REVEALED: GCHQ’s BEYOND TOP SECRET Middle Eastern INTERNET SPY BASE

Exclusive Above-top-secret details of Britain’s covert surveillance programme – including the location of a clandestine British base tapping undersea cables in the Middle East – have so far remained secret, despite being leaked by fugitive NSA sysadmin Edward Snowden. Government pressure has meant that some media organisations, despite being in possession of these facts, have declined to reveal them. Today, however, the Register publishes them in full.

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Military secretly developed mobile app games that spied on users, report says

The NSA, FBI, and CIA are infiltrating and spying on multi-player role playing games such as World of Warcraft and Second Life, according to an NSA document leaked by Edward Snowden and published jointly by The Guardian, New York Times, and ProPublica.

According to the reports, the various intelligence agencies have so many undercover players inside these games that they established a “deconfliction” group to ensure that they weren’t spying on one another or interfering with the other agents’ missions. And true to NSA form, there’s zero evidence these spy games are worthwhile for counterterrorism purposes. The NSA document describing the efforts to spy on the private communications and activities of gamers does not include even one instance of the programs producing useful information for spies.

And it isn’t just World of Warcraft or Second Life. The NYT report cites anonymous sources who claim the Department of Defense has for years worked secretly with mobile app developers to create games that serve as intelligence collection streams for the NSA. We’ve known for some time that app developers often siphon sensitive information from users, who are kept in the dark about what exactly that free flashlight is doing on their phone. But now we have reason to believe the government is in on the app snooping:

The Pentagon’s Special Operations Command in 2006 and 2007 worked with several foreign companies — including an obscure digital media business based in Prague — to build games that could be downloaded to mobile phones, according to people involved in the effort. They said the games, which were not identified as creations of the Pentagon, were then used as vehicles for intelligence agencies to collect information about the users.

And it wouldn’t be a real spy story if the billion dollar global spy industry didn’t get a piece of the action. Unsurprisingly, war and intelligence contractors took notice of the government’s interest in infiltrating and spying on gaming networks.

Eager to cash in on the government’s growing interest in virtual worlds, several large private contractors have spent years pitching their services to American intelligence agencies. In one 66-page document from 2007, part of the cache released by Mr. Snowden, the contracting giant SAIC promoted its ability to support “intelligence collection in the game space,” and warned that online games could be used by militant groups to recruit followers and could provide “terrorist organizations with a powerful platform to reach core target audiences.”

It is unclear whether SAIC received a contract based on this proposal, but one former SAIC employee said that the company at one point had a lucrative contract with the C.I.A. for work that included monitoring the Internet for militant activity. An SAIC spokeswoman declined to comment.

In spring 2009, academics and defense contractors gathered at the Marriott at Washington Dulles International Airport to present proposals for a government study about how players’ behavior in a game like World of Warcraft might be linked to their real-world identities. “We were told it was highly likely that persons of interest were using virtual spaces to communicate or coordinate,” said Dmitri Williams, a professor at the University of Southern California who received grant money as part of the program.

After the conference, both SAIC and Lockheed Martin won contracts worth several million dollars, administered by an office within the intelligence community that finances research projects.

Did the government get any measurable intelligence benefit from those millions of dollars it gave to private corporations for research into players’ behavior in online games? Not exactly.

It is not clear how useful such research might be. A group at the Palo Alto Research Center, for example, produced a government-funded study of World of Warcraft that found “younger players and male players preferring competitive, hack-and-slash activities, and older and female players preferring noncombat activities,” such as exploring the virtual world. A group from the nonprofit SRI International, meanwhile, found that players under age 18 often used all capital letters both in chat messages and in their avatar names.

Those involved in the project were told little by their government patrons. According to Nick Yee, a Palo Alto researcher who worked on the effort, “We were specifically asked not to speculate on the government’s motivations and goals.”

While it may seem silly that the NSA, FBI and CIA are all up in your virtual world, the fact that the government is investing significant time, money, and energy into unmasking and understanding players is not a game.

Snowden: UK government now leaking documents about itself

The NSA whistleblower says: ‘I have never spoken with, worked with, or provided any journalistic materials to the Independent’

The Independent this morning published an article – which it repeatedly claims comes from “documents obtained from the NSA by Edward Snowden” – disclosing that “Britain runs a secret internet-monitoring station in the Middle East to intercept and process vast quantities of emails, telephone calls and web traffic on behalf of Western intelligence agencies.” This is the first time the Independent has published any revelations purportedly from the NSA documents, and it’s the type of disclosure which journalists working directly with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden have thus far avoided.

That leads to the obvious question: who is the source for this disclosure? Snowden this morning said he wants it to be clear that he was not the source for the Independent, stating:

I have never spoken with, worked with, or provided any journalistic materials to the Independent. The journalists I have worked with have, at my request, been judicious and careful in ensuring that the only things disclosed are what the public should know but that does not place any person in danger. People at all levels of society up to and including the President of the United States have recognized the contribution of these careful disclosures to a necessary public debate, and we are proud of this record.

“It appears that the UK government is now seeking to create an appearance that the Guardian and Washington Post’s disclosures are harmful, and they are doing so by intentionally leaking harmful information to The Independent and attributing it to others. The UK government should explain the reasoning behind this decision to disclose information that, were it released by a private citizen, they would argue is a criminal act.”

In other words: right as there is a major scandal over the UK’s abusive and lawless exploitation of its Terrorism Act – with public opinion against the use of the Terrorism law to detain David Miranda – and right as the UK government is trying to tell a court that there are serious dangers to the public safety from these documents, there suddenly appears exactly the type of disclosure the UK government wants but that has never happened before. That is why Snowden is making clear: despite the Independent’s attempt to make it appears that it is so, he is not their source for that disclosure. Who, then, is?

The US government itself has constantly used this tactic: aggressively targeting those who disclose embarrassing or incriminating information about the government in the name of protecting the sanctity of classified information, while simultaneously leaking classified information prolifically when doing so advances their political interests.

One other matter about the Independent article: it strongly suggests that there is some agreement in place to restrict the Guardian’s ongoing reporting about the NSA documents. Speaking for myself, let me make one thing clear: I’m not aware of, nor subject to, any agreement that imposes any limitations of any kind on the reporting that I am doing on these documents. I would never agree to any such limitations. As I’ve made repeatedly clear, bullying tactics of the kind we saw this week will not deter my reporting or the reporting of those I’m working with in any way. I’m working hard on numerous new and significant NSA stories and intend to publish them the moment they are ready.

Related question

For those in the media and elsewhere arguing that the possession and transport of classified information is a crime: does that mean you believe that not only Daniel Ellsberg committed a felony, but also the New York Times reporters and editors did when they received, possessed, copied, transported and published the thousands of pages of top-secret documents known as the Pentagon Papers?

Do you also believe the Washington Post committed felonies when receiving and then publishing top secret information that the Bush administration was maintaining a network for CIA black sites around the world, or when the New York Times revealed in 2005 the top secret program whereby the NSA had created a warrantlesss eavesdropping program aimed at US citizens?

Or is this some newly created standard of criminality that applies only to our NSA reporting? Do media figures who are advocating that possessing or transmitting classified information is a crime really not comprehend the precedent they are setting for investigative journalism?

UPDATE

The Independent’s Oliver Wright just tweeted the following:

“For the record: The Independent was not leaked or ‘duped’ into publishing today’s front page story by the Government.”

Leaving aside the fact that the Independent article quotes an anonymous “senior Whitehall source”, nobody said they were “duped” into publishing anything. The question is: who provided them this document or the information in it? It clearly did not come from Snowden or any of the journalists with whom he has directly worked. The Independent provided no source information whatsoever for their rather significant disclosure of top secret information. Did they see any such documents, and if so, who, generally, provided it to them? I don’t mean, obviously, that they should identify their specific source, but at least some information about their basis for these claims, given how significant they are, would be warranted. One would think that they would not have published something like this without either seeing the documents or getting confirmation from someone who has: the class of people who qualify is very small, and includes, most prominently and obviously, the UK government itself.

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White House Rails at China, Russia Over Snowden’s Escape

US Ready to Damage Key Diplomatic Ties Out of Anger

obama01The Obama Administration is furious. A good chunk of Congress is furious. Most of the Sunday news show pundits are furious. Shaking their fists impotently in rage at the escape of Edward Snowden from Hong Kong, they are inconsolable.

Who are they mad at? Tiny Ecuador, who is granting Snowden asylum, to be sure. But the rage is also targeted at China, Hong Kong’s city government, even Russia for letting Snowden’s plane stop off there.

The White House has promised a “negative impact” on Sino-American relations as a result of Snowden’s escape, and demands that Russia use “all options” to capture Snowden and turn him over to the US government, threatening major repercussions for defiance.

Rep. Peter King (R – NY), always convenient for his ability to boil things down to their totally unreasonable conclusions, insisted that the US must now be much more hostile toward China going forward, and that “business cannot go on as usual.

In the end this means that the US government is willing to self-sabotage its most important diplomatic relationships, those with China and Russia, which the Obama Administration has been pouring effort into keeping at least nominally civil.

Neither Russia or China is eager to worsen relations with the US, though China is surely displeased with the news of US cyber-attacks. Ultimately it is the Obama Administration’s own anger, and the lack of a detainee to take out their frustrations on, that will drive the worsening ties.

 

by Jason Ditz, June 24, 2013

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