Category Archives: Intelligence Agencies

NSA Prism program taps in to user data of Apple, Google and others

Prism

A slide depicting the top-secret PRISM program.

• Top-secret Prism program claims direct access to servers of firms including Google, Apple and Facebook

• Companies deny any knowledge of program in operation since 2007

Guardian | Jun 6, 2013    

by Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill

The National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian.

The NSA access is part of a previously undisclosed program called Prism, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats, the document says.

The Guardian has verified the authenticity of the document, a 41-slide PowerPoint presentation – classified as top secret with no distribution to foreign allies – which was apparently used to train intelligence operatives on the capabilities of the program. The document claims “collection directly from the servers” of major US service providers.

Although the presentation claims the program is run with the assistance of the companies, all those who responded to a Guardian request for comment on Thursday denied knowledge of any such program.

In a statement, Google said: “Google cares deeply about the security of our users’ data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government ‘back door’ into our systems, but Google does not have a back door for the government to access private user data.”

Several senior tech executives insisted that they had no knowledge of Prism or of any similar scheme. They said they would never have been involved in such a program. “If they are doing this, they are doing it without our knowledge,” one said.

An Apple spokesman said it had “never heard” of Prism.

The NSA access was enabled by changes to US surveillance law introduced under President Bush and renewed under Obama in December 2012.

Prism

The program facilitates extensive, in-depth surveillance on live communications and stored information. The law allows for the targeting of any customers of participating firms who live outside the US, or those Americans whose communications include people outside the US.

It also opens the possibility of communications made entirely within the US being collected without warrants.

Disclosure of the Prism program follows a leak to the Guardian on Wednesday of a top-secret court order compelling telecoms provider Verizon to turn over the telephone records of millions of US customers.

The participation of the internet companies in Prism will add to the debate, ignited by the Verizon revelation, about the scale of surveillance by the intelligence services. Unlike the collection of those call records, this surveillance can include the content of communications and not just the metadata.

Some of the world’s largest internet brands are claimed to be part of the information-sharing program since its introduction in 2007. Microsoft – which is currently running an advertising campaign with the slogan “Your privacy is our priority” – was the first, with collection beginning in December 2007.

It was followed by Yahoo in 2008; Google, Facebook and PalTalk in 2009; YouTube in 2010; Skype and AOL in 2011; and finally Apple, which joined the program in 2012. The program is continuing to expand, with other providers due to come online.

Collectively, the companies cover the vast majority of online email, search, video and communications networks.

Prism

 

The extent and nature of the data collected from each company varies.

Companies are legally obliged to comply with requests for users’ communications under US law, but the Prism program allows the intelligence services direct access to the companies’ servers. The NSA document notes the operations have “assistance of communications providers in the US”.

The revelation also supports concerns raised by several US senators during the renewal of the Fisa Amendments Act in December 2012, who warned about the scale of surveillance the law might enable, and shortcomings in the safeguards it introduces.

When the FAA was first enacted, defenders of the statute argued that a significant check on abuse would be the NSA’s inability to obtain electronic communications without the consent of the telecom and internet companies that control the data. But the Prism program renders that consent unnecessary, as it allows the agency to directly and unilaterally seize the communications off the companies’ servers.

A chart prepared by the NSA, contained within the top-secret document obtained by the Guardian, underscores the breadth of the data it is able to obtain: email, video and voice chat, videos, photos, voice-over-IP (Skype, for example) chats, file transfers, social networking details, and more.

PRISM slide crop


The document is recent, dating to April 2013. Such a leak is extremely rare in the history of the NSA, which prides itself on maintaining a high level of secrecy.

The Prism program allows the NSA, the world’s largest surveillance organisation, to obtain targeted communications without having to request them from the service providers and without having to obtain individual court orders.

With this program, the NSA is able to reach directly into the servers of the participating companies and obtain both stored communications as well as perform real-time collection on targeted users.

The presentation claims Prism was introduced to overcome what the NSA regarded as shortcomings of Fisa warrants in tracking suspected foreign terrorists. It noted that the US has a “home-field advantage” due to housing much of the internet’s architecture. But the presentation claimed “Fisa constraints restricted our home-field advantage” because Fisa required individual warrants and confirmations that both the sender and receiver of a communication were outside the US.

“Fisa was broken because it provided privacy protections to people who were not entitled to them,” the presentation claimed. “It took a Fisa court order to collect on foreigners overseas who were communicating with other foreigners overseas simply because the government was collecting off a wire in the United States. There were too many email accounts to be practical to seek Fisas for all.”

The new measures introduced in the FAA redefines “electronic surveillance” to exclude anyone “reasonably believed” to be outside the USA – a technical change which reduces the bar to initiating surveillance.

The act also gives the director of national intelligence and the attorney general power to permit obtaining intelligence information, and indemnifies internet companies against any actions arising as a result of co-operating with authorities’ requests.

In short, where previously the NSA needed individual authorisations, and confirmation that all parties were outside the USA, they now need only reasonable suspicion that one of the parties was outside the country at the time of the records were collected by the NSA.

The document also shows the FBI acts as an intermediary between other agencies and the tech companies, and stresses its reliance on the participation of US internet firms, claiming “access is 100% dependent on ISP provisioning”.

In the document, the NSA hails the Prism program as “one of the most valuable, unique and productive accesses for NSA”.

It boasts of what it calls “strong growth” in its use of the Prism program to obtain communications. The document highlights the number of obtained communications increased in 2012 by 248% for Skype – leading the notes to remark there was “exponential growth in Skype reporting; looks like the word is getting out about our capability against Skype”. There was also a 131% increase in requests for Facebook data, and 63% for Google.

The NSA document indicates that it is planning to add Dropbox as a PRISM provider. The agency also seeks, in its words, to “expand collection services from existing providers”.

The revelations echo fears raised on the Senate floor last year during the expedited debate on the renewal of the FAA powers which underpin the PRISM program, which occurred just days before the act expired.

Senator Christopher Coons of Delaware specifically warned that the secrecy surrounding the various surveillance programs meant there was no way to know if safeguards within the act were working.

“The problem is: we here in the Senate and the citizens we represent don’t know how well any of these safeguards actually work,” he said.

“The law doesn’t forbid purely domestic information from being collected. We know that at least one Fisa court has ruled that the surveillance program violated the law. Why? Those who know can’t say and average Americans can’t know.”

Other senators also raised concerns. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon attempted, without success, to find out any information on how many phone calls or emails had been intercepted under the program.

When the law was enacted, defenders of the FAA argued that a significant check on abuse would be the NSA’s inability to obtain electronic communications without the consent of the telecom and internet companies that control the data. But the Prism program renders that consent unnecessary, as it allows the agency to directly and unilaterally seize the communications off the companies’ servers.

When the NSA reviews a communication it believes merits further investigation, it issues what it calls a “report”. According to the NSA, “over 2,000 Prism-based reports” are now issued every month. There were 24,005 in 2012, a 27% increase on the previous year.

In total, more than 77,000 intelligence reports have cited the PRISM program.

Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU’s Center for Democracy, that it was astonishing the NSA would even ask technology companies to grant direct access to user data.

“It’s shocking enough just that the NSA is asking companies to do this,” he said. “The NSA is part of the military. The military has been granted unprecedented access to civilian communications.

“This is unprecedented militarisation of domestic communications infrastructure. That’s profoundly troubling to anyone who is concerned about that separation.”

A senior administration official said in a statement: “The Guardian and Washington Post articles refer to collection of communications pursuant to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. This law does not allow the targeting of any US citizen or of any person located within the United States.

“The program is subject to oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the Executive Branch, and Congress. It involves extensive procedures, specifically approved by the court, to ensure that only non-US persons outside the US are targeted, and that minimize the acquisition, retention and dissemination of incidentally acquired information about US persons.

“This program was recently reauthorized by Congress after extensive hearings and debate.

“Information collected under this program is among the most important and valuable intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats.

“The Government may only use Section 702 to acquire foreign intelligence information, which is specifically, and narrowly, defined in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. This requirement applies across the board, regardless of the nationality of the target.”

FBI stages another fake bombing with mentally disabled stooge-asset to maintain fear levels and bolster the illusion they are keeping us safe

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Bank of America at 303 Hegenberger Road in Oakland, CA Photo: Google Maps

An undercover FBI agent posing as a go-between with the Taliban in Afghanistan had been meeting with Llaneza since Nov. 30 and accompanied him to the bank, according to an FBI declaration filed in federal court. The declaration said the FBI had built the purported bomb, which was inert and posed no threat to the public.

sfgate.com | Feb 8, 2013

by Jaxon Van Derbeken and Bob Egelko

A mentally disturbed man who said he believed in violent jihad and hoped to start a civil war in the United States was arrested early Friday after trying to detonate what he thought was a car bomb at a Bank of America branch in Oakland, prosecutors said.

Matthew Aaron Llaneza, 28, of San Jose was taken into custody near the bank at 303 Hegenberger Road at 12:30 a.m. after pressing a cell phone trigger device that was supposed to set off the explosives inside a sport utility vehicle and bring down the four-story building, said U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag‘s office.

An undercover FBI agent posing as a go-between with the Taliban in Afghanistan had been meeting with Llaneza since Nov. 30 and accompanied him to the bank, according to an FBI declaration filed in federal court. The declaration said the FBI had built the purported bomb, which was inert and posed no threat to the public.
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Llaneza appeared before a federal magistrate in Oakland on Friday on a charge of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, which is punishable by life in prison. He is due to return to court for a bail hearing Wednesday. Assistant Federal Public Defender Joseph Matthews, who was assigned to represent him, declined to comment.

Court records and lawyers in a 2011 criminal case against Llaneza in San Jose described him as delusional and suicidal. He told police in that case that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. His attorney in the San Jose case said a judge had verified in two court hearings that Llaneza was getting mental health treatment.

Echoes of N.Y. case

His arrest came a day after a New York man, Quazi Nafis, pleaded guilty to attempting to detonate what he thought was a 1,000-pound bomb at the Federal Reserve Bank in Manhattan in October, in a case unrelated to Llaneza’s. The FBI said an undercover agent had provided Nafis with 20, 50-pound bags of fake explosives.

In Llaneza’s case, the FBI declaration said he told the supposed Taliban representative in their Nov. 30 meeting that he wanted the bank bombing to be blamed on anti-U.S. government militias. He said he supported the Taliban and believed in violent jihad, the agent said, and hoped the bombing would prompt a government crackdown, a right-wing response and, ultimately, civil war.

He chose the Bank of America branch because of its name and because Oakland has been a center of recent protests, the declaration said. It said Llaneza told the agent he would “dance with joy” when the bomb exploded.

Bank cooperation

Anne Pace, a spokeswoman for Bank of America, said the bank was “cooperating fully with law enforcement” and declined further comment.

Llaneza and the agent met several times in December and January, and the FBI, following Llaneza’s suggestion, rented a storage unit in Hayward, the declaration said.

On Thursday night, agents said, Llaneza drove an SUV from the storage unit, hauling a dozen 5-gallon buckets of chemicals, prepared by the FBI to look like explosives, to a parking lot in Union City, where he assembled the bomb in the agent’s presence.

He then drove to the bank, parked the SUV under an overhang near a support column of the building, retreated on foot to a safe distance, and pressed an FBI-constructed cell phone triggering device that was supposed to ignite the bomb, the FBI said. Agents them moved in and arrested him.

The FBI did not say how it first contacted Llaneza, but he had been subject to law enforcement monitoring since serving a jail sentence in the 2011 criminal case in San Jose involving assault weapons charges.

In April 2011, San Jose police were called to a trailer where Llaneza lived with his father, Steve, according to court records. Described as suicidal and combative, and shouting “Allahu akbar” – “God is great” – he was held for observation for 72 hours.

Two days later, his father told police he had found an AK-47 assault rifle and a 30-round extended ammunition clip in the trailer. Officers found two more 30-round clips and other items, including a military-style camouflage sniper suit.

Llaneza was not arrested immediately, but a judge ordered him into custody when he appeared in court in May 2011. He pleaded no contest five months later to transportation of an assault weapon and was sentenced to six years in jail, with all but one year suspended, after agreeing to seek mental treatment. With credit for good behavior, Llaneza was released on Nov. 30, 2011.

Santa Clara County prosecutors objected to the sentence, which they considered too light, said Deputy District Attorney Alaleh Kianerci. She said he got the jail term under California’s realignment law, which took effect in October 2011 and sends most low-level felons to county jail instead of state prison. Under the previous law, she said, prosecutors would have sought at least a four-year prison term.

“Obviously he was a threat to the community,” Kianerci said. “We couldn’t keep him in custody forever, so we are lucky law enforcement was monitoring him.”

She said Llaneza was hearing voices and was apparently suicidal when he was taken to a hospital.

Father’s concern

The prosecutor said Steve Llaneza told police that his son, a native of Arizona, had been living with his mother there, had been in the Marines before being kicked out, and was familiar with weapons. He had worked as a window washer in Arizona before losing his job in May 2010 and was taking medication for bipolar disorder.

The father told police he was concerned about his son, who had recently converted to Islam.

While the AK-47 and the clips were purchased legally in Arizona, bringing them into California is illegal. Matthew Llaneza told police he had bought the rifle to protect himself from people who were after him, and mentioned previous suicide attempts.

“Someday you are going to find me dead in the desert,” he told San Jose officers.

Treatment needs

Llaneza was a different, more stable person when he was in custody and on medication, said Cameron Bowman, his lawyer in the San Jose case. He said he verified that Llaneza had been in the Marines, but that his claims to have been an armorer and a sniper were “his own fantasies – he had a lot of fantasies.”

“When I met him, I thought he was a very troubled person, with clear mental problems,” Bowman said. “I think that the court was trying everything possible to get him into treatment, get him supervised by professionals. I saw him as somebody who is at least bipolar, probably schizophrenic, and not somebody who should be turned out to the streets.

“This new case shows he was not getting the mental health treatment he needed.”

11 Body Parts Defense Researchers Will Use to Track You

Slightly creepy, no? Well, it gets creepier…
. . .
wired.com | Jan 25, 2013By Noah Shachtman and Robert Beckhusen
The Ear

Cell phones that can identify you by how you walk. Fingerprint scanners that work from 25 feet away. Radars that pick up your heartbeat from behind concrete walls. Algorithms that can tell identical twins apart. Eyebrows and earlobes that give you away. A new generation of technologies is emerging that can identify you by your physiology. And unlike the old crop of biometric systems, you don’t need to be right up close to the scanner in order to be identified. If they work as advertised, they may be able to identify you without you ever knowing you’ve been spotted.

Biometrics had a boom after 9/11. Gobs of government money poured into face and iris recognition systems; the Pentagon alone spent nearly $3 billion in five years, and the Defense Department was only one of many federal agencies funneling cash in the technologies. Civil libertarians feared the worst as face-spotters were turned on crowds of citizens in the hopes of  catching a single crook.

But while the technologies proved helpful in verifying identities at entry points from Iraq to international airports, the hype — or panic — surrounding biometrics never quite panned out. Even after all that investment, scanners still aren’t particularly good at finding a particular face in the crowd, for example; variable lighting conditions and angles (not to mention hats) continue to confound the systems.

Eventually, the biometrics market — and the government enthusiasm for it — cooled off. The technological development has not. Corporate and academic labs are continuing to find new ways to ID people with more accuracy, and from further away. Here are 11 projects.

Above:

The Ear

My, what noticeable ears you have. So noticeable in fact that researchers are exploring ways to detect the ears’ features like they were fingerprints. In 2010, a group of British researchers used a process called “image ray transform” to shoot light rays at human ears, and then repeat an algorithm to draw an image of the tubular-shaped parts of the organ. The curved edges around the rim of the ear is a characteristic — and most obvious — example. Then, the researchers converted the images into a series of numbers marking the image as your own. Finally, it’s just a matter of a machine scanning your ears again, and matching it up to what’s already stored in the system, which the researchers were able to do accurately 99.6 percent of the time. In March of 2012, a pair of New Delhi scientists also tried scanning ears using Gabor filters — a kind of digital image processor similar to human vision — but were accurate to a mere 92 to 96.9 percent, according to a recent survey (pdf) of ear biometric research.

It may even be possible to develop ear-scanning in a way that makes it more reliable than fingerprints. The reason is because your fingerprints can callous over when doing a lot of hard work. But ears, by and large, don’t change much over the course of a lifespan. There’s a debate around this, however, and fingerprinting has a much longer and established history behind it. A big question is whether ear-scanning will work given different amounts of light, or when covered (even partially) by hair or jewelry. But if ear-scanners get to the point of being practical, then they could possibly work alongside fingerprinting instead of replacing them. Maybe in the future we’ll see more extreme ear modification come along as a counter-measure.

Photo: Menage a Moi/Flickr

Odor

Odor

In the early and mid-2000s, the Pentagon’s blue-sky researchers at Darpa dabbled in something called the “Unique Signature Detection Project,” which sought to explore ways to detect people by their scent, and maybe even spot and identify individuals based on their distinct smells. Darpa’s work ended in 2008. The following year, the Department of Homeland Security fielded a solicitation for research in ways that human scent can indicate whether someone “might be engaging in deception,” specifically at airports and other ports of entry.

Odor detection is still just a research project at the moment. The science is intricate, involving more than 300 chemical compounds that produce human odor. Our personal stinks can change depending on everything from what we eat to our environment. But it may be possible to distinguish our “primary odor” — separate from “secondary” odors based on our diet and “tertiary” odors based on things like soaps and shampoos. The primary odor is the one linked to our genetics, and there have already been experiments with mice, which have been found to produce distinct scents unique to individuals. In 2007, the government’s counter-terror Technical Support Working Group even started a program aimed at collecting and storing human odors for the military’s dog handlers. Dogs, of course, have been used to track people by smell for decades, and are believed to distinguish between humans based on our genetic markers.

Photo: Cabaret Voltaire/Flickr

Heartbeat

Heartbeat

Your chest moves, just a little, every time your heart beats or your lungs take in air. For years, researchers have been monkeying with radars that are sensitive enough to to detect those minuscule chest movements — but powerful enough to do it from hundreds of yards away. Even reinforced concrete walls and electromagnetic shielding won’t stop these radars, or so claim the researchers at the small, Arizona-based defense contractor VAWD Engineering, who are working on such a system for Darpa’s “Biometrics-at-a-distance” program.

The key is the Doppler Effect — the changes in frequency when one object moves relative to another. We hear it all the time, when a fire engine passes by, siren blaring. VAWD says their vehicle-mounted Sense Through Obstruction Remote Monitoring System (STORMS) can pick up even small fluctuations of chests.

STORM (pictured above) “can be used to detect, classify and identify the specific cardiac and pulmonary modulations of a… person of interest,” a company document boasts. By itself, a heartbeat or a breathing rate won’t serve as a definitive biometric. But combine it with soft biometrics (how someone subtly sways when he or she stands) and you’ve got a unique signature for that person that can’t be hidden or covered up.

VAWD says these signature will help improve disaster relief and medical care by providing a “reliable, real time medical status equal to or better than the current devices, while increasing the mobility and comfort of the patient.”

But the company also notes that its system performs “automated human life-form target tracking” even when construction materials like “Afghan mud-huts” are in the way. STORM “has already been deployed by the United States Army on one of its most advanced ground vehicles,” the company adds.

Does any of that sound like hospital work to you?

Illustration: Yale University/Wikimedia

Photo: VAWD Engineering

Voice

Most people are likely to be familiar with voice readers on gadgets like the iPhone. But what if there was software that could quickly analyze the voice of thousands, and even use those voices to identify specific people?

Russian biometrics firm Speech Technology Center — known as SpeechPro in the U.S. — has the technology. Called VoiceGrid, the system is able to automatically recognize a person’s voice as their own, provided your voice is pre-recorded in a database and can be recalled by the computer. The company has also developed a version for “large city, county, state or national system deployments.”

It’s seen use in Mexico, according to Slate, “where it is being used by law enforcement to collect, store, and search hundreds of thousands of voice-prints.” The National Security Agency has taken interest in similar technology. So has the FBI. A 2012 presentation from the National Institute of Standards and Technology — with the assistance of the FBI — also speculated on potential uses including identifying and clearing people ‘involved in illegal activities,” locating serial killers and identifying arms traffickers (.pdf). Iarpa, the intelligence community’s research agency, has also been looking into ways to solve some of its problems: audio interference mainly. In 2011, the agency concluded its Biometric Exploitation Science and Technology Program (or BEST), which made “speaker recognition advances which included improving robustness to noise, reverberation, and vocal effort, and by automatically detecting these conditions in audio channels,” spokesperson Schira Madan told Danger Room in an email. But we wonder if it’ll detect autotune.

The Iris

The Iris

Imagine a scanner than can look deep inside your eye — from 10 feet away. Actually, you don’t have to think that hard. The technology is already here. Scanners have been developed that can focus in and scan irises from a distance of 10 feet, such the IOM PassPort, developed by government contractor SRI International. The company promises the machine can scan irises at a rate of 30 people per minute — like in high-traffic areas such as airports and train stations. SRI also claims it can see through contact lenses and glasses.

But the longer-range scanners could also see other uses, aside from airports. U.S. troops field existing, short-range and handheld iris scanners to build databases of Afghan eyes as part of a plan to use biometric data to tell civilians apart from insurgents. The Department of Homeland Security has tested iris scanners at a Border Patrol station along the Texas-Mexico border. The FBI has been working on an iris database for federal prisoners, and Google uses them at company data centers. But these systems can be fussy, and require that the targets don’t move too much.

There might be another way. The Pentagon’s scientists at Darpa have funded a research project at Southern Methodist University to develop cameras that can automatically zoom-in and scan irises, kinda like what happened to Tom Cruise in Minority Report — and without being blocked by pesky obstructions like eyelashes and glare from light. But another problem is that iris scanners are not the most secure means of identifying people. In July 2012, a group of researchers from the U.S. and Spain discovered a way to spoof the scanners by duplicating iris images stored in databases and creating synthetic copies. That means someone could conceivably steal your eyes, in a way.

Illustration: Air Force

Periocular

Periocular

Spotting someone by their irises is one of the best-developed biometric techniques there is. But Savvides and his Carnegie Mellon colleagues think there may be an equally-promising approach in the area around the eye — also known as the “periocular” region.

The “periocular region has the most dense and the most complex biomedical features on human face, e.g. contour, eyelids, eyeball, eyebrow, etc., which could all vary in shape, size and color,” they wrote in a 2011 paper. (.pdf) “Biologically and genetically speaking, a more complex structure means more ‘coding processing’ going on with fetal development, and therefore more proteins and genes involved in the determination of appearance. That is why the periocular region should be the most important facial area for distinguishing people.”

And unlike other biometrics — the face, for instance — the periocular region stays remarkably stable as a person ages. “The shape and location of eyes remain largely unchanged while the mouth, nose, chin, cheek, etc., are more susceptible to changes given a loosened skin,” the researchers note. In other words, this is a marker for life.

Nearby, Savvides and his colleagues think they’ve found a second biometric: the shape of the eyebrow. Face-scanners are sometimes thrown off when people smile or frown. But the eyebrow shape is “particularly resilient to certain (but not all) expression variations,” the researchers note in a separate, yet-to-be-published paper. And the eyebrow can still be seen, even when the subject has most of his or her face covered.

What’s not fully clear is how the eyebrow biometric responds to threading, shaving or waxing. Saavides, who responded to tons of questions about his research, says there’s no fullproof means to avoid this kind of spoofing. But Saavides is also working on sensors that can analyze multiple facial cues and features, while incorporating algorithms that detect the possibility of a person changing one or two of them. A pair of plucked eyebrows might be a weak match compared to the bushy ones the computer has on file — but the computer could also be smart enough to recognize they’ve been plucked.

Photo: Carnegie Mellon University

Long-Range Fingerprint Scanners

Long-Range Fingerprint Scanners

Most fingerprint scanners today require physical contact, but constantly being soaked with finger-oil and dirt can also muck-up the machines. For that reason, among others, one developer is working on a scanner that may one day read your fingerprints at a distance of 20 feet.

But first, scanners with a 20-foot distance haven’t hit the market quite yet. One machine called the AIRprint, made by Alabama firm Advanced Optical Systems, has a range of nine feet, and uses two 1.3 megapixel cameras that receives light in different wavelengths: one horizontally polarized, and the other vertically polarized. To sort out the different wavelengths, a device beams light at your fingerprints, which bounce back into the lenses, which then combines the separate wavelengths into a clear picture. A spin-off company called IDair also has a commercial scanner that reaches up to six feet and is marketed toward “security personnel.” IDair’s 20-foot-range machine is currently in development, and is described as functioning similar to satellite imagery.

The military is reportedly an interested customer. The MIT Technology Review surmised that Marines may use them for scanning fingerprints from inside the relative safety of an armored vehicle or behind a blast wall. It beats exposing yourself to the possibility of a suicide bomb attack. For the civilian market, that seems better than pressing your fingertips against a greasy scanner, if you’re comfortable with the idea of having your prints scanned from far away.

Photo: LetTheCardsFall/Flickr

Gait

Gait

Even before 9/11, researchers were floating that notion that you could pick out someone by how he or she walks. And after the Towers fell, Darpa made gait recognition one of the cornerstones of its infamous Total Information Awareness counterterror program.

The problem is that gait can be kind of hard to spot. A briefcase or a bum leg prevents the recognition system from getting a clear view. So filming someone walk didn’t make for a particularly reliable biometric system. Plus, the same person may have multiple gaits — one for walking, and another for running, say.

But the spread of smartphones has opened up a new way of identifying someone’s stride. Androids and iPhones all have accelerometers — sensors that measure how far, how fast, and with how much force an object moves.

“By using the accelerometer sensor in the cell phone, we are able to capture a person’s walking pattern. As it turns out, these patterns are very good biometric traits for people identification. Because it does not require any special devices, the gait biometrics of a subject can even be captured without him or her knowing,” write Carnegie Mellon University professor Marios Savvides and his colleagues in a recent paper. (.pdf)

In a small, preliminary study, Savvides and his fellow researchers at the CyLab Biometrics Center claim they were able to get a 99.4% verification rate with the system when the subjects were walking. 61% of the time, they were even able to match someone’s fast-paced gait to their slower one. In other words, you can run…. but with a phone in your pocket, it’s going to be harder to hide.

Photo: sfllaw/Flickr

Sweat

Sweat

The Army wants to see some sweat. No, not workout sweat, but sweat that can betray hostile intentions. In 2010, the Army awarded a nearly $70,000 contract to California security firm Irvine Sensors Corporation to develop software that can use sensors to recognize at “abnormal perspiration and changes in body temperature.” The idea was to determine “harmful intent in such military applications as border patrol, stand-off interrogation, surveillance and commercial applications” including surveillance at businesses and “shopping areas.” It’s a bit out there, and still very much in the research stage, but makes a certain kind of sense. Elevated stress levels could give a suspect away when scanned by hyperspectral sensors that read changes in body temperature.

Though a reliable system will have to work in combination with other biometric signals: threatening body movements, facial expressions, iris scans — all of these will also have to be factored into determining whether someone is up to no good. The Army contract, dubbed Image Analysis for Personal Intent, also sought to develop sensors that read these signs from a distance of nearly 150 feet. Perhaps a bit optimistic. But in 2002, a group of scientists in Minnesota managed to determine if military recruits were engaging in deception by scanning for changes in temperature around their eyes. So if you’re at all freaked out about the idea of sweat-scanners, now might be time for a cold shower.

Photo: Army

Advanced Face Recognition

Advanced Face Recognition

Most machines that scan and recognize your face require taking a good, clean look. But now researchers are working on replacing them with scanners that only need a few fragmentary snapshots at much longer ranges than ever before.

One machine that can do it is being developed by defense contractor Progeny Systems Corporation, called the “Long Range, Non-cooperative, Biometric Tagging, Tracking and Location” system. Once a person of interest is spotted, the system captures a 2D image of the person’s face before converting it into 3D. Then, once the image has been converted and filed in a database, it can be quickly recalled when the system spots the person for a second time. That’s because 3D reduces the number of pixels needed to analyze the image, speeding up the process and allowing the system to identify a person with a mere glance. The company also claims the machine works at more than 750 feet.

But a face alone may not be enough to recognize a person with a machine. Everything from lighting conditions to distance can make it harder to get a clear picture, especially if the person being scanned is on the move, in a crowd, or ducking in and out of buildings. Using 3D models makes it easier, but the technology will likely have to be combined with “soft biometrics” like an individual’s gender, height, weight, skin color and even tattoos.

Slightly creepy, no? Well, it gets creepier, like the group of Swiss scientists working on scanning facial features to detect your emotions. Developers at Carnegie Mellon University have also developed a mobile app called PittPatt –which has since been acquired by Google — that can scan your face and match it up with images you’ve shared over the internet, all in less than a minute.

Photo: Carnegie Mellon University

Rapid DNA Testing

Rapid DNA Testing

It used to be that DNA testing took months to perform, from the time when a DNA sample was picked up on a swab, to analyzing it and creating a DNA profile. Now there are machines that can do it in less than 90 minutes, and the Pentagon wants them.

This month, researchers at the University of North Texas are beginning to test a $250,000 machine for the Defense and Justice Departments, and the Department of Homeland Security, so that “casualties and enemies killed in action can be quickly identified in the field,” according to the Biometrics Research Group. But according to the October issue of Special Operations Technology magazine, rapid DNA testing systems co-developed by defense giant Northrop Grumman had already been delivered to “unspecified government customers” beginning back in August. One of those customers is believed to be the FBI. California company IntegenX also has a portable rapid-DNA machine that can analyze molecules taken off everything from clothing to cigarette butts. There’s a simple reason why police are so interested. For a burglar who’s breaking into houses and leaving a DNA trail, the machines could clue-in faster than the burglar is able to continue the spree.

Photo: US Navy

WikiLeaks founder Assange: ‘All the infrastructure has been built for absolute totalitarianism’

wikileaks-founder-julian-assange
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange talking to RT’s Laura Smith at the embassy of Ecuador in London, UK (video still)

Assange to RT: Entire nations intercepted online, key turned to totalitarian rule

RT | Nov 30, 2012

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says all the necessary physical infrastructure for absolute totalitarianism through the internet is ready. He told RT that the question now is whether the turnkey process that already started will go all the way.

­RT: So you’ve written this book ‘Cypherpunks. Freedom and the Future of the Internet’ based on one of the programs that you’ve made for RT. In it, you say that the internet can enslave us. I don’t really get that, because the internet it’s a thing, it’s a soulless thing. Who are the actual enslavers behind it?

Julian Assange: The people who control the interception of the internet and, to some degree also, physically control the big data warehouses and the international fiber-optic lines. We all think of the internet as some kind of Platonic Realm where we can throw out ideas and communications and web pages and books and they exist somewhere out there. Actually, they exist on web servers in New York or Nairobi or Beijing, and information comes to us through satellite connections or through fiber-optic cables.

So whoever physically controls this controls the realm of our ideas and communications. And whoever is able to sit on those communications channels, can intercept entire nations, and that’s the new game in town, as far as state spying is concerned – intercepting entire nations, not individuals.

‘intercepting entire nations, not individuals’

RT: This sounds like a futuristic scenario, but you are saying that the future is already here.

JA: The US National Security Agency has been doing this for some 20-30 years. But it has now spread to mid-size nations, even Gaddafi’s Libya was employing the EAGLE system, which is produced by French company AMESYS, pushed there in 2009, advertised in its international documentation as a nationwide interception system.

So what’s happened over the last 10 years is the ever-decreasing cost of intercepting each individual now to the degree where it is cheaper to intercept every individual rather that it is to pick particular people to spy upon.

‘it is cheaper to intercept every individual rather that it is to pick particular people to spy upon’

RT: And what’s the alternative, the sort of utopian alternative that you would put forward?

JA: The utopian alternative is to try and gain independence for the internet, for it to sort of declare independence versus the rest of the world. And that’s really quite important because if you think what is human civilization, what is it that makes it quintessentially human and civilized, it is our shared knowledge about how the world works, how we deal with each other, how we deal with the environment, which institutions are corrupt, which ones are good, what are the least dumb ways of doing things. And that intellectual knowledge is something that we are all putting on to the internet – and so if we can try and decouple that from the brute nature of states and their cronies, then I think we really have hope for a global civilization.

If, on the other hand, the mere security guards, you know, the people who control the guns, are able to take control of our intellectual life, take control of all the ways in which we communicate to each other, then of course you can see how dreadful the outcome will be. Because it won’t happen to just one nation, it will happen to every nation at once. It is happening to every nation at once as far as spying is concerned, because now every nation is merging its society with internet infrastructure.

RT: And in what way are we, as sort of naïve internet users, if you like (and I exclude you from that, obviously), kind of willingly collaborating with these collectors of personal data? You know, we all have a Facebook account, we all have telephones which can be tracked.

JA: Right. People think, well, yeah, I use Facebook, and maybe the FBI if they made a request, could come and get it, and everyone is much more aware of that because of Petraeus. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that all the time nearly everything people do on the internet is permanently recorded, every web search.

Do you know what you were thinking one year, two days, three months ago? No, you don’t know, but Google knows, it remembers.

‘Google knows, it remembers’

The National Security Agency who intercepts the request if it flowed over the US border, it knows.

So by just communicating to our friends, by emailing each other, by updating Facebook profiles, we are informing on our friends.

‘by updating Facebook profiles, we are informing on our friends’

And friends don’t inform on friends. You know, the Stasi had a 10 per cent penetration of East German society, with up to 1 in 10 people being informants at some time in their life.

Now in countries that have the highest internet penetration, like Iceland, more than 80 per cent of people are on Facebook, informing about their friends. That information doesn’t [simply] go nowhere. It’s not kept in Iceland, it’s sent back into the US where it IS accessed by US intelligence and where it is given out to any friends or cronies of US intelligence – hundreds of national security letters every day publicly declared and being issued by the US government.

RT: So do we risk kind of entering a scenario where there are almost two castes of people: a safe minority who are very savvy about the workings of the internet and the things that you described, and just people who go online for kicks?

JA: We have this position where as we know knowledge is power, and there’s a mass transfer as a result of literally billions of interceptions per day going from everyone, the average person, into the data vaults of state spying agencies for the big countries, and their cronies – the corporations that help build them that infrastructure. Those groups are already powerful, that’s why they are able to build this infrastructure to intercept on everyone. So they are growing more powerful, concentrating the power in the hands of smaller and smaller groups of people at once, which isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s extremely dangerous once there is any sort of corruption occurring in the power. Because absolute power corrupts, and when it becomes corrupt, it can affect a lot of people very quickly.

Bill Binney, National Security Agency whistleblower, who was the research head of the National Security Agency’s Signals Intelligence Division, describes this as a ‘turnkey totalitarianism’, that all the infrastructure has been built for absolute totalitarianism.

‘all the infrastructure has been built for absolute totalitarianism’

It’s just the matter of turning the key. And actually the key has already been turned a little bit, and it is now affecting people who are targeted for US drone strikes, organizations like WikiLeaks, national security reporters who are having their sources investigated. It is already partly turned, and the question is, will it go all the way?

RT: But has it been built really by corporations and kind of unwittingly subscribed to by people, in order to advertise products to make money, or has it been built deliberately by governments for the sole purpose of surveillance?

JA: It’s both. I mean the surveillance infrastructure, the bulk surveillance infrastructure – there are hundreds of companies involved in that business. They have secret international conferences, they have prospectuses that they give to intelligence agencies that we have obtained and published this year together with Privacy International and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Also, The Wall Street Journal has done some good work on this. They are building devices that they advertise to intercept entire nations, to install the data from those intercepts permanently – strategic interception, because it’s cheaper.

So it’s a combined corporate/government amalgam. That’s one of the problems, one of the reasons it’s so unaccountable is that it crosses boundaries. Companies don’t just sell to their home country, they sell to companies overseas. There are shareholdings held in BVI, and the company might be British-registered, like BIA, but actually a lot of research and development is done in Sweden, etc.

And then you also have Google and Facebook, who started up predominantly serving the public, but also have developed side projects to service the US intelligence complex. And individuals are constantly pushing their thoughts into Google as each thing that they want to research; it is pushed via emails, and on Facebook, through their social relationships. That’s an undreamt of spy database.

‘That’s an undreamt of spy database’

Facebook is completely undreamt of even by the worst spying nation, given the richness and sophistication of relationships expressed.

RT: And willingly contributed to.

JA: Well, no. But not with informed consent. People don’t actually know. When on Facebook it says “share this to your friends,” that’s what it says. It doesn’t say “share this to state agencies,” it doesn’t say “share this to friends and cronies of state agencies.”

RT: Who do you think has the organized power to stop these things that you are talking about?

JA: If there is political will, everything is possible. So if we get the political will, then of course those agencies can be dismantled. Very aggressive legislation, policing can be pushed upon them. In some regions of the world, such as Latin America, perhaps that’s a possibility. There is a certain democratic tendency, which Ecuador is part of that might do that. But in general I think the prognosis is very grim. And we really are at this moment where it can go one way or the other way.

To a degree, perhaps the best we can be sure, if we work, of achieving is that some of us are protected. It may only be a high-tech elite, hopefully expanded a bit more – people who can produce tools and information for others that they can use to protect themselves. It is not necessary that all of society is covered, all of society is protected. What’s necessary is that the critical accountability components of society that stop it from going down the tubes entirely, that those people are protected. Those include corruption investigators, journalists, activists, and political parties. These have got to be protected. If they are not protected, then it’s all lost.

RT: Is there a way that I can protect myself without knowing all about computers?

JA: Well, a little bit. But the first thing to be aware of is how much you are giving away. The first way to protect yourself is to go, “OK, I’ll discuss that in person, and not over Facebook chat,” or, “OK, I will discuss this using some forms of encrypted chat, like OTR, and not on a Facebook chat.” You can go to torproject.org and download encrypted anonymizing software. It is slower than normal, but for things like internet chat it’s fine, because you are not downloading very much at once. So there are ways of doing this.

What is really necessary, however, for those to be properly developed, there needs to be enough market demand. It’s the same situation as soap and washing your hands. Once upon a time, before the bacterial theory of disease, before we understood that out there invisibly was all this bacteria that was trying to cause us harm – just like mass state surveillance is out there invisible and trying to cause society a large harm.

‘mass state surveillance is out there invisible and trying to cause society a large harm’

– no one bothered to wash their hands. First process was discovery; second process, education; third process, a market demand is created as a result of education, which means that experts can start to manufacture soap, and then people can buy and use it.

So this is where we are at now, which is we’ve got to create education amongst people, so there can be a market demand, so that others can be encouraged to produce easy-to-use cryptographic technology that is capable of protecting not everyone, but a significant number of people from mass state spying. And if we are not able to protect a significant number of people from mass state spying, then the basic democratic and civilian institutions that we are used to – not in the West, I am no glorifier of the West, but in all societies – are going to crumble away. They will crumble away, and they will do so all at once. And that’s an extremely dangerous phenomenon.

It’s not often where all the world goes down the tube all at once. Usually you have a few countries that are OK, and you can bootstrap civilization again from there.

RT: We just passed the second anniversary of Cablegate, and since then this war on whistleblowers and this state surveillance seems to have got worse. Do you think something as large as Cablegate could ever happen again and it would have a similar impact?

JA: Yes, yes. Hopefully next year.

RT: What sort of time next year?

JA: I won’t go into it, but hopefully earlier rather than later.

RT: Do you feel that when WikiLeaks is making these releases you’re having as large an impact as you’ve had before?

JA: Well, Cablegate was extraordinary. It was published over a period of 12 months. It’s the most significant leak. Our previous leak, on the Iraq war, was also 400,000 documents, showing precisely how over 100,000 people were killed. That was also very significant. But yes, no one has done anything as significant as that since, but yes, hopefully, that will continue.

The successes of WikiLeaks shouldn’t be viewed merely as a demonstration of our organization’s virility or the virility of the activist community on the internet. They are also a function of this hoarding of information by these national security [agencies]. The reason there was so much information to leak, the reason it could be leaked all at once is because they had hoarded so much. Why had they hoarded so much? Well, to gain extra power through knowledge. They wanted their own knowledge internally to be easily accessible to their people, to be searchable, so as much power could be extracted from it as possible. WikiLeaks attempts to redress the imbalance of power.

 

‘CIA favors Brotherhood as Egypt dictatorship benefits US’

RussiaToday | Nov 30, 2012

Geopolitical analyst and author, William Engdahl, says its only now, that the Muslim Brotherhood is revealing its true intentions.

Scientist Frank Olson was drugged with LSD and ‘murdered by CIA’


Eric Olson composes his thoughts Thursday, Aug. 8, 2002, during a news conference at his house in Braddock Heights, Md. concerning the death of his father, Fort Detrick scientist Frank Olson Photo: AP

During his travels in Europe he “witnessed extreme interrogations in which the CIA committed murder using biological agents that Dr Olson had developed”.

A US government scientist was drugged by CIA agents and then thrown to his death from the 13th floor of a Manhattan hotel after he learned about secret torture sites in Europe, according to a lawsuit filed by his family.

Telegraph | Nov 28, 2012

By Raf Sanchez, New York

The sons of Dr Frank Olson claim that their father was murdered in 1953 after he discovered that his biological research was being used to torture and kill suspects in Norway and West Germany.

After raising concerns about the killings, Dr Olson was allegedly given LSD in a glass of brandy and then executed by the CIA, triggering what his family claims is “a multi-decade cover-up that continues to this day”.

The scientist began working with the spy agency in the 1950s and focused on biological weapons that could be transmitted through the air.

According to the lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Washington DC, he traveled to research sites in Norway, France and West Germany as well as Porton Down, a British government facility in Wiltshire.

During his travels in Europe he “witnessed extreme interrogations in which the CIA committed murder using biological agents that Dr Olson had developed”.

The lawsuit gives no details about the reported deaths in Europe and the Ministry of Defence would not comment on Dr Olson’s activities in Britain.

A MoD spokesman said that Porton Down had been used to develop countermeasures to biological weapons and “part of this work included ongoing collaboration with our international allies, including the US”.

US CIA Drug Dealing, Torture, Milgram Experimentation on Humans

Dr Olson was apparently shaken by what he had seen and returned to the US resigned to resolve from the agency. On November 19, 1953 he was taken to a secret meeting Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, where he was given LSD hidden in a glass of brandy.

Days later he was brought to New York for “psychiatric treatment” by CIA officials who allegedly told his family that he had become unstable and violent.

At 2.30am on November 28, Dr Olson went through the window of the Statler Hotel’s room 1018a, which he was allegedly sharing with a CIA doctor, and died in the street below.

The CIA initially claimed his death was an accident but in the 1970s, as its activities were investigated in the wake of the Watergate scandal, it admitted that he had been drugged and said that his death was a suicide.

Dr Olson’s family was paid a settlement and invited to the White House by President Gerald Ford, who apologised for the government’s concealment of the drugging.

However, the family remained unsatisfied with the government’s account and in 1996 exhumed Dr Olson’s body and claimed to have found evidence of a blow to the head suffered before his fall.

Prosecutors in New York re-opened an investigation and although they were unable to turn up new evidence decided to change Dr Olson’s cause of death from “suicide” to “unknown”.

The family are now suing the government, claiming that the CIA is continuing to conceal files relating to their father’s death.

“The evidence shows that our father was killed in their custody. They have lied to us ever since, withholding documents and information, and changing their story when convenient,” said Eric Olson.

A CIA spokeswoman said that its covert programmes of the 1950s had been “thoroughly investigated” and that “tens of thousands of pages related to the program have been declassified and released to the public.”

Big Brother, Kill Lists, and Secrecy: What to Expect From Obama’s Second Term

antiwar.com | Nov 17, 2012

by Christian Stork

Following Barack Obama’s significant electoral victory, the ways in which the President will interpret his new “mandate” are still very much up for debate. While pundits, many of whom got the election seriously wrong, fumble to come up with new predictions, an analysis of Obama’s track record and statements on national security policy can be quite illuminating. Two momentous stories of the past few weeks can help us evaluate current and future prospects for our Constitutional rights, a year after Osama bin Laden’s death and a decade after 9/11. One grim harbinger of what’s to continue: a nighttime drone strike in Yemen that killed three “al-Qaida militants” was carried out within 24 hours of Obama’s victory speech.

But even more important was the bombshell story that appeared in the Washington Post on October 23, revealing the existence of a new database within the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) that will list suspected terrorists and militants slated for extrajudicial assassination. The article details the creation of a “next-generation targeting list called the ‘disposition matrix’” which “contains the names of terrorism suspects arrayed against an accounting of the resources being marshaled” to kill them, including the ability to map “plans for the ‘disposition’ of suspects beyond the reach of American drones.”

Additionally, on October 29, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Amnesty v. Clapper, evaluating a lawsuit filed by journalists, human rights workers, and lawyers, who claimed that their jobs are unnecessarily hampered by the specter of the National Security Agency eavesdropping on their communications with clients overseas. As described by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), “the [Supreme] Court will essentially determine whether any court… can rule on whether the [National Security Agency]’s targeted warrantless surveillance of Americans’ international communications violates the Constitution.”

What do NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program and the Obama administration’s recently developed “disposition matrix” have to do with one another? Two points resound in particular. First, both are only able to function in an environment of total secrecy. Also, they represent significant advances in the codification of a new norm for U.S. national security policy—one very much at odds with the constitutionally limited Commander-in-Chief of common lore.

Perhaps even more ominously, the infrastructure development of the Obama administration’s policy of targeted killing signals a creeping move toward domestic application. As drone technology continues to be imported home, the convergence of the kill-list(s) within the NCTC bureaucracy—which houses huge repositories of both domestic and foreign intelligence with no probable cause of criminality—is a foreboding development in this saga of eroding checks and disappearing balance.

Climbing Out of the Abyss, Jumping Back In

Unknown to the American people and to much of their government until the late 1970’s, NSA has enjoyed free rein to intercept the electronic communications of Americans and foreigners since its secret inception in 1952. To those who were familiar with it, the uniform joke was that NSA stood for “No Such Agency,” an indication of its covert and prized status within the intelligence community.

After media revelations of intelligence abuses by the Nixon administration began to mount in the wake of Watergate, NSA became the subject of Congressional ire in the form of the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities—commonly known as the “Church Committee” after its chair, Senator Frank Church (D-ID)—established on January 17, 1975. This ad-hoc investigative body found itself unearthing troves of classified records from the FBI, NSA, CIA and Pentagon that detailed the murky pursuits of each during the first decades of the Cold War. Under the mantle of defeating communism, internal documents confirmed the executive branch’s use of said agencies in some of the most fiendish acts of human imagination (including refined psychological torture techniques), particularly by the Central Intelligence Agency.

The Cold War mindset had incurably infected the nation’s security apparatus, establishing extralegal subversion efforts at home and brutish control abroad. It was revealed that the FBI undertook a war to destroy homegrown movements such as the Black Liberation Movement (including Martin Luther King, Jr.), and that NSA had indiscriminately intercepted the communications of Americans without warrant, even without the President’s knowledge. When confronted with such nefarious enterprises, Congress sought to rein in the excesses of the intelligence community, notably those directed at the American public.

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Obama Mind Control – The Delphi Technique