(Canadian) CSIS’s alternative facts universe March 16, 2017Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Right Wing, Surveillance, Uncategorized, War on Terror.
Tags: anti-terrorism, Canada, canada c-51, canada security, canadian national security, csis, matthew berrens, quebec city mosque, right wing extremism
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Roger’s note: people round the world, including many Canadians, like to think that there is a substantial difference between Canada and the United States when it comes to things like the military and national security. Of course, the U.S. is the imperial giant and Canada a minor but important satellite. Nonetheless, Canada has just emerged from the ten year reign of Stephen Harper’s ultra-right government, one that could teach the likes of Paul Ryan and Donald Trump a thing or two. The current Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, presents a kinder gentler image, but behind the haircut and bedroom eyes lies a man who rules with limits set basically by the military, the security apparatus and the corporate world. U.S. lite, if you will. Trudeau is already playing footsie with Trump, inviting the entrepreneurial daughter to sit with him at a Broadway show, for instance. Don’t expect any substantial challenge to the U.S. imperial and economic adventures coming from the neighbour to the North.
Spy agency’s first public report in two years on the threat posed by terrorism in Canada has a slippery relationship with reality
Screen cap from CSIS video released with annual report recently. CSIS prefers to stick with the tired trope that all terrorism springs from internecine bloodletting in the Syrian and Iraqi deserts.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Canada’s spy agency, penned a marvellous multimedia love letter to itself with the release late last month of its first public report in two years.
But beyond its self-admiring gaze, fancy charts and awkward introductory video by spy chief Michel Coulombe (who announced his retirement this week), the agency’s report to Parliament is most notable for its alternative facts and timing. The report’s incendiary language invokes an “immediate threat” and “paths to radicalization,” and its release coincides with the agency’s lobbying for increased funding in 2017 as well as efforts to prevent abolition or amendments to the infamous Anti-terrorism Act (C-51).
Notably absent from the report is the spy agency’s take on the Quebec City mosque shootings or a nuanced analysis of the rise of white nationalist extremism in Canada. Instead, CSIS stresses the notion that Canadians are under “constant threat” from forces associated with Daesh, al Qaeda and their distant offshoots, even though the claim is not borne out by the supporting evidence offered.
Indeed, the report’s formidable-looking “terrorism timeline” graphic cheats on the numbers.
Of the nine attacks listed, six occurred overseas, where Canadians were not directly targeted but tragically died as a result of happenstance. Two attacks in 2014 were already addressed in the previous public report. With nothing to report for all of 2015, that left one remaining 2016 incident in which three soldiers suffered minor stab wounds at a North York military recruiting centre, a crime committed by a man found unfit for trial “due to the ongoing psychotic symptoms of a major mental illness.”
Remarkably, the most deadly terrorist attack to occur in Canada in the last decade – January’s Quebec City mosque massacre, carried out by a shooter with white nationalist leanings – goes unmentioned, even though Prime Minister Trudeau explicitly described it as “a terrorist attack against Muslims.” The 2014 murder of three New Brunswick RCMP officers by anti-government gun fanatic Justin Bourque is also nowhere to be found in CSIS’s report.
Despite the agency’s internal documents acknowledging the growing threat of right-wing extremism and the emergence of a homegrown anti-Islam movement, Canada’s spies prefer to surveil and demonize those who are more likely to be victims of terrorist attacks, conflating refugees with “threats to Canada and its interests.” The report claims “right-wing extremism has not been as significant a problem in Canada in recent years,” despite the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society’s widely reported finding that between 1990 and 2014, 59 per cent of lone wolf terror attacks in Canada were committed by white supremacists.
Indeed, the Network (whose research partners include CSIS and Public Safety Canada) published in September 2015 a rigorous academic study by Barbara Perry and Ryan Scrivens concluding that the right-wing extremist movement in Canada is “more extensive and more active than public rhetoric would suggest.”
Their report notes the existence of more than 100 such groups in Canada, some of which “were actively engaged in brutal acts of violence directed at an array of targets” that included Muslims, Jews, Indigenous people, LGBTQ community members and “people of colour such as Afro-Canadians, Asians and South Asians.”
Significantly, their research confirms that “a key factor enabling the emergence and sustainability of right-wing groups was a weak law enforcement response.
“Typically, activities of the far-right have not been monitored or taken seriously,” the report says, and “there was a tendency for officials to deny or trivialize the presence and threat.”
CSIS prefers to stick with the tired trope that all terrorism springs from internecine bloodletting in the Syrian and Iraqi deserts and Middle Eastern-based groups intent on undermining “Canadian values.”
The spectre of Muslim youth “radicalized” in Canada by online beheading videos remains CSIS’s top priority. The agency claims that “approximately 180 individuals with a nexus to Canada” have been suspected of engaging in terrorism-related activities, of whom 60 were “extremist travellers who had returned to Canada.”
But even here, the numbers present a distorted picture. By failing to differentiate between front-line fighters and those engaged in non-combat activities, from medical assistance to food preparation, CSIS creates the false impression that those who returned to Canada are all in sleeper cells waiting to be activated.
Public Safety concedes that some 20 per cent of “extremist travellers” are women (unlikely to be assigned combat duty), and that children have gone abroad with parents as well.
The spy agency has also remained mum on whether the numbers include non-Muslim Canadian fighters who very publicly fundraise and volunteer to fight for non-Daesh actors like the Kurdish Peshmerga, who have been accused by Amnesty International of committing war crimes in the razing of northern Iraq Arab villages.
The slippery relationship with reality that marks CSIS’s report is also reflected in Coulombe’s recognition of “the importance of openness and transparency with the Federal Court.” This noble sentiment fails to address numerous Federal Court decisions, including one as recent as October 2016 that criticized “a breach of the CSIS’s duty of candour” to the court. In that case, CSIS had failed to fully inform judges of a decade-long program illegally collecting and retaining information on Canadians who posed no threat.
There is no indication that anyone behind the walls of the secretive east-end Ottawa edifice that houses CSIS headquarters has been held accountable for illegally obtaining confidential taxpayer information, spying on Canadians held in foreign prisons or trading and receiving information that may lead to or has been gleaned from torture.
The lack of accountability structures for such misbehaviour enables and emboldens CSIS to continue operating with impunity.
But those looking to rein in Canada’s spies are not hopeful.
The Liberals’ Bill C-22, to create a Parliamentary committee to oversee national security, has been criticized by the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG), which last week raised concerns about the “broad powers granted to ministers to block investigations, limitations on committee members’ access to information, and the committee being responsible solely to the Prime Minister [leading the committee to become] a figurehead, unable to adequately carry out the oversight it is mandated to do.”
While the ICLMG adds that any such committee “must be complemented by an independent, expert review body [that] would encompass all of Canada’s national security activities,” CSIS head Coulombe is sanguine about maintaining the status quo, ending his report by stating: “Canadians can rest assured that we undertake this work with the utmost respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms that we seek to protect.”
The Vindication of Edward Snowden May 12, 2015Posted by rogerhollander in Constitution, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Surveillance, Surveillance State, Whistle-blowing.
Tags: aclu, bulk surveillance, conor friedersdorf, constitution, edward snowden, nsa, nsa secrets, patriot act, phone dragnet, roger hollander, state secrets, surveillance state, whistle blower, whistleblower
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Roger’s note: I suppose, at least in theory, there may be a justification for a “state secrets” doctrine. I could picture an extreme circumstance where the democratic right of the people and their representatives to know could be trumped because making information public could aid and abet an enemy in an imminently dangerous way. Nevertheless, that doctrine has been used and abused over and over again to evade accountability; and I am not aware of a single case where it was used to avoid an actual danger.
But with respect to “legality,” I have often referred to a speech given many years ago by the notable civil liberties lawyer William Kunstler, which showed how some of the most noteworthy crimes in history — from the executions of Socrates and Jesus to the Nazi Holocaust — have been perpetrated under the color of “the Law.” My point is that men (sic) make the laws and the victors write the history. Take the issue under consideration in the following article, Snowden’s uncovering of NSA bulk surveillance. A federal appeals court says it is illegal. This will be appealed to the Supreme Court, which could well reverse with the result that was illegal one day becomes legal the next.
The Law and the judicial system are sacred and not to be taken lightly. But in the final analysis, it comes down who holds political and economic and military power. And in our world today those who own and operate monopoly capitalism are in the driver’s seat. Justice will not come about until they are dislodged.
A federal appeals court has ruled that one of the NSA programs he exposed was illegal.
Mark Blinch / Reuters
Conor Friedersdorf May 11, 2015 http://www.theatlantic.com
Edward Snowden’s most famous leak has just been vindicated. Since June 2013, when he revealed that the telephone calls of Americans are being logged en masse, his critics have charged that he took it upon himself to expose a lawful secret. They insisted that Congress authorized the phone dragnet when it passed the U.S.A. Patriot Act, citing Section 215, a part of the law that pertains to business records.
That claim was always suspect. The text of the law does not seem to authorize mass surveillance. A primary author and longtime champion of the law avows that Congress never intended to authorize the phone dragnet. And nothing like it was ever discussed during an extensive, controversy-filled debate about its provisions.
Now the wrongheadedness of the national-security state’s position has been confirmed.
A panel of judges on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that the program Snowden exposed was never legal. The Patriot Act does not authorize it, contrary to the claims of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Michael Hayden, Keith Alexander, and James Clapper. “Statutes to which the government points have never been interpreted to authorize anything approaching the breadth of the sweeping surveillance at issue here,” Judge Gerard E. Lynch declared. “The sheer volume of information sought is staggering.”
Other conclusions reached by the three-judge panel include the following:
“The interpretation that the government asks us to adopt defies any limiting principle.”
“We would expect such a momentous decision to be preceded by substantial debate, and expressed in unmistakable language.There is no evidence of such a debate …”
“Congress cannot reasonably be said to have ratified a program of which many members of Congress—and all members of the public—were not aware … only a limited subset of members of Congress had a comprehensive understanding of the program…”
“Finding the government’s interpretation of the statute to have been ‘legislatively ratified’ under these circumstances would ignore reality.”
Consider what this means.
Telling the public about the phone dragnet didn’t expose a legitimate state secret. It exposed a violation of the constitutional order. For many years, the executive branch carried out a hugely consequential policy change that the legislature never approved. Tens of millions of innocent U.S. citizens were thus subject to invasions of privacy that no law authorized. And the NSA’s unlawful behavior would’ve continued, unknown to the public and unreviewed by Article III courts, but for Snowden’s leak, which caused the ACLU to challenge the illegal NSA program.
Snowden undeniably violated his promise to keep the NSA’s secrets.
But doing so was the only way to fulfill his higher obligation to protect and defend the Constitution, which was being violated by an executive branch exceeding its rightful authority and usurping the lawmaking function that belongs to the legislature. This analysis pertains only to the leaked documents that exposed the phone dragnet, not the whole trove of Snowden leaks, but with respect to that one set of documents there ought to be unanimous support for pardoning his disclosure.
Any punishment for revealing the phone dragnet would be unjust.
Now that a federal appeals court has found that Section 215 of the Patriot Act did not in fact authorize the policy, punishing a man for exposing the program would set this precedent: Whistleblowers will be punished for revealing illegal surveillance. That’s the position anyone who still wants Snowden prosecuted for that leak must take, if the ruling stands. (Other federal courts have issued rulings pointing in contrary directions, and this latest ruling will likely be appealed.)
Does the PATRIOT Act Allow Bulk Surveillance?
Consider how this federal court ruling informs the debate over state secrets generally. Civil libertarians have long warned that secret national-security policies undermine both representative democracy and our system of checks and balances.
And that is exactly what happened with respect to the phone dragnet!
NSA Intercepting Laptops Bought Online to Install Spy Malware December 30, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Surveillance, Surveillance State.
Tags: fourth amendment, nsa, nsa hackers, right to privacy, roger hollander, spy malware, surveillance, surveillance state, tailored access, tao
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Roger’s note: I think George Orwell underestimated the problem. According to Glenn Greenwald, “The NSA can literally watch every keystroke you make.”
The NSA’s TAO hacking unit is considered to be the intelligence agency’s top secret weapon
Germany’s Der Spiegel is reporting Sunday that the US National Security Agency (NSA), working with the CIA and FBI, has been intercepting laptops and other electronics bought online before delivery to install malware and other spying tools.
According to Der Spiegel, the NSA diverts shipping deliveries to its own “secret workshops” to install the software before resending the deliveries to their purchasers.
Elite hackers working for the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO) division are considered to be the intelligence agency’s top secret weapon.
The NSA’s TAO reportedly has backdoor access to many hardware and software systems from major tech companies such as Cisco, Dell, and Western Digital and others. The NSA exploits Microsoft Windows error reports to find weak spots in compromised machines in order to install Trojans and other viruses.
The Der Spiegel report also notes that the NSA has successfully tapped into some of the massive, under-sea fiber-optic cables that connect the global data infrastructure, in particular the “SEA-ME-WE-4″ cable system.
“This massive underwater cable bundle connects Europe with North Africa and the Gulf states and then continues on through Pakistan and India,” Der Spiegel reports, ”all the way to Malaysia and Thailand. The cable system originates in southern France, near Marseille. Among the companies that hold ownership stakes in it are France Telecom, now known as Orange and still partly government-owned, and Telecom Italia Sparkle.”
From Der Spiegel:
To conduct those types of operations, the NSA works together with other intelligence agencies such as the CIA and FBI, which in turn maintain informants on location who are available to help with sensitive missions. This enables TAO to attack even isolated networks that aren’t connected to the Internet. If necessary, the FBI can even make an agency-owned jet available to ferry the high-tech plumbers to their target. This gets them to their destination at the right time and can help them to disappear again undetected after even as little as a half hour’s work.
Responding to a query from SPIEGEL, NSA officials issued a statement saying, “Tailored Access Operations is a unique national asset that is on the front lines of enabling NSA to defend the nation and its allies.” The statement added that TAO’s “work is centered on computer network exploitation in support of foreign intelligence collection.” The officials said they would not discuss specific allegations regarding TAO’s mission.
Sometimes it appears that the world’s most modern spies are just as reliant on conventional methods of reconnaissance as their predecessors.
Take, for example, when they intercept shipping deliveries. If a target person, agency or company orders a new computer or related accessories, for example, TAO can divert the shipping delivery to its own secret workshops. The NSA calls this method interdiction. At these so-called “load stations,” agents carefully open the package in order to load malware onto the electronics, or even install hardware components that can provide backdoor access for the intelligence agencies. All subsequent steps can then be conducted from the comfort of a remote computer.
These minor disruptions in the parcel shipping business rank among the “most productive operations” conducted by the NSA hackers, one top secret document relates in enthusiastic terms. This method, the presentation continues, allows TAO to obtain access to networks “around the world.”
Even in the Internet Age, some traditional spying methods continue to live on.
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Ongoing NSA work August 30, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Constitution, Media, Surveillance, War.
Tags: candidate obama, chemical weapons, constitution, glenn greenwald, illegal surveillance, journalism, laura poitras, Media, nsa, president obama, press freedom, roger hollander, surveillance state, Syria, war
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Roger’s note: Watch the video at the bottom of this article, it is precious. Do you still love Obama?
Anti-journalism journalists, US/UK attacks on press freedom, and candidate Obama on non-authorized military attacks
For the past seven-plus years, I’ve written more or less every day. That pattern has obviously changed over the last three months, during which time my posting has been more infrequent. That’s because I’ve been prioritizing my work on these NSA documents and articles, which take a fair amount of time to process, report and then write. I’m currently working on several NSA/GCHQ stories at once right now that I expect to be published shortly, so daily writing will likely not resume for a couple more weeks or so.
I’ll try to post something new here at least once every 3 days, if for no other reason than to ensure that the comment section remains open. In the meantime, here are several items worth considering:
(1) The New York Times’ David Carr has an excellent column on what drives the very odd phenomenon that the leading advocates for attacking and even criminalizing journalism come not from the government but from . . . certain journalists.
(2) In Der Spiegel, Laura Poitras has a column on the “blatant attacks on press freedoms” coming from the UK and their superiors in the US national security state.
(3) NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen has a great essay on the lessons about journalism revealed by the NSA stories, concluding: “Journalism almost has to be brought closer to activism to stand a chance of prevailing in its current struggle with the state.”
(4) In 2008, President Obama, when he was a candidate for President, had this question-and-answer exchange with the Boston Globe:
“Q. In what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress? (Specifically, what about the strategic bombing of suspected nuclear sites — a situation that does not involve stopping an IMMINENT threat?)
“OBAMA: The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.
“As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent.”
Given that not even the most ardent interventionists for Syria contend that the bombing is necessary for US national security, how can a military attack on Syria without Congressional approval possibly be reconciled with that position? When the same issue arose with Obama’s war in Libya in the absence of Congressional approval (indeed, after Congress expressly rejected its authorization), State Department adviser Harold Koh was forced to repudiate Obama’s own words and say he was wrong back then. Who will play that role this time? As is so often the case, there is a much starker debate between candidate Obama and President Obama than there is between the leadership of both political parties in Washington: