Washington knew Syrian rebels could produce sarin gas but “cherry-picked” intel to blame President Assad for the Aug. 21 attack on Ghouta, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has revealed, citing senior US security sources.
The report was published in the London Review of Books after two of Hersh’s regular publishers, The New Yorker and The Washington Post, turned the article down.
Hersh, whose Pulitzers were for his exposes on American military misconduct in the Iraq and Vietnam wars, got his information on Syria from whistle-blowing acting and former intelligence and military officers, who for security reasons were not identified in the report.
According to Hersh’s findings, months before the chemical weapons attack on the outskirts of Damascus, which almost prompted US air strikes on Syria, “the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports… citing evidence that the Al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with Al-Qaeda, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity.”
The attack took place on August 21, the same day UN inspectors arrived in Damascus to investigate allegations of use of chemical weapons. The casualty figures have ranged from several hundred to more than 1,400 deaths.
Before the attack, the Obama administration repeatedly described the use of chemical weapons in Syria as a “red line,” which would signal the US could intervene in the conflict.
Hersh wrote that he does not believe that the intelligence data, pointing at the rebels’ having capability for making sarin, could have in any way escaped the White House’s attention.
“Already by late May, the senior intelligence consultant told me, the CIA had briefed the Obama administration on Al-Nusra and its work with sarin,” he wrote.
Obama’s laying the blame for the nerve gas attack on Assad’s forces, completely disregarding Al-Nusra as a suspect in the case, is thus described in the report as the administration’s having “cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.”
“The cherry-picking was similar to the process used to justify the Iraq war,” Hersh wrote.
It’s because of the lack of sufficient evidence against Assad that Obama quickly abandoned his plan for military strikes.
“Any possibility of military action was definitively averted on 26 September when the administration joined Russia in approving a draft UN resolution calling on the Assad government to get rid of its chemical arsenal,” the report reads. “Obama’s retreat brought relief to many senior military officers. (One high-level special operations adviser told me that the ill-conceived American missile attack on Syrian military airfields and missile emplacements, as initially envisaged by the White House, would have been ‘like providing close air support for al-Nusra’.)”
The investigative journalist then points at an annual budget for all national intelligence programs, leaked to the media by Edward Snowden and partly published by The Washington Post. According to the document, by the time of the Eastern Ghouta chemical attack, the NSA “no longer had access to the conversations of the top military leadership in Syria, which would have included crucial communications from Assad, such as orders for a nerve gas attack”. That puts to question the confidence with which Obama spoke of Assad’s responsibility for the deaths.
The same document described “a secret sensor system inside Syria, designed to provide early warning of any change in status of the regime’s chemical weapons arsenal”. Hersh wrote it was suspicious that the US intelligence received no alarm, if the Assad forces really prepared for an attack.
Hersh also analyses the news coverage of the chemical gas attack investigation, pointing to instances when the media outlets omitted the information that suggested there could be other suspects, beside Assad.
The UN September 16 report, confirming the use of sarin, contained one part that noted that the organization’s experts did not have immediate access to the attack sites controlled by rebels, so potential evidence could have been manipulated there. The passage was largely ignored in the news.
Following the release of the report, the spokesman for Director of National Intelligence, Shawn Turner, denied the report’s major point – that the US knew of the rebel group being capable of creating sarin.
“We were clear with The Washington Post and Mr. Hersh that the intelligence gathered about the 21 August chemical weapons attack indicated that the Assad regime and only the Assad regime could have been responsible,” Turner told Buzzfeed. “Any suggestion that there was an effort to suppress intelligence about a nonexistent alternative explanation is simply false.”
Hersh has remained unconvinced by the denial and has summed it up with a warning against ignoring alleged Al-Nusra’s chemical weapons potential.
“While the Syrian regime continues the process of eliminating its chemical arsenal, the irony is that, after Assad’s stockpile of precursor agents is destroyed, Al-Nusra and its Islamist allies could end up as the only faction inside Syria with access to the ingredients that can create sarin, a strategic weapon that would be unlike any other in the war zone. There may be more to negotiate.”
The United Nations is set to carry out an investigation into the spying activities of the US and UK, a senior judge has said. The probe will examine the espionage programs and assess whether they conform to UN regulations.
UN special rapporteur Ben Emmerson QC told British newspaper The Guardian that the UN will conduct an inquiry into the NSA and the GCHQ’s spying antics. Following Edward Snowden’s revelations, which blew the whistle on both agencies’ intelligence gathering programs, Emmerson said the issue was at “the very apex of public interest and concerns.”
The report will broach a number of contentious issues, said Emmerson, including whether Snowden should be granted the legal protection afforded to a whistleblower, whether the data he handed over to the media did significant harm to national security, whether intelligence agencies need to scale down their surveillance programs and whether the UK government was misled about the extent of intelligence gathering.
“When it comes to assessing the balance that must be struck between maintaining secrecy and exposing information in the public interest, there are often borderline cases,” Emmerson told The Guardian.
Emmerson also mentioned the raid this summer on The Guardian’s London offices in search of hard drives containing data from Snowden. Addressing the allegations made by the chiefs of British spy agencies MI5, GCHQ and MI6, that publishing Snowden’s material was “a gift to terrorists,” Emmerson said it was the media’s job to hold governments to account for their actions.
“The astonishing suggestion that this sort of responsible journalism can somehow be equated with aiding and abetting terrorism needs to be scotched decisively,” said Emmerson, who will present the conclusions of his inquiry to the UN General Assembly next autumn.
Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger is set to appear before a Commons home affairs committee in a hearing about the newspaper publishing of Snowden’s security leaks. British Prime Minister David Cameron issued a statement in September, warning of a possible crackdown if media continued to publish information on covert intelligence gathering programs.
He said the government had not yet been “heavy-handed” in its dealings with the press, but it would be difficult not to act if the press does not “demonstrate some social responsibility.” Cameron added that the UK was a more dangerous place after the Guardian published Snowden’s material.
Snowden’s revelations of the international spying activities of the UK and US have embarrassed the White House and Downing Street. Recent leaks show that the NSA and GCHQ not only monitored millions of civilian communications using programs such as PRISM and Tempora, but also eavesdropped on high-profile businessmen and politicians. Moreover, it was revealed that the NSA also spied on the UN’s headquarters in New York.
Both nations have sought to justify their intelligence gathering programs as being in the interests of national security.
Britain systematically destroyed documents in colonies that were about to gain independence, declassified Foreign Office files reveal. ‘Operation Legacy’ saw sensitive documents secretly burnt or dumped to cover up traces of British activities.
The latest National Archives publication made from a collection of 8,800 colonial-era files held by the Foreign Office for decades revealed deliberate document elimination by British authorities in former colonies.
The secret program dubbed ‘Operation Legacy’ was in force throughout the 1950s and 1960s, in at least 23 countries and territories under British rule that eventually gained independence after WWII. Among others these countries included: Belize, British Guiana, Jamaica, Kenya, Malaysia and Singapore, Northern Rhodesia (today Zambia and Zimbabwe), Tanzania, and Uganda.
In a telegram from the UK Colonial Office dispatched to British embassies on May 3, 1961, colonial secretary Iain Macleod instructed diplomats to withhold official documents from newly elected independent governments in those countries, and presented general guidance on what to do.
British diplomats were briefed on how exactly they were supposed to get rid of documents that “might embarrass members of the police, military forces, public servants (such as police agents or informers)” or “might compromise sources of intelligence”, or could be put to ‘wrong’ use by incoming national authorities.
‘Operation Legacy’ also called for the destruction or removal of “all papers which are likely to be interpreted, either reasonably or by malice, as indicating racial prejudice or bias”.
The newly declassified files revealed that the Royal Navy base in Singapore was turned into the Asian region’s primary document destruction center. A special facility called a “splendid incinerator” was used to burn “lorry loads of files”, Agence France-Presse reported.
The “central incinerator” in Singapore was necessary to avoid a situation similar to that in India in 1947, when a “pall of smoke” from British officials burning their papers in Delhi, ahead of India proclaiming independence, filled the local press with critical reports. That diplomatic oversight was taken into account, as ‘Operation Legacy’ operatives were strictly instructed not to burn documents openly.
But not all the doomed archives could be shipped to Singapore. In some cases documents were eliminated on site, sometimes being dumped in the sea “at the maximum practicable distance from shore” and in deep, current-free areas, the National Archives publication claims.
The newly published collection of documents reveals that the British cleared out Kenyan intelligence files that contained information about abuse and torture of Kenyans during the Mau Mau uprising against British colonial rule in the 1950s. A special committee formed in 1961 coordinated document elimination in Kenya. Yet some files were spared simply when an estimated 307 boxes of documents were evacuated to Britain, just months ahead of the country gaining independence in December 1963.
The existence of some remaining Mau Mau legal case documents was revealed in January 2011.
Even after eliminating important evidence half a century ago, earlier in 2013 the British government was forced to pay 23 million dollars in compensation to over 5,200 elderly Kenyans, who had suffered from Britain’s punitive measures during the Mau Mau uprising.
In another documented occasion, in April 1957, five lorries delivered tons of documents from the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur to the Royal Navy base in Singapore. Files were incinerated there; these contained details about British rule in Malaya, such as a massacre of 24 rubber plantation workers at the Malayan village of Batang Kali in 1948, who had allegedly been murdered by British soldiers.
Despite the mass document elimination, Britain’s Foreign Office still has some 1.2 million unpublished documents on British colonial policy, David Anderson, professor of African history at the University of Warwick, told AFP.
So Her Majesty’s government might still publish more valuable material that can shed more light on how one of the biggest empires in human history used to be governed. Overall, Britain had total control over 50 colonies including Canada, India, Australia, Nigeria, and Jamaica. Currently, there are 14 British Overseas Territories that remain under British rule, though most of them are self-governing and all have leaderships of their own.
One of Pakistan’s major political parties has published the name of what it believes to be the CIA’s chief operative in Islamabad after a US drone strike killed five people last week. The group demanded on Wednesday that the spy chief face murder charges.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), led by the country’s cricket star Imran Khan, dropped the name of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative to police in a letter in which the party demanded that the agent face up to the “gross offence” of the drone strike.
The letter was released to the media. However, the name could not be independently verified.
“I would like to nominate the US clandestine agency CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) Station Chief in Islamabad … and CIA Director John O. Brennan for committing the gross offences of committing murder and waging war against Pakistan,” PTI information secretary Shireen Mazarisaid wrote in the letter.
“CIA station chief is not a diplomatic post, therefore he does not enjoy any diplomatic immunity and is within the bounds of domestic laws of Pakistan,” the letter added. The complaint was lodged with Tal police station in Hangu district, northwestern Pakistan.
Intelligence agencies in foreign countries make a habit of keeping the identities of their agents and operatives private. If the PTI has successfully named the right person then he may be forced to leave the country.
This would not be the first time that an American operative has been outed in the country. In 2010 a former station chief was forced to leave Pakistan after his name was also revealed during a drone strike which led to the deaths of civilians.
The drone strike on 21 November was extremely provocative as it was one of the first outside the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkwa province, and killed five militants – among them a senior commander of the Haqqani Network.
A separate strike at the beginning of November, which killed Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud, prompted Khan to react with similar fury over how continued strikes could scuttle peace talks.
“The Taliban held only one condition for the peace talks and that was that drone attacks must end,” he said at a press conference. “But just before the talks began we saw this sabotage.”
CIA spokesman Dean Boyd would not confirm the Islamabad station chief’s name to the AP and declined to comment on the matter immediately.
The National Security Agency conducted widespread surveillance during the 2010 G8 and G20 summits with the blessing of host country Canada’s government.
Documents supplied by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden show the US converted its Ottawa embassy into a security command for six days in June 2010 as world leaders met in Toronto. The covert operation was known to Canadian authorities, CBC News reported.
The documents do not reveal targets of the espionage by the NSA – and possibly by its counterpart, the Communications Security Establishment of Canada (CSEC). The NSA briefing notes say the operation was “closely co-ordinated with the Canadian partner.”
Ultimately, the documents obtained by the CBC do not give exact specifications of CSEC’s role, if any, in the Toronto spying. Former Guardian reporter and Snowden’s chosen journalist to receive the NSA documents, Glenn Greenwald, co-wrote the story for CBC.
But the documents do spell out that CSEC’s cooperation in the venture was crucial to ensuring access to telecommunications systems needed to spy on targets during the summits.
Both NSA and CSEC were implicated, along with British counterpart GCHQ, for monitoring phone calls and email of foreign leaders and diplomats at the 2009 G20 summit in London. In addition, it was recently reported that CSEC hacked into phones and computers at the Brazilian government’s department of mines. These revelations also came via documents from Snowden, who has received asylum in Russia.
The revelations also contradict a statement made by an NSA spokesman to The Washington Post on August 30, which said that the US Department of Defense – of which the NSA is is part of – “does not engage in economic espionage in any domain, including cyber.”
The NSA briefing document says the operational plan at the 2010 summit included “providing support to policymakers.”
The Toronto summit was chock full of major economic issues following the 2008 recession. Measures like the eventually-nixed global bank tax were strongly opposed by the US and Canadian governments. Further banking reform, international development, countering trade protectionism and other issues were on the docket – and on NSA’s list of main agenda items in the aim of supporting “US policy goals.”
The partnerships by some Western spying arms at the Toronto and London summits, not to mention other stories that have come out based on the Snowden documents, call attention once again to the “Five Eyes” surveillance coalition among Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US.
Arnon Milchan, renowned producer of such Hollywood hits as “Pretty Woman,” “Fight Club” and “LA Confidential”, has come forth with perhaps his greatest story of all: he was an Israeli spy who helped boost the country’s nuclear program in the 70s and 80s.
In an in depth interview broadcast on Monday with Israel’s Channel 2 flagship investigative program ‘Uvda’ (Fact), the 68-year-old producer discussed his involvement in clandestine arms deals and efforts to buy technologies Israel allegedly needed to make nuclear weapons.
The expose followed Milchan’s career from the late ’1960s and early ’1970s, when he was a young and successful businessman in the United States who had a close relationship with current Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Peres, who at the time was helping set up the Negev Nuclear Research Center, tasked Milchan with acquiring equipment and information necessary to get the project off the ground.
“Do you know what it was like to be a 20-something guy whose country decided to let him be James Bond? Wow! The action! That was exciting,” the Israeli daily Haaretz cited Milchan as saying. He ran a thriving fertilizer company in Israel before finding success in Hollywood.
The report also outlined how Milchan set up bank accounts and companies in order to facilitate the transfer of materials and equipment through Lakam, Israel’s secretive Bureau of Scientific Relations. At the height of his operations, Milchan was operating 30 firms in 17 different countries.
The acquisition of nuclear triggers for Israel by Milchan’s company, Milco, almost landed him in hot water with the FBI, which discovered they had been shipped to Israel without the proper licensing. The aerospace executive Richard Kelly Smyth, who used one of Milchan’s companies to deliver triggers to Israel, was indicted in 1985 over the affair. Milchan claimed he was completely unaware Israel had ordered the triggers.
“I didn’t even know what triggers were.”
After the trigger incident, which was followed by the 1986 arrest of Jonathan Jay Pollard, a US civilian intelligence analyst who was later convicted for passing classified information to Israel, the Bureau of Scientific Relations was shut down.
Milchan further described how he once persuaded a German engineer to take home plans on how to construct a nuclear facility from a safe where he worked.
Saying the engineer “couldn’t be bought,” Milchan said he talked the scientist into leaving the plans on a table at home and when he went out to dine with his wife, someone would enter the premises and photograph the documents.
He also used his clout in Hollywood to help the South African apartheid regime clear up its international image in exchange for helping Israel acquire uranium.
Arms deals and A-list accomplices
In the 1970s, Milchan also brokered deals for hundreds of millions of dollars between Israel and US companies for helicopters, missiles and other military equipment.
Uvda showed that Milchan’s company at times made as much as 60 percent off the deals, though Milchan insisted on camera that all of the money made it back to Israel.
“I did it for my country and I’m proud of it,” AP cites Milchan as saying.
Once his activities shifted to the silver screen, he continued his clandestine activities and maintained close ties with high-ranking Israeli officials.
Once word spread that Milchan was moonlighting as an arms dealer, many in the industry were reluctant to do business with him.
“In Hollywood they don’t like working with an arms dealer, ideologically,” he said, “with someone who lives off selling machine-guns and killing. Instead of someone talking to me about a script, I had to spend half an hour explaining that I’m not an arms dealer,” The Times of Israel reports.
Milchan said upon arriving in Hollywood, “I detached myself completely from my physical activities to dedicate myself to what I really wanted – filmmaking.”
“(But) sometimes it gets mixed up,” he added.
According to Haaretz, Milchan also actively recruited other Hollywood movers and shakers to get involved in his work, most notably the late director, Sydney Pollack.
Milchan says Pollack knew exactly what he was doing when he allegedly moved to acquire firearms and military hardware for Israel in the 1970s.
“[Pollack] had to decide what he was willing to do and what he was not willing to do. On a lot of things he said no. On a lot of other things he said yes.”
Milchan also admitted trying to use an A-list Hollywood star as bait to lure a US nuclear scientist to a private rendezvous at the actor’s house. The report never clarified whether that meeting in fact took place.
Milchan, a part-owner of Israel’s Channel 10 television company and who founded the New Regency film company, has produced more than 120 movies since the 1970s. He forged an especially close relationship with Robert De Niro, who along with actors Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck, was featured in the program. Milchan also helped bring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie together for the film ‘Mr And Mrs Smith.’
‘Don’t take away our freedom’
Thousands of people protested in Tokyo against a bill that would see whistleblowing civil servants jailed for up to 10 years. Activists claim the law would help the government to cover up scandals, and damage the country’s constitution and democracy.
A 3,000-seat outdoor theater in a park in downtown Tokyo, near the parliament, was not enough to contain everyone who came on Thursday to denounce government plans to considerably broaden the definition of classified information.
For photos of the Tokyo protests, see RT’s Gallery.
According to organizers’ estimates, about 10,000 people crowded shoulder-to-shoulder in the isles of the theater and outside of it, holding banners that read: “Don’t take away our freedom.”
The adoption of the law, proposed by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, would enable the authorities to put civil servants responsible for information leaks behind bars for up to 10 years.
This would seriously threaten the freedom of the press, as Japanese media would face serious problems gathering information on burning issues, because state employees would be reluctant to share information for fear of prosecution.
That’s why a group of Japanese journalists gathered at the Nagatacho District, close to the country’s parliament, to protest the proposed bill.
Currently, long prison terms for whistleblowers only apply to those Japanese citizens who leak classified data that came from the US military.
“The definition of what will be designated as secrets is not clear, and bureaucrats will make secrets extremely arbitrarily,” TV journalist Soichiro Tahara told Japan Daily Press.
Protesting journalists have submitted a petition to the Cabinet Office, calling for the bill to be scrapped.
The proposed law is conceived in such broad terms it allows wide interpretation and could be used for many purposes, for example such as hiding information about the situation at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant.
The bill could be adopted as soon as next week, because the ruling Liberal Democrat Party has a majority in both houses of the Japanese parliament.
“If this law comes to pass, our constitution is nothing more than a scrap of paper,” Reuters reported Yasunari Fujimoto, an activist with the Peace Forum NGO, as saying. “Without the right to know, democracy cannot exist.”
Many Japanese have been suspicious of the legislation, since it reminds them of the tough military secrecy laws that existed before World War II, when Japan’s hardline militarist government was engaged on an expansionist policy throughout Asia, until its defeat in 1945.
PM Shinzo Abe says that the new legislature is extremely important to secure cooperation with Japan’s major ally, the US, as well as other countries.
The data security bill resembles laws targeting whistleblowers in the US, and Abe is also considering setting up an American-style National Security Council, too, Reuters reports.
The protesters do not support Abe’s eagerness to copy repressive foreign laws.
“We have a right to know everything,” said Akio Hirose, a 54-year-old transport worker, adding that the proposed law is “absolutely unacceptable.”
- Fuk-’hush’-ima: Japan’s new state secrets law gags whistleblowers, raises press freedom fears (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- #Japan Likely To Pass New Secrecy Law That Would Put Whistleblowers & Journalists in Jail (techdirt.com)
- Journalists hold protest action against Japan’s state secrets bill (japandailypress.com)
Indonesia is recalling its ambassador to Australia over allegations that Canberra listened in on phone conversations of the Indonesian president.
Indonesia said the ambassador was being called to Jakarta for “consultations”.
The move by Jakarta comes as the Australian Department of Defence and the Defence Signals Directorate, or DSD, (now known as the Australian Signals Directorate), has been accused of monitoring the phone calls of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife Kristiani Herawati, as well as eight other high-ranking officials, including the vice president, Boediono.
The latest leak, provided in May 2013 by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, was released jointly by The Guardian newspaper and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday, and will likely aggravate another diplomatic firestorm between Canberra and Jakarta.
The top secret material from the DSD is in the form of a slide presentation, dated November 2009, and divulges information on the monitoring of mobile phones just as 3G technology was being introduced in Asia.
In one of the presentations, entitled Indonesian President Voice Events, a graphic of calls is given on Yudhoyono’s Nokia handset over a 15-day period in August 2009. The data provides CDRs – call data records – which record the numbers called, the duration of communications, and whether the transmission was a voice call or SMS.
The Australian spy agency “appears to have expanded its operations to include the calls of those who had been in touch with the president,” the report indicated. Another slide, entitled Way Forward, gives the simple command: “Must have content,” perhaps a reference to encrypted material.
Attached to the bottom of each slide in the 2009 presentation is the DSD slogan: “Reveal their secrets – protect our own.”
Also named in the surveillance slides are Dino Patti Djalal, then-foreign affairs spokesman for the president, who recently resigned as Indonesia’s ambassador to the US and is seeking the candidacy in next year’s presidential election for Yudhoyono’s Democratic party, and Hatta Rajasa, current minister for economic affairs and potential presidential candidate for the National Mandate party. Hatta served at the time of the surveillance as minister for transport; his daughter is the wife of the president’s youngest son.
Other high-level officials on the list of “IA Leadership Targets” are: Jusuf Kalla, the former vice-president who ran as the Golkar party presidential candidate in 2009; Sri Mulyani Indrawati, then a reforming finance minister and since 2010 one of the managing directors of the World Bank Group; Andi Mallarangeng, who was at the time the president’s spokesman, and later minister for youth and sports; Sofyan Djalil, who served until October 2009 as minister for state-owned enterprises; Widodo Adi Sucipto, a former head of the Indonesian military who served until October 2009 as security minister.
Another slide, entitled DSD Way Forward, acknowledges that the Australian spy agency’s must “capitalise on UKUSA and industry capability”, apparently a reference to assistance from telecom and internet companies, the same method that the NSA used to collect data on millions of individuals around the planet.
News of Australia’s high-level snooping on the Indonesian president and his top aides is certain to provoke a harsh response from Jakarta, especially considering this is not Australia’s first breach of trust between the Pacific Rim countries.
Tensions between Canberra and Jakarta began in October when top secret files revealed by the German newspaper Der Spiegel and published by Fairfax newspapers showed that Australian diplomatic posts across Asia were being used to intercept communications.
Marty Natalegawa, the Indonesian foreign minister, issued a harsh response and threatened to review bilateral initiatives on issues important to Australia, including people smuggling and terrorism.
During a visit last week to the Australian city of Perth, Vice president Boediono – not yet privy to information that his own Blackberry device had been compromised by Australian spy agencies – briefly mentioned the long-standing spying controversy.
“I think we must look forward to come to some arrangement which guarantees that intelligence information from each side is not used against the other,” he said. “There must be a system.”
Yudhoyono is the latest in a growing list of global leaders who have had their personal communications listened to by the American intelligence service.
It has recently been reported that the leaders of Germany, Brazil and Mexico have been listened to by the so-called Five Eyes, the collective name for the intelligence agencies of the United States, Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, who share information.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel in late October demanded a personal explanation from US President Barack Obama as to why the NSA had tapped her mobile phone. The White House attempted to reassure the chancellor that her phone was “not currently being tapped and will not be in the future”.
It will be interesting at this point to see if the diplomatic backlash in wake of the recent wave of revelations will curb the Five Eyes’ surveillance program, or if it will just go deeper underground.
The Guardian then reported that the DSD worked together with the NSA to stage a massive surveillance operation in Indonesia during a UN climate change conference in Bali in 2007.
On Monday a spokesman for Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said: “Consistent with the long-standing practice of Australian governments, and in the interest of national security, we do not comment on intelligence matters.”
A UK spy agency infiltrated international hotel booking systems for some three years, tracing high profile officials and wiretapping their suites, new leaks reveal. GCHQ’s top secret ‘Royal Concierge’ program tracked 350 hotels across the globe.
Germany’s Der Spiegel has published yet another episode of scandalous revelations from the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, currently enjoying temporary asylum in Moscow.
Constantly on the move, top officials and diplomats prefer to stay in high-end establishments and boutique hotels with premier service standards. And since the number of high-class hotels in the world is finite, British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) came up with the idea of turning them into a huge net to fish for secrets in high-tech style.
After the ‘Royal Concierge’ program underwent testing in 2010, it was readied and put into action.
Documents unearthed by Snowden reveal that over a three-year period GCHQ had an automatic system for singling out people of interest, who made reservations in about 350 upscale hotels worldwide.
Field operatives then allegedly wiretapped the phone and network cables inside the targeted suite, and were potentially able to check into the next door suite in order to eavesdrop the target at the scene.
‘Royal Concierge’ in operation
According to documents seen by Der Spiegel, when a top official or a diplomat makes a reservation using his working e-mail address (or his secretary does) with a governmental domain like .gov, GCHQ gets a notification and decides whether it needs to take ‘action’ or not.
Once a foreign diplomat is booked into a hotel, putting him under the microscope becomes a purely technical objective. Der Spiegel lists an impressive array of spying techniques and capabilities “that seem to exhaust the creative potential of modern spying”. No details, however, are provided.
On occasions, when a guest of special interest checks in, a crack intelligence unit can be deployed who have ‘specialist technologies’ for spying at their disposal. GCHQ may also put into action codename ‘Humint’ [Human Intelligence], for close scrutiny of the target, an operation that could also include field agents working in the vicinity.
Der Spiegel also highlights the speculation that ‘Royal Concierge’ could possibly manipulate hotel choices through the booking programs and also bug hired cars.
Der Spiegel has not provided information about whether ‘Royal Concierge’ has been spying on Britain’s major allies, or if the targets of the GCHQ hotel surveillance had any connections to Al-Qaeda.
Remarkably, the report comes right after British intelligence chiefs made assurances that their actions were conducted within the framework of the war on terror. At a November-7th hearing by parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee in London, GCHQ head, Sir Ian Lobban, acknowledged that Edward Snowden’s leaks would make GCHQ’s work “far harder” for years to come.
A senior United Nations official responsible for freedom of expression has warned that the UK government’s response to revelations of mass surveillance by Edward Snowden is damaging Britain’s reputation for press freedom and investigative journalism.
The UN special rapporteur, Frank La Rue, has said he is alarmed at the reaction from some British politicians following the Guardian’s revelations about the extent of the secret surveillance programs run by the UK’s eavesdropping center GCHQ and its US counterpart the NSA (National Security Agency), it was reported in the Guardian.
“I have been absolutely shocked about the way the Guardian has been treated, from the idea of prosecution to the fact that some members of parliament even called it treason. I think that is unacceptable in a democratic society,” said La Rue.
Speaking to the Guardian La Rue said that national security cannot be used as an argument against newspapers for publishing information that is in the public interest even if doing so is embarrassing for those who are in office.
The Guardian as well as other major world media organizations including the New York Times, the Washington Post and Der Spiegel began disclosing details about the US and UK’s mass surveillance programs in June, after receiving leaked documents from former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden.
The publications have sparked a huge global debate on whether such surveillance powers are justified, but in Britain there have been calls for the Guardian to be prosecuted and the editor, Alan Rusbridger, has been called to give evidence to the home affairs select committee.
The Prime Minister David Cameron has even warned that unless the newspaper begins to demonstrate some social responsibility, then he would take “tougher measures” including the issuing of D notices, which ban a newspaper or broadcaster from touching certain material.
While on Friday the New York Times wrote an editorial entitled “British press freedom under threat”. It said, “Britain has a long tradition of a free inquisitive press. That freedom, so essential to democratic accountability, is being challenged by the Conservative-Liberal coalition government of Prime Minster David Cameron.”
The op-ed added that Britain, unlike the US has no constitutional guarantee of press freedom.
“Parliamentary committees and the police are now exploiting that lack of protection to harass, intimidate and possibly prosecute the Guardian newspaper,” the leader read.
Frank La Rue’s intervention comes just days after a delegation of some of the world’s leading editors and publishers announced they were coming to Britain on a “press freedom mission”.
The trip is being organized by the Paris based, World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), and will arrive on UK soil in January. WAN-IFRA says it will include key newspaper figures from up to five continents and that this is the first mission of this kind to the UK ever.
The delegation is expected to meet government leaders and the opposition, as well as press industry figures and civil society and freedom of speech organizations. Their discussions are expected to focus on the political pressure brought to bear on the Guardian.
“We are concerned that these actions not only seriously damage the United Kingdom’s historic international reputation as a staunch defender of press freedom, but provide encouragement to non-democratic regimes to justify their own repressive actions,” Vincent Peyregne, the Chief of the WAN-IFRA, told the Guardian.
newspaper posed a threat to the UK national security.
Also in October, British Prime Minister David Cameron called on The Guardian and other newspapers to show “social responsibility” in the reporting of the leaked NSA files to avoid high court injunctions or the use of D-notices to prevent the publication of information that could damage national security.
La Rue’s remarks come as an international delegation is set to visit Britain over growing concerns about press freedom in the country and a government crackdown on media reporting leaks and scandals.
Organized by the World Association of Newspaper and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), the delegation, which includes publishers and editors from five continents, will arrive in January.
The team will reportedly meet with government, opposition figures and media representatives.
The United States intelligence community’s research arm is set to launch a program that will thoroughly broaden the capabilities of biometric facial recognition software in order to establish an individual’s identity.
The Janus program of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA) will begin in April 2014 in an effort to “radically expand the range of conditions under which automated face recognition can establish identity,” according to documents released by the agency over the weekend.
Janus “seeks to improve face recognition performance using representations developed from real-world video and images instead of from calibrated and constrained collections. During daily activities, people laugh, smile, frown, yawn and morph their faces into a broad variety of expressions. For each face, these expressions are formed from unique skeletal and musculature features that are similar through one’s lifetime. Janus representations will exploit the full morphological dynamics of the face to enable better matching and faster retrieval.”
Current facial recognition relies mostly on full-frontal, aligned facial views. But, in the words of Military & Aerospace Electronics, Janus will fuse “the rich spatial, temporal, and contextual information available from the multiple views captured by security cameras, cell phone cameras, news video, and other sources referred to as ‘media in the wild.’”
In addition, Janus will take into account aging and incomplete or ambiguous data for its recognition assessment goals.
IARPA was created in 2006 and is a division of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The intelligence agency is modeled after DARPA, the Pentagon’s notorious research arm that fosters technology for future military utilization.
In-Q-Tel, a not-for-profit venture capital firm run by the Central Intelligence Agency, invests in companies that develop facial recognition software.
In an age of ubiquitous surveillance video amid a severe lag of legal protections for privacy, civil liberties advocates are expressing concern.
IARPA’s effort to significantly boost facial recognition capabilities “represents a quantum leap in the amount of surveillance taking place in public places,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, as quoted by USA Today.
Stanley noted that law enforcement and the like could easily run random facial recognition programs over surveillance video to assess the identities of crowds in public places without oversight.
IARPA gave industry representatives a solicitation briefing on the program in June, according to media reports.
Late last month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation published a request for information in developing “a roadmap for the FBI’s future video analytics architecture” as the agency prepares to make its high-tech surveillance abilities all the more powerful.
In September, the Department of Homeland Security tested its Biometric Optical Surveillance System (BOSS) at a junior hockey game in Washington state. When it’s fully operational, BOSS could be used to identify a person of interest among a massive crowd in just seconds.
Over the summer, the state of Ohio admitted it had access to a facial recognition database that included all state-wide driver’s license photos and mug shots without the public’s knowledge.
Congress has taken the first step towards expanding the abilities of the United States intelligence community by advancing a draft bill that will ensure the government’s spy budget stays intact into next year.
A Senate commitee approved the 2014 Intelligence Authorization Act during a closed door session on Tuesday, a bill that if signed into law will allow the US National Security Agency and other departments to keep receiving funding amid an international scandal that has caused calls for reform and even abolishment of the NSA both in the US and abroad in recent months.
Notwithstanding the backlash brought on by an array of secret NSA documents disclosed to the media by contractor-turned-leaked Edward Snowden since June, the Senate Intelligence Committee passed the draft bill by a 13-2 vote. Next, the full chamber will weigh in on the matter before it is reconciled with a sister act by way of the House of Representatives and sent to President Barack Obama to be signed into law.
If approved with all of its current provisions in place, the law will let the government continue to fund programs operated for purposes of counterterrorism and nuclear weapon proliferation prevention, authorizing initiatives within more than a dozen federal departments, including the NSA and others that deal in covert, intelligence-gathering operations.
In a press release issued Tuesday by the committee, however, its members also acknowledged that the bill expands certain intelligence community operations, including in particular the very programs enacted to prevent the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.
The bill, the committee wrote, “includes important provisions to enhance the conduct, accountability and oversight of the intelligence activities of the United States,” such as one intended “to protect against insider threats by adding necessary funds to deploy information technology detection systems across the intelligence community.”
The bill would also empower the Director of National Intelligence to “improve the government’s process to investigate . . . individuals with security clearances to access classified information,” while at same time “Instituting new statutory protections that protect the ability of legitimate whistleblowers to bring concerns directly to the attention of lawmakers, inspectors general and intelligence community leaders.”
Since the identity of the NSA leaker was revealed to be 30-year-old Edward Snowden, opponents of his actions have suggested that alternative, legal routes to questions the intelligence community’s tactics could have been taken, such as appealing to an inspector general. History, however, suggests that recent whistleblowers before him had a nearly impossible time doing as much, including Thomas Drake, a former senior NSA executive who was charged under the Espionage Act after he attempted to draw attention to waste, fraud and abuse within his agency years earlier. Speaking at an anti-NSA rally in Washington last month, Drake told a crowd of a couple thousand, “Any domestic surveillance legislation must include whistleblower protection for the credibility and enforcement of any reform effort, otherwise secrecy enforced by repression will turn into a faux reform passed into simply an honor system” for the NSA.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Committee Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia said, “This year’s intelligence authorization bill achieves both objectives by providing clear guidance and appropriate resources to the intelligence community, while enhancing the committee’s oversight of vital intelligence activities.”
If signed into law, the act will allow for funding to continue with regards to a number of intelligence-gathering operations conducted not just by the likes of the NSA, but also the Central Intelligence Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Departments of Defense, State, Treasury, Energy and Justice, among others.