The Supreme Court announced Monday morning that it would not be considering at this time a complaint filed months earlier that challenged the legality of the National Security Agency’s dragnet telephone surveillance program.
The high court issued a notice early Monday without comment acknowledging that it would not be weighing in on a matter introduced this past June by a privacy watchdog group after NSA leaker Edward Snowden revealed evidence showing that the United States intelligence agency was collecting metadata pertaining to the phone calls of millions of American customers of the telecommunications company Verizon on a regular basis.
That disclosure — the first of many NSA documents leaked by Mr. Snowden — prompted the Washington, DC-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC, to ask the Supreme Court to consider taking action that would end the collection of phone records on a major scale.
When EPIC filed their petition in June, they wrote, “We believe that the NSA’s collection of domestic communications contravenes the First and Fourth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and violates several federal privacy laws, including the Privacy Act of 1974 and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 as amended.”
“We ask the NSA to immediately suspend collection of solely domestic communications pending the competition of a public rulemaking as required by law. We intend to renew our request each week until we receive your response,” EPIC said.
Five months later, though, the Supreme Court said this week that it would not be hearing EPIC’s plea. A document began circulating early Monday in which the high court listed the petition filed by the privacy advocates as denied.
With other cases still pending, however, alternative routes may eventually lead to reform of the NSA’s habits on some level. Lower courts are still in the midst of deciding what action they will take with regards to similar lawsuits filed by other groups in response to the Snowden leaks and the revelations they made possible. The American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and conservative legal activist Larry Klayman have filed separate civil lawsuits in various US District Courts challenging the NSA’s program, all of which are still pending.
Cindy Cohn, the legal director of the EFF, told the Washington Post only weeks after the first Snowden leak appeared that the disclosures had been a “tremendous boon” to other matters being litigated, and pointed to no fewer than five previously-filed complaints challenging various government-led surveillance programs.
“Now that this secret surveillance program has been disclosed, and now that Congressional leaders and legal scholars agree it is unlawful, we have a chance for the Supreme Court to weigh in,” EPIC lead counsel Alan Butler told The Verge on Monday.
- Supreme Court blocks challenge to NSA phone tracking (theverge.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.
British intelligence agency GCHQ has helped counterpart entities in France, Germany, Spain, and Sweden develop methods of mass surveillance of internet and phone traffic in the last five years, a new report reveals.
Documents supplied by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden to the Guardian show the UK Government Communications Headquarters’ (GCHQ) enormous influence throughout Europe. The documents detail how the agency developed and promoted spying processes, built relationships with telecommunication companies, and evaded national laws that constrain the surveillance powers of intelligence agencies.
In the wake of outrage expressed over the past week across Europe regarding newly exposed NSA surveillance of European countries – including intercepted communications and the monitoring of phones belonging to officials such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel – documents released Friday by the Guardian show major European countries’ culpability in mass surveillance efforts shepherded by the GCHQ.
The GCHQ is part of the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence-sharing partnership between Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States.
US intelligence officials said the monitoring that received so much indignation from powers like Germany and France was carried out by those countries’ own intelligence agencies and later shared with the US.
In June, the Guardian revealed the GCHQ’s Tempora program, in which the agency tapped into transatlantic fiber-optic cables to execute bulk surveillance. Germany’s justice minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, said at the time that the program sounded “like a Hollywood nightmare” and warned that free societies and actions hidden under “a veil of secrecy” are not compatible.
A nation-by-nation scorecard
In a 2008 survey of European partners, the GCHQ marveled at Germany’s capabilities to produce Tempora-like surveillance. The British service said the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) had “huge technological potential and good access to the heart of the internet – they are already seeing some bearers running at 40Gbps and 100Gbps.” The term ‘bearers’ refers to the fiber-optic cables. Gigabits per second (Gbps) measures the speed at which data runs through them.
The documents also show the British were advising German counterparts on how to change or evade laws that restricted advanced surveillance efforts. “We have been assisting the BND (along with SIS [Secret Intelligence Service] and Security Service) in making the case for reform or reinterpretation of the very restrictive interception legislation in Germany,” the survey says.
The report also lauds the GCHQ’s French partner, the General Directorate for External Security (DGSE), especially for its cozy relationship with an unnamed telecommunications company.
“DGSE are a highly motivated, technically competent partner, who have shown great willingness to engage on IP [internet protocol] issues, and to work with GCHQ on a ‘cooperate and share’ basis.”
The GCHQ expressed desire to benefit from the DGSE’s relationship with the company.
“We have made contact with the DGSE’s main industry partner, who has some innovative approaches to some internet challenges, raising the potential for GCHQ to make use of this company in the protocol development arena.”
The GCHQ’s work with its French counterpart led to improved capabilities to carry out bulk surveillance, despite growing commercial emphasis on encryption.
“Very friendly crypt meeting with DGSE in July,” British officials said. French intelligence officials were “clearly very keen to provide presentations on their work which included cipher detection in high-speed bearers. [GCHQ's] challenge is to ensure that we have enough UK capability to support a longer term crypt relationship.”
New opportunities in future partnerships
GCHQ ties to Spain’s intelligence service, the National Intelligence Centre (CNI), were bolstered by Spain’s connections to an unnamed British telecom company, giving them “fresh opportunities and uncovering some surprising results.
“GCHQ has not yet engaged with CNI formally on IP exploitation, but the CNI have been making great strides through their relationship with a UK commercial partner. GCHQ and the commercial partner have been able to coordinate their approach. The commercial partner has provided the CNI some equipment whilst keeping us informed, enabling us to invite the CNI across for IP-focused discussions this autumn,” the survey said. It reported that the GCHQ “have found a very capable counterpart in CNI, particularly in the field of Covert Internet Ops.”
When Sweden passed a 2008 law allowing its National Defence Radio Establishment (FRA) to execute Tempora-like surveillance via fiber-optic cables, the GCHQ said in the report that “FRA have obtained a…probe to use as a test-bed and we expect them to make rapid progress in IP exploitation following the law change.” The GCHQ went on to express delight in future partnerships with FRA after the law passed.
The survey found strong ties between the GCHQ and Dutch external and internal intelligence services MIVD and AIVD, respectively.
“Both agencies are small, by UK standards, but are technically competent and highly motivated,” British officials said.
The GCHQ also helped AIVD in handling legal constraints to spying.
“The Dutch have some legislative issues that they need to work through before their legal environment would allow them to operate in the way that GCHQ does. We are providing legal advice on how we have tackled some of these issues to Dutch lawyers.”
Contrary to the other nations’ positive marks, the GCHQ country-by-country scorecard shows Italy’s intelligence agencies to be riddled with internal strife.
“GCHQ has had some CT [counter-terrorism] and internet-focused discussions with both the foreign intelligence agency (AISE) and the security service (AISI), but has found the Italian intelligence community to be fractured and unable/unwilling to cooperate with one another,” the report said.
A follow-up six months later noted the GCHQ still saw legal constraints in Italy as hampering AISI’s ability to cooperate.
This latest disclosure calls into question how involved the countries were in the overall surveillance of global citizens and world leaders led by the NSA and GCHQ.
In an unexpected twist in the NSA scandal, spy chief Keith Alexander has blamed US diplomats for ordering surveillance on EU politicians. Meanwhile, State Secretary John Kerry has admitted espionage “reached too far,” alleging it was on “automatic pilot.”
Indicating a rift between the White House and the NSA, Director of the spy organization, Keith Alexander, has accused “policy makers” and “diplomats” for dictating the targets for surveillance. In a heated exchange, former ambassador to Romania, James Carew Rosapepe, challenged Alexander to justify spying on US allies, reported the Guardian.
“We all joke that everyone is spying on everyone,” he said. “But that is not a national security justification,” said Rosapepe.
Alexander replied sharply to the question, alleging ambassadors had a hand in ordering spy activities.
“That is a great question, in fact as an ambassador you have part of the answer. Because we the intelligence agencies don’t come up with the requirements, the policymakers come up with the requirements,” Alexander said.
He added sarcastically: “One of those groups would have been, let me think, hold on, oh! – ambassadors.”
Passing the buck
As the NSA points the finger at the Obama Administration for ordering the mass surveillance of European citizens, the White House is seeking to distance itself from the scandal, intimating the NSA was acting of its own volition.
Secretary of State John Kerry addressed the accusations, that the NSA recorded millions of European citizens’ telephone calls, in a video conference to London on Thursday. Kerry conceded that US surveillance had “reached too far” and stated that the NSA had been conducting its espionage on “automatic pilot.”
“In some cases, I acknowledge to you, as has the president, that some of these actions have reached too far, and we are going to make sure that does not happen in the future,” Kerry said, stressing an inquiry is currently underway to reassess American intelligence gathering programs.
Washington came under fire this week when a delegation from the EU came to get answers over the NSA’s activities in Europe. According to the revelations released by former CIA worker, Edward Snowden, to the press, the US not only targeted regular citizens, but also businessmen and high-profile politicians.
The White House did not give many answers to the delegation, they instead sought to justify espionage in Europe as a measure to protect against terrorism.
“It is much more important for this country that we defend this nation and take the beatings than it is to give up a program that would result in us being attacked,” Alexander told the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee on Wednesday. He went on to say that the US only collected data related to warzones in the Middle East.
Whistleblower Edward Snowden has met with a German MP in Moscow. He passed a letter addressed to the German government and federal public prosecutor where he allegedly said he is ready to testify over Washington’s probable wiretapping of Merkel’s phone.
During the meeting, Snowden made it “clear that he knows a lot,” Greens lawmaker Hans-Christian Stroebele told ARD channel.
“He expressed his principle readiness to help clarify the situation. Basis for this is what we must create. That’s what we discussed for a long time and from all angles,” the MP said. “He is essentially prepared to come to Germany and give testimony, but the conditions must be discussed.”
Stroebele, 74, is a member of the German parliament’s control committee which is responsible for monitoring the work of intelligence agencies.
Snowden wouldn’t be able to travel to Germany to give evidence, as that would effectively see his refugee status lifted. If that were to happen, it would be possible for him to be extradited to the US, Interfax news agency quoted an unknown source as saying.
“At the same time, the German General Prosecutor’s Office could in principle send its representatives to Russia or pass its written questions on to Edward Snowden,” the same source said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has dispatched the country’s top foreign affairs and intelligence advisers to Washington this week to further investigate the allegations that her cell phone was tapped by the NSA, the report which caused fierce outrage in Germany.
The scandal initially broke when journalists working with Snowden’s leaked documents contacted the German government for clarification. German politicians subsequently suggested involving Snowden as a witness in the wiretapping case.
The German Federal Prosecutor’s Office may summon Snowden to be a witness in the case, German justice minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger told Deutschlandfunk radio on Sunday.
“If our suspicions prove correct and a case is opened, the German Federal Prosecutor’s Office will have to consider the possibility of interrogating Snowden as a witness,” she said.
If Snowden were to come to Germany for the case, the EU country could breach US’ requests for extradition, the minister added.
Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger also said that the phone tapping is illegal and constitutes a crime, therefore those responsible should be held accountable.
A parliamentary session will be held on November 18 to discuss the phone tapping. The Greens, along with the far-left Die Linke party, previously asked for a public inquiry into the matter. They were the ones to call on witnesses, including Snowden.
In June, Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor who disclosed secret US surveillance programs, fled to Hong Kong and then to Russia.
President Vladimir Putin rejected US demands to extradite Snowden to face charges including espionage.
In early August, Snowden was granted temporary asylum, which can be extended annually.
US intelligence agencies are using Australian embassies throughout Asia to intercept data and gather information across the continent, according to the latest report based on documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Data collection facilities operate out of the embassies in Jakarta, Bangkok, Hanoi, Bejing, and Dili, according to Fairfax media. There are also units in the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, the most populated city in Malaysia, and Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea.
More intelligence collection occurs at US embassies and consulates, as well as at the diplomatic outposts of other ‘Five Eye’ nations, particularly Britain and Canada. The Defence Signals Directorate, which falls under the Australian Defence Agency, conducts the surveillance missions, and most Australian diplomatic officers are completely unaware of such activity, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
The ‘Five Eyes’ is an alliance for intelligence cooperation that includes the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The document released by Der Spiegel, codenamed ‘STATEROOM,’ indicates the outfits “are small in size and in number of personnel staffing them… They are covert, and their true mission is not known by the majority of the diplomatic staff at the facility where they are assigned.”
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs refused comment on the story, saying it is against government policy to speak on intelligence activity.
The NSA document viewed by Der Spiegel also proves that the intelligence missions are hidden: “For example antennas are sometimes hidden in false architectural features or roof maintenance sheds.”
The Jakarta unit, in particular, is a hotbed of information. “The huge growth of mobile phone networks has been a great boon and Jakarta’s political elite are a loquacious bunch; even when they think their own intelligence services are listening they just keep talking,” a source said.
The disclosure comes as US President Barack Obama is reportedly considering suspending all surveillance efforts against American allies. He is facing growing pressure from the international community after reports questioned whether the NSA monitored the personal cell phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Another leak this week revealed that the US swept up more than 60 million phone calls from Spain in one month alone.
European leaders, once reluctant to demonize the surveillance, now openly wonder if the surveillance was ever employed to stop terrorism, as US leaders have maintained all along. German leaders have suggested renegotiating a deal known as the SWIFT pact, which allows the US to track the flow of what it suspects are terrorist finances.
“It really isn’t enough to be outraged,” German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schanarrenberger told rbb-Inforadio this week. “This would be a signal that something can happen and make clear to the Americans that the [EU’s] policy is changing.”
Yet intelligence officers speaking to Fairfax Media now say that it is good to stop terrorism and international crime, “but the main focus is political, diplomatic and economic intelligence.”
Despite having front-door access to communications transmitted across the biggest Internet companies on Earth, the National Security Agency has been secretly tapping into the two largest online entities in the world, new leaked documents reveal.
Those documents, supplied by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and obtained by the Washington Post, suggest that the US intelligence agency and its British counterpart have compromised data passed through the computers of Google and Yahoo, the two biggest companies in the world with regards to overall Internet traffic, and in turn allowed those country’s governments and likely their allies access to hundreds of millions of user accounts from individuals around the world.
“From undisclosed interception points, the NSA and GCHQ are copying entire data flows across fiber-optic cables that carry information between the data centers of the Silicon Valley giants,” the Post’s Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani reported on Wednesday.
The document providing evidence of such was among the trove of files supplied by Mr. Snowden and is dated January 9, 2013, making it among the most recent top-secret files attributed to the 30-year-old whistleblower.
Both Google and Yahoo responded to the report, with the former’s response being the most forceful.
Google’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, said the company was “outraged” by the allegations.
“We have long been concerned about the possibility of this kind of snooping, which is why we have continued to extend encryption across more and more Google services and links, especially the links in the slide,” said Drummond, implying the web giant had been caught by surprise by the revelations..
“We do not provide any government, including the US government, with access to our systems. We are outraged at the lengths to which the government seems to have gone to intercept data from our private fiber networks, and it underscores the need for urgent reform.”
Yahoo likewise implied it was not actively cooperating with the NSA in granting the agency access to its data infrastructure.
“We have strict controls in place to protect the security of our data centers, and we have not given access to our data centers to the NSA or to any other government agency,” the company said via statement.
Gen. Keith Alexander, the head of the NSA, told reporters Wednesday afternoon, “I don’t know what the report is,” according to Politico, and said his agency is “not authorized” to tap into Silicon Valley companies. When asked if the NSA tapped into the data centers, Alexander said, “Not to my knowledge.”
Earlier this year, separate documentation supplied by Mr. Snowden disclosed evidence of PRISM, an NSA-operated program that the intelligence company conducted to target the users of Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL and Apple services. When that program was disclosed by the Guardian newspaper in June, reporters there said it allowed the NSA to “collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats” while having direct access to the companies’ servers, at times with the “assistance of communication providers in the US.”
According to the latest leak, the NSA and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters are conducting similar operations targeting the users of at least two of these companies, although this time under utmost secrecy.
“The infiltration is especially striking because the NSA, under a separate program known as PRISM, has front-door access to Google and Yahoo user accounts through a court-approved process,” the Post noted.
And while top-brass in the US intelligence community defended PRISM and said it did not target American Internet users, the newest program — codenamed MUSCULAR — sweeps up data pertaining to the accounts of many Americans, the Post acknowledged.
The MUSCULAR program, according to Wednesday’s leak, involves a process in which the NSA and GCHQ intercept communications overseas, where lax restrictions and oversight allow the agencies access to intelligence with ease.
“NSA documents about the effort refer directly to ‘full take,’ ‘bulk access’ and ‘high volume’ operations on Yahoo and Google networks,” the Post reported. “Such large-scale collection of Internet content would be illegal in the United States, but the operations take place overseas, where the NSA is allowed to presume that anyone using a foreign data link is a foreigner.”
To do as much, the NSA and GCHQ rely on capturing information being sent between company data centers around the globe, intercepting those bits and bytes in transit by tapping in as information is moved from the “Public Internet” to the private “clouds” operated by the likes of Google and Yahoo. Those cloud systems involve the linking of international data centers, each processing and containing huge troves of user information for potentially millions of customers. Intelligence officers who can sneak through the cracks when information is decrypted — or never encrypted in the first place — can then see the information sent in real time as take “a retrospective look at target activity,” according to documents seen by the Post.
“Because digital communications and cloud storage do not usually adhere to national boundaries, MUSCULAR and a previously disclosed NSA operation to collect Internet address books have amassed content and metadata on a previously unknown scale from US citizens and residents” Barton and Soltani reported.
“Data are an essentially global commodity, and the backup processes of companies often mean that data is replicated many places across the world,” The Post’s Andrea Peterson added in a separate report. “So just because you sent an e-mail in the US, doesn’t mean it will always stay within the nation’s borders for its entire life in the cloud.”
As data goes into those facilities outside of the US, the NSA and GCHQ have more tactics to deploy in order to obtain private communications. Additionally, Yahoo has not nor do they now have any plans to deploy encryption technology to secure communications, suggesting the data of their millions of users was passed in-the-clear through international data centers, ripe to be intercepted by the intelligence community.
“Google and Yahoo generally connect their data centers over privately owned or leased fiber-optic cables, which do not share traffic with other Internet users and companies, to enable the tasted connections and keep information secure,” Gellman added in a separate article authored alongside the Post’s Todd Linderman. “Until recently, these internal data networks were not encrypted. Google announced in September, however, that it is moving quickly to encrypt those connections. Yahoo’s data center links are not encrypted.”
“It’s an arms race,” Eric Grosse, Google’s vice president for security engineering, told the Post last month. “We see these government agencies as among the most skilled players in this game.”
After hearing ot the MUSCULAR program by the Post, Google said in a statement that they were “troubled by allegations of the government intercepting traffic between our data centers, and we are not aware of this activity.”
“We have long been concerned about the possibility of this kind of snooping, which is why we continue to extend encryption across more and more Google services and links,” the company said.
“We have strict controls in place to protect the security of our data centers, and we have not given access to our data centers to the NSA or to any other government agency,” insisted Yahoo.
Only hours before the latest Snowden leak was made public, NSA Director Keith Alexander told a Congressional panel that the illegal, unconstitutional revelations helped terrorist intent on killing Americans. Answering a question from Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota) about the effect of the leaks on national security, Alexander and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper both said the disclosure have and will continue to cause major damage to the US.
At that same hearing, Alexander admitted that the NSA “compels” telecommunication companies to provide the government with user intelligence.
“Nothing that has been released has shown that we’re trying to do something illegal or unprofessional,” Alexander added.
Brazil is urging a plan to introduce local data storage for Internet giants like Facebook and Google in order to keep the information they get from Brazilian users safe –as part of a complex of measures to oppose US spying.
The new law could impact Google, Facebook, Twitter and other Internet global companies that operate in Brazil, Latin America’s biggest country and one of the world’s largest telecommunications markets.
The country’s president, Dilma Rousseff, is urging lawmakers to vote as early as this week on the law, according to Reuters who have seen the draft of the legislation.
“The government can oblige Internet service companies … to install and use centers for the storage, management and dissemination of data within the national territory,” the draft of the document read.
Rousseff’s calls come after surveillance leaks by the US in Brazil that went as far as tracking the personal phone calls and e-mails of the President herself.
Last month, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff canceled a scheduled meeting at the White House after leaked documents showed the NSA spied on her country’s state oil company.
“We are not regulating the way information flows, just requiring that data on Brazilians be stored in Brazil so it is subject to the jurisdiction of Brazilian courts,” Rousseff spokesman Thomas Traumann said. “This has nothing to do with global communications.”
However, the companies disagree saying that the legislation will increase costs of services, and damage the economic activity connected with information.
Last week a coalition of business groups representing dozens of Internet companies including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and eBay sent a letter to Brazilian lawmakers.
“In-country data storage requirements would detrimentally impact all economic activity that depends on data flows,” the letter read, Reuters reported.
Many also threatened the law will scare the companies, while others, nevertheless, were of the opinion that the companies would comply if faced with no other options.
This week, Brazil is expected to vote on a cyber-security bill to create a state system to protect the country’s citizens from spying.
When the news on the bill emerged two weeks ago, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff tweeted the news, stressing the need for greater security “to prevent possible espionage.”
The latest legislation project comes against a backdrop of Brazil set to host a conference next April to debate ways to guard Internet privacy from espionage.
The meeting is to be held by ICAAN, the body that manages web domain names. It is thought to be neutral and includes governments, civil society and industry.
Meanwhile, BRICS companies are working to create a “new Internet”.
In particular, Brazil has been reported to be building a “BRICS cable” that will create an independent link between Brazil, South Africa, India, China and Russia, in order to bypass NSA cables and avoid spying.
The cable is set to go from the Brazilian town of Fortaleza to the Russian town of Vladivostok via Cape Town, Chennai and Shantou.
The length of the fiber-optic cable will be almost 35,000 kilometers, making it one of the most ambitious underwater telecom projects ever attempted.
Last week, most of the BRICS countries joined talks to hammer out a UN resolution that would condemn “indiscriminate” and “extra-territorial” surveillance, and ensure “independent oversight” of electronic monitoring.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that “contacts [between Moscow and Washington] never stop,” when asked if the latest publication of secret files leaked by the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor would affect relations between Russia and the US.
Also, Lavrov made it clear that the situation surrounding Snowden is irrelevant to Russia.
“We have formulated our position on Snowden and have said everything,” he said.
- China echoes Brazil’s call for cyberspace guidelines (thebricspost.com)
Twenty-one countries, including US allies France and Mexico, have now joined talks to hammer out a UN resolution that would condemn “indiscriminate” and “extra-territorial” surveillance, and ensure “independent oversight” of electronic monitoring.
The news was reported by Foreign Policy magazine, which has also obtained a copy of the draft text.
The resolution was proposed earlier this week by Germany and Brazil, whose leaders have been some of the most vocal critics of the comprehensive spying methods of the US National Security Agency.
It appears to have gained additional traction after the Guardian newspaper published an internal NSA memo sourced from whistleblower Edward Snowden on Friday, which revealed that at least 35 heads of state had their phones tapped by American intelligence officials.
One of those is likely German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Earlier this week the White House failed to deny that her personal cell phone had been tapped in the past, though it claims that it no longer listens in on Merkel’s private conversations.
Other countries involved in the talks reportedly include Argentina, Austria, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Guyana, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Liechtenstein, Norway, Paraguay, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Uruguay and Venezuela.
While the document does not single out the US as the chief electronic spy, its text seems to be a direct response to alleged NSA practices.
The draft says that UN member states are “deeply concerned at human rights violations and abuses that may result from the conduct of extra-territorial surveillance or interception of communications in foreign jurisdictions.”
Snowden’s leaks over the past months have revealed that NSA intercepts data directly from data cables stationed around the world. Internal documents also showed that American intelligence staff did not need a warrant or any other legal basis to freely spy on a non-US citizen.
The proposed document also claims that “illegal surveillance of private communications and the indiscriminate interception of personal data of citizens constitutes a highly intrusive act that violates the rights to freedom of expression and privacy and threatens the foundations of a democratic society.”
As opposed to the targeted spying of the past, where agencies would tap a specific phone or intercept letters addressed to a person, new technologies mean that almost all data that passes through the internet is saved onto the NSA servers. This includes private emails, web searches, and personal data of billions of people. NSA agents then fish out the needed information with precise searches.
The resolution, which is expected to be presented in front of the U.N. General Assembly human rights committee before the end of the year, turns NSA’s activities into an issue of fundamental rights as opposed to international politics, requiring the High Commissioner for Human Rights to present the world community with a report on the issue. The draft also asks to institute “independent oversight mechanisms” that would curb the untrammelled surveillance, though it does not specify how such a secretive activity could be effectively supervised.
The German Chancellor’s mobile phone has been on an NSA target list since 2002 and was code-named “GE Chancellor Merkel”, according to Der Spiegel. The paper also reports that President Obama assured Merkel that he did not know her phone was tapped.
The monitoring operation was still in force even a few weeks before Obama’s visit to Berlin in June 2013.
In the NSA’s Special Collection Service (SCS) document cited by the magazine, the agency said it had a “not legally registered spying branch” in the US embassy in Berlin. It also warned that its exposure would lead to “grave damage for the relations of the United States to another government”.
Using the spying branch, NSA and CIA staff were tapping communications in Berlin’s government district with high-tech surveillance.
The magazine says that according to a secret document from 2010, such branches existed in about 80 locations around the world, including Paris, Madrid, Rome, Prague, Geneva and Frankfurt.
However, it is unclear, Der Spiegel reports, if the SCS obtained recorded conversations or just connection data.
President Obama, however, told Merkel that he was not aware that her phone was bugged, if he had known, he would have immediately stopped it, Der Spiegel reports as it also disclosed the recent conversation between the two.
The German newspaper cites the Chancellor’s office, which said that during Wednesday’s call Obama expressed his deep regret and apologized to the Chancellor.
Earlier, Barack Obama assured Merkel that his country was not monitoring her communications, but failed to confirm or deny the tapping took place in the past.
Speaking to her German counterpart, Susan E. Rice, the President’s national security adviser, also insisted that Obama did not know about the monitoring of Merkel’s phone, and said it was not currently happening. However, she also failed to deny it happened in the past.
Angela Merkel called President Obama over the German government’s suspicions the US could have tapped her mobile phone on Wednesday.
Following the call, US ambassador to Germany Steffen Seibert stated that Merkel had made clear to Obama that if the information proved trued it would be “completely unacceptable” and represent a “grave breach of trust”.
A few days earlier, the US President had to convince his French colleague of the same issues.
The Le Monde newspaper reported earlier this week that the NSA spied on the agency records of millions of phone calls of top French politicians and business people. Later The Guardian revealed citing former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that the leadership of 35 nations was spied on; the list of countries however did not follow.
In response to allegations, Obama promised that the US secret service would revise its methods of working in order to both provide the security of citizens and not to interfere with their privacy.
Germany will send heads of its foreign and domestic intelligence agencies to Washington to hold talks with the White House and the National Security Agency in order to push forward” an investigation into allegations the US spied on its leader.”
“What exactly is going to be regulated, how and in what form it will be negotiated and by whom, I cannot tell you right now,” German government spokesman Georg Streiter told reporters.
German media citing sources close to the intelligence service reported on Saturday that the delegation will include top officials from the German secret service.
Earlier, Germany and France said they want “a no-spy deal” with the US to be signed by the end of the year.
The Foreign Policy reported on Saturday that 21 one countries are now participating in talks over a draft UN General Resolution aimed at holding back US government surveillance.
EU leaders say their relations with the US have been undermined by reports of NSA spying on European leaders and ordinary citizens.
A partnership with America should be built on respect and trust, they said in a joint statement on Friday.
“[The leaders] stressed that intelligence gathering is a vital element in the fight against terrorism,” the BBC cites the statement as reading. “A lack of trust could prejudice the necessary cooperation in the field of intelligence gathering.”
The European Parliament recently voted for the suspension of US access to the global financial database held by a Belgian company because of concerns that the US is snooping on the database for financial gain rather than just to combat terrorism.
However, anti-war activist Richard Becker doubted President Obama did not know the German Chancellor’s phone was bugged.
“These kinds of assertions are comical,” he told RT. “It shows that the US’ relationship with other countries is based on its notion of its “American exceptionalism.” There is in fact an American exceptionalism – no other country in the world spies on everybody else and all of the countries and feels free to intervene in all other countries,” he said.
Becker says the spying scandal shows “the nature of the relationships” between the US and other states.
“Even among the allies they are in contention and competition among each other and not to mention the kind of relationship that is carried out against those countries that the US considers its enemies,” he said.
Everyday communications of Italians are also on the watch list of the US National Security Agency, a new report has revealed. While an Italian parliamentary committee seeks clarification of NSA activities, local security sources defend the snooping.
Italy’s spy watchdog COPASIR has recently learned details of large-scale monitoring of Italians by the US intelligence agency NSA, according to a report published by Corriere della Sera.
COPASIR stands for Parliamentary Committee for the Intelligence and Security Services and for State Secret Control, and is tasked with overseeing the activities of Italy’s own spy agencies. The body has free access to intelligence agencies’ offices and documents and has the authority to overcome judicial and banking secrecy.
In order to confirm the snooping on Italians, the committee members had to go to the United States and meet with US intelligence agency directors, as well as with congressional committee chairs.
A delegation of parliamentarians from the COPASIR confirmed their concerns regarding the extent of the NSA’s PRISM surveillance program during an official visit to the US three weeks ago, the media said. As part of the program, phone calls and computer communications of “millions of Italians” are reportedly being gathered.
Moreover, Corriere della Sera added that the implications extended to “a monitoring network that started years ago and is still active,” of which the Italian government and spy agencies might have been well aware of.
Such discoveries have prompted uneasy questions to officials, with leading members of COPASIR now seeking clarification from the government, and reportedly awaiting the junior minister for the intelligence services, Marco Minniti, to visit the committee’s offices on Wednesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, Italian intelligence sources quoted in the report rushed to justify the surveillance activities of their partners.
The acquisition of the sensitive private information “has as its sole aim the fight against terrorism,” one source was quoted as saying, while another denied that the NSA’s spying ever breached Italy’s sovereignty.
“We have never had any evidence that this kind of monitoring might have involved political spying on Italian public figures. All our investigations into any such eventuality have proved negative,” the source maintained.
However, such explanations did not satisfy COPASIR, nor did the NSA deputy director’s promise of “a complete overview of communications to and from the United States.”
According to the Italian media, the committee member Claudio Fava from Left Ecology Freedom (SEL) party, was “openly perplexed” as he commented on such statements.
“It’s a data trawling system based on various sensors. US intelligence experts explained that their main concern was to comply with American data protection laws and intervene to safeguard national security. Whether this conflicts with other countries’ laws is of no concern to them but it should be to us,” Fava was quoted as saying.
Another COPASIR member, Felice Casson of the Democratic Party (PD), said that the replies the committee received from top Italian intelligence officials were “far from reassuring.”
“It is clear that the United States has acquired information on individuals and institutions across Europe. What concrete elements exist to rule out that this has happened to politicians and institutions in Italy?” Casson questioned.
Leading Democratic Party (PD) politician Ettore Rosato also demanded an explanation from the government, saying that “a few months ago, when the first [NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s] revelations emerged, both the prime minister, Enrico Letta, and the foreign minister, Emma Bonino, professed astonishment at what came out.”
So far, the documents obtained by various world media from the former NSA contractor Snowden have revealed that the Italian embassy in Washington was subject to spying along with the diplomatic missions of other countries. Italian intelligence sources have been careful to deny the claims only “off the record,” Corriere della Sera says.
Right before the NSA scandal emerged, the collaboration between Italian and American intelligence services was “at its peak,” and, according to the media, included sharing of communications through the SIGINT interception system. However, such cooperation appeared to have been justified by the ongoing allied wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the search for western hostages there, the media adds.
But in the wake of recent revelations on the US spying activities in France, which triggered a media frenzy and public outrage, the media speculates Italy may find it difficult to maintain the same “stance” towards the NSA programs.