Tag: united states

Venezuela offers asylum to Edward Snowden

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro had offered asylum to the former US intelligence contractor on Friday and it was just a matter of getting him out of Russia with no one noticing.

The timing of the announcement coincided with Venezuelan independence day celebrations. Nothing says “independence” better than offering humanitarian asylum to someone who needs to escape “persecution of American imperialism”.

On 14 June, 2013, US federal prosecutors charged Snowden with espionage and theft of government

property. Snowden is believed to have asked 27 countries for asylum, most of whom had turned down his request since he outed himself as the NSA whistleblower responsible for leaking information about US government spy programmes. 

Russia’s head of international affairs, Alexei Pushkov, tweeted: “Venezuela is waiting for an answer from Snowden. This, perhaps, is his last chance to receive political asylum”.

So far, Venezuela claims to have not heard from Snowden yet, who is reportedly still in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.

AP reports the only way for Snowden to get to South America is if Venezuela provides him with travel documents, adding that the only direct commercial flight is from Moscow to Havana, Cuba. This could prove problematic for Snowden, as the flight would have to pass over European and US territories – which grounded Bolivian president Evo Morales last week.

Bolivia and Nicaragua have also said Snowden may seek asylum in their countries.

A “press release” is doing the rounds on social media that claims Snowden is in Venezuela now, as confirmed to Al Jazeera, but it appears to be a hoax.

Edward Snowden issues statement on Wikileaks

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden blasted the Obama administration and claimed he had more information to release, even though it is starting to appear his relations with countries who initially backed him are being increasingly strained.

Snowden is still believed to be staying in a transit area at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and is asking for asylum in several countries, including Russia, China, Brazil, India and Ireland.

In a statement to WikiLeaks, Snowden accused the Obama administration of deception in a campaign to prevent him from finding political asylum and of leaving him a stateless person by revoking his US passport.

Snowden said that he was free and could continue to publish information that serves the public interest. However, he does seem to think that some US spooks are going to bump him off.

“No matter how many more days my life contains, I remain dedicated to the fight for justice in this unequal world. If any of those days ahead realize a contribution to the common good, the world will have the principles of Ecuador to thank,” he said.

There are signs his relationship with Ecuador are being tested. The government, which reportedly gave him a temporary travel pass, has now said that it can’t give him asylum until he gets to Ecuador.

A government spokesperson said that giving Snowden a temporary travel pass to fly to Moscow was “a mistake on our part” and that Snowden was now Russia’s problem. Ecuador was not responsible for getting him to Ecuador.

In his Wikileaks statement, Snowden lashed out at US president Barack Obama and vice president Joe Biden for pressing Ecuador to turn him away.

“This kind of deception from a world leader is not justice, and neither is the extralegal penalty of exile,” he said.

Snowden said that while the public has cried out support of his shining a light on the NSA revelations, the government of the USA responded with an extrajudicial man-hunt costing him his family, freedom to travel, and right to live peacefully without fear of illegal aggression.

Curiously, according to Reuters, Russian Tsar Vladimir Putin said Snowden could stay in Russia on the condition that he stops his work aimed at harming America. Supporters would argue it is not America in general he is harming, but its secretive spying organisations like the NSA.

Putin said he suspected that Snowden would continue leaking information because “he feels himself to be a human rights activist”.

While this might seem odd at first, it’s really not when you consider that Snowden sees himself as a human rights advocate while Putin sees himself as the Tsar of all Russias. Tsars don’t usually get on with human rights activitists even if they are revealing details about other countries. Besides, Snowden might have access to American dirt on Putin which he would prefer was not revealed.

The best course for Putin is to say Russia is not working with Snowden, but add that he has no intention of handing Snowden over to the United States.

“Russia has never given up anyone to anybody and does not plan to. And nobody ever gave anyone up to us,” Putin said.

To put Putin’s comments in some perspective, he has previously defended the use of government surveillance similar to those revealed by Snowden’s Prism leaks.

Pre-infected hardware and software ships to the US

The US Department of Homeland Security has warned that hardware is being shipped from foreign parts with malware and spyware pre-installed.

While many think that this would have the advantage of cutting out the middle man, Greg Schaffer, the Department of Homeland Security’s acting deputy undersecretary for national protection and programs, said that the problem is getting worse.

Schaffer was talking to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. It’s thinking about an Obama-backed proposal to tighten monitoring on computer equipment imported for critical government and communications infrastructure.

Schaffer didn’t mention if he was talking about end-user consumer tech like retail laptops, DVDs and media players, or the serious business computers leant on by government departments.

However, it is the first time that the United States has publicly confirmed that foreign consumer technology is arriving in the country already loaded with nasty bugs like key-logging software, botnet components and even software designed to defeat security programs installed on the same machine.

He was asked by Jason Chaffetz, who was worried that using software and hardware built overseas ran the risk that items could be embedded in them already.

Schaffer tried to get a bit woolly and said  the issue was important to Barack Obama. Chaffetz cut him off and restated the question, to ask him if he was aware of “any component software or hardware coming to the United States of America that already have security risks embedded into those components”.

Schaffer paused before saying he was aware that there have been instances where that has happened.

To be fair to Schaffer, there have been cases were software was infected by malware at the plant before it shipped. However this had little to do with an attempt to spy on the computers. More often it is just that the disk image gets infected by mistake.

If hardware is being tinkered with, that would be another matter. So far there have been no public cases of this happening.

The exchange is on YouTube.

Homeland Security nabs "pirate domain names"

In the US, Hollywood has put its government paid spooks to work shutting down websites so that it does not have to get court orders.

Homeland Security, the role of which is to tackle terrorist organisations, has seized several domain names which it says are associated with copyright infringement or counterfeit related crimes.

Two of the sites are hosting copyrighted films, which could have been closed down by a traditional court order.

Under the title “Operation In Our Sites” Homeland Security has been shutting down sites that peddle counterfeit goods, however it has also used it as an umbrella to shut down a dozen file-sharing and streaming sites and many more accused of selling counterfeit goods.

The latest round includes Re1ease.net, Watchnewfilms.com, Dvdcollectionsale.com, Dvdscollection.com, Dvdsetsonline.com and Newstylerolex.com

The first two did not host any copyrighted films themselves but they made the mistake of linking to movie streaming sites such as Veoh.com and Megavideo.com.

ICE director John Morton admitted that his organisation was acting based on a shopping list from movie industry representatives.

As Torrentfreak has pointed out, everyone knows that it is a complete waste of time seizing the domain names as the pirates simply move to other sites.

However Homeland Security considers it part of the “public education about pirating.”  

After all, the public needs to learn that its tax dollar is being spent on keeping Hollywood executives in their swimming pools by making futile gambits.

We can expect more futile education gestures when the government passes its new anti-piracy law the PROTECT IP Act.

That will allow domain seizures, blocking of sites at an ISP level, censorship of  search engines and the public drawing and quartering of pirates, while fat movie executives dance on their entrails. We made the last one up.

Meanwhile, in Germany, coppers acting on the request of Big Content raided a political party headquarters and took computer equipment.

The fact that the “Piracy Party” is a popular movement against Big Content and currently the sixth largest political party in Germany does not enter into it. The other fact that the Pirate Party was participating in the upcoming State election in Bremen this Sunday and might have gotten more people into a position to stop Big Content’s actions was not the reason for the raid either.

Apparently the servers were taken down following a request from the French and had something to do with the activity of a virtual server which went through the Pirate Party HQ.

Word on the street was that the Piratepad service which used the virtual server published an SSH Key which was allegedly used to attack a server of the French energy group EDF. 

US coppers steal phone data

Coppers in the former British colony of Virginia are stealing data from the phones of citizens they pull over.

The Michigan State Police are using handheld “extraction devices” which packet sniff the car’s electronic data and internet connection.

The gizmo is peddled by a company called Cellebrite and can download text messages, photos, video, and GPS data from most brands of mobile phones.

It can bypass security passwords and access some information. Which is a pretty serious drive-by hack. It is particularly galling since the people they have pulled over might not have committed a crime.

The move has miffed civil rights groups in the US who feel that accessing a citizen’s private phone information like this is a violation of the Constitution’s 4th Amendment.

The smugglers and criminals who drew up the US constitution were dead against unreasonable searches and seizures as a barrier to trade.

The American Civil Liberties Union  has asked the coppers about their use of the devices under the Freedom of Information Act. The coppers have said they are happy to comply if the ACLU provides them with a processing fee in excess of $500,000.  So that would be a no then.

Of couse the ACLU says that is not particularly fair and that a public policing agency should be open.

We are expecting this to end in court, but it is a bit alarming that there is gear that can conduct a drive by hack, being used by coppers, with no legal oversight. 

It means that a policeman does not have to ask for a girl he fancies phone number in a bar any more.  He just runs the device and knows her number, address, friends, and if she is single.

What is perhaps a little more chilling is there is a mentality amoungst police and security forces that thinks that this is ok.

EU considers walking away from US data agreement

The EU has had a gutsful of the US refusing to honour a deal on bank data monitoring and is thinking of walking away from it.

The US-European data agreement SWIFT was supposed to provide everyone with transparency about bank transactions, but it has been completely one sided. While the US has been getting the data it wanted, EU officials have been unable to get data back.

It came to a head yesterday when one European parliamentarian’s attempts to determine if US officials had accessed his personal account information failed.

The US has effectively shot itself in the foot over the deal. The European Parliament only approved  the SWIFT agreement with the United States with much reluctance. It allows the transfer of data pertaining to European bank customers to US investigators. You would expect that the US would be jolly happy with the deal and try to make sure it worked.

However it seems US arrogance has created a scenario where the Europeans rat on their citizens while the US keeps secret about its own spying activies. It is remarkably similar to the extradition arrangements between the US and Blighty where Britain has to turn over its citizens to US kangaroo courts while US citizens can flee home and not face UK justice.

However provisions of those guidelines have been widely ignored and last week a report from the Europol Joint Supervisory Body (JSB) noted that the written requests received by Europol, the EU-wide law enforcement organisation, from the US were too vague to decide on their validity.

Despite all this the Europeans have shown willing and agreed to every request. This has meant that they have not had the oversight of the process that they would have liked.

However another clause meant that every EU citizen has the right to know if American authorities had access to personal banking data and if so, which authorities received that information.

But Alexander Alvaro, a member of European Parliament from Germany’s Free Democrats, has been doing a test in an attempt to obtain the information entitled to him from German authorities.

However the German authorities have not yet been able to find out whether data has been accessed at all, because the US will not tell them.

This means that the rights of EU citizens on correction, deletion or blockage of the data are being violated and the SWIFT treaty is only being obeyed by the Europeans, who did not particularly want it in the first place.

Rebuttals surface on Glaser's Taiwanese sell-out suggestion

No sooner had the ink dried on George Washington University professor Charles Glaser’s attemped slam dunk against Taiwan – in the current issue of Foreign Affairs magazine – than two rebuttals in equally-influential publications slamming Glaser’s glazed potshots surfaced.

Writing in ‘The Diplomat‘, James Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara, both associate professors of strategy at the US Naval War College, said that ceding territory to land-hungry powers, as Glaser opined in “Foreign Affairs”, was a “morally bankrupt enterprise” that can only represent a temporary fix.

J. Michael Cole, deputy news editor of the Taipei Times, frontpaged the two rebuttals.

He noted that while “Glaser said that to avoid a costly arms race between the US and China and to ensure Beijing’s cooperation on a number of disputes in Asia, Washington should accommodate Beijing by backing away from its security commitment to Taiwan” — and that when a power has “limited territorial goals,” meeting those demands might not lead to further demands, but rather reduced tensions – Holmes and Yoshihara wrote in “Getting Real About Taiwan” that “‘buying peace with land has been tried many times before – with ephemeral results at best.”

“The United States should make every effort to enlist China as co-guarantor of the international system over which it has presided since 1945 – a system that benefits all stakeholders in globalisation, including China and fellow Asian nations,” Holmes and Yoshihara added.

While Washington should not pay any price for an Asia-Pacific entente, Holmes and Yoshihara wrote, “Glaser apparently would. He terms Taiwan a ‘less-than-vital’ US interest. In international relations-speak, that means an interest for which the United States shouldn’t fight.”

“The island and its residents – US friends of long standing – would be the most obvious casualty of this effort to create a new normal in East Asia,” they wrote, Cole noted, adding that ”sympathy for stricken friends aside, morality should not be the only consideration for the US.”

“It’s far from clear that trading the [democratic] island [nation] away would stabilise broader Sino-US relations or Asian security,” Holmes and Yoshihara wrote. “Taiwan has long served as a literal and figurative cork in China’s bottle, riveting Beijing’s attention on the cross-strait stalemate while complicating north-south movement along the Asian seaboard and access to the Western Pacific.”

Enter the Wall Street Journal, where US-Taiwan Business Council president Rupert Hammond-Chambers said there were both moral and strategic reasons for the United States standing by Taiwan, its longtime ally, pointing to partnerships on research, design and manufacturing technology between the two nations upon which US firms have come to rely.

“The recent severing of Chinese rare earth exports to Japan should focus minds on supply-chain security and how reliable we feel our business partners are, particularly when intellectual property is involved,” Hammond-Chambers wrote in an article titled “Time to Straighten Out America’s Taiwan Policy.”

So it’s Glaser 1, Holmes, Yoshihara and Hammond-Chambers 2. Stay tuned. More re-rebuttals and re-re-rebuttals are coming soon. It’s a never-ending story and it’s all Strait talk.

United States wants to recruit children in cybersecurity war

Last year, India swooped itself in search of what it called an elite team of cyber security experts, not just for security but for the offensive too. The US is waking up and smelling the e-napalm in the morning, conducting its own search to find 10,000 to join cybersecurity ranks.

Instead of offering enticing pay packages from existing agencies or IT professionals as in India, the US initiative is tapping talent at its own high schools by way of a competition.

The “US Cyber Challenge Cyber Foundations” competition began this week, plugged by not-for-profit Center for Internet Security. It has support from Senator Thomas Carper, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee. He says if America is going to stand up to the growing security threat “we must focus on the next generation of Americans to make sure they have the skills necessary to defend our country.”

Rhode Island Congressman Jim Langevin was roped into support too – saying that the States has to pick them young to “develop a competent workforce that can support the needs of securing our cyber networks, which is quickly becoming a national priority.”

Winners in the competition, which will mainly consist of timed quizzes on network security, will get prizes and introductions to members of government and industry top dogs. The lucky 10,000 may or may not find an easier pathway into security careers but at least in this war you sit in the relative comfort of a dingy government office rather than eating compressed processed meat in a hellish desert. 

Wikileaks did not end the United States

Despite claims that the United States was badly damaged by the leaks of diplomatic cables by Wikileaks, privately diplomats are admitted that it really made no odds.

Several internal U.S. government reviews have decided that the mass leak of diplomatic cables caused only limited damage to U.S. Interests.

A congressional official briefed on the reviews admitted that the Obama administration had to talk up the effects of the leaks to bolster legal efforts to shut down the WikiLeaks website and bring charges against the leakers.

In short they were talking tough to scare the rest of the US into calling for the crucification of Wikileaks and Private Manning.

State Department officials have privately told Congress, and Reuters that they expect overall damage to U.S. foreign policy to be containable.

The fact is that every country has sent similar cables between their diplomatic offices and home governments. Many of them understand that the perceptions of their diplomats is useful, but not written in stone.

As for the claim by State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley that hundreds of people have been put at potential risk because their names have been compromised in the release of these cables, yeah, that was bollocks.

National security officials who carried out the damage assessments for the defense and intelligence agencies told Reuters the reviews so far have shown “pockets” of short-term damage, some of it potentially harmful. But long-term damage to U.S. intelligence and defence operations, however, is unlikely to be serious.

Places most damaged by the Wikileaks cables were those countries where links to the US turned out to be closer than local officials publicly admit.

Yemen’s president saying he would allow U.S. personnel to engage in counter-terrorism operations on Yemeni territory was a bit of an eye opener as he publicly that the operations were being handled by domestic security forces.

Although the idea that governments should be more open to their voters does not seem to have occurred to anyone. 

Korea crisis could have domino effect on DRAM, LCD markets

As the barely-together, rotting olive branch that has been holding North and South Korea together snaps, it’s worrying news for the world and its markets. In what could be attention seeking provocation or something which will escalate, North Korea has been firing artillery shells at a residential island in South Korea. South Korea has returned fire and they have both been trading blows since, the comparably measured hostility from the DMZ having reached boiling point. 

The Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea is a patch of territory where each army stands, day in, day out, pointing their guns at the other. Near the DMZ is Seoul, capitalist and US-friendly South Korea’s capital. And here much of the trading on the South korea Stock Exchange happens.

Already, a market analyst at South Korean Samsung predicted that, “inevitably,” the stock market will open slower from the act of aggression, reports Reuters.  But Samsung would downplay it if possible. It says this is more serious than testing missiles, but less serious than nuclear testing – but civilians have been targeted.

An analyst for Tong Yang Securities tells Reuters: “The North’s provocation historically sent shockwaves to the stock market, which has subsequently returned to normal. The latest incident may pose more risk as some South Koreans were reportedly injured by the North’s fire.”

What will happen? Many of the cogs in the electronics market are oiled by big business in South Korea: Samsung, Hynix, LG and others.   It could very well have a domino effect. The KRX100 is down 29.23 points, the KOSPI is down 15.40 points and the KOSDAQ is down 4.40 points. 

And what of the neighbours? Japan must be worried as North Korea has shown aggression to it before. China, while historically more sympathetic to North Korea than the rest of its world, doesn’t want disruption in Asia: its strength and its power is based on trade. 

Like incidents before, the situation may blow over. But it is a determinedly heavy act of aggression and there’s every possibility the world will have to tread carefully.