Last December the Venezuelan journalist José Vicente Rangel went on his television program to talk about how the Pentagon has created the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) that is spreading disinformation about Venezuela. Specialized centers such as CIMA also go after other governments that Washington finds unpalatable.
The president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, devoted one of his weekly speeches to the mudslinging being directed against his government via social networks. Social networks are now the principal platform for media warfare.
A mass media law has been in effect in Ecuador since June 2013, which greatly limits any potentially hostile propaganda campaign, including «exposés». Typically, such campaigns are intended to compromise politicians and other figures friendly to the government. The Superintendent’s Office for Information and Communications, which monitors and assesses the work of the media, is responsible for enforcing the law in Ecuador.
Ecuador’s penal code includes a chapter titled «Crimes associated with mass media transgressions», which decrees that editors and publishers are responsible for the publication of defamatory or offensive materials. Ecuador is probably the only country in Latin America that has managed to set some sensible guidelines for the work of the media.
Currently the Western Hemisphere is being inundated with a flood of «exposés» featuring the names of politicians who are under attack by Washington. Apparently the CIA and NSA are pursuing a comprehensive plan aimed at getting many influential figures deposed and prosecuted.
Compromising materials on Nicolás Maduro, Inácio Lula da Silva, Dilma Rousseff, Cristina Kirchner, and Evo Morales were publicized by US intelligence agencies in one fell swoop without missing a beat, and those are now being used by a pro-American fifth column in order to destabilize Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia. That blow is primarily aimed at leaders who are rejecting the neoliberal doctrine, pursuing social reform policies that will benefit many different strata of the population.
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In Brazil, a scandal is unfolding over the convoluted issue of petrodollar-laundering and corruption, as well as the use of «undeclared revenue» to finance the election campaigns of the ruling Workers’ Party. Former president Lula da Silva (2003-2010) was detained for several hours and questioned by an investigator, accused of taking bribes from the company Petrobras. Specifically, Lula was asked to explain what money he had planned to use for the purchase of an apartment that he had allegedly looked in secret. Sixty Brazilian politicians, governors, and businessmen are named in the case. The investigation cast a shadow on Dilma Rousseff, the country’s current president. Brazil’s opposition media, under the control of the media holding company O Globo, claimed that Rousseff chaired Petrobras at a time when corrupt schemes were flourishing in the company. According to investigators, the contracts signed by senior managers hinged on the kickback percentage that was personally offered to them.
At the center of the crusade against Dilma is Aécio Neves, her recent rival in the presidential election and a senator and regular visitor to the US embassy. His agreement to «collaborate» with the Americans is still in effect, thus much of the NSA material from the dossiers on Lula and Dilma has been placed at the disposal of Neves’ people in Brazil’s courts and government agencies, and publications owned by the O Globo holding company have provided extensive coverage of these materials. As a result, Dilma’s approval ratings have dropped. Her nine-party coalition, With the Strength of the People, has disintegrated. This was in large part due to the fact that some of the Workers’ Party staff were vulnerable to accusations.
A campaign replete with serious problems for Brazil was unleashed. Brazil’s former finance minister, Luiz Carlos Bresser-Pereira, claims, «Unexpectedly there emerged a collective hatred on the part of the upper strata of society – the rich – against the party and the president. It wasn’t anxiety or fear, but hatred. Hatred, because for the first time we have a center-left government that has remained leftist. Despite all the compromises, it has not changed. Hatred, because the government has demonstrated a strong preference for the workers and the poor».
Sensitive information about close relatives can be co-opted if no justification can be found to attack a politician that US operatives have decided to victimize. That is what the DEA, CIA, and US prosecutors are doing to the nephews of Cilia Flores, the wife of President Maduro. Those young men were arrested by police in Haiti and handed over to the US on charges of conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States. It will take time to prove that they were framed by DEA agents who staged scenes designed to entrap their «targets» in illegal deals, and the propaganda campaign against the family of President Maduro is already in full swing. According to Cilia Flores, the lawyers for the accused will prove that in this incident, the DEA operatives in Venezuela have committed crimes.
(to be continued)
Instilling fear in the minds of the public has been a powerful tool of social control since the dawn of human civilization. Today, it is clear that the Western elite are using fear and terror as a means of ushering in totalitarian control. The mainstream media has been force-feeding the Western public a steady diet of war, fear and terror since the neocons “new Pearl Harbor event” in 2001.
After the latest terror attack in Belgium, the media is playing its usual role of amplifying the incident beyond any rational comprehension. The majority of the public are caught up in the vortex of emotive propaganda and sensationalist rhetoric. Images of terror; horror; fear; and panic dominate the news landscape. The main message is that you should be afraid.
The only solution to latest crisis (in the eyes of the elite) is for even greater spying powers and totalitarian control. Hillary Clinton, the political prostitute par excellence, called for more surveillance and an expansion of the police state in response to the attacks in Belgium. Both Ted Cruz and Donald Trump support a further erosion of civil liberties and have called for increasing surveillance of Muslims (Trump even advocated torturing terror suspects).
Yet not one political figure has called for prosecuting CIA and other US officials for war crimes, after years of the West openly funding and arming terrorists in Syria. Accountability is what is needed, not authoritarianism.
Every terror attack produces the same response by the elite: more surveillance, more state power, more war, more barbarism and more control. It’s frankly boring. You know what the puppets are going to say prior to them opening their mouths. It was the same response after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, when David Cameron was pushing for greater surveillance powers in the UK and leading the charge for an insane ban on all encryption.
We know that NSA spying has nothing to do with stopping terrorism, and everything to do with controlling the domestic population. In the words of the high-level NSA whistleblower, William Binney: “The ultimate goal of the NSA is total population control.”
We know that Western intelligence agencies and their regional allies were instrumental in supporting the rise of ISIS (and other terror groups), by funding and arming these factions in a failed attempt to topple al-Assad. In the words of the former US military intelligence chief, Michael T. Flynn, the Obama administration took the “willful decision” to support the rise of these radical forces.
The criminal Western elite have no intention of winning the ‘war on terror,’ as the ‘war on terror’ was always designed to be perennial. The elite create the terror groups because without the faux ‘war on terror,’ the surveillance state loses the entire pretext on which it was built.
For any totalitarian elite, it is essential that “a state of war should exist,” as Orwell wrote in 1984:
“It does not matter whether the war is actually happening, and since no decisive victory is possible, it does not matter whether the war is going well or badly. All that is needed is that a state of war should exist… The consciousness of being at war, and therefore in danger, makes the handing-over of all power to a small caste seem the natural, unavoidable situation of survival” (2008 edition: p.200 & p.201).
As the elite create a perpetual state of war, chaos, fear and terror, the people of the West increasingly allow more power to be concentrated in the hands of the ‘superclass.’ If the Western public continues to be duped into believing that this phony ‘war on terror’ is real, the elite will use this as a pretext to completely destroy civil liberties and any semblance of freedom in the West.
War is Peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength
Photo Credits: NSA
German intelligence agencies and police have granted asylum to roughly 1,000 refugees in exchange for sensitive information, often by means of “intervention” in the decisions of the national immigration authority, the government has said.
Intelligence services and the federal police have granted asylum to almost 1,000 migrants over the past 15 years, the government’s official response to a parliamentary request for information said. According to the paper, between 1958 and 2013 Germany’s main intelligence agency, the BND, operated a so-called Main Questioning Facility (HBW) which was in charge of collecting specific intelligence from migrants entering the country.
Many “questioning” sessions involved US officers from the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), though respondents were not aware of the officials’ real identities. Other German agencies such as the federal police, customs service and regional domestic intelligence authorities were also said to have access to recruiting their own informants among migrants.
The HBW would then ask the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) to grant asylum to each migrant deemed suitable to become a BND source. Such requests, described in the paper as “interventions,” were justified by the claim that the migrants would face imminent death or torture if forced to return to their countries of origin.
Most informants came from the Middle East – with the peak figures in 2001-2002 after 9/11 – followed by nationals of post-Soviet countries, Africa, Asia and the Balkans, the document says. Notably, the immigration service rejected two asylum “interventions” in 2002, even after those informants had been recruited by the BND.
The BND’s “questioning facility” allegedly maintained close contact with both the DIA and NSA, allowing them to access intelligence collected from migrants. In several cases, the intelligence was used to identify targets for US drone strikes in the Middle East and Africa. The government document described the information as extremely valuable for military use.
But Martina Renner, an MP from Die Linke party who co-authored the request for information, told Die Zeit newspaper that “the quality of information obtained could be very questionable.” She argued that refugees – keen to get permission for their stay in Germany – would say anything they believed their questioners wanted to hear.
One of the most dramatic examples, Renner said, was the DIA agent codenamed “Curveball” (real name Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi), who initially defected from Iraq to Germany in 1999.
His fake testimonies about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction program were used by the US as a rationale to invade Iraq in 2003, despite both the BND and British MI6 questioning the authenticity of the claims.
Although the BND’s questioning facility was officially closed in 2013, the recruitment of agents from among migrants did not stop. Germany’s domestic intelligence, the Federal Service for the Protection of the Constitution, contacts asylum seekers on a “case-by-case” basis, while the BND still monitors refugee hostels to look for prospective informants, Die Zeit reported.
This was probably the most impressive revelation derived by the documentary A Good American watched by the blog at the 18th Documentary Festival of Thessaloniki.
The exceptional documentary by Friedrich Moser deconstructs completely the image of the National Security Agency, one of the most powerful intelligence agencies in the world. Through the revealing stories of former NSA employees who became whistleblowers – like William Binney, Diane Roark and Thomas Andrews Drake – the agency appears that it has become a field of personal ambitions and money hunting through huge funds from the central government.
Moreover, the experienced, top analyst, William Binney (who is the central figure of the documentary), deconstructs the myth of an organization that is supposed to be pioneer in new technologies. He presents NSA as an organization which had certain difficulties to follow the explosive progress of the computer technology during 1990s, in order to modernize its obsolete equipment as fast as possible.
But the most mind-blowing revelation comes from Binney’s NSA colleague Thomas Drake. At one point, Drake recalls how a Senior Military Officer dismissed Osama bin Laden as “a raghead spouting off about a fatwa in the desert” in response to their intelligence reports on Al Qaeda in the late 90s. After the events of 9/11, Drake quotes his former NSA boss Maureen Baginski who reportedly said “9/11 was a gift to the NSA, we’re gonna get all the money we need and then some.” 
Although one could claim that behind this story is hidden a conflict of interest concerning two rival projects proposed to the NSA, there is plenty of evidence that ThinThread, the project developed by a small group around Binney, was rejected against Trailblazer, only because Trailblazer was promoted by a powerful lobby inside the NSA.
Indeed, as also presented in the documentary: NSA whistleblowers J. Kirk Wiebe, William Binney, Ed Loomis, and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence staffer Diane Roark complained to the Department of Defense’s Inspector General (IG) about waste, fraud, and abuse in the program, and the fact that a successful operating prototype existed, but was ignored when the Trailblazer program was launched. The complaint was accepted by the IG and an investigation began that lasted until mid-2005 when the final results were issued. The results were largely hidden, as the report given to the public was heavily (90%) redacted, while the original report was heavily classified, thus restricting the ability of most people to see it. 
Additionally, in July 2007, armed FBI agents raided the homes of Roark, Binney, and Wiebe, the same people who had filed the complaint with the DoD Inspector General in 2002. Binney claims they pointed guns at his wife and himself. Wiebe said it reminded him of the Soviet Union. None of these people were charged with any crimes. In November 2007, there was a raid on Drake’s residence. His computers, documents, and books were confiscated. He was never charged with giving any sensitive information to anyone; the charge actually brought against him is for ‘retaining’ information. The FBI tried to get Roark to testify against Drake; she refused. 
The documentary also reveals that the project ThinThread not only was much cheaper, but had two additional advantages: it was much more effective and was designed to protect the personal data of millions of citizens who were not related with terrorist activity.
Although NSA leadership rejected ThinThread three weeks prior to 9/11, in a secret test-run of the program against the pre-9/11-NSA database in early 2002, the program immediately found the terrorists. 
No one should expect intelligence agencies to be composed by “angels” who follow strictly a moral code. The dirty role of US and other agencies around the world for many decades is well known.
Yet, this documentary uncovers something much worse. Nothing has left from the original mission that the NSA supposedly serves. The protection of citizens against terrorist attacks has become irrelevant in front of the big money targeted by the corrupted groups of interests inside the agency. It seems that nothing has been remained unaffected from the rotten culture of “money and power above all and by all means” that dominates in today’s societies.
 Greed, Corruption & Cover-Up At The NSA, http://artvoice.com/2016/03/04/greed-corruption-cover-up-at-the-nsa/#.VvQZ_Y_PHLc
 Trailblazer Project, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trailblazer_Project
 Thomas Andrews Drake, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Andrews_Drake
 A Good American (2015), Plot Summary, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4065414/plotsummary?ref_=tt_ov_pl
Two members of the House Oversight Committee, a Democrat and a Republican, have asked the director of the National Security Agency to halt a plan to expand the list of agencies that the NSA shares information with.
Representatives Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) and Ted Lieu (D-California) wrote in a letter to NSA Director Michael Rogers on Monday that the reported plan would violate privacy protections in the Fourth Amendment, since domestic law enforcement wouldn’t need a warrant to use the data acquired from the agency.
“We are alarmed by press reports that state National Security Agency (NSA) data may soon routinely be used for domestic policing,” the two lawmakers wrote. “If media accounts are true, this radical policy shift by the NSA would be unconstitutional, and dangerous.”
Last month, the New York Times reported that the Obama administration was working with the NSA to create new protocols for sharing intercepted private communications with domestic law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
Currently, the secretive spy agency says that its analysts remove certain personal information before giving it to other agencies. Under the new rules, however, domestic law enforcement would have access to the surveillance data without it being scrubbed of personally identifiable information.
The FBI currently has the ability to use phone-based data, but it must request the NSA’s permission to access information from digital communications. The planned loosening of these restrictions would have to be approved by Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
“Our country has always drawn a line between our military and intelligence services, and domestic policing and spying,” the congressmen wrote. “We do not — and should not — use US Army Apache helicopters to quell domestic riots; Navy Seal teams to take down counterfeiting rings; or the NSA to conduct surveillance on domestic street gangs.”
The Obama administration has said it had leeway to change procedures for certain surveillance programs, thanks to executive order 12333, signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
In 2015, Congress passed the USA Freedom Act, which curbed certain surveillance activities by ending bulk collection of phone records. Private telecom companies are now required to hold onto such information, so that it can be handed over to law enforcement if a warrant is obtained.
The latest themed revolution concocted by the Central Intelligence Agency’s «soft power» agents in the Brazilian federal and state legislatures, corporate media, and courts and prosecutors’ offices – all spurred on with the financial help of George Soros’s nongovernmental organizations – is the «Yellow Duck Revolution».
Large inflatable yellow ducks – said to represent the economic «quackery» of President Dilma Rousseff and her Workers’ Party government – have appeared at US-financed street demonstrations in Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro, and Sao Paulo. The main coordinators of these protests are found in Brazil’s largest corporate federations and corporate-owned media conglomerates and all of them have links to domestic non-profit organizations like Vem Pra Rua (To the Street) – a typical Soros appellation – and Free Brazil Movement, in turn funded by the usual suspects of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), US Agency for International Development (USAID), and Soros’s Open Society Institute.
After trying to mount an electoral defeat of Brazil’s progressive leftist president, Dilma Rousseff, through a combination of presidential candidate assassination (the aerial assassination of Eduardo Campos in 2014 to pave the way to the presidency for the Wall Street-owned Green candidate Marina Silva, Campos’s vice presidential running mate), «rent-a-mob» street demonstrations, and corporate media propaganda, the Langley spooks are now trying to run Rousseff from office through a «Made in America» impeachment process. Aware that Rousseff’s progressive predecessor and mentor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has been targeted by Brazilian prosecutors on the CIA’s payroll, for arrest and prosecution for bribery, she appointed him to her government with ministerial rank and prosecutorial immunity. Lula only became a target because he signaled his desire to run for the presidency after Rousseff’s term ends in 2019.
The Workers’ Party correctly points out that the legislative impeachment maneuvers against Rousseff and the judicial operations against both Rousseff and Lula emanate from Washington. The same «color of law» but CIA-advanced operations were directed against presidents Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in Argentina, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, Fernando Lugo in Paraguay, and Manuel Zelaya in Honduras. In the cases of Lugo and Zelaya, the operations were successful and both leaders were removed from power by CIA-backed rightist forces.
Street protests against Rousseff have, since they began in 2014, taken on the typical Soros themed revolution construct. As with the disastrous Soros-inspired and CIA-nurtured Arab Spring protests in Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Tunisia and Euromaidan protest in Ukraine, the Vem Pra Rua movement and the associated Free Brazil Movement are basically nothing more than politically-motivated capitalist campaigns relying on Facebook, Twitter, and pro-insurrection television and radio networks, newspapers, and websites.
In addition to the inflatable yellow ducks, street protests have been marked by quickly-manufactured inflatable dolls of Lula in black and white prison garb and a placard cartoon drawing of Rousseff with a red diagonal «No» sign drawn through it. Street protest devices, which also include green and yellow banners and clothing, are telltale signs of significant amounts of money backing the psychological warfare gimmickry.
Brazilian prosecutors on Langley’s payroll arrested the popular Lula after staging a massive police raid on his house. Police also arrested the former First Lady of Brazil, Lula’s wife Marisa Leticia. Lula said he felt that he was kidnapped by the police. In 2009, Honduran troops actually kidnapped President Manuel Zelaya in the middle of the night and detained him in a military cell prior to expelling him from the country. That operation, like the one against Lula and Rousseff, was backed not only by the CIA and NSA, but by the US Southern Command in Miami. The Honduran coup was also backed by the Supreme Court of Honduras. To prevent a further political arrest of her predecessor, Rousseff made Lula her chief of staff, a cabinet position that affords Lula some protection from continuing prosecutorial harassment and legal proceedings by the federal court.
On March 16, Judge Sergio Moro, who is in charge of Operation «Lava-jato» («Car wash»), the two-year investigation of Petrobras and the alleged bribery involving Rousseff and Lula, released two taped intercepts of phone calls between the president and former president. The bugged phone conversation involved Rousseff’s plans to appoint Lula as her chief of staff, a Cabinet rank, as a way to afford him some protection from the CIA’s judicial-backed coup operation now in play. Rousseff previously served as Lula’s chief of staff. Classified National Security Agency documents leaked by whistleblower Ed Snowden illustrate how the NSA has spied on Rousseff’s office and mobile phones. President Obama claimed he ordered an end to such spying on world leaders friendly to the United States. Obama’s statement was false.
Judge Sergio Moro’s name appears in one of the leaked State Department cables. On October 30, 2009, the US embassy in Brasilia reported that Moro attended an embassy-sponsored conference in Rio de Janeiro held from October 4-9. Titled «Illicit Financial Crimes», the conference appears have been an avenue for the CIA and other US intelligence agencies to train Brazilian federal and state law enforcement, as well as other Latin American police officials from Argentina, Paraguay, Panama, and Uruguay, in procedures to mount bogus criminal prosecutions of Latin American leaders considered unfriendly to the United States. The State Department cable from Brasilia states: «Moro… discussed the 15 most common issues he sees in money laundering cases in the Brazilian Courts».
One item that was not on the agenda for the US embassy seminar was the NSA’s covert spying on the communications of Rousseff, Lula, and the state-owned Brazilian oil company Petrobras. In a technique known as prosecutorial «parallel construction», US prosecutors given access to illegally-intercepted communications, have initiated prosecution of American citizens based on the selective use of warrantless intercepts. If such tactics can be used in the United States, they can certainly be used against leaders like Rousseff, Lula, and others. The Operation Car wash intercepts of the Rousseff-Lula phone conversations that were released by Judge Moro to the media may have originated with NSA and its XKEYSCORE database of intercepts of Brazilian government and corporate communications conducted through bugging operations codenamed KATEEL, POCOMOKE, and SILVERZEPHYR.
In what could be called the «Obama Doctrine», the CIA has changed its game plan in overthrowing legitimate governments by using ostensibly «legal» means. Rather than rely on junta generals and tanks in the street to enforce its will, the CIA has, instead, employed prosecutors, judges, opposition party leaders, newspaper editors, and website administrators, as well as mobs using gimmicks – everything from inflatable yellow ducks, paper mâché puppets, and freshly silk screen-printed t-shirts, flags, and banners – as themed revolution facilitators.
As shown by the leaked State Department cables, the CIA has identified a number of agents of influence it can rely on for providing intelligence on both Rousseff and Lula. These sources have included the senior leadership of the Workers’ Party; officials of Petrobras eager to see their company sold off to the highest-bidding foreign vultures; Brazilian Central Bank executives; and Brazilian military intelligence officers who were originally trained by US intelligence and military agencies.
In addition to BRICS member Brazil, other BRICS nations have also seen the US increasing its efforts to organize themed revolutions. South Africa is on the target list, as are Russia and China.
The Obama administration, by consistently refusing to turn over documents and information, has gone out of its way to make it more difficult for the inspectors general of executive branch agencies to do their jobs.
The concept of inspectors general investigating executive branch departments and agencies came into being in the late 1970s after the Watergate scandal. The idea was that inspectors general would have free rein to investigate wrongdoing in their departments and bring government abuse to light.
But thanks to an obsession with secrecy on the part of the Obama administration, inspectors general who previously had access to all documents, emails and other information have had to beg for evidence, which is often produced after months of requests and is sometimes heavily redacted.
“The bottom line is that we’re no longer independent,” Michael E. Horowitz, the Justice Department inspector general, told The New York Times.
More than three decades of established federal policy that gave watchdogs unrestricted access to government records in their investigations is now at serious risk of being undone. That includes “at least 20 investigations across the government that have been slowed, stymied or sometimes closed because of a long-simmering dispute between the Obama administration and its own watchdogs over the shrinking access of inspectors general to confidential records,” according to the Times’ Eric Lichtblau.
Justice Department lawyers wrote an opinion last summer that stated grand jury transcripts, wiretap intercepts and financial credit reports and some other “protected records” could be withheld from inspectors general. As a result of that order, investigators who need to review government records are now required to get permission from the very agencies they are monitoring in order to do so.
“This is by far the most aggressive assault on the inspector general concept since the beginning,” Paul Light, a New York University professor who has studied inspectors general, told the Times. “It’s the complete evisceration of the concept. You might as well fold them down. They’ve become defanged.”
Among the investigations being hindered are those involving FBI use of phone records collected by the NSA, the DEA’s role in the shooting of unarmed civilians in Honduras drug raids, international trade agreement enforcement at the Commerce Department, the “Fast and Furious” gun operation, intelligence relating to the Boston Marathon bombings, and additional cases at the Afghanistan reconstruction board, the EPA and the Postal Service.
Even the Peace Corps has worked to prevent access to records. The agency’s inspector general was denied information when looking into cases of sexual abuse of Peace Corps volunteers. This despite claims that the agency is in favor of “rigorous oversight” and that it cooperated with investigators.
The situation has drawn criticism from both Republicans and Democrats. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said of a plan to give the Justice Department inspector general more access, but not those at other agencies, “It’s no fix at all.” His colleague on the committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) said at a hearing that the Obama administration has “blocked what was once a free flow of information” to investigators.
Justice IG Horowitz said the consequence of the watchdog clampdown may be an increase in cases of waste, fraud and abuse across the government.
To Learn More:
Tighter Lid on Records Threatens to Weaken Government Watchdogs (by Eric Lichtblau, New York Times )
Pentagon Stonewalls U.S. Watchdog’s Inquiries into $800 Million Afghanistan Program (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov )
Justice Department Tries to Limit Inspectors General Access to Government Documents (by Steve Straehley, AllGov )
FBI Claims it Doesn’t Have to Share Records with Justice Dept. Inspector General (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov )
The High Cost of Secrecy to American Taxpayers (by Matt Bewig, AllGov )
Like millions of Americans, this past week I was sitting on my couch, drinking a cold beer, watching Game 1 of the World Series – professional baseball’s hallowed championship. Suddenly the satellite feed went out, the screen went dark. Naturally, as FOX Sports scrambled to get their live feed fixed, many of my fellow Americans took to twitter to speculate as to what had caused the outage. I was, sadly, unsurprised to see that the most common joke people were making was that China must have hacked the World Series.
On the one hand, it is understandable given the barrage of propaganda about Chinese hackers as a threat to corporate and national security; seemingly every week there is a new news item highlighting the great red cyber-menace. On the other hand, it is a perfect illustration of the hypocrisy and ignorant arrogance of Americans who, despite being citizens of unquestionably the most aggressive nation when it comes to both cyber espionage and surveillance, see fit to cast China as the real villain. It is a testament to the power of both propaganda and imperial triumphalism that a proposition so disconnected from reality, and bordering on Orwellian Doublethink, is not only accepted, but is ipso facto true.
But there is a deeper political and sociological phenomenon at play here, one that begs further exploration. How is it that despite all the revelations of Edward Snowden regarding US intelligence and military snooping capabilities across the globe, Americans still cannot accept the culpability of their own government and corporate interests – the two work hand in hand – in global cyber-espionage? Even if they explicitly or implicitly know about the NSA, CIA, DIA, and Pentagon programs (among many others), their instinctive reaction is to blame China. Why? The answer lies in the complexity and effectiveness of the anti-China propaganda.
In his landmark book Public Opinion, the renowned writer, commentator, and theoretician of propaganda, Walter Lipmann, defined the term “stereotype” in the modern psychological sense as a “distorted picture or image in a person’s mind, not based on personal experience, but derived culturally.” In other words, the stereotype is an image in our mind’s eye, one that is constructed by outside forces; it is information filtered through a particular societal or cultural framework that then creates a picture of how something is to be understood. Lipmann went further, noting that carefully constructed propaganda could be used to shape stereotypes, thereby allowing the powers that be the ability to construct and manipulate information and narratives.
And this is precisely the phenomenon at work here. By repeating it endlessly, the US political and corporate media establishment have successfully convinced Americans that China is the real threat when it comes to cyberspace, playing on the stereotype of Chinese people in general, and the People’s Republic of China specifically. But, I would argue something far different: rather than seeing China as a threat, perhaps Americans, and westerners generally, should shine a light on what their own countries are doing, thereby gaining a broader perspective on the issue. For China’s moves in this field pale in comparison to those of the US, and are clearly a response to them.
China and the US: Comparing the Rap Sheets
The corporate media is replete with stories of Chinese hacking of US institutions. From alleged Chinese hacking of the University of Virginia employees connected with US government programs directed at China, to the infamous breach of the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management which resulted in the theft of the personal information of more than 20 million Americans, such stories help to construct an image of China as the world’s leading hacker-state. This week it is Chinese hackers targeting health care providers, last year it was stealing the secrets of Westinghouse and US Steel, and literally dozens of other such examples.
The purpose of this article is not to deny the veracity of these reports; I’m not a computer expert, nor do I have access to the information that an expert would need in making a determination. Instead, my purpose here is to show the grossly unbalanced, and utterly dishonest, way in which the issue is presented to Americans especially, and to probe why that might be. For any fair and balanced approach to the issue would present the simple fact that the US is the world leader in cyber-warfare, having actually conducted what are to date the only recorded live uses of cyberweapons.
Take for instance the joint US-Israel developed Stuxnet virus, a pair of highly complex and severely destructive, computer viruses launched at Iran’s nuclear facilities. According to a group of independent legal experts assembled at the request of NATO’s Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence, the Stuxnet cyberattack was “an act of force.” Their report noted that “Acts that kill or injure persons or destroy or damage objects are unambiguously uses of force [and likely violate international law].”
Indeed, the US and its Israeli partners launched the very first true cyberweapon. As cyber security expert Ralph Langer wrote in Foreign Policy in 2013:
Stuxnet is not really one weapon, but two. The vast majority of the attention has been paid to Stuxnet’s smaller and simpler attack routine — the one that changes the speeds of the rotors in a centrifuge, which is used to enrich uranium. But the second and “forgotten” routine is about an order of magnitude more complex and stealthy. It qualifies as a nightmare for those who understand industrial control system security… The “original” payload… attempted to overpressurize Natanz’s centrifuges by sabotaging the system meant to keep the cascades of centrifuges safe.
Essentially, the US and Israel employed the world’s first cyberweapon without even fully knowing the potentially destructive consequences. As the virus migrated out of the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz and onto the internet, innumerable variables could have come into play, with the potential for disastrous outcomes.
But of course Stuxnet was not alone. The US and Israel also deployed both the Gauss and Flame viruses, two more sophisticated cyberweapons designed to cause major damage to online infrastructure. The Gauss virus, discovered by Kaspersky labs, one of the world’s most highly respected cyber-security firms, was designed to steal sensitive data such as financial records. According to the US officials who spoke with the Washington Post, the Flame virus was a: massive piece of malware [which] secretly mapped and monitored Iran’s computer networks, sending back a steady stream of intelligence to prepare for a cyberwarfare campaign… “This is about preparing the battlefield for another type of covert action… Cyber-collection against the Iranian program is way further down the road than this.” said one former high-ranking U.S. intelligence official, who added that Flame and Stuxnet were elements of a broader assault that continues today.
Clearly the US and Israel were not merely interested in surveillance and information-gathering, but actually having the ability to manipulate and destroy vital computer infrastructure in Iran. Any reasonable reading of international law should hold that such actions are, in fact, an act of war, though of course war with Iran has not come to pass. But just the very use of such sophisticated weapons, far more elaborate, technical, and dangerous than mere hacking by humans, should call into question the weepy-eyed condemnations of China for its alleged stealing of corporate and government information.
And then of course there is the seemingly endless supply of revelations from Edward Snowden regarding the US surveillance infrastructure, how all-encompassing it truly is, how it is used to manipulate political outcomes, how it is used as a weapon against foreign governments, and much more.
Just to name a few of the countless programs and initiatives of the NSA and the surveillance state designed to capture information for political purposes:
PRISM – allows “The National Security Agency and the FBI [to tap] directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, emails, documents, and connection logs.”
BLARNEY – “Gathers up metadata from choke points along the backbone of the internet as part of an ongoing collection program the leverages IC (intelligence community) and commercial partnerships to gain access and exploit foreign intelligence obtained from global networks.”
Boundless Informant – “Details and even maps by country the voluminous amount of information it collects from computer and telephone networks.”
US & UK Target G20 Leaders – “The documents suggest that the operation was sanctioned in principle at a senior level in the government.”
US Spied on EU Offices – “America’s National Security Agency (NSA) not only conducted online surveillance of European citizens, but also appears to have specifically targeted buildings housing European Union institutions… in addition to installing bugs in the building in downtown Washington, DC, the European Union representation’s computer network was also infiltrated.”
But of course, the US has also specifically, and successfully, trained its cyber-espionage and cyber-warfare sights on China itself. Thanks to Snowden, we now know that US intelligence repeatedly hacked into Beijing’s Tsinghua University, China’s top education and research institute. As revealed in the South China Morning Post:
The information also showed that the attacks on Tsinghua University were intensive and concerted efforts. In one single day of January, at least 63 computers and servers in Tsinghua University have been hacked by the NSA… The university is home to one of the mainland’s six major backbone networks, the China Education and Research Network (CERNET) from where internet data from millions of Chinese citizens could be mined. The network was the country’s first internet backbone network and has evolved into the world’s largest national research hub.
But it wasn’t only Tsinghua University that was targeted. Snowden also revealed that Chinese University in Hong Kong was the victim of US hacking; the university is home to the Hong Kong Internet Exchange, the city’s central hub for all internet traffic. In addition, it came out that US intelligence has repeatedly hacked into Chinese mobile phone companies, spied on users, and stolen data, including text messages. These are, of course, only what we know about thus far from the Snowden revelations. The scope of US hacking operations against China is not known, but could be safely assumed to be far-reaching.
In fact, the depth of US hacking and other intelligence operations targeting China, including those taking place inside China itself, has been alluded to repeatedly. The New York Times noted in August 2015 that the Obama administration was cautious about any retaliation against China for the breach of the Office of Personnel Management because “Intelligence officials say that any legal case could result in exposing American intelligence operations inside China — including the placement of thousands of implants in Chinese computer networks to warn of impending attacks.”
It is clear that what we do know about US cyberwar programs and tactics is really only the tip of the iceberg. It is likely that Washington has myriad other China-specific hacking programs and initiatives, including the much discussed attempts to subvert the oft referenced “Great Firewall of China.” Put simply, the US is engaged in the most sophisticated forms of hacking and cyber-subversion, and much of it is directed at China (and Russia and Iran). This should now be beyond question.
Keep this information in mind the next time another story about Chinese hackers attacking US interests runs in the corporate media. While the hack may or may not be true, it is the context within which such actions take place that really needs to be understood.
There is a cyberwar going on, of this there can be no doubt. But who’s got the biggest guns? And who fired the first shot?
A federal district court yesterday dismissed Wikimedia v. NSA, a lawsuit brought by the ACLU on behalf of a broad group of educational, legal, human rights, and media organizations whose communications are swept up by the NSA’s unprecedented Internet dragnet.
Our lawsuit concerns the NSA’s “upstream” surveillance, which involves the mass interception and searching of Americans’ international Internet communications. The court held that our clients lacked “standing” to bring suit, because they had not plausibly alleged that their communications were being monitored by the NSA. That’s just plain wrong.
The court’s opinion relies heavily on the Supreme Court’s decision in a previous ACLU lawsuit, Amnesty v. Clapper, a challenge to warrantless surveillance under the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. In February 2013, the Supreme Court dismissed that case on the grounds that the plaintiffs could not prove that they had communicated with the NSA’s targets.
But as we explained in court, our current challenge to the NSA’s warrantless spying is very different than the last one. Among other reasons, Clapper was decided prior to the Snowden revelations and extensive government disclosures about upstream surveillance. These revelations fundamentally changed the equation. Since Clapper, the public has learned that the NSA is not surveilling only its targets — it is instead surveilling virtually everyone, looking for information about those targets.
Some early takeaways from the district court’s opinion:
1.The court misunderstands how upstream surveillance is fundamentally different from and much more intrusive than the surveillance considered by the Supreme Court in Clapper.
Upstream surveillance is accomplished through the installation of devices directly on the Internet “backbone” — the network of high-capacity cables, switches, and routers across which Internet traffic travels. One particularly disturbing feature of upstream spying is known as “about” surveillance. Through this surveillance, the NSA is not simply plucking the communications to or from terrorists, spies, or other targets. Instead, it’s copying and searching through the contents of nearly everyone’s international communications, looking for information about its many targets. When the Supreme Court considered warrantless surveillance in Clapper, it was focused on whether the plaintiffs communicated with targets. At that time, the public had no idea that the NSA was essentially opening everyone’s international emails. Indeed, contrary to the district court’s understanding, “about” surveillance is in no way targeted:
2. The court ignores how Internet communications are structured — and why that requires the government to intercept at least some of our clients’ trillion-plus international communications.
Collectively, our clients engage in more than one trillion international Internet communications each year, with individuals in virtually every country on Earth. As we explained in our complaint, given the structure of the Internet, it is virtually impossible for the NSA to conduct upstream surveillance without intercepting at least some of plaintiffs’ communications. Yet the court dismissed these allegations, characterizing them as having “no basis in fact.”
3. Given how much is in the public record about upstream surveillance, our clients’ allegations are not “speculative” or “hypothetical.”
As the court acknowledged, at this early stage of the litigation, plaintiffs have to satisfy only a very low threshold: plausibility. Especially considering what’s publicly known about how upstream surveillance works, and the volume and distribution of our clients’ communications, their allegations are more than plausible.
4. The court’s opinion would insulate government surveillance from any legal challenge, except in cases where the government has already admitted its reliance on a particular program.
Although the court recognized that “no government surveillance program should be immunized from judicial scrutiny,” its analysis would do precisely that in the overwhelming majority of cases. If the court’s reasoning were correct, then the only people who could challenge NSA surveillance would be those told by the government they were spied on — a result at odds with well-established precedent and our system of checks and balances:
Our clients’ standing doesn’t depend on a supposition. There’s no question that the NSA is capturing and searching through their communications. That’s something the court — and everyone else — should find extremely disconcerting.
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.
An impressive coalition has formed to oppose a new surveillance bill masquerading as cybersecurity legislation.
Privacy and civil liberties organizations, free market groups, and others from across the political spectrum are joining this week in a common chorus call: Stop CISA.
Proponents of CISA — the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act — claim the Senate bill would help prevent cyber-crimes by improving information sharing between the government and the private sector. But in reality, CISA only succeeds in expanding government surveillance and weakening privacy while making Americans less secure online. The bill as drafted would have done nothing to stop the high-profile breaches at Sony, Anthem, and, most recently, the Office of Personnel Management, which holds terabytes of sensitive information about millions of government employees.
For several years, certain elements of the business community and national security hawks in Congress have pressed for legislation like CISA. In April, the House passed a package of similar cybersecurity information sharing bills, which were opposed by the ACLU and bevy of other privacy and civil liberties groups, but were in some ways dramatically better than the bill now pending in the Senate.
CISA’s vague language and expansive definitions will give the government new ways to collect and use the personal information and communications of innocent Americans, all without a warrant or any review by an independent court or overseer. CISA would allow companies to share information with the government relating to a “cybersecurity threat,” a term defined so broadly in the bill that it could include huge swaths of emails and text messages. The handover of user information under CISA would be permitted even if otherwise prohibited by existing data privacy laws, like the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The law would also give companies broad legal protections even if they improperly share consumer data.
And, perhaps unsurprisingly, the information shared by companies would automatically be forwarded to numerous intelligence, military, and law enforcement agencies, including the NSA and FBI.
Once in the government’s hands, CISA allows for the shared information to be used in garden-variety law enforcement cases that have nothing to do with cybersecurity. For example, the government could use private emails and messages received from communications providers like Comcast, Facebook, Google, or Verizon to investigate and prosecute whistleblowers who report serious misconduct to the press. That’s a serious concern given that the Obama administration has already prosecuted more national security whistleblowers than all other administrations combined.
As an added bonus for government snoopers, CISA also includes a new exemption to the Freedom of Information Act, which will make it harder for groups like the ACLU to obtain documents from the government to determine how it is using — or misusing — the shared information. That means, for example, that it could be nearly impossible for us to find out how much private information is flowing from companies to the government or how the government is using it.
And despite CISA’s promise to open the floodgates for private information to flow to the government without any privacy protections, it fails at actually delivering better cybersecurity. As we learned with the hack at the OPM, the government is not a reliable guarantor of data security. Hackers were able to access the personal information of millions of Americans — including Social Security numbers, birthdates, and records about citizens’ finances, health, associations, and even sexual orientation—that applicants for security clearances must disclose to the government. All that additional information would make the government an even more desirable target for cybersnoops and cybercrooks.
CISA is more than just a bad solution to a serious problem. It would actually make cybersecurity worse while compromising basic democratic protections for personal privacy. The Senate must reject this surveillance bill. But if it decides to send this travesty to the president, he should veto the bill, consistent with his past threats against similarly atrocious bills.
Do your part to Stop CISA.