CIA Prepping for Possible Cyber Strike Against Russia

Russian interference in U.S. Presidential election
Russian interference in U.S. Presidential election

The Obama administration is contemplating an unprecedented cyber covert action against Russia in retaliation for alleged Russian interference in the American presidential election, U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News.

Current and former officials with direct knowledge of the situation say the CIA has been asked to deliver options to the White House for a wide-ranging “clandestine” cyber operation designed to harass and “embarrass” the Kremlin leadership.

CIA Headquarters
CIA Headquarters

The sources did not elaborate on the exact measures the CIA was considering, but said the agency had already begun opening cyber doors, selecting targets and making other preparations for an operation. Former intelligence officers told NBC News that the agency had gathered reams of documents that could expose unsavory tactics by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Vice President Joe Biden
Vice President Joe Biden

Vice President Joe Biden told “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd on Friday that “we’re sending a message” to Putin and that “it will be at the time of our choosing, and under the circumstances that will have the greatest impact.”

When asked if the American public will know a message was sent, the vice president replied, “Hope not.”

Retired Admiral James Stavridis
Retired Admiral James Stavridis
Retired Admiral James Stavridis told NBC News’ Cynthia McFadden that the U.S. should attack Russia’s ability to censor its internal internet traffic and expose the financial dealings of Putin and his associates.

“It’s well known that there’s great deal of offshore money moved outside of Russia from oligarchs,” he said. “It would be very embarrassing if that was revealed, and that would be a proportional response to what we’ve seen” in Russia’s alleged hacks and leaks targeting U.S. public opinion.

Sean Kanuck
Sean Kanuck

Sean Kanuck, who was until this spring the senior U.S. intelligence official responsible for analyzing Russian cyber capabilities, said not mounting a response would carry a cost.

“If you publicly accuse someone,” he said, “and don’t follow it up with a responsive action, that may weaken the credible threat of your response capability.”

President Obama will ultimately have to decide whether he will authorize a CIA operation. Officials told NBC News that for now there are divisions at the top of the administration about whether to proceed.

Two former CIA officers who worked on Russia told NBC News that there is a long history of the White House asking the CIA to come up with options for covert action against Russia, including cyber options — only to abandon the idea.

“We’ve always hesitated to use a lot of stuff we’ve had, but that’s a political decision,” one former officer said. “If someone has decided, `We’ve had enough of the Russians,’ there is a lot we can do. Step one is to remind them that two can play at this game and we have a lot of stuff. Step two, if you are looking to mess with their networks, we can do that, but then the issue becomes, they can do worse things to us in other places.”

A second former officer, who helped run intelligence operations against Russia, said he was asked several times in recent years to work on covert action plans, but “none of the options were particularly good, nor did we think that any of them would be particularly effective,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin

Putin is almost beyond embarrassing, he said, and anything the U.S. can do against, for example, Russian bank accounts, the Russian can do in response.

“Do you want to have Barack Obama bouncing checks?” he asked.

Former CIA deputy director Michael Morell expressed skepticism that the U.S. would go so far as to attack Russian networks.

“Physical attacks on networks is not something the U.S. wants to do because we don’t want to set a precedent for other countries to do it as well, including against us,” he said. “My own view is that our response shouldn’t be covert — it should overt, for everybody to see.”

The Obama administration is debating just that question, officials say — whether to respond to Russia via cyber means, or with traditional measures such as sanctions.

The CIA’s cyber operation is being prepared by a team within the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence, documents indicate. According to officials, the team has a staff of hundreds and a budget in the hundreds of millions, they say.

The covert action plan is designed to protect the U.S. election system and insure that Russian hackers can’t interfere with the November vote, officials say. Another goal is to send a message to Russia that it has crossed a line, officials say.

While the National Security Agency is the center for American digital spying, the CIA is the lead agency for covert action and has its own cyber capabilities. It sometimes brings in the NSA and the Pentagon to help, officials say.

Retired Gen. Mike Hayden
Retired Gen. Mike Hayden

, who ran the CIA after leading the NSA, wrote this year: “We even had our own cyber force, the Information Operations Center (IOC), that former CIA director George Tenet launched and which had grown steadily under the next spy chief, Porter Goss, and me. The CIA didn’t try to replicate or try to compete with NSA… the IOC was a lot like Marine Corps aviation while NSA was an awful lot like America’s Air Force.”

“I would quote a Russian proverb,” said Adm. Stavridis, “which is, ‘Probe with bayonets. When you hit mush, proceed. When you hit steel withdraw.’ I think unless we stand up to this kind of cyber attack from Russia, we’ll only see more and more of it in the future.”

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Holder Feeling Heat From House Democrats Over Use Of FBI National Security Letters For Domestic Spying

A pair of House Democrats is adding a bipartisan flavor to months of GOP-led protestations over the way President Barack Obama’s Department of Justice circumvents the spirit of Constitutional protections against warrantless searches and seizures.

Congressmen Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) and David Cicilline (R.I.), both Democrats, sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder this week

Rep Jerrold Nadler
Rep Jerrold Nadler
Rep David Cicilline
Rep David Cicilline

demanding the DOJ explain its rationale for relying on the FBI’s secret National Security Letters, which allow Federal law enforcement to compel banks and Internet providers to give up private customer information — without their knowledge or consent.

National Security Letters are among the Patriot Act’s many freedom-choking legacies. The DOJ welcomes the FBI’s interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act to include the FBI’s use of National Security Letters to collect wire-based data, as the two Congressmen point out, on a “case-by-case basis.”

Here’s the full text of the letter:

Dear Attorney General:

Over the past several months, the media has focused on Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act.  Section 215 permits the government to obtain “any tangible thing” if there are “reasonable grounds to believe” the information sought is “relevant” to an investigation “to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a United States person or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.”

Under this authority, the National Security Agency collects records on virtually every phone call made in the United States.  We understand that the Federal Bureau of Investigation may also use Section 215 to collect telephone records on a case-by-case basis.  Section 215, of course, requires the government to obtain the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court before it may demand these records from a communications service provider.

On February 4, 2014, at a full committee hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, we questioned Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole about a different investigative tool—National Security Letters, or “NSLs.”

NSLs permit the FBI to obtain, among other things, telephone records, email subscriber information, and financial transaction records that are “relevant to an authorized investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.”2 NSLs are issued by senior FBI officials.  No judicial finding is necessary.

The Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies noted that “foreign intelligence investigations are especially likely to implicate highly sensitive and personal information and to have potentially severe consequences for the individuals under investigation.”3 The Review Group was “unable to identify a principled reason why NSLs should be issued by FBI officials when section 215 orders . . . must be issued by the FISC,”4 and therefore recommended that “all statutes authorizing the use of National Security Letters should be amended to require the use of the same oversight, minimization, retention, and dissemination standards that currently govern the use of section 215 orders.”

As we consider reforms to the government’s surveillance capabilities, it would be helpful to understand more about the interplay between Section 215 and NSLs.  To that end, we ask the following questions:

·    Presumably, anything that the government can obtain through an NSL it can also obtain through a Section 215 order from the FISA court.  Given the overlap with Section 215, why are NSLs necessary?

·    In what instances would the FBI choose to use an NSL instead of Section 215?  In what instances would the FBI choose to use Section 215 instead of an NSL?

·    In 2009, the Department of Justice reported that the FBI had made 21 applications for business records to the FISA court.  In 2010, the number of requests jumped to 205.  In a 2011 letter to Senator Patrick Leahy, FBI Director Robert Mueller explained that “over the last two years, the FBI has increasingly had to rely on business records orders to obtain electronic communications transactions records that historically were obtained with NSLs.”6 Why did the FBI shift from NSLs to Section 215? Does it still rely on Section 215 for these purposes?  Does the FBI’s dependence on one authority or the other shift over time?

Although the government periodically reports certain aggregate numbers to the House Judiciary Committee, we require a side-by-side comparison of (1) the FBI’s use of NSLs, (2) the FBI’s use of Section 215, and (3) the NSA’s use of Section 215, which often generates leads for the FBI.
We therefore request that you provide, for all fiscal years from 2006 to the latest available reporting period, the following information:

·    The number of NSLs issued by the FBI, the statutory authority for each such NSL, and the number of U.S. persons targeted by such NSLs;

·    The number of times that the FBI has requested a Section 215 order from the FISA court, the number of such orders modified and granted, and the number of U.S. persons targeted by such orders;

·    The number of “RAS-approved” selectors used by the NSA to query telephone metadata; the number of searches conducted with those selectors; and the number of times these queries generated a tip to the FBI.

We ask that you provide this information as soon possible, but no later than March 7, 2014.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. If you have any questions, please contact John Doty from Congressman Nadler’s Office at 202.225.5635 or William Walsh from Congressman Cicilline’s Office at 202.225.4911.

Sincerely,

Jerrold Nadler   Member of Congress

David Cicilline     Member of Congress

Even the NSA must go through at least a pantomime of the judicial process, via the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), to obtain legal authorization to spy on everyone. But, as The Hill’s Julian Hattem notes, the FBI can rely on National Security Letters without any judicial review whatsoever.

While it’s obvious that this election season has plenty of Democratic Congressmen pretending to act like outraged Republicans in order to save their seats, Nadler and Cicilline have at least — perhaps unwittingly — made a bipartisan matter out of something the Obama Administration has preferred, so far, to treat as a fringe issue that draws complaint only from “right-wing” Constitutionalists.

American Surveillance State Foretold

“The National Security Agency’s capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. If a dictator ever took over, the N.S.A could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back.

That dramatic warning came not from an individual who is typically held up as a symbol of anti-government paranoia. Rather, it was issued by one of the most admired and influential politicians among American liberals in the last several decades:

Senator Frank Church
Senator Frank Church

Frank Church of Idaho, the 4-term U.S. Senator who served from 1957 to 1981. He was, among other things, one of the Senate’s earliest opponents of the Vietnam War, a former Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the Chairman of the Committee (bearing his name) that in the mid-1970s investigated the widespread surveillance abuses committed under every President since FDR (that was the investigation that led to the enactment of FISA, the criminal law prohibiting the Executive Branch from intercepting the communications of American citizens without first obtaining a warrant from a court: the law which the Bush administration got caught violating and which, in response, was gutted by the Democratic-led Congress in 2008, with the support of then-Senator Obama; the abuses uncovered by the Church Committee also led to the enactment of further criminal prohibitions on the cooperation by America’s telecoms in any such illegal government spying, prohibitions that were waived away when the same 2008 Congress retroactively immunized America’s telecom giants from having done so).

At the time of the Church Committee, it was the FBI that conducted most domestic surveillance. Since its inception, the NSA was strictly barred from spying on American citizens or on American soil. That prohibition was centrally ingrained in the mindset of the agency. Church issued that above-quoted warning out of fear that, one day, the NSA’s massive, unparalleled surveillance capabilities would be directed inward, at the American people. Until the Church Committee’s investigation, most Americans, including its highest elected officials, knew almost nothing about the NSA (it was referred to as No Such Agency by its employees).

As James Bamford wrote about Church’s reaction to his own findings about the NSA’s capabilities, “he came away stunned.”

At the time, Church also said:

“I don’t want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”

Of course, that bridge has long ago been crossed, without even much NSA seal 1discussion, let alone controversy. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, George W. Bush ordered the NSA to spy on the communications of Americans on American soil, and they’ve been doing it ever since, with increasing aggression and fewer and fewer constraints.

That development is but one arm in the creation of an American Surveillance State that is, literally, ubiquitous — one that makes it close to impossible for American citizens to communicate or act without detection from the U.S. Government — a state of affairs Americans have long been taught since childhood is a hallmark of tyranny. Such are the that those who now echo the warnings issued 38 years ago by Sen. Church (when surveillance was much more restrained, both legally and technologically) are scorned by all serious people as radical hysterics.

The domestic NSA-led Surveillance State which Frank Church so stridently warned about has obviously come to fruition.The Surveillance State

Americans Are The Most Spied On People In History

On August 17, 1975, Sen. Frank Church appeared on “Meet the Press” to discuss his investigations into the surveillance capabilities of America’s intelligence agencies.

Sen. Frank Church
Sen. Frank Church

We have a particular obligation to examine the NSA, in light of its tremendous potential for abuse . . . The danger lies in the ability of the NSA to turn its awesome technology against domestic communications…

That capacity at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left; such [is] the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter.

There would be no place to hide. If government ever became a tyranny, if a Dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back, because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capability of this technology.

Since the day when Senator Church spoke the words quoted above, there has been a dramatic change in the way Americans and for that matter the world communicates. Thousands of miles of fiber optic cables rest on the sea bottom around the world allowing transmissions of voice, email, graphics and music to travel at the speed of light. Additionally the pervasive use of cell phones has changed the way that the intelligence community has risen to meet the challenges.

Today there is very little that is known about peoples of the world that is not lying in massive global databases under the scrutiny of governments. The expansion of technology since 9/11 has grown tremendously and governments are spending billions annually to spy on their own people.

Julia Angwin
Julia Angwin

In a radio interview, Wall Street Journal reporter Julia Angwin made a simple observation that the US surveillance regime has more data on the average American than the Stasi ever did on East Germans.Indeed, the American government has more information on the average American than Stalin had on Russians, Hitler had on German citizens, or any other government has ever had on its people.The American government is collecting and storing virtually every phone call, purchases, email, text message, internet searches, social media communications, health information, employment history, travel and student records, and virtually all other information of every American.Some also claim that the government is also using facial recognition software and surveillance cameras to track where everyone is going.

Moreover, cell towers track where your phone is at any moment, and the major cell carriers, including Verizon and AT&T, responded to at least 1.3 million law enforcement requests for cell phone locations and other data in 2011. And – given that your smart phone routinely sends your location information back to Apple or Google – it would be child’s play for the government to track your location that way.

William Binney
William Binney

As the top spy chief at the U.S. National Security Agency explained, the American government is collecting some 100 billion 1,000-character emails per day, and 20 trillion communications of all types per year.

He says that the government has collected all of the communications of congressional leaders, generals and everyone else in the U.S. for the last 10 years.

He further explains that he set up the NSA’s system so that all of the information would automatically be encrypted, so that the government had to obtain a search warrant based upon probably cause before a particular suspect’s communications could be decrypted. But the NSA now collects all data in an unencrypted form, so that no probable cause is needed to view any citizen’s information.

He says that if anyone gets on the government’s “enemies list”, then the stored information will be used to target them. Specifically, he notes that if the government decides it doesn’t like someone, it analyzes all of the data it has collected on that person and his or her associates over the last 10 years to build a case against him.

TechDirt points out:

While the Stasi likely wanted more info and would have loved to have been able to tap into a digitally connected world like we have today, that just wasn’t possible.

Big Brother is Watching, Listening, Reading, Inspecting...That’s true. The tyrants in Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia and Stasi Eastern Europe would have liked to easedrop on every communication and every transaction of every citizen.

But in the world before the internet, smart phones, electronic medical records and digital credit card transactions, much of what happened behind closed doors remained private.

In modern America, a much higher percentage of your communications and transactions are being recorded and stored by the government.

“I don’t want to see this country ever go across the bridge,” Senator Church said. “I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”

Americans Under Surveillance – The Government Is Collecting Your Emails…All Of Them

NSA A National Security Administration whistle-blower said in a recent interview that the U.S. government collects massive troves of data about American citizens, which it could use against anyone it chooses.

William Binney, one of the best mathematicians and code breakers in the history of the National Security Agency, said that the Federal government uses a powerful data collection tool to store the contents of virtually every email sent by anyone in the Nation.

William Binney
William Binney

He said:

“[T]he FBI has access to the data collected, which is basically the e-mails of virtually everybody in the country. And the FBI has access to it. All the congressional members are on the surveillance too, no one is excluded. They are all included. So, yes, this can happen to anyone. If they become a target for whatever reason — they are targeted by the government, the government can go in, or the FBI, or other agencies of the government, they can go into their database, pull all that data collected on them over the years, and we analyze it all. So, we have to actively analyze everything they’ve done for the last 10 years at least.”

Binney said the government is collecting the information in bulk without any regard to whether the individuals whose information is being stored is subject to criminal investigation at this time or is considered a threat to national security. According to the former NSA agent, the data is collected with a powerful information technology device called Naris which is capable of collecting all information being sent over fiber optic cables in the United States. The information is then stored in vast data collection centers where it can be searched later by Federal agents.

This sort of vast data snooping by the Federal government was first brought to light when it was discovered that the NSA was working with AT&T to monitor customer phone and Internet activity via a secret office at the company’s headquarters.

Binney says government surveillance of data over fiber optic networks has increased since the first lawsuit was filed against AT&T for allowing Fed snoops to mine its data networks. He claims that under the Administration of Barack Obama the government has even had to build larger facilities to store all of the data it is collecting from Americans’ inboxes.

NSA Data Center Utah
NSA Data Center Utah

“They are doing more. He is supporting the building of the Buffdale facility, which is over two billion dollars they are spending on storage room for data. That means that they are collecting a lot more now and need more storage for it,” he said. “That facility by my calculations that I submitted to the court for the electronic frontiers foundation against NSA would hold on the order of 5 zettabytes of data. Just that current storage capacity is being advertised on the web that you can buy. And that’s not talking about what they have in the near future.”