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GCHQ: The Uncensored Story of Britain’s Most Secret Intelligence Agency – Richard J. Aldrich (2010)

In Archive, GCHQ, Surveillance on August 30, 2014 at 10:32 AM


Richard Aldrich
, an accomplished cold war intelligence historian, traces GCHQ’s evolvement from a wartime code-breaking operation based in the Bedfordshire countryside, staffed by eccentric crossword puzzlers, to one of the world leading espionage organisations.

As we become ever-more aware of how our governments “eavesdrop” on our conversations, Aldrich provides a gripping exploration of British spy agency Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ). GCHQ is the successor to the famous Bletchley Park wartime code-breaking organisation and is the largest and most secretive intelligence organisation in the country. During the war, it commanded more staff than MI5 and MI6 combined and has produced a number of intelligence triumphs, as well as some notable failures. Since the end of the Cold War, it has played a pivotal role in shaping Britain’s secret state.

It is packed full of dramatic spy stories that shed fresh light on Britain’s role in the Cold War – from the secret tunnels dug beneath Vienna and Berlin to tap Soviet phone lines, and daring submarine missions to gather intelligence from the Soviet fleet, to the notorious case of Geoffrey Prime, one of the most damaging moles ever recruited by the Soviets inside British intelligence. Aldrich recounts the bizarre tale of microdots, invisible inks, briefcases of cash, and Prime’s eventual arrest in 1982 not for espionage, but for sexual assaults on children, which GCHQ strongly resisted investigating for fear of embarrassing itself in the eyes of its American friends. Events surrounding GCHQ’s other famous leaker, Katherine Gun, are also well covered. She revealed in 2003 that GCHQ planned to eavesdrop on UN Security Council members as part of transatlantic efforts to secure a resolution to legitimize an invasion of Iraq.

Aldrich charts how, by 1964, GCHQ’s demands and hidden financial allocations exceeded the entire cost of the Foreign Office. Its managers lobbied for a string of ambitious and costly projects: a nuclear-powered, aircraft-carrier-sized spy ship (never built); a small force of sky-sweeping Nimrod spy planes (flying from Lincolnshire now); and a spy satellite, Zircon (which never left the ground).

The book reveals for the first time how GCHQ operators based in Cheltenham affected the outcome of military confrontations in far-flung locations such as Indonesia and Malaya, and exposes the shocking case of three GCHQ workers who were killed in an infamous shootout with terrorists while working undercover in Turkey.

During the 1960s and 1970s, military risks were taken and important foreign policy decisions managed to support the demands of the intelligence collectors. Among these events was the manipulation of decisions about the British military presence in Cyprus solely to obtain convenient real estate for GCHQ and radar bases, and the deportation of the Chagos Islanders en masse from their homes on Diego Garcia. As Aldrich puts it, “the sigint tail had begun to wag the policy dog”.

For readers interested in GCHQ’s technical contributions there is a good section on its secret invention of public key cryptography four years before a very similar algorithm was published by US academics (the GCHQ website today protests, “the Americans were credited with the invention but GCHQ actually got there first!”). Its later attempts to suppress public use of the technology are also unpicked (though oddly enough omitted from GCHQ’s website).

After decades of darkness, “GCHQ was unmasked in the summer of 1976″, the book acknowledges, by a “path-breaking” article entitled “The Eavesdroppers“, which Duncan Campbell wrote for Time Out. The agency’s unwilling transition to public awareness was consolidated by the subsequent “ABC” Official Secrets Act trial of 1978, directed at Campbell and two others. Aldrich continues: “together Duncan Campbell and James Bamford [who wrote the first book about GCHQ's American equivalent, the NSA] have confirmed a fundamental truth: that there are no secrets, only lazy researchers”.

Inside the Company: CIA Diary – Philip Agee (1975)

In Archive, CIA, Espionage, Politics on August 30, 2014 at 8:32 AM


Philip Agee
‘s 1975 book, “Inside the Company: CIA Diary,” infuriated American officials by identifying about 250 officers, front companies and foreign agents working for the United States. His example inspired several more books and magazines, including Covert Action Information Bulletin, written by close associates and sometimes with Mr. Agee’s help, which published the names and often the addresses of hundreds more agency officers working under cover around the world.

The exposés of Mr. Agee and others led Congress to pass the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, which made it a crime to intentionally reveal the identity of a covert intelligence officer.

“Phil Agee was really the first person to do whistle-blowing on the C.I.A. on the grand scale,” said William H. Schaap, a New York lawyer and old friend who worked with him on anti-C.I.A. projects. “He blew the whistle on hundreds and hundreds of undercover operations.”

“He really, truly did not want to see anyone hurt,” said Mr. Wolf, the friend and co-author who carried on Mr. Agee’s work of exposing agents. “He wanted to neutralize what they were doing — the whole gamut, from fixing elections and hiring local journalists to plant stories all the way up to creating foreign intelligence services that became agencies of oppression.”

Agee joined the C.I.A. in 1957 after briefly attending law school. After three years of military training at the direction of the agency, Mr. Agee worked under cover for eight years in Ecuador, Uruguay and Mexico.

“When I joined the C.I.A. I believed in the need for its existence,” he wrote in “CIA Diary.” “After 12 years with the agency I finally understood how much suffering it was causing, that millions of people all over the world had been killed or had their lives destroyed by the C.I.A. and the institutions it supports.”

The book chronicles his growing disillusionment.

CIA’s Book Review of “Inside the Company” (PDF/<1MB)

United Nations Report on U.S. Racial Discrimination (August 2014)

In Archive, Police Brutality, Politics, UN, USA on August 30, 2014 at 3:50 AM


h/t ACLU

Earlier this month when the United States appeared before a U.N. human rights body to defend its record on racial discrimination. Today, this body — the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination — issued its verdict: a 14-page-long scathing report on the U.S. failure to fully comply with its obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) in numerous areas affecting racial and ethnic minorities. While it commended the Obama administration for steps it has taken to combat racial discrimination, it highlighted the gaps between the administration’s stated commitments and the glaring reality of laws and practices that continue to discriminate against and disproportionately impact people of color and indigenous communities.

The committee’s findings are based on hundreds of pages of reports submitted by the U.S. government as well as advocacy groups, which are then produced after a public hearing in Geneva attended by a high-level U.S. delegation. The U.S. review coincided with the protests in Ferguson after the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, a development that did not go overlooked during the hearing. Members of the committee were also moved by testimonies from the parents of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, who attended the review to share their loss and lessons to be learned from their own tragedies.

The recommendations released today address structural and pervasive forms of discrimination in the United States, which often go overlooked in public debates sparked by the loss of human life due to the unjustified use of force. They offer a blueprint to end racial discrimination and to promote equal opportunity. They include calls to:

  • End racial profiling by adopting the End Racial Profiling Act and swiftly revising the 2003 Justice Department Guidance on the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies.
  • Stop the militarized approach to policing, which has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color and to immigration law enforcement, which has led to killings at the border, mandatory detention of immigrants, and deportation without adequate access to justice.
  • Ensure that allegations of excessive use of force by law enforcement officials is promptly and effectively investigated; that the alleged perpetrators are prosecuted and, if convicted, punished with appropriate sanctions; improve the reporting of cases involving the excessive use of force, intensify its efforts to prevent the excessive use of force by law enforcement officials, and strengthen oversight of and accountability for inappropriate use of force.
  • End racial disparities in the criminal justice system at the federal, state, and local levels.
  • End the system of administrative detention without charge or trial and ensure the closure of the Guantanamo Bay facility without further delay; guarantee the right of detainees to a fair trial in compliance with international human rights standards, and ensure that any detainee who is not charged and tried is released immediately.
  • Abolish laws and policies making homelessness a crime.
  • Develop a comprehensive plan to reduce school segregation and address the school-to-prison pipeline.
  • Ensuring the availability of affordable and adequate housing for all, including by effectively implementing Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing
  • Guarantee the right of indigenous peoples to effective participation in policy-making and decisions that affect them; adopt concrete measures to effectively protect the sacred sites of indigenous peoples; effectively implement and enforce the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 to halt the removal of indigenous children from their families and communities.

Anonymous #OpGCHQ Protest @ UK Spy Base 08/29-09/01

In Activism, Anonymous, Archive, GCHQ, Surveillance on August 29, 2014 at 6:15 PM

Image via @Autonymousness


A four-day protest against GCHQ mass surveillance, organized by the hacktivist collective Anonymous, has begun outside Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters spy base in Cheltenham.

Anonymous has dubbed the protest ‘Operation GCHQ’, and is appealing to UK and international activists to attend the event. While a modest group of fifty to sixty campaigners had gathered outside the UK government’s listening post early on Friday evening, over 9,000 are expected to attend the demonstration this weekend. According to Anonymous UK, Saturday is set to be the main day of protest.

Anonymous is targeting the Cheltenham-based spy base to highlight grave concerns over an unwavering assault on Britons’ privacy rights in an increasing climate of mass surveillance. Privacy rights activists from France, Germany, Sweden and Ireland will attend the protest and join the collective in their call for a surveillance policy shift. Central to campaigners’ demands, is the prioritization of citizens’ right to privacy over the interests of security agencies.

A spokesperson for Anonymous’ media team told RT on Friday UK authorities’ insistence on spying on their own people with no legal justification was a primary motivation for holding the protest. “Innocent activists who have never broken any laws and act within the law are still targets of GCHQ and other spying agencies”, he said.

Although GCHQ attempted to liaise with Anonymous UK in advance of the four-day demonstration, a spokesperson for the collective who calls himself Ajacxuk said the group declined to respond.

“No correspondence is necessary. It’s our democratic right to protest. As long as the protest remains peaceful and respectful of GCHQ property there shouldn’t be a need to justify activists’ motivation to defend their right to privacy”, he said.

Probed on whether Anonymous hacktivists have been targeted by British authorities under UK terrorism legislation, a spokesperson for the group declined to comment but emphasized hacktivists are regularly targeted internationally on these grounds.

Ajacxuk, who runs the hacktivist collective’s radio station, insists Anonymous UK have been unjustly targeted by GCHQ on multiple occasions.“One of our servers was destroyed and our UK radio station has been shut down”, he said on Friday, adding the group’s site was also taken down following the launch of a campaign to feed homeless people throughout Britain.

The Gloucestershire Echo has been sent an anonymous email, which alleges that Gloucestershire police are not allocating enough of its resources to making sure that workers at “the Doughnut” on the A40 are harassed or put in danger.

It added: “Gloucestershire Police have decided they will allow the protesters to take photographs of GCHQ and it’s staff even though this is against the law. To prevent the photography would require far more police officers than Gloucestershire Police wish to use.”

Gloucestershire police Chief Inspector Mark Ravenscroft said: “We have been liaising with organizers to try and ensure they can exercise their right to lawful protest while bearing in mind the impact on the local community.

We know people will have cameras with them and we will be guiding protesters around the legality of taking pictures outside GCHQ as part of our ‘no surprises’ approach.

“While discretion will be used in each case, protesters should be aware that they could be breaking the law if they attempt to take photos of any GCHQ staff.”

*LeakSource will be monitoring the protest and will update this page with more news/live streams when available…

via Gloucestershire Echo:

Protesters Ethan McStravick and Gerald Macmillan said Gloucestershire police told them the protest had been cancelled and refused to give directions to GCHQ.

Are GCHQ working with a skeleton staff today? Outlying car park unusually empty. Mutual aid from Devon and Kent police have arrived.


Confidential Australia Data Retention Discussion Paper Leaked

In Archive, ASIO, Australia, Big Brother, Internet, Politics, Surveillance on August 27, 2014 at 5:19 PM


h/t Ben Grubb/SMH

It’s the secret industry consultation paper the Australian federal government didn’t want you to see.

Produced by the Attorney-General’s Department and distributed to telecommunications industry members on Friday, the nine-page document attempts to clarify what customer internet and phone records the government wants companies such as Telstra, Optus and iiNet to store for the purpose of law enforcement and counterterrorism.

The requirement is part of a proposed data retention regime, which has been given “in principle” approval by the Abbott government. It seeks to continue to allow law enforcement and spy agencies to access customer identifiable data without a warrant as prescribed by law, but would ensure the data is not deleted for a mandated period of two years.

When it comes to metadata, the AG’s department wants telcos to store a few things, including:

• present and past subscriber name
• address information
• 64-bit IMSI ID and other network identifiers
• financial/billing information
• account state and billing type
• upload/download volumes on mobile devices
• upload/download allowances on the plan
• phone number
• type of service used (network type, i.e. ADSL, 4G LTE)
IMEI device identifiers
• location of devices used

The paper explicitly rules out the retention of data that indicates what sites internet customers access but it does not rule out agencies asking for a customer’s web history if a telco does hold it for other purposes. Recently, it was revealed Telstra handed over URL information without a warrant to agencies.

Costs associated with storing the data are mentioned briefly, the paper does not go into detail on this. Internet and phone providers iiNet and Optus have previously estimated the costs could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars depending on the amount of data required.

The paper also concedes what many have known in industry circles for some time: that telecommunications data, commonly called metadata, is not defined in the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979. Instead, the paper states that such data is “negatively defined”. “The TIA Act does not positively define what is data; only what is not data,” it says.

On Wednesday afternoon when pressed for a definition of metadata by Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, Attorney General George Brandis told parliament a “statutory definition” of metadata would be part of the legislation, meaning it would include technical specifications.

The leak comes the same day that the head of Australia’s largest spy agency, ASIO Director General David Irvine, admitted that without warrantless access to metadata, intelligence operations would “come to a halt“.

A similar paper distributed to telecommunications companies between 2009 and 2010 by the previous government explicitly included destination IP addresses in the data required to be stored. A copy of the 2009-10 document was obtained under freedom of information but was highly redacted out of fear it could cause “premature, unnecessary debate“.

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