Posts Tagged ‘Edward Snowden’

Danish revelations about Snowden suggest Swedish charges against Assange were trumped up for rendition to the US

February 5, 2016

The ridiculousness of the Swedish charges against Assange have always left with me with a sneaking suspicion that there is a very murky back story lurking somewhere. On the surface it just seems like Swedish feminism gone mad. But the Swedish Justice system does not pursue even murderers with the viciousness with which it has pursued Assange. It has seemed like just another crazy, paranoid, conspiracy theory to think that it was all engineered at the request of the US authorities to try and get Assange (by extraordinary rendition) to the US. But it does not look like such a crazy theory any more.

Assange and Wikileaks have been a thorn in the side of the US authorities. Just as Snowden and his associates were. The UK government was very active in helping the US authorities try to get hold of Snowden and his associates. It has now been revealed that by the Danish Justice minister that the Danish government of the time led by Social Democratic prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt was also ready to allow the rendition of Edward Snowden to the US on the flimsiest of paperwork. The FBI had requested the assistance from all the Scandinavian countries and it is pretty clear that Sweden and Norway and probably Finland would also have cooperated.

With the level of Danish cooperation with the FBI for the possible rendition of Snowden now being admitted, it does not seem that far fetched that Sweden, with its desire to join NATO, would also go to extraordinary lengths to be in the “good books” of the US.

The clear intention of the Danish government to cooperate with the US over Snowden suggested that Scandinavian governments “would probably do the same with Julian Assange”, were he to travel to Sweden to face rape allegations

I begin to suspect that the framing of charges against Assange – on extremely flimsy grounds – after the prosecutor’s office had first declined to proceed was a ruse devised at the highest levels of Reinfeld’s government to get Assange to the US via Sweden and gain a number of brownie points while doing so. Perhaps Assange has good reason to be paranoid.

The Guardian:

A US government jet was lying in wait in Copenhagen to extradite the whistleblower Edward Snowden if he had come to Scandinavia after fleeing to Moscow in June 2013, the Danish government has revealed.

……. Søren Pind, the justice minister, wrote to Danish MPs (pdf): “The purpose of the aircraft’s presence in Copenhagen airport is most likely to have been to have the opportunity to transport Edward Snowden to the United States if he had been handed over from Russia or another country.”

“I must note that my answer was not adequate at this point,” he wrote in the letter, dated Thursday 4 February and revealed by MPs on Friday. “Usually, information of this nature is confidential because of Denmark’s relations with foreign states. In view of the impression that my earlier answer may have created, I think it proper to inform parliament thereof. The US authorities have also been informed.”

Nicholaj Villumsen, MP and foreign affairs spokesman for the Red Green Alliance, said: “It is grotesque that the then government put the interests of the United States above citizens’ freedoms. They violated fundamental democratic rights. We owe Edward Snowden a big thank you for his revelations of illegal US mass surveillance. Denmark should therefore in no way participate in the hunt for him.”

The clear intention of the Danish government to cooperate with the US over Snowden suggested that Scandinavian governments “would probably do the same with Julian Assange”, were he to travel to Sweden to face rape allegations, Villumsen said. Assange’s insistence that he faces a risk of extradition was a central aspect of his appeal to the UN working group on arbitrary detention, which on Friday ruled in his favour.

Chinese back doors and mincing rascals from the US!

May 21, 2014

The United States on Monday charged  five Chinese military officers and accused them of hacking into American nuclear, metal and solar companies to steal trade secrets, ratcheting up tensions between the two world powers over cyber espionage.

Washington is playing the victim of cyber-espionage when in fact it is the world’s top intelligence power, a Chinese state-run newspaper has said in a sharply worded editorial after US authorities levelled criminal hacking charges at China’s army. “Regarding the issue of network security, the US is such a mincing rascal that we must stop developing any illusions about it,” wrote the Global Times, which is close to the ruling Communist party.

Meanwhile we learn from the Snowden affair that the US Government turned Silicon Valley into a surveillance partner. The second part of the United States of Secrets is to be broadcast by PBS tonight.

Increasingly industrial systems have their hardware  and/or their control systems equipped, at the time of manufacture, with “backdoors” to allow remote access at some future time. Inevitably the backdoors” are associated with embedded software very often with features to make it undetectable. These include power plants and their components, industrial control systems, access control systems, network appliances, surveillance systems, communication devices and even commercial aircraft.

In the US not only the software giants (Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook…), but even hardware manufacturers such as Boeing and GE and IBM and even automotive companies have been involved with installing “backdoors” and their associated software (malware) into their products.  Many US companies have regularly utilised their security services for industrial espionage and it is not very surprising that they feel beholden. Intelligence agencies in the US and Australia and the UK are not permitted to use Chinese Lenovo hardware because they are suspected of containing hidden  “backdoors”. Lenovo isn’t unique. Chinese firms accused of espionage in the past include Huawei and ZTE. Chinese government organisations in their turn are not permitted to use Microsoft products and Windows 8 is especially suspected for its many hidden, built-in vulnerabilities.

There is much active research in designing and hiding “backdoors” and in detecting and disabling them.

Hardware backdooring is practical, Jonathan Brossard, Blackhat Briefings and Defcon Conferences, Las Vegas, 2012

(We) will demonstrate that permanent backdooring of hardware is practical. We have built a generi proof of concept malware for the Intel architecture, Rakshasa, capable of infecting more than a hundred dierent motherboards. The net effect of Rakshasa is to disable NX permanently…. resulting in permanent lowering of the security of the backdoored computer, even after complete erasing of hard disks and re-installation of a new operating system. We shall also demonstrate that preexisting work on …. subversions such as bootkiting and preboot authentication software, brute-force or faking can be embedded in Rakshasa with little effort.

Silencing Hardware Backdoors, Adam Waksman and Simha Sethumadhavan, SP ’11 Proceedings of the 2011 IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy,Pages 49-63

Hardware components can contain hidden backdoors, which can be enabled with catastrophic effects or for ill-gotten profit. These backdoors can be inserted by a malicious insider on the design team or a third-party IP provider. In this paper, we propose techniques that allow us to build trustworthy hardware systems from components designed by untrusted designers or procured from untrusted third-party IP providers. We present the first solution for disabling digital, design-level hardware backdoors. The principle is that rather than try to discover the malicious logic in the design–an extremely hard problem–we make the backdoor design problem itself intractable to the attacker. The key idea is to scramble inputs that are supplied to the hardware units at runtime, making it infeasible for malicious components to acquire the information they need to perform malicious actions.

The US accusing China is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. But the black methods now surely being used by the Chinese were all invented first in the US and probably under State sponsorship.

There are many Big Brothers out there.

Intelligence Agencies have become a law unto themselves – by public consent

November 2, 2013

No politician wants to oppose anything said to be in the interests of National Security. Even politicians on oversight committees and the like would prefer not to know too much about the substance of what the Intelligence and Security Agencies get up to as long as proper form is observed. Very few politicians would have the courage to apply a moral or ethical judgement to what their charges get up to. They are quite ready to apply budget limitations or disapprove funding for a project but rarely to object to the substance of any program.

Invoking the spectre of “terrorism” or the “war on terrorism” appears to silence politicians with remarkable rapidity and to bypass any attempt to apply ethical standards. The end justifies any means whether it involves simple snooping or secret renditions, secret prisons or torture. If we judge by the level to which “fear of terrorism” governs our actions one could conclude that the terrorist attacks have mainly achieved their objective of getting their targets to operate in an atmosphere of fear.

The Snowden revelations are fascinating. It would seem that the Intelligence Community works across national boundaries – and it seems – behind the backs of their respective political masters. Almost as if these agencies in different countries apply their own code of ethics or morality. it seems they decide among themselves as to what level of transgressions of the integrity of private individuals  is acceptable and proper. US Agencies worked together with British, German, French, Spanish and Swedish intelligence agencies – probably on their own initiative and without feeling any need to inform their oversight politicians – about the details of their collaboration. After all, these politicians “do not need to know” and to help matters along, “they do not wish to know”.

But politicians only reflect the views of the general public.  Most of the security checking and scans at airports is of little use. The bans on electronic equipment during flights is totally pointless. But we, the general public, accept it since it panders to our fears. We accept the excesses of intelligence and security agencies for the same reason. So far the 21st century is characterised by actions being subservient to the “fear of terror”. And that I would define as cowardice. Courage consists of fears being subservient to actions.

Intelligence and Security Agencies have become a law unto themselves and our politicians have acquiesced on our behalf.

The Guardian: 

The German, French, Spanish and Swedish intelligence services have all developed methods of mass surveillance of internet and phone traffic over the past five years in close partnership with Britain’s GCHQ eavesdropping agency.

The bulk monitoring is carried out through direct taps into fibre optic cables and the development of covert relationships with telecommunications companies. A loose but growing eavesdropping alliance has allowed intelligence agencies from one country to cultivate ties with corporations from another to facilitate the trawling of the web, according to GCHQ documents leaked by the former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

The files also make clear that GCHQ played a leading role in advising its European counterparts how to work around national laws intended to restrict the surveillance power of intelligence agencies.

The German, French and Spanish governments have reacted angrily to reports based on National Security Agency (NSA) files leaked by Snowden since June, revealing the interception of communications by tens of millions of their citizens each month. US intelligence officials have insisted the mass monitoring was carried out by the security agencies in the countries involved and shared with the US.

The US director of national intelligence, James Clapper, suggested to Congress on Tuesday that European governments’ professed outrage at the reports was at least partly hypocritical. “Some of this reminds me of the classic movie Casablanca: ‘My God, there’s gambling going on here,’ ” he said.

Swedenwhich passed a law in 2008 allowing its intelligence agency to monitor cross-border email and phone communications without a court order, has been relatively muted in its response.


Scientific American sends Bora on “leave”

October 18, 2013

One thing is clear after this last weeks’ convulsions at Scientific American. Breaking the silence can have an effect in the face of wrongdoing but it requires a society prepared to listen.  In the face of wrongdoing, silence is not always golden, silence is acquiesence, silence condones. But breaking the silence does not always end well for whistle-blowers  and breaking the silence requires taking some risk. Edward Snowden can testify to that.

The fall-out at Scientific American continues and Bora Zivkovic has been sent on gardening leave. But the behaviour of Scientific American editor-in-chief Mariette DiChristina for her initial knee-jerk censorship and then her attempts to explain away her initial untruth has yet to be fully addressed. The Editor’s Note accompanying the reinstatement of the censored blog post does not carry much credibility and – in my opinion – seeks to establish a blatant untruth as real. There is no apology to the blogger for the censorship, no expression of regret.

Editor’s note (10/14/13): This post was originally published on Friday, October 11, 2013, at 16:58, and taken down within the hour. As fully detailed here, we could not quickly verify the facts of the blog post and consequently for legal reasons we had to remove it. Email to the editor referenced in this post to elicit his comments has gone unanswered. Biology Online would not disclose his identity or give out additional contact information and other efforts to identify him to solicit a response have been unsuccessful. Biology Online has confirmed the exchange. This post is therefore being republished as of October 14th at 4:46pm.

Whether Zivkovic was sent on leave or asked to go on leave is moot.


Bora Zivkovic, who has admitted to sexual harassment and resigned from the board of ScienceOnline, has now taken a break from his duties as blog editor at Scientific American, according to Philip Yam, Scientific American’s news editor.

In an email this morning, Yam confirmed the news that was making its way around Twitter–that Zivkovic was taking a break from his duties at his request. Alice Henchley, a spokesperson for Scientific American, said in an email, “Bora Zivkovic is on personal leave at the moment.”

German helicopter probes US consulate in Frankfurt for spy station

September 10, 2013

The US NSA’s wide-spread surveillance of friends and foes alike revealed by the Snowden documents is creating an atmosphere of distrust. South American countries are not pleased after the revelations that leading politicians have had their e-mails intercepted and hacked by the NSA. Of course many of the intelligence agencies in European countries have been complicit in the indiscriminate surveillance. Now it seems that the NSA have also probably been helping US companies by spying on their rivals such as Petrobras, SWIFT and other foreign firms.

In Sweden you haven’t really arrived if you aren’t important enough to have had your e-mail intercepted!

But suspicions are now running very high about all US installations.

The Local:

A German police helicopter has flown low over the US Consulate in Frankfurt looking for a secret listening station, prompting a call from the American ambassador to Germany’s foreign ministry.

The helicopter circled low over America’s consulate in Frankfurt on August 28th on the orders of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff Ronald Pofalla, magazine Focus reported on Monday.

Pofalla had declared the NSA spying scandal – sparked by whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations of a mass surveillance programme – over. 

But the helicopter flight, whose mission was to gather evidence of the supposed spying station – hints at the German government’s lack of trust in its ally’s spying activities on German soil. The helicopter slowly flew twice over the consulate at a height of 60 metres to photograph the site, Focus reported. 

Probably the only safe course is now for any country and for any company with US competitors to assume that they are being spied upon and to assume that every US government installation abroad is involved in the surveillance.

UK also following US instructions in detaining partner of the journalist linked to Snowden

August 19, 2013

The subservience of European security services to their US counterparts seems complete.

It was not so long ago that we had the story 

…. about France and Portugal and Austria kowtowing to demands made – no doubt – by US “intelligence” while forcing down the Bolivian President’s plane yesterday, suggests that this subservience of their European counterparts still continues. The quality of the US “intelligence” that Snowden was on the plane was clearly very “strain’d”. The “constraining” of intelligence” to suit a political purpose will be with us for a long time and the poodle-like behaviour of the European countries is sometimes embarrassing to observe.

It transpired later that Germany was also complicit in the massive US surveillance. Snowden has since been granted a years asylum in Russia and it is to be expected that US dissatisfaction and irritation is running high. And today we have the story of how the UK security services detained the partner of the journalist associated with Snowden while he was en route from Berlin to Brazil. He was detained, questioned for 9 hours, had his lap-top and memory sticks confiscated – all under powers available from terrorist legislation.  It does seem that the UK – like France and Portugal and Austria – was merely following instructions from across the Atlantic. One wonders what new revelations from Snowden’s material the US NSA is so paranoid about.


British authorities used anti-terrorism powers on Sunday to detain the partner of a journalist with close links to Edward Snowden, the former U.S. spy agency contractor who has been granted asylum by Russia, as he passed through London’s Heathrow airport.

The 28-year-old David Miranda, a Brazilian citizen and partner of U.S. journalist Glenn Greenwald who writes for Britain’s Guardian newspaper, was questioned for nine hours before being released without charge, a report on the Guardian website said.

A British Metropolitan Police Service spokesman said a 28-year-old male had been detained at Heathrow airport under provisions of the 2000 Terrorism Act. That law gives British border officials the right to question someone “to determine if that individual is a person concerned in the commission, preparation or execution of acts of terrorism.”

The invocation of terrorism legislation is more than a little far-fetched but was probably a quick, convenient way for the compliant UK security services to satisfy the US demands. I am just a little surprised that it did not just give rise to a case of “extraordinary rendition” with Miranda being hustled onto a plane bound for the US.

Is there an element of anti-Snowden PR in the current US security alert?

August 3, 2013

We shall never know of course.

Edward Snowden has revealed the absolutely massive scale on which the NSA gathers information – almost indiscriminately. The UK government and German government agencies are apparently complicit in this dredging of information. But in spite of this the US and its allies were not capable of anticipating events in North Africa and the Middle East. The Arab spring in particular seems to have caught all the Western intelligence agencies napping. The apparent lack of intelligence analysis about Egypt is particularly interesting. The threat to Mubarak – as close an ally of the US as you could get outside of Israel – was not anticipated. The threat of the Muslim Brotherhood was not anticipated. The dethronement of Mursi by the Army was not anticipated. The attack on the US Embassy in Libya – which was not some spontaneous mob action, but a planned attack  – was not anticipated.

The indiscriminate volume of intelligence gathering does not seem to be matched by the analytical capabilities of the intelligence gatherers. But they did find Osama – even if it took ten years. They did find the Boston bombers – very quickly but only after the event. But the intelligence for the drone attacks does not seem – from the number of civilians and children killed – to be very precise.

Post Snowden there is now considerable criticism even within the US about the level of intelligence gathering and leaves Obama and the Democrats looking like the enemies of civil liberties. The “escape” of Snowden and his asylum application in Russia leaves the Democratic administration in Washington looking inept at worst and severely embarrassed at best. After Snowden was granted a years residence in Russia, the White House media response was mere thrashing about. A summit meeting to be held this fall was threatened (does Putin even care?). Even the venue of next G20 meeing planned for St. Petersberg was “questioned” by a blustering White House spokesman.

And now comes this announcement of a Security Alert and an Al Qaida threat (unspecified) in North Africa and the Middle East. Perhaps there is a real threat. If it does not materialise then the NSA can take credit for thwarting the threat (even if it never existed). If some act of terror does materialise during August, the intelligence agencies will pat themselves on the back (but someone else will be blamed for not preventing the event).

BBC: The US state department has issued a global travel alert because of an unspecified al-Qaeda threat.

In a statement, the department said the potential for an attack was particularly strong in the Middle East and North Africa. It comes shortly after the US announced nearly two dozen embassies and consulates would be shut on Sunday.

The alert expires on 31 August 2013, the department said. It recommended US citizens travelling abroad be vigilant. “Current information suggests that al-Qaeda and affiliated organisations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August,” the statement said.

Maybe there is a real threat — and maybe there is not. Certainly the track record of the intelligence agencies correctly forecasting events in the Middle East and North Africa is not terribly impressive.

The White House clearly does see an increasing need to justify the scope of its intelligence gathering activities. Obama needs to show his own left wing that he is not a “bad guy”. The Administration also needs to show that Snowden is not a hero and a defender of civil liberties and that he has actually put national security at risk. All these are matters of perception and can be addressed by “spin”.  I just observe that this current Security Alert – whether the threat is real or not – does achieve that – if only partially.

Snowden leaves Moscow airport

August 1, 2013

Russia’s interfax news agency reported  at 1354 CET that Snowden had now left Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport and crossed the Russian “border”.


MOSCOW. Aug 1 (Interfax) – The Federal Migration Service has issued former CIA employee Edward Snowden with a certificate, which allows him to leave the Sheremetyevo airport’s transit zone, lawyer Anatoly Kucherena told Interfax on Thursday.

“I have just delivered documents from the Russian Federal Migration Service. He can now leave the transit zone,” said the lawyer, who is rendering legal services to the U.S. whistleblower.

The saga continues.

I suppose he will in due course end up in Latin America.

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