peter-maass

An NSA official, writing under the pen name “Zelda,” has actually served at the agency as a Dear Abby for spies. Her “Ask Zelda!” columns, distributed on the agency’s intranet and accessible only to those with the proper security clearance, are among the documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The columns are often amusing – topics include co-workers falling asleep on the job, sodas being stolen from shared fridges, supervisors not responding to emails, and office-mates who smell bad. But one of the most intriguing involves a letter from an NSA staffer who complains that his (or her) boss is spying on employees.

“Dear Zelda,” the letter of complaint begins:

Here’s the scenario: when the boss sees co-workers having a quiet conversation, he wants to know what is being said (it’s mostly work related). He has his designated “snitches” and expects them to keep him apprised of all the office gossip – even calling them at home and expecting a run-down! This puts the “designees” in a really awkward position; plus, we’re all afraid any offhand comment or anything said in confidence might be either repeated or misrepresented.

Needless to say, this creates a certain amount of tension between team members who normally would get along well, and adds stress in an already stressful atmosphere. There is also an unspoken belief that he will move people to different desks to break up what he perceives as people becoming too “chummy.” (It’s been done under the guise of “creating teams.”)

We used to be able to joke around a little or talk about our favorite “Idol” contestant to break the tension, but now we’re getting more and more skittish about even the most mundane general conversations (“Did you have a good weekend?”). This was once a very open, cooperative group who worked well together. Now we’re more suspicious of each other and teamwork is becoming harder. Do you think this was the goal?

Silenced in SID


Dear Silenced,

Wow, that takes “intelligence collection” in a whole new – and inappropriate – direction. …. We work in an Agency of secrets, but this kind of secrecy begets more secrecy and it becomes a downward spiral that destroys teamwork. What if you put an end to all the secrecy by bringing it out in the open?

You and your co-workers could ask [the supervisor] for a team meeting and lay out the issue as you see it: “We feel like you don’t trust us and we aren’t comfortable making small talk anymore for fear of having our desks moved if we’re seen as being too chummy.” (Leave out the part about the snitches.) Tell him how this is hampering collaboration and affecting the work, ask him if he has a problem with the team’s behavior, and see what he says. …. Stick to the facts and how you feel, rather than making it about him (“We’re uncomfortable” vs “You’re spying on us.”).

If you are bothered by snitches in your office, whether of the unwilling or voluntary variety, the best solution is to keep your behavior above reproach. Be a good performer, watch what you say and do, lock your screen when you step away from your workstation, and keep fodder for wagging tongues (your Viagra stash, photos of your wild-and-crazy girls’ weekend in Atlantic City) at home or out of sight. If you are put in the “unwilling snitch” position, I would advise telling your boss that you’re not comfortable with the role and to please not ask that of you.

irony is dead

We think they should be called trackers because we’re no longer using them as phones. There was a study done by a British cell phone carrier quite recently, which asked smart phone users, ‘What are you actually using these devices for?’ And making phone calls was actually the fifth most popular thing that smart phones are being used for. More popular was checking your email, checking your social media, listening to music, playing games, things of that sort. So phoning people on your smart phone is really not what most of us are using these devices for, so it’s not accurate, in a way, to refer to them as phones, when what we’re using them for are things other than making phone calls.

But, more important than that, in some ways, is our understanding of what these things are when we call them phones, we think of them as phones. This is the whole idea of framing. In politics, if you call something a death panel, that influences what people think about it. If you call something ‘Obamacare,’ that influences what people think about it, positively or negatively. So with these smart phones, given that they do so much tracking, in the sense of, ‘We’re keeping track of our lives, we’re keeping track of the news, we’re keeping track of our friends, and corporate and government entities are keeping track of us,’ if we call them trackers, then we’re doing a much better job of informing ourselves what these devices are actually doing, and what we’re really using them for.

One of the mysteries of Bosnia’s war is why so many good people stood by as evil deeds were committed in their name-people like Vladimir, the Serb in Visegrád who cried over what had been done to his neighbors. It is a universal mystery. Why, when the would-be dictators of the world start barking their songs of hate, do so many people sing along rather than standing up and say, simply, “No”? It’s a cliché to point to the “good Germans” who followed Hitler into his madness because their duty was not to question but to obey. What about the Americans who buckled under McCarthyism? Or what about the joggers in Central Park who fearfully run past someone being mugged?
—  Peter Maass, Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War
In America, we have a hard time understanding why people in places like Bosnia are willing to suffer so much in a futile war. The goal of imperial wars, which we are most familiar with, is to conquer and rule. The goal of nationalist wars, as in Bosnia, is to conquer and cleanse. These contests are winner-takes-all. When you are faced with enemies who wish to expunge you from your land, and when those enemies offer a treaty that ensures their boots will stay on your throat, suffocating you one day, you have little choice but to keep struggling, even though the odds are against you and people who call themselves your friends are saying you should give up. Resistance becomes not an option but an imperative.
—  Love Thy Neighbour: A Story of War, by Peter Maass.

"In a technological sleight of hand, oil can be extracted from the deserts of Arabia, processed to eliminate water and natural gas, sent through pipelines to a terminal on the gulf, loaded onto a supertanker and shipped to a port thousands of miles away, then run through a refinery and poured into a tanker truck that delivers it to a suburban gas station, where it is pumped into an SUV-all without anyone actually glimpsing the stuff. And so long as there is enough oil to fuel the global economy, it is not only out of sight but out of mind, at least for most consumers."

― Peter Maass, Crude World

Interview transcript :D

Peter Maass: Why did you seek out Laura and Glenn, rather than journalists from major American news outlets (N.Y.T., W.P., W.S.J. etc.)? In particular, why Laura, a documentary filmmaker?

Edward Snowden: After 9/11, many of the most important news outlets in America abdicated their role as a check to power — the journalistic responsibility to challenge the excesses of government — for fear of being seen as unpatriotic and punished in the market during a period of heightened nationalism. From a business perspective, this was the obvious strategy, but what benefited the institutions ended up costing the public dearly. The major outlets are still only beginning to recover from this cold period.

Laura and Glenn are among the few who reported fearlessly on controversial topics throughout this period, even in the face of withering personal criticism, and resulted in Laura specifically becoming targeted by the very programs involved in the recent disclosures. She had demonstrated the courage, personal experience and skill needed to handle what is probably the most dangerous assignment any journalist can be given — reporting on the secret misdeeds of the most powerful government in the world — making her an obvious choice.

P.M.: Was there a moment during your contact with Laura when you realized you could trust her? What was that moment, what caused it?

E.S.: We came to a point in the verification and vetting process where I discovered Laura was more suspicious of me than I was of her, and I’m famously paranoid. The combination of her experience and her exacting focus on detail and process gave her a natural talent for security, and that’s a refreshing trait to discover in someone who is likely to come under intense scrutiny in the future, as normally one would have to work very hard to get them to take the risks seriously.

With that putting me at ease, it became easier to open up without fearing the invested trust would be mishandled, and I think it’s the only way she ever managed to get me on camera. I personally hate cameras and being recorded, but at some point in the working process, I realized I was unconsciously trusting her not to hang me even with my naturally unconsidered remarks. She’s good.

P.M.: Were you surprised that Glenn did not respond to your requests and instructions for encrypted communication?

E.S.: Yes and no. I know journalists are busy and had assumed being taken seriously would be a challenge, especially given the paucity of detail I could initially offer. At the same time, this is 2013, and a journalist who regularly reported on the concentration and excess of state power. I was surprised to realize that there were people in news organizations who didn’t recognize any unencrypted message sent over the Internet is being delivered to every intelligence service in the world. In the wake of this year’s disclosures, it should be clear that unencrypted journalist-source communication is unforgivably reckless.

P.M.: When you first met Laura and Glenn in Hong Kong, what was your initial reaction? Were you surprised by anything in the way they worked and interacted with you?

E.S.: I think they were annoyed that I was younger than they expected, and I was annoyed they had arrived too early, which complicated the initial verification. As soon as we were behind close doors, however, I think everyone was reassured by the obsessive attention to precaution and bona fides. I was particularly impressed by Glenn’s ability to operate without sleep for days at a time.

P.M.: Laura started filming you from nearly the start. Were you surprised by that? Why or why not?

E.S.: Definitely surprised. As one might imagine, normally spies allergically avoid contact with reporters or media, so I was a virgin source — everything was a surprise. Had I intended to skulk away anonymously, I think it would have been far harder to work with Laura, but we all knew what was at stake. The weight of the situation actually made it easier to focus on what was in the public interest rather than our own. I think we all knew there was no going back once she turned that camera on, and the ultimate outcome would be decided by the world.

The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald and Peter Maass have revealed the identity of a “key apologist” for the CIA’s torture program, an official whom multiple news outlets have described as responsible for “a long string of significant errors and malfeasance” that put her “competence and integrity” in doubt, even by some within the agency. - 2014/12/20

You guys should read another fantastic long form piece How Laura Poitras Helped Snowden Spill His Secrets by Peter Maass

Poitras, sitting 20 rows behind Greenwald, occasionally went forward to talk about what he was reading. As the man sitting next to him slept, Greenwald pointed to the FISA order on his screen and asked Poitras: “Have you seen this? Is this saying what I’m thinking it’s saying?”

At times, they talked so animatedly that they disturbed passengers who were trying to sleep; they quieted down. “We couldn’t believe just how momentous this occasion was,” Greenwald said. “When you read these documents, you get a sense of the breadth of them. It was a rush of adrenaline and ecstasy and elation. You feel you are empowered for the first time because there’s this mammoth system that you try and undermine and subvert and shine a light on — but you usually can’t make any headway, because you don’t have any instruments to do it — [and now] the instruments were suddenly in our lap.”

Snowden had instructed them that once they were in Hong Kong, they were to go at an appointed time to the Kowloon district and stand outside a restaurant that was in a mall connected to the Mira Hotel. There, they were to wait until they saw a man carrying a Rubik’s Cube, then ask him when the restaurant would open. The man would answer their question, but then warn that the food was bad. When the man with the Rubik’s Cube arrived, it was Edward Snowden, who was 29 at the time but looked even younger.

“Our lives will never be the same,” Poitras said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to live someplace and feel like I have my privacy. That might be just completely gone.”

Don’t forget to watch her 2012 profile of William Binney, a 32-year veteran of the National Security Agency.

Photo: Olaf Blecker

Ten years later, U.S. officer’s Iraq diary tells grim tale

US Lieutenant Timothy McLaughlin’s Iraq diary is not an introspective journal, but 10 years after the invasion its terse, staccato account of a young man’s war holds a powerful charge.

The telegraphic style of the entries, jotted in a small notebook embossed with the Marine Corps seal, leaves the reader with a lot of work to do, and a new exhibition in New York shows it is all the more powerful for that.

The death toll among the Iraqi fighters who confront the 25-year-old junior officer’s unit is high, but the diary does not linger on the details.

“My position is good to cut off back door exit. kill dismounts in grove (3-7?) then 1 swimming across canal/2 just about in canal,” he writes.

In another encounter his tank engages a car: “Vehicle slowed down, swerved left off road + hit tree. Civilian shot 5 times in back + legs. continued progress to Afaq.

The 36 pages of the diary meticulously record all aspects of McLaughlin’s daily grind in the same dry style: lists, instructions, schedules, battles, a song, accounts of around 70 deaths, his thoughts about Iraqis.

For the exhibition the pages have been blown up as wall panels accompanied by photographs and explanatory texts to better site the story in the history of the conflict. It takes visitors into the heart of the war.

Mclaughlin’s Marines were among the first US troops in Firdos Square in Baghdad in 2003 and their unit’s flag was the one hoisted onto a statue of Saddam Hussein before it was symbolically toppled.

“Swamped by mass of reporters – could not move/peace protester +how many children have you killed today+,” the diary reads.

Images from the square were seen by millions of television viewers around the world, and formed part of the intense international debate about the rights and wrongs of the war and US policy.

Politics was not what interested Mclaughlin when he wrote the diary, but now, even if he is not comfortable with all that the account says about him as a younger man, he thinks his unvarnished account can serve a purpose.

“For most people in the military, they detach themselves from political decisions that are being made, so I didn’t think about the political question at all, my country said go, my job is to go,” he told AFP.

He talks of the nightmares he still suffers, and of the errors that still haunt him, errors that he says cost the lives of a fellow Marine and many Iraqi civilians.

Officially, he has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. But he sees things differently.

“It’s not a disorder, it’s a natural reaction to combat experiences,” he says. “If you were not affected by it, that might be a disorder.

“To send young 18- and 25-year-olds to go kill people at war, to expect them to come home with no consequences, that’s not what is natural.”

McLaughlin agreed to share his diary on the tenth anniversary of a war that America seems keen to forget, in the hope that the population as a whole might better understand what he and his comrades experienced.

“There is a disconnect in my country between people who serve and everybody else, who only see those experiences through movies or politicians on the news,” he said.

McLaughlin wants American civilians to “think a little bit more critically about the decision to go to war and what it means for the people in Iraq or the people in Bosnia, or wherever.”

“It affects the people who live there, and it affects the young people who are sent to fight to wars,” he argues.

The idea for the exhibit came from American journalist Peter Maass, to whom McLaughlin showed his worn-out, forgotten notebook kept in the trunk of an old car, grains of sand still stuck between the pages.

Maass, who worked for the New York Times Magazine, had met McLaughlin in Iraq and followed his marine battalion until its entry into Baghdad. The third author of the exhibition is British photographer Gary Knight.

by Agence France-Presse at The Raw Story

Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil Chapter 1

You might not know this but ever since I’ve joined the faculty of my high school to teach Sociology, senior teachers have been giving me required readings. I don’t really mind because they lend me some really good reads and I appreciate it that they share with me something so personal: their books. 

It’s a new year and I suddenly have this urge to blog about some of the books that they lent me. Mainly because I will be returning these books soon and because I don’t want to forget what I’ve read, I decided to blog about them just to have a reminder of what I’ve learned thru these awesome books. 

So for my first book blog, I will be writing about Peter Maass’s  Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil. I will go through this chapter by chapter because it’s a heavy read for a nonfiction. 

Technically, the book discusses the effects of oil in countries that are gifted with it and also it’s hold on the world that is addicted to it. 

Keep reading

Hvordan stod Edward Snowden frem - og hvad er NSA?

En ny anbefaling er blevet skrevet på longform.dk http://longform.dk/2013/10/hvad-er-nsa/

Hvordan stod Edward Snowden frem - og hvad er NSA?

Edward Snowden. Foto: Laura Poitras/Praxis Films Edward Snowdens beslutning om at fortælle, hvad han arbejdede med hos NSA, har sat USA i et særdeles dårligt lys, og den nyeste afsløring om, at USA angiveligt har aflyttet europæiske statslederes telefoner giver et anstrengt forhold mellem USA og …

How Laura Poitras Helped Snowden Spill His Secrets

By Peter MaassThe New York Times Magazine (August 13, 2013)

This past January, Laura Poitras received a curious e-mail from an anonymous stranger requesting her public encryption key. For almost two years, Poitras had been working on a documentary about surveillance, and she occasionally received queries from strangers. She replied to this one and sent her public key — allowing him or her to send an encrypted e-mail that only Poitras could open, with her private key — but she didn’t think much would come of it.

The stranger responded with instructions for creating an even more secure system to protect their exchanges. Promising sensitive information, the stranger told Poitras to select long pass phrases that could withstand a brute-force attack by networked computers. “Assume that your adversary is capable of a trillion guesses per second,” the stranger wrote.

Before long, Poitras received an encrypted message that outlined a number of secret surveillance programs run by the government. She had heard of one of them but not the others. After describing each program, the stranger wrote some version of the phrase, “This I can prove.”

Seconds after she decrypted and read the e-mail, Poitras disconnected from the Internet and removed the message from her computer. “I thought, O.K., if this is true, my life just changed,” she told me last month. “It was staggering, what he claimed to know and be able to provide. I just knew that I had to change everything.”

Poitras remained wary of whoever it was she was communicating with. She worried especially that a government agent might be trying to trick her into disclosing information about the people she interviewed for her documentary, including Julian Assange, the editor of WikiLeaks. “I called him out,” Poitras recalled. “I said either you have this information and you are taking huge risks or you are trying to entrap me and the people I know, or you’re crazy.”

The answers were reassuring but not definitive. Poitras did not know the stranger’s name, sex, age or employer (C.I.A.? N.S.A.? Pentagon?). In early June, she finally got the answers. Along with her reporting partner, Glenn Greenwald, a former lawyer and a columnist for The Guardian, Poitras flew to Hong Kong and met the N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden, who gave them thousands of classified documents, setting off a major controversy over the extent and legality of government surveillance. Poitras was right that, among other things, her life would never be the same.

The New York Times Magazine

After 9/11, the U.S. government began compiling a terrorist watch list that was at one point estimated to contain nearly a million names. There are at least two subsidiary lists that relate to air travel. The no-fly list contains the names of tens of thousands of people who are not allowed to fly into or out of the country. The selectee list, which is larger than the no-fly list, subjects people to extra airport inspections and questioning. These lists have been criticized by civil rights groups for being too broad and arbitrary and for violating the rights of Americans who are on them.

In Vienna, Poitras was eventually cleared to board her connecting flight to New York, but when she landed at J.F.K., she was met at the gate by two armed law-enforcement agents and taken to a room for questioning. It is a routine that has happened so many times since then — on more than 40 occasions — that she has lost precise count. Initially, she said, the authorities were interested in the paper she carried, copying her receipts and, once, her notebook. After she stopped carrying her notes, they focused on her electronics instead, telling her that if she didn’t answer their questions, they would confiscate her gear and get their answers that way. On one occasion, Poitras says, they did seize her computers and cellphones and kept them for weeks. She was also told that her refusal to answer questions was itself a suspicious act. Because the interrogations took place at international boarding crossings, where the government contends that ordinary constitutional rights do not apply, she was not permitted to have a lawyer present.

“It’s a total violation,” Poitras said. “That’s how it feels. They are interested in information that pertains to the work I am doing that’s clearly private and privileged. It’s an intimidating situation when people with guns meet you when you get off an airplane.”

Though she has written to members of Congress and has submitted Freedom of Information Act requests, Poitras has never received any explanation for why she was put on a watch list. “It’s infuriating that I have to speculate why,” she said. “When did that universe begin, that people are put on a list and are never told and are stopped for six years? I have no idea why they did it. It’s the complete suspension of due process.” She added: “I’ve been told nothing, I’ve been asked nothing, and I’ve done nothing. It’s like Kafka. Nobody ever tells you what the accusation is.”

After being detained repeatedly, Poitras began taking steps to protect her data, asking a traveling companion to carry her laptop, leaving her notebooks overseas with friends or in safe deposit boxes. She would wipe her computers and cellphones clean so that there would be nothing for the authorities to see. Or she encrypted her data, so that law enforcement could not read any files they might get hold of. These security preparations could take a day or more before her travels.

It wasn’t just border searches that she had to worry about. Poitras said she felt that if the government was suspicious enough to interrogate her at airports, it was also most likely surveilling her e-mail, phone calls and Web browsing. “I assume that there are National Security Letters on my e-mails,” she told me, referring to one of the secretive surveillance tools used by the Department of Justice. A National Security Letter requires its recipients — in most cases, Internet service providers and phone companies — to provide customer data without notifying the customers or any other parties. Poitras suspected (but could not confirm, because her phone company and I.S.P. would be prohibited from telling her) that the F.B.I. had issued National Security Letters for her electronic communications.

Once she began working on her surveillance film in 2011, she raised her digital security to an even higher level. She cut down her use of a cellphone, which betrays not only who you are calling and when, but your location at any given point in time. She was careful about e-mailing sensitive documents or having sensitive conversations on the phone. She began using software that masked the Web sites she visited. After she was contacted by Snowden in 2013, she tightened her security yet another notch. In addition to encrypting any sensitive e-mails, she began using different computers for editing film, for communicating and for reading sensitive documents (the one for sensitive documents is air-gapped, meaning it has never been connected to the Internet).

These precautions might seem paranoid — Poitras describes them as “pretty extreme” — but the people she has interviewed for her film were targets of the sort of surveillance and seizure that she fears. William Binney, a former top N.S.A. official who publicly accused the agency of illegal surveillance, was at home one morning in 2007 when F.B.I. agents burst in and aimed their weapons at his wife, his son and himself. Binney was, at the moment the agent entered his bathroom and pointed a gun at his head, naked in the shower. His computers, disks and personal records were confiscated and have not yet been returned. Binney has not been charged with any crime.

We were in a room in the library interviewing [Col. James] Steele and I look around and I see blood everywhere, you know. He (Steele) hears the scream from the other guy who’s being tortured as we speak, there’s the blood stains in the corner of the desk in front of him. And while this interview was going on with this Saudi with Jim Steele also in the room, there were these terrible screams, somebody shouting ‘Allah! Allah! Allah!’. But it wasn’t kind of religious ecstasy or something like that, these were screams of pain and terror.
—  Peter Maass, reporting for the New York Times

A spokeswoman for Senator Joe Lieberman, speaking to Peter Maass and Megha Rajagopalan of Mother Jones:

Senator Lieberman and his staff believe that McAfee, Symantec, and General Alexander are reputable sources of information about cybersecurity.

The evidence, in this case at least, would suggest otherwise, Mr. Senator.

Note: An earlier version of this post left out Megha Rajagopalan, a co-author of the cited ProPublica piece.

Propaganda has been a staple of warfare for ages, but the notion of creating events on the battlefield, as opposed to repackaging real ones after the fact, is a modern development. It expresses a media theory developed by, among others, Walter Lippmann, who after the First World War identified the components of wartime mythmaking as “the casual fact, the creative imagination, the will to believe, and out of these three elements, a counterfeit of reality.” As he put…