They Know What You Did Last Summer (and Fall and Winter And…)
It would seem that our privacy and that of others around the world has been even more compromised that many had thought. The hacktivist team Anonymous acquired 70,000 emails from HBGary Federal concerning a government/private spying operation know as Romas/COIN and its replacement called Odyssey. Mostly targeting Arab countries but also citizens in this country.
The former self-appointed spokesman for the collective of hacktivists known as “Anonymous” revealed Tuesday what he called a massive U.S spying program against the Arab world.
In an email to about a dozen journalists, Barrett Brown said his Project PM had uncovered the nature of the U.S. spying operation known as Romas/COIN and its replacement called Odyssey.
“For at least two years, the U.S. has been conducting a secretive and immensely sophisticated campaign of mass surveillance and data mining against the Arab world, allowing the intelligence community to monitor the habits, conversations, and activity of millions of individuals at once,” Brown wrote.
Brown’s team made the discovery by analyzing 70,000 emails from data intelligence firm HBGary Federal. Anonymous stole the emails after HBGary CEO Aaron Barr told the Financial Times that his company had identified “core leaders” of the hacktivist group.
“The new revelation provides for a disturbing picture, particularly when viewed in a wider context,” Brown wrote Tuesday. “Unprecedented surveillance capabilities are being produced by an industry that works in secret on applications that are nonetheless funded by the American public – and which in some cases are used against that very same public. Their products are developed on demand for an intelligence community that is not subject to Congressional oversight and which has been repeatedly shown to have misused its existing powers in ways that violate U.S. law as well as American ideals.”
Although military contractor Northrop Grumman held the contract for Romas/COIN, HBGary had been asked to present officials with a plan for significantly expanding the program.
“I met with [Mantech CEO] Bob Frisbie the other day to catch up,” Barr wrote in an email to TASC CEO Al Pisani. “He is looking to expand a capability in IO [information operations] related to the COIN re-compete but more for DoD.”
This article from the Guardian says the plan was also to put this intelligence into the hands of private institutions as well.
The significance of this programme to the public is not limited to its potential for abuse by facets of the US intelligence community, which has long been proverbial for misusing other of its capabilities. Perhaps the most astonishing aspect is the fact that the partnership of contracting firms and other corporate entities that worked to obtain the contract was put into motion in large part by Aaron Barr, the disgraced former CEO of HBGary Federal who was at the centre of Team Themis’s conspiracy to put high-end intelligence capabilities at the disposal of private institutions. As I explain further in the linked report, this fact alone should prompt increased investigation into the manner in which this industry operates and the threats it represents to democratic institutions.
According to this piece in NetworkWorld it involved Apple and Google and a number of others and also focused on social networking sites as well.
Apple and Google were active team partners, and AT&T may have been as well. The latter is known to have provided the NSA free reign over customer communications (and was in turn protected by a bill granting them retroactive immunity from lawsuits). Google itself is the only company to have received a “Hostile to Privacy” rating from Privacy International. Apple is currently being investigated by Congress after the iPhone was revealed to compile user location data in a way that differs from other mobile phones; the company has claimed this to have been a “bug.”
– The program makes use of several providers of “linguistic services.” At one point, the team discusses hiring a military-trained Arabic linguist. Elsewhere, Barr writes: “I feel confident I can get you a ringer for Farsi if they are still interested in Farsi (we need to find that out). These linguists are not only going to be developing new content but also meeting with folks, so they have to have native or near native proficiency and have to have the cultural relevance as well.”
– Alterion and SocialEyez are listed as “businesses to contact.” The former specializes in “social media monitoring tools.” The latter uses “sophisticated natural language processing methodology” in order to “process tens of millions of multi-lingual conversations daily” while also employing “researchers and media analysts on the ground;” its website also notes that “Millions of people around the globe are now networked as never before – exchanging information and ideas, forming opinions, and speaking their minds about everything from politics to products.”
If this doesn’t make you want to check you back every few seconds, I don’t know what will.