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Ten big points from the National Intelligence Strategy

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James Hohmann’s Daily 202 in the Washington Post today includes the major points from Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats’s report:

Here are the 10 biggest truth bombs from the 36-page Coats reportThese are direct quotes:

1. “Traditional adversaries will continue attempts to gain and assert influence, taking advantage of changing conditions in the international environment — including the weakening of the post-WWII international order and dominance of Western democratic ideals, increasingly isolationist tendencies in the West, and shifts in the global economy.”

2. “Russian efforts to increase its influence and authority are likely to continue and may conflict with U.S. goals and priorities in multiple regions.”

3. “No longer a solely U.S. domain, the democratization of space poses significant challenges for the United States. Adversaries are increasing their presence in this domain with plans to reach or exceed parity in some areas. For example,Russia and China will continue to pursue a full range of anti-satellite weapons as a means to reduce U.S. military effectiveness and overall security. Increasing commercialization of space now provides capabilities that were once limited to global powers to anyone that can afford to buy them. Many aspects of modern society—to include our ability to conduct military operations—rely on our access to and equipment in space.”

4. The ability of individuals and groups to have a larger impact than ever before—politically, militarily, economically, and ideologically—is undermining traditional institutions. This empowerment of groups and individuals is increasing the influence of ethnic, religious, and other sources of identity, changing the nature of conflict, and challenging the ability of traditional governments to satisfy the increasing demands of their populations, increasing the potential for greater instability. Some violent extremist groups will continue to take advantage of these sources and drivers of instability to hold territory, further insurgencies, plan external attacks, and inspire followers to launch attacks wherever they are around the world.”

5. “Increasing migration and urbanization of populations are further straining the capacities of governments around the world and are likely to result in further fracturing of societies, potentially creating breeding grounds for radicalization. Pressure points include growing influxes of migrants, refugees, and internally displaced persons fleeing conflict zones; areas of intense economic or other resource scarcity; and areas threatened by climate changes, infectious disease outbreaks, or transnational criminal organizations. All of these issues will continue to drive global change on an unprecedented scale.”

6. “Advances in nano- and bio-technologies have the potential to cure diseases and modify human performance, but without common ethical standards and shared interests to govern these developments, they have the potential to pose significant threats to U.S. interests and security. In addition, the development and spread of such technologies remain uneven, increasing the potential to drastically widen the divide between so-called ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’”

7. “Despite growing awareness of cyber threats and improving cyber defenses, nearly all information, communication networks, and systems will be at risk for years to come. Our adversaries are becoming more adept at using cyberspace capabilities to threaten our interests and advance their own strategic and economic objectives. Cyber threats will pose an increasing risk to public health, safety, and prosperity as information technologies are integrated into critical infrastructure, vital national networks, and consumer devices.”

8. “Many adversaries continue to pursue capabilities to inflict catastrophic damage to U.S. interests through the acquisition and use of [weapons of mass destruction]. Their possession of these capabilities can have major impacts on U.S. national security, overseas interests, allies, and the global order. The intelligence challenges to countering the proliferation of WMD and advanced conventional weapons are increasing as actors become more sophisticated, WMD-related information becomes broadly available, proliferation mechanisms increase, and as political instability erodes the security of WMD stockpiles.

9. “Continued federal budget uncertainty strains the [intelligence community’s] ability to make deliberative and responsive resource decisions. The outcome may be overextended budgets or lack of cost-effective solutions to address intelligence issues. The [intelligence community] needs to develop methods to efficiently shift resources to mitigate programmatic (fiscal) risk and avoid loss of vital programs, capabilities, and resource investments.”

10. “There will likely be demand for greater intelligence support to domestic security, driven in part by concerns over the threat of terrorism, the threat posed by transnational illicit drug and human trafficking networks, and the threat to U.S. critical infrastructure. Intelligence support to counter these threats must be conducted … with adequate protection for civil liberties and privacy.” . . .

Continue reading. The Daily 202 includes a lot of good information, always.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 January 2019 at 10:49 am

The Wiretap Rooms: The NSA’s Hidden Spy Hubs in Eight U.S. Cities

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Ryan Gallagher and Henrik Moltke report in the Intercept:

THE SECRETS ARE hidden behind fortified walls in cities across the United States, inside towering, windowless skyscrapers and fortress-like concrete structures that were built to withstand earthquakes and even nuclear attack. Thousands of people pass by the buildings each day and rarely give them a second glance, because their function is not publicly known. They are an integral part of one of the world’s largest telecommunications networks – and they are also linked to a controversial National Security Agency surveillance program.

Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. In each of these cities, The Intercept has identified an AT&T facility containing networking equipment that transports large quantities of internet traffic across the United States and the world. A body of evidence – including classified NSA documents, public records, and interviews with several former AT&T employees – indicates that the buildings are central to an NSA spying initiative that has for years monitored billions of emails, phone calls, and online chats passing across U.S. territory.

The NSA considers AT&T to be one of its most trusted partners and has lauded the company’s “extreme willingness to help.” It is a collaboration that dates back decades. Little known, however, is that its scope is not restricted to AT&T’s customers. According to the NSA’s documents, it values AT&T not only because it “has access to information that transits the nation,” but also because it maintains unique relationships with other phone and internet providers. The NSA exploits these relationships for surveillance purposes, commandeering AT&T’s massive infrastructure and using it as a platform to covertly tap into communications processed by other companies.

Much has previously been reported about the NSA’s surveillance programs. But few details have been disclosed about the physical infrastructure that enables the spying. Last year, The Intercept highlighteda likely NSA facility in New York City’s Lower Manhattan. Now, we are revealing for the first time a series of other buildings across the U.S. that appear to serve a similar function, as critical parts of one of the world’s most powerful electronic eavesdropping systems, hidden in plain sight.

“It’s eye-opening and ominous the extent to which this is happening right here on American soil,” said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “It puts a face on surveillance that we could never think of before in terms of actual buildings and actual facilities in our own cities, in our own backyards.”

There are hundreds of AT&T-owned properties scattered across the U.S. The eight identified by The Intercept serve a specific function, processing AT&T customers’ data and also carrying large quantities of data from other internet providers. They are known as “backbone” and “peering” facilities.

While network operators would usually prefer to send data through their own networks, often a more direct and cost-efficient path is provided by other providers’ infrastructure. If one network in a specific area of the country is overloaded with data traffic, another operator with capacity to spare can sell or exchange bandwidth, reducing the strain on the congested region. This exchange of traffic is called “peering” and is an essential feature of the internet.

Because of AT&T’s position as one of the U.S.’s leading telecommunications companies, it has a large network that is frequently used by other providers to transport their customers’ data. Companies that “peer” with AT&T include the American telecommunications giants Sprint, Cogent Communications, and Level 3, as well as foreign companies such as Sweden’s Telia, India’s Tata Communications, Italy’s Telecom Italia, and Germany’s Deutsche Telekom.

AT&T currently boasts 19,500 “points of presence” in 149 countries where internet traffic is exchanged. But only eight of the company’s facilities in the U.S. offer direct access to its “common backbone” – key data routes that carry vast amounts of emails, internet chats, social media updates, and internet browsing sessions. These eight locations are among the most important in AT&T’s global network. They are also highly valued by the NSA, documents indicate.

The data exchange between AT&T and other networks initially takes place outside AT&T’s control, sources said, at third-party data centers that are owned and operated by companies such as California’s Equinix. But the data is then routed – in whole or in part – through the eight AT&T buildings, where the NSA taps into it. By monitoring what it calls the “peering circuits” at the eight sites, the spy agency can collect “not only AT&T’s data, they get all the data that’s interchanged between AT&T’s network and other companies,” according to Mark Klein, a former AT&T technician who worked with the company for 22 years. It is an efficient point to conduct internet surveillance, Klein said, “because the peering links, by the nature of the connections, are liable to carry everybody’s traffic at one point or another during the day, or the week, or the year.”

Christopher Augustine, a spokesperson for the NSA, said in a statement that the agency could “neither confirm nor deny its role in alleged classified intelligence activities.” Augustine declined to answer questions about the AT&T facilities, but said that the NSA “conducts its foreign signals intelligence mission under the legal authorities established by Congress and is bound by both policy and law to protect U.S. persons’ privacy and civil liberties.”

Jim Greer, an AT&T spokesperson, said that AT&T was “required by law to provide information to government and law enforcement entities by complying with court orders, subpoenas, lawful discovery requests, and other legal requirements.” He added that the company provides “voluntary assistance to law enforcement when a person’s life is in danger and in other immediate, emergency situations. In all cases, we ensure that requests for assistance are valid and that we act in compliance with the law.”

Dave Schaeffer, CEO of Cogent Communications, told The Intercept that he had no knowledge of the surveillance at the eight AT&T buildings, but said he believed “the core premise that the NSA or some other agency would like to look at traffic … at an AT&T facility.” He said he suspected that the surveillance is likely carried out on “a limited basis,” due to technical and cost constraints. If the NSA were trying to “ubiquitously monitor” data passing across AT&T’s networks, Schaeffer added, he would be “extremely concerned.”

Sprint, Telia, Tata Communications, Telecom Italia, and Deutsche Telekom did not respond to requests for comment. CenturyLink, which owns Level 3, said it would not discuss “matters of national security.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2018 at 12:10 pm

Most lawyers don’t understand cryptography. So why do they dominate tech policy debates?

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Henry Farrell writes in the Washington Post:

On Wednesday, the Trump administration appointed the renowned computer science professor Ed Felten to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB). This is the first time that a nonlawyer has been appointed to the board, even though it has oversight responsibilities for a variety of complex technological issues.
The bias toward lawyers reflects a more general problem in the U.S. government. Lawyers dominate debates over privacy and technology policy, and people who have a deep understanding of the technological questions surrounding complex questions, such as cryptography, are often shut out of the argument.
Some days ago, I interviewed Timothy Edgar, who served as the intelligence community’s first officer on civil liberties and is the author of the book “Beyond Snowden: Privacy, Mass Surveillance, and the Struggle to Reform the NSA,” about the reasons government policymaking isn’t as open to technological expertise as it ought to be.
The U.S. policy debate over surveillance mostly overlooks the ways in which cryptography could assure the privacy of data collected by the NSA and other entities. What broad benefits does cryptography offer?
When people think about cryptography, they mostly think about encrypting data and communications, like emails or instant messages, but modern cryptography offers many more capabilities. Today’s debate over surveillance ignores some of the ways these capabilities might allow the public to have the best of both worlds: robust intelligence collection with ironclad, mathematically rigorous privacy guarantees.
The problem is that many of these capabilities are counterintuitive. They seem like magic to those who are not aware of how cryptography has advanced over the past two decades. Because policymakers may not be aware of these advances, they view intelligence collection and privacy as a zero-sum game: more of one necessarily requires less of the other — but that’s a false trade-off.
Which specific techniques have cryptographers developed that could be applied to collected data?
Probably the most promising technology for ensuring the privacy of data that intelligence agencies are collecting is called encrypted search, something that my colleague at Brown, Prof. Seny Kamara, has helped pioneer. Imagine a large database that an intelligence agency like the NSA would like to query. The vast, vast majority of the data is irrelevant: It belongs to people that intelligence analysts should not be able to monitor. Of course, the agency could formulate queries and submit them to whoever owns the database, perhaps a telecommunications company or a digital services provider. But what if the agency is worried that its queries will reveal too much about its sensitive operations, and is not willing to take the chance that this information will leak?
Without encrypted search, the scenario I just outlined is a classic trade-off. Of course, the intelligence agency could simply forgo its queries, but if the stakes are too high — maybe the agency is trying to prevent a devastating terrorist attack — it could decide instead to engage in a highly intrusive intelligence practice called bulk collection. Bulk collection means the agency collects the entire database, including all the irrelevant information, hopefully with legal or policy safeguards to prevent abuse. Following the Snowden revelations in 2013, bulk collection of domestic data was reformed, but it remains an option when the NSA collects data outside the United States, even if that data includes communications with Americans.
Encrypted search allows us to do much better than this. The entire database is encrypted in a way that allows the intelligence agency to pose specific queries, which are also encrypted. Policymakers can decide what kinds of queries are appropriate. There are mathematically rigorous guarantees that ensure 1) the intelligence agency may only pose permissible queries, 2) the agency only receives the answers to those queries and does not receive any other data, and 3) the company will not learn what queries the agency has posed, offering the agency security for its operations.
Why is it that lawyers, rather than technologists, seem to dominate U.S. policy debates over technically complex subjects like surveillance and cryptography?
Lawyers have been dominating debates in the United States since at least the days when the French writer Alexis de Tocqueville wrote “Democracy in America” in 1831. De Tocqueville describes lawyers as occupying a place in American society similar to the aristocracies of Europe. If we examine just how many members of Congress, senior government officials and even business leaders are drawn from the legal profession today, it appears that little has changed in this regard in the subsequent two centuries. Lawyers tend to be verbal and overconfident [and thus are vulnerable to the Dunning-Kruger effect – LG]. Computer scientists are more prone to be reserved and even introverted.
The failure of lawyers and technologists to communicate well led the NSA to make some serious mistakes in the domestic bulk collection programs it was running until 2015, when they were reformed in the aftermath of the Snowden revelations. It has also, unfortunately, impeded the deployment of technologically based alternatives to intrusive intelligence programs.
Is this changing, and if it is changing, is it changing for the better or the worse? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 March 2018 at 1:25 pm

Trump’s refusal to protect our election system suggests corrupt motives

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Jennifer Rubin writes in the Washington Post:

The Post reports:

For months, it’s been acknowledged — often quietly — that the Trump administration isn’t doing much to deter further Russian interference in U.S. elections. The Washington Post reported extensively in December about how President Trump doesn’t even like to talk about Russian interference — much less act to prevent it — and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders struggled last week to name concrete steps he had taken.

But we may have just seen our most high-profile admission yet that the U.S. government is asleep at the wheel — from the government itself.

Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, made some pretty blunt statements Tuesday to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Rogers acknowledged that Russian President Vladimir Putin probably believes he’s paid “little price” for the interference and thus hasn’t stopped. He also said flatly that Trump has not granted him any new authorities to strike at Russian cyber-operations.

This was not new information, but it was delivered with extraordinary bluntness and a smidgen of frustration with Trump’s lack of urgency. (“When combined with his saying ‘we’re probably not doing enough’ and that Putin hasn’t paid enough of a price to change his behavior, it’s clear that Rogers sees something missing from the effort to prevent a repeat: willpower.”)

On the Senate floor today, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), the minority leader, blasted the president: “According to several reports, Kremlin-linked bots continue to stoke political divisions in the U.S. via misinformation on social media. . . . [Rogers] is absolutely right. It is extraordinary, confounding, and dangerous, how little the Trump Administration is doing about Putin’s campaign to undermine our grand democracy,” he said.

The Democratic leader continued:

“President Trump refused to punish Putin after he took office, despite the consensus view of 17 American Intelligence Agencies that Putin interfered in our elections. President Trump has still refused to fully implement the package of sanctions that passed by this Congress with only five dissenting votes combined between both House and Senate. . . .

A hostile foreign power interfered in our elections, continues to interfere with our democracy, and is planning to interfere in our next elections — and the president of the United States is hardly lifting a finger. It’s as if they were preparing for war and tanks were lining up or planes and we decided to do nothing. Cyberattacks, manipulation of news media is another way that hostile powers attack us.”

He concluded with this statement: “People have to wonder why President Trump is so soft on Russia, so unwilling to criticize President Putin, and so slow to stand up for America and protect our democracy.”

Actually, we need not wonder. Trump should provide an explanation. Congress — the four leaders in the House and Senate — can write a joint letter. They can, in the course of oversight, ask senior intelligence officials whether they have requested additional authority, and whether they can explain the president’s inactivity. And finally, the Senate can refuse to confirm additional nominees for national-security posts unless and until the president presents a complete plan to defend our election process and to root out Russian manipulation of social media.

Trump might have any number of reasons for refusing to proceed. First, he really, really doesn’t want to acknowledge just how much effort the Russians — on his behalf — have put in their plan to destabilize our democracy.

Second, he might fear Putin’s wrath, maybe a revelation of embarrassing information, if he acts to intensify sanctions or to address election interference. This would be consistent with the theory that there was either an explicit or implicit quid pro quo arrangement between Russia and the Trump team. Just to be clear, this has not yet be proven. However, sometimes the best evidence is the proverbial dog that does not bark.

Finally, it may be that Trump, fearing huge losses for the Republicans, shares Putin’s aim to cast doubt on the credibility of our elections. Perhaps he wants to sow doubt about the legitimacy of the Democratic victories he anticipates, thereby undermining the legitimacy of any Democrat-led impeachment proceeding. This would be a horrible repudiation of his oath of office, and a sign that he is sabotaging a core tenet of our democracy — free and fair elections — for personal gain. But let’s not forget he did precisely this during the run-up to the 2016 election, suggesting that if he lost he might not accept the results.

Maybe there are more benign explanations for Trump’s actions, but the onus is on him to explain why he’s neglecting his duties. And if there is  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2018 at 4:56 pm

New Report Says Dutch Have Absolute Proof Russia Was Behind 2016 Election Hacking

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Kevin Drum writes in Mother Jones:

The Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant (“The People’s Paper”) has quite the intriguing story today. Apparently AIVD, the Dutch equivalent of the CIA, broke into the computer systems of a nondescript building in Moscow a few years ago. They had no idea what was there, but eventually they figured it out. It was the workplace of Cozy Bear, Russia’s most infamous hacking group:

That’s how the AIVD becomes witness to the Russian hackers harassing and penetrating the leaders of the Democratic Party, transferring thousands of emails and documents. It won’t be the last time they alert their American counterparts. And yet, it will be months before the United States realize what this warning means: that with these hacks the Russians have interfered with the American elections. And the AIVD hackers have seen it happening before their very eyes.

….The Cozy Bear hackers are in a space in a university building near the Red Square. The group’s composition varies, usually about ten people are active. The entrance is in a curved hallway. A security camera records who enters and who exits the room. The AIVD hackers manage to gain access to that camera. Not only can the intelligence service now see what the Russians are doing, they can also see who’s doing it. Pictures are taken of every visitor. In Zoetermeer, these pictures are analyzed and compared to known Russian spies.

….Access to Cozy Bear turns out to be a goldmine for the Dutch hackers. For years, it supplies them with valuable intelligence about targets, methods and the interests of the highest ranking officials of the Russian security service [which they share with the United States]….In return, the Dutch are given knowledge, technology and intelligence. According to one American source, in late 2015, the NSA hackers manage to penetrate the mobile devices of several high ranking Russian intelligence officers. They learn that right before a hacking attack, the Russians search the internet for any news about the oncoming attack.

de Volkskrant says the Dutch are pretty pissed off that our intelligence services, in an effort to prove that Russia really did interfere with the US election, have repeatedly bragged about the remarkable efforts of a “Western ally.” However, the details in this story come from both American and Dutch sources, so apparently there are at least a few folks in the Netherlands who figure they might as well brag about it themselves now that the operation is over.

If all this is true, the primary sources for . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2018 at 10:21 am

Google’s true origin partly lies in CIA and NSA research grants for mass surveillance

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Jeff Nesbit, former director of legislative and public affairs, National Science Foundation, writes in Quartz:

Two decades ago, the US intelligence community worked closely with Silicon Valley in an effort to track citizens in cyberspace. And Google is at the heart of that origin story. Some of the research that led to Google’s ambitious creation was funded and coordinated by a research group established by the intelligence community to find ways to track individuals and groups online.

The intelligence community hoped that the nation’s leading computer scientists could take non-classified information and user data, combine it with what would become known as the internet, and begin to create for-profit, commercial enterprises to suit the needs of both the intelligence community and the public. They hoped to direct the supercomputing revolution from the start in order to make sense of what millions of human beings did inside this digital information network. That collaboration has made a comprehensive public-private mass surveillance state possible today.

The story of the deliberate creation of the modern mass-surveillance state includes elements of Google’s surprising, and largely unknown, origin. It is a somewhat different creation story than the one the public has heard, and explains what Google cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page set out to build, and why.

But this isn’t just the origin story of Google: It’s the origin story of the mass-surveillance state, and the government money that funded it.

Backstory: The intelligence community and Silicon Valley

In the mid 1990s, the intelligence community in America began to realize that they had an opportunity. The supercomputing community was just beginning to migrate from university settings into the private sector, led by investments from a place that would come to be known as Silicon Valley.

A digital revolution was underway: one that would transform the world of data gathering and how we make sense of massive amounts of information. The intelligence community wanted to shape Silicon Valley’s supercomputing efforts at their inception so they would be useful for both military and homeland security purposes. Could this supercomputing network, which would become capable of storing terabytes of information, make intelligent sense of the digital trail that human beings leave behind?

Answering this question was of great interest to the intelligence community.

Intelligence-gathering may have been their world, but the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA) had come to realize that their future was likely to be profoundly shaped outside the government. It was at a time when military and intelligence budgets within the Clinton administration were in jeopardy, and the private sector had vast resources at their disposal. If the intelligence community wanted to conduct mass surveillance for national security purposes, it would require cooperation between the government and the emerging supercomputing companies.

To do this, they began reaching out to the scientists at American universities who were creating this supercomputing revolution. These scientists were developing ways to do what no single group of human beings sitting at work stations in the NSA and the CIA could ever hope to do: gather huge amounts of data and make intelligent sense of it.

A rich history of the governments science funding

There was already a long history of collaboration between America’s best scientists and the intelligence community, from the creation of the atomic bomb and satellite technology to efforts to put a man on the moon.

In fact, the internet itself was created because of an intelligence effort: In the 1970s, the agency responsible for developing emerging technologies for military, intelligence, and national security purposes—the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)—linked four supercomputers to handle massive data transfers. It handed the operations off to the National Science Foundation (NSF) a decade or so later, which proliferated the network across thousands of universities and, eventually, the public, thus creating the architecture and scaffolding of the World Wide Web.

Silicon Valley was no different. By the mid 1990s, the intelligence community was seeding funding to the most promising supercomputing efforts across academia, guiding the creation of efforts to make massive amounts of information useful for both the private sector as well as the intelligence community.

They funded these computer scientists through an unclassified, highly compartmentalized program that was managed for the CIA and the NSA by large military and intelligence contractors. It was called the Massive Digital Data Systems (MDDS) project. . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more, and it is both interesting and disturbing.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 December 2017 at 10:17 am

NSA Secretly Helped Convict Defendants In U.S. Courts, Classified Documents Reveal

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Trevor Aaronson reports in The Intercept:

Fazliddin Kurbanov is a barrel-chested man from Uzbekistan who came to the United States in 2009, when he was in his late 20s. A Christian who had converted from Islam, Kurbanov arrived as a refugee and spoke little English. Resettled in Boise, Idaho, he rented an apartment, worked odd jobs, and was studying to be a truck driver.

But about three years after entering the U.S., around the time he converted back to Islam, Kurbanov was placed under FBI surveillance. According to emails and internet chat logs obtained by the government, Kurbanov was disgusted by having seen Americans burn the Quran and by reports that an American soldier had tried to rape a Muslim girl. “My entire life, everything, changed,” Kurbanov wrote in a July 31, 2012 email.

After the FBI assigned one informant to live with him and another informant to attend his truck-driving school, Kurbanov was arrested in May 2013. Prosecutors accused him of providing material support to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and possessing bomb-making materials.

During Kurbanov’s trial, the government notified him that his conversations with an alleged Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan associate based in Pakistan had been intercepted. The spying, federal prosecutors said, had been authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, which regulates the monitoring of agents of foreign governments and terrorist organizations. Kurbanov was convicted at trial and sentenced to 25 years in prison, after which he’ll be deported to Uzbekistan. He is an apparent success story for U.S. counterterrorism officials. If there was any doubt about Kurbanov’s propensity for violence, he eliminated it by stabbing a prison warden in California, an act for which he is now facing additional charges.

But Justice Department lawyers gained their conviction against Kurbanov after failing to disclose a legally significant fact: Kurbanov’s conversations with his alleged terrorist associate had been captured through PRISM, a National Security Agency mass surveillance program whose existence was revealed in documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden. Under PRISM, the government obtains communications directly from at least eight large technology companies without the need for warrants, a type of practice authorized in 2008, when Congress provided new surveillance powers under FISA.

While traditional FISA authority permits spying on a particular person or group through warrants issued by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, under the new powers, codified in FISA Section 702, monitoring is approved in bulk by the court through what is essentially a recipe for mass surveillance. Once approved, such a recipe can be used against thousands of targets. Under Section 702 authority, the NSA is currently monitoring digital communications of more than 100,000 people; it swept up an estimated 250 million internet communications each year as of a 2011 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinion. The FBI frequently searches Section 702 databases when it opens national security and domestic criminal “assessments,” precursors to full investigations.

According to a slide in an NSA presentation, provided by Snowden and published for the first time today by The Intercept, the interception of Kurbanov’s conversations was a “Reporting Highlight” for PRISM. The document indicates that the NSA captured Kurbanov’s Skype conversations from October 2012 through April 2013, roughly the same period the FBI was investigating him with undercover informants. It further details how an NSA unit in April 2013 issued a report describing “how Kurbanov believed he was under surveillance (which he is by the FBI) but was cautiously continuing his work, which was not specified — could be raising money for the IMU or explosive testing.” The alleged terrorist associate with whom Kurbanov was communicating “wanted Kurbanov to set this work in motion, probably related to sending money back to the IMU,” the document added.

The government is obligated to disclose to criminal defendants when information against them originates from Section 702 reporting, but federal prosecutors did not do so in Kurbanov’s case. In fact, when Kurbanov’s lawyers demanded disclosure of FISA-related evidence and the suppression of that evidence, Attorney General Eric Holder asserted national security privilege, claiming in a declaration that disclosure of FISA information would “harm the national security of the United States.” Kurbanov’s lawyer, Chuck Peterson, declined to comment about the government’s use of Section 702 surveillance against his client.

Kurbanov does not appear to be the only defendant kept in the dark about how warrantless surveillance was used against him. A nationwide review of federal court records by The Intercept found that of 75 terrorism defendants notified of some type of FISA spying since Section 702 became law, just 10 received notice of Section 702 surveillance. And yet Section 702 was credited with “well over 100 arrests on terrorism-related offenses” in a July 2014 report from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, the federal entity created to oversee intelligence authorities granted in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Additional documents from Snowden, previously unpublished and dated before the Kurbanov case, provide further examples of how NSA intelligence repeatedly played an undisclosed role in bringing accused terrorists to trial in U.S. courts over the past decade and a half. They also reveal an instance in which the NSA incorrectly identified a U.S. citizen as a foreign target of a FISA warrant.

Civil liberties advocates have long suspected that the Justice Department is underreporting Section 702 cases in order to limit court challenges to the controversial law. . .

Continue reading.

This article is the seventh in a series that The Intercept has been publishing. The full list to date:

Part 1: More Than 400 People Convicted of Terrorism in the U.S. Have Been Released Since 9/11

Part 2: Terrorism Defendants With Concrete Ties to Violent Extremists Leverage Their Connections to Avoid Prison

Part 3: FBI Stings Zero In on ISIS Sympathizers. Few Have Terrorist Links.

Part 4: The Government’s Own Data Shows Country of Origin Is a Poor Predictor of Terrorist Threat

Part 5: The U.S. Has Released 417 Alleged Terrorists Since 9/11. The Latest Owned an Islamic Bookstore.

Part 6: The FBI Pressured a Lonely Young Man Into a Bomb Plot. He Tried to Back Out. Now He’s Serving Life in Prison.

Part 7: NSA Secretly Helped Convict Defendants in U.S. Courts, Classified Documents Reveal

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2017 at 11:05 am

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