The U.S. National Security Agency accessed the internal communications of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela and acquired sensitive data it planned to exploit in order to spy on the company’s top officials, according to a highly classified NSA document that reveals the operation was carried out in concert with the U.S. embassy in Caracas.
The March 2011 document, labeled, “top secret,” and provided by former NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden, is being reported on in an exclusive partnership between teleSUR and The Intercept.
Drafted by an NSA signals development analyst, the document explains that PDVSA’s network, already compromised by U.S. intelligence, was further infiltrated after an NSA review in late 2010 – during President Barack Obama’s first term, which would suggest he ordered or at least authorized the operation – “showed telltale signs that things were getting stagnant on the Venezuelan Energy target set.” Most intelligence “was coming from warranted collection,” which likely refers to communications that were intercepted as they passed across U.S. soil. According to the analyst, “what little was coming from other collectors,” or warrantless surveillance, “was pretty sparse.”
Beyond efforts to infiltrate Venezuela’s most important company, the leaked NSA document highlights the existence of a secretive joint operation between the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency operating out of the U.S. embassy in Caracas. A fortress-like building just a few kilometers from PDVSA headquarters, the embassy sits on the top of a hill that gives those inside a commanding view of the Venezuelan capital.
Last year, Der Spiegel published top-secret documents detailing the state-of-the-art surveillance equipment that the NSA and CIA deploy to embassies around the world. That intelligence on PDVSA had grown “stagnant” was concerning to the U.S. intelligence community for a number of reasons, which its powerful surveillance capabilities could help address.
“Venezuela has some of the largest oil and natural gas reserves in the world,” the NSA document states, with revenue from oil and gas accounting “for roughly one third of GDP” and “more than half of all government revenues.”
“To understand PDVSA,” the NSA analyst explains, “is to understand the economic heart of Venezuela.”
Increasing surveillance on the leadership of PDVSA, the most important company in a South American nation seen as hostile to U.S. corporate interests, was a priority for the undisclosed NSA division to which the analyst reported. “Plainly speaking,” the analyst writes, they “wanted PDVSA information at the highest possible levels of the corporation – namely, the president and members of the Board of Directors.”
Given a task, the analyst got to work and, with the help of “sheer luck,” found his task easier than expected.
It began simply enough: with a visit to PDVSA’s website, “where I clicked on ‘Leadership’ and wrote down the names of the principals who would become my target list.” From there, the analyst “dumped the names” into PINWALE, the NSA’s primary database of previously intercepted digital communications, automatically culled using a dictionary of search terms called “selectors.” It was an almost immediate success.
In addition to email traffic, the analyst came across over 10,000 employee contact profiles full of email addresses, phone numbers, and other useful targeting information, including the usernames and passwords for over 900 PDVSA employees. One profile the analyst found was for Rafael Ramirez, PDVSA’s president from 2004 to 2014 and Venezuela’s current envoy to the United Nations. A similar entry turned up for Luis Vierma, the company’s former vice president of exploration and production.
“Now, even my old eyes could see that these things were a goldmine,” the analyst wrote. The entries were full of “work, home, and cell phones, email addresses, LOTS!” This type of information, referred to internally as “selectors,” can then be “tasked” across the NSA’s wide array of surveillance tools so that any relevant communications will be saved.
According to the analyst, the man to whom he reported “was thrilled!” But “it is what happened next that really made our day.”
“As I was analyzing the metadata,” the analyst explains, “I clicked on the ‘From IP’ and noticed something peculiar,” all of the employee profile, “over 10,000 of them, came from the same IP!!!” That, the analyst determined, meant “I had been looking at internal PDVSA comms all this time!!! I fired off a few emails to F6 here and in Caracas, and they confirmed it!”
“Metadata” is a broad term that can include the phone numbers a target has dialed, the duration of the call and from where it was placed, as well as the Wi-Fi networks used to access the Internet, the websites visited and the times accessed. That information can then be used to identify the user.
F6 is the NSA code name for a joint operation with the CIA known as the Special Collection Service, based in Beltsville, Maryland – and with agents posing as diplomats in dozens of U.S. embassies around the world, including Caracas, Bogota and Brasilia.
In 2013, Der Spiegel reported that it was this unit of the U.S. intelligence bureaucracy that had installed, within the U.S. embassy in Berlin, “sophisticated listening devices with which they can intercept virtually every popular method of communication: cellular signals, wireless networks and satellite communication.” The article suggested this is likely how the U.S. tapped into German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone.
SCS at the U.S. embassy in Caracas played an active role throughout the espionage activities described in the NSA document. “I have been coordinating with Caracas,” the NSA analyst states, “who have been surveying their environment and sticking the results into XKEYSCORE.”
XKEYSCORE, as reported by The Intercept, processes a continuous “flow of Internet traffic from fiber optic cables that make up the backbone of the world’s communication network,” storing the data for 72 hours on a “rolling buffer” and “sweep[ing] up countless people’s Internet searches, emails, documents, usernames and passwords.”
The NSA’s combined databases are, essentially, “a very ugly version of Google with half the world’s information in it,” explained Matthew Green, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute, in an email. “They’re capturing so much information from their cable taps, that even the NSA analysts don’t know what they’ve got,” he added, “an analyst has to occasionally step in and manually dig through the data” to see if the information they want has already been collected.
That is exactly what the NSA analyst did in the case of PDVSA, which turned up even more leads to expand their collection efforts.
“I have been lucky enough to find several juicy pdf documents in there,” the NSA analyst wrote, “one of which has just been made a report.”
That report, dated January 2011, suggests a familiarity with the finances of PDVSA beyond that which was public knowledge, noting a decline in the theft and loss of oil.
“In addition, I have discovered a string that carries user ID’s and their passwords, and have recovered over 900 unique user/password combinations” the analyst wrote, which he forwarded to the NSA’s elite hacking team, Targeted Access Operations, along with other useful information and a “targeting request to see if we can pwn this network and especially, the boxes of PDVSA’s leadership.”
“Pwn,” in this context, means to successfully hack and gain full access to a computer or network. “Pwning” a computer, or “box,” would allow the hacker to monitor a user’s every keystroke.
A History of US Interest in Venezuelan Affairs
PDVSA has long been a target of U.S. intelligence agencies and the subject of intense scrutiny from U.S. diplomats. A February 17, 2009, cable, sent from the U.S. ambassador in Caracas to Washington and obtained by WikiLeaks, shows that PDVSA employees, were probed during visa interviews about their company’s internal operations. The embassy was particularly interested in the PDVSA’s strategy concerning litigation over Venezuela’s 2007 nationalization of the Cerro Negro oil project – and billions of dollars in assets owned by U.S. oil giant ExxonMobil.
“According to a PDVSA employee interviewed following his visa renewal, PDVSA is aggressively preparing its international arbitration case against ExxonMobil,” the cable notes.
A year before, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters that the U.S. government “fully support the efforts of ExxonMobil to get a just and fair compensation package for their assets.” But, he added, “We are not involved in that dispute.”
ExxonMobil is also at the center of a border dispute between Guyana and Venezuela. In May 2015, the company announced it had made a “significant oil discovery” in an offshore location claimed by both countries. The U.S. ambassador to Guyana has offered support for that country’s claim.
More recently, the U.S. government has begun leaking information to media about allegations against top Venezuelan officials.
In October, The Wall Street Journal reported in a piece, “U.S. Investigates Venezuelan Oil Giant,” that “agents from the Department of Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies” had recently met to discuss “various PDVSA-related probes.” The “wide-ranging investigations” reportedly have to do with whether former PDVSA President Rafael Ramirez and other executives accepted bribes.
Leaked news of the investigations came less than two months before Dec. 6 parliamentary elections in Venezuela. Ramirez, for his part, has rejected the accusations, which he claims are part of a “new campaign that wants to claim from us the recovery and revolutionary transformation of PDVSA.” Thanks to Chavez, he added, Venezuela’s oil belongs to “the people.”
In its piece on the accusations against him, The Wall Street Journal notes that during Ramirez’s time in office PDVSA became “an arm of the late President Hugo Chavez’s socialist revolution,” with money made from the sale of petroleum used “to pay for housing, appliances and food for the poor.”
The former PDVSA president is not the only Venezuelan official to be accused of corruption by the U.S. government. In May 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice accused Diosdado Cabello, president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, of being involved in cocaine trafficking and money laundering. Former Interior Minister Tarek El Aissami, the former director of military intelligence, Hugo Carvajal, and Nestor Reverol, head of the National Guard, have also faced similar accusations from the U.S. government.
None of these accusations against high-ranking Venezuelan officials has led to any indictments.
The timing of the charges, made in the court of public opinion rather than a courthouse, has led some to believe there’s another motive.
“These people despise us,” Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said in October. He and his supporters argue the goal of the U.S. government’s selective leaks is to undermine his party ahead of the upcoming elections, helping install a right-wing opposition seen as friendlier to U.S. interests. “They believe that we belong to them.”
Loose Standards for NSA Intelligence Sharing
Ulterior motives or not, by the NSA’s own admission the intelligence it gathers on foreign targets may be disseminated widely among U.S. officials who may have more than justice on their minds.
According to a guide issued by the NSA on January 12, 2015, the communications of non-U.S. persons may be captured in bulk and retained if they are said to contain information concerning a plot against the United States or evidence of, “Transnational criminal threats, including illicit finance and sanctions evasion.” Any intelligence that is gathered may then be passed on to other agencies, such as the DEA, if it “is related to a crime that has been, is being, or is about to be committed.”
Spying for the sole purpose of protecting the interests of a corporation is ostensibly not allowed, though there are exceptions that do allow for what might be termed economic espionage.
“The collection of foreign private commercial information or trade secrets is authorized only to protect nation the national security of the United States or its partners and allies,” the agency states. It is not supposed to collect such information “to afford a competitive advantage to U.S. companies and U.S. business sectors commercially.” However, “Certain economic purposes, such as identifying trade or sanctions violations or government influence or direction, shall not constitute competitive advantage.”
In May 2011, two months after the leaked document was published in NSA’s internal newsletter, the U.S. State Department announced it was imposing sanctions on PDVSA – a state-owned enterprise, or one that could be said to be subject to “government influence or direction” – for business it conducted with the Islamic Republic of Iran between December 2010 and March 2011. The department did not say how it obtained information about the transactions, allegedly worth US$50 million.
Intelligence gathered with one stated purpose can also serve another, and the NSA’s already liberal rules on the sharing of what it gathers can also be bent in times of perceived emergency.
“If, due to unanticipated or extraordinary circumstances, NSA determines that it must take action in apparent departure from these procedures to protect the national security of the United States, such action may be taken” – after either consulting other branches of the intelligence bureaucracy. “If there is insufficient time for approval,” however, it may unilaterally take action.
Beyond the obvious importance of oil, leaked diplomatic cables show PDVSA was also on the U.S. radar because of its importance to Venezuela’s left-wing government. In 2009, another diplomatic cable obtained by WikiLeaks shows the U.S. embassy in Caracas viewed PDVSA as crucial to the political operations of long-time foe and former President Hugo Chavez. In April 2002, Chavez was briefly overthrown in a coup that, according to The New York Times, as many as 200 officials in the George W. Bush administration – briefed by the CIA – knew about days before it was carried out.
The Venezuelan government was not informed of the plot.
“Since the December 2002-February 2003 oil sector strike, PDVSA has put itself at the service of President Chavez’s Bolivarian revolution, funding everything from domestic programs to Chavez’s geopolitical endeavors,” the 2009 cable states.
Why might that be a problem, from the U.S. government’s perspective? Another missive from the U.S. embassy in Caracas, this one sent in 2010, sheds some light: Chavez “appears determined to shape the hemisphere according to his vision of ‘socialism in the 21st century,’” it states, “a vision that is almost the mirror image of what the United States seeks.”
There was a time when not so long ago when the U.S. had an ally in Venezuela, one that shared its vision for the hemisphere – and invited a U.S. firm run by former U.S. intelligence officials to directly administer its information technology operations.
Amid a push for privatization under former Venezuelan President Rafael Caldera, in January 1997 PDVSA decided to outsource its IT system to a joint a company called Information, Business and Technology, or INTESA – the product of a joint venture between the oil company, which owned a 40 percent share of the new corporation, and the major U.S.-based defense contractor Science Applications International Corporation, or SAIC, which controlled 60 percent.
SAIC has close, long-standing ties to the U.S. intelligence community. At the time of its dealings with Venezuela, the company’s director was retired Admiral Bobby Inman. Before coming to SAIC, Inman served as the U.S. Director of Naval Intelligence and Vice Director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency. Inman also served as deputy director of the CIA and, from 1977 to 1981, as director of the NSA.
In his book, “Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and Policies of the Chavez Government,” author Gregory Wilpert notes that Inman was far from the only former intelligence official working for SAIC in a leadership role. Joining him were two former U.S. Secretaries of Defense, William Perry and Melvin Laird, a former director of the CIA, John Deutsch, and a former head of both the CIA and the Defense Department, Robert Gates. The company that those men controlled, INTESA, was given the job of managing “all of PDVSA’s data processing needs.”
In 2002, Venezuela, now led by a government seeking to roll back the privatizations of its predecessor, chose not to renew SAIC’s contract for another five years, a decision the company protested to the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which insures the overseas investments of U.S. corporations. In 2004, the U.S. agency ruled that by canceling its contract with SAIC the Venezuelan government had “expropriated” the company’s investment.
However, before that ruling, and before its operations were reincorporated by PDVSA, the company that SAIC controlled, INTESA, played a key role in an opposition-led strike aimed at shutting down the Venezuelan oil industry. In December 2002, eight months after the failed coup attempt and the same month its contract was set to expire, INTESA, the Venezuelan Ministry of Communication and Information alleges, “exercised its ability to control our computers by paralyzing the charge, discharge, and storage of crude at different terminals within the national grid.” The government alleges INTESA, which possessed the codes needed to access those terminals, refused to allow non-striking PDVSA employees access to the company’s control systems.
“The result,” Wilpert noted, “was that PDVSA could not transfer its data processing to new systems, nor could it process its orders for invoices for oil shipments. PDVSA ended up having to process such things manually because passwords and the general computing infrastructure were unavailable, causing the strike to be much more damaging to the company than it would have been if the data processing had been in PDVSA’s hands.”
PDVSA’s IT operations would become a strictly internal affair soon thereafter, though one never truly free from the prying eyes of hostile outsiders.
“Where no counsel is, the people fall, but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” – Mossad Motto
On the 13th November 2015 during the Paris attacks, 4.1 million people submitted their personal details to the Facebook Safety App, 360 million people received Facebook messages reassuring them of their friends and family’s safety. This information may well have been deposited into an Israeli intelligence bank.
Paris 13/11 aftershocks.
As the dust settles and the pall of grief envelops the scenes of the 13/11 Paris attacks, information begins to seep through the inevitable cracks in the mainstream media, security apparatus narrative.
Very few “subversive” media outlets in France do as good a job of deconstruction as Panamza. Their reporting on the Charlie Hebdo affair blazed a trail of evidence to counter the sprawling inaccuracies of the “official” storyline. Their articles over the last two days have motivated my investigation into the insidious drivers possibly behind the 13/11 attacks on the French capital.
Unsurprisingly the common denominator connecting both Charlie Hebdo and Paris 13/11 appears to be the covert involvement of the Israeli security apparatus.
Lets return to the scene of mayhem and bloodshed in Paris on Friday night. The panic that spread like wildfire across social media, tearful messages and desperate attempts to connect with loved ones, suspected to be in the firing zone.
Then suddenly, Facebook “sympathetically” employed its Safety Check APP, to enable terrified families to reconnect with their missing relatives and to reassure themselves of their safety as the bullets ricocheted off the walls & streets of Paris.
The Safety Check APP was originally named the Disaster Message Board and was introduced on October 15, 2014. Its first major deployment was on Saturday April 25 2015 in the wake of the April 2015 Nepal Earthquake. The tool has since been utilised after the May 2015 Nepal earthquake and the Pacific Hurricane Patricia October 2015.
The 13/11 Paris attack was the first time that this Safety Check APP was deployed for an “unnatural” disaster. Over 4.1 million people checked in with friends and relatives, a total of 360 million people received messages that their loved ones were “safe”.
Alex Schultz: Facebook’s vice president of Growth:
“We chose to activate Safety Check in Paris because we observed a lot of activity on Facebook as the events were unfolding. In the middle of a complex, uncertain situation affecting many people, Facebook became a place where people were sharing information and looking to understand the condition of their loved ones… This activation will change our policy around Safety Check and when we activate it for other serious and tragic incidents in the future. We want this tool to be available whenever and wherever it can help.”
Wonderful, I hear you exclaim! Wonderful for whom?
“During the 24 hours after the terror attack, 4.1 million people checked in with friends and relatives using Facebook Safety Check, a technology developed by Facebook Israel’s research and development department,” said a spokesperson for Facebook Israel. “A total of 360 million people received messages that their loved ones were safe.”
Perhaps coincidence but this acquistion slots neatly into the timeline with the long since debunked Ghouta Chemical weapons claims against the Syrian Government and the seed funding of White House, UK Foreign Office, CIA, Soros backed and funded Syria Civil Defence Group aka the White Helmets.
Roi Tiger Facebook Profile Picture.
Roi Tiger is a graduate of IDC Herzliya, Tel Aviv, a “non profit” education organisation dedicated to the promotion of Zionist ideology and the fortification of the illegal state of Israel.
IDC HERZLIYA is committed to the fundamental values of a free and tolerant society, while maintaining a Zionist philosophy – first and foremost, freedom of the individual for self-realization in all realms of thought and action, while striving to strengthen the State of Israel.
Roi Tiger then went on to join the IOF Elite 8200 division, an Israeli Intelligence Corps responsible for collecting signal intelligence (SIGINT) and code decryption, described in 2010 by Le Monde diplomatique, as a massive spying operation. Also in 2010, implicated by US Intelligence in Operation Orchard, the 2007 Israeli air strikes on an alleged nuclear reactor in the Deir Ezzor region of Syria.
Full background to this 2007 Israeli illegal incursion into Syrian airspace here.
So, when people innocently clicked “safe” or put a name of their loved ones into the search box of the Facebook Safety app, it is quite probable that they fed a stream of information directly into the Israeli Intelligence data banks.
Web front page of Internet.org
Onavo, a relatively small start-up comprising 40 employees, was based in Tel Aviv and was bought by Mark Zuckerburg as part of his all consuming internet.org project which has as its objective, to create universal access to the Internet.
The significance of this purchase is manifold.
It is Facebook’s first foray onto Israeli territory. In 2012 they purchased Face.com, an Israeli company focused on powerful facial recognition but this had not precipitated an actual base in Israel. With the acquisition of Onavo, Facebook Israel was born.
According to TechCrunch, there’s no official figure attached to the deal, but Israeli paper Calcalist reports between $150-200 million and other sources put the figure closer to $100 million. Whether the real sum is closer to the low end or the high end of that range, it’s a massive amount of money for Onavo, which started three years ago and has previously raised around $13 million in venture funding. – www.digitaltrends.com
This purchase of Onavo and the development of the Safety APP will give Facebook increased capability of compiling one of the most extensive personal data bases in existence in the world today.
On November 11th, 2 days before the Paris attacks, Facebook published a blog report.
“This report, which covers the first half of 2015, provides information about the number of government requests we receive for data, as well as the number of pieces of content restricted for violating local law in countries around the world where we provide service. The report also includes updated information about the national security requests we received from US authorities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and through National Security Letters.
Overall, we continue to see an increase in content restrictions and government requests for data globally. The amount of content restricted for violating local law increased by 112% over the second half of 2014, to 20,568 pieces of content, up from 9,707. Government requests for account data increased across all countries by 18% over the same period, from 35,051 requests to 41,214″
The full report is here. This is a deliberate policy of obscurantism by Facebook. When one reads their data policy it is obvious that there are no restraints on information sharing. Their figures cannot truthfully reflect the number of Government requests in France that would have spiked, following Charlie Hebdo and even if they do, out of a claimed 2,500+ Government requests for information, only a meagre 295 were “restricted” with very little explanation of what “restricted” actually means.
“We restricted access in France to content reported under local laws prohibiting Holocaust denial and the condoning of terrorism.”
This statement is rendered portentous by the wave of arrests and house searches sweeping France before the blood is even dry on the streets of Paris and certainly prior to the conducting of a full and objective investigation into the perpetrators of the “greatest atrocity committed on French soil since WWII.” This, according to media pundits reporting from Paris as the propaganda wagon rolls smoothly into its habitual groove.
It must be noted that this deliberately emotive media claim is an insult to the 200+ Algerians massacred by Paris police, during protests against France’s brutal neocolonialist war in Algeria, on the streets of Paris in 1961. Colonialist selective memory fails to honour the ghosts of these oppressed and marginalised souls, forbidden from protesting the genocide of their people and punished for daring to stand in solidarity with Algerian resistance against French hegemony. Paris police dumped the murdered bodies into the cold waters of the Seine, over 11,500 Algerians were arrested, beaten, starved and later tortured in the Palais des Sports.
The 13/11 Paris attacks with all the accompanying media frenzy will surely lead us further down the path to the implementation of Patriot Act equivalents in Europe.
“Debate on Govt Spying and Privacy Rights, now off the table. As expected, politicians looking to appear ‘tough on terror’ and the growing gaggle of security lobbyists, and other assorted corporate fascists, have called for something akin to a ‘European Patriot Act’ – an end to the ‘Post-Snowden’ debate over bulk data collection and privacy – covering issues like NSA and GCHQ blanket spying on all citizens, and imposing more regulations and government monitoring of mandatory manufacturer ‘back doors’ for computers, mobile phones, gaming consoles, and also calls to make encryption illegal, except for government.”
“Special” police forces in St Denis, Paris 18/11/2015
CIA & Intelligence Connections
We must also take into consideration the worrying Cyber security developments in the UK:
Lord Mendelsohn: We welcome the appointment of the former British ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, who will have a key role in cyber security inside the Cabinet Office – a very useful and important position – Look Who’s in Charge of UK Government Cyber Security.
Matthew Gould, self proclaimed “passionate Zionist”, first Jewish British Ambassador in Tel Aviv and co creator of the controversial UK Israel Tech-Hub which was established to:
“Promote partnerships in technology and innovation between Israel and the UK, and is the first initiative of its kind for the British government and for an embassy in Israel. The hub’s creation followed an agreement between prime ministers David Cameron and Binyamin Netanyahu to build a UK-Israel partnership in technology.”
For full details on this burgeoning UK-Israel cyber marriage, read this excellent piece by Stuart Littlewood.
Now lets add a little more spice into the evolving narrative.
Two weeks prior to the 13/11 attacks on the 27th of October 2015, Washington Post columnist, David Ignatius was moderator for the CIA-GW [George Washington University] Conference.
Included on the panel of the “Shared 21st Century International Mission” were:
CIA Director John Brennan, former UK MI6 Chief John Sawers, Director of the French Directorate for External Security Bernard Bajolet, and former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaacov Amidror
Perhaps even more concerning is the subliminal message that can be interpreted from DGSE Director, Bernard Bajolet’s remarks, endorsed by CIA Director John Brennan.
“The Middle East will never go back to how it was. Syria and Iraq will never retrieve their pre-existing features and culture
Syria is already “partitioned”. The Syrian regime only controls a tiny part, perhaps less than one third of the country established post WWII.
The North is under Kurdish control and “we” have the central region under ISIS control [I have deliberately translated the French exactly as it was written]
The situation in Iraq is the same.”
“When I look at the devastation in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen it is hard to envisage a central government that would be capable of controlling and governing these post WWII territories.
It appears that the partitioning plan for the Middle East is resisting all efforts to reduce its holy grail status. The partitioning plan that best serves the Israeli Yinon plan for Greater Israel and ensures permanent sectarian strife and division in countries bursting at the seams with economic, resource and geopolitical jewels for the Imperialist crown.
The timing of this conference, a mere two weeks prior to the 13/11 Paris attacks that would almost certainly propel France and allies towards increased intervention in Syria & ensure revived calls for a No Fly Zone, must be considered a little more than purely coincidental.
While we must stress that no concrete conclusions may be drawn at this stage, previous Gladio operations, and we would include Charlie Hebdo in that list, lead us to see very clear parallels emerging between the events surrounding Paris 13/11 and those preceding other such attacks.
The omnipresence of the Israeli Intelligence apparatus in its many forms should, at least, motivate us to suspect foul play and to question the white noise mainstream media accounts. The tsunami of propaganda, the conversion of all icons to a French flag, even including Skype heart emoticons, must ring alarm bells.
Experience teaches us that, propaganda is intrinsically linked to government agendas and that terror attacks invariably engender an increase in global oppression, conflict, sectarian division and the suffering of the very peoples universally judged and condemned by scraps of evidence that bear no resemblance to the truth.
As Sayed Nasrallah has said we are living in the age predicted by George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, the propaganda serves to ensure our rapid descent through the layers of social conditioning, from regionalism to individualism, a state of mind where there is potential for the fabric of society to be shredded and scattered into the winds of the brewing “perfect storm”
“A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.” – Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
St Denis, Paris 18/11/2015.
Police forces operate in Saint-Denis on Wednesday, November 18. Police say two suspects in last week’s Paris attacks, a man and a woman, have been killed in a police operation north of the capital.
The system for classifying intelligence and other national security documents is broken in major respects. Increasingly, it is also manipulated to punish perceived critics or to protect agency reputations and high officials, both from adverse publicity and in the courts. Hillary Clinton’s use of a private rather than State Department email service illustrates many of these issues. Her experience stands in stark contrast to treatment of national security whistleblowers, as illustrated in particular by variance in National Security Agency (NSA) communications intelligence policies.
–Culpability. Former Secretary of State Clinton clearly and knowingly mishandled classified information. As a U.S. senator, security clearances were required for her membership on the Senate Armed Services Committee from 2003 to 2009. Therefore, she knew the rules for handling classified information before she decided, at the outset when she became Secretary of State in early 2009, to use personal rather than secure email.
Hillary and Bill Clinton had suffered many political and public relations crises. She had already run for the presidency and likely would do so again. Rules for handling classified information were ignored, the effect being to hide records that could be used against her in a second presidential run.
It simply could never be argued plausibly that for four years, a person in the highest U.S. foreign policy slot had no classified or sensitive information in any business emails that she wrote or received – over 30,000 of them. This defies the definition of the job.
The State Department is a primary user and a significant generator of classified information that bears on the great majority of issues coming before the Secretary. The State Department is also a profligate designator of “Sensitive But Unclassified” information.
–Overclassification. It is widely admitted that the intelligence classification system suffers from systemic over-classification. President Barack Obama has acknowledged the problem, and one review group even stated that almost every item now labeled Confidential should be Unclassified. There is no penalty for playing it safe – or playing it political – by classifying at too high a level, but there are potentially severe repercussions for an individual who mistakenly classifies at too low a level, or who is known to mishandle or publicly reveal classified information.
It is most unlikely, however, that Hillary Clinton will fall victim to accusations that rely on improper overclassification. The State Department and White House, including President Obama himself, sought to protect her and to minimize the effects of her behavior.
The case is extremely high-profile, Democrats in Congress would attack any borderline classification, and a host of wellpaid lawyers would rise to her defense. Improperly classified items or those deemed Sensitive but Unclassified may be redacted from publicly released documents, but it is hard to imagine that Mrs. Clinton would be falsely accused of felonies.
Whistleblowers suffer a quite different fate. Intelligence agencies easily and repeatedly retaliate for the airing of their dirty laundry by accusing the whistleblower of improperly handling or revealing allegedly classified information. The Obama administration then prosecutes them under the Espionage Act, under which altruistic motivation is irrelevant and may not even be raised in court.
Former CIA official John Kiriakou revealed on television that post 9/11 torture was official U.S. policy, not just attributable to a few rogue agents. The CIA seethed, but the Justice Department would not prosecute. Unfortunately, Kiriakou erred in giving a reporter the business card of a man he thought had retired from CIA but was still an agent under cover. The agent’s name was not published, but CIA got its revenge when Kiriakou was indicted under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1981. Left penniless with over $700,000 in legal bills even before trial, Kiriakou finally accepted a felony plea bargain and went to jail.
Thomas Drake and this author went through proper official channels in 20012002 to protest NSA’s surveillance of U.S. citizens. Along with colleagues Kirk Wiebe, William Binney and Edward Loomis, they also reported to the Defense Department Inspector General the waste of money on NSA modernization.
After domestic surveillance leaked to the New York Times four years later, the five became primary suspects, partly because the IG improperly offered their names to the FBI. All were raided, but no evidence was found because, as the reporter later stated publicly, he had not then met or communicated with any of the five.
Nonetheless, Drake was prosecuted under the Espionage Act for possessing five Unclassified NSA papers that NSA retroactively classified. He was threatened with 35 years in prison unless he pled guilty, but heroically resisted. Pretrial hearings proved all the information in the documents had been declassified by NSA. After a yearsold interview record was orally falsified, this author was asked to plead guilty to felony perjury, but also refused.
Section 1.7 of Executive Order 13526 governing classification stipulates that no information may be classified to conceal violations of law, inefficiency or administrative error; to prevent embarrassment; to restrain competition; or to prevent or delay release of information not requiring protection. This section is observed in the breach, as political considerations dictate.
For all the above proscribed reasons, unclassified parts of the NSA IG audit we requested are still withheld by NSA ten years after the audit was first published. Former NSA contractors Edward Snowden and John Kiriakou showed that illegal and unconstitutional activities were hidden from American citizens and others behind the veil of classification. For revealing material that never should have been classified in the first place, they are paying a very high price.
In Snowden’s case, many revelations about domestic surveillance still are treated as classified to keep them from U.S. voters, although every terrorist and every intelligence agency in the world has access to the documents and almost no ordinary person in any country of interest to the U.S. can function efficiently whilst avoiding NSA surveillance.
–Sensitive but Unclassified Material. Individual agencies claim an unsupervised right to withhold admittedly Unclassified information according to any criteria they see fit and for as long as they choose. In the Clinton email case, it is quite striking that not a word has been breathed about such Unclassified but Sensitive material. Her free pass in this respect is the envy of whistleblowers.
In our case, NSA initially refused to return any materials seized in the raids. When sued, NSA claimed that if a computer contained even one admittedly Unclassified document with material that had not been officially released by NSA, the Agency could retain and destroy the entire computer content. Courts eventually allowed NSA to keep such individual documents in their entirety and at their sole discretion, but required that others be copied and returned.
–With ordinary citizens or lower-level whistleblowers, Sensitive but Unclassified material is wielded as yet another weapon in the Executive’s arsenal of punishments. Even highlevel intelligence officials have had difficulty publishing their memoirs, partly because prepublication review agreements routinely allow an agency to withhold unclassified information.
Since the 1950s, most judges refuse to review allegedly classified or sensitive material even to determine that it does not fall under the commonsense prohibitions of Section 1.7 of the Executive Order on classification. The Executive Branch has also been famously successful in promulgating a “state secrets” doctrine to avoid or indefinitely delay court scrutiny of important civil liberties issues such as domestic surveillance. It is now known, however, that the original state secrets precedent wrongly invoked intelligence sources and methods to cover up Air Force culpability for a plane crash.
In the author’s case, even NSA’s grossly inconsistent classifications got a free pass. A document that was released to Kirk Wiebe as Unclassified was branded Top Secret Compartmented when found on the author’s computer. Confronted with this vast discrepancy, NSA alleged that it could neither confirm nor deny that the document had previously been released. It keeps no records of prior declassifications. Even in a related court case. Nor is it interested in an available system to compile and compare such records. But the judge let the classification stand.
Diane Roark retired in 2002 after 17 years on the professional staff of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and prior service on the National Security Council Staff, in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and in the Intelligence section of the International division of the Department of Energy.
After a delay, cybersecurity legislation dreaded by privacy advocates and relentlessly pursued by national security officials, known as CISA, will get a vote on the Senate floor “in a couple of days,” a top sponsoring senator anticipates.
The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2015, also known as CISA, is as polarizing as it is close to a vote. It finally hit the Senate floor for debate on Tuesday, with top sponsor Senator Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) highlighting its necessity because “actors around the world continue to attack US systems, and in many cases penetrate it.”
Under the bill, private companies would have increased liability protection with respect to collecting American’s personal data that could potentially be related to security threats. It would also make it easier for them to share such data with the government, including departments like the National Security Agency.
Prominent CISA opponent and privacy advocate, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), challenged Burr, who chairs the Select Committee on Intelligence, on one argument in particular.
“He said that the most important feature of the legislation is that it’s voluntary. The fact is, it is voluntary for companies. It will be mandatory for their customers,” Wyden said, “and the fact is the companies can participate without the knowledge and consent of their customers, and they are immune from customer oversight and lawsuits if they do so.”
In many cases, customers have been able to nudge companies from a pro to a con position on CISA. In one instance last month, the Business Software Alliance (BSA) sent a letter to legislators, in part calling for “cyber threat information sharing legislation” granting them immunity so that they could “more easily share that information voluntarily.” However, after Fight for the Future, an internet freedom advocacy group, set up YouBetrayedUs.org to criticize the organizations, the BSA changed its tune.
The BSA, which includes Apple, IBM, and Microsoft, now opposes CISA, as does the Computer and Communications Industry Association, which includes Google, Facebook, and Amazon. Reddit, Wikimedia, Twitter, and Yelp have also released anti-CISA statements.
“Leading security experts argue that CISA actually won’t do much, if anything, to prevent future large-scale data breaches such as the federal government has already suffered, but many worry it could make things worse, by creating incentives for private companies and the government to widely share huge amounts of Americans’ personally identifiable information that will itself then be vulnerable to sophisticated hacking attacks,” added the American Library Association in a press release.
The discussion on CISA comes after a stall in the Senate’s schedule before its August recess. Lawmakers agreed to delay a vote on the bill when it became clear that senators had many amendments to submit, some of which included so-called “riders,” or unrelated issues, such as Senator Rand Paul’s (R-Kentucky) amendments to audit the Federal Reserve and defund “sanctuary cities.” At least 22 amendments will be given a chance to be added to CISA before a final passage vote.
Burr optimistically told The Hill that “a couple of days” was all that was needed to get to a final vote on CISA. He may have overshot, however, because there could be a scrimmage over amendments despite his efforts. Burr, with support of other Senate leaders, has managed to combine eight amendments into a legislative package he shares with CISA co-sponsor Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California), but the grouping includes only one of Wyden’s two amendments.
Wyden told reporters that the one he feels “most strongly about” hadn’t been included. It would have provided a review system for deleting private info before data gets passed on to the government. The Wyden amendment that was included in the bill only requires that people be notified when their data is inappropriately shared.
Although no vote has been scheduled yet, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) is trying to end debate by Thursday. Beyond CISA, the Senate has an ambitious to-do list. It will decide whether to extend government spending beyond September 30, address the Iran nuclear deal, and fund highways and transportation systems in a comprehensive bill.
A group of journalists and a human rights watchdog in the UK have put forth an unprecedented array of data on the CIA’s notorious secret detention centers, where terrorist suspects were kept and tortured in the early-2000s.
The investigation reveals the real names of detainees for the first time, as well as the locations they were kept in at the behest of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) around the world and the exact dates of events connected to their detention and torture.
In late 2014, a 480-page-long summary on the CIA detention centers was published by the US Senate Intelligence Committee after having been heavily redacted by the secret service. It is only a prelude to the original 6,000-page report, which remains secret.
It took nine months for the independent UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, in cooperation with The Rendition Project to reveal what was cut off from the government report using open sources and investigative techniques. All the data they discovered is available online.
“Although many published accounts of individual journeys through the black site network exist, this is the first comprehensive portrayal of the system’s inner dynamics from beginning to end,” the Bureau of Investigative Journalism stated.
The testimonies of former prisoners, flight records, commercial contracts, court cases, declassified government documents, information leaks and NGO reports, along with media coverage, were put together and compiled into accessible interactive databases and maps revealing the locations of the CIA black sites.
The countries that participated in the CIA’s terrorist detainee interrogation and transfer program had full knowledge of what was being done within their borders, former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell told Sputnik earlier this year.
In May, the European Court of Human Rights forced the government of Poland to pay approximately $250,000 in reparations to two terrorist suspects who had reported being tortured at a CIA black site in Poland.
According to reports, the United States gave Poland and other countries millions of dollars to allow the CIA to operate a detention center within their borders in 2002 and 2003.
Morell noted that the countries hosting CIA sites supported the program “”because they thought that we would be able to keep all of this secret.”
“This was facilitated, supported and was very closely monitored at the highest level of the United States government, up to and including the White House,” former senior executive at the National Security Agency (NSA) and whistleblower Thomas Drake commented to Sputnik earlier.
The 2014 report produced by the US Senate provided official documentation of numerous incidents of torture, and so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” used against enemy combatants in US-controlled detention facilities. Little has been revealed about the foreign sites or the practices there.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, then the chair of the Intelligence Committee, released the report’s 480-page executive summary, over objections from CIA and White House officials.
After the release in December, the US government publicized 27 pages of interview notes compiled by lawyers for Guantanamo detainee Majid Khan in which he described his torture.
Khan said interrogators poured ice water on his genitals, videotaped him naked and repeatedly touched his “private parts” – details which were not described in the Senate report.
A month after the summary’s release, in January 2015, the government said it had issued new classification rules that permitted only the release of “general allegations of torture,” and “information regarding the conditions of confinement.”
But, they said, the names of CIA employees and locations of secret CIA “black sites” could not be released.
Later, the US government blocked the release of 116 pages of notes detailing the torture another Guantanamo Bay detainee, Abu Zubaydah, says he endured while in CIA custody, defense lawyers said in September.
Zubaydah, a 44-year-old Saudi national, has been held in Guantanamo for nine years despite not ever being charged with a crime.
The United States makes an improper division between surveillance conducted on residents of the United States and the surveillance that is conducted with almost no restraint upon the rest of the world. This double standard has proved poisonous to the rights of Americans and non-Americans alike. In theory, Americans enjoy better protections. In practice there are no magical sets of servers and Internet connections that carry only American conversations. To violate the privacy of everyone else in the world, the U.S. inevitably scoops up its own citizens’ data. Establishing nationality as a basis for discrimination also encourages intelligence agencies to make the obvious end-run: spying on each other’s citizens, and then sharing that data. Treating two sets of innocent targets differently is already a violation of international human rights law. In reality, it reduces everyone to the same, lower standard.
Now France’s government is about the make the same error as the U.S. practice with its new “Surveillance des communications électroniques internationales” bill, currently being rushed through the French Parliament. As an open letter led by France’s La Quadrature du Net and signed today by over thirty civil society groups including EFF, states, France’s legislators’ must reject this bill to protect the rights of individuals everywhere, including those in France.
By legalizing France’s own plans to spy on the rest of the world, France would take a step to establishing the NSA model as an acceptable global norm. Passing the law would undermine France’s already weak surveillance protections for its own citizens, including lawyers, journalists and judges. And it would make challenging the NSA’s practices far more difficult for France and other states.
The new bill comes as a result of France’s Constitutional Council review of the country’s last mass surveillance bill, which passed with little parliamentary opposition in July. The Council passed most of that bill on the basis of its minor concessions to oversight and proportionality, but rejected the sections on international surveillance, which contained no limits to what France might do.
France already spies on the world. In July, the French newsmagazine L’Obs revealed a secret decree dating from at least 2008, which funded a French intelligence service project to intercept and analyze international data traffic passing through through submarine cable intercepts. The decree authorized the interception of cable traffic from 40 countries including Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Iraq, Syria, Sub-Saharan Africa, Russia, China, India and the United States. The report states that France’s intelligence agency, the General Directorate for External Security (DGCE), spent $775 million on the project.
Given that the Constitutional Council implied that such practices are almost certainly unlawful as is, the French government has now scrambled to create a framework that could excuse it.
Under the new proposed law, France’s intelligence agencies still have an incredibly broad remit. The law concentrates the power to grant wide-ranging surveillance permission in the office of the Prime Minister, who can sign off on mass surveillance of communications sent or received from overseas. Such surveillance can be conducted when in the “essential interests of foreign policy” or “[the] essential economic and scientific interests of France”, giving the executive the widest possible scope to conduct surveillance.
The original surveillance law included limits on data retention when spying on French nationals (30 days for the content of communications, four years for metadata, six years for encrypted data). The new international limits are much longer—one year, six years, and eight years respectively. The law’s authors do not justify this longer period, nor do they explain how the intelligence agencies will be able to separate data from each class of target without collecting, analyzing and filtering them all.
The collapsing divide between the lawful, warranted surveillance of ordinary citizens, and the wide-ranging capabilities of the intelligence services to collect signals intelligence on foreign powers and agents, has ended up corroding both domestic and global privacy rights. The U.S. has taken advantage of the lesser protections for non-U.S. persons to introduce the dragnet surveillance of everyone who uses the Internet outside the U.S. Because unprotected foreigners’ data is mixed up with somewhat more protected communications of Americans, the U.S. government believes that it can “incidentally” scoop up its own citizens’ data, and sort it out later under nobody’s oversight but its own.
If the French Parliament passes this bill, it will mean that France has decided to embody and excuse the same practices as the NSA in its own law. It is a short-sighted attempt to cover France’s existing secret practices, but the consequences are far-reaching. The limited protections that were included in the original surveillance bill—including assurances that French journalists, judges and lawyers would be protected from dragnet surveillance—will be undermined by their inevitable inclusion in the vacuuming up of all international traffic.
Any attempt by the EU countries to rein back the NSA’s surveillance plan by calls for the United States to respect international human rights standards, and data protection principles, will provoke the response that the U.S. is simply exercising the powers that an EU member has already granted itself.
By creating and excusing a double standard France’s government dooms everyone to a single, lower standard. It cannot simply shrug off its responsibilities to human rights, its partners in Europe, and the privacy rights of foreigners. If it does so, it will end up undermining the French people’s privacy and security as much as it undermines that of the rest of the world.
New documents shared by whistleblower Edward Snowden reveal GCHQ mass-surveyed “every visible user on the internet,” codenaming the operation Karma Police after a popular song by Radiohead.
The mission was started in 2009, without the agency obtaining legal permission to carry out the operation. Also there was no Parliamentary consultation or public scrutiny, documents published by the Intercept website show.
GCHQ – Government Communications Headquarters – is a UK spy agency responsible for providing intelligence by intercepting communications between people or equipment. The data is handed over to the British government and armed forces.
The recently revealed operation was developed by GCHQ in 2007-08. It aimed to link “every user visible to passive SIGINT with every website they visit, hence providing either (a) a web browsing profile for every visible user on the internet, or (b) a user profile for every visible website on the internet.”
The numbers of surveyed users were astonishing: in 2012, GCHQ gathered some 50 billion online metadata records a day, and the agency planned to boost its capacity to 100 billion records a day by the end of this year.
The information was held for months in a vast store nicknamed the Black Hole and was carefully examined by data analysts.
GCHQ also used software codenamed ‘Blazing Saddles’ to survey listeners of “any one particular radio station … to understand any trends or behaviors.”
The report details the program was reportedly aiming to “look for potential covert communications channels for hostile intelligence agencies running agents in allied countries, terrorist cells, or serious crime targets.”
However, the program didn’t just target terror suspects: one user was surveyed and found to have visited the Redtube porn site, some social media and a few Arabic and Islamic commercial enterprises.
Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International organization, tweeted his concern following the publication of the documents.
Despite former CIA employee Edward Snowden leaking his NSA files in 2013, revelations about the US and UK spying programs still appear regularly. In June, it was disclosed that a secretive GCHQ unit assists traditional law enforcement with domestic spying and online propaganda.
The unit reportedly manipulates public opinion based on scientific and psychological analyses.
Two years ago, the Snowden scandal forced the heads of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ to explain their actions at an unprecedented public hearing.
As the United States seeks backdoor encryption access, it faces strong pushback in the form of public opinion. But according to some intelligence officials, that perception could change if another terrorist attack were to occur on American soil.
Faced with a public outcry over privacy concerns and the tarnished reputation of American tech companies abroad, the Obama administration has found itself in a difficult spot. Many industry leaders are calling for the president to publicly disavow the idea of a law requiring tech companies to provide backdoor encryption access.
Intelligence officials, of course, are none-too-thrilled about such a move. Insistent on the notion that encryption access is vital for national security, many are eager for a law requiring companies like Apple to cooperate.
“Overall, the benefits to privacy, civil liberties and cybersecurity gained from encryption outweigh the broader risks that would have been created by weakening encryption,” reads the latest report from the US National Security Council.
But if public opinion remains a stubborn roadblock for such legislation, some officials have indicated that a terrorist attack could change the situation.
“… The legislative environment is very hostile today,” Robert S. Litt, a lawyer for the intelligence community, said in an email obtained by the Washington Post. “[But] it could turn in the event of a terrorist attack or criminal event where strong encryption can be shown to have hindered law enforcement.”
Litt isn’t the only one.
“People are still not persuaded this is a problem,” a senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Post. “People think we have not made the case. We do not have the perfect example where you have the dead child or a terrorist act to point to, and that’s what people seem to claim you have to have.”
While the US intelligence community seems to believe that a terrorist attack would prove the need for robust encryption, it’s already been proven that mass surveillance has done little to thwart such incidents. The National Security Agency’s data collection – unveiled by whistleblower Edward Snowden – was launched after the September 11 attacks, but failed to prevent future bombings, like that which occurred during the Boston Marathon in 2013.
A White House review panel formed two years ago recommended ending the domestic spying program after findings that the NSA’s bulk collection of telephone metadata had done nothing for national security.
Even if the Obama administration decides to publicly disavow encryption legislation, there’s no guarantee that the US government wouldn’t still carry forward with decryption plans. On Thursday, the Washington Post reported that the administration was looking into four distinct ways to force tech companies into compliance.
“We’re not promoting those as the way to go,” said another official, also speaking on condition of anonymity. “We’re just saying these are things that could be done.”
The European Court of Justice’s top legal aid has said that a 15-year-old agreement that eases the transfer of data between the EU and the US should be ended, accusing American intelligence services of conducting “mass, indiscriminate surveillance.”
The ECJ’s advocate-general, Yves Bot, said on Wednesday that the Safe Harbour agreement does not do enough to protect the private information of EU citizens once it arrives in the US, adding that it should have been suspended.
Safe Harbour allows US firms to collect data on their European customers. The system is used by Google, Facebook, and more than 4,000 other companies.
However, it also allows the NSA to use the Prism surveillance system exposed by Snowden to wade through the personal data, communication, and information held by nine internet companies.
Using Facebook as an example, Bot said that users “are not informed that their personal data will be generally accessible to the United States security agencies.”
“Such mass, indiscriminate surveillance is inherently disproportionate and constitutes an unwarranted interference with the rights guaranteed by articles seven and eight of the charter [of fundamental rights of the EU],” he said, adding that European internet users have no effective judicial protection while the data transfers are happening.
Bot added that if any EU country believes that transferring data to overseas servers undermines the protection of citizens, it has the power to suspend those transfers “irrespective of the general assessment made by the [EU] commission in its decision.”
But despite allegations from Bot, Facebook has denied accusations that it provides ‘backdoor’ access to its servers.
Sally Aldous, a spokeswoman for the social media giant, said on Wednesday that the company “operates in compliance with EU Data Protection law. Like the thousands of other companies who operate data transfers across the Atlantic we await the full judgment.”
“We have repeatedly said that we do not provide ‘backdoor’ access to Facebook servers and data to intelligence agencies or governments,” she said.
Although Bot’s opinions are not binding, they are typically followed by the ECJ’s judges, who are considering a complaint about the arrangement in the wake of US surveillance revelations from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The EU court’s decision is expected in the next four to six months.
The European Commission has been in talks with the US for two years, discussing ways to strengthen the Safe Harbour framework amid calls for its suspension.
Meanwhile, many US companies have praised the 2000 Safe Harbour deal, saying it helps them avoid complicated checks to transfer vital data, including payroll and human resources information.
An end to the agreement would cause a headache for US companies operating in the EU, as well as bring about the potential for a varying of national approaches, lawyers said, as cited by Reuters.
It comes just six months after 27-year-old Austrian law student Max Schrems filed a complaint against Facebook, alleging the social media site was helping the NSA harvest email and other private data by forwarding European data to servers in the US.
Facebook is spying on people in “the very same way” that the US’s National Security Agency (NSA) does, said the Belgian data protection watchdog at a court hearing where the social network stands accused of violating the privacy of internet users.
“When it became known that the NSA was spying on people all around the world, everybody was upset. This actor [Facebook] is doing the very same thing, albeit in a different way,” said Frederic Debussere, a lawyer representing the Belgian privacy commission (BPC) at the Monday court hearing.
This is possible, the report claimed, because the cookies are automatically installed on the computers of internet users each time they visit a page containing a Facebook plug-in, such as the ‘like’ button.
According to EU law, websites must ask for a user’s permission before installing any cookies. This is why Facebook’s policy is considered to in “violation of the European law” by the BPC.
The BPC is now threatening Facebook with a daily fine of €250,000 ($280,213).
“Don’t be intimidated by Facebook. They will argue our demands cannot be implemented in Belgium alone. Our demands can be perfectly implemented just in this country,” said Frederic Debussere, addressing the court.
Facebook has consistently denied all accusations and claimed that its practices are in compliance with EU law, accusing the BPC of presenting false reports.
“We will show the court how this technology protects people from spam, malware, and other attacks, that our practices are consistent with EU law and with those of the most popular Belgian websites,” a Facebook spokesperson said, as quoted by the Guardian.
Additionally, Facebook rejects the very idea it could be held accountable in Belgium as the company’s European headquarters are located in Dublin, Ireland, and its activities watched over by that country’s data protection authority.
The company does not rule out returning to talks with the BPC.
The US is playing games with public trust by passing different versions of the same intrusive surveillance system, a modern day Panopticon. Any alleged changes to the bulk collection program are purely cosmetic, according to ex-MI5 agent Annie Machon.
The recently passed USA Freedom Act was hailed as a stepping stone on the way to renewed public trust after the highly controversial Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which expired in May. Under the new law, the practice of bulk data collection on US citizens will be entrusted to telecom companies, and the NSA will be able to obtain the records through seeking a warrant from the FISA court.
So what does this recent decision mean with regards to the NSA’s bulk collection program, and can Americans feel more at ease about the security of their phone data with the introduction of the new Freedom Act? RT asked the former MI5 agent-turned-whistleblower for her take.
RT: Firstly, what’s your take on this? It’s an isolated court case, you could say, but does it have any big impact, do you think, on the NSA spying program.
Annie Machon: It’s business as usual for them. I’m sure they’re very happy to be told what they’re doing is legal, now. I mean, there have been a number of challenges, where different levels of courts in the US have said bulk metadata collection is legal; it’s illegal; it’s legal again. But, actually, what they’ve been doing is just business as usual under the 215 Section of the Patriot Act, which I think Congress was due to re-ratify at the beginning of June, but it became a bit gridlocked in the whole system. So, you know, they will be very happy with this result.
RT: Certainly, President Obama seems very happy. You know, the White House has hailed the ruling. But earlier in the year, we did hear Obama saying “We’re promising to reform things, too.” Do you think there’s been a significant change in attitude in the White House?
AM: I think they’ve passed the buck, basically, to the judiciary to take the hard decisions. So, now they’ve got this ruling, they don’t need to make the hard political decisions. They’ll just say, “Well, the judge just said its constitutional; that’s fine,” which is bad enough for the American citizens, within America, who will continue to be spied on extensively in the face of this nebulous and ever-changing terrorist threat. However, of course, none of this, whatsoever, had any relevance to the rest of us around the world, where the NSA could merrily go on spying on us all, to every degree they want to, because we’re not American citizens. So, it’s a bit of a back step for privacy advocates in America, but it’s no change for the rest of us.
RT: Yeah, you say no change, Annie, but you know, we’ve got the new Freedom Act to look forward to, too. You know, the one that will replace the Patriot Act. Surely, that’s a step forward, though, isn’t it?
AM: That’s one for Orwellian Newsspeak, I think. “You’re free.” No you’re not. It’s not a freedom act; it’s a surveillance act. They’re trying to recast it to make it sound good, but it’s not. And even if that’s the case in America, even if the NSA were reigned in, and they were not allowed to spy on American citizens, all they have to do is ask their buddies in the Five Eyes group, which would be Canada, New Zealand, Australia, or the UK, to do the spying for them, which would be perfectly legal under any of those countries’ oversight systems, and then just pass the information to the Americans. So, it is, as I said, very much business as usual. They will always find a way to subvert any notional political oversight within their own countries by sharing this information between themselves, and spying on everyone else’s systems. So, we are all still, very much, living under a global Panopticon.
And none of this has any real impact on protecting us from terrorism. We’ve seen this time, and time again. An NSA whistleblower, Thomas Drake, senior staff, said that, actually, there was a lot of information the NSA had in the run up to 9/11, and yet it was not communicated or acted upon appropriately, so the attack occurred. And then we see current and very recent intelligence chiefs in America saying, for example, you know, “Well it stopped all these terrorism attacks.” And they’ve been caught lying under oath to Congress about this. This bulk metadata creates a huge haystack from which no needles have, effectively, been found.
Five whistleblowers are suing the Justice Department, National Security Agency, FBI and their former directors for violating their constitutional and civil rights after they complained about government waste and fraud through proper channels.
According to the complaint, filed in Washington, DC’s federal district court, all five were subjected to illegal searches and seizures, raids on their homes and places of business, false imprisonment, and cancellation of their security clearances after they complained about government waste and fraud at the NSA.
Four of the five whistleblowers worked at the National Security Agency: Thomas Drake, Ed Loomis, J. Kirk Wiebe and William Binney. The fifth, Diane Roark, worked at the Department of Energy. They are seeking some $100 million in damages.
The plaintiffs blew the whistle on the wasteful abandonment of a short-lived surveillance program called THINTHREAD which was being built by the NSA, but was then scuttled in favor of a more expensive program less protective of Americans’ communications.
The plaintiffs had worked on developing the THINTHREAD program, which was capable of effectively performing the technical work required by the NSA at the low cost of $4 million. The program was dumped at the direction of Lt. General Michael Hayden in favor of an outside contract for an expensive program called TRAILBLAZER, which ended up costing the government $4 billion. The TRAILBLAZER program never worked properly and was abandoned in 2006.
The plaintiffs filed a complaint with the Department of Defense arguing that, in using an outside contractor, the agency was committing fraud and wastefully misusing taxpayer dollars. The Department of Defense inspector general issued a scathing report on the abuse.
In response, the complaint argues, the NSA concocted a story claiming the whistleblowers were responsible for leaking information on the NSA’s surveillance of Americans to The New York Times. As a result, the Department of Justice conducted a series of raids that disrupted the plaintiffs’ lives and livelihoods.
The plaintiffs argue that the raids were retaliatory as the government had already determined that they had had nothing to do with the disclosures to the New York Times. The real leaker was a former lawyer who worked at DOJ with the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Among the six named defendants are two former NSA directors, Michael Hayden and Keith Alexander, and former FBI Director Robert Mueller.
The complaint alleges that the FBI, NSA and DOJ’s actions violated the plaintiffs’ protections under the 1998 Whistleblower Protection Act, and violated their First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights.
The whistleblowers are seeking punitive damages in excess of $100 million in compensation for the loss of wages and employment they incurred as a result of the defendants’ alleged callous and reckless indifference.
While the raids and harassment took place in 2006 and 2007, the suit is only being brought now because the plaintiffs were only able to access all of the details concerning their case in 2013, after court documents were unsealed.