Tag Archives: NSA

March 22, 2017

Parliament in lockdown: Police open fire outside Westminster and shoot knife-wielding man amid reports of explosion and ‘at least 12 pedestrians mowed down on bridge’

  • Several shots have been fired at the House of Commons in Westminster
  • At least three people have been hit and emergency teams are on the scene 
  • Reports aslo suggest a car ploughed into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge
  • The Prime Minister has been evacuated and staff told to stay inside

Armed Police have opened fire and shot an intruder inside the grounds of the Houses of Parliament amid reports a car drove into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge.

An intruder with a knife managed to break into the grounds of Parliament and stabbed a police officer before he was shot, reports suggest.

More than 10 people are said to have been hit by a car on Westminster Bridge after a vehicle described as a ‘4×4’ reportedly drove into pedestrians and cyclists.

Three bodies were visible on the floor outside Parliament and the Palace was placed on an immediate lock down.

Prime Minister Theresa May is said to have been bundled into a car by a plain-clothes police officer and driven quickly from the scene.

Emergency teams were seen carrying out CPR inside the palace grounds in New Palace Yard, the main thoroughfare in and out of Parliament 


FOUR people are dead – including police officer and terrorist – and 20 more injured – after killer mowed down pedestrians on Westminster Bridge before killer is shot attacking police in Parliament grounds

  • Four-wheel drive was driven over Westminster Bridge knocking down pedestrians this afternoon
  • Victims were said to have been left scattered in the road, with one woman knocked into the River Thames
  • Emergency services  treated at least 20 injured people on the bridge, with one woman dead under a bus 
  • ‘Asian’ knifeman got into the grounds of Parliament where he stabbed and killed a police officer
  • The ‘middle-aged’ attacker was then shot by armed officers and died after being taken to hospital
  • Parliament was suspended and the Prime Minister was rushed from the scene in her official car

At least 20 people were hit when a 4×4 drove along the pavement on the crowded bridge, knocking down and seriously injuring pedestrians before crashing into a fence below Big Ben.

The killer, described by witnesses as ‘middle-aged and Asian’, then managed to break into the grounds of the Parliament where he fatally stabbed a police officer with two knives.

The policeman died at the scene. The attacker, who was shot by armed officers, died after he was taken to hospital.

It is currently believed one attacker was involved and he killed three people, including the policeman, and left at least 20 pedestrians and three other police officers seriously injured.

Prime Minister Theresa May was bundled into her car by a plain-clothes police officer and driven quickly from the scene as the attack unfolded. She will chair a meeting of the Government’s emergency Cobra Committee tonight.

Scotland Yard said the attack, which comes a year to the day after the terrorist atrocities in Brussels, is being treated ‘as a terrorist incident until we know otherwise’.

A police officer was killed by a knifeman (pictured on stretcher) before the attacker was shot by other officers outside Parliament today. The suspected terrorist is also dead, along with two pedestrians killed when the attacker drove a 4x4 across Westminster Bridge, ploughing down and seriously injuring at least 20

A police officer was killed by a knifeman (pictured on stretcher) before the attacker was shot by other officers outside Parliament today. The suspected terrorist is also dead, along with two pedestrians killed when the attacker drove a 4×4 across Westminster Bridge, ploughing down and seriously injuring at least 20.


Isil supporters cheer Westminster attack as ‘revenge’ for British air strikes on Syria

Injured suspect is taken away on a stretcher by emergency services
Injured suspect is taken away on a stretcher by emergency servies CREDIT: PA

Isil supporters have cheered the attack on Westminster, suggesting it was “revenge” for the UK’s airstrikes on the terror group in Syria and Iraq.

Followers on pro-Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant channels on the social media service Telegram posted messages applauding the knife-wielding suspect and called the attack “blessed”.

One said the UK was paying “blood for blood” for its involvement in the US-led coalition’s campaign against the jihadists.

“Our battle on your land is only just beginning,” read one poster next to a photoshopped image of Big Ben being blown up.




China issues warning to US bomber flying in East China Sea

The Chinese military issued a warning to a U.S. Air Force B-1 bomber flying in the East China Sea Wednesday morning amid escalating tensions in the region, two U.S. officials told Fox News.

The Chinese said the U.S. bomber was flying in Chinese airspace. Both American officials said the bomber was flying in international airspace and continued on its mission.

The Chinese warning came over the emergency radio frequency known as “guard,” according to one official. The incident occurred when the American bomber was flying 70 miles southwest of the South Korean island of Jeju.

The episode occurred amidst rising tensions with North Korea, which tried to launch another ballistic missile Wednesday, but failed.



North Korea missile test ends in failure as projectile “explodes within seconds” of launch

The launch made near the city of Wonsan, on North Korea’s east coast, was detected by Japanese, South Korean and American systems

North Korea’s latest missile launch ended in catastrophic failure as it appeared the projectile exploded within seconds, say US officials.

The launch made near the city of Wonsan, on North Korea’s east coast, was detected by Japanese, South Korean and American systems, leaving those countries scrambling to find out more about the type of missile that was launched and why it failed.

Neighbouring countries were preparing for the possibility of additional launches after the failed weapons test.

North Korea has launched a series of tests in recent months, with Wednesday’s launch coming after the nuclear-armed state claimed it had made a major breakthrough in its rocket programme.


US Marines said to land behind Islamic State lines in Syria

Reported deployment of American troops to territory held by terror group part of offensive to retake city of Raqqa

An American-backed Syrian Kurdish coalition said Wednesday that the US had landed infantry behind Islamic State lines to spearhead an assault on the town of Tabqa.

The Syrian Democratic Forces said the US airlifted several Marines and SDF fighters by helicopter into Islamic State-held territory, capturing four villages, and cutting the main artery running between the terrorist group’s self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa and the western countryside.

It was not immediately possible to confirm the deployment with US commanders.

The group said in a statement on social media Wednesday that the operation was in preparation for an assault on Tabqa, an IS redoubt 45 kilometers (28 miles) west of Raqqa.

The activist-run group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently said 500 US and Syrian Kurdish forces were deployed in the operation Wednesday morning. The group relies on local contacts to smuggle information out of IS territory.Earlier this month, a couple of hundred Marines were deployed into Syria with heavy artillery guns, as part of the preparations to oust the IS from Raqqa.

The Marines moving into Syria were pre-positioning howitzers to be ready to assist local Syrian forces, a senior US official said at the time.



ISIS Supporters Are Tracking Americans In Ramadi

Pro-ISIS followers are threatening Americans who are helping restore the city that was once an ISIS stronghold

Mar 22, 2017 at 8:14 AM ET

Images of Americans inside the Iraqi city of Ramadi have roiled ISIS supporters, who are calling online for anyone near the western city to attack them.

A pro-ISIS channel on Telegram posted that over 60 American soldiers are in Ramadi, specifically seen inside Anbar University and being escorted by Iraqi security forces and tribal militiamen.

“They tour and walk inside the university like it is their own land,” someone in the channel posted. ‘Wake up and attack them.” Earlier this month the same channel reported “Americans are walking freely” in the area and that “civilians are greeting them, taking pictures and laughing with them.”

The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs tweeted earlier this week that it was “demining work targets stockpiles of homemade explosives, IEDs, and improvised ordnance” and “clearing the mess” in one of Ramadi’s schools.

While ISIS was routed out of Ramadi nearly a year ago, the terror group has sympathizers and former members in towns on its outskirts. The presence of U.S. officials has been keenly monitored on the ground.



Fillon ‘was paid €50k to fix meeting between Vladimir Putin and Lebanese billionaire’

Beleaguered presidential candidate faces fresh allegations over 2015 meeting as prosecutors widen fake jobs inquiry

in Paris

The French presidential candidate François Fillon has been hit by allegations he was paid $50,000 (£43,000) to arrange a meeting between a Lebanese billionaire and Vladimir Putin as prosecutors investigating whether his wife was paid for fake jobs widened their inquiry into whether she had signed forged documents.

The latest accusations came a week after Fillon, 63, was formally put under investigation for a misuse of public funds over the €700,000 of taxpayers’ money British-born Penelope Fillon earned for acting as his parliamentary assistant.

French media reported on Tuesday that the inquiry was examining suspected “aggravated fraud, forgery and use of forgeries” to claim she had worked when she had not, which her lawyer denies.

The allegations of Fillon’s role in a meeting between the Russian president, Lebanese businessman Fouad Makhzoumi and Patrick Pouyane, the chief executive of energy giant Total, were made in the latest issue of the satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchainé, which broke the alleged ‘fake jobs’ scandal in January.

The article said Fillon’s consultancy company 2F Conseil had earned $50,000 for setting up the 2015 meeting.

Fillon’s spokesman vigorously denied the allegation, saying Canard Enchaîné’s “insinuations” were “completely without foundation”. The Kremlin dismissed the report as “fake news”.


Lawyer for family of Russian whistleblower ‘thrown from building’

Nikolai Gorokhov, who represents family of Sergei Magnitsky, is in intensive care after falling from fourth floor of apartment block

in Moscow

A Russian lawyer who represents the family of Sergei Magnitsky is in intensive care after falling from the fourth floor of his apartment building, according to unconfirmed reports.

The Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta suggested Nikolai Gorokhov had fallen after a winch snapped as he tried to lift a bath to a fourth-floor apartment, though details of the incident remained murky.

Magnitsky uncovered a massive fraud that implicated government officials, but was himself arrested in 2008 and died in prison in 2009, amid allegations he had been tortured and medical care had been withheld. Russia later put him on trial posthumously for tax evasion.

Gorokhov, 53, has represented the Magnitsky family since 2011, and was due in court on Wednesday as part of a case brought by Magnitsky’s mother against some of those allegedly involved in the fraud he uncovered.


World leaders gather to discuss ‘secret plan’ to defeat Isil after laptop terror threat prompts UK flight ban

World leaders will gather for talks on how to defeat the Islamic State today after it emerged that an aircraft cabin ban on electronic devices was prompted by warnings of a new terrorist threat.

During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump said he had a “secret plan” to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (Isil) and pledged to “bomb the hell out of” the terror group.

He has ordered his administration to “develop a comprehensive plan”, but is yet to set out the details.

Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State, will today host the first full meeting of the international coalition against Isil since 2014.

Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, is attending the major 69-nation conference in Washington DC.

It comes as British passengers on holiday flights from the Middle East and North Africa were told they would be banned within days from carrying laptops, tablets and other electronic devices on board the aircraft.


Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was paid $10 million yearly in secret deal to help Vladimir Putin

President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics, The Associated Press has learned. The work appears to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests.

Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse. Manafort pitched the plans to Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006, according to interviews with several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records obtained by the AP. Manafort and Deripaska maintained a business relationship until at least 2009, according to one person familiar with the work.

“We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success,” Manafort wrote in the 2005 memo to Deripaska. The effort, Manafort wrote, “will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government.”


Laptop ban on flights ‘is based on intelligence about an ISIS plot to target the West gathered during the raid on Yemen which killed Navy SEAL’

[Editor’s Note: The press and members of Congress and others in Europe owe Donald Trump an apology for criticizing his decision to carry out the raid.]

  • The intelligence centered around al-Qaeda’s ‘successful development’ of compact battery bombs that fit inside laptops or other devices, sources claimed
  • Bombs would reportedly be manually triggered which explains cabin luggage ban
  • The US and the UK have instituted similar bans on large electronics in carry-on bags for direct flights from certain Middle East and North African nations
  • The US ban applies to 10 airports in Morocco, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates 
  • Britain’s restrictions apply to flights originating from the countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia 
  • Electronics cellphone sized and small will still be permitted in passenger cabins 
  • Restrictions come a year after the bombing of Daallo Flight 159, in which a bomber used an explosive hidden inside a laptop  

The ban of carry-on electronics on flights was prompted by intelligence gathered about an ISIS plot to target the West.

The US and UK announced restrictions on large electronics in carry-on baggage for direct flights from certain Middle Eastern and North African nations on Tuesday.

The move is allegedly based on the suspicion that Islamic State are working on ways to smuggle explosives on to planes by hiding them in electronics.

Information was gathered during a raid against al Qaeda in Yemen in January that killed Navy SEAL senior chief petty officer William ‘Ryan’ Owens.

The intelligence centred around al Qaeda’s ‘successful development’ of compact battery bombs that fit inside laptops or other devices, sources claimed.



Nunes Says Trump Team Conversations Caught in Surveillance

  • Republican says ‘I’m actually alarmed’ conversations picked up
  • Disclosure may bolster Trump’s claim he was under surveillance
Devin Nunes, a Republican from California and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 27, 2017.

House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes said Wednesday that the U.S. intelligence community collected multiple conversations involving members of Donald Trump’s transition team after he won the election last year.

He said the intercepts he’s seen appear to be legal and weren’t targeted at the transition team or related to an investigation of Russia’s attempts to influence the U.S. presidential election. But he said he was troubled by the collection — which he described as part of unrelated foreign surveillance — and that the intelligence community reported the names of transition team members internally.

“I’m actually alarmed by it,” Nunes, a California Republican, told reporters at the Capitol. “Details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value were widely disseminated in an intelligence community report,” he said. He said he didn’t know if Trump’s “own communications were intercepted.”

The disclosure may bolster Trump’s effort to back up his disputed claim in Twitter postings that former President Barack Obama tapped his phones, which his spokesman later said shouldn’t be taken literally and referred generally to having his team under surveillance. FBI Director James Comey testified before the House committee this week that “I have no information that supports those tweets.”

Nunes told reporters outside the White House, where he briefed the president on his findings, that “it is possible” Trump’s tweets were correct concerning surveillance.

It was previously disclosed that U.S. intelligence agencies had picked up conversations between Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, and the Russian ambassador to the U.S. before Trump’s inauguration. Flynn was fired in February after making contradictory statements to Vice President Mike Pence about those discussions.



5 congressional staffers in criminal probe over unauthorized computer access

Five people employed by members of the House of Representatives remain under criminal investigation for unauthorized access to Congressional computers. Former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz employed at least one of those under investigation.

The criminal investigation into the five, which includes three brothers and a wife of one of the men, started late last year, as reported by Politico in February. The group is being investigated by US Capitol Police over allegations that they removed equipment from over 20 members’ offices, as well as having run a procurement scheme to buy equipment and then overcharge the House.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said last week Capitol Police are receiving additional help for the investigation. “I won’t speak to the nature of their investigation, but they’re getting the kind of technical assistance they need to do that, this is under an active criminal investigation, their capabilities are pretty strong but they’re also able to go and get the kind of help they need from other sources,” Ryan said.

The brothers, Abid, Jamal and Imran Awan, worked as shared employees for various members of the House, covering committees relating to intelligence, terrorism and cybersecurity, which included the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Committee on Homeland Security and the Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces of the Armed Services Committee.

Imran’s wife, Hina Alvi, and Rao Abbas, both of whom worked as House IT employees, are also under investigation.


The group were banned from accessing the computers as a result of the investigation but, as of earlier this month, Imran Awan remains as an “technology adviser” to former Democratic National Committee chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was forced to resign in July following revelations that she worked to further Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the Democratic primary at the expense of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.


Moscow extends Turkish food ban in response to heavy tax on Russian agriculture

Russia will not lift the import ban on Turkish vegetables, fruit, and meat, according to agriculture watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor. Last week, Turkey imposed stiff tariffs on Russian wheat and corn, making exports unprofitable

According to watchdog spokeswoman Yulia Melano, “the issue of full or partial removal of restrictions on Turkish fruit and vegetable products for the Russian market should be discussed in conjunction with the removal of counter restrictions on Russian products from the Turkish side.”

Last week, the Russian media reported that Turkey had imposed a 130 percent tariff on wheat, corn and sunflower meal that is making deliveries highly unprofitable for local businesses.

Turkey’s Trade Ministry denied the reports, but a representative of the Russian trade mission in Ankara said Turkey had excluded Russia from a list of countries with zero rates of customs duties. Turkey is the second largest buyer of Russian wheat after Egypt. Russia will keep the ban on Turkish frozen meat and poultry as well as tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, apples, pears, strawberries and other fruit and vegetables.

In March, Rosselkhoznadzor lifted the restrictions against Turkish onions, cauliflower, broccoli and some other vegetables, explaining there is a lack of these food items in Russia.

Food imports from Turkey were blocked in response to the downing of a Russian jet in Syria in November 2015. There were other restrictions, including the cancellation of charter flights to Turkey, the introduction of a visa regime, and a ban on hiring Turkish citizens. At the request of the Kremlin, Russian travel agencies suspended sales of package tours to the country.

Moscow-Ankara relations began to improve after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan apologized over the jet incident. Russia lifted the flight ban, but the food ban has remained.


Minister’s son reportedly arrested as probe into IAI defense firm expands

Police confirm 2 suspects detained, 10 more questioned as part of investigation into corruption at Israel’s largest state-owned company

Police arrested two people, including, reportedly, the son of a minister, as part of an ongoing probe into corruption suspicions at Israel Aerospace Industries, one of the country’s largest defense firms.

Another 10 people were hauled in for questioning, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.

The two suspects were arrested early in the morning and their homes searched, police said. They are expected to appear at an arraignment hearing at Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court later Wednesday to determine if they will remain in custody, police said.

One of the suspects is the son of a Likud minister, Channel 10 news reported. Police did not divulge the identities of those arrested Wednesday.

Suspicions of of corruption, fraud, and breach of trust surrounding IAI became public last week when police raided the defense contractor, arresting 14 people.

The labor union at IAI, which employs some 16,000 people and is Israel’s largest state-owned company, is known as a Likud stronghold.

The IAI Super Heron (screen capture: YouTube)

The suspects detained last week were from IAI and private companies who either supplied or were supplied by IAI, along with a former senior Israel Defense Forces officer, who police said was “well known in the defense establishment.”

“This is an extensive investigation, with a wide scope, which includes a number of sub-scandals, and raises suspicions of a range of charges — corruption, aggravated fraud, money laundering, theft by public officials, illegal business practices, fraud and breach of trust,” police said in a statement last week.


Syrian rebels report fresh Israeli airstrikes near Damascus

Raids reportedly target regime posts in Mount Qasioun region; no immediate reports of casualties, damage

Israeli jets were reported to have carried out airstrikes near the Syrian capital early Wednesday, hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to continue hitting weapons convoys and rebuffed claims Russia had ordered the strikes halted.

Syrian opposition news outlets reported that the airstrikes took place in the Mount Qasioun region near Damascus overnight.

The Israeli raids targeted Syrian army posts in the area, the reports said, in the fourth round of airstrikes attributed to Israel in Syria in less than a week.

There was no immediate confirmation from Jerusalem, nor any information on casualties or damage.


Airstrike reportedly kills 33 civilians sheltering in school

[This story is NOT confirmed.]

A London-based activist and monitoring group said Wednesday that a U.S.-led coalition airstrike had hit a school in ISIS-held territory in northern Syria that was being used to shelter displaced families, killing dozens of civilians.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which relies on an extensive network of contacts on the ground in Syria and which generally proves a reliable source of information on the war, said coalition aircraft “most likely” carried out the strike but did not explain how it reached that conclusion.

In a statement to CBS News, a spokesperson for the U.S.-led coalition said it had no evidence yet to back up the claim of a strike hitting civilians, but that all such reports were taken seriously and investigated.

“At this time the Coalition has no indication that an airstrike struck civilians near Raqqah as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims,” a statement from the Operation Inherent Resolve public relations office said. “However, since we have conducted several strikes near Raqqa we will provide this information to our civilian casualty team for further investigation.”

The coalition has targeted ISIS militants and infrastructure in and around the northern Syrian city of Raqqa for months. It is the terror group’s last major urban stronghold in Syria and its self-declared capital.

Russian aircraft have also carried out one or two strikes in the area in recent months, but have largely focused on targeting groups other than ISIS. Both U.S. and Russian-backed factions on the ground are battling ISIS in an effort aimed at eventually retaking Raqqa.

The Wednesday strike reportedly hit a school in the town of Mansoura, about 15 miles southwest of central Raqqa.

“We can now confirm that 33 people were killed, and they were displaced civilians from Raqqa, Aleppo and Homs,” SOHR director Rami Abdel Rahman told the French news agency AFP. They’re still pulling bodies out of the rubble until now. Only two people were pulled out alive.”


Cyber Firm at Center of Russian Hacking Charges Misread Data

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia was behind Democratic National Committee hacks that aimed to boost Donald Trump's chances of beating Hillary Clinton (file photo).

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia was behind Democratic National Committee hacks that aimed to boost Donald Trump’s chances of beating Hillary Clinton (file photo).

An influential British think tank and Ukraine’s military are disputing a report that the U.S. cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike has used to buttress its claims of Russian hacking in the presidential election.

The CrowdStrike report, released in December, asserted that Russians hacked into a Ukrainian artillery app, resulting in heavy losses of howitzers in Ukraine’s war with Russian-backed separatists.

But the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) told VOA that CrowdStrike erroneously used IISS data as proof of the intrusion. IISS disavowed any connection to the CrowdStrike report. Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense also has claimed combat losses and hacking never happened.

The challenges to CrowdStrike’s credibility are significant because the firm was the first to link last year’s hacks of Democratic Party computers to Russian actors, and because CrowdStrike co-founder Dimiti Alperovitch has trumpeted its Ukraine report as more evidence of Russian election tampering.

Alperovitch has said that variants of the same software were used in both hacks.

The Russian government has denied covert involvement in the election, but U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian hacks were meant to discredit Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump’s campaign. An FBI and Homeland Security report also blamed Russian intelligence services.

While questions about CrowdStrike’s findings don’t disprove allegations of Russian involvement, they do add to skepticism voiced by some cybersecurity experts and commentators about the quality of their technical evidence.

Iran steps up support for Houthis in Yemen’s war – sources

By Jonathan Saul, Parisa Hafezi and Michael Georgy

LONDON/ANKARA/DUBAI, March 22 (Reuters) – Iran is sending advanced weapons and military advisers to Yemen’s rebel Houthi movement, stepping up support for its Shi’ite ally in a civil war whose outcome could sway the balance of power in the Middle East, regional and Western sources say.

Iran’s enemy Saudi Arabia is leading a Sunni Arab coalition fighting the Houthis in the impoverished state on the tip of the Arabian peninsula – part of the same regional power struggle that is fuelling the war in Syria.

Sources with knowledge of the military movements, who declined to be identified, said that in recent months Iran has taken a greater role in the two-year-old conflict by stepping up arms supplies and other support. This mirrors the strategy it has used to support its Lebanese ally Hezbollah in Syria.

A senior Iranian official said Major General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Qods Force – the external arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – met top IRGC officials in Tehran last month to look at ways to “empower” the Houthis.

“At this meeting, they agreed to increase the amount of help, through training, arms and financial support,” the official said.

“Yemen is where the real proxy war is going on and winning the battle in Yemen will help define the balance of power in the Middle East.”

Iran rejects accusations from Saudi Arabia that it is giving financial and military support to the Houthis in the struggle for Yemen, blaming the deepening crisis on Riyadh.

But Iran’s actions in Yemen seem to reflect the growing influence of hardliners in Tehran, keen to pre-empt a tougher policy towards Iran signalled by U.S. President Donald Trump.


Russia underplayed losses in recapture of Syria’s Palmyra

 By Maria Tsvetkova | GELENDZHIK, RUSSIA

Russia’s force in Syria has suffered losses since late January more than three times higher than the official toll, according to evidence gathered by Reuters, a tally that shows the fight in Syria is tougher and more costly than the Kremlin has disclosed.

Eighteen Russian citizens fighting alongside Moscow’s allies, the Syrian government forces, have been killed since Jan. 29 — a period that coincided with intense fighting to recapture the city of Palmyra from the Islamic State group.

The Russian defense ministry has publicly reported only five servicemen’s deaths in Syria over the same period, and its officials’ statements have not mentioned any large-scale Russian ground operations in the fight for Palmyra.

Military casualties abroad are not as politically sensitive in Russia as in some other countries but send a negative message ahead of a presidential election next year which is expected to give President Vladimir Putin a fourth term.

The toll was revealed in interviews with relatives and friends of the dead men, cemetery workers, local media reports of funerals and evidence collected by a group of investigative bloggers, Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT).

In each case, Reuters has independently verified information about the death by speaking to someone who knows the dead man.

The casualties since the end of January represent one of the highest tolls for the Russian contingent in Syria since the start of Moscow’s military intervention 18 months ago.

An official with the Russian foreign ministry referred questions about them to the defense ministry. The Russian defense ministry did not respond to Reuters questions about the casualties and about military operations in Syria. The Kremlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Most of the dead were not regular Russian soldiers but Russian civilians working as private military contractors under the orders of Russian commanders. Moscow has not officially acknowledged the presence of the contractors in Syria.


BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrian insurgents seized several government positions on the outskirts of Damascus on Tuesday in the third day of their most ambitious offensive in the capital in years, sending a sharp reminder that the war in Syria is far from over.

Fierce fighting broke out on the northeastern edge of Damascus, as a mix of Islamist rebel groups and hard-line Qaeda-linked jihadists seized an industrial area about a mile from the historic Old City near the heart of the Syrian capital. Rebel offensives erupted in several other parts of the country.

Government forces have been scrambling to repel the attack since it began on Sunday, bringing troops and allied militias from other front lines to hold their territory in Damascus, as government warplanes pummel rebel-held suburbs with scores of strikes. Rebel shells hit the city, wounding 15, and the authorities shut down many of the main roads.

After the government seized the eastern half of Aleppo from rebels last year, it worked hard to create the impression that the war was essentially over. The recent activity, including a series of suicide bombings in Damascus and a rebel attack Thursday on the northern city of Hama, seemed to indicate that the war might be entering a new phase instead.

Intelligence official says Russia must contain Iran in Syria

Chagai Tzuriel says Moscow has interest in preserving regional stability, warns that Iran is seeking to expand its military presence in Syria

 Russia must work to ensure that Iran is unable to establish a military presence in Syria that poses a threat to Israel and the region, the director-general of the Intelligence Ministry told Reuters on Tuesday.

Chagai Tzuriel, who told The Times of Israel last month “the most important strategic issue we’re currently facing is the strengthening of the Shiite axis led by Iran in Syria,” warned that Iran is seeking to exploit its status as one of the main backers of the Syrian regime in order to establish a long-term military presence in the country.

“Iran is in the process of putting together agreements, including economic agreements, with Syria to strengthen its hold, its ports and naval bases there,” he said.

He added: “There is a need for Russia and other powers to work to avoid the threat that Iran ends up with military, air and naval bases in Syria.”

According to Tzuriel, the six-year long Syrian civil war has undermined the balance of power in the region to Iran’s advantage, which poses a threat to both Russia and other world powers’ interests in the Middle East.

“When it comes to Iran, the United States, Russia and other powers need to understand that (growing Iranian influence in Syria) is going to be a constant source of friction,” he said.


Trudy Rubin: Iran deepens presence in Iraq

Washington should regard the black flags as a warning signal. Even before the Islamic State is fully defeated, Shiite Iran is laying the groundwork to expand its deep penetration of Iraq. Tehran wants to control the Baghdad government through its Shiite political and militia proxies, marginalizing Sunnis, including in Mosul.

But judging by history, repression in Sunni areas of Iraq will provide fertile ground for the next jihadi movement to take root.

So the Shiite flags at Mosul’s gateway signal that a military defeat of the Islamic State is insufficient. There must also be a political plan (although none is yet evident in Baghdad or Washington) to assure Sunnis of a role in a post-Islamic State Iraq.

That plan is needed sooner rather than later. So far, the Shiite militias are not entering the city proper, Mosul residents tell me. “Right now they are not pushing people out,” says an elementary school teacher who lives in East Mosul. He says, however, that sectarian Shiite political parties linked to the militias are already opening offices in the city.

In other contested parts of Iraq, hardline Shiite militias are ethnically cleansing Sunnis from towns and villages to create a Sunni-free corridor from Iran across Iraq to the Syrian border. These militias receive extensive Iranian support and Iraqi government funds.

Maslawis (as Mosul natives are called) view the Iraqi military far more positively than they do the militias, even though Iraqi forces are composed heavily of Shiites (who make up a majority of the population). That’s because Iraqi forces are loyal to the state, not to Shiite political parties or Tehran.

I heard nothing but praise for the behavior of the Iraqi military units that entered the city, especially the U.S.-trained Counter Terrorism Service, or CTS. “The only force people like is the CTS and (its) Golden Division,” the prominent Sunni Sheikh Abdullah al-Yawar told me. “It did not force people to leave their homes.”

Although the militias are technically under military control, no one knows their future after the Islamic State is defeated. Sunnis fear they will act as armed wings of competing Shiite parties or an Iraqi version of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard corps, which took over Iran’s army from within.

And Sunnis rightly fear Iran’s long-term intentions. They know Tehran still remembers Saddam Hussein’s 1980 invasion of Iran, when Sunnis ran Iraq, and the decade-long war that followed. “Iran wants to see Iraq’s Sunnis weak and divided,” one Sunni politician told me, “so the 1980s can never happen again.”


Germany blocks arms sales to Turkey – report

The German government has refused approval for military exports to NATO partner country Turkey on a growing number of occasions. Ministers are concerned the weapons could be used to oppress the local population.

Berlin has rejected more than 10 applications for arms exports to Turkey in recent months, the German daily “Süddeutsche Zeitung” (SZ) reports, citing a letter from the Ministry of Economic Affairs. The ministry was answering questions by the left-wing MP Jan van Aken.
As a NATO partner, Turkey is rarely subject to restrictions on arms exports. But there are concerns that since last July’s coup attempt, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has launched a far-reaching purge of political opponents.

“The importance of observing human rights will be particularly important in respect to arms export approvals,” a ministry official reportedly said in his reply to van Aken. Since the failed coup, “the federal government’s foreign security policy review” has given special consideration “to the risk of an intervention in the context of internal repression of the Kurdish conflict.”


Turkey’s AKP cancels campaign rallies in Germany

Turkish politicians have abandoned plans for more campaign events on German soil ahead of the April referendum, says the ruling AKP party. Previously, Angela Merkel threatened to ban such events over Nazi insults.

The decision to halt referendum events was made in Ankara, a Cologne-based representative of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP party said on Tuesday.

“All future events that were planned have been cancelled,” she told the AFP news agency.

The move was a “gesture of goodwill” towards Germany, said rally organizers from the Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD) who confirmed the cancelation to German news agency DPA.

Turkish AKP politicians are eager to gain votes of Turkish citizens living in Germany ahead of the April 16 referendum. Roughly 1.4 million of them are eligible to vote. The controversial plebiscite would approve a constitutional reform to give the Turkish president more power.

However, their attempts to hold campaign events in Europe sparked a thunderous diplomatic row that saw Erdogan compare German and Dutch officials with Nazis.

On Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had warned that Germany could ban all AKP campaign events if Ankara continued with Nazi jabs.

‘Enough is enough’

Despite the AKP’s announcement on Tuesday, it remains unclear whether President Erdogan – who continued with the harsh rhetoric on Tuesday, urging his supporters to vote “yes” on the constitutional reform as a response to a “fascist” Europe – would also stay home.

According to German media reports, Erdogan was planning to visit Germany. When asked about the reports, however, UETD General-Secretary Bulent Bilgi said that his organization “cannot determine” the president’s actions.


NSA Official Suggests North Korea Was Culprit in Bangladesh Bank Heist

A senior National Security Agency official appeared to confirm that North Korean computer hackers were behind a multi-million dollar heist targeting Bangladesh’s central bank last year.

Computer hackers attempted to steal $951 million, but only got away with $81 million, some of which was later recovered. After the theft, security firms quickly pointed the finger at North Korea. Other experts disputed that finding. But on Tuesday, NSA Deputy Director Rick Ledgett appeared to say North Korea was the culprit during a cryptic exchange at a Washington forum.

Speaking at an Aspen Institute roundtable, Ledgett pointed out that private sector researchers had linked the digital break-in in Bangladesh to the 2014 hack on Sony Pictures, which the U.S. government attributed to Pyongyang.

“If that linkage from the Sony actors to the Bangladeshi bank actors is accurate — that means that a nation state is robbing banks,” Ledgett said. “That’s a big deal.”

NSA Official Suggests North Korea Was Culprit in Bangladesh Bank Heist

China Expands Its Spying Against Taiwan

The recent discovery that a former Chinese university student in Taiwan has likely been spying for the People’s Republic of China (PRC) may at first glance appear to be just another entry in a long list of PRC espionage cases against Taiwan. After all, Chinese espionage against Taiwan has been an ongoing security problem. Some estimates have identified as many as 60 cases of Chinese espionage against Taiwan since 2002, and this may represent only be the tip of the iceberg. However, the March 10 arrest of 29-year-old Zhou Hongxu for breaching Taiwan’s security laws suggests that China is expanding its espionage campaign against Taiwan in a number of ways.

Zhou’s case is the first known instance of a Chinese student being used to spy in Taiwan since the island opened its universities to Chinese students in 2009. Zhou Hongxu first came to Taiwan in 2009 and enrolled in Tamkang University as an exchange student. In 2012, Zhou enrolled in a business administration program at National Chengchi University in Taipei. After graduating in 2016, Zhou left Taiwan in August that same year, but returned to Taiwan shortly afterwards under the pretext of business. After returning, Zhou sought out a junior official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whom he had become acquainted with as a student, and allegedly attempted to obtain classified information in return for a free trip to Japan and an unspecified amount of money.

According to prosecutors, it is believed that Zhou was instructed by China’s Taiwan Affairs Office to enroll at National Chengchi University for the purpose of spying. National Chengchi University is an ideal choice for identifying and recruiting future government officials and leaders. The school is one of Taiwan’s top social science universities and produces many of Taiwan’s government officials. It is home to Taiwan’s only diplomacy program, from which over 100 of Taiwan’s ambassadors have graduated, and it hosts a number of professional programs, such as the Master’s Program in National Security and Mainland China Studies, which is reserved for military officers and government officials.


Apple’s iPhones and Apple IDs are a tough nut to crack for hackers, but it’s not be impossible. At least that’s what a group of hackers seem to suggest, as they’re currently attempting to blackmail Apple for up to $100,000 before they start remotely wiping millions of iPhones. Can they actually do it? Should you be worried? It’s unclear at this point.

The hackers apparently engaged in conversations with the media to force Apple’s hand. The Turkish Crime Family hacker group, which spoke to Motherboard, want either $75,000 in Bitcoin or Ethereum, or $100,000 worth of iTunes gift cards.

“I just want my money and thought this would be an interesting report that a lot of Apple customers would be interested in reading and hearing,” one of the hackers said.

Apparently, the hackers have been in contact with Apple’s security team for quite a while now. They even posted a video on YouTube to prove they have actual access to iCloud accounts, access which can be used to remotely wipe iPhones.

Apple, understandably, doesn’t appear to be willing to pay up the ransom. “We firstly kindly request you to remove the video that you have uploaded on your YouTube channel as it’s seeking unwanted attention, second of all we would like you to know that we do not reward cyber criminals for breaking the law,” a screenshot of a message purportedly coming from an Apple security team member reads.

The hackers say they have access to more than 300 million Apple email accounts, including @icloud and @me domains. The number is the source of some confusion though, because a different hacker from the group claimed they had 559 million accounts in all. They have not explained how they gained access to Apple ID credentials.

The hackers are threatening to move forward with remotely wiping Apple devices on April 7th, unless Apple pays up. Apple hasn’t publicly commented on the matter at this point. On the off-chance that the hackers are indeed holding access to millions of iCloud accounts, you might consider changing your password to protect your Apple ID.

Hackers claim to have breached hundreds of millions of Apple accounts

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February 25, 2017

Iraqi Kurdish TV reporter killed in Mosul

Shifa Gardi dies after roadside bomb explodes on road in west Mosul; cameraman is injured

“Prominent Rudaw war reporter and journalist Shifa Gardi has been killed in Mosul as she covered clashes,” Rudaw said on social media.

“Journalism remains male-dominated — Shifa Gardi broke those perceptions and stereotypes — we pay tribute to her courageous journalism,” the channel said.

Rudaw editors told AFP that the 30-year-old reporter, who was born a refugee in Iran, was killed by an explosive device on a road in west Mosul and said that the cameraman working with her was wounded.




New National Security Advisor doesn’t believe in “radical Islamic terrorism”?

President Trump’s new National Security Advisor doesn’t believe it is “helpful” to say the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism.”

President Trump’s newly appointed national security adviser has told his staff that Muslims who commit terrorist acts are perverting their religion, rejecting a key ideological view of other senior Trump advisers and signaling a potentially more moderate approach to the Islamic world.

The adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, told the staff of the National Security Council on Thursday, in his first “all hands” staff meeting, that the label “radical Islamic terrorism” was not helpful because terrorists are “un-Islamic,” according to people who were in the meeting.

Wrong. The tens of thousands of people fighting in the “Islamic State” and Al Qaida and Boko Haram and Hamas and Hizbullah are radical Muslims. To pretend that they are not Muslims is to deny who the enemy is, and to give comfort to Muslim governments like Pakistan and Iraq and Afghanistan who are on the fence about confronting radical Islamists in their own rank.

In his language, General McMaster is closer to the positions of former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. Both took pains to separate acts of terrorism from Islamic teaching, in part because they argued that the United States needed the help of Muslim allies to hunt down terrorists.

So we are now back to the Obama-era policy of refusing to say who the enemy is?

I don’t blame General McMaster for his Obama-style views.

I blame Donald Trump. He and his staff did a terrible job of vetting for this position, especially since an eminently qualified candidate, John Bolton, was available. McMaster’s view of the fight against radical Islam should have been the very first question that Trump asked him. Now it looks like Trump didn’t ask the question at all. …


Pentagon ditches onerous rules of engagement, gives Mosul troops quicker firepower access

– The Washington Times – Friday, February 24, 2017

Iraqi forces and U.S. coalition troops are no longer burdened by strict rules of engagement, which some say have turned firepower requests into bureaucratic nightmares.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. James Browning, commander of 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, recently spoke with reporters about a Dec. 26 directive that streamlined the process of delivering aid. The order, attributed to U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, was confirmed on Thursday by Air Force Col. John Dorrian, the U.S.-led coalition’s spokesman.

“It changed the relationship [between forces],” Lt. Col. Browning told The Associated Press about increased flexibility on the battlefield. “It gives me a better understanding of how I can bring to bear the limited capabilities I have.”

The new rules, which were supplemented with more directives weeks ago, allow U.S. personnel to better assist — physically and logistically — the Iraqi army’s 9th Division. Advisers are increasingly embedded with Iraqis and they can avoid cumbersome requests through a joint command center.


Iran requests 950 tons of uranium from Kazakhstan

Tehran says it needs the material to help develop its civil reactor program

The request has been made to the body that oversees the nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers in 2015.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, told the ISNA news agency that the purchase was supposed to happen “within three years.”

“650 tons will enter the country in two consignments and 300 tons will enter Iran in the third year,” he said.

Salehi said the final shipment of concentrate, known as yellow cake, would be turned into uranium hexafluoride gas and sold back to Kazakhstan — its first international sale of the compound which is used in the uranium enrichment process.

Under the nuclear deal, many of Iran’s centrifuges were mothballed but it has the right to enrich uranium to a level of 3.5 percent and sell it abroad.

Nuclear weapons require uranium enriched to 80% or more.

Salehi said Iran has already received around 382 tons of yellow cake, primarily from Russia, since the nuclear deal came into force in January last year.

Under the deal, Iran is allowed to run around 5,000 “IR-1” centrifuges and has been testing more advanced models that can produce greater quantities of enriched uranium — all under the strict supervision of the UN atomic agency.


Why Iran’s favorite weapon is the cyber attack

In a piece written for The Cipher Brief, Michael Eisenstadt of the Washington Institute details Iran’s weapon of choice for imposing its will on domestic and foreign threats alike — cyber attacks.

Eisenstadt, as well as experts contacted by Business Insider, say that Iran has a weak conventional military that couldn’t possibly hope to push around stronger countries. For that reason, cyber attacks represent the perfect weapon.

Cyber attacks are cheap, ambiguous, hard to pin on any one actor, and almost completely without precedent when it comes to gauging a military response.


Unofficial US-North Korea talks dropped after State Dept denies visa to top official – report

The first talks planned between Washington and Pyongyang in years have reportedly been canceled, as the US State Department denied entry to a high-level North Korean diplomat, with the North’s recent missile tests and Kim Jong Nam’s murder also possible factors.

The low-key talks between former US officials and Choe Son Hui, the director-general of the American affairs bureau in the North Korean Foreign Ministry, were set to take place between March 1 and 2 in New York, but Choe was denied a visa, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday, citing sources familiar with the matter.

The rationale behind scuttling the meeting was not immediately clear, but the report said Pyongyang’s latest ballistic missile test and the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, may have played a role.


Top US commander for Mideast said to make secret Syria trip

Syrian Democratic Forces say General Joseph Votel met with group leaders for first time under Trump, ‘discussed increase in support’

QAMISHLI, Syria — The top US military commander for the Middle East made a secret trip to northern Syria Friday to meet a US-backed alliance fighting the Islamic State group, the alliance’s spokesman said.

General Joseph Votel, who heads US Central Command (Centcom), met with leaders from the Syrian Democratic Forces in the first such trip under the new US administration.

SDF spokesman Talal Sello told AFP that Votel “discussed the increase of coordination and support (to the SDF) in the era of Donald Trump”.

“There were promises of heavy weapons in future stages,” Sello said.

In an online statement, Sello said Votel had met with several SDF commanders.

“The results were positive. We discussed the developments in the Euphrates Rage campaign and shared military matters,” Sello said.


Is Iran Preparing For War In The Middle East? Russia To Send $1B In Weapons To Tehran

White House Says Further Punishment Of Iran Possible After New Sanctions  

Russia was set to send Iran about $1 billion worth of missile defense systems, Russian news agency Tass reported Monday. The deal was the result of a contract Iran signed with Russian defense manufacturer Rostec Corporation in 2007, but it was put on hold by Russia in 2010. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently ended the delay and paved the way for the contractual obligation for the S-300 air defense systems to be met in full starting this past November.

“The S-300 cost about one billion dollars,” Rostec Corporation CEO Sergey Chemezov said. “We were through with the supplies of S-300. No plans for anything are on the agenda.”




Lockheed Martin Wins Contract to Support Aegis Ashore System in Poland

Lockheed Martin has been awarded additional funding to provide equipment and technical support for Aegis Ashore test and operational systems in Poland.

WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — Lockheed Martin has been awarded additional funding to provide equipment and technical support for Aegis Ashore test and operational systems in Poland as part of a $2.5 billion contract, the Department of Defense said in a press release.

“Lockheed Martin Rotary and Mission Systems, Moorestown, New Jersey, has been awarded a $10,396,703 modification to a previously awarded contract to provide equipment and technical support for Aegis Ashore test and operational systems in Poland,” the release explained on Thursday.  “The modification brings the total cumulative face value of the contract to $2,476,786,132 from $2,466,389,429.”

Other services to be provided include combat systems engineering study support for increased capabilities, the release added.

Russia has repeatedly expressed concern over the creation of the ballistic missile defense system in Europe, approved in 2010 during a NATO summit in Lisbon. A group of European countries, including Poland, Romania, Spain and Turkey, agreed to deploy elements of the system on their territories.

Work will be performed in the US state of New Jersey, with an expected completion date of Dec. 31, 2018.



Attack on Syrian security forces kills at least 40

Militants attacked two Syrian security offices in the western city of Homs on Saturday with guns and suicide bombers, killing at least 42 people including a senior officer, a war monitor said.

The attackers killed the head of military security and 29 others at one of its headquarters in the city and 12 more people at a branch of state security in attacks that began early in the morning, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Syrian state television reported that clashes had rocked the districts of al-Ghouta and al-Mohata, where the two targets were located, before three suicide bombers detonated their explosives at each place.

It said that the attacks had killed 32 people including General Hassan Daaboul, the head of the military security branch.


Yemenis’ bank accounts canceled in Germany

It’s hard to imagine life without a bank account. In Germany, it’s a universal right. But many Yemenis living here have now had their accounts terminated – even that of the Ambassador. The banks are on the defensive.

For many Yemeni students and business people in Germany, the year 2017 began with a nasty surprise. For some time now Deutsche Bank and a series of other credit institutes have been canceling the current accounts of dozens of these individuals, without giving any reason. Yemeni diplomats, all of them Commerzbank customers, have also been affected by the wave of cancellations.

“All Yemeni diplomats received the same termination letter from the Commerzbank in mid-October,” Yahia Mohammed Abdullah Al-Shaibi, the Republic of Yemen’s Ambassador to Germany, told DW.

Except for the accounts belonging to the Ambassador himself and the Embassy, which expired on March 15, all accounts were terminated by Commerzbank on December 15.

According to Al-Shaibi, Yemeni representations in other European countries and diplomats representing other countries in Germany are not affected.


Germany mulls a real, but unrealistic, pledge on defense spending

Years after it pledged to spend billions more on defense, new pressure from the US is forcing the German government to consider whether it can actually meet its goal.

Pressure from the US to spend more on defense has split Germany’s governing coalition.

The pledge is real. But is it realistic?

Nearly three years after it promised to meet a NATO guideline calling for billions more toward the nation’s defense funding over the coming decade, the German government is sending mixed signals over whether the goal is feasible—or even necessary.

Opposition came this week not just from the foreign minister, whose coalition-member Social Democrats (SPD) will challenge German chancellor Angela Merkel in fall elections. It came from Merkel’s own party, whose parliamentary budget expert called the idea “unreasonable.”

The debate reflects how a symbol of transatlantic cooperation—an expectation that member states spend two percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on defense—has turned into a political tool on both sides of the Atlantic, and one that says little about military capabilities.

“Because it’s a very handy metric, it can be politicized easily,” Jan Techau of the American Academy in Berlin told DW.


France’s deradicalization centers seen as a ‘total fiasco’

A bipartisan report in the French Senate minced no words in describing this country’s efforts to “deradicalize” former and future terrorists.The French government’s attempt — including the controversial opening of a deradicalization center in the middle of the countryside — was a “total fiasco,” in the words of Philippe Bas, a senator from the center-right Republicans party.

Among the most damning elements in the report was a firm condemnation of the planned network of 12 deradicalization centers, perhaps the most widely publicized — and criticized — element of the government’s push to combat homegrown extremism.


NSA snoops told: Get your checkbooks and pens ready for a cyber-weapon shopping spree

US Cyber Command boss lays out plans for next decade

Mike Rogers

Spymaster … Mike Rogers, Director of the National Security Agency (NSA), Commander of the US Cyber Command and Chief of the Central Security Service

NSA and US Cyber Command boss Mike Rogers has revealed the future direction of his two agencies – and for the private sector, this masterplan can be summarized in one word.


Speaking at the West 2017 Navy conference on Friday, Rogers said he is mulling buying up more infosec tools from corporations to attack and infiltrate computer networks. At the moment the online offensive wing of the US military develops most of its own cyber-weaponry, he claimed, and he figures the private sector has plenty to offer.

“In the application of kinetic functionality – weapons – we go to the private sector and say, ‘Build this thing we call a [joint directed-attack munition], a [Tomahawk land-attack munition].’ Fill in the blank,” he said.

“On the offensive side, to date, we have done almost all of our weapons development internally. And part of me goes – five to ten years from now is that a long-term sustainable model? Does that enable you to access fully the capabilities resident in the private sector? I’m still trying to work my way through that, intellectually.”


Nuke capable stealth bombers get deadly upgrades to take on North Korea and ISIS

A FLEET of deadly stealth bombers has been fitted with new weapons for attack missions against ISIS and North Korea

By Nicole Stinson / Published 25th February 2017

The US Air Force’s B-2 Spirit “stealth bombers” have been upgraded with high-tech flight-management-control processors and enemy targeting systems as engineers prepare to fit the aircraft with nuclear arsenal.

The upgrades come as Donald Trump vowed to be “top of the pack” for nuclear weapons as tensions continue to rise with North Korea.

Two B-2 stealth bombers were sent to blitz an ISIS terrorist camp last month – killing 100 jihadis.

The fleet of 20 B-2 bombers will be fitted with B-61 Mod 11 weapons – a nuclear bomb designed to penetrate enemy hideouts.

Maj Kent Mickelson, who has served as a B-2 piolot, said: “This is a GBU-28 (bunker-buster weapon) on steroids. It will go in and take out deeply buried targets.

He added: “It [the B-2] is a dream to fly. It is so smooth.”The B-2 bomber has been sent on missions to Korea peninsula and Iraq

“It is really an awesome bombing platform and it is just a marvel of technology.”Described as a “digital aircraft” it also features a Synthetic Aperture Radar for creating photo-like images of enemy targets from an altitude of up to 50,000 feet.

The stealth bomber can carry up to 40,000lb of weapons – including nukes.


Indian Air Force rejects British Advanced Hawk aircraft

February 23, 2017 (Photo Credit: BAE Systems)

NEW DELHI — The Indian Air Force says it will not make an acquisition request for the British Advanced Hawk trainer aircraft.

The decision comes after the Ministry of Defence asked the service not request the aircraft following allegations that British company Rolls-Royce bribed officials of India’s state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited between 2005 and 2009 to secure orders for engines to power the British Hawk 132 advanced jet trainers meant for the Indian Air Force.

“We will not make any formal request for the Advanced Hawk to HAL, and the program will be officially shelved. This is because the MoD does not want [to] give additional orders for engines to tainted Rolls-Royce for the Advanced Hawk program,” a senior IAF official said. “IAF has no intentions to place any order for the Advanced Hawk trainers.”

Israeli, Indian defense cos to expand cooperation

11 Israeli companies will participate in the Aero India 2017 exhibition opening Tuesday.

Israeli defense companies taking part in the Aero India 2017 aeronautics exhibition opening tomorrow in Bangalore, India plan to expand their business in the Indian market, while extending their cooperation with local cyber companies. The plan involves joint development, mainly in cyber defense, which the Ministry of Defense International Defense Cooperation Authority (SIBAT) has marked as one of the sectors for development over the coming year, with increased worldwide marketing in addition to systems for Israel’s defense.The Ministry of Defense and the defense companies are aiming a major proportion of their efforts in the cyber industry at the Indian market, in view of the warm relations prevailing between the two countries, accompanied by huge arms deals and partnerships in the development of innovative defense systems.


A still image from a CCTV footage appears to show a man purported to be Kim Jong-nam walking into the lobby at KLIA2 on February 13, 2017. — Reuters picA still image from a CCTV footage appears to show a man purported to be Kim Jong-nam walking into the lobby at KLIA2 on February 13, 2017. —

KUALA LUMPUR, — Police seized an undisclosed number of chemicals from a condominium in Jalan Klang Lama on Wednesday, according to an agency source after it was revealed that the VX nerve agent was used to kill Kim Jong-nam.

According to The Star newspaper, police also arrested a Malaysian man during the raid over suspicions that he may be involved in the alleged assassination of the half-brother to North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un.

Police also recovered chemistry equipment and protective gear from the condominium.

“Police are not ruling out the possibility that the Malaysian man might have expertise in chemistry,” a source was quoted as saying.



Japanese Think Tank Argues for Moving Marines Off

TOKYO — The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit could leave Okinawa without sacrificing its value as a security provider in the Asia-Pacific, a Japanese think tank said following a study of alternatives to building a new runway opposed by the island’s governor.

It’s a point of view speakers from the New Diplomacy Initiative, a Tokyo-based think tank, conceded wasn’t likely to sway the security establishment, during a press conference Friday.

However, the academics, journalists and a former government defense official argued that plans to build a new runway for Marine aircraft are so unpopular on Okinawa that they risk straining the broader U.S.-Japan security agreement.


Sea of Japan the next target for Chinese military

Confusion on Korean Peninsula fuels tension over sea

TETSURO KOSAKA, Nikkei senior staff writer


TOKYO — A growing Chinese military presence in the Sea of Japan is becoming an issue that Tokyo cannot overlook.

On Jan. 5, three Chinese naval vessels sailed through the Tsugaru Strait between Japan’s main island and the northernmost island of Hokkaido into the Sea of Japan. Four days later, a Chinese air force fleet entered the sea by flying over the waters between the southern Japanese island of Kyushu and the Korean Peninsula.

According to the Joint Staff of the Japanese Defense Ministry, the fleet consisted of six bombers, which are capable of carrying cruise missiles, an early warning aircraft and an intelligence-gathering plane. With an additional fighter jet as an escort and a refueling aircraft, the fleet could have been ready to bomb ground targets.


Pentagon Provided Intel for Iraqi Airstrikes in Syria

The United States has been notified in advance of the planned Iraqi airstrikes in Syria and has provided intelligence to guide them, US Department of Defense spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said in a briefing on Friday.

WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — Earlier in the day, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi announced the launch of airstrikes on Daesh in Syria. According to him, the operation was linked to recent Baghdad attacks.

“We were aware; we supported it as well with information,” Davis said when asked if the United States provided intelligence information to the Iraqi military.

The Iraqi strikes in Syrian Deir Ez-Zor province has been fully coordinated with the Syrian government, Al-Watan reported, citing a source, close to the Syrian Foreign Ministry earlier in the day.

The attack on terrorist positions in Syria’s Al Bukamal city near the border with Iraq has been carried out as a part of the operation to liberate Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, which has been under Daesh’s control since June 2014. On Sunday, Abadi announced the start of the operations to free the western part of Mosul.



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Regulating Encryption: Can it be done? Yes.

by Stephen Bryen

NIST Scanner

The Director of the FBI in a warning to Congress points out that ISIS is now using encryption to mask messages it is sending to thousands of Americans favorable to the ISIS cause, exhorting them to kill military and police and other hated targets. He, along with others in the Obama administration are urging “Silicon Valley” to consider building backdoors into encryption products they sell so that law enforcement can tap encrypted phones or computers and properly “do its job.”

But the question is, is there a practical solution?

I have been in the encryption business, or more clearly I have built commercial products that use encryption. In the early 1990’s I founded a company called SECOM (for Secure Communications). We developed a computer chat program that provided a secure, encrypted chat. In those days the Internet was only just getting underway and everyone was using modems (there was no WIFI or data connections except for big business and banks). Nor were there smartphones. The PC, however, was very popular and we built our product to run on PC’s running MSDOS or Windows. And because computers were slow, we built a little plug in computer card which did the actual encryption and decryption work.

Then the fun began. NSA did not like our solution because it was too hard to crack, so they “recommended” reducing the key size. It got to the point where the key size was too small to assure security, and after thinking it over (and investing a lot of development money), we decided we could not sell a product that failed in its critical mission: to protect the users from intercepts. We closed the company.

It was a bad outcome for us. And, as we pointed out at the time, because we used hardware and software we could have controlled who the end users were and assured that only bona fide users, not criminals or terrorists, would have access to the product.

What we went through was nothing new. A few years before IBM had proposed building encryption into all PCs so that all the data stored by them would be secure. NSA again objected, and despite IBM bringing rather heavy guns to bear on the problem, in the person of a direct appeal from the chairman of IBM to the head of the NSA, IBM had to stand down. No encryption chips would live on the IBM circuit board.

NSA and its counterpart the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) wear two different hats: on the one hand NSA is charged with carrying out spying in support of its US government “customers”; on the other NSA and NIST produce guidelines for security and even sponsor encryption solutions such as the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) which has replaced the old Data Encryption Standard (or DES). These sponsored products can be used without any licenses and can be exported abroad.

It may seem odd, therefore, that the government is worried about encryption if it is also facilitating its development and export.

We can add to that known efforts by NIST to actually publish a random number generator for so-called elliptical curve encryption was found to be buggered. The buggered product found its way into corporate security systems in the US and around the world.

The latest alarm in our government is more a consequence of the embarrassing and dangerous leaks by Edward Snowden then anything directly to do with ISIS. Terrorists have been using encryption for a number of years, and they easily get it on the open market. The Russians, Chinese, Europeans, Israelis as well as many companies in the United States develop and sell a wide range of security products that use encryption. And the “Dark Web” on the Internet is also a source of supply for covert type programs and applications.

My own thought is that the government is trying very hard to cut a deal with Snowden so that he will serve a little jail time and then shut up. It seems he still has a large bagful of information that exposes US spying activities. In fact that is the only logical way to interpret statements by our former attorney general Eric Holder who says a deal is possible with Snowden. He should know.

Whatever the case, the availability of encryption on a global scale seems to suggest that trying to control it is a furtive exercise. But that is what the government is saying. So the question is what can the government actually do to mitigate the situation?

Many in Silicon Valley (and here we are talking about most of the really big high tech computer and mobile players in the United States) worry that the government will insist on putting a back door into their encryption schemes, or some other way where the government can get into encrypted communications and data transfers. Clearly this is a scheme the government has pursued for a long time, but it brings with it two risks: either the “security” is so weak as to be meaningless, pushing users to outside solutions or the backdoor or hole in the system is uncovered, as Snowden has already proven. But there is even a third risk: that the backdoor or hole is uncovered by a professional adversary such as China or Russia, meaning that everything you thought was safe is out the window. Given the plethora of escalating exponential cyber attacks on our government and on corporate America, this “solution” is far more dangerous than abandoning encryption altogether, largely because it creates a false expectation of security.

An alternative solution the government could pursue is simply to make the use of encryption in the United States illegal. Such a thing would be very hard to enforce, but in the mobile world it can be done basically by shutting down any encrypted communication that is unauthorized. The technology for this certainly exists today in the form of network sniffers and scanners.

A modified form of the no encryption approach is to allow encryption only on authorized devices that US industry and licensed political and social organizations can use. To me this makes a lot of sense, and in fact I proposed an alternative idea back in the 1980’s when I dealt with export controls.

The idea propounded then was a sort of Gold Card for industry allowing them to get around the red tape and delays that hurt their business performance.

The idea has merit. We are using it today at American airports, either to have more rapid treatment in security processing (the so called “PRE” benefit) or as part of the Global Access Program to allow Americans who travel a lot to get past long lines at border crossings, especially airports.

Such a scheme would make sense in protecting America and allowing us to secure our communications and data. Naturally it would not stop terrorists from using encryption, but they would not be able to use it with their clients and wannabes in the United States. Such communications would be taken down by scanners.

I think this is an excellent solution for law enforcement because it forces the bad guys out into the open. Then it is law enforcement’s job to put them out of business here. And it is the job of the DOD and CIA to shut them down beyond our borders.

Above all else it is vastly important to make America safe, and it is vital that our communications can be secure and our data repositories free from exploitation. This the government itself should understand from its gross mishandling of sensitive but unclassified information, like the millions of non-encrypted records recently stolen by the Chinese.

Let’s hope we can arrive at a sensible solution to security for America.

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A Call to Action: US Government Must Stop Social Media

by Stephen Bryen

The US Government must prohibit the use of social media by its security-cleared employees. That it does not do so presently exposes our government to serious attack from foreign governments and terrorists.

According to Rob O’Neill, a writer for CBS Interactive based in Auckland who also writes for ZDNET, the resumes of over 27,000 people working in the US intelligence community have been culled from LinkedIn by a team of so-called “activists.” They built some scanning tools including one called LookingGlass and another called ICWatch (Intelligence Community Watch) which they have made available over the Internet.

The resumes of the intelligence professionals posted on LinkedIn “include many details about the names and functions of secret surveillance programs, including previously unknown secret codewords.”

Of course this is a bonanza for foreign intelligence services since they get free what otherwise they would spend millions on collecting.

And LinkedIn may only be the tip of the iceberg because information from LinkedIn can be cross-referenced to other social media such as Facebook and Pinterest. There you can get good photos of the professionals and photos of their families and friends. From this information it is child’s play to construct a matrix of activity that can be used to compromise the intelligence professional, track family and friends, or even use the information to construct schemes focusing on possible vulnerabilities and weaknesses.

In short the situation is even worse than one might imagine because it the information collectively forms an actionable database that can put at risk both the individuals and the classified programs and projects they work on.

Not long ago I wrote about the compromise of Twitter and Facebook information at a US military command. You can read about it in my book, Essays in Technology, Security and Strategy. The Pentagon poo-poohed the report, even though it revealed such sensitive information as the home addresses of at least one four star general. And the Pentagon did nothing else, other than dodge a few press inquiries. The “scandal” died down rather quickly, and everyone went back to business as usual.

It is a fateful mistake for the US government to turn a blind eye to the use of social media by employees involved in sensitive work.

LinkedIn is essentially a jobs advertising forum disguised as a social media project. When people advertise their skills they aim to impress their readers. For those involved in secret work, this is a bit of a challenge since you are not supposed to be allowed to publish classified information. But what is “classified” can be a murky subject, and trying to convince employees to exercise care is hard when they are looking for their next job, or seeking a promotion in the jobs they already have.

The US government religiously claims that it is trying to protect security and is organized to fight against cyber espionage. Yet when anyone looks objectively at the situation and analyzes the results that are publicly known, it looks like cyber security is rapidly deteriorating inside government. The latest heist of a 100,000 tax returns from the IRS, probably by some Russian operatives, is just one among myriad examples of increasing infrastructural attacks. Indeed one can say that attacks are rising exponentially and the government’s ability to resist is minimal.

There are many structural reasons for America’s vulnerability. One is bad policy. Another is bad technology. And the third is lack of leadership.

In regard to policy, if the government stays with the idea that it can successfully operate commercial off the shelf systems, it is living in a whacky wonderland. Commercial off the shelf systems are garbage from a security point of view. The government has long known this: one reason why NSA is so fat and apparently happy is the ease in which they can suck up literally any kind of information from computer systems and telecommunications they want to get.

Bad technology is another critical factor. Today’s security technology is always behind the power curve because it is reactive technology. As any general knows, if you are going to try and defend your country behind a cyber Maginot line, you are toast.

The third problem, and the worst of all, is lack of leadership. Our leaders want three bites out of the cake at the same time. They want to support commercial hardware and software companies because they pay for their political campaigns. This is incompatible with security policy. They also want to make sure NSA, CIA and FBI and other agencies can exploit vulnerabilities in commercial hardware and software. This means that they allow these vulnerabilities to remain. Surely items like the Heartbleed bug were long known by US intelligence. Wantonly the government left its critical infrastructure exposed for years and even financially supported the guys who produced Heartbleed so that the vulnerability would propagate far and wide. Such policies, ultimately, are reckless and playing with fire. The third bite of the cake is failing to maintain discipline in its organizations and selling phoney solutions that don’t work and cannot work. The latest brainless effort by the Pentagon, as just one example, is to approve commercial Android, iPhone and Blackberry phones as secure enough for government work. This is not only silly but dangerous, because these platforms are security nightmares, not solutions.

The lack of leadership applies directly to social media. The government has refused to put in place a hard policy that makes sense. People with security clearances should be forbidden to use social media. That is a simple and sensible rule that needs implementation now. Otherwise, as the “activists” have clearly shown, we are all toast.

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Intelligence Agencies Are Happy As Clams Thanks to Heartbleed “Bug”

The Heartbleed “bug” which has affected millions of computer systems and countless hardware devices ranging from telephones, to video conferencing systems, to routers and firewalls –was the result of work done by a German software developer named Robin Seggelmann. Seggelman says it was a coding error that caused Heartbleed, and the error was not “caught” by an auditor inside the Open SSL Project. Open SSL is the security code that is widely used by industry to support encrypted connections on the Web, and to manage encryption on everything from wireless telephones to Cisco routers.

At the time of this writing, we do not know the full “team” who produces the Open SSL software.

The Open SSL Project works on a voluntary basis. Its headquarters is in Maryland but, according to their own description, the participants are on three continents and cover 15 time zones. If there are “rules” regarding membership in the Open SSL project, they are not transparent to the outsider.

The theory behind Open SSL is that if you gather together the “best” community of programmers to tackle a hard problem, you will get the best result that benefits everyone. Underlying is a sort of philosophical notion thatpeople in the “community” join together out of good will, and everything they contribute will be based on pure altruism. The Open SSL project is, by far, not the only community based programming project.

In his interview with the London-based Telegraph newspaper, Seggelmann admits “it was possible that the US National Security Agency (NSA) and other intelligence agencies had used the flaw over the past two years to spy on citizens.”

There is no reason to suppose that intelligence organizations would not have discovered the bug in their routine scanning of the Internet.*** Today the Internet carries much more than data traffic; it is increasingly how telecommunications are managed. The fact that we now know that some of the top VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) telephone systems made by Cisco are infected with the “Bug” makes this crystal clear. You can add to this a large number of Cisco routers (the world’s most popular router system), video conferencing systems, multiple servers used to manage communications traffic, and even firewalls that protect internal networks.

While a good deal of focus has been put on the NSA, thanks mainly to the leaks and revelations coming from Edward Snowden, the truth is that intelligence agencies around the world try to spy on just about everything they can. The British, French, Germans, Italians, Russians, Chinese, Israelis, Iranians and many others have built massive capabilities. It would be foolish to think they are not taking advantage of damaged encryption systems such as Open SSL.

In short, there is big possibility that, aside from causing untold computer damage, people may have lost their lives because of the Open SSL “Bug.” Say you were an Iranian dissident and you send what you thought was a secret message to your compatriots. The knock on the door comes, and the Iranian government arrests you and accuses you of being an Israeli spy. You know the rest.

There is also clearly a link between some foreign intelligence organizations and general criminal activity. Anytime money is involved in spying, as is the case with the Open SSL breach (which affects credit card transactions, banking and other forms of trading information), some intelligence agencies and their criminal colleagues exploit the opening to make money, lots of money. For years we have been watching the Russian mafia carry out these exploits and attack banks in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. How much they have stolen is anyone’s guess, because banks don’t like to let on about their security failures.

A critical question is why anyone would rely on a misty group of international volunteers for security? Keep in mind that one of the sponsors of the Open SSL is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security! (Whoever in DHS supported this endeavor ought to find work elsewhere.)

An additional problem today is that the agencies we rely on domestically for security, NSA and NIST (the National Institute for Standards and Technology) have, themselves, been caught bugging security codes so they could exploit computers and communications globally, including the PC’s, tablets and phones of Americans. NSA’s and NIST’s bugging activity has compromised them fatally.

Today in the United States we lack an independent security agency that can provide guidance on security for Americans, public and private. Thanks to NSA and NIST the U.S. government has thoroughly bugged itself, as well as everyone else. A critical task for Congress, aside from investigating the various NSA escapades, is to come up with a new, independent government organization that supports security for Americans.  The Agency should have nothing to do with spying and should be prevented by law from cooperating with spy agencies.


***Bloomberg is now reporting that NSA exploited the Open SSL bug for two years.

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How Did They Hack Merkel’s Phone?

by Stephen Bryen, Ziklag Systems

They didn’t tell us, and we did not ask, out of being polite we can assure you.  But we can certainly guess how it was done.   

There are both internal and external vulnerabilities in smartphones.  Let’s look at them. 

In regard to internal vulnerabilities, commercial smartphones (the majority of them manufactured in Asia) contain hardware, firmware and software combined with lots of sensors and radios.   The operating systems of smartphones (such as iPhone, Android-phones, Windows phones, Blackberry and the others) are designed to link up the phone’s hardware, its sensors, and its radios together.  Most of the computer “code” is written to get the job done, but for the most part security plays second or third fiddle on commercial platforms. Indeed, there is so much social networking and connectivity demanded by smartphone users, that the idea of putting in any kind of security perimeter for the smartphone platform is all but verboten.  This makes it easy for intruders, thieves, private eyes, lawyers and governments to spy to their heart’s content. All these need to do is to exploit some social APP (the technique is called ‘Phishing’), plant some malware, or install a spy phone on the mobile device. 

What is a Spy Phone 

A spy phone is specialized spying software that lives “in the background” on a smartphone.  An intruder or hacker controls the smartphone remotely meaning the phone itself can be switched on at any time without the screen lighting up, conversations can be recorded and surreptitiously broadcast, and virtually all the information on the phone can be hijacked. This means contact lists, emails, text messages, photos, videos and files can be grabbed at will. 

Spy phones vary in level of sophistication, but if you want to buy one you can find a commercial spy phone for every type of mobile phone and smartphone.  It is, of course, illegal to listen to someone’s conversations without their permission, but professional spy phone users, and a fair number of amateur sleuths, don’t worry about the legal nicety. That’s why in the U.K. there is a major phone hacking scandal which has to do with stealing text messages, emails, photos and voice mail messages.   

More than 100 major UK firms, not counting a number of newspapers, are said to have engaged in smartphone spying activities, usually working through cutouts (in the main private investigators).  This kind of spying either was for economic gain, efforts to compromise a person by learning about their private life, or for salacious reasons.  The fact that it was widespread and virtually out of control in the UK should forewarn us that the same is true in the United States. 

Chancellor Merkel’s Phone 

German Chancellor holds her mobile phone during the plenary session of the European Parliament in Brussels, 27 June 2007.

German Chancellor holds her mobile phone during the plenary session of the European Parliament in Brussels, 27 June 2007.

Angela Merkel has a smartphone, and she likely has APPS installed that please her.  So one avenue of attack for an intruder is to plant spy phone software on her mobile.  Is this what the German counter-intelligence services (probably the BND or Bundesnachrichendienst) found?  While totally speculation, if they did then they probably could “sanbdbox” Mrs. Merkel’s phone and pretty quickly figure out who was doing the listening.  We don’t know that this is what happened, but some event certainly triggered Merkel to pick up the phone and complain directly to President Obama.  These things, as one knows, just are not done. Gentlemen don’t read the mail of other gentlemen or women, to paraphrase Henry L. Stimson, former U.S. Secretary of War (before we decided we should only be for Defense and not for War). 

External Spying and Intercepts 

The second way to break into a smartphone is external –that is, to intercept conversations.  There are a number of ways to do this.  One can create a false cell phone tower and intercept calls that way.  This method, called IMSI Catching after the International Mobile Subscribe Number that is in every phone, is how you can grab calls from a near proximity to the caller.

In our initial review we thought that “It is unlikely the U.S. used IMSI Catching. ”  Now De Spiegel is reporting that the spying on the Chancellors phone, which may have gone on for more than 10 years,  may have been run out of a U.S. installation in the German capital, a spying operation that was not legally registered with the German government.  The location is about one mile from the offices of the Chancellor.  This would put it in range for an IMSI catcher.  Therefore the use of the IMSI catcher cannot be ruled out.

Another way is to get the cooperation of the telephone company or mobile phone company.  This works in your home country (as the NSA has proven by downloading all the metadata of the phones of U.S. citizens, and who knows what else) but it is not likely to have worked in Germany because the NSA is not in a position to twist the arms of German cell phone and telephone companies.  But it is possible, as an alternative strategy, to tap into trunk lines that carry calls over fiber optic lines.  It seems this is a major shared industry between the NSA and their UK counterparts in GCHQ.  While they might not get all of Merkel’s calls that way, they could get some of them. 

Most Likely Spying Method 

In short, NSA had plenty of options.  We would think the most likely one was to plant a spy phone on Chancellor Merkel’s phone, but it could also have been through an IMSI catcher.   

In Germany there are many that think Merkel should have taken sterner action when the first Snowden revelations about tapping German phones became public.  They say Merkel is, in fact, now also a victim because she did not act. 

The security company Secusmart and the mobile phone producer Blackberry presented their new secure smartphone - with the German eagle - to the Chancellor.

The security company Secusmart and the mobile phone producer Blackberry presented their new secure smartphone – with the German eagle – to the Chancellor.

The plain truth is, of course, that the BND and other German security services were either sleeping at the switch or did not care.  Otherwise they would not have let their chancellor’s phone get compromised by NSA or by anyone else.

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What’s Behind the Spying?

It’s Much More than about Terrorism –It is about American Competitiveness

by Stephen Bryen
Now more revelations are coming in about U.S. spying on friends and allies.  The latest is found in stories in Germany’s Der Spiegel and France’s Le Monde.  In the former case, Der Spiegel reveals extensive U.S. spying in Mexico targeting the Mexican President, his cabinet officials, and Pemex, Mexico’s mega-petroleum company.  In the case of Le Monde, that newspaper reveals that the U.S. was able to tap into France’s under-sea telephone and Internet cable system and access millions of fixed and mobile phone calls and an equal number of email accounts and data transfers.  France regards the matter as so serious that the French Foreign Minister summoned the U.S. Ambassador to complain.
One can expect in the days and weeks ahead, more spying stories.  The tentacles of the NSA system are wound tightly around allied and friendly countries, around American citizens, and around hostile places too.  Effectively, NSA has been able to exploit a key American advantage –virtually unlimited funds to carry out vast phone and internet tapping, and a technology advantage because most communications technology is designed in the United States (although much of it is manufactured in Asia).
The NSA “cover story” is that extensive spying is necessary to stop terrorism.  But NSA has been hard pressed to demonstrate that its phone and Internet spying has actually helped stop terrorism, and targeting the President of Mexico or key government and industrial leaders in France, Germany and many other countries, is absolutely divorced from having any linkage to terrorism.
In fact, the United States has been carrying out political and economic spying.  Terrorism probably accounts for only a small portion of what the mighty NSA collection apparatus sweeps up.
Why is this?  There are three explanations.
First, NSA’s “customers” are U.S. government agencies and organizations.  Each of them wants information in their area of responsibility –for example, the State Department wants to know what is really going on in target countries, or the Commerce Department wants to know how to promote U.S. business abroad.
For many years it was supposed that, unlike certain foreign intelligence gathering activities that are tightly linked to local industry and local financial interests, the U.S. was a more benign operator: only supporting legitimate U.S. government agency requirements.  But the massive spying and wide range of targets suggests otherwise, leading to the notion that the U.S. government is feeding not only its own government agencies, but also tipping American industry to help it compete more effectively.
Second, NSA is well placed to help secure a U.S. economy that is barely surviving as U.S. debt rises and as a vast number of U.S. jobs are exported to Asia.  This means manipulating money supplies, knowing what central banks in other countries will do, and trying to find some advantage in an increasingly dismal economic portfolio.
Thirdly, NSA may be helping “get back” some of the technological advantage the U.S. has lost.  A key area of concern is the erosion of the U.S. commercial aerospace industry which has been successfully challenged by France.  Boeing, trying to leapfrog technologically from a deepening lack of innovation, has spawned the 787 aircraft series –a nearly all composite airplane fraught with a multitude of problems.  Knowing what Airbus in France is up to has to be a high priority not only for Boeing, but for the United States which needs to try and hold on to aerospace jobs and try and re-secure future aerospace leadership.
For many years U.S. officials and their American industry partners ran around complaining that the French were stealing American aerospace technology.  Yet they could not explain why the French commercial aircraft were innovative while the American ones were not (sort of the Detroit syndrome), and they also did not want to say that whatever technology France got, they bought (not stole) from American companies.  Maybe these complaints were just a smokescreen to try and defend a sinking, though vital, industry.  (We can recall that Airbus won the American refuelling tanker competition, worth billions of dollars, only to have it stolen back by American politicians.)
The problem NSA now is encountering is that the work it is doing to strengthen U.S. competitiveness and preserve the U.S. economy and America’s political standing, is being exposed.  Maybe the American Ambassador in Paris can tell his counterparts: “We won’t say we did it, but if we did, it gave us an advantage.”
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Was the NSA Backdoor Worth It?

by Stephen Bryen

[Update: We  can now add to our October 7th story the following: RSA was paid $10 million by NSA to produce an encryption algorithm in their products with a backdoor.  See the Reuters’ article “Exclusive: Secret contract tied NSA and security industry pioneer.”   One wonders about the intent behind the RSA compromise. RSA security products are used primarily by industry, so it would seem the primary purpose would be to have access to industry computers.]

The National Security Agency has three distinct hats –first its job is to collect national security intelligence primarily through signals collection.  The second is to support both the government and the private sector by helping in what NSA calls “information assurance.”  This assignment includes coming up with encryption techniques and codes that can be used by government agencies and by the public. And NSA’s third hat, a relatively recent one, is to take action against malefactors who attempt to harm computer networks or pose other national security threats –a cyber attack command to put the bad guys out of business or harm their operations (something like “Stuxnet” against Iraq’s nuclear program, for those who follow these things).
Each of NSA’s “hats” impinges on the other “hats” so that the job of spying intrudes on the job of information assurance, and the job of attacking malefactors impinges on both other hats.  On top of that each of the “hats” has lots of internal risks.  If you destroy an adversary’s computer network, will that stop the adversary or just cut off your source of information?  If you build a better crypto mousetrap will the bad guys use it against you?
No one has yet suggested any good way to disentangle NSA’s conflicting responsibilities.  Nor do we yet know if there is a practical manner in which spying can be confined only to foreign targets in a highly globalized world.
Just last month one of the nation’s most respected security development companies, RSA, decided to remove an important crypto tool from its products. The tool was developed by NSA and there is an interesting history surrounding it.
Called a “Dual_EC_DRBG” for Dual Elliptical Curve Deterministic Random Number Generator, elliptical curve cryptography is a popular public key methodology that improves on earlier generation systems. It was introduced in the middle 1980’s and was approved by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in 2006. RSA used Dual_EC_DBRG in a wide range of its products, which are sold to governments and to private companies for information security protection.
All modern encryption algorithms requires a mathematical technique called “seeding” to assure no pattern is inadvertently introduced that would make it easy to untangle the encryption.  This is achieved by using a pseudo random number generator.  In 2006 when the elliptical curve approach was approved, the Dual_EC_DRBG random number generator was pushed by NSA and made part of the library of encryption tools adopted at that time.
In November 2007, Bruce Schneier, an important American cryptographer and computer security specialist, published an article called “The Strange Story of Dual_EC_DRBG.”   In that article Schneier took a look at the NSA-championed DBRG and quoted from an informal presentation at the Crypto 2007 Conference by two other cryptographers, Dan Shumrow and Niels Ferguson.  They showed that the Dual_EC_DRBG had a weakness that could “only be described as a backdoor.”
The backdoor is thought to be a kind of skeleton key that makes it easy to break the encryption.  
Despite the fact the Schneier, Shumrow and Ferguson (among others) believed there was a back door in the encryption, companies around the world, particularly RSA, went ahead anyway and used the tool.
It was not until this past September, with new revelations as part of the Snowden leaks, that the matter again came up.  The documents showed that NSA, acting in concert with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, had inserted a backdoor in its crypto suites.  This confirmed exactly what Schneier et al had said six years before.  Here was something approaching proof of what Dual_EC_DRBG was all about.
Naturally this is an earthquake in the crypto business world and it makes it clear that NSA “information assurance” program also might be an information spying operation, but aimed at whom?
Foreign governments tend not to use U.S. encryption tools because they don’t trust them.  But foreign companies do use them because the U.S. “system” (government, banking, health care) require the use of the U.S. crypto.  Was the backdoor needed to spy on the private sector?
But there is an even greater risk when a backdoor is put into an encryption system.  An adversarial government with significant resources might also figure out how to exploit the backdoor, or if they cannot they will find other ways to get “behind” the encryption engine.
NSA had one interesting, though now transitory, triumph with its backdoor, or at least one can surmise that is the case.  Al Qaeda used American encryption libraries to build its own encryption tool for use by its Jihadist terrorists.  Their product is called “Mujahideen Secrets 2″ and it is just a repackaging of NSA/NIST approved material.  We can all hope Al Qaeda keeps on using the product.
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Suppose Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden Were Crooks?

By Stephen Bryen

Neither Bradley Manning nor Edward Snowden are crooks in the sense of stealing information for personal profit.  Instead they seem to have been ideologically motivated. Both of them lived “inside” a system that was handling classified and highly secret information. In the case of Manning, he had access to tons of diplomatic cables, military communications, and operational information.  In the case of Snowden, he had access to security policies, practices, and the ability to use the system to exploit information collected by the NSA.

Both of these gentlemen are in heaps of trouble.  Manning’s sentencing hearing has started and, it is likely, the judges will reach a decision by the end of August or early September.  Snowden, on the other hand, has been granted asylum in Russia, so he is (for now) safe from prosecution.  How long the Russians will protect him depends, among other things, on how cooperative he is with Russia’s security authorities and how useful he is to Russia’s interests.  He could easily be traded back to the United States perhaps in exchange for an important Russian asset in the United States.

The most obvious trade is the case of Victor Anatolyevich Bout, a Russian arms dealer who was arrested in Thailand, extradited to the United States, and sentenced in Federal court  to 25 years imprisonment for conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and officials, deliver anti-aircraft missiles and provide aid to a terrorist organization.   The Russians would dearly like to have him back, and they have so-far unsuccessfully pitched their case at very high levels of the U.S. government.  Now they have the possibility of a trade, particularly if Snowden is foolish enough to violate the terms of his asylum agreement with the Russian authorities.

Regardless of Snowden’s ultimate fate, the more interesting question is whether others in a similar position, could make use of NSA intercepted information for profit.

It is now clear that a good deal of NSA’s interceptor work is outsourced.  This means that the chain of custody is weaker than it should be, as it relies on whatever security is provided by NSA’s contractors.  Contractors have an economic incentive not to find problems, since exposing a security breach might backfire and result in the loss of financially important contracts.  Furthermore, even if the contractor might want to try and enforce the “rules” (whatever they are), there are two further problems: (1) enforcement takes resources, and supervision resources are costly and lower profitability; (2) private companies don’t have extensive links to law enforcement, as a government agency would have; they do not have Inspector Generals and counterintelligence capabilities, as a government agency would have; and they certainly don’t welcome extensive security reviews and oversight by law enforcement, counterintelligence, inspector’s generals, or anyone else “from the government.”  Contractors want their sponsors to be happy, to give them high performance ratings, and to trust them. Remember that Snowden worked for Booz Allen, not for the government directly.  And while Booz Allen is a well-regarded company with very high standards, Snowden was able to take advantage of the Booz Allen work environment and do heavy damage to NSA and the U.S. government.

Much of the focus of attention these days in on the scope of NSA’s activities and the rights of Americans –-certainly consequential issues that need airing.  No one wants to live in a police state, even if it might be a well-intentioned police state.

But structural issues also need to be addressed.  The “system” that we have right now is fraught with danger, and it is not just danger to our national security.  It offers an opportunity to crooks of all kinds to steal information and sell to the highest bidder, whether the buyer is a criminal activity itself, a foreign country, or to an industry or organization trying to nail a competitor.

One can argue that if there is a Bradley Manning and an Edward Snowden, it is almost certain there are plenty of criminals making a living on the NSA.

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Don’t Blame NSA Only –It is Bad Government Decision Making

by Stephen Bryen

Every day there are more revelations about NSA-run spying operations. The latest is a story featured in the Sunday, June 30th edition of Der Spiegel, the German magazine with an online edition in English. The story alleges that NSA bugged the EU (European Union) headquarters and spied on EU leaders. With the news blasting in the European press, there is underway a huge reaction about America spying on its “friends.”

Of course much of this is crockodile tears coming from Europeans who have been spying on America for years. But that aside, and taking into account that spying on the EU would have to be one of the most boring and stupid assignments for an intelligence agency ever to be given, we can rightly ask is this an example of NSA out of control, or is this an example of poor government decision-making?

To begin foreign spying by the U.S. government is not illegal in the United States. Of course breaking and entering in a foreign country is a crime in that foreign country. So that if the operatives who planted the bugs in EU headquarters were ever caught, they could go to jail in Brussels.

So did NSA cook up this target on its own? Of course not. NSA has about as much interest in the EU as in the tooth fairy.

This is almost certainly an assignment that was generated in the State Department, and may have been undertaken for some vague political or economic reason.

How does it work? NSA is an operational agency, not a policy organization. It carries out assignments that it is given.

Different departments and agencies make requests to NSA through certain channels set up inside the government. NSA then assigns resources to service the request. Deciding what is important and what is not important is not typically something that devolves to NSA. NSA seeks guidance from the leading U.S. agencies and from the National Security Council (e.g., the White House).

So someone decided to request spying on the EU and apparently wanted more than what they were getting in the normal “take” of intercepts NSA collects. Which is what apparently led to an operational team going into EU offices and installing bugs on computer networks and telephone exchanges as alleged by Der Spiegel.

Why would anyone take such a risk given the consequences of discovery and the political ramifications inherent in such an activity?

It looks like making requests for intelligence gathering even from allied countries, is something agencies in the U.S. government do without much thought of consequences.

If this is true, than the real problem is one of judgment and risk assessment, and both of these seem to play little nor no role in taskings to NSA.

The revelations about NSA really are revelations about the U.S. government and its decision making process, or lack thereof, and as regards domestic intelligence gathering, the question of whether the government –more than NSA by itself– has acted within the law and the Constitution.

In front of us there are many extraordinarily serious issues –the collection of billions of phone and internet records, the absurdly wide swatch of information sucked in by NSA computers and systems, or even how this vast information glut (no matter how many supercomputers are deployed) is no substitute for intelligent collection and analysis of real national security information. It is not just that NSA is bloated, it is that our government is out of control and has come unglued from the guarantees in the U.S. Constitution, or thinks it is above all that.

Stripping Americans of their rights and freedoms, trampeling on our allies and friends, is something that should concern ourselves and our friends aborad. There is nothing more vital than a truly free America as a beacon of hope. Our government has lost its way.



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