ECHELON, PROMIS, PRISM: Global Interception to Global Deception

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The history of spying and being spied upon is as old as dirt, but lately there’s this feeling that, left unchecked for too long, it’s got out of hand. We have an equally long history of allowing previous chances to pay attention slip from our grasp. Looking back just a few years, ECHELON is one example:

Global system for the interception of private and commercial communications (ECHELON)

Global system for the interception of private and commercial communications (ECHELON)

From the European Parliament website Report (11 July 2001) on the existence of a global system for the interception of private and commercial communications (ECHELON interception system):

The system known as ‘ECHELON’ is an interception system which differs from other intelligence systems in that it possesses two features which make it quite unusual:

The first such feature attributed to it is the capacity to carry out quasi-total surveillance. Satellite receiver stations and spy satellites in particular are alleged to give it the ability to intercept any telephone, fax, Internet or e-mail message sent by any individual and thus to inspect its contents.

The second unusual feature of ECHELON is said to be that the system operates worldwide on the basis of cooperation proportionate to their capabilities among several states (the UK, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand), giving it an added value in comparison to national systems: the states participating in ECHELON (UKUSA states(8)) can place their interception systems at each other’s disposal, share the cost and make joint use of the resulting information. This type of international cooperation is essential in particular for the worldwide interception of satellite communications, since only in this way is it possible to ensure in international communications that both sides of a dialogue can be intercepted. It is clear that, in view of its size, a satellite receiver station cannot be established on the territory of a state without that state’s knowledge. Mutual agreement and proportionate cooperation among several states in different parts of the world is essential.

Possible threats to privacy and to businesses posed by a system of the ECHELON type arise not only from the fact that is a particularly powerful monitoring system, but also that it operates in a largely legislation-free area. Systems for the interception of international communications are not usually targeted at residents of the home country. The person whose messages were intercepted would have no domestic legal protection, not being resident in the country concerned. Such a person would be completely at the mercy of the system. Parliamentary supervision would also be inadequate in this area, since the voters, who assume that interception ‘only’ affects people abroad, would not be particularly interested in it, and elected representatives chiefly follow the interests of their voters. That being so, it is hardly surprising that the hearings held in the US Congress concerning the activities of the NSA were confined to the question of whether US citizens were affected by it, with no real concern expressed regarding the existence of such a system in itself. It thus seems all the more important to investigate this issue at European level.

(my emphasis)

As this excerpt illustrates, there is an established, ongoing programme of mutual cooperation, and individual citizens of their respective countries don’t make a fuss because they wrongly assume they are not targets. The hidden truth here is really sad: neither government or people are concerned about bad stuff happening in other countries. We’re fine with investing, trading, travelling, or studying abroad, but if there’s a problem, we want to scurry home and pull up the drawbridge.

More recently, we heard about “PROMIS” – for example, in this post from 2006 which states:

“National Security Agency (NSA) computers have been downloading financial and personal files of all American citizens as a result of upgrades to the Echelon satellite network and software program which is part of the Prosecutor’s Management Information System (PROMIS).

SOG says that NSA also has a “7-10 second lead time” which effectively affords the agency the opportunity to delay the release of currency, stock and bond sales transactions which permits a criminal advantage to agency officials and other high-level associates who game the system of the world’s financial markets”

(my emphasis)

These historic reports explain why so many people, myself included, maintain that the current media revelations about PRISM are not actually news. We have been aware for some time that nothing and no one is “safe” from prying electronic eyes. For most of us, this issue is not about having “something to hide”: it’s about exercising the right to go about your business and not have your private and personal life intruded on without good reason by anyone, and especially not the government that is supposed to serve you. Worse, and decidedly more underhand, is the notion of another country’s government spying on you, then sharing that information with your government in some shady secret information exchange deal. It is about being innocent until proven guilty in a public court of law, with the right to defend yourself. Basically, we don’t want our phone conversations, correspondence or bank accounts to be the target of extrajudicial electronic snooper drones. We don’t want government more loyal to its clandestine relationships with other countries than to the electorate.

Are4D7z - ImgurIf you were not previously aware, or not focussed on these risks, you can thank Edward Snowden and the media coverage of PRISM for bringing these concerns to the front page.The PRISM reports are being issued with exceptionally useful timing, coinciding initially with meetings between China and the US, and then just ahead of the G8 summit.  This inevitably leads to speculation over why non-news is being pushed so hard, and whether there is an alternative agenda. We can’t know for sure what the deal is with these PRISM revelations, we can only throw around a few guesses or wait for more information to come to light. There are several possibilities being mulled over, from diverting attention away from other news items, to inciting civil unrest and manufacturing dissent among grassroots movements on a par with the Occupy protests. Proponents of the latter point out that Edward Snowden’s story also contains some subtle, and not so subtle, messages targeting anti-establishment activists. For example, reports mention he had an Electronic Frontier Foundation  bumper sticker on his laptop lid, and his responses in the Guardian’s Q&A include a plug for an upcoming “Restore The Fourth Amendment” 4 July march. The main thing to keep in mind is that all news must be regarded with a critical if not cynical eye. There is enough evidence of news being used to misdirect and manipulate popular opinion; what matters is how, and if, we choose to react.

Photo: New York Daily News

Photo: New York Daily News

Who is Edward Snowden, and why should you care? He is being hailed as a hero by some, a traitor by others, and even an actor of sorts. Apart from establishing his credibility, there is really no good reason to form an obsession about Edward Snowden, especially if that diverts attention away from the far more important content of his message.

Did he really work for the US Government? Evidence that he did can be gleaned from a comment Snowden posted on the Ars Technica forum back in 2006, when he was considering his preferences for being sent overseas for two years on assignment:

“Although I’m not a diplomat, I work for the Department of State. I actually signed up because of the opportunity for foreign travel [...] I also don’t see the allure of “Scandinavian” countries, but that’s simply because I don’t want to live in a country where warmth and comfort are only spoken of in bedtime stories. China is definitely a good option career-wise, and I’ve already got a basic understanding of Mandarin and the culture, but it just doesn’t seem like as much “fun” as some of the other places. Who knows where the “needs of the service” will actually end up placing me, though. Azerbaijan, anyone? Scared

Despite his preferences, Snowden was apparently posted to Geneva. Since he already knew some Mandarin, I think that makes Hong Kong a less surprising choice of venue for his initial exile. Snowden may not like cold countries, but a lot has changed since 2006. Perhaps global warming can take care of the rest.

Is he now a wanted criminal? Despite reports that US government is angered by Snowden’s whistleblowing, it has yet to issue an international arrest warrant, meaning he should be free to travel anywhere, with the possible exception of the United States.

*Featured image for this post is from a platoon page on the “Battlefield 3″ gaming website for the Tom Clancy Splinter Cell MMO‘s “Third Echelon“.

Anonymous Hackers Give 5 million STRATFOR Emails to WikiLeaks

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27 Feb 2012:

George Friedman

George Friedman

WikiLeaks began publishing The Global Intelligence Files – more than five million emails from the Texas-headquartered “global intelligence” company Stratfor. The emails date from between July 2004 and late December 2011. They reveal the inner workings of a company that fronts as an intelligence publisher, but provides confidential intelligence services to large corporations, such as Bhopal’s Dow Chemical Co., Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and government agencies, including the US Department of Homeland Security, the US Marines and the US Defense Intelligence Agency. The emails show Stratfor’s web of informers, pay-off structure, payment-laundering techniques and psychological methods, for example:

“[Y]ou have to take control of him. Control means financial, sexual or psychological control… This is intended to start our conversation on your next phase” – CEO George Friedman to Stratfor analyst Reva Bhalla on 6 December 2011, on how to exploit an Israeli intelligence informant providing information on the medical condition of the President of Venezuala, Hugo Chavez.

The material contains privileged information about the US government’s attacks against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and Stratfor’s own attempts to subvert WikiLeaks. There are more than 4,000 emails mentioning WikiLeaks or Julian Assange. The emails also expose the revolving door that operates in private intelligence companies in the United States. Government and diplomatic sources from around the world give Stratfor advance knowledge of global politics and events in exchange for money. The Global Intelligence Files exposes how Stratfor has recruited a global network of informants who are paid via Swiss banks accounts and pre-paid credit cards. Stratfor has a mix of covert and overt informants, which includes government employees, embassy staff and journalists around the world.

The material shows how a private intelligence agency works, and how they target individuals for their corporate and government clients. For example, Stratfor monitored and analysed the online activities of Bhopal activists, including the “Yes Men”, for the US chemical giant Dow Chemical. The activists seek redress for the 1984 Dow Chemical/Union Carbide gas disaster in Bhopal, India. The disaster led to thousands of deaths, injuries in more than half a million people, and lasting environmental damage.

Stratfor has realised that its routine use of secret cash bribes to get information from insiders is risky. In August 2011, Stratfor CEO George Friedman confidentially told his employees: “We are retaining a law firm to create a policy for Stratfor on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. I don’t plan to do the perp walk and I don’t want anyone here doing it either.”

Stratfor’s use of insiders for intelligence soon turned into a money-making scheme of questionable legality. The emails show that in 2009 then-Goldman Sachs Managing Director Shea Morenz and Stratfor CEO George Friedman hatched an idea to “utilise the intelligence” it was pulling in from its insider network to start up a captive strategic investment fund. CEO George Friedman explained in a confidential August 2011 document, marked DO NOT SHARE OR DISCUSS: “What StratCap will do is use our Stratfor’s intelligence and analysis to trade in a range of geopolitical instruments, particularly government bonds, currencies and the like”. The emails show that in 2011 Goldman Sach’s Morenz invested “substantially” more than $4million and joined Stratfor’s board of directors. Throughout 2011, a complex offshore share structure extending as far as South Africa was erected, designed to make StratCap appear to be legally independent. But, confidentially, Friedman told StratFor staff: “Do not think of StratCap as an outside organisation. It will be integral… It will be useful to you if, for the sake of convenience, you think of it as another aspect of Stratfor and Shea as another executive in Stratfor… we are already working on mock portfolios and trades”. StratCap is due to launch in 2012.

The Stratfor emails reveal a company that cultivates close ties with US government agencies and employs former US government staff. It is preparing the 3-year Forecast for the Commandant of the US Marine Corps, and it trains US marines and “other government intelligence agencies” in “becoming government Stratfors”. Stratfor’s Vice-President for Intelligence, Fred Burton, was formerly a special agent with the US State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service and was their Deputy Chief of the counterterrorism division. Despite the governmental ties, Stratfor and similar companies operate in complete secrecy with no political oversight or accountability. Stratfor claims that it operates “without ideology, agenda or national bias”, yet the emails reveal private intelligence staff who align themselves closely with US government policies and channel tips to the Mossad – including through an information mule in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Yossi Melman, who conspired with Guardian journalist David Leigh to secretly, and in violation of WikiLeaks’ contract with the Guardian, move WikiLeaks US diplomatic cables to Israel.

Ironically, considering the present circumstances, Stratfor was trying to get into what it called the leak-focused “gravy train” that sprung up after WikiLeaks’ Afghanistan disclosures:

“[Is it] possible for us to get some of that ‘leak-focused’ gravy train? This is an obvious fear sale, so that’s a good thing. And we have something to offer that the IT security companies don’t, mainly our focus on counter-intelligence and surveillance that Fred and Stick know better than anyone on the planet… Could we develop some ideas and procedures on the idea of ´leak-focused’ network security that focuses on preventing one’s own employees from leaking sensitive information… In fact, I’m not so sure this is an IT problem that requires an IT solution.”

Like WikiLeaks’ diplomatic cables, much of the significance of the emails will be revealed over the coming weeks, as our coalition and the public search through them and discover connections. Readers will find that whereas large numbers of Stratfor’s subscribers and clients work in the US military and intelligence agencies, Stratfor gave a complimentary membership to the controversial Pakistan general Hamid Gul, former head of Pakistan’s ISI intelligence service, who, according to US diplomatic cables, planned an IED attack on international forces in Afghanistan in 2006. Readers will discover Stratfor’s internal email classification system that codes correspondence according to categories such as ‘alpha’, ‘tactical’ and ‘secure’. The correspondence also contains code names for people of particular interest such as ‘Izzies’ (members of Hezbollah), or ‘Adogg’ (Mahmoud Ahmedinejad).

Stratfor did secret deals with dozens of media organisations and journalists – from Reuters to the Kiev Post. The list of Stratfor’s “Confederation Partners”, whom Stratfor internally referred to as its “Confed Fuck House” are included in the release. While it is acceptable for journalists to swap information or be paid by other media organisations, because Stratfor is a private intelligence organisation that services governments and private clients these relationships are corrupt or corrupting.

WikiLeaks has also obtained Stratfor’s list of informants and, in many cases, records of its payoffs, including $1,200 a month paid to the informant “Geronimo” , handled by Stratfor’s Former State Department agent Fred Burton.

WikiLeaks has built an investigative partnership with more than 25 media organisations and activists to inform the public about this huge body of documents. The organisations were provided access to a sophisticated investigative database developed by WikiLeaks and together with WikiLeaks are conducting journalistic evaluations of these emails. Important revelations discovered using this system will appear in the media in the coming weeks, together with the gradual release of the source documents.
Public partners in the investigation:

More than 25 media partners (others will be disclosed after their first publication):

Al Akhbar – Lebanon – http://english.al-akhbar.com
Al Masry Al Youm – Egypt – http://www.almasry-alyoum.com
Bivol – Bulgaria – http://bivol.bg
CIPER – Chile – http://ciperchile.cl
Dawn Media – Pakistan – http://www.dawn.com
L’Espresso – Italy – http://espresso.repubblica.it
La Repubblica – Italy – http://www.repubblica.it
La Jornada – Mexico – http://www.jornada.unam.mx/
La Nacion – Costa Rica – http://www.nacion.com
Malaysia Today – Malaysia – http://www.malaysia-today.net
McClatchy – United States – http://www.mcclatchy.com
Nawaat – Tunisia – http://nawaat.org
NDR/ARD – Germany – http://www.ard.de
Owni – France – http://owni.fr
Pagina 12 – Argentina – http://www.pagina12.com.ar
Plaza Publica – Guatemala – http://plazapublica.com.gt
Publico.es – Spain – http://www.publico.es
Rolling Stone – United States – http://www.rollingstone.com
Russia Reporter – Russia – http://rusrep.ru
Ta Nea – Greece –- http://www.tanea.gr
Taraf – Turkey – http://www.taraf.com.tr
The Hindu – India – http://www.thehindu.com
The Yes Men – Bhopal Activists – Global http://theyesmen.org
Nicky Hager for NZ Herald – New Zealand – http://www.nzherald.co.nz

via BNO Breaking News

Lebanon – Israel – Nigeria – Iran News you may have missed

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By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |

Fayez Karam

►►Lebanese ex-general gets prison sentence for spying for Israel. Last Tuesday’s sentence of former Brigadeer General Fayez Karam (pictured) means he will spend six more months in jail. He has been in prison since mid-2009, said the officials on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. Karam, who in the late 1980s led Lebanon’s counterespionage unit, ran for a parliament seat in 2009 as a senior member of the Free Patriotic Movement of Christian leader and Hezbollah ally Michel Aoun.
►►US may share intelligence with Nigeria. Nigeria and the United States plan to “explore the development of intelligence fusion capability”. This statement was contained in a joint communiqué issued at the end of a two day inauguration of a regional security cooperation working group held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Abuja, Nigeria. The two countries will be collaborating “on training, logistics intelligence sharing, modernization of the security services and other requirements”.

[me: US wants to get a handle on the BokoHaram situation]

►►Afghan jailed for 16 years for spying for Iran. An Afghan man, named only as Mahmmood, has been jailed for 16 years for spying for neighboring Iran. He was allegedly found in possession of photographs of foreign and Afghan military installations in western Herat province, and had Iranian intelligence officials’ phone numbers in his notebook.

via News you may have missed.