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NSA spying on Petrobras, if proven, is industrial espionage -Rousseff

By Anthony Boadle

(Reuters) – Reports that the United States spied on Brazilian oil company Petrobras, if proven, would be tantamount to industrial espionage and have no security justification, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff said on Monday.

Brazil’s Globo television network reported on Sunday that the U.S. National Security Agency hacked into the computer networks of Petrobras and other companies, including Google Inc. , citing documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The report came as Brazil is preparing to auction rights to tap some of the largest oil finds in the world in recent decades, deposits trapped under a salt layer off its Atlantic coast. State-run Petrobras, Brazil’s largest company and a source of national pride, made the discoveries in recent years and will be a mandatory partner in developing all of the new deep-sea fields.

The Globo report added tension to relations between Washington and Brasilia already strained by previous disclosures of NSA spying on internet communications in Brazil, including email messages and phone calls of Rousseff herself.

An angry Rousseff has repeatedly demanded an explanation. At stake is a state visit by Rousseff to the White House on Oct. 23 to meet President Barack Obama and discuss a possible $4 billion jet fighter deal, cooperation on oil and biofuels technology, as well as other commercial agreements.

“If the facts reported by the press are confirmed, it will be evident that the motive for the spying attempts is not security or the war on terrorism but strategic economic interests,” Rousseff said in a statement.

The U.S. government has said the secret internet surveillance programs disclosed by Snowden in June are aimed at monitoring suspected terrorist activity and do look at the content of private messages or phone calls.

PETROBAS NOT A SECURITY THREAT

“Clearly, Petrobras is not a threat to the security of any country,” Rousseff said, adding that the company is one of the world’s largest oil assets and belongs to the Brazilian people.

Brazil will take steps to protect itself, its government and its companies, Rousseff said, without elaborating. She said such espionage and interception of data were illegal and had no place in the relations between two democratic nations.

On Friday, Obama met with Rousseff during a summit of leaders of the world’s largest economies in St. Petersburg, Russia, and pledged to look into the reports that the NSA had snooped on her personal communications and those of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto when he was still a candidate.

She said Obama had promised her a reply by Wednesday.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo is scheduled to meet in Washington on the same day with Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice, Brazilian officials said.

Globo did not say when the alleged spying took place, what data might have been gathered or what exactly the NSA may have been seeking. The television report showed slides from an NSA presentation, dated May 2012, that it said was used to show new agents how to spy on private computer networks.

In addition to Google and Petrobras the presentation suggested the NSA had tapped into systems operated by France’s foreign ministry and the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, an international bank cooperative known as Swift through which many cross-border financial transactions take place.

Brazilian officials said the spying report would not affect the upcoming auction of rights to extract oil from the giant Libra oil field, which will go ahead as scheduled on Oct. 21.

Some Brazilian politicians have suggested that U.S. companies should be excluded from the bidding, but experts said that is legally impossible according to the terms of the auction.

Libra has estimated reserves of between 8 and 12 billion barrels of oil, according to Brazilian oil regulator ANP.

Brazil is counting on the new oil production to consolidate its emergence as a world economic power and take the country’s development to a new level. Rousseff signed a law on Monday that designates the royalties from the new oil production contracts for health and education programs.

Source

The NSA’s Secret Campaign to Crack, Undermine Internet Encryption

The National Security Agency headquarters at Fort Meade, Md.

by Jeff Larson, ProPublica, Nicole Perlroth, The New York Times, and Scott Shane, The New York Times, Sep. 5, 2013, 3:08 p.m.

Note: This story is not subject to our Creative Commons license.

Editor’s Note: Why We Published the Decryption Story

The National Security Agency is winning its long-running secret war on encryption, using supercomputers, technical trickery, court orders and behind-the-scenes persuasion to undermine the major tools protecting the privacy of everyday communications in the Internet age, according to newly disclosed documents.

The agency has circumvented or cracked much of the encryption, or digital scrambling, that guards global commerce and banking systems, protects sensitive data like trade secrets and medical records, and automatically secures the e-mails, Web searches, Internet chats and phone calls of Americans and others around the world, the documents show.

Many users assume — or have been assured by Internet companies — that their data is safe from prying eyes, including those of the government, and the N.S.A. wants to keep it that way. The agency treats its recent successes in deciphering protected information as among its most closely guarded secrets, restricted to those cleared for a highly classified program code-named Bullrun, according to the documents, provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor.

Beginning in 2000, as encryption tools were gradually blanketing the Web, the N.S.A. invested billions of dollars in a clandestine campaign to preserve its ability to eavesdrop. Having lost a public battle in the 1990s to insert its own “back door” in all encryption, it set out to accomplish the same goal by stealth.

The agency, according to the documents and interviews with industry officials, deployed custom-built, superfast computers to break codes, and began collaborating with technology companies in the United States and abroad to build entry points into their products. The documents do not identify which companies have participated.

The N.S.A. hacked into target computers to snare messages before they were encrypted. And the agency used its influence as the world’s most experienced code maker to covertly introduce weaknesses into the encryption standards followed by hardware and software developers around the world.

“For the past decade, N.S.A. has led an aggressive, multipronged effort to break widely used Internet encryption technologies,” said a 2010 memo describing a briefing about N.S.A. accomplishments for employees of its British counterpart, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. “Cryptanalytic capabilities are now coming online. Vast amounts of encrypted Internet data which have up till now been discarded are now exploitable.”

Read More: The NSA’s Secret Campaign to Crack, Undermine Internet Encryption – ProPublica.

What’s inside your computer…?

Miranda Rights Update … NSA Spying

We can waste readers’ time with the latest revelations about the NSA’s espionage activities against Americans, highlighted fully in the following WaPo article NSA broke privacy rules thousands of times per year, audit finds” whose title is sufficiently self-explanatory about how seriously the administration takes individual privacy, or we can just showcase the following cartoon which shows how the Miranda rights have been ‘adjusted’ for the New Normal…

But a cartoon does it best …

And if you think it’s only 1000s then suckers you deserve what you get!

Source

Spying Blind

The National Security Agency has an intelligence problem: It won’t admit how dumb it is.

AUGUST 16, 2013
BY SHANE HARRIS

The Obama administration’s claim that the NSA is not spying on Americans rests on a fundamental assertion: That the intelligence agency is so good at distinguishing between innocent people and evildoers, and is so tightly overseen by Congress and the courts, that it doesn’t routinely collect the communications of Americans en masse.

We now know that’s not true. And we shouldn’t be surprised. The question is, why won’t the NSA admit it?

On Thursday night, the Washington Post released a classified audit of NSA’s intelligence-gathering systems, showing they are beset by human error, fooled by moving targets, and rely on so many different servers and databases that NSA employees can’t keep tabs on all of them.

It had been previously reported that the NSA had unintentionally collected the communications of Americans, in violation of court orders, as it swept up electronic signals in foreign countries. But officials had sought to portray those mistakes as limited, swiftly corrected, and not affecting that many people.

Wrong again.

One of the reasons that the NSA has been able to gather so much power is that the agency has built a reputation over the years for super-smarts and hyper-competence. The NSA’s analysts weren’t just the brainiest guys in the room, the myth went; they were the brightest bulbs in the building. The NSA’s hackers could penetrate any network. Their mathematicians could unravel any equation. Their cryptologists could crack any cipher. That reputation has survived blown assignments and billion-dollar boondoggles. Whether it can outlast these latest revelations is an open question.

The Post found that the NSA “has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authorities thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008…” That’s the year when NSA’s global surveillance system went into hyperdrive. The agency was granted unprecedented authority to monitor communications without individual warrants and to surveil whole categories of people and communications.

Most of the violations affecting Americans’ information were the result what the agency calls “incidental collection.” So how many Americans were caught up in the NSA’s surveillance nets as they were dragged across supposedly foreign targets? The exact number is unclear. But the short answer is: lots and lots of them.

In one instance, a programming glitch collected a “large number” of calls from Washington, D.C, instead of the intended targets in Egypt, according to the audit. Somehow, the area code 202 (for Washington) was keyed instead of 20 (the country code for Egypt.) The NSA’s supposedly discriminating surveillance architecture was undone by a typo.

The audit reveals a recurring problem with human error in the day-to-day operations of global surveillance and shows what a messy and imprecise business it can be. In the first quarter of 2012, 123 incidents of non-compliance with the rules, or 63 percent of those examined, were attributed to human or operator error. These included typographical errors, inaccurate or overbroad search queries, and what the report calls “inaccurate or insufficient research information and/or workload issues.”

Analysts needed more “complete and consistent” information about their targets to avoid errors, the audit found. This suggests that while the NSA’s collection systems are dipping into data streams, the analysts aren’t always equipped to determine who is and isn’t a legitimate target.

The NSA’s systems also have problems knowing when a target is on the move, and possibly has entered the United States. (When he does, different regulations come into play about how the surveillance is authorized and what can be monitored without approval from the court.)

As recently as 2012, NSA was not always able to know when targets using a mobile phone had crossed a U.S. border. These so-called “roamers” accounted for the largest number of technological errors in the violations that were examined.

A problem discovered last year, which appears in the report under the heading “Significant Incidents of Non-Compliance,” helps illustrate how NSA is collecting so much information that it can actually lose track of it and store it in places where it shouldn’t be.

In February 2012, the NSA found 3,032 “files containing call detail records” on a server. A call detail record, or CDR, is analogous to a phone bill. It shows whom was called, when, and for how long. This is metadata, like what’s collected today on all phone calls in the United States.

It’s not clear how many CDRs (each representing an individual) were in each of those files. But they were stored on the server for more than five years, past the cut off point at which the information is supposed to be destroyed, pursuant to NSA rules that are meant to protect the privacy of Americans.

How the records got there is a mystery. The report says they were “potentially collected” under business records orders, which are authorized by the Patriot Act. But that’s not certain.

What is known, however, is that the records were stored with information that shouldn’t have been anywhere near them. It came from the agency’s highly classified Stellar Wind program, which covered the warrantless interception of phone calls and emails (not just their metadata) that was secretly authorized by President George W. Bush in 2001. Joining the CDRs and the Stellar Wind records was data from yet another program that was unrelated to the two.

Mixing or “co-mingling” information obtained from different programs, and under different laws or authorizations, is a dangerous practice in the intelligence profession. Information is segregated to restrict and monitor the number of people who have access to it. An analyst cleared to look at CDRs might not be authorized to listen to phone calls intercepted under Stellar Wind. But if it’s all on the same server, he might be able to do just that.

That may have happened in 2011, according to the audit. Some personnel may have been granted access to a cache of information that was recently modified so that they were no longer allowed to look at it. But not all the employees were informed about the change.

Storing different intelligence streams in one place also increases the risk of revealing valuable sources and methods for how it was obtained–a basic violation of intelligence tradecraft. It also it makes it easier to steal. (Just ask Edward Snowden.)

And segregation creates a bulwark against privacy violations. Information about Americans is generally kept clear of foreign intelligence because the rules on how the former can be used and disseminated are stricter.

But infractions and mistakes weren’t always reported to the NSA’s overseers, either in Congress or at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Partly that’s because the NSA doesn’t view unintentional or “incidental” collection of Americans’ communications as a violation of the rules. It was an accident, the result of what the agency called in a previously declassified document “problems [that] generally involved the implementation of highly sophisticated technology in a complex and ever-changing communications environment…” Translation: Surveillance is hard. Our computers aren’t perfect. We acted in good faith.

Not that the court can verify if that’s true. In a candid admission to the Post, the chief judge, Reggie Walton, said he and his colleagues must “rely upon the accuracy of the information” the government provides, and that the court “does not have the capacity to investigate issues of noncompliance…”

In one case where the court did curtail a new kind of surveillance, it was only months after learning that it was put in place. The court deemed the still-undisclosed activities unconstitutional, and the NSA had to make changes before it could restart them.

The NSA is also instructing its employees not to provide full information about infractions to Congress, which is supposed to oversee intelligence collection efforts and ensure they comply with the law.

The newly released documents affirm something we’ve long known: the NSA gathers up large amounts of information on foreigners and U.S. citizens and then tries to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff, with imperfect results. That’s alarming, but from a technological standpoint, understandable.

What members of Congress and the public may find more troubling is that the NSA wasn’t honest about these shortcomings. Officials hid them from the same judges and lawmakers that President Obama recently said were engaged in a rigorous process of checks and balances that keeps electronic spying within the bounds of the law.

Perhaps that system, like the NSA’s data vacuums, could use a tune up.

Source

More on NSA

In Secret, Court Vastly Broadens Powers of N.S.A.

By ERIC LICHTBLAU

WASHINGTON — In more than a dozen classified rulings, the nation’s surveillance court has created a secret body of law giving the National Security Agency the power to amass vast collections of data on Americans while pursuing not only terrorism suspects, but also people possibly involved in nuclear proliferation, espionage and cyber attacks, officials say.

The rulings, some nearly 100 pages long, reveal that the court has taken on a much more expansive role by regularly assessing broad constitutional questions and establishing important judicial precedents, with almost no public scrutiny, according to current and former officials familiar with the court’s classified decisions.

The 11-member Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known as the FISA court, was once mostly focused on approving case-by-case wiretapping orders. But since major changes in legislation and greater judicial oversight of intelligence operations were instituted six years ago, it has quietly become almost a parallel Supreme Court, serving as the ultimate arbiter on surveillance issues and delivering opinions that will most likely shape intelligence practices for years to come, the officials said.

Last month, a former National Security Agency contractor, Edward J. Snowden, leaked a classified order from the FISA court, which authorized the collection of all phone-tracing data from Verizon business customers. But the court’s still-secret decisions go far beyond any single surveillance order, the officials said.

“We’ve seen a growing body of law from the court,” a former intelligence official said. “What you have is a common law that develops where the court is issuing orders involving particular types of surveillance, particular types of targets.”

In one of the court’s most important decisions, the judges have expanded the use in terrorism cases of a legal principle known as the “special needs” doctrine and carved out an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s requirement of a warrant for searches and seizures, the officials said.

The special needs doctrine was originally established in 1989 by the Supreme Court in a ruling allowing the drug testing of railway workers, finding that a minimal intrusion on privacy was justified by the government’s need to combat an overriding public danger. Applying that concept more broadly, the FISA judges have ruled that the N.S.A.’s collection and examination of Americans’ communications data to track possible terrorists does not run afoul of the Fourth Amendment, the officials said.

That legal interpretation is significant, several outside legal experts said, because it uses a relatively narrow area of the law — used to justify airport screenings, for instance, or drunken-driving checkpoints — and applies it much more broadly, in secret, to the wholesale collection of communications in pursuit of terrorism suspects. “It seems like a legal stretch,” William C. Banks, a national security law expert at Syracuse University, said in response to a description of the decision. “It’s another way of tilting the scales toward the government in its access to all this data.”

Read More: Here

Indefinite Surveillance: Say Hello to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014

 

June 18, 2013
by Stephen Benavides

Passed in 1978, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) set the groundwork for surveillance, collection, and analysis of intelligence gathered from foreign powers and agents of foreign powers, up to and including any individual residing within the U.S., who were suspected of involvement in potential terrorist activity.  On October 26, 2001, a little over a month after 9/11, President George W. Bush signed the USA Patriot Act into law. Two provisions, Sec. 206, permitting government to obtain secret court orders allowing roving wiretaps without requiring identification of the person, organization, or facility to be surveyed, and Sec. 215 authorizing government to access and obtain “any tangible thing” relevant to a terrorist investigation, transformed foreign intelligence into domestic intelligence.

NDAA 2014 builds on the powers granted by both the Patriot Act and FISA by allowing unrestricted analysis and research of captured records pertaining to any organization or individual “now or once hostile to the United States”.  Under the Patriot Act, the ability to obtain “any tangible thing” eliminated any expectation of privacy.  Under NDAA 2014 Sec. 1061(g)(1), an overly vague definition of captured records enhances government power and guarantees indefinite surveillance. 

On May 22, 2013 the Subcommittee on Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities, one of several Armed Services Committees, met to discuss the National Defense Authorization Act(NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2014.  The main subject of the hearing was Sec. 1061, otherwise known as Enhancement of Capacity of the United States Government to Analyze Captured Records. This enhancement provision of   NDAA 2014 would effectively create a new intelligence agency, one with the authority to analyze information gained under the Patriot Act, FISA, and known spying programs such as PRISM.

Sec. 1061(a) authorizes the Secretary of Defense to “establish a center to be known as the ‘Conflict Records Research Center’” (Center). The main purpose of the center, according to the bill text, is to create a “digital research database,” one with the capability to “translate” and facilitate research on “records captured from countries, organizations and individuals, now or once hostile to the United States.” The authorization also says the Center will conduct research and analysis to “increase the understanding of factors related to international relations, counterterrorism and conventional and unconventional warfare, and ultimately, enhance national security.”

In order to make the Center run, and to accomplish such an incredibly broad scope of “research and analysis,” the Secretary of Defense needs the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to cooperate in coordinating “information exchanges important to the leadership of the United States Government”.   That coordination would require participation of all 16 member agencies and departments of the U.S. Intelligence Community.  This would leave James Clapper, the man accused of lying to Congress about the National Security Agency’s domestic spying program known as PRISM, in de facto direction of another federal surveillance and data analysis agency.  And while the Center would be officially directed and overseen by the Secretary of Defense, without unfettered access to secret and top secret information, the Center would be completely ineffective.  These information exchanges would most likely include data and records generated by the mass surveillance of everyday people under PRISM, as well as surveillance of those identified as “potential terrorists” or “high value targets” by any one of those 16 intelligence agencies now in operation.

The proposed Center’s information exchanges rely on captured government records.  Under the NDAA 2014, Sec. 1061(g)(1), a captured record is defined as “a document, audio file, video file, or other material captured during combat operations from countries, organizations, or individuals, now or once hostile to the United States.”  But considering that the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) allows the “War on Terror” to exist in a perpetual and permanent state of combat operations, and that the American public is already existing under an expansive surveillance state, any record may qualify as a “captured record.” Thus, any captured document, audio file, video file, or other material could potentially be submitted to this new intelligence agency for research and analysis, all in the name of national security and counterterrorism, as deemed appropriate by a swelling government surveillance class.

The NDAA 2014 enhancement provision extends and consolidates the government’s authority to further gather and analyze records and data captured during any national security or terrorist related investigation, not just combat operations. But it does so without creating any explicit restriction from violating an individual’s right to privacy, from being subjected to unwarranted searches and seizures, or due process of individuals guaranteed by the Constitution. That’s eerily similar to the NDAA 2013 Sec. 1021 that codified the indefinite military detention of American citizens without requiring they be charged with a specific crime, or given a trial.

Under NDAA 2013, Sec. 1021 allowed the military detention of civilians without a writ of habeas corpus, when a person “was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.” Under NDAA 2014, anyone is now subject to surveillance, not based on support of al-Qaeda or its associated forces, but based merely upon whether or not an individual is, or once was hostile to the U.S.  The question of what constitutes “hostility”, is left completely unanswered.

The new enhancement provision, as well as the previous NDAA’s indefinite detention mandate, goes to show how far the legislation has strayed from its stated purpose. According to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA), the NDAA “authorizes funding for military activities of the Department of Defense, for military construction, for defense activities of the Department of Energy, to prescribe military personnel strengths, and for other purposes.”

Instead, the NDAA has become the vehicle for the Executive Branch and Department of Defense to bypass Congress, and legislate away any perceived right, liberty, or privilege that conflicts with our current state of permanent war and indefinite surveillance.

In 2012, in an attempt to stop that “indefinite detention” provision, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced an amendment that would have prohibited the government from detaining citizens indefinitely using military force.  That proposed law, otherwise known as the “Feinstein Amendment” easily passed the Senate floor, but was later removed by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI).  After removal of the only specific language that would guarantee the US Government would be prohibited from interpreting the act illegally; President Obama, also a Democrat, signed NDAA 2013 into law.

If passed in its current state, NDAA 2014 would authorize approximately $552 billion in total defense spending, with $86 billion going directly to war spending.  This amount exceeds what is allowed under the automatic austerity measures that went into effect as of March 1, 2013.  According to a report released in April 2013 by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, “[i]f personnel, operation and maintenance costs keep rising, they may consume the “entire defense budget” by 2024, leaving no funding for weapons procurement, military construction or family housing.”  Any program created by the Enhancement Provision of NDAA 2014 would necessarily burden an already overwhelmed working class, who are most affected by austerity.

While the National Security Agency swears that no citizen was spied on under PRISM, the very fact that cell phone metadata and online activity was gathered from millions of individuals guarantees that information was taken illegally from innocent people .  We’re told that the government is attempting to minimize the amount of information captured from Americans, and that all of that information is being kept in specialized and restricted servers in order to protect our constitutional rights.  But that’s difficult to believe when the Department of Justice is currently fighting the release of a secret FISA Court opinion that details unconstitutional government surveillance.

If indefinite detention became the primary reason for opposing NDAA 2013, then the enhance provision authorizing unlimited indefinite surveillance, may become the same issue for NDAA 2014.  If passed in its current state, NDAA 2014 will further guarantee that people exist not only under indefinite detention and permanent war, but also under indefinite surveillance by its government.

Source

The Strange Case of Barrett Brown

Amid the outrage over the NSA’s spying program, the jailing of journalist Barrett Brown points to a deeper and very troubling problem.

June 18, 2013
Peter Ludlow

In early 2010, journalist and satirist Barrett Brown was working on a book on political pundits, when the hacktivist collective Anonymous caught his attention. He soon began writing about its activities and potential. In a defense of the group’s anti-censorship operations in Australia published on February 10, Brown declared, “I am now certain that this phenomenon is among the most important and under-reported social developments to have occurred in decades, and that the development in question promises to threaten the institution of the nation-state and perhaps even someday replace it as the world’s most fundamental and relevant method of human organization.”

By then, Brown was already considered by his fans to be the Hunter S. Thompson of his generation. In point of fact he wasn’t like Hunter S. Thompson, but was more of a throwback—a sharp-witted, irreverent journalist and satirist in the mold of Ambrose Bierce or Dorothy Parker. His acid tongue was on display in his co-authored 2007 book, Flock of Dodos: Behind Modern Creationism, Intelligent Design and the Easter Bunny, in which he declared: “This will not be a polite book. Politeness is wasted on the dishonest, who will always take advantage of any well-intended concession.”

But it wasn’t Brown’s acid tongue so much as his love of minutiae (and ability to organize and explain minutiae) that would ultimately land him in trouble. Abandoning his book on pundits in favor of a book on Anonymous, he could not have known that delving into the territory of hackers and leaks would ultimately lead to his facing the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison. In light of the bombshell revelations published by Glenn Greenwald and Barton Gellman about government and corporate spying, Brown’s case is a good—and underreported—reminder of the considerable risk faced by reporters who report on leaks.

In February 2011, a year after Brown penned his defense of Anonymous, and against the background of its actions during the Arab Spring, Aaron Barr, CEO of the private intelligence company HBGary, claimed to have identified the leadership of the hacktivist collective. (In fact, he only had screen names of a few members). Barr’s boasting provoked a brutal hack of HBGary by a related group called Internet Feds (it would soon change its name to “LulzSec”). Splashy enough to attract the attention of The Colbert Report, the hack defaced and destroyed servers and websites belonging to HBGary. Some 70,000 company e-mails were downloaded and posted online. As a final insult to injury, even the contents of Aaron Barr’s iPad were remotely wiped.

The HBGary hack may have been designed to humiliate the company, but it had the collateral effect of dropping a gold mine of information into Brown’s lap. One of the first things he discovered was a plan to neutralize Glenn Greenwald’s defense of Wikileaks by undermining them both. (“Without the support of people like Glenn, wikileaks would fold,” read one slide.) The plan called for “disinformation,” exploiting strife within the organization and fomenting external rivalries—“creating messages around actions to sabotage or discredit the opposing organization,” as well as a plan to submit fake documents and then call out the error.” Greenwald, it was argued, “if pushed,” would “choose professional preservation over cause.”

Other plans targeted social organizations and advocacy groups. Separate from the plan to target Greenwald and WikiLeaks, HBGary was part of a consortia that submitted a proposal to develop a “persona management” system for the United States Air Force, that would allow one user to control multiple online identities for commenting in social media spaces, thus giving the appearance of grassroots support or opposition to certain policies.

The data dump from the HBGary hack was so vast that no one person could sort through it alone. So Brown decided to crowdsource the effort. He created a wiki page, called it ProjectPM, and invited other investigative journalists to join in. Under Brown’s leadership, the initiative began to slowly untangle a web of connections between the US government, corporations, lobbyists and a shadowy group of private military and information security consultants.

One connection was between Bank of America and the Chamber of Commerce. WikiLeaks had claimed to possess a large cache of documents belonging to Bank of America. Concerned about this, Bank of America approached the United States Department of Justice. The DOJ directed it to the law and lobbying firm Hunton and Williams, which does legal work for Wells Fargo and General Dynamics and also lobbies for Koch Industries, Americans for Affordable Climate Policy, Gas Processors Association, Entergy among many other firms. The DoJ recommended that Bank of America hire Hunton and Williams, explicitly suggesting Richard Wyatt as the person to work with. Wyatt, famously, was the lead attorney in the Chamber of Commerce’s lawsuit against the Yes Men.

In November 2010, Hunton and Williams organized a number of private intelligence, technology development and security contractors—HBGary, plus Palantir Technologies, Berico Technologies and, according to Brown, a secretive corporation with the ominous name Endgame Systems—to form “Team Themis”—‘themis’ being a Greek word meaning “divine law.” Its main objective was to discredit critics of the Chamber of Commerce, like Chamber Watch, using such tactics as creating a “false document, perhaps highlighting periodical financial information,” giving it to a progressive group opposing the Chamber, and then subsequently exposing the document as a fake to “prove that US Chamber Watch cannot be trusted with information and/or tell the truth.” In addition, the group proposed creating a “fake insider persona” to infiltrate Chamber Watch. They would “create two fake insider personas, using one as leverage to discredit the other while confirming the legitimacy of the second.” The leaked e-mails showed that similar disinformation campaigns were being planned against WikiLeaks and Glenn Greenwald.

It was clear to Brown that these were actions of questionable legality, but beyond that, government contractors were attempting to undermine Americans’ free speech—with the apparent blessing of the DOJ. A group of Democratic congressmen asked for an investigation into this arrangement, to no avail.

By June 2011, the plot had thickened further. The FBI had the goods on the leader of LulzSec, one Hector Xavier Monsegur, who went under the nom de guerre Sabu. The FBI arrested him on June 7, 2011, and (according to court documents) turned him into an informant the following day. Just three days before his arrest, Sabu had been central to the formation of a new group called AntiSec, which comprised his former LulzSec crew members, as well as members as Anonymous. In early December AntiSec hacked the website of a private security company called Stratfor Global Intelligence. On Christmas Eve, it released a trove of some 5 million internal company e-mails. AntiSec member and Chicago activist Jeremy Hammond has pled guilty to the attack and is currently facing ten years in prison for it.

The contents of the Stratfor leak were even more outrageous than those of the HBGary hack. They included discussion of opportunities for renditions and assassinations. For example, in one video, Statfor’s vice president of intelligence, Fred Burton, suggested taking advantage of the chaos in Libya to render Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who had been released from prison on compassionate grounds due to his terminal illness. Burton said that the case “was personal.” When someone pointed out in an e-mail that such a move would almost certainly be illegal—“This man has already been tried, found guilty, sentenced…and served time”—another Stratfor employee responded that this was just an argument for a more efficient solution: “One more reason to just bugzap him with a hellfire. :-)”

(Stratfor employees also seemed to take a keen interest in Jeremy Scahill’s writings about Blackwater in The Nation, copying and circulating entire articles, with comments suggesting a principle interest was in the question of whether Blackwater was setting up a competing intelligence operation. E-mails also showed grudging respect for Scahill: “Like or dislike Scahill’s position (or what comes of his work), he does an amazing job outing [Blackwater].”)

When the contents of the Stratfor leak became available, Brown decided to put ProjectPM on it. A link to the Stratfor dump appeared in an Anonymous chat channel; Brown copied it and pasted it into the private chat channel for ProjectPM, bringing the dump to the attention of the editors.

Brown began looking into Endgame Systems, an information security firm that seemed particularly concerned about staying in the shadows. “Please let HBGary know we don’t ever want to see our name in a press release,” one leaked e-mail read. One of its products, available for a $2.5 million annual subscription, gave customers access to “zero-day exploits”—security vulnerabilities unknown to software companies—for computer systems all over the world. Business Week published a story on Endgame in 2011, reporting that “Endgame executives will bring up maps of airports, parliament buildings, and corporate offices. The executives then create a list of the computers running inside the facilities, including what software the computers run, and a menu of attacks that could work against those particular systems.” For Brown, this raised the question of whether Endgame was selling these exploits to foreign actors and whether they would be used against computer systems in the United States. Shortly thereafter, the hammer came down.

The FBI acquired a warrant for Brown’s laptop, gaining the authority to seize any information related to HBGary, Endgame Systems, Anonymous and, most ominously, “email, email contacts, ‘chat’, instant messaging logs, photographs, and correspondence.” In other words, the FBI wanted his sources.

When the FBI went to serve Brown, he was at his mother’s house. Agents returned with a warrant to search his mother’s house, retrieving his laptop. To turn up the heat on Brown, the FBI initiated charges against his mother for obstruction of justice for concealing his laptop computer in her house. (Facing criminal charges, on March 22, 2013, his mother, Karen McCutchin, pled guilty to one count of obstructing the execution of a search warrant. She faces up to twelve months in jail. Brown maintains that she did not know the laptop was in her home.)

By his own admission, the FBI’s targeting of his mother made Brown snap. In September 2012, he uploaded an incoherent YouTube video, in which he explained that he had been in treatment for an addiction to heroin, taking the medication Suboxone, but had gone off his meds and now was in withdrawal. He threatened the FBI agent that was harassing his mother, by name, warning:

I know what’s legal, I know what’s been done to me.… And if it’s legal when it’s done to me, it’s going to be legal when it’s done to FBI Agent Robert Smith—who is a criminal.”

That’s why [FBI special agent] Robert Smith’s life is over. And when I say his life is over, I’m not saying I’m going to kill him, but I am going to ruin his life and look into his fucking kids…. How do you like them apples?”

The media narrative was immediately derailed. No longer would this be a story about the secretive information-military-industrial complex; now it was the sordid tale of a crazy drug addict threatening an FBI agent and his (grown) children. Actual death threats against agents are often punishable by a few years in jail. But Brown’s actions made it easier for the FBI to sell some other pretext to put him away for life.

The Stratfor data included a number of unencrypted credit card numbers and validation codes. On this basis, the DOJ accused Brown of credit card fraud for having shared that link with the editorial board of ProjectPM. Specifically, the FBI charged him with traffic in stolen authentication features, access device fraud and aggravated identity theft, as well as an obstruction of justice charge (for being at his mother’s when the initial warrant was served) and charges stemming from his threats against the FBI agent. All told, Brown is looking at century of jail time: 105 years in federal prison if served sequentially. He has been denied bail.

Considering that the person who carried out the actual Stratfor hack had several priors and is facing a maximum of ten years, the inescapable conclusion is that the problem is not with the hack itself but with Brown’s journalism. As Glenn Greenwald remarked inThe Guardian: “It is virtually impossible to conclude that the obscenely excessive prosecution he now faces is unrelated to that journalism and his related activism.”

Today, Brown is in prison and ProjectPM is under increased scrutiny by the DOJ, even as its work has ground to a halt. In March, the DOJ served the domain hosting service CloudFlare with a subpoena for all records on the ProjectPM website, and in particular asked for the IP addresses of everyone who had accessed and contributed to ProjectPM, describing it as a “forum” through which Brown and others would “engage in, encourage, or facilitate the commission of criminal conduct online.” The message was clear: Anyone else who looks into this matter does so at their grave peril.

Some journalists are now understandably afraid to go near the Stratfor files. The broader implications of this go beyond Brown; one might think that what we are looking at is Cointelpro 2.0—an outsourced surveillance state—but in fact it’s worse. One can’t help but infer that the US Department of Justice has become just another security contractor, working alongside the HBGarys and Stratfors on behalf of corporate bidders, with no sense at all for the justness of their actions; they are working to protect corporations and private security contractors and give them license to engage in disinformation campaigns against ordinary citizens and their advocacy groups. The mere fact that the FBI’s senior cybersecurity advisor has recently moved to Hunton and Williams shows just how incestuous this relationship has become. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice is also using its power and force to trample on the rights of citizens like Barrett Brown who are trying to shed light on these nefarious relationships. In order to neutralize those who question or investigate the system, laws are being reinterpreted or extended or otherwise misappropriated in ways that are laughable—or would be if the consequences weren’t so dire.

While the media and much of the world have been understandably outraged by the revelation of the NSA’s spying programs, Barrett Brown’s work was pointing to a much deeper problem. It isn’t the sort of problem that can be fixed by trying to tweak a few laws or by removing a few prosecutors. The problem is not with bad laws or bad prosecutors. What the case of Barrett Brown has exposed is that we confronting a different problem altogether. It is a systemic problem. It is the failure of the rule of law.

Journalist Michael Hastings, 33, died in a car crash yesterday. Read Greg Mitchell’s obituary here.

Peter Ludlow

June 18, 2013

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