Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

NSA Offering ‘Billions’ for Skype Eavesdrop Solution

Posted in Uncategorized by allisonkilkenny on February 15, 2009

The Register

wiretapCounter Terror Expo News of a possible viable business model for P2P VoIP network Skype emerged today, at the Counter Terror Expo in London. An industry source disclosed that America’s supersecret National Security Agency (NSA) is offering “billions” to any firm which can offer reliable eavesdropping on Skype IM and voice traffic.

The spybiz exec, who preferred to remain anonymous, confirmed that Skype continues to be a major problem for government listening agencies, spooks and police. This was already thought to be the case, following requests from German authorities for special intercept/bugging powers to help them deal with Skype-loving malefactors. Britain’s GCHQ has also stated that it has severe problems intercepting VoIP and internet communication in general.

Skype in particular is a serious problem for spooks and cops. Being P2P, the network can’t be accessed by the company providing it and the authorities can’t gain access by that route. The company won’t disclose details of its encryption, either, and isn’t required to as it is Europe based. This lack of openness prompts many security pros to rubbish Skype on “security through obscurity” grounds: but nonetheless it remains a popular choice with those who think they might find themselves under surveillance. Rumour suggests that America’s NSA may be able to break Skype encryption – assuming they have access to a given call or message – but nobody else.

The NSA may be able to do that: but it seems that if so, this uses up too much of the agency’s resources at present.

“They are saying to the industry, you get us into Skype and we will make you a very rich company,” said the industry source, adding that the obscure encryption used by the P2Pware is believed to change frequently as part of software updates.

The spyware kingpin suggested that Skype is deliberately seeking to frustrate national listening agencies, which seems an odd thing to do – Skype has difficulties enough getting revenues out of its vast user base at any time, and a paid secure-voice system for subversives doesn’t seem like a money-spinner.

But corporate parent eBay, having had to write down $1.4bn already following its $2.6bn purchase of Skype back in the bubble-2.0 days of 2005, might see an opportunity here. A billion or two from the NSA for a backdoor into Skype might make the acquisition seem like a sensible idea.

We asked the NSA for comment, particularly on the idea of simply buying a way into Skype, but hadn’t yet received a response as of publication.

In Final Legal Act, Bush Appeals Spy Ruling

Posted in Barack Obama, politics by allisonkilkenny on January 21, 2009

Wired

spyWith a mere 64 minutes left in its last full day in office, the Bush administration asked a federal judge to stay enforcement of a  ruling that would keep alive a lawsuit which tests whether the president can bypass the Congress and eavesdrop on Americans without warrants.

The request was lodged with U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker of San Francisco at 10:56 p.m. EST on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday — about 13 hours before the inauguration of President Barack Obama. The filing was among now former President George W. Bush’s final legal acts in office.

The Bush administration asked Walker’s permission to appeal his Jan. 5 decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Walker had ruled that “sufficient facts” exist that two U.S.-based lawyers for an Islamic charity might have been spied upon for the case to proceed to the next stage.

The case seeks the courts to rule on the constitutionality of the Bush administration’s warrantless eavesdropping program the president approved in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

Congress authorized the spy program last year as part of legislation immunizing participating telecommunication companies from lawsuits accusing them of violating their customers’ civil liberties, but the spying in this case allegedly happened in 2004. Eric Holder, the incoming U.S. attorney, said the Obama administration supported the spy legislation and would defend it in a separate challenge.

On Monday, the Bush administration sought to prevent the disclosure of a Top Secret document at the center of a closely watched spy case, a document Walker ruled could be admitted.

The suit involves two American lawyers who the Treasury Department accidentally gave a Top Secret document in 2004 showing they were illegally eavesdropped on by the government when working for a now-defunct Islamic charity that year.

Their suit looked all but dead in July when they were initially blocked from using the document to prove they were spied on. They were forced to return it to the government.

But two weeks ago, Walker said the document could be used in the case because there was sufficient, anecdotal evidence unrelated to the document that suggests the lawyers for the Al-Haramain charity were spied upon. Without the document, the lawyers — Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoo — don’t likely have a case.

In its Monday filling, (.pdf) the government repeated its assertion that the use of the document in the case would jeopardize national security. The administration said the document was protected by the so-called state secrets privilege and objected to even Walker reviewing it — yet alone the lawyers for Belew and Ghafoo — who Walker said could see it in private.

“If the court were to find … that none of the plaintiffs are aggrieved parties, the case obviously could not proceed, but such a holding would reveal to plaintiffs and the public at large information that is protected by the state secrets privilege — namely, that certain individuals were not subject to alleged surveillance,” the administration wrote.

By the same token, the administration argued, if Walker allowed the case to proceed after reviewing the document, it “would confirm that a plaintiff was subject to surveillance.”

The government continued: “Indeed, if the actual facts were that just one of the plaintiffs had been subject to alleged surveillance, any such differentiation likewise could not be disclosed because it would inherently reveal intelligence information as to who was and was not a subject of interest, which communications were and were not of intelligence interest, and which modes of communication were and were not of intelligence interest, and which modes of communication may or may not have been subject to surveillance.”

A hearing is scheduled in Walker’s courtroom on Friday.

“We filed this lawsuit to establish a judicial precedent that the president cannot disregard Congress in the name of national security,” said Jon Eisenberg, the lawyer for Belew and Ghafoo. “Plaintiffs have a right to litigate the legality of the surveillance.”

RNC Activist Outed as FBI Spy

Posted in Uncategorized by allisonkilkenny on January 6, 2009

United Press International

brandon-darby

Brandon Darby: Activist; Spy

ST. PAUL, Minn., Jan. 5 (UPI) — A well-known community activist who worked with protesters at last year’s Republican National Convention in St. Paul says he’s an FBI informant.

Brandon Darby, an organizer from Austin, Tex., who gained prominence as a member of Common Ground Relief, which helped victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, has announced in an open letter that he has been working as an FBI mole and said he will testify at the Minnesota trial of two fellow Texans accused of hurling Molotov cocktails during the RNC, The New York Times reported Monday.

In an interview with the Times, Darby defended his decision as “a good moral way to use my time,” telling the newspaper he wanted to prevent violence during the convention at the Xcel Energy Center.

David McKay and Bradley Crowder, both also from Austin, are scheduled to go on trial in Minnesota on Jan. 26. If convicted on all counts of making and possessing Molotov cocktails, each faces a prison sentence of up to 30 years.

“I am well aware that I’ve stepped outside of accepted behaviors and that I’ve committed a sin in the eyes of many activists,” Darby told the Times.

Intelligence Policy to Stay Largely Intact

Posted in Barack Obama, torture by allisonkilkenny on November 11, 2008
Former National Counterterrorism Center chief John Brennan, leader of Obama's intelligence-transition team. (AP)

Former National Counterterrorism Center chief John Brennan, leader of Obama intelligence transition team. (AP)

Wall Street Journal

WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama is unlikely to radically overhaul controversial Bush administration intelligence policies, advisers say, an approach that is almost certain to create tension within the Democratic Party.

Civil-liberties groups were among those outraged that the White House sanctioned the use of harsh intelligence techniques — which some consider torture — by the Central Intelligence Agency, and expanded domestic spy powers. These groups are demanding quick action to reverse these policies.

Mr. Obama is being advised largely by a group of intelligence professionals, including some who have supported Republicans, and centrist former officials in the Clinton administration. They say he is likely to fill key intelligence posts with pragmatists.

“He’s going to take a very centrist approach to these issues,” said Roger Cressey, a former counterterrorism official in the Clinton and Bush administrations. “Whenever an administration swings too far on the spectrum left or right, we end up getting ourselves in big trouble.”

On the campaign trail, Mr. Obama criticized many of President George W. Bush’s counterterrorism policies. He condemned Mr. Bush for promoting “excessive secrecy, indefinite detention, warrantless wiretapping and ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ like simulated drowning that qualify as torture through any careful measure of the law or appeal to human decency.”

As a candidate, Mr. Obama said the CIA’s interrogation program should adhere to the same rules that apply to the military, which would prohibit the use of techniques such as waterboarding. He has also said the program should be investigated.

Yet he more recently voted for a White House-backed law to expand eavesdropping powers for the National Security Agency. Mr. Obama said he opposed providing legal immunity to telecommunications companies that aided warrantless surveillance, but ultimately voted for the bill, which included an immunity provision.

The new president could take a similar approach to revising the rules for CIA interrogations, said one current government official familiar with the transition. Upon review, Mr. Obama may decide he wants to keep the road open in certain cases for the CIA to use techniques not approved by the military, but with much greater oversight.

The intelligence-transition team is led by former National Counterterrorism Center chief John Brennan and former CIA intelligence-analysis director Jami Miscik, say officials close to the matter. Mr. Brennan is viewed as a potential candidate for a top intelligence post. Ms. Miscik left amid a slew of departures from the CIA under then-Director Porter Goss.

Advisers caution that few decisions will be made until the team gets a better picture of how the Bush administration actually goes about gathering intelligence, including covert programs, and there could be a greater shift after a full review.

The Obama team plans to review secret and public executive orders and recent Justice Department guidelines that eased restrictions on domestic intelligence collection. “They’ll be looking at existing executive orders, then making sure from Jan. 20 on there’s going to be appropriate executive-branch oversight of intelligence functions,” Mr. Brennan said in an interview shortly before Election Day.

The early transition effort is winning praise from moderate Democrats. “He’s surrounded himself with excellent people — an excellent bipartisan group,” said Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat who is chairwoman of the House homeland-security subcommittee on intelligence.

Civil-liberties and human-rights advocates, who helped Mr. Obama win election, are seeking both a reversal of Bush administration policies and expanded investigations into possible illegal actions when the administration sought to track down terrorists after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“We need to understand what happened,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington office.

Most of those being discussed as candidates for director of national intelligence and director of the CIA have staked out a middle ground between safeguarding civil liberties and aggressively pursuing nontraditional adversaries.

Mr. Brennan is a leading contender for one of the two jobs, say some advisers. He declined to comment on personnel matters. Gen. James L. Jones, a former North Atlantic Treaty Organization commander; Thomas Fingar, the chief of analysis for the intelligence director; Joan A. Dempsey, who served in top intelligence and Pentagon posts; former Rep. Tim Roemer of Indiana, who served on the 9/11 Commission; and Ms. Harman have also been mentioned. Ms. Harman has also been cited as a potential secretary of homeland security.

“I’m very flattered that some folks somewhere think I would be qualified for a number of positions,” she said. “But I’m also looking forward to an eighth term in Congress working on many of these issues.”

None of the others could be reached for comment.

Another option for Mr. Obama would be to retain current intelligence Director Mike McConnell, who has said he would stay on for a reasonable time until a successor is named. CIA Director Michael V. Hayden also is open to considering an extension of his time in office, according to a senior intelligence official.

However, Mr. Obama voted against Mr. Hayden’s nomination as CIA director to signal his frustration with the administration’s warrantless-surveillance program, which Mr. Hayden helped launch as National Security Agency director.

Write to Siobhan Gorman at siobhan.gorman@wsj.com