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MSNBC’s Maddow Receives Forged NSA Document Alleging Trump/Russia Collusion

In Archive, NSA, Russia, Trump on July 7, 2017 at 1:04 PM

07/06/2017

On Thursday MSNBC host Rachel Maddow reported that her show was sent what she believes is a forged National Security Agency document alleging collusion between a member of the Trump campaign and Russian government.

“Somebody, for some reason, appears to be shopping a fairly convincing fake NSA document that purports to directly implicate somebody from the Trump campaign in working with the Russians in their attack in the election,” Maddow said.

On June 7, an unidentified person sent the document to “Send it to Rachel!“, an online tip line for Maddow’s show.

That was two days after The Intercept published legitimate NSA documents leaked by Reality Winner, a contractor for the agency.

The documents Maddow received appeared legitimate at first glance, she said, but several clues suggested that they were forgeries.

Typos and spacing issues raised eyebrows, but it was secret markings on the documents as well as their contents that convinced Maddow and her staff that the records were fakes.

Maddow said that the document sent to her show appeared to have used The Intercept’s as a template. Printer tracking dots on The Intercept’s files appeared on the document passed to Maddow.

The Maddow document also appears to show remnants from the crease clearly visible on the original copy, created when Reality Winner folded it after printing.

Maddow said that metadata from the documents sent to her show preceded the publication of the documents published in The Intercept. She suggested that it was possible that whoever sent her the forgeries had access to The Intercept documents. But she also theorized that whoever sent her the fake documents could have changed the metadata.

But Maddow said that that “the big red flag” for her and her team was that the document she was given named an American citizen, a specific person from the Trump campaign, who allegedly cooperated with the Russians during the presidential campaign.

“We believe that a U.S. citizen’s name would not appear in a document like this … An American citizen’s name would not have snuck through, not at this level of an NSA report,” asserted Maddow, who said that her team consulted national security experts on the matter.

“It is a forgery … let me caveat that. It is either a forgery, or every single national security official we consulted about this story is wrong about it,” she said.

Maddow went on to point out two recent retractions, one at CNN and the other at Vice News, suggesting that they were the result of a similar scheme to undermine news outlets covering the Trump/Russia conspiracy theory.

It comes as no surprise that MSNBC is running with this narrative. But the opposite could be just as plausible. An anti-Trump democrat trying to get Maddow to report the forged document as fact, since there has been no real evidence thus far to support the Trump/Russia collusion story.

Maddow did not provide details about who sent her team the faked NSA documents, but she concluded her segment saying, “We don’t know who’s doing it, but we’re working on it.”

***

07/07/2017

via Glenn Greenwald:

If you look at the time-stamp on the metadata on the document which the Intercept published, it reads “June 5, 12:17:15 pm” — exactly the same time and date, to the second, as the one on the document received by Maddow:

That’s because time-stamp on the documents published by the Intercept designate the creation date included in the PDF we publish on DocumentCloud: in this case, that occurred just over three hours prior to publication of our article. Both versions – the one we published and the one Maddow received – reflect the same time to the second: literally the exact moment when we created and uploaded the document.

***

via BuzzFeed’s Chris McDaniel:

***

UPDATE 07/12/2017

via TheIntercept:

Glenn Greenwald spoke to the person who claimed to have forged the document Rachel Maddow spent 20 minutes talking about on her primetime MSNBC show last Thursday. The alleged forger also said they sent the document to BuzzFeed News, which confirmed it to The Intercept. Maddow told Greenwald she would not comment, but the person claiming to have done the forgery said there was one small difference between the versions he sent to Maddow and BuzzFeed — one that only the forger would know. That difference was confirmed to The Intercept by BuzzFeed.

“All I did was white out your text. Put in my own and some black bars then ran it through the Photoshop ‘photocopy’ filter. Took me a whole 10 mins,” the alleged forger wrote. “I did it because I want to make sure the media is held accountable to check their sources before they post rather” than “run with anonymous sources only to backtrack months later.”

***

And some additional Twitter beef:

Contractor Reality Winner Arrested for Leaking NSA Docs Assessing Russian Attempts to Hack US Voting Systems (w/ Updates)

In Archive, NSA, Reality Winner, Russia on June 5, 2017 at 9:48 PM

PAGE 1: THE LEAK
PAGE 2: THE SOURCE
PAGE 3: REALITY WINNER
PAGE 4: THE ARREST

06/05/2017

THE LEAK

TheIntercept:

Russian military intelligence executed a cyberattack on at least one U.S. voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials just days before last November’s presidential election, according to a highly classified intelligence report obtained by The Intercept.

The top-secret National Security Agency document, which was provided anonymously to The Intercept and independently authenticated, analyzes intelligence very recently acquired by the agency about a months-long Russian intelligence cyber effort against elements of the U.S. election and voting infrastructure. The report, dated May 5, 2017, is the most detailed U.S. government account of Russian interference in the election that has yet come to light.

While the document provides a rare window into the NSA’s understanding of the mechanics of Russian hacking, it does not show the underlying “raw” intelligence on which the analysis is based. A U.S. intelligence officer who declined to be identified cautioned against drawing too big a conclusion from the document because a single analysis is not necessarily definitive.

The report indicates that Russian hacking may have penetrated further into U.S. voting systems than was previously understood. It states unequivocally in its summary statement that it was Russian military intelligence, specifically the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, that conducted the cyber attacks described in the document:

The NSA analysis does not draw conclusions about whether the interference had any effect on the election’s outcome and concedes that much remains unknown about the extent of the hackers’ accomplishments. However, the report raises the possibility that Russian hacking may have breached at least some elements of the voting system, with disconcertingly uncertain results.

The NSA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence were both contacted for this article. Officials requested that we not publish or report on the top secret document and declined to comment on it. When informed that we intended to go ahead with this story, the NSA requested a number of redactions. The Intercept agreed to some of the redaction requests after determining that the disclosure of that material was not clearly in the public interest.

More…

Click to Enlarge

CONTINUE READING: THE SOURCE

 

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WikiLeaks NSA Docs: Surveillance of France Presidents & Economic Espionage; Investigation Underway for New Whistleblower

In Archive, Assange, France, NSA, NSA Files, Surveillance, WikiLeaks on June 30, 2015 at 3:17 AM

wikielaks-nsa-spying-france-presidents

06/23/2015

WikiLeaks:

Today, 23 June 2015, WikiLeaks began publishing “Espionnage Élysée“, a collection of TOP SECRET intelligence reports and technical documents from the US National Security Agency (NSA) concerning targeting and signals intelligence intercepts of the communications of high-level officials from successive French governments over the last ten years.

The top secret documents derive from directly targeted NSA surveillance of the communications of French Presidents Francois Hollande (2012–present), Nicolas Sarkozy (2007–2012), and Jacques Chirac (1995–2007), as well as French cabinet ministers and the French Ambassador to the United States. (Related: Snowden Document Reveals NSA Programs Used to Spy on France Embassies in US)

The documents also contain the “selectors” from the target list, detailing the cell phone numbers of numerous officials in the Elysee up to and including the direct cell phone of the President.

Prominent within the top secret cache of documents are intelligence summaries of conversations between French government officials concerning some of the most pressing issues facing France and the international community, including the global financial crisis, the Greek debt crisis, the leadership and future of the European Union, the relationship between the Hollande administration and the German government of Angela Merkel, French efforts to determine the make-up of the executive staff of the United Nations, French involvement in the conflict in Palestine and a dispute between the French and US governments over US spying on France.

A founding member state of the European Union and one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, France is formally a close ally of the United States, and plays a key role in a number of US-associated international institutions, including the Group of 7 (G7), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The revelation of the extent of US spying against French leaders and diplomats echoes a previous disclosure in the German press concerning US spying on the communications of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other German officials. That disclosure provoked a political scandal in Germany, eventuating in an official inquiry into German intelligence co-operation with the United States, which is still ongoing.

While the German disclosures focused on the isolated fact that senior officials were targeted by US intelligence, WikiLeaks’ publication today provides much greater insight into US spying on its allies, including the actual content of intelligence products deriving from the intercepts, showing how the US spies on the phone calls of French leaders and ministers for political, economic and diplomatic intelligence.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said: “The French people have a right to know that their elected government is subject to hostile surveillance from a supposed ally. We are proud of our work with leading French publishers Liberation and Mediapart to bring this story to light. French readers can expect more timely and important revelations in the near future.”

Documents Released 06/23/2015:

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06/24/2015

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06/24/2015

RT (1) (2):

French President Francois Hollande has described reports from WikiLeaks that Washington spied on three French presidents as “unacceptable.” The French Foreign Ministry is summoning the US ambassador to shed light on the allegations.

Hollande released the statement following an emergency meeting with key heads of intelligence and ministers at the Elysee Palace in the French capital.

“France will not tolerate actions that threaten its security and the protection of its interests,” the president’s office said, adding that allegations of spying on French interests had been made in the past.

“Commitments were made by the US authorities. They need to be recalled and strictly respected,” Reuters reported.

A French government spokesman said Paris will send a senior intelligence official to the US to discuss the spying reports.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has also summoned the US ambassador to France, Jane Hartley, to explain reports from WikiLeaks.

Before the hastily scheduled conference, Stephane Le Foll, a politician with the Socialist Party, lashed out at Washington.

“It is difficult to accept that between allies… there can be this kind of activity, particularly related to wiretapping linked to the president of the Republic,” Le Foll told iTele.

“When we are fighting terrorism, one has trouble imagining or understanding what would motivate an ally to spy on his allies,” he added. “There are enough dangerous crises in the world today.”

US President Barack Obama has assured his French counterpart Francois Hollande that Washington was not tapping his communications, the White House says.

In the phone call, Obama“reiterated that we have abided by the commitment we made to our French counterparts in late 2013 that we are not targeting and will not target the communications of the French president,” the White House said in a statement.

Nothing was said about the period beween 2006 and 2012, wwhich was mentioned by Wikileaks, though.

The statement released by Hollande’s office after the conversation, said in turn that “President Obama reiterated unequivocally his firm commitment … to end the practices that may have happened in the past and that are considered unacceptable among allies.”

Despite the surveillance scandal, the statement then said that French intelligence officials will soon go to Washington to “strengthen cooperation.”

US media cited a statement from the NSA saying it was not targeting and would not target Hollande’s communications. The statement did not deny spying had taken place in the past.

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06/24/2015

Mark Hosenball/Reuters:

U.S. and European security authorities are investigating whether a previously unknown leaker provided sensitive intelligence documents to WikiLeaks about alleged U.S. spying on French politicians, according to sources familiar with the matter.

U.S. and European security sources said the United States and allied governments were actively considering the possibility that someone other than former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided the latest documents to WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange.

Two people familiar with documentation which Snowden acquired when he worked as an NSA contractor and later supplied to media outlets said that they do not recall seeing these kind of reports among those materials.

But some sources familiar with the investigations said it was still possible that these documents originated with Snowden.

The U.S. and European sources cautioned that they did not know for sure that Assange had developed a source other than Snowden inside U.S. intelligence. Assange has been in contact with associates of Snowden and helped arrange for him to flee from Hong Kong to Russia, where he was later granted asylum.

But until now, Assange, who three years ago took refuge in Ecuador’s Embassy in London, has published few if any documents directly attributed to either Snowden’s leaks or to the NSA.

Associates of Snowden have said that they believe he deliberately avoided giving sensitive U.S. documents to Assange.

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wikileaks-nsa-france-economic-espionage

06/29/2015

WikiLeaks:

Today, 29 June 2015, WikiLeaks continues “Espionnage Élysée”, our ongoing publication of a collection of TOP SECRET documents from United States surveillance operations against France.

Today’s publication comprises seven top secret documents detailing how the US has had a decade- long policy of economic espionage against France, including the interception of all French corporate contracts and negotiations valued at more than $200 million. The documents demonstrate that the US National Security Agency, far from being a rogue organisation, is carrying out an economic espionage policy created by the US Director of National Intelligence. The documents detail the intelligence process, from the tasking of the NSA with collection of desired economic information to the production of developed intelligence reports, which are sent to “Supported Elements” of the US government, including the US Department of Commerce, the US Trade Represenative, the US Treasury and the Central Intelligence Agency.

Central within the cache of documents are two long-term spying orders (“collection requirements”) which define the kinds of intelligence the NSA is tasked with collecting in its surveillance operations against France.

The documents make clear that the NSA has been tasked with obtaining intelligence on all aspects of the French economy, from government policy, diplomacy, banking and participation in international bodies to infrastructural development, business practices and trade activities. The documents establish that the US economic intelligence operations against France have run for more than a decade and started as early as 2002.

Some of the documents are authorised for sharing with the “Five Eyes” partners – the group of Anglophone countries in close intelligence co-operation with the United States: Canada, New Zealand, Australia and France’s fellow member state of the European Union, the United Kingdom, strongly suggesting that the United Kingdom has also benefited from the United States’ economic espionage activities against France.

The cache also includes five TOP SECRET intelligence summaries from US spying on the conversations and communications of French officials. The documents show US spying on the French Finance Minister, a French Senator, officials within the Treasury and Economic Policy Directorate, the French ambassador to the United States, and officials with direct responsibility for EU trade policy. The intercepts reveal internal French deliberation and policy on the World Trade Organization, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, the G7 and the G20, the 2013 French budget, the decline of the automotive industry in France, and the involvement of French companies in the Oil for Food programme in Iraq during the 1990s.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said: “The United States has been conducting economic espionage against France for more than a decade. Not only has it spied on the French Finance Minister, it has ordered the interception of every French company contract or negotiation valued at more than $200 million. That covers not only all of France’s major companies, from BNP Paribas, AXA and Credit Agricole to Peugeot and Renault, Total and Orange, but it also affects the major French farming associations. $200 million is roughly 3,000 French jobs. Hundreds of such contracts are signed every year. The United States not only uses the results of this spying itself, but swaps these intercepts with the United Kingdom. Do French citizens deserve to know that their country is being taken to the cleaners by the spies of supposedly allied countries? Mais oui!”

Documents Released 06/29/2015:

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Related Links:

NSA Spying on France: 70.3 Million Phone Calls Intercepted in 30 Days; Average of 3 Million Data Intercepts Per Day

NSA Document: 2012 “Flame” Cyberattack on France Presidential Computer Network; US Denies Involvement, Israel May Be Culprit

Second Circuit Court of Appeals Rules NSA Bulk Collection of American’s Phone Records Unlawful

In ACLU, Archive, Greenwald, NSA, Snowden, Surveillance, USA on May 8, 2015 at 1:46 PM

05/07/2015

Patrick Toomey/Noa Yachot/ACLU:

In a landmark victory for privacy, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled unanimously today that the mass phone-records program exposed two years ago by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is illegal because it goes far beyond what Congress ever intended to permit when it passed Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

The ruling in ACLU v. Clapper is enormously significant, and not only because the program in question — the first to be revealed by Edward Snowden — is at the heart of a legislative reform effort playing out right now, or because it sparked the most significant debate about government surveillance in decades. The decision could also affect many other laws the government has stretched to the breaking point in order to justify dragnet collection of Americans’ sensitive information.

Under the program, revealed in the Guardian on June 5, 2013, telecommunications companies hand over to the NSA, on a daily basis, records relating to the calls of all of their customers. Those records include information about who called whom, when, and for how long. The ACLU sued the NSA over the program just days after it was revealed, and we took the case to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals after it was dismissed by a district court.

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A few points on what makes the decision so important.

1. It recognizes that Section 215 of the Patriot Act does not authorize the government to collect information on such a massive scale. Section 215 allows the government to demand from third parties “any tangible thing” relevant to foreign intelligence or terrorism investigations. “Relevant” is a pretty abstract term, but the government employed a pretty fantastical interpretation to argue that every single call record in America is “relevant” because some of those records might come in handy in a future investigation.

The decision says:

2nd-circuit-nsa-1

2. The decision’s significance extends far beyond the phone records program alone. It implicates other mass spying programs that we have learned about in the past two years and — almost certainly ­— others that the government continues to conceal from the public. For example, we know that the Drug Enforcement Administration, for decades, employed a similar definition of “relevance” to amass logs of every call made from the United States to as many as 116 different countries. The same theory was also used to justify the collection of email metadata. Both those programs have been discontinued, but the legal reasoning hasn’t, and it could very well be the basis for programs the government has never acknowledged to the public, including the CIA’s bulk collection of Americans’ financial records.

The judges wrote:

2nd-circuit-nsa-2

3. Metadata is incredibly sensitive and revealing. The government has long argued that the phone records program doesn’t reveal the contents of calls, and as such, it is not an invasion of privacy. But metadata, especially in aggregate, can be just as revealing as content, painting a detailed picture of a person’s life.  The decision reads:

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4. The importance of adversarial review. The court recognized that public, adversarial litigation concerning the lawfulness of this spying program was vitally important to its decision — and it drew a direct contrast to the secret, one-sided proceedings that occur in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

The FISC operates in near-total secrecy, in which it almost always hears only from the government. It oversees a wide variety of broad surveillance programs without any public participation or input, approving a body of secret law that has no place in a democracy. This decision affirms the role that federal courts — and the public — have in overseeing practices with such sweeping constitutional implications.

5. The congressional reforms under consideration just don’t cut it. Ahead of Section 215’s sunset on June 1, Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is trying to push through a straight reauthorization of the provision, extending its life by another five years. After today’s decision came down, he took to the floor to defend the program — a position altogether at odds with the appeals court decision, with the conclusions of multiple executive-branch review groups who found the program hasn’t been effective in stopping terrorism, and with the clear consensus that supports far-reaching surveillance reform. Another bill in play (which the ACLU neither supports nor opposes), the USA Freedom Act of 2015, doesn’t go nearly far enough, most notably in ensuring that the government cannot engage in broad collection of innocent Americans’ private information.

We hope that today’s ruling prompts Congress to consider and enact legislation that’s more robust than what’s currently on the table. Short of that, we continue to believe that Congress should seize the June 1 expiration date as an opportunity to let Section 215 die.

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A district court judge had previously dismissed a lawsuit filed by the ACLU in June 2013 that said the program violates people’s privacy, less than a week after documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the agency has regularly collected records of phone calls pertaining to millions of Americans. The ACLU appealed that ruling in January 2014 and its suit has been remanded back to the district court upon this week’s decision.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said on Thursday the Department of Justice was reviewing the court decision that revived ACLU’s lawsuit. “We are reviewing that decision,” Lynch said at a Senate budget hearing. She said the collection was a “vital tool in our national security” and that she was not aware of any privacy violations under the revised program.

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The ruling aligns with the lower court decision in a similar lawsuit in Washington, Klayman v. Obama, in which U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon found the NSA program to be likely unconstitutional.

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Dan Froomkin/TheIntercept:

The panel rejected the government’s argument that the ACLU lacked standing because it couldn’t prove that any one person’s records, sitting in a searchable database, had been reviewed by government officials. But whether it’s a machine or a person doing the searching doesn’t matter, Lynch wrote:

[T]he government admits that, when it queries its database, its computers search all of the material stored in the database in order to identify records that match the search term. In doing so, it necessarily searches appellants’ records electronically, even if such a search does not return appellants’ records for close review by a human agent. There is no question that an equivalent manual review of the records, in search of connections to a suspect person or telephone, would confer standing even on the government’s analysis. That the search is conducted by a machine might lessen the intrusion, but does not deprive appellants of standing to object to the collection and review of their data.

This could become an important precedent in a legal review of the NSA’s ability to automatically turn voice into text, which I disclosed on Tuesday, based on more documents from the Snowden archive.

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During an appearance on MSNBC Thursday afternoon, journalist Glenn Greenwald told Alex Wagner he has spoken to Edward Snowden about the ruling and that the exiled whistleblower is “thrilled” with the decision.

“It took Edward Snowden to come forward and he came forward in large part because he heard Director [James] Clapper, the senior U.S. national security official, tell the Senate and the American people falsely that the government was not doing exactly the program that the court today said was illegal,” Greenwald added, saying it was “very gratifying” to hear the decision today.

Later, when Wagner asked if Greenwald believes this ruling will mean the end of James Clapper’s career, he said we now know the director was “lying and hiding a program that was against the law,” adding, “If that doesn’t get you fired by the Obama Administration, let alone prosecuted, what does? If that’s not a firing offense, then nothing is.”

Finally, when Wagner asked Greenwald if he thinks the ruling could lead to Snowden’s return to the U.S., he replied, “It should.”

“How can anybody say that we would be better off if Edward Snowden had just kept quiet and let us remain ignorant of the spying program that a federal court now said is illegal? It’s classic whistleblowing,” Greenwald said. “I think he deserves our national gratitude, not a life in prison.”

05/08/2015


Snowden gave his first public reaction to the ruling at the Nordic Media Festival. He was interviewed on livestream by Tor expert and Forbes contributor Runa Sandvik, who first met Snowden while he was still an NSA contractor when they threw a cryptoparty together in Hawaii.

“This is significant. The importance of it in the U.S. legal community—the policy community–can’t be overstated,” Snowden said, when asked about the ruling. “This decision will not affect only the phone metadata program. It will affect every other mass surveillance program in the U.S. going forward.”

Snowden highlighted the impact that the information he leaked to Glenn Greenwald and other journalists has had on the court’s ability to respond to check  government surveillance. “What’s extraordinary about this is the fact that in 2013 before the leaks, the same issues had been tried to be reviewed by the courts,” Snowden said. “Another NGO called Amnesty International brought the same challenge against the same individual. They threw it out of court because Amnesty could not prove it had been spied upon.”

Snowden explained that Greenwald’s story involved a “secret order from a secret court” authorized to monitor phone calls and collect metadata from U.S. citizens. “Metadata [is] analogous to the kind of information a Private Eye would collect if they were following you around. Not necessarily a record of every word you said in conversation with someone else, because you would notice them, but where you had traveled and who you met with,” Snowden said. “What makes this surveillance so dangerous is that it targeted all Americans, regardless of—and before–any suspicion of criminal activity,” he added.

“This being struck down is really a radical sea change in the level of resistance that the United States government has placed thus far. So far, courts have said basically, it’s not our place or our role to tell the executive branch of the government how to do their job,” Snowden said. “It is extraordinarily encouraging to see the court are beginning to change their thinking to say ‘if Congress will not pass reasonable laws, if the executive will not act as a responsible steward of liberty and rights in how they execute the laws, it falls to the courts to say this has gone too far.’”

Related Links:

Privacy & Civil Liberties Oversight Board Report on NSA Telephone Records Program: Illegal, Ineffective, Should End

UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism & Human Rights Issues Scathing Report on Mass Surveillance

NSA’s SKYNET Behavior Analytics Program IDs Prominent Al Jazeera Journalist as Terrorist

In Archive, NSA, NSA Files, Pakistan, Surveillance, Terrorism on May 8, 2015 at 12:39 PM

nsa-skynet

05/08/2015

Cora Currier/Glenn Greenwald/Andrew Fishman/TheIntercept:

The U.S. government labeled a prominent journalist as a member of Al Qaeda and placed him on a watch list of suspected terrorists, according to a top-secret document that details U.S. intelligence efforts to track Al Qaeda couriers by analyzing metadata.

The briefing singles out Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan, Al Jazeera’s longtime Islamabad bureau chief, as a member of the terrorist group. A Syrian national, Zaidan has focused his reporting throughout his career on the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and has conducted several high-profile interviews with senior Al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden.

A slide dated June 2012 from a National Security Agency PowerPoint presentation provided by Edward Snowden, bears Zaidan’s photo, name, and a terror watch list identification number, and labels him a “member of Al-Qa’ida” as well as the Muslim Brotherhood. It also notes that he “works for Al Jazeera.”

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The document cites Zaidan as an example to demonstrate the powers of SKYNET, a program that analyzes location and communication data (or metadata) from bulk call records in order to detect suspicious patterns.

In the Terminator movies, SKYNET is a self-aware military computer system that launches a nuclear war to exterminate the human race, and then systematically kills the survivors.


According to the presentation, the NSA uses its version of SKYNET to identify people that it believes move like couriers used by Al Qaeda’s senior leadership.

The document poses the question: “Given a handful of courier selectors, can we find others that ‘behave similarly’” by analyzing cell phone metadata? “We are looking for different people using phones in similar ways,” the presentation continues, and measuring “pattern of life, social network, and travel behavior.”

For the experiment, the analysts fed 55 million cell phone records from Pakistan into the system, the document states.

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The results identified someone who is “PROB” — which appears to mean probably — Zaidan as the “highest scoring selector” traveling between Peshawar and Lahore.

The following slide appears to show other top hits, noting that 21 of the top 500 were previously tasked for surveillance, indicating that the program is “on the right track” to finding people of interest. A portion of that list visible on the slide includes individuals supposedly affiliated with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, as well as members of Pakistan’s spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence. But sometimes the descriptions are vague. One selector is identified simply as “Sikh Extremist.”

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It appears, however, that Zaidan had already been identified as an Al Qaeda member before he showed up on SKYNET’s radar. That he was already assigned a watch list number would seem to indicate that the government had a prior intelligence file on him. The Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or TIDE, is a U.S. government database of over one million names suspected of a connection to terrorism, which is shared across the U.S. intelligence community.

The presentation contains no evidence to explain the designation.

According to another 2012 presentation describing SKYNET, the program looks for terrorist connections based on questions such as “who has traveled from Peshawar to Faisalabad or Lahore (and back) in the past month? Who does the traveler call when he arrives?” and behaviors such as “excessive SIM or handset swapping,” “incoming calls only,” “visits to airports,” and “overnight trips.”

That presentation states that the call data is acquired from major Pakistani telecom providers, though it does not specify the technical means by which the data is obtained.

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The program assessing Zaidan as a likely match, raises troubling questions about the U.S. government’s method of identifying terrorist targets based on metadata.

As other documents from Snowden revealed, drone targets are often identified in part based on metadata analysis and cell phone tracking. Former NSA director Michael Hayden famously put it more bluntly in May 2014, when he said, “we kill people based on metadata.”

Metadata also played a key role in locating and killing Osama bin Laden. The CIA used cell phone calling patterns to track an Al Qaeda courier and identify bin Laden’s hiding place in Pakistan.

Yet U.S. drone strikes have killed many hundreds of civilians and unidentified alleged militants who may have been marked based on the patterns their cell phones gave up.

People whose work requires contact with extremists and groups that the U.S. government regards as terrorists have long worried that they themselves could look suspicious in metadata analysis.

In a brief phone interview with The Intercept, Zaidan “absolutely” denied that he is a member of Al Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood. In a statement provided through Al Jazeera, Zaidan noted that his career has spanned many years of dangerous work in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and required interviewing key people in the region — a normal part of any journalist’s job. 

“For us to be able to inform the world, we have to be able to freely contact relevant figures in the public discourse, speak with people on the ground, and gather critical information. Any hint of government surveillance that hinders this process is a violation of press freedom and harms the public’s right to know,” he wrote. “To assert that myself, or any journalist, has any affiliation with any group on account of their contact book, phone call logs, or sources is an absurd distortion of the truth and a complete violation of the profession of journalism.” 

A spokesman for Al Jazeera, a global news service funded by the government of Qatar, cited a long list of instances in which its journalists have been targeted by governments on which it reports, and described the labeling and surveillance of Zaidan as “yet another attempt at using questionable techniques to target our journalists, and in doing so, enforce a gross breach of press freedom.”

PDFs:
SKYNET: Applying Advanced Cloud-based Behavior Analytics
SKYNET: Courier Detection via Machine Learning

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