Cyberwars: Latest Snowden Leaks

FRANCE-US-EU-SURVEILLANCE-SNOWDENThe case against the NSA’s program of cyberwarfare and espionage has become somewhat like an onion. With every new revelation, the matter becomes more stinking and fetid. Certainly, the first release of classified NSA documents – which dealt with the US’s ongoing cyberwarfare against China and other nations – was damaging to the agency’s image. But it has been the subsequent publication of documents that deal with domestic surveillance that have been the most damning.

According to Snowden, he was motivated to leak this information because of the troubling case of hypocrisy inherent in the NSA programs. And in the lastest leak, Snowden has now confirmed that at least five Muslim-Americans – including prominent lawyers, a civil rights leader and academics – were the subject of years’ worth of surveillance by both the FBI and the National Security Agency.

under_surveillance_full_v2Among the targets were Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations – the top Muslim-American civil rights organization in the United States – and Faisal Galil, a longtime Republican operative and former Bush Administration official who worked for the Department of Homeland Security and held a top-secret security clearance during the time he was under surveillance.

Also among the American targets was Asim Ghafoor, an attorney for the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation who who has represented clients in terrorism-related cases . He is also the man who famously discovered in 2004 that he and his clients were under surveillance after the Treasury Department mistakenly released to him a document listing calls he’d made to his clients.

wire_tappingOther targets include Hooshang Amirahmadi, an Iranian-American professor of international relations at Rutgers University and Agha Saeed, a former political science professor at California State University who champions Muslim civil liberties and Palestinian rights. All of the targets appear to have been singled out because of their Muslim backgrounds and their activities either defending Muslim clients or on behalf of various causes.

The individuals appear on an NSA spreadsheet in the Snowden archives called “FISA recap”—short for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Under that law, the Justice Department must convince a judge with the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that there is probable cause to suspect of an American of being engaged in or abetting terrorism, espionage, or sabotage against the US.

FILE PHOTO  NSA Compiles Massive Database Of Private Phone CallsThe authorizations must be regularly renewed by the court for the surveillance to remain in effect, usually every 90 days for U.S. citizens. In none of these cases were the individuals singled out for surveillance because they were suspected of committing or planning a crime. And six years after the period the document covers, none of them has been charged with any crime related to the surveillance.

Greenwald says the revelations offer a more detailed look at who the government is targeting. Although there are some Americans on the list who have been accused of terrorism, the five highlighted in The Intercept piece have all led what appear to be law-abiding lives. As Greenwald explained:

This is the first time that there’s a human face on who the targets are of their most intrusive type of surveillance. [H]ere you really get to see who these people are who are the people worthy of their most invasive scrutiny. I think it’s important for people to judge—are these really terrorists or are these people who seem to be targeted for their political dissidence and their political activism?

 

faisal_gillAll of these five individuals identified in the article has gone on record to vehemently deny any involvement in terrorism or espionage. Outside of their ancestry, there appears to be no justification whatsoever for the surveillance. Faisal Gill, whose AOL and Yahoo! email accounts were monitored while he was a Republican candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates, had this to say when interview by The Intercept:

I just don’t know why. I’ve done everything in my life to be patriotic. I served in the Navy, served in the government, was active in my community—I’ve done everything that a good citizen, in my opinion, should do.

Ghafoor was also of the opinion that profiling had everything to do with him being targeted for electronic surveillance. When told that no non-Muslim attorneys who defended terror suspects had been identified on the list, he replied:

I believe that they tapped me because my name is Asim Abdur Rahman Ghafoor, my parents are from India. I travelled to Saudi Arabia as a young man, and I do the pilgrimage. Yes, absolutely I believe that had something to do with it.

https://i0.wp.com/media.nj.com/ledgerupdates_impact/photo/2012/06/muslim-lawsuitjpg-88e364e9b8e195f4.jpgCivil liberties groups have expressed anger that the five appear to have been targeted largely for having Muslim backgrounds. One such group is the Muslim Advocates, which released the following statement shortly after the story was published:

This report confirms the worst fears of American Muslims: the federal government has targeted Americans, even those who have served their country in the military and government, simply because of their faith or religious heritage. Muslim Advocates calls on the President and Congress to take steps immediately to reform the NSA surveillance program to uphold basic privacy rights and civil liberties that the Constitution guarantees to every American, regardless of faith.

The new revelations confirm for the first time that the government targeted U.S. attorneys, sometimes without warrants. Crucially, the revelations also give targets of the domestic surveillance legal standing to sue. Snowden indicated to Greenwald last year that he included the target list in the cache of leaked documents because he wanted people who had been under such surveillance to have evidence to challenge the spying in court.

An illustration picture shows the logo of the U.S. National Security Agency on the display of an iPhone in BerlinIn the past, journalists and attorneys have tried to challenge the constitutionality of the government’s surveillance activities in court. But since the defendants did not have proof that they in particular had been targeted, the courts were forced to rule that they did not have standing. The spreadsheet, however, provides evidence of targeted surveillance for those who have now been identified.

In short, this latest revelation has provided Americans, and not just those of Muslim descent, with the means to hold the NSA and the FBI accountable for the first time. Since the historic episode known as the “war on terror” began, revelations have led to challenges and promises for reform. But in all cases, the crucial issue of whether or not these programs would be allowed to continue has been carefully sidestepped.

cyber_security2Whether it was the failure of FISA reform to reign in domestic wiretapping and data mining, or the Obama administrations endorsement of “transparent” surveillance, it seems obvious clear that an administrative solution was not in the works. But opening the way for successive lawsuits for wrongful surveillance might just prove to be more effective.

What is certain, though, is that the battle between civil liberties and surveillance in the “Digital Age” is nowhere close to being resolved. As the daily volume of data sent around the world continues to grow – from terabytes to petabytes to exabytes – there will continually be a need for monitors to watch for sinister things. And as long as they are willing to push the boundaries in the name of security, there will continue to be challenges.

Sources: wired.com, firstlook.org

Cyberwars: ACLU and NSA ex-Director to Debate Tomorrow!

keith-alexander-nsa-flickrIn what is sure to be a barn-burner of a debate, the former head of the National Security Agency – General Keith Alexander – will be participating tomorrow in a with ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero. The televised, surveillance-themed debate, will take place tomorrow –  June 30th, 10:30am Eastern Time – on MSNBC. The subject: whether or not the NSA’s vast surveillance and data mining programs are making American’s safer.

While many would prefer that the current head of the NSA be involved in the debate, General Alexander is a far better spokesperson for the controversial programs that have been the subject of so much controversy. After all, “Emperor Alexander” – as his subordinates called him – is the man most directly responsible for the current disposition of the  NSA’s cyber surveillance and warfare program.Who better to debate their merit with the head of the ACLU – an organization dedicated to the preservation of personal freedom?

Edward-Snowden-660x367And according to classified documents leaked by Edward Snowden, General Alexander’s influence and power within the halls of government knew no bounds during his tenure. A four-star Army general with active units under his command, he was also the head of the National Security Agency, chief of the Central Security Service, and the commander of the US Cyber Command. It is this last position and the power it wields that has raised the greatest consternation amongst civil-libertarians and privacy advocates.

Keith Alexander is responsible for building this place up between 2005 and 2013, insisting that the US’s inherent vulnerability to digital attacks required that he and those like him assume more authority over the data zipping around the globe. According to Alexander, this threat is so paramount that it only makes sense that all power to control the flow of information should be concentrated in as few hands as possible, namely his.

NSA_fort_meadeIn a recent security conference held in Canada before the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Alexander expressed the threat in the following, cryptic way:

What we see is an increasing level of activity on the networks. I am concerned that this is going to break a threshold where the private sector can no longer handle it and the government is going to have to step in.

If this alone were not reason enough to put people on edge, there are also voices within the NSA who view Alexander as a quintessential larger-than-life personality. One former senior CIA official who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, claimed:

We jokingly referred to him as Emperor Alexander—with good cause, because whatever Keith wants, Keith gets. We would sit back literally in awe of what he was able to get from Congress, from the White House, and at the expense of everybody else.

And it is because of such freedom to monitor people’s daily activities that movements like the February 11th “The Day We Fight Back” movement – an international cause that embraced 360 organizations in 70 countries that were dedicated to ending mass surveillance – have been mounted, demanding reform.

us_supremecourtIn addition, a series of recent ruling from the US Supreme Court have begun to put the kibosh on the surveillance programs that Alexander spent eight years building up. With everything from cell phone tracking to cell phone taps, a precedent is being set that is likely to outlaw all of the NSA domestic surveillance. But no matter what, the role of Snowden’s testimony in securing this landmark event cannot be underestimated.

In fact, in a recent interview, the ACLU’s Anthony Romero acknowledged a great debt to Snowden and claimed that the debate would not be happening without him. As he put it:

I think Edward Snowden has done this country a service… regardless of whether or not what he did was legal or illegal, whether or not we think the sedition laws or the espionage laws that are being used to possibly prosecute Snowden are too broad, the fact is that he has kick-started a debate that we did not have. This debate was anemic. Everyone was asleep at the switch.

One can only imagine what outcome this debate will have. But we can rest assured that some of the more predictable talking points will include the necessities emerging out of the War on Terror, the rise of the information revolution, and the dangers of Big Brother Government, as well as the NSA’s failure to prevent such attacks as the Boston Marathon Bombing, the Benghazi Embassy bombing, and a slew of other terrorist incidents that took place during Alexander’s tenure.

Do I sound biased? Well perhaps that’s because I am. Go ACLU, stick to Emperor Alexander!

Sources: engadget.com, democracynow.org

The Infiltrators: A Revenger Mission Update!

super-soldier-in-reposeMorning Revengers! I hope everyone is well rested and alert, because today, we do what needs to be done and put an end to a conspiracy decades in the making. With Mike Tyrene dead and his code now cracked, a device which bestows superhuman ability is being sought out by shadowy forces. Even worase, there are shadowy forces who will stop at nothing to keep it to themselves. And so we go in…

As you all know, the mission consists of three phases. Phase one involves our advance team scouting out the approach to the building and taking down any sentries and security barriers. Phase two involves a breach and clear team hitting the storehouse itself and destroying the alien device housed within. Phase three involves the deployment of all our reserves should things get hairy or phase two fails.

Our advance team is already on the move, approaching the storehouse and assessing the defenders. Keep your ears attuned to the report now coming in from its members, Atrum Auditor, Erotica Girl, Pax and Styka. Keep your fingers crossed and hope they make it in without getting detected. Otherwise, this mission is over before it begins…

*                    *                    *

Even crouched, the ladies could feel the cool breeze rolling through the glen. The field leading up to their target was open and provided for very little cover, aside from the waist high grasses that ran up to the very outer wall surrounding it. No doubt, the field was once dotted with tall pines and maples, cut down long ago to give the defenders a clear view on potential intruders. At their feet, the dirt was soft and smelt of marshes. No doubt there were plenty of snakes and other nasty things crawling around in it.

Styka rose into a bent hunch to get a better look at the building in the near distance. With so much firepower and electronic barriers, they had little need to worry about people coming to stare and ask questions. If anyone even entered the outer premises, they would lose interest very quickly! Blaring klaxons and a dozen laser sights aimed at your face had a way of doing that to people…

Can you hear me? Styka messaged, sending her thoughts out to the one’s waiting several hundred meters away. Back where there was still forests for cover, several kilometers away from the main road, the intended recipient called back.

[Of course. We’re sitting tight. What do you see?]

[See for yourself.] Focusing all that her eyes and ears were reporting to her, she sent it all streaming back to the treeline, where Atrum and Pax were waiting and attuned to her thoughts. Within seconds, they were seeing all she was seeing. The open field, the tall mesh fence surrounding the main building, the men in black fatigues walking inside and outside of it. She was even able to bear down on them, using all the strength of her mind’s eye to hear what they were thinking, and see the weapons they had in their hands.

[Not very encouraging,] Atrum came back. [I can feel those men’s minds, not very soft and cuddly, are they?]

[Private military contractors, surely. I can see everything they have, right down to their utility belts. Is Smackdown in touch with you yet?]

[He’s in my right ear. Between him and you, I much prefer talking to you!]

Styka smiled. For several more seconds, she carried on this way with the two men. For Erotica Girl, it felt like an eternity. Huddled next to her, relying on her invisibility to keep her hidden from men prowling the field, she was not in the most patient of moods. Styka might know she was there by the mere presence she was casting in her mind. But Erotica, lacking the psychic means to link with her, had to trust that her friend had not wandered off. Silence was a killer under those circumstances.

“What’s the play?” she whispered. Styka was a moment in coming back.

“We’re just sizing up the defenders. I can sense six men prowling the field out here. They’re armed with MP5’s, automatics and unsuppressed. Three of them are close at hand and will have to go down.”

“Only three…” Erotica said, smiling a devilish smile. “They’re making this too easy.”

“We need to be careful. Anything too noisy and we’ll blow the whole op. I can sense where they are, but you can’t.”

“Just point me at mine,” Erotica insisted.

Styka took a deep breath, exhaled slowly. “Fine. Three o’clock is the closest one. I’ve got another one at ten. I’ll take him, you take the one to the left.”

“Meet you in the middle,” Erotica whispered, and slowly began to crawl her way forward. Styka did the same, and both began moving their way through the thick grass. Neither dared move faster than a snails pace, for fear that the movement would be seen from afar as something other than the wind dancing through it.

*                    *                    *

They waited as calmly as they could, all the while forced to feel every move and impact the girls were laying down. They could see the poor bastards as they walked unsuspectingly through the tall grass. One minute they were looking on, completely unaware of the silent, invisible person at their feet. The next minute, they were looking up at the sky, right before a boot or fist landed on them and turned their world to black.

And at the edge of their consciousness, cut off from that live psychic feed, Atrum and Pax maintained their private link with each other, discussing the plan one last time before its execution.

[As soon as they’re clear, we jump in and teleport into the building proper. The girls take down the last of the sentries, we disable the alarms before anyone can call for reinforcements.]

[I remember] replied Pax. [Seems inelegant compared to the last mission. What if we run afoul of additional security guards again?]

[In that case, be glad you can heal yourself. You won’t have to wait for someone else to remove the bullet for you.]

Pax chuckled internally. He had to remind himself sometimes that death was little more than a temporary inconvenience for him, and a genuine source of terror for others. He couldn’t imagine what it must be like, having to wait on others to undue the damage wrought by bullets, blunt objects or terrible falls. For that, he just had to wait and let nature take its course.

[How about this? Let me jump in ahead of you. Maybe I can distract anyone we run into long enough for you to get inside and cover my ass]

[Sounds like a plan] Atrum said at last. [Now hang on, I got the Captain buzzing me again]

Atrum placed his finger to his ear and broke off his link with Pax. Between the ladies in the field, their private conversation, and the audio bug in his ear, there was only so much he could do. One had to give so he could once again speak to the antsy commander waiting in the vehicle behind.

“Captain, Erotica and Styka are through the sentries guarding the field. They’ve spotted numerous guards posted behind the fence line though. We’re preparing to jump in. We’ll signal you once we’re inside.”

He let go the bug, hoping the Captain would take the hint. But of course, Smackdown wasn’t finished yet.

“Change of plans, I want my team to take to the air before you jump in. Once Tsunami, Angel and Panacea are up, that should distract whatever guards they got posted outside the base.”

Atrum noted the tone of his voice, placed his finger back to his ear.

“Sounds wise, Captain. Any reason for the change? You worried we can’t handle things?”

“No,” he said flatly. “Just that feeling I get, like we’re not seeing everything just yet.”

Atrum frowned. He had looked into their progress of their mission several times via his mind’s eye, found nothing out of the ordinary. Always, in situations like these, the outcomes could be blurry and grey, subject to all kinds of chaos and happenstance. But wherever there was something unmistakable, like a trap just waiting to close, he would see it. That kind of intent never failed to register.

“Alright, Captain. We’ll be moving as soon as you’re ready.”

“Standby,” Smackdown replied, and signed off.

Atrum released the bug again. He took a deep breath and tried to still the pounding in his chest.

[Everything alright?] Pax asked, reaching out to establish their link again.

[We’re going in. Captain’s about to launch a distraction.]

[Distraction?] Pax came back. [What kind?]

Atrum took another breath and began focusing inward, preparing to make the jump in. [Just wait for the sonic boom.]

Revengers Attack!

superheroes_chargeIt’s time, my fellow superheroes! We have the location of the Storehouse that contains the answers to the Tyrene Code, the hiding place of a strange device – possibly alien in origin – that can convey superhuman powers on an individual. We knew that this mission would take us places we might not want to venture, and to unlock secrets that were perhaps better kept. But as they say, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle, and this is one secret that was bound to break sooner or later!

Not only is this a mission of extreme importance for the sake of all mankind, it’s importance to us on a personal level. As we all know, our powers have come from various sources over the years. For some, it remains a total mystery but for others, a mystery with a culprit that may be revealed very soon. Veiled Tsunami, you always did believe your father was working with alien technology, that came from a warehouse somewhere, yes? This could be it! The answer to your questions and the key to unlocking what your father was working on.

Based on the mission profile which I received from my NSA source, and all the intel provided by each and ever member of our league, we now know that the criminals who stole the first Tyrene painting must have this storehouse in their sights. They will be looking to break in, steal the device, and use it for their own purposes. At the same time, we can expect that the feds will have it locked down tight, relying on heavily-trained security forces and some hired thugs to protect it. This won’t be easy and there are likely to be more than a few surprises.

As such, I have decided to divide our forces up as follows:

Team One:
This group will be made up of the advance scouting party. Their job will be to infiltrate the storehouse, detect traps and defenses, and disable them. They will identify the guards and any other threats and attempt to neutralize them stealthily. The team will consist of:

Atrum Auditor
Erotica Girl
Pax
Styka

Team Two:
This is our main assault group, the breach and clear team that will go in once team one has identified and taken out all preliminary defenses. They will be responsible for hitting the base, taking down its remaining defenders, and locating the alien device. Once that is accomplished, they will plant explosives and dust off before the device is destroyed. This team will consist of:

Captain Smackdown
Freedom Fighter
Panacea
Veiled Tsunami

Team Three:
This group is our reserve, to be called in if and when things get too hot for team two, or if reinforcements arrive in the thick of things. Our heaviest hitters will be placed here, and lie in wait until the situation requires they enter the fray and wreak a little “constructive havoc” on the opposition. As the case may be, they may also be required to cover our escape. This team will consist of:

Bonfire
Dark Angel
Judgement

Good luck to us all. Let’s make this one for the history books, or at least something the world will talk of long after we’re gone! Suit up, get to your teams, and I’ll see you all when the mission is complete!