Daily Archive: 07/12/2013

Jul 12 2013

Microsoft a More Than Willing NSA Partner

Microsoft has previously admitted to cooperating with the NSA. New revelations reveal that it is far worse than was previously disclosed giving the NSA up-to-date access to its customer data whenever the company changes its encryption and related software technology. Microsoft helped the security agency find ways to circumvent its encryption on its Outlook.com portal’s encrypted Web chat function, and the agency was given what is described as “pre-encryption stage” access to e-mail on Outlook, including Hotmail e-mail.

How Microsoft handed the NSA access to encrypted messages

by Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, Laura Poitras, Spencer Ackerman and Dominic Rushe, The Guardian, Thursday 11 July 2013

• Secret files show scale of Silicon Valley co-operation on Prism

• Outlook.com encryption unlocked even before official launch

• Skype worked to enable Prism collection of video calls

• Company says it is legally compelled to comply

The files provided by Edward Snowden illustrate the scale of co-operation between Silicon Valley and the intelligence agencies over the last three years. They also shed new light on the workings of the top-secret Prism program, which was disclosed by the Guardian and the Washington Post last month.

The documents show that:

• Microsoft helped the NSA to circumvent its encryption to address concerns that the agency would be unable to intercept web chats on the new Outlook.com portal;

• The agency already had pre-encryption stage access to email on Outlook.com, including Hotmail;

• The company worked with the FBI this year to allow the NSA easier access via Prism to its cloud storage service SkyDrive, which now has more than 250 million users worldwide;

• Microsoft also worked with the FBI’s Data Intercept Unit to “understand” potential issues with a feature in Outlook.com that allows users to create email aliases;

• In July last year, nine months after Microsoft bought Skype, the NSA boasted that a new capability had tripled the amount of Skype video calls being collected through Prism;

While Microsoft claimed it had no choice but to cooperate arguing that it provides customer data “only in response to government demands and we only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers”. Emptywheel proprietress, Marcy Wheeler is interested in some of the details about the cooperation:

For example, the story describes that this cooperation takes place through the Special Source Operations unit.

   The latest documents come from the NSA’s Special Source Operations (SSO) division, described by Snowden as the “crown jewel” of the agency. It is responsible for all programs aimed at US communications systems through corporate partnerships such as Prism.

But we saw that when NSA approached (presumably) Microsoft in 2002, it did not approach via SSO; it used a more formal approach through counsel.

In addition, note how Skype increased cooperation in the months before Microsoft purchased it for what was then considered a hugely inflated price, and what is now being called (in other legal jurisdictions) so dominant that it doesn’t have to cooperate with others.

   One document boasts that Prism monitoring of Skype video production has roughly tripled since a new capability was added on 14 July 2012. “The audio portions of these sessions have been processed correctly all along, but without the accompanying video. Now, analysts will have the complete ‘picture’,” it says.

   Eight months before being bought by Microsoft, Skype joined the Prism program in February 2011.

   According to the NSA documents, work had begun on smoothly integrating Skype into Prism in November 2010, but it was not until 4 February 2011 that the company was served with a directive to comply signed by the attorney general.

   The NSA was able to start tasking Skype communications the following day, and collection began on 6 February. “Feedback indicated that a collected Skype call was very clear and the metadata looked complete,” the document stated, praising the co-operation between NSA teams and the FBI. “Collaborative teamwork was the key to the successful addition of another provider to the Prism system.”

While this isn’t as obvious as Verizon’s MCI purchase – which for the first time led that carrier to hand over Internet data – it does seem that those companies that cooperate with the NSA end up taking over their rivals.

The Guardian article includes a statement from Microsoft and a joint statement by Shawn Turner, spokesman for the director of National Intelligence, and Judith Emmel, spokeswoman for the NSA.

In his New York Times article, James Risen reports that some Silicon Valley companies fearing negative public response have begun to openly push back against the security agency:

Yahoo, for example, is now asking the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secret court that rules on data collection requests by the government, to allow it to make public the record of its 2008 challenge to the constitutionality of the law requiring it to provide its customer data to the agency.

A Yahoo spokeswoman said Thursday that the company was “seeking permission from the FISA court to unseal the arguments and orders from the 2008 case.”

Risen also reported that Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) believes that the White House is considering scaling back data collection over concerns about privacy issues and public backlash against the security agency’s large-scale collection of the personal data:

“I have a feeling that the administration is getting concerned about the bulk phone records collection, and that they are thinking about whether to move administratively to stop it,” he said. He added he believed that the continuing controversy prompted by Mr. Snowden had changed the political calculus in Congress over the balance between security and civil liberties, which has been heavily weighted toward security since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“I think we are making a comeback,” Mr. Wyden said, referring to privacy and civil liberties advocates.

Jul 12 2013

Congressional Game of Chicken: Filibuster Reform Is Back

Once again Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is rumbling about reforming filibuster as the GOP minority continues to block confirmation of President Barack Obama’s nominees for key administration offices. On Thursday, Reid took to the floor of the senate slamming Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) for breaking his word on confirmations.

This latest confrontation is over seven pending nominees, including leaders for the Labor Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, a consumer protection agency and vacancies to a politically important labor law oversight board. While Republicans signaled a path to confirmation for the EPA and Labor nominees, the parties remained at loggerheads over Obama’s nominees to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). McConnell objected to trying to confirm officials already on the board who were “unlawfully” appointed in a recess session. If the Senate fails to act on the nominees for the NLRB, it will cease to function at the end of August. The rules change that is being proposed would not effect judicial nominees which would still be subject to filibuster

McConnell shot back calling this stand off the “darkest days of the senate” and, on his campaign Facebook page posted an image of Reid’s tombstone with the words “Killed the Senate.” While Reid agreed to a closed door private conversation in the Old Senate Chambers with all the Senators, it was after a 75 minute private meeting with McConnell, that Reid emerged adamantly stating that he wanted the nominees approved, or the rules changed.

One of the proponents of reforming filibuster, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), circulated a memo to his Democratic colleagues on the history of filibuster, countering the Republican cries of that the rules change would be “unprecedented”:

“The notion that changing Senate procedure with a simple majority vote is ‘changing the rules by breaking the rules’ is an absolute falsehood,” reads the memo, which was provided to The Huffington Post. “Indeed, the Senate appears to have changed its procedures by simple majority … 18 times since 1977, an average of once every other year.”

Merkley Memo On Filibuster

Merkley is working with Reid, who appears to be more committed to reform this time. One anonymous aid advocating for reform said he believed that Reid had the 51 votes which could include Vice Pres. Joe Biden as the “51st” vote to break a tie.

Reid has called for a cloture vote on the nominees for next week. Being a skeptic about Reid’s leadership and his resolve in the past on reform, I’ll believe it when it happens.

Jul 12 2013

Good Son Pavlik

Pavlik, was a Soviet youth praised by the Soviet press as a martyr. His story, dated to 1932, is that of a 13-year old boy who denounced his father to the authorities and was in turn killed by his family. His story was a subject of reading, songs, plays, a symphonic poem, a full-length opera and six biographies. The cult had a huge impact on the moral norms of generations of children.

Experts: Obama’s plan to predict future leakers unproven, unlikely to work

By Jonathan S. Landay and Marisa Taylor, McClatchy

Posted on Tuesday, July 9, 2013

In an initiative aimed at rooting out future leakers and other security violators, President Barack Obama has ordered federal employees to report suspicious actions of their colleagues based on behavioral profiling techniques that are not scientifically proven to work, according to experts and government documents.

The techniques are a key pillar of the Insider Threat Program, an unprecedented government-wide crackdown under which millions of federal bureaucrats and contractors must watch out for “high-risk persons or behaviors” among co-workers. Those who fail to report them could face penalties, including criminal charges.



Under the program, which is being implemented with little public attention, security investigations can be launched when government employees showing “indicators of insider threat behavior” are reported by co-workers, according to previously undisclosed administration documents obtained by McClatchy. Investigations also can be triggered when “suspicious user behavior” is detected by computer network monitoring and reported to “insider threat personnel.”

Federal employees and contractors are asked to pay particular attention to the lifestyles, attitudes and behaviors – like financial troubles, odd working hours or unexplained travel – of co-workers as a way to predict whether they might do “harm to the United States.” Managers of special insider threat offices will have “regular, timely, and, if possible, electronic, access” to employees’ personnel, payroll, disciplinary and “personal contact” files, as well as records of their use of classified and unclassified computer networks, polygraph results, travel reports and financial disclosure forms.



But even the government’s top scientific advisers have questioned these techniques. Those experts say that trying to predict future acts through behavioral monitoring is unproven and could result in illegal ethnic and racial profiling and privacy violations.

“There is no consensus in the relevant scientific community nor on the committee regarding whether any behavioral surveillance or physiological monitoring techniques are ready for use at all,” concluded a 2008 National Research Council report on detecting terrorists.

“Doing something similar about predicting future leakers seems even more speculative,” Stephen Fienberg, a professor of statistics and social science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and a member of the committee that wrote the report, told McClatchy.



When asked about the ineffectiveness of behavior profiling, (Gene) Barlow (a spokesman for the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive) said the policy “does not mandate” that employees report behavior indicators.

“It simply educates employees about basic activities or behavior that might suggest a person is up to improper activity,” he said.



But research and other programs that rely on profiling show it remains unproven, could make employees more resistant to reporting violations and might lead to spurious allegations.

The Pentagon, U.S. intelligence agencies and the Department of Homeland Security have spent tens of millions of dollars on an array of research projects. Yet after several decades, they still haven’t developed a list of behaviors they can use to definitively identify the tiny fraction of workers who might some day violate national security laws.

“We are back to the needle-in-a-haystack problem,” said Fienberg, the Carnegie Mellon professor.

“We have not found any silver bullets,” said Deanna Caputo, principal behavioral psychologist at MITRE Corp., a nonprofit company working on insider threat efforts for U.S. defense, intelligence and law enforcement agencies. “We don’t have actually any really good profiles or pictures of a bad guy, a good guy gone bad or even the bad guy walking in to do bad things from the very beginning.”



But some current and former U.S. officials and experts worry that Obama’s Insider Threat Program could lead to false or retaliatory accusations across the entire government, in part because security officials are granted access to information outside their usual purview.

These current and former U.S. officials and experts also ridiculed as overly zealous and simplistic the idea of using reports of suspicious behavior to predict potential insider threats. It takes years for professional spy-hunters to learn their craft, and relying on the observations of inexperienced people could lead to baseless and discriminatory investigations, they said.

“Anyone is an amateur looking at behavior here,” said Thomas Fingar, a former State Department intelligence chief who chaired the National Intelligence Council, which prepares top-secret intelligence analyses for the president, from 2005 to 2008.



Eric Feldman, a former inspector general of the National Reconnaissance Office, the super-secret agency that oversees U.S. spy satellites, expressed concern that relying on workers to report colleagues’ suspicious behaviors to security officials could create “a repressive kind of culture.”

“The answer to it is not to have a Stasi-like response,” said Feldman, referring to the feared secret police of communist East Germany. “You’ve removed that firewall between employees seeking help and the threat that any employee who seeks help could be immediately retaliated against by this insider threat office.”

Jul 12 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Paul Krugman: Delusions of Populism

Have you heard about “libertarian populism” yet? If not, you will. It will surely be touted all over the airwaves and the opinion pages by the same kind of people who assured you, a few years ago, that Representative Paul Ryan was the very model of a Serious, Honest Conservative. So let me make a helpful public service announcement: It’s bunk.

Some background: These are tough times for members of the conservative intelligentsia – those denizens of think tanks and opinion pages who dream of Republicans once again becoming “the party of ideas.” (Whether they ever were that party is another question.)

For a while, they thought they had found their wonk hero in the person of Mr. Ryan. But the famous Ryan plan turned out to be crude smoke and mirrors, and I suspect that even conservatives privately realize that its author is more huckster than visionary. So what’s the next big idea?

New York Times Editorial Board: In the House, a Refusal to Govern

On two crucial issues this week, the extremists who dominate the Republican majority in the House of Representatives made it clear how little interest they have in the future prosperity of their country, or its reputation for fairness and decency.

The House will refuse to consider a comprehensive immigration bill that could lead to citizenship for millions of immigrants, Republican leaders said on Wednesday, and will slowly and casually consider a few border-security measures that have no chance of passing on their own.

And, on Thursday, the House passed a farm bill that stripped out the food stamp program, breaking a pact that for decades has protected the nutrition needs of low-income Americans. It was the first time since 1973 that food stamps haven’t been part of a farm bill, and it reflected the contempt of the far right for anyone desperate enough to rely on the government for help to buy groceries.

Robert Reich: An Impertinent Question

Permit me an impertinent question (or three).

Suppose a small group of extremely wealthy people sought to systematically destroy the U.S. government by (1) finding and bankrolling new candidates pledged to shrinking and dismembering it; (2) intimidating or bribing many current senators and representatives to block all proposed legislation, prevent the appointment of presidential nominees, eliminate funds to implement and enforce laws, and threaten to default on the nation’s debt; (3) taking over state governments in order to redistrict, gerrymander, require voter IDs, purge voter rolls, and otherwise suppress the votes of the majority in federal elections; (4) running a vast PR campaign designed to convince the American public of certain big lies, such as climate change is a hoax, and (5) buying up the media so the public cannot know the truth.

Would you call this treason?

If not, what would you call it?

And what would you do about it?

Jim Hightower: The Mean Team Piles on Jobless Americans

“Come on, team, let’s get mean!”

This is not the chant of rabid football fans, egging on their favorite team to crush the opponents. Rather, it’s the raucous war cry of far-out right-wing ideologues all across the country who’re pumping up Team GOP to pound the bejeezus out of America’s millions of unemployed workers. Far from a game, this is real, and it’s a moral abomination.

I’ve been unemployed before, and I can tell you it’s a misery – all the more so today, when there are far more people out of work than there are job openings. This leaves millions of our fellow Americans mired in the debilitating misery of long-term unemployment.

Harry J. Enten: Can the Democrats really win back the House in the 2014 midterms?

According to one reputable pollster, they can. But the data don’t support it: without a big boost for Obama, it’s wishful thinking

The president’s party rarely picks up seats during midterm elections. It has occurred only three times since the American civil war: 1934, 1998, and 2002. All three featured presidents who were very popular. President Clinton in 1998 and President Bush in 2002 had approval ratings into the 60s in most surveys. Despite that high approval, their parties picked up only five and eight seats respectively. The Democrats need to pick up 17 to gain control of the House in 2014. The president’s party has not picked up more than nine seats in a midterm since 1865.

In order for that to occur, we would almost certainly need to see an extremely popular president. We don’t.

Ana Marie Cox: The real problem with a Rick Perry 2016 presidential run: abortion

If the Texas governor contests the GOP nomination, it will be as a firm pro-life candidate – provoking a bitter referendum on choice

With Rick Perry announcing that he will not seek a fourth term as the governor of Texas, talk has immediately turned to whether he will consider another run for president. Tradition has it that it’s almost inevitable:

  Once a sufficient number of people have convinced an egomaniac that he would be a very good president, it’s hard for that egomaniac to let go of that dream.

Perry’s re-introduction on the national stage arrives just as Texas has become a symbol for extreme anti-abortion legislation. So, is there any way that a Perry candidacy could escape becoming a referendum on reproductive rights?

I think not. Both pro-life and pro-choice advocates would welcome it (even as the leaders in each party would probably cringe). Each would be convinced that the debate would end in their favor, each with polling data to support that conclusion.

Jul 12 2013

On This Day In History July 12

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Click on images to enlarge

July 12 is the 193rd day of the year (194th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 172 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1862, the Medal of Honor is created.

President Abraham Lincoln signs into law a measure calling for the awarding of a U.S. Army Medal of Honor, in the name of Congress, “to such noncommissioned officers and privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldier-like qualities during the present insurrection.” The previous December, Lincoln had approved a provision creating a U.S. Navy Medal of Valor, which was the basis of the Army Medal of Honor created by Congress in July 1862. The first U.S. Army soldiers to receive what would become the nation’s highest military honor were six members of a Union raiding party who in 1862 penetrated deep into Confederate territory to destroy bridges and railroad tracks between Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Atlanta, Georgia.

History

The first formal system for rewarding acts of individual gallantry by American soldiers was established by George Washington on August 7, 1782, when he created the Badge of Military Merit, designed to recognize “any singularly meritorious action.” This decoration is America’s first combat award and the second oldest American military decoration of any type, after the Fidelity Medallion.

Although the Badge of Military Merit fell into disuse after the American Revolutionary War, the concept of a military award for individual gallantry by members of the U.S. armed forces had been established. In 1847, after the outbreak of the Mexican-American War, a Certificate of Merit was established for soldiers who distinguished themselves in action. The certificate was later granted medal status as the Certificate of Merit Medal.

Early in the Civil War, a medal for individual valor was proposed by Iowa Senator James W. Grimes to Winfield Scott, the Commanding General of the United States Army. Scott did not approve the proposal, but the medal did come into use in the Navy. Senate Bill 82, containing a provision for a “Medal of Honor”, was signed into law (12Stat329) by President Abraham Lincoln on December 21, 1861. The medal was “to be bestowed upon such petty officers, seamen, landsmen, and Marines as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry and other seamanlike qualities during the present war.” Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles directed the Philadelphia Mint to design the new decoration. Shortly afterward, a resolution of similar wording was introduced on behalf of the Army and was signed into law on July 12, 1862. This measure provided for awarding a Medal of Honor, as the Navy version also came to be called: “to such noncommissioned officers and privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldier-like qualities, during the present insurrection.”

As there were only two medals that could be issued until the World War I including the Purple Heart, the Medal of Honor was sometimes awarded for deeds that would not later merit that distinction. In 1917, when other medals were created for bravery, a recall was requested for 910 Medals of Honor that had been previously issued, but no longer considered that noteworthy. Thereafter, and until the present day, the Medal was awarded for deeds that were considered exceptional.