BEHIND THE CURTAIN A Look at the Inner Workings of NSA’s XKEYSCORE (II)
October 16, 2015
The sheer quantity of communications that XKEYSCORE processes, filters and queries is stunning. Around the world, when a person gets online to do anything — write an email, post to a social network, browse the web or play a video game — there’s a decent chance that the Internet traffic her device sends and receives is getting collected and processed by one of XKEYSCORE’s hundreds of servers scattered across the globe.
In order to make sense of such a massive and steady flow of information, analysts working for the National Security Agency, as well as partner spy agencies, have written thousands of snippets of code to detect different types of traffic and extract useful information from each type, according to documents dating up to 2013. For example, the system automatically detects if a given piece of traffic is an email. If it is, the system tags if it’s from Yahoo or Gmail, if it contains an airline itinerary, if it’s encrypted with PGP, or if the sender’s language is set to Arabic, along with myriad other details.
This global Internet surveillance network is powered by a somewhat clunky piece of software running on clusters of Linux servers. Analysts access XKEYSCORE’s web interface to search its wealth of private information, similar to how ordinary people can search Google for public information.
Based on documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, The Intercept is shedding light on the inner workings of XKEYSCORE, one of the most extensive programs of mass surveillance in human history.
How XKEYSCORE works under the hood
It is tempting to assume that expensive, proprietary operating systems and software must power XKEYSCORE, but it actually relies on an entirely open source stack. In fact, according to an analysis of an XKEYSCORE manual for new systems administrators from the end of 2012, the system may have design deficiencies that could leave it vulnerable to attack by an intelligence agency insider.
XKEYSCORE is a piece of Linux software that is typically deployed on Red Hat servers. It uses the Apache web server and stores collected data in MySQL databases. File systems in a cluster are handled by the NFS distributed file system and the autofs service, and scheduled tasks are handled by the cron scheduling service. Systems administrators who maintain XKEYSCORE servers use SSH to connect to them, and they use tools such as rsync and vim, as well as a comprehensive command-line tool, to manage the software.
John Adams, former security lead and senior operations engineer for Twitter, says that one of the most interesting things about XKEYSCORE’s architecture is “that they were able to achieve so much success with such a poorly designed system. Data ingest, day-to-day operations, and searching is all poorly designed. There are many open source offerings that would function far better than this design with very little work. Their operations team must be extremely unhappy.”
Analysts connect to XKEYSCORE over HTTPS using standard web browsers such as Firefox. Internet Explorer is not supported. Analysts can log into the system with either a user ID and password or by using public key authentication.
As of 2009, XKEYSCORE servers were located at more than 100 field sites all over the world. Each field site consists of a cluster of servers; the exact number differs depending on how much information is being collected at that site. Sites with relatively low traffic can get by with fewer servers, but sites that spy on larger amounts of traffic require more servers to filter and parse it all. XKEYSCORE has been engineered to scale in both processing power and storage by adding more servers to a cluster. According to a 2009 document, some field sites receive over 20 terrabytes of data per day. This is the equivalent of 5.7 million songs, or over 13 thousand full-length films.
This map from a 2009 top-secret presentation does not show all of XKEYSCORE’s field sites.
When data is collected at an XKEYSCORE field site, it is processed locally and ultimately stored in MySQL databases at that site. XKEYSCORE supports a federated query system, which means that an analyst can conduct a single query from the central XKEYSCORE website, and it will communicate over the Internet to all of the field sites, running the query everywhere at once.
There might be security issues with the XKEYSCORE system itself as well. As hard as software developers may try, it’s nearly impossible to write bug-free source code. To compensate for this, developers often rely on multiple layers of security; if attackers can get through one layer, they may still be thwarted by other layers. XKEYSCORE appears to do a bad job of this.
When systems administrators log into XKEYSCORE servers to configure them, they appear to use a shared account, under the name “oper.” Adams notes, “That means that changes made by an administrator cannot be logged.” If one administrator does something malicious on an XKEYSCORE server using the “oper” user, it’s possible that the digital trail of what was done wouldn’t lead back to the administrator, since multiple operators use the account.
There appears to be another way an ill-intentioned systems administrator may be able to cover their tracks. Analysts wishing to query XKEYSCORE sign in via a web browser, and their searches are logged. This creates an audit trail, on which the system relies to assure that users aren’t doing overly broad searches that would pull up U.S. citizens’ web traffic. Systems administrators, however, are able to run MySQL queries. The documents indicate that administrators have the ability to directly query the MySQL databases, where the collected data is stored, apparently bypassing the audit trail.
AppIDs, fingerprints and microplugins
Collecting massive amounts of raw data is not very useful unless it is collated and organized in a way that can be searched. To deal with this problem, XKEYSCORE extracts and tags metadata and content from the raw data so that analysts can easily search it.
This is done by using dictionaries of rules called appIDs, fingerprints and microplugins that are written in a custom programming language called GENESIS. Each of these can be identified by a unique name that resembles a directory tree, such as “mail/webmail/gmail,” “chat/yahoo,” or “botnet/blackenergybot/command/flood.”
One document detailing XKEYSCORE appIDs and fingerprints lists several revealing examples. Windows Update requests appear to fall under the “update_service/windows” appID, and normal web requests fall under the “http/get” appID. XKEYSCORE can automatically detect Airblue travel itineraries with the “travel/airblue” fingerprint, and iPhone web browser traffic with the “browser/cellphone/iphone” fingerprint.
PGP-encrypted messages are detected with the “encryption/pgp/message” fingerprint, and messages encrypted with Mojahedeen Secrets 2 (a type of encryption popular among supporters of al Qaeda) are detected with the “encryption/mojaheden2” fingerprint.
When new traffic flows into an XKEYSCORE cluster, the system tests the intercepted data against each of these rules and stores whether the traffic matches the pattern. A slideshow presentation from 2010 says that XKEYSCORE contains almost 10,000 appIDs and fingerprints.
AppIDs are used to identify the protocol of traffic being intercepted, while fingerprints detect a specific type of content. Each intercepted stream of traffic gets assigned up to one appID and any number of fingerprints. You can think of appIDs as categories and fingerprints as tags.
If multiple appIDs match a single stream of traffic, the appID with the lowest “level” is selected (appIDs with lower levels are more specific than appIDs with higher levels). For example, when XKEYSCORE is assessing a file attachment from Yahoo mail, all of the appIDs in the following slide will apply, however only “mail/webmail/yahoo/attachment” will be associated with this stream of traffic.
To tie it all together, when an Arabic speaker logs into a Yahoo email address, XKEYSCORE will store “mail/yahoo/login” as the associated appID. This stream of traffic will match the “mail/arabic” fingerprint (denoting language settings), as well as the “mail/yahoo/ymbm” fingerprint (which detects Yahoo browser cookies).
Sometimes the GENESIS programming language, which largely relies on Boolean logic, regular expressions and a set of simple functions, isn’t powerful enough to do the complex pattern-matching required to detect certain types of traffic. In these cases, as one slide puts it, “Power users can drop in to C++ to express themselves.” AppIDs or fingerprints that are written in C++ are called microplugins.
Here’s an example of a microplugin fingerprint for “botnet/conficker_p2p_udp_data,” which is tricky botnet traffic that can’t be identified without complicated logic. A botnet is a collection of hacked computers, sometimes millions of them, that are controlled from a single point.
Here’s another microplugin that uses C++ to inspect intercepted Facebook chat messages and pull out details like the associated email address and body of the chat message.
One document from 2009 describes in detail four generations of appIDs and fingerprints, which begin with only the ability to scan intercepted traffic for keywords, and end with the ability to write complex microplugins that can be deployed to field sites around the world in hours.
If XKEYSCORE development has continued at a similar pace over the last six years, it’s likely considerably more powerful today.
Illustration for The Intercept by Blue Delliquanti
Documents published with this article:
Advanced HTTP Activity Analysis
Analyzing Mobile Cellular DNI in XKS
CNE Analysis in XKS
Email Address vs User Activity
Free File Uploaders
Finding and Querying Document Metadata
Full Log vs HTTP
Guide to Using Contexts in XKS Fingerprints
HTTP Activity in XKS
HTTP Activity vs User Activity
Intro to Context Sensitive Scanning With XKS Fingerprints
Intro to XKS AppIDs and Fingerprints
OSINT Fusion Project
Phone Number Extractor
RWC Updater Readme
Selection Forwarding Readme
Stats Config Readme
Tracking Targets on Online Social Networks
Unofficial XKS User Guide
Using XKS to Enable TAO
UTT Config Readme
VOIP in XKS
Web Forum Exploitation Using XKS
Writing XKS Fingerprints
XKS Application IDs
XKS Application IDs Brief
XKS as a SIGDEV Tool
XKS, Cipher Detection, and You!
XKS for Counter CNE
XKS Logos Embedded in Docs
XKS Search Forms
XKS System Administration
XKS Targets Visiting Specific Websites
XKS Tech Extractor 2009
XKS Tech Extractor 2010
XKS Workflows 2009
XKS Workflows 2011
UN Secretary General XKS
Micah Lee, Glenn Greenwald, Morgan Marquis-Boire
July 2 2015, 4:42 p.m.
Second in a series.
Find this story at 2 July 2015
XKeyscore: A Dubious Deal with the NSA
October 16, 2015
Internal documents show that Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the BfV, received the coveted software program XKeyscore from the NSA – and promised data from Germany in return.
The agents from the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, were deeply impressed. They wanted to be able to do that too. On Oct. 6, 2011, employees of the US intelligence agency NSA were in the Bavarian town of Bad Aibling to demonstrate all that the spy software XKeyscore could do. To make the demonstration as vivid as possible, the Americans fed data into their program that the BfV had itself collected during a warranted eavesdropping operation. An internal memo shows how enthusiastic the German intelligence agents were: Analyzing data with the help of the software, the memo reads in awkward officialese, resulted in “a high recognition of applications used, Internet applications and protocols.” And in the data, XKeyscore was able to “recognize, for example, Hotmail, Yahoo or Facebook. It was also able to identify user names and passwords.” In other words, it was highly effective.
It was far beyond the capabilities of the BfV’s own system. In response, then-BfV President Heinz Fromm made a formal request five months later to his American counterpart, NSA head Keith Alexander, for the software to be made available to the German intelligence agency. It would, he wrote, superbly complement the current capabilities for monitoring and analyzing Internet traffic.
But fully a year and a half would pass before a test version of XKeyscore could begin operating at the BfV facility in the Treptow neighborhood of Berlin. It took that long for the two agencies to negotiate an agreement that regulated the transfer of the software in detail and which defined the rights and obligations of each side.
The April 2013 document called “Terms of Reference,” which ZEIT ONLINE and DIE ZEIT has been able to review, is more than enlightening. It shows for the first time what Germany’s domestic intelligence agency promised their American counterparts in exchange for the use of the coveted software program. “The BfV will: To the maximum extent possible share all data relevant to NSA’s mission,” the paper reads. Such was the arrangement: data in exchange for software.
It was a good deal for the BfV. Being given the software was a “proof of trust,” one BfV agent exulted. Another called XKeyscore a “cool system.” Politically and legally, however, the accord is extremely delicate. Nobody outside of the BfV oversees what data is sent to the NSA in accordance with the “Terms of Reference,” a situation that remains unchanged today. Neither Germany’s data protection commissioner nor the Parliamentary Control Panel, which is responsible for oversight of the BfV, has been fully informed about the deal. “Once again, I have to learn from the press of a new BfV-NSA contract and of the impermissible transfer of data to the US secret service,” complains the Green Party parliamentarian Hans-Christian Ströbele, who is a member of the Parliamentary Control Panel. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, for its part, insists that it has adhered strictly to the law.
SOFTWARE GEGEN DATEN
Interne Dokumente belegen, dass der Verfassungsschutz vom amerikanischen Geheimdienst NSA die begehrte Spionagesoftware XKeyscore bekam. Dafür versprachen die Verfassungsschützer, so viele Daten aus deutschen G-10-Überwachungsmaßnahmen an die NSA zu liefern, wie möglich.
Lesen Sie dazu:
Der Datendeal: Was Verfassungsschutz und NSA miteinander verabredeten – was Parlamentarier und Datenschützer dazu sagen
Read the english version here: A Dubious Deal with the NSA
Dokument: Die Übereinkunft zwischen Verfassungsschutz und NSA im Wortlaut
Read the english version here: XKeyscore – the document
Die Software: Der Datenknacker “Poseidon” findet jedes Passwort
The data in question is regularly part of the approved surveillance measures carried out by the BfV. In contrast, for example, to the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the BfV does not use a dragnet to collect huge volumes of data from the Internet. Rather, it is only allowed to monitor individual suspects in Germany — and only after a special parliamentary commission has granted approval. Because such operations necessarily imply the curtailing of rights guaranteed by Article 10 of Germany’s constitution, they are often referred to as G-10 measures. Targeted surveillance measures are primarily intended to turn up the content of specific conversations, in the form of emails, telephone exchanges or faxes. But along the way, essentially as a side effect, the BfV also collects mass quantities of so-called metadata. Whether the collection of this data is consistent with the restrictions outlined in Germany’s surveillance laws is a question that divides legal experts. Well-respected constitutional lawyers are of the opinion that intelligence agencies are not allowed to analyze metadata as they see fit. The agencies themselves, naturally, have a different view.
It is clear, after all, that metadata also enables interesting conclusions to be drawn about the behavior of those under surveillance and their contacts, just as, in the analog world, the sender and recipient written on an envelope can also be revealing, even if the letter inside isn’t read. Those who know such data can identify communication networks and establish movement and behavioral profiles of individuals. Prior to 2013, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency was only able to analyze metadata by hand — and it was rarely done as a result. But that changed once the agency received XKeyscore. The version of the software obtained by the BfV is unable to collect data on the Internet itself, but it is able to rapidly analyze the huge quantities of metadata that the agency has already automatically collected. That is why XKeyscore is beneficial to the BfV. And, thanks to the deal, that benefit is one that extends to the NSA.
In practice, it assumedly works as follows: When an Islamist who is under surveillance by the BfV regularly receives calls from Afghanistan, for example, then the telephone number is likely exactly the kind of information that is forwarded on to the NSA. That alone is not necessarily cause for concern; after all, combatting terrorism is the goal of intelligence agency cooperation. But nobody outside of the BfV knows whose data, and how much of it, is being shared with the NSA. Nobody can control the practicalities of the data exchange. And it is completely unclear where political responsibility lies.
In 2013 alone, the BfV began 58 new G-10 measures and continued 46 others from the previous year. Who was targeted? What information was passed on to the NSA? Was information pertaining to German citizens also shared? When confronted with such questions, the BfV merely responded: “The BfV is unable to publicly comment on the particulars of the cooperation or on the numbers of data collection operations.”
How important XKeyscore has become for the BfV can also be seen elsewhere. Not long ago, the website Netzpolitik.org published classified budget plans for 2013 which included the information that the BfV intended to create 75 new positions for the “mass data analysis of Internet content.” Seventy-five new positions is a significant amount for any government agency. A new division called 3C was to uncover movement profiles and contact networks and to process raw data collected during G-10 operations. The name XKeyscore does not appear in the documents published by Netzpolitik.org. But it is reasonable to suspect that the new division was established to deploy the new surveillance software.
Germany’s domestic intelligence agency is itself also aware of just how sensitive its deal with the Americans is. Back in July 2012, a BfV division warned that even the tests undertaken with XKeyscore could have “far-reaching legal implications.” To determine the extent of the software’s capabilities, the division warned, employees would have to be involved who didn’t have the appropriate security clearance to view the data used in the tests. The BfV has declined to make a statement on how, or whether, the problem was solved.
Germany’s data protection commissioner was apparently not informed. “I knew nothing about such an exchange deal,” says Peter Schaar, who was data protection commissioner at the time. “I am also hearing for the first time about a test with real data.” He says he first learned that BfV was using XKeyscore after he asked of his own accord in 2013 — in the wake of revelations about the program from whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Schaar is of the opinion that the agency was obliged to inform him. Because real data was used during the tests, Schaar says, it constituted data processing. The BfV, by contrast, is of the opinion that the use of XKeyscore has to be controlled solely by the G-10 commission. It is a question that has long been the source of contention. In testimony before the parliamentary investigative committee that is investigating NSA activities in Germany, Schaar has demanded that the G-10 law be more clearly formulated to remove the ambiguity.
The fact that the BfV recognized the problems with its NSA cooperation can be seen elsewhere in the files as well. During the negotiations over the XKeyscore deal, the BfV noted: “Certain NSA requests … cannot be met insofar as German law prevents it.” But the Americans insisted that the software finally be “used productively.” The NSA wants “working results,” the German agents noted. There is, they wrote, apparently “high internal pressure” to receive information from the Germans.
Ultimately, the BfV arrived at the conclusion that transferring information obtained with the help of XKeyscore to the NSA was consistent with German law. Insights gathered by way of G-10 operations were already being “regularly” shared with “foreign partner agencies.” That, at least, is what the BfV declared to the German Interior Ministry in January 2014. Furthermore, the agency declared, a special legal expert would approve each data transfer.
That, it seems, was enough oversight from the perspective of the BfV. The agency apparently only partially informed its parliamentarian overseers about the deal. The Parliamentary Control Panel learned that the BfV had received XKeyscore software and had begun using it. But even this very general briefing was only made after the panel had explicitly asked following the Snowden revelations. The deal between the intelligence agencies, says the Green Party parliamentarian Ströbele, “is undoubtedly an ‘occurrence of particular import,’ about which, according to German law, the German government must provide sufficient information of its own accord.” He intends to bring the issue before the Parliamentary Control Panel. The NSA investigative committee in German parliament will surely take a closer look as well.
Translated by Charles Hawley
Von Kai Biermann und Yassin Musharbash
26. August 2015, 18:11 Uhr
Find this story at 26 August 2015
An Attack on Press Freedom SPIEGEL Targeted by US Intelligence
October 16, 2015
Revelations from WikiLeaks published this week show how boundlessly and comprehensively American intelligence services spied on the German government. It has now emerged that the US also conducted surveillance against SPIEGEL.
Walks during working hours aren’t the kind of pastime one would normally expect from a leading official in the German Chancellery. Especially not from the head of Department Six, the official inside Angela Merkel’s office responsible for coordinating Germany’s intelligence services.
But in the summer of 2011, Günter Heiss found himself stretching his legs for professional reasons. The CIA’s station chief in Berlin had requested a private conversation with Heiss. And he didn’t want to meet in an office or follow standard protocol. Instead, he opted for the kind of clandestine meeting you might see in a spy film.
Officially, the CIA man was accredited as a counsellor with the US Embassy, located next to Berlin’s historic Brandenburg Gate. Married to a European, he had already been stationed in Germany once before and knew how to communicate with German officials. At times he could be demanding and overbearing, but he could also be polite and courteous. During this summer walk he also had something tangible to offer Heiss.
The CIA staffer revealed that a high-ranking Chancellery official allegedly maintained close contacts with the media and was sharing official information with reporters with SPIEGEL.
The American provided the name of the staffer: Hans Josef Vorbeck, Heiss’ deputy in Department Six. The information must have made it clear to Heiss that the US was spying on the German government as well as the press that reports on it.
The central Berlin stroll remained a secret for almost four years. The Chancellery quietly transferred Vorbeck, who had until then been responsible for counterterrorism, to another, less important department responsible dealing with the history of the BND federal intelligence agency. Other than that, though, it did nothing.
Making a Farce of Rule of Law
Officials in the Chancellery weren’t interested in how the CIA had obtained its alleged information. They didn’t care to find out how, and to which degree, they were being spied on by the United States. Nor were they interested in learning about the degree to which SPIEGEL was being snooped on by the Americans. Chancellery officials didn’t contact any of the people in question. They didn’t contact members of the Bundestag federal parliament sitting on the Parliamentary Control Panel, the group responsible for oversight of the intelligence services. They didn’t inform members of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the agency responsible for counterintelligence in Germany, either. And they didn’t contact a single public prosecutor. Angela Merkel’s office, it turns out, simply made a farce of the rule of law.
As a target of the surveillance, SPIEGEL has requested more information from the Chancellery. At the same time, the magazine filed a complaint on Friday with the Federal Public Prosecutor due to suspicion of intelligence agency activity.
Because now, in the course of the proceedings of the parliamentary investigative committee probing the NSA’s activities in Germany in the wake of revelations leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden, details about the event that took place in the summer of 2011 are gradually leaking to the public. At the beginning of May, the mass-circulation tabloid Bild am Sonntag reported on a Chancellery official who had been sidelined “in the wake of evidence of alleged betrayal of secrets through US secret services.”
Research conducted by SPIEGEL has determined the existence of CIA and NSA files filled with a large number of memos pertaining to the work of the German newsmagazine. And three different government sources in Berlin and Washington have independently confirmed that the CIA station chief in Berlin was referring specifically to Vorbeck’s contacts with SPIEGEL.
An Operation Justified by Security Interests?
Obama administration sources with knowledge of the operation said that it was justified by American security interests. The sources said US intelligence services had determined the existence of intensive contacts between SPIEGEL reporters and the German government and decided to intervene because those communications were viewed as damaging to the United States’ interests. The fact that the CIA and NSA were prepared to reveal an ongoing surveillance operation to the Chancellery underlines the importance they attached to the leaks, say sources in Washington. The NSA, the sources say, were aware that the German government would know from then on that the US was spying in Berlin.
As more details emerge, it is becoming increasingly clear that representatives of the German government at best looked away as the Americans violated the law, and at worst supported them.
Just last Thursday, Günter Heiss and his former supervisor, Merkel’s former Chief of Staff Ronald Pofalla, were questioned by the parliamentary investigative committee and attempted to explain the egregious activity. Heiss confirmed that tips had been given, but claimed they hadn’t been “concrete enough” for measures to be taken. When asked if he had been familiar with the issue, Pofalla answered, “Of course.” He said that anything else he provided had to be “in context,” at which point a representative of the Chancellery chimed in and pointed out that could only take place in a meeting behind closed doors.
In that sense, the meeting of the investigative committee once again shed light on the extent to which the balance of power has shifted between the government and the Fourth Estate. Journalists, who scrutinize and criticize those who govern, are an elementary part of the “checks and balances” — an American invention — aimed at ensuring both transparency and accountability. When it comes to intelligence issues, however, it appears this system has been out of balance for some time.
When SPIEGEL first reported in Summer 2013 about the extent of NSA’s spying on Germany, German politicians first expressed shock and then a certain amount of indignation before quickly sliding back into their persona as a loyal ally. After only a short time and a complete lack of willingness on the part of the Americans to explain their actions, Pofalla declared that the “allegations are off the table.”
But a number of reports published in recent months prove that, whether out of fear, outrage or an alleged lack of knowledge, it was all untrue. Everything the government said was a lie. As far back as 2013, the German government was in a position to suspect, if not to know outright, the obscene extent to which the United States was spying on an ally. If there hadn’t already been sufficient evidence of the depth of the Americans’ interest in what was happening in Berlin, Wednesday’s revelations by WikiLeaks, in cooperation with Süddeutsche Zeitung, filled in the gaps.
SPIEGEL’s reporting has long been a thorn in the side of the US administration. In addition to its reporting on a number of other scandals, the magazine exposed the kidnapping of Murat Kurnaz, a man of Turkish origin raised in Bremen, Germany, and his rendition to Guantanamo. It exposed the story of Mohammed Haydar Zammar, who was taken to Syria, where he was tortured. The reports triggered the launch of a parliamentary investigative committee in Berlin to look also into the CIA’s practices.
When SPIEGEL reported extensively on the events surrounding the arrest of three Islamist terrorists in the so-called “Sauerland cell” in Germany, as well as the roles played by the CIA and the NSA in foiling the group, the US government complained several times about the magazine. In December 2007, US intelligence coordinator Mike McConnell personally raised the issue during a visit to Berlin. And when SPIEGEL reported during the summer of 2009, under the headline “Codename Domino,” that a group of al-Qaida supporters was believed to be heading for Europe, officials at the CIA seethed. The sourcing included a number of security agencies and even a piece of information supplied by the Americans. At the time, the station chief for Germany’s BND intelligence service stationed in Washington was summoned to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
The situation escalated in August 2010 after SPIEGEL, together with WikiLeaks, the Guardian and the New York Times, began exposing classified US Army reports from Afghanistan. That was followed three months later with the publication of the Iraq war logs based on US Army reports. And in November of that year, WikiLeaks, SPIEGEL and several international media reported how the US government thinks internally about the rest of the world on the basis of classified State Department cables. Pentagon officials at the time declared that WikiLeaks had “blood on its hands.” The Justice Department opened an investigation and seized data from Twitter accounts, e-mail exchanges and personal data from activists connected with the whistleblowing platform. The government then set up a Task Force with the involvement of the CIA and NSA.
Not even six months later, the CIA station chief requested to go on the walk in which he informed the intelligence coordinator about Vorbeck and harshly criticized SPIEGEL.
Not long later, a small circle inside the Chancellery began discussing how the CIA may have got ahold of the information. Essentially, two possibilities were conceivable: either through an informant or through surveillance of communications. But how likely is it that the CIA had managed to recruit a source in the Chancellery or on the editorial staff of SPIEGEL?
The more likely answer, members of the circle concluded, was that the information must have been the product of “SigInt,” signals intelligence — in other words, wiretapped communications. It seems fitting that during the summer of 2013, just prior to the scandal surrounding Edward Snowden and the documents he exposed pertaining to NSA spying, German government employees warned several SPIEGEL journalists that the Americans were eavesdropping on them.
At the end of June 2011, Heiss then flew to Washington. During a visit to CIA headquarters in Langley, the issue of the alleged contact with SPIEGEL was raised again. Chancellery staff noted the suspicion in a classified internal memo that explicitly names SPIEGEL.
One of the great ironies of the story is that contact with the media was one of Vorbeck’s job responsibilities. He often took part in background discussions with journalists and even represented the Chancellery at public events. “I had contact with journalists and made no secret about it,” Vorbeck told SPIEGEL. “I even received them in my office in the Chancellery. That was a known fact.” He has since hired a lawyer.
It remains unclear just who US intelligence originally had in its scopes. The question is also unlikely to be answered by the parliamentary investigative committee, because the US appears to have withheld this information from the Chancellery. Theoretically, at least, there are three possibilities: The Chancellery — at least in the person of Hans Josef Vorbeck. SPIEGEL journalists. Or blanket surveillance of Berlin’s entire government quarter. The NSA is capable of any of the three options. And it is important to note that each of these acts would represent a violation of German law.
So far, the Chancellery has barricaded itself behind the argument that the origin of the information had been too vague and abstract to act on. In addition, the tip had been given in confidentiality, meaning that neither Vorbeck nor SPIEGEL could be informed. But both are weak arguments, given that the CIA station chief’s allegations were directed precisely at SPIEGEL and Vorbeck and that the intelligence coordinator’s deputy would ultimately be sidelined as a result.
And even if you follow the logic that the tip wasn’t concrete enough, there is still one committee to whom the case should have been presented under German law: the Bundestag’s Parliamentary Control Panel, whose proceedings are classified and which is responsible for oversight of Germany’s intelligence services. The nine members of parliament on the panel are required to be informed about all intelligence events of “considerable importance.”
Members of parliament on the panel did indeed express considerable interest in the Vorbeck case. They learned in fall 2011 of his transfer, and wanted to know why “a reliable coordinator in the fight against terrorism would be shifted to a post like that, one who had delivered excellent work on the issue,” as then chairman of the panel, Social Demoratic Party politician Thomas Oppermann, criticized at the time.
But no word was mentioned about the reasons behind the transfer during a Nov. 9, 2011 meeting of the panel. Not a single word about the walk taken by the CIA chief of station. Not a word about the business trip to Washington taken by Günter Heiss afterward. And not a word about Vorbeck’s alleged contacts with SPIEGEL. Instead, the parliamentarians were told a myth — that the move had been made necessary by cutbacks. And also because he was needed to work on an historical appraisal of Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the BND.
Officials in the Chancellery had decided to deceive parliament about the issue. And for a long time, it looked as though they would get away with it.
The appropriate way of dealing with the CIA’s incrimination would have been to transfer the case to the justice system. Public prosecutors would have been forced to follow up with two investigations: One to find out whether the CIA’s allegations against Vorbeck had been true — both to determine whether government secrets had been breached and out of the obligation to assist a longtime civil servant. It also would have had to probe suspicions that a foreign intelligence agency conducted espionage in the heart of the German capital.
That could, and should, have been the case. Instead, the Chancellery decided to go down the path of deception, scheming with an ally, all the while interpreting words like friendship and partnership in a highly arbitrary and scrupulous way.
Günter Heiss, who received the tip from the CIA station chief, is an experienced civil servant. In his earlier years, Heiss studied music. He would go on as a music instructor to teach a young Ursula von der Leyen (who is Germany’s defense minister today) how to play the piano. But then Heiss, a tall, slightly lanky man, switched professions and instead pursued a career in intelligence that would lead him to the top post in the Lower Saxony state branch of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. Even back then, the Christian Democrat was already covering up the camera on his laptop screen with tape. At the very least “they” shouldn’t be able to see him, he said at the time, elaborating that the “they” he was referring to should not be interpreted as being the US intelligence services, but rather the other spies – “the Chinese” and, “in any case, the Russians.” For conservatives like Heiss, America, after all, is friendly territory.
‘Spying Among Friends Not Acceptable’
If there was suspicion in the summer of 2011 that the NSA was spying on a staff member at the Chancellery, it should have set off alarm bells within the German security apparatus. Both the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which is responsible for counter-intelligence, and the Federal Office for Information Security should have been informed so that they could intervene. There also should have been discussions between the government ministers and the chancellor in order to raise government awareness about the issue. And, going by the maxim the chancellor would formulate two years later, Merkel should have had a word with the Americans along the lines of “Spying among friends is not acceptable.”
And against the media.
If it is true that a foreign intelligence agency spied on journalists as they conducted their reporting in Germany and then informed the Chancellery about it, then these actions would place a huge question mark over the notion of a free press in this country. Germany’s highest court ruled in 2007 that press freedom is a “constituent part of a free and democratic order.” The court held that reporting can no longer be considered free if it entails a risk that journalists will be spied on during their reporting and that the federal government will be informed of the people they speak to.
“Freedom of the press also offers protection from the intrusion of the state in the confidentiality of the editorial process as well as the relationship of confidentiality between the media and its informants,” the court wrote in its ruling. Freedom of the press also provides special protection to the “the secrecy of sources of information and the relationship of confidentiality between the press, including broadcasters, and the source.”
But Karlsruhe isn’t Washington. And freedom of the press is not a value that gives American intelligence agencies pause. On the contrary, the Obama administration has gained a reputation for adamantly pursuing uncomfortable journalistic sources. It hasn’t even shied away from targeting American media giants.
In spring 2013, it became known that the US Department of Justice mandated the monitoring of 100 telephone numbers belonging to the news agency Associated Press. Based on the connections that had been tapped, AP was able to determine that the government likely was interested in determining the identity of an important informant. The source had revealed to AP reporters details of a CIA operation pertaining to an alleged plot to blow up a commercial jet.
The head of AP wasn’t the only one who found the mass surveillance of his employees to be an “unconstitutional act.” Even Republican Senators like John Boehner sharply criticized the government, pointing to press freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. “The First Amendment is first for a reason,” he said.
But the Justice Department is unimpressed by such formulations. New York Times reporter James Risen, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, was threatened with imprisonment for contempt of court in an effort to get him to turn over his sources — which he categorically refused to do for seven years. Ultimately, public pressure became too intense, leading Obama’s long-time Attorney General Eric Holder to announce last October that Risen would not be forced to testify.
The Justice Department was even more aggressive in its pursuit of James Rosen, the Washington bureau chief for TV broadcaster Fox. In May 2013, it was revealed that his telephone was bugged, his emails were read and his visits to the State Department were monitored. To obtain the necessary warrants, the Justice Department had labeled Rosen a “criminal co-conspirator.”
The strategy of criminalizing journalism has become something of a bad habit under Obama’s leadership, with his government pursuing non-traditional media, such as the whistleblower platform WikiLeaks, with particular aggression.
Bradley Manning, who supplied WikiLeaks with perhaps its most important data dump, was placed in solitary confinement and tormented with torture-like methods, as the United Nations noted critically. Manning is currently undergoing a gender transition and now calls herself Chelsea. In 2013, a military court sentenced Manning, who, among other things, publicized war crimes committed by the US in Iraq, to 35 years in prison.
In addition, a criminal investigation has been underway for at least the last five years into the platform’s operators, first and foremost its founder Julian Assange. For the past several years, a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia has been working to determine if charges should be brought against the organization.
The proceedings are hidden from the public, but the grand jury’s existence became apparent once it began to subpoena witnesses with connections to WikiLeaks and when the Justice Department sought to confiscate data belonging to people who worked with Assange. The US government, for example, demanded that Twitter hand over data pertaining to several people, including the Icelandic parliamentarian Brigitta Jonsdottir, who had worked with WikiLeaks on the production of a video. The short documentary is an exemplary piece of investigative journalism, showing how a group of civilians, including employees of the news agency Reuters, were shot and killed in Baghdad by an American Apache helicopter.
Computer security expert Jacob Appelbaum, who occasionally freelances for SPIEGEL, was also affected at the time. Furthermore, just last week he received material from Google showing that the company too had been forced by the US government to hand over information about him – for the time period from November 2009 until today. The order would seem to indicate that investigators were particularly interested in Appelbaum’s role in the publication of diplomatic dispatches by WikiLeaks.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has referred to journalists who worked with material provided by Edward Snowden has his “accomplices.” In the US, there are efforts underway to pass a law pertaining to so-called “media leaks.” Australia already passed one last year. Pursuant to the law, anyone who reveals details about secret service operations may be punished, including journalists.
Worries over ‘Grave Loss of Trust’
The German government isn’t too far from such positions either. That has become clear with its handling of the strictly classified list of “selectors,” which is held in the Chancellery. The list includes search terms that Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the BND, used when monitoring telecommunications data on behalf of the NSA. The parliamentary investigative committee looking into NSA activity in Germany has thus far been denied access to the list. The Chancellery is concerned that allowing the committee to review the list could result in uncomfortable information making its way into the public.
That’s something Berlin would like to prevent. Despite an unending series of indignities visited upon Germany by US intelligence agencies, the German government continues to believe that it has a “special” relationship with its partners in America — and is apparently afraid of nothing so much as losing this partnership.
That, at least, seems to be the message of a five-page secret letter sent by Chancellery Chief of Staff Peter Altmaier, of Merkel’s Christian Democrats, to various parliamentary bodies charged with oversight. In the June 17 missive, Altmaier warns of a “grave loss of trust” should German lawmakers be given access to the list of NSA spying targets. Opposition parliamentarians have interpreted the letter as a “declaration of servility” to the US.
Altmaier refers in the letter to a declaration issued by the BND on April 30. It notes that the spying targets passed on by the NSA since 2005 include “European political personalities, agencies in EU member states, especially ministries and EU institutions, and representations of certain companies.” On the basis of this declaration, Altmaier writes, “the investigative committee can undertake its own analysis, even without knowing the individual selectors.”
Committee members have their doubts. They suspect that the BND already knew at the end of April what WikiLeaks has now released — with its revelations that the German Economics Ministry, Finance Ministry and Agriculture Ministry were all under the gaze of the NSA, among other targets. That would mean that the formulation in the BND declaration of April 30 was intentionally misleading. The Left Party and the Greens now intend to gain direct access to the selector list by way of a complaint to Germany’s Constitutional Court.
The government in Berlin would like to prevent exactly that. The fact that the US and German intelligence agencies shared selectors is “not a matter of course. Rather, it is a procedure that requires, and indicates, a special degree of trust,” Almaier writes. Should the government simply hand over the lists, Washington would see that as a “profound violation of confidentiality requirements.” One could expect, he writes, that the “US side would significantly restrict its cooperation on security issues, because it would no longer see its German partners as sufficiently trustworthy.”
Altmaier’s letter neglects to mention the myriad NSA violations committed against German interests, German citizens and German media.
By SPIEGEL Staff
07/03/2015 06:05 PM
Find this story at 3 July 2015
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2015
Code Blue: U.N. Accused of Giving Immunity to Peacekeepers Who Commit Sexual Abuse
August 14, 2015
The United Nations is coming under criticism for failing to investigate allegations of sexual exploitation of children by French peacekeeping troops in the Central African Republic between December 2013 and June 2014. The Guardian obtained a leaked report that says French soldiers raped and sodomized starving and homeless young boys who they were supposed to be protecting at a center for internally displaced people during intense fighting in the country. Even after the exploitation was brought to the attention of senior U.N. officials, the U.N. never reported it to French authorities — nor did it do anything to immediately stop the abuse. So far, the only person to be punished is a U.N. aid worker, Anders Kompass, who stepped outside official channels to alert French authorities about the sexual exploitation. Kompass has since been accused of leaking the confidential report in breach of U.N. protocols and now faces dismissal. We speak to Paula Donovan, co-director of AIDS-Free World, which has launched the Code Blue campaign.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: The United Nations is coming under criticism for failing to investigate allegations of sexual exploitation of children by French peacekeeping troops in the Central African Republic between December 2013 and June 2014. The Guardian obtained a leaked report that says French soldiers raped and sodomized starving and homeless young boys who they were suppose to be protecting at a center for internally displaced people during intense fighting in the country. Even after the exploitation was brought to the attention of senior U.N. officials, the U.N. never reported it to French authorities, nor did it do anything to immediately stop the abuse. So far, the only person to be punished is a U.N. aid worker, Anders Kompass, who stepped outside official channels to alert French authorities to the sexual exploitation occurring. Kompass has since been accused of leaking a confidential report in breach of U.N. protocols and now faces dismissal.
The Guardian obtained the leaked report from Paula Donovan, who will join us shortly. She and other activists have just launched a new campaign called Code Blue, which seeks to hold the United Nations accountable for sexual misconduct. Earlier this month, the group held a press conference to announce the campaign. This is Stephen Lewis of AIDS-Free World, followed by Theo Sowa of the African Women’s Development Fund and Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury of Bangladesh.
STEPHEN LEWIS: Never, but never, can sexual exploitation and abuse be subject to immunity. That’s the first step. The second step flows logically. Once the immunity is removed from non-military personnel, then the military will be under tremendous pressure to expunge sexual exploitation and abuse from their ranks.
THEO SOWA: When the U.N. becomes the protectors of predators instead of the prosecutors of predators, that destroys me, because I believe in the U.N.
AMBASSADOR ANWARUL CHOWDHURY: Transparency, I think, is the keyword here. We need to be open about how many such cases are there of sexual abuse and exploitation, which countries are involved in it, what they are doing, and how the cases now being sent by the U.N. to them are being handled.
AMY GOODMAN: United Nations peacekeeping missions have long been dogged by allegations of sexual abuse, from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Kosovo to Bosnia, also Burundi, Haiti and Liberia. In March, the U.N. came under criticism for ignoring an internal report that called sexual exploitation, quote, “the most significant risk” to peacekeeping missions across the globe. The leaked document described a culture of “impunity” when dealing with sexual misconduct cases among U.N. peacekeepers, saying, quote, “UN personnel in all the missions we visited could point to numerous suspected or quite visible cases of [sexual exploitation and abuse] that are not being counted or investigated.”
For more, we go to Boston, Massachusetts, where we are joined by Paula Donovan, co-director of AIDS-Free World, which has launched the Code Blue campaign.
Paula Donovan, in the last two weeks, you’ve issued major findings. You first held a news conference at the U.N. and now released another report. Tell us what you have found.
PAULA DONOVAN: What we’ve found overall, Amy, is that there is a tremendous amount of lip service given to the zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse policy by the United Nations. And that really came to light over the past month or so, when we received leaked documents about this U.N. official, Anders Kompass, who was under fire, ostensibly for having leaked a document that demonstrated how serious, very serious, documented cases of the rape and sodomy of children, of young boys in the Central African Republic, had been known to the U.N., had been documented by the U.N., and had been completely ignored by them for eight months. And what it shows is that when the United Nations learns of these abuses, it seems to be that the first—the first response is to simply lie low and see whether or not they can get away with not reporting it to governments and not alerting the public about the danger, the imminent danger that they’re in, and just sort of maintaining almost a forensic view that “we’ll watch as these abuses go on and develop, and maybe record them, but we have no obligation to intervene.”
And the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNICEF were taking these horrible testimonies from children, as the abuse was continuing, mainly by French soldiers, also by Equatorial Guinean and Chadian soldiers, and simply sitting on the reports for a month at a time, continuing to take these documented cases and testimonies from the children, and then eventually sending them on to Geneva to the headquarters of the human rights office, where only one person stepped up and said, “I need to alert the French right away and get an investigation started.” He’s now, months and months later, under review for having handed over the document with the information about the kids and the soldiers they described to the authorities who could—in France, who could take things into hand.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And how have the French authorities responded since this has come to light?
PAULA DONOVAN: They have—initially, they opened an investigation, a preliminary investigation, in July of 2014, when Anders Kompass first handed the document over to them. It seems as though that was stalled almost immediately by the refusal of the United Nations to allow them to—to allow the police to talk to the people who had interviewed—the U.N. staff who had interviewed the children and could give them more information about their whereabouts and about the soldiers. Then there was a long period of silence, when no one appears to have done anything. And once AIDS-Free World exposed this to the media—and that was only on April 29th, 2015—then things kicked into gear, and the French have now taken up their investigation again in earnest.
AMY GOODMAN: Paula Donovan, we only have about two minutes to go. You’re leading a campaign to get rid of immunity in the United Nations around sexual abuse and exploitation. Explain how the U.N. shields its own members from due process when they are accused of sexual assault.
PAULA DONOVAN: Under an ancient convention from 1946, the U.N. staff are all protected from being involved in any sort of legal process. So whether they’re witnesses, whether they have evidence, whether they’re the perpetrators themselves, if it has to do with sexual exploitation and abuse, then the secretary-general has to, on a case-by-case basis, decide to waive their immunity and allow them to be subject to what the rest of the world is subject to—called in to testify, cooperating with a criminal investigation, or actually arrested, in the case of perpetrators. And this just infects the entire U.N. system, and the way they deal with sexual exploitation and abuse is such a sham that we’re essentially saying it needs an external, independent investigation from top to bottom.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And so, what do you think the U.N.—what kinds of internal changes are you calling for within the U.N. so that these allegations can be dealt with in a better way in the future?
PAULA DONOVAN: I think—right, so as the Central African Republic case shows, serious member states of the United Nations have to take hold of things, and they need to move in and figure out: When an allegation of sexual abuse is first brought to light, what are the—what are the mandated protocols? How do we respond? And then, what do the various agencies and institutions within the entities within the U.N. have to do? Should UNICEF—and my answer is absolutely yes—should they have to move in immediately to protect—
AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds.
PAULA DONOVAN: —children from further abuse? The whole U.N. needs to be looked at from top to bottom by an external commission.
AMY GOODMAN: Paula Donovan, thanks so much for being with us, co-director of AIDS-Free World, which has launched the Code Blue campaign, seeking to end sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. military and non-military peacekeeping personnel.
FRIDAY, MAY 29, 2015
Find this story at 29 May 2015
THE UN’S DIRTY SECRET: THE UNTOLD STORY OF ANDERS KOMPASS AND PEACEKEEPER SEX ABUSE IN THE CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
August 14, 2015
On April 29, 2015, the world learned of disturbing accounts of sexual abuse of young boys by French, Chadian, and Equatorial Guinean peacekeepers at a displaced persons camp in the Central African Republic (CAR). The interviews, which had been conducted nearly a year earlier by staff from the UN’s Office of the High Commission for Human Rights and UNICEF, were leaked to the Guardian newspaper by AIDS-Free World. The resulting article also detailed the account of Anders Kompass, a career human rights official from Sweden, who had been suspended and was being investigated by the UN for his role in passing details of the abuse to the French government.
For the past month, Anders Kompass has remained silent on his role in this affair, even as the UN publicly blamed him for ‘leaking’ the report. AIDS-Free World has since obtained and is releasing today a series of incriminating internal UN documents, memos and email correspondence—including Kompass’ own account of the events—that expose the UN’s inaction. They also point to efforts by several senior UN officials to silence a staff member who could expose their failure to sound the alarm or protect children from imminent harm.
This is the untold story.
In early May of 2014, an international NGO requested help from MINUSCA, the UN’s peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic: several displaced children in the capital, Bangui, had reported that they and their friends were being raped by international forces in exchange for food.
On May 19, 2014, a junior OHCHR Human Rights Officer on temporary assignment with MINUSCA and a UNICEF staff member conducted an interview with an 11-year-old boy. The child reported that a French soldier promised him food in exchange for oral sex, negotiated with a guard to bring him onto the base, raped him, and then gave him biscuits and cash. The boy gave a detailed description of the soldier and said he could positively identify him in a photo.
The human rights officer ‘immediately’ relayed her interview notes to a MINUSCA official who acted as her supervisor in the Central African Republic. By all accounts, Renner Onana, Chief of Human Rights and Justice, did not take action: No warning was sent out to soldiers, no effort was made to inform the French or other authorities, nothing was done to prevent ongoing abuse, no alert was issued to the tens of thousands of internally displaced adults in the camp that sexual predators were disguised as protectors and posed imminent danger to children and other civilians. There is no record that on May 19th, 2014 that first child interviewed was offered the immediate protection he required.
Over the next five weeks, the Human Rights Officer and UNICEF staff members interviewed multiple known child victims as they were tracked down by a volunteer for the NGO that had requested the UN’s assistance. Several child victims known to the volunteer couldn’t be located. After each interview—on May 19th, May 20th, June 5th, June 17th, June 18th, and June 24th—the OHCHR human rights officer delivered her notes to MINUSCA; the UNICEF staff members wrote up their own notes of forced oral sex and anal rape of boys aged 8 to 15—and still no action was taken.
During the June 18th interview, a 13-year-old boy said he couldn’t number all the times he’d been forced to perform oral sex on soldiers but the most recent had been between June 8th and 12th, 2014—several weeks after the UN’s first interview. Even with solid proof that the crimes were still occurring as they gathered additional testimonies from children, MINUSCA, OHCHR, and UNICEF took no action. (UNICEF is cited in the human rights officer’s reports as having plans to attend to the interviewees’ education, family reunification, and psycho-social needs. UNICEF spokespeople have since been directed, ‘if asked,’ to state that those needs were met. No specifics are included about which children received assistance, or how many in total.)
Leaked documents show that additional UN officials in MINUSCA, Geneva, and New York received the human rights officer’s official final report of interviews with child victims before her departure from CAR, on July 14th, 2014. It is not known which UNICEF officials received final reports. In total, the interviews document sexual abuse of 13 children by a total of 16 peacekeepers: 11 were French, 3 were from Chad, and 2 were from Equatorial Guinea. Another 7 peacekeepers solicited children or acted as accomplices. The report implicates 23 soldiers in all.
By agreeing to be interviewed by the UN, the children expected the abuse to stop and the perpetrators to be arrested. When children report sexual abuse, adults must report it to the authorities. A child needs protection and, by definition, does not have the agency to decide whether to press charges. They deserved the protection they assumed they would receive once the UN knew of their abuse.
Instead, more than a year passed before their stories came to light, and the investigations began in earnest.
By mid-July 2014, at least 12 UN staff had received the human rights officer’s report. All were aware that no action had been taken, no authorities had been alerted, and the abuse was ongoing. One of the 12 recipients, Roberto Ricci, brought the report directly to the attention of his supervisor in Geneva, Anders Kompass. It was then that Mr. Kompass informed French diplomatic authorities, who requested a copy of the report in order to launch an investigation. Kompass delivered the report to the French authorities in July with a written and signed cover note and received written acknowledgement and thanks on July 30th from the French government, informing him that an investigation was underway. That official letter was stamped as received on August 5th and entered into the OHCHR correspondence log.
French investigators arrived in CAR’s capital, Bangui, on August 1st and questioned Renner Onana, MINUSCA’s Chief of Human Rights and Justice—the official who had received a summary report from the Human Rights Officer after each interview. The investigators were referred by MINUSCA to the Human Rights Officer, who asked first Renner Onana, and then Cecile Aptel, OHCHR’s Senior Legal Advisor, about whether to speak to the police. After consultation with the Office of Legal Affairs in New York, Aptel instructed her to reply to the French authorities that they should present any questions in writing through UN lawyers; the legal office would convey written answers.
The Human Rights Officer’s UN immunity from legal process had been invoked. The UNICEF staff members who had taken part in the interviews were similarly approached by French investigators. They too referred investigators to the Office of Legal Affairs.
The French investigation stalled.
Anders Kompass. UN Photo/ Violaine Martin
Anders Kompass. UN Photo/ Violaine Martin
On August 7th, 2014, Anders Kompass briefed OHCHR Deputy High Commissioner Flavia Pansieri and emailed the report to her on August 8th. The Deputy High Commissioner’s assistant, acknowledging receipt, informed Mr. Kompass by email that same day that the Executive Office of the Secretary-General had been briefed.
Despite Kompass’ definitive assertion and reference to an August 8th email, Pansieri testified in her official account of events—submitted months later to ‘inform’ the investigation into Kompass’ actions—that she first “became aware of the situation some time in early fall, most probably September 2014 (I regret I do no[t] recall the exact date)” through Cecile Aptel, in the context of a leak. Pansieri expressed regrets for having failed to follow up once she learned about the abuses in CAR, (citing a ‘very hectic’ period dealing with budget cuts and the inherent staff tensions and stresses), and attests that her attention was only turned to it again many months later, in early March 2015.
In his statement to the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein also claims to have learned about the allegations of sexual abuse in CAR in “Autumn of 2014,” shortly after he took over the post.
Around the same time, OHCHR formally requested that the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) investigate Anders Kompass regarding ‘leaked cables’ in an incident involving Western Sahara.
On December 22, 2014, just before the UN offices closed for the holiday break, the Secretary-General submitted the final report of the International Commission of Inquiry on the Central African Republic (S/2014/928). While the commission did not reference the MINUSCA/OHCHR/UNICEF report of abuse by international peacekeepers, it did provide a very specific recommendation: “The Secretary-General’s periodic reports on peacekeeping operations in the CAR should include an analysis of any violations that are alleged to have been committed by both UN peace-keepers and non-UN peacekeepers authorized by the Security Council.”
Three months later, when the Secretary-General submitted his annual report on the UN’s response to sexual exploitation and abuse for 2014, it contained no mention whatsoever of the reports of child sexual abuse in the Central African Republic.
In early March 2015, High Commissioner Zeid learned informally from UN Chef de Cabinet Susanna Malcorra that Anders Kompass had been cleared of wrongdoing in the Western Sahara case because the investigation “could not substantiate any responsibility for Kompass.”
On March 6th, a full eight months after she’d last heard any news about the CAR case, the Human Rights Officer who had interviewed the child victims spoke with two senior OHCHR lawyers. They questioned her about her report and her assignment in CAR, and then they briefed both Zeid and his deputy, Flavia Pansieri.
On March 12th, on Zeid’s orders and at the request of UN Peacekeeping head Hervé Ladsous, Deputy High Commissioner Flavia Pansieri asked Anders Kompass to resign.
In demanding Kompass’ resignation, the UN made a grave tactical error: a career human rights official from Sweden, Kompass was so trusted that he’d been put in charge of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) just weeks before his abrupt dismissal, when the High Commissioner and Deputy High Commissioner were both absent from the office. The sudden move to terminate him stunned Kompass; the reasons given outraged him. He was being accused of having inappropriately alerted the government of France, nearly a year earlier, to the discovery by OHCHR and UNICEF staff of rampant child sex abuse by French soldiers who’d been sent to protect civilians in the war-ravaged Central African Republic.
Kompass refused to resign, and he threatened to go to the press.
On March 13th, Pansieri briefed High Commissioner Zeid about her interaction with Kompass. Zeid decided that the situation was serious and that they should brief Chef de Cabinet Susanna Malcorra and “other senior colleagues” in person.
High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein. Photo: UN Photo/Violaine Martin
High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein. Photo: UN Photo/Violaine Martin
The following week, at the Secretary-General’s Senior Staff Retreat in Turin, Italy on March 19-20, 2015, Chef de Cabinet Susanna Malcorra arranged a meeting between Zeid, Deputy High Commissioner Flavia Pansieri, Under-Secretary-General (USG) for OIOS Carman Lapointe, and the UN’s Director of Ethics, Joan Dubinsky, to discuss Anders Kompass.
At the meeting, these senior UN officials decided to open an investigation into Kompass—a fact made even more striking by the knowledge that OIOS and the UN Ethics Office are meant to operate at arm’s-length from the rest of the UN system, in order to ensure accountability and transparency.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Deputy High Commissioner, and the most senior officials of the UN in New York had known for many, many months about Kompass’ ‘inappropriate’ emergency transmittal of a report documenting the child abuse. And they knew that it was only thanks to his transmission of that report to the government of France that the French had immediately reacted and sent an investigation team to the CAR.
With the High Commissioner’s ill-considered demand that Kompass resign, and Kompass’ unexpected refusal to do so, the UN’s most senior officials were finally forced to pay long-overdue attention to the contents of the document they were claiming he had leaked. That was enough to instill panic: clearly, they had all ignored and neglected the appalling crisis it described. If their negligence became public, the UN would face questions for which there were no reasonable answers.
In Turin, it was decided that Zeid and Pansieri would collect statements from a select group and would send them on with a request for a formal OIOS investigation. Pansieri asked Kompass to write an account of his role in passing documents to the French and suggested he send it to her at her personal email account, rather than her UN account. When Kompass gave his statement, he was not informed that it was intended to be used as part of an investigation against him.
On April 7th, the Deputy Swedish Ambassador to the UN called Chef de Cabinet Susanna Malcorra. Unable to reach her, he called Joan Dubinsky, Director of the UN Ethics Office. He told her he was informed about an OHCHR report about paedophilia alleged against French soldiers in MINUSCA. Furious that Kompass had been asked to resign without any trace of an investigation or due diligence, he warned that “it would not be a good thing if the High Commissioner for Human Rights forced Mr. Kompass to resign. If that occurred, it would go public, and a harmful and ugly debate would occur.”
Following the initial meeting in Turin, the group continued corresponding via email about an investigation into Kompass. Two weeks later, on April 9, 2015, Zeid formally requested an OIOS investigation into Kompass for his ‘leak’ of the report of sexual abuse in the Central African Republic.
Attached to the High Commissioner’s official request for an investigation into Kompass’ actions are six statements: a statement from Anders Kompass, the subject of the investigation; a long and a short statement from the Human Rights Officer who conducted the interviews; a statement from High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein; a statement from Deputy High Commissioner Flavia Pansieri; and a joint statement from two OHCHR lawyers recounting their conversation with the Human Rights Officer about her request from the French investigators and the fact that the request had immediately been turned over to the UN Office of Legal Affairs. The request for investigation and the statements were sent together as one package, first to the Director of Ethics, then to OIOS.
The statements conflict dramatically, with one exception: throughout the period when the abuse of African children first came to the attention of numbers of people within the UN, senior officials who were informed seem to have kept no records of meetings or discussions, and recollections are vague. The child victims receive no mention in the statements, nor are there any expressions of concern or curiosity about their welfare. No one providing testimony claims to have inquired about the status of any investigations, about any protection measures enacted, or about any tracing, prevention or support provided to child victims; those omissions are neither noted nor explained. The sole focus of concerted attention is on the alleged ‘leak’ by Anders Kompass.
During the week of April 13, 2015, a month after his refusal to resign, Kompass was suspended with pay and escorted from his office. He challenged OHCHR’s actions against him before the UN’s Dispute Tribunal; a judge subsequently found in his favor and demanded his reinstatement—pending the outcome of the investigation that is now under way.
The Director of the Investigations Unit in the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), who would normally oversee such a case, recused himself from involvement in the investigation. He had protested in writing to his supervisor, OIOS USG Carman Lapointe, that a decision had been made at the highest levels to investigate Kompass, that the requisite intake process to first determine whether an investigation was warranted had been bypassed, that due process had been abridged, and because of this, any investigation would be prejudiced and improper. The USG for OIOS replied that while she agreed that such processes are usual, the senior management had decided to bypass these processes, and the Director of the Investigative Unit should abide by senior staff’s wishes. She wrote, “Agreed; however in this case I have decided.”
When questioned by Member States in mid-May about why her Director of Investigations had recused himself from the investigation of Kompass, OIOS Under-Secretary-General Lapointe responded that she did not know why.
Since the Guardian reported on the information provided by AIDS-Free World, the High Commissioner, his spokesperson, a UNICEF spokesperson, the Secretary-General’s spokespersons, and officials from Peacekeeping have addressed the media. There is ample reason for Member States to question the answers given.
UNICEF statements regarding the agency’s involvement in the interviews raise grave questions about UNICEF protocols and mandatory disclosure regulations when dealing directly with children in general, and with child victims of sexual abuse in particular. The fact that a child victim of sex abuse by soldiers still at-large was interviewed in the MINUSCA offices, ushered past military and civilian peacekeepers—many of whom could have been perpetrators, their accomplices, or friends—raises critically important questions about the training and skills of all involved. Also of concern is the fact that there appear to have been no ‘mandated disclosure’ guidelines for OHCHR or UNICEF staff, making clear the obligation to report, without delay, any allegations or suspicions of child sexual abuse to law enforcement authorities. The interviewing also raises questions about whether protocols exist regarding the interviewing, by UNICEF and OHCHR staff, of minors who are unaccompanied by an appropriate adult and whose legal parents or guardians may not have consented to the interview.
The investigation is currently underway to determine whether Kompass is guilty of any wrongdoing. Susana Malcorra, who occupies one of the most powerful positions in the UN system as Chef de Cabinet for the Secretary-General, is publicly stating to governments and the media that Kompass is being investigated because he is guilty of wrongdoing. This suggests a pre-determined, inevitable outcome of the investigation and calls into question the judgment of the Chef de Cabinet regarding public statements. More seriously still, it should cause Member States to wonder whether the entire system of adjudication in the UN has become a kangaroo court.
The account above, the leaked documents linked to it, and the strong implications of misconduct and impunity at the very highest levels of the UN may come as a shock to many readers. The grim reality is that those with experience within the UN system are unlikely to be surprised. They know that this is not an unusual case; it is simply one that has come, partially, to light. For those of us who are staunch believers in the UN’s critical purpose and noble ideals, this case is deeply troubling because it is not unique. It is part of a continuing and disturbing pattern afflicting and endangering the entire UN system. That pattern is never more overtly on display than in the UN’s handling of sexual exploitation and abuse. The starkest miscarriages of justice and disregard for victims of UN sexual abuse occur within peacekeeping operations.
The UN secretariat exists to serve the collective interest of the world’s governments, to uphold their highest standards, and to implement their agreed actions.
Today, those Member States are balanced on a precipice, in imminent danger of losing all control over a UN secretariat that acts without discretion, without governments’ full knowledge, with no real oversight, and with increasing levels of impunity.
Member States must commission an external investigation into the whole UN system, at every level, in headquarters and country offices, to review all components related to sexual exploitation and abuse in peacekeeping, the UN’s most costly undertaking. Investigating this CAR case is critically important, but insufficient; the external investigation must focus on the handling by the UN system of sexual exploitation and abuse allegations in all peacekeeping operations. That investigation must comprise—and be administratively supported by—entirely external, totally independent, impartial experts, with no past or current conflicts of interests, and no future interests that would hamper their ability to judge, critique, demand accountability, and recommend harsh sanctions if and where necessary.
This account raises the tragic spectre of countless children in the Central African Republic who will be scarred for life by sexual abuse. They were betrayed when they disclosed to the UN, and it failed to protect them. In the life of a 9- or 12-year-old, a year waiting for protection from an abuser is an eternity. In the life of a serial rapist, a year provides countless opportunities to abuse and exploit more children and become more practiced at escaping detection.
The events and their gross mishandling have done tremendous damage to civilians, and to the UN’s reputation and credibility. They call into question the top leadership, while casting a dark shadow on the many thousands of principled, hard-working UN staff who report to them.
If these dreadful revelations aren’t enough to press Member States to initiate an external investigation and take back control of the United Nations, nothing will.
POSTSCRIPT: On June 3, 2015, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced plans for an external independent review to examine events following the sexual abuse of children in the Central African Republic. AIDS-Free World welcomed the UN’s response and issued the following statement:
The announcement from the Secretary-General today of plans for an external, independent review to examine events following the sexual abuse of children in the Central African Republic is to be welcomed. It responds to one of the urgent demands that AIDS-Free World has been making over the last several weeks, and since we launched our Code Blue campaign.
The Secretary-General has three challenges.
First, this must be a truly external and independent inquiry. No member of existing UN staff should be appointed to investigate nor to act as the investigators’ secretariat.
Second, it must be understood that top members of the Secretary-General’s own staff will have to be subject to investigation. This must go right up to the level of Under-Secretaries General. No one can be excluded, whether the Director of the Ethics Office or the USG of the Office of Internal Oversight Services or the Secretary-General’s own Chef de Cabinet. It would appear that all of them and more acted inappropriately in response to the dreadful events in CAR.
Third, the reference in the Secretary-General’s announcement of a review to ‘the broad range of systemic issues’ is crucial to the inquiry. What happened in the Central African Republic was an atrocity, but the fact that the UN stood silent for nearly a year after its own discovery of widespread peacekeeper sexual abuse (even if by non-UN troops) is itself a bitter commentary on the Secretary-General’s declared policy of ‘zero tolerance’.
If Mr. Ban Ki-moon and Member States want to rescue zero tolerance, they must cleanse the UN system of negligence and misconduct once and for all.
May 29, 2015
Editor’s note: For the full list of internal UN documents leaked to AIDS-Free World, visit: www.codebluecampaign.com/undocuments
Download the PDF version of the statement here.
Find this story at 29 May 2015
The officer who saw behind the top-secret curtain
July 27, 2015
From supporting Yemeni Royalists to a proposal for the assassination Iran’s Khomenei, former military intelligence officer Yossi Alpher had a behind-the-scenes look at some of the IDF’s most classified operations; now he explains the covert strategies that guided Israeli intelligence for decades.
In the mid-1960s, Lieutenant Yossi Alpher served as a junior officer in one of the Israel Defense Forces’ most classified units – the Military Intelligence unit responsible for liaising with Israel’s other intelligence bodies, the Shin Bet security service and the Mossad.
He was entrusted with a secret task: “I had to go under the cover of darkness to the Israel Air Forces’ Tel-Nof base,” he recalls during an interview, “and meticulously check through huge piles of military equipment, and weapons and ammunition in particular, to ensure they bore no distinguishing Israeli marks – no IDF symbol, no Hebrew letters, nothing that would be able to link the equipment to us even if someone were to go through it with a fine-tooth comb.”
On completing his inspection, Alpher signed off on a document to confirm that everything was in order, and the equipment and weapons were then loaded onto an IAF cargo aircraft and flown to a destination that only very few in Israel knew of. Even the name of the operation, Rotev (Hebrew for gravy) was top secret.
In those days, as is the case now too, Yemen was embroiled in a fierce civil war – between the Royalists (the Shia Zaidis, the Houthis of today) and the so-called Republican rebels, who were being supported by Egypt and the Soviets. Back then in the mid-1960s, however, the Royalists had the backing in fact of Saudi Arabia.
“The Saudis didn’t care that they were Shia, whose descendants are the ones supporting Iran today,” Alpher says. “It was important for them to preserve their influence in Yemen and oppose the Soviet-Egyptian intervention.”
The Saudis turned for help to Britain, where former members of the Special Air Service (SAS) – the elite British army unit- were recruited for the mission. Operating out of their headquarters in London and bases in Aden, Yemen, the SAS veterans sought help in turn from Israel, the strongest power in the region and Egypt’s main enemy.
At the same time, a representative of Imam al-Badr, leader of the Royalists in Yemen, made direct contact with Mossad operatives in Europe and was even brought to Israel for a visit. The operation was conducted over a period of slightly more than two years, during which an IAF Stratocruiser cargo aircraft made 14 dangerous nighttime sorties from Tel-Nof to Yemen – a 14-hour round trip. From an altitude of some 3,600 meters, Egyptian weapons seized during the 1956 Sinai Campaign were accurately parachuted into wadis surrounded by high mountains controlled by the Royalists.
Alpher says that in order to carry out the initial parachute drops in the proper fashion, and to ensure that the equipment ended up in the right place and right hands, two members of Caesarea, the Mossad’s special-operations division, were sent to Yemen in coordination with the British intelligence services. One of the Caesarea operatives fell ill on the way and was forced to pull out. The second made it to the drop site and guided the aircraft in for the initial deliveries.
Once everything was running smoothly, the Mossad stepped back and the logistics of the remaining drops were handled by the British. Even now, years later, it’s easy to grasp the intensity of the drama, the risk, the secrecy and the significance of the Israeli-British-Saudi-Yemeni operation of that time.
The operation was coordinated in Israel by Nahum Admoni, who went on to become Mossad chief from 1982 to 1989; the British, for their part, sent two senior SAS members to Israel, one by the name of the Gene and the other Tony – and hence the unofficial codename for the operation, “Gin and Tonic”.
Alpher: “Presumably, only a very few in Saudi Arabia knew of Israel’s involvement. The Yemenis didn’t know who was parachuting equipment to them, but it had a big impact on the war there and the damage caused to the rebels and the Egyptian forces.”
What was the objective of the operation from Israel’s perspective?
“The main objective was to pin down and wear out Egyptian forces. We’re talking about the period between the Sinai Campaign and the Six-Day War. We knew there was another war coming. We also knew that the Egyptians were using mustard gas in Yemen. That frightened us a great deal. We were concerned that we would struggle to cope with such an army and such a weapon in the next military campaign.
“And lo and behold, we were presented with the opportunity to strike at them and wear them down in a place where they least expected us to appear. In addition, we ended up with some intelligence from the Mossad’s activities in Yemen and better relations with the British and the Saudis. Not bad, right? Moreover, we didn’t invest all that much; the weapons were Egyptian spoils-of-war that fell into our hands in the 1956 war.”
The operation was going ahead so successfully that at one stage the IAF considered carrying out an attack on Egyptian aircraft stationed at their bases in Yemen, as an act of deterrence that would damage the reputation of then-Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. The plan was eventually scrapped.
“And good that it was,” Alpher says, “because it allowed us to notch up a complete surprise later on, when the IAF carried out strikes on the Egyptian aircraft at their bases in Egypt on the morning of June 5, 1967.”
That said, Alpher believes that the operation can be crowned a big success, as it pinned down Egyptian forces in Yemen and severely undermined the fighting spirit of the Egyptian Army ahead of the Six-Day War. “We learned from prisoners we captured in the Sinai,” he says, “just how much the events in Yemen negatively impacted the mood and readiness of the Egyptian Army.”
The full extent of Operation Rotev, from the mouths of Israeli sources, has been released for publication and appears for the first time in Alpher’s book, Periphery: Israel’s Search for Middle East Allies (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015; the Hebrew edition has a slightly different title).
A long-serving Mossad official who went on to head the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, Alpher has written a comprehensive study, in part as an active player with firsthand knowledge, and in part based on interviews he conducted and documents he collected about the “Periphery doctrine” – Israel’s covert strategy in the region, with the Mossad operations at its center.
The general strategy of the “Periphery doctrine” was devised by Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. Its implementation was entrusted initially to the Mossad’s founder and first director, Reuven Shiloah, and then the Mossad chiefs to follow.
What is the so-called Periphery doctrine?
“It was the Israeli attempt to breach the hostile Arab ring surrounding us and to forge ties further afield, with the purpose of creating deterrence, acquiring intelligence assets, and counterbalancing the Arab hostility.
“Nasser spoke regularly of his desire to throw the Jews into the sea. The Mossad looked for allies to offset this desire and be able to say: We’re not alone. At the same time, we took advantage of these ties to gather intelligence about Arab states, in places where they least expected us to show up, to pin down and wear down Arab forces there, and to use our ties with countries in the region as an asset to present to the Americans.”
With this strategy in mind, the Mossad sought to forge intimate intelligence ties with countries bordering on Israel’s close-quarter enemies, even if the said countries publicly toed the line with the Arab states and condemned Israel in the international arena. Israelis gathered and obtained intelligence on Arab countries in the outlying countries with which secret ties were established; and in return, Israel provided training services, information, arms and sophisticated electronic equipment.
Alpher divides the periphery, from the Mossad’s perspective, into three categories. Included in the first were the non-Arab and/or non-Muslim states that bordered on the Arab conflict states – Iran, Ethiopia, Turkey, Eritrea, and Kenya and Uganda at the rear.
The second comprised non-Arab and non-Muslim ethnic groups and peoples living in the Arab conflict states – the Christians in southern Sudan and in Lebanon, and the Kurds in Iraq. And the third category was made up of Arab countries on the margins of the Middle East that felt that militant Arab nationalism was a threat to them or wanted ties with Israel in light of local or regional circumstances – Morocco, some of the Gulf States, and, for a short time, Yemen.
Alpher also talks of the ideological element that drove the system. “There were certainly instances, particularly when it came to providing help to minorities suffering at the hands of the Arabs, in which there was also an ideological component,” he says. “I remember my colleagues and I at the Mossad seeing ourselves, the Jews, as the only ethnic minority in the Middle East that has achieved self-determination and that needs to help other ethnic minorities that are up against imperialistic and extremely cruel Arab hostility. We felt a moral obligation to help them.
“When (Mossad official) David Kimche, for example, went to meet Kurdish leader Mullah Mustafa Barzani in Iraq in 1965, what did he see? What did he encounter? Dave saw an extremely downtrodden people who were suffering terribly under shocking Arab oppression. You cannot help but identify with them.”
Israel’s covert military and intelligence activities throughout the entire Middle East region were carried out for the most part by small forces and on a shoestring budget, in keeping with the country’s limited resources, and the jury is still out when it comes to the quality of the intelligence gathered; but as Alpher views things, these issues are dwarfed by the manner in which the Mossad’s activities were perceived by the other side. In the eyes of the enemy, the Arab states, the Mossad’s influence and capabilities increased beyond measure.
“In talks years later with Arab officials,” Alpher says, “I got an understanding of how the other side had viewed the whole issue. They saw our presence in those countries as an extremely powerful and direct threat to themselves. Thus, for example, they viewed our presence in southern Sudan and Ethiopia as a direct threat to the source of the Nile River.
“Israel never considered tampering with the Nile, and it’s impossible to do so from an engineering perspective too; but the Egyptians didn’t see it like that, and they interpreted the fact that the IDF and Mossad were so close to their lifeline very differently – as an Israeli attempt to say to them that we are breathing down their necks. And thus it contributed to peace: They understood that they wouldn’t be able to defeat us by means of an armed conflict.”
The Trident alliance
The highpoint of the “Periphery doctrine” was the tripartite intelligence pact involving Israel, Turkey and Iran – known in the Mossad as C’lil but termed Trident among the partners. The Turkish-Israeli part of the pact was sealed during a secret agreement in Ankara on August 20, 1958, between Ben-Gurion and the Turkish prime minister at the time, Adnan Menderes.
The catalyst for the Turks occurred a month earlier: In July, a coup d’etat led by Abd al-Karim Qasim toppled the Hashemite monarchy in Iraq and brought about Iraq’s withdrawal from the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) – a secret pro-Western alliance formed in 1955 between the United Kingdom, Turkey, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq – and its inclusion in the pro-Soviet radical camp.
“At the first trilateral meeting between the sides that took place in Turkey in late September and early October of 1958,” Alpher reveals, “the participants – all heads of their respective countries’ spy agencies – decided on a series of joint intelligence operations that included subversive activities directed against Nasser’s influence and the influence of the Soviets. They divided the region into realms of responsibility for each of the parties. The Iranian intelligence service, for example, was entrusted with the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Morocco.”
The American dimension was critical too. “As soon as we completed the establishment of Trident, we ran to tell the Americans about it,” Alpher says. “We bragged; look, we’ve put together a NATO pact of our own. To begin with, Ben-Gurion marketed Trident to the Eisenhower administration in Washington as an asset for the West.
“He portrayed the alliance as an effective means to thwart Soviet infiltration into the Middle East, and also as a counterbalance against the radical Arab states, especially after Iraq’s withdrawal from the Baghdad Pact.”
The Central Intelligence Agency didn’t remain indifferent. On a deserted hill north of Tel Aviv, the US agency financed the construction of a two-story building intended to serve as Trident headquarters. “The ground floor included a ‘Blue Wing’ for the use of the Iranians and a ‘Yellow Wing’ for the Turks, with the conference rooms on the second floor,” Alpher recalls.
Later came accommodation facilities, a fully equipped kitchen, a swimming pool, a plush movie theater and a gym – all for the purpose of secretly hosting high-ranking foreign officials in style, in keeping at least with what Israel could offer and afford at the time. “Bobby, an excellent chef, served non-kosher Hungarian food and the guests were very satisfied,” Alpher notes.
From the late 1950s and through to the Khomeini revolution in 1979, the meetings between the heads of the three intelligence services were held in a different country every time. Alpher attended some of the sessions. “Every meeting would begin with a festive reception that was followed by a ceremonial meeting in the presence of the heads of the services themselves,” Alpher recounts.
“I remember the excitement that gripped me when I arrived for my first meeting and was introduced to General Nassiri, the awe-inspiring commander of the SAVAK, the shah’s intelligence agency. He showed up in uniform, surrounded by an aura of fear and mystery.
“At the initial meetings, the heads (of the intelligence agencies) would first present their notes and papers that included matters of principle, and then the participants would break away into discussion groups in which intelligence and ideas were exchanged. It was a huge achievement for Israel, less so because of the quality of the intelligence presented – our capabilities were usually a lot higher – and more so due to the very existence of such an alliance under Israeli auspices.”
At the same time, in 1959, Israeli and Turkish military leaders – with Israel represented by then-chief of staff Haim Laskov – met in Istanbul to plan a joint military campaign against Syria. The joint operation didn’t materialize, but cooperation between the parties grew ever stronger.
Over and above the trilateral meetings that took place twice a year, the alliance also involved the exchange of intelligence on an almost-daily basis. “As a Military Intelligence officer, I remember we used to receive daily reports on the passage of Soviet vessels through the Dardanelles Strait,” Alpher says. “This was of dual importance – firstly, it was information about Soviet supplies to the Arab states; and secondly, it was information we could share with the CIA.”
The Iran-Israel cooperation was even more active: Jews who had fled Iraq for Iran via the Kurdish region in northern Iraq went on from there to Israel; IDF officers trained Iranian forces and Israel sold arms to Iran; in 1958, Iranian weapons were supplied via Israel to conservative Shia groups in southern Lebanon; and on behalf of the Iranians, Israeli intelligence officials set up a body that was responsible for recruiting and handling agents, with its efforts focused on Iraq and also countering Nasser’s subversive activities among the Arabs of the Khuzestan Province in southwest Iran.
Since the Trident building on the hilltop north of Tel Aviv remained vacant most days of the year, then-Mossad director Meir Amit decided to turn it into a training college named after Mossad agent Eli Cohen, who was executed in Damascus.
On several occasions over the years, the Mossad requested approval to refurbish the building or even demolish it completely, but the Tel Aviv Municipality declared it a heritage site due to its unique architecture – and thus it remained standing. Those Yellow and Blue rooms, painted many times since in different colors, would go on to serve as the location for some of the most dramatic meetings in Israel’s history, both with foreign officials and among Israeli leaders.
In 2010, the building hosted the series of lengthy and controversial discussions convened by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-defense minister Ehud Barak on the option of carrying out a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. And that’s just one example.
The intelligence cooperation with Iran fitted in well with Israel’s support of the Kurds in Iraq, one of the goals of which was to cause as much significant damage as possible to the hostile Iraqi Army.
The CIA financed a large portion of the Mossad’s activities with the Kurds; and later, as a Mossad official, Alpher, who was born in the United States and is fluent in English, was instructed to prepare the Israeli agency’s request for additional funding from its American counterpart. “We ceremoniously presented them with all the intelligence reports the Kurds had provided, along with information on the extent of the assistance they had received, the extent of the damage they had caused to the Iraqi forces, and so on,” Alpher recalls.
One of the tasks assigned to Alpher with respect to the Kurds left him feeling uncomfortable; he was asked to review a Kurdish request to plan the demolition of two dams in northern Iraq. “Implementation of such a plan would have led to catastrophic strategic and legal implications,” Alpher says, noting that Israeli experts he met with at the time had told that blowing up the dams would flood Baghdad entirely and cause the death of numerous people. “In the end,” he says, “we informed Barzani, via the Mossad team in Kurdistan, that we were opposed to the operation for humanitarian reasons.”
A second task was more straightforward, from a moral standpoint at least. “I approached Colonel David Laskov (commander at the time of the Engineering Corps’ research and development unit) and asked him to build Katyusha rocket launchers that could be carried by mules,” Alpher recounts.
“A week later, Laskov invited me to a firing range in the Negev. On arrival, I found a mule with a sled-like metal frame of sorts on its back, the size of a full briefcase; and in it were Katyushas of the kind that we were about to send to the Kurds. Laskov demonstrated how to tie the ‘saddle’ to the mule, to dismantle it, to position it on the ground, to aim and to launch the rocket.”
A month later, the Kurds deployed the launchers and rockets in Kirkuk, causing extensive damage to the Iraqi oil facilities there.
Another major operation carried out by the Mossad during the same period, in the late 1960s, involved assistance in the form of the weapons, food, equipment and training for the Anyanya, the Christian underground in southern Sudan. Under the leadership of Mossad operative David Ben Uziel, a series of three-man Israeli delegations were sent to southern Sudan to train the separatist army, coordinate the delivery of weapons and equipment (with the support of IAF cargo aircraft), and oversee a humanitarian mission that involved the establishment of a field hospital at which an Israeli medical team treated the sick and wounded and vaccinated thousands of children in the area against smallpox and yellow fever.
Alpher: “The operation was a resounding success. Sudanese President Nimeiri, frustrated by his army’s defeats, offered the South autonomy in 1972. A guerilla war, orchestrated by a junior commander from a minority tribe who operated with the help of Israel, laid the foundations for a new African country (from 2011) free of the Arab threat. At one point in 1970, we did the math and found that the total cost of the Israeli operation in southern Sudan was less than the price of a single Mirage III fighter plane – the French aircraft used at that time by the Israel Air Force against Egypt and Sudan on the Suez Canal front.”
Rabin in a blonde wig
Israel’s relations with Morocco are another layer in the Periphery alliance. Israel helped the Moroccan intelligence agency to set up its bodyguards unit and others, including a sophisticated technologically division. And in return, the Moroccans provided Israel with first-grade intelligence, including intimate access to the deliberations of the Arab Summit Conference in Casablanca in September 1965.
Another important element in the ties with Morocco came some 12 years later, when the North African state served as the stage for arranging then-Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem, with Morocco’s King Hassan as the mediator.
Alpher: “A meeting between the king and Mossad chief Yitzhak Hofi led to another royal meeting, this time with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who arrived in Morocco incognito and wearing a blonde wig. Rabin left Hassan with a series of questions for Egyptian President Anwar Sadat with regard to the possibility of a breakthrough towards peace.
At the next meeting, Hofi held talks with Hassan Tuhami, Sadat’s deputy, and this paved the way for a meeting between Tuhami and Moshe Dayan, foreign minister in (Menachem) Begin’s government. For his secret trip to Morocco, Dayan removed his eye patch and wore a fedora hat. Mossad officials who saw his passport photo couldn’t believe it was Dayan.”
Following the signing of the peace treaty with Egypt, one of Alpher’s assignments in the Mossad’s research division involved efforts to identify “signs of peace” among other Arab entities – a lesson learned after portions of the intelligence community were caught by surprise by Sadat’s daring initiative.
Alpher didn’t really find any signs of peace to speak of; but he did discover Israeli blindness in another region under his purview – Iran. “We were so obsessed about trying to preserve our ties with the Iranian shah, who blew hot and cold in his attitude towards us,” Alpher says, “and we so wanted to woo and appease him that we didn’t think about or try to understand what was really happening in Iran – whether the opposition movement stands a chance, or whether we could link up with them not at the expense of our relations with the shah. It was a terrible mistake. We should have known much more about our allies in the periphery, especially when it came to dictatorships.”
With the fires of the revolution growing ever-more intense in Tehran and elsewhere in the country, Alpher was put in charge of the Iranian file in the Mossad’s research unit. “And that’s when I discover the terrible ignorance,” he says. “Despite the fact that we were invested up to our necks in that country, with 1,500 Israelis working and living there, we knew almost nothing about the opposition – a long line of high-ranking Israeli officials who had served in Iran and were sure they knew it like the back of their hand and that Iran would always remain friendly towards us.”
In mid-January, Alpher was summoned urgently to the office of Mossad chief Hofi. “They told me to come immediately – right now, drop everything and go up to Hofi,” he recalls.
With several of the intelligence agency’s top brass in attendance, Hofi briefly laid out the reason for the meeting. A little while earlier, the director said, the secular prime minister appointed by the shah to govern Iran in his stead, Shapour Bakhtiar, had approached the head of the Mossad’s Tehran branch, Eliezer Tsafrir, with a plain and simple request – for the Mossad to assassinate Khomeini.
At the time, the radical Islamic leader was somewhere near Paris, following his deportation to France from Iraq, to which he was exiled from Iran in the 1960s. Iraq had suggested killing Khomeini, but the shah rejected the idea at the time. Saddam Hussein subsequently deported him, and Khomeini found refuge in a town near Paris from where he successfully orchestrated the revolution by phone and telex machine.
Khomeini (C) in Paris before his return to Iran (Photo: AFP)
Khomeini (C) in Paris before his return to Iran (Photo: AFP)
Tsafrir passed on Bakhtiar’s request to Mossad headquarters in Tel Aviv, where the heads of the agency convened to discuss the matter.
“Mossad chief Hofi declared at the start of the meeting that because he was opposed in principle to the use of assassination against political leaders, he was inclined to reject the request; but he asked for the thoughts of those in attendance,” Alpher recounts. “Hofi looked at me quizzically. I was frustrated due to the dearth of information that I had about Khomeini. In a split second, I ran through all we knew about him in my mind.
“But before I get a chance to respond, one division dead butts in and says: ‘Let Khomeini return to Tehran. He won’t last. The army and the SAVAK will deal with him and the clergy who are demonstrating in the streets. He represents Iran’s past, not its future.’
“Hofi looked at me again. I thought about the positions of Washington and Moscow, about the implications of the success of such an operation for the Middle East, and the consequences of its failure vis-à-vis our relations with France and the Muslim world. I took a deep breath and said: We don’t have enough information about Khomeini’s viewpoints and his chances to realize them, so I cannot accurately assess whether the risk is justified.”
And indeed, the Mossad rejected the request to assassinate Khomeini. Alpher says he “deeply regrets” not supporting the Iranian prime minister’s request and the fact that the Mossad chose not to kill the Islamic leader. “Just two months after that meeting, I realized who we were dealing with, and already then I regretted not supporting Bakhtiar’s request,” Alpher says.
Bakhtiar ended up in exile in Paris, where he was assassinated a decade later by Iranian intelligence agents.
Taken for a ride
The Periphery strategy has also known its fair share of setbacks and disappointments; but above all, according to Alpher’s book, hovers the shadow of the terrible failure in connection with the Christian Maronites in Lebanon.
“They took the Mossad and all of Israel for a ride with deceit and terrible lies,” Alpher says. “They knew exactly how to take advantage of us, of our desire to support persecuted minorities; and they led very senior officials in the security establishment and Mossad to believe that they would side with us in the event of a military invasion of Lebanon.
“I was less enamored with them at the time, perhaps because I was born in the United States and I was familiar with traditional Catholic anti-Semitism, into which they too were born. The heavy blow Israel suffered in the Lebanon War and its aftermath led to a pullback, perhaps excessive, in our desire to support persecuted minorities in the years to follow.”
Alpher warns against undertaking to intervene militarily on behalf of a different minority because of the existence of a lobby within Israel itself. Israel’s Druze citizens are an important minority with a very strong parliamentary and government lobby, Alpher says, adding: “I am concerned by the statement of former chief of staff Benny Gantz, who for some reason made a commitment to the Druze dignitaries that the State of Israel would act to safeguard their fellow Druze across the border during the civil war in Syria.
“This could push us into a very hazardous adventure. We need to think things over very carefully based on our past experience. What are the risks? What is the extent of our moral obligation towards another minority in the region that runs into trouble with radical Islam?”
The successes and failures aside, what about the moral issue? After all, as part of the Periphery strategy, the Mossad forged tied with a series of dark regimes, terrible dictatorships, actively supporting them and sometimes tipping the scales in their favor.
“And to all of that you can add the fact that we knew that the issue of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion plays a very important role for them. To a certain degree even, we played that card, so they’d think we have immense influence over the world, and could manipulate US policy in their favor in particular. The Moroccans, the Iranians, the Turks, Idi Amin – they were all sure that one word from us would change Washington’s position towards them.
“What did we say to ourselves? A. It allows us to survive; B. It allows us to deter Arab aggression; C. It gives us the money, in the case of Iran for example, to launch arms development programs we couldn’t otherwise afford. Without it, you have no military industry and you cannot survive.”
“We knew we were dealing with unpleasant, oppressive, anti-Semitic regimes – call them what you want. Of course we knew. But was there an alternative? In other words, the alternative was to remain an isolated state, to wallow in our solitude in the face of a ring of Arab hostility.
“Now, even if you accept Professor Shimon Shamir’s thesis (presented in the book and highly critical of the Mossad’s Periphery strategy) that with a little more effort we could actually have made peace with our close neighbors, were those regimes any better than the ones of Idi Amin and the shah? This is the environment. This is the neighborhood in which we live. It demands tough decisions sometimes.”
Published: 06.21.15, 23:52 / Israel News
Find this story at 21 June 2015
Copyright © Yedioth Internet.
Defense Department anthrax error triggers anger in Congress (2015)
July 6, 2015
The Pentagon wouldn’t say which labs received the live anthrax by mistake or who might have been exposed. The shipments went to facilities in nine states.
Military officials said Thursday that the Pentagon was in close contact with officials at research labs in California, Texas and seven other states that received potentially live anthrax spores, but they refused to identify the labs or to disclose how many people were being treated with antibiotics to stave off the disease.
A Defense Department spokesman, Army Col. Steven Warren, said 22 personnel at Osan Air Base in South Korea were taking the antibiotic Cipro as a precaution against anthrax exposure. But he declined to talk about whether workers at labs or other facilities in the United States were also taking Cipro.
The lack of information was criticized by members of Congress, who demanded answers on how the mistaken shipments happened and who had been affected.
“This incident represents a serious breach of trust in the United States Army’s obligation to keep our citizens and service members safe,” Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a letter to Army Secretary John McHugh. “Moreover, the shipments to a South Korea air base weaken the United States’ credibility as a global leader in chemical weapons control.”
In a separate letter, a bipartisan group of members of the House of Representatives told Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Tom Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that the inadvertent shipments of live anthrax “raise serious safety concerns” about the way the military handles “dangerous pathogens.”
The letter was signed by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the panel’s senior Democrat, Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, as well as two committee members, Republican Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania and Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado.
In comments to reporters Thursday, Warren acknowledged that he did not “have a whole lot of details on the exact purpose” of the anthrax shipments to Osan Air Base. In an earlier statement, Warren had said the anthrax shipments were part of a pilot program to develop a field test to identify biological threats in the environment.
In addition to Osan, the Defense Department said it suspected that labs in nine states had received live anthrax because they had been recipients of the same “cluster” of shipments.
In addition to facilities in California and Texas, those labs included military, university or commercial enterprises in Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland and Wisconsin. The anthrax was shipped from a Defense Department lab in Dugway, Utah.
Warren said the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was working to determine who might have handled the anthrax shipments before they reached the nine destinations.
He declined to describe what kind of packaging was used to ship the anthrax or to confirm news reports that FedEx had transported at least some of the shipments.
Live anthrax requires strict handling protocols, and anthrax samples are supposed to be rendered inactive before being shipped for research uses. All military, government and civilian labs that might have received such samples are now reviewing their anthrax inventories.
“Out of an abundance of caution, DOD has stopped the shipment of this material from its labs pending completion of the investigation,” Warren said.
“The ongoing investigation includes determining if the labs also received other live samples, epidemiological consultation, worker safety review, laboratory analysis and handling of laboratory waste,” said Jason McDonald, a spokesman for the CDC.
Anthrax burst into the American psyche one week after the 2001 terror attacks in New York and Washington, when over the course of several weeks five people died and 17 survived infection after anthrax-laced letters were sent to several news organization and to the offices of two U.S. senators.
Two of the dead in 2001 were postal workers who’d come in contact with anthrax when the letters containing the spores passed through the Brentwood mail facility in Washington, D.C. Another was an employee of a Florida media company that had received one of the letters. How the other two victims were exposed has never been determined.
Over the next seven years, the FBI and other prosecutors named two men as having possible ties to those anthrax attacks, Steven Hatfill and Bruce Ivins, but the government never brought charges against either of them.
In the current case, four Defense Department employees in the United States who’d handled the samples have been placed in post-exposure treatment in addition to the 22 in South Korea, CNN reported.
Warren defended the speed with which the Pentagon made public the information that live anthrax had inadvertently been shipped. That notification came five days after a research lab in Maryland told the Pentagon that it had received live anthrax in a package that was supposed to contain only inactive spores.
“We got the information out as rapidly as we could,” he said. “It’s important to have as much accurate information as possible. Once we understood that there was no threat to the public, we understood that we had additional time to gather more information and present a more complete picture.”
Osan Air Base in South Korea said in a statement that “all personnel were provided appropriate medical precautionary measures to include examinations, antibiotics and in some instances, vaccinations. None of the personnel have shown any signs of possible exposure.”
The base added: “Hazardous material teams immediately cordoned off the facility, decontaminated it under Centers for Disease Control protocol, and destroyed the agent.”
BY JAMES ROSEN – MCCLATCHY WASHINGTON BUREAU
28 May 2015
Find this story at 28 May 2015
THE CIA CAMPAIGN TO STEAL APPLE’S SECRETS
July 6, 2015
RESEARCHERS WORKING with the Central Intelligence Agency have conducted a multi-year, sustained effort to break the security of Apple’s iPhones and iPads, according to top-secret documents obtained by The Intercept.
The security researchers presented their latest tactics and achievements at a secret annual gathering, called the “Jamboree,” where attendees discussed strategies for exploiting security flaws in household and commercial electronics. The conferences have spanned nearly a decade, with the first CIA-sponsored meeting taking place a year before the first iPhone was released.
By targeting essential security keys used to encrypt data stored on Apple’s devices, the researchers have sought to thwart the company’s attempts to provide mobile security to hundreds of millions of Apple customers across the globe. Studying both “physical” and “non-invasive” techniques, U.S. government-sponsored research has been aimed at discovering ways to decrypt and ultimately penetrate Apple’s encrypted firmware. This could enable spies to plant malicious code on Apple devices and seek out potential vulnerabilities in other parts of the iPhone and iPad currently masked by encryption.
The CIA declined to comment for this story.
The security researchers also claimed they had created a modified version of Apple’s proprietary software development tool, Xcode, which could sneak surveillance backdoors into any apps or programs created using the tool. Xcode, which is distributed by Apple to hundreds of thousands of developers, is used to create apps that are sold through Apple’s App Store.
The modified version of Xcode, the researchers claimed, could enable spies to steal passwords and grab messages on infected devices. Researchers also claimed the modified Xcode could “force all iOS applications to send embedded data to a listening post.” It remains unclear how intelligence agencies would get developers to use the poisoned version of Xcode.
Researchers also claimed they had successfully modified the OS X updater, a program used to deliver updates to laptop and desktop computers, to install a “keylogger.”
Other presentations at the CIA conference have focused on the products of Apple’s competitors, including Microsoft’s BitLocker encryption system, which is used widely on laptop and desktop computers running premium editions of Windows.
The revelations that the CIA has waged a secret campaign to defeat the security mechanisms built into Apple’s devices come as Apple and other tech giants are loudly resisting pressure from senior U.S. and U.K. government officials to weaken the security of their products. Law enforcement agencies want the companies to maintain the government’s ability to bypass security tools built into wireless devices. Perhaps more than any other corporate leader, Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, has taken a stand for privacy as a core value, while sharply criticizing the actions of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
“If U.S. products are OK to target, that’s news to me,” says Matthew Green, a cryptography expert at Johns Hopkins University’s Information Security Institute. “Tearing apart the products of U.S. manufacturers and potentially putting backdoors in software distributed by unknowing developers all seems to be going a bit beyond ‘targeting bad guys.’ It may be a means to an end, but it’s a hell of a means.”
Apple declined to comment for this story, instead pointing to previous comments Cook and the company have made defending Apple’s privacy record.
Lockheed Martin Dulles Executive Plaza, Herndon, Virginia.
SECURITY RESEARCHERS from Sandia National Laboratories presented their Apple-focused research at a secret annual CIA conference called the Trusted Computing Base Jamboree. The Apple research and the existence of the conference are detailed in documents provided to The Intercept by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The conference was sponsored by the CIA’s Information Operations Center, which conducts covert cyberattacks. The aim of the gathering, according to a 2012 internal NSA wiki, was to host “presentations that provide important information to developers trying to circumvent or exploit new security capabilities,” as well as to “exploit new avenues of attack.” NSA personnel also participated in the conference through the NSA’s counterpart to the CIA’s Trusted Computing Base, according to the document. The NSA did not provide comment for this story.
The Jamboree was held at a Lockheed Martin facility inside an executive office park in northern Virginia. Lockheed is one of the largest defense contractors in the world; its tentacles stretch into every aspect of U.S. national security and intelligence. The company is akin to a privatized wing of the U.S. national security state — more than 80 percent of its total revenue comes from the U.S. government. Via a subsidiary, Lockheed also operates Sandia Labs, which is funded by the U.S. government. The lab’s researchers have presented Apple findings at the CIA conference.
“Lockheed Martin’s role in these activities should not be surprising given its leading role in the national surveillance state,” says William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and author of Prophets of War, a book that chronicles Lockheed’s history. “It is the largest private intelligence contractor in the world, and it has worked on past surveillance programs for the Pentagon, the CIA and the NSA. If you’re looking for a candidate for Big Brother, Lockheed Martin fits the bill.”
The Apple research is consistent with a much broader secret U.S. government program to analyze “secure communications products, both foreign and domestic” in order to “develop exploitation capabilities against the authentication and encryption schemes,” according to the 2013 Congressional Budget Justification. Known widely as the “Black Budget,” the top-secret CBJ was provided to The Intercept by Snowden and gives a sprawling overview of the U.S. intelligence community’s spending and architecture. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
As of 2013, according to the classified budget, U.S. intelligence agencies were creating new capabilities against dozens of commercially produced security products, including those made by American companies, to seek out vulnerabilities.
Last week, CIA Director John Brennan announced a major reorganization at the agency aimed, in large part, at expanding U.S. cyber-operations. The Information Operations Center, which organized the Jamboree conferences, will be folded into a new Directorate of Digital Innovation. Notwithstanding its innocuous name, a major priority of the directorate will be offensive cyberattacks, sabotage and digital espionage. Brennan said the CIA reorganization will be modeled after the agency’s Counterterrorism Center, which runs the U.S. targeted killing and drone program.
THE DOCUMENTS do not address how successful the targeting of Apple’s encryption mechanisms have been, nor do they provide any detail about the specific use of such exploits by U.S. intelligence. But they do shed light on an ongoing campaign aimed at defeating the tech giant’s efforts to secure its products, and in turn, its customers’ private data.
“Spies gonna spy,” says Steven Bellovin, a former chief technologist for the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and current professor at Columbia University. “I’m never surprised by what intelligence agencies do to get information. They’re going to go where the info is, and as it moves, they’ll adjust their tactics. Their attitude is basically amoral: whatever works is OK.”
Bellovin says he generally supports efforts by U.S. intelligence to “hack” devices — including Apple’s — used by terrorists and criminals, but expressed concern that such capabilities could be abused. “There are bad people out there, and it’s reasonable to seek information on them,” he says, cautioning that “inappropriate use — mass surveillance, targeting Americans without a warrant, probably spying on allies — is another matter entirely.”
In the top-secret documents, ranging from 2010 through 2012, the researchers appear particularly intent on extracting encryption keys that prevent unauthorized access to data stored — and firmware run — on Apple products.
“The Intelligence Community (IC) is highly dependent on a very small number of security flaws, many of which are public, which Apple eventually patches,” the researchers noted in an abstract of their 2011 presentation at the Jamboree. But, they promised, their presentation could provide the intelligence community with a “method to noninvasively extract” encryption keys used on Apple devices. Another presentation focused on physically extracting the key from Apple’s hardware.
A year later, at the 2012 Jamboree, researchers described their attacks on the software used by developers to create applications for Apple’s popular App Store. In a talk called “Strawhorse: Attacking the MacOS and iOS Software Development Kit,” a presenter from Sandia Labs described a successful “whacking” of Apple’s Xcode — the software used to create apps for iPhones, iPads and Mac computers. Developers who create Apple-approved and distributed apps overwhelmingly use Xcode, a free piece of software easily downloaded from the App Store.
The researchers boasted that they had discovered a way to manipulate Xcode so that it could serve as a conduit for infecting and extracting private data from devices on which users had installed apps that were built with the poisoned Xcode. In other words, by manipulating Xcode, the spies could compromise the devices and private data of anyone with apps made by a poisoned developer — potentially millions of people. “Trying to plant stuff in Xcode has fascinating implications,” says Bellovin.
The researchers listed a variety of actions their “whacked” Xcode could perform, including:
— “Entice” all Mac applications to create a “remote backdoor” allowing undetected access to an Apple computer.
— Secretly embed an app developer’s private key into all iOS applications. (This could potentially allow spies to impersonate the targeted developer.)
— “Force all iOS applications” to send data from an iPhone or iPad back to a U.S. intelligence “listening post.”
— Disable core security features on Apple devices.
THE INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY IS HIGHLY DEPENDENT ON A VERY SMALL NUMBER OF SECURITY FLAWS, MANY OF WHICH ARE PUBLIC, WHICH APPLE EVENTUALLY PATCHES.
For years, U.S. and British intelligence agencies have consistently sought to defeat the layers of encryption and other security features used by Apple to protect the iPhone. A joint task force comprised of operatives from the NSA and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, formed in 2010, developed surveillance software targeting iPhones, Android devices and Nokia’s Symbian phones. The Mobile Handset Exploitation Team successfully implanted malware on iPhones as part of WARRIOR PRIDE, a GCHQ framework for secretly accessing private communications on mobile devices.
That program was disclosed in Snowden documents reported on last year by The Guardian. A WARRIOR PRIDE plugin called NOSEY SMURF allowed spies to remotely and secretly activate a phone’s microphone. Another plugin, DREAMY SMURF, allowed intelligence agents to manage the power system on a phone and thus avoid detection. PARANOID SMURF was designed to conceal the malware in other ways. TRACKER SMURF allowed ultra-precise geolocating of an individual phone. “[If] its [sic] on the phone, we can get it,” the spies boasted in a secret GCHQ document describing the targeting of the iPhone.
All of the SMURF malware — including the plugin that secretly turns on the iPhone’s microphone — would first require that agencies bypass the security controls built into the iOS operating system. Spies would either need to hack the phone in order to plant their malware on it, or sneak a backdoor into an app the user installed voluntarily. That was one of the clear aims of the Apple-focused research presented at the CIA’s conference.
“The U.S. government is prioritizing its own offensive surveillance needs over the cybersecurity of the millions of Americans who use Apple products,” says Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union. “If U.S. government-funded researchers can discover these flaws, it is quite likely that Chinese, Russian and Israeli researchers can discover them, too. By quietly exploiting these flaws rather than notifying Apple, the U.S. government leaves Apple’s customers vulnerable to other sophisticated governments.”
Security experts interviewed by The Intercept point out that the SMURF capabilities were already available to U.S. and British intelligence agencies five years ago. That raises the question of how advanced the current capacity to surveil smartphone users is, especially in light of the extensive resources poured into targeting the products of major tech companies. One GCHQ slide from 2010 stated that the agency’s ultimate goal was to be able to “Exploit any phone, anywhere, any time.”
Steve Jobs unveiling the first iPhone on January 9, 2007.
THE FIRST JAMBOREE took place in 2006, just as Apple was preparing to unveil its highly-anticipated iPhone. In March 2010, according to a top-secret document, during a talk called “Rocoto: Implanting the iPhone,” a presenter discussed efforts to target the iPhone 3G. In addition to analyzing the device’s software for potential vulnerabilities, the presentation examined “jailbreak methods,” used within the iPhone community to free phones from their built-in constraints, that could be leveraged by intelligence agencies. “We will conclude with a look ahead at future challenges presented by the iPhone 3GS and the upcoming iPad,” the abstract noted. Over the years, as Apple updates its hardware, software and encryption methods, the CIA and its researchers study ways to break and exploit them.
The attempts to target vulnerabilities in Apple’s products have not occurred in a vacuum. Rather, they are part of a vast multi-agency U.S./U.K. effort to attack commercial encryption and security systems used on billions of devices around the world. U.S. intelligence agencies are not just focusing on individual terrorists or criminals — they are targeting the large corporations, such as Apple, that produce popular mobile devices.
“Every other manufacturer looks to Apple. If the CIA can undermine Apple’s systems, it’s likely they’ll be able to deploy the same capabilities against everyone else,” says Green, the Johns Hopkins cryptographer. “Apple led the way with secure coprocessors in phones, with fingerprint sensors, with encrypted messages. If you can attack Apple, then you can probably attack anyone.”
According to the Black Budget, U.S. intelligence agencies have tech companies dead in their sights with the aim of breaking or circumventing any existing or emerging encryption or antiviral products, noting the threat posed by “increasingly strong commercial” encryption and “adversarial cryptography.”
The Analysis of Target Systems Project produced “prototype capabilities” for the intelligence community, enabled “the defeat of strong commercial data security systems” and developed ways “to exploit emerging information systems and technologies,” according to the classified budget. The project received $35 million in funding in 2012 and had more than 200 personnel assigned to it. By the end of 2013, according to the budget, the project would “develop new capabilities against 50 commercial information security device products to exploit emerging technologies,” as well as new methods that would allow spies to recover user and device passwords on new products.
Among the project’s missions:
— Analyze “secure communications products, both foreign and domestic produced” to “develop exploitation capabilities against the authentication and encryption schemes.”
— “[D]evelop exploitation capabilities against network communications protocols and commercial network security products.”
— “Anticipate future encryption technologies” and “prepare strategies to exploit those technologies.”
— “Develop, enhance, and implement software attacks against encrypted signals.”
— “Develop exploitation capabilities against specific key management and authentication schemes.”
— “[D]evelop exploitation capabilities against emerging multimedia applications.”
— Provide tools for “exploiting” devices used to “store, manage, protect, or communicate data.”
— “Develop methods to discover and exploit communication systems employing public key cryptography” and “communications protected by passwords or pass phrases.”
— Exploit public key cryptography.
— Exploit Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, which allow people to browse the Internet with increased security and anonymity.
The black budget also noted that the U.S. intelligence community partners with “National Laboratories” to conduct the type of research presented at the CIA’s annual Jamboree conference. It confirms the U.S. government’s aggressive efforts to steal encryption and authentication keys, as occurred in the NSA and GCHQ operations against Gemalto, the world’s largest manufacturer of SIM cards, through the use of Computer Network Exploitation attacks. In that case, spy agencies penetrated Gemalto’s internal networks and cyberstalked its employees to steal mass quantities of keys used to encrypt mobile phone communications.
The CIA’s Information Operations Center is currently the second largest of the spy agency’s specialized centers. It not only conducts cyber-ops, but has operated covertly in other nations, working to develop assets from targeted countries to assist in its cyber-surveillance programs, according to the Black Budget. At times, its personnel brief the president.
U.S. President Barack Obama holds up an iPad.
AT THE CIA’s Jamboree in 2011, the computer researchers conducted workshops where they revealed the specifics of their efforts to attack one of the key privacy elements of Apple’s mobile devices. These machines have two separate keys integrated into the silicon of their Apple-designed processors at the point of manufacture. The two, paired together, are used to encrypt data and software stored on iPhones and iPads. One, the User ID, is unique to an individual’s phone, and is not retained by Apple. That key is vital to protecting an individual’s data and — particularly on Apple’s latest devices — difficult to steal. A second key, the Group ID, is known to Apple and is the same across multiple Apple devices that use the same processor. The GID is used to encrypt essential system software that runs on Apple’s mobile devices.
The focus of the security researchers, as described at the CIA conferences, was to target the GID key, which Apple implants on all devices that use the same processors. For instance, Apple’s A4 processor was used in the iPhone 4, the iPod Touch and the original iPad. All of those devices used the same GID. As Apple designs new processors and faster devices that use those processors, the company creates new GIDs. If someone has the same iPhone as her neighbor, they have the exact same GID key on their devices. So, if intelligence agencies extract the GID key, it means they have information useful to compromising any device containing that key.
At the 2011 Jamboree conference, there were two separate presentations on hacking the GID key on Apple’s processors. One was focused on non-invasively obtaining it by studying the electromagnetic emissions of — and the amount of power used by — the iPhone’s processor while encryption is being performed. Careful analysis of that information could be used to extract the encryption key. Such a tactic is known as a “side channel” attack. The second focused on a “method to physically extract the GID key.”
Whatever method the CIA and its partners use, by extracting the GID — which is implanted on the processors of all Apple mobile devices — the CIA and its allies could be able to decrypt the firmware that runs on the iPhone and other mobile devices. This would allow them to seek out other security vulnerabilities to exploit. Taken together, the documents make clear that researching each new Apple processor and mobile device, and studying them for potential security flaws, is a priority for the CIA.
According to the 2011 document describing the Jamboree presentations on Apple’s processor, the researchers asserted that extracting the GID key could also allow them to look for other potential gateways into Apple devices. “If successful, it would enable decryption and analysis of the boot firmware for vulnerabilities, and development of associated exploits across the entire A4-based product-line, which includes the iPhone 4, the iPod touch and the iPad.”
At the CIA conference in 2012, Sandia researchers delivered a presentation on Apple’s A5 processor. The A5 is used in the iPhone 4s and iPad 2. But this time, it contained no abstract or other details, instructing those interested to contact a CIA official on his secure phone or email.
“If I were Tim Cook, I’d be furious,” says the ACLU’s Soghoian. “If Apple is mad at the intelligence community, and they should be, they should put their lawyers to work. Lawsuits speak louder than words.”
Apple CEO Tim Cook testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 21, 2013.
FOR YEARS, Apple has included encryption features in the products it sells to consumers. In 2014, the company dramatically broadened the types of data stored on iPhones that are encrypted, and it incorporated encryption by default into its desktop and laptop operating system. This resulted in criticism from leading law enforcement officials, including the FBI director. The encryption technology that Apple has built into its products — along with many other security features — is a virtual wall that separates cybercriminals and foreign governments from customer data. But now, because Apple claims it can no longer extract customer data stored on iPhones, because it is encrypted with a key the company does not know, the U.S. government can be locked out too — even with a search warrant. The FBI director and other U.S. officials have referred to the advent of the encryption era — where previously accessible data and communications may now be off limits because of the security technology protecting them — as “going dark.”
In the face of this rising challenge to its surveillance capabilities, U.S. intelligence has spent considerable time and resources trying to find security vulnerabilities in Apple’s encryption technology, and, more broadly, in its products, which can be leveraged to install surveillance software on iPhones and Macbooks. “The exploitation of security flaws is a high-priority area for the U.S. intelligence community, and such methods have only become more important as U.S. technology companies have built strong encryption into their products,” says the ACLU’s Soghoian.
Microsoft has, for nearly a decade, included BitLocker, an encryption technology that protects data stored on a computer, in its Windows operating system. Unlike Apple, which made encryption available to all customers, Microsoft had included this feature only in its more expensive premium and professional versions of Windows, up until a few years ago. BitLocker is designed to work with a Trusted Platform Module, a special security chip included in some computers, which stores the encryption keys and also protects against unauthorized software modification.
Also presented at the Jamboree were successes in the targeting of Microsoft’s disk encryption technology, and the TPM chips that are used to store its encryption keys. Researchers at the CIA conference in 2010 boasted about the ability to extract the encryption keys used by BitLocker and thus decrypt private data stored on the computer. Because the TPM chip is used to protect the system from untrusted software, attacking it could allow the covert installation of malware onto the computer, which could be used to access otherwise encrypted communications and files of consumers. Microsoft declined to comment for this story.
In the wake of the initial Snowden disclosures, Apple CEO Tim Cook has specifically denounced the U.S. government’s efforts to compel companies to provide backdoor access to their users’ data.
As corporations increasingly integrate default encryption methods and companies like Apple incorporate their own indigenous encryption technologies into easy-to-use text, voice and video communication platforms, the U.S. and British governments are panicking. “Encryption threatens to lead all of us to a very dark place,” declared FBI Director James Comey in an October 2014 lecture at the Brookings Institution. Citing the recent moves by Apple to strengthen default encryption on its operating systems, and commitments by Google to incorporate such tools, Comey said, “This means the companies themselves won’t be able to unlock phones, laptops, and tablets to reveal photos, documents, e-mail, and recordings stored within.”
Under current U.S. regulations, law enforcement agencies can get a court order to access communications channeled through major tech companies and wireless providers. But if those communications are encrypted through a process not accessible by any involved company, the data is essentially meaningless, garbled gibberish. “In a world in which data is encrypted, and the providers don’t have the keys, suddenly, there is no one to go to when they have a warrant,” says Soghoian. “That is, even if they get a court order, it doesn’t help them. That is what is freaking them out.”
Comey alleged that “even a supercomputer would have difficulty with today’s high-level encryption,” meaning a “brute force” attempt to decrypt intercepted communications would be ineffective, and, even if successful, time-consuming.
“Encryption isn’t just a technical feature; it’s a marketing pitch,” Comey added. “But it will have very serious consequences for law enforcement and national security agencies at all levels. Sophisticated criminals will come to count on these means of evading detection. It’s the equivalent of a closet that can’t be opened. A safe that can’t be cracked.”
A few months after Comey’s remarks, Robert Litt, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, also appeared at Brookings. “One of the many ways in which Snowden’s leaks have damaged our national security is by driving a wedge between the government and providers and technology companies, so that some companies that formerly recognized that protecting our nation was a valuable and important public service now feel compelled to stand in opposition,” Litt said. He appealed to corporations to embrace “a solution that does not compromise the integrity of encryption technology but that enables both encryption to protect privacy and decryption under lawful authority to protect national security.”
Green, the Johns Hopkins professor, argues that U.S. government attacks against the products of American companies will not just threaten privacy, but will ultimately harm the U.S. economy. “U.S. tech companies have already suffered overseas due to foreign concerns about our products’ security,” he says. “The last thing any of us need is for the U.S. government to actively undermine our own technology industry.”
The U.S. government is certainly not alone in the war against secure communications. British Prime Minister David Cameron has suggested that if he is re-elected, he may seek to ban encrypted chat programs that do not provide backdoor access to law enforcement. “Are we going to allow a means of communications which it simply isn’t possible to read?” Cameron said in a speech in England earlier this year. “My answer to that question is: ‘No, we must not.’”
When the Chinese government recently tried to force tech companies to install a backdoor in their products for use by Chinese intelligence agencies, the U.S. government denounced China. “This is something that I’ve raised directly with President Xi,” President Obama said in early March. “We have made it very clear to them that this is something they are going to have to change if they are to do business with the United States.” But China was actually following the U.S. government’s lead. The FBI has called for an expansion of U.S. law, which would require Apple and its competitors to design their products so that all communications could be made available to government agencies. NSA officials have expressed similar sentiments.
“Obama’s comments were dripping with hypocrisy,” says Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation. “Don’t get me wrong, his actual criticism of China for attempting to force tech companies to install backdoors was spot on — now if only he would apply what he said to his own government. Since he now knows backdooring encryption is a terrible policy that will damage cybersecurity, privacy, and the economy, why won’t he order the FBI and NSA to stop pushing for it as well?”
Documents published with this article:
TCB Jamboree 2012 Invitation
Strawhorse: Attacking the MacOS and iOS Software Development Kit
TPM Vulnerabilities to Power Analysis and An Exposed Exploit to Bitlocker
TCB Jamboree 2012
Apple A4/A5 Application Processors Analysis
Differential Power Analysis on the Apple A4 Processor
Secure Key Extraction by Physical De-Processing of Apple’s A4 Processor
Rocoto: Implanting the iPhone
Smurf Capability – iPhone
Black Budget: Cryptanalysis & Exploitation Services – Analysis of Target Systems
Andrew Fishman, Alleen Brown, Andrea Jones, Ryan Gallagher, Morgan Marquis-Boire, and Micah Lee contributed to this story.
Note: An earlier draft of this story incorrectly suggested that the iOS Group ID is used to sign software. An earlier draft also incorrectly stated that Lockheed Martin owns Sandia National Laboratories. Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, operates Sandia National Laboratories as a contractor for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.
Disclosure: Freedom of the Press Foundation, which Trevor Timm represents, has received grant funding from First Look Media, The Intercept’s parent company. Intercept co-founders Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras are on the board of the organization.
Photo: Google Maps; Simon Dawson/Bloomberg/Getty Images; Tony Avelar/Getty Images; Kevin Lamarque/Reuters/Landov; J. Scott Applewhite/AP
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BY JEREMY SCAHILL AND JOSH BEGLEY @jeremyscahill@joshbegley 10 MAR 2015
Find this story at 10 March 2015
WikiLeaks – Chirac, Sarkozy et Hollande : trois présidents sur écoute
July 6, 2015
WIKILEAKS Les documents obtenus par WikiLeaks et que publie «Libération» révèlent que la NSA a, au moins de 2006 à mai 2012, espionné Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy et François Hollande.
Un adage en vogue dans les milieux du renseignement veut qu’en matière d’espionnage, on n’ait pas d’alliés – ou, à tout le moins, qu’ils ne soient pas forcément des amis. «S’espionner entre amis, cela ne se fait pas», s’était d’ailleurs indignée Angela Merkel en apprenant en octobre 2013, par des révélations du Spiegel, que l’Agence nationale de sécurité (NSA) américaine avait ciblé son téléphone portable. Une sélection de documents que publient Libération et Mediapart en collaboration avec WikiLeaks révèle qu’en France, ce sont trois présidents successifs, et certains de leurs collaborateurs, qui ont été espionnés sur une période allant au moins de 2006, lors du second mandat de Jacques Chirac, à mai 2012, juste après l’installation à l’Elysée de François Hollande.
Ces documents obtenus par WikiLeaks – regroupés sous le titre «Espionnage Elysée» – consistent notamment en cinq rapports d’analyse émanant de la NSA, sous l’intitulé «Global SIGINT Highlights», autrement dit, des «faits marquants» tirés du renseignement d’origine électromagnétique, les interceptions de communications. Tous sont classés «Top Secret», et destinés à des responsables de la NSA et de la communauté américaine du renseignement ; seuls deux d’entre eux, les plus anciens, sont voués à être partagés au sein des «Five Eyes», l’alliance des services de renseignement des Etats-Unis, de l’Australie, du Canada, de la Nouvelle-Zélande et du Royaume-Uni, les autres étant exclusivement à usage américain. Ces comptes rendus émanent, selon des experts interrogés par WikiLeaks, d’un bureau identifié comme étant celui des Summary Services («le service des synthèses»).
On peut y lire, notamment, comment Jacques Chirac a, en 2006, poussé son candidat pour le poste de sous-secrétaire général adjoint des Nations unies, mais aussi que, selon la NSA, le ministre des Affaires étrangères de l’époque, Philippe Douste-Blazy, avait une «propension […] à faire des déclarations inexactes ou inopportunes». On peut y lire aussi – ce qui ne surprendra personne – que Nicolas Sarkozy se voyait, en 2008, comme «le seul homme capable de résoudre la crise financière». Ou qu’il se plaignait, en 2010, du «recul de Washington sur sa proposition d’accord de coopération bilatérale sur le renseignement», accord que les deux interlocuteurs mentionnés dans la note, l’ambassadeur de France à Washington, Pierre Vimont, et le conseiller diplomatique, Jean-David Levitte, attribuaient précisément au «souhait des Etats-Unis de continuer à espionner la France»…
Le mémo le plus récent date du 22 mai 2012 – soit après la mise en place d’un protocole d’échanges d’informations entre la Direction générale de la sécurité extérieure (DGSE) et la NSA, qui remonterait, selon le Monde, à la fin 2011 – et fait état de «réunions secrètes» pour discuter d’une possible sortie de la Grèce de la zone euro, mais également des inquiétudes de Jean-Marc Ayrault quant aux réactions d’Angela Merkel si elle venait à avoir vent de la rencontre entre le nouveau président et l’opposition allemande.
A vrai dire, si le contenu des notes est classé comme hautement confidentiel, il ne révèle pas pour autant de secrets d’Etat. Il témoigne, en tout état de cause, de l’intérêt porté par la NSA à la France. A ce titre, l’autre type de document obtenu par WikiLeaks est au moins aussi frappant. Il s’agit d’un extrait d’une base de données de la NSA mentionnant une série de numéros de téléphone, fixes et mobiles, identifiés comme des «sélecteurs». Autrement dit, sur la base d’une collecte massive d’informations, l’agence identifie des cibles qui motivent par la suite des recherches précises de contenus. Le tout en fonction de «besoins d’information» formalisés à partir de 2002, qui touchent à la politique intérieure ou aux enjeux économiques.
Extrait d’une base de données de la NSA montrant les personnalités politiques qu’ils ont ciblé.
«NOUVELLES POSSIBILITÉS DE COLLECTE»
Dans cette liste, qui date d’après nos recoupements de l’année 2010, Libération a pu identifier les numéros de portable de membres de l’exécutif – le président Nicolas Sarkozy, les secrétaires d’Etat aux Affaires européennes et au Commerce Jean-Pierre Jouyet et Pierre Lellouche –, mais aussi des cibles plus larges : le standard du ministère des Finances, celui de l’Agriculture, ainsi que l’antenne à l’Elysée du Centre de transmissions gouvernemental, qui dépend du Secrétariat général de la défense et de la sécurité nationale (SGDSN). Ce service est précisément responsable de la sécurisation des communications de l’exécutif, ainsi que de la permanence des liaisons gouvernementales, le «téléphone rouge». Rien n’indique pour autant que les liaisons sécurisées aient, elles, été compromises.
Parmi les autres noms, la liste témoigne d’une identification plutôt précise des interlocuteurs. Les téléphones mobiles de conseillers du Président, comme le secrétaire général de l’Elysée de l’époque, Claude Guéant, ou Jean-David Levitte, sont aussi listés. Contactés par Libération, ni l’un ni l’autre ne se disent surpris. Le premier juge le procédé «inadmissible». Le second, philosophe, indique être «toujours parti du principe [qu’il était] écouté, et pas seulement par nos amis et partenaires américains».
On trouve aussi des membres du cabinet ou de l’administration du ministère des Affaires étrangères – son porte-parole d’alors, Bernard Valero, ainsi que Laurence Tubiana, fonctionnaire au Quai d’Orsay qui a été chargée en 2009 des négociations pour la conférence sur le climat de Copenhague. A la différence des autres cibles, cette dernière ne relève d’ailleurs pas de la branche chargée d’intercepter les communications européennes, le «S2C32» (déjà identifié dans le scandale Merkel), mais d’un bureau chargé notamment d’«améliorer l’accès à la cible», d’«accroître les efforts de ciblage et d’exploitation» et de «développer de nouvelles possibilités de collecte». En clair, de voir dans quelle mesure il serait possible de pirater son téléphone, voire d’installer des logiciels espions dans son ordinateur.
Cette sélection de documents ne révèle qu’une partie des activités de la NSA en matière d’espionnage des dirigeants français : rien ne permet de connaître la quantité de comptes rendus d’écoutes ayant été communiqués aux dirigeants de la NSA, et les présidents prennent également des précautions pour évoquer les sujets les plus sensibles – rencontres bilatérales ou communications chiffrées. Mais les documents confirment, en tout état de cause, à quel point les Etats-Unis peuvent s’intéresser au détail des communications de dirigeants de pays alliés. En octobre 2013, le député socialiste Jean-Jacques Urvoas, rapporteur du projet de loi sur le renseignement, se plaignait d’ailleurs dans les colonnes du Monde que «les Etats-Unis n’ont pas d’alliés, ils n’ont que des cibles ou des vassaux».
Reste désormais à savoir si ces pratiques se sont poursuivies au-delà de la date des derniers documents que nous publions en collaboration avec WikiLeaks. Sollicité par Libération et Mediapart, l’entourage de François Hollande assure qu’au moment de la visite d’Etat du Président à Washington, en février 2014, «l’engagement a été pris [par Barack Obama] de ne plus pratiquer d’écoutes indifférenciées concernant les services de l’Etat des pays alliés». Egalement sollicités, ni la NSA ni la Maison Blanche n’avaient encore réagi, mardi soir à l’heure du bouclage.
L’espionnage à l’étranger est l’ultime «zone grise» du renseignement – il est d’ailleurs, en France, le véritable point aveugle du projet de loi sur le renseignement, voué à être adopté ce mercredi. En avril, une résolution de l’Assemblée parlementaire du Conseil de l’Europe préconisait la mise en place d’un «code du renseignement multilatéral». On en est évidemment encore très loin.
AMAELLE GUITON , ALEXANDRE LÉCHENET , JEAN-MARC MANACH ET AVEC JULIAN ASSANGE 23 JUIN 2015 À 21:55 (MIS À JOUR : 23 JUIN 2015 À 22:56)
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As Internal Docs Show Major Overreach, Why Is FBI Spying on Opponents of Keystone XL Pipeline?
June 26, 2015
A new report confirms for the first time that the FBI spied on activists in Texas who tried to stop the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Documents from the FBI reveal it failed to get approval before it cultivated informants and opened its investigation, which was run from its Houston field office. The files document “substantial non-compliance” with Department of Justice rules. The Tar Sands Blockade mentioned in that report was one of the main groups targeted by the FBI. Agents in Houston office also told TransCanada they would share “pertinent intelligence regarding any threats” to the company in advance of protests. We are joined by Adam Federman, contributing editor to Earth Island Journal and co-author of the new investigation published by The Guardian, “Revealed: FBI violated its own rules while spying on Keystone XL opponents.” In February, he also revealed how the FBI has recently pursued environmental activists in Texas, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Washington and Idaho for “little more than taking photographs of oil and gas industry installations.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: A new report confirms for the first time that the FBI spied on activists in Texas who tried to stop the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The report is based on FBI documents obtained by The Guardian and the Earth Island Journal. The documents also reveal that the FBI failed to get approval before it cultivated informants and opened its investigation, which was run from its Houston field office. The files document, quote, “substantial non-compliance” with Department of Justice rules. Much of the FBI’s surveillance took place between November of 2012 and June 2014.
AMY GOODMAN: The Tar Sands Blockade mentioned in the report was one of the main groups targeted by the FBI. Agents in Houston also told TransCanada they would share, quote, “pertinent intelligence regarding any threats” to the company in advance of protests.
For more, we are joined by Adam Federman, contributing editor to Earth Island Journal, co-author of this new investigation that was published by The Guardian. It’s headlined “Revealed: FBI Violated Its Own Rules While Spying on Keystone XL Opponents.” In February, he also revealed how the FBI has recently pursued environmental activists in Texas, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Washington and Idaho for, quote, “little more than taking photographs of oil and gas industry installations.”
Adam Federman, thank you so much for joining us from Burlington, Vermont. Talk about this most recent exposé. How do you know the FBI was spying on those who are opposed to the Keystone XL?
ADAM FEDERMAN: Yeah, the recent investigation is based on more than 80 pages of documents that we obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. And the most striking thing about them is that they demonstrated for the first time that the FBI opened an investigation into anti-Keystone pipeline campaigners in Texas in 2012, late 2012, and that investigation continued through 2013, despite the fact that it was opened without proper approval from within the FBI. And what’s interesting about them is that they show extensive interest in Tar Sands Blockade and activists organizing in Houston, particularly in, yeah, neighborhoods in East Houston, where tar sands oil would eventually end up at the refineries that are based there.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of the most surprising revelations that you found in these documents, could you talk about that?
ADAM FEDERMAN: Yeah, there are several. I mean, the fact that the investigation was opened without proper approval is probably most noteworthy. The FBI requires approval from legal counsel and a senior agent for investigations that are described as sensitive, and those include investigations into political or religious organizations, media institutions, academic institutions, and basically they set a higher threshold for opening an investigation. So, the fact that the Houston domain failed to do that obviously violates agency protocol.
But I think, more broadly, the documents also sort of illuminate the FBI’s characterization of environmental organizations and activism in the country. You know, the sort of opening salvo in the investigation is a synopsis of what they call environmental extremism, and that sort of undergirds the entire investigation and has also—you know, we’ve seen the same sort of language used in other contexts, not just surrounding Keystone pipeline.
AMY GOODMAN: Adam, many of the—looking at the quotes in the FBI documents, they talk about, as you said, the environmental extremists and say, quote, “Many of these extremists believe the debates over pollution, protection of wildlife, safety, and property rights have been overshadowed by the promise of jobs and cheaper oil prices. The Keystone pipeline, as part of the oil and natural gas industry, is vital to the security and economy of the United States.” Can you explain these documents?
ADAM FEDERMAN: Yeah, I mean, that quote is really quite amazing for a number of reasons. Mike German, a former FBI agent who’s now at the Brennan Center and who we worked with on this story, you know, said that that characterization would include just about anyone who watches the evening news. I mean, it’s such a broad brush to tar—to describe environmental activists as extremists simply for being concerned about things like pollution, wildlife and property rights.
And then the FBI also goes on to claim that the Keystone pipeline is vital to the national security and economy of the United States, which of course is highly controversial and contested. And as I’m sure your viewers know, the State Department is still deliberating over whether to approve the northern leg of the pipeline itself. So that question remains open; however, it seems that the FBI has taken it upon its own to suggest that the pipeline is crucial to U.S. national security and financial security.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about the 2010 intelligence bulletin from the FBI Domestic Terrorism Analysis Unit that you obtained. It warned that, even though the industry had encountered only low-level vandalism and trespassing, recent “criminal incidents” suggested environmental extremism was on the rise. The FBI concluded, quote, “Environmental extremism will become a greater threat to the energy industry owing to our historical understanding that some environmental extremists have progressed from committing low-level crimes against targets to more significant crimes over time in an effort to further the environmental extremism cause.”
ADAM FEDERMAN: Yeah, it’s a fascinating document. And the story behind how I obtained it is because of the fact that that very document was used by the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security to justify surveillance of anti-fracking groups in the state. And it essentially captures the FBI’s thinking on, you know, the threat of environmental extremism to—specifically to the energy industry. And this is laid out, as you say, in 2010, so I think that this is sort of the foundation for the FBI’s approach to the environmental movement more broadly. And I think, with these more recent documents, we’re seeing that sort of carried out in real time. And we also know that the FBI has had high-level meetings with TransCanada and that local and state law enforcement along the pipeline route and in Pennsylvania and elsewhere has actively investigated and spied on environmental activists of, you know, all stripes. And it’s quite systematic, and I do think that the FBI is in many ways leading the charge.
AMY GOODMAN: You report the FBI’s monitoring of Tar Sands Blockade activists failed to follow proper protocols for more than eight months. I want to read the FBI’s response: quote, “While the FBI approval levels required by internal policy were not initially obtained, once discovered, corrective action was taken, non-compliance was remedied, and the oversight was properly reported through the FBI’s internal oversight mechanism.” That’s what the FBI said, acknowledging they didn’t initially get approval. Adam, as we wrap up right now, if you can talk about what—the legality of what the FBI did, in what you released today in the Earth Island Journal and The Guardian, and also in your past reporting on FBI spying on activists?
ADAM FEDERMAN: Well, I think, unfortunately, it’s perhaps not the exception that the FBI has opened an investigation without proper approval. In 2011, the inspector general issued a report showing widespread cheating on a test that was designed to prevent this very kind of thing from happening. So it essentially demonstrates a lack of internal control. But more broadly speaking, the question that I think we need to be asking is whether the investigation, opened properly or not, should have been conducted to begin with. I mean, Tar Sands Blockade is committed to nonviolent civil disobedience. They’ve been very open and transparent about their activism and work. And I think the question is whether this investigation should have been opened to begin with, and, quite frankly, if the FBI is actively investigating other anti-Keystone pipeline activists or anti-fracking activists in other states.
AMY GOODMAN: Adam Federman, we want to thank you for being with us, contributing editor to Earth Island Journal, where he covers the intersection between law enforcement and the environment. He co-authored the new investigation published by The Guardian, “Revealed: FBI Violated Its Own Rules While Spying on Keystone XL Opponents.” We’ll link to that story at democracynow.org. When we come back, it’s the 30th anniversary of the MOVE bombing, when the Philadelphia police bombed a neighborhood. Stay with us.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 13, 2015
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Keystone protesters tracked at border after FBI spied on ‘extremists’
June 26, 2015
More than 18 months after federal investigation violated internal rules, activists say they were still watchlisted at the airport, visited at home by a terrorism task force and detained for hours because they ‘seemed like protesters’
An activist was placed on a US government watchlist for domestic flights after being swept up in an FBI investigation into protests of the Keystone XL pipeline, linking a breach of intelligence protocol with accounts of continued tracking that environmentalists fear could follow them for life.
Revealed: FBI violated its own rules while spying on Keystone XL opponents
Twenty-five-year-old Bradley Stroot is one of several campaigners to go public, after the Guardian revealed an FBI investigation that labeled them “environmental extremists”, with new allegations of a continued crackdown. From an hours-long detention at the US border to a home visit by a terrorism task force and an encounter with police searching for bombs, the activists say law enforcement has tracked them from a peaceful Texas protest of the highly contentious oil project in 2012 and 2013 to the tony suburbs of Indianapolis as recently as the end of last year.
Stroot told the Guardian that when he flew back to Texas to visit a friend last December, he learned that he was on a watchlist – known as a “Secondary Security Screening Selection” – and was subjected to more invasive airport security measures.
The FBI’s investigation into anti-Keystone activists was closed in June 2014 due to a lack of credible intelligence regarding threats to the pipeline and extremist activity.
According to internal agency documents obtained by the Guardian and Earth Island Journal, it was discovered in August 2013 that the FBI’s investigation had been opened without proper approval from the chief legal counsel of the agency’s Houston division and a senior agent, resulting in a report of “substantial non-compliance” with rules set out by the US Justice Department.
But before the internal violations were discovered, information on Stroot and several other activists was included in FBI files. Now, interviews with Stroot, who was held up at Chicago’s O’Hare airport six months after the investigation was closed, and other protesters indicate that they are still being monitored by law enforcement.
Stroot and two other people involved in the protests were described in the files as having separate, larger “Subject” files in the FBI’s Guardian Threat Tracking System, a repository for suspicious activity reports and counterterrorism threat assessments that can be searched by all FBI employees.
How the US’s terrorism watchlists work – and how you could end up on one
Hugh Handeyside, an attorney with the ACLU in New York, said the government’s suspicious activity reporting program is often tied to placement on a watchlist.
“Both label people as suspicious according to low standards that inevitably include innocent conduct,” he said. “And this case shows that the two may be linked.”
According to a long-withheld US watchlist guidance document published last year by the Intercept, people who do not meet the criteria for inclusion on the no-fly list but who are associated with “terrorist activity” may be placed on a selectee list like the one Bradley Stroot found himself on. Some 16,000 people – 1,200 of them US citizens – have been identified as so called “selectees” who must undergo heightened screenings at border crossings or airports.
From photos at the pipeline to a pat-down at the airport
Bradley Stroot was one of three people detained by Houston police for taking photographs of an endpoint for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Four days later, a terrorism unit of the FBI reviewed the incident. Information on Stroot and other ‘suspicious individuals’ was kept in the agency’s ‘Guardian’ repository for tracking suspicious activity and terrorism-involved activities.
On 13 December 2014, Stroot said, he prepared to board a flight from Chicago to Dallas to see an old friend – his first air travel since his 10-month involvement in a campaign in the Houston area against the proposed Keystone project.
While in Texas the first time, he had been arrested once for trespassing after taking part in a widely publicized occupation of part of the pipeline route that included a “tree village”.
And on 15 November 2012, Stroot and two other activists were stopped by the Houston police department while taking photos of the Valero refinery, one of the endpoints for tar sands oil. Although they were not charged with any crime, details of the incident ended up in an FBI file – part of more than 80 pages of internal FBI documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request – that described the activists as “suspicious individuals”. Four days later, the police officers met with members of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force to discuss the incident.
The encounter with the Houston police left Stroot somewhat shaken but determined to continue protesting. He says he had flown once to Europe – before the Keystone campaign began in Texas in 2012 – and had no issues.
But when he printed his American Airlines plane ticket in December, he noticed four S’s in large black letters in the top left corner. So-called “Secondary Security Screening Selection” helps Transportation Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security officers single out travelers, with no explanation, for heightened screening at airports.
bradley stroot pass
Secondary Security Screening Selection (SSSS) led Bradley Stroot to a more invasive pat-down on both legs of his return trip to Texas. Photograph: Courtesy of Bradley Stroot
When Stroot arrived at Chicago O’Hare, he said, he was subjected to heightened security screening – removed from the main passenger line and taken to a separate holding area where another airline security official was waiting. His bags, Stroot alleged, were carefully searched and he was subjected to a more invasive pat-down. He said the same thing happened on his return flight to Chicago.
“They pull you out of line, swab down all of your shit with tongue depressor-like things, and check for bomb-making materials,” Stroot said.
TSA’s failures start long before screeners fail to detect bombs in security tests
Jason Edward Harrington
But there were signs that Stroot had become a subject of interest to law enforcement even before he learned he was on a watchlist.
One night in spring 2013, just a few months after he had returned home to Indiana from Texas, Stroot said he was helping out at a makeshift homeless shelter in Bloomington, sleeping in a friend’s truck, when a police officer knocked on the window and asked for identification.
When the officer returned from running his ID, Stroot claims that he was aggressively questioned and that the officer asked if he could look in the truck, which had an open cab. “You could see there was nothing in it,” Stroot said.
After what he recalls as minutes more of questioning, Stroot said the officer finally asked if he had “any bomb-making materials”.
From video in the trees to detention at the border – and at home
Tar Sands Blockade occupy the corporate offices of TransCanada on 7 January 2013 Facebook Twitter Pinterest
Andrew Neef took part in a January 2013 protest at the Houston offices of TransCanada, the Canadian oil giant that would oversee the Keystone XL pipeline. Internal FBI documents show the agency willing to share ‘any pertinent intelligence regarding any threats’ with the company; the documents also show Neef included in files describing ‘Threats to Keystone XL Pipeline Projects’. Photograph: Tar Sands Blockade
Stroot is not the only anti-Keystone XL activist who has been targeted since the Texas protest campaign and parallel FBI investigation.
Elizabeth Arce, a 27-year-old independent journalist, traveled to Texas with a friend in October 2012 to help document the tree sit-in that ended in Stroot’s arrest. After spending a week in the trees live-streaming video of the protest, she said, they ran out of batteries and descended, hoping that as journalists they might avoid arrest from the police waiting underfoot.
I think the storyline of TransCanada and authorities communicating further than we think is plausible
Arce and her friend, Lorenzo Serna, were arrested for trespassing but all the charges were dropped.
In April 2013, Arce was on her way to Canada for an Earth Day event hosted by an indigenous group in Ontario. At the border crossing in Minnesota, Arce said, Canadian border agents asked her about the arrest in Texas, searched her car and eventually let her pass.
But this past August, Arce said she, Serna and another friend were driving to Canada to document the aftermath of the Mount Polley mine disaster in British Columbia and were denied entry.
At the crossing in Sweetgrass, Montana, Arce said agents at the border asked her detailed questions about her arrest in Texas. They searched the car for “hours”, she said, going through every piece of luggage and scrap of paper, even referring to her trombone as a “noisemaker”. After being detained for five hours, she said she and her friends were told that they could not cross into Canada because, she remembered an agent telling her, they “seemed like protesters”.
In the FBI files, the agency’s Houston office said it would share “any pertinent intelligence regarding any threats” with TransCanada, the Canadian oil giant that has been lobbying for years to oversee the transport of tar sands oil from Canada to the Texas Gulf coast. The project is still awaiting approval from the Obama administration.
“I think the storyline of TransCanada and authorities communicating further than we think is plausible,” Arce said.
(In a statement, TransCanada said the company does not “direct law enforcement” but that “law enforcement officials have asked us on a number of occasions about our experience along the Gulf Coast Pipeline so they can determine what they may expect when Keystone XL construction begins”.)
Andrew Neef, a 31-year-old data archivist from Minnesota, also spent time in Texas in 2012 and 2013. He was part of a mass action on 7 January 2013, at the Houston offices of TransCanada, and was arrested for trespassing along with another activist, Alec Johnson. Because he did not have a permanent address at the time and was not living in Texas, Neef entered his parents’ address on the police report. Neef and Johnson are both referred to in the FBI files obtained by the Guardian, which detail that the FBI had advance knowledge of the TransCanada sit-in and debriefed an informant on the event after it happened.
An internal FBI document detailing the January 2013 arrest of Andrew Neef and Alec Johnson labeled them as ‘Threats to Keystone XL Pipeline Projects’. Neef said the peaceful protest haunted him, with authorities later showing up at his parents’ front door.
About a month after the Houston arrest, Neef said his parents were visited by members of the Indiana division of the FBI’s joint terrorism task force at their home in Carmel, an upscale Indianapolis suburb.
According to Neef, who also works as an independent-media journalist, the agents asked his parents several questions about the people he knew, whom he was working with, and where his funding came from. They also wanted to know, Neef said, if he was involved in anti-fracking campaigns.
“They wanted me to contact them,” Neef said, “and probably become some kind of snitch.”
(The FBI’s Houston field office did not respond to a detailed list of questions for this article.)
More than a year later, the FBI investigation into anti-Keystone pipeline campaigners in Texas was formally closed due to a “lack of reporting and/or extremist activity”. But the FBI retains data on individuals even if the purported threat turns out to be non-existent.
For young activists like Bradley Stroot, the stigma of being on a government watchlist can last for years. Stroot said he was resigned to the “new reality” that he may be on the list for “the rest of my life or a very long period”.
Once an individual has been placed on the selective screening watchlist, there is very little he or she can do to get removed from it, said Handeyside of the ACLU, or even find out why he or she was put on it in the first place.
“There’s no due process for these people,” he said.
Adam Federman is a contributing editor of Earth Island Journal.
Monday 8 June 2015 13.30 BST Last modified on Wednesday 17 June 2015 21.30 BST
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Revealed: FBI violated its own rules while spying on Keystone XL opponents
June 26, 2015
Houston investigation amounted to ‘substantial non-compliance’ of rules
Internal memo labels pipeline opponents as ‘environmental extremists’
FBI failed to get approval before it opened files on protesters in Texas
The FBI breached its own internal rules when it spied on campaigners against the Keystone XL pipeline, failing to get approval before it cultivated informants and opened files on individuals protesting against the construction of the pipeline in Texas, documents reveal.
Internal agency documents show for the first time how FBI agents have been closely monitoring anti-Keystone activists, in violation of guidelines designed to prevent the agency from becoming unduly involved in sensitive political issues.
The hugely contentious Keystone XL pipeline, which is awaiting approval from the Obama administration, would transport tar sands oil from Canada to the Texas Gulf coast.
It has been strongly opposed for years by a coalition of environmental groups, including some involved in nonviolent civil disobedience who have been monitored by federal law enforcement agencies.
The documents reveal that one FBI investigation, run from its Houston field office, amounted to “substantial non-compliance” of Department of Justice rules that govern how the agency should handle sensitive matters.
One FBI memo, which set out the rationale for investigating campaigners in the Houston area, touted the economic advantages of the pipeline while labelling its opponents “environmental extremists”.
FBI Keystone memo Facebook Twitter Pinterest
An FBI memo labels opponents of the controversial pipeline as ‘environmental extremists’. Photograph: Guardian
FBI Keystone memo Facebook Twitter Pinterest
An FBI memo detailing ‘non-compliance’ by the Houston field office. Photograph: Guardian
“Many of these extremists believe the debates over pollution, protection of wildlife, safety, and property rights have been overshadowed by the promise of jobs and cheaper oil prices,” the FBI document states. “The Keystone pipeline, as part of the oil and natural gas industry, is vital to the security and economy of the United States.”
The documents are among more than 80 pages of previously confidential FBI files obtained by the Guardian and Earth Island Journal after a request under the Freedom of Information Act.
Between November 2012 and June 2014, the documents show, the FBI collated inside knowledge about forthcoming protests, documented the identities of individuals photographing oil-related infrastructure, scrutinised police intelligence and cultivated at least one informant.
It is unclear whether the source or sources were protesters-turned-informants, private investigators or hackers. One source is referred to in the documents as having had “good access and a history of reliable reporting”.
The FBI investigation targeted Tar Sands Blockade, a direct action group that was at the time campaigning in southern Texas.
However, the partially redacted documents reveal the investigation into anti-Keystone activists occurred without prior approval of the top lawyer and senior agent in the Houston field office, a stipulation laid down in rules provided by the attorney general.
Confronted by evidence contained in the cache of documents, the agency admitted that “FBI approval levels required by internal policy were not initially obtained” for the investigation, but said the failure was remedied and later reported internally.
The FBI files appear to suggest the Houston branch of the investigation was opened in early 2013, several months after a high-level strategy meeting between the agency and TransCanada, the company building the pipeline.
For a period of time – possibly as long as eight months – agents acting beyond their authority were monitoring activists aligned with Tar Sands Blockade.
Tar Sands Blockade appeared on the FBI’s radar in late 2012, not long after the group began organising in east Houston, the end destination for Keystone’s 1,660-mile pipeline.
Environmental activists affiliated with the group were committed to peaceful civil disobedience that can involve minor infractions of law, such as trespass. But they had no history of violent or serious crime.
Ron Seifert, a key organiser at Tar Sands Blockade, said dozens of campaigners were arrested in Texas for protest-related activity around that time, but not one of them was accused of violent crime or property destruction.
The group focused on Houston’s heavily industrialised neighbourhood of Manchester, where the Valero Energy Corporation has a massive refinery capable of processing heavy crude oil.
Between early November 2012 and June 2014, the documents show, the FBI collated inside-knowledge about forthcoming protests, documented the identities of individuals photographing oil-related infrastructure, scrutinised police intelligence and cultivated at least one informant.
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‘The Houston Division had identified an emerging threat from environmental extremists targeting construction projects of the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline within the Houston Domain.’ Photograph: Guardian
It is unclear whether the source or sources were protesters-turned-informants, private investigators or hackers. One source is referred to in the documents as having had “good access, and a history of reliable reporting”.
At one point, the FBI’s Houston office said it would share with TransCanada “any pertinent intelligence regarding any threats” to the company in advance of a forthcoming protest.
One of the files refers to Houston police officers who stopped two men and a woman taking photographs near the city’s industrial port, noting they were using a “large and sophisticated looking” camera.
Two of the individuals were described as having larger subject files in the FBI’s Guardian Threat Tracking System.
In another incident, the license plate belonging to a Silver Dodge was dutifully entered into the FBI’s database, after a “source” spotted the driver and another man photographing a building associated with TransCanada.
The FBI rules, laid out in the FBI’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, dictate that special care should be taken over sensitive investigations such as those targeting elected officials, journalists and political organisations.
FBI work on “sensitive investigative matters” requires prior approval of both the chief division counsel (CDC), the top lawyer in the field office, and the special agent in charge (SAC).
Both are supposed to consider the severity of the threat and the consequences of “adverse impact on civil liberties and public confidence” should the investigation be made public.
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Tar Sands Blockade occupy the corporate offices of TransCanada in January 2013. Photograph: Laura Borealis/Tar Sands Blockade
However, neither Houston’s CDC or SAC were consulted in relation to the FBI’s monitoring of Tar Sands Blockade activists, the documents show.
Explaining the breach of protocols, the FBI said in a statement that it was committed to “act properly under the law”.
“While the FBI approval levels required by internal policy were not initially obtained, once discovered, corrective action was taken, non-compliance was remedied, and the oversight was properly reported through the FBI’s internal oversight mechanism,” it said.
The FBI did not deny opening an investigation into anti-Keystone campaigners, and said it was compelled to “take the initiative to secure and protect activities and entities which may be targeted for terrorism or espionage”.
But the precise nature of the FBI’s investigation, which continued for almost a year after the Houston Division acknowledged it had violated protocol, remains unclear.
The documents appear to suggest the investigation was one branch of a wider set of investigations, possibly including anti-Keystone activists elsewhere in the country.
The documents connect the investigation into anti-Keystone activists to other “domestic terrorism issues” in the agency and show there was some liaison with the local FBI “assistant weapons of mass destruction coordinator”.
Mike German, a former FBI agent, who assisted the Guardian in deciphering the bureau’s documentation, said they indicated the agency had opened a category of investigation that is known in agency parlance as an “assessment”.
Introduced as part of an expansion of FBI powers after 9/11, assessments allow agents to open intrusive investigations into individuals or groups, even if they have no reason to believe they are breaking the law.
German, now a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice in New York, said the documents also raised questions over collusion between law enforcement and TransCanada.
“It is clearly troubling that these documents suggest the FBI interprets its national security mandate as protecting private industry from political criticism,” he said.
According to the FBI documents, the FBI concluded there were “no adverse consequences” emanating from its failure to seek approval for the sensitive investigation, noting the mistake was later “remedied”.
The investigation continued for 11 months after the mistake was spotted. It was closed after the FBI’s Houston division acknowledged its failure to find sufficient evidence of “extremist activity”.
Before closing the case, however, agents noted the existence of a file that was to be used as a repository for future intelligence “regarding the Keystone XL pipeline”.
Since then, at least a dozen anti-tar sands campaigners in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho have been contacted by the FBI. The agency has said they are not under investigation.
Adam Federman is a contributing editor of Earth Island Journal
Paul Lewis in Washington and Adam Federman
Tuesday 12 May 2015 11.59 BST Last modified on Tuesday 12 May 2015 23.11 BST
Find this story at 12 May 2015
© 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited
FBI’s Plan to Expand Hacking Power Advances Despite Privacy Fears
June 26, 2015
Google had warned that the rule change represents a “monumental” constitutional concern.
March 16, 2015 A judicial advisory panel Monday quietly approved a rule change that will broaden the FBI’s hacking authority despite fears raised by Google that the amended language represents a “monumental” constitutional concern.
The Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules voted 11-1 to modify an arcane federal rule to allow judges more flexibility in how they approve search warrants for electronic data, according to a Justice Department spokesman.
(RELATED: Republicans Have Less Faith in the NSA than Democrats)
Known as Rule 41, the existing provision generally allows judges to approve search warrants only for material within the geographic bounds of their judicial district.
But the rule change, as requested by the department, would allow judges to grant warrants for remote searches of computers located outside their district or when the location is unknown.
The government has defended the maneuver as a necessary update of protocol intended to modernize criminal procedure to address the increasingly complex digital realities of the 21st century. The FBI wants the expanded authority, which would allow it to more easily infiltrate computer networks to install malicious tracking software. This way, investigators can better monitor suspected criminals who use technology to conceal their identity.
But the plan has been widely opposed by privacy advocates, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as some technologists, who say it amounts to a substantial rewriting of the rule and not just a procedural tweak. Such a change could threaten the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable search and seizures, they warn, and possibly allow the FBI to violate the sovereignty of foreign nations. The rule change also could let the agency simultaneously target millions of computers at once, even potentially those belonging to users who aren’t suspected of any wrongdoing.
(RELATED: The CIA Is Trying to Hack Your iPhone)
Google weighed in last month with public comments that warned that the tweak “raises a number of monumental and highly complex constitutional, legal and geopolitical concerns that should be left to Congress to decide.”
In an unusual move, Justice Department lawyers rebutted Google’s concerns, saying the search giant was misreading the proposal and that it would not result in any search or seizures not “already permitted under current law.”
The judicial advisory committee’s vote is only the first of several stamps of approval required within the federal judicial branch before the the rule change can formally take place—a process that will likely take over a year. The proposal is now subject to review by the Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure, which normally can approve amendments at its June meeting. The Judicial Conference is next in line to approve the rule, a move that would likely occur in September.
The Supreme Court would have until May 1, 2016 to review and accept the amendment, which Congress would then have seven months to reject, modify or defer. Absent any congressional action, the rule would take place on Dec. 1, 2016.
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Privacy groups vowed to continue fighting the rule change as it winds its way through the additional layers of review.
“Although presented as a minor procedural update, the proposal threatens to expand the government’s ability to use malware and so-called ‘zero-day exploits’ without imposing necessary protections,” said ACLU attorney Nathan Freed Wessler in a statement. “The current proposal fails to strike the right balance between safeguarding privacy and Internet security and allowing the government to investigate crimes.”
Drew Mitnick, policy counsel with digital rights group Access, said the policy “should only be considered through an open and accountable legislative process.”
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
BY DUSTIN VOLZ
Find this story at 16 March 2015
Copyright © 2015 by National Journal Group Inc.
How the CIA made Google
June 26, 2015
Inside the secret network behind mass surveillance, endless war, and Skynet—
INSURGE INTELLIGENCE, a new crowd-funded investigative journalism project, breaks the exclusive story of how the United States intelligence community funded, nurtured and incubated Google as part of a drive to dominate the world through control of information. Seed-funded by the NSA and CIA, Google was merely the first among a plethora of private sector start-ups co-opted by US intelligence to retain ‘information superiority.’
The origins of this ingenious strategy trace back to a secret Pentagon-sponsored group, that for the last two decades has functioned as a bridge between the US government and elites across the business, industry, finance, corporate, and media sectors. The group has allowed some of the most powerful special interests in corporate America to systematically circumvent democratic accountability and the rule of law to influence government policies, as well as public opinion in the US and around the world. The results have been catastrophic: NSA mass surveillance, a permanent state of global war, and a new initiative to transform the US military into Skynet.
This exclusive is being released for free in the public interest, and was enabled by crowdfunding. I’d like to thank my amazing community of patrons for their support, which gave me the opportunity to work on this in-depth investigation. Please support independent, investigative journalism for the global commons.
In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, western governments are moving fast to legitimize expanded powers of mass surveillance and controls on the internet, all in the name of fighting terrorism.
US and European politicians have called to protect NSA-style snooping, and to advance the capacity to intrude on internet privacy by outlawing encryption. One idea is to establish a telecoms partnership that would unilaterally delete content deemed to “fuel hatred and violence” in situations considered “appropriate.” Heated discussions are going on at government and parliamentary level to explore cracking down on lawyer-client confidentiality.
What any of this would have done to prevent the Charlie Hebdo attacks remains a mystery, especially given that we already know the terrorists were on the radar of French intelligence for up to a decade.
There is little new in this story. The 9/11 atrocity was the first of many terrorist attacks, each succeeded by the dramatic extension of draconian state powers at the expense of civil liberties, backed up with the projection of military force in regions identified as hotspots harbouring terrorists. Yet there is little indication that this tried and tested formula has done anything to reduce the danger. If anything, we appear to be locked into a deepening cycle of violence with no clear end in sight.
As our governments push to increase their powers, INSURGE INTELLIGENCE can now reveal the vast extent to which the US intelligence community is implicated in nurturing the web platforms we know today, for the precise purpose of utilizing the technology as a mechanism to fight global ‘information war’ — a war to legitimize the power of the few over the rest of us. The lynchpin of this story is the corporation that in many ways defines the 21st century with its unobtrusive omnipresence: Google.
Google styles itself as a friendly, funky, user-friendly tech firm that rose to prominence through a combination of skill, luck, and genuine innovation. This is true. But it is a mere fragment of the story. In reality, Google is a smokescreen behind which lurks the US military-industrial complex.
The inside story of Google’s rise, revealed here for the first time, opens a can of worms that goes far beyond Google, unexpectedly shining a light on the existence of a parasitical network driving the evolution of the US national security apparatus, and profiting obscenely from its operation.
The shadow network
For the last two decades, US foreign and intelligence strategies have resulted in a global ‘war on terror’ consisting of prolonged military invasions in the Muslim world and comprehensive surveillance of civilian populations. These strategies have been incubated, if not dictated, by a secret network inside and beyond the Pentagon.
Established under the Clinton administration, consolidated under Bush, and firmly entrenched under Obama, this bipartisan network of mostly neoconservative ideologues sealed its dominion inside the US Department of Defense (DoD) by the dawn of 2015, through the operation of an obscure corporate entity outside the Pentagon, but run by the Pentagon.
In 1999, the CIA created its own venture capital investment firm, In-Q-Tel, to fund promising start-ups that might create technologies useful for intelligence agencies. But the inspiration for In-Q-Tel came earlier, when the Pentagon set up its own private sector outfit.
Known as the ‘Highlands Forum,’ this private network has operated as a bridge between the Pentagon and powerful American elites outside the military since the mid-1990s. Despite changes in civilian administrations, the network around the Highlands Forum has become increasingly successful in dominating US defense policy.
Giant defense contractors like Booz Allen Hamilton and Science Applications International Corporation are sometimes referred to as the ‘shadow intelligence community’ due to the revolving doors between them and government, and their capacity to simultaneously influence and profit from defense policy. But while these contractors compete for power and money, they also collaborate where it counts. The Highlands Forum has for 20 years provided an off the record space for some of the most prominent members of the shadow intelligence community to convene with senior US government officials, alongside other leaders in relevant industries.
I first stumbled upon the existence of this network in November 2014, when I reported for VICE’s Motherboard that US defense secretary Chuck Hagel’s newly announced ‘Defense Innovation Initiative’ was really about building Skynet — or something like it, essentially to dominate an emerging era of automated robotic warfare.
That story was based on a little-known Pentagon-funded ‘white paper’ published two months earlier by the National Defense University (NDU) in Washington DC, a leading US military-run institution that, among other things, generates research to develop US defense policy at the highest levels. The white paper clarified the thinking behind the new initiative, and the revolutionary scientific and technological developments it hoped to capitalize on.
The Highlands Forum
The co-author of that NDU white paper is Linton Wells, a 51-year veteran US defense official who served in the Bush administration as the Pentagon’s chief information officer, overseeing the National Security Agency (NSA) and other spy agencies. He still holds active top-secret security clearances, and according to a report by Government Executive magazine in 2006 he chaired the ‘Highlands Forum’, founded by the Pentagon in 1994.
Linton Wells II (right) former Pentagon chief information officer and assistant secretary of defense for networks, at a recent Pentagon Highlands Forum session. Rosemary Wenchel, a senior official in the US Department of Homeland Security, is sitting next to him
New Scientist magazine (paywall) has compared the Highlands Forum to elite meetings like “Davos, Ditchley and Aspen,” describing it as “far less well known, yet… arguably just as influential a talking shop.” Regular Forum meetings bring together “innovative people to consider interactions between policy and technology. Its biggest successes have been in the development of high-tech network-based warfare.”
Given Wells’ role in such a Forum, perhaps it was not surprising that his defense transformation white paper was able to have such a profound impact on actual Pentagon policy. But if that was the case, why had no one noticed?
Despite being sponsored by the Pentagon, I could find no official page on the DoD website about the Forum. Active and former US military and intelligence sources had never heard of it, and neither did national security journalists. I was baffled.
The Pentagon’s intellectual capital venture firm
In the prologue to his 2007 book, A Crowd of One: The Future of Individual Identity, John Clippinger, an MIT scientist of the Media Lab Human Dynamics Group, described how he participated in a “Highlands Forum” gathering, an “invitation-only meeting funded by the Department of Defense and chaired by the assistant for networks and information integration.” This was a senior DoD post overseeing operations and policies for the Pentagon’s most powerful spy agencies including the NSA, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), among others. Starting from 2003, the position was transitioned into what is now the undersecretary of defense for intelligence. The Highlands Forum, Clippinger wrote, was founded by a retired US Navy captain named Dick O’Neill. Delegates include senior US military officials across numerous agencies and divisions — “captains, rear admirals, generals, colonels, majors and commanders” as well as “members of the DoD leadership.”
What at first appeared to be the Forum’s main website describes Highlands as “an informal cross-disciplinary network sponsored by Federal Government,” focusing on “information, science and technology.” Explanation is sparse, beyond a single ‘Department of Defense’ logo.
But Highlands also has another website describing itself as an “intellectual capital venture firm” with “extensive experience assisting corporations, organizations, and government leaders.” The firm provides a “wide range of services, including: strategic planning, scenario creation and gaming for expanding global markets,” as well as “working with clients to build strategies for execution.” ‘The Highlands Group Inc.,’ the website says, organizes a whole range of Forums on these issue.
For instance, in addition to the Highlands Forum, since 9/11 the Group runs the ‘Island Forum,’ an international event held in association with Singapore’s Ministry of Defense, which O’Neill oversees as “lead consultant.” The Singapore Ministry of Defense website describes the Island Forum as “patterned after the Highlands Forum organized for the US Department of Defense.” Documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden confirmed that Singapore played a key role in permitting the US and Australia to tap undersea cables to spy on Asian powers like Indonesia and Malaysia.
The Highlands Group website also reveals that Highlands is partnered with one of the most powerful defense contractors in the United States. Highlands is “supported by a network of companies and independent researchers,” including “our Highlands Forum partners for the past ten years at SAIC; and the vast Highlands network of participants in the Highlands Forum.”
SAIC stands for the US defense firm, Science Applications International Corporation, which changed its name to Leidos in 2013, operating SAIC as a subsidiary. SAIC/Leidos is among the top 10 largest defense contractors in the US, and works closely with the US intelligence community, especially the NSA. According to investigative journalist Tim Shorrock, the first to disclose the vast extent of the privatization of US intelligence with his seminal book Spies for Hire, SAIC has a “symbiotic relationship with the NSA: the agency is the company’s largest single customer and SAIC is the NSA’s largest contractor.”
Richard ‘Dick’ Patrick O’Neill, founding president of the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum
The full name of Captain “Dick” O’Neill, the founding president of the Highlands Forum, is Richard Patrick O’Neill, who after his work in the Navy joined the DoD. He served his last post as deputy for strategy and policy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Defense for Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence, before setting up Highlands.
The Club of Yoda
But Clippinger also referred to another mysterious individual revered by Forum attendees:
“He sat at the back of the room, expressionless behind thick, black-rimmed glasses. I never heard him utter a word… Andrew (Andy) Marshall is an icon within DoD. Some call him Yoda, indicative of his mythical inscrutable status… He had served many administrations and was widely regarded as above partisan politics. He was a supporter of the Highlands Forum and a regular fixture from its beginning.”
Since 1973, Marshall has headed up one of the Pentagon’s most powerful agencies, the Office of Net Assessment (ONA), the US defense secretary’s internal ‘think tank’ which conducts highly classified research on future planning for defense policy across the US military and intelligence community. The ONA has played a key role in major Pentagon strategy initiatives, including Maritime Strategy, the Strategic Defense Initiative, the Competitive Strategies Initiative, and the Revolution in Military Affairs.
Andrew ‘Yoda’ Marshall, head of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment (ONA) and co-chair of the Highlands Forum, at an early Highlands event in 1996 at the Santa Fe Institute. Marshall is retiring as of January 2015
In a rare 2002 profile in Wired, reporter Douglas McGray described Andrew Marshall, now 93 years old, as “the DoD’s most elusive” but “one of its most influential” officials. McGray added that “Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz” — widely considered the hawks of the neoconservative movement in American politics — were among Marshall’s “star protégés.”
Speaking at a low-key Harvard University seminar a few months after 9/11, Highlands Forum founding president Richard O’Neill said that Marshall was much more than a “regular fixture” at the Forum. “Andy Marshall is our co-chair, so indirectly everything that we do goes back into Andy’s system,” he told the audience. “Directly, people who are in the Forum meetings may be going back to give briefings to Andy on a variety of topics and to synthesize things.” He also said that the Forum had a third co-chair: the director of the Defense Advanced Research and Projects Agency (DARPA), which at that time was a Rumsfeld appointee, Anthony J. Tether. Before joining DARPA, Tether was vice president of SAIC’s Advanced Technology Sector.
Anthony J. Tether, director of DARPA and co-chair of the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum from June 2001 to February 2009
The Highlands Forum’s influence on US defense policy has thus operated through three main channels: its sponsorship by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (around the middle of last decade this was transitioned specifically to the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, which is in charge of the main surveillance agencies); its direct link to Andrew ‘Yoda’ Marshall’s ONA; and its direct link to DARPA.
A slide from Richard O’Neill’s presentation at Harvard University in 2001
According to Clippinger in A Crowd of One, “what happens at informal gatherings such as the Highlands Forum could, over time and through unforeseen curious paths of influence, have enormous impact, not just within the DoD but throughout the world.” He wrote that the Forum’s ideas have “moved from being heretical to mainstream. Ideas that were anathema in 1999 had been adopted as policy just three years later.”
Although the Forum does not produce “consensus recommendations,” its impact is deeper than a traditional government advisory committee. “The ideas that emerge from meetings are available for use by decision-makers as well as by people from the think tanks,” according to O’Neill:
“We’ll include people from Booz, SAIC, RAND, or others at our meetings… We welcome that kind of cooperation, because, truthfully, they have the gravitas. They are there for the long haul and are able to influence government policies with real scholarly work… We produce ideas and interaction and networks for these people to take and use as they need them.”
My repeated requests to O’Neill for information on his work at the Highlands Forum were ignored. The Department of Defense also did not respond to multiple requests for information and comment on the Forum.
The Highlands Forum has served as a two-way ‘influence bridge’: on the one hand, for the shadow network of private contractors to influence the formulation of information operations policy across US military intelligence; and on the other, for the Pentagon to influence what is going on in the private sector. There is no clearer evidence of this than the truly instrumental role of the Forum in incubating the idea of mass surveillance as a mechanism to dominate information on a global scale.
In 1989, Richard O’Neill, then a US Navy cryptologist, wrote a paper for the US Naval War College, ‘Toward a methodology for perception management.’ In his book, Future Wars, Col. John Alexander, then a senior officer in the US Army’s Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM), records that O’Neill’s paper for the first time outlined a strategy for “perception management” as part of information warfare (IW). O’Neill’s proposed strategy identified three categories of targets for IW: adversaries, so they believe they are vulnerable; potential partners, “so they perceive the cause [of war] as just”; and finally, civilian populations and the political leadership so they “perceive the cost as worth the effort.” A secret briefing based on O’Neill’s work “made its way to the top leadership” at DoD. “They acknowledged that O’Neill was right and told him to bury it.
Except the DoD didn’t bury it. Around 1994, the Highlands Group was founded by O’Neill as an official Pentagon project at the appointment of Bill Clinton’s then defense secretary William Perry — who went on to join SAIC’s board of directors after retiring from government in 2003.
In O’Neill’s own words, the group would function as the Pentagon’s ‘ideas lab’. According to Government Executive, military and information technology experts gathered at the first Forum meeting “to consider the impacts of IT and globalization on the United States and on warfare. How would the Internet and other emerging technologies change the world?” The meeting helped plant the idea of “network-centric warfare” in the minds of “the nation’s top military thinkers.”
Excluding the public
Official Pentagon records confirm that the Highlands Forum’s primary goal was to support DoD policies on O’Neill’s specialism: information warfare. According to the Pentagon’s 1997 Annual Report to the President and the Congress under a section titled ‘Information Operations,’ (IO) the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) had authorized the “establishment of the Highlands Group of key DoD, industry, and academic IO experts” to coordinate IO across federal military intelligence agencies.
The following year’s DoD annual report reiterated the Forum’s centrality to information operations: “To examine IO issues, DoD sponsors the Highlands Forum, which brings together government, industry, and academic professionals from various fields.”
Notice that in 1998, the Highlands ‘Group’ became a ‘Forum.’ According to O’Neill, this was to avoid subjecting Highlands Forums meetings to “bureaucratic restrictions.” What he was alluding to was the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), which regulates the way the US government can formally solicit the advice of special interests.
Known as the ‘open government’ law, FACA requires that US government officials cannot hold closed-door or secret consultations with people outside government to develop policy. All such consultations should take place via federal advisory committees that permit public scrutiny. FACA requires that meetings be held in public, announced via the Federal Register, that advisory groups are registered with an office at the General Services Administration, among other requirements intended to maintain accountability to the public interest.
But Government Executive reported that “O’Neill and others believed” such regulatory issues “would quell the free flow of ideas and no-holds-barred discussions they sought.” Pentagon lawyers had warned that the word ‘group’ might necessitate certain obligations and advised running the whole thing privately: “So O’Neill renamed it the Highlands Forum and moved into the private sector to manage it as a consultant to the Pentagon.” The Pentagon Highlands Forum thus runs under the mantle of O’Neill’s ‘intellectual capital venture firm,’ ‘Highlands Group Inc.’
In 1995, a year after William Perry appointed O’Neill to head up the Highlands Forum, SAIC — the Forum’s “partner” organization — launched a new Center for Information Strategy and Policy under the direction of “Jeffrey Cooper, a member of the Highlands Group who advises senior Defense Department officials on information warfare issues.” The Center had precisely the same objective as the Forum, to function as “a clearinghouse to bring together the best and brightest minds in information warfare by sponsoring a continuing series of seminars, papers and symposia which explore the implications of information warfare in depth.” The aim was to “enable leaders and policymakers from government, industry, and academia to address key issues surrounding information warfare to ensure that the United States retains its edge over any and all potential enemies.”
Despite FACA regulations, federal advisory committees are already heavily influenced, if not captured, by corporate power. So in bypassing FACA, the Pentagon overrode even the loose restrictions of FACA, by permanently excluding any possibility of public engagement.
O’Neill’s claim that there are no reports or recommendations is disingenuous. By his own admission, the secret Pentagon consultations with industry that have taken place through the Highlands Forum since 1994 have been accompanied by regular presentations of academic and policy papers, recordings and notes of meetings, and other forms of documentation that are locked behind a login only accessible by Forum delegates. This violates the spirit, if not the letter, of FACA — in a way that is patently intended to circumvent democratic accountability and the rule of law.
The Highlands Forum doesn’t need to produce consensus recommendations. Its purpose is to provide the Pentagon a shadow social networking mechanism to cement lasting relationships with corporate power, and to identify new talent, that can be used to fine-tune information warfare strategies in absolute secrecy.
Total participants in the DoD’s Highlands Forum number over a thousand, although sessions largely consist of small closed workshop style gatherings of maximum 25–30 people, bringing together experts and officials depending on the subject. Delegates have included senior personnel from SAIC and Booz Allen Hamilton, RAND Corp., Cisco, Human Genome Sciences, eBay, PayPal, IBM, Google, Microsoft, AT&T, the BBC, Disney, General Electric, Enron, among innumerable others; Democrat and Republican members of Congress and the Senate; senior executives from the US energy industry such as Daniel Yergin of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates; and key people involved in both sides of presidential campaigns.
Other participants have included senior media professionals: David Ignatius, associate editor of the Washington Post and at the time the executive editor of the International Herald Tribune; Thomas Friedman, long-time New York Times columnist; Arnaud de Borchgrave, an editor at Washington Times and United Press International; Steven Levy, a former Newsweek editor, senior writer for Wired and now chief tech editor at Medium; Lawrence Wright, staff writer at the New Yorker; Noah Shachtmann, executive editor at the Daily Beast; Rebecca McKinnon, co-founder of Global Voices Online; Nik Gowing of the BBC; and John Markoff of the New York Times.
Due to its current sponsorship by the OSD’s undersecretary of defense for intelligence, the Forum has inside access to the chiefs of the main US surveillance and reconnaissance agencies, as well as the directors and their assistants at DoD research agencies, from DARPA, to the ONA. This also means that the Forum is deeply plugged into the Pentagon’s policy research task forces.
Google: seeded by the Pentagon
In 1994 — the same year the Highlands Forum was founded under the stewardship of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the ONA, and DARPA — two young PhD students at Stanford University, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, made their breakthrough on the first automated web crawling and page ranking application. That application remains the core component of what eventually became Google’s search service. Brin and Page had performed their work with funding from the Digital Library Initiative (DLI), a multi-agency programme of the National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA and DARPA.
But that’s just one side of the story.
Throughout the development of the search engine, Sergey Brin reported regularly and directly to two people who were not Stanford faculty at all: Dr. Bhavani Thuraisingham and Dr. Rick Steinheiser. Both were representatives of a sensitive US intelligence community research programme on information security and data-mining.
Thuraisingham is currently the Louis A. Beecherl distinguished professor and executive director of the Cyber Security Research Institute at the University of Texas, Dallas, and a sought-after expert on data-mining, data management and information security issues. But in the 1990s, she worked for the MITRE Corp., a leading US defense contractor, where she managed the Massive Digital Data Systems initiative, a project sponsored by the NSA, CIA, and the Director of Central Intelligence, to foster innovative research in information technology.
“We funded Stanford University through the computer scientist Jeffrey Ullman, who had several promising graduate students working on many exciting areas,” Prof. Thuraisingham told me. “One of them was Sergey Brin, the founder of Google. The intelligence community’s MDDS program essentially provided Brin seed-funding, which was supplemented by many other sources, including the private sector.”
This sort of funding is certainly not unusual, and Sergey Brin’s being able to receive it by being a graduate student at Stanford appears to have been incidental. The Pentagon was all over computer science research at this time. But it illustrates how deeply entrenched the culture of Silicon Valley is in the values of the US intelligence community.
In an extraordinary document hosted by the website of the University of Texas, Thuraisingham recounts that from 1993 to 1999, “the Intelligence Community [IC] started a program called Massive Digital Data Systems (MDDS) that I was managing for the Intelligence Community when I was at the MITRE Corporation.” The program funded 15 research efforts at various universities, including Stanford. Its goal was developing “data management technologies to manage several terabytes to petabytes of data,” including for “query processing, transaction management, metadata management, storage management, and data integration.”
At the time, Thuraisingham was chief scientist for data and information management at MITRE, where she led team research and development efforts for the NSA, CIA, US Air Force Research Laboratory, as well as the US Army’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) and Communications and Electronic Command (CECOM). She went on to teach courses for US government officials and defense contractors on data-mining in counter-terrorism.
In her University of Texas article, she attaches the copy of an abstract of the US intelligence community’s MDDS program that had been presented to the “Annual Intelligence Community Symposium” in 1995. The abstract reveals that the primary sponsors of the MDDS programme were three agencies: the NSA, the CIA’s Office of Research & Development, and the intelligence community’s Community Management Staff (CMS) which operates under the Director of Central Intelligence. Administrators of the program, which provided funding of around 3–4 million dollars per year for 3–4 years, were identified as Hal Curran (NSA), Robert Kluttz (CMS), Dr. Claudia Pierce (NSA), Dr. Rick Steinheiser (ORD — standing for the CIA’s Office of Research and Devepment), and Dr. Thuraisingham herself.
Thuraisingham goes on in her article to reiterate that this joint CIA-NSA program partly funded Sergey Brin to develop the core of Google, through a grant to Stanford managed by Brin’s supervisor Prof. Jeffrey D. Ullman:
“In fact, the Google founder Mr. Sergey Brin was partly funded by this program while he was a PhD student at Stanford. He together with his advisor Prof. Jeffrey Ullman and my colleague at MITRE, Dr. Chris Clifton [Mitre’s chief scientist in IT], developed the Query Flocks System which produced solutions for mining large amounts of data stored in databases. I remember visiting Stanford with Dr. Rick Steinheiser from the Intelligence Community and Mr. Brin would rush in on roller blades, give his presentation and rush out. In fact the last time we met in September 1998, Mr. Brin demonstrated to us his search engine which became Google soon after.”
Brin and Page officially incorporated Google as a company in September 1998, the very month they last reported to Thuraisingham and Steinheiser. ‘Query Flocks’ was also part of Google’s patented ‘PageRank’ search system, which Brin developed at Stanford under the CIA-NSA-MDDS programme, as well as with funding from the NSF, IBM and Hitachi. That year, MITRE’s Dr. Chris Clifton, who worked under Thuraisingham to develop the ‘Query Flocks’ system, co-authored a paper with Brin’s superviser, Prof. Ullman, and the CIA’s Rick Steinheiser. Titled ‘Knowledge Discovery in Text,’ the paper was presented at an academic conference.
“The MDDS funding that supported Brin was significant as far as seed-funding goes, but it was probably outweighed by the other funding streams,” said Thuraisingham. “The duration of Brin’s funding was around two years or so. In that period, I and my colleagues from the MDDS would visit Stanford to see Brin and monitor his progress every three months or so. We didn’t supervise exactly, but we did want to check progress, point out potential problems and suggest ideas. In those briefings, Brin did present to us on the query flocks research, and also demonstrated to us versions of the Google search engine.”
Brin thus reported to Thuraisingham and Steinheiser regularly about his work developing Google.
UPDATE 2.05PM GMT [2nd Feb 2015]:
Since publication of this article, Prof. Thuraisingham has amended her article referenced above. The amended version includes a new modified statement, followed by a copy of the original version of her account of the MDDS. In this amended version, Thuraisingham rejects the idea that CIA funded Google, and says instead:
“In fact Prof. Jeffrey Ullman (at Stanford) and my colleague at MITRE Dr. Chris Clifton together with some others developed the Query Flocks System, as part of MDDS, which produced solutions for mining large amounts of data stored in databases. Also, Mr. Sergey Brin, the cofounder of Google, was part of Prof. Ullman’s research group at that time. I remember visiting Stanford with Dr. Rick Steinheiser from the Intelligence Community periodically and Mr. Brin would rush in on roller blades, give his presentation and rush out. During our last visit to Stanford in September 1998, Mr. Brin demonstrated to us his search engine which I believe became Google soon after…
There are also several inaccuracies in Dr. Ahmed’s article (dated January 22, 2015). For example, the MDDS program was not a ‘sensitive’ program as stated by Dr. Ahmed; it was an Unclassified program that funded universities in the US. Furthermore, Sergey Brin never reported to me or to Dr. Rick Steinheiser; he only gave presentations to us during our visits to the Department of Computer Science at Stanford during the 1990s. Also, MDDS never funded Google; it funded Stanford University.”
Here, there is no substantive factual difference in Thuraisingham’s accounts, other than to assert that her statement associating Sergey Brin with the development of ‘query flocks’ is mistaken. Notably, this acknowledgement is derived not from her own knowledge, but from this very article quoting a comment from a Google spokesperson.
However, the bizarre attempt to disassociate Google from the MDDS program misses the mark. Firstly, the MDDS never funded Google, because during the development of the core components of the Google search engine, there was no company incorporated with that name. The grant was instead provided to Stanford University through Prof. Ullman, through whom some MDDS funding was used to support Brin who was co-developing Google at the time. Secondly, Thuraisingham then adds that Brin never “reported” to her or the CIA’s Steinheiser, but admits he “gave presentations to us during our visits to the Department of Computer Science at Stanford during the 1990s.” It is unclear, though, what the distinction is here between reporting, and delivering a detailed presentation — either way, Thuraisingham confirms that she and the CIA had taken a keen interest in Brin’s development of Google. Thirdly, Thuraisingham describes the MDDS program as “unclassified,” but this does not contradict its “sensitive” nature. As someone who has worked for decades as an intelligence contractor and advisor, Thuraisingham is surely aware that there are many ways of categorizing intelligence, including ‘sensitive but unclassified.’ A number of former US intelligence officials I spoke to said that the almost total lack of public information on the CIA and NSA’s MDDS initiative suggests that although the progam was not classified, it is likely instead that its contents was considered sensitive, which would explain efforts to minimise transparency about the program and the way it fed back into developing tools for the US intelligence community. Fourthly, and finally, it is important to point out that the MDDS abstract which Thuraisingham includes in her University of Texas document states clearly not only that the Director of Central Intelligence’s CMS, CIA and NSA were the overseers of the MDDS initiative, but that the intended customers of the project were “DoD, IC, and other government organizations”: the Pentagon, the US intelligence community, and other relevant US government agencies.
In other words, the provision of MDDS funding to Brin through Ullman, under the oversight of Thuraisingham and Steinheiser, was fundamentally because they recognized the potential utility of Brin’s work developing Google to the Pentagon, intelligence community, and the federal government at large.
The MDDS programme is actually referenced in several papers co-authored by Brin and Page while at Stanford, specifically highlighting its role in financially sponsoring Brin in the development of Google. In their 1998 paper published in the Bulletin of the IEEE Computer Society Technical Committeee on Data Engineering, they describe the automation of methods to extract information from the web via “Dual Iterative Pattern Relation Extraction,” the development of “a global ranking of Web pages called PageRank,” and the use of PageRank “to develop a novel search engine called Google.” Through an opening footnote, Sergey Brin confirms he was “Partially supported by the Community Management Staff’s Massive Digital Data Systems Program, NSF grant IRI-96–31952” — confirming that Brin’s work developing Google was indeed partly-funded by the CIA-NSA-MDDS program.
This NSF grant identified alongside the MDDS, whose project report lists Brin among the students supported (without mentioning the MDDS), was different to the NSF grant to Larry Page that included funding from DARPA and NASA. The project report, authored by Brin’s supervisor Prof. Ullman, goes on to say under the section ‘Indications of Success’ that “there are some new stories of startups based on NSF-supported research.” Under ‘Project Impact,’ the report remarks: “Finally, the google project has also gone commercial as Google.com.”
Thuraisingham’s account, including her new amended version, therefore demonstrates that the CIA-NSA-MDDS program was not only partly funding Brin throughout his work with Larry Page developing Google, but that senior US intelligence representatives including a CIA official oversaw the evolution of Google in this pre-launch phase, all the way until the company was ready to be officially founded. Google, then, had been enabled with a “significant” amount of seed-funding and oversight from the Pentagon: namely, the CIA, NSA, and DARPA.
The DoD could not be reached for comment.
When I asked Prof. Ullman to confirm whether or not Brin was partly funded under the intelligence community’s MDDS program, and whether Ullman was aware that Brin was regularly briefing the CIA’s Rick Steinheiser on his progress in developing the Google search engine, Ullman’s responses were evasive: “May I know whom you represent and why you are interested in these issues? Who are your ‘sources’?” He also denied that Brin played a significant role in developing the ‘query flocks’ system, although it is clear from Brin’s papers that he did draw on that work in co-developing the PageRank system with Page.
When I asked Ullman whether he was denying the US intelligence community’s role in supporting Brin during the development of Google, he said: “I am not going to dignify this nonsense with a denial. If you won’t explain what your theory is, and what point you are trying to make, I am not going to help you in the slightest.”
The MDDS abstract published online at the University of Texas confirms that the rationale for the CIA-NSA project was to “provide seed money to develop data management technologies which are of high-risk and high-pay-off,” including techniques for “querying, browsing, and filtering; transaction processing; accesses methods and indexing; metadata management and data modelling; and integrating heterogeneous databases; as well as developing appropriate architectures.” The ultimate vision of the program was to “provide for the seamless access and fusion of massive amounts of data, information and knowledge in a heterogeneous, real-time environment” for use by the Pentagon, intelligence community and potentially across government.
These revelations corroborate the claims of Robert Steele, former senior CIA officer and a founding civilian deputy director of the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity, whom I interviewed for The Guardian last year on open source intelligence. Citing sources at the CIA, Steele had said in 2006 that Steinheiser, an old colleague of his, was the CIA’s main liaison at Google and had arranged early funding for the pioneering IT firm. At the time, Wired founder John Batelle managed to get this official denial from a Google spokesperson in response to Steele’s assertions:
“The statements related to Google are completely untrue.”
This time round, despite multiple requests and conversations, a Google spokesperson declined to comment.
UPDATE: As of 5.41PM GMT [22nd Jan 2015], Google’s director of corporate communication got in touch and asked me to include the following statement:
“Sergey Brin was not part of the Query Flocks Program at Stanford, nor were any of his projects funded by US Intelligence bodies.”
This is what I wrote back:
My response to that statement would be as follows: Brin himself in his own paper acknowledges funding from the Community Management Staff of the Massive Digital Data Systems (MDDS) initiative, which was supplied through the NSF. The MDDS was an intelligence community program set up by the CIA and NSA. I also have it on record, as noted in the piece, from Prof. Thuraisingham of University of Texas that she managed the MDDS program on behalf of the US intelligence community, and that her and the CIA’s Rick Steinheiser met Brin every three months or so for two years to be briefed on his progress developing Google and PageRank. Whether Brin worked on query flocks or not is neither here nor there.
In that context, you might want to consider the following questions:
1) Does Google deny that Brin’s work was part-funded by the MDDS via an NSF grant?
2) Does Google deny that Brin reported regularly to Thuraisingham and Steinheiser from around 1996 to 1998 until September that year when he presented the Google search engine to them?
Total Information Awareness
A call for papers for the MDDS was sent out via email list on November 3rd 1993 from senior US intelligence official David Charvonia, director of the research and development coordination office of the intelligence community’s CMS. The reaction from Tatu Ylonen (celebrated inventor of the widely used secure shell [SSH] data protection protocol) to his colleagues on the email list is telling: “Crypto relevance? Makes you think whether you should protect your data.” The email also confirms that defense contractor and Highlands Forum partner, SAIC, was managing the MDDS submission process, with abstracts to be sent to Jackie Booth of the CIA’s Office of Research and Development via a SAIC email address.
By 1997, Thuraisingham reveals, shortly before Google became incorporated and while she was still overseeing the development of its search engine software at Stanford, her thoughts turned to the national security applications of the MDDS program. In the acknowledgements to her book, Web Data Mining and Applications in Business Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism (2003), Thuraisingham writes that she and “Dr. Rick Steinheiser of the CIA, began discussions with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on applying data-mining for counter-terrorism,” an idea that resulted directly from the MDDS program which partly funded Google. “These discussions eventually developed into the current EELD (Evidence Extraction and Link Detection) program at DARPA.”
So the very same senior CIA official and CIA-NSA contractor involved in providing the seed-funding for Google were simultaneously contemplating the role of data-mining for counter-terrorism purposes, and were developing ideas for tools actually advanced by DARPA.
Today, as illustrated by her recent oped in the New York Times, Thuraisingham remains a staunch advocate of data-mining for counter-terrorism purposes, but also insists that these methods must be developed by government in cooperation with civil liberties lawyers and privacy advocates to ensure that robust procedures are in place to prevent potential abuse. She points out, damningly, that with the quantity of information being collected, there is a high risk of false positives.
In 1993, when the MDDS program was launched and managed by MITRE Corp. on behalf of the US intelligence community, University of Virginia computer scientist Dr. Anita K. Jones — a MITRE trustee — landed the job of DARPA director and head of research and engineering across the Pentagon. She had been on the board of MITRE since 1988. From 1987 to 1993, Jones simultaneously served on SAIC’s board of directors. As the new head of DARPA from 1993 to 1997, she also co-chaired the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum during the period of Google’s pre-launch development at Stanford under the MDSS.
Thus, when Thuraisingham and Steinheiser were talking to DARPA about the counter-terrorism applications of MDDS research, Jones was DARPA director and Highlands Forum co-chair. That year, Jones left DARPA to return to her post at the University of Virgina. The following year, she joined the board of the National Science Foundation, which of course had also just funded Brin and Page, and also returned to the board of SAIC. When she left DoD, Senator Chuck Robb paid Jones the following tribute : “She brought the technology and operational military communities together to design detailed plans to sustain US dominance on the battlefield into the next century.”
Dr. Anita Jones, head of DARPA from 1993–1997, and co-chair of the Pentagon Highlands Forum from 1995–1997, during which officials in charge of the CIA-NSA-MDSS program were funding Google, and in communication with DARPA about data-mining for counterterrorism
On the board of the National Science Foundation from 1992 to 1998 (including a stint as chairman from 1996) was Richard N. Zare. This was the period in which the NSF sponsored Sergey Brin and Larry Page in association with DARPA. In June 1994, Prof. Zare, a chemist at Stanford, participated with Prof. Jeffrey Ullman (who supervised Sergey Brin’s research), on a panel sponsored by Stanford and the National Research Council discussing the need for scientists to show how their work “ties to national needs.” The panel brought together scientists and policymakers, including “Washington insiders.”
DARPA’s EELD program, inspired by the work of Thuraisingham and Steinheiser under Jones’ watch, was rapidly adapted and integrated with a suite of tools to conduct comprehensive surveillance under the Bush administration.
According to DARPA official Ted Senator, who led the EELD program for the agency’s short-lived Information Awareness Office, EELD was among a range of “promising techniques” being prepared for integration “into the prototype TIA system.” TIA stood for Total Information Awareness, and was the main global electronic eavesdropping and data-mining program deployed by the Bush administration after 9/11. TIA had been set up by Iran-Contra conspirator Admiral John Poindexter, who was appointed in 2002 by Bush to lead DARPA’s new Information Awareness Office.
The Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) was another contractor among 26 companies (also including SAIC) that received million dollar contracts from DARPA (the specific quantities remained classified) under Poindexter, to push forward the TIA surveillance program in 2002 onwards. The research included “behaviour-based profiling,” “automated detection, identification and tracking” of terrorist activity, among other data-analyzing projects. At this time, PARC’s director and chief scientist was John Seely Brown. Both Brown and Poindexter were Pentagon Highlands Forum participants — Brown on a regular basis until recently.
TIA was purportedly shut down in 2003 due to public opposition after the program was exposed in the media, but the following year Poindexter participated in a Pentagon Highlands Group session in Singapore, alongside defense and security officials from around the world. Meanwhile, Ted Senator continued to manage the EELD program among other data-mining and analysis projects at DARPA until 2006, when he left to become a vice president at SAIC. He is now a SAIC/Leidos technical fellow.
Google, DARPA and the money trail
Long before the appearance of Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Stanford University’s computer science department had a close working relationship with US military intelligence. A letter dated November 5th 1984 from the office of renowned artificial intelligence (AI) expert, Prof Edward Feigenbaum, addressed to Rick Steinheiser, gives the latter directions to Stanford’s Heuristic Programming Project, addressing Steinheiser as a member of the “AI Steering Committee.” A list of attendees at a contractor conference around that time, sponsored by the Pentagon’s Office of Naval Research (ONR), includes Steinheiser as a delegate under the designation “OPNAV Op-115” — which refers to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations’ program on operational readiness, which played a major role in advancing digital systems for the military.
From the 1970s, Prof. Feigenbaum and his colleagues had been running Stanford’s Heuristic Programming Project under contract with DARPA, continuing through to the 1990s. Feigenbaum alone had received around over $7 million in this period for his work from DARPA, along with other funding from the NSF, NASA, and ONR.
Brin’s supervisor at Stanford, Prof. Jeffrey Ullman, was in 1996 part of a joint funding project of DARPA’s Intelligent Integration of Information program. That year, Ullman co-chaired DARPA-sponsored meetings on data exchange between multiple systems.
In September 1998, the same month that Sergey Brin briefed US intelligence representatives Steinheiser and Thuraisingham, tech entrepreneurs Andreas Bechtolsheim and David Cheriton invested $100,000 each in Google. Both investors were connected to DARPA.
As a Stanford PhD student in electrical engineering in the 1980s, Bechtolsheim’s pioneering SUN workstation project had been funded by DARPA and the Stanford computer science department — this research was the foundation of Bechtolsheim’s establishment of Sun Microsystems, which he co-founded with William Joy.
As for Bechtolsheim’s co-investor in Google, David Cheriton, the latter is a long-time Stanford computer science professor who has an even more entrenched relationship with DARPA. His bio at the University of Alberta, which in November 2014 awarded him an honorary science doctorate, says that Cheriton’s “research has received the support of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for over 20 years.”
In the meantime, Bechtolsheim left Sun Microsystems in 1995, co-founding Granite Systems with his fellow Google investor Cheriton as a partner. They sold Granite to Cisco Systems in 1996, retaining significant ownership of Granite, and becoming senior Cisco executives.
An email obtained from the Enron Corpus (a database of 600,000 emails acquired by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and later released to the public) from Richard O’Neill, inviting Enron executives to participate in the Highlands Forum, shows that Cisco and Granite executives are intimately connected to the Pentagon. The email reveals that in May 2000, Bechtolsheim’s partner and Sun Microsystems co-founder, William Joy — who was then chief scientist and corporate executive officer there — had attended the Forum to discuss nanotechnology and molecular computing.
In 1999, Joy had also co-chaired the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee, overseeing a report acknowledging that DARPA had:
“… revised its priorities in the 90’s so that all information technology funding was judged in terms of its benefit to the warfighter.”
Throughout the 1990s, then, DARPA’s funding to Stanford, including Google, was explicitly about developing technologies that could augment the Pentagon’s military intelligence operations in war theatres.
The Joy report recommended more federal government funding from the Pentagon, NASA, and other agencies to the IT sector. Greg Papadopoulos, another of Bechtolsheim’s colleagues as then Sun Microsystems chief technology officer, also attended a Pentagon Highlands’ Forum meeting in September 2000.
In November, the Pentagon Highlands Forum hosted Sue Bostrom, who was vice president for the internet at Cisco, sitting on the company’s board alongside Google co-investors Bechtolsheim and Cheriton. The Forum also hosted Lawrence Zuriff, then a managing partner of Granite, which Bechtolsheim and Cheriton had sold to Cisco. Zuriff had previously been an SAIC contractor from 1993 to 1994, working with the Pentagon on national security issues, specifically for Marshall’s Office of Net Assessment. In 1994, both the SAIC and the ONA were, of course, involved in co-establishing the Pentagon Highlands Forum. Among Zuriff’s output during his SAIC tenure was a paper titled ‘Understanding Information War’, delivered at a SAIC-sponsored US Army Roundtable on the Revolution in Military Affairs.
After Google’s incorporation, the company received $25 million in equity funding in 1999 led by Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. According to Homeland Security Today, “A number of Sequoia-bankrolled start-ups have contracted with the Department of Defense, especially after 9/11 when Sequoia’s Mark Kvamme met with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to discuss the application of emerging technologies to warfighting and intelligence collection.” Similarly, Kleiner Perkins had developed “a close relationship” with In-Q-Tel, the CIA venture capitalist firm that funds start-ups “to advance ‘priority’ technologies of value” to the intelligence community.
John Doerr, who led the Kleiner Perkins investment in Google obtaining a board position, was a major early investor in Becholshtein’s Sun Microsystems at its launch. He and his wife Anne are the main funders behind Rice University’s Center for Engineering Leadership (RCEL), which in 2009 received $16 million from DARPA for its platform-aware-compilation-environment (PACE) ubiquitous computing R&D program. Doerr also has a close relationship with the Obama administration, which he advised shortly after it took power to ramp up Pentagon funding to the tech industry. In 2013, at the Fortune Brainstorm TECH conference, Doerr applauded “how the DoD’s DARPA funded GPS, CAD, most of the major computer science departments, and of course, the Internet.”
From inception, in other words, Google was incubated, nurtured and financed by interests that were directly affiliated or closely aligned with the US military intelligence community: many of whom were embedded in the Pentagon Highlands Forum.
Google captures the Pentagon
In 2003, Google began customizing its search engine under special contract with the CIA for its Intelink Management Office, “overseeing top-secret, secret and sensitive but unclassified intranets for CIA and other IC agencies,” according to Homeland Security Today. That year, CIA funding was also being “quietly” funneled through the National Science Foundation to projects that might help create “new capabilities to combat terrorism through advanced technology.”
The following year, Google bought the firm Keyhole, which had originally been funded by In-Q-Tel. Using Keyhole, Google began developing the advanced satellite mapping software behind Google Earth. Former DARPA director and Highlands Forum co-chair Anita Jones had been on the board of In-Q-Tel at this time, and remains so today.
Then in November 2005, In-Q-Tel issued notices to sell $2.2 million of Google stocks. Google’s relationship with US intelligence was further brought to light when an IT contractor told a closed Washington DC conference of intelligence professionals on a not-for-attribution basis that at least one US intelligence agency was working to “leverage Google’s [user] data monitoring” capability as part of an effort to acquire data of “national security intelligence interest.”
A photo on Flickr dated March 2007 reveals that Google research director and AI expert Peter Norvig attended a Pentagon Highlands Forum meeting that year in Carmel, California. Norvig’s intimate connection to the Forum as of that year is also corroborated by his role in guest editing the 2007 Forum reading list.
The photo below shows Norvig in conversation with Lewis Shepherd, who at that time was senior technology officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency, responsible for investigating, approving, and architecting “all new hardware/software systems and acquisitions for the Global Defense Intelligence IT Enterprise,” including “big data technologies.” Shepherd now works at Microsoft. Norvig was a computer research scientist at Stanford University in 1991 before joining Bechtolsheim’s Sun Microsystems as senior scientist until 1994, and going on to head up NASA’s computer science division.
Lewis Shepherd (left), then a senior technology officer at the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, talking to Peter Norvig (right), renowned expert in artificial intelligence expert and director of research at Google. This photo is from a Highlands Forum meeting in 2007.
Norvig shows up on O’Neill’s Google Plus profile as one of his close connections. Scoping the rest of O’Neill’s Google Plus connections illustrates that he is directly connected not just to a wide range of Google executives, but also to some of the biggest names in the US tech community.
Those connections include Michele Weslander Quaid, an ex-CIA contractor and former senior Pentagon intelligence official who is now Google’s chief technology officer where she is developing programs to “best fit government agencies’ needs”; Elizabeth Churchill, Google director of user experience; James Kuffner, a humanoid robotics expert who now heads up Google’s robotics division and who introduced the term ‘cloud robotics’; Mark Drapeau, director of innovation engagement for Microsoft’s public sector business; Lili Cheng, general manager of Microsoft’s Future Social Experiences (FUSE) Labs; Jon Udell, Microsoft ‘evangelist’; Cory Ondrejka, vice president of engineering at Facebook; to name just a few.
In 2010, Google signed a multi-billion dollar no-bid contract with the NSA’s sister agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). The contract was to use Google Earth for visualization services for the NGA. Google had developed the software behind Google Earth by purchasing Keyhole from the CIA venture firm In-Q-Tel.
Then a year after, in 2011, another of O’Neill’s Google Plus connections, Michele Quaid — who had served in executive positions at the NGA, National Reconnaissance Office and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — left her government role to become Google ‘innovation evangelist’ and the point-person for seeking government contracts. Quaid’s last role before her move to Google was as a senior representative of the Director of National Intelligence to the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Task Force, and a senior advisor to the undersecretary of defense for intelligence’s director of Joint and Coalition Warfighter Support (J&CWS). Both roles involved information operations at their core. Before her Google move, in other words, Quaid worked closely with the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, to which the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum is subordinate. Quaid has herself attended the Forum, though precisely when and how often I could not confirm.
In March 2012, then DARPA director Regina Dugan — who in that capacity was also co-chair of the Pentagon Highlands Forum — followed her colleague Quaid into Google to lead the company’s new Advanced Technology and Projects Group. During her Pentagon tenure, Dugan led on strategic cyber security and social media, among other initiatives. She was responsible for focusing “an increasing portion” of DARPA’s work “on the investigation of offensive capabilities to address military-specific needs,” securing $500 million of government funding for DARPA cyber research from 2012 to 2017.
Regina Dugan, former head of DARPA and Highlands Forum co-chair, now a senior Google executive — trying her best to look the part
By November 2014, Google’s chief AI and robotics expert James Kuffner was a delegate alongside O’Neill at the Highlands Island Forum 2014 in Singapore, to explore ‘Advancement in Robotics and Artificial Intelligence: Implications for Society, Security and Conflict.’ The event included 26 delegates from Austria, Israel, Japan, Singapore, Sweden, Britain and the US, from both industry and government. Kuffner’s association with the Pentagon, however, began much earlier. In 1997, Kuffner was a researcher during his Stanford PhD for a Pentagon-funded project on networked autonomous mobile robots, sponsored by DARPA and the US Navy.
Rumsfeld and persistent surveillance
In sum, many of Google’s most senior executives are affiliated with the Pentagon Highlands Forum, which throughout the period of Google’s growth over the last decade, has surfaced repeatedly as a connecting and convening force. The US intelligence community’s incubation of Google from inception occurred through a combination of direct sponsorship and informal networks of financial influence, themselves closely aligned with Pentagon interests.
The Highlands Forum itself has used the informal relationship building of such private networks to bring together defense and industry sectors, enabling the fusion of corporate and military interests in expanding the covert surveillance apparatus in the name of national security. The power wielded by the shadow network represented in the Forum can, however, be gauged most clearly from its impact during the Bush administration, when it played a direct role in literally writing the strategies and doctrines behind US efforts to achieve ‘information superiority.’
In December 2001, O’Neill confirmed that strategic discussions at the Highlands Forum were feeding directly into Andrew Marshall’s DoD-wide strategic review ordered by President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld to upgrade the military, including the Quadrennial Defense Review — and that some of the earliest Forum meetings “resulted in the writing of a group of DoD policies, strategies, and doctrine for the services on information warfare.” That process of “writing” the Pentagon’s information warfare policies “was done in conjunction with people who understood the environment differently — not only US citizens, but also foreign citizens, and people who were developing corporate IT.”
The Pentagon’s post-9/11 information warfare doctrines were, then, written not just by national security officials from the US and abroad: but also by powerful corporate entities in the defense and technology sectors.
In April that year, Gen. James McCarthy had completed his defense transformation review ordered by Rumsfeld. His report repeatedly highlighted mass surveillance as integral to DoD transformation. As for Marshall, his follow-up report for Rumsfeld was going to develop a blueprint determining the Pentagon’s future in the ‘information age.’
O’Neill also affirmed that to develop information warfare doctrine, the Forum had held extensive discussions on electronic surveillance and “what constitutes an act of war in an information environment.” Papers feeding into US defense policy written through the late 1990s by RAND consultants John Arquilla and David Rondfeldt, both longstanding Highlands Forum members, were produced “as a result of those meetings,” exploring policy dilemmas on how far to take the goal of ‘Information Superiority.’ “One of the things that was shocking to the American public was that we weren’t pilfering Milosevic’s accounts electronically when we in fact could,” commented O’Neill.
Although the R&D process around the Pentagon transformation strategy remains classified, a hint at the DoD discussions going on in this period can be gleaned from a 2005 US Army School of Advanced Military Studies research monograph in the DoD journal, Military Review, authored by an active Army intelligence officer.
“The idea of Persistent Surveillance as a transformational capability has circulated within the national Intelligence Community (IC) and the Department of Defense (DoD) for at least three years,” the paper said, referencing the Rumsfeld-commissioned transformation study.
The Army paper went on to review a range of high-level official military documents, including one from the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, showing that “Persistent Surveillance” was a fundamental theme of the information-centric vision for defense policy across the Pentagon.
We now know that just two months before O’Neill’s address at Harvard in 2001, under the TIA program, President Bush had secretly authorized the NSA’s domestic surveillance of Americans without court-approved warrants, in what appears to have been an illegal modification of the ThinThread data-mining project — as later exposed by NSA whistleblowers William Binney and Thomas Drake.
The surveillance-startup nexus
From here on, Highlands Forum partner SAIC played a key role in the NSA roll out from inception. Shortly after 9/11, Brian Sharkey, chief technology officer of SAIC’s ELS3 Sector (focusing on IT systems for emergency responders), teamed up with John Poindexter to propose the TIA surveillance program. SAIC’s Sharkey had previously been deputy director of the Information Systems Office at DARPA through the 1990s.
Meanwhile, around the same time, SAIC vice president for corporate development, Samuel Visner, became head of the NSA’s signals-intelligence programs. SAIC was then among a consortium receiving a $280 million contract to develop one of the NSA’s secret eavesdropping systems. By 2003, Visner returned to SAIC to become director of strategic planning and business development of the firm’s intelligence group.
That year, the NSA consolidated its TIA programme of warrantless electronic surveillance, to keep “track of individuals” and understand “how they fit into models” through risk profiles of American citizens and foreigners. TIA was doing this by integrating databases on finance, travel, medical, educational and other records into a “virtual, centralized grand database.”
This was also the year that the Bush administration drew up its notorious Information Operations Roadmap. Describing the internet as a “vulnerable weapons system,” Rumsfeld’s IO roadmap had advocated that Pentagon strategy “should be based on the premise that the Department [of Defense] will ‘fight the net’ as it would an enemy weapons system.” The US should seek “maximum control” of the “full spectrum of globally emerging communications systems, sensors, and weapons systems,” advocated the document.
The following year, John Poindexter, who had proposed and run the TIA surveillance program via his post at DARPA, was in Singapore participating in the Highlands 2004 Island Forum. Other delegates included then Highlands Forum co-chair and Pentagon CIO Linton Wells; president of notorious Pentagon information warfare contractor, John Rendon; Karl Lowe, director of the Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) Joint Advanced Warfighting Division; Air Vice Marshall Stephen Dalton, capability manager for information superiority at the UK Ministry of Defense; Lt. Gen. Johan Kihl, Swedish army Supreme Commander HQ’s chief of staff; among others.
As of 2006, SAIC had been awarded a multi-million dollar NSA contract to develop a big data-mining project called ExecuteLocus, despite the colossal $1 billion failure of its preceding contract, known as ‘Trailblazer.’ Core components of TIA were being “quietly continued” under “new code names,” according to Foreign Policy’s Shane Harris, but had been concealed “behind the veil of the classified intelligence budget.” The new surveillance program had by then been fully transitioned from DARPA’s jurisdiction to the NSA.
This was also the year of yet another Singapore Island Forum led by Richard O’Neill on behalf of the Pentagon, which included senior defense and industry officials from the US, UK, Australia, France, India and Israel. Participants also included senior technologists from Microsoft, IBM, as well as Gilman Louie, partner at technology investment firm Alsop Louie Partners.
Gilman Louie is a former CEO of In-Q-Tel — the CIA firm investing especially in start-ups developing data mining technology. In-Q-Tel was founded in 1999 by the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology, under which the Office of Research and Development (ORD) — which was part of the Google-funding MDSS program — had operated. The idea was to essentially replace the functions once performed by the ORD, by mobilizing the private sector to develop information technology solutions for the entire intelligence community.
Louie had led In-Q-Tel from 1999 until January 2006 — including when Google bought Keyhole, the In-Q-Tel-funded satellite mapping software. Among his colleagues on In-Q-Tel’s board in this period were former DARPA director and Highlands Forum co-chair Anita Jones (who is still there), as well as founding board member William Perry: the man who had appointed O’Neill to set-up the Highlands Forum in the first place. Joining Perry as a founding In-Q-Tel board member was John Seely Brown, then chief scientist at Xerox Corp and director of its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) from 1990 to 2002, who is also a long-time senior Highlands Forum member since inception.
In addition to the CIA, In-Q-Tel has also been backed by the FBI, NGA, and Defense Intelligence Agency, among other agencies. More than 60 percent of In-Q-Tel’s investments under Louie’s watch were “in companies that specialize in automatically collecting, sifting through and understanding oceans of information,” according to Medill School of Journalism’s News21, which also noted that Louie himself had acknowledged it was not clear “whether privacy and civil liberties will be protected” by government’s use of these technologies “for national security.”
The transcript of Richard O’Neill’s late 2001 seminar at Harvard shows that the Pentagon Highlands Forum had first engaged Gilman Louie long before the Island Forum, in fact, shortly after 9/11 to explore “what’s going on with In-Q-Tel.” That Forum session focused on how to “take advantage of the speed of the commercial market that wasn’t present inside the science and technology community of Washington” and to understand “the implications for the DoD in terms of the strategic review, the QDR, Hill action, and the stakeholders.” Participants of the meeting included “senior military people,” combatant commanders, “several of the senior flag officers,” some “defense industry people” and various US representatives including Republican Congressman William Mac Thornberry and Democrat Senator Joseph Lieberman.
Both Thornberry and Lieberman are staunch supporters of NSA surveillance, and have consistently acted to rally support for pro-war, pro-surveillance legislation. O’Neill’s comments indicate that the Forum’s role is not just to enable corporate contractors to write Pentagon policy, but to rally political support for government policies adopted through the Forum’s informal brand of shadow networking.
Repeatedly, O’Neill told his Harvard audience that his job as Forum president was to scope case studies from real companies across the private sector, like eBay and Human Genome Sciences, to figure out the basis of US ‘Information Superiority’ — “how to dominate” the information market — and leverage this for “what the president and the secretary of defense wanted to do with regard to transformation of the DoD and the strategic review.”
By 2007, a year after the Island Forum meeting that included Gilman Louie, Facebook received its second round of $12.7 million worth of funding from Accel Partners. Accel was headed up by James Breyer, former chair of the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) where Louie also served on the board while still CEO of In-Q-Tel. Both Louie and Breyer had previously served together on the board of BBN Technologies — which had recruited ex-DARPA chief and In-Q-Tel trustee Anita Jones.
Facebook’s 2008 round of funding was led by Greylock Venture Capital, which invested $27.5 million. The firm’s senior partners include Howard Cox, another former NVCA chair who also sits on the board of In-Q-Tel. Apart from Breyer and Zuckerberg, Facebook’s only other board member is Peter Thiel, co-founder of defense contractor Palantir which provides all sorts of data-mining and visualization technologies to US government, military and intelligence agencies, including the NSA and FBI, and which itself was nurtured to financial viability by Highlands Forum members.
Palantir co-founders Thiel and Alex Karp met with John Poindexter in 2004, according to Wired, the same year Poindexter had attended the Highlands Island Forum in Singapore. They met at the home of Richard Perle, another Andrew Marshall acolyte. Poindexter helped Palantir open doors, and to assemble “a legion of advocates from the most influential strata of government.” Thiel had also met with Gilman Louie of In-Q-Tel, securing the backing of the CIA in this early phase.
And so we come full circle. Data-mining programs like ExecuteLocus and projects linked to it, which were developed throughout this period, apparently laid the groundwork for the new NSA programmes eventually disclosed by Edward Snowden. By 2008, as Facebook received its next funding round from Greylock Venture Capital, documents and whistleblower testimony confirmed that the NSA was effectively resurrecting the TIA project with a focus on Internet data-mining via comprehensive monitoring of e-mail, text messages, and Web browsing.
We also now know thanks to Snowden that the NSA’s XKeyscore ‘Digital Network Intelligence’ exploitation system was designed to allow analysts to search not just Internet databases like emails, online chats and browsing history, but also telephone services, mobile phone audio, financial transactions and global air transport communications — essentially the entire global telecommunications grid. Highlands Forum partner SAIC played a key role, among other contractors, in producing and administering the NSA’s XKeyscore, and was recently implicated in NSA hacking of the privacy network Tor.
The Pentagon Highlands Forum was therefore intimately involved in all this as a convening network—but also quite directly. Confirming his pivotal role in the expansion of the US-led global surveillance apparatus, then Forum co-chair, Pentagon CIO Linton Wells, told FedTech magazine in 2009 that he had overseen the NSA’s roll out of “an impressive long-term architecture last summer that will provide increasingly sophisticated security until 2015 or so.”
The Goldman Sachs connection
When I asked Wells about the Forum’s role in influencing US mass surveillance, he responded only to say he would prefer not to comment and that he no longer leads the group.
As Wells is no longer in government, this is to be expected — but he is still connected to Highlands. As of September 2014, after delivering his influential white paper on Pentagon transformation, he joined the Monterey Institute for International Studies (MIIS) Cyber Security Initiative (CySec) as a distinguished senior fellow.
Sadly, this was not a form of trying to keep busy in retirement. Wells’ move underscored that the Pentagon’s conception of information warfare is not just about surveillance, but about the exploitation of surveillance to influence both government and public opinion.
The MIIS CySec initiative is now formally partnered with the Pentagon Highlands Forum through a Memorandum of Understanding signed with MIIS provost Dr Amy Sands, who sits on the Secretary of State’s International Security Advisory Board. The MIIS CySec website states that the MoU signed with Richard O’Neill:
“… paves the way for future joint MIIS CySec-Highlands Group sessions that will explore the impact of technology on security, peace and information engagement. For nearly 20 years the Highlands Group has engaged private sector and government leaders, including the Director of National Intelligence, DARPA, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Office of the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Singaporean Minister of Defence, in creative conversations to frame policy and technology research areas.”
Who is the financial benefactor of the new Pentagon Highlands-partnered MIIS CySec initiative? According to the MIIS CySec site, the initiative was launched “through a generous donation of seed funding from George Lee.” George C. Lee is a senior partner at Goldman Sachs, where he is chief information officer of the investment banking division, and chairman of the Global Technology, Media and Telecom (TMT) Group.
But here’s the kicker. In 2011, it was Lee who engineered Facebook’s $50 billion valuation, and previously handled deals for other Highlands-connected tech giants like Google, Microsoft and eBay. Lee’s then boss, Stephen Friedman, a former CEO and chairman of Goldman Sachs, and later senior partner on the firm’s executive board, was a also founding board member of In-Q-Tel alongside Highlands Forum overlord William Perry and Forum member John Seely Brown.
In 2001, Bush appointed Stephen Friedman to the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, and then to chair that board from 2005 to 2009. Friedman previously served alongside Paul Wolfowitz and others on the 1995–6 presidential commission of inquiry into US intelligence capabilities, and in 1996 on the Jeremiah Panel that produced a report to the Director of the National Reconnaisance Office (NRO) — one of the surveillance agencies plugged into the Highlands Forum. Friedman was on the Jeremiah Panel with Martin Faga, then senior vice president and general manager of MITRE Corp’s Center for Integrated Intelligence Systems — where Thuraisingham, who managed the CIA-NSA-MDDS program that inspired DARPA counter-terrorist data-mining, was also a lead engineer.
In the footnotes to a chapter for the book, Cyberspace and National Security (Georgetown University Press), SAIC/Leidos executive Jeff Cooper reveals that another Goldman Sachs senior partner Philip J. Venables — who as chief information risk officer leads the firm’s programs on information security — delivered a Highlands Forum presentation in 2008 at what was called an ‘Enrichment Session on Deterrence.’ Cooper’s chapter draws on Venables’ presentation at Highlands “with permission.” In 2010, Venables participated with his then boss Friedman at an Aspen Institute meeting on the world economy. For the last few years, Venables has also sat on various NSA cybersecurity award review boards.
In sum, the investment firm responsible for creating the billion dollar fortunes of the tech sensations of the 21st century, from Google to Facebook, is intimately linked to the US military intelligence community; with Venables, Lee and Friedman either directly connected to the Pentagon Highlands Forum, or to senior members of the Forum.
Fighting terror with terror
The convergence of these powerful financial and military interests around the Highlands Forum, through George Lee’s sponsorship of the Forum’s new partner, the MIIS Cysec initiative, is revealing in itself.
MIIS Cysec’s director, Dr, Itamara Lochard, has long been embedded in Highlands. She regularly “presents current research on non-state groups, governance, technology and conflict to the US Office of the Secretary of Defense Highlands Forum,” according to her Tufts University bio. She also, “regularly advises US combatant commanders” and specializes in studying the use of information technology by “violent and non-violent sub-state groups.”
Dr Itamara Lochard is a senior Highlands Forum member and Pentagon information operations expert. She directs the MIIS CyberSec initiative that now supports the Pentagon Highlands Forum with funding from Goldman Sachs partner George Lee, who led the valuations of Facebook and Google.
Dr Lochard maintains a comprehensive database of 1,700 non-state groups including “insurgents, militias, terrorists, complex criminal organizations, organized gangs, malicious cyber actors and strategic non-violent actors,” to analyze their “organizational patterns, areas of cooperation, strategies and tactics.” Notice, here, the mention of “strategic non-violent actors” — which perhaps covers NGOs and other groups or organizations engaged in social political activity or campaigning, judging by the focus of other DoD research programs.
As of 2008, Lochard has been an adjunct professor at the US Joint Special Operations University where she teaches a top secret advanced course in ‘Irregular Warfare’ that she designed for senior US special forces officers. She has previously taught courses on ‘Internal War’ for senior “political-military officers” of various Gulf regimes.
Her views thus disclose much about what the Highlands Forum has been advocating all these years. In 2004, Lochard was co-author of a study for the US Air Force’s Institute for National Security Studies on US strategy toward ‘non-state armed groups.’ The study on the one hand argued that non-state armed groups should be urgently recognized as a ‘tier one security priority,’ and on the other that the proliferation of armed groups “provide strategic opportunities that can be exploited to help achieve policy goals. There have and will be instances where the United States may find collaborating with armed group is in its strategic interests.” But “sophisticated tools” must be developed to differentiate between different groups and understand their dynamics, to determine which groups should be countered, and which could be exploited for US interests. “Armed group profiles can likewise be employed to identify ways in which the United States may assist certain armed groups whose success will be advantageous to US foreign policy objectives.”
In 2008, Wikileaks published a leaked restricted US Army Special Operations field manual, which demonstrated that the sort of thinking advocated by the likes of Highlands expert Lochard had been explicitly adopted by US special forces.
Lochard’s work thus demonstrates that the Highlands Forum sat at the intersection of advanced Pentagon strategy on surveillance, covert operations and irregular warfare: mobilizing mass surveillance to develop detailed information on violent and non-violent groups perceived as potentially threatening to US interests, or offering opportunities for exploitation, thus feeding directly into US covert operations.
That, ultimately, is why the CIA, the NSA, the Pentagon, spawned Google. So they could run their secret dirty wars with even greater efficiency than ever before.
Mass surveillance is about control. It’s promulgators may well claim, and even believe, that it is about control for the greater good, a control that is needed to keep a cap on disorder, to be fully vigilant to the next threat. But in a context of rampant political corruption, widening economic inequalities, and escalating resource stress due to climate change and energy volatility, mass surveillance can become a tool of power to merely perpetuate itself, at the public’s expense.
A major function of mass surveillance that is often overlooked is that of knowing the adversary to such an extent that they can be manipulated into defeat. The problem is that the adversary is not just terrorists. It’s you and me. To this day, the role of information warfare as propaganda has been in full swing, though systematically ignored by much of the media.
Here, INSURGE INTELLIGENCE exposes how the Pentagon Highlands Forum’s co-optation of tech giants like Google to pursue mass surveillance, has played a key role in secret efforts to manipulate the media as part of an information war against the American government, the American people, and the rest of the world: to justify endless war, and ceaseless military expansionism.
The war machine
In September 2013, the website of the Montery Institute for International Studies’ Cyber Security Initiative (MIIS CySec) posted a final version of a paper on ‘cyber-deterrence’ by CIA consultant Jeffrey Cooper, vice president of the US defense contractor SAIC and a founding member of the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum. The paper was presented to then NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander at a Highlands Forum session titled ‘Cyber Commons, Engagement and Deterrence’ in 2010.
Gen. Keith Alexander (middle), who served as director of the NSA and chief of the Central Security Service from 2005 to 2014, as well as commander of the US Cyber Command from 2010 to 2014, at the 2010 Highlands Forum session on cyber-deterrence
MIIS CySec is formally partnered with the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum through an MoU signed between the provost and Forum president Richard O’Neill, while the initiative itself is funded by George C. Lee: the Goldman Sachs executive who led the billion dollar valuations of Facebook, Google, eBay, and other tech companies.
Cooper’s eye-opening paper is no longer available at the MIIS site, but a final version of it is available via the logs of a public national security conference hosted by the American Bar Association. Currently, Cooper is chief innovation officer at SAIC/Leidos, which is among a consortium of defense technology firms including Booz Allen Hamilton and others contracted to develop NSA surveillance capabilities.
The Highlands Forum briefing for the NSA chief was commissioned under contract by the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and based on concepts developed at previous Forum meetings. It was presented to Gen. Alexander at a “closed session” of the Highlands Forum moderated by MIIS Cysec director, Dr. Itamara Lochard, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC.
SAIC/Leidos’ Jeffrey Cooper (middle), a founding member of the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum, listening to Phil Venables (right), senior partner at Goldman Sachs, at the 2010 Forum session on cyber-deterrence at the CSIS
Like Rumsfeld’s IO roadmap, Cooper’s NSA briefing described “digital information systems” as both a “great source of vulnerability” and “powerful tools and weapons” for “national security.” He advocated the need for US cyber intelligence to maximize “in-depth knowledge” of potential and actual adversaries, so they can identify “every potential leverage point” that can be exploited for deterrence or retaliation. “Networked deterrence” requires the US intelligence community to develop “deep understanding and specific knowledge about the particular networks involved and their patterns of linkages, including types and strengths of bonds,” as well as using cognitive and behavioural science to help predict patterns. His paper went on to essentially set out a theoretical architecture for modelling data obtained from surveillance and social media mining on potential “adversaries” and “counterparties.”
A year after this briefing with the NSA chief, Michele Weslander Quaid — another Highlands Forum delegate — joined Google to become chief technology officer, leaving her senior role in the Pentagon advising the undersecretary of defense for intelligence. Two months earlier, the Defense Science Board (DSB) Task Force on Defense Intelligence published its report on Counterinsurgency (COIN), Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (IRS) Operations. Quaid was among the government intelligence experts who advised and briefed the Defense Science Board Task Force in preparing the report. Another expert who briefed the Task Force was Highlands Forum veteran Linton Wells. The DSB report itself had been commissioned by Bush appointee James Clapper, then undersecretary of defense for intelligence — who had also commissioned Cooper’s Highlands Forum briefing to Gen. Alexander. Clapper is now Obama’s Director of National Intelligence, in which capacity he lied under oath to Congress by claiming in March 2013 that the NSA does not collect any data at all on American citizens.
Michele Quaid’s track record across the US military intelligence community was to transition agencies into using web tools and cloud technology. The imprint of her ideas are evident in key parts of the DSB Task Force report, which described its purpose as being to “influence investment decisions” at the Pentagon “by recommending appropriate intelligence capabilities to assess insurgencies, understand a population in their environment, and support COIN operations.”
The report named 24 countries in South and Southeast Asia, North and West Africa, the Middle East and South America, which would pose “possible COIN challenges” for the US military in coming years. These included Pakistan, Mexico, Yemen, Nigeria, Guatemala, Gaza/West Bank, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, among other “autocratic regimes.” The report argued that “economic crises, climate change, demographic pressures, resource scarcity, or poor governance could cause these states (or others) to fail or become so weak that they become targets for aggressors/insurgents.” From there, the “global information infrastructure” and “social media” can rapidly “amplify the speed, intensity, and momentum of events” with regional implications. “Such areas could become sanctuaries from which to launch attacks on the US homeland, recruit personnel, and finance, train, and supply operations.”
The imperative in this context is to increase the military’s capacity for “left of bang” operations — before the need for a major armed forces commitment — to avoid insurgencies, or pre-empt them while still in incipient phase. The report goes on to conclude that “the Internet and social media are critical sources of social network analysis data in societies that are not only literate, but also connected to the Internet.” This requires “monitoring the blogosphere and other social media across many different cultures and languages” to prepare for “population-centric operations.”
The Pentagon must also increase its capacity for “behavioral modeling and simulation” to “better understand and anticipate the actions of a population” based on “foundation data on populations, human networks, geography, and other economic and social characteristics.” Such “population-centric operations” will also “increasingly” be needed in “nascent resource conflicts, whether based on water-crises, agricultural stress, environmental stress, or rents” from mineral resources. This must include monitoring “population demographics as an organic part of the natural resource framework.”
Other areas for augmentation are “overhead video surveillance,” “high resolution terrain data,” “cloud computing capability,” “data fusion” for all forms of intelligence in a “consistent spatio-temporal framework for organizing and indexing the data,” developing “social science frameworks” that can “support spatio-temporal encoding and analysis,” “distributing multi-form biometric authentication technologies [“such as fingerprints, retina scans and DNA samples”] to the point of service of the most basic administrative processes” in order to “tie identity to all an individual’s transactions.” In addition, the academy must be brought in to help the Pentagon develop “anthropological, socio-cultural, historical, human geographical, educational, public health, and many other types of social and behavioral science data and information” to develop “a deep understanding of populations.”
A few months after joining Google, Quaid represented the company in August 2011 at the Pentagon’s Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) Customer and Industry Forum. The forum would provide “the Services, Combatant Commands, Agencies, coalition forces” the “opportunity to directly engage with industry on innovative technologies to enable and ensure capabilities in support of our Warfighters.” Participants in the event have been integral to efforts to create a “defense enterprise information environment,” defined as “an integrated platform which includes the network, computing, environment, services, information assurance, and NetOps capabilities,” enabling warfighters to “connect, identify themselves, discover and share information, and collaborate across the full spectrum of military operations.” Most of the forum panelists were DoD officials, except for just four industry panelists including Google’s Quaid.
DISA officials have attended the Highlands Forum, too — such as Paul Friedrichs, a technical director and chief engineer of DISA’s Office of the Chief Information Assurance Executive.
Knowledge is Power
Given all this it is hardly surprising that in 2012, a few months after Highlands Forum co-chair Regina Dugan left DARPA to join Google as a senior executive, then NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander was emailing Google’s founding executive Sergey Brin to discuss information sharing for national security. In those emails, obtained under Freedom of Information by investigative journalist Jason Leopold, Gen. Alexander described Google as a “key member of [the US military’s] Defense Industrial Base,” a position Michele Quaid was apparently consolidating. Brin’s jovial relationship with the former NSA chief now makes perfect sense given that Brin had been in contact with representatives of the CIA and NSA, who partly funded and oversaw his creation of the Google search engine, since the mid-1990s.
In July 2014, Quaid spoke at a US Army panel on the creation of a “rapid acquisition cell” to advance the US Army’s “cyber capabilities” as part of the Force 2025 transformation initiative. She told Pentagon officials that “many of the Army’s 2025 technology goals can be realized with commercial technology available or in development today,” re-affirming that “industry is ready to partner with the Army in supporting the new paradigm.” Around the same time, most of the media was trumpeting the idea that Google was trying to distance itself from Pentagon funding, but in reality, Google has switched tactics to independently develop commercial technologies which would have military applications the Pentagon’s transformation goals.
Yet Quaid is hardly the only point-person in Google’s relationship with the US military intelligence community.
One year after Google bought the satellite mapping software Keyhole from CIA venture capital firm In-Q-Tel in 2004, In-Q-Tel’s director of technical assessment Rob Painter — who played a key role in In-Q-Tel’s Keyhole investment in the first place — moved to Google. At In-Q-Tel, Painter’s work focused on identifying, researching and evaluating “new start-up technology firms that were believed to offer tremendous value to the CIA, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and the Defense Intelligence Agency.” Indeed, the NGA had confirmed that its intelligence obtained via Keyhole was used by the NSA to support US operations in Iraq from 2003 onwards.
A former US Army special operations intelligence officer, Painter’s new job at Google as of July 2005 was federal manager of what Keyhole was to become: Google Earth Enterprise. By 2007, Painter had become Google’s federal chief technologist.
That year, Painter told the Washington Post that Google was “in the beginning stages” of selling advanced secret versions of its products to the US government. “Google has ramped up its sales force in the Washington area in the past year to adapt its technology products to the needs of the military, civilian agencies and the intelligence community,” the Post reported. The Pentagon was already using a version of Google Earth developed in partnership with Lockheed Martin to “display information for the military on the ground in Iraq,” including “mapping out displays of key regions of the country” and outlining “Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad, as well as US and Iraqi military bases in the city. Neither Lockheed nor Google would say how the geospatial agency uses the data.” Google aimed to sell the government new “enhanced versions of Google Earth” and “search engines that can be used internally by agencies.”
White House records leaked in 2010 showed that Google executives had held several meetings with senior US National Security Council officials. Alan Davidson, Google’s government affairs director, had at least three meetings with officials of the National Security Council in 2009, including White House senior director for Russian affairs Mike McFaul and Middle East advisor Daniel Shapiro. It also emerged from a Google patent application that the company had deliberately been collecting ‘payload’ data from private wifi networks that would enable the identification of “geolocations.” In the same year, we now know, Google had signed an agreement with the NSA giving the agency open-ended access to the personal information of its users, and its hardware and software, in the name of cyber security — agreements that Gen. Alexander was busy replicating with hundreds of telecoms CEOs around the country.
Thus, it is not just Google that is a key contributor and foundation of the US military-industrial complex: it is the entire Internet, and the wide range of private sector companies — many nurtured and funded under the mantle of the US intelligence community (or powerful financiers embedded in that community) — which sustain the Internet and the telecoms infrastructure; it is also the myriad of start-ups selling cutting edge technologies to the CIA’s venture firm In-Q-Tel, where they can then be adapted and advanced for applications across the military intelligence community. Ultimately, the global surveillance apparatus and the classified tools used by agencies like the NSA to administer it, have been almost entirely made by external researchers and private contractors like Google, which operate outside the Pentagon.
This structure, mirrored in the workings of the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum, allows the Pentagon to rapidly capitalize on technological innovations it would otherwise miss, while also keeping the private sector at arms length, at least ostensibly, to avoid uncomfortable questions about what such technology is actually being used for.
But isn’t it obvious, really? The Pentagon is about war, whether overt or covert. By helping build the technological surveillance infrastructure of the NSA, firms like Google are complicit in what the military-industrial complex does best: kill for cash.
As the nature of mass surveillance suggests, its target is not merely terrorists, but by extension, ‘terrorism suspects’ and ‘potential terrorists,’ the upshot being that entire populations — especially political activists — must be targeted by US intelligence surveillance to identify active and future threats, and to be vigilant against hypothetical populist insurgencies both at home and abroad. Predictive analytics and behavioural profiles play a pivotal role here.
Mass surveillance and data-mining also now has a distinctive operational purpose in assisting with the lethal execution of special operations, selecting targets for the CIA’s drone strike kill lists via dubious algorithms, for instance, along with providing geospatial and other information for combatant commanders on land, air and sea, among many other functions. A single social media post on Twitter or Facebook is enough to trigger being placed on secret terrorism watch-lists solely due to a vaguely defined hunch or suspicion; and can potentially even land a suspect on a kill list.
The push for indiscriminate, comprehensive mass surveillance by the military-industrial complex — encompassing the Pentagon, intelligence agencies, defense contractors, and supposedly friendly tech giants like Google and Facebook — is therefore not an end in itself, but an instrument of power, whose goal is self-perpetuation. But there is also a self-rationalizing justification for this goal: while being great for the military-industrial complex, it is also, supposedly, great for everyone else.
The ‘long war’
No better illustration of the truly chauvinistic, narcissistic, and self-congratulatory ideology of power at the heart of the military-industrial complex is a book by long-time Highlands Forum delegate, Dr. Thomas Barnett, The Pentagon’s New Map. Barnett was assistant for strategic futures in the Pentagon’s Office of Force Transformation from 2001 to 2003, and had been recommended to Richard O’Neill by his boss Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski. Apart from becoming a New York Times bestseller, Barnett’s book had been read far and wide in the US military, by senior defense officials in Washington and combatant commanders operating on the ground in the Middle East.
Barnett first attended the Pentagon Highlands Forum in 1998, then was invited to deliver a briefing about his work at the Forum on December 7th 2004, which was attended by senior Pentagon officials, energy experts, internet entrepreneurs, and journalists. Barnett received a glowing review in the Washington Post from his Highlands Forum buddy David Ignatius a week later, and an endorsement from another Forum friend, Thomas Friedman, both of which helped massively boost his credibility and readership.
Barnett’s vision is neoconservative to the root. He sees the world as divided into essentially two realms: The Core, which consists of advanced countries playing by the rules of economic globalization (the US, Canada, UK, Europe and Japan) along with developing countries committed to getting there (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and some others); and the rest of the world, which is The Gap, a disparate wilderness of dangerous and lawless countries defined fundamentally by being “disconnected” from the wonders of globalization. This includes most of the Middle East and Africa, large swathes of South America, as well as much of Central Asia and Eastern Europe. It is the task of the United States to “shrink The Gap,” by spreading the cultural and economic “rule-set” of globalization that characterizes The Core, and by enforcing security worldwide to enable that “rule-set” to spread.
These two functions of US power are captured by Barnett’s concepts of “Leviathan” and “System Administrator.” The former is about rule-setting to facilitate the spread of capitalist markets, regulated via military and civilian law. The latter is about projecting military force into The Gap in an open-ended global mission to enforce security and engage in nation-building. Not “rebuilding,” he is keen to emphasize, but building “new nations.”
For Barnett, the Bush administration’s 2002 introduction of the Patriot Act at home, with its crushing of habeas corpus, and the National Security Strategy abroad, with its opening up of unilateral, pre-emptive war, represented the beginning of the necessary re-writing of rule-sets in The Core to embark on this noble mission. This is the only way for the US to achieve security, writes Barnett, because as long as The Gap exists, it will always be a source of lawless violence and disorder. One paragraph in particular sums up his vision:
“America as global cop creates security. Security creates common rules. Rules attract foreign investment. Investment creates infrastructure. Infrastructure creates access to natural resources. Resources create economic growth. Growth creates stability. Stability creates markets. And once you’re a growing, stable part of the global market, you’re part of the Core. Mission accomplished.”
Much of what Barnett predicted would need to happen to fulfill this vision, despite its neoconservative bent, is still being pursued under Obama. In the near future, Barnett had predicted, US military forces will be dispatched beyond Iraq and Afghanistan to places like Uzbekistan, Djibouti, Azerbaijan, Northwest Africa, Southern Africa and South America.
Barnett’s Pentagon briefing was greeted with near universal enthusiasm. The Forum had even purchased copies of his book and had them distributed to all Forum delegates, and in May 2005, Barnett was invited back to participate in an entire Forum themed around his “SysAdmin” concept.
The Highlands Forum has thus played a leading role in defining the Pentagon’s entire conceptualization of the ‘war on terror.’ Irving Wladawsky-Berger, a retired IMB vice president who co-chaired the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee from 1997 to 2001, described his experience of one 2007 Forum meeting in telling terms:
“Then there is the War on Terror, which DoD has started to refer to as the Long War, a term that I first heard at the Forum. It seems very appropriate to describe the overall conflict in which we now find ourselves. This is a truly global conflict… the conflicts we are now in have much more of the feel of a battle of civilizations or cultures trying to destroy our very way of life and impose their own.”
The problem is that outside this powerful Pentagon-hosted clique, not everyone else agrees. “I’m not convinced that Barnett’s cure would be any better than the disease,” wrote Dr. Karen Kwiatowski, a former senior Pentagon analyst in the Near East and South Asia section, who blew the whistle on how her department deliberately manufactured false information in the run-up to the Iraq War. “It would surely cost far more in American liberty, constitutional democracy and blood than it would be worth.”
Yet the equation of “shrinking The Gap” with sustaining the national security of The Core leads to a slippery slope. It means that if the US is prevented from playing this leadership role as “global cop,” The Gap will widen, The Core will shrink, and the entire global order could unravel. By this logic, the US simply cannot afford government or public opinion to reject the legitimacy of its mission. If it did so, it would allow The Gap to grow out of control, undermining The Core, and potentially destroying it, along with The Core’s protector, America. Therefore, “shrinking The Gap” is not just a security imperative: it is such an existential priority, that it must be backed up with information war to demonstrate to the world the legitimacy of the entire project.
Based on O’Neill’s principles of information warfare as articulated in his 1989 US Navy brief, the targets of information war are not just populations in The Gap, but domestic populations in The Core, and their governments: including the US government. That secret brief, which according to former senior US intelligence official John Alexander was read by the Pentagon’s top leadership, argued that information war must be targeted at: adversaries to convince them of their vulnerability; potential partners around the world so they accept “the cause as just”; and finally, civilian populations and the political leadership so they believe that “the cost” in blood and treasure is worth it.
Barnett’s work was plugged by the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum because it fit the bill, in providing a compelling ‘feel good’ ideology for the US military-industrial complex.
But neoconservative ideology, of course, hardly originated with Barnett, himself a relatively small player, even though his work was extremely influential throughout the Pentagon. The regressive thinking of senior officials involved in the Highlands Forum is visible from long before 9/11, which was ceased upon by actors linked to the Forum as a powerful enabling force that legitimized the increasingly aggressive direction of US foreign and intelligence policies.
Yoda and the Soviets
The ideology represented by the Highlands Forum can be gleaned from long before its establishment in 1994, at a time when Andrew ‘Yoda’ Marshall’s ONA was the primary locus of Pentagon activity on future planning.
A widely-held myth promulgated by national security journalists over the years is that the ONA’s reputation as the Pentagon’s resident oracle machine was down to the uncanny analytical foresight of its director Marshall. Supposedly, he was among the few who made the prescient recognition that the Soviet threat had been overblown by the US intelligence community. He had, the story goes, been a lone, but relentless voice inside the Pentagon, calling on policymakers to re-evaluate their projections of the USSR’s military might.
Except the story is not true. The ONA was not about sober threat analysis, but about paranoid threat projection justifying military expansionism. Foreign Policy’s Jeffrey Lewis points out that far from offering a voice of reason calling for a more balanced assessment of Soviet military capabilities, Marshall tried to downplay ONA findings that rejected the hype around an imminent Soviet threat. Having commissioned a study concluding that the US had overestimated Soviet aggressiveness, Marshall circulated it with a cover note declaring himself “unpersuaded” by its findings. Lewis charts how Marshall’s threat projection mind-set extended to commissioning absurd research supporting staple neocon narratives about the (non-existent) Saddam-al-Qaeda link, and even the notorious report by a RAND consultant calling for re-drawing the map of the Middle East, presented to the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board on the invitation of Richard Perle in 2002.
Investigative journalist Jason Vest similarly found from Pentagon sources that during the Cold War, Marshall had long hyped the Soviet threat, and played a key role in giving the neoconservative pressure group, the Committee on the Present Danger, access to classified CIA intelligence data to re-write the National Intelligence Estimate on Soviet Military Intentions. This was a precursor to the manipulation of intelligence after 9/11 to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Former ONA staffers confirmed that Marshall had been belligerent about an imminent Soviet threat “until the very end.” Ex-CIA sovietologist Melvin Goodman, for instance, recalled that Marshall was also instrumental in pushing for the Afghan mujahideen to be provided with Stinger missiles — a move which made the war even more brutal, encouraging the Russians to use scorched earth tactics.
Enron, the Taliban and Iraq
The post-Cold War period saw the Pentagon’s creation of the Highlands Forum in 1994 under the wing of former defense secretary William Perry — a former CIA director and early advocate of neocon ideas like preventive war. Surprisingly, the Forum’s dubious role as a government-industry bridge can be clearly discerned in relation to Enron’s flirtations with the US government. Just as the Forum had crafted the Pentagon’s intensifying policies on mass surveillance, it simultaneously fed directly into the strategic thinking that culminating in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
On November 7th 2000, George W. Bush ‘won’ the US presidential elections. Enron and its employees had given over $1 million to the Bush campaign in total. That included contributing $10,500 to Bush’s Florida recount committee, and a further $300,000 for the inaugural celebrations afterwards. Enron also provided corporate jets to shuttle Republican lawyers around Florida and Washington lobbying on behalf of Bush for the December recount. Federal election documents later showed that since 1989, Enron had made a total of $5.8 million in campaign donations, 73 percent to Republicans and 27 percent to Democrats — with as many as 15 senior Bush administration officials owning stock in Enron, including defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, senior advisor Karl Rove, and army secretary Thomas White.
Yet just one day before that controversial election, Pentagon Highlands Forum founding president Richard O’Neill wrote to Enron CEO, Kenneth Lay, inviting him to give a presentation at the Forum on modernizing the Pentagon and the Army. The email from O’Neill to Lay was released as part of the Enron Corpus, the emails obtained by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but has remained unknown until now.
The email began “On behalf of Assistant Secretary of Defense (C3I) and DoD CIO Arthur Money,” and invited Lay “to participate in the Secretary of Defense’s Highlands Forum,” which O’Neill described as “a cross-disciplinary group of eminent scholars, researchers, CEO’s/CIO’s/CTO’s from industry, and leaders from the media, the arts and the professions, who have met over the past six years to examine areas of emerging interest to all of us.” He added that Forum sessions include “seniors from the White House, Defense, and other agencies of government (we limit government participation to about 25%).”
Here, O’Neill reveals that the Pentagon Highlands Forum was, fundamentally, about exploring not just the goals of government, but the interests of participating industry leaders like Enron. The Pentagon, O’Neill went on, wanted Lay to feed into “the search for information/ transformation strategies for the Department of Defense (and government in general),” particularly “from a business perspective (transformation, productivity, competitive advantage).” He offered high praise of Enron as “a remarkable example of transformation in a highly rigid, regulated industry, that has created a new model and new markets.”
O’Neill made clear that the Pentagon wanted Enron to play a pivotal role in the DoD’s future, not just in the creation of “an operational strategy which has information superiority,” but also in relation to the DoD’s “enormous global business enterprise which can benefit from many of the best practices and ideas from industry.”
“ENRON is of great interest to us,” he reaffirmed. “What we learn from you may help the Department of Defense a great deal as it works to build a new strategy. I hope that you have time on your busy schedule to join us for as much of the Highlands Forum as you can attend and speak with the group.”
That Highlands Forum meeting was attended by senior White House and US intelligence officials, including CIA deputy director Joan A. Dempsey, who had previously served as assistant defense secretary for intelligence, and in 2003 was appointed by Bush as executive director of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, in which capacity she praised extensive information sharing by the NSA and NGA after 9/11. She went on to become executive vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton, a major Pentagon contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan that, among other things, created the Coalition Provisional Authority’s database to track what we now know were highly corrupt reconstruction projects in Iraq.
Enron’s relationship with the Pentagon had already been in full swing the previous year. Thomas White, then vice chair of Enron energy services, had used his extensive US military connections to secure a prototype deal at Fort Hamilton to privatize the power supply of army bases. Enron was the only bidder for the deal. The following year, after Enron’s CEO was invited to the Highlands Forum, White gave his first speech in June just “two weeks after he became secretary of the Army,” where he “vowed to speed up the awarding of such contracts,” along with further “rapid privatization” of the Army’s energy services. “Potentially, Enron could benefit from the speedup in awarding contracts, as could others seeking the business,” observed USA Today.
That month, on the authority of defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld — who himself held significant shares in Enron — Bush’s Pentagon invited another Enron executive and one of Enron’s senior external financial advisors to attend a further secret Highlands Forum session.
An email from Richard O’Neill dated June 22nd, obtained via the Enron Corpus, showed that Steven Kean, then executive vice president and chief of staff of Enron, was due to give another Highlands presentation on Monday 25th. “We are approaching the Secretary of Defense-sponsored Highlands Forum and very much looking forward to your participation,” wrote O’Neill, promising Kean that he would be “the centerpiece of discussion. Enron’s experience is quite important to us as we seriously consider transformative change in the Department of Defense.”
Steven Kean is now president and COO (and incoming CEO) of Kinder Morgan, one of the largest energy companies in North America, and a major supporter of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project.
Due to attend the same Highlands Forum session with Kean was Richard Foster, then a senior partner at the financial consultancy McKinsey. “I have given copies of Dick Foster’s new book, Creative Destruction, to the Deputy Secretary of Defense as well as the Assistant Secretary,” said O’Neill in his email, “and the Enron case that he outlines makes for important discussion. We intend to hand out copies to the participants at the Forum.”
Foster’s firm, McKinsey, had provided strategic financial advice to Enron since the mid-1980s. Joe Skilling, who in February 2001 became Enron CEO while Kenneth Lay moved to chair, had been head of McKinsey’s energy consulting business before joining Enron in 1990.
McKinsey and then partner Richard Foster were intimately involved in crafting the core Enron financial management strategies responsible for the company’s rapid, but fraudulent, growth. While McKinsey has always denied being aware of the dodgy accounting that led to Enron’s demise, internal company documents showed that Foster had attended an Enron finance committee meeting a month before the Highlands Forum session to discuss the “need for outside private partnerships to help drive the company’s explosive growth” — the very investment partnerships responsible for the collapse of Enron.
McKinsey documents showed that the firm was “fully aware of Enron’s extensive use of off-balance-sheet funds.” As The Independent’s economics editor Ben Chu remarks, “McKinsey fully endorsed the dubious accounting methods,” which led to the inflation of Enron’s market valuation and “that caused the company to implode in 2001.”
Indeed, Foster himself had personally attended six Enron board meetings from October 2000 to October 2001. That period roughly coincided with Enron’s growing influence on the Bush administration’s energy policies, and the Pentagon’s planning for Afghanistan and Iraq.
But Foster was also a regular attendee at the Pentagon Highlands Forum — his LinkedIn profile describes him as member of the Forum since 2000, the year he ramped up engagement with Enron. He also delivered a presentation at the inaugural Island Forum in Singapore in 2002.
Enron’s involvement in the Cheney Energy Task Force appears to have been linked to the Bush administration’s 2001 planning for both the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, motivated by control of oil. As noted by Prof. Richard Falk, a former board member of Human Rights Watch and ex-UN investigator, Enron’s Kenneth Lay “was the main confidential consultant relied upon by Vice President Dick Cheney during the highly secretive process of drafting a report outlining a national energy policy, widely regarded as a key element in the US approach to foreign policy generally and the Arab world in particular.”
The intimate secret meetings between senior Enron executives and high-level US government officials via the Pentagon Highlands Forum, from November 2000 to June 2001, played a central role in establishing and cementing the increasingly symbiotic link between Enron and Pentagon planning. The Forum’s role was, as O’Neill has always said, to function as an ideas lab to explore the mutual interests of industry and government.
Enron and Pentagon war planning
In February 2001, when Enron executives including Kenneth Lay began participating concertedly in the Cheney Energy Task Force, a classified National Security Council document instructed NSC staffers to work with the task force in “melding” previously separate issues: “operational policies towards rogue states” and “actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields.”
According to Bush’s treasury secretary Paul O’Neill, as quoted by Ron Suskind in The Price of Loyalty (2004), cabinet officials discussed an invasion of Iraq in their first NSC meeting, and had even prepared a map for a post-war occupation marking the carve-up of Iraq’s oil fields. The message at that time from President Bush was that officials must “find a way to do this.”
Cheney Energy Task Force documents obtained by Judicial Watch under Freedom of Information revealed that by March, with extensive industry input, the task force had prepared maps of Gulf state and especially Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, and refineries, along with a list titled ‘Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts.’ By April, a think-tank report commissioned by Cheney, overseen by former secretary of state James Baker, and put together by a committee of energy industry and national security experts, urged the US government “to conduct an immediate policy review toward Iraq including military, energy, economic and political/diplomatic assessments,” to deal with Iraq’s “destabilizing influence” on oil flows to global markets. The report included recommendations from Highlands Forum delegate and Enron chair, Kenneth Lay.
But Cheney’s Energy Task Force was also busily pushing forward plans for Afghanistan involving Enron, that had been in motion under Clinton. Through the late 1990s, Enron was working with California-based US energy company Unocal to develop an oil and gas pipeline that would tap Caspian basin reserves, and carry oil and gas across Afghanistan, supplying Pakistan, India and potentially other markets. The endeavor had the official blessing of the Clinton administration, and later the Bush administration, which held several meetings with Taliban representatives to negotiate terms for the pipeline deal throughout 2001. The Taliban, whose conquest of Afghanistan had received covert assistance under Clinton, was to receive formal recognition as the legitimate government of Afghanistan in return for permitting the installation of the pipeline. Enron paid $400 million for a feasibility study for the pipeline, a large portion of which was siphoned off as bribes to Taliban leaders, and even hired CIA agents to help facilitate.
Then in summer 2001, while Enron officials were liaising with senior Pentagon officials at the Highlands Forum, the White House’s National Security Council was running a cross-departmental ‘working group’ led by Rumsfeld and Cheney to help complete an ongoing Enron project in India, a $3 billion power plant in Dabhol. The plant was slated to receive its energy from the Trans-Afghan pipeline. The NSC’s ‘Dabhol Working Group,’ chaired by Bush’s national security adviser Condoleeza Rice, generated a range of tactics to enhance US government pressure on India to complete the Dabhol plant — pressure that continued all the way to early November. The Dabhol project, and the Trans-Afghan pipeline, was by far Enron’s most lucrative overseas deal.
Throughout 2001, Enron officials, including Ken Lay, participated in Cheney’s Energy Task Force, along with representatives across the US energy industry. Starting from February, shortly after the Bush administration took office, Enron was involved in about half a dozen of these Energy Task Force meetings. After one of these secret meetings, a draft energy proposal was amended to include a new provision proposing to dramatically boost oil and natural gas production in India in a way that would apply only to Enron’s Dabhol power plant. In other words, ensuring the flow of cheap gas to India via the Trans-Afghan pipeline was now a matter of US ‘national security.’
A month or two after this, the Bush administration gave the Taliban $43 million, justified by its crackdown on opium production, despite US-imposed UN sanctions preventing aid to the group for not handing over Osama bin Laden.
Then in June 2001, the same month that Enron’s executive vice president Steve Kean attended the Pentagon Highlands Forum, the company’s hopes for the Dabhol project were dashed when the Trans-Afghan pipeline failed to materialize, and as a consequence, construction on the Dabhol power plant was shut down. The failure of the $3 billion project contributed to Enron’s bankruptcy in December. That month, Enron officials met with Bush’s commerce secretary, Donald Evans, about the plant, and Cheney lobbied India’s main opposition party about the Dhabol project. Ken Lay had also reportedly contacted the Bush administration around this time to inform officials about the firm’s financial troubles.
By August, desperate to pull off the deal, US officials threatened Taliban representatives with war if they refused to accept American terms: namely, to cease fighting and join in a federal alliance with the opposition Northern Alliance; and to give up demands for local consumption of the gas. On the 15th of that month, Enron lobbyist Pat Shortridge told then White House economic advisor Robert McNally that Enron was heading for a financial meltdown that could cripple the country’s energy markets.
The Bush administration must have anticipated the Taliban’s rejection of the deal, because they had planned a war on Afghanistan from as early as July. According to then Pakistani foreign minister Niaz Naik, who had participated in the US-Taliban negotiations, US officials told him they planned to invade Afghanistan in mid-October 2001. No sooner had the war commenced, Bush’s ambassador to Pakistan, Wendy Chamberlain, called Pakistani’s oil minister Usman Aminuddin to discuss “the proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan gas pipeline project,” according to the Frontier Post, a Pakistani English-language broadsheet. They reportedly agreed that the “project opens up new avenues of multi-dimensional regional cooperation particularly in view of the recent geo-political developments in the region.”
Two days before 9/11, Condoleeza Rice received the draft of a formal National Security Presidential Directive that Bush was expected to sign immediately. The directive contained a comprehensive plan to launch a global war on al-Qaeda, including an “imminent” invasion of Afghanistan to topple the Taliban. The directive was approved by the highest levels of the White House and officials of the National Security Council, including of course Rice and Rumsfeld. The same NSC officials were simultaneously running the Dhabol Working Group to secure the Indian power plant deal for Enron’s Trans-Afghan pipeline project. The next day, one day before 9/11, the Bush administration formally agreed on the plan to attack the Taliban.
The Pentagon Highlands Forum’s background link with the interests involved in all this, show they were not unique to the Bush administration — which is why, as Obama was preparing to pull troops out of Afghanistan, he re-affirmed his government’s support for the Trans-Afghan pipeline project, and his desire for a US firm to construct it.
The Pentagon’s propaganda fixer
Throughout this period, information war played a central role in drumming up public support for war — and the Highlands Forum led the way.
In December 2000, just under a year before 9/11 and shortly after George W. Bush’s election victory, key Forum members participated in an event at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to explore “the impact of the information revolution, globalization, and the end of the Cold War on the US foreign policy making process.” Rather than proposing “incremental reforms,” the meeting was for participants to “build from scratch a new model that is optimized to the specific properties of the new global environment.”
Among the issues flagged up in the meeting was the ‘Global Control Revolution’: the “distributed” nature of the information revolution was altering “key dynamics of world politics by challenging the primacy of states and inter-state relations.” This was “creating new challenges to national security, reducing the ability of leading states to control global policy debates, challenging the efficacy of national economic policies, etc.”
In other words, how can the Pentagon find a way to exploit the information revolution to “control global policy debates,” particularly on “national economic policies”?
The meeting was co-hosted by Jamie Metzl, who at the time served on Bill Clinton’s National Security Council, where he had just led the drafting of Clinton’s Presidential Decision Directive 68 on International Public Information (IPI), a new multiagency plan to coordinate US public information dissemination abroad. Metzl went on to coordinate IPI at the State Department.
The preceding year, a senior Clinton official revealed to the Washington Times that Metz’s IPI was really aimed at “spinning the American public,” and had “emerged out of concern that the US public has refused to back President Clinton’s foreign policy.” The IPI would plant news stories favorable to US interests via TV, press, radio and other media based abroad, in hopes it would get picked up in American media. The pretext was that “news coverage is distorted at home and they need to fight it at all costs by using resources that are aimed at spinning the news.” Metzl ran the IPI’s overseas propaganda operations for Iraq and Kosovo.
Other participants of the Carnegie meeting in December 2000, included two founding members of the Highlands Forum, Richard O’Neill and SAIC’s Jeff Cooper — along with Paul Wolfowitz, another Andrew Marshall acolyte who was about to join the incoming Bush administration as Rumsfelds’ deputy defense secretary. Also present was a figure who soon became particularly notorious in the propaganda around Afghanistan and Iraq War 2003: John W. Rendon, Jr., founding president of The Rendon Group (TRG) and another longtime Pentagon Highlands Forum member.
John Rendon (right) at the Highlands Forum, accompanied by BBC anchor Nik Gowing (left) and Jeff Jonas, IBM Entity Analytics chief engineer (middle)
TRG is a notorious communications firm that has been a US government contractor for decades. Rendon played a pivotal role in running the State Department’s propaganda campaigns in Iraq and Kosovo under Clinton and Metzl. That included receiving a Pentagon grant to run a news website, the Balkans Information Exchange, and a US Agency for International Development (USAID) contract to promote “privatization.”
Rendon’s central role in helping the Bush administration hype up the non-existent threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to justify a US military invasion is now well-known. As James Bamford famously exposed in his seminal Rolling Stone investigation, Rendon played an instrumental role on behalf of the Bush administration in deploying “perception management” to “create the conditions for the removal of Hussein from power” under multi-million dollar CIA and Pentagon contracts.
Among Rendon’s activities was the creation of Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC) on behalf of the CIA, a group of Iraqi exiles tasked with disseminating propaganda, including much of the false intelligence about WMD. That process had begun concertedly under the administration of George H W. Bush, then rumbled along under Clinton with little fanfare, before escalating after 9/11 under George W. Bush. Rendon thus played a large role in the manufacture of inaccurate and false news stories relating to Iraq under lucrative CIA and Pentagon contracts — and he did so in the period running up to the 2003 invasion as an advisor to Bush’s National Security Council: the same NSC, of course, that planned the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, achieved with input from Enron executives who were simultaneously engaging the Pentagon Highlands Forum.
But that is the tip of iceberg. Declassified documents show that the Highlands Forum was intimately involved in the covert processes by which key officials engineered the road to war on Iraq, based on information warfare.
A redacted 2007 report by the DoD’s Inspector General reveals that one of the contractors used extensively by the Pentagon Highlands Forum during and after the Iraq War was none other than The Rendon Group. TRG was contracted by the Pentagon to organize Forum sessions, determine subjects for discussion, as well as to convene and coordinate Forum meetings. The Inspector General investigation had been prompted by accusations raised in Congress about Rendon’s role in manipulating information to justify the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. According to the Inspector General report:
“… the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration/Chief Information Officer employed TRG to conduct forums that would appeal to a cross-disciplinary group of nationally regarded leaders. The forums were in small groups discussing information and technologies and their effects on science, organizational and business processes, international relations, economics, and national security. TRG also conducted a research program and interviews to formulate and develop topics for the Highlands Forum focus group. The Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration would approve the subjects, and TRG would facilitate the meetings.”
TRG, the Pentagon’s private propaganda arm, thus played a central role in literally running the Pentagon Highlands Forum process that brought together senior government officials with industry executives to generate DoD information warfare strategy.
The Pentagon’s internal investigation absolved Rendon of any wrongdoing. But this is not surprising, given the conflict of interest at stake: the Inspector General at the time was Claude M. Kicklighter, a Bush nominee who had directly overseen the administration’s key military operations. In 2003, he was director of the Pentagon’s Iraq Transition Team, and the following year he was appointed to the State Department as special advisor on stabilization and security operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The surveillance-propaganda nexus
Even more telling, Pentagon documents obtained by Bamford for his Rolling Stone story revealed that Rendon had been given access to the NSA’s top-secret surveillance data to carry out its work on behalf of the Pentagon. TRG, the DoD documents said, is authorized “to research and analyze information classified up to Top Secret/SCI/SI/TK/G/HCS.”
‘SCI’ means Sensitive Compartmented Information, data classified higher than Top Secret, while ‘SI’ designates Special Intelligence, that is, highly secret communications intercepted by the NSA. ‘TK’ refers to Talent/Keyhole, code names for imagery from reconnaissance aircraft and spy satellites, while ‘G’ stands for Gamma, encompassing communications intercepts from extremely sensitive sources, and ‘HCS’ means Humint Control System — information from a very sensitive human source. In Bamford’s words:
“Taken together, the acronyms indicate that Rendon enjoys access to the most secret information from all three forms of intelligence collection: eavesdropping, imaging satellites and human spies.”
So the Pentagon had:
1. contracted Rendon, a propaganda firm;
2. given Rendon access to the intelligence community’s most classified information including data from NSA surveillance;
3. tasked Rendon to facilitating the DoD’s development of information operations strategy by running the Highlands Forum process;
4. and further, tasked Rendon with overseeing the concrete execution of this strategy developed through the Highlands Forum process, in actual information operations around the world in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond.
TRG chief executive John Rendon remains closely involved in the Pentagon Highlands Forum, and ongoing DoD information operations in the Muslim world. His November 2014 biography for the Harvard Kennedy School ‘Emerging Leaders’ course describes him as “a participant in forward-thinking organizations such as the Highlands Forum,” “one of the first thought-leaders to harness the power of emerging technologies in support of real time information management,” and an expert on “the impact of emerging information technologies on the way populations think and behave.” Rendon’s Harvard bio also credits him with designing and executing “strategic communications initiatives and information programs related to operations, Odyssey Dawn (Libya), Unified Protector (Libya), Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), Allied Force and Joint Guardian (Kosovo), Desert Shield, Desert Storm (Kuwait), Desert Fox (Iraq) and Just Cause (Panama), among others.”
Rendon’s work on perception management and information operations has also “assisted a number of US military interventions” elsewhere, as well as running US information operations in Argentina, Colombia, Haiti, and Zimbabwe — in fact, a total of 99 countries. As a former executive director and national political director of the Democratic Party, John Rendon remains a powerful figure in Washington under the Obama administration.
Pentagon records show that TRG has received over $100 million from the DoD since 2000. In 2009, the US government cancelled a ‘strategic communications’ contract with TRG after revelations it was being used to weed out reporters who might write negative stories about the US military in Afghanistan, and to solely promote journalists supportive of US policy. Yet in 2010, the Obama administration re-contracted Rendon to supply services for “military deception” in Iraq.
Since then, TRG has provided advice to the US Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, the Special Operations Command, and is still contracted to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the US Army’s Communications Electronic Command, as well as providing “communications support” to the Pentagon and US embassies on counter-narcotics operations.
TRG also boasts on its website that it provides “Irregular Warfare Support,” including “operational and planning support” that “assists our government and military clients in developing new approaches to countering and eroding an adversary’s power, influence and will.” Much of this support has itself been fine-tuned over the last decade or more inside the Pentagon Highlands Forum.
Irregular war and pseudo-terrorism
The Pentagon Highlands Forum’s intimate link, via Rendon, to the propaganda operations pursued under Bush and Obama in support of the ‘Long War,’ demonstrate the integral role of mass surveillance in both irregular warfare and ‘strategic communications.’
One of the major proponents of both is Prof John Arquilla of the Naval Postgraduate School, the renowned US defense analyst credited with developing the concept of ‘netwar,’ who today openly advocates the need for mass surveillance and big data mining to support pre-emptive operations to thwart terrorist plots. It so happens that Arquilla is another “founding member” of the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum.
Much of his work on the idea of ‘networked warfare,’ ‘networked deterrence,’ ‘information warfare,’ and ‘swarming,’ largely produced for RAND under Pentagon contract, was incubated by the Forum during its early years and thus became integral to Pentagon strategy. For instance, in Arquilla’s 1999 RAND study, The Emergence of Noopolitik: Toward an American Information Strategy, he and his co-author David Ronfeldt express their gratitude to Richard O’Neill “for his interest, support and guidance,” and to “members of the Highlands Forum” for their advance comments on the study. Most of his RAND work credits the Highlands Forum and O’Neill for their support.
Prof. John Arquilla of the Naval Postgraduate School, and a founding member of the Pentagon Highlands Forum
Arquilla’s work was cited in a 2006 National Academy of Sciences study on the future of network science commissioned by the US Army, which found based on his research that: “Advances in computer-based technologies and telecommunications are enabling social networks that facilitate group affiliations, including terrorist networks.” The study conflated risks from terror and activist groups: “The implications of this fact for criminal, terror, protest and insurgency networks has been explored by Arquilla and Ronfeldt (2001) and are a common topic of discussion by groups like the Highlands Forum, which perceive that the United States is highly vulnerable to the interruption of critical networks.” Arquilla went on to help develop information warfare strategies “for the military campaigns in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq,” according to military historian Benjamin Shearer in his biographical dictionary, Home Front Heroes (2007) — once again illustrating the direct role played by certain key Forum members in executing Pentagon information operations in war theatres.
In his 2005 New Yorker investigation, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Seymour Hersh referred to a series of articles by Arquilla elaborating on a new strategy of “countering terror” with pseudo-terror. “It takes a network to fight a network,” said Arquilla, drawing on the thesis he had been promoting in the Pentagon through the Highlands Forum since its founding:
“When conventional military operations and bombing failed to defeat the Mau Mau insurgency in Kenya in the 1950s, the British formed teams of friendly Kikuyu tribesmen who went about pretending to be terrorists. These ‘pseudo gangs’, as they were called, swiftly threw the Mau Mau on the defensive, either by befriending and then ambushing bands of fighters or by guiding bombers to the terrorists’ camps.”
Arquilla went on to advocate that western intelligence services should use the British case as a model for creating new “pseudo gang” terrorist groups, as a way of undermining “real” terror networks:
“What worked in Kenya a half-century ago has a wonderful chance of undermining trust and recruitment among today’s terror networks. Forming new pseudo gangs should not be difficult.”
Essentially, Arquilla’s argument was that as only networks can fight networks, the only way to defeat enemies conducting irregular warfare is to use techniques of irregular warfare against them. Ultimately, the determining factor in victory is not conventional military defeat per se, but the extent to which the direction of the conflict can be calibrated to influence the population and rally their opposition to the adversary. Arquilla’s ‘pseudo-gang’ strategy was, Hersh reported, already being implemented by the Pentagon:
“Under Rumsfeld’s new approach, I was told, US military operatives would be permitted to pose abroad as corrupt foreign businessmen seeking to buy contraband items that could be used in nuclear-weapons systems. In some cases, according to the Pentagon advisers, local citizens could be recruited and asked to join up with guerrillas or terrorists…
The new rules will enable the Special Forces community to set up what it calls ‘action teams’ in the target countries overseas which can be used to find and eliminate terrorist organizations. ‘Do you remember the right-wing execution squads in El Salvador?’ the former high-level intelligence official asked me, referring to the military-led gangs that committed atrocities in the early nineteen-eighties. ‘We founded them and we financed them,’ he said. ‘The objective now is to recruit locals in any area we want. And we aren’t going to tell Congress about it.’ A former military officer, who has knowledge of the Pentagon’s commando capabilities, said, ‘We’re going to be riding with the bad boys.’”
Official corroboration that this strategy is now operational came with the leak of a 2008 US Army special operations field manual. The US military, the manual said, can conduct irregular and unconventional warfare by using surrogate non-state groups such as “paramilitary forces, individuals, businesses, foreign political organizations, resistant or insurgent organizations, expatriates, transnational terrorism adversaries, disillusioned transnational terrorism members, black marketers, and other social or political ‘undesirables.’” Shockingly, the manual specifically acknowledged that US special operations can involve both counterterrorism and “Terrorism,” as well as: “Transnational criminal activities, including narco-trafficking, illicit arms-dealing, and illegal financial transactions.” The purpose of such covert operations is, essentially, population control — they are “specifically focused on leveraging some portion of the indigenous population to accept the status quo,” or to accept “whatever political outcome” is being imposed or negotiated.
By this twisted logic, terrorism can in some cases be defined as a legitimate tool of US statecraft by which to influence populations into accepting a particular “political outcome” — all in the name fighting terrorism.
Is this what the Pentagon was doing by coordinating the nearly $1 billion of funding from Gulf regimes to anti-Assad rebels, most of which according to the CIA’s own classified assessments ended up in the coffers of violent Islamist extremists linked to al-Qaeda, who went on to spawn the ‘Islamic State’?
The rationale for the new strategy was first officially set out in an August 2002 briefing for the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board, which advocated the creation of a ‘Proactive, Preemptive Operations Group’ (P2OG) within the National Security Council. P2OG, the Board proposed, must conduct clandestine operations to infiltrate and “stimulate reactions” among terrorist networks to provoke them into action, and thus facilitate targeting them.
The Defense Science Board is, like other Pentagon agencies, intimately related with the Highlands Forum, whose work feeds into the Board’s research, which in turn is regularly presented at the Forum.
According to the US intelligence sources who spoke to Hersh, Rumsfeld had ensured that the new brand of black operations would be conducted entirely under Pentagon jurisdiction, firewalled off from the CIA and regional US military commanders, and executed by its own secret special operations command. That chain of command would include, apart from the defense secretary himself, two of his deputies including the undersecretary of defense for intelligence: the position overseeing the Highlands Forum.
Strategic communications: war propaganda at home and abroad
Within the Highlands Forum, the special operations techniques explored by Arquilla have been taken up by several others in directions focused increasingly on propaganda — among them, Dr. Lochard, as seen previously, and also Dr. Amy Zalman, who focuses particularly on the idea of the US military using ‘strategic narratives’ to influence public opinion and win wars.
Like her colleague, Highlands Forum founding member Jeff Cooper, Zalman was schooled in the bowels of SAIC/Leidos. From 2007 to 2012, she was a senior SAIC strategist, before becoming Department of Defense Information Integration Chair at the US Army’s National War College, where she focused on how to fine-tune propaganda to elicit the precise responses desired from target groups, based on complete understanding of those groups. As of summer last year, she became CEO of the World Futures Society.
Dr. Amy Zalman, an ex-SAIC strategist, is CEO of the World Futures Society, and a long-time Pentagon Highlands Forum delegate consulting for the US government on strategic communications in irregular warfare
In 2005, the same year Hersh reported that the Pentagon strategy of “stimulating reactions” among terrorists by provoking them was underway, Zalman delivered a briefing to the Pentagon Highlands Forum titled, ‘In Support of a Narrative Theory Approach to US Strategic Communication.’ Since then, Zalman has been a long-time Highlands Forum delegate, and has presented her work on strategic communications to a range of US government agencies, NATO forums, as well as teaching courses in irregular warfare to soldiers at the US Joint Special Operations University.
Her 2005 Highlands Forum briefing is not publicly available, but the thrust of Zalman’s input into the information component of Pentagon special operations strategies can be gleaned from some of her published work. In 2010, when she was still attached to SAIC, her NATO paper noted that a key component of irregular war is “winning some degree of emotional support from the population by influencing their subjective perceptions.” She advocated that the best way of achieving such influence goes far further than traditional propaganda and messaging techniques. Rather, analysts must “place themselves in the skins of the people under observation.”
Zalman released another paper the same year via the IO Journal, published by the Information Operations Institute, which describes itself as a “special interest group” of the Associaton of Old Crows. The latter is a professional association for theorists and practitioners of electronic warfare and information operations, chaired by Kenneth Israel, vice president of Lockheed Martin, and vice chaired by David Himes, who retired last year from his position as senior advisor in electronic warfare at the US Air Force Research Laboratory.
In this paper, titled ‘Narrative as an Influence Factor in Information Operations,’ Zalman laments that the US military has “found it difficult to create compelling narratives — or stories — either to express its strategic aims, or to communicate in discrete situations, such as civilian deaths.” By the end, she concludes that “the complex issue of civilian deaths” should be approached not just by “apologies and compensation” — which barely occurs anyway — but by propagating narratives that portray characters with whom the audience connects (in this case, ‘the audience’ being ‘populations in war zones’). This is to facilitate the audience resolving struggles in a “positive way,” defined, of course, by US military interests. Engaging emotionally in this way with “survivors of those dead” from US military action might “prove to be an empathetic form of influence.” Throughout, Zalman is incapable of questioning the legitimacy of US strategic aims, or acknowledging that the impact of those aims in the accumulation of civilian deaths, is precisely the problem that needs to change — as opposed to the way they are ideologically framed for populations subjected to military action.
‘Empathy,’ here, is merely an instrument by which to manipulate.
In 2012, Zalman wrote an article for The Globalist seeking to demonstrate how the rigid delineation of ‘hard power’ and ‘soft power’ needed to be overcome, to recognize that the use of force requires the right symbolic and cultural effect to guarantee success:
“As long as defense and economic diplomacy remain in a box labeled ‘hard power,’ we fail to see how much their success relies on their symbolic effects as well as their material ones. As long as diplomatic and cultural efforts are stored in a box marked ‘soft power,’ we fail to see the ways in which they can be used coercively or produce effects that are like those produced by violence.”
Given SAIC’s deep involvement in the Pentagon Highlands Forum, and through it the development of information strategies on surveillance, irregular warfare, and propaganda, it is hardly surprising that SAIC was the other key private defense firm contracted to generate propaganda in the run up to Iraq War 2003, alongside TRG.
“SAIC executives have been involved at every stage… of the war in Iraq,” reported Vanity Fair, ironically, in terms of deliberately disseminating false claims about WMD, and then investigating the ‘intelligence failure’ around false WMD claims. David Kay, for instance, who had been hired by the CIA in 2003 to hunt for Saddam’s WMD as head of the Iraq Survey Group, was until October 2002 a senior SAIC vice president hammering away “at the threat posed by Iraq” under Pentagon contract. When WMD failed to emerge, President Bush’s commission to investigate this US ‘intelligence failure’ included three SAIC executives, among them Highlands Forum founding member Jeffrey Cooper. The very year of Kay’s appointment to the Iraq Survey Group, Clinton’s defense secretary William Perry — the man under whose orders the Highlands Forum was set-up — joined the board of SAIC. The investigation by Cooper and all let the Bush administration off the hook for manufacturing propaganda to legitimize war — unsurprisingly, given Cooper’s integral role in the very Pentagon network that manufactured that propaganda.
SAIC was also among the many contractors that profited handsomely from Iraqi reconstruction deals, and was re-contracted after the war to promote pro-US narratives abroad. In the same vein as Rendon’s work, the idea was that stories planted abroad would be picked up by US media for domestic consumption.
Delegates at the Pentagon’s 46th Highlands Forum in December 2011, from right to left: John Seely Brown, chief scientist/director at Xerox PARC from 1990–2002 and an early board member of In-Q-Tel; Ann Pendleton-Jullian, co-author with Brown of a manuscript, Design Unbound; Antonio and Hanna Damasio, a neurologist and neurobiologist respectively who are part of a DARPA-funded project on propaganda
But the Pentagon Highlands Forum’s promotion of advanced propaganda techniques is not exclusive to core, longstanding delegates like Rendon and Zalman. In 2011, the Forum hosted two DARPA-funded scientists, Antonio and Hanna Damasio, who are principal investigators in the ‘Neurobiology of Narrative Framing’ project at the University of Southern California. Evoking Zalman’s emphasis on the need for Pentagon psychological operations to deploy “empathetic influence,” the new DARPA-backed project aims to investigate how narratives often appeal “to strong, sacred values in order to evoke an emotional response,” but in different ways across different cultures. The most disturbing element of the research is its focus on trying to understand how to increase the Pentagon’s capacity to deploy narratives that influence listeners in a way that overrides conventional reasoning in the context of morally-questionable actions.
The project description explains that the psychological reaction to narrated events is “influenced by how the narrator frames the events, appealing to different values, knowledge, and experiences of the listener.” Narrative framing that “targets the sacred values of the listener, including core personal, nationalistic, and/or religious values, is particularly effective at influencing the listener’s interpretation of narrated events,” because such “sacred values” are closely tied with “the psychology of identity, emotion, moral decision making, and social cognition.” By applying sacred framing to even mundane issues, such issues “can gain properties of sacred values and result in a strong aversion to using conventional reasoning to interpret them.” The two Damasios and their team are exploring what role “linguistic and neuropsychological mechanisms” play in determining “the effectiveness of narrative framing using sacred values in influencing a listener’s interpretation of events.”
The research is based on extracting narratives from millions of American, Iranian and Chinese weblogs, and subjecting them to automated discourse analysis to compare them quantitatively across the three languages. The investigators then follow up using behavioral experiments with readers/listeners from different cultures to gauge their reaction different narratives “where each story makes an appeal to a sacred value to explain or justify a morally-questionable behavior of the author.” Finally, the scientists apply neurobiological fMRI scanning to correlate the reactions and personal characteristics of subjects with their brain responses.
Why is the Pentagon funding research investigating how to exploit people’s “sacred values” to extinguish their capacity for logical reasoning, and enhance their emotional openness to “morally-questionable behavior”?
The focus on English, Farsi and Chinese may also reveal that the Pentagon’s current concerns are overwhelmingly about developing information operations against two key adversaries, Iran and China, which fits into longstanding ambitions to project strategic influence in the Middle East, Central Asia and Southeast Asia. Equally, the emphasis on English language, specifically from American weblogs, further suggests the Pentagon is concerned about projecting propaganda to influence public opinion at home.
Rosemary Wenchel (left) of the US Department of Homeland Security with Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter, a former musician and now US defense consultant who has worked for contractors like SAIC and Northrup Grumman. SAIC/Leidos executive Jeff Cooper is behind them
Lest one presume that DARPA’s desire to mine millions of American weblogs as part of its ‘neurobiology of narrative framing’ research is a mere case of random selection, an additional co-chair of the Pentagon Highlands Forum in recent years is Rosemary Wenchel, former director of cyber capabilities and operations support at the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Since 2012, Wenchel has been deputy assistant secretary for strategy and policy in the Department of Homeland Security.
As the Pentagon’s extensive funding of propaganda on Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrates, population influence and propaganda is critical not just in far-flung theatres abroad in strategic regions, but also at home, to quell the risk of domestic public opinion undermining the legitimacy of Pentagon policy. In the photo above, Wenchel is talking to Jeff Baxter, a long-time US defense and intelligence consultant. In September 2005, Baxter was part of a supposedly “independent” study group (chaired by NSA-contractor Booz Allen Hamilton) commissioned by the Department of Homeland Security, which recommended a greater role for US spy satellites in monitoring the domestic population.
Meanwhile, Zalman and Rendon, while both remaining closely involved in the Pentagon Highlands Forum, continue to be courted by the US military for their expertise on information operations. In October 2014, both participated in a major Strategic Multi-Layer Assessment conference sponsored by the US Department of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, titled ‘A New Information Paradigm? From Genes to “Big Data” and Instagram to Persistent Surveillance… Implications for National Security.’ Other delegates represented senior US military officials, defense industry executives, intelligence community officials, Washington think-tanks, and academics.
John Rendon, CEO of The Rendon Group, at a Highlands Forum session in 2010
Rendon and SAIC/Leidos, two firms that have been central to the very evolution of Pentagon information operations strategy through their pivotal involvement in the Highlands Forum, continue to be contracted for key operations under the Obama administration. A US General Services Administration document, for instance, shows that Rendon was granted a major 2010–2015 contract providing general media and communications support services across federal agencies. Similarly, SAIC/Leidos has a $400 million 2010–2015 contract with the US Army Research Laboratory for “Expeditionary Warfare; Irregular Warfare; Special Operations; Stabilization and Reconstruction Operations” — a contract which is “being prepared now for recomplete.”
The empire strikes back
Under Obama, the nexus of corporate, industry, and financial power represented by the interests that participate in the Pentagon Highlands Forum has consolidated itself to an unprecedented degree.
Coincidentally, the very day Obama announced Hagel’s resignation, the DoD issued a media release highlighting how Robert O. Work, Hagel’s deputy defense secretary appointed by Obama in 2013, planned to take forward the Defense Innovation Initiative that Hagel had just announced a week earlier. The new initiative was focused on ensuring that the Pentagon would undergo a long-term transformation to keep up with leading edge disruptive technologies across information operations.
Whatever the real reasons for Hagel’s ejection, this was a symbolic and tangible victory for Marshall and the Highlands Forum vision. Highlands Forum co-chair Andrew Marshall, head of the ONA, may indeed be retiring. But the post-Hagel Pentagon is now staffed with his followers.
Robert Work, who now presides over the new DoD transformation scheme, is a loyal Marshall acolyte who had previously directed and analyzed war games for the Office of Net Assessment. Like Marshall, Wells, O’Neill and other Highlands Forum members, Work is also a robot fantasist who lead authored the study, Preparing for War in the Robotic Age, published early last year by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).
Work is also pitched to determine the future of the ONA, assisted by his strategist Tom Ehrhard and DoD undersecretary for intelligence Michael G. Vickers, under whose authority the Highlands Forum currently runs. Ehrard, an advocate of “integrating disruptive technologies in DoD,” previously served as Marshall’s military assistant in the ONA, while Mike Vickers — who oversees surveillance agencies like the NSA — was also previously hired by Marshall to consult for the Pentagon.
Vickers is also a leading proponent of irregular warfare. As assistant defense secretary for special operations and low intensity conflict under former defense secretary Robert Gates in both the Bush and Obama administrations, Vickers’s irregular warfare vision pushed for “distributed operations across the world,” including “in scores of countries with which the US is not at war,” as part of a program of “counter network warfare” using a “network to fight a network” — a strategy which of course has the Highlands Forum all over it. In his previous role under Gates, Vickers increased the budget for special operations including psychological operations, stealth transport, Predator drone deployment and “using high-tech surveillance and reconnaissance to track and target terrorists and insurgents.”
To replace Hagel, Obama nominated Ashton Carter, former deputy defense secretary from 2009 to 2013, whose expertise in budgets and procurement according to the Wall Street Journal is “expected to boost some of the initiatives championed by the current Pentagon deputy, Robert Work, including an effort to develop new strategies and technologies to preserve the US advantage on the battlefield.”
Back in 1999, after three years as Clinton’s assistant defense secretary, Carter co-authored a study with former defense secretary William J. Perry advocating a new form of ‘war by remote control’ facilitated by “digital technology and the constant flow of information.” One of Carter’s colleagues in the Pentagon during his tenure at that time was Highlands Forum co-chair Linton Wells; and it was Perry of course that as then-defense secretary appointed Richard O’Neill to set-up the Highlands Forum as the Pentagon’s IO think-tank back in 1994.
Highlands Forum overlord Perry went on to join the board of SAIC, before eventually becoming chairman of another giant defense contractor, Global Technology Partners (GTP). And Ashton Carter was on GTP’s board under Perry, before being nominated to defense secretary by Obama. During Carter’s previous Pentagon stint under Obama, he worked closely with Work and current undersecretary of defense Frank Kendall. Defense industry sources rejoice that the new Pentagon team will “dramatically improve” chances to “push major reform projects” at the Pentagon “across the finish line.”
Indeed, Carter’s priority as defense chief nominee is identifying and acquiring new commercial “disruptive technology” to enhance US military strategy — in other words, executing the DoD Skynet plan.
The origins of the Pentagon’s new innovation initiative can thus be traced back to ideas that were widely circulated inside the Pentagon decades ago, but which failed to take root fully until now. Between 2006 and 2010, the same period in which such ideas were being developed by Highlands Forum experts like Lochard, Zalman and Rendon, among many others, the Office of Net Assessment provided a direct mechanism to channel these ideas into concrete strategy and policy development through the Quadrennial Defense Reviews, where Marshall’s input was primarily responsible for the expansion of the “black” world: “special operations,” “electronic warfare” and “information operations.”
Andrew Marshall, now retired head of the DoD’s Office of Net Assessment and Highlands Forum co-chair, at a Forum session in 2008
Marshall’s pre-9/11 vision of a fully networked and automated military system found its fruition in the Pentagon’s Skynet study released by the National Defense University in September 2014, which was co-authored by Marshall’s colleague at the Highlands Forum, Linton Wells. Many of Wells’ recommendations are now to be executed via the new Defense Innovation Initiative by veterans and affiliates of the ONA and Highlands Forum.
Given that Wells’ white paper highlighted the Pentagon’s keen interest in monopolizing AI research to monopolize autonomous networked robot warfare, it is not entirely surprising that the Forum’s sponsoring partners at SAIC/Leidos display a bizarre sensitivity about public use of the word ‘Skynet.’
On a Wikipedia entry titled ‘Skynet (fictional)’, people using SAIC computers deleted several paragraphs under the ‘Trivia’ section pointing out real-world ‘Skynets’, such as the British military satellite system, and various information technology projects.
Hagel’s departure paved the way for Pentagon officials linked to the Highlands Forum to consolidate government influence. These officials are embedded in a longstanding shadow network of political, industry, media and corporate officials that sit invisibly behind the seat of government, yet literally write its foreign and domestic national security policies whether the administration is Democrat of Republican, by contributing ‘ideas’ and forging government-industry relationships.
It is this sort of closed-door networking that has rendered the American vote pointless. Far from protecting the public interest or helping to combat terrorism, the comprehensive monitoring of electronic communications has been systematically abused to empower vested interests in the energy, defense, and IT industries.
The state of permanent global warfare that has resulted from the Pentagon’s alliances with private contractors and unaccountable harnessing of information expertise, is not making anyone safer, but has spawned a new generation of terrorists in the form of the so-called ‘Islamic State’ — itself a Frankenstein by-product of the putrid combination of Assad’s brutality and longstanding US covert operations in the region. This Frankenstein’s existence is now being cynically exploited by private contractors seeking to profit exponentially from expanding the national security apparatus, at a time when economic volatility has pressured governments to slash defense spending.
According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, from 2008 to 2013, the five largest US defense contractors lost 14 percent of their employees, as the winding down of US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan led to lack of business and squeezed revenues. The continuation of the ‘Long War’ triggered by ISIS has, for now, reversed their fortunes. Companies profiting from the new war include many connected to the Highlands Forum, such as Leidos, Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, and Boeing. War is, indeed, a racket.
No more shadows
Yet in the long-run, the information imperialists have already failed. This investigation is based entirely on open source techniques, made viable largely in the context of the same information revolution that enabled Google. The investigation has been funded entirely by members of the public, through crowd-funding. And the investigation has been published and distributed outside the circuits of traditional media, precisely to make the point that in this new digital age, centralized top-down concentrations of power cannot overcome the power of people, their love of truth and justice, and their desire to share.
What are the lessons of this irony? Simple, really: The information revolution is inherently decentralized, and decentralizing. It cannot be controlled and co-opted by Big Brother. Efforts to do so will in the end invariably fail, in a way that is ultimately self-defeating.
The latest mad-cap Pentagon initiative to dominate the world through control of information and information technologies, is not a sign of the all-powerful nature of the shadow network, but rather a symptom of its deluded desperation as it attempts to ward off the acceleration of its hegemonic decline.
But the decline is well on its way. And this story, like so many before it, is one small sign that the opportunities to mobilize the information revolution for the benefit of all, despite the efforts of power to hide in the shadows, are stronger than ever.
By Nafeez Ahmed
Published on Jan 22.
Find this story at 22 January 2015
Copyright Nafeez Ahmed
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June 13, 2015
Dupont op Justitie en Veiligheid
De grote breedgeschouderde man met het dikke hoofd zag er uit alsof hij het niet lang zou volhouden om achter een inbrekertje aan te hollen. Hij schudde mismoedig het hoofd toen hij verklaarde dat de Nederlandse wet veranderd moest worden om motorbendes te kunnen verbieden. De man was ACP-politievakbondsvoorzitter Gerrit van de Kamp. Motorbendes? Er zijn toch nog helemaal geen motorclubs verboden in Nederland, of schuldig bevonden aan strafbare feiten? Waarom dan niet de term ‘motorclub’ gebruiken? Maar goed we gaan verder met ons mooie verhaal.