NSA harvesting hundreds of millions of personal email contact lists – report

NSA harvesting hundreds of millions of personal email contact lists – report

The National Security Agency is logging hundreds of millions of email and instant messaging contacts belonging to Americans and others around the world, according to a report based on documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The data harvesting program, first reported by The Washington  Post Monday, collects address books from email and instant  messaging service in an apparent attempt to map social circles  across the globe. Online communication services frequently expose  an individual’s contact list when that person signs onto their  account, sends a message, or connects a remote device – such as a  cell phone – to a computer.

An internal NSA PowerPoint presentation indicated that the NSA’s  Special Source Operations collected 444,743 email lists from  Yahoo, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33,697 from  Gmail, and another 22,881 from other services. The documents note  that those numbers show what the NSA collects in one day, meaning  the intelligence agency could collect more than 250 million lists  each year.

The NSA is capable of collecting approximately 500,000 so-called  buddy lists from live-chat services and the “in-box”   displays from web-based email services, according to the Post.

Two NSA sources told the Post the intelligence agency uses the  data to identify international connections and then find smaller,  more nefarious connections between suspected criminals. The  collection relies on secret deals with foreign telecommunication  companies, with NSA agents monitoring internet traffic outside  the US.

The sources refused to estimate how many Americans are snared in  the dragnet but did admit it could number in the tens of  millions. An unnamed official was careful to mention the  collection comes from “all over the world,” and “None  of those are on US territory.”

Shawn Turner, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of  National Intelligence, said the NSA “is focused on discovering  and developing intelligence about valid foreign intelligence  targets like terrorists, human traffickers and drug smugglers. We  are not interested in personal information about ordinary  Americans.”


US media failed to cite pundits’ ties to defense industry in Syria strike debate

US media failed to cite pundits’ ties to defense industry in Syria strike debate

Nearly two dozen of the commentators who appeared on major media outlets to discuss a possible US military strike on Syria had relationships with contractors and other organizations with a vested interest in the conflict, according to a new report.

  The Public Accountability Initiative, a non-profit research group  dedicated to “investigating power and corruption at the  heights of business and government,” determined that 22 of  the pundits who spoke to the  media during the public debate over whether the US should bomb  Syria appeared to have conflicts of interest. Seven think tanks  with murky affiliations were also involved in the debate.

  Some analysts held board positions or held stock in companies  that produce weapons for the US military, while others conducted  work for private firms with the relationships not disclosed to  the public.

  Perhaps the most notable example is that of Stephen Hadley, a  former national security advisor to President George Bush who  argued in favor of striking Syria in appearances on CNN, MSNBC,  Fox News and Bloomberg TV. He also wrote an editorial in The  Washington Post with the headline, “To stop Iran, Obama must  enforce red lines with Assad.”

Nowhere in those appearances was it disclosed, according to the  report, that Hadley is a director with Raytheon, a weapons  manufacturer that produces the Tomahawk cruise missiles the US  almost certainly would have used had it intervened in Syria.  Hadley earns an annual salary of $128,5000 from Raytheon and owns  11,477 shares of Raytheon stock. His holdings were worth $891,189  as of August 23.

We found lots of industry ties. Some of them are stronger  than others. Some really rise to the level of clear conflicts of  interest,” Kevin Connor, co-author of the report, told The  Washington Post. “These networks and these commentators should  err on the side of disclosure.”

The report found that, out of 37 appearances of the pundits  named, CNN attempted to disclose that individual’s ties a mere  seven times. In 23 appearances on Fox News there was not a single  attempt to disclose industry ties. And in 16 appearances on NBC  or its umbrella networks, attempts at disclosure were made five  times.

Pentagon too broke to buy a new fax machine

Pentagon too broke to buy a new fax machine

The United States went ahead with major spending cuts earlier this year, slicing around $85 billion off the federal budget. But while most government offices remain afloat, a fax machine on the fritz may be too costly for the Pentagon to fix.

  Investigative journalists working for the website Muckrock.com have identified one side-effect  of the sequester that is only now starting to cause concerns. A  facsimile machine at Defense Department headquarters has  reportedly been out of commission for almost three weeks now and  is hindering the ability for reporters to file Freedom of  Information Act requests with the military.

Starting two weeks ago, requests faxed to the Office of the  Secretary of Defense (OSD) started coming back as undeliverable.  After several subsequent attempts and troubleshooting on our end,  MuckRock reached out to the OSD. Sure enough, their fax machine  is down,” journalist Shawn Musgrave wrote on the site last  week.

  What’s more, though, is that Musgrave reported that the fax  machine in question — the only one at the Pentagon handling FOIA  requests, according to him — may remain out-of-service for  another month, if not more.

  When Musgrave pressed the Pentagon to deliver an estimated date  when the machine might be back up and running, Defense Department  officials said that, should no replacement be immediately  available, the matter must wait until the start of the new fiscal  year.

We would that it is back up sometime in October, but could  extend into the beginning of November,” Aaron Graves of the  OSD replied to Muckrock.

It bears repeating,” Musgrave after that exchange.   “The office that oversees the most powerful military in  history (not to mention the best-funded) is unable to project  when its single fax machine will once again be operational.”

Meanwhile, the US military is budgeted to spend over one trillion  dollars in FY2012, and its in-progress F-35 fighter jet program —   the most expensive weapons system ever ordered — could come at a  price-tag that exceeds even that when all is said and done.

  Of course, that isn’t to say that a pesky fax problem isn’t the  only item at hand causing concerns in Washington. A study  released last week by Goldman Sachs suggested that as many as  100,000 federal jobs could disappear due to budget cuts during  the next year.

“[M]any federal agencies have employed temporary strategies to  adjust to sequestration this year, such as employee furloughs and  deferral of maintenance and training, with the hope that  sequestration would ultimately be reversed,” the report reads  in part. “If sequestration continues, more permanent  adjustments will become necessary and agencies may be more  willing to undertake them if Congress declines once again to  reverse the cuts.”

  In the meantime, journalists might want to go about sending their  FOIA requests the old fashioned way, or else resort to what  Musgrave called “a clunky online request portal that doesn’t  play nice with other systems.”

And if that doesn’t work, someone might want to tell the Pentagon  that the Best Buy down the road can have a brand-new Panasonic  laser fax/copier in stock within days for only around $150.


Troubled waters: Naval forces line Syrian shores

Troubled waters: Naval forces line Syrian shores

Mounting pressure for a Western strike on Syria has seen naval forces both friendly and hostile to Damascus build up off the embattled country’s coastline.

  The potential of a US strike against Syria in response to an  August 21 chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb gained  steam on Wednesday, when a resolution backing the use of force  against President Bashar Assad’s government cleared the Senate  Foreign Relations Committee on a 10-7 vote.

  President Obama has decided to put off military action until at  least September 9, when the seemingly recalcitrant US House of  Representatives reconvenes to vote on the measure.

  Following the August 21 Ghouta Attack, which killed anywhere  between 355 to 1,729 people, the diplomatic scramble to launch or  stave off a military strike on Syria was mirrored by the movement  of naval forces in the Eastern Mediterranean, off the coast of  Syria.

  The deployment of US and allied naval warships in the region has  been matched by the deployment of Russian naval warships in the  region.

  While the Western vessels have in many cases been deployed in the  event a military strike against Syria gets a green light, Russian  President Vladimir Putin has said Russia’s naval presence is  needed to protect national security interests and is not a threat  to any nation.

  Below is a brief summary of the naval hardware currently amassed  off Syria’s shores.


  The US Navy has five Arleigh Burke-class guided missile  destroyers off the coast of Syria, which its top admiral says is   “fully ready” for a wide range of possible actions.

  The USS Ramage, USS Mahan, USS Gravely and USS Barry are each  armed with dozens of Tomahawk cruise missiles, which have a range  of about 1,000 nautical miles (1,151 miles) and are used for  precise targeting.

  The ships are also equipped with surface-to-air missiles capable  of defending the vessels from air attacks.

  On August 29, the USS Stout was sent to relieve the USS Mahan,  but a defense official told AFP that both ships might remain in  the area for the time being.

  Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the chief of naval operations, told an  audience at the American Enterprise Institute on Thursday that  the US ships are prepared for what he called a “vast spectrum  of operations,” including launching Tomahawk cruise missiles  at targets in Syria, as was done in Libya in 2011, and protecting  themselves in the event of retaliation, AP reports.

  In addition to the destroyers, the United States may well have  one of its four guided missile submarines off the coast of Syria.  At one time these subs were equipped with nuclear-tipped  ballistic missiles. Nowadays, they are capable of carrying up to  154 Tomahawk cruise missiles.

  It was also announced on Monday that the US had deployed the USS  San Antonio, an amphibious transport ship, to the Eastern  Mediterranean.

  The USS San Antonio, with several helicopters and hundreds of  Marines on board, is “on station in the Eastern  Mediterranean” but “has received no specific tasking,”   a defense official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

  The deployment of the USS Antonio comes despite promises from  President Obama that no amphibious landing is on the agenda, as  the US has ostensibly ruled out any “boots on the ground.”

While the wording of the draft resolution set to be put before  the House does not permit a ground invasion, the wording of the  text could potentially allow troops to carry out non-offensive  operations within Syria, including securing chemical weapons  stockpiles and production facilities.

  On Monday, it was also announced the USS Nimitz super carrier had  moved into the Red Sea, though it had not been given orders to be  part of the planning for a limited US military strike on Syria,  US officials told ABC News.

  The other ships in the strike group are the cruiser USS Princeton  and the destroyers USS William P. Lawrence, USS Stockdale and USS  Shoup.

  The official said the carrier strike group has not been assigned  a mission, but was shifted in the event its resources are needed  to “maximize available options.”  

The USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier and strike group is also  in the northern Arabian Sea.


  Russia, Syria’s longtime ally and primary arms supplier, has its  only overseas naval base located in the Syrian port of Tartus,  which has reportedly been used to support Russia’s growing number  of naval patrols on the Mediterranean. However, Russia insists  recent efforts to bolster its naval presence in the region are  not in response to Western threats of a military strike.

  Reported movements of many Russian ships in the region are coming  from anonymous Russian defense ministry sources and have not been  confirmed. RT contacted the Russian Navy to ask for confirmation  of the reported ship movements, though no comment was  forthcoming.

  On Friday, for example, the large landing ship, Nikolai  Filchenkov, was reportedly dispatched from the Ukrainian port  city of Sevastopol for the Russian Black Sea port of  Novorossiisk, from where it is eventually expected to reach the  Syrian coast, a source told Interfax News Agency.

“The ship will make call in Novorossiisk, where it will take  on board special cargo and set off for the designated area of its  combat duty in the eastern Mediterranean,” the source said.

  RIA news agency quoted an unnamed senior naval source as saying  on Friday that the frigate, Smetlivy, would leave for the  Mediterranean on September 12-14, and the corvette Shtil and  missile boat Ivanovets would approach Syria at the end of the  month.

  The Russian destroyer Nastoichivy, which is the flagship of the  Baltic fleet, is also expected to join the group in the region.

  Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov, who was unable to  comment on specific reports, said on Thursday the Russian navy  currently had a “pretty strong group” there.

  “The Russian navy does not intend to take part directly or  indirectly in a possible regional conflict,” he told the state  Rossiya 24 broadcaster.

“Our navy vessels are a guarantee of stability, guarantee of  peace, an attempt to hold back other forces ready to start  military action in the region.”

  Also reportedly in place in the eastern Mediterranean are the  frigate Neustrashimy, as well as the landing ships Alexander  Shabalin, the Admiral Nevelsky and the Peresvet.

  They are expected to be joined by the guided-missile cruiser  Moskva.

  The Moskva, set to arrive in a little over a week’s time, will  take over operations from a naval unit in the region.

“The plans of the naval unit under the command of Rear Admiral  Valery Kulikov had to be changed a little. Instead of visiting a  Cape Verde port, the cruiser Moskva is heading to the Strait of  Gibraltar. In about ten days, it will enter the eastern  Mediterranean, where it will replace the destroyer Admiral  Panteleyev as the flagship of the operative junction of the  Russian Navy,” a source told Interfax on Wednesday.

  Panteleyev incidentally, only arrived in the east Mediterranean  Sea on Wednesday after leaving the Far-Eastern port city of  Vladivostok on March 19 to join the Russian standing naval force  as its flagship.

  The SSV-201 reconnaissance ship, Priazovye, is also reportedly on  its way to join the group in the Eastern Mediterranean.  Accompanied by the two landing ships, Minsk and Novocherkassk,  the intelligence ship passed through the ‘Istanbul Strait’ on  Thursday, which helps form the boundary between Europe and Asia.


  On August 31, French military officials confirmed the frigate  Chevalier Paul, which specializes in anti-missile capabilities,  and the transport ship, Dixmude, were in the Mediterranean.  French officials denied they are in the region to participate in  military action against Syria, but were rather taking part in  training and operation preparations.

  Despite their presence in the region, France currently has no  ship-based missiles, so any offensive action would come from the  air in the form of long-range Scalp missiles, similar to those  the nation used in Kosovo in 1999 and in Libya in 2011, Time  reports.


  Two Italian warships set sail for Lebanon on Wednesday in a bid  to protect 1,100 Italian soldiers in the United Nations Interim  Force in Lebanon, Syria’s southeastern neighbor, Agence France  Presse reported.

  The Italian ANSA news agency reported that a frigate and a  torpedo destroyer boat departed from Italy’s southeastern coast  on Wednesday and would provide additional protection to the  soldiers in the event the Syrian conflict further deteriorates.


  As of August 29, the Royal Navy’s Response Force Task Group was  deployed in the Mediterranean as part of long-planned exercise  Cougar 13. The force includes helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious,  type-23 frigates HMS Westminster and HMS Montrose, amphibious  warship HMS Bulwark and six Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships.     The Trafalgar-class nuclear submarine HMS Tireless was also  believed to be in the area at the time, after it was detected in  Gibraltar.

  On the same day that British media started touting Britain’s   “arsenal of military might” which would be available in the event  of intervention, British Prime Minister David Cameron lost a vote  endorsing military action against Syria by 13 votes. In light of  the shocking parliamentary defeat, Foreign Secretary William  Hague said the UK would only be able to offer the US “diplomatic  support.”

The UK’s Conservative Chancellor, George Osborne, confirmed that  the UK would not seek a further vote on action in Syria.  


Tor anonymity network could be ‘easily compromised,’ researcher says

Tor anonymity network could be ‘easily compromised,’ researcher says

Following revelations of mass online surveillance and encryption backdoors installed by the National Security Agency, some users have flocked to the Tor router service – although experts warn that it may not be as secure as once thought.

Tor, short for “The Onion Router,” has experienced a major uptick in subscribers since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked details about the US government’s vast internet surveillance programs.

The service – which for years accepted funding from US government entities – has doubled its customer base, thanks to a growing number of people who wish to conceal their online communication, search queries, and home location from the government.

The most recent Snowden leak, which disclosed that the NSA uses backdoors to crack web encryption, may have alarmed Tor users by revealing that US and British intelligence agencies have also targeted the very anonymity services that Tor counts itself among. The NSA has allegedly spent hundreds of millions of dollars annually to “covertly influence” tech companies, and even planted undercover agents within major corporations.  

Unfortunately for the thousands of people who rely on Tor, many of the devices they use to connect to its servers could still be infiltrated by the NSA. This is partly due to only 10 percent of Tor servers using its latest iteration which boasts stronger cryptography.

Rob Graham, the CEO of penetration testing firm Errata Security, told Ars Technica that he ran a “hostile” exit node on Tor and found that 76 percent of the nearly 23,000 connections he tracked used a form of the 1024-bit Diffie-Hellman key.

The NSA’s exact capabilities have yet to be made public, but most security experts assume the agency could easily crack the key Graham observed.

Everyone seems to agree that if anything, the NSA can break 1024 RSA/DH keys,” Graham wrote in a blog post. “Assuming no ‘breakthroughs,’ the NSA can spend $1 billion on custom chips that can break such a key in a few hours. We know the NSA builds custom chips, they’ve got fairly public deals with IBM foundries to build chips.”

He also advised users to take responsibility for themselves by consistently updating their Tor software package and thoroughly reading through NSA documents that have been made public.

Of course, this is just guessing about the NSA’s capabilities,” Graham continued. “As it turns out, the newer elliptical keys may turn out to be relatively easier to crack than people thought, meaning that older software may in fact be more secure.”

It has been made public that the Department of Defense provided Tor with $876,099 in 2012 – a sum large enough to make up 40 percent of the project’s $2 million budget. Other government donors included the US State Department and the National Science Foundation.

Though the NSA itself is housed under the Department of Defense, Tor’s executive director Andrew Lewman has said that the intelligence agency has not requested a backdoor into the system.

The parts of the US and Swedish governments that fund us through contracts want to see strong privacy and anonymity exist on the Internet in the future,” Lewman explain in an email to customers, as quoted by The Washington Post. “Don’t assume that ‘the government’ is one coherent entity with one mindset.”


The big three: Sweden reacts to report of intel cooperation with NSA, GCHQ

The big three: Sweden reacts to report of intel cooperation with NSA, GCHQ

Sweden’s leaders came forward to express deep concern after a report alleged that the country’s spy agency has close ties with the NSA and GCHQ, and is the third major partner in surveillance cooperation.

“It’s a very serious matter if Sweden is indeed involved in American surveillance programs,” Green Party IT policy spokeswoman Maria Ferm told Sweden’s The Local. “I’m very concerned about the information that came up in the hearing,” she said.

According to a report in the Metro daily, investigative journalist Duncan Campbell disclosed information about Sweden’s ties to the NSA during a hearing on the wiretapping scandal of a committee in the European Parliament.

Campbell revealed that the Swedish National Defence Radio Establishment (FRA) provided the NSA and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) access to Baltic underwater cables. He added that Sweden was the third major partner in surveillance cooperation.

The FRA declined to comment on the report.

The European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, which was created to research the wiretapping scandal, launched a series of hearings on Thursday.

The goal of the committee is to find out how EU citizens have been affected by US and UK surveillance.

“It’s deeply troubling if Sweden is participating in surveillance operations that are as extensive as those of the United States and that attempt to circumvent national laws,” stated Ferm.

Sweden’s Democracy Minister, Birgitta Ohlsson of the Liberal Party (Folkpartiet), also expressed her concern.

“I absolutely think this is not good. I’ve also been engaged in issues related to personal privacy and transparency in Sweden and I think in all countries, including Sweden, the EU, and the United States…that things have gone too far,” she said during an interview with Sveriges Television (SVT).

Other politicians were not surprised by the revelations.

“It’s hard for me to be surprised by information about FRA/NSA cooperation. Been convinced the whole time that the point of FRA is to provide the USA more info,” Fredrik Federley of the Centre Party wrote on his Twitter account. Federley is a critic of the controversial “FRA-law” in Sweden, which gives the government the power to eavesdrop on telephone calls and internet traffic.

In response to the allegations, Defense Minister Karin Enström of the Moderate Party said in a statement that Sweden’s intelligence cooperation with other countries is “critical for our security,” with rules that “balance security and privacy interests.”

“Intelligence operations occur within a framework with clear legislation, with strict controls, and under parliamentary oversight,” the statement read.

Politicians have stepped forward in Sweden, demanding that the government come clean.

Foreign policy spokesman for the Left Party, Hans Linde, called for the government to “put all its cards on the table” with respect to how Swedish and US intelligence agencies cooperate.

Ferm also asked the government to explain what really happened. “The government needs to tell us what’s going on,” she said, adding that she has called on Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and Justice Minister Beatrice Ask to answer questions in parliament.

News of the report emerged just one day after additional top-secret documents from whistleblower Edward Snowden were leaked to the media. The information revealed that the NSA and GCHQ have circumvented encryption methods used to secure emails, chats, and essentially most internet traffic that was previously thought to be protected.