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

8 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
  8. Here’s a pair of arti­cle on the capa­bil­i­ties of the hack­ing tools sold by NSO Group, the Israel-based spy­ware firm that made head­lines over the last year for the role its soft­ware played in the hack­ing the Jamal Khashog­gi’s iPhone, and the recent news about the NSO Group’s remote hack of What­sApp that could infect phones sim­ply by call­ing them.

    First, recall how Michael Fly­nn was on the advi­so­ry board of Lux­em­bourg-based OSY Tech­nolo­gies and con­sult­ed for the US-based pri­vate equi­ty firm Fran­cis­co Part­ners. Fran­cis­co Part­ners owned NSO Group and OSY is an NSO off­shoot. Fly­nn joined OSY in May of 2016 and was paid more than $40,000 to be an advi­so­ry board mem­ber from May 2016 to Jan­u­ary 2017. Well, it turns out Fran­cis­co Part­ners, which acquired a 70 per­cent stake in NSO Group in 2014, recent­ly sold NSO Group back to the com­pa­ny’s founders with the sup­port of Novalpina, a Euro­pean pri­vate equi­ty firm:

    Fast Com­pa­ny

    U.S. fund sells Israeli hack­ing firm NSO Group amid spy mys­tery
    NSO’s cofounders bought the con­tro­ver­sial spy­ware mak­er back from Fran­cis­co Part­ners, which spent years try­ing to unload the com­pa­ny.

    By DJ Pang­burn
    02.14.19

    The founders of Israeli spy­ware com­pa­ny NSO Group bought the firm back from U.S. pri­vate equi­ty firm Fran­cis­co Part­ners, with sup­port from Novalpina, a Euro­pean pri­vate equi­ty firm, and New York invest­ment bank Jef­feries Group. The sale fol­lows a high­ly tur­bu­lent month for the con­tro­ver­sial cyber­weapons firm, whose pow­er­ful spy­ware, Pega­sus–capa­ble of tak­ing over smartphones–has been used by a num­ber of gov­ern­ments to tar­get dis­si­dents, jour­nal­ists, and lawyers.

    In recent weeks, news reports have detailed ties between Israeli intel­li­gence firm Black Cube and an inves­ti­ga­tion into crit­ics of NSO. In Jan­u­ary, Cit­i­zen Lab, a dig­i­tal rights watch­dog, foiled a Black Cube-linked spy who was try­ing to glean infor­ma­tion about inves­ti­ga­tions into NSO Group, but also bait researchers into mak­ing racist and anti-Israel remarks. Black Cube, which worked on behalf of Har­vey Wein­stein in an attempt to dis­cred­it his accusers, used sim­i­lar tac­tics on lawyers han­dling law­suits against NSO Group and against a Lon­don-based jour­nal­ist cov­er­ing the lit­i­ga­tion. Black Cube and NSO have denied any involve­ment in the oper­a­tion.

    Spe­cif­ic terms of the deal weren’t dis­closed, but the acqui­si­tion includes an invest­ment of about $100 mil­lion by the co-founders, and report­ed­ly val­ues the com­pa­ny at near­ly $1 bil­lion. San Fran­cis­co-based Fran­cis­co Part­ners bought a 70 per­cent stake in NSO Group in 2014 for a report­ed $120 mil­lion.

    In recent years, the pri­vate equi­ty fund had been try­ing to sell the com­pa­ny with­out suc­cess. Dur­ing that time, NSO Group’s trou­bles mount­ed, as Cit­i­zen Lab found that NSO’s soft­ware had been used by the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates to tar­get the phone of now-impris­oned human rights activist Ahmed Man­soor. In 2018, Cit­i­zen Lab, work­ing with inter­na­tion­al researchers, found that NSO spy­ware was being used by gov­ern­ments in Mex­i­co, Pana­ma, and oth­er coun­tries.

    More recent­ly, Mon­tre­al-based Sau­di dis­si­dent Omar Abdu­laz­iz filed a law­suit against NSO Group alleg­ing that its soft­ware had been used to spy on mur­dered jour­nal­ist Jamal Khashog­gi. (NSO has denied that its soft­ware was involved.) In 2018, NSO’s soft­ware was also found on the phone of a staffer at Amnesty Inter­na­tion­al, a human rights group that is a reg­u­lar crit­ic of NSO Group’s cor­po­rate ethics.

    Fran­cis­co Partners’s sale of NSO Group comes amid con­tin­ued fall­out from Black Cube’s sur­veil­lance. As Fast Com­pa­ny recent­ly learned, lawyers and oth­er indi­vid­u­als tar­get­ed by Black Cube intend to file law­suits in the Unit­ed King­dom, Cyprus, and Israel against the firm, after an Israeli TV sta­tion report­ed on its role.

    Fran­cis­co Part­ners did not respond to a request for com­ment. In a state­ment emailed to Fast Com­pa­ny, NSO Group said that the deal would help improve tech­nol­o­gy to “help our cus­tomers reduce the threats from ter­ror­ism and crime.” The firm, found­ed in 2009, said that in 2018 it had rev­enues of $250 mil­lion and “dozens of licensed cus­tomers.”

    In July, cofounders Shalev Huio and Omri Lavie had pre­vi­ous­ly dis­cussed merg­ing NSO with the secu­ri­ty divi­sion of U.S.-based Verint Sys­tems for about $1 bil­lion, but no deal was reached. In 2017, Black­stone Group was said to be in talks to buy part of NSO at a sim­i­lar val­u­a­tion, but those talks failed a month lat­er, Reuters report­ed.

    In 2016, Fran­cis­co Part­ners hired White House nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er Lieu­tenant Gen­er­al Michael Fly­nn to advise the firm as well as an NSO Group off­shoot, OSY Tech­nolo­gies. Fly­nn, who pled guilty to lying to the FBI about his con­ver­sa­tions with the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment, was paid a total of about $140,000 for what Steve Eis­ner, the gen­er­al coun­sel of Fran­cis­co Part­ners, said was rel­a­tive­ly lim­it­ed advi­so­ry work. Flynn’s work with Fran­cis­co and OSY took place while he was work­ing with the Trump cam­paign.

    ...

    ———

    “U.S. fund sells Israeli hack­ing firm NSO Group amid spy mys­tery” by By DJ Pang­burn; Fast Com­pa­ny; 02/14/2019

    Spe­cif­ic terms of the deal weren’t dis­closed, but the acqui­si­tion includes an invest­ment of about $100 mil­lion by the co-founders, and report­ed­ly val­ues the com­pa­ny at near­ly $1 bil­lion. San Fran­cis­co-based Fran­cis­co Part­ners bought a 70 per­cent stake in NSO Group in 2014 for a report­ed $120 mil­lion.”

    Note how a 70 per­cent stake in NSO Group cost Fran­cis­co Part­ners $120 mil­lion just five years ago. Today, NSO Group is val­ued at $1 bil­lion, so Fran­cis­co Part­ners pre­sum­ably made quite a prof­it on this deal. And yet it sounds like they had trou­ble find­ing a buy­er. It under­scores the con­tro­ver­sial nature of the com­pa­ny’s prod­ucts and the even more con­tro­ver­sial nature of its clients. Clients that, accord­ing to the fol­low­ing arti­cle, include 21 EU gov­ern­ments. Researchers esti­mate that the hack­ing tools have been used in 45 coun­tries to date.

    As the fol­low­ing arti­cle also notes, while NSO Group is pri­vate­ly owned, there’s one par­tic­u­lar gov­ern­ment that con­trols which gov­ern­ments can become NSO Group clients and acquire that pow­er­ful hack­ing soft­ware: Israel. And the Israeli gov­ern­ment has appar­ent­ly been using this lever­age in its diplo­mat­ic car­rot-and-stick nego­ti­a­tions with neigh­bor­ing Mid­dle East­ern gov­ern­ments. That’s part of the rea­son NSO Group is val­ued at $1 bil­lion today: it’s a pow­er­ful prize that almost all gov­ern­ments want to get their hands on:

    The Finan­cial Times

    Israel’s NSO: the busi­ness of spy­ing on your iPhone
    Soft­ware that has hacked What­sApp has also been accused of help­ing gov­ern­ments spy on dis­si­dents

    Mehul Sri­vas­ta­va in Her­z­lyia and Robert Smith in Lon­don
    May 13, 2019

    As Apple rolled out an adver­tis­ing cam­paign last month tout­ing the impen­e­tra­bil­i­ty of the iPhone — “Pri­va­cy. That’s iPhone”, the com­mer­cials promised — a secre­tive Israeli com­pa­ny called in its sales peo­ple to talk about an impor­tant update designed to thwart that very pri­va­cy.

    Accord­ing to one per­son at the meet­ing, the exec­u­tives from NSO Group made a bold claim: using just one sim­ple missed call on What­sApp, it had fig­ured out a way to “drop its pay­load”, a piece of soft­ware called Pega­sus that can pen­e­trate the dark­est secrets of any iPhone.

    With­in min­utes of the missed call, the phone starts reveal­ing its encrypt­ed con­tent, mir­rored on a com­put­er screen halfway across the world. It then trans­mits back the most inti­mate details such as pri­vate mes­sages and loca­tion, and even turns on the cam­era and micro­phone to live-stream meet­ings.

    The soft­ware itself is not new — it was the lat­est upgrade to a decade-old tech­nol­o­gy so pow­er­ful that the Israeli defence min­istry reg­u­lates its sale. But the What­sApp hack was an entic­ing new “attack vec­tor”, the per­son says. “Great from a sales point.”

    It was an illus­tra­tion of the sales pitch that NSO has made to gov­ern­ments around the world — and which has helped give a tiny and dis­creet com­pa­ny a mar­ket val­u­a­tion of around $1bn. NSO’s few hun­dred engi­neers claim they have man­aged to manoeu­vre around what­ev­er obsta­cle Apple, the world’s most valu­able com­pa­ny, has thrown in its way. Apple declined to com­ment for this arti­cle.

    At an investor pre­sen­ta­tion in Lon­don in April, NSO bragged that the typ­i­cal secu­ri­ty patch­es from Apple did not address the “weak­ness­es exploit­ed by Pega­sus”, accord­ing to an unim­pressed poten­tial investor. Despite the annu­al soft­ware updates unveiled by com­pa­nies such as Apple, NSO had a “proven record” of iden­ti­fy­ing new weak­ness­es, the com­pa­ny rep­re­sen­ta­tive told atten­dees.

    NSO’s pitch has been a run­away suc­cess — allow­ing gov­ern­ments to buy off the shelf the sort of soft­ware that was once thought to be restrict­ed to only the most sophis­ti­cat­ed spy agen­cies, such as GCHQ in the UK and the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Agency in Amer­i­ca.

    The sale of such pow­er­ful and con­tro­ver­sial tech­nolo­gies also gives Israel an impor­tant diplo­mat­ic call­ing card. Through Pega­sus, Israel has acquired a major pres­ence — offi­cial or not — in the deeply clas­si­fied war rooms of unlike­ly part­ners, includ­ing, researchers say, Gulf states such as Sau­di Ara­bia and the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates. Although both coun­tries offi­cial­ly reject the exis­tence of the Jew­ish state, they now find them­selves the sub­ject of a charm offen­sive by Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Netanyahu that mix­es a shared hos­til­i­ty to Iran with intel­li­gence knowhow.

    The Israeli gov­ern­ment has nev­er talked pub­licly about its rela­tion­ship with NSO. Short­ly after he stepped down as defence min­is­ter in Novem­ber, Avig­dor Lieber­man, who had respon­si­bil­i­ty for reg­u­lat­ing NSO’s sales, said: “I am not sure now is the right time to dis­cuss this...I think that I have a respon­si­bil­i­ty for the secu­ri­ty of our state, for future rela­tions.” But he added: “It is not a secret today that we have con­tact with all the mod­er­ate Arab world. I think it is good news.”

    The NSO Group says Pega­sus has been used by dozens of coun­tries to pre­vent ter­ror­ist attacks, infil­trate drug car­tels and help res­cue kid­napped chil­dren.

    But two law­suits against the com­pa­ny, which have been filed in Israel and Cyprus, and build on inves­ti­ga­tions by human rights groups, claim it tracked the soft­ware to the phones of jour­nal­ists, dis­si­dents and crit­ics of gov­ern­ments from Mex­i­co to Sau­di Ara­bia, includ­ing a researcher at Amnesty Inter­na­tion­al, the wife of a mur­dered Mex­i­can jour­nal­ist and anti-cor­rup­tion activists.

    As the com­pa­ny has grown in influ­ence, it has been tracked by researchers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to who have shad­owed Pega­sus. They believe it has been used in 45 coun­tries includ­ing Bahrain, Moroc­co, Sau­di Ara­bia and the UAE. Half the group’s rev­enues come from the Mid­dle East, accord­ing to an investor at the April pre­sen­ta­tion, although the com­pa­ny also told the gath­er­ing that it had con­tracts with 21 EU coun­tries.

    NSO’s tech­nol­o­gy has become a tro­phy weapon in the rival­ries that con­sume the Mid­dle East. The Israeli law­suit says the UAE, an NSO client, asked a com­pa­ny rep­re­sen­ta­tive to hack the mobile phones of Qatar’s emir, a rival Sau­di prince and the edi­tor of a dis­si­dent news­pa­per in Lon­don.

    The mur­der of Jamal Khashog­gi, the Wash­ing­ton Post colum­nist, in Istan­bul by Sau­di gov­ern­ment hit­men brought deep­er scruti­ny of the com­pa­ny.

    Omar Abdu­laz­iz, a Cana­da-based vocal crit­ic of the Sau­di gov­ern­ment, and a friend of Khashog­gi, alleges in one of the law­suits in Israel that his phone was infil­trat­ed by Pega­sus, and was used to track Khashoggi’s con­ver­sa­tions with him before his death in Octo­ber.

    NSO has offered a hedged response — say­ing pub­licly only that its soft­ware was not used by any of its clients to infect Khashoggi’s phone itself and that it only sells to respon­si­ble coun­tries after dili­gent vet­ting, and with the approval of the Israeli gov­ern­ment.

    The com­pa­ny declined to com­ment on the record. But on the ques­tion of its soft­ware being used by clients to mon­i­tor dis­si­dents or jour­nal­ists instead of legit­i­mate ter­ror tar­gets, a per­son famil­iar with NSO says it does not see any of the data col­lect­ed by its cus­tomers. Instead, it has designed a fire­wall between its soft­ware, which it reg­u­lar­ly updates and main­tains, and the data it col­lects, which sits in sep­a­rate servers locat­ed in the cus­tomer coun­try, the per­son says.

    NSO has also turned down poten­tial busi­ness worth $150m in the past three years, and declined to pur­sue a fur­ther $250m in deals after work done by an ethics com­mit­tee, which vets the cus­tomer gov­ern­ment, its agen­cies, the human rights risks and the spy agency itself, the per­son says.

    Few of the company’s crit­ics are assuaged by these assur­ances. “Its talk about care­ful cus­tomer selec­tion seems like a joke, because it already has many con­tracts with states with very prob­lem­at­ic human rights records, like Sau­di Ara­bia,” says Alaa Maha­j­na, a Jerusalem-based human rights lawyer who is rep­re­sent­ing Mr Abdu­laz­iz and a group of Mex­i­can jour­nal­ists and activists in two law­suits against NSO.

    In a pre­vi­ous­ly unre­port­ed detail, NSO has been sell­ing the abil­i­ty to hack mobile phones in any part of the world — most recent­ly using What­sApp — with geo­graph­i­cal soft­ware lim­i­ta­tions decid­ed by the Israeli gov­ern­ment, accord­ing to a per­son famil­iar with the com­pa­ny. That means that a spy agency in one coun­try can the­o­ret­i­cal­ly hack phones well out­side their juris­dic­tion.

    In ear­ly May, engi­neers at What­sApp dis­cov­ered the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty in its code that NSO was exploit­ing, and by last week had start­ed to repair it, the com­pa­ny said. It released an update to its 1.5bn users on Mon­day to com­plete­ly close the loop­hole.

    “This attack has all the hall­marks of a pri­vate com­pa­ny known to work with gov­ern­ments to deliv­er spy­ware that report­ed­ly takes over the func­tions of mobile phone oper­at­ing sys­tems,” says a per­son famil­iar with the inter­nal What­sApp inves­ti­ga­tion. “We are deeply con­cerned about the abuse of such capa­bil­i­ties.”

    For a com­pa­ny with such unpar­al­leled reach, NSO main­tains a veil of secre­cy — until recent­ly, it did not have a web­site. Its founders, Shalev Hulio and Omri Lavie, rarely speak to the press — in a 2013 inter­view with the FT, Mr Lavie said keep­ing the com­pa­ny pri­vate allowed “things that are secret to remain secret”.

    But inter­views with more than half a dozen Israeli offi­cials, sev­er­al peo­ple involved in NSO’s busi­ness, court doc­u­ments in Israel and Cyprus, police com­plaints and wary investors show a com­pa­ny strug­gling to com­plete the tran­si­tion from the shad­ows of Israel’s offen­sive tech indus­try to an astound­ing­ly prof­itable enter­prise that is now unveil­ing its secrets in investor pre­sen­ta­tions and buy­out nego­ti­a­tions. NSO was val­ued at about $1bn in a recent lever­aged buy­out backed by Novalpina Cap­i­tal, a UK-based pri­vate equi­ty fund.

    It has launched a cam­paign to reha­bil­i­tate its rep­u­ta­tion, which had tak­en such a hit that a $510m loan back­ing Novalpina’s lever­aged buy­out of the com­pa­ny strug­gled to attract buy­ers even after try­ing to sell it for 90 cents on the dol­lar, with a 9.5 per cent inter­est rate.

    The con­tracts with gov­ern­ments around the world are cer­tain­ly lucra­tive. The com­pa­ny report­ed $251m in rev­enues in 2018 — with an ebit­da of $128m — up from rev­enue of $109m in 2014, accord­ing to its investor pre­sen­ta­tion. Free cash flow was $80m in 2018.

    About 10 per cent of rev­enues come from sales of a van that car­ries equip­ment to soak up the data from a target’s loca­tion. Anoth­er tenth or so comes from a prod­uct called Land­mark, which tracks the phys­i­cal loca­tion of phones. But the best­seller is still Pega­sus, mak­ing up three-quar­ters of rev­enue.

    The lat­est iter­a­tion of Pega­sus is huge­ly attrac­tive to gov­ern­ments. In mid-2017, accord­ing to a police com­plaint in Israel and a Euro­pean busi­ness­man who was involved in the sales pitch, NSO rep­re­sen­ta­tives flew to Cyprus to meet two senior Saud­is, includ­ing a top intel­li­gence offi­cial. The busi­ness­man did not agree to make his name pub­lic.

    In a con­fer­ence room at the Four Sea­sons in Limas­sol, the com­pa­ny rep­re­sen­ta­tives had a brand new iPhone brought in and showed the Saud­is how quick­ly they could hijack its cam­era and micro­phone. The ver­sion they were mar­ket­ing was nick­named Pega­sus 3, and it invades a phone with­out need­ing to trick the user into click­ing on a hoaxed link hid­ing the soft­ware, mar­ket­ed by the com­pa­ny as “zero click tech­nol­o­gy.”

    “They were still dis­cussing pric­ing, when the Saud­is said they want­ed it imme­di­ate­ly,” says the busi­ness­man, who esti­mates the Sau­di gov­ern­ment paid $55m for the abil­i­ty to track 150 tar­gets simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. He nev­er received a com­mis­sion, and is pur­su­ing a crim­i­nal com­plaint against two oth­er mid­dle­men involved in the deal. The com­pa­ny says it does not dis­cuss its clients or sales.

    Accord­ing to the busi­ness­man, the Sau­di gov­ern­ment also received some “hors­es”, as the com­pa­ny refers to the Tro­jan horse mal­ware it loads on to tar­get phones of Pega­sus 2 — the same ver­sion that researchers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toronto’s Cit­i­zen Lab tracked to the iPhone of Mr Abdu­laz­iz, Khashoggi’s friend.

    Speak­ing about the new What­sApp hack, which its par­ent Face­book tried to patch with its lat­est update, John Scott-Rail­ton, a senior researcher at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toronto’s Cit­i­zen Lab, says: “If true, this is extreme­ly con­cern­ing because it sug­gests that the same reck­less behav­iour from cus­tomers that Cit­i­zen Lab and oth­ers have doc­u­ment­ed could eas­i­ly spill across bor­ders. This sug­gests a nov­el new mech­a­nism.”

    The Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment had paid $32m in 2014 for Pega­sus 2, accord­ing to a con­tract with the Mex­i­can attorney-general’s office includ­ed in the law­suit in Israel. That came with an NSO ser­vice called Enhanced Social Engi­neer­ing Mes­sage, in which NSO rep­re­sen­ta­tives helped cre­ate an entic­ing SMS that the tar­get was most like­ly to click on, accord­ing to the law­suit.

    These mes­sages are a cen­tral part of the two law­suits fac­ing NSO. Days after unknown assailants mur­dered Mex­i­can jour­nal­ist Javier Valdez in 2017, who had been high­ly crit­i­cal of the gov­ern­ment, his wid­ow received text mes­sages that offered details on his mur­der. Cit­i­zen Lab con­clud­ed it was high­ly like­ly that the texts car­ried the mali­cious soft­ware. Mr Abdu­laz­iz, in Cana­da, received a link that offered to track a ship­ment, which Cit­i­zen Lab said it had “high con­fi­dence” car­ried the mal­ware. Oth­ers tracked by Cit­i­zen Lab received sim­i­lar­ly per­son­al, tai­lored mes­sages. The com­pa­ny has declined to address the claims specif­i­cal­ly, but has said that its inter­nal inves­ti­ga­tions indi­cate that the soft­ware tracked by Cit­i­zen Lab is not Pega­sus.

    The cre­ation of these mes­sages required cus­tomers to work direct­ly with NSO, says the busi­ness­man, who described a help desk based in Cyprus that worked with agen­cies.

    That runs counter to NSO’s posi­tion that it sells the soft­ware in a man­ner that does not allow it to mon­i­tor how it is being used and on whom. Novalpina has said that an exhaus­tive review turned up only a hand­ful of abus­es, and has sug­gest­ed oth­er com­pa­nies or gov­ern­ments may be respon­si­ble for the traces of Pega­sus that researchers claim to have tracked to the phones of jour­nal­ists, dis­si­dents and crit­ics. The law­suits in Israel are still in pre-tri­al hear­ings, so the com­pa­ny has yet to present its for­mal defence.

    In Israel, where the mil­i­tary has cre­at­ed its own secure phone for its offi­cers to use, the sus­cep­ti­bil­i­ty of smart­phones has become a nation­al secu­ri­ty issue. Many senior offi­cials no longer car­ry smart­phones — Mr Lieber­man, the for­mer defence min­is­ter, proud­ly showed off to reporters a scarred and cracked Nokia, at least a decade old, that his fam­i­ly can reach him on.

    ...

    Mr Lavie and Mr Hulio, the founders of NSO, have anoth­er com­pa­ny in the same game. Its niche prod­uct? Phones that can­not be hacked.

    ———-

    “Israel’s NSO: the busi­ness of spy­ing on your iPhone” by Mehul Sri­vas­ta­va and Robert Smith; The Finan­cial Times; 05/13/2019

    “NSO’s pitch has been a run­away suc­cess — allow­ing gov­ern­ments to buy off the shelf the sort of soft­ware that was once thought to be restrict­ed to only the most sophis­ti­cat­ed spy agen­cies, such as GCHQ in the UK and the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Agency in Amer­i­ca.”

    Off-the-shell NSA hack­ing tools. That’s what NSO Group offers to gov­ern­ments around the world. But it’s the Israeli gov­ern­ment that gets to ulti­mate­ly decide which gov­ern­ments get this priv­i­lege. Half of the com­pa­ny’s rev­enues come from the Mid­dle East but it also has con­tracts with 21 EU coun­tries. Beyond that, when a gov­ern­ment pur­chas­es the soft­ware, it sort of makes Israel a part­ner of that coun­try’s spy agen­cies. That’s quite a diplo­mat­ic tool:

    ...
    The soft­ware itself is not new — it was the lat­est upgrade to a decade-old tech­nol­o­gy so pow­er­ful that the Israeli defence min­istry reg­u­lates its sale. But the What­sApp hack was an entic­ing new “attack vec­tor”, the per­son says. “Great from a sales point.”

    ...

    The sale of such pow­er­ful and con­tro­ver­sial tech­nolo­gies also gives Israel an impor­tant diplo­mat­ic call­ing card. Through Pega­sus, Israel has acquired a major pres­ence — offi­cial or not — in the deeply clas­si­fied war rooms of unlike­ly part­ners, includ­ing, researchers say, Gulf states such as Sau­di Ara­bia and the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates. Although both coun­tries offi­cial­ly reject the exis­tence of the Jew­ish state, they now find them­selves the sub­ject of a charm offen­sive by Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Netanyahu that mix­es a shared hos­til­i­ty to Iran with intel­li­gence knowhow.

    The Israeli gov­ern­ment has nev­er talked pub­licly about its rela­tion­ship with NSO. Short­ly after he stepped down as defence min­is­ter in Novem­ber, Avig­dor Lieber­man, who had respon­si­bil­i­ty for reg­u­lat­ing NSO’s sales, said: “I am not sure now is the right time to dis­cuss this...I think that I have a respon­si­bil­i­ty for the secu­ri­ty of our state, for future rela­tions.” But he added: “It is not a secret today that we have con­tact with all the mod­er­ate Arab world. I think it is good news.”

    ...

    As the com­pa­ny has grown in influ­ence, it has been tracked by researchers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to who have shad­owed Pega­sus. They believe it has been used in 45 coun­tries includ­ing Bahrain, Moroc­co, Sau­di Ara­bia and the UAE. Half the group’s rev­enues come from the Mid­dle East, accord­ing to an investor at the April pre­sen­ta­tion, although the com­pa­ny also told the gath­er­ing that it had con­tracts with 21 EU coun­tries.

    NSO’s tech­nol­o­gy has become a tro­phy weapon in the rival­ries that con­sume the Mid­dle East. The Israeli law­suit says the UAE, an NSO client, asked a com­pa­ny rep­re­sen­ta­tive to hack the mobile phones of Qatar’s emir, a rival Sau­di prince and the edi­tor of a dis­si­dent news­pa­per in Lon­don.
    ...

    Inter­est­ing­ly, it sounds like the Israeli gov­ern­ment also gets to decide where the NSO Group’s hack­ing tools can be used by these client gov­ern­ments because the soft­ware has geo­graph­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions built into it, giv­ing Israel even more diplo­mat­ic lever­age:

    ...
    In a pre­vi­ous­ly unre­port­ed detail, NSO has been sell­ing the abil­i­ty to hack mobile phones in any part of the world — most recent­ly using What­sApp — with geo­graph­i­cal soft­ware lim­i­ta­tions decid­ed by the Israeli gov­ern­ment, accord­ing to a per­son famil­iar with the com­pa­ny. That means that a spy agency in one coun­try can the­o­ret­i­cal­ly hack phones well out­side their juris­dic­tion.
    ...

    And this hack­ing soft­ware is so pow­er­ful the vic­tims of the newest ver­sion of Pega­sus, Pega­sus 3, don’t even need to to get tricked into click­ing on a mali­cious link to end up with the mal­ware on their phones. The com­pa­ny is mar­ket­ing it as “zero click tech­nol­o­gy”. That’s how wild­ly pow­er­ful these hack­ing tools are:

    ...
    About 10 per cent of rev­enues come from sales of a van that car­ries equip­ment to soak up the data from a target’s loca­tion. Anoth­er tenth or so comes from a prod­uct called Land­mark, which tracks the phys­i­cal loca­tion of phones. But the best­seller is still Pega­sus, mak­ing up three-quar­ters of rev­enue.

    The lat­est iter­a­tion of Pega­sus is huge­ly attrac­tive to gov­ern­ments. In mid-2017, accord­ing to a police com­plaint in Israel and a Euro­pean busi­ness­man who was involved in the sales pitch, NSO rep­re­sen­ta­tives flew to Cyprus to meet two senior Saud­is, includ­ing a top intel­li­gence offi­cial. The busi­ness­man did not agree to make his name pub­lic.

    In a con­fer­ence room at the Four Sea­sons in Limas­sol, the com­pa­ny rep­re­sen­ta­tives had a brand new iPhone brought in and showed the Saud­is how quick­ly they could hijack its cam­era and micro­phone. The ver­sion they were mar­ket­ing was nick­named Pega­sus 3, and it invades a phone with­out need­ing to trick the user into click­ing on a hoaxed link hid­ing the soft­ware, mar­ket­ed by the com­pa­ny as “zero click tech­nol­o­gy.”
    ...

    So while the abil­i­ty of NSO Group’s tools to hack What­sApp is cer­tain­ly a big deal giv­en the bil­lions of What­sApp user, keep in mind that it’s just one of the many pow­er­ful hack­ing capa­bil­i­ties offered to NSO Group’s clients.

    And don’t for­get that, while it does­n’t appear to be the case that NSO Group’s hack of What­sApp involves the break­ing of What­sAp­p’s encryp­tion but instead focus­es on putting spy­ware on phone, the encryp­tion tech­nol­o­gy used by What­sApp was financed by the US State Depart­ment via the Open Tech­nol­o­gy Fund. So, you know, if you read about NSO Group or one of the oth­er hack­ing tool com­pa­nies break­ing What­sAp­p’s encryp­tion one of these days try not to be super shocked.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 21, 2019, 11:09 am

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