Category: Surveillance

GCHQ and me

Duncan Cambell in The Intercept:

In my 40 years of reporting on mass surveillance, I have been raided three times; jailed once; had television programs I made or assisted making banned from airing under government pressure five times; seen tapes seized; faced being shoved out of a helicopter; had my phone tapped for at least a decade; and — with this arrest — been lined up to face up to 30 years imprisonment for alleged violations of secrecy laws. And why do I keep going? Because from the beginning, my investigations revealed a once-unimaginable scope of governmental surveillance, collusion, and concealment by the British and U.S. governments — practices that were always as much about domestic spying during times of peace as they were about keeping citizens safe from supposed foreign enemies, thus giving the British government the potential power to become, as our source that night had put it, a virtual “police state.”

Good to remember some of Edward Snowden’s predecessors.

Ex-MI6 chief calls for new compact between internet firms and spy agencies

The Guardian:

The former head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, has called for a new surveillance compact between internet companies and the security services in the UK and US in the wake of the Snowden revelations.

In his first speech since standing down as “C” at the end of last year, Sawers said the two could work together as they had in the past to prevent a repeat of events such as the Charlie Hebdo attack, the always present threats from militant Islamists in places such as Yemen, and the advance of Boko Haram in Nigeria.

In other parts of the speech, he aligned himself with Pope Francis in calling for restraint in offending the religious sensitivities of others after the Paris attack. He also, surprisingly, distanced MI6 from the CIA over what he called “lethal” operations.

Sawers, who is going into the private sector after decades in the Foreign Office and latterly at MI6, said the Snowden revelations in 2013 had shattered the previous informal relationship between tech companies and the surveillance agencies.

The compact should be between the security services and the public, not some private companies.  We need to debate what is required and we need to establish mechanisms to stop misuse of this astonishing power.

Top Google exec mistakenly suggests Chrome’s incognito mode can foil the NSA

The Daily Dot:

Between foreign hackers and the National Security Agency (NSA), how is an innocent Internet user supposed to browse the web free of government surveillance?

Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, has an answer: Use incognito mode in Chrome.

Except that’s wrong—completely, absolutely wrong. The casual and ill-informed suggestion, delivered from the highest levels of the company responsible for Chrome, is dangerous to anyone looking for real security advice.

Incognito mode does not protect users from surveillance. Schmidt’s statement was so blatantly incorrect that a member of the Google Chrome security team—i.e., one of Schmidt’s own employees—could only respond with a very exasperated facepalm.

Curious that he would make such a mistake – maybe he just doesn’t understand how a key Google product actually works.  It doesn’t give me great confidence he has any grasp of the current debate on surveillance.  But then he is the man who told us (via EFF) “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

The first congressman to battle the NSA is dead. No-one noticed, no-one cares


Last month, former Congressman Otis Pike died, and no one seemed to notice or care. That’s scary, because Pike led the House’s most intensive and threatening hearings into US intelligence community abuses, far more radical and revealing than the better-known Church Committee’s Senate hearings that took place at the same time. That Pike could die today in total obscurity, during the peak of the Snowden NSA scandal, is, as they say, a “teachable moment” —one probably not lost on today’s already spineless political class.


How whistleblowers are barred from defending themselves in court

From Pando Daily:

As President Obama publicly dithers about whether to grant whistleblower Edward Snowden clemency, the political class that Snowden’s disclosures so humiliated has coalesced around a single talking point:

We believe he should come back, he should be sent back, and he should have his day in court. – White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice

He ought to stand on his own two feet. He ought to make his case… Come home, make the case that somehow there was a higher purpose here. – U.S. Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.)

What Snowden ought to do is come back and stand trial and face the consequences. And he’ll have his ample opportunity to say why he did what he did and all of that. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY)

There’s just one problem: As the Government Accountability Project’s Jesselyn Radack notes in a new Wall Street Journal op-ed, whistleblowers like Snowden are barred from making their case in court when they stand trial for violations of the Espionage Act.

One takeaway from this is that – shocker! – the Washington establishment promoting the “let him make his case in court” is deliberately deceiving the public. Indeed, in its effort to defend the Obama administration and the national security state, that establishment is making a political opportunity out of the fact that most Americans don’t know the Espionage Act limits defendants’ rights.

Select committee’s requests to cross-examine head of MI5 rejected

The Guardian:

The prime minister said it should be left to the home secretary to give evidence to the MPs on their concerns about counter-terrorism and the Guardian’s disclosures of mass digital surveillance by GCHQ and the US national security agency.

The decision prompted a furious reaction from Vaz, who said: “The prime minister has suggested that the home secretary should come before us to answer our questions and Theresa May is suggesting that it is a matter for the Intelligence and Security Committee. We cannot play pass the parcel on the issue of accountability on these important issues.

“Ministers should take care not to dictate to parliamentary committees which witnesses can be called and for what reasons. Witnesses, no matter how senior, should not be afraid of answering questions from MPs. As a result of this correspondence, our session with the home secretary next Monday will be longer and more detailed than we originally anticipated, and she needs to prepare to come before the committee more often.”

I’m sure that Theresa May, the Home Secretary,  will be able to justify the head of MI5’s claims that the Guardian has endangered national security by publishing leaks from the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

MPs ask MI5 boss to justify claim that NSA leaks endangered national security

The Guardian:

A committee of MPs challenged the existing system of oversight for the security services by asking the head of MI5 to justify his claims that the Guardian has endangered national security by publishing leaks from the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

In an unprecedented step, Keith Vaz, the chairman of the home affairs select committee, announced that spy chief Andrew Parker had been summoned to give evidence in public to the Commons committee next week.

Labour committee member David Winnick also pointedly ridiculed the ISC referring to the way in which Britain’s three main spy chiefs had been given prior notice of the questions in its first public evidence session last month. Some committee members want Parker to reveal how much MI6 and MI5 had told the ISC about its mass programme of surveillance, so in effect testing the value of the ISC as a constitutional check on the security services.

It should be an interesting appearance.

Threat from NSA leaks may have been overstated by UK

The Guardian:

Lord Falconer: “I am aware that the three heads of the agencies said what has been published has set back the fight against terrorism for years. Sir John Sawers [the chief of MI6] said al-Qaida would be rubbing their hands with glee. This is in the context of maybe 850,000 people literally having access to this material.

Let’s round it down and say three quarters of a million people had access to these “secrets” and the exposure is the worst leak for a generation.   Either they aren’t real secret or maybe fewer people should know about them.

In questioning the oversight of the surveillance state, the article also referred to The Sunday Times which quoted a Tory MP describing the joint appearance by Sawers, the GCHQ director, Sir Iain Lobban, and the MI5 director general, Andrew Parker, as a “total pantomime” after it emerged that they were told of questions in advance as part of a secret deal with the committee.

Police colluded in secret plan to blacklist 3,200 building workers

The Guardian:

Police officers across the country supplied information on workers to a blacklist operation run by Britain’s biggest construction companies, the police watchdog has told lawyers representing victims.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission has informed those affected that a Scotland Yard inquiry into police collusion has identified that it is “likely that all special branches were involved in providing information” that kept certain individuals out of work.

The IPCC’s disclosure confirms suspicions voiced by the information commissioner’s office last year that the police had been involved in providing some of the information held on the files, as revealed by this newspaper.

The admission has been welcomed by campaigners for the 3,200 workers whose names were on the blacklist that was run for construction companies as “absolute evidence” of a conspiracy between the state and industry that lasted for decades.

Remember, this wasn’t Snowden-era computer surveillance, just good old fashioned policing.  How did that oversight fail?