Monthly Archives: June 2011

Lutz Security and Lack of Transparency: the AntiSec Movement

Only a little more than a month and a half ago, the merry pranksters of Lulz Security began their quest to wreak havoc on the computer systems of the world, all in the name of lulz. Today, that anarchic campaign has come to an abrupt end. The group announced via a statement posted to Pastebin that it will permanently disband, dropping the Lulz Boat anchor for good. As a parting gift, LulzSec also released a trove of data stolen from companies like AOL and AT&T, evidence that the group hacked the website of the US Navy, plus a variety of other illicit goodies.

“For the past 50 days we’ve been disrupting and exposing corporations, governments, often the general population itself, and quite possibly everything in between, just because we could,” writes LulzSec. “All to selflessly entertain others – vanity, fame, recognition, all of these things are shadowed by our desire for that which we all love. The raw, uninterrupted, chaotic thrill of entertainment and anarchy.”

The group confirmed its retirement on the LulzSec Twitter feed, which managed to amass 277,540 followers during its short stint online.

During its 50-day reign of digital terror, LulzSec hacked PBS.org, a variety of websites owned by Sony, Nintendo, FBI affiliate Infragard Atlanta, 50+ porn sites, Bethesda software, 4Chan.org, CIA.gov, Senate.gov and a variety of law enforcement agencies in Arizona….

While the group says that the brief duration of its existence was planned from the beginning, some have already begun to argue that the pressure on LulzSec simply became too much for them to handle. And they might have a point. In the past two weeks alone, Scotland Yard arrested a 19-year-old with ties to the group; hacker group Web Ninjas published names, photos and other personal data related to people it claims are members of LulzSec; and another hacker group, TeaMp0isoN, defaced the website of an alleged LulzSec member.

Excerpt, LulzSec calls it quits after 50 days of hacks, Yahoo News, June 27, 2011

Again, behind the mask, behind the insanity and mayhem, we truly believe in the AntiSec movement. We believe in it so strongly that we brought it back, much to the dismay of those looking for more anarchic lulz. We hope, wish, even beg, that the movement manifests itself into a revolution that can continue on without us. The support we’ve gathered for it in such a short space of time is truly overwhelming, and not to mention humbling. Please don’t stop. Together, united, we can stomp down our common oppressors and imbue ourselves with the power and freedom we deserve.”  From the Press Release of Lutz Security

Obama v. Assange, secret information and transparency

Forty years ago this week the New York Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers, the largest leak of classified documents in American history until WikiLeaks came along.

Julian Assange’s outfit is Barack Obama’s problem, and though the current administration lacks the vindictiveness and criminality of the Nixon White House, it has pursued leakers with just as much vigour. After promising the most transparent administration in history, Mr Obama and his Justice Department have pressed criminal charges against five suspected leakers under the Espionage Act, more than all other administrations combined, including Nixon’s.

Its efforts, so far, have had mixed results. Three cases are still pending, including that of Bradley Manning, who is accused of leaking a trove of classified documents to WikiLeaks, which itself is under investigation by a grand jury. Mr Assange may be the administration’s great white whale, but last year it netted a smaller fish when it sent an FBI linguist, Shamai Leibowitz, to prison for 20 months for passing secret documents to a blogger.

More recently, though, the government has watched its case against Thomas Drake collapse. Mr Drake, a former official at the National Security Agency (NSA), tried to report mismanagement and illegalities at the agency to government officials, but was ignored. He then went to the press. The government charged him with misappropriating classified material, though he denied he had shared any secrets. Prosecutors, wary of revealing sensitive material in court, tried to tempt him with a generous plea deal, but he held out until last week. Originally facing up to 35 years in prison, he will now receive a much milder sentence, perhaps including no time in jail.

The government’s aggressive pursuit of Mr Drake confounded advocates of open government. In the eyes of many, his attempts to expose waste and wrongdoing at his agency make him a whistleblower. And although the law does not compel the government to differentiate between good leaks and bad leaks, Mr Obama has praised whistleblowing in the past, arguing that “such acts of courage and patriotism…should be encouraged rather than stifled.”

Others accuse the administration of having a double standard. Among the three cases still pending, Stephen Kim, a former State Department contractor, is accused of passing classified information about North Korea to Fox News. But his disclosures pale beside those in Bob Woodward’s book “Obama’s Wars”, which were evidently leaked by far more senior officials. “How can it be in the US government’s interest to pursue Mr Kim in the manner it has and allow this much more blatant event to go unaddressed?” asked Abbe Lowell, Mr Kim’s lawyer, in a letter to the Justice Department.

A bigger problem still is overclassification. Americans have been able to read most of the Pentagon Papers for 40 years, but the documents were declassified only this week. Similarly, many of the dispatches allegedly leaked by Mr Manning are still considered government secrets. And the Obama administration has only made things worse. According to the Information Security Oversight Office, a government agency, the administration created 224,734 new secrets in its first year in office, up 22.6% on the year before.

Even as the administration strives to keep secrets, it can still claim to have made some progress towards greater openness. Government agencies are putting more information online, and many have cut into the backlog of Freedom-of-Information-Act requests. Last year Mr Obama declassified the size of America’s nuclear arsenal and this year he revealed his intelligence budget request.

Excerpts, Classified information:Return of the plumbers, Economist, June 18, 2011, at 38

The Arrogant v. the Incompetent: US troops v. Afghan forces

In late May, a NATO soldier was killed as he emerged from his tent. Two weeks earlier, two NATO soldiers were killed while eating a meal. In late April, eight U.S. troops were shot dead at a meeting at Kabul airport.  The attacks had one thing in common: The killers all wore Afghan military or police uniforms.  Foreign troops serving in Afghanistan say they’re increasingly concerned about the “enemy within.” Yet they emphasize the importance of keeping anxiety in check amid a climate of deepening mutual distrust….

Since March 2009, at least 57 foreign troops, including 32 Americans, have been killed in 19 attacks by Afghan service members. More than half occurred this year….Maj. Gen. James Mallory, deputy commander for NATO training, said threats may include Taliban “sleeper” recruits who infiltrate the Afghan ranks; militants who use acquired uniforms to sneak onto bases; Afghan soldiers “turned” by blackmail, ideology or financial desperation; and stress-related cases in which a perceived insult or misunderstanding turns deadly.  Although the Taliban frequently claims responsibility for the attacks, fueling a myth of invincibility, the vast majority of cases involve stress or cultural differences, Mallory said.  “This is a society that for 30 years has been at war,” he said. “Only now are we coming to terms with the effects of stress on the force.”  Most Afghan and foreign troops get along well, he said, pointing out that the recent rise in killings dovetails with a proportionate rise in troops operating in the field.

Thomas Barfield, an anthropology professor at Boston University and author of a book on Afghanistan’s cultural history, said the U.S.-Afghan cultural gap is enormous.  “It’s like oil and water,” said Barfield, who has been paying visits to the country since the 1970s. “Neither side knows what [angers] the other. American soldiers are fairly foul-mouthed. Afghans are from an honor-based society and feel disrespected.”  A classified U.S. Army study based on 600 troop interviews, first reported in the Wall Street Journal, said “fratricide-murder” cases are provoking a crisis of confidence among Westerners working with Afghan forces. Recruits from the lower echelons of Afghan society are “somewhat prone to turning on and murdering their Western trainers,” the report said.

Many Afghans interviewed for the report saw American troops as arrogant, culturally insensitive bullies who humiliated them by searching and disarming them in public and frequently violated women’s privacy.And American forces often characterized their Afghan counterparts as drug abusers and thieves who were also incompetent, corrupt and lazy with “repulsive hygiene.”

Lt. Cmdr. Colette Murphy, spokeswoman for the NATO force in Afghanistan, said the report was systemically flawed and sensational, and relied on an inadequate sample, adding that “there will always be points of friction when cultures are forced to share close quarters and dangerous situations.”  Despite Taliban boasts of responsibility, commanders in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said there’s little direct evidence of sleeper cells or even much infiltration.

Still, they have stepped up countermeasures, including tougher screening for new Afghan recruits using iris scans, fingerprinting, drug-testing and database searches. And they’ve stationed more U.S. counterintelligence experts in Afghanistan to work with Afghan experts adept at recognizing cultural cues.

These include requiring that two elders vouch for every potential recruit, ensuring that they are well-known in the community, and flagging behavioral changes, such as when a moderately religious Afghan soldier becomes more hostile toward foreigners after time off, when he is most likely to face Taliban pressure.

By claiming responsibility for uniformed attacks, militants accomplish several objectives…The attacks stir up suspicion between Afghan and foreign forces…They make the Afghan people distrust symbols of state authority. And they deter job-seekers from joining the uniformed services, because Afghan police or soldiers are so often victimized by those posing as uniformed security personnel.  “It’s very effective,” he said. “Fear is a very important tool.”

Exceprts, By Mark Magnier,Attackers in uniform add to anxiety in Afghanistan, Los Angeles Times, June 26, 2011

Carbon Footprint Labels

Do you look for carbon-footprint labels on goods when shopping? If you do, you are in a small minority. The practice of adding labels to foods and other products, showing the quantity (in grams) of carbon-dioxide emissions associated with making and transporting them, began in 2007 when the world’s first such labels were applied to a handful of products sold in Britain. The idea was that carbon labels would let shoppers identify products with the smallest carbon footprints, just as other labels already indicate dolphin-friendly tuna, organic milk or Fairtrade coffee. Producers would compete to reduce the carbon footprints of their products, and consumers would be able to tell whether, for example, locally made goods really were greener than imported ones.

Carbon labels have yet to become as widely recognised by consumers as other eco-labels, however. A survey carried out in 2010 by Which?, a British consumer group, found that just a fifth of British shoppers recognised the carbon footprint label, compared with recognition rates of 82% for Fairtrade and 54% for organic labelling. This is understandable, because carbon labelling is a much more recent development—organic labelling dates back to the 1970s, and Fairtrade to the late 1980s—and the right ways to do it are still being worked out. Adding a carbon label to a product is a complex and often costly process that involves tracing its ingredients back up their respective supply chains and through their manufacturing processes, to work out their associated emissions. According to 3M, an American industrial giant that makes over 55,000 different products, this can cost $30,000 for a single product. To further confuse matters, different carbon footprinting and labelling standards have emerged in different countries, preventing direct comparisons between the various types of label.

Even so, proponents of carbon labels now see encouraging signs of progress. In Britain, a pioneer in carbon labelling, nine out of ten households bought products with carbon labels last year, albeit mostly unwittingly, and total sales of such products exceeded-

Divide and Conquer: China and the South China Sea

In 2002 China and the ten-member Association of South-East Asian Nations agreed to a “declaration” on a code of conduct for the South China Sea. This is a promise to formalise a code minimising the risk that disputes between fishermen or other users of the sea might escalate into conflict. The code has not emerged. But optimists point to the restraint parties have shown since 2002 in not occupying uninhabited islands or specks of rock (though they have been energetically fortifying the places where they already had a presence). Similarly, some were cheered when China’s most recent statement of its claim did not include the contentious map, and could even be construed as accepting (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) UNCLOS principles.

..But in late May 2011 a Vietnamese ship exploring for oil and gas in the Sea had its surveying cables cut by Chinese patrol boats..Around the time when the Vietnamese survey ship had its lines cut, the Philippines reported that Chinese vessels had been spotted unloading building material on an uninhabited reef, known as the Amy Douglas Bank, in waters it claims, apparently to build an oil rig. If so, this would undermine the declaration’s one big achievement. “It could be the final nail in its coffin,” says Ian Storey of the Institute for South-East Asian Studies in Singapore, author of a new book on China’s rise and South-East Asian security.

Even if China does not build on the reef, the perception has taken hold that it is intent on picking off the South-East Asian claimants one by one, starting with the Philippines, one of the weakest.

Excerpts, Banyan: Not littorally Shangri-La, Economist, June 11, 2011, at 50

Uncontacted tribe in Amazon Rainforest

Brazilian authorities say they have pinpointed the location of a community of uncontacted tribespeople in one of the remotest corners of the Amazon rainforest.  Fabricio Amorim, a regional co-ordinator for Brazil’s indigenous foundation, Funai, said the indigenous community had been found after three small forest clearings were detected on satellite images. Flyovers were carried out in April, confirming the community’s existence.  Four straw-roofed huts, flanked by banana trees and encircled by thick jungle, can be seen in photographs taken during the flyover.  The community is likely to be home to about 200 people, probably from the Pano linguistic group which straddles the border between Brazil, Peru and Bolivia, according to Funai.  Amorim said the region — known as the Vale do Javari — contained “the greatest concentration of isolated groups in the Amazon and the world” but warned of growing threats to their survival  “Among the main threats to the well-being of these groups are illegal fishing, hunting, logging, mining, cattle ranching, missionary actions… and drug trafficking,” he said. Oil exploration over the border in Peru could also have a negative impact on indigenous tribes in region.  Officially, Funai recognises the existence of 14 uncontacted tribes in the Vale do Javari, making up a total of at least 2,000 people… Government officials currently seek to avoid direct contact with Brazil’s uncontacted tribes… Many believe limited contact may become necessary in order to protect the groups from external threats.

José Carlos Meirelles, a veteran Funai official who has spent more than two decades working in the Javari region, said in 2009: “If this situation continues, contact will become inevitable, and it is better that it happens with us than with loggers or goldpanners.”

Uncontacted tribe found deep in Amazon rainforest, Guardian, June 22, 2011