Monthly Archives: June 2017

Spreading the War Bug

Foreign Policy reported recently that key officials within the Trump administration are “pushing to broaden the war in Syria, viewing it as an opportunity to confront Iran and its proxy forces on the ground there”. The strategy was being advocated over objections from the Pentagon, but it doesn’t seem to be deterring the White House.  As the Washington Post made clear just a few days ago, Iranian and US forces have already been directly clashing in the region, and officials are busy planning the “next stage” of the Syria war once Isis is defeated – a plan that centers around directly attacking the Iranians….

Just this weekend, Politico quoted key Republican senator Tom Cotton saying: “The policy of the United States should be regime change in Iran.” The CIA has already expanded its Iranian covert operations, while the main White House liaison to intelligence agencies, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, has reportedly“told other administration officials that he wants to use American spies to help oust the Iranian government”. And US secretary of state Rex Tillerson, in little noticed comments to Congress last week, called for “regime change” in Iran as well (albeit a “peaceful” one – whatever that means)…

The Trump administration’s plans may not stop in Syria either. Some officials have allegedly also been pushing for the Pentagon to step up its support of Saudi Arabia’s appalling war in Yemen, which has left 20 million people on the verge of starvation – all to go after Iranian-backed forces in the region as well.

All this comes as the Trump administration ramps up war across the Middle East. They are conducting drone strikes at a rate almost four times that of the Obama administration; civilian deaths from US forces in Syria have skyrocketed; special operations in Somalia have been ramping up; and the Pentagon is sending thousands of more troops to Afghanistan.

Excerpt from: Trevor Timm, Trump administration Donald Trump’s bloodlust for war in the Middle East risks chaos, Guardian, June 27, 2017

The Kangaroo Infiltration

On June 22nd 2017, WikiLeaks published documents from the Brutal Kangaroo project of the CIA. Brutal Kangaroo is a tool suite for Microsoft Windows that targets closed networks by air gap jumping using thumbdrives…

The documents describe how a CIA operation can infiltrate a closed network (or a single air-gapped computer) within an organization or enterprise without direct access. It first infects a Internet-connected computer within the organization (referred to as “primary host”) and installs the BrutalKangaroo malware on it. When a user is using the primary host and inserts a USB stick into it, the thumbdrive itself is infected with a separate malware. If this thumbdrive is used to copy data between the closed network and the LAN/WAN, the user will sooner or later plug the USB disk into a computer on the closed network. By browsing the USB drive with Windows Explorer on such a protected computer, it also gets infected with exfiltration/survey malware. If multiple computers on the closed network are under CIA control, they form a covert network to coordinate tasks and data exchange. Although not explicitly stated in the documents, this method of compromising closed networks is very similar to how Stuxnet worked.

Excerpts from Brutal Kangaroo Press Release Wikileaks, June 22, 2017

Firing Back with Vengeance: the NSA Weapons

from you tube.

The strike on IDT, a conglomerate,… was similar to WannaCry in one way: Hackers locked up IDT data and demanded a ransom to unlock it.  But the ransom demand was just a smoke screen for a far more invasive attack that stole employee credentials. With those credentials in hand, hackers could have run free through the company’s computer network, taking confidential information or destroying machines….Were it not for a digital black box that recorded everything on IDT’s network, …the attack might have gone unnoticed.

Scans for the two hacking tools used against IDT indicate that the company is not alone. In fact, tens of thousands of computer systems all over the world have been “backdoored” by the same N.S.A. weapons. Mr. Ben-Oni and other security researchers worry that many of those other infected computers are connected to transportation networks, hospitals, water treatment plants and other utilities…

Both WannaCry and the IDT attack used a hacking tool the agency had code-named EternalBlue. The tool took advantage of unpatched Microsoft servers to automatically spread malware from one server to another, so that within 24 hours… hackers had spread their ransomware to more than 200,000 servers around the globe. The attack on IDT went a step further with another stolen N.S.A. cyberweapon, called DoublePulsar. The N.S.A. used DoublePulsar to penetrate computer systems without tripping security alarms. It allowed N.S.A. spies to inject their tools into the nerve center of a target’s computer system, called the kernel, which manages communications between a computer’s hardware and its software.

In the pecking order of a computer system, the kernel is at the very top, allowing anyone with secret access to it to take full control of a machine. It is also a dangerous blind spot for most security software, allowing attackers to do what they want and go unnoticed. In IDT’s case, attackers used DoublePulsar to steal an IDT contractor’s credentials. Then they deployed ransomware in what appears to be a cover for their real motive: broader access to IDT’s businesses…

But the attack struck Mr. Ben-Oni as unique. For one thing, it was timed perfectly to the Sabbath. Attackers entered IDT’s network at 6 p.m. on Saturday on the dot, two and a half hours before the Sabbath would end and when most of IDT’s employees — 40 percent of whom identify as Orthodox Jews — would be off the clock. For another, the attackers compromised the contractor’s computer through her home modem — strange.

The black box of sorts, a network recording device made by the Israeli security company Secdo, shows that the ransomware was installed after the attackers had made off with the contractor’s credentials. And they managed to bypass every major security detection mechanism along the way. Finally, before they left, they encrypted her computer with ransomware, demanding $130 to unlock it, to cover up the more invasive attack on her computer.

A month earlier, Microsoft had issued a software patch to defend against the N.S.A. hacking tools — suggesting that the agency tipped the company off to what was coming. Microsoft regularly credits those who point out vulnerabilities in its products, but in this case the company made no mention of the tipster. Later, when the WannaCry attack hit hundreds of thousands of Microsoft customers, Microsoft’s president, Brad Smith, slammed the government in a blog post for hoarding and stockpiling security vulnerabilities.  For his part, Mr. Ben-Oni said he had rolled out Microsoft’s patches as soon as they became available, but attackers still managed to get in through the IDT contractor’s home modem.

There are now YouTube videos showing criminals how to attack systems using the very same N.S.A. tools used against IDT, and Metasploit, an automated hacking tool, now allows anyone to carry out these attacks with the click of a button….

“Once DoublePulsar is on the machine, there’s nothing stopping anyone else from coming along and using the back door,” Mr. Dillon said.More distressing, Mr. Dillon tested all the major antivirus products against the DoublePulsar infection and a demoralizing 99 percent failed to detect it.  “We’ve seen the same computers infected with DoublePulsar for two months and there is no telling how much malware is on those systems,” Mr. Dillon said. “Right now we have no idea what’s gotten into these organizations.”..

Could that attack be coming? The Shadow Brokers resurfaced last month, promising a fresh load of N.S.A. attack tools, even offering to supply them for monthly paying subscribers — like a wine-of-the-month club for cyberweapon enthusiasts.

Excerpts from NICOLE PERLROTHJUNE, A Cyberattack ‘the World Isn’t Ready For’,  New York Times, June 20, 2017

Rising Transformation: low to high level nuclear waste disposal facilities

U.S. District Judge Sue L. Robinson of Delaware on June 21,2017 sided with the federal government in blocking a $367 million merger between EnergySolutions and the radioactive site’s parent company. Waste Control Specialists calls the deal essential for its long-term viability.The details of Robinson’s opinion were sealed.

The U.S. Department of Justice sued in November 2017 to block the merger of rival companies, arguing it would essentially create a monopoly on radioactive waste disposal.  “Substantial evidence showed that head-to-head competition between EnergySolutions and Waste Control Specialists led to better disposal services at lower prices,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Andrew Finch of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division said in a statement. “Today’s decision protects competition in an industry that is incredibly difficult to enter.”…

Waste Control Specialists, which currently stores low-level radioactive waste in Andrews County*** has a pending application with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to store tens of thousands of metric tons of spent nuclear fuel currently filling up reactor sites across the country. The company has pitched the massive expansion as a solution to a problem that has bedeviled policymakers for decades….

“The WCS site is not a safe place to store deadly high-level radioactive waste,” Karen Hadden, executive director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition, said in a statement. “Texans and those along transport routes shouldn’t have to suffer the health, safety, security, financial and environmental risks that transport and storage of the nation’s most dangerous radioactive waste would bring.”

Critics allege that millions in donations by Harold Simmons, owner of Waste Control Specialists, to Texas Governor Rick Perry and other politicians influenced political support for the controversial project…..Critics also cite WCS’ safety record. One 22-ton shipment of low-level radioactive material from a diffusion plant in Illinois failed to arrive at the WCS Andrews facility in late July 2001. Lost for almost a month, the material turned up dumped on a cattle ranch north of Dallas.

Excerpts from  JIM MALEWITZ ,Amid Texas nuclear waste site’s financial woes, judge blocks merger,  The Texas Tribune, June 21, 2017 + Wikipedia

***The plant is located 5 miles east of Eunice, New Mexico, and 35 miles west of Andrews. The surrounding area on both sides of the state border, “nuclear alley”, also includes:

the National Enrichment Facility (owned and operated by the Urenco Group) in Eunice
the deep geological repository Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP; managed by the United States Department of Energy), and
the proposed first commercial uranium de-conversion facility in the United States, a project of International Isotopes, Inc.

Taking it to Pieces: Nuclear Power

nuclear plant South Korea

South Korea, one of the world’s largest nuclear electricity producers, will scrap plans to add nuclear power plants, its president said on June 19, 2017, signaling a shift in decades of reliance on nuclear energy.  President Moon Jae-in said South Korea will move away from nuclear energy and will not seek to extend the life of existing plants.  He also vowed to cut South Korea’s reliance on coal. South Korea will shut 10 old coal power plants and stop building more coal power plants.

“So far South Korea’s energy policy pursued cheap prices and efficiency. Cheap production prices were considered the priority while the public’s life and safety took a backseat,” Moon said at a ceremony marking the shutdown of the country’s oldest power plant, Kori 1, in Busan, home to South Korea’s largest cluster of nuclear power plants. “But it’s time for a change.”

The speech was Moon’s followup on his presidential campaigns to cut coal and nuclear power. Greenpeace and other environmental groups welcomed Moon’s announcement.

Since the Kori 1 reactor went online in 1978, the resource poor-country added 24 nuclear power plants to meet rising demand for electricity from rapid industrialization and economic development. In 2016, a third of electricity in South Korea was produced from nuclear power plants. Its nuclear power production from 25 nuclear plants in 2016 was the fifth-largest in the world, according to the World Nuclear Association.

South Korea is also one of the few countries that have exported its nuclear reactor technology… building a nuclear reactor in United Arab Emirates.

But South Koreans’ enthusiasm for nuclear energy quickly waned following the 2011 Fukushima meltdowns in its neighbor Japan. In the following year, fake parts scandals prompted an investigation and spread fear over nuclear plants’ safety. Recent earthquakes in southeastern South Korea also dented public support in the country that was long believed to be safe from earthquakes. South Korea is also searching for answers on how and where to store spent nuclear fuels permanently.

To decommission the Kori 1 reactor, South Korea plans to invest developing its own decommissioning technology and experts in the area. The decommissioning will take at least 15 years and cost 643.7 billion won ($569 million or 64 billion yen), the energy ministry said.

Engineering Revolutions

Five doses of LSD, often called a "five strip". Image from wikipedia

There’s the extremely odd tale of how the CIA imported significant amounts of LSD from its Swiss manufacturer in hopes that it could used for successful mind control. Instead, by dosing thousands of young volunteers including Ken Kesey, Whitey Bulger, and Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, the Agency accidentally helped popularize acid and generate the 1960s counter-culture of psychedelia.

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. allied with anti-communist forces in Laos that leveraged our support to become some of the largest suppliers of opium on earth. Air America, a CIA front, flew supplies for the guerrillas into Laos and then flew drugs out, all with the knowledge and protection of U.S. operatives.  The same dynamic developed in the 1980s as the Reagan administration tried to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. The planes that secretly brought arms to the contras turned around and brought cocaine back to America, again shielded from U.S. law enforcement by the CIA.

Most recently, there’s our 16-year-long war in Afghanistan. While less has been uncovered about the CIA’s machinations here, it’s hard not to notice that we installed Hamid Karzai as president while his brother apparently was on the CIA payroll and, simultaneously, one of the country’s biggest opium dealers. Afghanistan now supplies about 90 percent of the world’s heroin.

The documentary ‘America’s War on Drugs’ on the History Channel makes clear that this is not part of a secret government plot to turn Americans into drug addicts. But, as Moran puts it, “When the CIA is focused on a mission, on a particular end, they’re not going to sit down and pontificate about ‘What are the long-term, global consequences of our actions going to be?’” Winning their secret wars will always be their top priority, and if that requires cooperation with drug cartels which are flooding the U.S. with their product, so be it. “A lot of these patterns that have their origins in the 1960s become cyclical,” Moran adds. “Those relationships develop again and again throughout the war on drugs.”

Excerpt from Jon Schwarz, THE HISTORY CHANNEL IS FINALLY TELLING THE STUNNING SECRET STORY OF THE WAR ON DRUGS,  the Intercept, June 18, 2017

The 2020 Deadline

image from wikipedia

Circle January 2020 on your calendar for what could be a major disruption to the energy market and a jolt to the global economy.The origin of the problem isn’t some oil cartel’s machinations, a looming war or even a technological shift — it is a bureaucratic body that few people have heard of: the International Maritime Organization. Just 30 months from now the cargo vessels that are the lifeblood of global trade will be required to cut the sulfur content in their fuel from 3.5% to 0.5%.

Ships move more than 10 billion tons of cargo a year and do it far more efficiently than road or rail, but it comes at a high cost in terms of overall pollution because ships use fuel oil, which is just about the cheapest, dirtiest stuff to come out of refineries. About 9% of all sulfur dioxide emitted globally comes from ships, contributing to acid rain and many premature deaths annually. Even the new cap is 500 times the sulfur content of most road diesel.

Even with significant investment, refiners may not be ready and ships may have to burn more expensive marine diesel.”Marine diesel affects land diesel which affects jet fuel which affects gasoline,” explains Mr. Tallett. That could cause the prices of those fuels to go up by 10% to 20%.

The only solution may be to simply refine more oil, which means increasing overall demand, to get enough low-sulfur fuel out of the world’s refineries. The International Energy Agency worried about the impact in a February 2017 report, yet it assumes many ships will install marine scrubbers to clean the dirty fuel and that refiners will add units to reduce sulfur content — both expensive propositions.

Excerpts from High Seas are to Deliver a Shock to Energy Sector, Wall Street Journal, June 7, 2017