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Revealed: how Microsoft handed the NSA access to encrypted messages


Posted on July 11, 2013 by Akashma Online News

July 11, 2013 By Edward Snowden News

Hours after CNBC reported that ValueAct Capital Management threw nearly $2 billion into Microsoft Corporation, April 22, 2013

ValueAct Capital, LLC is a San Francisco based hedge fund. The firm offers its services to high net worth individuals and institutions while investing in the public equity and hedging markets of the United States.

• Files released show scale of Silicon Valley co-operation on Prism
• Outlook.com encryption unlocked even before official launch
• Skype worked to enable Prism collection of video calls
• Company says it is legally compelled to comply

Microsoft has collaborated closely with US intelligence services to allow users’ communications to be intercepted, including helping the National Security Agency to circumvent the company’s own encryption, according to top-secret documents obtained by the Guardian.

The files provided by Edward Snowden illustrate the scale of co-operation between Silicon Valley and the intelligence agencies over the last three years. They also shed new light on the workings of the top-secret Prism program, which was disclosed by the Guardian and the Washington Post last month.

The documents show that:

• Microsoft helped the NSA to circumvent its encryption to address concerns that the agency would be unable to intercept web chats on the new Outlook.com portal;

• The agency already had pre-encryption stage access to email on Outlook.com, including Hotmail;

• The company worked with the FBI this year to allow the NSA easier access via Prism to its cloud storage service SkyDrive, which now has more than 250 million users worldwide;

• Microsoft also worked with the FBI’s Data Intercept Unit to “understand” potential issues with a feature in Outlook.com that allows users to create email aliases;

Skype has been acquired by Microsoft for a whopping $8.5 billion. News.com

• Skype, which was bought by Microsoft in October 2011, worked with intelligence agencies last year to allow Prism to collect video of conversations as well as audio;

• Material collected through Prism is routinely shared with the FBI and CIA, with one NSA document describing the program as a “team sport”.

The latest NSA revelations further expose the tensions between Silicon Valley and the Obama administration. All the major tech firms are lobbying the government to allow them to disclose more fully the extent and nature of their co-operation with the NSA to meet their customers’ privacy concerns. Privately, tech executives are at pains to distance themselves from claims of collaboration and teamwork given by the NSA documents, and insist the process is driven by legal compulsion.

In a statement, Microsoft said: “When we upgrade or update products we aren’t absolved from the need to comply with existing or future lawful demands.” The company reiterated its argument that it provides customer data “only in response to government demands and we only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers”.

In June, the Guardian revealed that the NSA claimed to have “direct access” through the Prism program to the systems of many major internet companies, including Microsoft, Skype, Apple, Google, Facebook and Yahoo.

Blanket orders from the secret surveillance court allow these communications to be collected without an individual warrant if the NSA operative has a 51% belief that the target is not a US citizen and is not on US soil at the time. Targeting US citizens does require an individual warrant, but the NSA is able to collect Americans’ communications without a warrant if the target is a foreign national located overseas.

Since Prism’s existence became public, Microsoft and the other companies listed on the NSA documents as providers have denied all knowledge of the program and insisted that the intelligence agencies do not have back doors into their systems.

Microsoft’s latest marketing campaign, launched in April, emphasizes its commitment to privacy with the slogan: “Your privacy is our priority.”

Similarly, Skype’s privacy policy states: “Skype is committed to respecting your privacy and the confidentiality of your personal data, traffic data and communications content.”

But internal NSA newsletters, marked top secret, suggest the co-operation between the intelligence community and the companies is deep and ongoing.

The latest documents come from the NSA’s Special Source Operations (SSO) division, described by Snowden as the “crown jewel” of the agency. It is responsible for all programs aimed at US communications systems through corporate partnerships such as Prism.

The files show that the NSA became concerned about the interception of encrypted chats on Microsoft’s Outlook.com portal from the moment the company began testing the service in July last year.

Within five months, the documents explain, Microsoft and the FBI had come up with a solution that allowed the NSA to circumvent encryption on Outlook.com chats

A newsletter entry dated 26 December 2012 states: “MS [Microsoft], working with the FBI, developed a surveillance capability to deal” with the issue. “These solutions were successfully tested and went live 12 Dec 2012.”

Two months later, in February this year, Microsoft officially launched the Outlook.com portal.

Another newsletter entry stated that NSA already had pre-encryption access to Outlook email. “For Prism collection against Hotmail, Live, and Outlook.com emails will be unaffected because Prism collects this data prior to encryption.”

Microsoft’s co-operation was not limited to Outlook.com. An entry dated 8 April 2013 describes how the company worked “for many months” with the FBI – which acts as the liaison between the intelligence agencies and Silicon Valley on Prism – to allow Prism access without separate authorization to its cloud storage service SkyDrive.

The document describes how this access “means that analysts will no longer have to make a special request to SSO for this – a process step that many analysts may not have known about”.

The NSA explained that “this new capability will result in a much more complete and timely collection response”. It continued: “This success is the result of the FBI working for many months with Microsoft to get this tasking and collection solution established.”

A separate entry identified another area for collaboration. “The FBI Data Intercept Technology Unit (DITU) team is working with Microsoft to understand an additional feature in Outlook.com which allows users to create email aliases, which may affect our tasking processes.”

The NSA has devoted substantial efforts in the last two years to work with Microsoft to ensure increased access to Skype, which has an estimated 663 million global users.

One document boasts that Prism monitoring of Skype video production has roughly tripled since a new capability was added on 14 July 2012. “The audio portions of these sessions have been processed correctly all along, but without the accompanying video. Now, analysts will have the complete ‘picture’,” it says.

Eight months before being bought by Microsoft, Skype joined the Prism program in February 2011.

According to the NSA documents, work had begun on smoothly integrating Skype into Prism in November 2010, but it was not until 4 February 2011 that the company was served with a directive to comply signed by the attorney general.

The NSA was able to start tasking Skype communications the following day, and collection began on 6 February. “Feedback indicated that a collected Skype call was very clear and the metadata looked complete,” the document stated, praising the co-operation between NSA teams and the FBI. “Collaborative teamwork was the key to the successful addition of another provider to the Prism system.”

 

Janus Friis-Niklas Zennstrom founders

ACLU technology expert Chris Soghoian said the revelations would surprise many Skype users. “In the past, Skype made affirmative promises to users about their inability to perform wiretaps,” he said. “It’s hard to square Microsoft’s secret collaboration with the NSA with its high-profile efforts to compete on privacy with Google.”

The information the NSA collects from Prism is routinely shared with both the FBI and CIA. A 3 August 2012 newsletter describes how the NSA has recently expanded sharing with the other two agencies.

The NSA, the entry reveals, has even automated the sharing of aspects of Prism, using software that “enables our partners to see which selectors [search terms] the National Security Agency has tasked to Prism”.

The document continues: “The FBI and CIA then can request a copy of Prism collection of any selector…” As a result, the author notes: “these two activities underscore the point that Prism is a team sport!”

In its statement to the Guardian, Microsoft said:

We have clear principles which guide the response across our entire company to government demands for customer information for both law enforcement and national security issues. First, we take our commitments to our customers and to compliance with applicable law very seriously, so we provide customer data only in response to legal processes.

Second, our compliance team examines all demands very closely, and we reject them if we believe they aren’t valid. Third, we only ever comply with orders about specific accounts or identifiers, and we would not respond to the kind of blanket orders discussed in the press over the past few weeks, as the volumes documented in our most recent disclosure clearly illustrate.

Finally when we upgrade or update products legal obligations may in some circumstances require that we maintain the ability to provide information in response to a law enforcement or national security request. There are aspects of this debate that we wish we were able to discuss more freely. That’s why we’ve argued for additional transparency that would help everyone understand and debate these important issues.

In a joint statement, Shawn Turner, spokesman for the director of National Intelligence, and Judith Emmel, spokeswoman for the NSA, said:

The articles describe court-ordered surveillance – and a US company’s efforts to comply with these legally mandated requirements. The US operates its programs under a strict oversight regime, with careful monitoring by the courts, Congress and the Director of National Intelligence. Not all countries have equivalent oversight requirements to protect civil liberties and privacy.

They added: “In practice, US companies put energy, focus and commitment into consistently protecting the privacy of their customers around the world, while meeting their obligations under the laws of the US and other countries in which they operate.”

The ‘Usual Suspects’: Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and Palau

December 28, 2012 1 comment

Posted on December 28, 2012 by Akashma Online News

Source Daily Kos
by James Risser
If you give it some thoughts to the UN Vote for Palestine only 5 countries VOTE NO,  US, Israel, Australia, Panama and Czech Republic, the other 4 countries couldn’t even be considered independent countries. Even thought they are declared independent Nations, they wholly depend on US.

So Israel should really be concerned about its standing against the world.

The only time I personally ever hear or read about the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and Palau is after a vote at the United Nations.

There has never been a diary written about this grouping of four countries, so why are they considered ‘the usual suspects’?  In fact, I have no idea why anyone would even click on this diary, and if there is an award for the least significant diary of the day, this may be it.

But, if you did click here, you may now be curious and are asking: ‘why oh why are they ‘the usual suspects”? Well, these countries form the supporting block of countries that the United States can depend on, along with Israel and Australia, to customarily vote as a block of six.

In fact, the only time I personally ever hear or read about the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and Palau is after a vote at the United Nations.

This brief diary offers an explanation of why this unbreakable pact exists.

For the geographically-challenged, such as myself, who have no idea where these four countries are, here is a map, courtesy of wikipedia.

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NAURU-Population 14,000

The first secretary in the Australian Embassy, Jonathan Chew, gently but firmly set me straight. Nauru is an independent nation, he explained to me. He could assure me that Australia does not dictate to independent nations how to vote in the UN. Australia opposed the draft resolution this time, too, as it has before, because it felt that it was not sufficiently balanced and therefore would do nothing to promote peace, and Australia, of course, supports efforts to promote peace. Evidently, this is also the view of the United States, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau and Nauru. At least half the people of Israel support the main points of the UN resolution, as does the vast majority of the people on the planet, but it’s nice to know, that we have friends and that we’re not alone.

The Australian writer of this piece goes on to explain that:

Nauru is very much dependent on Australian financial support. It is hardly a tourist resort and its main service for Australia is running an offshore detention centre.

Parenthetically, the writer adds:

(While the conditions there are atrocious it is no Guantanamo Bay. The people kept there are asylum seekers who fell foul of the Howard government’s “pacific solution” policy.)

I had never heard of this ‘pacific solution‘ before today; maybe everyone else knew about it.  Sounds rather sick though:

The Pacific Solution was the name given to the Australian government policy of diverting asylum seekers to detention camps on small island nations in the Pacific Ocean, rather than allowing them to land on the Australian mainland.

Regardless, it does have a vote at the United Nations.  I leave it to the reader to ponder on how many votes it has cast inconsistent with Australia.

REPUBLIC OF THE MARSHALL ISLANDS-Population 54,816

Between 1946 and 1958 the United States tested 67 nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands, including the largest nuclear test the United States ever conducted, Castle Bravo.

The results of these ‘nuclear tests’ are still to be found in its residents.  Here is young child:

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The United States also maintains the U.S. Army’s Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll. It is an important aspect of the Marshallese economy, as the Marshallese land owners receive rent for the base, and a large number of Marshallese work at the base.

The combination of the litigation over the nuclear remains of America’s experiments, and the fact that the

United States Government assistance is the mainstay of the economy.

may be the reason why we can count on their vote, no?

PALAU-Population 20,609

Palau’s government web-site

Palau has a constitutional government in free association with the United States. The Compact of Free Association was entered into with the United States on October 1, 1994, also marking Palau’s independence.

Following the defeat of Japan in WWII, the Carolines, Marianas and Marshall Islands became United Nation’s Trust Territories under US administration. Palau was named one of six island districts. As part of this arrangement, the US was to improve Palau’s infrastructure and educational system in order for it to become a self-sufficient nation. This finally came about on October 1, 1994, when Palau gained its independence upon signing of the Compact of Free Association with the United States.

The Compact of Free Association with the United States provides Palau with $500 million in US aid over 15 years in return for furnishing military facilities

Those freely associated states are where we tested some dozens of atomic bombs even as the locals went about their daily routines. As a Nation we did great harm to the indigenous peoples of these islands and we owe them some restitution.  In 1986 we entered into a Compact of Free Association (Compact) with the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). Each year between 1986 and 2003 the US sent $1.5 billion to FSM and $1 billion to RMI.  It may be these large sums of money that helped to attract Abramoff and the GOP to the Pacific. It certainly helped to attract the Tan Family to the islands.

Now, in November 2003, Congress passed and Bush signed the Compact of Free Association Amendments Act of 2003. This increased the funding to $2.1 billion for FSM and $1.5 billion for RMI for every year until 2023.

Under the terms of the Compact of Free Association with the United States, Palau will receive more than $450 million in assistance over 15 years and is eligible to participate in more than 40 federal programs. The first grant of $142 million was made in 1994. Further annual payments in lesser amounts will be made through 2009. Total U.S. grant income in 2005 was $25.9 million.

Having once boasted the second highest per capita GDP in the world thanks to its fabled phosphate mines, Nauru is today destitute. With the seeming depletion of readily accessible phosphate reserves in 2000, mining on a large-scale commercial basis ended  [snip]

Although Nauru had a nominal per capita GDP in excess of $2,700, its economy is in deep crisis, and the resumption of mining promises only a limited respite as the country seeks to find a sustainable economic future. [snip]

Trade between the United States and Nauru is limited by the latter’s small size and economic problems. The value of two-way trade in 2005 was $1.6 million

MICRONESIA-Population 111,542

Micronesia Population

They too, are part of the Compact of Free Association, and receive millions of dollars of support for furnishing the United States military facilities.

Hmmm, that may explain it.

It is rather sad that the only way America can get people in the world to vote in accordance with its extremist ideology is to simply buy them from states whose people, if they want to eat and live, have to sell their vote to the United States.

So there you have it; ‘the usual suspects’ explained.  Four countries, spread over hundreds of the world’s tiniest islands, most uninhabited, each of the four with a vote in the United Nations.  Each beholding to either the United States or Australia for their very existence.  It is downright shameful that this country stoops so low…

But, 150-something to 6 or 7 sounds a lot better than 150-something to 2 or 3, doesn’t it?

The Gaza Ceasefire: An Early Assessment


Posted on November 24, 2012 by Akashma Online News

by Richard Falk

The Gaza Ceasefire, unlike a similar ceasefire achieved after Operation Cast Lead four years ago, is an event that has a likely significance far beyond ending the violence after eight days of murderous attacks. It is just possible that it will be looked back upon as a turning point in the long struggle between Israel and Palestine. Many have talked about ‘the fog of war,’ but it pales besides the ‘the fog of truce making,’ and in our media-infected air, the outcomes along with conjectures about the future are already being spun in all possible directions. Supporters of every position give their own spin, and then proclaim ‘victory.’ But as with the violent phases of the conflict, it is clarifying to distinguish the more persuasive contentions and interpretations from those that are less persuasive. What follows is one such attempt at such clarification.

It remains too soon to tell whether the ceasefire will hold for very long, and if it does, whether its central provisions will be implemented in good faith. At this early moment, the prospects are not promising. Israel has already used excessive violence to disperse Palestinian civilians who gathered on the Gaza side of the border, with a few straying across into Israel, to celebrate what they thought was their new freedom now to venture close to the border. This so-called ‘no-go-area’ was decreed by Israel after its 2005 ‘disengagement’ has been a killing field where 213, including 17 children and 154 uninvolved, had lost their lives according to Israeli human rights organizations. Israeli security forces, after firing warning shots, killed one Palestinian civilian and wounded another 20 others with live ammunition. The Israeli explanation was that it had given warnings, and since there had been no agreement on new ground rules implementing the ceasefire, the old regime of control was still in place. It is notable that Hamas protested, but at this point has made no moves to cancel the ceasefire or to retaliate violently, but the situation remains tense, fragile, and subject to change.

Putting aside the precariousness of the current situation and the accompanying uncertainties, it remains useful to look at the process by which the ceasefire was brought about, how this sheds light on the changing dynamics of the conflict itself, as well as discloses some underlying shifts in the regional and global balances of forces.

First of all, the role and outlook of the Arab governments was far more pro-active than in past interludes of intensified Israel/Palestine violence. During attacks several leading foreign ministers from the region visited Gaza and were received by the Hamas governing authorities, thus undermining the Israeli policy of isolating Hamas and excluding it from participation in diplomacy affecting the Palestinian people. Egypt played the critical role in brokering the agreement, and despite the Muslim Brotherhood affiliation of its leaders. Mohammed Morsi, the Egyptian President, emerged as the key diplomatic figure in the process and widely praised by the West for his ‘pragmatism.’ This can be understood as recognition of Morsi’s capability as a statesman to address the concerns of both sides without intruding his own pro-Palestinian outlook. Indeed, the auspices of this brokered agreement inverted what Americans have brought to the table in past negotiations, a pretension of balance, a reality of partisanship. Read more…

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