Tag Archives: secrecy

Biometrics Run Amok: Your Heartbeat ID, please

Before pulling the trigger, a sniper planning to assassinate an enemy operative must be sure the right person is in the cross-hairs. Western forces commonly use software that compares a suspect’s facial features or gait with those recorded in libraries of biometric data compiled by police and intelligence agencies. Such technology can, however, be foiled by a disguise, head-covering or even an affected limp. For this reason America’s Special Operations Command (SOC), which oversees the units responsible for such operations in the various arms of America’s forces, has long wanted extra ways to confirm a potential target’s identity. Responding to a request from soc, the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office (CTTSO), an agency of the defence department, has now developed a new tool for the job.

This system, dubbed Jetson, is able to measure, from up to 200 metres away, the minute vibrations induced in clothing by someone’s heartbeat. Since hearts differ in both shape and contraction pattern, the details of heartbeats differ, too. The effect of this on the fabric of garments produces what Ideal Innovations, a firm involved in the Jetson project, calls a “heartprint”—a pattern reckoned sufficiently distinctive to confirm someone’s identity.

To measure heartprints remotely Jetson employs gadgets called laser vibrometers. These work by detecting minute variations in a laser beam that has been reflected off an object of interest. They have been used for decades to study things like bridges, aircraft bodies, warship cannons and wind turbines—searching for otherwise-invisible cracks, air pockets and other dangerous defects in materials. However, only in the past five years or so has laser vibrometry become good enough to distinguish the vibrations induced in fabric by heartprints….

Candice Tresch, a spokeswoman for the cttso…. cannot discuss the process by which heartprint libraries might be built up in the first place. One starting point, presumably, would be to catalogue the heartbeats of detainees in the way that fingerprints and dna samples are now taken routinely.

Excerpts from Personal identificationPeople can now be identified at a distance by their heartbeat, Economist, Jan 23, 2020

Assassinations and Top Secret Chemicals: the case of Novichok Nerve Agent

In 2018, one of the Novichok nerve agents was used in an attempt to assassinate a former Russian spy on U.K. soil—spurring the United States and allies to lift the veil of secrecy and mount a drive to outlaw the obscure class of nerve agents, concocted in a Soviet weapons lab during the height of the Cold War. Now, their effort to amend the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) is about to pay off.

On 9 October, the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the body that administers the treaty, reviewed a revised proposal from Russia that would bring Novichoks under the treaty’s verification regime, along with a class of potential weapons known as carbamates. If the Russian proposal and a similar one from the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands are approved at a treaty review meeting in December 2019.

The newfound glasnost on Novichoks, also known as fourth-generation nerve agents, should spur research on their mechanism of action and on countermeasures and treatments.   Chemical weapons experts had been whispering about Novichoks for decades.   Treaty nations have long resisted adding Novichoks to the CWC’s so-called Schedule 1 list of chemical weapons, which compels signatories to declare and destroy any stockpiles. “People were worried about a Pandora’s box,” fearing such a listing would force them to regulate ingredients of the weapons, Koblentz says. That could hamper the chemical industry and might clue in enemies on how to cook them up. (Who has the agents now is anyone’s guess.) Indeed, the U.S. government for years classified the Novichok agents as top secret. “There was a desire among Western countries to keep the information as limited as possible to avoid proliferation issues,” Koblentz says.

The 2018 assassination attempt against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, U.K., thrust the Novichok agents into the spotlight. The botched attack gravely sickened Skripal, his daughter Yulia, two police officers who investigated the crime scene, and a couple—Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess—who a few months later happened on a perfume bottle containing the agent. After long hospitalizations, the Skripals, the officers, and Rowley recovered; Sturgess died. The United Kingdom charged two Russian men, reportedly military intelligence officers, as the alleged assailants, and obtained a European warrant for their arrest; they remain at large in Russia.

Excerpts from Richard Stone, Obscure Cold War nerve agents set to be banned, Science, Oct. 25, 2019

Data Security: Real Fear

On its website, ProfitBricks touts what it calls “100 percent German data protection,” underneath the black, red, and gold colors of the German flag. “Having a German cloud helps tremendously,” says Markus Schaffrin, an IT security expert at Eco, a lobbying group for Internet companies. “Germany has some of the most stringent data-protection laws, and cloud-service providers with domestic data centers are of course highlighting that.”

The companies known as the Mittelstand—the small and midsize enterprises that form the backbone of the German economy—are rapidly embracing the idea of the networked factory. Yet they remain wary of entrusting intellectual property to a cloud controlled by global technology behemoths and possibly subject to government snooping. “Small and medium enterprises are afraid that those monsters we sometimes call Internet companies will suck out the brain of innovation,” says Joe Kaeser, chief executive officer of Siemens, which in March began offering cloud services using a network managed by German software powerhouse SAP.

In a case being closely watched in Germany, the U.S. Department of Justice has demanded that Microsoft hand over e-mails stored on a data server in Ireland. The software maker argues that the U.S. has no jurisdiction there; the U.S. government says it does, because Microsoft is an American company. …

U.S. companies aren’t ceding the market. Microsoft will offer its Azure public cloud infrastructure in German data centers, with T-Systems acting as a trustee of customer data. The companies say the arrangement will keep information away from non-German authorities. And IBM in December opened a research and sales hub for Watson, its cloud-based cognitive computing platform, in Munich—a move intended to reassure Mittelstand buyers about the security of their data. “If a customer wants data never to leave Bavaria, then it won’t,” says Harriet Green, IBM’s general manager for Watson. “I’m being invited in by many, many customers in Germany, because fear about security is very, very real.”

Excerpts from Building a National Fortress in the Cloud, Bloomberg, May 19, 2016

Surveillance State: US

Were it not for Edward Snowden or someone like him, the N.S.A. would likely still be collecting the records of almost every phone call made in the United States, and no one outside of government would know it. A handful of civil-liberties-minded representatives and senators might drop hints in hearings and ask more pointed questions in classified settings. Members of the public would continue making phone calls, unaware that they were contributing to a massive government database that was supposedly intended to make their lives safer but had not prevented a single terrorist attack. And, on Monday June 1, 2015  the government’s Section 215 powers, used to acquire records from hundred of billions of phone calls, among other “tangible things,” would be quietly renewed.

Snowden shouldn’t have been necessary. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (or FISA Court), which evaluates Section 215 requests, is supposed to be interpreting the law to make sure that government surveillance doesn’t go outside of it. Congressional intelligence committees, which review the activities of the N.S.A., are supposed to be providing some oversight. The N.S.A. itself reports to the Department of Defense, which reports to the White House, all of which have dozens of lawyers, who are all supposed to apply the law. The government, in other words, is supposed to be watching itself…

The government enshrouds the details of its surveillance programs in a technical vocabulary (“reasonable articulable suspicion,” “seeds,” “queries,” “identifiers”) that renders them too dull and opaque for substantive discussion by civilians. …Little is known about how other authorities, including Executive Order 12333, which some consider the intelligence community’s most essential charter, are being interpreted to permit spying on Americans. And a redacted report, released last week by the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General, hints at how much we still don’t know about Section 215. Nearly two years into the congressional debate over the use and legality of Section 215, the report provides the first official confirmation that the “tangible things” obtained by the F.B.I. through Section 215 include not just phone metadata but “email transactional records” and two full lines of other uses, all of which the F.B.I. saw fit to redact.

Excerpts from MATTATHIAS SCHWARTZ, Who Needs Edward Snowden?,  New Yorker, MAY 28, 2015

Israel Nuclear Ambiguity Benefits U.S.

Defense officials are fighting a three-year-old request under the Freedom of Information Act to release a 1987 report supposedly discussing Israel’s nuclear technology.  Grant Smith of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy  filed the request in 2012 and raised the issue in court after he said the request “went nowhere” for several years. He has been a critic of many U.S. policies related to Israel and of what he believes to be the inordinate influence of Israel in the American government.

In a seldom-used legal move known as optional review, Pentagon officials have asked the Israeli government to review the report before they consider releasing it.  Smith said the Defense Department has denied being able to locate the report, claimed it contained sensitive Israeli government information and cited FOIA exemptions, non-disclosure agreements and patents to intellectual property rights in its efforts to block the release of the report.

The unclassified report in question, titled “Critical Technology Issues in Israel and NATO Countries,” has surfaced in media stories and nonprofit research but has never been released to the public, according to court documents filed by Smith.  Smith’s legal complaint mentioned a 1995 publication called the Risk Report, which supposedly cited findings from the Pentagon document without referencing it by name.  The Risk Report claimed “the United States approved the sale of powerful computers that could boost Israel’s well-known but officially secret A-Bomb and missile programs” and identified the report only as “a 1987 Pentagon-sponsored study.”

Smith called the Department of Defense’s decision to seek Israeli approval a “cover-up” in the response he filed with the court Jan. 7.  “There is pressing urgency to release this report in the current context of regional nuclear negotiations which can only have a productive outcome if Americans and other concerned parties are more fully informed of the true state of affairs,” his response said.

Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, called the likely existence of Israeli nuclear weapons an “open secret” in the international community….Israel… has never disclosed its alleged arsenal, nor has the U.S. ever formally acknowledged its existence….

“Making sure that the Israelis have the ambiguity they need on nuclear issues actually boosts our nonproliferation diplomacy by preventing tensions in the region and backlashes from Israel’s neighbors,” said the official, who requested anonymity.

U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan issued an order Jan. 8, 2015 requiring Defense officials to say whether they planned to invoke a non-disclosure provision that would allow them to keep the report secret at Israel’s request by Feb. 12. If not, Chutkan will begin the process of privately reviewing the report herself.  Defense officials said they expect the Israeli government to complete its review of the report by Jan. 16, 2015

BY SARAH WESTWOOD , Legal battle to publish unclassified DOD report on Israeli nukes nears end, Jan. 8, 2015

Destroy Emails: CIA

A CIA plan to erase tens of thousands of its internal emails — including those sent by virtually all covert and counterterrorism officers after they leave the agency — is drawing fire from Senate Intelligence Committee members concerned that it would wipe out key records of some of the agency’s most controversial operations.  The agency proposal, which has been tentatively approved by the National Archives, “could allow for the destruction of crucial documentary evidence regarding the CIA’s activities,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein and ranking minority member Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., wrote in a letter to Margaret Hawkins,  (pdf) the director of records and management services at the archives.

But agency officials quickly shot back, calling the committee’s concerns grossly overblown and ill informed. They insist their proposal is completely in keeping with — and in some cases goes beyond — the email retention policies of other government agencies. “What we’ve proposed is a totally normal process,” one agency official told Yahoo News.

The source of the controversy may be that the CIA, given its secret mission and rich history of clandestine operations, is not a normal agency. And its proposal to destroy internal emails comes amid mounting tensions between the CIA and its Senate oversight panel, stoked by continued bickering over an upcoming committee report — relying heavily on years-old internal CIA emails — that is sharply critical of the agency’s use of waterboarding and other aggressive interrogation techniques against al-Qaida suspects in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks.

In this case, however, Chambliss — a conservative Republican who has sided with the CIA on the interrogation issue — joined with Feinstein in questioning the agency’s proposed new email policy, which would allow for the destruction of email messages sent by all but a relatively small number of senior agency officials.  “In our experience, email messages are essential to finding CIA records that may not exist in other so-called permanent records,” the two senators wrote in their letter, a copy of which was also sent this week to CIA Director John Brennan and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. …

Under the new proposal, only the emails of 22 senior agency officials would be permanently retained; all others, including all covert officers except the director of the National Clandestine Service, could be deleted three years after the employees leave the CIA “or when no longer needed, whichever is sooner,” according to a copy of the agency’s plan….

But the plan has sparked criticism from watchdog groups and historians who note the agency’s track record of destroying potentially embarrassing material: In 2007, it was disclosed that agency officials had destroyed hundreds of hours of videotapes documenting the waterboarding of two high-value detainees. The disclosure prompted a criminal investigation by the Justice Department as well as a separate National Archives probe into whether the agency had violated the Federal Records Act. Neither inquiry led to any federal charges.

The CIA has a history of destroying records “that are embarrassing” and “disclose mistakes” or “reflect poorly on the conduct of the CIA,” said Tim Weiner, the author of “Legacy of Ashes, a history of the CIA,” in comments filed with the National Archives by Open the Government, a watchdog group that is seeking to block the CIA proposal. He noted that during the Iran-Contra Affair, for example, those involved “fed so many records into the shredder that they jammed the shredder.” “It cannot be left to the CIA to determine what is a record of historical significance,” Weiner said.

Excerpts from Michael Isikoff,The CIA wants to destroy thousands of internal emails covering spy operations and other activities, Yahoo News, Nov. 20, 2014

Covert Ops Inside the United States

The federal government has significantly expanded undercover operations in recent years, with officers from at least 40 agencies posing as business people, welfare recipients, political protesters and even doctors or ministers to ferret out wrongdoing, records and interviews show.  At the Supreme Court, small teams of undercover officers dress as students at large demonstrations outside the courthouse and join the protests to look for suspicious activity, according to officials familiar with the practice.

At the Internal Revenue Service, dozens of undercover agents chase suspected tax evaders worldwide, by posing as tax preparers, accountants drug dealers or yacht buyers and more, court records show.  At the Agriculture Department, more than 100 undercover agents pose as food stamp recipients at thousands of neighborhood stores to spot suspicious vendors and fraud, officials said…But outside public view, changes in policies and tactics over the last decade have resulted in undercover teams run by agencies in virtually every corner of the federal government, according to officials, former agents and documents….

“Done right, undercover work can be a very effective law enforcement method, but it carries serious risks and should only be undertaken with proper training, supervision and oversight,” said Michael German, a former F.B.I. undercover agent who is a fellow at New York University’s law school. “Ultimately it is government deceitfulness and participation in criminal activity, which is only justifiable when it is used to resolve the most serious crimes.”…

the Drug Enforcement Administration stoked controversy after disclosures that an undercover agent had created a fake Facebook page from the photos of a young woman in Watertown, N.Y. — without her knowledge — to lure drug suspects.  And in what became a major political scandal for the Obama administration, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed guns to slip into Mexico in 2011 in an operation known as Fast and Furious that involved undercover operations.  In response to that episode, the Justice Department issued new guidelines to prosecutors: …Before prosecutors approve such tactics, the previously undisclosed guidelines require that they consider whether an operation identifies a “clearly defined” objective, whether it is truly necessary, whether it targets “significant criminal actors or entities,” and other factors, the officials said.

Those guidelines apply only to the law enforcement agencies overseen by the Justice Department. Within the Treasury Department, undercover agents at the I.R.S., for example, appear to have far more latitude than do those at many other agencies. I.R.S. rules say that, with prior approval, “an undercover employee or cooperating private individual may pose as an attorney, physician, clergyman or member of the news media.”…

Oversight, though, can be minimal…Detailed reviews of the money spent by IRS in some of its undercover operations took as long as four and a half years to complete, according to a 2012 review by the Treasury Department’s inspector general.  Across the federal government, undercover work has become common enough that undercover agents sometimes find themselves investigating a supposed criminal who turns out to be someone from a different agency, law enforcement officials said. In a few situations, agents have even drawn their weapons on each other before realizing that both worked for the federal government…

It is impossible to tell how effective the government’s operations are or evaluate whether the benefits outweigh the costs, since little information about them is publicly disclosed. Most federal agencies declined to discuss the number of undercover agents they employed or the types of investigations they handled. The numbers are considered confidential and are not listed in public budget documents, and even Justice Department officials say they are uncertain how many agents work undercover….

At the Supreme Court, all of the court’s more than 150 police officers are trained in undercover tactics, according to a federal law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity because it involved internal security measures. At large protests over issues like abortion, small teams of undercover officers mill about — usually behind the crowd — to look for potential disturbances.The agents, often youthful looking, will typically “dress down” and wear backpacks to blend inconspicuously into the crowd, the official said…. The use of undercover officers is seen as a more effective way of monitoring large crowds.

A Supreme Court spokesman, citing a policy of not discussing security practices, declined to talk about the use of undercover officers. Mr. German, the former F.B.I. undercover agent, said he was troubled to learn that the Supreme Court routinely used undercover officers to pose as demonstrators and monitor large protests.  “There is a danger to democracy,” he said, “in having police infiltrate protests when there isn’t a reasonable basis to suspect criminality

Excerpt from ERIC LICHTBLAU and WILLIAM M. ARKINNOV,  More Federal Agencies Are Using Undercover Operations, NY Times, Nov 15, 2014

Secrecy at the International Atomic Energy Agency

The IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency], which is charged with both promoting the peaceful use of nuclear power and controlling fuel that could be used in weapons, is holding its quadrennial safeguards meeting behind closed doors for the first time in at least 12 years this week in Vienna. The agency also decided to withdraw information about nuclear projects that have led to proliferation risks.

The IAEA restricted access to the symposium [Linking, Implementation, Safety, Nuclear, Safeguards, Atomic Energy, Technology, Science, Energy, Chemistry, Physics] held between October 20 and October 24, 2014, so participants aren’t “inhibited,” spokeswoman Gill Tudor said in an e-mail while noting that the opening and closing ceremonies will be public. Information about technical cooperation, which has been progressively restricted since 2012, will be made available again in the “coming weeks,” IAEA public-information director Serge Gas said in an e-mail….

To be sure, some IAEA members such as Iran would like to see the agency impose even greater controls over information. President Hassan Rouhani’s government asked the IAEA in a Sept. 19 open letter to investigate leaks of confidential data that it said could violate the interim agreement it signed with world powers last year.

Iran’s stance shows the agency is guilty of a double failure, according to Tariq Rauf, a former IAEA official who is now a director at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. While the public is increasingly excluded from the scientific debate that shapes policy decisions, “the agency routinely allows secret information about nuclear programs to be given to select Western countries, which then leak it out,” he said.… The U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a 2011 report it’s wary about IAEA help to Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria.  Past IAEA technical assistance probably wound up helping Pakistan discover and mine the uranium that went into its nuclear weapons. In Syria, the agency developed a uranium-ore production facility that later drew scrutiny after the Middle East country allegedly built a secret reactor…

Scientists at this week’s meeting will explain how they can use rooftop sensors to sniff out the gases given off during plutonium production, according to the meeting agenda. Others will look at new ways to analyze satellite imagery, more sensitive methods for measuring traces of radioactivity and the difficulties in keeping track of nuclear material at places like Japan’s $20 billion plutonium-separation facility in Rokkasho. 

Excerpts from Jonathan Tirone. Nuclear Secrecy Feeds Concerns of Rogues Getting Weapons, Bloomberg, Oct 22, 2014n

Nuclear Waste Politics, Secrecy – Canada

Ontario Power Generation is proposing to build a massive underground nuclear waste site at the Bruce nuclear power plant near Kincardine, Ontario (Canada) near lake Huron,a plan that has drawn opposition from environmentalists, aboriginal groups and legislators in Michigan.  At issue were numerous meetings of the “community consultation” advisory group, comprising the mayors who sit on county council and representatives of the Nuclear Waste Management Organization and Ontario Power Generation, that began in 2005.

The citizen groups alleged the discussions were kept secret because the politicians feared damaging their electoral fortunes and pointed to informal notes from one meeting in February 2010 that showed a mayor fretting about “a negative backlash at the polls.”The probe by Amberley Gavel — a company based in London, Ont., that helps municipalities with closed-meeting procedure investigations — concluded the public never knew about any of the meetings.

It also found the discussions had a marked influence on the mayors’ decisions regarding the radioactive waste project despite their contention the meetings were simply information sessions at which they passed no motions.  The citizen groups said the province should be reviewing the conduct of Ontario Power Generation.  They also said the county response — to ask staff to provide annual reminders about the law requiring open meetings — was “appallingly weak.”  Council members have “thus far show defiance with no hint of remorse,” the statement said.

Save our Saugeen Shores and the Southampton Residents Association  called on Ontario’s ombudsman to review the circumstances that led to a report critical of Bruce County council for meeting nuclear waste representatives without telling anyone or documenting the discussions.  “This was a major error of provincewide importance in light of the evidence of an 8.5-year egregious disregard of the law and the public’s right to open and transparent government,” Rod McLeod, the group’s lawyer, said in a statement.

Colin Perkel,  Nuclear waste opponents call for penalties against ‘secret meetings’, The Canadian Press, Sept. 18, 2014

The FBI as a Paramilitary Force

With the war in Afghanistan ending, FBI officials have become more willing to discuss a little-known alliance between the bureau and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) that allowed agents to participate in hundreds of raids in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The relationship benefited both sides. JSOC used the FBI’s expertise in exploiting digital media and other materials to locate insurgents and detect plots, including any against the United States. The bureau’s agents, in turn, could preserve evidence and maintain a chain of custody should any suspect be transferred to the United States for trial.

The FBI’s presence on the far edge of military operations was not universally embraced, according to current and former officials familiar with the bureau’s role. As agents found themselves in firefights, some in the bureau expressed uneasiness about a domestic law enforcement agency stationing its personnel on battlefields.

FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT)

The team’s mission was largely domestic, although it did participate in select operations to arrest fugitives overseas, known in FBI slang as a “habeas grab.” In 1987, for instance, along with the CIA, agents lured a man suspected in an airline hijacking to a yacht off the coast of Lebanon and arrested him.  In 1989, a large HRT flew to St. Croix, Virgin Islands, to reestablish order after Hurricane Hugo. That same year, at the military’s request, it briefly deployed to Panama before the U.S. invasion…

After Sept. 11, the bureau took on a more aggressive posture.

In early 2003, two senior FBI counterterrorism officials traveled to Afghanistan to meet with the Joint Special Operations Command’s deputy commander at Bagram air base. The commander wanted agents with experience hunting fugitives and HRT training so they could easily integrate with JSOC forces…Then-Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal gradually pushed the agency to help the military collect evidence and conduct interviews during raids…In 2005, all of the HRT members in Iraq began to work under JSOC. At one point, up to 12 agents were operating in the country, nearly a tenth of the unit’s shooters..But the FBI’s alliance with JSOC continued to deepen. HRT members didn’t have to get approval to go on raids, and FBI agents saw combat night after night in the hunt for targets…

FBI-JSOC operations continue in other parts of the world. When Navy SEALs raided a yacht in the Gulf of Aden that Somali pirates had hijacked in 2011, an HRT agent followed behind them. After a brief shootout, the SEALs managed to take control of the yacht.  Two years later, in October 2013, an FBI agent with the HRT was with the SEALs when they stormed a beachfront compound in Somalia in pursuit of a suspect in the Nairobi mall attack that had killed dozens.  That same weekend, U.S. commandos sneaked into Tripoli, Libya, and apprehended a suspected al-Qaeda terrorist named Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai as he returned home in his car after morning prayers. He was whisked to a Navy ship in the Mediterranean and eventually to New York City for prosecution in federal court.  Word quickly leaked that Delta Force had conducted the operation. But the six Delta operators had help. Two FBI agents were part of the team that morning on the streets of Tripoli.

Adam Goldman and Julie Tate, Inside the FBI’s secret relationship with the military’s special operations, The Washington Post, Apr. 10, 2014

Who is Cryptome?

Cryptome unfamiliar to the general public, is well-known in circles where intelligence tactics, government secrets and whistle-blowing are primary concerns. Since its creation in 1996, Cryptome has amassed more than 70,000 files — including lists of secret agents, high-resolution photos of nuclear power plants, and much more.

Its co-founder and webmaster, a feisty 77-year-old architect, doesn’t hesitate when asked why.  “I’m a fierce opponent of government secrets of all kinds,” says John Young. “The scale is tipped so far the other way that I’m willing to stick my neck out and say there should be none.”  Young describes several exchanges with federal agents over postings related to espionage and potential security breaches, though no charges have ever been filed. And he notes that corporate complaints of alleged copyright violations and efforts to shut Cryptome down have gone nowhere.

For Young, there’s a more persistent annoyance than these: the inevitable comparisons of Cryptome to WikiLeaks, the more famous online secret-sharing organization launched by Julian Assange and others in 2006.  Young briefly collaborated with WikiLeaks’ creators but says he was dropped from their network after questioning plans for multimillion-dollar fundraising. Cryptome operates on a minimal budget — less than $2,000 a year, according to Young, who also shuns WikiLeaks-style publicity campaigns.  “We like the scholarly approach — slow, almost boring,” says Young. He likens Cryptome to a “dusty, dimly lit library.”  That’s not quite the image that Reader’s Digest evoked in 2005, in an article titled “Let’s Shut Them Down.” Author Michael Crowley assailed Cryptome as an “invitation to terrorists,” notably because of its postings on potential security vulnerabilities.Cryptome’s admirers also don’t fully buy into Young’s minimalist self-description….

Young considers himself a freedom-of-information militant, saying he is unbothered by “the stigma of seeming to go too far.” Claims that Cryptome aids terrorists or endangers intelligence agents are “hokum,” he said. “We couldn’t possibly publish information to aid terrorists that they couldn’t get on their own,” he said, depicting his postings about security gaps as civic-minded.  “If you know a weakness, expose it, don’t hide it,” he said…

As a motto of sorts, the Cryptome home page offers a quote from psychiatrist Carl Jung: “The maintenance of secrets acts like a psychic poison which alienates the possessor from the community.”  The website says Cryptome welcomes classified and confidential documents from governments worldwide, “in particular material on freedom of expression, privacy, cryptology, dual-use technologies, national security, intelligence, and secret governance.”  Young attributes Cryptome’s longevity and stature to its legion of contributors, most of them anonymous, who provide a steady stream of material to post.  Among the most frequently downloaded of Cryptome’s recent postings were high-resolution photos of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan after it was badly damaged in the March 2011 tsunami/earthquake disaster.

Cryptome also was a pivotal outlet last year for amorous emails between national security expert Brett McGurk and Wall Street Journal reporter Gina Chon, which led McGurk to withdraw as the Obama administration’s nominee to be ambassador to Iraq.  Other documents on the site list names of people purported to be CIA sources, officers of Britain’s MI6 spy agency, and spies with Japan’s Public Security Investigation Agency….

Another exchange with the FBI came in November 2003, according to Young, when two agents paid him a visit to discuss recent Cryptome postings intended to expose national security gaps. The postings included maps and photos of rail tunnels and gas lines leading toward New York’s Madison Square Garden, where the Republican National Convention was to be held the next year….Another confrontation occurred in 2010, when Cryptome posted Microsoft’s confidential Global Criminal Compliance Handbook, outlining its policies for conducting online surveillance on behalf of law enforcement agencies. Contending that the posting was a copyright violation, Microsoft asked that Cryptome be shut down by its host, Network Solutions. Criticism of Microsoft followed, from advocates of online free speech, and the complaint was withdrawn within a few days….

Moreover, Young urges Cryptome’s patrons to be skeptical of anything placed on the site, given that the motives of the contributors may not be known.  “Cryptome, aspiring to be a free public library, accepts that libraries are chock full of contaminated material, hoaxes, forgeries, propaganda,” Young has written on the site. “Astute readers, seeking relief from manufactured and branded information, will pick and choose…”

Excerpts from DAVID CRARY, Older, Quieter Than WikiLeaks, Cryptome Perseveres, Associated Press, Mar. 9, 2013

Three Activists and their Twitter Accounts

A federal appeals court ruled Friday (Jan. 25, 2012)  that prosecutors can demand Twitter account information of certain users in their criminal probe into the disclosure of classified documents on WikiLeaks.  The three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also said the government’s reasons as to why it is seeking the information can remain sealed.

The case involves three Twitter account holders with some connection to the secret-busting WikiLeaks website. They had argued that forcing Twitter to cooperate with the investigation by turning over data amounts to an invasion of privacy and has a chilling effect on the free speech rights of Twitter users.

The federal panel in Richmond rejected their appeal and affirmed a magistrate’s court order that Twitter must turn over limited account information to prosecutors. The court said it weighed the right of public access against the need to keep an investigation secret. The appeals court agreed with the magistrate that the government’s interest in keeping the documents secret outweigh the right to public access.

Prosecutors have said federal law specifically allows them to seek account information as a routine investigative tool. Specifically, the Stored Communications Act allows them to obtain certain electronic data without a search warrant or a demonstration of probable cause. The government must only show that it has a reasonable belief that the records it seeks are relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation.  “This is essentially a reasonable suspicion standard,” the court wrote.  Under the Stored Communications Act, the government can also keep sealed documents related to their investigation from the subscribers. The appeals panel concluded the subscribers had no First Amendment right to access the documents. Prosecutors submitted their rationale for seeking the Twitter information to U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa Carroll Buchanan but it was kept secret and sealed also.

The court wrote that the “government’s interests in maintaining secrecy of its investigation, preventing potential subjects from being tipped off, or altering behavior to thwart the government’s ongoing investigation, outweighed” the subscribers’ claims.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, representing the Twitter users, said the government can use those IP addresses as a sort of virtual tracking device to identify a specific computer used by an account holder and with it the user’s physical location.

The appeals panel also allows the government to keep secret any similar orders it sought from other social media sites.

“This case shows just how easy it is for the government to obtain information about what people are doing on the Internet, and it highlights the need for our electronic privacy laws to catch up with technology,” said ACLU attorney Aden Fine. “The government should not be able to get private information like this without getting a warrant and also satisfying the standard required by the First Amendment, and it shouldn’t be able to do so in secret except in unusual circumstances”

The original order issued in December 2010 at prosecutors’ request also sought Twitter account information from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Pfc. Bradley Manning, who faces life in prison if he’s convicted of indirectly aiding the enemy by leaking U.S. secrets while working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad in 2009 and 2010.  Neither Assange nor Manning was a party in the lawsuit challenging the legality of the Twitter order.

WikiLeaks Case: U.S. Appeals Court Rules On Investigation, Huffington Post, Jan. 25, 2013