Tag Archives: electronic surveillance

Drone Strikes: How to Deal with Surgically Implanted Explosive Devices

Menwith Hill  a Royal Air Force station near Harrogate, North Yorkshire, England has been described as the largest electronic monitoring station in the world.

The documents, provided to the Guardian by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and reported in partnership with the New York Times, discuss how a joint US, UK and Australian programme codenamed Overhead supported the strike in Yemen in 2012….

British officials and ministers follow a strict policy of refusing to confirm or deny any support to the targeted killing programme, and evidence has been so scant that legal challenges have been launched on the basis of single paragraphs in news stories.

The new documents include a regular series of newsletters – titled Comet News – which are used to update GCHQ personnel on the work of Overhead, an operation based on satellite, radio and some phone collection of intelligence. Overhead began as a US operation but has operated for decades as a partnership with GCHQ and, more recently, Australian intelligence.

The GCHQ memos, which span a two-year period, set out how Yemen became a surveillance priority for Overhead in 2010, in part at the urging of the NSA, shortly after the failed 2009 Christmas Day bomb plot in which Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to detonate explosives hidden in his underpants on a transatlantic flight.  Ten months later a sophisticated plot to smuggle explosives on to aircraft concealed in printer cartridges was foiled at East Midlands airport. Both plots were the work of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemen-based al-Qaida offshoot.

One Comet News update reveals how Overhead’s surveillance networks supported an air strike in Yemen that killed two men on 30 March 2012. The men are both described as AQAP members.  In the memo, one of the dead men is identified as Khalid Usama – who has never before been publicly named – a “doctor who pioneered using surgically implanted explosives”. The other is not identified…

US officials confirmed to Reuters in 2012 that there had been a single drone strike in Yemen on 30 March of that year. According to a database of drone strikes maintained by the not-for-profit Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the only incident in Yemen on that date targeted AQAP militants, causing between six and nine civilian casualties, including six children wounded by shrapnel.  Asked whether the strike described in the GCHQ documents was the same one as recorded in the Bureau’s database, GCHQ declined to comment.

The incident is one of more than 500 covert drone strikes and other attacks launched by the CIA and US special forces since 2002 in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia – which are not internationally recognised battlefields.  The GCHQ documents also suggest the UK was working to build similar location-tracking capabilities in Pakistan, the country that has seen the majority of covert strikes, to support military operations “in-theatre”.

A June 2009 document indicates that GCHQ appeared to accept the expanded US definition of combat zones, referring to the agency’s ability to provide “tactical and strategic SIGINT [signals intelligence] support to military operations in-theatre, notably Iraq and Afghanistan, but increasingly Pakistan”. The document adds that in Pakistan, “new requirements are yet to be confirmed, but are both imminent and high priority”….

By this point NSA and GCHQ staff working within the UK had already prioritised surveillance of Pakistan’s tribal areas, where the majority of US covert drone strikes have been carried out. A 2008 memo lists surveillance of two specific sites and an overview of satellite-phone communications of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, in which nearly all Pakistan drone strikes have taken place, among its key projects.

British intelligence-gathering in Pakistan is likely to have taken place for a number of reasons, not least because UK troops in Afghanistan were based in Helmand, on the Pakistani border.One of the teams involved in the geo-location of surveillance targets was codenamed “Widowmaker”, whose task was to “discover communications intelligence gaps in support of the global war on terror”, a note explains.

Illustrating the close links between the UK, US and Australian intelligence services, Widowmaker personnel are based at Menwith Hill RAF base in Yorkshire, in the north of England, in Denver, Colorado, and in Alice Springs in Australia’s Northern Territory.

Other Snowden documents discuss the difficult legal issues raised by intelligence sharing with the US….The UK has faced previous legal challenges over the issue. In 2012, the family of a tribal elder killed in Pakistan, Noor Khan, launched a court case in England in which barristers claimed GCHQ agents who shared targeting intelligence for covert strikes could be “accessory to murder”. Judges twice refused to rule on the issue on the grounds it could harm the UK’s international relations.

Excerpts from Alice Ross and James Ball,  GCHQ documents raise fresh questions over UK complicity in US drone strikes,  Guardian, June 24, 2015

The Equinet: decentralization v. enclosure of internet

Internet, image from wikipedia

“The Internet governance should be multilateral, transparent, democratic,and representative, with the participation of governments, private sector, civil society, and international organizations, in their respective roles. This should be one of the foundational principles of Internet governance,” the external affairs ministry says in its initial submission to the April 23-24 Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance, also referred as NETmundial, in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  The proposal for a decentralised Internet is significant in view of Edward Snowden’s Wikileaks revelations of mass surveillance in recent months.

“The structures that manage and regulate the core Internet resources need to be internationalized, and made representative and democratic. The governance of the Internet should also be sensitive to the cultures and national interests of all nations.”The mechanism for governance of the Internet should therefore be transparent and should address all related issues. The Internet must be owned by the global community for mutual benefit and be rendered impervious to possible manipulation or misuse by any particular stake holder, whether state or non-state,” the ministry note says.  NETmundial will see representatives from nearly 180 countries participating to debate the future of Internet…

The US announced last month of its intent to relinquish control of a vital part of Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) – the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA).  “Many nations still think that a multilateral role might be more suitable than a multistakeholder approach and two years back India had proposed a 50-nation ‘Committee of Internet Related Policies’ (CIRP) for global internet governance,” Bhattacharjee added.

The concept of Equinet was first floated by Communications Minister Kapil Sibal in 2012 at the Internet Governance Forum in Baku, Azerbaijan.  Dr. Govind, chief executive officer, National Internet Exchange of India, is hopeful that Equinet is achievable. “Equinet is a concept of the Internet as a powerful medium benefiting people across the spectrum. It is all the more significant for India as we have 220 million Internet users, standing third globally after China and the US.”  “Moreover, by the year-end India’s number of Internet users are expected to surpass that of the US. The word Equinet means an equitable Internet which plays the role of an equaliser in the society and not limited only to the privileged people.”

He said the role of government in Internet management is important as far as policy, security and privacy of the cyber space is concerned, but the roles of the private sector, civil society and other stakeholders are no less. “Internet needs to be managed in a more collaborative, cooperative, consultative and consensual manner.”  Talking about the global strategy of renaming Internet as Equinet, he said: “Globally the US has the largest control over the management of the Internet, which is understandable since everything about Internet started there. Developing countries have still not much say over the global management of the Internet. But it is important that the Internet management be more decentralised and globalised so that the developing countries have more participation, have a say in the management where their consent be taken as well.”  The ministry note said: “A mechanism for accountability should be put in place in respect of crimes committed in cyberspace, such that the Internet is a free and secure space for universal benefaction. A ‘new cyber jurisprudence’ needs to be evolved to deal with cyber crime, without being limited by political boundaries and cyber-justice can be delivered in near real time.”

But other experts doubt the possibility of an Equinet or equalising the Internet globally.  Sivasubramanian Muthusamy, president, Internet Society India, Chennai, who is also a participant in the NETmundial, told IANS that the idea of Equinet is not achievable.  “Totally wrong idea. Internet provides a level playing field already. It is designed and operated to be universally accessible, free and open. Internet as it is operated today offers the greatest hope for developing countries to access global markets and prosper.”  “The idea of proposing to rename the Internet as Equinet has a political motive, that would pave way for telecom companies to have a bigger role to bring in harmful commercial models that would destabilize the open architecture of the Internet. If India is considering such a proposal, it would be severely criticized. The proposal does not make any sense. It is wrong advice or misplaced input that must have prompted the government of India to think of such a strange idea,” he said.

Excerpt from India wants Internet to become Equinet, Business Standard, Apr. 20, 2014

State Surveillance of Internet Protests

image from wikipedia

Enthusiasts called protesters in Egypt, Iran, Moldova and Tunisia “Twitter revolutionaries”. That was premature: much of the social-media content supporting the pro-democracy cause came from supporters abroad. But protests in Turkey and Brazil, where digital media are especially popular, do show how technology can muster, manage and amplify demonstrations. Zeynep Tufekci of Princeton University interviewed scores of Turkish protesters. Most cited social media as a spur.

Social media mean that pictures and video spread rapidly; supporters arrive more quickly than police can cart them away, so governments can no longer rely on quelling minor protests by force. A video circulating in Brazil advises citizen journalists to work in packs, adopting military formations to catch government wrongdoing from every available angle.

Highlighting outrageous police behaviour can prompt people to get involved. It also can show more innocuous scenes than the punch-ups and arrests that attract news photographers. These may encourage the hesitant or timid, showing that “protesters are not hooligans or terrorists but people just like you,” says Ethan Zuckerman of MIT.   Social media also counter inflammatory or complacent official channels. When a Turkish television station broadcast a documentary about penguins instead of the street protests, wags photoshopped the bedraggled birds into images of police soaking youths with water cannon, and circulated them in disgust.

Swelling the number of protesters is one thing. Co-ordinating them is another. Several hundred social-media pages advertised demonstrations across Brazil, offering tips on dodging water cannon; some sought volunteers to care for demonstrators’ children. They also helped to direct people who wished to protest in cities abroad. Brazilian hackers used denial of service attacks to briefly disable government websites, including one for next year’s costly football World Cup. All this can help give startling momentum in the real world and online. But it does not necessarily make the protests effective. An amorphous digital crowd can find it hard to agree on demands, accept compromises, or discipline provocateurs. Online voting and other clever e-democracy tools may solve this problem. But not yet.

In the meantime technology can serve the powerful, too. Protesters in Turkey and Brazil say their mobile internet access was throttled, though congestion, not censorship, may be the real culprit. Instructions issued over social networks are easily monitored by police. Amateur footage provides authorities with visual records of those who attend. Witness, an American charity which trains citizen journalists, says that where official snooping is a danger, protesters should be filmed only from behind; last July YouTube, an online video site, introduced a face-blurring tool.

Most protesters are not so careful, and police are getting better at capturing this information themselves. Since 2011 cops in Brazil have tried head-mounted face-detection cameras, which authorities claim can capture up to 400 faces a second. Hoisting them on cheap drones would offer an even better view. Police forces can also recognise demonstrators without actually seeing them: some officers in America have kit capable of recording the identifying code of all the mobile phones within a given area, and officials can also beg or seize the data from mobile operators.

More sought-after is technology that can help forestall protests. Digital marketers have long analysed social-media messages to gauge opinions about products and brands. Brazil’s security services are said to be increasing online monitoring: this can alert police to impending unrest, and spot the main troublemakers. Such tools are experimental. Technology still gives protesters the upper hand, though what they do with it is another question.

Internet protests: The digital demo, Economist, June 29, 2013, at 56

Web Mining and Beyond: FBI against Internet Freedom

Google-Says-the-FBI-Is-Secretly-Spying-on-Some-of-Its-Customers

National Security Letters [NSLs] are written demands from the FBI that compel internet service providers, credit companies, financial institutions and others to hand over confidential records about their customers, such as subscriber information, phone numbers and e-mail addresses, websites visited and more.  NSLs are a powerful tool because they do not require court approval, and they come with a built-in gag order, preventing recipients from disclosing to anyone that they have even received an NSL. An FBI agent looking into a possible anti-terrorism case can self-issue an NSL to a credit bureau, ISP or phone company with only the sign-off of the Special Agent in Charge of their office. The FBI has to merely assert that the information is “relevant” to an investigation into international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.

The lack of court oversight raises the possibility for extensive abuse of NSLs under the cover of secrecy, which the gag order only exacerbates. In 2007 a Justice Department Inspector General audit found that the FBI had indeed abused its authority and misused NSLs on many occasions. After 9/11, for example, the FBI paid multimillion-dollar contracts to AT&T and Verizon requiring the companies to station employees inside the FBI and to give these employees access to the telecom databases so they could immediately service FBI requests for telephone records. The IG found that the employees let FBI agents illegally look at customer records without paperwork and even wrote NSLs for the FBI.

The first challenge to NSLs occurred around an NSL that was sent in 2005 to Library Connection, a consolidated back office system for several libraries in Connecticut. The gag order was challenged and found to be unconstitutional because it was a blanket order and was automatic. As a result of that case, the government revised the statute to allow recipients to challenge the gag order. .  Now companies can simply notify the FBI in writing that they oppose the gag order, leaving the burden on the FBI to prove in court that disclosure of an NSL would harm a national security case. The case also led to changes in Justice Department procedures. Since Feb. 2009, NSLs must include express notification to recipients that they have a right to challenge the built-in gag order that prevents them from disclosing to anyone that the government is seeking customer records.

Few recipients, however, have ever used this right to challenge the letters or gag orders.

When recipients have challenged NSLs, the proceedings have occurred mostly in secret, with court documents either sealed or redacted heavily to cover the name of the recipient and other identifying details about the case.

On March 2013  U.S. District Judge Susan Illston (California) ordered the government to stop issuing so-called NSLs across the board, in a stunning defeat for the Obama administration’s surveillance practices. She also ordered the government to cease enforcing the gag provision in any other cases. However, she stayed her order for 90 days to give the government a chance to appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“We are very pleased that the Court recognized the fatal constitutional shortcomings of the NSL statute,” said Matt Zimmerman, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed a challenge to NSLs on behalf of an unknown telecom that received an NSL in 2011. “The government’s gags have truncated the public debate on these controversial surveillance tools. Our client looks forward to the day when it can publicly discuss its experience.”  The telecommunications company received the ultra-secret demand letter in 2011 from the FBI seeking information about a customer or customers. The company took the extraordinary and rare step of challenging the underlying authority of the National Security Letter, as well as the legitimacy of the gag order that came with it.

After the telecom challenged the NSL, the Justice Department took its own extraordinary measure and sued the company, arguing in court documents that the company was violating the law by challenging its authority.

In her ruling, Judge Illston agreed with EFF, saying that the NSL nondisclosure provisions “significantly infringe on speech regarding controversial government powers.”  She noted that the telecom had been “adamant about its desire to speak publicly about the fact that it received the NSL at issue to further inform the ongoing public debate” on the government’s use of the letters.  She also said that the review process for challenging an order violated the separation of powers. Because the gag order provisions cannot be separated from the rest of the statute, Illston ruled that the entire statute was unconstitutional.

Illston found that although the government made a strong argument for prohibiting the recipients of NSLs from disclosing to the target of an investigation or the public the specific information being sought by an NSL, the government did not provide compelling argument that the mere fact of disclosing that an NSL was received harmed national security interests.  A blanket prohibition on disclosure, she found, was overly broad and “creates too large a danger that speech is being unnecessarily restricted.” She noted that 97 percent of the more than 200,000 NSLs that have been issued by the government were issued with nondisclosure orders.

——

Number of NSLs Issued by FBI

2003——-39,346

2004——56,507

2005—–47,221

2006—-49,425

2007—-16,804

2008—-24,744

2009—14,788

2010—24,287

2011—16,511

(Source: DoJ reports)

She also noted that since the gag order on NSL’s is indefinite — unless a recipient files a petition with the court asking it to modify or set aside the nondisclosure order — it amount to a “permanent ban on speech absent the rare recipient who has the resources and motivation to hire counsel and affirmatively seek review by a district court.”

This case is remarkable for a number of reasons, among them the fact that a telecom challenged the NSL in the first place, and that EFF got the government to agree to release some of the documents to the public, though the telecom was not identified in them. The Wall Street Journal, however, used details left in the court records, and narrowed the likely plaintiffs down to one, a small San-Francisco-based telecom named Credo. The company’s CEO, Michael Kieschnick, didn’t confirm or deny that his company is the unidentified recipient of the NSL, but did release a statement following Illston’s ruling.

“This ruling is the most significant court victory for our constitutional rights since the dark day when George W. Bush signed the Patriot Act,” Kieschnick said. “This decision is notable for its clarity and depth. From this day forward, the U.S. government’s unconstitutional practice of using National Security Letters to obtain private information without court oversight and its denial of the First Amendment rights of National Security Letter recipients have finally been stopped by our courts.”

The case began sometime in 2011, when Credo or another telecom received the NSL from the FBI.EFF filed a challenge on behalf of the telecom.   In May that year on First Amendment grounds, asserting first that the gag order amounted to unconstitutional prior restraint and, second, that the NSL statute itself “violates the anonymous speech and associational rights of Americans” by forcing companies to hand over data about their customers.

The redacted documents don’t indicate the exact information the government was seeking from the telecom, and EFF won’t disclose the details. But by way of general explanation, Zimmerman said that the NSL statute allows the government to compel an ISP or web site to hand over information about someone who posted anonymously to a message board or to compel a phone company to hand over “calling circle” information, that is, information about who has communicated with someone by phone.

An FBI agent could give a telecom a name or a phone number, for example, and ask for the numbers and identities of anyone who has communicated with that person. “They’re asking for association information – who do you hang out with, who do you communicate with, [in order] to get information about previously unknown people.

“That’s the fatal flaw with this [law],” Zimmerman told Wired last year. “Once the FBI is able to do this snooping, to find out who Americans are communicating with and associating with, there’s no remedy that makes them whole after the fact. So there needs to be some process in place so the court has the ability ahead of time to step in on behalf of Americans

Excerpts, Kim Zetter, Federal Judge Finds National Security Letters: Unconstitutional, Bans Them, Wired,  Mar. 15, 2013

The Benefits of War: how to train a fighting force

Perhaps no service was jolted by 9/11 more than the US Army. It reaped the benefits of developing a new way of fighting. …”The biggest change – the Army was really not an expeditionary force,” said retired Army Col. Peter Mansoor, who was a top aide to Gen. David H. Petraeus during the 2007 Iraq surge….”But ever since 9/11, the U.S. Army has been nothing but expeditionary. And soldiers who have grown up in the decade since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have gone through multiple deployments and have fought two wars,” he said. “So the Army has become an organization that is stressed, yes, but has also become comfortable deploying around the world and operating overseas. I think that’s one of the big changes.”

Along the way, the Army learned a new way to fight…. The big change: The Army used to stay in operating bases, launch raids into neighborhoods to kill insurgents, then return to barracks. Under the Petraeus plan, soldiers would set up shop inside insurgent territory to conduct strikes and protect civilians.  Said Col. Mansoor: “Counterinsurgents operate best when they operate among the people; … when you disperse your forces, getting them to live among the people, you generate a lot more intelligence and you insulate the people to a certain extent from insurgent violence and intimidation.”

Before 9/11, “we weren’t really thinking insurgency warfare, guerrilla warfare, irregular warfare,” he said. “We thought that was something we could pawn off on the special-warfare community. Since 9/11, obviously the U.S. Army has had to deal with it in a very serious way. And there have been a lot of growing pains in that regard, but the capabilities have increased enormously.”

Gen. Conway said that while the Army needed a new doctrine, the Marine Corps all along had been following a “small-wars manual” that had been developed over decades.  “It was new for the Army. It wasn’t new for the Marine Corps,” Gen. Conway said. “To his credit, Petraeus was always the best Army general at incorporating the things that we believe very strongly in. But the things he sort of brought to the Army were the things that we were practicing in stride.”

The irony is both of the nation’s land forces, the Marines and Army, had to switch roles. The Army became expeditionary like the Marines and then had to learn a new style of counterinsurgency. The Marines became a second land army, setting up shop in a foreign country to fight for extended periods.  “We’ve been able to morph into a second land army because that is what the country needed,” Gen. Conway said.

Counterinsurgency involves not only combat. A major challenge has been for the military to learn how to defeat improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the chief cause of casualties in Afghanistan. The Pentagon set up a new agency just for that purpose, pumping billions of dollars into electronic jammers, surveillance equipment, aircraft, metal detectors and robots.,,When Robert M. Gates succeeded Mr. Rumsfeld as defense secretary, he learned that the Marines and Army were building a new troop carrier that could repel explosions and save lives.  But why were they not out in the field? Mr. Gates demanded to know. He ordered the services to ramp up production of the vehicle known as MRAP (mine-resistant ambush protected) and sent them overseas.  Today, virtually every combat unit has MRAPs. The 9/11 attacks had led to a revolution in how troops move on the battlefield.

While 9/11 resulted in a gradual transformation for conventional forces, the al Qaeda strike brought immediate change for a backwater outfit in Tampa, Fla. – U.S. Special Operations Command (SoCom).Created to correct flaws discovered in the disastrous 1980 Desert One rescue mission in Iran, SoCom was more bureaucrat than war fighter….As the Pentagon still burned, Mr. Rumsfeld was thinking of SoCom as the leader of the war on terror. Commando units were the perfect organizations to hunt down and kill an unconventional enemy who worked out of ungoverned territory, safe houses and mountain caves. First, he awarded SoCom the prestige of being a “supported” command as opposed to its old role as a “supporting” one. This gave the SoCom commander authority to plan and execute what is called direct action combat.”…

Money started flowing to Tampa. The command brought in a whole new cadre of war planners and began enlarging all its special-operations components. And the Marine Corps for the first time joined SoCom and nurtured its own commandos.  “He gave them somewhere between $1.2 [billion] and $1.5 billion to take that headquarters and turn it into a war-fighting headquarters,” Gen. Boykin said of Mr. Rumsfeld.

The secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), home to Delta Force, had spent most of its time training for hostage rescues. Now, it and other commandos started preparing for how to find and hit an al Qaeda or Taliban hideout.  In less than two months, Army Green Berets were leading the invasion of Afghanistan, teaming up with anti-Taliban fighters in Pakistan and crossing the border via low-flying helicopters.  “It was a godsend because unconventional warfare was losing its luster,” Gen. Boykin said. “It was way down on the list of priorities. Afghanistan refocused attention on the [unconventional warfare] capabilities.”

Today, the command stands at 61,000 personnel, up from 45,600 on Sept. 11, 2001. It has added three Ranger companies, five Green Beret battalions, a special operations aviation battalion and an unmanned aerial squadron….

While the Pentagon built up SoCom, it also knew the expansion would be meaningless without intelligence on where terrorists and their leaders were located.  Mr. Rumsfeld created a new post, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, to coordinate information from the Pentagon’s various collection agencies, including the Defense Intelligence Agency. Commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan now had a senior civilian to whom it could request intelligence assets for a particular mission.

In the field, it meant units such as the SEALs and Delta Force were fused into large task forces that included the Defense Intelligence Agency, the CIA, a special military intelligence unit known as Task Force Orange, and the electronic eavesdropping National Security Agency.

The 2006 hunt for al Qaeda terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi illustrated the new alliance. The Delta task force intercepted communications that led it to a Zarqawi adviser, who in turn led it to his hide-out north of Baghdad. F-16s bombed the hut and killed one of the most ruthless al Qaeda operatives in the Middle East.

“They’ve really learned how to bring all the resources of the intelligence community into their operations to where the hard work is done really by the intelligence folks,” Gen. Boykin said.

The cost for all of this has been immense. The annual base defense budget since 2001 has nearly doubled to $570 billion. In addition, the wars themselves have cost an additional $1.3 trillion, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Excerpts, from Rowan Scarborough,9/11 changed war-fighting, Sept. 8, 2011