Maryland-based Cyber Engineering Services detected the cyber burglary, according to cybersecurity writer Brian Krebs.
“Between Oct. 10, 2011 and Aug. 13, 2012, attackers thought to be operating out of China hacked into the corporate networks of three top Israeli defense technology companies, including Elisra Group, Israel Aerospace Industries, and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems,” Krebs writes.
“By tapping into the secret communications infrastructure set up by the hackers, CyberESI determined that the attackers exfiltrated large amounts of data from the three companies,” he continues.
“Most of the information was intellectual property pertaining to Arrow III missiles, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, ballistic rockets and other technical documents in the same fields of study.”
CyberESI believes the culprits were the “Comment Crew,” a hacking group sponsored by the Chinese military. Mandiant, a Virgina-based cybersecurity firm, has further identified this group as “the 2nd Bureau of the People’s Liberation Army General Staff Department’s 3rd Department, which is most commonly known by its Military Unit Cover Designator as Unit 61398.”
Unit 61398 has been so aggressive in stealing American secrets that the U.S. Justice Department indicted four alleged members last May. The FBI wanted poster shows two of the men wearing what appear to be Chinese military uniforms.
In fact, the most recent thefts have victimized America as much as Israel. The Arrow is a joint Israeli-American missile defense system. U.S. defense contractors wrote many of the stolen documents.
Tiny Israel has an enormous cybersecurity industry and a deep pool of hackers and anti-hackers who learned their trade in the Israeli military. So if China can break into top-secret Israeli computers, they can break into America’s—and everybody else’s, too.
But what Beijing will do with the Iron Dome information is an open question. Iron Dome is narrowly optimized for intercepting Katyusha rockets before they land on cities. Shooting down U.S. stealth bombers or cruise missiles would seem to be a higher priority for China.
Editor’s Note – NSA contractor Edward Snowden gave a video interview to the UK’s Guardian which exposed the NSA PRISM story – today they revealed his name and the interview.
This came a day after the DNI James Clapper filed a criminal complaint to the DoJ which you can read here. It’s also interesting to read about clause 215 of the Patriot Act that gave such broad authority.
The individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for theCIA and current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell.
The Guardian, after several days of interviews, is revealing his identity at his request. From the moment he decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, he was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity. “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” he said.
Snowden will go down in history as one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning. He is responsible for handing over material from one of the world’s most secretive organisations – the NSA.
In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided, he wrote: “I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions,” but “I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant.”
Despite his determination to be publicly unveiled, he repeatedly insisted that he wants to avoid the media spotlight. “I don’t want public attention because I don’t want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing.”
He does not fear the consequences of going public, he said, only that doing so will distract attention from the issues raised by his disclosures. “I know the media likes to personalise political debates, and I know the government will demonise me.”
Despite these fears, he remained hopeful his outing will not divert attention from the substance of his disclosures. “I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in.” He added: “My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”
He has had “a very comfortable life” that included a salary of roughly $200,000, a girlfriend with whom he shared a home in Hawaii, a stable career, and a family he loves. “I’m willing to sacrifice all of that because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.”
‘I am not afraid, because this is the choice I’ve made’
Three weeks ago, Snowden made final preparations that resulted in last week’s series of blockbuster news stories. At the NSA office in Hawaii where he was working, he copied the last set of documents he intended to disclose.
He then advised his NSA supervisor that he needed to be away from work for “a couple of weeks” in order to receive treatment for epilepsy, a condition he learned he suffers from after a series of seizures last year.
As he packed his bags, he told his girlfriend that he had to be away for a few weeks, though he said he was vague about the reason. “That is not an uncommon occurrence for someone who has spent the last decade working in the intelligence world.”
On May 20, he boarded a flight to Hong Kong, where he has remained ever since. He chose the city because “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent”, and because he believed that it was one of the few places in the world that both could and would resist the dictates of the US government.
In the three weeks since he arrived, he has been ensconced in a hotel room. “I’ve left the room maybe a total of three times during my entire stay,” he said. It is a plush hotel and, what with eating meals in his room too, he has run up big bills.
He is deeply worried about being spied on. He lines the door of his hotel room with pillows to prevent eavesdropping. He puts a large red hood over his head and laptop when entering his passwords to prevent any hidden cameras from detecting them.
Though that may sound like paranoia to some, Snowden has good reason for such fears. He worked in the US intelligence world for almost a decade. He knows that the biggest and most secretive surveillance organisation in America, the NSA, along with the most powerful government on the planet, is looking for him.
Since the disclosures began to emerge, he has watched television and monitored the internet, hearing all the threats and vows of prosecution emanating from Washington.
And he knows only too well the sophisticated technology available to them and how easy it will be for them to find him. The NSA police and other law enforcement officers have twice visited his home in Hawaii and already contacted his girlfriend, though he believes that may have been prompted by his absence from work, and not because of suspicions of any connection to the leaks.
“All my options are bad,” he said. The US could begin extradition proceedings against him, a potentially problematic, lengthy and unpredictable course for Washington. Or the Chinese government might whisk him away for questioning, viewing him as a useful source of information. Or he might end up being grabbed and bundled into a plane bound for US territory.
“Yes, I could be rendered by the CIA. I could have people come after me. Or any of the third-party partners. They work closely with a number of other nations. Or they could pay off the Triads. Any of their agents or assets,” he said.
“We have got a CIA station just up the road – the consulate here in Hong Kong – and I am sure they are going to be busy for the next week. And that is a concern I will live with for the rest of my life, however long that happens to be.”
Having watched the Obama administration prosecute whistleblowers at a historically unprecedented rate, he fully expects the US government to attempt to use all its weight to punish him. “I am not afraid,” he said calmly, “because this is the choice I’ve made.”
He predicts the government will launch an investigation and “say I have broken the Espionage Act and helped our enemies, but that can be used against anyone who points out how massive and invasive the system has become”.
The only time he became emotional during the many hours of interviews was when he pondered the impact his choices would have on his family, many of whom work for the US government. “The only thing I fear is the harmful effects on my family, who I won’t be able to help any more. That’s what keeps me up at night,” he said, his eyes welling up with tears.
‘You can’t wait around for someone else to act’
Snowden did not always believe the US government posed a threat to his political values. He was brought up originally in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. His family moved later to Maryland, near the NSA headquarters in Fort Meade.
By his own admission, he was not a stellar student. In order to get the credits necessary to obtain a high school diploma, he attended a community college in Maryland, studying computing, but never completed the coursework. (He later obtained his GED.)
In 2003, he enlisted in the US army and began a training program to join the Special Forces. Invoking the same principles that he now cites to justify his leaks, he said: “I wanted to fight in the Iraq war because I felt like I had an obligation as a human being to help free people from oppression”.
He recounted how his beliefs about the war’s purpose were quickly dispelled. “Most of the people training us seemed pumped up about killing Arabs, not helping anyone,” he said. After he broke both his legs in a training accident, he was discharged.
After that, he got his first job in an NSA facility, working as a security guard for one of the agency’s covert facilities at the University of Maryland. From there, he went to the CIA, where he worked on IT security. His understanding of the internet and his talent for computer programming enabled him to rise fairly quickly for someone who lacked even a high school diploma.
By 2007, the CIA stationed him with diplomatic cover in Geneva, Switzerland. His responsibility for maintaining computer network security meant he had clearance to access a wide array of classified documents.
That access, along with the almost three years he spent around CIA officers, led him to begin seriously questioning the rightness of what he saw.
He described as formative an incident in which he claimed CIA operatives were attempting to recruit a Swiss banker to obtain secret banking information. Snowden said they achieved this by purposely getting the banker drunk and encouraging him to drive home in his car. When the banker was arrested for drunk driving, the undercover agent seeking to befriend him offered to help, and a bond was formed that led to successful recruitment.
“Much of what I saw in Geneva really disillusioned me about how my government functions and what its impact is in the world,” he says. “I realised that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good.”
He said it was during his CIA stint in Geneva that he thought for the first time about exposing government secrets. But, at the time, he chose not to for two reasons.
First, he said: “Most of the secrets the CIA has are about people, not machines and systems, so I didn’t feel comfortable with disclosures that I thought could endanger anyone”. Secondly, the election of Barack Obama in 2008 gave him hope that there would be real reforms, rendering disclosures unnecessary.
He left the CIA in 2009 in order to take his first job working for a private contractor that assigned him to a functioning NSA facility, stationed on a military base in Japan. It was then, he said, that he “watched as Obama advanced the very policies that I thought would be reined in”, and as a result, “I got hardened.”
The primary lesson from this experience was that “you can’t wait around for someone else to act. I had been looking for leaders, but I realised that leadership is about being the first to act.”
Over the next three years, he learned just how all-consuming the NSA’s surveillance activities were, claiming “they are intent on making every conversation and every form of behaviour in the world known to them”.
He described how he once viewed the internet as “the most important invention in all of human history”. As an adolescent, he spent days at a time “speaking to people with all sorts of views that I would never have encountered on my own”.
But he believed that the value of the internet, along with basic privacy, is being rapidly destroyed by ubiquitous surveillance. “I don’t see myself as a hero,” he said, “because what I’m doing is self-interested: I don’t want to live in a world where there’s no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity.”
Once he reached the conclusion that the NSA’s surveillance net would soon be irrevocable, he said it was just a matter of time before he chose to act. “What they’re doing” poses “an existential threat to democracy”, he said.
A matter of principle
As strong as those beliefs are, there still remains the question: why did he do it? Giving up his freedom and a privileged lifestyle? “There are more important things than money. If I were motivated by money, I could have sold these documents to any number of countries and gotten very rich.”
For him, it is a matter of principle. “The government has granted itself power it is not entitled to. There is no public oversight. The result is people like myself have the latitude to go further than they are allowed to,” he said.
His allegiance to internet freedom is reflected in the stickers on his laptop: “I support Online Rights: Electronic Frontier Foundation,” reads one. Another hails the online organisation offering anonymity, the Tor Project.
Asked by reporters to establish his authenticity to ensure he is not some fantasist, he laid bare, without hesitation, his personal details, from his social security number to his CIA ID and his expired diplomatic passport. There is no shiftiness. Ask him about anything in his personal life and he will answer.
He is quiet, smart, easy-going and self-effacing. A master on computers, he seemed happiest when talking about the technical side of surveillance, at a level of detail comprehensible probably only to fellow communication specialists. But he showed intense passion when talking about the value of privacy and how he felt it was being steadily eroded by the behaviour of the intelligence services.
His manner was calm and relaxed but he has been understandably twitchy since he went into hiding, waiting for the knock on the hotel door. A fire alarm goes off. “That has not happened before,” he said, betraying anxiety wondering if was real, a test or a CIA ploy to get him out onto the street.
Strewn about the side of his bed are his suitcase, a plate with the remains of room-service breakfast, and a copy of Angler, the biography of former vice-president Dick Cheney.
Ever since last week’s news stories began to appear in the Guardian, Snowden has vigilantly watched TV and read the internet to see the effects of his choices. He seemed satisfied that the debate he longed to provoke was finally taking place.
He lay, propped up against pillows, watching CNN’s Wolf Blitzer ask a discussion panel about government intrusion if they had any idea who the leaker was. From 8,000 miles away, the leaker looked on impassively, not even indulging in a wry smile.
Snowden said that he admires both Ellsberg and Manning, but argues that there is one important distinction between himself and the army private, whose trial coincidentally began the week Snowden’s leaks began to make news.
“I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest,” he said. “There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over, because harming people isn’t my goal. Transparency is.”
He purposely chose, he said, to give the documents to journalists whose judgment he trusted about what should be public and what should remain concealed.
As for his future, he is vague. He hoped the publicity the leaks have generated will offer him some protection, making it “harder for them to get dirty”.
He views his best hope as the possibility of asylum, with Iceland – with its reputation of a champion of internet freedom – at the top of his list. He knows that may prove a wish unfulfilled.
But after the intense political controversy he has already created with just the first week’s haul of stories, “I feel satisfied that this was all worth it. I have no regrets.”
Editor’s Note – Kamikaze attacks are being planned by Iran against USA forces across the globe and locally in the Gulf should Israel attack according to late reports and breaking news, coupled with the following article, all seems very testy right now. Stay tuned for updates. It seems the ever increasing chatter across the board is making a lot of people nervous. It is at unprecedented levels now, and we at SUA want our readers to be prepared and vigilant.
Report anything out of the ordinary to the proper authorities! Anything!
The FBI is pulling out all the stops on Iran. A classified nationwide conference will be held Thursday to share the assessment of the intelligence community that an attack by Iranian agents, or even a surrogate group such as Hezbollah, may be more likely in the event of an Israeli air strike on suspected Iranian nuclear facilities.
The secure video teleconference, led by FBI Assistant Director Ralph Boelter, the Bureau’s top counterterrorism official, will be a 90-minute meeting with each of the 56 field offices.
The special agents in-charge of those offices will be polled on what operations they are running covering suspected Iranian agents, Hezbollah investigations and confidential sources that may yield valuable intelligence. They are also being asked to make sure their local police departments are attuned to the threat and focused on suspicious activity around government buildings, Israeli consulates in major cities and prominent Jewish organizations.
The increased concern that is driving this “leave no stone unturned” strategy has emerged from two developments: first, the assessment that Iran has increased surveillance of potential U.S. targets overseas; second, that Iran is suspected of being behind what appears to be a series of coordinated attacks against Israeli targets last week.
In India, the wife of an Israeli military attache was wounded in a car bomb. In Georgia, and Thailand, suspected Iranian agents were taken into custody. One Iranian suspect in Bangkok was severely wounded when the bomb he was carrying detonated prematurely.
In Azerbaijan, police broke up a plot in January that involved a group of Iranian suspects working with a local crime boss to target Israeli locations and victims. Police say the recovered diagrams, drawings, photos and dossiers of the targets along with a sniper rifle with a telescopic sight.
Intelligence analysts agree that the foreign attacks targeting Israelis are almost certainly in retaliation for a series of assassinations of Iranian scientist working for that country’s suspected nuclear weapons program. Iran has accused Israel and the United Sates of being behind the attacks.
The last scientist to be killed was blown up by a car bomb that was stuck to his car by a passing motorcycle. It was the exact same technique that was used in the attack against the Israeli attache’s wife in India last week.
“They are trying to be very clear with the Israelis that two can play this game,” said one U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Iran has denied involvement in any of the attacks against Israeli diplomats, and has suggested that Israel itself is to blame.
Mohammad Khazaee, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, wrote in a letter to Security Council President Kodjo Menan that Israel “has resorted in masterminding camouflaged assassination attempts and acts of terrorism or more specifically the so-called ‘false flag operations,’ and attributing them to others.”
While this has unfolded largely as a proxy war between Israel and Iran, the concern over a potential strike against the U.S. is one that was recently revised. On February 16, Director of National Intelligence General James Clapper said in testimony submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee that a recent plot broken up the FBI targeting the Saudi ambassador for assassination in downtown Washington D.C. restaurant was a game-changer.
Clapper said the plot “shows that some Iranian officials – probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime. We are also concerned about Iranian plotting against U.S. or allied interests overseas.”
Clapper also said that the economic sanctions and condemnations from the U.N. may be a factor in whether Iran would want to absorb the cost of going forward with an attack on U.S. soil.
While Israel has two intelligence agencies and one national police force, one of the challenges for the United States is coordinating the efforts against a single target across 16 intelligence agencies and 18,000 police departments. Coordination on terrorism issues is run through the National Counter Terrorism Center, (NCTC) a modern X-shaped complex in Northern Virginia where representatives from all agencies are assigned and have access to their databases.
The office of the Director of National Intelligence also has an Iran mission manager whose job it is to coordinate the intelligence community’s efforts on Iran across an array of issues.
“When you have Iranian-backed terrorist groups, but also Iranian intelligence operatives from the elite Quds force, and they are also working with Mexican drug cartels and Thai crime bosses, you have a number of intelligence streams to tap,” said a former intelligence official who asked to remain anonymous because he still consults with government agencies.
Tom Betro, the former Director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) said that as tensions rise, it is likely that Iranian operations in the proxy war being carried out in diverse countries across the globe will increase.
“That’s the fear. The fear is that would be the the type of attack we’d see increasing in frequency and in seriousness as leading up to a conflict,” he said.
And Betro believes that in the event of an Israeli airstrike on Iran, the odds of an attack against the U.S. for its long support of Israel increases.
“Yes, I could see them striking on U.S. soil. They do have a network of surrogate groups. They have provided material support, assuming that support is already in place. I think they know, psychologically, the impact that an attack on U.S. soil would have on our country and on our leadership.”
Betro, who led NCIS operations in the investigation of al Qaida’s attack on the USS Cole in Yemen and investigations into terrorist plots against naval bases overseas, was part of an intelligence community task force that targeted Iraq’s intelligence services. Betro says Iran, because its intelligence operations are larger and use more outside groups to carry out operations, will be a hard target to collect against.
“Quite frankly we – we don’t have as much intelligence about their networks as we would’ve had against the Iraqis,” Betro said. “I would say that the urgency, because of that type of warfare, that unconventional warfare, which I think everyone would agree is clearly part of Iran’s kind of battle plan … it’s much more important to aggressively disrupt those activities.”
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