publicly claimed in Moscow in December 2013 to have secrets in his head, including “access to every target, every active operation. Full lists of them.” Could Mr. Snowden’s Russian hosts ignore such an opportunity after Mr. Putin had authorized his exfiltration to Moscow? Mr. Snowden, with no exit options, was in the palm of their hands. Under such circumstances, as Mr. Klintsevich pointed out in his June NPR interview: “If there’s a possibility to get information, they [the Russian intelligence services] will get it.”

The transfer of state secrets from Mr. Snowden to Russia did not occur in a vacuum. The intelligence war did not end with the termination of the Cold War; it shifted to cyberspace. Even if Russia could not match the NSA’s state-of-the-art sensors, computers and productive partnerships with the cipher services of Britain, Israel, Germany and other allies, it could nullify the U.S. agency’s edge by obtaining its sources and methods from even a single contractor with access to Level 3 documents.

Russian intelligence uses a single umbrella term to cover anyone who delivers it secret intelligence. Whether a person acted out of idealistic motives, sold information for money or remained clueless of the role he or she played in the transfer of secrets—the provider of secret data is considered an “espionage source.” By any measure, it is a job description that fits Mr. Snowden.

Mr. Epstein’s book, “How America Lost Its Secrets: Edward Snowden, the Man and the Theft,” will be published by Knopf in January.



Cyber: How Long Has Putin’s Russia and China Played the Obama Administration for Fools? — “From Day 1.”

December 31, 2016


A look back at the cyber war….

President Barack Obama announced the lifting of economic sanctions on Iran, a prisoner swap and the $1.7 billion settlement with Iran in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Jan. 17.

How long has Putin and Russia played the Obama Administration for fools?

That is the operative question resulting from all the discussion of hacking, cyber intrusions and the like.

The vas majority of the news and commentary concerning the state of hacking and cyber war seems determined to blame Russia, China, Iran and others. But what about the responsibility to defend ourselves?

Who in the U.S. has been minding the store?

The world’s most expensive intelligence apparatus, the CIA, NSA, FBI and all the rest included, owes us some detailed accounting.

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Hillary Rodham Clinton checks her mobile phone at United Nations, March 12, 2012. AP photo

But even before that, some very simple questions need to be asked and answered.

Is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s improper use of a home server still seen as inconsequential? Or did she breach U.S. national security? Did her lax security for classified intelligence tell China and Russia to go after everybody in the U.S.

Retired U.S. intelligence officials told Peace and Freedom that is exactly what they suspect.

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Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov press a red button symbolizing the intention to reset US-Russian relations in March 2009. AP photo

Knowing Hillary Clinton’s email history, why didn’t her campaign manager John Podesta insist upon secure email for her campaign?

What all this talk about America’s cyber security vulnerability should spark is a wide-spread accounting and immediate actions to secure outr cyber networks going forward — after an eight year period of widespread vulnerability and often uncorrected.

Peace and Freedom

Tom Kellermann, who was a member of The Center for Strategic & International Studies Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency, gives the Obama administration a C+ for its cybersecurity efforts. The Commission was formed to advise the 44th president on the creation and maintenance of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy.

“You can’t give him anything better than a C+,” says Kellermann. “Have things gotten worse? Yes. Do you feel comfortable calling the U.S. government if you need help in cyber as an individual or corporation? No.” The FBI will come investigate, Kellermann says, but investigate what? What happened last night? “Can they stop what is happening to you now from happening in the future? No.”

If the police are called to investigate a physical crime, not only will they investigate the crime but may institute a way for preventing that crime from happening to you again, he notes. “That doesn’t happen in cyber.”

Read more:

Cybersecurity in the Obama Era

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John Emerson, Washington's man in Berlin, to meet with Guido Westerwelle, German foreign minister, over claims Angela Merkel's phone was tapped by US

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U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power speaks at the Center for American Progress’ 2014 Making Progress Policy Conference in Washington November 19, 2014.  Credit: Reuters/Gary Cameron


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Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama at a joint news conference in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 25.
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