This is Why U.S. Intelligence Can’t Have Nice Things

August 4, 2014

Phineas Fahrquar:

The story itself is of a fiasco with farcical aspects (the US “spies” were paid less than minimum wage by the Obama administration!), but Schindler uses this to make a needed point about the poor state of US intelligence and counterintelligence. If things are as bad as he describes, then serious reform is needed — yesterday.

Originally posted on The XX Committee:

It’s happened again.

Another 101-level counterintelligence failure has put Washington, DC, in the headlines in an unflattering way. For the umpteenth time.

I’ve been a consistent defender of the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) against scurrilous charges, particularly when these are emitted by uninformed commentators or people who are collaborating with foreign intelligence services. But I won’t defend the indefensible.

The Associated Press has a new story that details a truly hare-brained American scheme to foment anti-regime sentiments in Cuba. According to the report, the U.S. Government, with (unstated) IC support, in late 2009 began dispatching Venezuelan, Costa Rican, and Peruvian young people to Cuba to stir up trouble for Castro. Some posed as tourists, others as health care personnel, some of whom used an HIV prevention program as cover. But their mission, to “identify potential social-change actors,” never stood any chance of success.

Because Cuban counterintelligence is legendarily effective, especially…

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Putin’s Espionage Offensive Against France

August 2, 2014

Phineas Fahrquar:

Another aspect of Cold War II.

Originally posted on The XX Committee:

One of the major themes of my work is how Russia, drawing on decades of rich experience with espionage, aggressively employs intelligence in what I term Special War to defeat, dissuade, and deter its enemies without fighting. As I’ve reported many times, Russian espionage against the West has been rising since the mid-2000’s and has returned to Cold War levels of effort and intensity — and in some cases, more so. In recent years, the Kremlin has endorsed aggressive espionage against a wide range of Western countries, members of NATO and the European Union (often both), to learn secrets and gain political advantage. This is simply what the Russians do, as Vladimir Putin, the former KGB officer, understands perfectly. Such things are well known to counterintelligence hands the world over, but are seldom discussed in public.

What this looks like up close has recently been exposed by the Parisian newsmagazine

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The Snowden Operation: Assessing the Damage

July 19, 2014

Phineas Fahrquar:

Anyone who thinks Snowden did the cause of liberty a favor should read this. That guy belongs in jail for the rest of his life.

Originally posted on The XX Committee:

It’s now been over a year since Edward Snowden, the most famous IT contractor in intelligence history, defected to Moscow. This blog has followed the twists and turns of this remarkable case in detail, particularly in its counterintelligence aspects, but one of the most vexing and important issues remains undefined. Namely, how much damage to U.S. and Allied intelligence and security did Snowden’s unprecedented theft of classified materials actually do?

The National Security Agency and others have been involved in developing a damage assessment virtually from the moment the story broke; it’s what intelligence services do when they have a defector or compromise, since it’s vital to understand what programs have been damaged or lost. Snowden’s theft was so vast — perhaps “only” 1.5 million purloined documents rather than the 1.7 million previously suggested — that it will take years for the Intelligence Community (IC) to assess what…

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The Three C’s of U.S. Espionage in Germany

July 14, 2014

Phineas Fahrquar:

This is a very interesting discussion of why we might want to conduct intelligence operations inside the territory of our ally.

Originally posted on The XX Committee:

New details continue to emerge about the brewing SpyWar between Berlin and Washington, DC, over alleged U.S. espionage directed at the German government. While significant questions remain, it’s becoming clear that Markus R., the thirty-one year-old employee of the Federal Intelligence Service (Bundesnachrichtendienst — BND) who was spying for the CIA, fell well short of James Bond, having been caught by German counterintelligence when trying to sell classified materials to the Russians too. The second espionage suspect, a Defense Ministry official, although under suspicion, remains free, and that case may be misunderstood: time will tell.

What’s not in doubt is that Germany is a full-fledged panic about American spying that has already resulted in the departure of the CIA’s station chief in Berlin and will surely bring extra scrutiny to a lot of U.S. activities in Central Europe. Coming on top of the Snowden Operation, with its…

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The Snowden Operation Falls Apart

June 5, 2014

Phineas Fahrquar:

20 Committee asks a damned fine question: If Snowden really is a “whistleblower,” why doesn’t he produce the letters of complaint to superiors he surely has? If he’s telling the truth, that is.

Originally posted on The XX Committee:

Edward Snowden had his Big Interview on NBC this week, and it was something of a pace-setter for poor TV journalism, since Brian Williams (who was previously denounced by Glenn Greenwald for being a servile boot-licker of the surveillance state), decided to soft-ball the questions and not follow up many weird, disingenuous statements by Ed. His almost-year in Russia under FSB care has not promoted clear thinking, while Ed’s body language indicated serious deception to the trained eye. NSA’s IT contractor on permanent vacation in Russia gave his usual platitudes about how he’s really a patriot and “had” to steal all those classified IC and DoD documents. He’s almost thirty-one years old but apparently he had no agency in any of this. We’ve heard it all before.

But The Narrative has begun to fall apart in a manner not even the MSM can avoid noticing (though the failure…

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Did Obama know the CIA was spying on the Senate Intel Committee?

March 5, 2014
"Listening in"

“Listening in”

I’m with Bryan Preston on this one. If this is true, then… Wow:

A leading US senator has said that President Obama knew of an “unprecedented action” taken by the CIA against the Senate intelligence committee, which has apparently prompted an inspector general’s inquiry at Langley.

The subtle reference in a Tuesday letter from Senator Mark Udall to Obama, seeking to enlist the president’s help in declassifying a 6,300-page inquiry by the committee into torture carried out by CIA interrogators after 9/11, threatens to plunge the White House into a battle between the agency and its Senate overseers.

McClatchy and the New York Times reported Wednesday that the CIA had secretly monitored computers used by committee staffers preparing the inquiry report, which is said to be scathing not only about the brutality and ineffectiveness of the agency’s interrogation techniques but deception by the CIA to Congress and policymakers about it. The CIA sharply disputes the committee’s findings.

Udall, a Colorado Democrat and one of the CIA’s leading pursuers on the committee, appeared to reference that surreptitious spying on Congress, which Udall said undermined democratic principles.

“As you are aware, the CIA has recently taken unprecedented action against the committee in relation to the internal CIA review and I find these actions to be incredibly troubling for the Committee’s oversight powers and for our democracy,” Udall wrote to Obama on Tuesday.

Preston expects Udall to walk the bold part back soon, perhaps saying he was misinterpreted or taken out of context. But, I wonder. Udall is in an increasingly difficult reelection bid in Colorado, and “standing tall” against abuses of power by an unpopular president might be what his campaign needs.

That aside, if Obama really knew about –and thus at least tacitly approved– espionage by the CIA against a co-equal branch of the government, that raises huge issues, not just of statutory violations, but a constitutional crisis, too.

If it’s as bad as it looks at first glance –If– the House would have to consider impeachment.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Good News: parts of healthcare.gov designed by Putin allies

February 4, 2014
Alexander Lukashenko

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko

Security holes? What are those? And did you hear about Chris Christie closing a bridge in New Jersey??

U.S. intelligence agencies last week urged the Obama administration to check its new healthcare network for malicious software after learning that developers linked to the Belarus government helped produce the website, raising fresh concerns that private data posted by millions of Americans will be compromised.

The intelligence agencies notified the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency in charge of the Healthcare.gov network, about their concerns last week. Specifically, officials warned that programmers in Belarus, a former Soviet republic closely allied with Russia, were suspected of inserting malicious code that could be used for cyber attacks, according to U.S. officials familiar with the concerns.

The software links the millions of Americans who signed up for Obamacare to the federal government and more than 300 medical institutions and healthcare providers.

“The U.S. Affordable Care Act software was written in part in Belarus by software developers under state control, and that makes the software a potential target for cyber attacks,” one official said.

Belarus has been described as Europe’s last Stalinist country, and apparently they work very hard to prove themselves worthy allies of Moscow. According to Gertz’s article, in addition portions of healthcare.gov’s software being designed by an entity controlled by the Belarussian government, last year that same government successfully hijacked massive amounts of US Internet traffic for nearly a month:

According to the New Hampshire-based security firm Renesys, which discovered the data diversion, throughout February 2013, Internet traffic from the United States was sent to Belarus. The purpose likely was to allow hackers or government agencies to sift for data for financial, economic, or government intelligence.

The data also may have been modified for other purposes before being returned to the original U.S. and other foreign destinations.

The bulk diversion technique is called border gateway protocol hijacking. It involves using a series of network addresses to mask the data diversion through numerous Internet hubs around the world.

Renesys traced the data diversion from Washington to New York and Moscow and finally to Minsk, the Belarusian capital. It was returned to the United States via connections in Moscow, Frankfurt, and New York.

Combine the two and you have a very, very big potential problem. Administration officials of course claimed the site was secure and pooh-pooed the idea that nation-states would want to steal personal information, but that’s disingenuous at best.

First, foreign intelligence agencies would very much like to get their hands on conveniently collected personal information, since it would make the creation of solid cover identities for agents much easier. Second, as the article mentions, both the use of a foreign contractor and the internet hijacking make it very easy to implant altered data and even  malicious code to do… lots of stuff. Remember Stuxnet?

The elephant in the room that the administration isn’t talking about is the real danger in this: the PPACA created a wealth of interconnected networks with the Federal Data Services Hub at the center of the spider’s web. This hub is connected to agencies such as the IRS and Homeland Security. Even if Lukashenko isn’t interested in chatting with Putin about Joe Six-Pack’s cholesterol, you can darn well bet they’re both very interested in any security holes that allow their spies access to these other networks and to others connected to them.

And with the ability to divert traffic and implant clandestine code… Critics are right: the whole site needs to be shut down and vetted from top to bottom. Even if Obamacare is eventually repealed and the system dismantled, it’s a huge risk while it’s still operational.

As Instapundit likes to say, we’re in the best of hands.

Moscow’s.

PS: By the way, the now-fired healthcare.gov site builder, CGI Federal, assured the US government that only US contractors were used. Where was the HHS oversight of this?

PPS: Read the whole thing.

RELATED: Between this and Edward Snowden’s invaluable service to Russian intelligence, do we have any secrets from our enemies at all? Also, on a lighter note, Belarus’ Lukashenko is totally not a paranoid nut. Earlier articles about healthcare.gov security vulnerabilities.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


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