Friday, July 12, 2013

How Microsoft handed the NSA access to encrypted messages

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 portal;

• The agency already had pre-encryption stage access to email on, 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 that allows users to create email aliases;

• In July last year, nine months after Microsoft bought Skype, the NSA boasted that a new capability had tripled the amount of Skype video calls being collected through Prism;

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

[Read More…]

Military Will Never Use New $34M Afghanistan Base

When a two-star general visited the new 64,000-square-foot US military headquarters building at Camp Leatherneck in southern Afghanistan, he was impressed. It’s “better appointed than any Marine headquarters anywhere in the world,” he tells the Washington Post, before adding, “What the hell were they thinking?” That disgust comes because the gigantic $34 million building sits pretty much unused, making it a giant, lavish, laughing stock for the troops, and perhaps the signature boondoggle of the war in Afghanistan.

A top Marine commander warned the Pentagon that the building was unnecessary three years ago, but his concerns were ignored. The building was originally commissioned for the 2009 surge, but by the time construction began that push was over, and with the US now withdrawing, commanders don’t intend to move in. “This is an example of what is wrong with military construction in general,” the special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction told Chuck Hagel in a letter this week.

[Read More…]

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Many IRS Seizures Are Illegal, Government Report Concludes

For the beleaguered IRS, the hits just keep on coming. After the targeting scandal, a key IRS official claimed the Fifth Amendment. House Committee Votes IRS Official Must Testify Despite Fifth Amendtment. Then there were all the expense issues, including Star Trek, Gilligan’s Island and line dancing videos.

Then there were the abused credit cards. Who wouldn’t like a charge card with bills direct to Uncle Sam? See Audit Finds $119 of Unused Nerf Footballs in IRS Cabinet. A watchdog report says there’s little oversight.

But now, the increasingly popular Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration reveals that 30% of IRS Seizures of Taxpayer Property don’t comply with the law. The report has an inglorious title but is worth a look: Fiscal Year 2013 Review of Compliance With Legal Guidelines When Conducting Seizures of Taxpayers’ Property.

[Read More…]

Monday, July 8, 2013

NSA Not Working Alone To Spy On You

With news breaking last week that the National Security Agency was not only spying on citizens of the United States, but our European counterparts as well, outrage spread through the European Union’s leadership. A week in the political arena is an eternity, as now, shocking claims are coming from Edward Snowden (the former NSA worker wanted for treason) that the USA was actually working in tandem with Germany and other foreign nations to assist each other in the collection of personal data. One estimate, by the Der Spiegel magazine in that country, placed the amount of data being collected at half a billion phone calls.

Snowden, in an interview done before he left Hong Kong, claimed the German Federal Intelligence Service and the National Security Administration have a system in place to share information without attaching any trail back to the politicians that gave them the power to do so. “Other agencies don’t ask us where we got the information from and we don’t ask them. That way they can protect their top politicians from the backlash in case it emerges how massively people’s privacy is abused worldwide.”

The German government has denied any involvement in the blossoming NSA scandal. A spokesperson for Chancellor Merkel responded to the allegations, saying, “…we will clearly say that bugging friends is unacceptable. We are no longer in the Cold War.” He went on to promise to that Merkel’s administration was investigating the breaking news.

[Read More…]

State Dept. Paid $630,000 to Boost Facebook ‘Likes’

How much would you pay for more Facebook “likes”? If you’re the State Department, you’d shell out about $630,000.

According to a May report from the State Department’s Inspector General, which was recently made public, the agency spent more than half a million dollars on two campaigns in 2011 and 2012, intended to boost the number of fans for its English-language Facebook pages.

The effort actually worked - both pages jumped from 100,000 fans to about 2 million. But while the four pages for the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) had about 2.5 million fans each as of March 2013, engagement leaves something to be desired, prompting questions about whether that $630,000 was a good use of agency funds.

As of mid-March, only about 2 percent of fans had liked, shared, or commented on anything posted to the pages. Most of the engagement was in the form of “likes”; most posts had fewer than 100 comments or shares, the IG found.

[Read More…]