surveillance state

3-8-17    “I think the president is absolutely right.  His phone calls, everything he did electronically, was being monitored,” Bill Binney, a 36-year veteran of the National Security Agency who resigned in protest from the organization in 2001, told Fox Business on Monday.  Everyone’s conversations are being monitored and stored, Binney said.

Binney also told Sean Hannity’s radio show earlier Monday, “I think the FISA court’s basically totally irrelevant.”  The judges on the FISA court are “not even concerned, nor are they involved in any way with the Executive Order 12333 (of 12-4-1981) collection,” Binney said during the radio interview.  “That’s all done outside of the courts and outside of the Congress.”

Binney also told Fox the laws that fall under the FISA court’s jurisdiction are “simply out there for show…trying to show that the government is following the law, and being looked at and overseen by the Senate and House intelligence committees and the courts.  That’s not the main collection program for NSA,” Binney said.


3-7-17    one of the documents details some meetings in June 2014 between Britain’s MI-5 and a department of the CIA called BISS, in which they discussed an implant called Weeping Angel that allows spies to activate the microphone inside a Samsung smart TV when the set is turned off.  The engineers call this feature “Fake-Off.” It is well-known that Samsung smart TVs have a microphone; the owner’s manual even warns purchasers that sensitive conversations might be overheard.  But until now, it has not been known that the CIA had devised a way to exploit this feature–at least on TVs whose users it has targeted for surveillance.  The document not only reveals this fact but also tells possible targets how to detect and circumvent the intelligence-gathering.  Under the heading “Noted Anomalies and Limitations,” it states, “Updating firmware over the Internet may remove implant … or parts of implant.”  And:  “Blue LED on back remains powered when in Fake-Off mode.”

So if a bad guy thinks he might be a target of CIA surveillance, he now knows that he should turn off his Samsung TV and see if the blue LED on the back is still on.  If it is, he should update the set’s firmware over the Internet, and the implant will be deactivated.

Another program, called Maddening Whispers, is a set of software components–again, planted into a specific computer–that allow an intelligence agency to track all communications on certain specified devices.  A technique called Process Hollowing removes a “benign process,” such as Internet Explorer, and injects malware in its place. Another program lets agents who hack into Windows 7 software assume the privileges of a systems administrator, letting them roam through the entire network to which a computer is connected.  (These documents are dated from 2013 to 2016.  The reference to Windows 7 comes early in that timespan.)  Other programs let hackers log keystrokes, steal passwords, collect files, and elude antivirus programs.  Several programs intercept communications at the “endpoints”–that is, inside the cellphone or the computer, before the voice or data are encrypted.  (This is why several senior NSA and CIA officials have been defenders of encryption; they know that specific targets of surveillance can be hacked, anyway.)

The documents not only describe these programs in some detail, but also provide step-by-step instructions on how to create and install the software or devices.  WikiLeaks’ introduction, which summarizes the gist of these documents, criticizes the CIA for creating these malware programs, noting that once they’re out in the world, they can spread and be exploited by other users, including criminals.  The irony is that, by providing the working papers for these programs, WikiLeaks has made that task much easier.




Russian security researchers from Kaspersky Lab claim the NSA has found a way to hide spying software deep inside hard drives, giving the agency free reign to eavesdrop on your computer activity.

Kaspersky alleges the “closely guarded” ability is part of a larger spying conspiracy originating from Western cyberespionage operations–dubbed “the Equation group”–which is targeting government and military institutions overseas.  Hard drives affected by the operation include those made by top names like Seagate, Western Digital, Toshiba, Samsung and more; the very same technology found inside your laptop/desktop.

Some of the spying programs trace back as far as 2001, according to Kaspersky.  The research firm said it spoke to a former NSA employee who apparently confirmed the research; one of the spying programs identified is closely linked to Stuxnet, which was used to attack Iran’s uranium enrichment facility.  Another former NSA employee told Reuters that concealing spyware in hard drives is one of the agency’s prized spying methods, because it’s discreet and difficult to identify.


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