Exclusive: Interview with the Syrian Electronic Army

The pro-Assad hacking collective known as the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA.sy)  has been very busy recently. In late April SEA hacked the Twitter account of the Associated Press and tweeted that a bomb had exploded in the White House, injuring President Obama. Consequently, the Dow Jones industrial average dropped 150 points, erasing $163 billion in market value. Other take downs by SEA include CBS, NPR, BBC, The Financial TimesThe Daily Telegraph, Sky News, and the American satirical newspaper The Onion. In May they leaked a bundle of documents that "exposed the hidden face of Qatar," and there has been word that they are on the verge of exposing details about the Saudi weapons' trade. I talked to a member of the Syrian Electronic Army about their past, present, future, and favorite super villain below.

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Intelligence Figures in History: Archie B. Savage Jr., the first black officer in the CIA

Archie B. Savage Jr., Ph. D. (1930-2011) began his military career in the US Army during the Korean Conflict where he fought for the duration of the three year war. Once the Korean Demilitarized Zone was erected in 1953 and the fighting ended, Savage continued to serve the United States, working in counterintelligence throughout the Cold War. Savage's 22-year stint at the Central Intelligence Agency brought him to a myriad of countries across Europe and Asia in a time when it was not customary for African Americans to be world travelers. Those that worked with him in the CIA said he embodied "the perfect spy" because his appearance granted him clandestine advantages that others could not match.

In 1960 he was awarded the prestigious Officier de la Legion d'Honneur, one of the highest civilian awards granted by the French Republic, for his role in foiling an assassination attempt on the life of President Charles de Gaulle.

Despite working for the CIA full-time, Savage also took night classes and was able to acquire a Bachelors Degree from the University of Denver in 1966 followed by a Masters in Education in 1971, and a Ph.D. from Denver University in 1976. 

Upon his retirement from government service, Savage dedicated his life to improving his community in New Britain and across Connecticut. He served as a faculty member at Central Connecticut State University and for 15 years was the Director of the Office of Affirmative Action at the UCONN Health Center. Over the course of his life he also served on the Board of Directors for a variety of organizations like United Way, the New Britain Public Library, Catholic Family Services, and the Boys and Girls Club. 

 

 

G8 Summit Communiqué addresses chemical weapons in Syria, falls short on cluster munitions

A communiqué from today's G8 Summit in Northern Ireland has revealed that there are plans to stop the use of chemical weapons in Syria. However, perhaps an equally critical issue is the use of cluster munitions by the Assad regime. Cluster bombs, which are known for their unpredictable and wide-spread collateral damage, were initially outlawed by 30 nations in 2008 when the Convention for Cluster Munitions treaty was signed. As of May 2013, 113 nations have signed the treaty and 83 have ratified it, making it one of the world's most-accepted forms of disarmament. 

The worst effect of cluster munitions, however, often stems from a bomblet's failure to explode upon impact. It is common for such ordnance to remain dormant for decades, causing injuries (usually leg amputation) to civilians and children. The Washington Post has sited that the munitions come brightly colored and resemble "Easter eggs," which goads inspection from civilians.    

Eliot Higgins, who blogs under the pseudonym Brown Moses, uncovered that the Syrian government has been using cluster munitions since October 2012 and that in December 2012 the Assad regime used Soviet issued RBK-250 cluster bombs with AO-1 SCH bomblets to target civilians in the town of Mare' near Aleppo. Consequently Human Rights Watch has condemned the use of cluster munitions by the Syrian government and has called for an end to cluster bombings in the Syrian Conflict.    

In the name of art a British woman tries to kickstart a bank heist

Illona Gaynor, 27, i an artist and designer who says her work, "continuously draws upon use of lmage, rhetoric and cinematic tropes to construct complexly precise plots, schemes and traps. Using design as a vehicle, the work aims to intensify, fantasise and aestheticise the darker, invisible reaches of political, economical and technological progress and their topologies."

Her most recent project is called "Under Black Carpets" and seeks to create a schematic for the perfect LA bank heist. The plan uses a plane crash as a police distraction. You can help her by donating to her Kickstarter here.

Bluecabinet.info indexes all surveillance manufacturers in the world

Bluecabinet.info describes itself as "a working wiki project to document vendors and manufacturers of surveillance equipment that are used in dictatorships and democracies around the internets." 

 

The wiki came into being after Telecomix, a decentralized group devoted to freedom of expression, leaked the Blue Coat logs from Syria, which detailed the deep packet interception that the Syrian government was employing to identify protesters. Since then Blue Cabinet has compiled an impressive list of private surveillance companies located around the world. No surprise that the United States has the most "green badger" or contractor tech surveillance companies (with over 150). In March Reporters Without Borders published a study entitled "Enemies of the Internet" that highlighted that surveillance technology used against dissidents in countries like Egypt, Bahrain and Libya was mostly supplied by western companies. Below is a commercial for an Italian company called Hacking Team that prides itself on "lawful" interception of encrypted data with a Remote Control System (RCS) named Da Vinci.  

Exclusive: Interview with Shm00p of the crime fighting, trolling collective Rustle League

I interviewed @5hm00p  and @meepkittyfuck of #RustleLeague to wax on crime fighting, cyber vigilantism, anarchic trolling, and other things of general offensive nature. 

Rustle League has been walking a thin line between white and black hat hackers recently, taking down members of Anonymous and other hacktivists. Their MO might be "altruistic chaos creators," as they are obviously in it for the superlulz as well as the self-policing of the internet. They are masters of the offensive, so please don't take anything in this interview to heart. After all, they are making the world a better place for all of us..kind of. 

You can also listen to interesting guests within the infosec community on Rustle League Radio (@RustleRadio) live on Saturday nights here.

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Jeremy Scahill and Spencer Ackerman talk Dirty Wars and the nomenclature of drone warfare

Yesterday I attended a conversation between Jeremy Scahill and Spencer Ackerman about Scahill's new book Dirty Wars, which spotlights the covert killing operations that permeate the Obama administration. One of the most alarming topics addressed last night was the notion of "precrime" or "signature strikes" that are carried out against potential terrorists in places like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Scahill likened the precrime attacks to Minority Report, saying that the US government has killed hundreds of people because they are considered "imminent threats" to national security. The problem is that these suspects are killed on speculation. Scahill also points out that the CIA, JSOC, and the Pentagon have been using "imminent" in the most liberal of ways, as was the case with Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16 year old son. Awlaki was the first US citizen killed in a drone strike. While Awlaki, an Imam working in Yemen, did indeed have ties to Al Qaeda his son did not. This is where the ethical threshold becomes blurred. What right does the US government have to predict that Awlaki's 16 year-old-son would be a future terrorist? And then to kill him on bogus conjecture. Even more disconcerting was the CIA's original plot to recruit a wife for Awlaki. The ultimate plan being that they could track and eventually kill her along with her husband using a "surgical" drone strike. Scahill, with good reason, went on to chastise the inhumane gumption of the CIA. Thankfully the oblivious and innocent Czech wife, just by luck, lost the luggage that was laced with tracking devices. It saved her life and her and Awlaki, for the time being, were able to disappear again. The conversation finished with Scahill applauding California Congresswomen Barbara Lee for being the only congressional figure that voted against the Authorization of Use of Military Force following the 9/11 attacks as she said, "We can't go down this road, because if we do there will be no end."

You can watch a recording of yesterday's talk on The Nation's website and the Dirty Wars documentary will be in theaters on June 7th.

Intelligence Figures in History: Sharon Scranage spies for Ghana

Earlier today I was listening to the International Spy Museum's podcast, which featured Michael Sulick. If you don't know about it, the Spycast is a great resource for interviews with former US intelligence and case officers that I highly recommend. In this episode, Sulick, who was Director of the US National Clandestine Service from 2007 to 2010, talks about his new book: Spying in America: Espionage from the Revolutionary War to the Dawn of the Cold War. Sulick's book particularly focuses on counterintelligence and the threat of Americans defecting to foreign nations. During the Q & A, one gentleman asked if Sulick knew of any "obscure nations," (i.e. not Russia, China, or Iran) that used American spies to penetrate the US Government. Sulick answered briefly with a woman who was spying for Ghana.

Sharon Scranage was a CIA employee working in Ghana during the 1980s when she started passing classified information to her Ghanian boyfriend, Michael Soussoudis. Soussoudis, a Ghanaian intelligence officer who was tasked with seducing Scranage in order to solicit US intelligence, was able to obtain the identities of eight Ghanaian citizens that were spying for the CIA. It was only when Scranage returned to the United States and failed a routine polygraph test that she came under suspicion. Upon investigation Scranage cooperated with authorities and in 1985 she was charged with espionage and with breaking the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Until this year she remained remained the only person to ever break the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. But on January 25th, 2013, John Kiriakou, a former CIA analyst, became the second person in US history to be convicted of breaking the same such law after he passed classified information to a reporter in Washington.   

 

Assad's soldiers execute civilian at checkpoint, Syrian rebels massacre Christian town [Warning: Explicit Footage]

Since the EU lifted its weapon's embargo on Syria last night, pundits continue to debate which of the two forces, the Syrian government or the fractious rebel movement, is the lesser of the two evils. One of the hardest parts about distilling the Syrian conflict is the lack of reliable on-the-ground information. Journalists and outsiders alike are forced to helplessly sift through the stockpile of propaganda left in the shoals of Youtube. Earlier this week government forces made this video (below) of a civilian being executed at a checkpoint and today reports are coming in (from suspect Iranian news agencies, mind you) that rebels massacred women and children in the small Christian town of al-Duvair, outside of Homs. In addition, Jabhat al-Nusra, a militant offshoot of Al Qaeda in Iraq, posted a recruitment video two days ago titled: "Front victory - the martyrs of Daraa camps" (seen below). The best reporting that has come out of Syria this week, however, was posted by Le Monde. The video confirms that the Assad regime has used Sarin nerve gas in Damascus several times in the past weeks. 

Suspect in Woolwich killing said MI5 tried to recruit him 6 months prior to attack

According to a National Post article published today, Michael Adebolajo, one of the two suspects accused of killing a British solider with a machete earlier this week, was approached by Britain's domestic counter terrorism agency to spy for them. The National Post says:

Adebolajo became withdrawn after returning last year from a visit to Kenya, where he claimed he had been arrested and then abused both physically and sexually while in jail. Nusaybah [other suspect] claimed that Britain’s domestic spy agency, MI5, approached Adebolajo to recruit him upon his return to Britain about six months ago... [MI5] initially asked him if he had met specific Muslim militants, then asked Adebolajo if he was willing to act as an informer.

“He was explicit in that he refused to work for them,” Nusaybah said.

Andrew Parker, Director-General of MI5, along with MI6 and GCHQ, Britain's clandestine surveillance agency, are expected to give preliminary reports this week about what intelligence was known about the two men prior to the Woolwich attack. 

Professors at the University of Luxembourg explain how the TOR Network is not secure

Technology professors at the University of Luxembourg have released a document detailing the vulnerabilities of the TOR network entitled: Trawling for Hidden Services: Detection, Measurement, Deanonymization. In short, the 15 page report, written by Alex Biryukov, Ivan Pustogarov, and Ralf-Philipp Weinmann, explains how attackers can uncover an individual’s IP address by controlling one or more of the TOR relay points. From there the attacker can use primitive traffic analysis to identify the users on that relay or any of its connectors. The paper concludes that attacks to deanonymize hidden services at a large scale are practically possible with only a moderate amount of resources, although it may take up to 2 days to do so.  

Trawling for Hidden Services: Detection, Measurement, Deanonymization

Exclusive: Interview with hacker Ag3nt47, man responsible for breaching Harvard, MIT, Stanford, NASA

Wilson: Ag3nt47 thanks for talking with me. It looks like the month of May has  been a busy one for you. In the past three weeks you've been able to  breach an extraordinary number of websites belonging to high profile  corporations and institutions, including: Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Rutgers, NASA, Mazda, Suzuki, and Isuzu. Two days ago you hacked Bose Speakers' Chinese branch and just yesterday you penetrated Mopar, one of the world's largest automotive parts suppliers. Is there a reason why you targeted these sites? Is there a specific message you wanted to send by hitting these blue chip organizations?

Ag3nt47: I targeted these sites for one reason, that reason being they are big name sites. These sites should be very secure. Yet, they are not. You think of Harvard as a very wealthy school right? I broke into this school's website very fast. They sure are not spreading the wealth on web security. I just want the students of these universities too see the school they spend so much into can't even use some of the money on keeping their personal info safe. That's my message for the people. The  school should worry more about the students safety instead of draining their pockets dry. 

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After AP raid journalists use Snapchat to protect sources, but is it safe?

This morning NPR had a segment about how investigative journalists are becoming increasingly more secretive about their digital correspondence. During the segment Lucy Dalglish, who runs the journalism school at University of Maryland, College Park, and who used to run the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said that,

"If you have a source that you need to protect, stay off the Internet, stay off the phone, don't use your credit card," she explains.
Instead, she says, "talk to your sources like spies do on TV — on a park bench, face to face."

This comes as no surprise after the Department of Justice confiscated two months worth of work, home, and cellphone records from more than 100 Associated Press journalists on Tuesday. The issue at hand is that the Justice Department now has access to phone numbers linked to sources that had a necessity to remain anonymous after disclosing what the DOJ says was "sensitive" national security information. The AP and other American news agencies have, until now, been able to shield their sources under the First Amendment and for the sake of reporting transparently. But recently the AP raid has turned a new stone in the landscape of government reportage, leaving journalists paranoid of being scapegoated as enemies of the state. Pulitzer Prize winner David Cay Johnston said on Democracy Now this week that  Bill Keller, editor of The New York Times, was summoned to the White House office and literally threatened with the death penalty over investigative work The New York Times did. In addition, John Kiriakou, a former CIA analyst, is serving a 30 year sentence in Pennsylvania for giving information to The New York Times 

As result more journalists are turning to Snapchat, an app originally designed for teens to share self-destroying pictures, in order to protect their sources. "The app is no longer for sexting," says one New York Magazine reporter. "A contact last week insisted we only communicate through Snapchat in order to safe guard themselves."  


 

Pro-Assad Soldiers Publicly Executed by Al-Nusra Front [Warning: Explicit Footage]

A source close to  Jabhat Al-Nusra has confirmed to me that three pro-Assad soldiers have been executed in the northern city of Raqqa earlier this week. The source, who called the Assad soldiers "dogs" in his post on Twitter, spread the video through Tumblr and stated that the assassination took place on May 14th, 2013. The online video shows a masked man reading a statement with armed rebels standing in the square. Afterwards the man gives the signal for the execution which leads to a celebration of gunfire by the army. Al-Nusra has been labeled as a "terrorist" organization by the United States and the brutal execution comes at a delicate time as the West considers providing arms to Syrian rebels.  

Raqqa was captured by the Al-Nusra Front on March 5th, 2013 while the Free Syrian Army, the secular group of the Syrian rebels, played little to no role in the siege.