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.”
In the first ever public hearing, Europe’s human rights court examined Poland’s role in CIA ‘black site’ prisons and torture of suspects.
Lawyers of two terror suspects currently held at the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, accused Poland of abuse during Tuesday’s hearing at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.
The hearing examined claims that Warsaw allowed the CIA to operate a jail for suspected terrorists, who were tortured, in Stare Kiejkuty, a remote village in north-east Poland.
Both suspects said at the hearing that they were brought to Poland in December 2002 with the knowledge of the Polish authorities.
Poland declined to reveal to the court any information saying that it could compromise a separate investigation by Polish prosecutors, and because the court could not guarantee the information would be kept confidential.
“The government does not wish to confirm or deny the facts cited by the applicants,” said Artur Nowak-Far, Under-Secretary of State in the Polish foreign ministry.
The Polish investigation has gone on for five years without an outcome. Polish authorities have never disclosed the investigation’s terms or scope, while human rights groups have accused Warsaw of deliberately postponing the investigation.
The UN Committee Against Torture has criticized the “lengthy delays” and said that it was “also concerned about the secrecy surrounding the investigation and failure to ensure accountability in these cases.”
The lawyers of the two detainees said that the evidence of torture presented to the judges at the hearing will make it harder for the Polish government to close its eyes to the case.
“A really strong and compelling case has been put here, so in that sense the hearing was very encouraging,” said lawyer Helen Duffy, on behalf of Interrights, a human rights group, Reuters reported.
The ECHR is to take several months before issuing a ruling, while no further hearings have been scheduled.
The CIA’s post 9/11 extraordinary rendition and secret detention programs are believed to have involved up to 54 foreign governments which aided the US in its operations in a variety of ways. This included hosting CIA black sites on their territories, detaining, interrogating and torturing suspects, allowing the use of domestic airspace and airports for secret flights transporting detainees, and providing intelligence which aided efforts to the detain and rendition individuals.
American lawmakers have never said where the ‘black site’ prisons were based, but intelligence officials, aviation reports and human rights groups said they included Afghanistan and Thailand as well as Poland, Lithuania and Romania.
Investigators believe a military base in north-eastern Poland was the location of one of the CIA secret prisons between December 2002 and September 2003.
Former US President George W. Bush first acknowledged the secret prisons in 2006 after numerous media reports on the issue. He ordered their closure and announced that many of the detainees would be transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The two detainees – Abd al-Rahim Hussayn Muhammad al-Nashiri, a Saudi Arabian national of Yemeni descent and a Palestinian, Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, also known as Abu Zubaydah – claim that they were waterboarded at the Polish facility during the interrogations. Currently, the two detainees are held under ultra-secure conditions in a section of Guantanamo known as Camp 7 according to a declassified report released in 2009.
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.’
Thousands of demonstrators protesting US drone strikes in Pakistan blocked a main road Saturday in the Peshawar province used to transport NATO supplies to and from Afghanistan.
The protests was led by the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) party, which is led by Imran Khan, a former international cricketer now turned politician.
They were supported by their allies in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government and they were also joined by the Jamaat -i-Islami (JI) and the Awami Jamhoori Ittehad (AJIP) political parties.
“We will put pressure on America, and our protest will continue if drone attacks are not stopped,” Khan told reporters.
“We are here to give a clear message that now Pakistanis cannot remain silent over drone attacks,” said Shah Mehmood Qureshi, a senior member of the PTI, addressing the protesters.
Imran Khan has been a fierce critic of US drone attacks, arguing that they violate Pakistan’s sovereignty. Khan said that the Pakistani government is doing nothing to stop drone attacks except for issuing statements of condemnation and that the protest would continue indefinitely.
Khan stressed that NATO supplies would not be allowed to pass through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, formerly called North-West Frontier Province, and added that the province’s PTI-led government had the mandate to block NATO trucks from passing through its territory.
Earlier Imran Khan had warned that NATO supply routes will be blocked if continuing US drone strikes in Pakistan threaten the country’s peace talks with the Taliban.
An attack on November 1 killed the former leader of the Pakistan Taliban, a day before the Pakistani government said it was going to invite him to peace talks. Officials said they were enraged by the attacks, although the Pakistani government is known to have supported some of the drone attacks in the past.
Party workers from the PTI and the JI travelled to Peshawar from across Pakistan and an estimated 10,000 people participated in Saturday’s protests. The protesters shouted anti US slogans such as “Stop drone attacks” and “Down with America”.
“I am participating in today’s sit-in to convey a message to America that we hate them since they are killing our people in drone attacks. America must stop drone attacks for peace in our country,” Hussain Shah, a 21 year old university student, told Dawn, Pakistan’s oldest and most widely read English-language newspaper.
American drones are performing regular extrajudicial killings of Islamist leaders, accompanied by the collateral damage of many civilian casualties.
Strict security measures were in place Saturday, with 500 police personnel on duty. Trucks were directed to use an alternative route, although Tahir Khan, a government official, said there was normally little NATO traffic Saturday as most of the trucks arrive by Friday night to clear the border crossing.
However, protesters said that they would begin to stop trucks carrying NATO supplies through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa from Sunday night, which could spark conflict with the federal government in Pakistan.
The US embassy in Islamabad declined to comment.
The Afghan President says he will not sign a crucial security pact with the US till after presidential elections next year. Hamid Karzai backs the deal, but does not trust the US.
“The agreement should be signed when the election is conducted, properly and with dignity,” Karzai told the Loya Jirga grand assembly that began on Thursday.
The unexpected statement comes just hours after Secretary of State John Kerry said the two sides had finalized the wording of the agreement.
Karzai said that his deferment would show America’s assurance “that we are moving on the path to security and they are accompanying us on this path.”
A spokesman for the United States Embassy in Kabul declined to comment on Karzai’s plan as it was an on-going diplomatic discussion.
President Karzai told the gathering in Kabul that President Barack Obama had sent a letter assuring him that a security pact between the two states was in Afghanistan’s best interest.
The five-day long 2,500-member national consultative council is set to debate the draft and decide whether US troops will be permitted to stay in the country post-2014.
The deal indicates that up to 15,000 US troops could remain in the country until 2024. But both sides still want final details to be clarified.
One of the main stumbling blocks in reaching the bilateral security agreement was the legal status of American troops on the ground.
On Wednesday the Afghan foreign ministry released a draft security deal, which said that US forces remaining in Afghanistan after 2014 will be under the jurisdiction of the US and not be subject to Afghan courts.
The Loya Jirga’s decision on the 25-page “Security and Defense Cooperation Agreement between the United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan” is expected by Sunday.
The council can revise or reject any part of the draft agreement. After Loya Jirga amendments, the Afghan parliament is set to review the agreement and also make more changes before it is approved.
Despite his statement, Afghanistan’s President said he backs a security deal with the US, but at the same time he acknowledged there was little trust between the two sides.
“My trust with America is not good. I don’t trust them and they don’t trust me,” Karzai said. “During the past 10 years I have fought with them and they have made propaganda against me.”
Karzai’s decision, which came as a surprise even for the closest of the President’s aides, means that the long-debated deal will not be signed before April 5, the day when the presidential election is scheduled.
“This may be misconstrued as if the president wants someone specific [to win] in the elections,” Hedayat Amin Arsala, Karzai’s former vice president, said according to The Wall Street Journal. “I hope that is not the case.”
The US had wanted the agreement signed by the end of October 2013 as it would give military planners time to prepare to keep troops in the country after the scheduled 2014 withdrawal.
Dozens of Texas drivers have been stopped at a police road block, where they were then directed into a parking lot and forced into surrendering blood, saliva and breath samples in a study that has upset civil liberties advocates.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration admitted it was attempting to conduct a government study meant to determine the number of drunk or drug-impaired drivers on the road at any given time.
“It just doesn’t seem right that you can be forced off the road when you’re not doing anything wrong,” Kim Cope, who said she was forced to the side of the road while making her way to lunch, told NBCDFW.com. “I gestured to the guy in front that I just wanted to go straight, but he wouldn’t let me and forced me into the parking spot.”
The tests were made even more mysterious when reporters, alerted to the situation by concerned drivers, were unable to find any officers in the Fort Worth Police Department who had been involved. The NHTSA only admitted its involvement after local media sought answers.
The department, which says its mission is to “save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce vehicle-related crashes,” maintains that participation in the research was completely voluntary. But Ms. Cope said she felt trapped during what seemed to be an investigation.
“I finally did the breathalyzer test just because I thought it would be the easiest way to leave,” she said. “It just doesn’t seem right that they should be able to do any of it. If it’s voluntary, it’s voluntary, and none of it felt voluntary.”
When pressed, the FWPD said it was “reviewing the actions of all police personnel involved to ensure that FWPD policies and procedures were followed.” The NBC affiliate was able to determine that the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, a government contractor, was hired to conduct the check.
An NHTSA spokesperson admitted similar programs were being conducted in 30 other cities throughout the US.
But civil liberties attorney Frank Colosi does not accept the rationale.
“You can’t just be pulled over randomly or for no reason,” he said. “They’re essentially lying to you when they say it’s completely voluntary, because they’re testing you at that moment.”
He added that drivers who refused may have been targeted by police for inadvertently giving the impression they were operating a vehicle under the influence. He also told NBC that fine print on the form told drivers their breath was being tested by “passive alcohol sensor readings before the consent process has been completed.”
This oddity comes just months after Texas state troopers were caught on video conducting vaginal and cavity searches on female drivers at the side of the road. The videos quickly went viral, and attorneys for the women filed federal lawsuits against the troopers.
“It’s ridiculous,” Peter Schulte, a former Texas police officer and prosecutor, told the New York Daily News earlier this year. “I was a law enforcement officer for 16 years and I never saw anything like it.”
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.”
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.
Mass surveillance isn’t something only being conducted by the likes of the National Security Agency anymore. Despite growing concerns brought on by the Summer of Snowden, cities around America are adopting high tech spy tools.
Never mind the negative press the NSA has received in recent weeks after Edward Snowden began leaking top-secret documents to the media pertaining to the United States’ spy group’s broadly scoped surveillance programs. Law enforcement agencies and local leaders in major American cities are nevertheless signing on to install new systems that are affording officials the power to snoop on just about anyone within range.
Seattle, Washington and Las Vegas, Nevada are among the latest locales in the US to acquire surveillance tools, the likes of which were both discussed in regional media reports over the weekend that are making their rounds across the Web and causing privacy advocates around the world to raise their voice.
Neither West Coast city has announced plans to acquire telephone metadata or eavesdrop on email traffic, and combined their operations likely pale in comparison to what the NSA has accomplished. Civil liberties activists are sounding the alarm regardless, however, after new reports revealed what kind of information city officials could collect using newly installed equipment.
In Seattle, a city of around 635,000, the police department recently used a Department of Homeland Security grant for $2.6 million to purchase and put up a number of wireless access devices that together create “mesh networks” which law enforcement officials can connect to and in turn more quickly share large chunks of data, such as surveillance camera recordings and other high-res information.
Those access points, or APs, do more than just transfer data from one node to another, though, and actually spend large amounts of time scouring for every Internet-capable device in the area that may be searching for a Wi-Fi signal — such as any smart phone that can connected to the Web. Although the mesh network is being made for emergency responders to be able to interact with ease and provide them with a widespread wireless system to share information, the APs acquire basic information about every electronic device that even momentarily makes a connection, in theory allowing officials to see much more than the average Washingtonian might want to willfully hand over.
The Stranger, a Seattle alternative-weekly, spoke to the city’s police department about the recently installed mesh network but wasn’t given many answers. Law enforcement officials insisted that the system isn’t fully functioning yet — and little more — but the Stranger learned that authorities can log the MAC (media access control) address of any iPhone, Android, laptop or Internet-able device that’s within reach of its signal, which could then provide authorities with information that even a seasoned investigator might have a hard time obtaining otherwise. Just as how telecommunication companies ping devices almost constantly from nearby towers to test signals, learning the specific location of a MAC address at any given date and time can then be coupled with other location data in order to triangulate a subject’s movements up to even just a few inches away.
Speaking to the Stranger, the Seattle Police Department admitted it does not yet have a policy to govern the use of the multi-million dollar system, but said it is “actively collaborating” with the American Civil Liberties Union, contrary to claims made by the ACLU that the SPD has been anything but speedy when responding to its questions and concerns.
“We definitely feel like the public doesn’t have a handle on what the capabilities are,” Jamela Debelak of Seattle’s ACLU office said to The Stranger. “We’re not even sure the police department does.”
Should a policy not be put in place quickly enough, many fear the results could be ravaging for the privacy of the city’s half-a-million-plus residents, many of whom surely wouldn’t suspect that the phone in their pocket it silently sending personalized information to the Seattle Police Department anytime they walk within reach of an AP’s signal.
In Las Vegas, the latest tool there might be even more Orwellian.
Sin City is one of the latest locales to purchase a line of highly-functional lampposts sold by Michigan’s Illuminating Concepts under the branding of “IntelliStreets.” As RT has reported in the past, however, the devices do much more than light up sidewalks. These lampposts are also Wi-Fi-ready to stream passers-by localized information and even audio and graphics, but it’s what Intellistreets collect that’s really shocking. In addition to broadcasting information, the lampposts are equipped with microphones and cameras that can record anything within an earshot and send it to a server to be analyzed.
On the IntelliStreets website, the company says, “Intellistreets provides a platform and many developed applications to assist DHS in protecting its citizens and natural resources.”
“We want to develop more than just the street lighting component,” Neil Rohleder of the city’s Public Works Department told KSNV News. “We want to develop an experience for the people who come downtown.”
As the technology spreads in cities unopposed, however, it could lead the other towns to journey down a slippery slope that ends with relinquishing even more personal information down the road.
“This technology, you know is taking us to a place where, you know, you’ll essentially be monitored from the moment you leave your home till the moment you get home,” local civil rights activist Daphne Lee told the network.
“At what point do we say this is the land of the free,” Lee said. “People have a right to a reasonable amount of privacy.”
As the NSA scandal has shown the world, however, one person’s idea of privacy might vastly differ from another’s. Revelations made possible through Mr. Snowden’s leaks have shown that the US government routinely collects information about the dialer and recipient of nearly every phone call made in the country, and even America’s allies, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, are subject to NSA-issued surveillance.
Meanwhile, other cities along the West Coast are seeing a surge in surveillance tools that started before the first Snowden leak but are still being set in place. Federal grants totaling around $7 million to Oakland, California are being used to ensure that the city has an eye on seemingly everything by next summer, and requests by a growing number of law enforcement agencies for spy drones is expected to involve eventually equipping bureaus across the country with unmanned aerial vehicles by the dawn of the next decade.