Sworn testimony delivered to the U.S. Congress by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper raised eyebrows on Tuesday as he acknowledged publicly for the first time that surveillance agencies are almost certain to exploit (if they aren't already) the increasing number of web-connected devices—also known as the "Internet of Things"—as a way to keep tabs on the population in the coming years.
"In the future, intelligence services might use the (Internet of Things) for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials," Clapper said in his submitted testimony (pdf).
In a piece at The Register—titled "We're going to use your toothbrush to snoop on you, says US spy boss"—tech-security journalist Kieran McCarthy reports Clapper's acknowledgement that the Internet of Things (IoT) is a "potential goldmine for surveillance" echoes "a similar conclusion reached by academics last week." The testimony on Tuesday, McCarthy adds, follows "repeated warnings over the poor security standards included in smart-home products, even the most well-resourced and well-known. Recently, the Ring doorbell and the Nest thermostat were discovered to have security vulnerabilities that could provide an attacker with your Wi-Fi password – and so access to your home network.
According to Guardian journalist Spencer Ackerman, Clapper's admission about the surveillance potential of networked home devices—which also include wi-fi enabled smoke detectors, larger appliances, and entertainment systems—"is rare for a US official." Not commonly discussed in public, Ackerman points to a 2012 speech by then CIA director David Petraeus who described the surveillance implications of such devices as "transformational … particularly to their effect on clandestine tradecraft."
Though Clapper did "not specifically name any intelligence agency as involved in household-device surveillance", reports Ackerman, "security experts examining the internet of things take as a given that the US and other surveillance services will intercept the signals the newly networked devices emit, much as they do with those from cellphones. Amateurs are already interested in easily compromised hardware; computer programmer John Matherly’s search engine Shodan indexes thousands of completely unsecured web-connected devices." (...)
American and British intelligence secretly tapped into live video feeds from Israeli drones and fighter jets, monitoring military operations in Gaza, watching for a potential strike against Iran, and keeping tabs on the drone technology Israel exports around the world.
Under a classified program code-named “Anarchist,” the U.K.’s Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, working with the National Security Agency, systematically targeted Israeli drones from a mountaintop on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. GCHQ files provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden include a series of “Anarchist snapshots” — thumbnail images from videos recorded by drone cameras. The files also show location data mapping the flight paths of the aircraft. In essence, U.S. and British agencies stole a bird’s-eye view from the drones.
Several of the snapshots, a subset collected in 2009 and 2010, appear to show drones carrying missiles. Although they are not clear enough to be conclusive, the images offer rare visual evidence to support reports that Israel flies attack drones — an open secret that the Israeli government won’t acknowledge.
“There’s a good chance that we are looking at the first images of an armed Israeli drone in the public domain,” said Chris Woods, author of Sudden Justice, a history of drone warfare. “They’ve gone to extraordinary lengths to suppress information on weaponized drones.”
Additionally, in 2012, a GCHQ analyst reported “regular collects of Heron TP carrying weapons,” referring to a giant drone made by the state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries, known as IAI.
Anarchist operated from a Royal Air Force installation in the Troodos Mountains, near Mount Olympus, the highest point on Cyprus. The Troodos site “has long been regarded as a ‘Jewel in the Crown’ by NSA as it offers unique access to the Levant, North Africa, and Turkey,” according to an article from GCHQ’s internal wiki. Last August, The Interceptpublished a portion of a GCHQ document that revealed that NSA and GCHQ tracked weapons signals from Troodos, and earlier reporting on the Snowden documents indicated that the NSA targeted Israeli drones and an Israeli missile system for tracking, but the details of the operations have not been previously disclosed. (...)
One of the National Security Agency’s most powerful tools of mass surveillance makes tracking someone’s Internet usage as easy as entering an email address, and provides no built-in technology to prevent abuse. Today, The Intercept is publishing 48 top-secret and other classified documents about XKEYSCORE dated up to 2013, which shed new light on the breadth, depth and functionality of this critical spy system — one of the largest releases yet of documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The NSA’s XKEYSCORE program, first revealed by The Guardian, sweeps up countless people’s Internet searches, emails, documents, usernames and passwords, and other private communications. XKEYSCORE is fed a constant flow of Internet traffic from fiber optic cables that make up the backbone of the world’s communication network, among other sources, for processing. As of 2008, the surveillance system boasted approximately 150 field sites in the United States, Mexico, Brazil, United Kingdom, Spain, Russia, Nigeria, Somalia, Pakistan, Japan, Australia, as well as many other countries, consisting of over 700 servers. (...)
(...) Stephen Colbert captured this exact pathology with untoppable precision in his 2006 White House Correspondents speech, when he mocked American journalism to the faces of those who practice it:
But, listen, let’s review the rules. Here’s how it works.The President makes decisions. He’s the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put ’em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration? You know, fiction! (...)
By definition, authoritarians reflexively believe official claims – no matter how dubious or obviously self-serving, even when made while hiding behind anonymity – because that’s how their submission functions. Journalists who practice this sort of primitive reporting – I uncritically print what government officials tell me, and give them anonymity so they have no accountability for any it – do so out of a similar authoritarianism, or uber-nationalism, or laziness, or careerism. Whatever the motives, the results are the same: government officials know they can propagandize the public at any time because subservient journalists will give them anonymity to do so and will uncritically disseminate and accept their claims. (...)
Who’s keeping watch of the National Security Agency? In Congress, the answer in more and more cases is that the job is going to former lobbyists for NSA contractors and other intelligence community insiders. (...)
One of the big arguments trotted out repeatedly by surveillance state defenders concerning the NSA's Section 215 program to collect records on all phone calls is that such a thing "would have prevented 9/11" if it had been in place at the time. Here's former FBI boss Robert Mueller making just that argument right after the initial Snowden leaks. Here's Dianne Feinstein making the argument that if we had that phone tracking program before September 11th, we could have stopped the attacks. And here's former NSA top lawyer and still top NSA supporter Stewart Baker arguing that the program is necessary because the lack of such a program failed to stop 9/11.
Except, it turns out, the feds did have just such a program prior to 9/11 — run by the DEA. As you may recall, back in January it was revealed that the DEA had its own database of phone call metadata of nearly all calls from inside the US to foreign countries. Brad Heath at USA Today came out with a report yesterday that goes into much more detail on the program, showing that it dates back to at least 1992 — meaning that the feds almost certainly had the calls that Feinstein and Mueller pretended the government didn't have prior to 9/11.