NSA Now Pissing Off the Entire World

Most recently, the offended party is Germany.  Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone has been tapped from the rooftop of the nearby American embassy in Berlin.  But it’s gone beyond that: a double agent working in Germany’s intelligence service, the BND, was just caught providing the CIA papers on the German parliament’s investigation of NSA mass surveillance in their country.  Germany, as America’s strongest ally in Europe, is also America’s largest listening post on the Continent.  And America is Gemany’s largest trading partner outside of Europe.  But even the patience of Angela Merkel’s pro-America center-right government has its limits.

Germany asks top US intelligence official to leave country over spy row by Philip Oltermann and Spencer Ackerman, 10 July 2014 [brief excerpt]

“Diplomatic relations between Germany and the US plunged to a new low after Angela Merkel’s government asked the [CIA station chief] in Germany to leave the country.

While not formally amounting to a full expulsion, the move nonetheless sends a dramatic signal:  after a year-long dispute triggered by the revelations of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, Merkel seems to have finally run out of patience with Washington’s failure to explain itself…

According to German media reports, such drastic action had previously only been thinkable when dealing with ‘pariah states like North Korea or Iran’…”

Europe Treated Like Enemy of the U.S.

The abuse of trust driving between America and her traditional European allies due to over-reach in the spying efforts of the NSA and CIA has been repeated and ongoing.  The excesses of the NSA have gone so far beyond the pale that relations between America and Europe are steadily moving toward a breaking point.

EU confronts Washington over reports it spies on European allies by Ben Deighton and Annika Breidthardt, June 30, 2013 [excerpt]

“A spokeswoman for the European Commission said on Sunday the EU contacted U.S. authorities in Washington and Brussels about a report in Der Spiegel magazine that the U.S. secret service had tapped EU offices in Washington and Brussels and at the United Nations…

‘If the media reports are correct, this brings to memory actions among enemies during the Cold War.  It goes beyond any imagination that our friends in the United States view the Europeans as enemies,’ said German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger.

‘If it is true that EU representations in Brussels and Washington were indeed tapped by the American secret service, it can hardly be explained with the argument of fighting terrorism,’ she said in a statement…

‘We cannot negotiate over [the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership free trade agreement] if there is the slightest doubt that our partners are carrying out spying activities on the offices of our negotiators,’ [European commissioner for justice and fundamental rights Viviane Reding] said in comments passed on to reporters by her spokeswoman.

The European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee head Elmar Brok, from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, echoed those views…

‘How should we still negotiate if we must fear that our negotiating position is being listened to beforehand?’"

NSA Spying Makes Working With America Difficult…or Impossible

Friends Spying on Friends – The View From Europe by Allan Topol, 11/5/2013 [excerpt]

“The documents released by Edward Snowden, the former contractor, reveal how widespread the spying was by the U.S. National Security Agency.  Angela Merkel’s cell phone was only the tip of the iceberg.  The phone calls of up to 35 world leaders were monitored by Washington’s secret agencies.  The French media reported that NSA monitored more than 70 million phone records and text messages in France in one month alone.  According to Spanish newspapers, NSA tapped more than 60 million phone calls in Spain.

…At a Brussels summit, Merkel and French President François Hollande had a private meeting to craft a joint position on the issue.  Spanish authorities summoned the American ambassador and criticized the United States for conduct that was improper and unacceptable…

The damage caused by this spying is hard to overestimate.  Unfortunately, there will be much greater fallout than mere embarrassment for Washington…  It is likely that outrage in Europe will derail negotiation of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment pact, one of President Obama’s key trade initiatives.  Moreover, it will impede efforts by Washington to persuade Germany and other EU states to assume greater responsibility in assuring world security.  The American-European alliance has become fragile according to Le Monde…”

The Good News: Europe Fighting Back With a Workaround

So far, revelations of the NSA’s out-of-control spying violations have all led to good outcomes for the world’s citizens.  Besides temporarily tabling the EU-USA free trade agreement, the fall-out from surveillance overkill by the NSA has, among other things, led to the following:

Brazil-EU pact to set up direct contact cable ‘rebuff to US’ by Homa Lezgee, February 26, 2014 [excerpt]

“The recent agreement by Brazil and the European Union (EU) to set up a direct undersea communications cable to shield their electronic data from US spying is an act of ‘rebuff’ to the United States, an analyst tells Press TV.

On February 24, Brazil and the EU agreed to set up the cable from Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, to Fortaleza, a city in Brazil, bypassing US cables that have been being used to carry Brazil’s communications to the EU and vice versa.

The agreement came following leaks that the US has been intercepting the communications of top officials in Brazil and the EU, particularly those of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel…”


I used to wonder what it was like for my elders, being alive in the 1960s…

Just to recap: 1. we (still) have police routinely gunning down unarmed black people and receiving little more than a slap on the wrist as punishment; 2. the police, mass media and far too many white people are (still) blaming black murder victims for not being docile enough while our lives are taken and our civil liberties are being violated; 3. people are (still) marching in the streets to protest against police brutality; 4. police are (still) illegally spying on and infiltrating peaceful pro-black protest movements; and 5. someone is shooting cops in Dallas, but even though more white people have killed police, somehow that isn’t seen as an existential threat to police, and even though scores and scores of unarmed black people have been murdered by the police in 2016 alone, and even though no #BLM activists have ever remotely advocated violence as a course of action, there are conservatives & former politicians with access large platforms, like Joe Walsh, who are (still) overtly implying assassination against President Obama and inciting violence against black people and those who identify with #BLM activists, so therefore 6. we’re probably going to be facing even more racial profiling and an even greater erosion of our (already restricted) right to peaceful assembly…

Not trying to be overly dramatic, but…2016 has been insanely intense, and I think I have insights on what the 60s felt like
Legal defense for NSA spying falls to new revelations of illegal spying

Defenders of National Security Agency (NSA) wholesale spyingon Americans have asserted that it was and is legal, thanks to the Patriot Act.

But it turns out that all too often the NSA has broken the law—2,776 times over a one-year period, according to an internal audit leaked by the former NSA contractor and American hero Edward Snowden.  That’s an average of more than 7.6 times per day that the NSA violated privacy rules protecting the communications of those residing in the United States. The New York Times reports that most of the violations resulted from operator and system errors like “inadequate or insufficient research” when selecting wiretap targets.   For example, almost 70% of the violations occurred when a foreigner whose cellphone was wiretapped without a warrant came to the United States, where a warrant was required.

There is no way to prettify this pig: On its face, 2,776 instances of breaking the law in one year seems to prove that there has been a complete breakdown in agency discipline and that abuse of the Patriot Act is rampant.

The fact that it looks as if most of the violations involved taking a shortcut doesn’t absolve the NSA or the Obama administration. Here are some examples of other shortcuts: not asking for a warrant to wiretap an American citizen; doing complete sweeps of the metadata of millions of Americans; military trials to avoid civilian due process; and, of course, the shortest of all short cuts—torture. We’re not talking about a slippery slope here. What’s at issue is a mindset that is willing to break the rules and in the process trample on the rights of millions and to turn our society into a friendly police state.

It’s lose-lose for the NSA. Saying that the number of errors was miniscule compared to the number of wiretaps they are performing would indicate that the NSA is in fact spying on a disturbingly enormous number of people. So either the NSA makes a ton of mistakes or it’s doing massive spying.  That’s about as lose-lose as you can get!

Barack Obama assumed the office of the President of the United States on extremely high moral ground, which mainly reflected American and world disgust with the bumbling butchery of Bush II that birthed two useless but destructive and expensive wars, a torture gulag around the world and shocking new levels of spying on American citizens.  Barry even won a Nobel Peace Prize essentially for not being George Bush.

After the continued use of drones and continued revelations of spying abuses, Obama has lost all that high ground. You can’t stake a claim to a higher morality merely because you never ordered torture (especially if you have essentially suborned torture by not prosecuting the creators of the illegal torture machine). That’s akin to saying that you’re a better person because you only sell crystal meth to those over the age of 18. Of course, if we apply this analogy to Obama’s NSA, it may mean that you still “forget” to ask for ID most of the time!

Unfortunately the answer is not to vote for Republicans in the 2014 mid-term elections, since the Republican Party as a whole buys into the authoritarian state much more than the Democrats do.  Before we can stem the slow drift towards a police state, we have to turn the Democratic Party back towards a reasoned approach to fighting terrorists, one that depends on legal police and intelligence techniques known to work. It would also help if we had a foreign policy that did not overtly exploit and offend the people who represent the terrorists’ constituency.

Ex-Spy Alleges Bush White House Sought to Discredit Critic -

On the front page of the New York Times today, a story by James Risen on professor, blogger and contributor to my latest book, The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan, Juan Cole and how he was put on the Bush Administration’s enemies list and made a CIA target.

I’m green with envy!

Stealing Privacy Back From the NSA

The Constitution and rights of citizens have been abrogated, and powerful technologies developed that routinely and casually violate everyone’s privacy.  Neither political party seems very interested in defending these rights.  But now some people are pushing back.

The Smartphone Even the NSA May Have Trouble Hacking is Coming Soon by Paul Szoldra [excerpts]

“If you’re worried about the NSA listening in on your smartphone, Silent Circle’s “Blackphone” may be the last best hope…

While the [$629] price is a bit hefty, it comes with impressive features, including fully encrypted voice, text, and video calls, and a virtual private network that anonymizes web surfing — all built on a custom version of Android…

Demand for such a device certainly ramped up after Edward Snowden began leaking top-secret documents detailing NSA surveillance programs, but Silent Circle had been working on the device long before…

The company has taken great pains to ensure it could not give up user data, even if compelled to by a government.  While many U.S. companies receive controversial national security letters forcing them to share customer info, Silent Circle is incorporated in Switzerland and has Swiss data centers.

But the main thing that sets the security of the phone apart is that the encryption itself resides only on the handset.  While encrypted data passes through the company’s servers, the individual keys necessary to unlock and read the data are only on the phones.

Basically, if Silent Circle was forced to hand over data, all they could give up is a bunch of encrypted gibberish…”

But what about your computer?

An article in New Scientist has some answers:

“Because no one outside the NSA and its partners knows how retro reflectors [listening in on ambient sounds and harvesting keystrokes and on-screen images] operate, security engineers cannot defend against their use.  Now a group of security researchers led by Michael Ossmann of Great Scott Gadgets in Evergreen, Colorado, have not only figured out how these devices work, but also recreated them…

An SDR [Software-Defined Radio signal-processing chip] Ossmann designed and built, called HackRF, was a key part of his work in reconstructing the NSA’s retro-reflector systems.  Such systems come in two parts – a plantable “reflector” bug and a remote SDR-based receiver.

One reflector, which the NSA called Ragemaster, can be fixed to a computer’s monitor cable to pick up on-screen images.  Another, Surlyspawn, sits on the keyboard cable and harvests keystrokes.  After a lot of trial and error, Ossmann found these bugs can be remarkably simple devices – little more than a tiny transistor and a 2-centimetre-long wire acting as an antenna.

Getting the information from the bugs is where SDRs come in…

Having figured out how the NSA bugs work, Ossmann says the hackers can now turn their attention to defending against them – and they have launched a website to collate such knowledge, called  "Showing how these devices exploit weaknesses in our systems means we can make them more secure in the future,“ he says.”

— excerpted from Hackers reverse-engineer NSA’s leaked bugging device by Paul Marks

History Repeats:  NSA and FBI Abuse of Power 40 Years Ago

One more excerpt, this one from an excellent editorial printed in the Los Angeles Times just at the end of last year:

“In the mid-1970s, the Church Committee, named for its chairman, Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho), made shocking and still-relevant findings.  It found that J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI spied on hundreds of thousands of Americans who dissented against government policy, on the pretext that they were part of a Kremlin-controlled plot.

The bureau went beyond surveillance to mount, in the committee’s words, a "sophisticated vigilante operation” called COINTELPRO to “disrupt” and “neutralize” dissent, turning counterintelligence techniques developed for use against foreign enemies on students protesting the Vietnam War, civil rights groups and nonviolent leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr.

FBI officials went so far as to foment violence between the Black Panthers and a rival black power group, United Slaves, in Southern California, the committee found, and then proudly claimed credit for shootings and beatings.

At the University of California, FBI files subsequently uncovered through the Freedom of Information Act show the bureau harassed Mario Savio, a leader of the 1964 Free Speech Movement; waged a concerted campaign to oust UC President Clark Kerr because FBI officials disagreed with his policies; and gave personal and political help to Ronald Reagan, who had been an FBI informer in Hollywood and as governor vowed to crack down on Berkeley protests.

The Church Committee also investigated NSA surveillance and its relationship to its “customer” agencies and their activities.

From 1967 until 1973, the committee said, the NSA targeted the international communications of some 1,200 Americans on a “watch list” of names, submitted mainly by the FBI and other agencies, who ranged from members of radical political groups to celebrities to “ordinary citizens involved in protests against their government.”  Among those listed were King, Muhammad Ali and even Church.

These NSA intercepts were an integral part of massive domestic surveillance that targeted citizens because they exercised their constitutional rights, the committee reported.  The FBI used the information to develop leads at the same time the bureau was conducting COINTELPRO; the CIA used it to spy on antiwar activists under its “questionable” Operation CHAOS; and the Army to improperly amass files on more than 100,000 U.S. citizens engaged in dissent.

In its defense, the NSA claimed that the communications of Americans had been collected “as an incidental and unintended act in the conduct of the interception of foreign communications.”  Sound familiar…?”

Spy Wars: Americans need to know more than Snowden has revealed

EFF defeats govt motion in AT&T wiretapping case #10yrsago

Greg sez, “In January, EFF filed a lawsuit against AT&T for collaborating with the NSA in its massive and illegal spying program. Today, a federal court denied the government’s and AT&T’s motions to dismiss the case, allowing EFF’s suit to proceed. This is a huge step toward stopping illegal surveillance and holding AT&T accountable for these privacy violations. With your help, we can finish the job and secure your rights. Please donate to EFF today and forward the news along to your friends and family!” Link (Thanks, Greg!)