NSA team spies, hacks to gather intelligence on targets, report says
National Security Agency headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland.
December 31st, 2013
07:58 AM ET

NSA team spies, hacks to gather intelligence on targets, report says

By Dugald McConnell and Brian Todd

A top-secret National Security Agency team uses spyware and hacking to gather intelligence on targets, according to a new report based on internal agency documents.

According to Der Spiegel, a German magazine that published some of the documents, the unit's interception techniques are worthy of James Bond: intercepting a computer being shipped to a target and installing spyware before it is delivered; supplying an altered monitor cable that transmits everything on a computer's screen to the NSA; or planting a USB plug with a secret radio transmitter.

The unit, called Tailored Access Operations, also uses hacking in addition to spy craft. The most basic method involves phishing, sending an e-mail that lures a target into clicking on it and unknowingly downloading NSA spyware. More sophisticated techniques include identifying exploitable computer vulnerabilities by eavesdropping on a target's error messages; tracking a target's cookies to shadow their Internet use; and even surreptitiously diverting a target's web surfing to phony replica web pages of commonly used sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook.

Agents could use such fake sites both to see what a target is typing and to try to insert spyware on the target's computer, according to cybersecurity expert Michael Sutton at ZScaler, a California-based information technology security company.

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NSA gets win in court over bulk data collection
December 27th, 2013
12:15 PM ET

NSA gets win in court over bulk data collection

By Evan Perez

The National Security Agency notched a much-needed win in court, after a series of setbacks over the legality and even the usefulness of its massive data collection program.

A federal judge in New York ruled Friday that the National Security Agency's bulk collection of data on nearly every phone call made in the United States is legal.

The ruling contrasts with another ruling last week by a federal judge in Washington, who called the same program "almost Orwellian" and likely unconstitutional.

In his ruling Friday, U.S. District Judge William Pauley said that while the NSA's program under Section 215 of the Patriot Act has become the center of controversy since it was revealed by leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, it is legal.

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Israel decries U.S. snooping; presses for spy's release
December 23rd, 2013
01:53 PM ET

Israel decries U.S. snooping; presses for spy's release

CNN Justice Reporter Evan Perez

Israeli officials are protesting revelations of National Security Agency snooping on their leaders, while also taking the opportunity to press for the United States to release an Israeli spy.

Jonathan Pollard, a former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst who spied for Israel in the 1980s, is serving a life sentence for espionage; Israel has acknowledged he was an intelligence asset and has pushed for years to have him released.

The NSA allegations surfaced in the New York Times last week based on a leak from former agency contractor Edward Snowden.

After a few days of silence, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a political party gathering Monday that he had asked the United States to explain the reports, adding that spying among close allies is unacceptable.

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Filed under: Israel • NSA
Judge: NSA domestic phone data-mining unconstitutional
December 16th, 2013
02:44 PM ET

Judge: NSA domestic phone data-mining unconstitutional

CNN's Bill Mears and Evan Perez

A federal judge said Monday that he believes the government's once-secret collection of domestic phone records is unconstitutional, setting up likely appeals and further challenges to the data mining revealed by classified leaker Edward Snowden.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said the National Security Agency's bulk collection of metadata - phone records of the time and numbers called without any disclosure of content - apparently violates privacy rights.

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Tech companies seek limits on government surveillance
December 9th, 2013
07:21 AM ET

Tech companies seek limits on government surveillance

By Evan Perez

Some U.S. technology giants are asking the Obama administration and Congress to rein in government surveillance.

Facebook, Apple, Twitter, Google and Microsoft are among the companies signing an open letter arguing that surveillance has gone too far. The companies say they're improving encryption and fighting to limit surveillance requests, but they're also asking for new legal changes to limit surveillance.

This comes after recent revelations from documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. His leaks have lifted the veil on the agency's vast surveillance databases, many of which are part of programs with intelligence agencies in other countries. The aim, the NSA and other agencies say, is to prevent terrorism and protect security.
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Filed under: Edward Snowden • NSA
Supreme Court allows NSA telephone surveillance to continue
November 18th, 2013
10:22 AM ET

Supreme Court allows NSA telephone surveillance to continue

By Bill Mears

The U.S. Supreme Court will allow the National Security Agency's surveillance of domestic telephone communication records to continue for now.

The justices without comment Monday rejected an appeal from a privacy rights group, which claimed a secret federal court improperly authorized the government to collect the electronic records.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed its petition directly with the high court, bypassing the usual step of going to the lower federal courts first. Such a move made it much harder for the justices to intervene at this stage, but EPIC officials argued "exceptional ramifications" demanded immediate final judicial review. There was no immediate reaction to the court's order from the public interest group, or from the Justice Department.

Published reports earlier this year indicated the NSA received secret court approval to collect vast amounts of so-called metadata from telecom giant Verizon and leading Internet companies, including Microsoft, Apple, Google, Yahoo and Facebook. The information includes the numbers and location of nearly every phone call to and from the United States in the past five years, but not actual monitoring of the conversations themselves. To do so would require a separate, specifically targeted search warrant.
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November 3rd, 2013
10:20 PM ET

Report: NSA, GCHQ among worst surveillance offenders, Snowden says

By Chelsea J. Carter and Susanna Capelouto, CNN

Leaked classified documents show the U.S. National Security Agency and its British counterpart are among the "worst offenders" of mass surveillance without oversight, according to an open letter purportedly written by Edward Snowden and published Sunday by the German magazine Der Spiegel.

The publication of the letter, titled "A Manifesto for the Truth," comes as leaks by the former NSA contract analyst have roiled U.S.-European relations amid allegations that the NSA and the UK's Government Communications Headquarters monitored the communication data of some world leaders.

"The world has learned a lot in a short amount of time about irresponsibly operated security agencies and, at times, criminal surveillance programs. Sometimes the agencies try to avoid controls," Snowden wrote, according to the news magazine.

"While the NSA and GCHQ (the British national security agency) appear to be the worst offenders - at least according to the documents that are currently public - we cannot forget that mass surveillance is a global problem and needs a global solution."

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November 3rd, 2013
02:33 PM ET

McCaul: TSA, law enforcement need better coordination

By CNN's Joe Sterling and Jason Seher

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul said Sunday that Transportation Security Administration officers at the nation's airports need to work better with local law enforcement to help prevent incidents like Friday's shooting at Los Angeles International Airport.

"The coordination with the local police is key because, remember, TSA officers are not armed," the Texas Republican told CNN's Candy Crowley on "State of the Union."

In the wake of the shooting at LAX's Terminal 3 – where a gunman, identified by police as 23-year-old Paul Ciancia, killed a TSA officer and wounded three other people – McCaul said he had already referred his suggestions to TSA Administrator John Pistole.

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November 2nd, 2013
07:24 PM ET

Supporter paints picture of Snowden’s life in Moscow

By CNN’s Greg Clary

National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden has now been in Moscow for more than five months while Russia considers whether to grant his request for permanent asylum. But his day-to-day activities remain largely a mystery.

One person who knows more than most about Snowden’s situation is Jesselyn Radack, who met with him recently in Moscow.

Radack is a member of the whistleblower-support organization, Government Accountability Project, and a former ethics adviser to the Justice Department. She became a whistleblower herself after raising concerns about the interrogation of “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh.

Radack says security is still paramount for Snowden—she and the other visitors weren’t told the location of their meeting because of security concerns.

“It appeared to be a hotel, somewhere, but I don't know Moscow, so I didn't recognize where we were really,” Radack said.

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Filed under: Edward Snowden • NSA • Russia
Kerry defends U.S. surveillance program, but admits it goes too far at times
November 1st, 2013
02:17 AM ET

Kerry defends U.S. surveillance program, but admits it goes too far at times

Secretary of State John Kerry defended U.S. surveillance programs as he took part in a London conference by video Thursday, but acknowledged, "yes, in some cases, it has reached too far inappropriately".

Kerry, who was in Washington, addressed the Open Government Partnership annual summit meeting.

During a discussion of the surveillance programs, Kerry talked about the spying accusations that have roiled world leaders.
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