Tag Archives: NSA

Greek Debt Unsustainable: the Wikileaks Cables

Greek protests in front of Greek parliament

2011 Euro-crisis, Wikileaks Cables

Discussing the Greek financial crisis with her personal assistant on 11 October, German Chancellor Angela Merkel professed to be at a loss as to which option–another haircut or a transfer union–would be best for addressing the situation. (The term “haircut” refers to the losses that private investors would incur on the current net value of their Greek bond holdings.) Merkel’s fear was that Athens would be unable to overcome its problems even with an additional haircut, since it would not be able to handle the remaining debt. Furthermore, she doubted that sending financial experts to Greece would be of much help in bringing the financial system there under control. Within the German cabinet, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schnaeuble alone continued to strongly back another haircut, despite Merkel’s efforts to rein him in, while France and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso were seen to be in favor of a gentler approach. European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet was solidly opposed, with IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde described as undecided on the issue. Finally, Merkel believed that action must be taken to enact a Financial Transaction Tax (FTT); doing so next year, she assessed, would be a major step toward achieving some balance in relief for banks. In that regard, the Germans thought that pressure could be brought to bear on the U.S. and British governments to help bring about an FTT.

Euro-crisis Wikileaks Cables: EU Summit: Germans Prepared to Oppose Special Solutions for Greek Financial Crisis

…German Chancellery Director-General for EU Affairs Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut provided on 14 October, 2011 an overview of what Berlin planned to ask for and would be prepared to support. First, the German government wanted solutions that work within the context of current European legislation; accordingly, it would not agree to giving the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) a banking license, establishing a joint EFSF-European Central Bank Special Purpose Vehicle, or any other measures that would require legislative changes among the member states. On the other hand, the Germans would support a special IMF fund into which the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) nations would pool funds for the purpose of bolstering eurozone bailout activities. Meyer-Landrut also believed that a resolution of the Greek crisis will require greater private-sector involvement than was first thought, and that the eurozone must look beyond the technical aspects of a deal and focus instead on the actual progress that Greece will have to make, as regards both legislation and implementation. It was his further opinion that a full-term team will have to be ensconced in Athens for the purpose of monitoring the situation.

The Cyber-Intelligence Ruling Class

INSA logo. image from wikipedia

...[The] Intelligence National Security Alliance. INSA is a powerful but 
little-known coalition established in 2005 by companies working for the National Security Agency. In recent years, it has become the premier organization for the men and women who run the massive cyberintelligence-industrial complex that encircles Washington, DC…[One such company is founded by]  former Navy SEAL named Melchior Baltazar, the CEO of an up-and-coming company called SDL Government. Its niche, an eager young flack explained, is providing software that military agencies can use to translate hundreds of thousands of Twitter and Facebook postings into English and then search them rapidly for potential clues to terrorist plots or cybercrime.

It sounded like the ideal tool for the NSA. Just a few months earlier, Snowden had leaked documents revealing a secret program called PRISM, which gave the NSA direct access to the servers of tech firms, including Facebook and Google. He had also revealed that the NSA and its British counterpart, the GCHQ, had special units focused on cracking encryption codes for social media globally….

This small company, and INSA itself, are vivid examples of the rise of a new class in America: the cyberintelligence ruling class.  These are the people—often referred to as “intelligence professionals”—who do the actual analytical and targeting work of the NSA and other agencies in America’s secret government. Over the last 15 years, thousands of former high-ranking intelligence officials and operatives have left their government posts and taken up senior positions at military contractors, consultancies, law firms, and private-equity firms. In their new jobs, they replicate what they did in government—often for the same agencies they left. But this time, their mission is strictly for-profit.

Take Olsen, who served as general counsel for the NSA and as a top lawyer for the Justice Department before joining the National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC). He is now the president for consulting services of IronNet Cybersecurity, the company founded last year by Army Gen. Keith Alexander, the longest-
serving director in the history of the NSA. The  firm is paid up to $1 million a month to consult with major banks and financial institutions in a “cyber war council” that will work with the NSA, the Treasury Department, and other agencies to deter cyberattacks that “could trigger financial panic,” Bloomberg reported last July 2014.

Some members of this unique class are household names. Most cable-news viewers, for example, are familiar with Michael Chertoff and Michael Hayden, two of the top national-security officials in the Bush administration. In 2009, they left their positions at the Justice Department and the NSA, respectively, and created the Chertoff Group, one of Washington’s largest consulting firms, with a major emphasis on security..

Well, enough, you might say: Isn’t this simply a continuation of Washington’s historic revolving door? The answer is no. As I see it, the cyberintelligence- industrial complex is qualitatively different from—and more dangerous than—the military-industrial complex identified by President Eisenhower in his famous farewell address. This is because its implications for democracy, inequality, and secrecy are far more insidious….To confront the surveillance state, we also have to confront the cyberintelligence ruling class and expose it for what it really is: a joint venture of government officials and private-sector opportunists with massive power and zero accountability.

Excerpts from Tim Shorrock, How Private Contractors Have Created a Shadow NSA, Nation, May  27, 2015.

A Naked World

prism

Were it not for Edward Snowden or someone like him, the N.S.A. would likely still be collecting the records of almost every phone call made in the United States, and no one outside of government would know it. A handful of civil-liberties-minded representatives and senators might drop hints in hearings and ask more pointed questions in classified settings. Members of the public would continue making phone calls, unaware that they were contributing to a massive government database that was supposedly intended to make their lives safer but had not prevented a single terrorist attack. And, on Monday June 1, 2015  the government’s Section 215 powers, used to acquire records from hundred of billions of phone calls, among other “tangible things,” would be quietly renewed.

Snowden shouldn’t have been necessary. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (or FISA Court), which evaluates Section 215 requests, is supposed to be interpreting the law to make sure that government surveillance doesn’t go outside of it. Congressional intelligence committees, which review the activities of the N.S.A., are supposed to be providing some oversight. The N.S.A. itself reports to the Department of Defense, which reports to the White House, all of which have dozens of lawyers, who are all supposed to apply the law. The government, in other words, is supposed to be watching itself…

The government enshrouds the details of its surveillance programs in a technical vocabulary (“reasonable articulable suspicion,” “seeds,” “queries,” “identifiers”) that renders them too dull and opaque for substantive discussion by civilians. …Little is known about how other authorities, including Executive Order 12333, which some consider the intelligence community’s most essential charter, are being interpreted to permit spying on Americans. And a redacted report, released last week by the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General, hints at how much we still don’t know about Section 215. Nearly two years into the congressional debate over the use and legality of Section 215, the report provides the first official confirmation that the “tangible things” obtained by the F.B.I. through Section 215 include not just phone metadata but “email transactional records” and two full lines of other uses, all of which the F.B.I. saw fit to redact.

Excerpts from MATTATHIAS SCHWARTZ, Who Needs Edward Snowden?,  New Yorker, MAY 28, 2015

Bullies: how to sell flawed software and beat the market

computer chips

[T]he odds are almost zero that the NSA hasn’t tried to influence Intel’s chips.” In 2012 a paper from two British researchers described an apparent backdoor burned into a chip designed by an American firm called Actel and manufactured in China. The chip is widely used in military and industrial applications. Actel says the feature is innocent: a tool to help its engineers fix hardware bugs…

Now America’s tech giants stand accused not just of mishandling their customers’ data, but, in effect, of knowingly selling them flawed software. Microsoft has always denied installing backdoors. It says it has “significant concerns” about the latest leaks and will be “pressing the government for an explanation”. The damage goes well beyond individual companies’ brands. American technology executives often use their economic clout to shape global standards in ways that suit their companies. Now that will be harder. American input to international cryptographic standards, for example, will have to overcome sceptical scrutiny: are these suggestions honest, or do they have a hidden agenda? More broadly still, America has spent years battling countries such as Russia, China and Iran which want to wrest control of the internet from the mainly American engineers and companies who run it now, and give a greater role to governments. America has fought them off, claiming that its influence keeps the internet open and free. Now a balkanisation of the web seems more likely. Jason Healey of the Atlantic Council, a think-tank, says that the denizens of Washington, DC, have lost sight of the fact that the true source of American cyber-power is neither the NSA and its code-breaking prowess nor the offensive capabilities that produced the Stuxnet virus, which hit centrifuges at an Iranian nuclear plant; it is the hugely successful firms which dominate cyberspace and help disseminate American culture and values worldwide. By tarnishing the reputations of these firms, America’s national-security apparatus has scored an own goal.

NSA and Cryptography: Cracked Credibility, Economist, Sept. 14, 2013, at 65