Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

For The Record  

FTR #895 The CIA and the “Privacy” Advocates: Update on the Adventures of Eddie the Friendly Spook

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This program was recorded in one, 60-minute segment.

Snowden: Is this the face that launched a thousand ships?

Introduction: Continuing analysis and discussion from FTR #891, we further explore the CIA-generated background and funding of the “privacy” advocates who comprise much of “Team Snowden.” Recall that Snowden himself was with CIA when he chose to double on NSA.

Undoubtedly, many listeners have been puzzled by Mr. Emory’s take on “Eddie the Friendly Spook” Snowden. We note that the “Snowden op” is a highly complicated affair, with levels and ramifications extending around the world. We cannot do justice to the entirety of “L’Affaire Snowden” in the context of this program and its description.

Snowden is actually the opposite of what he is represented as being. Far from being the self-sacrificing altruist and minor saint he is represented as being, Snowden is a nasty, cynical foul-mouthed fascist. He is also a spy.

In this program, we begin by reviewing our scrutiny of Edward Snowden from the perspective of Colonel L. Fletcher Prouty, the Air Force “Focal Point Officer” who developed a CIA-controlled network inside of the branches of the military and other agencies of the federal government. (We note in this context that Snowden was working for CIA when he undertook his leaking operation.)

Placing agents in other branches of government, including the military and other intelligence agencies, the CIA’s “focal point” network constituted a “secret government within a government” that appears to exist to this day.

Further developing the analysis presented in FTR #891, we set forth the evolution of the Broadcasting Board of Governors and Radio Free Asia, the parent organizations of the Open Technology Fund. The OTF has capitalized much of the encrypted “anti-surveillance” technology that has been developed. “Team Snowden,” in turn, has evolved from this milieu.

An extension of the CIA’s propaganda and psychological warfare broadcasting infrastructure developed during the Cold War, the milieu detailed here functions in a similar fashion. The internet is the latest form of broadcasting. The Open Technology Fund and related institutions are designed to provide dissidents and covert operators a means of shielding their internet communications and mobile phone messages from surveillance by targeted governments. The probability is strong that U.S. intelligence can monitor those communications.

In our past discussions of the assassination of President Kennedy, we have noted that the very same covert action networks used to overthrow and eliminate governments and individuals deemed hostile to U.S. interests were ultimately deployed against Americans and even the United States itself. “Regime change” and destabilization came home.

In a similar fashion, it is our considered opinion that a CIA-derived technology milieu developed to assist and effect “ops” abroad was used to destabilize the Obama administration. (There is MUCH more to “L’Affaire Snowden” than just the destabilization of the Obama administration, however that is a major and ongoing outgrowth of it. At the conclusion of this program, we include a preview of analysis indicating that the destabilization of Obama and the Hillary Clinton campaign is ongoing.)

” . . . Read­ers might find it odd that a US gov­ern­ment agency estab­lished as a way to laun­der the image of var­i­ous shady pro­pa­ganda out­fits (more on that soon) is now keen to fund tech­nolo­gies designed to pro­tect us from the US gov­ern­ment. More­over, it might seem curi­ous that its money would be so warmly wel­comed by some of the Internet’s fiercest antigov­ern­ment activists. . . . 

“. . . . Though many of the apps and tech backed by Radio Free Asia’s OTF are unknown to the gen­eral pub­lic, they are highly respected and extremely pop­u­lar among the anti-surveillance Inter­net activist crowd. OTF-funded apps have been rec­om­mended by Edward Snow­den, cov­ered favor­ably by ProP­ub­lica and The New York Times’ tech­nol­ogy reporters, and repeat­edly pro­moted by the Elec­tronic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion. Every­one seems to agree that OTF-funded pri­vacy apps offer some of the best pro­tec­tion from gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance you can getIn fact, just about all the fea­tured open-source apps on EFF’s recent “Secure Mes­sag­ing Score­card” were funded by OTF. . . .

. . . . You’d think that anti-surveillance activists like Chris Soghoian, Jacob Appel­baum, Cory Doc­torow and Jil­lian York would be staunchly against out­fits like BBG and Radio Free Asia, and the role they have played — and con­tinue to play — in work­ing with defense and cor­po­rate inter­ests to project and impose U.S. power abroad. Instead, these rad­i­cal activists have know­ingly joined the club, and in doing so, have become will­ing pitch­men for a wing of the very same U.S. National Secu­rity State they so adamantly oppose. . . .”

The program concludes with information which supplements the discussion of the BBG/RFA/OTF nexus, as well as anticipating the forthcoming analysis of the Apple “ISIS-phone” controversy.

Program Highlights Include:

  • Discussion of the struggle over encryption of the WhatsApp feature owned by Facebook.
  • Development of WhatsApp’s encryption technology by the BBG/RFA-funded by the Open Technology Fund.
  • ACLU technology adviser Chris Soghoian’s commentary on the WhatsApp controversy.
  • FBI Director James Comey’s GOP/Bush adminisitration background.
  • Discussion of Comey’s possible destabilization of the Obama administration and the Hillary Clinton campaign.

1. Against the background of the CIA/BBG/RFA evolution of “Team Snowden,” we highlight the development of “focal point” personnel by the CIA. Infiltrated into other branches of government, including the military, they constituted a “government within a government.” Was Snowden one such “focal point?” Is the BBG/RFA/OTF nexus an evolution of the “focal point networks?”

JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters by James W. Douglass; Touchstone Books [SC]; Copyright 2008 by James W. Douglass; ISBN 978-1-4391-9388-4; pp. 196-197.

. . . . One man in a position to watch the arms of the CIA proliferate was Colonel Fletcher Prouty. He ran the office that did the proliferating. In 1955, Air Force Headquarters ordered Colonel L. Fletcher Prouty, a career Army and Air Force officer since World War II, to set up a Pentagon office to provide military support for the clandestine operations of the CIA. Thus Prouty became director of the Pentagon’s “Focal Point Office for the CIA.”

CIA Director Allen Dulles was its actual creator. In the fifties, Dulles needed military support for his cover campaigns to undermine opposing nations in the Cold War. Moreover, Dulles wanted subterranean secrecy and autonomy for his projects, even from the members of his own government. Prouty’s job was to provide Pentagon support and deep cover for the CIA beneath the different branches of Washington’s bureaucracy. Dulles dictated the method Prouty was to follow.

“I want a focal point,” Dulles said. “I want an office that’s cleared to do what we have to have done; an office that knows us very, very well and then an office that has access to a system in the Pentagon. But the system will not be aware of what initiated the request–they’ll think it came from the Secretary of Defense. They won’t realize it came from the Director of Central Intelligence.

Dulles got Prouty to create a network of subordinate focal point offices in the armed services, then throughout the entire U.S. government. Each office that Prouty set up was put under a “cleared” CIA employee. That person took orders directly from the CIA but functioned under the cover of his particular office and branch of government. Such “breeding,” Prouty said decades later in an interview, resulted in a web of covert CIA representatives “in the State Department, in the FAA, in the Customs Service, in the Treasury, in the FBI and all around through the government–up in the White House . . . Then we began to assign people there who, those agencies thought, were from the Defense Department. But they actually were people that we put there from the CIA.”

The consequence in the early 1960’s, when Kennedy became president, was that the CIA had placed a secret team of its own employees through the entire U.S. government. It was accountable to no one except the CIA, headed by Allen Dulles. After Dulles was fired by Kennedy, the CIA’s Deputy Director of Plans, Richard Helms, became this invisible government’s immediate commander. No one except a tight inner circle of the CIA even knew of the existence of this top-secret intelligence network, much less the identiy of its deep-cover bureaucrats. These CIA “focal points,” as Dulles called them, constituted a powerful, unseen government within the government. Its Dulles-appointed members would act quickly, with total obedience, when called on by the CIA to assist its covert operations. . . .

2. Much of the broadcast consists of a reading of an article we excerpted at the end of FTR #891. As we examine the personnel and institutions comprising “Team Snowden,” we come to a milieu that has evolved from the CIA’s radio propaganda and psychological warfare capabilities.

An extension of the CIA’s propaganda and psychological warfare broadcasting infrastructure developed during the Cold War, the milieu detailed here functions in a similar fashion. The internet is the latest form of broadcasting. The Open Technology Fund and related institutions are designed to provide dissidents and covert operators a means of shielding their internet communications and mobile phone messages from surveillance by targeted governments. The probability is strong that U.S. intelligence can monitor those communications.

In our past discussions of the assassination of President Kennedy, we have noted that the very same covert action networks used to overthrow and eliminate governments and individuals deemed hostile to U.S. interests were ultimately deployed against Americans and even the United States itself. “Regime change” and destabilization came home.

In a similar fashion, it is our considered opinion that a CIA-derived technology milieu developed to assist and effect “ops” abroad was used to destabilize the Obama administration. (There is MUCH more to “L’Affaire Snowden” than just the destabilization of the Obama administration, however that is a major and ongoing outgrowth of it.

” . . . Read­ers might find it odd that a US gov­ern­ment agency estab­lished as a way to laun­der the image of var­i­ous shady pro­pa­ganda out­fits (more on that soon) is now keen to fund tech­nolo­gies designed to pro­tect us from the US gov­ern­ment. More­over, it might seem curi­ous that its money would be so warmly wel­comed by some of the Internet’s fiercest antigov­ern­ment activists. . . . 

. . . . Though many of the apps and tech backed by Radio Free Asia’s OTF are unknown to the gen­eral pub­lic, they are highly respected and extremely pop­u­lar among the anti-surveillance Inter­net activist crowd. OTF-funded apps have been rec­om­mended by Edward Snow­den, cov­ered favor­ably by ProP­ub­lica and The New York Times’ tech­nol­ogy reporters, and repeat­edly pro­moted by the Elec­tronic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion. Every­one seems to agree that OTF-funded pri­vacy apps offer some of the best pro­tec­tion from gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance you can getIn fact, just about all the fea­tured open-source apps on EFF’s recent “Secure Mes­sag­ing Score­card” were funded by OTF. . . .

. . . . You’d think that anti-surveillance activists like Chris Soghoian, Jacob Appel­baum, Cory Doc­torow and Jil­lian York would be staunchly against out­fits like BBG and Radio Free Asia, and the role they have played — and con­tinue to play — in work­ing with defense and cor­po­rate inter­ests to project and impose U.S. power abroad. Instead, these rad­i­cal activists have know­ingly joined the club, and in doing so, have become will­ing pitch­men for a wing of the very same U.S. National Secu­rity State they so adamantly oppose. . . .”

There are numerous references to the Tor network in this article. Although we do not have the time to go into it in this program, the Tor network is discussed at length in the link that follows. Suffice it to say that the Tor network was developed by U.S. intelligence services and, to no one’s surprise, is being monitored by intelligence services, including the NSA.

“Inter­net Pri­vacy, Funded by Spooks: A Brief His­tory of the BBG” by Yasha Levine; Pando Daily; 3/01/2015. 

For the past few months I’ve been cov­er­ing U.S. gov­ern­ment fund­ing of pop­u­lar Inter­net pri­vacy tools like Tor, Cryp­to­Cat and Open Whis­per Sys­tems. Dur­ing my report­ing, one agency in par­tic­u­lar keeps pop­ping up: An agency with one of those really bland names that masks its wild, bizarre his­tory: the Broad­cast­ing Board of Gov­er­nors, or BBG.

The BBG was formed in 1999 and runs on a $721 mil­lion annual bud­get. It reports directly to Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry and oper­ates like a hold­ing com­pany for a host of Cold War-era CIA spin­offs and old school “psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare” projects: Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia, Radio Martí, Voice of Amer­ica, Radio Lib­er­a­tion from Bol­she­vism (since renamed “Radio Lib­erty”) and a dozen other government-funded radio sta­tions and media out­lets pump­ing out pro-American pro­pa­ganda across the globe.

Today, the Congressionally-funded fed­eral agency is also one of the biggest back­ers of grass­roots and open-source Inter­net pri­vacy tech­nol­ogy. These invest­ments started in 2012, when the BBG launched the “Open Tech­nol­ogy Fund” (OTF) — an ini­tia­tive housed within and run by Radio Free Asia (RFA), a pre­mier BBG prop­erty that broad­casts into com­mu­nist coun­tries like North Korea, Viet­nam, Laos, China and Myan­mar. The BBG endowed Radio Free Asia’s Open Tech­nol­ogy Fund with a mul­ti­mil­lion dol­lar bud­get and a sin­gle task: “to ful­fill the U.S. Con­gres­sional global man­date for Inter­net freedom.”

It’s already a mouth­ful of prover­bial Wash­ing­ton alpha­bet soup — Con­gress funds BBG to fund RFA to fund OTF — but, regard­less of which sub-group ulti­mately writes the check, the impor­tant thing to under­stand is that all this fed­eral gov­ern­ment money flows, directly or indi­rectly, from the Broad­cast­ing Board of Governors.

Between 2012and 2014, Radio Free Asia’s Open Tech­nol­ogy Fund poured more than $10 mil­lion into Inter­net pri­vacy projects big and small: open-source encrypted com­mu­ni­ca­tion apps, next-generation secure email ini­tia­tives, anti-censorship mesh net­work­ing plat­forms, encryp­tion secu­rity audits, secure cloud host­ing, a net­work of “high-capacity” Tor exit nodes and even an anony­mous Tor-based tool for leak­ers and whistle­blow­ers that com­peted with Wikileaks.

Though many of the apps and tech backed by Radio Free Asia’s OTF are unknown to the gen­eral pub­lic, they are highly respected and extremely pop­u­lar among the anti-surveillance Inter­net activist crowd. OTF-funded apps have been rec­om­mended by Edward Snow­den, cov­ered favor­ably by ProP­ub­lica and The New York Times’ tech­nol­ogy reporters, and repeat­edly pro­moted by the Elec­tronic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion. Every­one seems to agree that OTF-funded pri­vacy apps offer some of the best pro­tec­tion from gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance you can get. In fact, just about all the fea­tured open-source apps on EFF’s recent “Secure Mes­sag­ing Score­card” were funded by OTF.

Here’s a small sam­ple of what the Broad­cast­ing Board of Gov­er­nors funded (through Radio Free Asia and then through the Open Tech­nol­ogy Fund) between 2012 and 2014:

* Open Whis­per Sys­tems, maker of free encrypted text and voice mobile apps like TextSe­cure and Signal/RedPhone, got a gen­er­ous $1.35-million infu­sion. (Face­book recently started using Open Whis­per Sys­tems to secure its What­sApp mes­sages.)
* Cryp­to­Cat, an encrypted chat app made by Nadim Kobeissi and pro­moted by EFF, received $184,000.
* LEAP, an email encryp­tion startup, got just over $1 mil­lion. LEAP is cur­rently being used to run secure VPN ser­vices at RiseUp.net, the rad­i­cal anar­chist com­mu­ni­ca­tion col­lec­tive.
A Wik­ileaks alter­na­tive called Glob­aLeaks (which was endorsed by the folks at Tor, includ­ing Jacob Appel­baum) received just under $350,000.
* The Guardian Project — which makes an encrypted chat app called Chat­Se­cure, as well a mobile ver­sion of Tor called Orbot — got $388,500.
* The Tor Project received over $1 mil­lion from OTF to pay for secu­rity audits, traf­fic analy­sis tools and set up fast Tor exit nodes in the Mid­dle East and South East Asia.

In 2014, Con­gress mas­sively upped the BBG’s “Inter­net free­dom” bud­get to $25 mil­lion, with half of that money flow­ing through RFA and into the Open Tech­nol­ogy Fund. This $12.75 mil­lion rep­re­sented a three-fold increase in OTF’s bud­get from 2013 — a con­sid­er­able expan­sion for an out­fit that was just a few years old. Clearly, it’s doing some­thing that the gov­ern­ment likes. A lot.

With those resources, the Open Tech­nol­ogy Fund’s mother-agency, Radio Free Asia, plans to cre­ate a ver­ti­cally inte­grated incu­ba­tor for bud­ding pri­vacy tech­nol­o­gists around the globe — pro­vid­ing every­thing from train­ing and men­tor­ship, to offer­ing them a secure global cloud host­ing envi­ron­ment to run their apps, to legal assistance.

Read­ers might find it odd that a US gov­ern­ment agency estab­lished as a way to laun­der the image of var­i­ous shady pro­pa­ganda out­fits (more on that soon) is now keen to fund tech­nolo­gies designed to pro­tect us from the US gov­ern­ment. More­over, it might seem curi­ous that its money would be so warmly wel­comed by some of the Internet’s fiercest antigov­ern­ment activists.

But, as folks in the open-source pri­vacy com­mu­nity will tell you, fund­ing for open-source encryption/anti-surveillance tech has been hard to come by. So they’ve wel­comed money from Radio Free Asia’s Open Tech­nol­ogy Fund with open pock­ets. Devel­op­ers and groups sub­mit­ted their projects for fund­ing, while lib­er­tar­i­ans and anti-government/anti-surveillance activists enthu­si­as­ti­cally joined OTF’s advi­sory coun­cil, sit­ting along­side rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Google and the US State Depart­ment, tech lob­by­ists, and mil­i­tary consultants.

But why is a federally-funded CIA spin­off with decades of expe­ri­ence in “psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare” sud­denly blow­ing tens of mil­lions in gov­ern­ment funds on pri­vacy tools meant to pro­tect peo­ple from being sur­veilled by another arm of the very same gov­ern­ment? To answer that ques­tion, we have to pull the cam­era back and exam­ine how all of those Cold War pro­pa­ganda out­lets begat the Broad­cast­ing Board of Gov­er­nors begat Radio Free Asia begat the Open Tech­nol­ogy Fund. The story begins in the late 1940’s.

The ori­gins of the Broad­cast­ing Board of Governors

The Broad­cast­ing Board of Gov­er­nors traces its begin­nings to the early Cold War years, as a covert pro­pa­ganda project of the newly-created Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency to wage “psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare” against Com­mu­nist regimes and oth­ers deemed a threat to US interests.

George Ken­nan — the key archi­tect of post-WWII for­eign pol­icy — pushed for expand­ing the role of covert peace­time pro­grams. And so, in 1948, National Secu­rity Coun­cil Direc­tive 10/2 offi­cially autho­rized the CIA to engage in “covert oper­a­tions” against the Com­mu­nist Men­ace. Clause 5 of the direc­tivee defined “covert oper­a­tions” as “pro­pa­ganda, eco­nomic war­fare; pre­ven­tive direct action, includ­ing sab­o­tage, anti-sabotage, demo­li­tion and evac­u­a­tion mea­sures; sub­ver­sion against hos­tile states, includ­ing assis­tance to under­ground resis­tance move­ments, guer­ril­las and refugee lib­er­a­tion groups, and sup­port of indige­nous anti-communist ele­ments in threat­ened coun­tries of the free world.”

Pro­pa­ganda quickly became one of the key weapons in the CIA’s covert oper­a­tions arse­nal. The agency estab­lished and funded radio sta­tions, news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines, his­tor­i­cal soci­eties, emi­gre “research insti­tutes,” and cul­tural pro­grams all over Europe. In many cases, it fun­neled money to out­fits run and staffed by known World War II war crim­i­nals and Nazi col­lab­o­ra­tors, both in Europe and here in the United States.

Christo­pher Simp­son, author of “Blow­back: America’s Recruit­ment of Nazis and Its Destruc­tive Impact on Our Domes­tic and For­eign Pol­icy”, details the extent of these “psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare projects”:

CIA-funded psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare projects employ­ing East­ern Euro­pean émigrés became major oper­a­tions dur­ing the 1950s, con­sum­ing tens and even hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars. . . .This included under­writ­ing most of the French Paix et Lib­erté move­ment, pay­ing the bills of the Ger­man League for Strug­gle Against Inhu­man­ity , and financ­ing a half dozen free jurists asso­ci­a­tions, a vari­ety of Euro­pean fed­er­al­ist groups, the Con­gress for Cul­tural Free­dom, mag­a­zines, news ser­vices, book pub­lish­ers, and much more. These were very broad pro­grams designed to influ­ence world pub­lic opin­ion at vir­tu­ally every level, from illit­er­ate peas­ants in the fields to the most sophis­ti­cated schol­ars in pres­ti­gious uni­ver­si­ties. They drew on a wide range of resources: labor unions, adver­tis­ing agen­cies, col­lege pro­fes­sors, jour­nal­ists, and stu­dent lead­ers, to name a few. [empha­sis added]

In Europe, the CIA set up “Radio Free Europe” and “Radio Lib­er­a­tion From Bol­she­vism” (later renamed “Radio Lib­erty”), which beamed pro­pa­ganda in sev­eral lan­guages into the Soviet Union and Soviet satel­lite states of East­ern Europe. The CIA later expanded its radio pro­pa­ganda oper­a­tions into Asia, tar­get­ing com­mu­nist China, North Korea and Viet­nam. The spy agency also funded sev­eral radio projects aimed at sub­vert­ing left­ist gov­ern­ments in Cen­tral and South Amer­ica, includ­ing Radio Free Cuba and Radio Swan— which was run by the CIA and employed some of the same Cuban exiles that took part in the failed Bay of Pigs inva­sion. Even today, the CIA boasts that these early “psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare” projects “would become one of the longest run­ning and suc­cess­ful covert action cam­paigns ever mounted by the United States.”

Offi­cially, the CIA’s direct role in this global “psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare” project dimin­ished in the 1970s, after the spy agency’s ties to Cold War pro­pa­ganda arms like Radio Free Europe were exposed. Con­gress agreed to take over fund­ing of these projects from the CIA, and even­tu­ally Wash­ing­ton expanded them into a mas­sive federally-funded pro­pa­ganda apparatus.

The names of the var­i­ous CIA spin­offs and non­prof­its changed over the years, cul­mi­nat­ing in a 1999 reor­ga­ni­za­tion under Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton which cre­ated the Broad­cast­ing Board of Gov­er­nors, a par­ent hold­ing com­pany to group new broad­cast­ing oper­a­tions around the world together with Cold War-era pro­pa­ganda out­fits with spooky pasts—including Radio Free Europe/Radio Lib­erty, Voice of Amer­ica and Radio Free Asia.

Today, the BBG has a $721 mil­lion bud­get pro­vided by Con­gress, reports to the Sec­re­tary of State and is man­aged by a revolv­ing crew of neo­cons and mil­i­tary think-tank experts. Among them: Ken­neth Wein­stein, head of the Hud­son Insti­tute, the arch-conservative Cold War-era mil­i­tary think tank; and Ryan C. Crocker, for­mer ambas­sador to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria.

Although today’s BBG is no longer covertly funded via the CIA’s black bud­get, its role as a soft power “psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare” oper­a­tion hasn’t really changed since its incep­tion. The BBG and its sub­sidiaries still engage in pro­pa­ganda war­fare, sub­ver­sion and soft-power pro­jec­tion against coun­tries and for­eign polit­i­cal move­ments deemed hos­tile to US inter­ests. And it is still deeply inter­twined with the same mil­i­tary and CIA-connected intel­li­gence orga­ni­za­tions — from USAID to DARPA to the National Endow­ment for Democracy.

Today, the Broad­cast­ing Board of Gov­er­nors runs a pro­pa­ganda net­work that blan­kets the globe: Radio Martí (aimed at Cuba), Radio Farda (aimed at Iran), Radio Sawa (which broad­casts in Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, and Sudan), Radio Azadi (tar­get­ing Afghanistan), Radio Free Europe/Radio Lib­erty (which has tai­lored broad­casts in over a dozen lan­guages into Rus­sia, Ukraine, Ser­bia, Azer­bai­jan, Ukraine, Belarus, Geor­gia, and Arme­nia), and Radio Free Asia (which tar­gets China, North Korea, Laos, and Vietnam).

The BBG is also involved in the tech­nol­ogy of post-Cold War, Internet-era pro­pa­ganda. It has bankrolled satel­lite Inter­net access in Iran and con­tin­ues to fund an SMS-based social net­work in Cuba called Piramideo — which is dif­fer­ent from the failed covert Twit­ter clone funded by USAID that tried to spark a Cuban Spring rev­o­lu­tion. It has con­tracted with an anonymity Inter­net proxy called SafeWeb, which had been funded by the CIA’s ven­ture cap­i­tal firm In-Q-Tel. It worked with tech out­fits run by prac­ti­tion­ers of the con­tro­ver­sial Chi­nese right-wing cult, Falun Gong — whose leader believes that humans are being cor­rupted by invad­ing aliens from other planets/dimensions. These com­pa­nies — Dynaweb and Ultra­reach — pro­vide anti-censorship tools to Chi­nese Inter­net users. As of 2012, the BBG con­tin­ued to fund them to the tune of $1.5 mil­lion a year.

As the BBG proudly out­lined in a 2013 fact sheet for its “Inter­net Anti-Censorship” unit:

The BBG col­lab­o­rates with other Inter­net free­dom projects and orga­ni­za­tions, includ­ing RFA’s Open Tech­nol­ogy Fund, the State Depart­ment, USAID, and DARPAs SAFER Warfighter Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Pro­gram. IAC is also reach­ing out to other groups inter­ested in Inter­net free­dom such as Google, Free­dom House and the National Endow­ment for Democracy’s Cen­ter for Inter­na­tional Media Assistance.

BBG is also one of the Tor Project’s biggest fun­ders, pay­ing out about $3.5 mil­lion from 2008 through 2013. BBG’s lat­est publicly-known Tor con­tract was final­ized in mid-2012. The BBG gave Tor at least $1.2 mil­lion to improve secu­rity and dras­ti­cally boost the band­width of the Tor net­work by fund­ing over a hun­dred Tor nodes across the world — all part of the US government’s effort to find an effec­tive soft-power weapon that can under­mine Inter­net cen­sor­ship and con­trol in coun­tries hos­tile to US inter­ests. (We only know about the BBG’s lucra­tive fund­ing of Tor thanks to the dogged efforts of the Elec­tronic Pri­vacy Infor­ma­tion Cen­ter, which had to sue to get its FOIA requests ful­filled.)

As men­tioned, last year Con­gress decided the BBG was doing such a good job advanc­ing America’s inter­ests abroad that it boosted the agency’s “Inter­net free­dom” annual bud­get from just $1.6 mil­lion in 2011to a whop­ping $25 mil­lion this year. The BBG fun­neled half of this tax­payer money through its Radio Free Asia sub­sidiary, into the “Open Tech­nol­ogy Fund” — the “non­profit” respon­si­ble for bankrolling many of today’s pop­u­lar open-source pri­vacy and encryp­tion apps.

Which brings me to the next star­ring agency in this recov­ered his­tory of Wash­ing­ton DC’s pri­vacy tech­nol­ogy invest­ments: Radio Free Asia.

Radio Free Asia

The CIA launched Radio Free Asia (RFA) in 1951 as an exten­sion of its global anti-Communist pro­pa­ganda radio net­work. RFA beamed its sig­nal into main­land China from a trans­mit­ter in Manila, and its oper­a­tions were based on the ear­lier Radio Free Europe/Radio Lib­er­a­tion From Bol­she­vism model.

The CIA quickly dis­cov­ered that their plan to foment polit­i­cal unrest in China had one major flaw: the Chi­nese were too poor to own radios.

Bal­loons, hold­ing small radios tuned to Radio Free Asia’s fre­quency, were lofted toward the main­land from the island of Tai­wan, where the Chi­nese Nation­al­ists had fled after the Com­mu­nist takeover of the main­land in 1949. The plan was aban­doned when the bal­loons were blown back to Tai­wan across the For­mosa Strait. The CIA sup­pos­edly shut­tered Radio Free Asia in the mid-1950s, but another Radio Free Asia reap­peared a decade later, this time funded through a CIA-Moonie out­fit called the Korean Cul­ture and Free­dom Foun­da­tion (KCFF) — a group based in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. that was run by a top fig­ure in South Korea’s state intel­li­gence agency, Colonel Bo Hi Pak, who also served as the “prin­ci­ple evan­ge­list” of cult leader Rev. Sun-Myung Moon of the Uni­fi­ca­tion Church.

This new Moonie iter­a­tion of Radio Free Asia was con­trolled by the South Korean gov­ern­ment, includ­ing the country’s own CIA, the “KCIA.” It enjoyed high-level sup­port from within the first Nixon Admin­is­tra­tion and even fea­tured then-Congressman Ger­ald Ford on its board. Accord­ing to an FBI file on Rev. Moon, Radio Free Asia “at the height of the Viet­nam war pro­duced anti-communist pro­grams in Wash­ing­ton and beamed them into China, North Korea and North Vietnam.”

Radio Free Asia got busted in a wide­spread cor­rup­tion scan­dal in the late 1970s, when the South Korean gov­ern­ment was inves­ti­gated for using the Moonie cult to influ­ence US pub­lic opin­ion in order to keep the US mil­i­tary engaged against North Korea. Back in the 1970s, the Moonies were the most noto­ri­ous cult in the United States, accused of abduct­ing and “brain­wash­ing ”count­less Amer­i­can youths. How it was that the CIA’s Radio Free Asia was handed off to the Moonies was never quite explained, but given laws ban­ning the CIA (or the KCIA) from engag­ing in psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare in the US, the obvi­ous thing to do was to bury Radio Free Asia long enough for every­one to for­get about it.

No sooner had Radio Free Asia van­ished amid scan­dal than it reap­peared again, Terminator-like, in the 1990s — this time as a legit “inde­pen­dent” non­profit wholly con­trolled by the BBG and funded by Congress.

Although this lat­est ver­sion of Radio Free Asia was sup­posed to be a com­pletely new orga­ni­za­tion and was no longer as covert and B-movie spooky, its objec­tives and tac­tics remained exactly the same: To this day it beams pro­pa­ganda into the same Com­mu­nist coun­tries, includ­ing North Korea, Viet­nam, Laos, Cam­bo­dia, China, and Burma, and fid­dles around in the same sorts of spooky adventures.

Radio Free Asia and Anti-government Hacktivists

Which brings us up to the present, when the Broad­cast­ing Board of Gov­er­nors, Radio Free Asia and its off­shoot, the Open Tech­nol­ogy Fund, find them­selves in bed with many of the very same pri­vacy activist fig­ures whom the pub­lic regards as the pri­mary adver­saries of out­fits like Radio Free Asia and the BBG. And it’s tech­nol­ogy that brings together these sup­posed adver­saries — the US National Secu­rity State on the one hand, and “hack­tivist”, “anti-government” lib­er­tar­ian pri­vacy activists on the other:

“I’m proud to be a vol­un­teer OTF advi­sor,” declared Cory Doc­torow, edi­tor of Boing­Bo­ing and a well-known lib­er­tar­ian anti-surveillance activist/author.

“Happy to have joined the Open Tech­nol­ogy Fund’s new advi­sory coun­cil,” tweeted Jil­lian York, the Direc­tor for Inter­na­tional Free­dom of Expres­sion at the Elec­tronic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion. (York recently admit­ted that the OTF’s “Inter­net free­dom” agenda is, at its core, about regime change, but bizarrely argued that it didn’t matter.)

In 2012, just a few months after Radio Free Asia’s 24/7 pro­pa­ganda blitz into North Korea failed to trig­ger regime change, RFA sent folks from the Tor Project — includ­ing core devel­oper Jacob Appel­baum (pic­tured above) — into Burma, just as the mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship was finally agree­ing to hand polit­i­cal power over to US-backed pro-democracy politi­cians. The stated pur­pose of Appelbaum’s RFA-funded expe­di­tion was to probe Burma’s Inter­net sys­tem from within and col­lect infor­ma­tionon its telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions infra­struc­ture — which was then used to com­pile a report for West­ern politi­cians and “inter­na­tional investors” inter­ested in pen­e­trat­ing Burma’s recently opened mar­kets. Here you can see Appelbaum’s visa— pub­lished in the report as evi­dence of what you needed to do to buy a SIM card in Burma.

Burma is a curi­ous place for Amer­i­can anti-surveillance activists funded by Radio Free Asia to travel to, con­sid­er­ing that it has long been a tar­get of US regime-change cam­paigns. In fact, the guru of pro-Western “color rev­o­lu­tions,” Gene Sharp, wrote his famous guide to non-violent rev­o­lu­tions, “From Dic­ta­tor­ship to Democ­racy”, ini­tially as a guide for Burma’s oppo­si­tion move­ment, in order to help it over­throw the mil­i­tary junta in the late 1980s. Sharp had crossed into Burma ille­gally to train oppo­si­tion activists there — all under the pro­tec­tion and spon­sor­ship of the US gov­ern­ment and one Col. Robert Helvey, a mil­i­tary intel­li­gence officer.

Jacob Appelbaum’s will­ing­ness to work directly for an old CIA cutout like Radio Free Asia in a nation long tar­geted for regime-change is cer­tainly odd, to say the least. Par­tic­u­larly since Appel­baum made a big pub­lic show recently claim­ing that, though it pains him that Tor takes so much money from the US mil­i­tary, he would never take money from some­thing as evil as the CIA.

Igno­rance is bliss.

Appelbaum’s finan­cial rela­tion­ships with var­i­ous CIA spin­offs like Radio Free Asia and the BBG go fur­ther. From 2012 through 2013, Radio Free Asia trans­ferred about $1.1 mil­lion to Tor in the form of grants and con­tracts. This mil­lion dol­lars comes on top of another $3.4 mil­lion Tor received from Radio Free Asia’s par­ent agency, the BBG, start­ing from 2007.

But Tor and Appel­baum are not the only ones happy to take money from the BBG/RFA.

Take com­puter researcher/privacy activist Harry Halpin, for exam­ple. Back in Novem­ber of 2014, Halpin smeared me as a con­spir­acy the­o­rist, and then falsely accused me and Pando of being funded by the CIA — sim­ply because I reported on Tor’s gov­ern­ment fund­ing. Turns out that Halpin’s next-generation secure com­mu­ni­ca­tions out­fit, called LEAP, took more than $1 mil­lion from Radio Free Asia’s Open Tech­nol­ogy Fund. Some­what iron­i­cally, LEAP’s tech­nol­ogy pow­ers the VPN ser­vices of RiseUp.Net, the rad­i­cal anar­chist tech col­lec­tive that pro­vides activists with email and secure com­mu­ni­ca­tions tools (and forces you to sign a thinly veiled anti-Communist pledge before giv­ing you an account).

Then there’s the ACLU’s Christo­pher Soghoian. A few months ago, he had viciously attacked me and Pando for report­ing on Tor’s US gov­ern­ment fund­ing. But just the other day, Soghoian went on Democ­racy Now, and in the mid­dle of a seg­ment crit­i­ciz­ing the U.S. government’s run­away hack­ing and sur­veil­lance pro­grams, rec­om­mended that peo­ple use a suite of encrypted text and voice apps funded by the very same intelligence-connected U.S. gov­ern­ment appa­ra­tus he was denounc­ing. Specif­i­cally, Soghoian rec­om­mended apps made by Open Whis­per Sys­tems, which got $1.35 mil­lion from Radio Free Asia’s Open Tech­nol­ogy Fund from 2013 through 2014.

He told Amy Goodman:

“These are best-of-breed free appli­ca­tions made by top secu­rity researchers, and actu­ally sub­si­dized by the State Depart­ment and by the U.S. tax­payer. You can down­load these tools today. You can make encrypted tele­phone calls. You can send encrypted text mes­sages. You can really up your game and pro­tect your communications.”

When Good­man won­dered why the U.S. gov­ern­ment would fund pri­vacy apps, he acknowl­edged that this tech­nol­ogy is a soft-power weapon of U.S. empire but then gave a very mud­dled and naive answer:

CHRISTOPHER SOGHOIAN: Because they’re tools of for­eign pol­icy. You know, the U.S. gov­ern­ment isn’t this one machine with one per­son, you know, dic­tat­ing all of its poli­cies. You have these dif­fer­ent agen­cies squab­bling, some­times doing con­tra­dic­tory things. The U.S. gov­ern­ment, the State Depart­ment has spent mil­lions of dol­lars over the last 10 years to fund the cre­ation and the deploy­ment and improve­ment to secure com­mu­ni­ca­tions and secure com­put­ing tools that were intended to allow activists in China and Iran to com­mu­ni­cate, that are intended to allow jour­nal­ists to do their thing and spread news about democ­racy with­out fear of inter­cep­tion and sur­veil­lance by the Chi­nese and other governments.

AMY GOODMAN: But maybe the U.S. gov­ern­ment has a way to break in.

CHRISTOPHER SOGHOIAN: Well, you know, it’s pos­si­ble that they’ve dis­cov­ered flaws, but, you know, they have—the U.S. gov­ern­ment hasn’t been writ­ing the soft­ware. They’ve been giv­ing grants to highly respected research teams, secu­rity researchers and aca­d­e­mics, and these tools are about the best that we have. You know, I agree. I think it’s a lit­tle bit odd that, you know, the State Department’s fund­ing this, but these tools aren’t get­ting a lot of fund­ing from other places. And so, as long as the State Depart­ment is will­ing to write them checks, I’m happy that the Tor Project and Whis­per Sys­tems and these other orga­ni­za­tions are cash­ing them. They are cre­at­ing great tools and great tech­nol­ogy that can really improve our secu­rity. And I hope that they’ll get more money in the future. It’s con­ve­nient and nice to believe that one hand of the U.S. National Secu­rity State doesn’t know what the other hand is doing — espe­cially when the liveli­hoods of you and your col­leagues depends on it. But as the long and dark covert intel­li­gence his­tory of the Broad­cast­ers Board of Gov­er­nors and Radio Free Asia so clearly shows, this think­ing is naive and wrong. It also shows just how effec­tively the U.S. National Secu­rity State brought its oppo­si­tion into the fold.

You’d think that anti-surveillance activists like Chris Soghoian, Jacob Appel­baum, Cory Doc­torow and Jil­lian York would be staunchly against out­fits like BBG and Radio Free Asia, and the role they have played — and con­tinue to play — in work­ing with defense and cor­po­rate inter­ests to project and impose U.S. power abroad. Instead, these rad­i­cal activists have know­ingly joined the club, and in doing so, have become will­ing pitch­men for a wing of the very same U.S. National Secu­rity State they so adamantly oppose.

3. Note the role of the BBG/RFA’s Open Technology Fund in developing the WhatsApp encryption technology at the foundation of the controversy around a court case involving attempts to penetrate its encryption technology.

“WhatsApp Encryption Said to Stymie Wiretap Order” by Matt Apuzzo; The New York Times; 3/12/2016.

While the Justice Department wages a public fight with Apple over access to a locked iPhone, government officials are privately debating how to resolve a prolonged standoff with another technology company, WhatsApp, over access to its popular instant messaging application, officials and others involved in the case said.
No decision has been made, but a court fight with WhatsApp, the world’s largest mobile messaging service, would open a new front in the Obama administration’s dispute with Silicon Valley over encryption, security and privacy.

WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, allows customers to send messages and make phone calls over the Internet. In the last year, the company has been adding encryption to those conversations, making it impossible for the Justice Department to read or eavesdrop, even with a judge’s wiretap order.

As recently as this past week, officials said, the Justice Department was discussing how to proceed in a continuing criminal investigation in which a federal judge had approved a wiretap, but investigators were stymied by WhatsApp’s encryption.

The Justice Department and WhatsApp declined to comment. The government officials and others who discussed the dispute did so on condition of anonymity because the wiretap order and all the information associated with it were under seal. The nature of the case was not clear, except that officials said it was not a terrorism investigation. The location of the investigation was also unclear. . . .

. . . . In a twist, the government helped develop the technology behind WhatsApp’s encryption. To promote civil rights in countries with repressive governments, the Open Technology Fund, which promotes open societies by supporting technology that allows people to communicate without the fear of surveillance, provided $2.2 million to help develop Open Whisper Systems, the encryption backbone behind WhatsApp. . . .

. . . . Those who support digital privacy fear that if the Justice Department succeeds in forcing Apple to help break into the iPhone in the San Bernardino case, the government’s next move will be to force companies like WhatsApp to rewrite their software to remove encryption from the accounts of certain customers. “That would be like going to nuclear war with Silicon Valley,” said Chris Soghoian, a technology analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union. . . .

4. Republican James Comey–a Mitt Romney supporter in 2012–is taking actions that are causing serious problems for the Obama administration and for the Hillary Clinton candidacy. In particular, the e-mail scandal appears to have been Comey’s baby. He has also ruffled feathers with the altogether complicated Apple “ISISphone” controversy. That consummately important case, Byzantine in its complexity and multi-dimensionality (to coin a term) will be dealt with in a future program.

Comey was previously the general counsel for Bridgewater Associates, a hedge fund that helped capitalize Palantir, which (their disclaimers to the contrary notwithstanding) makes the Prism software that is at the epicenter of “L’Affaire Snowden.” (CORRECTION: In past programs and posts, we incorrectly identified Comey as general counsel for Palantir, not Bridgewater.)

The Bridgewater/Palantir/Comey nexus is interesting, nonetheless. Palantir’s top stockholder is Peter Thiel, a backer of Ted Cruz and the man who provided most of the capital for Ron Paul’s 2012 Presidential campaign. Ron Paul’s Super PAC was in–of all places–Provo Utah, Romney country. Paul is from Texas. The alleged maverick Paul was, in fact, close to Romney.

Recall that “Eddie the Friendly Spook” is a big Ron Paul fan and Bruce Fein, Snowden’s first attorney and the counsel for the Snowden family, was the chief legal counsel for Ron Paul’s campaign.

The possible implications of these relationships are worth contemplating and will be discussed at greater length in future programs.

“Comey’s FBI Makes Waves” by Cory Bennett and Julian Hattem; The Hill; 3/09/2016.

The aggressive posture of the FBI under Director James Comey is becoming a political problem for the White House.

The FBI’s demand that Apple help unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino killers has outraged Silicon Valley, a significant source of political support for President Obama and Democrats.

Comey, meanwhile, has stirred tensions by linking rising violent crime rates to the Black Lives Matter movement’s focus on police violence and by warning about “gaps” in the screening process for Syrian refugees.

Then there’s the biggest issue of all: the FBI’s investigation into the private email server used by Hillary Clinton, Obama’s former secretary of State and the leading contender to win the Democratic presidential nomination.

A decision by the FBI to charge Clinton or her top aides for mishandling classified information would be a shock to the political system.

In these cases and more, Comey — a Republican who donated in 2012 to Mitt Romney — has proved he is “not attached to the strings of the White House,” said Ron Hosko, the former head of the FBI’s criminal investigative division and a critic of Obama’s law enforcement strategies.

Publicly, administration officials have not betrayed any worry about the Clinton probe. They have also downplayed any differences of opinion on Apple.

But former officials say the FBI’s moves are clearly ruffling feathers within the administration.

With regards to the Apple standoff, “It’s just not clear [Comey] is speaking for the administration,” said Richard Clarke, a former White House counterterrorism and cybersecurity chief. “We know there have been administration meetings on this for months. The proposal that Comey had made on encryption was rejected by the administration.”

Comey has a reputation for speaking truth to power, dating back to a dramatic confrontation in 2004 when he rushed to a hospital to stop the Bush White House from renewing a warrantless wiretapping program while Attorney General John Ashcroft was gravely ill. Comey was Ashcroft’s deputy at the time.

That showdown won Comey plaudits from both sides of the aisle and made him an attractive pick to lead the FBI. But now that he’s in charge of the agency, the president might be getting more than he bargained for.

“Part of his role is to not necessarily be in lock step with the White House,” said Mitch Silber, a former intelligence official with the New York City Police Department and current senior managing director at FTI Consulting.

“He takes very seriously the fact that he works for the executive branch,” added Leo Taddeo, a former agent in the FBI’s cyber division. “But he also understands the importance of maintaining his independence as a law enforcement agency that needs to give not just the appearance of independence but the reality of it.”

The split over Clinton’s email server is the most politically charged issue facing the FBI, with nothing less than the race for the White House potentially at stake.

Obama has publicly defended Clinton, saying that while she “made a mistake” with her email setup, it was “not a situation in which America’s national security was endangered.”

But the FBI director has bristled at that statement, saying the president would not have any knowledge of the investigation. Comey, meanwhile, told lawmakers last week that he is “very close, personally,” to the probe.

Obama’s comments reflected a pattern, several former agents said, of the president making improper comments about FBI investigations. In 2012, he made similarly dismissive comments about a pending inquiry into then-CIA Director David Petraeus, who later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge for giving classified information to his mistress and biographer, Paula Broadwell.

“It serves no one in the United States for the president to comment on ongoing investigations,” Taddeo said. “I just don’t see a purpose.”

Hosko suggested that a showdown over potential criminal charges for Clinton could lead to a reprise of the famous 2004 hospital scene, when Comey threatened to resign.

“He has that mantle,” Hosko said. “I think now there’s this expectation — I hope it’s a fair one — that he’ll do it again if he has to.”

Comey’s independent streak has also been on display in the Apple fight, when his bureau decided to seek a court order demanding that the tech giant create new software to bypass security tools on an iPhone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the two terrorist attackers in San Bernardino, Calif.

Many observers questioned whether the FBI was making an end-run around the White House, which had previously dismissed a series of proposals that would force companies to decrypt data upon government request.

“I think there’s actually some people that don’t think with one mindset on this issue within the administration,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the Senate Homeland Security Committee’s top Democrat, at a Tuesday hearing. “It’s a tough issue.”

While the White House has repeatedly backed the FBI’s decision, it has not fully endorsed the potential policy ramifications, leaving some to think a gap might develop as similar cases pop up. The White House is poised to soon issue its own policy paper on the subject of data encryption.

“The position taken by the FBI is at odds with the concerns expressed by individuals [in the White House] who were looking into the encryption issue,” said Neema Singh Guliani, a legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

This week, White House homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco tried to downplay the differences between the two sides. The White House and FBI are both grappling with the same problems, she said in a discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“There is a recognition across the administration that the virtues of strong encryption are without a doubt,” Monaco said on Monday. “There is also uniformity about the recognition that strong encryption poses real challenges.”

 

Discussion

7 comments for “FTR #895 The CIA and the “Privacy” Advocates: Update on the Adventures of Eddie the Friendly Spook”

  1. Distil Network, an anti-bot service that helps clients identify non-human internet traffic, recently came out with the a new report on the prevalence of bots in current web traffic. The good news, according to their research, is that human-generated internet traffic outnumbered bots last year for the first time since 2013. Yay.

    The bad news? Part of that decline in bot traffic is due to more “bad bots” become sophisticated “advanced persistent bots” that mimic human behavior and are much harder to detect and block than their earlier counterparts. So the “bad bot” operators appear to be opting for quality over quantity in terms of their bot of choice, and that appears to have reduced the overall bot traffic, relatively speaking. Yay:

    Marketing Land

    New report: Almost all bad bots are highly sophisticated and hard to detect
    According to anti-bot service Distil Networks, 88 percent of all malicious bots are now “advanced persistent bots.”
    Barry Levine on March 25, 2016 at 9:45 am

    There is one bright spot in Distil Network’s third annual report on bad bots, out this week: Human-generated internet traffic outnumbered bot traffic last year from the first time since 2013. So our carbon-based life form has retaken the lead online.

    But it’s downhill from there, according to “The 2016 Bad Bot Landscape Report: The Rise of Advanced Persistent Bots.”

    About 28 percent of all web traffic comes from non-malicious bots, the report said, plus the bad bots represent another 18 percent of the total.

    Good bots include search engine spiders, Facebook pulling in external content or the Internet Archives adding images of websites to its collection. Bad bots can fraudulently inflate web traffic or load ads, conduct competitive data mining, harvest financial and personal data, attempt brute-force logins, spam, wage man-in-the-middle attacks and transaction fraud and more.

    One of the biggest takeaways from this new report, co-founder and CEO Rami Essaid told me, is that about 88 percent of bad bots are now highly sophisticated, which the report brands for the first time as advanced persistent bots, or APBs. This is an increase over 77 percent in 2014.

    APBs, he said, can mimic human behavior, load JavaScript and other external resources, rapidly change their IP addresses, tamper with cookies and more. They are “persistent” because they are harder to detect and block.

    “A lot of previous bots were written for specific purposes and script-driven,” he said, but websites have become more complex, and bad bots have adapted.

    Although highly sophisticated bots are increasing as a percentage of overall bad bots, it turns out that bad bot traffic overall decreased from 23 percent in 2014 to about 18 percent last year. Good bots also decreased, 36 percent to 28 percent. The reasons, according to the report:

    “First, there has been a significant influx of new internet users, especially from China, India, and Indonesia. Second, bot operators continue to improve their software, creating more advanced persistent bots (APBs). Bad bot operators are opting for quality over quantity.”

    Sites’ bot traffic varies by industry. But small digital publishers that rank between 50,001 and 150,000 on Alexa are being hit the hardest. Distil found that an astounding 56 percent of their traffic comes from bad bots.

    The report said that internet service providers Comcast and Time Warner are no longer on the Top 20 Bad Bot Originators list, as they were in 2013 and 2014. Essaid attributed this to better anti-bot protection on the residential computers served by the two major ISPs, so that fewer home-based computers were spewing bots after being hijacked into botnets.

    The report’s data comes from the traffic on Distil clients’ websites, which generated trillions of site requests. Essaid said this represents somewhere between .1 and one percent of all web traffic, enough to be “statistically significant.”

    While Distil’s traffic is focused on the US, there is also representation from other countries, which he noted tends to be “a couple of years behind us in trends.”

    He acknowledged that a report like this is self-serving, in that the solution to the presented problem is his company’s services. “But the solution doesn’t have to be us,” he said, adding that it could be other anti-bot services, or sites could “get smarter about bots.”

    One way, he suggested, is for site marketers to include bots in their thinking. So if there’s A/B testing, he said, it might be best to do the testing over a longer period of time so you can “look for abnormalities.”

    “Sites’ bot traffic varies by industry. But small digital publishers that rank between 50,001 and 150,000 on Alexa are being hit the hardest. Distil found that an astounding 56 percent of their traffic comes from bad bots.
    Yes, if you operate a small to medium website, your biggest audience isn’t just bots but bad bots that are probably tricking you into thinking its a human. That’s got to be kind of depressing. And we having even really hit the era of the ‘Turing test-proof’ bots, but it’s coming.

    So we’ll see how the ever evolving ‘bad bots’ impact web traffic, although we might not actually see since a successful ‘bad bot’ should be undetectable. Either way, blocking these ‘bad bots’ probably isn’t going to get any easier unless a very sophisticated ‘good bot’ that detects bad bots gets developed and installed on servers everywhere. Although it’s worth noting that, at this point, there is actually a far easier way to reduce the amount of ‘bad bot’ traffic on your website. The technique will inevitably reduce the amount of legitimate human traffic too, but not very much:

    Ars Technica

    CloudFlare: 94 percent of the Tor traffic we see is “per se malicious”
    Legitimate users suffer as Tor becomes favored tool of spammers and fraudsters.

    by Joe Mullin – Mar 30, 2016 4:18pm CDT

    More than ever, websites are blocking users of the anonymizing Tor network or degrading the services they receive. Data published today by Web security company CloudFlare suggests why that is.

    In a company blog post entitled "The Trouble with Tor," CloudFlare CEO Matthew Prince says that 94 percent of the requests the company sees coming across the Tor network are “per se malicious.” He explains:

    That doesn’t mean they are visiting controversial content, but instead that they are automated requests designed to harm our customers. A large percentage of the comment spam, vulnerability scanning, ad click fraud, content scraping, and login scanning comes via the Tor network. To give you some sense, based on data from Project Honey Pot, 18% of global email spam, or approximately 6.5 trillion unwanted messages per year, begin with an automated bot harvesting email addresses via the Tor network.

    A graph in the blog post shows that nearly 70 percent of Tor exit nodes were listed as “comment spammer” nodes at some point over the last year.

    It’s difficult to monitor individual browsers that are using Tor. “And that’s a good thing,” Prince writes. “The promise of Tor is anonymity… while we could probably do things using super cookies or other techniques to try to get around Tor’s anonymity protections, we think that would be creepy and choose not to because we believe that anonymity online is important.”

    Starting last month, CloudFlare began treating Tor users as their own “country” and now gives its customers four options of how to handle traffic coming from Tor. They can whitelist them, test Tor users using CAPTCHA or a JavaScript challenge, or blacklist Tor traffic. The blacklist option is only available for enterprise customers.

    As more websites react to the massive amount of harmful Web traffic coming through Tor, the challenge of balancing security with the needs of legitimate anonymous users will grow. The same network being used so effectively by those seeking to avoid censorship or repression has become a favorite of fraudsters and spammers.

    The study on Tor published last month shows some of the limits already being placed on Tor users. Wikipedia, for instance, allows them to read but not edit articles. Google allows home page access but increasingly presents CAPTCHAs or block pages to Tor searchers. Bank of America won’t allow a login from Tor.

    “As more websites react to the massive amount of harmful Web traffic coming through Tor, the challenge of balancing security with the needs of legitimate anonymous users will grow. The same network being used so effectively by those seeking to avoid censorship or repression has become a favorite of fraudsters and spammers.
    How unpredictable. And also convenient: If you want to minimize ‘bad bot’ taffic, just block the service that’s 94% bad bots. It looks like we found a new use for Tor. Yay.

    And in other ‘bad bot’ news, Microsoft gave ‘Tay’, its racist twitter bot, another chance to chat with the world. Let’s just say that Twitter might need to engage in some other forms of ‘bad bot’ blocking.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 1, 2016, 3:16 pm
  2. One of the more persistent complications of the attempts realign the balance between government spying activities and the public’s right to privacy has long been the fact that the kind of spying most members of the public approve of (spying on foreign governments or criminal organizations) inevitably involves at least potentially spying on US citizens because there’s nothing preventing foreign targets from using exactly the same communication technology that US citizens use (like Gmail). And then there’s the fact that few governments are likely to unilaterally curtail their spying activities when governments around the world continue to increase their spying capacity. Spying is a two-way street. And private companies operating around the globe have to somehow address the concerns of multiple, possibly adversarial, governments simultaneously. It’s one of those topics that doesn’t lend itself to clean solutions because it’s just a giant intractable mess.

    Well, Edward Snowden put forth an idea that sort of cleans up that giant intractable mess, although it mostly just replaces the existing intractable mess with a new far more utopian intractable mess. But hey, if we could make it work that would be quite an accomplishment. For the whole planet. We just need to somehow figure out how to replace all national security work for every country with a global anti-terrorism task force with universal jurisdiction

    Columbia Journalism Review

    Snowden interview:
    Why the media isn’t doing its job

    By Emily Bell
    May 10, 2016

    The Tow Center for Digital Journalism’s Emily Bell spoke to Edward Snowden over a secure channel about his experiences working with journalists and his perspective on the shifting media world. This is an excerpt of that conversation, conducted in December 2015. It will appear in a forthcoming book: Journalism After Snowden: The Future of the Free Press in the Surveillance State, which will be released by Columbia University Press in 2016.

    Emily Bell: Can you tell us about your interactions with journalists and the press?

    Edward Snowden: One of the most challenging things about the changing nature of the public’s relationship to media and the government’s relationship to media is that media has never been stronger than it is now. At the same time, the press is less willing to use that sort of power and influence because of its increasing commercialization. There was this tradition that the media culture we had inherited from early broadcasts was intended to be a public service. Increasingly we’ve lost that, not simply in fact, but in ideal, particularly due to the 24-hour news cycle.

    We see this routinely even at organizations like The New York Times. The Intercept recently published The Drone Papers, which was an extraordinary act of public service on the part of a whistleblower within the government to get the public information that’s absolutely vital about things that we should have known more than a decade ago. These are things that we really need to know to be able to analyze and assess policies. But this was denied to us, so we get one journalistic institution that breaks the story, they manage to get the information out there. But the majors—specifically The New York Times—don’t actually run the story, they ignore it completely. This was so extraordinary that the public editor, Margaret Sullivan, had to get involved to investigate why they suppressed such a newsworthy story. It’s a credit to the Times that they have a public editor, but it’s frightening that there’s such a clear need for one.

    In the UK, when The Guardian was breaking the NSA story, we saw that if there is a competitive role in the media environment, if there’s money on the line, reputation, potential awards, anything that has material value that would benefit the competition, even if it would simultaneously benefit the public, the institutions are becoming less willing to serve the public to the detriment of themselves. This is typically exercised through the editors. This is something that maybe always existed, but we don’t remember it as always existing. Culturally, we don’t like to think of it as having always existed. There are things that we need to know, things that are valuable for us, but we are not allowed to know, because The Telegraph or the Times or any other paper in London decides that because this is somebody else’s exclusive, we’re not going to report it. Instead, we’ll try to “counter-narrative” it. We’ll simply go to the government and ask them to make any statement at all, and we will unquestioningly write it down and publish it, because that’s content that’s exclusive to us. Regardless of the fact that it’s much less valuable, much less substantial than actual documented facts that we can base policy discussions on. We’ve seemingly entered a world where editors are making decisions about what stories to run based on if it’ll give oxygen to a competitor, rather than if it’s news.

    I would love to hear your thoughts on this, because while I do interact with media, I’m an outsider. You know media. As somebody who has worked in these cultures, do you see the same thing? Sort of the Fox News effect, where facts matter less?

    Bell: What do you think about the relationship between governments asking Facebook and other communications platforms to help fight ISIS?

    Snowden: Should we basically deputize companies to become the policy enforcers of the world? When you put it in that context suddenly it becomes clear that this is not really a good idea, particularly because terrorism does not have a strong definition that’s internationally recognized. If Facebook says, we will take down any post from anybody who the government says is a terrorist, as long as it comes from this government, suddenly they have to do that for the other government. The Chinese allegations of who is and who is not a terrorist are going to look radically different than what the FBI’s are going to be. But if the companies try to be selective about them, say, well, we’re only going to do this for one government, they immediately lose access to the markets of the other ones. So that doesn’t work, and that’s not a position companies want to be in.

    However, even if they could do this, there are already policies in place for them to do that. If Facebook gets a notification that says this is a terrorist thing, they take it down. It’s not like this is a particularly difficult or burdensome review when it comes to violence.

    The distinction is the government is trying to say, now we want them to start cracking down on radical speech. Should private companies be who we as society are reliant upon to bound the limits of public conversations? And this goes beyond borders now. I think that’s an extraordinarily dangerous precedent to be embracing, and, in turn, irresponsible for American leaders to be championing.

    The real solutions here are much more likely to be in terms of entirely new institutions that bound the way law enforcement works, moving us away from the point of military conflict, secret conflict, and into simply public policing.

    There’s no reason why we could not have an international counter-terrorism force that actually has universal jurisdiction. I mean universal in terms of fact, as opposed to actual law.

    “There’s no reason why we could not have an international counter-terrorism force that actually has universal jurisdiction. I mean universal in terms of fact, as opposed to actual law.”
    Well, ok, yes, that is indeed no reason why we couldn’t have an international counter-terrorism force with universal jurisdiction that replaces national law enforcement and national security work. It wouldn’t be really, really, really difficult to achieve, but there isn’t a law of physics against world peace. Or a global police state. Either scenario fits the “global anti-terror task force” paradigm.

    So, as Edward Snowden indirectly puts it, we can solve these important and seemingly intractable issues of the digital age, and possibly end a global spying arms race, but we’re probably going to have to solve all the other problems that stand in the way of global solidarity and harmony simultaneously. It’s nice we finally cleared that up.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 17, 2016, 2:45 pm
  3. One of the more frustrating aspects to the debate over digital privacy in the post-Snowden era is that it’s a debate that privacy technologies like Tor have the potential to be quite aspirational, but that aspirational dimension to the topic really only emerges when you’re being honest about the downsides of something like Tor. Because software like Tor that enables people to use a particular technology without the threat of consequence really is quite an empowering technology. At least potentially. It depends on how you use it. But since it’s empowering people for good or ill, and real lives can be potentially saved (e.g. from malicious state actors) and seriously harmed (e.g. DarkNet assassination markets), and it’s one of those empowering technology where the net good or harm from the technology is basically determined by the character of the people using the technology. And in a more general sense it’s a reminder that humanity can’t keep increasing power that comes with technology while maintaining individual freedom of action when unless we figure out how to raise one generation after another of individual members of society that won’t grow and up start abusing the increasingly sophisticated technologies at their disposal.

    And that’s why something like Tor, which is a new technology that actually makes the use of an existing technology (the internet) without fear of consequence, has the potential to be a great platform for making the case to public that if we want to use individually empowering software like Tor, we should probably be talking about what steps can take to improve our collective mental software that guides whether or not those new technologies end up being net helpful or harmful.
    Unfortunately, with the digital privacy debates being largely limited to either libertarian Cypherpunks or national security state hawks, we’ve never really seen the debate over technologies like Tor move much beyond the current risks and towards a general discussion of what society need to do to make basically make itself safe for the increasingly powerful technologies its developing. Is poverty or a lack of access to education and socioeconomic security going to be compatible with the advanced technologies of tomorrow? What kind of risks are we taking by advancing technology while clinging to fundamentalism and anti-intellectualism? Or how about Ayn Rand-ish ‘me first’ worldviews? What kind of new dangers emerge when these mentalities co-exist with advancing technology? Isn’t empathy one of the most valuable resources on the planet in a technologically advanced world where individuals have a great deal of freedom to use that technology as they see fit, especially if it’s technology that can be used without leaving a trace. It’s a conversation we should have been having for decades now, and something like Tor coming along within the context of a broader debate over balancing national security with personal privacy would have been a great excuse to start that discussion. But, of course, that conversation didn’t happen. It’s frustrating.

    With all that in mind, it’s worth noting that the Tor project just created a great new reason to have a discussion about the types of worldviews and general attitudes that are going to be highly incompatible with a technologically advanced free societies. Although this new discussion has nothing to do with the Tor technology itself and instead is about the people who created and promote Tor. Because it turns out Jacob Appelbaum is being charged by numerous female Tor employees for being a serial sexual predator. And as the article below suggests, it appears that Appelbaum’s behavior has been known about within the privacy community for quite some time but he appeared to prey on the women in this community with impunity knowing no one would talk given his privacy-hero status. And assuming the charges are accurate, Appelbaum denies them, that cloak of silence was indeed protecting Appelbaum until now.

    So given that one of the biggest potential downsides with technology like Tor is that there are a lot of people who will do awful things if they think they can get away with it, it would appear that Jacob Appelbaum created another reason to have that difficult conversation about how prevalent predatory worldviews really are in society and what we can do to raise a generation without those attitudes. And, of course, he created a great excuse to talk about the misogyny endemic not just in the subculture hacker culture but all sorts of other subcultures. Isn’t misogyny and a general non-empathetic mindset that views others as sexual objects one of the biggest hurdles to minimizing the damage cause by technologies like Tor that are designed to allow individuals to do something they could do before and do it with impunity? Shouldn’t that be part of the Tor debate? Well, we just got an awful to excuse to have that much need discussion:

    The Daily Dot

    Jacob Appelbaum allegedly intimidated victims into silence and anonymity

    By Dell Cameron , Patrick Howell O’Neill , and Selena Larson
    Jun 7, 2016, 11:34am CT | Last updated Jun 8, 2016, 11:12am CT

    This story contains graphic details of alleged sexual assault.

    In the wake of programmer Jacob Appelbaum’s abrupt departure from the Tor Project, rumors and accusations about both sexual misconduct and bullying have surfaced that extend back years.

    Appelbaum was suspended without pay for two weeks from the Tor Project in March 2015 as a result of an internal complaint filed against him due to harassing behavior toward other employees, according to sources within the Tor Project.

    Now, four witnesses—including a current senior Tor employee—are stepping forward into the public eye, adding valuable insight into how Appelbaum allegedly intimidated those around him to keep accusations of sexual misconduct secret and pressure those who are speaking out to remain anonymous.

    Appelbaum, who has worked closely with the likes of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, became a prominent face of Tor in the last decade as he worked as a public advocate and occasional hacker for the Tor Project. Tor is a powerful U.S. government-funded anonymity software that protects the identity and location of its users. It’s used by a wide range of people including human rights activists, government employees, criminals, journalists, and dissidents in countries that impose online censorship and crack down on internet activity.

    Glowing profiles by publications like Rolling Stone and Vice cemented his position as a 21st century political geek rock star. The cultural heights to which he rose make his fall all the more jarring for the community—and exacerbate the pressure to remain silent on those who claim to be his victims.

    Late last week, a website was launched in which anonymous victims of Appelbaum’s alleged sexual misconduct joined together to post their stories in an effort to publicize them without a much-feared wave of personalized and professional backlash.

    The stories are graphic and describe the ways Appelbaum allegedly assaulted people in public and in private. “Forest” writes that she woke up one night while platonically sharing a bed with Appelbaum to find her pants unzipped, his hands in her underwear and touching her vagina. “Sam” recounts an incident when Appelbaum allegedly pulled them into a bathtub with him after they repeatedly told him not to. “River” claims Appelbaum raped her in a room in front a group of his friends.

    Three current Tor employees—two of whom agreed to be named on the record—have confirmed that they personally know the authors of the alleged victim statements on the site, JacobAppelbaum.net. Although they continue to maintain anonymity for the authors of the stories, these Tor employees are now publicly vouching for the site’s authenticity, which Appelbaum has called into question.

    Andrea Shepard, a senior Tor developer, confirmed to the Daily Dot that she was in touch with at least one of the victims on the website several months ago. Alison Macrina, a Tor employee and advocate as well as the founder and director of the Library Freedom Project, also vouched for the authenticity of the anonymous victims’ statements.

    “It’s related to something that started happening in earnest about three or four months ago,” Macrina said. “Which is simply that people stopped being afraid to talk to each other about Jake. That’s how I heard from some victims.”

    Macrina, who also works for the Tor Project and travels the country educating librarians about privacy issues, said the site was established so that people would have a “safe way” to share their stories. “Those of us who can afford the exposure of backing them up publicly know their real identities and can vouch for them,” she said.

    Appelbaum broke his silence on Monday, deriding the accounts of his former colleagues as “vague rumors.” It was an “attack,” he said, on his reputation, led by character-assassins spreading “vicious and spurious” allegations against him.

    “I want to be clear,” Appelbaum wrote, “the accusations of criminal sexual misconduct against me are entirely false.”

    Appelbaum’s representative, Claudia Tomassini, originally said his legal team was “working on an injunction against these monstrous and factually incorrect accusations.” A few hours later, she walked back that statement. The legal team is now “weighing all options,” Tomassini told the Daily Dot, “including such legal actions as may be appropriate.”

    Four prominent members of the technology and security community talked to the Daily Dot about one incident that they say took place late last year.

    “It was in December of last year,” technologist and developer Meredith L. Patterson said. “It was the day we arrived at CCC.”

    CCC, or Chaos Communication Congress, is an annual conference where many of the world’s top technical minds gather to discuss internet privacy, freedom, and security. As the public face of Tor, Appelbaum has been a fixture of the conference for many years.

    Patterson was sitting in the lobby of the Radisson Blu, which stood next door to the conference hall, with fellow developer TQ Hirsch, Shepard, and security specialist Emerson Tan. All four confirmed the following events to the Daily Dot.

    “Jake came into the lobby with two or three other men and a young woman who was obviously a little bit inebriated,” Tan told the Daily Dot. “She didn’t look entirely happy and over the course of the next five minutes, I observed Jake grabbing her arm, very forcible attempts to kiss her—there is royally, very obviously a very negative reaction to that, she actually squirmed to get away.”

    “Most of Jake’s attention was focused on some girl who was somewhat shorter than he was,” Hirsch said. “She was cornered against the bar, looking around I presumed to try to find an escape route or for someone she could get the attention of.”

    No one from this group of four knew who this woman was, but they all claim the woman was rejecting Appelbaum’s alleged advances. Even while she was trying to avoid Appelbaum, they said, the woman was looking for her bag somewhere in the lobby. Unwilling to leave without it and all the possessions inside, the woman was stuck searching while Appelbaum allegedly continued to touch her.

    “Jake is obviously ratcheting up the pressure,” Tan said of the scene. “He reaches around her backside, makes a groping move around her breast. At this point it’s obvious this is not good.”

    “Emerson is like, ‘Is he actually doing that? What the hell?’” Patterson recalled. “He gets up and walks across the bar. I stayed seated as did the other people I was with. I saw him physically interpose himself between Jake and this girl.”

    Tan recalled exactly what he did after putting himself between Appelbaum and the woman.

    “I went up there and shook his hand, congratulated very fully on what a brilliant job he was doing on the Tor Project, standing up for the people, and all this stuff that was actually bollocks,” Tan said. “That gave her 30 seconds to a minute and a half to retrieve her bag and then go.”

    Tan said afterwards he spoke briefly with the woman. He asked if she wanted to file a police report, but she was unwilling. She left the hotel before any of the witnesses learned who she was. The incident was never reported to police or to the Tor Project.

    “I talked to [the people with Appelbaum that night], and they just wrote it off as the great man doing his thing,” Shepard said. “Getting any of them to report anything, even the victim, was just impossibly hard because you don’t do that to heroes.”

    “Probably the most shocking thing out of all this is that people stand around and watch this happen and they don’t say a fuc king thing,” Tan said. “People see it happen and they don’t care. There appears to be a serious problem of getting anyone to actually report it and no one seems willing to say anything.”

    Appelbaum’s behavior at CCC caused another prominent member of the security community, technologist Nick Farr, to write a blog post on June 5 accusing Appelbaum of bullying tactics during the conference.

    Both Tan and Patterson acknowledged that this sort of problem happens elsewhere, but Tan focused in specifically on the problems within the hacker community. The prevalent anti-authoritarian and anti-law enforcement attitudes make it particularly difficult to go after the alleged predators, he said.

    “A lot of these women are absolutely terrified because so much of their identity revolves around what they’re doing and their activism,” Tan argued. “They’re terrified of saying anything and of going to authorities because they face immediate social ostracization for doing so. He’s found a perfect place to hang out because he knows the chances of them lodging a criminal complaint or of him facing prosecution is almost zero. Which is kind of terrible.”

    Macrina also claims that she’s witnessed Appelbaum “use frightening methods to extract information from people when he feels criticized.” “When people started talking about his behavior a few months ago, he began this relentless interrogation to find out who was ‘behind’ it,” Macrina said. “The truth was, many people were talking.” When Appelbaum learned “who he thought his culprits were,” Macrina claims he began to intimidate them into silence.

    “He has real knack for convincing people that what he’s done to them is actually fine,” she said.

    According to a 2016 study of 200 women in technology, 60 percent have faced unwanted sexual advances, and of those, 65 percent came from a superior. One in three women in the technology industry feel unsafe because of incidents at work. The Geek Feminism wiki keeps a timeline of sexism in the tech industry, and recent past is littered with discouraging stories: Developer and designer Julie Ann Horvath was vilified by numerous individuals in the industry after speaking up about sexism at GitHub back in 2014. High-profile venture capitalist and former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao, who lost her case claiming gender discrimination against former employers, had her personal details exposed and life severely disrupted by targeted abuse online.

    Tan has a message he wants to send out to any other potential victims: “What is important now is, if you are a victim, do not be afraid. You are not alone. There are people who will support you.”

    ““A lot of these women are absolutely terrified because so much of their identity revolves around what they’re doing and their activism,” Tan argued. “They’re terrified of saying anything and of going to authorities because they face immediate social ostracization for doing so. He’s found a perfect place to hang out because he knows the chances of them lodging a criminal complaint or of him facing prosecution is almost zero. Which is kind of terrible.”
    So, assuming the charges are true, one of Tor’s lead developers and champions has a predilection for preying on women when he’s confident he won’t face any consequences for doing so. While there’s no shortage of individuals using Tor for the greater good who are fine examples of the positive potential applications for that technology, it would appear that Jacob Appelbaum has become a disturbing example of type of individual you probably don’t want to have access to something like Tor or any other dual-use technology design to be used without a trace.

    And since the development and proliferation of dual-use technologies like that is basically inevitable, it’s a reminder that a discussion about how to create a world where young Jacob Appelbaums don’t grow up into adults that prey on the vulnerable is going to be an increasingly important type of conversation to have. Plus lots of conversations about the importance of privacy. We clearly need both.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 8, 2016, 1:13 pm
  4. It looks like the bipartisan Broadcasting Board of Governors is about to get replaced with a Broadcasting CEO thanks to the National Defense Authorization Act passed last week. And under this new system, that CEO gets selected by the President. Yes, the Trump administration is about to be the first administration to wield these new US propaganda powers.

    So..uh…given all that, it seems reasonable that we should probably get ready for Trump TV: the official unofficial voice of the US government:

    Politico

    Trump to inherit state-run TV network with expanded reach

    A provision tucked into the defense bill guts the Voice of America board, stoking fears that Trump could wield a powerful propaganda arm.

    By Tara Palmeri

    12/12/16 05:02 AM EST
    Updated 12/12/16 09:50 AM EST

    President-elect Donald Trump is about to inherit a newly empowered Voice of America that some officials fear could serve as an unfettered propaganda arm for the former reality TV star who has flirted for years with launching his own network.

    Buried on page 1,404 of the National Defense Authorization Act that passed last week is a provision that would disband the bipartisan board of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the independent U.S. agency that includes Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcast Networks.

    The move — pushed by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce as a way to streamline the agency — concentrates control into a powerful CEO who is appointed by the president.

    That change, combined with a 2013 legislative revision that allows the network to legally reach a U.S. audience, which was once banned, could pave the way for Trump-approved content created by the U.S. diplomacy arm, if he chooses to exploit the opportunity.

    Essentially, Trump is finally getting his Trump TV — financed by taxpayers to the tune of $800 million per year. And some of the few people in the know aren’t happy about it.

    “Congress unwittingly just gave President-elect Trump unchecked control of all U.S. media outlets,” said Michael Kempner, a Democratic member of the board who was appointed by President Barack Obama and was a Hillary Clinton donor. “No president, either Democrat or Republican, should have that kind of control. It’s a public jewel. It’s independence is what makes it so credible.”

    It’s unclear whether Trump is even aware about what he’s about to inherit. Trump as recently as September said he has “no interest in a media company,” but reports have emerged over the years of the billionaire exploring television opportunities beyond Trump Productions LLC, his TV production business whose programs include “The Apprentice” and the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants. Vanity Fair reported in June that he was considering launching a “mini media conglomerate” if he lost the election.

    Trump transition spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment.

    Now that Trump is getting for free a major media apparatus with loosened restrictions, Democratic and Republican members of the current board are alarmed.

    The Broadcasting Board of Governors is the largest public diplomacy program by the U.S. government, reaching an audience of 278 million by broadcasting in 100 countries and 61 languages. The agency was created in 1942 during World War II to send pro-democracy news across Europe, as it aimed to counter Nazi and Japanese propaganda. The agency has since evolved into a more traditional news operation, while still pushing out the virtues of democracy worldwide.

    To date, the nine-member board — which consists of four Republicans and four Democrats appointed by the president, as well as the secretary of state — has been a part-time operation, but it served as a firewall with the mission of preserving the integrity of the agency’s broadcasts. The organization’s charter calls for “accuracy, balance, comprehensiveness, and objectivity.”

    A Republican government official familiar with the agency’s work warned that abolishing the board will make it susceptible to the influence of Trump’s allies, including his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who ran Breitbart News before joining Trump’s campaign.

    “There’s some fear among the folks here, that the firewall will get diminished and attacked and this could fall victim to propaganda,” the Republican official said. “They will hire the person they want, the current CEO does not stand a chance. This will pop up on Steve Bannon’s radar quickly. They are going to put a friendly person in that job.”

    Officials in particular fear that Trump and his allies could change the agency’s posture toward Russia, considering how Trump has expressed a positive view of President Vladimir Putin.

    Multiple media outlets in the BBG family aim to counter Russia propaganda, including CurrentTime, which was introduced two years ago and broadcasts in Russia according to the NPR model, and Radio Free Europe. With Radio Free Asia, the U.S. also pushes back against China’s state messages, and Trump and his allies could potentially use the network to antagonize the country, which the president-elect already alarmed with his call with the Taiwanese president.

    Because of the modification of the Smith-Mundt Act in 2013, the BBG can now broadcast in the U.S., too. But the influence on the domestic market could be even more subtle, the Republican official warned.

    A BBG CEO influenced by the administration could penetrate established media outlets with packages, series or other news products produced by the BBG’s networks but picked up and aired by traditional media like Fox News or Breitbart. Many U.S. outlets currently use content from VOA.

    “No money would even change hands, you’ve had no effect on the budget,” the official said. “But it will denigrate the product.”

    The official added, “It’s extremely troubling. It’s going to be bad for U.S. international broadcasters and their credibility.”

    In a sign of how significant the changes are, Hillary Clinton’s transition team set up a meeting to visit the studios at 330 Independence Avenue the Wednesday after the election, according to two sources. The meeting was canceled after her loss, however, and the Trump transition team has not visited the studios.

    But some top BBG officials are more measured in their reaction to Trump’s ability to influence the agency.

    Jeff Shell, chairman of BBG’s board and an Obama appointee, said the changes to the agency’s structure were long overdue. “To have part-time board members to manage something like this is completely unrealistic, so I very much support the empowered CEO than a board,” he said, adding, “There’s always a risk with any federal agency, whether this administration or another that they’re going to use the organization in a partisan.”

    Royce, who pushed the provision, has long blasted the board as “defunct” and has called the agency “badly broken.” For years, he has pushed broad reforms, insisting dramatic steps were necessary to make its international broadcasts more effective. He also floated the idea of rebranding the BBG as the “Freedom News Network.”

    “Our agencies that helped take down the Iron Curtain with accurate and timely broadcasting have lost their edge,” Royce said in a statement after the bill was passed in the House earlier this month.

    “They must be revitalized to effectively carry out their mission in this age of viral terrorism and digital propaganda. … My provision takes an important first step in this process by replacing the BBG’s part-time board with a permanent CEO to help better deliver real news to people in countries where free press does not exist.”

    The legislation also gives the president the power to appoint an advisory board — which will consist of five members, including the secretary of state — but it has no statutory power.

    The provision does, however, squeeze in a provision for an inspector general from the State Department who would “respect the journalistic integrity of all the broadcasters covered by this Act.”

    The complaints about the agency have not been purely partisan. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has in the past complained about the agency, calling the board ineffectual and “defunct” in January 2013. Later that year, the BBG faced more controversy when it was revealed that less than 1 percent of Cubans listened to its expensive TV Martí service.

    But in recent years, the agency took significant steps to clean up its act. After the criticism, the operational board reorganized and appointed a CEO, John F. Lansing, to oversee day-to-day strategy and operations in late 2013. The result was a 23 percent increase in TV viewership to 174 million and a 27 percent increase in radio audience to 130 million in 2016. Digital audiences also increased from 32 million in 2015 to 45 million. The overall audience went up from 226 million in 2015 to 278 million in 2016.

    After the bill passed through the House, Lansing sent a memo to BBG staffers promising that “the legislation makes NO change to the firewall between the federal government and the journalists of our five networks.”

    “As I stated at the Town Hall on Tuesday, maintaining our journalistic independence, and our credibility worldwide, remains of the utmost importance,” he wrote.

    Karen Kornbluh, a Democratic member of the board appointed by Obama, reinforced the idea that the organization would not automatically bend to any president’s will.

    “Although I preferred having the board because it’s always good to have checks and balance, I am sure that the staff will continue to report journalism with ‘muscular objectivity,’” Kornbluh said at the BBG’s last board meeting.

    But some say this firewall is still not enough to protect the organization from the pressure of some of Trump’s most media savvy advisers like Bannon.

    “On Jan. 21, we’ll have a welcoming ceremony for our next CEO, who could be Steve Bannon, or Laura Ingraham or Ann Coulter,” said a senior Voice of America staffer.

    ““There’s some fear among the folks here, that the firewall will get diminished and attacked and this could fall victim to propaganda,” the Republican official said. “They will hire the person they want, the current CEO does not stand a chance. This will pop up on Steve Bannon’s radar quickly. They are going to put a friendly person in that job.”

    That should do wonders for the US’s propaganda: make it clear to the world that Trump’s “Alt-Right”/white nationalist chief strategist is going to be shaping the agenda. At least the global far-right will probably be extra receptive to the US’s messaging. Way to inspire, America.

    But it’s not just for foreign audiences. Trump TV is for domestic audiences too!


    Because of the modification of the Smith-Mundt Act in 2013, the BBG can now broadcast in the U.S., too. But the influence on the domestic market could be even more subtle, the Republican official warned.

    A BBG CEO influenced by the administration could penetrate established media outlets with packages, series or other news products produced by the BBG’s networks but picked up and aired by traditional media like Fox News or Breitbart. Many U.S. outlets currently use content from VOA.

    “No money would even change hands, you’ve had no effect on the budget,” the official said. “But it will denigrate the product.”

    Now we get to watch for the hidden hand of Steve Bannon in government-funded news pieces. Exciting. It will be like when the Bush administration’s State Department was decade or so ago that it just gave away to domestic media outlets. But presumably with more Alt-Right snark.

    So look out world, Trump TV is coming for you. Seriously, look out.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 12, 2016, 2:44 pm
  5. Wikileaks just released something analogous to the ‘Shadow Brokers’ leak, except for the CIA’s hacking capabilities instead of the NSA’s. And no code actual has been released, similar to the Shadow Brokers leaks where Wikileaks and the ‘Shadow Brokers’ both leaked about the NSA’s TAO toolkit but only the ‘Shadow Brokers’ released code while Wikileaks pledged to later release a “pristine” copy of the code. So we’ll see if any code releases of the CIA’s hacking toolkit are ever released but it appears that Wikileaks might have its hands on a pretty powerful hacking toolkit. And if what Wikileaks released is accurate, it looks like one of the big take away messages from this release is that all those privacy tools developed with US government financing via the BBG’s “Open Technology Fund”, like WhatsApp and Signal, might be getting hacked by the US government. Surprise:

    The Washington Post

    Wikileaks: The CIA is using popular TVs, smartphones and cars to spy on their owners

    By Craig Timberg, Ellen Nakashima and Elizabeth Dwoskin
    March 7, 2017 at 1:54 PM

    The latest revelations about U.S. government’s powerful hacking tools potentially takes surveillance right into the homes and hip pockets of billions of users worldwide, showing how a remarkable variety of every day devices can be turned to spy on their owners.

    Televisions, smartphones and Internet-connected vehicles are all vulnerable to CIA hacking, according to the Wikileaks documents released Tuesday. The capabilities described include recording the sounds, images and the private text messages of users, even when they use encrypted apps to communicate. The CIA also studied whether it could infect vehicle control systems used by modern cars and trucks, which Wikileaks said could allow “nearly undetectable assassinations.”

    In the case of a tool called “Weeping Angel” for attacking Samsung SmartTVs, Wikileaks wrote, “After infestation, Weeping Angel places the target TV in a ‘Fake-Off’ mode, so that the owner falsely believes the TV is off when it is on, In ‘Fake-Off’ mode the TV operates as a bug, recording conversations in the room and sending them over the Internet to a covert CIA server.”

    The documents, which The Washington Post could not independently verify and the CIA has declined to confirm, list supposed tools for cracking into such widely popular devices as Apple’s iPhone or the Android smartphones whose operating system is made by Google, but there are marked differences from the 2013 revelations by the National Security Agency’s former contractor Edward Snowden.

    His documents largely described mass surveillance of Internet-based communications systems, more often than the individual devices that appear to have been the focus of the CIA. By targeting devices, the CIA could gain access to even well-encrypted communications, on such popular apps as Signal and WhatsApp, without having to crack the encryption itself. The Wikileaks reports appear to acknowledge that difference by saying the CIA “bypassed” as opposed to defeated encryption technologies.

    Privacy experts say the CIA may have been forced into focusing on vulnerable devices because the Internet overall has become more secure through more widespread deployment of encryption. In this new world, devices have become the most vulnerable link.

    “The idea that the CIA and NSA can hack into devices is kind of old news,” said Johns Hopkins cryptography expert Matthew Green. “Anyone who thought they couldn’t was living in a fantasy world.”

    Snowden’s revelations and the backlash made strong encryption a major, well-funded cause for both privacy advocates and, perhaps more importantly, technology companies that had the engineering expertise and budgets to protect data as it flowed across the world.

    Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo and many other companies announced major new initiatives, in part to protect their brands against accusations by some users that they had made it too easy for the NSA to collect information from their systems. Many Web sites, meanwhile, began encrypting their data flows to users to prevent snooping. Encryption tools such as Tor were strengthened.

    Encrypting apps for private messaging, such as Signal, Telegram and WhatsApp exploded in popularity, especially among users around the world who were fearful of government intrusion. In the days following the U.S. presidential election, Signal was among the most downloaded in Apple’s app store and downloads grew by more than 300 percent.

    Open Whispers Systems, which developed Signal, released a statement: “The CIA/Wikileaks story today is about getting malware onto phones, none of the exploits are in Signal or break Signal Protocol encryption.” WhatsApp declined to comment, and Telegram did not respond to requests for comment. Google declined to comment, while Samsung and Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

    U.S. government authorities complained loudly that the new wave of encryption was undermining their ability to investigate serious crimes, such as terrorism and child pornography. The FBI sued Apple in hopes of forcing it to unlock an iPhone used by the San Bernadino killers before announcing it had other ways to crack the device amid heavy public criticism.

    Against that backdrop, many privacy advocates argued that devices — often called “endpoints” for their place on chains of communications that can criss-cross continents — were the best available target left in a world with widespread online encryption. The Wikileaks documents suggests that the CIA may have reached the same conclusion.

    “It would certainly be consistent with the hypothesis that we’ve made real progress in the encryption we’ve been introducing,” said Peter Eckersley, technology projects director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based civil liberties group. “It’s impossible to be 100 percent certain, but reading the tea leaves, it’s plausible.”

    “This is explosive,” said Jake Williams, founder of Rendition Infosec, a cybersecurity firm. The material highlights specific antivirus products that can be defeated, going further than a release of NSA hacking tools last year, he said.

    The CIA hackers, according to WikiLeaks, even “discussed what the NSA’s …hackers did wrong and how the CIA’s malware makers could avoid similar exposure.”

    Hackers who worked at NSA’s Tailored Access Operations unit said the CIA’s library of tools looked comparable. The description of the implants, which are software that enable a hacker to remotely control a compromised device, and other attack tools appear to be “very, very complex” and “at least on par with the NSA,” said one former TAO hacker who spoke on condition his name not be used.

    The WikiLeaks release revealed that they have sophisticated “stealth” capabilities that enable hackers not only to infiltrate systems, but evade detection, as well as abilities to “escalate privileges” or move inside a system as if they owned it.

    “The only thing that separates NSA from commodity malware in the first place is their ability to remain hidden,” the former TAO hacker said. “So when you talk about the stealth components, it’s huge that you’re seeing a tangible example here of them using and researching stealth.”

    Computer security experts noted that the release includes no actual tools or exploits, “so we don’t know if WikiLeaks did not get them or is just not choosing to publish them,” Nicholas Weaver, a computer security researcher at the University of California at Berkeley. “However we should assume that whoever stole this data has access to the exploits and tools.”

    He noted that the dates in the files suggest the tools were taken in February or March 2016 and that there are at least two documents marked Top Secret, “which suggests that somebody in early 2016 managed to compromise a Top Secret CIA development system and is willing to say that they did.”

    One internal CIA document listed a set of Apple iPhone “exploits” — or tools that can be used to compromise the device by taking advantage of software flaws. Some of the tools are based on “zero-days,” which are software vulnerabilities that have not been shared with the manufacturer. So “some of these descriptions will allow Apple to fix the vulnerabilities,” Weaver said. “But at the same time, they’re out in the public and whoever stole this data could use them against U.S. interests.”

    “Encrypting apps for private messaging, such as Signal, Telegram and WhatsApp exploded in popularity, especially among users around the world who were fearful of government intrusion. In the days following the U.S. presidential election, Signal was among the most downloaded in Apple’s app store and downloads grew by more than 300 percent.

    Well, it sounds like the cypherpunk/digital privacy movement should probably stop relying on privacy software developed by the US government in order to prevent the US government spying.

    But it’s also worth noting that, as the BBG-funded Open Whispers Systems points out, the CIA doesn’t appear to have broken the encryption used in these tools. They instead figured out how to place malware on individual devices to read the data unencrypted:


    Open Whispers Systems, which developed Signal, released a statement: “The CIA/Wikileaks story today is about getting malware onto phones, none of the exploits are in Signal or break Signal Protocol encryption.” WhatsApp declined to comment, and Telegram did not respond to requests for comment. Google declined to comment, while Samsung and Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

    It’s a reminder that the big push for “encrypt everything!” following the Snowden revelations was actually the easy part in creating an unhackable digital infrastructure. Stopping malware, generically speaking, is also required. Malware-proof hardware, operating systems and suites of tools to run on them that are simultaneously super secure while still being useful are also going have to be developed. And no mistakes can be made that might allow malware in the continuous development of future software/hardware tools for these super-secure systems. That’s what’s going to be required if you want to have a high degree of confidence that you aren’t getting digitally spied on. Good luck!

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 7, 2017, 6:43 pm
  6. @Pterrafractyl–

    Notice how, in the middle of a media-fest about how crazy Trump is to say Obama wiretapped him, “Alt-Right” Assange steps right up, providing a plausible “out” for the Donald.

    You may be sure that Trump’s backers will land on the WikiLeaks disclosures as confirmation of Trump’s allegations.

    Good ol’ Julian!

    Posted by Dave Emory | March 7, 2017, 11:33 pm
  7. @Dave: Here’s another story to watch regarding Julian Assange’s behavior over the next few months: In Ecuadorian elections are coming up and Guillermo Lasso, the right-wing opposition candidate, has already pledged to ask Assange to leave Ecuador’s embassy in London if he wins. But he more recently pledged to find Assange a new embassy that will take him in. So if Lasso wins, Julian Assange suddenly becomes a global diplomatic hot potato. And according to recent polls Lasso just might win:

    Business Insider

    Ecuador’s presidential election could have big consequences for the fate of Wikileaks’ Julian Assange

    Christopher Woody
    Mar. 7, 2017, 9:17 AM

    There is less than a month to go before the second round of Ecuador’s presidential election, the outcome of which could end Julian Assange’s nearly five-year stay in the country’s London embassy.

    The April 2 runoff election pits Lenin Moreno, successor to current left-wing President Rafael Correa, against Guillermo Lasso, the right-wing opposition candidate.

    The Correa government has hosted Assange in a converted-office apartment in the embassy since June 19, 2012, when he fled bail and requested asylum in Ecuador to avoid extradition to Sweden, which has called for his return in relation to sexual-misconduct allegations.

    Welcoming Assange lent Ecuador some of the WikiLeaks founder’s cache and gave Correa the sheen of a defender of press freedom at a time when he was assailing the press at home.

    But Assange’s accommodation may come to an end if Lasso assumes Ecuador’s highest office.

    “The Ecuadorian people have been paying a cost that we should not have to bear,” Lasso told told The Guardian during an interview in February. “We will cordially ask Señor Assange to leave within 30 days of assuming a mandate.”

    Lasso was behind Moreno by several points when he made his initial comments about evicting Assange from the embassy, which came about 10 days before the first round of voting on February 19 (Lasso and another conservative candidate, Cynthia Viteria, both told AFP they would end Assange’s asylum if they won).

    Since then, he has taken lead, with one late-February poll giving him a 52.1 to 47.2% advantage over Moreno, though 19% of respondents in that poll were undecided.

    In the days after that poll was taken, Lasso also qualified his stance on Assange.

    “We will ask Mr. Assange, very politely, to leave our embassy, in absolute compliance with international conventions and protocols,” he told the Miami Herald by email earlier this month. But, he said, “we vow to take all steps necessary so that another embassy will take him in and protect his rights.”

    Lasso also noted that Assange said he would agree to US extradition if President Barack Obama gave Chelsea Manning — the former US soldier who leaked hundreds of thousands of cables to WikiLeaks in 2010 and was subsequently sentenced to 35 years in a US prison — clemency.

    Prior to leaving office, Obama commuted Manning’s sentence, granting her release on May 17.

    Assange has said that commutation is not a pardon and remains in the embassy (Manning is a transgender woman, and in this election Ecuador allowed people to vote according to their chosen gender for the first time).

    As polarizing a figure as Assange has been, his presence in Ecuador’s embassy is just one of many issues that could influence voters when they head to the polls on April 2.

    The Odebrecht graft scandal — related to millions of dollars paid out in bribes by a Brazilian multinational firm of the same name — has implicated officials from around the region.

    Several current and former officials at Petroecuador, the country’s state-run oil firm, are wanted on bribery and money-laundering charges in relation to Odebrecht contracts. When the offenses in question allegedly took place, current Vice President Jorge Glas, who is Moreno’s running mate, was in charge of Petroecuador.

    For his part, Lasso, a former banker — an unpopular profession in Ecuador — was a presidential-cabinet member during a financial meltdown in the late 1990s that ruined savings and led many to leave the country, though he has dismissed efforts to tie him to that calamity.

    While Correa has been praised for the economic boom Ecuador experienced during his 10 years in office, the country faces a uncertain outlook. The country’s economy shrank 1.7% in 2016 — a contraction brought about by the ongoing slump in oil prices.

    Many in the country have grown tired of Correa and worry his grip on power has abetted corruption.

    Correa’s government was able to stave off the deeper oil-related economic crises that have afflicted other countries in the region — in part by taking on large amounts of debt that forestalled cuts to popular social programs and layoffs of public-sector workers.

    The next president may have to pursue unpopular measures, like tax hikes or budget cuts, that would alienate Ecuadorians in response to that mounting debt.

    In that environment, Moreno — whose predecessor cut Assange’s internet access in the weeks before the US presidential election over WikiLeaks’ distribution of Hillary Clinton’s staffers’ emails — may adopt a more hostile stance toward the WikiLeaks founder’s presence.

    “”We will ask Mr. Assange, very politely, to leave our embassy, in absolute compliance with international conventions and protocols,” he told the Miami Herald by email earlier this month. But, he said, “we vow to take all steps necessary so that another embassy will take him in and protect his rights.””

    So who’s going to take Assange? One question raised by all this is what will Assange do if he gets kicked out and can’t find a new embassy to call home. Specifically what might he do in terms of retaliation. Not necessarily against Ecuador’s government (although who knows if that’s possible) but retaliation primarily against the US. And it’s a question that becomes all the more intriguing when you factor in the remarkable timing of Wikileaks’s CIA hacking dump. Because that timing suggests either someone very recently sent Wikileaks all those documents, presumably as part of an effort to help Trump, or Wikileaks has been sitting on those documents for a while and was just waiting for the right time to do it (and perhaps have all sorts of fun in the mean time with the hacking tool source code they have yet to release).

    So how many other bombshells of that nature are sitting in Wikileaks’s yet-to-be-leaked documents? And if Assange ends up getting extradited to the US to stand trial are we in store for a flood of retaliatory leaks? The timing of Wikileaks’s CIA leak was definitely pro-Trump, but it could also be a reminder to the US government and other governments around the world that Wikileaks probably holds quite a major bombshells that it has yet to release and may have been keeping as a kind of insurance policy for Assange and the organization. Sort of like Edward Snowden’s “dead man’s switch”. Another thing this release does is remind all the governments of the world that if they do grant Assange a home in their embassy they just might get access to a pretty impressive trove of hacking tools and state secrets.

    Another question raised by this CIA leak relates to this part of the release: That the CIA has the tools to make it look like another actor was doing the hacking:

    Wired

    WikiLeaks CIA Dump Gives Russian Hacking Deniers the Perfect Ammo

    Issie Lapowsky and Lily Hay Newman Security
    03.07.17. 7:03 pm

    Never accuse Wikileaks of getting its timing wrong. Last fall, the group perfectly paced its steady drip of John Podesta’s emails to undermine Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. Now, as the capital thrums with chaos, it has unleashed a cloud of confusion that makes it hard for experts to discern the facts and easy for non-experts to see whatever they want.

    Days after President Trump baselessly tweeted that the Obama administration had wiretapped Trump Tower, a theory that first emerged on conservative talk radio, Wikileaks released its latest treasure trove revealing just how extensive the Obama administration’s surveillance capacity was. One nugget of particular interest to Trump supporters: a section titled “Umbrage” that details the CIA’s ability to impersonate cyber-attack techniques used by Russia and other nation states. In theory, that means the agency could have faked digital forensic fingerprints to make the Russians look guilty of hacking the Democratic National Committee.

    Nothing in the documents connects the CIA to any Trump Tower wiretaps, which may or may not have ever existed at all anyway. Nor does the leak provide any evidence of a CIA scheme to pin the DNC hack on the Russians. But in the internet age, it doesn’t need to.

    Within hours, right wing media outlets like Infowars were already floating the possibility that the CIA had staged the Russian hacks just to undermine President Trump. Alt-right troll Milo Yiannopoulis wrote a handy guide for readers on his website, emphasizing the CIA’s ability to imitate the Russians as bullet point No. 1. On Twitter, conservative radio host Bill Mitchell took a more folksy approach:

    It's looking more and more to me like Obama's CIA planted drugs in Russia's trunk…— Bill Mitchell (@mitchellvii) March 7, 2017

    “I don’t look at it as fact or fiction (although Wikileaks has been exceptionally accurate in the past),” Mitchell said via Twitter direct message. “I see it as just another data point in the mountain of evidence the Obama Admin was neck deep in wiretapping and surveillance.”

    But while the scope of the intelligence community’s spying capabilities may stun, the news about the country’s ability to forge evidence shouldn’t, because it isn’t really news at all. The tools described in Umbrage are already publicly known and available. One is based on a prevalant espionage virus widely known by hackers called Shamoon, and another adapts malware likely developed by Chinese state-sponsored hackers. The tools can cover hackers’ tracks or make attacks look like they come from other sources. One document shows CIA agents discussing how to prevent Iranian anti-virus software from flagging the tool. As in a murder trial where a dirty cop could plant a weapon to frame an innocent person, intelligence agencies could plant evidence to mislead the US public. Devious? Definitely. But it’s not new. Robust digital forensic investigations already expressly scrutinize this possibility.

    “On a network like the internet there is always a greater possibility of somebody impersonating somebody else,” says Darren Hayes, a digital forensics researcher at Pace University.

    That may be obvious to security experts. But the American public isn’t made up of security experts—not even close. It’s made up of people who are—rightly—afraid the government is messing with them. Americans struggle to sort through the confusing, often contradictory information speeding toward them. It’s information made more confusing by both its technical details and a polarized media environment that often prioritizes sensation over facts and clear thinking. As long as you’ve got enough fear, uncertainty, and doubt, you’ve got yourself a story. FUD. It’s a helluva drug.

    “Within hours, right wing media outlets like Infowars were already floating the possibility that the CIA had staged the Russian hacks just to undermine President Trump. Alt-right troll Milo Yiannopoulis wrote a handy guide for readers on his website, emphasizing the CIA’s ability to imitate the Russians as bullet point No. 1. On Twitter, conservative radio host Bill Mitchell took a more folksy approach”

    So Wikileaks points out the obvious, that hackers can frame other hackers, and within hours we have the right-wing suggesting that this means the CIA hacked Hillary Clinton?! Because, what, the CIA was pro-Trump? That appears to be the meme they’re going with. But notice what Wikileaks also claims in the release: that the leak came from a former CIA contractor and this tool set appears to have circulated “among former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive”:

    Reuters

    CIA contractors likely source of latest WikiLeaks release -U.S. officials

    Wednesday, 8 March 2017 23:18 GMT

    (Adds CIA statement, paragraphs 9-10; U.S. Senate intelligence panel member comment on contractors, paragraphs 13-15)

    By John Walcott and Mark Hosenball

    WASHINGTON, March 8 (Reuters) – CIA contractors likely breached security and handed over documents about the agency’s use of hacking tools to anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials told Reuters on Wednesday.

    Two officials speaking on condition of anonymity said intelligence agencies have been aware since the end of last year of the breach, which led to WikiLeaks releasing thousands of pages of information on its website on Tuesday.

    According to the documents, Central Intelligence Agency hackers could get into Apple Inc iPhones, devices running Google’s Android software and other gadgets in order to capture text and voice messages before they were encrypted with sophisticated software.

    The White House said on Wednesday that President Donald Trump was “extremely concerned” about the CIA security breach that led to the WikiLeaks release.

    “Anybody who leaks classified information will be held to the highest degree of law,” spokesman Sean Spicer said.

    The two officials told Reuters they believed the published documents about CIA hacking techniques used between 2013 and 2016 were authentic.

    One of the officials with knowledge of the investigation said companies that are contractors for the CIA have been checking to see which of their employees had access to the material that WikiLeaks published, and then going over their computer logs, emails and other communications for any evidence of who might be responsible.

    On Tuesday in a press release, WikiLeaks itself said the CIA had “lost control” of an archive of hacking methods and it appeared to have been circulated “among former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive.”

    “On Tuesday in a press release, WikiLeaks itself said the CIA had “lost control” of an archive of hacking methods and it appeared to have been circulated “among former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive.””

    So Wikileaks straight up says that this leak came from former US government hackers and has been circulating among them, the leak contains information about the tools that can be used to frame another government, and the right-wing puts two and two together by suggestion that the CIA hacked Hillary and framed Russia. And somehow the notion that one of these former government hackers (like Jacob Appelbaum) hacked Hillary and framed Russia, a scenario that makes A LOT more sense if we’re going to look at non-Russian culprits, never comes up. Of course.

    But here’s the question raised by all this: if it turns out that the DNC hacking really was being done by a pro-Trump ex-government hacker, and it turns out the Trump team knew about the plan, or even helped facilitate it, would that be more or less of a scandal than if the Trump colluded with Russia to do the hacking? It’s clearly a mega-scandal of the Trump campaign actively coordinated with the Russian government to carry out these hacks, but we never hear any analysis on what kind of scandal it would be if the Trump campaign coordinated with a hacker to carry out the hacks and frame the Russians (in this scenario Trump’s extensive contacts with Russian oligarchs and government officials would be more a reflection of his status as an international Russian-oligarch/mobster-friendly anything-goes businessman). So while the latter scenario doesn’t quite have the ‘treason’ angle that the former scenario has, it would still a pretty massive scandal, wouldn’t it? Or would that be considered a much weaker crime?

    Hopefully we’ll get an answer for those questions at some point.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 8, 2017, 4:22 pm

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