CIA Aided Program to Spy on U.S. Cellphones

WASHINGTON—The Central Intelligence Agency played a crucial role in helping the Justice Department develop technology that scans data from thousands of U.S. cellphones at a time, part of a secret high-tech alliance between the spy agency and domestic law enforcement, according to people familiar with the work.

The CIA and the U.S. Marshals Service, an agency of the Justice Department, developed technology to locate specific cellphones in the U.S. through an airborne device that mimics a cellphone tower, these people said.

Today, the Justice Department program, whose existence wasreported by The Wall Street Journal last year, is used to hunt criminal suspects. The same technology is used to track terror suspects and intelligence targets overseas, the people said.

The program operates specially equipped planes that fly from five U.S. cities, with a flying range covering most of the U.S. population. Planes are equipped with devices—some past versions were dubbed “dirtboxes” by law-enforcement officials—that trick cellphones into reporting their unique registration information.
The surveillance system briefly identifies large numbers of cellphones belonging to citizens unrelated to the search. The practice can also briefly interfere with the ability to make calls, these people said.

Some law-enforcement officials are concerned the aerial surveillance of cellphone signals inappropriately mixes traditional police work with the tactics and technology of overseas spy work that is constrained by fewer rules. Civil-liberties groups say the technique amounts to a digital dragnet of innocent Americans’ phones.

….

The cooperation between technical experts at the CIA and the Marshals Service, which law-enforcement officials have described as a “marriage,” represents one way criminal investigators are increasingly relying on U.S. intelligence agencies for operational support and technical assistance in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Many Justice Department officials view the joint effort with the CIA as having made valuable contributions to both domestic and overseas operations.

A CIA spokesman declined to comment on whether the CIA or any other agency uses the devices. Some technologies developed by the agency “have been lawfully and responsibly shared with other U.S. government agencies,” the spokesman said. “How those agencies use that technology is determined by the legal authorities that govern the operations of those individual organizations—not CIA.” He also said the relationship between the Marshals Service and CIA tech experts couldn’t be characterized as a marriage.

A Justice Department spokesman said Marshals Service techniques are “carried out consistent with federal law, and are subject to court approval.” The agency doesn’t conduct “domestic surveillance, intelligence gathering, or any type of bulk data collection,” the spokesman said, adding that it doesn’t gather any intelligence on behalf of U.S. spy agencies.

By DEVLIN BARRETT
Updated March 10, 2015 7:39 p.m. ET

Find this story at 10 March 2015
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CIA looks to expand its cyber espionage capabilities

CIA Director John Brennan is planning a major expansion of the agency’s cyber-espionage capabilities as part of a broad restructuring of an intelligence service long defined by its human spy work, current and former U.S. officials said.

The proposed shift reflects a determination that the CIA’s approach to conventional espionage is increasingly outmoded amid the exploding use of smartphones, social media and other technologies.

U.S. officials said Brennan’s plans call for increased use of cyber capabilities in almost every category of operations — whether identifying foreign officials to recruit as CIA informants, confirming the identities of targets of drone strikes or penetrating Internet-savvy adversaries such as the Islamic State.

Several officials said Brennan’s team has even considered creating a new cyber-directorate — a step that would put the agency’s technology experts on equal footing with the operations and analysis branches, which have been pillars of the CIA’s organizational structure for decades.

U.S. officials emphasized that the plans would not involve new legal authorities and that Brennan may stop short of creating a new directorate. But the suggestion underscores the scope of his ambitions, as well as their potential to raise privacy concerns or lead to turf skirmishes with the National Security Agency, the dominant player in electronic espionage.

“Brennan is trying to update the agency to make sure it is prepared to tackle the challenges in front of it,” said a U.S. official familiar with the reorganization plan. “I just don’t think you can separate the digital world people operate in from the human intelligence” mission that is the CIA’s traditional domain.

Like others, the official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal decision-making.

The expanded emphasis on cyber is part of a broader restructuring envisioned by Brennan that is expected to break down long-standing boundaries between the CIA’s operations and analysis directorates, creating hybrid “centers” that combine those and other disciplines.

Brennan is expected to begin implementing aspects of his plan this month, officials said. He recently met with senior members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to outline the proposed changes.

CIA spokesman Dean Boyd declined to comment, saying that “final decisions have not yet been made with respect to agency reorganization efforts.” In a notice to the CIA workforce last year, Brennan said that he had become “increasingly convinced that the time has come to take a fresh look at how we are organized.”

The changes are designed to replicate the model of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, which has surged in size and influence since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The restructuring could lead to new reporting lines for thousands of CIA employees, as long-standing units such the Latin America and Near East divisions give way to new centers that combine analysis, collection and covert operations.

The National Clandestine Service and the Directorate of Intelligence — the formal names for the operations and analysis branches — would continue to exist, but would focus more on developing talent and resources that could be distributed to the new centers.

“It would be a huge deal,” said Michael Allen, a former White House and congressional aide who wrote a 2013 book about intelligence reform. Unlike at the FBI and other security agencies, Allen said, “there hasn’t been wholesale structural reform in the CIA post-9/11.”

Former officials who are familiar with the plan said it has caused generational friction within the CIA’s ranks, with longtime officers resisting changes that younger employees are more eager to embrace.

The head of the clandestine service recently resigned, in part over objections to the scope of Brennan’s plan, officials said. Brennan quickly replaced him with a longtime officer who had led an internal review panel that broadly endorsed the director’s reform agenda.

Although limited compared with the larger NSA, the CIA has substantial cyber capabilities. Its Information Operations Center, which handles assignments such as extracting information from stolen laptops and planting surveillance devices, is now second only to the Counterterrorism Center in size, former officials said.

The CIA also oversees the Open Source Center, an intelligence unit created in 2005 to scour publicly available data, including Twitter feeds, Facebook postings and Web forums where al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups post material.

Brennan hopes to make the use of such capabilities more pervasive, U.S. officials said, ensuring that expertise and tools that now reside in the Information Operations Center are distributed across the agency.

The move comes at a time when the CIA has struggled to gain traction against adversaries — including the Islamic State and the Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist group — that recruit and communicate extensively online but operate in combat zones that CIA officers are generally not able to enter.

But officials said digital changes have transformed even the most conventional cloak-and-dagger scenarios. Secrets that were once obtained by recruiting a source or meeting in a safe house increasingly reside in clouds of digital transmissions that surround espionage targets.

To recruit a Russian spy, “you may need to manipulate someone’s e-mail, read someone’s e-mail and track the whereabouts of the FSB,” a former official said, referring to the Russian security service. “Cyber is now part of every mission. It’s not a specialized, boutique thing.”

Beyond elevating the role of the Information Operations Center, U.S. officials said, Brennan is seeking to ensure that the agency is not lagging in other areas, such as counterintelligence work and the CIA’s internal e-mail system.

Brennan provided only broad outlines of his plan in recent congressional meetings, which excluded all but the four highest-ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence panels. A senior U.S. intelligence official said some senior NSA executives remain in the dark on Brennan’s cyber ambitions.

In recent years, the CIA has collaborated extensively with the NSA on a range of covert programs, including its drone campaign against al-Qaeda. Documents released by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden showed that e-mails and cellphone signals intercepted by the NSA were used to confirm the identities of targets in strikes.

But the CIA also has fought budget and bureaucratic battles to maintain its standalone capability, prompting some to view the latest push as an attempt to capi­tal­ize on Washington’s growing alarm over cyberthreats — and the corresponding shifts in federal budgets.

Former CIA officials said that the agency is mainly concerned about having direct control over the cyber components of its operations and that Brennan’s plans would not encroach on the global surveillance programs run by the NSA. Nor would they interfere with the work of a new agency the Obama administration is creating to fuse intelligence on cyberattacks.

Brennan’s push to expand the CIA’s cyber capabilities is “entirely appropriate, even overdue,” said Stephen Slick, a former CIA official who directs the Intelligence Studies Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “Advances in digital technology are having a revolutionary impact on the intelligence business, and it’s important for CIA to adapt its collection and covert action missions to account for the new opportunities and dangers.”

Ellen Nakashima and Julie Tate contributed to this report.

By Greg Miller February 23

Find this story at 23 February 2015

Copyright washingtonpost.com

The Bahamas Wants to Know Why the NSA is Recording Its Phone Calls

Government officials in the Bahamas want their U.S. counterparts to explain why the National Security Agency has been intercepting and recording every cell phone call taking place on the island nation.

Responding to a report published by The Intercept on Monday, which revealed that the NSA has been targeting the Bahamas’ entire mobile network and storing the audio of every phone call traversing the network for up to 30 days, Bahamian officials told the Nassau Guardian that they had contacted the U.S. and vowed to release a statement regarding the revelations.

In a front-page story published Tuesday, Bahamian Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell told the Guardian that his government had reached out to the U.S. for an explanation. Mitchell said the cabinet was set to meet to discuss the matter and planned to issue a statement on the surveillance. The Bahamian minister of national security told the paper he intended to launch an inquiry into the NSA’s surveillance but did not provide a comment.

A source familiar with the situation told The Intercept that the cabinet meeting had indeed taken place, but an official in Mitchell’s office said there would be no comment Tuesday. “You’ll have to call back,” said the official, who did not identify herself.

Calls to the office of the prime minister went unanswered, as did a call to Bahamas Telecommunications Company, the Bahamas’ largest communications provider.

U.S. officials at the embassy in the Bahamian capital of Nassau, meanwhile, told the Guardian it would not comment on “every specific alleged intelligence activity.”

“The United States values its relationship with the Bahamas,” Neda Brown, a U.S. embassy spokesperson, told the paper. Contacted by The Intercept, Brown directed inquires to the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemispheres. The bureau did not return a request for comment made late Tuesday.

In addition to the Bahamas, The Intercept‘s report also revealed NSA’s targeting of mobile networks in Mexico, Kenya and the Philippines. Calls and emails to the embassies of each country were not returned Tuesday.

By Ryan Devereaux20 May 2014, 5:58 PM EDT 151

Find this story at 20 May 2014

© 2014 First Look Productions, Inc.

WikiLeaks ignores ‘deaths’ warning, threatens to name NSA-targeted country

Internet, Mass media, Security, USA, WikiLeaks
Despite warnings that doing so “could lead to increased violence” and potentially deaths, anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks says it plans to publish the name of a country targeted by a massive United States surveillance operation.

On Monday this week, journalists at The Intercept published a report based off of leaked US National Security Agency documents supplied by former contractor Edward Snowden which suggested that the NSA has been collecting in bulk the contents of all phone conversations made or received in two countries abroad.

Only one of those nations, however — the Bahamas — was named by The Intercept. The other, journalists Ryan Devereaux, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras wrote this week, was withheld as a result of “credible concerns that doing so could lead to increased violence.”

WikiLeaks has since accused The Intercept and its parent company First Look Media of censorship and says they will publish the identity of the country if the name remains redacted in the original article. The Intercept’s Greenwald fired back over Twitter, though, and said his outlet chose to publish more details than the Washington Post, where journalists previously reported on a related call collection program but chose to redact more thoroughly.

“We condemn Firstlook for following the Washington Post into censoring the mass interception of an entire nation,” WikiLeaks tweeted on Monday.

“It is not the place of Firstlook or the Washington Post to deny the rights of an entire people to know they are being mass recorded,” WikiLeaks added. “It is not the place of Firstlook or WaPo to decide how a people will [choose] to act against mass breaches of their rights by the United States.”

When Greenwald defended his decision to publish the names of four countries where telephony metadata is collected by the NSA but withhold a fifth where content is recorded as well, WikiLeaks said it could be interpreted as meaning that the unknown country doesn’t deserve to know they’re being surveilled, but Greenwald said The Intercept was “very convinced” it could lead to deaths. Later, WikiLeaks equated this as an act of racism.

But as the conversation escalated, the WikiLeaks Twitter announced it would disclose the nation’s identify if The Intercept did not, despite requests from the US government to leave that information redact over fears of what the response could be.

“When has true published information harmed innocents?” WikiLeaks asked. “To repeat this false Pentagon talking point is to hurt all publishers.”

“We will reveal the name of the censored country whose population is being mass recorded in 72 hours,” WikiLeaks wrote at 6:35 p.m. EST Tuesday evening. If the organization intends to uphold that promise, that the identity of the country could be revealed before the weekend.

As RT reported earlier this week, The Intercept story made claims that the NSA has used a program codenamed MYSTIC to collect basic phone records in at least five countries, similar to the metadata that has been controversially collected in bulk domestically as revealed in one of the first documents released by Snowden last year. In the Bahamas and one more locale, though, The Intercept reported that NSA documents reveal another program, codenamed SOMALGET, is deployed in order to process “over 100 million call events per day.”

SOMALGET, the document reads, is a “program for embedded collection systems overtly installed on target networks, predominantly for the collection and processing of wireless/mobile communications networks.” According to The Intercept, the decision to wiretap all calls in and out of the Bahamas was made unilaterally and without the knowledge of the island’s government or its quarter-of-a-million people.

Published time: May 20, 2014 18:38
Edited time: May 22, 2014 11:17 Get short URL

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Data Pirates of the Caribbean: The NSA Is Recording Every Cell Phone Call in the Bahamas

The National Security Agency is secretly intercepting, recording, and archiving the audio of virtually every cell phone conversation on the island nation of the Bahamas.

According to documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the surveillance is part of a top-secret system – code-named SOMALGET – that was implemented without the knowledge or consent of the Bahamian government. Instead, the agency appears to have used access legally obtained in cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to open a backdoor to the country’s cellular telephone network, enabling it to covertly record and store the “full-take audio” of every mobile call made to, from and within the Bahamas – and to replay those calls for up to a month.

SOMALGET is part of a broader NSA program called MYSTIC, which The Intercept has learned is being used to secretly monitor the telecommunications systems of the Bahamas and several other countries, including Mexico, the Philippines, and Kenya. But while MYSTIC scrapes mobile networks for so-called “metadata” – information that reveals the time, source, and destination of calls – SOMALGET is a cutting-edge tool that enables the NSA to vacuum up and store the actual content of every conversation in an entire country.

All told, the NSA is using MYSTIC to gather personal data on mobile calls placed in countries with a combined population of more than 250 million people. And according to classified documents, the agency is seeking funding to export the sweeping surveillance capability elsewhere.

The program raises profound questions about the nature and extent of American surveillance abroad. The U.S. intelligence community routinely justifies its massive spying efforts by citing the threats to national security posed by global terrorism and unpredictable rival nations like Russia and Iran. But the NSA documents indicate that SOMALGET has been deployed in the Bahamas to locate “international narcotics traffickers and special-interest alien smugglers” – traditional law-enforcement concerns, but a far cry from derailing terror plots or intercepting weapons of mass destruction.

“The Bahamas is a stable democracy that shares democratic principles, personal freedoms, and rule of law with the United States,” the State Department concluded in a crime and safety report published last year. “There is little to no threat facing Americans from domestic (Bahamian) terrorism, war, or civil unrest.”

By targeting the Bahamas’ entire mobile network, the NSA is intentionally collecting and retaining intelligence on millions of people who have not been accused of any crime or terrorist activity. Nearly five million Americans visit the country each year, and many prominent U.S. citizens keep homes there, including Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Bill Gates, and Oprah Winfrey.

In addition, the program is a serious – and perhaps illegal – abuse of the access to international phone networks that other countries willingly grant the United States for legitimate law-enforcement surveillance. If the NSA is using the Drug Enforcement Administration’s relationship to the Bahamas as a cover for secretly recording the entire country’s mobile phone calls, it could imperil the longstanding tradition of international law enforcement cooperation that the United States enjoys with its allies.

“It’s surprising, the short-sightedness of the government,” says Michael German, a fellow at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice who spent 16 years as an FBI agent conducting undercover investigations. “That they couldn’t see how exploiting a lawful mechanism to such a degree that you might lose that justifiable access – that’s where the intelligence community is acting in a way that harms its long-term interests, and clearly the long-term national security interests of the United States.”

The NSA refused to comment on the program, but said in a statement that “the implication that NSA’s foreign intelligence collection is arbitrary and unconstrained is false.” The agency also insisted that it follows procedures to “protect the privacy of U.S. persons” whose communications are “incidentally collected.”

Informed about the NSA’s spying, neither the Bahamian prime minister’s office nor the country’s national security minister had any comment. The embassies of Mexico, Kenya, and the Philippines did not respond to phone messages and emails.

In March, The Washington Post revealed that the NSA had developed the capability to record and store an entire nation’s phone traffic for 30 days. The Post reported that the capacity was a feature of MYSTIC, which it described as a “voice interception program” that is fully operational in one country and proposed for activation in six others. (The Post also referred to NSA documents suggesting that MYSTIC was pulling metadata in some of those countries.) Citing government requests, the paper declined to name any of those countries.

The Intercept has confirmed that as of 2013, the NSA was actively using MYSTIC to gather cell-phone metadata in five countries, and was intercepting voice data in two of them. Documents show that the NSA has been generating intelligence reports from MYSTIC surveillance in the Bahamas, Mexico, Kenya, the Philippines, and one other country, which The Intercept is not naming in response to specific, credible concerns that doing so could lead to increased violence. The more expansive full-take recording capability has been deployed in both the Bahamas and the unnamed country.

MYSTIC was established in 2009 by the NSA’s Special Source Operations division, which works with corporate partners to conduct surveillance. Documents in the Snowden archive describe it as a “program for embedded collection systems overtly installed on target networks, predominantly for the collection and processing of wireless/mobile communications networks.”

1
A top-secret description of the MYSTIC program written by the NSA’s Special Source Operations division

If an entire nation’s cell-phone calls were a menu of TV shows, MYSTIC would be a cable programming guide showing which channels offer which shows, and when. SOMALGET would be the DVR that automatically records every show on every channel and stores them for a month. MYSTIC provides the access; SOMALGET provides the massive amounts of storage needed to archive all those calls so that analysts can listen to them at will after the fact. According to one NSA document, SOMALGET is “deployed against entire networks” in the Bahamas and the second country, and processes “over 100 million call events per day.”

SOMALGET’s capabilities are further detailed in a May 2012 memo written by an official in the NSA’s International Crime and Narcotics division. The memo hails the “great success” the NSA’s drugs and crime unit has enjoyed through its use of the program, and boasts about how “beneficial” the collection and recording of every phone call in a given nation can be to intelligence analysts.

Rather than simply making “tentative analytic conclusions derived from metadata,” the memo notes, analysts can follow up on hunches by going back in time and listening to phone calls recorded during the previous month. Such “retrospective retrieval” means that analysts can figure out what targets were saying even when the calls occurred before the targets were identified. “[W]e buffer certain calls that MAY be of foreign intelligence value for a sufficient period to permit a well-informed decision on whether to retrieve and return specific audio content,” the NSA official reported.

“There is little reason,” the official added, that SOMALGET could not be expanded to more countries, as long as the agency provided adequate engineering, coordination and hardware. There is no indication in the documents that the NSA followed up on the official’s enthusiasm.

2
A 2012 memo written by the NSA’s International Crime & Narcotics division

The documents don’t spell out how the NSA has been able to tap the phone calls of an entire country. But one memo indicates that SOMALGET data is covertly acquired under the auspices of “lawful intercepts” made through Drug Enforcement Administration “accesses”– legal wiretaps of foreign phone networks that the DEA requests as part of international law enforcement cooperation.

When U.S. drug agents need to tap a phone of a suspected drug kingpin in another country, they call up their counterparts and ask them set up an intercept. To facilitate those taps, many nations – including the Bahamas – have hired contractors who install and maintain so-called lawful intercept equipment on their telecommunications. With SOMALGET, it appears that the NSA has used the access those contractors developed to secretly mine the country’s entire phone system for “signals intelligence” –recording every mobile call in the country. “Host countries,” the document notes, “are not aware of NSA’s SIGINT collection.”

“Lawful intercept systems engineer communications vulnerabilities into networks, forcing the carriers to weaken,” says Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union. “Host governments really should be thinking twice before they accept one of these Trojan horses.”

The DEA has long been in a unique position to help the NSA gain backdoor access to foreign phone networks. “DEA has close relationships with foreign government counterparts and vetted foreign partners,” the manager of the NSA’s drug-war efforts reported in a 2004 memo. Indeed, with more than 80 international offices, the DEA is one of the most widely deployed U.S. agencies around the globe.

But what many foreign governments fail to realize is that U.S. drug agents don’t confine themselves to simply fighting narcotics traffickers. “DEA is actually one of the biggest spy operations there is,” says Finn Selander, a former DEA special agent who works with the drug-reform advocacy group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “Our mandate is not just drugs. We collect intelligence.”

What’s more, Selander adds, the NSA has aided the DEA for years on surveillance operations. “On our reports, there’s drug information and then there’s non-drug information,” he says. “So countries let us in because they don’t view us, really, as a spy organization.”

Selander’s first-hand experience is echoed in the 2004 memo by the manager of the NSA’s drug-war efforts, which was titled “DEA: The Other Warfighter.” The DEA and the NSA “enjoy a vibrant two-way information-sharing relationship,” the memo observes, and cooperate so closely on counternarcotics and counterterrorism that there is a risk of “blurring the lines between the two missions.”

Still, the ability to record and replay the phone calls of an entire country appears to be a relatively new weapon in the NSA’s arsenal. None of the half-dozen former U.S. law enforcement officials interviewed by The Intercept said they had ever heard of a surveillance operation quite like the NSA’s Bahamas collection.

“I’m completely unfamiliar with the program,” says Joel Margolis, a former DEA official who is now executive vice president of government affairs for Subsentio, a Colorado-based company that installs lawful intercepts for telecommunications providers. “I used to work in DEA’s office of chief counsel, and I was their lead specialist on lawful surveillance matters. I wasn’t aware of anything like this.”

3
A 2012 memo written by the NSA’s International Crime & Narcotics division

For nearly two decades, telecom providers in the United States have been legally obligated under the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act to build their networks with wiretapping capabilities, providing law enforcement agencies with access to more efficient, centrally managed surveillance.

Since CALEA’s passage, many countries have adopted similar measures, making it easier to gather telecommunications intelligence for international investigations. A 2001 working group for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime went so far as to urge countries to consider permitting foreign law enforcement agencies to initiate international wiretaps directly from within their own territories.

The process for setting up lawful intercepts in foreign countries is largely the same as in the United States. “Law enforcement issues a warrant or other authorization, a carrier or a carrier’s agent responds to the warrant by provisioning the intercept, and the information is sent in sort of a one-way path to the law enforcement agency,” says Marcus Thomas, a former FBI assistant director who now serves as chief technology officer for Subsentio.

When U.S. drug agents wiretap a country’s phone networks, they must comply with the host country’s laws and work alongside their law enforcement counterparts. “The way DEA works with our allies – it could be Bahamas or Jamaica or anywhere – the host country has to invite us,” says Margolis. “We come in and provide the support, but they do the intercept themselves.”

The Bahamas’ Listening Devices Act requires all wiretaps to be authorized in writing either by the minister of national security or the police commissioner in consultation with the attorney general. The individuals to be targeted must be named. Under the nation’s Data Protection Act, personal data may only be “collected by means which are both lawful and fair in the circumstances of the case.” The office of the Bahamian data protection commissioner, which administers the act, said in a statement that it “was not aware of the matter you raise.”

Countries like the Bahamas don’t install lawful intercepts on their own. With the adoption of international standards, a thriving market has emerged for private firms that are contracted by foreign governments to install and maintain lawful intercept equipment. Currently valued at more than $128 million, the global market for private interception services is expected to skyrocket to more than $970 million within the next four years, according to a 2013 report from the research firm Markets and Markets.

“Most telecom hardware vendors will have some solutions for legal interception,” says a former mobile telecommunications engineer who asked not to be named because he is currently working for the British government. “That’s pretty much because legal interception is a requirement if you’re going to operate a mobile phone network.”

The proliferation of private contractors has apparently provided the NSA with direct access to foreign phone networks. According to the documents, MYSTIC draws its data from “collection systems” that were overtly installed on the telecommunications systems of targeted countries, apparently by corporate “partners” cooperating with the NSA.

One NSA document spells out that “the overt purpose” given for accessing foreign telecommunications systems is “for legitimate commercial service for the Telco’s themselves.” But the same document adds: “Our covert mission is the provision of SIGINT,” or signals intelligence.

The classified 2013 intelligence budget also describes MYSTIC as using “partner-enabled” access to both cellular and landline phone networks. The goal of the access, the budget says, is to “provide comprehensive metadata access and content against targeted communications” in the Caribbean, Mexico, Kenya, the Philippines, and the unnamed country. The budget adds that in the Bahamas, Mexico, and the Philippines, MYSTIC requires “contracted services” for its “operational sustainment.”

SSO_Dictionary_Excerpt
Definitions of terms related to the MYSTIC program, drawn from an NSA glossary

The NSA documents don’t specify who is providing access in the Bahamas. But they do describe SOMALGET as an “umbrella term” for systems provided by a private firm, which is described elsewhere in the documents as a “MYSTIC access provider.” (The documents don’t name the firm, but rather refer to a cover name that The Intercept has agreed not to publish in response to a specific, credible concern that doing so could lead to violence.) Communications experts consulted by The Intercept say the descriptions in the documents suggest a company able to install lawful intercept equipment on phone networks.

Though it is not the “access provider,” the behemoth NSA contractor General Dynamics is directly involved in both MYSTIC and SOMALGET. According to documents, the firm has an eight-year, $51 million contract to process “all MYSTIC data and data for other NSA accesses” at a facility in Annapolis Junction, Maryland, down the road from NSA’s headquarters. NSA logs of SOMALGET collection activity – communications between analysts about issues such as outages and performance problems – contain references to a technician at a “SOMALGET processing facility” who bears the same name as a LinkedIn user listing General Dynamics as his employer. Reached for comment, a General Dynamics spokesperson referred questions to the NSA.

According to the NSA documents, MYSTIC targets calls and other data transmitted on Global System for Mobile Communications networks – the primary framework used for cell phone calls worldwide. In the Philippines, MYSTIC collects “GSM, Short Message Service (SMS) and Call Detail Records” via access provided by a “DSD asset in a Philippine provider site.” (The DSD refers to the Defence Signals Directorate, an arm of Australian intelligence. The Australian consulate in New York declined to comment.) The operation in Kenya is “sponsored” by the CIA, according to the documents, and collects “GSM metadata with the potential for content at a later date.” The Mexican operation is likewise sponsored by the CIA. The documents don’t say how or under what pretenses the agency is gathering call data in those countries.

In the Bahamas, the documents say, the NSA intercepts GSM data that is transmitted over what is known as the “A link”–or “A interface”–a core component of many mobile networks. The A link transfers data between two crucial parts of GSM networks – the base station subsystem, where phones in the field communicate with cell towers, and the network subsystem, which routes calls and text messages to the appropriate destination. “It’s where all of the telephone traffic goes,” says the former engineer.

Punching into this portion of a county’s mobile network would give the NSA access to a virtually non-stop stream of communications. It would also require powerful technology.

“I seriously don’t think that would be your run-of-the-mill legal interception equipment,” says the former engineer, who worked with hardware and software that typically maxed out at 1,000 intercepts. The NSA, by contrast, is recording and storing tens of millions of calls – “mass surveillance,” he observes, that goes far beyond the standard practices for lawful interception recognized around the world.

The Bahamas Telecommunications Company did not respond to repeated phone calls and emails.

If the U.S. government wanted to make a case for surveillance in the Bahamas, it could point to the country’s status as a leading haven for tax cheats, corporate shell games, and a wide array of black-market traffickers. The State Department considers the Bahamas both a “major drug-transit country” and a “major money laundering country” (a designation it shares with more than 60 other nations, including the U.S.). According to the International Monetary Fund, as of 2011 the Bahamas was home to 271 banks and trust companies with active licenses. At the time, the Bahamian banks held $595 billion in U.S. assets.

But the NSA documents don’t reflect a concerted focus on the money launderers and powerful financial institutions – including numerous Western banks – that underpin the black market for narcotics in the Bahamas. Instead, an internal NSA presentation from 2013 recounts with pride how analysts used SOMALGET to locate an individual who “arranged Mexico-to-United States marijuana shipments” through the U.S. Postal Service.

marijauna
A slide from a 2013 NSA Special Source Operations presentation

The presentation doesn’t say whether the NSA shared the information with the DEA. But the drug agency’s Special Operations Divison has come under fire for improperly using classified information obtained by the NSA to launch criminal investigations – and then creating false narratives to mislead courts about how the investigations began. The tactic – known as parallel construction – was first reported by Reuters last year, and is now under investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general.

So: Beyond a desire to bust island pot dealers, why would the NSA choose to apply a powerful collection tool such as SOMALGET against the Bahamas, which poses virtually no threat to the United States?

The answer may lie in a document that characterizes the Bahamas operation as a “test bed for system deployments, capabilities, and improvements” to SOMALGET. The country’s small population – fewer than 400,000 residents – provides a manageable sample to try out the surveillance system’s features. Since SOMALGET is also operational in one other country, the Bahamas may be used as a sort of guinea pig to beta-test improvements and alterations without impacting the system’s operations elsewhere.

“From an engineering point of view it makes perfect sense,” says the former engineer. “Absolutely.”

Beyond the Bahamas, the other countries being targeted by MYSTIC are more in line with the NSA’s more commonly touted priorities. In Kenya, the U.S. works closely with local security forces in combating the militant fundamentalist group Al-Shabab, based in neighboring Somalia. In the Philippines, the U.S. continues to support a bloody shadow war against Islamist extremists launched by the Bush administration in 2002. Last month, President Barack Obama visited Manila to sign a military pact guaranteeing that U.S. operations in Southeast Asia will continue and expand for at least another decade.

Mexico, another country targeted by MYSTIC, has received billions of dollars in police, military, and intelligence aid from the U.S. government over the past seven years to fight the war on drugs, a conflict that has left more than 70,000 Mexicans dead by some estimates. Attorney General Eric Holder has described Mexican drug cartels as a U.S. “national security threat,” and in 2009, then-CIA director Michael Hayden said the violence and chaos in Mexico would soon be the second greatest security threat facing the U.S. behind Al Qaeda.

Photo credit: Marcelo A. Salinas/MCT/Zumapress.com
Photo credit: Marcelo A. Salinas/MCT/Zumapress.com

The legality of the NSA’s sweeping surveillance in the Bahamas is unclear, given the permissive laws under which the U.S intelligence community operates. Earlier this year, President Obama issued a policy directive imposing “new limits” on the U.S. intelligence community’s use of “signals intelligence collected in bulk.” In addition to threats against military or allied personnel, the directive lists five broad conditions under which the agency would be permitted to trawl for data in unrestricted dragnets: threats posed by foreign powers, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, cybersecurity, and “transnational criminal threats, including illicit finance and sanctions evasion.”

SOMALGET operates under Executive Order 12333, a Reagan-era rule establishing wide latitude for the NSA and other intelligence agencies to spy on other countries, as long as the attorney general is convinced the efforts are aimed at gathering foreign intelligence. In 2000, the NSA assured Congress that all electronic surveillance performed under 12333 “must be conducted in a manner that minimizes the acquisition, retention, and dissemination of information about unconsenting U.S. persons.” In reality, many legal experts point out, the lack of judicial oversight or criminal penalties for violating the order render the guidelines meaningless.

“I think it would be open, whether it was legal or not,” says German, the former FBI agent. “Because we don’t have all the facts about how they’re doing it. For a long time, the NSA has been interpreting their authority in the broadest possible way, even beyond what an objective observer would say was reasonable.”

“An American citizen has Fourth Amendment rights wherever they are,” adds Kurt Opsahl, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Nevertheless, there have certainly been a number of things published over the last year which suggest that there are broad, sweeping programs that the NSA and other government agencies are doing abroad that sweep up the communications of Americans.”

Legal or not, the NSA’s covert surveillance of an entire nation suggests that it will take more than the president’s tepid “limits” to rein in the ambitions of the intelligence community. “It’s almost like they have this mentality – if we can, we will,” says German. “There’s no analysis of the long-term risks of doing it, no analysis of whether it’s actually worth the effort, no analysis of whether we couldn’t take those resources and actually put them on real threats and do more good.”

It’s not surprising, German adds, that the government’s covert program in the Bahamas didn’t remain covert. “The undermining of international law and international cooperation is such a long-term negative result of these programs that they had to know would eventually be exposed, whether through a leak, whether through a spy, whether through an accident,” he says. “Nothing stays secret forever. It really shows the arrogance of these agencies – they were just going to do what they were going to do, and they weren’t really going to consider any other important aspects of how our long-term security needs to be addressed.”

Documents published with this article:

SOMALGET memo
SIDToday: DEA – The “Other” Warfighter
SSO Dictionary Excerpt
MYSTIC
SSO March 14, 2013
SSO April 18, 2013 – What’s New
SSO May 2, 2013
SSO May 3, 2013 – MYSTIC
SSO May 3, 2012
Black Budget

By Ryan Devereaux, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras19 May 2014, 12:37 PM EDT 395

Find this story at 19 May 2014

© 2014 First Look Productions, Inc

Greenwald: Washington Post ‘suppressed’ foreign countries under NSA eavesdropping program

It’s been a couple of months since the Washington Post published a scoop on the extraordinary overseas eavesdropping capabilities of the U.S. government. Under the bylines of Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani, the paper revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) had amassed a system — known as “MYSTIC” — enabling it to “rewind and review” all of the telephone conversations of a foreign country.

From the story: “A senior manager for the program compares it to a time machine — one that can replay the voices from any call without requiring that a person be identified in advance for surveillance.” Details on the program came from documents supplied by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as well as from sources familiar with the program.

A really juicy scoop, with one desiccating caveat: The Post withheld a detail critical to understanding the scope and capabilities of the program:

At the request of U.S. officials, The Washington Post is withholding details that could be used to identify the country where the system is being employed or other countries where its use was envisioned.

Ah, a legacy media outlet acceding to a request from the U.S. government. Or, in other words, the raison d’etre of Glenn Greenwald, the former Guardian columnist and current First Look Media talent who has long criticized American media outlets for wimping out on disclosure of sensitive information. In a recent interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, Greenwald riffed, “[t]he editors at The Washington Post are very much old-style, old-media, pro-government journalists, the kind who have essentially made journalism in the U.S. neutered and impotent and obsolete.”

Following the Post’s story on MYSTIC, the Erik Wemple Blog waited a couple of weeks and then asked Greenwald, essentially, where’s your story on this thing? He responded, “I can’t comment on that yet, except to say that, obviously, if we were to publish something that the WashPost has announced it thinks shouldn’t be published, it would take work (and thus time) with editors, lawyers and the like.”

Time, indeed. Yesterday, The Intercept, First Look Media’s magazine on national security matters, published its version of the Post’s MYSTIC story. In the very headline of the piece, it drew a distinction between its piece and that of the Washington Post: “Data Pirates of the Caribbean: The NSA Is Recording Every Cell Phone Call in the Bahamas.”

The Bahamas? The what?

Under the bylines of Ryan Devereaux, Greenwald and Laura Poitras, The Intercept reports that the NSA worked with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to secure a “backdoor” to the cell phone network of the island nation, “without the knowledge or consent of the Bahamian government.” Noting that the agency commonly cites such life-and-death imperatives as anti-terrorism to justify its eavesdropping program, in this case it’s going after drug traffickers and smugglers, “a far cry from derailing terror plots or intercepting weapons of mass destruction,” notes the story.

If the Bahamas sounds like an odd place on which to focus such a spy initiative, that’s perhaps by design, notes the story: It could well be a “sort of guinea pig to beta-test improvements and alterations without impacting the system’s operations elsewhere.”

As for the “elsewhere,” Greenwald and The Intercept go there, to a point. Here’s the big reveal of the story: “Documents show that the NSA has been generating intelligence reports from MYSTIC surveillance in the Bahamas, Mexico, Kenya, the Philippines and one other country, which The Intercept is not naming in response to specific, credible concerns that doing so could lead to increased violence. The more expansive full-take recording capability has been deployed in both the Bahamas and the unnamed country.”

John Cook, The Intercept’s editor-in-chief, declined an interview request about the decisions behind the story, instead leaving the matter to Twitter. Which provides a rich back-and-forth for this case.

Following publication of the story, Wikileaks ripped The Intercept for failing to embrace a more radical form of transparency:

The principals then went off to the races:

And then some input from The Intercept’s priest of adversarial press-government relations:

Compare that sentiment with what Greenwald tweeted the day the Washington Post published its MYSTIC story:

As part of the back-and-forth Wikileaks made a bid for renewed relevance with this boast:

The exchange proves that in the world of radical media-government adversarialists, purity is a prerequisite. Here, Greenwald apparently thought his publication was sticking to its governing principles in publishing the names of four countries, only to get shouted down by Wikileaks for not going far enough (Greenwald couldn’t be reached for comment). In a previous post, Greenwald has criticized the NSA for allegedly spilling details of top-secret programs when it suits its propaganda mission, only to turn around and insist to media outlets that lives will be endangered if they publish sensitive information.

The Intercept’s partial defiance of the NSA in publishing the names of four countries surely adds contour to the story of MYSTIC — the example of the Bahamas alone fleshes out various legal and diplomatic considerations involved in foreign surveillance. The more careful Washington Post version of the story was interesting yet unsatisfying: Absent a specific country, it was more difficult to reach hard conclusions on the program’s legitimacy, legality and efficacy. Those are the dangers of scaling back detail in consideration of security concerns. When asked if naming just the Bahamas as a way of explaining NSA capabilities would have been a tolerably cautious approach, Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron replied, “You make some assumptions here, but I’m not going to address them.”

There are also perils to The Intercept’s approach. It may have touched off a macho-transparentist scramble to out that one country whose secretness The Intercept genuinely wants to protect.

Whatever the outcome, each outlet apparently got the same pitch from the government: “We shared with both news outlets the very same concerns about risks to human life and national security,” says NSA spokeswoman Vanee’ Vines in a statement to this blog. She also sent along this statement:

Every day, NSA provides valuable intelligence on issues of concern to all Americans – such as international terrorism, cyber crime, international narcotics trafficking, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The fact that the U.S. government works with other nations, under specific and regulated conditions, mutually strengthens the security of all.

NSA’s efforts are focused on ensuring the protection of the national security of the United States, its citizens, and our allies through the pursuit of valid foreign intelligence targets. Moreover, all of NSA’s efforts are strictly conducted under the rule of law and provide appropriate protection for privacy rights.

The Agency collects data to meet specific security and intelligence requirements such as counterintelligence, counterterrorism, counterproliferation, cyber security, force protection for U.S. troops and allies, and combating transnational crime.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.

BY ERIK WEMPLE May 20

Find this story at 20 May 2014

© 1996-2014 The Washington Post

Apple, Google and AT&T meet Obama to discuss NSA surveillance concerns (2013)

Silicon Valley companies concerned at effect on business as revelations over US government spying spread more widely

Barack Obama hosted a summit on government surveillance and digital privacy attended by Apple chief executive Tim Cook, Google vice-president Vint Cerf and the boss of US telecoms network AT&T on Thursday.

The US president attended in person, sources told the Politico blog, as did other technology company executives. Additional attendees included representatives of the Center for Democracy and Technology and Gigi Sohn, leader of internet campaign group Public Knowledge.

The meeting was apparently prompted by growing concerns among US technology companies that revelations from the Guardian and others about the extent and depth of surveillance by the National Security Agency, and the companies’ obligation to allow access to data under secret court rules, could be damaging their reputation and commercial interests abroad.

The gathering followed a closed-doors meeting earlier this week with Obama’s chief of staff Denis McDonough and general counsel Kathy Ruemmler at the White House.

On the agenda at Tuesday’s meeting were the surveillance activities of the NSA, commercial privacy issues and the online tracking of consumers.

“This is one of a number of discussions the administration is having with experts and stakeholders in response to the president’s directive to have a national dialogue about how to best protect privacy in a digital era, including how to respect privacy while defending our national security,” one official told Politico.

McDonough and Ruemmler met members of the Information Technology Industry Council, TechNet and Tech America, which represent a range of companies from defence contractors to digital giants Facebook, Google and Microsoft.

Campaigners including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Privacy information Center were also present, Politico’s Tony Romm reported.

The Guardian’s revelations about the breadth of the NSA’s access to data, particularly relating to foreign individuals, has created PR problems for US companies. Apple has set its sights on China as a huge potential growth market, but if people there fear eavesdropping by the US government it could harm sales. And Google stands to lose business in cloud computing to European rivals if customers fear similar eavesdropping. Cloud computing companies have estimated they could lose billions of dollars of business as a result.

The White House is also battling to respond to growing unrest over surveillance of citizens by the state and the vast caches of data many digital giants are now storing about individual consumers.

Obama has promised more public debate about the country’s counterterrorism activities and privacy safeguards in general amid signs of widespread support for NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, but officials have so far declined to provide details about this week’s technology summits.

The meetings came as a wave of Americans posted messages of support to the former security contractor, whose leaks exposed the extent of government sponsored surveillance in the US and Europe.

A website launched by the digital rights group Fight for the Future on Wednesday has attracted more than 10,000 posts expressing support for Snowden’s actions. Billed as an exercise to put faces to statistics, the website features a combination of photographs of individuals holding up signs and written words of support.

In June, Reuters/Ipsos found 31% of respondents believed Snowden was a patriot, while 23% thought he was a traitor. Another 46% said they did not know. Gallup found in June that 53% of respondents disapproved of government snooping programmes, while just 37% approved and 10% had no opinion.

In a statement, Fight for the Future cofounder Tiffiniy Cheng said: “We’ve seen an unbelievable response already – the messages keep streaming in. The government reads the same polls that we do. They know that Snowden has the public’s support. But now we’re adding faces to those statistics. As someone who volunteered and worked for Obama’s election, I feel totally burned by the president’s civil liberties and human rights records. If he truly cares about representing the American people, he should turn his attention to shutting down the NSA’s illegal surveillance programs, and leave Mr Snowden alone.”

The website was launched shortly before Obama pulled out of a presidential meeting with Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin in Moscow next month. This followed Russia’s decision to grant Snowden asylum.

Juliette Garside
theguardian.com, Friday 9 August 2013 17.37 BST

Find this story at 9 August 2013

© 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

BT and Vodafone among telecoms companies passing details to GCHQ (2013)

Fears of customer backlash over breach of privacy as firms give GCHQ unlimited access to their undersea cables

Some of the world’s leading telecoms firms, including BT and Vodafone, are secretly collaborating with Britain’s spy agency GCHQ, and are passing on details of their customers’ phone calls, email messages and Facebook entries, documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden show.

BT, Vodafone Cable, and the American firm Verizon Business – together with four other smaller providers – have given GCHQ secret unlimited access to their network of undersea cables. The cables carry much of the world’s phone calls and internet traffic.

In June the Guardian revealed details of GCHQ’s ambitious data-hoovering programmes, Mastering the Internet and Global Telecoms Exploitation, aimed at scooping up as much online and telephone traffic as possible. It emerged GCHQ was able to tap into fibre-optic cables and store huge volumes of data for up to 30 days. That operation, codenamed Tempora, has been running for 20 months.

On Friday Germany’s Süddeutsche newspaper published the most highly sensitive aspect of this operation – the names of the commercial companies working secretly with GCHQ, and giving the agency access to their customers’ private communications. The paper said it had seen a copy of an internal GCHQ powerpoint presentation from 2009 discussing Tempora.

The document identified for the first time which telecoms companies are working with GCHQ’s “special source” team. It gives top secret codenames for each firm, with BT (“Remedy”), Verizon Business (“Dacron”), and Vodafone Cable (“Gerontic”). The other firms include Global Crossing (“Pinnage”), Level 3 (“Little”), Viatel (“Vitreous”) and Interoute (“Streetcar”). The companies refused to comment on any specifics relating to Tempora, but several noted they were obliged to comply with UK and EU law.

The revelations are likely to dismay GCHQ and Downing Street, who are fearful that BT and the other firms will suffer a backlash from customers furious that their private data and intimate emails have been secretly passed to a government spy agency. In June a source with knowledge of intelligence said the companies had no choice but to co-operate in this operation. They are forbidden from revealing the existence of warrants compelling them to allow GCHQ access to the cables.

Together, these seven companies operate a huge share of the high-capacity undersea fibre-optic cables that make up the backbone of the internet’s architecture. GCHQ’s mass tapping operation has been built up over the past five years by attaching intercept probes to the transatlantic cables where they land on British shores. GCHQ’s station in Bude, north Cornwall, plays a role. The cables carry data to western Europe from telephone exchanges and internet servers in north America. This allows GCHQ and NSA analysts to search vast amounts of data on the activity of millions of internet users. Metadata – the sites users visit, whom they email, and similar information – is stored for up to 30 days, while the content of communications is typically stored for three days.

GCHQ has the ability to tap cables carrying both internet data and phone calls. By last year GCHQ was handling 600m “telephone events” each day, had tapped more than 200 fibre-optic cables and was able to process data from at least 46 of them at a time.

Each of the cables carries data at a rate of 10 gigabits per second, so the tapped cables had the capacity, in theory, to deliver more than 21 petabytes a day – equivalent to sending all the information in all the books in the British Library 192 times every 24 hours.

This operation is carried out under clandestine agreements with the seven companies, described in one document as “intercept partners”. The companies are paid for logistical and technical assistance.

The identity of the companies allowing GCHQ to tap their cables was regarded as extremely sensitive within the agency. Though the Tempora programme itself was classified as top secret, the identities of the cable companies was even more secret, referred to as “exceptionally controlled information”, with the company names replaced with the codewords, such as “GERONTIC”, “REMEDY” and “PINNAGE”.

However, some documents made it clear which codenames referred to which companies. GCHQ also assigned the firms “sensitive relationship teams”. One document warns that if the names emerged it could cause “high-level political fallout”.

Germans have been enraged by the revelations of spying by the National Security Agency and GCHQ after it emerged that both agencies were hoovering up German data as well. On Friday the Süddeutsche said it was now clear that private telecoms firms were far more deeply complicit in US-UK spying activities than had been previously thought.

The source familiar with intelligence maintained in June that GCHQ was “not looking at every piece of straw” but was sifting a “vast haystack of data” for what he called “needles”.

He added: “If you had the impression we are reading millions of emails, we are not. There is no intention in this whole programme to use it for looking at UK domestic traffic – British people talking to each other.” The source said analysts used four criteria for determining what was examined: security, terror, organised crime and Britain’s economic wellbeing.”The vast majority of the data is discarded without being looked at … we simply don’t have the resources.”

Nonetheless, the agency repeatedly referred to plans to expand this collection ability still further in the future.

Once it is collected, analysts are able to search the information for emails, online chats and browsing histories using an interface called XKeyscore, uncovered in the Guardian on Wednesday. By May 2012, 300 analysts from GCHQ and 250 NSA analysts had direct access to search and sift through the data collected under the Tempora program.

Documents seen by the Guardian suggest some telecoms companies allowed GCHQ to access cables which they did not themselves own or operate, but only operated a landing station for. Such practices could raise alarm among other cable providers who do not co-operate with GCHQ programmes that their facilities are being used by the intelligence agency.

Telecoms providers can be compelled to co-operate with requests from the government, relayed through ministers, under the 1984 Telecommunications Act, but privacy advocates have raised concerns that the firms are not doing enough to challenge orders enabling large-scale surveillance, or are co-operating to a degree beyond that required by law.

“We urgently need clarity on how close the relationship is between companies assisting with intelligence gathering and government,” said Eric King, head of research for Privacy International. “Were the companies strong-armed, or are they voluntary intercept partners?”

Vodafone said it complied with the laws of all the countries in which its cables operate. “Media reports on these matters have demonstrated a misunderstanding of the basic facts of European, German and UK legislation and of the legal obligations set out within every telecommunications operator’s licence … Vodafone complies with the law in all of our countries of operation,” said a spokesman.

“Vodafone does not disclose any customer data in any jurisdiction unless legally required to do so. Questions related to national security are a matter for governments not telecommunications operators.”

A spokeswoman for Interoute said: “As with all communication providers in Europe we are required to comply with European and local laws including those on data protection and retention. From time to time we are presented with requests from authorities. When we receive such requests, they are processed by our legal and security teams and if valid, acted upon.”

A spokeswoman for Verizon said: “Verizon continually takes steps to safeguard our customers’ privacy. Verizon also complies with the law in every country in which we operate.”

BT declined to comment.

James Ball, Luke Harding and Juliette Garside
The Guardian, Friday 2 August 2013 18.36 BST

Find this story at 2 August 2013

© 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

Newly declassified documents on phone records program released (2013)

Obama administration officials faced deepening political skepticism Wednesday about a far-reaching counterterrorism program that collects millions of Americans’ phone records, even as they released newly declassified documents in an attempt to spotlight privacy safeguards.

The previously secret material — a court order and reports to Congress — was released by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper as a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing opened Wednesday morning in which lawmakers sharply questioned the efficacy of the collection of bulk phone records. A senior National Security Agency official conceded that the surveillance effort was the primary tool in thwarting only one plot — not the dozens that officials had previously suggested.

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In recent weeks, political support for such broad collection has sagged, and the House last week narrowly defeated a bipartisan bid to end the program, at least in its current form. On Wednesday, senior Democratic senators voiced equally strong doubts.

“This bulk-collection program has massive privacy implications,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.). “The phone records of all of us in this room — all of us in this room — reside in an NSA database. I’ve said repeatedly, just because we have the ability to collect huge amounts of data does not mean that we should be doing so. . . . If this program is not effective, it has to end. So far, I’m not convinced by what I’ve seen.”

Administration officials defended the collection effort and a separate program targeting foreigners’ communication as essential and operating under stringent guidelines.

“With these programs and other intelligence activities, we are constantly seeking to achieve the right balance between the protection of national security and the protection of privacy and civil liberties,” Deputy Attorney General James Cole said. “We believe these two programs have achieved the right balance.”

Cole nonetheless said the administration is open to amending the program to achieve greater public trust. Legislation is pending in the Senate that would narrow its scope.

The NSA program collecting phone records began after the September 2001 terrorist attacks and was brought under the supervision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 2006. But its existence remained hidden until June, when the Guardian newspaper in Britain published a classified FISC order to a U.S. phone company to turn over to the NSA all call records. Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked the order to the newspaper.

On Wednesday, the Guardian published new documents provided by Snowden that outlined previously unknown features of an NSA data-retrieval system called XKeyscore. The newspaper reported that the search tool allowed analysts to “search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals.”

NSA slides describing the system published with the Guardian article indicated that analysts used it to sift through government databases, including Pinwale, the NSA’s primary storage system for e-mail and other text, and Marina, the primary storage and analysis tool for “metadata.” Another slide described analysts using XKeyscore to access a database containing phone numbers, e-mail addresses, log-ins and Internet user activity generated from other NSA programs.

The newspaper said the disclosures shed light on Snowden’s claim that the NSA’s surveillance programs allowed him while sitting at his desk to “wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal ­e-mail.” U.S. officials have denied that he had such capability.

In a statement responding to the Guardian report, the NSA said “the implication that NSA’s collection is arbitrary and unconstrained is false. NSA’s activities are focused and specifically deployed against — and only against — legitimate foreign intelligence targets.” The agency further said: “Access to XKEYSCORE, as well as all of NSA’s analytic tools, is limited to only those personnel who require access for their assigned tasks. . . . Not every analyst can perform every function, and no analyst can operate freely. Every search by an NSA analyst is fully auditable, to ensure that they are proper and within the law.”

On Wednesday, Clapper disclosed the FISA court’s “primary” order that spells out the program’s collection rules and two reports to Congress that discussed the program, which is authorized under Section 215 of the “business records” provision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Administration officials released the documents to reassure critics that the program is strictly supervised and minimally invasive.

For instance, the primary order states that only “appropriately trained and authorized personnel” may have access to the records, which consist of phone numbers of calls made and received, their time and duration, but not names and content. Officials call this metadata. The order also states that to query the data, there must be “reasonable, articulable suspicion,” presumably that the number is linked to a foreign terrorist group.

But the documents fueled more concern about the program’s scope among civil liberties advocates who are pressing the administration to release the legal rationale that might explain what makes such large numbers of records relevant to an authorized investigation. Perhaps most alarming to some critics was the disclosure, in the order, that queries of the metadata return results that are placed into a “corporate store” that may then be searched for foreign intelligence purposes with fewer restrictions.

That disclosure takes on significance in light of Deputy NSA Director John C. Inglis’s testimony last month that analysts could extend their searches by “three hops.” That means that starting from a target’s phone number, analysts can search on the phone numbers of people in contact with the target, then the numbers of people in contact with that group, and then the numbers of people in contact with that larger pool. That is potentially millions of people, said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, who also testified Wednesday.

The Office of the DNI earlier released a statement that fewer than 300 numbers were queried in 2012. That could still mean potentially hundreds of millions of records, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said at the hearing.

Also, according to the order, the NSA does not need to audit the results of searches of the corporate store.

The order asserts that phone metadata could be obtained with a grand jury subpoena. That may be true for one person or even a group of people, but not for all Americans’ phone records, critics said.

Privacy advocates criticized redactions in the reports to Congress of information about the NSA’s failure to comply with its own internal rules. That is “among the most important information that the American public needs to critically assess whether these programs are proper,” said Mark Rumold, a staff lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

At the hearing, Leahy voiced upset with the administration for suggesting that the program was as effective in thwarting terrorist plots as another NSA program, authorized under Section 702 of FISA and targeting foreigners’ communications. “I don’t think that’s a coincidence when we have people in government make that comparison, but it needs to stop,” he said of attempts to conflate the two programs’ utility.

He noted that senior officials had testified that the phone logging effort was critical to thwarting 54 plots, but after reviewing NSA material, he said that assertion cannot be made — “not by any stretch.” Pressed by Leahy on the point, Inglis admitted that the program “made a contribution” in 12 plots with a domestic nexus, but only one case came close to a “but-for” or critical contribution.

Carol D. Leonnig and William Branigin contributed to this report.

By Ellen Nakashima, Published: July 31, 2013

Find this story at 31 July 2013

© 1996-2014 The Washington Post

Telekom-Riesen helfen den Geheimdiensten (2013)

Der britische Geheimdienst wurde bei Abhöraktionen umfangreicher von Telekommunikationsfirmen unterstützt als bislang bekannt. Das berichten “Süddeutsche Zeitung” und NDR. Sogar Programmierarbeit soll an die Firmen ausgelagert worden sein.

Berlin – Laut übereinstimmenden Berichten des NDR und der “Süddeutschen Zeitung” (SZ) sind einige private Telekommunikationsunternehmen stärker in die Abhöraktionen ausländischer Geheimdienste verwickelt als bisher angenommen. Der britische Geheimdienst GCHQ etwa, ein enger Partner des US-Diensts NSA, arbeite beim Abhören des Internetverkehrs mit sieben großen Firmen zusammen.

NDR und “Süddeutsche Zeitung” beziehen sich in ihren Berichten auf Dokumente des ehemaligen NSA-Vertragsmitarbeiters Edward Snowden, die sie einsehen konnten. Die interne Präsentation von 2009 nennt neben den internationalen Unternehmen British Telecom, Verizon und Vodafone auch die Netzwerkbetreiber Level 3, Interoute, Viatel und Global Crossing als Schlüsselpartner des GCHQ. Global Crossing wurde inzwischen von Level 3 gekauft.

Gemeinsam spannen die Unternehmen laut NDR und “SZ” ein engmaschiges Datennetz über Europa und weite Teile der Welt. Einige Firmen wie Level 3 betreiben in Deutschland demnach große Datenzentren. Demnach betreibt Level 3 Rechenzentren in mehreren deutschen Städten, ein Transatlantikkabel von Global Crossing ist in Westerland auf Sylt mit deutschen Netzen verbunden. Das Unternehmen Interoute, das den Unterlagen zufolge auch mit dem GCHQ kooperiert, betreibt 15 Netzknoten in Deutschland.

Teilweise sei die Kooperation mit dem Geheimdienst über den einfachen Zugang zu den Datennetzen hinausgegangen, berichten “SZ” und NDR. Einige Firmen sollen laut den Dokumenten sogar Computerprogramme entwickelt haben, um dem britischen Geheimdienst das Abfangen von Daten aus ihren Netzen zu erleichtern. Faktisch habe der GCHQ einen Teil seiner Ausspäharbeit an Privatunternehmen delegiert.

Viatel bestreitet Zusammenarbeit

Die meisten der Unternehmen verwiesen laut NDR und “SZ” auf Gesetze, die Regierungen erlaubten, Firmen unter bestimmten Umständen zur Herausgabe von Informationen zu verpflichten. Viatel widersprach den Angaben und erklärte, nicht mit dem GCHQ zu kooperieren und dem Geheimdienst auch keinen Zugang zur eigenen Infrastruktur oder zu Kundendaten zu gewähren.

02. August 2013, 09:20 Uhr

Find this story at 2 August 2013

© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2013

Agreements with private companies protect U.S. access to cables’ data for surveillance (2013)

The U.S. government had a problem: Spying in the digital age required access to the fiber-optic cables traversing the world’s oceans, carrying torrents of data at the speed of light. And one of the biggest operators of those cables was being sold to an Asian firm, potentially complicating American surveillance efforts.

Enter “Team Telecom.”

In months of private talks, the team of lawyers from the FBI and the departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security demanded that the company maintain what amounted to an internal corporate cell of American citizens with government clearances. Among their jobs, documents show, was ensuring that surveillance requests got fulfilled quickly and confidentially.

This “Network Security Agreement,” signed in September 2003 by Global Crossing, became a model for other deals over the past decade as foreign investors increasingly acquired pieces of the world’s telecommunications infrastructure.

The publicly available agreements offer a window into efforts by U.S. officials to safeguard their ability to conduct surveillance through the fiber-optic networks that carry a huge majority of the world’s voice and Internet traffic.

The agreements, whose main purpose is to secure the U.S. telecommunications networks against foreign spying and other actions that could harm national security, do not authorize surveillance. But they ensure that when U.S. government agencies seek access to the massive amounts of data flowing through their networks, the companies have systems in place to provide it securely, say people familiar with the deals.

Negotiating leverage has come from a seemingly mundane government power: the authority of the Federal Communications Commission to approve cable licenses. In deals involving a foreign company, say people familiar with the process, the FCC has held up approval for many months while the squadron of lawyers dubbed Team Telecom developed security agreements that went beyond what’s required by the laws governing electronic eavesdropping.

The security agreement for Global Crossing, whose fiber-optic network connected 27 nations and four continents, required the company to have a “Network Operations Center” on U.S. soil that could be visited by government officials with 30 minutes of warning. Surveillance requests, meanwhile, had to be handled by U.S. citizens screened by the government and sworn to secrecy — in many cases prohibiting information from being shared even with the company’s executives and directors.

“Our telecommunications companies have no real independence in standing up to the requests of government or in revealing data,” said Susan Crawford, a Yeshiva University law professor and former Obama White House official. “This is yet another example where that’s the case.”

The full extent of the National Security Agency’s access to fiber-optic cables remains classified. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a statement saying that legally authorized data collection “has been one of our most important tools for the protection of the nation’s — and our allies’ — security. Our use of these authorities has been properly classified to maximize the potential for effective collection against foreign terrorists and other adversaries.”

It added, “As always, the Intelligence and law enforcement communities will continue to work with all members of Congress to ensure the proper balance of privacy and protection for American citizens.”

Collecting information

Documents obtained by The Washington Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper in recent weeks make clear how the revolution in information technology sparked a revolution in surveillance, allowing the U.S. government and its allies to monitor potential threats with a reach impossible only a few years earlier.

Yet any access to fiber-optic cables allows for possible privacy intrusions into Americans’ personal communications, civil libertarians say.

As people worldwide chat, browse and post images through online services, much of the information flows within the technological reach of U.S. surveillance. Though laws, procedural rules and internal policies limit how that information can be collected and used, the data from billions of devices worldwide flow through Internet choke points that the United States and its allies are capable of monitoring.

This broad-based surveillance of fiber-optic networks runs parallel to the NSA’s PRISM program, which allows analysts to access data from nine major Internet companies, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL and Apple, according to classified NSA PowerPoint slides. (The companies have said the collection is legal and limited.)

One NSA slide titled, “Two Types of Collection,” shows both PRISM and a separate effort labeled “Upstream” and lists four code names: Fairview, Stormbrew, Blarney and Oakstar. A diagram superimposed on a crude map of undersea cable networks describes the Upstream program as collecting “communications on fiber cables and infrastructure as data flows past.”

The slide has yellow arrows pointing to both Upstream and PRISM and says, “You Should Use Both.” It also has a header saying “FAA 702 Operations,” a reference to a section of the amended Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that governs surveillance of foreign targets related to suspected terrorism and other foreign intelligence.

Under that provision, the government may serve a court order on a company compelling it to reach into its networks for data on multiple targets who are foreigners reasonably believed to be overseas. At an Internet gateway, the government may specify a number of e-mail addresses of foreigners to be targeted without the court signing off on each one.

When the NSA is collecting the communications of a foreign, overseas target who is speaking or e-mailing with an American, that American’s e-mail or phone call is considered to be “incidentally” collected. It is considered “inadvertently” collected if the target actually turns out to be an American, according to program rules and people familiar with them. The extent of incidental and inadvertent collection has not been disclosed, leading some lawmakers to demand disclosure of estimates of how many Americans’ communications have been gathered. No senior intelligence officials have answered that question publicly.

Using software that scans traffic and “sniffs out” the targeted e-mail address, the company can pull out e-mail traffic automatically to turn over to the government, according to several former government officials and industry experts.

It is unclear how effective that approach is compared with collecting from a “downstream” tech company such as Google or Facebook, but the existence of separate programs collecting data from both technology companies and telecommunications systems underscores the reach of government intelligence agencies.

“People need to realize that there are many ways for the government to get vast amounts of e-mail,” said Chris Soghoian, a technology expert with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Controlling the data flow

The drive for new intelligence sources after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks relied on a key insight: American companies controlled most of the Internet’s essential pipes, giving ample opportunities to tap the torrents of data flowing by. Even terrorists bent on destruction of the United States, it turned out, talked to each other on Web-based programs such as Microsoft’s Hotmail.

Yet even data not handled by U.S.-based companies generally flowed across parts of the American telecommunications infrastructure. Most important were the fiber-optic cables that largely have replaced the copper telephone wires and the satellite and microwave transmissions that, in an earlier era, were the most important targets for government surveillance.

Fiber-optic cables, many of which lie along the ocean floor, provide higher-quality transmission and greater capacity than earlier technology, with the latest able to carry thousands of gigabits per second.

The world’s hundreds of undersea cables now carry 99 percent of all intercontinental data, a category that includes most international phone calls, as well, says TeleGeography, a global research firm.

The fiber-optic networks have become a rich source of data for intelligence agencies. The Guardian newspaper reported last month that the Government Communications Headquarters, the British equivalent of the NSA, taps and stores data flowing through the fiber-optic cables touching that nation, a major transit point for data between Europe and the Americas. That program, code-named Tempora, shares data with the NSA, the newspaper said.

Tapping undersea transmission cables had been a key U.S. surveillance tactic for decades, dating back to the era when copper lines carrying sensitive telephone communications could be accessed by listening devices divers could place on the outside of a cable’s housing, said naval historian Norman Polmar, author of “Spy Book: The Encyclopedia of Espionage.”

“The U.S. has had four submarines that have been outfitted for these special missions,” he said.

But the fiber-optic lines — each no thicker than a quarter — were far more difficult to tap successfully than earlier generations of undersea technology, and interception operations ran the risk of alerting cable operators that their network had been breached.

It’s much easier to collect information from any of dozens of cable landing stations around the world — where data transmissions are sorted into separate streams — or in some cases from network operations centers that oversee the entire system, say those familiar with the technology who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence matters.

Expanding powers

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, the NSA said its collection of communications inside the United States was constrained by statute, according to a draft report by the agency’s inspector general in 2009, which was obtained by The Post and the Guardian. The NSA had legal authority to conduct electronic surveillance on foreigners overseas, but the agency was barred from collecting such information on cables as it flowed into and through the United States without individual warrants for each target.

“By 2001, Internet communications were used worldwide, underseas cables carried huge volumes of communications, and a large amount of the world’s communications passed through the United States,” the report said. “Because of language used in the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance] Act in 1978, NSA was required to obtain court orders to target e-mail accounts used by non-U.S. persons outside the United States if it intended to intercept the communications at a webmail service within the United States. Large numbers of terrorists were using such accounts in 2001.”

As a result, after White House and CIA officials consulted with the NSA director, President George W. Bush, through a presidential order, expanded the NSA’s legal authority to collect communications inside the United States. The President’s Surveillance Program, the report said, “significantly increased [NSA’s] access to transiting foreign communications.”

Gen. Michael Hayden, then the NSA director, described that information as “the real gold of the program” that led to the identification of threats within the United States, according to the inspector general’s report.

Elements of the President’s Surveillance Program became public in 2005, when the New York Times reported the government’s ability to intercept e-mail and phone call content inside the United States without court warrants, sparking controversy. The FISA court began oversight of those program elements in 2007.

As these debates were playing out within the government, Team Telecom was making certain that surveillance capacity was not undermined by rising foreign ownership of the fiber-optic cables that the NSA was using.

The Global Crossing deal created particular concerns. The company had laid an extensive network of undersea cables in the world, but it went bankrupt in 2002 after struggling to handle more than $12 billion in debt.

Two companies, one from Singapore and a second from Hong Kong, struck a deal to buy a majority stake in Global Crossing, but U.S. government lawyers immediately objected as part of routine review of foreign investment into critical U.S. infrastructure.

President Gerald Ford in 1975 had created an interagency group — the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS — to review deals that might harm U.S. national security. Team Telecom grew out of that review process. Those executive branch powers were expanded several times over the decades and became even more urgent after the Sept. 11 attacks, when the Defense Department became an important player in discussions with telecommunications companies.

The Hong Kong company soon withdrew from the Global Crossing deal, under pressure from Team Telecom, which was worried that the Chinese government might gain access to U.S. surveillance requests and infrastructure, according to people familiar with the negotiations.

Singapore Technologies Telemedia eventually agreed to a slate of concessions, including allowing half of the board of directors of a new subsidiary managing the undersea cable network to consist of American citizens with security clearances. They would oversee a head of network operations, a head of global security, a general counsel and a human resources officer — all of whom also would be U.S. citizens with security clearances. The FBI and the departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security had the power to object to any appointments to those jobs or to the directors who had to be U.S. citizens.

U.S. law already required that telecommunications companies doing business in the United States comply with surveillance requests, both domestic and international. But the security agreement established the systems to ensure that compliance and to make sure foreign governments would not gain visibility into the working of American telecommunications systems — or surveillance systems, said Andrew D. Lipman, a telecommunications lawyer who has represented Global Crossing and other firms in negotiating such deals.

“These Network Security Agreements flesh out the details,” he said.

Lipman, a partner with Bingham McCutchen, based in Washington, said the talks with Team Telecom typically involve little give and take. “It’s like negotiating with the Motor Vehicle Department,” he said.

Singapore Technologies Telemedia sold Global Crossing in 2011 to Level 3 Communications, a company based in Colorado. But the Singaporean company maintained a minority ownership stake, helping trigger a new round of review by Team Telecom and a new Network Security Agreement that added several new conditions.

A spokesman for Level 3 Communications declined to comment for this article.

By Craig Timberg and Ellen Nakashima, Published: July 7, 2013

Find this story at 7 July 2013

© 1996-2014 The Washington Post

Former Colombia intelligence chief sentenced to 10 years over illegal wiretapping

A former executive of Colombia’s now-defunct intelligence agency DAS was sentenced to 9 years and 10 months in prison on Thursday for his role in the illegal wiretapping of Supreme Court justices and government critics during the Alvaro Uribe administrations (2002-2010).

The ex-intelligence director of the DAS was found guilty of conspiracy to commit a crime, violation of communication equipment, illicit use of wiretapping equipment and abuse of power.

Carlos Arzayus is one of a handful of former intelligence officials found guilty for the illegal surveillance on Supreme Court magistrates, journalists, human rights campaigners and government opponents during the Uribe years.

Additionally, Arzayus was ordered to pay damages to the victims of the illegal wiretapping.

According to newspaper El Pais, the former intelligence executive confessed in the investigation that is was Maria del Pilar Hurtado, the fugitive ex director of DAS, who had ordered the espionage arguing that the orders came from the presidential palace.

Del Pilar Hurtado received political asylum in November 2010 after claiming she had fell victim to political persecution

Mar 20, 2014 posted by Larisa Sioneriu

Find this story at 20 March 2014

Colombia Reports © 2014

DAS wiretapping scandal

The DAS wiretapping scandal unfolded in 2008 after opposition politicians, media and authorities discovered that Colombia’s now-defunct intelligence agency, the DAS, had been spying on the Supreme Court, journalists, human rights defenders and politicians. Later dubbed the “Colombian Watergate” scandal, it sparked a worldwide outrage as it not only implicated the Colombian president as the alleged force behind the illegal surveillance but also drew ties to the US — a close ally and financial contributor to Colombia.

Main wiretapping targets

Politicians

Gustavo Petro (then-Senator for Demoratic Pole)
Carlos Gaviria (then-Democratic Pole leader)
Luis Eduardo Garzón (then-Green Party leader)
Ernesto Samper (former president)
Andres Pastrana (former president)
Piedad Cordoba (then-senator)

Supreme Court

Ivan Velasquez (assistant judge)
Cesar Julio Valencia (chief justice)
Yesid Ramírez (former judge)

Human Rights defenders, NGOs

The José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective
CODHES
San Jose de Apartado Peace Community
UNHCR
Human Rights Watch
Washington Office on Latin America
International Federation on Human Rights

Journalists

Hollman Morris
Daniel Coronell
Claudia Julieta Duque

The DAS illegal wiretapping methods first surfaced in 2008 after then-Senator Gustavo Petro, received intelligence documents proving he had been shadowed and wiretapped.

The scandal almost immediately cost the head of DAS director Maria del Pilar Hurtado who, in spite of initially denying her agency had been involved with illegal activities, was forced to leave her post. Del Pilar later fled to Panama where she received political asylum months before the Supreme Court ordered an arrest warrant.

But this was just the beginning of an unfolding scandal that uncovered a boundless conspiracy that did not just target politicians, but even more controversially, the Supreme Court, Colombian and foreign human rights organizations, and journalists.

In February 2009, weekly Semana revealed that the DAS was the main force behind a dark industry that served paramilitaries, guerrillas and corrupt political forces.

The investigations unveiled a comprehensive and extensive surveillance and interception campaign that had been targeting the Supreme Court in order to discredit the country’s institution that was investigating links between paramilitaries and politicians, the majority being political allies of President Alvaro Uribe.

The beginning: Uribe appoints DAS executive with paramilitary ties
The DAS was founded in the 1960 to provide strategic intelligence, criminal investigations, control the external and internal security of the nation and served as Interpol’s liaison in Colombia and was a contact for the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). With close to 6,500 members, the agency reported directly to the President’s Office.

The DAS began spying on government opponents and critics after Uribe appointed now-convicted Jorge Noguera to run the DAS. Under Noguera, a number of intelligence agents with strong ties to the paramilitary AUC were appointed, and the agency formed the so-called g-3 unit that was in charge of the wiretapping that later became controversial.

Narvaez, who was fired from the DAS after the breaking of the wiretap scandal, gave workshops at both paramilitary camps and controversial ranchers’ federation Fedegan, whose members have regularly been linked to paramilitary groups.

The “Special Strategic Intelligence Group” G-3 was formed under Noguera and was assigned the primary responsibilities of monitoring human rights groups that had proven or could potential prove troublesome for Uribe.

But the specialized unit dissolved in 2005 after Uribe assigned Noguera the position of consul-general in Milan and was replaced by the “National and International Observation Group” (GONI) who continued to carry out similar operations, but focused mainly on Uribe’s political oppositions and the Supreme Court.

Documents confiscated at the DAS headquarters contained detailed information on magistrates’ families, children and political affiliations.

Among the victims were Supreme Court magistrate Ivan Velasquez. In 2008 solely, DAS recorded more than 1,900 of Valasquez’s phone conversations who was leading an investigation to uncover ties between politicians and paramilitary groups.

Other wiretapping victims were late-Presidents Ernesto Samper and Andres Pastrana, and candidates running in the 2006 elections.

It remains unclear how far the interceptions campaign reached exactly. When prosecutors first searched the agency’s office, agents refused cooperation and security footage from January 2009 showed how computers and boxes had been removed from the office.

Implicated officials
DAS

Jorge Noguera (former director)
Jorge Noguera
former director
Maria del Pilar Hurtado (former director)
Maria del Pilar Hurtado
former director
Jose Miguel Narvaez Former deputy director
Jose Miguel Narvaez
Former deputy director
Fernando Tabares Former deputy director
Fernando Tabares
Former deputy director
Jorge Alberto Lagos Former deputy director
Jorge Alberto Lagos
Former deputy director
William Romero Former deputy director
William Romero
Former deputy director
President’s Office

Alvaro Uribe President
Alvaro Uribe
President
Bernardo Moreno Chief of Staff
Bernardo Moreno
Chief of Staff
Cesar Obdulio Gaviria Presidential adviser
Cesar Obdulio Gaviria
Presidential adviser
Cesar Mauricio Velasquez Press Secretary
Cesar Mauricio Velasquez
Press Secretary
DAS spying activities abroad
The actions of DAS extended beyond Colombian borders.

The agency monitored and shadowed several human rights defenders traveling abroad to attend meetings and conferences.

MORE: DAS illegal spying in Europe

In 2010, it was discovered that DAS had send agents to Belgium and Spain to spy on a judge and members of the European Parliament.

Colombian authorities refused to cooperate following the uncovering of “Operation Europe” which intended to find information to delegitimize the work of European human rights advocates that worked in Colombia.

MORE: Colombia fails to cooperate in European spying scandal: Report

The strategy was to discredit such entities by creating press releases, website reports and by waging legal battles against them. DAS members attended NGO seminars, workshops and forums to compile confidential reports which included photographs and films of attendees.

Evidence provided by the Prosecutor General’s Office showed that the intelligence agency spied on UN officials, including the former director of the Colombia Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michael Fruling.

Documents on the international non-governmental group Human Rights Watch were also uncovered, with detailed information on the Americas Director Josa Miguel Vivanco.

In 2008, a series of surveillance operations had reportedly been carried out to spy on Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa.

The surveillance operations was allegedly launched after the Colombian army conducted a raid on a FARC camp on Ecuadorean territory. According to Semana, members of the security agency were stationed in the Ecuadorean capital in order to intercept both landline and cellphone calls made from Correa’s office.

US Involvement
The US fueled $6 billion dollars into the South American country under the Uribe administration for military aid.

Former US Ambassador William Brownfield said that Washington did know have any knowledge that US-funded equipment that was used for unlawful surveillance. In 2010, the DAS funding was suspended and the funds were transferred to the National Police.

The Washington Post reported that William Romero, a former director of the Human Resource department of DAS, received CIA training and said in an interview that DAS relied on “US-supplied computers, wiretapping devices, cameras and mobile phone interception systems, as well as rent for safe houses and petty cash for gasoline.”

“We could have operated” without U.S. assistance, he told the US newspaper, “but not with the same effectiveness.”

One unit that reportedly relied heavily on US equipment was in fact the GONI unit who’s main objective was spying on Supreme Court magistrates.

MORE: US Bans Colombian Intelligence Agency As Aid Recipient

Dismantling of DAS and court cases
The revelations led to the resignation of more than 33 DAS agents and more than a dozen of arrests.

Among them was Uribe’s Chief of Staff, Bernardo Moreno, who was barred from holding office and charged with conspiracy, unlawful violation of communications equipment, abuse of power and fraud.

MORE: Uribe aides called to trial over illegal wiretapping

Jorge Alberto Lagos, the former deputy director of counterintelligence was originally sentenced to 12 years in prison but received a reduced sentence after he agreed to testify. He later implicated another close aid of Uribe, Jose Obdulio Garviria, as a main promoter of the interception violations.

Fernando Tabares, another former deputy director of DAS, was also convicted for his role in the illegal wiretapping of government opponents and is serving eight years in prison.

Taberes spoke before the Supreme Court saying that he attended a meeting with then-DAS analysis chief Marta Leal and Uribe’s chief of staff in which he was told the president required intelligence regarding Supreme Court justices, congressmen, and journalists.

MORE: Uribe gave orders during wiretap scandal: Former intelligence executive

Uribe has not been formally charged for the DAS scandal and has continuously denied his involvement. Congress has been conducting a preliminary investigation since 2010.

MORE: Congress Formally Opens Uribe Wiretap Investigation

Maria del Pilar Hurtado fled Colombia in November 2011 and received political asylum by the Panamian administration of Ricardo Martinelli, a personal friend of Uribe.

In 2011, President Juan Manuel Santos dissolved the DAS agency.

Feb 24, 2014 posted by Maren Soendergaard

Find this story at 24 February 2014

Colombia Reports © 2014

New Wiretapping Scandal Casts Doubt on Colombian Military’s Support for Peace Talks

“It’s a relatively small place, near the Galerías shopping mall in western Bogotá. It now doesn’t have the sign outside that had idenfitied it, hanging over the two windows with glass that blocks the view of the interior. In a small terrace, under a black awning, there are eight tables and 24 chairs. Inside there are seven more tables, and a curved staircase that leads to a second floor, which has a large room with a gigantic television and computer workstations. …”

“Despite the exotic combination of luncheonette and computer instruction center, a secret is hidden there: behind the facade is a National Army signals interception center.”

The business described here was registered in Bogotá on September 12, 2012, just a few days after Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced the launch of talks with the FARC guerrilla group. From this room, reports an investigation published to the website (but not the paper version) of Colombia’s Semana newsmagazine, soldiers and civilian hackers working for Colombian military intelligence carried out illegal wiretaps and email intercepts.

Their targets included “the same ones as always”–NGOs and leftist politicians. This is outrageous enough. But the Army unit was also tapping into the emails and text messages of the Colombian government team negotiating with the FARC in Havana, Cuba.

“Jaramillo (Sergio Jaramillo [a negotiator and the high commissioner for peace]), Éder (Alejandro Éder [director of the presidential demobilization and reintegration office, and an alternate negotiator]) and De la Calle (Humberto de la Calle [the lead negotiator]) were some of those whom I remember. The idea was to try to obtain the largest amount of information about what they were talking about, and how it was going,…” a source told Semana.com.

One of the most important, and most uncertain, questions about Colombia’s peace process with the FARC is the extent to which the country’s powerful military actually supports it. These new revelations multiply the uncertainty.

President Juan Manuel Santos has gone to great lengths to keep the generals in the tent: defense and security are off the negotiating agenda, a prominent retired general is one of the negotiators, FARC calls for a bilateral cease-fire–which the military resists–have been flatly refused, and the Santos administration has tried (and so far failed) to give military courts greater jurisdiction over human rights cases, in what some analysts regard to be a quid pro quo.

The chief of Colombia’s armed forces, Gen. Leonardo Barrero, insisted in a recent interview that “we feel very well represented in the dialogues.” But there is little doubt that a significant portion of the officer corps, who have all spent their entire career fighting the FARC, would prefer to end the conflict on the battlefield. It is for that reason that support for ex-president Álvaro Uribe, a fierce opponent of the negotiations, remains high among the officers. As María Isabel Rueda, a longtime reporter and columnist for Colombia’s most-circulated newspaper, El Tiempo, recently put it: “Soldiers have hearts too, and some of them still beat more for Uribe than for Santos.”

If the armed conflict ends in Havana, Colombia’s military will be in for a rough time, institutionally. Officers and soldiers will be expecting gratitude, and there will be parades, medals, and ceremonies. But post-conflict Colombia will also hold the spectacle of officers accused of human rights abuses forced to undergo humiliating confessions as part of a transitional justice process. A truth commission will detail brutal behavior. And the armed forces, faced with a reality in which citizen security threats outrank national security threats, will find it very hard to justify a membership of 286,000 [PDF] soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen. Latin America’s second-largest armed forces, and its largest army, could shrink considerably. (Colombia’s 175,000-strong police, however, could grow.)

If the armed forces choose to resist these post-conflict shifts–starting now, while talks continue–they have some assets to deploy. They are huge and politically popular. They have important allies in Colombia’s political establishment, Álvaro Uribe high among them. And they have a crucial ally in the United States, which has forged a deep and broad military-to-military relationship in the 14 years since “Plan Colombia” emerged. Military sources tell Semana that the Army intelligence unit that oversaw the spying operation gets generous support from the CIA. We do not know, though, whether any of the equipment used in the wiretap/luncheonette came from the United States.

The U.S. role is very important. The Obama administration, the Department of Defense, and the U.S. Southern Command can do much to determine whether Colombia’s civil-military relationship is smooth or friction-filled over the next several years. The key is in the messages that they convey to their allies in the Colombian armed forces–and the central message should be that illegal or undemocratic behavior is counter-productive and will damage the bilateral relationship. And that undermining an elected civilian president’s effort to negotiate peace, or to reconcile the country afterward, counts as “illegal and undemocratic behavior.”

As criminal investigators try to piece together this new military spying scandal, those messages from the Colombian military’s U.S. “partners” should be louder and clearer than ever.

5 Feb 2014
By Adam Isacson

Find this story at 5 February 2014

Copyright wola.org

Colombian military and CIA accused of spying on peace talks

Colombia’s Defense Minister announced Tuesday that an investigation will be opened into the alleged wiretapping of both the state and rebel delegations to ongoing peace talks between the government and the FARC rebel group.

The move comes in the wake of revelations published by weekly Semana on Monday.

Based on 15-months of reporting and testimony from an unnamed inside source, Semana concluded that a Colombian military intelligence unit funded and coordinated by the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) used advanced online technology and hacking techniques to monitor the text messages and emails of opposition politicians and representatives of both the government and the FARC involved in the Havana peace negotiations.

Phone calls, reportedly, were not recorded.

Classified under the code name “Andromeda,” the military’s Technical Intelligence Battalion’s so-called “gray hall” operated from underneath a registered bar and restaurant in the Colombian capital of Bogota, according to Semana.

An anonymous military source, said to be a captain in the Colombian military and the supervisor of the clandestine site, told Semana that the Andromeda project was run by Bitec-1, an elite intelligence unit instrumental in the Colombian government’s operations against the FARC, including 2008′s famous Operation Jaque, which resulted in the recovery of 15 hostages in the state of Guaviare, among them former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, and in which the CIA also played a key role.

According to the report, the secret intelligence center also recruited civilian hackers called ‘campus parties’ to collaborate with the military on cyber espionage tasks.

On Tuesday, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon claimed via twitter that his office would be launching an investigation into “the alleged wiretapping of the negotiating team in Havana.” Senate President Juan Fernando Cristo, meanwhile, has since indicated that a congressional committee will also be assigned to look into the revelations.

“To follow up on the episodes,” said Cristo, according to national media sources, “we will assign this committee to convene and evaluate the case and also meet with the Minister of Defense, Juan Carlos Pinzón and with the military leadership [involved].”

Interior Minister Aurelio Iragorri Valencia, meanwhile, said in an interview with Blu Radio that while he questions the accuracy of the espionage allegations, “the complaint is very serious and should be clarified (…).”

The government’s response is strange, in that if Semana’s reporting is accurate, the Minister of Defense himself would be implicated in the scandal he is now supposedly investigating, as would National Army Commander Juan Pablo Rodriguez Barragan, whom Pinzon publicly placed in charge of the investigation.

This discrepancy has led opposition political leader Ivan Cepeda to call for the minister’s immediate resignation. Cepeda, a congressman said to be relatively close to the peace talks, is one of a number of opposition political figures who may have been subject to the alleged wiretapping.

Fellow opposition leader and member of the Colombian Communist Party’s Central Executive Committee Carlos Lozano called the covert intelligence program part of the government’s “antidemocratic measures.” In an interview with Colombia Reports, Lozano went even further than Cepeda and suggested that secret intelligence gathering is part of the broader political targeting of opposition political parties by violent neo-paramilitary groups working in conjunction with the Colombian state.

So far, Colombia Reports has not been able to obtain a response from the FARC or the Colombian government’s peace delegation regarding the revelations, but further updates will be forthcoming.

Feb 4, 2014 posted by Maren Soendergaard

Find this story at 4 February 2014

Colombia Reports © 2014

Uribe is behind peace talks wiretapping: FARC

Colombia’s oldest and largest living rebel group, the FARC, on Wednesday accused former President Alvaro Uribe of being behind the military’s alleged spying on the government and rebel delegations currently engaged in peace talks.

“Of course, Alvaro Uribe is behind all of this. Don’t forget that Alvaro Uribe is public enemy number one of peace in Colombia,” said the FARC’s number two leader and chief peace talks negotiator “Ivan Marquez” on Wednesday morning.

This represents the first formal accusation of the former president in his involvement with this ongoing wiretapping scandal that has shaken Colombia.

Colombian weekly magazine Semana published a 15-month investigative story with accusations that the Armed Forces have been wiretapping both the government’s and the rebel group FARC’s delegations in ongoing peace talks in Havana, Cuba. The report also asserted that the military had been receiving funding and support from the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in carrying out the alleged wiretapping.

Socialist Colombian congressman Ivan Cepeda was quoted in newspaper La Republica suggesting as well that Uribe could have been behind this wiretapping scandal. When speaking with Colombia Reports, the lawmaker did not formally accuse the ex-president of having a hand in this. Instead, he said that ”this was an action very clearly intended to destabilize the peace process in Havana. I think this action has been publicly promoted by ex-President Alvaro Uribe, and that the ex-president should be investigated for this situation.”

Just four years ago, Uribe himself was widely suspected of being involved in a large wiretapping scandal that included the illegal spying on and interceptions of calls and emails of opposition politicians, Supreme Court judges, human rights activists and journalists. This scandal ultimately led to the disbanding of the DAS, Colombia’s former security intelligence agency.

Paralleling his claims during the last scandal, Uribe has denied all involvement or knowledge of this new ordeal after rapidly appearing on radio programs and writing press released to the effect.

“The Democratic Center (Centro Democratico-CD) –Uribe’s political party– emphatically rejects the biased and malicious versions of [President Juan Manuel] Santos’ government, the FARC and political sectors that are trying to link the ex-president Alvaro Uribe Velez, with the ‘wiretappings of peace negotiators in Havana’ realized by elements of the National Army,” read a Wednesday morning press release.

Uribe also shot back in an interview with radio station W Radio.

“With an investigation of 15 months, the president had to have known what was happening!” said the former head of state, pointing out that the director of Semana is a family member of Santos.

The FARC, in an official statement also released Wednesday expressed disappointment in the government for allowing this to happen, calling “corruption” and “scandals” and “dirty tactics of war” institutionalized in the country. “This will not achieve generating confidence,” read the statement.

“Marquez” (the nom-de-guerre of Luciano Marin) called this news, “very serious” saying that, “They are not just spying on the government’s peace delegation, but also they are especially doing so on the FARC’s peace delegation.”

Alvaro Uribe has been an avid dissident of the peace talks ever since their official start in November of 2012. The former president has criticized the fourth historic attempt at dialogues with the FARC on many levels, ranging from saying that the government should not be negotiating with terrorists, to releasing photos of some guerrillas lounging on boats during discussions in Havana.

Though Uribe never testified in his initial wiretapping scandal, if more evidence besides accusations mounts against him in this case, he may have to testify before a court, or congress.

Posted on Feb 5 2014 – 12:19pm by Editor

Find this story at 5 February 2014

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U.S. aid implicated in abuses of power in Colombia (2011)

The Obama administration often cites Colombia’s thriving democracy as proof that U.S. assistance, know-how and commitment can turn around a potentially failed state under terrorist siege.

The country’s U.S.-funded counterinsurgency campaign against a Marxist rebel group — and the civilian and military coordination behind it — are viewed as so successful that it has become a model for strategy in Afghanistan.

But new revelations in long-running political scandals under former president Alvaro Uribe, a close U.S. ally throughout his eight-year tenure, have implicated American aid, and possibly U.S. officials, in egregious abuses of power and illegal actions by the Colombian government under the guise of fighting terrorism and drug smuggling.

American cash, equipment and training, supplied to elite units of the Colombian intelligence service over the past decade to help smash cocaine-trafficking rings, were used to carry out spying operations and smear campaigns against Supreme Court justices, Uribe’s political opponents and civil society groups, according to law enforcement documents obtained by The Washington Post and interviews with prosecutors and former Colombian intelligence officials.

The revelations are part of a widening investigation by the Colombian attorney general’s office against the Department of Administrative Security, or DAS. Six former high-ranking intelligence officials have confessed to crimes, and more than a dozen other agency operatives are on trial. Several of Uribe’s closest aides have come under scrutiny, and Uribe is under investigation by a special legislative commission.

U.S. officials have denied knowledge of or involvement in illegal acts committed by the DAS, and Colombian prosecutors have not alleged any American collaboration. But the story of what the DAS did with much of the U.S. aid it received is a cautionary tale of unintended consequences. Just as in Afghanistan and other countries where the United States is intensely focused on winning counterterrorism allies, some recipients of aid to Colombia clearly diverted it to their own political agendas.

For more than a decade, under three administrations, Colombia has been Washington’s closest friend in Latin America and the biggest recipient of military and economic assistance — $6 billion during Uribe’s 2002-10 presidency. The annual total has fallen only slightly during the Obama administration, to just over a half-billion dollars in combined aid this year.

Although significant gains were made against the rebels and drug-trafficking groups, former high-ranking intelligence agents say the DAS under Uribe emphasized political targets over insurgents and drug lords. The steady flow of new revelations has continued to taint Colombia’s reputation, even as a government led by Uribe’s successor and former defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, has pledged to replace the DAS with a new intelligence agency this fall.

Prosecutors say the Uribe government wanted to “neutralize” the Supreme Court because its investigative magistrates were unraveling ties between presidential allies in the Colombian congress and drug-trafficking paramilitary groups. Basing their case on thousands of pages of DAS documents and the testimony of nine top former DAS officials, the prosecutors say the agency was directed by the president’s office to collect the banking records of magistrates, follow their families, bug their offices and analyze their court rulings.

“All the activity mounted against us — following us, intercepting our telephones — had one central purpose, to intimidate us,” said Ivan Velasquez, the court’s lead investigative magistrate and a primary target of the DAS surveillance.

Gustavo Sierra, the imprisoned former DAS chief of analysis, who reviewed intelligence briefs that were sent to the presidency, said that targeting the court “was the priority” for the DAS under Uribe.

“They hardly ever gave orders against narco-trafficking or guerrillas,” Sierra said in an interview.

Resources and guidance

Some of those charged or under investigation have described the importance of U.S. intelligence resources and guidance, and say they regularly briefed embassy “liaison” officials on their intelligence-gathering activities. “We were organized through the American Embassy,” said William Romero, who ran the DAS’s network of informants and oversaw infiltration of the Supreme Court. Like many of the top DAS officials in jail or facing charges, he received CIA training. Some were given scholarships to complete coursework on intelligence-gathering at American universities.

Romero, who has accepted a plea agreement from prosecutors in exchange for his cooperation, said in an interview that DAS units depended on U.S.-supplied computers, wiretapping devices, cameras and mobile phone interception systems, as well as rent for safe houses and petty cash for gasoline. “We could have operated” without U.S. assistance, he said, “but not with the same effectiveness.”

One unit dependent on CIA aid, according to the testimony of former DAS officials in depositions, was the National and International Observations Group.

Set up to root out ties between foreign operatives and Colombian guerrillas, it turned its attention to the Supreme Court after magistrates began investigating the president’s cousin, then-Sen. Mario Uribe, said a former director, German Ospina, in a deposition to prosecutors. The orders came “from the presidency; they wanted immediate results,” Ospina told prosecutors.

Another unit that operated for eight months in 2005, the Group to Analyze Terrorist Organization Media, assembled dossiers on labor leaders, broke into their offices and videotaped union activists. The United States provided equipment and tens of thousands of dollars, according to an internal DAS report, and the unit’s members regularly met with an embassy official they remembered as “Chris Sullivan.”

“When we were advancing on certain activities, he would go to see how we were advancing,” Jose Gabriel Jimenez, a former analyst in the unit, said during a court hearing.

The CIA declined to comment on any specific allegations or the description of its relationship with the DAS provided by Colombian officials. “The three letters CIA get thrown into the mix on a lot of things, and by a lot of people. That doesn’t mean that allegations about the agency are anything more than that,” said a U.S. intelligence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

As initial DAS revelations emerged in the Colombian media during late summer 2009, then-U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield called an embassy-wide meeting and asked which U.S. agencies represented were working with the DAS, according to a secret State Department cable released by WikiLeaks. Representatives from eight agencies raised their hands — including the CIA, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service. All agencies, Brownfield reported in the Sept. 9 cable, “reaffirmed that they had no knowledge of or connection to the illegal activity and agreed to continue reducing their exposure to the agency.”

Brownfield, in subsequent meetings with Uribe and other officials, urged the government to get out in front of the disclosures and warned that they could compromise the U.S.-Colombia partnership.

“If another DAS scandal erupted, our Plan B was to terminate all association with DAS. Immediately,” Brownfield reported telling Francisco Santos, Uribe’s vice president, and DAS Director Felipe Munoz on Sept. 16, 2009.

Still, the relationship continued for an additional seven months. In April 2010, Brownfield announced that all U.S. funds previously directed to the DAS would henceforth go to Colombia’s national police. Today, the 51-year-old DAS, with 6,000 employees, multiple roles and an annual budget of $220 million, still limps along. But Munoz has been under investigation, as have four other former DAS directors.

Uribe, speaking through his lawyer, Jaime Granados, declined a request for an interview. But the former president has denied that he oversaw illegal activities and said officials from his government were being persecuted politically. Four of his top aides are under investigation, and his chief of staff, Bernardo Moreno, is jailed and awaiting trial on conspiracy and other charges.

Years of trouble

Interviews with former U.S. officials and evidence surfacing in the DAS investigation show that the agency has for years committed serious crimes, a propensity for illegal actions not unknown to embassy officials.

The first DAS director in Uribe’s presidency, Jorge Noguera — whom the U.S. Embassy in 2005 considered “pro-U.S. and an honest technocrat” and recommended to be a member of Interpol for Latin America, according to WikiLeaks cables — is on trial and accused of having helped hit men assassinate union activists. Last year, prosecutors accused another former DAS director of having helped plan the 1989 assassination of front-running presidential candidate, Luis Carlos Galan.

Myles Frechette, the U.S. ambassador to Colombia from 1994 to 1997, said that even in his tenure American officials believed that DAS units were tainted by corruption and linked to traffickers. But he said the embassy needed a partner to develop intelligence on drug smugglers and guerrillas.

“All the people who worked with me at the embassy said to me, ‘You can’t really trust the DAS,’ ” said Frechette. adding that he thinks the DAS has some of the hallmarks of a criminal enterprise.

Several senior U.S. diplomats posted to the embassy in more recent years said they had no knowledge that U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies were involved in DAS dirty tricks, but all said it would not surprise them.

“There were concerns about some kinds of activities, but also a need in the name of U.S. interests to preserve the relationship,” said one diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “I’m reasonably confident our support was correct.”

Duque is a freelance journalist based in Bogota, Colombia. Correspondent Juan Forero, also based in Bogota, contributed to this report.

By Karen DeYoung and Claudia J. Duque, Published: August 21, 2011 E-mail the writer

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Wiretapping Scandal Shakes Colombia (2011)

Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe (left) speaks during a public congressional hearing in Bogota earlier this month about allegations that the country’s intelligence service spied on high court judges during his government.
Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe (left) speaks during a public congressional hearing in Bogota earlier this month about allegations that the country’s intelligence service spied on high court judges during his government.

Eitan Abramovich/AFP/Getty Images
In Colombia, a major scandal involving the country’s intelligence service is unfolding. Colombia’s chief prosecutor says the spy service bugged the Supreme Court, intercepted the phones of its justices and followed their every move.

Prosecutors also say the illegal surveillance was directed from the offices of former President Alvaro Uribe, who in his eight years in power was Washington’s closest ally in Latin America.

With hours of tape as evidence, prosecutors say the Department of Administrative Services (DAS), which is under the president’s control, targeted the court’s justices and the investigative magistrates, who function something like prosecutors.

The purpose was to find ties between the criminal underworld and the court in order to discredit the country’s highest judicial body.

“Through the intelligence agency, they tried to control, attack and discredit — actions that cannot be viewed as some isolated DAS plan, an entity that is dependent on the presidency of the republic,” prosecutor Misael Rodriguez said at a court hearing earlier this year.

He says Bernardo Moreno, Uribe’s chief of staff, oversaw the effort. Moreno has been charged and is in jail awaiting trial. He denies the accusations.

Former President Uribe, who left office last year and has not been charged, denies any involvement.

Alba Luz Florez, a former Colombian intelligence agent, has avoided charges in the scandal by cooperating with prosecutors. She used court security people, chauffeurs and even the coffee ladies to plant bugs and gather intelligence.i
Alba Luz Florez, a former Colombian intelligence agent, has avoided charges in the scandal by cooperating with prosecutors. She used court security people, chauffeurs and even the coffee ladies to plant bugs and gather intelligence.

Juan Forero/NPR
But prosecutors say the president’s office wanted to derail court investigations linking illegal armed groups and congressmen allied with Uribe.

William Romero is among the former high-ranking DAS members who have told prosecutors that the agency collected information and shipped it to the president’s office.

“What we were told was that this was a requirement of the director of the DAS and the president, to know how narco-traffickers were manipulating inside the Supreme Court,” Romero tells NPR.

Romero and other former agents also say that DAS units used some American assistance in the illegal surveillance. The State Department in Washington says it has no knowledge of U.S. government equipment being misused in Colombia.

In one court chamber, bugging devices were placed under tables where exchanges between judges and witnesses take place.

The person responsible for the bugging was Alba Luz Florez, a 33-year-old former agent known to DAS as Y-66.

“They made me see it as a national security [issue], that national security could be compromised by this possible connection,” Florez says, referring to possible underworld ties with judges. “So for me it was an honor [to undertake the operation].”

Florez, who avoided charges by cooperating with prosecutors, used court security people, chauffeurs and even the coffee ladies to plant bugs and gather intelligence.

Among those she recruited was the driver for the court’s top investigative magistrate, Ivan Velasquez.

“I knew everything about his family, absolutely everything about his children,” Florez says, referring to the driver. “So I began to see what he liked, how I could perhaps fill his needs.”

She learned the driver needed to pay child support for several children, so she paid him. And she learned that he admired Uribe, the then-president.

“Let’s do it for the president,” she recalls telling him.

The small office of Velasquez, the star investigative magistrate, had once been bugged.

“Here I talk to all kinds of people, with lawyers, with eventual witnesses that can provide information, people who know about things that happen in their regions and want to help,” says Velasquez, sitting at his desk. “There are risks to these declarations. What I mean is that a microphone here could be very effective.”

He says the surveillance was designed to intimidate him and witnesses.

But to date, 30 congressmen — virtually all allies of Uribe — have been convicted after being investigated by the court.

And the attorney general’s office has also been busy: Four of Uribe’s top aides are under investigation. The former president’s conduct is also under review, by a special legislative commission.

by JUAN FORERO
August 29, 2011 5:50 PM ET

Find this story at 29 August 2011

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Colombia: The dark side of Alvaro Uribe (2010)

So far, retirement has been a little rocky for the hugely popular former president.

BOGOTA, Colombia — After Alvaro Uribe accepted a job at Georgetown University, a Colombian humorist suggested the former president should teach a course on wiretapping.

On his first day of class last week, Uribe was met by protesters who held up banners calling him a mass murderer.

Back in Colombia, meanwhile, nearly a dozen of Uribe’s former advisers are under investigation for abuse of power and could end up in prison.

So far, retirement has been a little rocky for Uribe. He is considered a hero by many Colombians for improving security in this war-ravaged nation. But since he stepped down on Aug. 7, more light is being shed on the dark side of his eight years in office.

“His legacy will still be positive due to the security gains,” said Michael Shifter, a Georgetown professor and president of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank. “But his record was sullied by these scandals. These were Uribe’s people and he bears political responsibility for what happened.”

Uribe ran into trouble, analysts say, because he became increasingly power-hungry and paranoid.

First elected in 2002, Uribe quickly sought congressional approval of a constitutional amendment so he could stand for re-election in 2006. At the time, the Colombian constitution banned presidents from serving more than one four-year term.

The amendment was approved but accusations emerged that government ministers secured the support of key lawmakers by offering them jobs and other benefits. Two legislators were convicted of receiving payoffs and Uribe’s former interior and social protection ministers are now under investigation for bribery.

Even more serious is a scandal known as DAS-gate, which, according to Shifter, “makes Watergate look like child’s play.”

The DAS is the Colombian equivalent of the FBI and during the Uribe administration its agents illegally monitored the telephone calls and actions of opposition politicians, human rights workers, journalists and even Supreme Court justices.

At the time, dozens of pro-Uribe lawmakers were being investigated by the Supreme Court for their financial and political links to right-wing death squads. They included Senator Mario Uribe, the president’s cousin, who later resigned and went to prison. Experts say the president’s men wanted to embarrass and discredit the court judges.

“Uribe believed the Supreme Court was out to get him,” said Alfonso Cuellar, an editor at Semana news magazine, which broke the DAS-gate story. “That was not true but that’s what Uribe believed because he was surrounded by a small group of people who fed him rumors.”

This month, new details emerged about the infiltration campaign from a DAS agent cooperating with the investigators. Alba Florez, who has been dubbed by the Colombian media as the DAS Mata Hari, said she persuaded the bodyguards and personal assistants of Supreme Court judges to spy on their bosses.

Florez persuaded a cleaning lady to place a tiny tape recorder in the main chambers of the court which allowed the DAS to monitor the judges as they discussed criminal accusations against Uribe’s allies. The agent paid large sums for photocopies of court documents and even tried to record sessions with a tiny video camera.

Florez testified that Maria del Pilar Hurtado, who then headed the DAS and is now under investigation, knew all about her mission. “She was very pleased with our work,” Florez said.

So far, no smoking guns have emerged to tie Uribe directly to the case.

But former DAS agents claim the information on the Supreme Court was ordered by top officials and sent to the presidential palace. One ex-spy told investigators: “The president’s office demanded immediate results.”

Besides Uribe’s hand-picked DAS chief, his chief of staff, his attorney and several other close aides are also under investigation. Their legal problems prompted a quip from former Colombian president Andres Pastrana.

Noting that several of his former ministers have joined the new Colombian government, Pastrana said: “My aides are being called to serve. Uribe’s aides are being called to testify.”

While in office, none of these scandals dented Uribe’s popularity, which is why he was known as the Teflon president. Yet accusations of wrongdoing now dog Uribe as he builds a new life as an ex-president.

For example, Uribe’s inclusion last month on a U.N. panel that is investigating Israel’s May 31 storming of a Turkish-owned flotilla bound for Gaza brought a new round of protests. Human rights activists claimed Uribe is not qualified to defend international law, in part, because he ordered an illegal cross-border military raid into Ecuador in 2008 that killed a Colombian guerrilla leader.

At Georgetown, where Uribe assumed his new post as “distinguished scholar in the practice of global leadership,” demonstrators pointed out that under his watch Colombian troops were accused of killing thousands of innocent civilians and dressing them up as guerrillas.

But fans of the former president also showed up at Georgetown to claim that his overall record — which includes military victories against Marxist rebels, a steep reduction in kidnappings and an economic boom — far outweigh the negatives. One supporter told reporters: “Uribe has been able to give more security to the Colombian people and I think that’s something very admirable.”

Many Colombians agree. Indeed, Uribe is considering running next year for mayor of Bogota — the country’s second-most important political post — and polls indicate that, should he declare his candidacy, he would be the instant front runner.

John Otis September 22, 2010 07:05 Updated September 22, 2010 07:05

Find this story at 22 September 2010

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Colombia ex-spy chief Hurtado granted Panama asylum (2010)

Panama has granted political asylum to the former head of Colombia’s secret police, Maria del Pilar Hurtado.

The ex-director of the Department of Administrative Security is wanted over illegal wiretapping operations that could implicate Colombia’s previous president, Alvaro Uribe.

She has already left Colombia – she was not challenged as she passed through DAS-run immigration controls.

Panama’s move has caused outrage in Colombia.

She was granted asylum after “a careful analysis of the request… and the circumstances of reasonable fear for her personal security that prompted her to leave her country”, AP quoted the Panamanian foreign ministry as saying.

The president of Colombia’s Supreme Court, Jaime Arrubla – who was himself a victim of illegal wiretaps by the DAS – expressed surprise at the decision.

The concept of political asylum was to “protect those persecuted for their political ideas, not the persecutors”, he said.

As head of the DAS from 2007-2008, Ms Hurtado was one of the few people who could possibly directly implicate former president, Alvaro Uribe, in the illegal wiretapping of his political opponents and the judges who were seeking to block his actions and re-election prospects.

The DAS answers only to the president, but Mr Uribe has denied issuing any orders that violated the law or the constitution.

His private secretary, Bernardo Moreno, has already been banned from holding public office as investigations into the wiretapping scandal continue.

But no charges have been brought against the former president.

20 November 2010 Last updated at 02:29 Share this pageEmailPrint
By Jeremy McDermott

Find this story at 20 November 2010

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