Arrested in 2008 in Thailand as a result of a U.S. government sting operation, and vilified by the media as “the merchant of death” and immortalized by Nicolas Cage in the action-thriller Lord of War, Viktor Bout claims he’s just a businessman. While building his aerial delivery empire, a small percentage of his cargo allegedly included weapons sold to some of the world’s most violent regimes—but as this amazingly intimate exposé reveals, Bout is more of an amateur filmmaker than a cold-hearted opportunist. Now, with unprecedented access to the home movies, his wife and a raft of former partners, award-winning filmmakers Tony Gerber (Full Battle Rattle) and Maxim Pozdorovkin (Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer) chip away at the Bout mythology. Could this family man so keen on camcorders and house parties really be the iron fist the world so easily condemned? Funny and deftly subversive, this revealing portrait navigates the muddy waters of profit and personal responsibility.
Snowden Effect: Journalism in the Age of Surveillance (feat. Trevor Timm, Karen Reilly, Micah Lee & James Ball)In Archive, Encryption, NSA, NSA Files, Snowden, Surveillance on October 1, 2014 at 2:07 AM
A Listening Post special on the ‘Snowden effect’ and challenges to the media in the age of state supervision.
Combine government bad behaviour and an employee with a conscience and you get a whistleblower. Add a journalist into the mix and you have a recipe for government accountability.
In the technological age, the link between journalist and insider source is very often digital communication. Knowing this, governments all over the world are working hard to track the communications of leakers and the journalists who can make those leaks public.
Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who Snowden initially approached with this data trove, was at first reluctant to use encryption.
Now, more than a year after the Snowden revelations Greenwald’s recently launched online news outfit, The Intercept, makes secure communication for its journalists and sources its number one priority.
We spoke to journalists and technologists (Trevor Timm, Karen Reilly, Chester Wisniewski, Micah Lee) at the forefront of the effort to keep our communications – both the content and its related metadata – unavailable to the governments who might take advantage of them.
With their help, this special edition of the Listening Post introduces systems such as PGP, TOR and SecureDrop – all essential tools for the security conscious journalist and for whistleblowers who want to keep their identities under wraps.
Also in this programme is an interview with the journalist James Ball who once worked alongside Julian Assange at WikiLeaks and, more recently, has played a key role reporting on the Snowden files for The Guardian. Paradoxically, dealing with sensitive government documents on hi-tech surveillance has meant a partial return to old-school, face-to-face communications for Ball and his colleagues.
It’s called the Technology Transfer Program (TTP), under which the NSA declassifies some of its technologies that it developed for previous operations, patents them, and, if they’re swayed by an American company’s business plan and nondisclosure agreements, rents them out.
The TTP itself isn’t classified, though 2014 is the first year they’ve published a formal catalog.
Many of the listed technologies in the NSA’s TTP catalog are methods to either help transcribe recorded communications or sort through massive troves of transcriptions, calling to mind the NSA’s ability to absorb huge quantities of people’s communications without their knowledge. Other technologies include voice identification, proxy detection, and data relationship/visualization tools.
NSA spokesperson Vanee Vines declined to share specifics on why those available technologies were developed, or how they were used within the agency. “Our lawful mission is centered on foreign intelligence and information assurance in defense of the nation,” she said.
Some technologies seem far simpler, almost to the point of being silly. Several are concerned with ensuring security with everyday objects, like tiny blocks to block access to a computer’s USB port, a “reusable tamper evident bag closure,” and “tamper protection for locking manhole covers.”
NSA officials declined to say how much money the Technology Transfer program brings in. They did, however, state that individuals at the agency receive substantial bonuses if their programs are licensed.
“Per NSA Policy, inventors at NSA receive 25 percent of the royalties or other payments,” NSA spokesperson Vanee Vines told the Daily Dot. She adds that the remainder, per U.S. law, goes toward “activities that increase the potential for transfer of the technology” within the agency. In other words, the rest of the money stays in-house.
The Daily Dot relayed one NSA employee’s claim to Bruce Schneier, a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and a world-renowned computer security and cryptography, that the TTP was a means of injecting federally-funded research back into the U.S. economy.
“Bullshit,” he responded. “The NSA’s not stimulating the economy. They just said that and it sounds good. They just made that up.”
ACLU has released several key documents about Executive Order 12333 that were obtained from the government in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that the ACLU filed (along with the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School) just before the first revelations of Edward Snowden. The documents are from the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and others agencies. They confirm that the order, although not the focus of the public debate, actually governs most of the NSA’s spying.
It has been reported that some of the NSA’s biggest spying programs rely on the executive order, such as the NSA’s interception of internet traffic between Google’s and Yahoo!’s data centers abroad, the collection of millions of email and instant-message address books, the recording of the contents of every phone call made in at least two countries, and the mass cellphone location-tracking program.
Congress’s reform efforts have not addressed the executive order, and the bulk of the government’s disclosures in response to the Snowden revelations have conspicuously ignored the NSA’s extensive mandate under EO 12333.
The documents confirm suspicions that the NSA relies heavily on EO 12333 and that the order, therefore, deserves far more scrutiny than it has received. This vindicates those who’ve been warning us about the scope of the NSA’s surveillance activities under the executive order — including a former State Department official who has tried to draw attention to its wide-ranging uses.
Download all new EO 12333 documents released c/o ACLU’s FOIA here (ZIP/51MB)
- Here’s how NSA itself describes EO 12333 in an internal surveillance manual from 2007:
- Similar description of EO 12333 from NSA “Legal Fact Sheet,” produced exactly two weeks after the first Snowden disclosure:
- Slide from DIA presentation describes when agencies can collection information on Americans. (“USPs” refers to “U.S. persons,” which the government defines as American citizens or organizations, as well as legal residents):
- DIA “intelligence law handbook” acknowledges intelligence agencies’ “vocabulary of misdirection” — a language that allows it to say one thing while meaning quite another; a case study in Orwellian doublespeak:
- Frank discussion from author in DIA handbook re: several of the weighty questions surrounding scope of government’s surveillance authority:
As the Obama administration prepared to bomb Syria without Congressional or U.N. authorization, it faced two problems. The first was the difficulty of sustaining public support for a new years-long war against ISIS, a group that clearly posed no imminent threat to the “homeland.” A second was the lack of legal justification for launching a new bombing campaign with no viable claim of self-defense or U.N. approval.
The solution to both problems was found in the wholesale concoction of a brand new terror threat that was branded “The Khorasan Group.” After spending weeks depicting ISIS as an unprecedented threat – too radical even for Al Qaeda! – administration officials suddenly began spoon-feeding their favorite media organizations and national security journalists tales of a secret group that was even scarier and more threatening than ISIS, one that posed a direct and immediate threat to the American Homeland. Seemingly out of nowhere, a new terror group was created in media lore.
But once it served its purpose of justifying the start of the bombing campaign in Syria, the Khorasan narrative simply evaporated as quickly as it materialized. Foreign Policy‘s Shane Harris, with two other writers, was one of the first to question whether the “threat” was anywhere near what it had been depicted to be:
But according to the top U.S. counterterrorism official, as well as Obama himself, there is “no credible information” that the militants of the Islamic State were planning to attack inside the United States. Although the group could pose a domestic terrorism threat if left unchecked, any plot it tried launching today would be “limited in scope” and “nothing like a 9/11-scale attack,” Matthew Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said in remarks at the Brookings Institution earlier this month. That would suggest that Khorasan doesn’t have the capability either, even if it’s working to develop it.
“Khorasan has the desire to attack, though we’re not sure their capabilities match their desire,” a senior U.S. counterterrorism official told Foreign Policy.
On September 25, the New York Times – just days after hyping the Khorasan threat to the homeland – wrote that “the group’s evolution from obscurity to infamy has been sudden.” And the Paper of Record began, for the first time, to note how little evidence actually existed for all those claims about the imminent threats posed to the homeland:
American officials have given differing accounts about just how close the group was to mounting an attack, and about what chance any plot had of success. One senior American official on Wednesday described the Khorasan plotting as “aspirational” and said that there did not yet seem to be a concrete plan in the works.
Literally within a matter of days, we went from “perhaps in its final stages of planning its attack” (CNN) to “plotting as ‘aspirational’” and “there did not yet seem to be a concrete plan in the works” (NYT).
Late last week, Associated Press’ Ken Dilanian – the first to unveil the new Khorasan Product in mid-September – published a new story explaining that just days after bombing “Khorasan” targets in Syria, high-ranking U.S. officials seemingly backed off all their previous claims of an “imminent” threat from the group.
James Comey, the FBI director, and Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, each acknowledged that the U.S. did not have precise intelligence about where or when the cell, known as the Khorasan Group, would attempt to strike a Western target. . . .
Kirby, briefing reporters at the Pentagon, said, “I don’t know that we can pin that down to a day or month or week or six months….We can have this debate about whether it was valid to hit them or not, or whether it was too soon or too late…We hit them. And I don’t think we need to throw up a dossier here to prove that these are bad dudes.”
Regarding claims that an attack was “imminent,” Comey said: “I don’t know exactly what that word means…’imminent’” — a rather consequential admission given that said imminence was used as the justification for launching military action in the first place.
Even more remarkable, it turns out the very existence of an actual “Khorasan Group” was to some degree an invention of the American government. NBC’s Engel, the day after he reported on the U.S. Government’s claims about the group for Nightly News, seemed to have serious second thoughts about the group’s existence, tweeting, “Syrian activists telling us they’ve never heard of Khorasan or its leader.”
Indeed, a NEXIS search for the group found almost no mentions of its name prior to the September 13 AP article based on anonymous officials. There was one oblique reference to it in a July 31 CNN op-ed by Peter Bergen. The other mention was an article in the LA Times from two weeks earlier about Pakistan which mentioned the group’s name as something quite different than how it’s being used now: as “the intelligence wing of the powerful Pakistani Taliban faction led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur.” Tim Shorrock noted that the name appears in a 2011 hacked Stratfor email published by WikiLeaks, referencing a Dawn article that depicts them as a Pakistan-based group which was fighting against and “expelled by” (not “led by”) Bahadur.
There are serious questions about whether the Khorasan Group even exists in any meaningful or identifiable manner. Aki Peritz, a CIA counterterrorism official until 2009, told Time: “I’d certainly never heard of this group while working at the agency,” while Obama’s former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford said: ”We used the term [Khorasan] inside the government, we don’t know where it came from….All I know is that they don’t call themselves that.” As the Intercept was finalizing this article, former terrorism federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy wrote in National Review that the group was a scam: “You haven’t heard of the Khorosan Group because there isn’t one. It is a name the administration came up with, calculating that Khorosan … had sufficient connection to jihadist lore that no one would call the president on it.”
What happened here is all-too-familiar. The Obama administration needed propagandistic and legal rationale for bombing yet another predominantly Muslim country. While emotions over the ISIS beheading videos (1/2/3/4) were high, they were not enough to sustain a lengthy new war.
So after spending weeks promoting ISIS as Worse Than Al Qaeda™, they unveiled a new, never-before-heard-of group that was Worse Than ISIS™. Overnight, as the first bombs on Syria fell, the endlessly helpful U.S. media mindlessly circulated the script they were given: this new group was composed of “hardened terrorists,” posed an “imminent” threat to the U.S. homeland, was in the “final stages” of plots to take down U.S. civilian aircraft, and could “launch more-coordinated and larger attacks on the West in the style of the 9/11 attacks from 2001.””
As usual, anonymity was granted to U.S. officials to make these claims. As usual, there was almost no evidence for any of this. Nonetheless, American media outlets – eager, as always, to justify American wars – spewed all of this with very little skepticism. Worse, they did it by pretending that the U.S. Government was trying not to talk about all of this – too secret! – but they, as intrepid, digging journalists, managed to unearth it from their courageous “sources.” Once the damage was done, the evidence quickly emerged about what a sham this all was. But, as always with these government/media propaganda campaigns, the truth emerged only when it’s impotent.