Archive | GCHQ

Sweden – not so neutral, after all?

Possible targets might be the administrators of foreign computer networks, government ministries, oil, defense, and other major corporations, as well as suspected terrorist groups or other designated individuals. Similar Quantum operations have targeted OPEC headquarters in Vienna, as well as Belgacom, a Belgian telecom company whose clients include the European Commission and the European Parliament. (…)

Significantly, while WINTERLIGHT was a joint effort between the NSA, the Swedish FRA, and the British GCHQ, the hacking attacks on computers and computer networks seem to have been initiated by the Swedes.

It’s worth keeping in mind that Swedish intelligence agency FRA – together with British GCHQ – declined to participate in the European Parliaments hearings on mass surveillance.

The New York Review of Books: The Swedish Kings of Cyberwar »


Frosty relations between UK and German spy agencies

The Snowden revelations on US NSA spying in Germany still poison relations between UK (and US) intelligence community and their German counterparts.

The Daily Mail:

Relations between British and German spy chiefs have hit rock bottom because London says its counterparts in Berlin cannot be trusted to keep secrets. (…)

The source said: ‘It has now reached the point where there is virtual radio silence between the two biggest and most important intelligence services of the western world and the BND of Germany.

‘Germany is worried because it needs the umbrella protection of these agencies. It is virtually blind without it.’

This also concerns German requests for information demanded by the German Bundestag’s (parliaments) committee on mass surveillance:

Both the UK and America refused to send any of the requested files to Germany. Included among them was a demand for information about a 2013 operation handled by both countries – and in co-operation with the BND – which was, and remains, top secret but was known to involve a massive surveillance programme on suspected Islamic terrorists across Europe.

Britain fears a ‘big debate’ in the German parliament which would lay open secret sources and intelligence gathering techniques.

To complicate matters even more, the German Bundestag is searching for a »Wikileaks mole« – said to leak information from the said NSA investigative committee.

The Daily Mail » German spies ‘can’t be trusted’: Relations between the UK and Berlin intelligence chiefs hit after comments by London »

Berliner Morgenpost » Bundestagspolizei sucht Wikileaks-Maulwurf im Parlament »


Orwell would be horrified

Jim Killock, the executive director of Open Rights Group, said: “The UK now has a surveillance law that is more suited to a dictatorship than a democracy. The state has unprecedented powers to monitor and analyse UK citizens’ communications regardless of whether we are suspected of any criminal activity.”

The Guardian: ‘Extreme surveillance’ becomes UK law with barely a whimper »


UK spies cannot handle all the data

“British spies may have put lives at risk because their surveillance systems were sweeping up more data than could be analyzed, leading them to miss clues to possible security threats” according to documents in the Snowden files, now published by The Intercept.

A common analogy when it comes to mass surveillance is “trying to find a needle in a haystack”. Thus, having a bigger haystack might make it harder to find the needle.

Sure enough. The Intercept writes…

Silkie Carlo, a policy officer at the London-based human rights group Liberty, told The Intercept that the details contained in the secret report highlighted the need for a comprehensive independent review of the proposed new surveillance powers.

“Intelligence whistleblowers have warned that the agencies are drowning in data — and now we have it confirmed from the heart of the U.K. government,” Carlo said. “If our agencies have risked missing ‘life-saving intelligence’ by collecting ‘significantly’ more data than they can analyze, how can they justify casting the net yet wider in the toxic Investigatory Powers Bill?”

The British government’s Home Office, which handles media requests related to MI5, declined to comment for this story.

And this is not just a general opinion. There are figures.

A top-secret 2009 study found that, in one six-month period, the PRESTON program had intercepted more than 5 million communications. Remarkably, 97 percent of the calls, messages, and data it had collected were found to have been “not viewed” by the authorities.

The authors of the study were alarmed because PRESTON was supposedly focused on known suspects, and yet most of the communications it was monitoring appeared to be getting ignored — meaning crucial intelligence could have been missed.

“Only a small proportion of the Preston Traffic is viewed,” they noted. “This is of concern as the collection is all warranted.”

Then, there is mission creep…

Carlo, the policy analyst with Liberty, said the revelations about MILKWHITE suggested members of Parliament had been misled about how so-called bulk data is handled. “While MPs have been told that bulk powers have been used only by the intelligence community, it now appears it has been ‘business as usual’ for the tax man to access mass internet data for years,” she said.

We told you this would happen.


• The Intercept: Facing data deluge, secret U.K. spying report warned of intelligence failure »
• Supporting document: Digint Narrative »
• Supporting document: Digint Imbalance »
• BoingBoing: MI5 warning: we’re gathering more than we can analyse, and will miss terrorist attacks »


Germany, Snowden and Russia

Last Friday German magazine Focus ran an interview with the country’s two top spies — Gerhard Schindler, of the Bundesnachrichtendienstes (BND) and Hans-Georg Maaßen, of the Bundesamtes für Verfassungsschutz (BfV).

In short, they are annoyed that Edward Snowdens exposure of NSA mass surveillance puts Germany and the UK in an uncomfortable spot. They even implied that Snowden could have been acting under the influence of the Russian government.

“Leaking the secret service files is an attempt to drive a wedge between western Europe and the USA – the biggest since the Second World War,” Hans-Georg Maaßen, head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency (Verfassungsschutz), told Focus in the double interview.

The translation above from The This has gained some attention in the media and Western military circles. So, let’s take a step back and try to look at the wider picture.

Yes, it is a problem that very little is known about mass surveillance carried out by e.g. Russia and China. But you cannot blame Snowden for this. He worked for a contractor to the NSA and leaked what he found to be unacceptable violations of civil rights. Furthermore, the NSA is an intelligence organisation in a democratic country; that should be held responsible under the rule of law. It is not a level playing field. But our western democracies are better than authoritarian and totalitarian states – and our authorities should be held accountable according to a higher standard. Especially when they spy on their own citizens.

Yes, it is a problem that Edward Snowden is stranded in Russia. But that does not make him a Russian spy or mouthpiece. The reason he is in Moscow is: 1) When he arrived there for transit, the US had revoked his passport. 2) No western democracy is willing to grant Snowden asylum. If German authorities are willing to grant him shelter and protection – he can be in Berlin pretty quickly, where a parliamentary inquiry would love to meet with him. (However, I don’t think German intelligence services are all too keen about that prospect.)

And naturally Germany and the UK are being criticized. They deserve to. German intelligence has been spying on companies, businesspeople, and political figures in Germany and allied European nations on behalf of the NSA. And they have lied about it in front of German parliamentarians. In similar ways, the British GHCQ have been acting far beyond its mandate. Both countries are close allies with the US and both countries intelligence authorities have a close cooperation with the American NSA. So, it is not the least strange that German BND has come under scrutiny. But they can blame no one but them selves.

But OK, no one can tell for sure if Snowden is a (knowing or unknowing, willing or unwilling) Russian spy. But that does not alter the fact that his revelations have huge implications for how our democratic societies are run. It is extremely important that this information has come to the public’s knowledge. To defend a free and open society, we must stick to democratic principles, rules, and legal frameworks.

The best, easiest and most decent thing would be to grant Edward Snowden asylum in Germany – and let him testify in front of relevant parliament committees. But I guess that will never happen.


• The German spies imply Snowden leaked files for Russia »
• Focus: Doppel-Interview mit Gerhard Schindler und Hans-Georg Maaßen: Kreml versucht den deutschen Bundestag zu infiltrieren – Russen treiben mit Hilfe des Whistleblowers Snowden einen Keil zwischen Westeuropa und den USA »


GCHQ and Big Entertainment

It was a little-noticed story in the Entertainment and Oddities section: The GCHQ is using its spying network to help the copyright industry prevent “unauthorized distribution of creative works” – meaning ordinary people sharing interesting things with each other. Yes, that spying network which was supposed to prevent horrible terror attacks, and only to prevent horrible terror attacks, to safeguard our very lives as a last line of defense, is now in the service of the copyright industry.

Rick Falkvinge: So GCHQ is already spying on behalf of the copyright industry. Why isn’t there an outcry over this change of mission? »


Some links…

The Intercept: PROFILED – From Radio to Porn, British Spies Track Web Users’ Online Identities »

Falkvinge: GCHQ Is Building A Stasi Archive On Steroids: Why Are People Still Surprised? »

EU Law Analysis: American Mass Surveillance of EU citizens: Is the End Nigh? »

Netzpolitik: Strategic Initiative Technology: We Unveil the BND Plans to Upgrade its Surveillance Technology for 300 Million Euros »

The Daily Dot: FBI and DEA under review for use of NSA mass surveillance data »

TorrentFreak: Pirate Bay Founder Finally Free After Three Years »