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Archive for December, 2016

Court Upholds Warrantless Surveillance of US Citizens Under Section 702

Uncategorized | Posted by admin December 6th, 2016

The US federal appeals court has rejected the efforts to overturn the results of “United States v Mohamud” case, which began with a 2010 holiday bomb plot. The ruling will result in unique implications for the private communications of American citizens, privacy advocates have warned.

Mohamud, a Somali-American was accused of trying to blow up a lighting ceremony in Portland in 2010, with the support of a covert FBI team. Undercover agents posing as jihadis offered Mohamud with the means to blow up the ceremony. Mohamud was arrested with a detonator, or what he believed was a detonator, but was, in fact, a dud. He was found guilty and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Warrantless surveillance of a would-be bomber
Mohamud first came under the FBI’s radar when his father contacted the agency that the teenager had threatened the family to run away to Yemen. He had hoped the agency would prevent Mohamud from leaving the country. The FBI then placed Mohamud under physical surveillance, added him to a no-fly list, and eventually had undercover agency contact him, posing as militants.


However, Mohamud’s legal team learned about their client’s been targeted under Section 702 prior to this operation. Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) allows US intelligence agencies surveillance of Americans located outside the country, regardless of their connection to terrorism or whether they are suspected of a crime. Many argue that the Section 702 enables the government to collect bulk communications of innocent Americans in the process.

A controversial law, advocates had hoped that the appeals case might prompt reform for the portion of 702 that legitimizes warrantless mass surveillance of Americans. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has, however, rejected the efforts on the ground that the surveillance was used to initially identify the suspect without a warrant.

The panel held that no warrant was required to intercept the overseas foreign national’s communications or to intercept a U.S. person’s communications incidentally. Assuming that Mohamud had a Fourth Amendment right in the incidentally collected communications, the panel held that the search was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

This week’s ruling upheld the decision that the government surveillance of Mohamud, who was the target of an FBI sting operation, did not violate his Fourth Amendment rights. Privacy advocates don’t agree with the ruling.

Experts argue that when the intelligence agency has a reason to spy on someone, it should head over to the court to get a warrant and do so. This warrantless mass surveillance – while very occasionally leading to targets – subjects a vast majority of innocent Americans to government surveillance.

“Under this program, the government is spying on the international communications of Americans in vast quantity without ever obtaining a warrant, and it is storing those communications in FBI databases for use in criminal investigations. Contrary to the court’s ruling, this sweeping surveillance violates the constitutional safeguards intended to protect Americans’ privacy,” Patrick Toomey, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, said in a statement.

Privacy advocates still hope that the Congress will not seek to extend the controversial provisions of Section 702, set to expire in December 2017.

6 High-Tech Terrorist Hunting Tools on the Pentagon’s Holiday Wish List

Uncategorized | Posted by admin December 6th, 2016

Hunting terrorists is a dramatic business worthy of a Marvel comic. Quiet, covert intelligence-gathering foreshadows sudden violence: door kicks, smoke grenades, gunfire. And then there are the gadgets.

In November, the Defense Department’s Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office put out a draft of its annual Broad Agency Announcement, a sort of wish list of futuristic superhero tools.


Here are some of this year’s items of note:

A Mini-Drone Deployable from a V-22

Future Marines will ride the Boeing V-22 Osprey to their beachhead landings. But what will they find when they get there? The Pentagon is looking for a drone that can deploy from the Osprey and “dash ahead of the V-22…providing at least 8.5 minutes of overhead [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] at the landing zone or drop zone prior to arrival.” The system drone should be largely autonomous, with waypoint guided navigation and, of course, work in all sorts of weather.

Sensors for Iron Man Electro-Skeletons

U.S. Special Operations Command has been working on a sort of Tony Stark-esque Iron Man outfit called the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit since 2013, aiming to deliver a prototype in 2018. Before that can happen, researchers need to be able to derive “timely, accurate, and reliable prediction of intended human motion,” which is “essential for highly dynamic human augmentation systems,” like TALOS.

The Pentagon is looking for a sensor suit that “must be easily donned and doffed without using electrode gels or adhesives.”

Related: $14 Billion for More Navy Combat Ships? Trump Faces a Big Decision

Mini-Transmitter for Spy Cameras

The 1996 film Mission Impossible reaches its climax when protagonist Ethan Hunt dons a pair of glasses outfitted with a mini-camera to show that the film’s villain has faked his death. An astute observer might have wondered — not “How does one make a camera that small?” (Really, it’s just a bed of capacitors) — but “How does one transfer imagery data in a communication-constrained environment?”

The Pentagon is looking for a miniature transmitter “that will allow for covert video surveillance operations” — to wit, “transmit live clandestine surveillance, intelligence, and security operations efficiently in body worn and difficult concealment applications.”

Operators should be able to configure the transmitter remotely and wear it in a way that allows them to operate “normally without injury to subject and [it should] provide high performance video and audio during clandestine investigative operations.”

Face-Heat, Eye-Movement-Based Lie Detector

Your eyes and face say a lot about what you’re thinking, especially when your mouth isn’t moving. Your eye blinks may signal your intent to deceive. So may activity in the sympathetic and adrenergic nervous systems, particularly under the eyes. That is a symptom of stress, which can be an indicator of deception, depending on the context in which that stress is occurring, such as an interrogation about a crime you have committed or contemplated.

Related: 7 Major Weapon Programs Held Up by Congressional Gridlock

Biometric signal extraction is the forefront of modern deception detection. But teaching software to make sense of complex biophysical information gleaned from thermal imaging and eye movement observation isn’t easy. The Pentagon is seeking an algorithmic solution (read software) that can “quickly analyze a variety of signals and information provided by the sensors and hardware of these systems acquired from humans during interviews.” The input signals will include thermal face heat, dilation of the pupil, breathing and heart rate and “electrodermal activity,” which is the changing electrical properties of the skin, also an indicator of stress.

X-Ray Sensor For Finding Secret Compartments

What horror lurketh behind the walls? The Office wants a 15-pound or lighter box to find secret tunnels, drug and weapon caches, and other “man-made voids…concealed in the floors and walls of buildings and underground municipal infrastructure.”

Back in 2014, researchers from AS&E demoed a handheld backscatter X-ray device that could continuously blast and collect photons to provide limited detection of hidden objects of high atomic density. Backscatter sensors are somewhat limited by the thickness of the surfaces the photons have to penetrate. Getting form factors down is a daunting, but hardly insurmountable, challenge.

Fake Facebook for Psychological Operations

The Defense Department, State Department, and a variety of partners around the world are constantly working to counter extremist messaging and recruiting on networks like Twitter and Facebook. But these operations carry risks. As author and scholar J.M. Berger has observed, the State Department can’t just pick a fight with a random jihadist or ISIS supporter on Twitter: “You have a lot of people watching to see if you’re going to lose the argument.” Such exchanges are all upside for the radical, all downside for the establishment.

Like every military action, psychological operations on social media require training. The Pentagon is looking for a virtual social media site trainer called the Dynamic Social Media for Training and Exercises, which can emulate the look, feel and the key features of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and Tumblr, to support “operator collection, analysis and exploitation of social media during training and exercise” while avoiding “the challenges associated with training on the open Internet.”

Dutch police get OK to exploit zero-days: So will that just mean more surveillance?

Uncategorized | Posted by admin December 6th, 2016

Despite its previously tough stance against encryption backdoors, the Netherlands has now given the green light for its secret services and police to exploit zero-day software vulnerabilities.
By Tina Amirtha for Benelux | December 6, 2016

Last month, the Netherlands government gave its police and central intelligence agency official approval to exploit zero-day vulnerabilities.

These hardware and software flaws, which are unknown to the public and often also to the product makers themselves, are seen by Dutch law-enforcement agencies as key tools in understanding potential cyberattacks.

But critics believe that allowing security agencies to exploit zero-days amounts to a license to conduct covert surveillance programs on the public.

Zero-day vulnerabilities can be unknown or known to manufacturers. In either case, the public is not aware of them until the manufacturer issues a software or firmware patch or update.

Manufacturers usually issue swift updates, but sometimes end users do not download them right away. The Dutch government will also allow law enforcement to exploit known vulnerabilities that users or manufacturers have left untreated for a period.

In a memorandum to parliament, the Netherlands government called the use of hardware and software vulnerabilities by law enforcement an urgent matter of national security, as increasingly more criminals commit crimes via the internet.

As part of new guidelines, government officials are required to make any newly-discovered zero-day vulnerability known to the Dutch National Cyber Security Centre, or NCSC, under a “responsible disclosure” policy. In turn, the NCSC will notify the manufacturer of the flaw.

The new zero-day ruling is a U-turn for the government’s stance on backdoors. In December last year, the Dutch voted to make the public’s digital infrastructure more secure and prevent backdoors by funding three different open-source encryption projects.