Wednesday, July 31, 2013

SWAT team throws flashbangs, raids wrong home due to open WiFi network

The long-standing, heavily documented militarization of even small-town American police forces was always going to create problems when it met anonymous Internet threats. And so it has, again—this time in Evansville, Indiana, where officers acted on some Topix postings threatening violence against local police. They then sent an entire SWAT unit to execute a search warrant on a local house, one in which the front door was open and an 18-year old woman sat inside watching TV.

The cops brought along TV cameras, inviting a local reporter to film the glorious operation. In the resulting video, you can watch the SWAT team, decked out in black bulletproof vests and helmets and carrying window and door smashers, creep slowly up to the house. At some point, they apparently “knock” and announce their presence—though not with the goal of getting anyone to come to the door. As the local police chief admitted later to the Evansville Courier & Press, the process is really just “designed to distract.” (SWAT does not need to wait for a response.)

Officers break the screen door and a window, tossing a flashbang into the house—which you can see explode in the video. A second flashbang gets tossed in for good measure a moment later. SWAT enters the house.

On the news that night, the reporter ends his piece by talking about how this is “an investigation that hits home for many of these brave officers.”

But the family in the home was released without any charges as police realized their mistake. Turns out the home had an open WiFi router, and the threats had been made by someone outside the house. Whoops.

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Ten Revelations From Bradley Manning’s WikiLeaks Documents

In 2010, Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was detained in Iraq on suspicion of passing classified U.S. government documents to WikiLeaks. On Monday, after more than three years in military jail, his trial finally began at Fort Meade, Md.

The 25-year-old intelligence analyst admitted earlier this year to passing documents to the whistle-blowing website, though he denies the charge of “aiding the enemy,” an offense that carries a life sentence or the death penalty. Manning said at a pretrial hearing in February that he leaked information, including diplomatic cables and U.S. military war logs from Afghanistan and Iraq, in order to “spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy.”

Below is a list of 10 revelations disclosed by Manning’s leaked documents that offer insight into the breadth and scope of what he revealed, help explain his motivation for leaking, and provide context for the ongoing trial. The list, in no particular order, is far from comprehensive but encompasses some of the most significant information brought to light by the leaked documents.

During the Iraq War, U.S. authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape, and murder by Iraqi police and soldiers, according to thousands of field reports.

There were 109,032 “violent deaths” recorded in Iraq between 2004 and 2009, including 66,081 civilians. Leaked records from the Afghan War separately revealed coalition troops’ alleged role in killing at least 195 civilians in unreported incidents, one reportedly involving U.S. service members machine-gunning a bus, wounding or killing 15 passengers.

The U.S. Embassy in Paris advised Washington to start a military-style trade war against any European Union country that opposed genetically modified crops, with U.S. diplomats effectively working directly for GM companies such as Monsanto.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Feds tell Web firms to turn over user account passwords

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The U.S. government has demanded that major Internet companies divulge users’ stored passwords, according to two industry sources familiar with these orders, which represent an escalation in surveillance techniques that has not previously been disclosed.

If the government is able to determine a person’s password, which is typically stored in encrypted form, the credential could be used to log in to an account to peruse confidential correspondence or even impersonate the user. Obtaining it also would aid in deciphering encrypted devices in situations where passwords are reused.

“I’ve certainly seen them ask for passwords,” said one Internet industry source who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We push back.”

A second person who has worked at a large Silicon Valley company confirmed that it received legal requests from the federal government for stored passwords. Companies “really heavily scrutinize” these requests, the person said. “There’s a lot of ‘over my dead body.’”

Some of the government orders demand not only a user’s password but also the encryption algorithm and the so-called salt, according to a person familiar with the requests. A salt is a random string of letters or numbers used to make it more difficult to reverse the encryption process and determine the original password. Other orders demand the secret question codes often associated with user accounts.

A Microsoft spokesperson would not say whether the company has received such requests from the government. But when asked whether Microsoft would divulge passwords, salts, or algorithms, the spokesperson replied: “No, we don’t, and we can’t see a circumstance in which we would provide it.”

Google also declined to disclose whether it had received requests for those types of data. But a spokesperson said the company has “never” turned over a user’s encrypted password, and that it has a legal team that frequently pushes back against requests that are fishing expeditions or are otherwise problematic. “We take the privacy and security of our users very seriously,” the spokesperson said.

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A House Divided Over NSA Spying on Americans

Last week’s House debate on the Defense Appropriations bill for 2014 produced a bit more drama than usual. After hearing that House leadership would do away with the traditional “open rule” allowing for debate on any funding limitation amendment, it was surprising to see that Rep. Justin Amash’s (R-MI) amendment was allowed on the Floor. In the wake of National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations about the extent of US government spying on American citizens, Amash’s amendment sought to remove funding in the bill for some of the NSA programs.

Had Amash’s amendment passed, it would have been a significant symbolic victory over the administration’s massive violations of our Fourth Amendment protections. But we should be careful about believing that even if it had somehow miraculously survived the Senate vote and the President’s veto, it would have resulted in any significant change in how the Intelligence Community would behave toward Americans. The US government has built the largest and most sophisticated spying apparatus in the history of the world.

The NSA has been massively increasing the size its facilities, both at its Maryland headquarters and in its newly built (and way over-budget) enormous data center in Utah. Taken together, these two facilities will be seven times larger than the Pentagon! And we know now that much of the NSA’s capacity to intercept information has been turned inward, to spy on us.

As NSA expert James Bamford wrote earlier this year about the new Utah facility:

“The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.” It is, in some measure, the realization of the “total information awareness” program created during the first term of the Bush administration—an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy.”
But it happened anyway.

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Shale Threatens Saudi Economy, Warns Prince Alwaleed

Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has warned that the kingdom’s oil-dependent economy is increasingly vulnerable to rising U.S. energy production, breaking ranks with oil officials in Riyadh who have played down its impact.

In an open letter dated May 13 addressed to Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi and several other ministers, a link to which was published Sunday on Prince Alwaleed’s Twitter account, he warned that the boom in U.S. shale oil and gas will reduce demand for crude from members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

A Saudi official confirmed that ministers received the letter in May.

Not long after the prince issued his warning, a report from OPEC published Monday showed the group’s oil export revenue hit a record high of $1.26 trillion in 2012. However, forecasts from the group raise questions over whether that level of earnings can be sustained amid the competition from shale oil.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, is now pumping at less than its production capacity because consumers are limiting their oil imports, Prince Alwaleed said in the letter. This means the kingdom is “facing a threat with the continuation of its near-complete reliance on oil, especially as 92% of the budget for this year depends on oil,” said the prince.

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