Today’s first entry in oiur tour of things from the world of the dark arts and “national security” comes from Nextgov:

The Day Before the State of the Union Has Been Full of NSA Leaks

Rapid-fire reports revealing secret government surveillance programs hit the Internet Monday, just a day before President Obama will deliver his annual State of the Union address before Congress.

NBC News reported Monday afternoon that the British government can “tap into the cables carrying the world’s Web traffic at will and spy on what people are doing on some of the world’s most popular social-media sites, including YouTube, all without the knowledge or consent of the companies.”

Documents provided by Edward Snowden purport to show British intelligence officials presenting a pilot program to NSA agents in 2012 in which they could monitor YouTube in real time and collect data from Facebook and Twitter. Called “Squeaky Dolphin,” the documents show “broad real-time monitoring of online activity” that includes videos watched, blog visits and favorited URLs.

Experts told NBC News the documents show the British had to have been either physically able to tap the cables carrying the world’s web traffic or able to use a third party to gain physical access to the massive stream of data, and would be able to extract some key data about specific users as well.

The Guardian has your number:

NSA and GCHQ target ‘leaky’ phone apps like Angry Birds to scoop user data

US and UK spy agencies piggyback on commercial data

Details can include age, location and sexual orientation

Documents also reveal targeted tools against individual phones

The National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ have been developing capabilities to take advantage of “leaky” smartphone apps, such as the wildly popular Angry Birds game, that transmit users’ private information across the internet, according to top secret documents.

The data pouring onto communication networks from the new generation of iPhone and Android apps ranges from phone model and screen size to personal details such as age, gender and location. Some apps, the documents state, can share users’ most sensitive information such as sexual orientation – and one app recorded in the material even sends specific sexual preferences such as whether or not the user may be a swinger.

Many smartphone owners will be unaware of the full extent this information is being shared across the internet, and even the most sophisticated would be unlikely to realise that all of it is available for the spy agencies to collect.

More from Nextgov:

White House: Terrorists, Like All of Us, Might Enjoy Playing Angry Birds

The White House isn’t ruling out that terrorists, just like normal, everyday people, are avid fans of the hit international video game franchise Angry Birds.

White House press secretary Jay Carney responded to a reporter’s question Monday asking whether the National Security Agency was collecting the information of Americans who use smartphone apps, such as Angry Birds, that share personal data over the Internet.

“I mean, look. Terrorists, proliferators, other bad actors, use the same communcations tools that others use,” Carney said, eliciting some commotion among the press corps. “What I’m saying is that the NSA in its collection is focused on the communication of people who are valid foreign intelligence targets.”

NSA agents are “not focused on the information of ordinary Americans, and that’s the case in answer to questions about, you know, the variety of revelations that have been made in the press.”

Waffle words from EUobserver:

Obama advisor: Pipeline deals could see US spy on EU leaders

Major economic deals, which look as if they could cause “difficulties” for the US, are a legitimate reason to spy on EU leaders, a US intelligence oversight panelist has said.

“If Germany were making an economic deal for a gas pipeline in a way that would cause large international difficulties, that might be a reason to try to prevent a bad outcome,” Peter Swire, a professor of law and ethics at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told journalists in Brussels on Friday (24 January).

He noted that he was speaking in a personal capacity.

The Mainichi casts doubt:

AP-GfK poll: Americans value privacy over security

Americans are increasingly placing personal privacy ahead of being kept safe from terrorists, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. More than 60 percent of respondents said they value privacy over anti-terror protections. That’s up slightly from 58 percent in a similar poll in August conducted by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Nearly 60 percent of respondents said they disapprove of the way Obama is handling intelligence surveillance policies. And 61 percent said they prioritize protecting Americans’ rights and freedoms over making sure Americans are safe from terrorists.

Only 34 percent support Obama’s plan to create a panel of outside attorneys to offer an opposing argument to the government before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. And just 17 percent of those polled support moving the data the government collects about telephone calls outside of government hands.

Reuters compromises:

U.S., tech companies reach deal on spying data

The Obama administration and major U.S. technology companies have struck a deal that would allow the companies to tell the public in greater detail about the spying-related court orders they receive, the Justice Department said on Monday.

The agreement, filed in the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, would settle demands from companies such as Google Inc and Microsoft Corp for more leeway to disclose data about the court orders, according to documents released by the department.

Tech companies have sought to clarify their relationships with U.S. law enforcement and spying agencies since June, when leaks to the news media by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden began to show the depth of U.S. spying capabilities.

Here’s the official statement from the Director of National Intelligence:

Joint Statement by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Attorney General Eric Holder on New Reporting Methods for National Security Orders

January 27, 2014

As indicated in the Justice Department’s filing with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the administration is acting to allow more detailed disclosures about the number of national security orders and requests issued to communications providers, the number of customer accounts targeted under those orders and requests, and the underlying legal authorities. Through these new reporting methods, communications providers will be permitted to disclose more information than ever before to their customers.

This action was directed by the President earlier this month in his speech on intelligence reforms. While this aggregate data was properly classified until today, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, in consultation with other departments and agencies, has determined that the public interest in disclosing this information now outweighs the national security concerns that required its classification.

Permitting disclosure of this aggregate data addresses an important area of concern to communications providers and the public.  But more work remains on other issues.  In the weeks ahead, additional steps must be taken in order to fully implement the reforms directed by the President.

The declassification reflects the Executive Branch’s continuing commitment to making information about the government’s intelligence activities publicly available where appropriate and is consistent with ensuring the protection of the national security of the United States.

BBC News has doubts:

Google’s Drummond calls for new NSA reforms

David Drummond on revelations that the NSA hacked Google data: “I was shocked, surprised and outraged”

Moves by US President Barack Obama to rein in spies at the National Security Agency do not go far enough, a senior figure at Google has told the BBC.

David Drummond, the tech giant’s chief legal officer, said the US needed to change its approach to intelligence to restore trust in the internet.

His comments are some of the first by a senior tech figure since a speech by the US president earlier this month.

While Security Clearance names the next in line:

Navy’s Michael Rogers expected to be Obama’s next NSA choice

Navy Vice Adm. Michael Rogers is expected to be nominated the next director of the embattled National Security Agency, a U.S. official confirmed to CNN.

The current director, Gen. Keith Alexander, is expected to retire in March.

Alexander’s tenure has been most recently marked by controversy over intelligence leaks by former agency contractor Edward Snowden about electronic surveillance.

From Deutsche Welle, suspicions:

Snowden asks ‘how reasonable’ it is to assume only Merkel was tapped

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has told German public television what motivated him to go public, has asked whether NSA tapping stopped at Chancellor Merkel’s phone, and has said his return to the US is unlikely.

German public broadcaster ARD showed a half-hour interview with Edward Snowden on Sunday night, the ex-NSA contractor’s first television interview since gaining temporary asylum in Russia last year.

The 30-year-old fugitive whistleblower said there was “no question” that the NSA conducted industrial espionage and also alluded to a recent BuzzFeed article quoting unnamed US security officials as saying they wanted Snowden dead.

Hubert Seipel, a journalist for ARD’s regional member NDR who conducted the interview in a Moscow hotel room, also asked Snowden what convinced him to go public with his information on global intelligence practices.

“I would say sort of the breaking point was seeing how Director of National Intelligence James Clapper directly lied to Congress when under oath,” Snowden said. “There’s no saving an intelligence agency that believes it can lie to the public, and to legislators, who need to be able to trust it and regulate its actions.”

From Ars Technica, another haul:

FBI is keeping a giant stash of e-mails from defunct Tor Mail service

Data harvested from servers in France is being used in multiple investigations.

Court documents that surfaced in a Florida case against an alleged seller of counterfeit credit cards have shown that the FBI has a copy of servers that belonged to Tor Mail, a secure e-mail service that operated on the anonymous Tor network.

“Tor Mail’s goal is to provide completely anonymous and private communications to anyone who needs it,” states an informational page about the service, which remains up. “We are anonymous and cannot be forced to reveal anything about a Tor Mail user.”

The information is found in a sworn statement by a US postal inspector and was reported by Wired’s Kevin Poulsen this morning. The document explains that as part of the investigation, law enforcement collected orders for the fake credit cards that went through the e-mail address “platplus@tormail.net.” That address contained every order for credit cards sent over the course of nearly a year.

The New York Times covers high anxiety:

Afghanistan Exit Is Seen as Peril to Drone Mission

The risk that President Obama may be forced to pull all American troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year has set off concerns inside the American intelligence agencies that they could lose their air bases used for drone strikes against Al Qaeda in Pakistan and for responding to a nuclear crisis in the region.

Until now, the debate here and in Kabul about the size and duration of an American-led allied force in Afghanistan after 2014 had focused on that country’s long-term security. But these new concerns also reflect how troop levels in Afghanistan directly affect long-term American security interests in neighboring Pakistan, according to administration, military and intelligence officials.

The concern has become serious enough that the Obama administration has organized a team of intelligence, military and policy specialists to devise alternatives to mitigate the damage if a final security deal cannot be struck with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, who has declined to enact an agreement that American officials thought was completed last year.

Reuters stirs the pot:

Congress secretly approves U.S. weapons flow to ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels

Light arms supplied by the United States are flowing to “moderate” Syrian rebel factions in the south of the country and U.S. funding for months of further deliveries has been approved by Congress, according U.S. and European security officials.

The weapons, most of which are moving to non-Islamist Syrian rebels via Jordan, include a variety of small arms, as well as some more powerful weapons, such as anti-tank rockets.

The deliveries do not include weapons such as shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles, known as MANPADs, which could shoot down military or civilian aircraft, the officials said.

The weapons deliveries have been funded by the U.S. Congress, in votes behind closed doors, through the end of government fiscal year 2014, which ends on September 30, two officials said.

The Bundeswehr prepares, from TheLocal.de:

Germany to play bigger military role

Germany’s military is to be deployed more frequently on foreign operations, defence minister Ursula von der Leyen said on Sunday.

Von der Leyen said the military should extend its engagement in crisis-hit areas of the globe.

“We can’t just watch from the sidelines when murder and rape are the order of the day,” she told Der Spiegel magazine.

After the jump, the latest Asian zonal and semantic crises, high crimes and low misdemeanors, hacks in high place, corporate security breeches, the latest caper from Blackwater’s founder, Pentagon scandals, and the latest update on Murdoch media phone hacks. . .and more: 

For our first Asian headline, a helping hand from the Yomiuri Shimbun:

Boost to U.S.-Japan cyberdefense slated

Japan will send members of its Self-Defense Forces to receive specialized training in cyberdefense with U.S. forces, in a cooperative program to bolster Japan’s defense against cyber-attacks, sources said.

SDF members will learn from the technologies and experiences of the more advanced U.S. forces in countering cyber-attacks. The project aims not only at improving the SDF’s cyberdefense capabilities but also at strengthening the Japan-U.S. alliance.

Japan-U.S. cooperation in the field of cyber-related affairs had previously been limited to exchanging information, but this project is expected to deepen working-level collaboration between the two sides.

NHK WORLD crosses the line:

3 Chinese patrol boats enter Japanese waters

The Japan Coast Guard says 3 Chinese patrol boats entered Japan’s territorial waters off the Senkaku Islands, in Okinawa Prefecture, in the East China Sea, for about 2 hours on Monday.

The coast guard says the 3 vessels entered Japanese waters off Uotsuri Island around 9 AM on Monday. The 3 ships had been circling the islands since having been spotted last Thursday in the contiguous zone.

This is the second time official Chinese ships have entered Japan’s territorial waters this year. The first one occurred on January 12th.

Moral idiocy from the Japan Times:

New NHK boss ignites a firestorm

Momii’s debut speech puts sex slave row back in spotlight

The new chairman of NHK expressed regret Monday for his earlier comments that seemed to defend the nation’s wartime use of sex slaves, calling his words “extremely inappropriate.”

Katsuto Momii’s comments at a press conference Saturday to mark the start of his three-year term at the helm of the public broadcaster have drawn fire from opposition parties and riled the South Korean media.

Asked about the thousands of young females, mostly Asian, forcibly recruited to provide sex for Imperial Japanese soldiers during the war and euphemistically called “comfort women,” Momii said such an institution existed in “every country” and that it is only considered wrong by “today’s morality.”

A party in question fires back, via the Asahi Shimbun:

South Korea blasts new NHK chairman’s views of ‘comfort women’

South Korea’s ruling party on Jan. 26 slammed the new Japanese public broadcaster’s chairman for defending the wartime “comfort women” system as a setup that other warring countries also employed, calling his comments “the height of ignorance.”

“His remarks showed that (the chairman) lacks even the basic concept of human rights,” said Saenuri Party spokesman Min Hyun-joo, referring to the remarks made by Katsuto Momii, new chairman of Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK), on Jan. 25. “They represent the height of ignorance.”

Asked about his views of the comfort women issue, Momii, 70, said at a news conference marking his inauguration as the broadcaster’s new head, “(Comfort women) could be found in any nation that was at war.”

Tokyo responds, via the Yomiuri Shimbun:

Suga: No need for new NHK chief to step down over remarks

Jiji Press Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday that the government does not believe that Katsuto Momii, new president of NHK, needs to step down for remarks on the issue of the so-called comfort women.

At a press conference, the top government spokesman said that Momii had “made remarks as an individual” on wartime comfort women.

Suga said that the government hopes the new president will carry out his job under the broadcasting law as the head of the public broadcaster, which assumes a social mission.

And the hubristic broadcaster in question beefs up his new empire, via NHK WORLD:

New NHK chief to step up intl. broadcasting

NHK’s new president, Katsuto Momii, says he will maintain an impartial political stance while working hard to step up international broadcasting.

He said his duty is to abide by Japan’s Broadcast Act. He said he will ensure that all NHK workers honor the law, which stipulates neutrality and fairness as principles of broadcasting.

Momii also said he wants to meet various challenges, including expanding international broadcasting services.

The 70-year-old president was speaking to reporters on Saturday. He is a former vice president of trading house Mitsui & Company and a former president of the IT service firm Nihon Unisys.

Another speaker claims no foul, via the Asahi Shimbun:

Abe: No fallout from remarks in Davos about World War I

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dismissed any negative impact from his comparison of Japan-China ties with Europe before World War I, saying his intention was clear to all media members who heard him.

“I am sure that you will understand that my comments posed no problems at all if you ask those who were present about my intention behind them,” the prime minister told reporters here on Jan. 26.

The remarks in question came on Jan. 22 in front of about 30 senior media representatives on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum’s annual Davos meeting in Switzerland. Abe compared the soured Japan-China relationship to Britain and Germany in 1914, noting that despite their strong economic ties, the two European countries fought each other in World War I.

Great expectations from the Japan Times:

Abe eager to meet Obama, Xi at Nuclear Security Summit

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering attending the Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands in March, government officials said Monday.

The March 24 to 25 summit would provide Abe with an opportunity to hold talks with U.S. President Barack Obama and perhaps have contact with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Obama and Xi are expected to meet bilaterally in The Hague, according to sources familiar with the development.

Abe will make a decision on his attendance while taking into account Diet deliberations on the state budget for fiscal 2014, which begins on April 1.

A protest targets a key feature of Abe’s emerging national security state, the new state secrets act. From the Mainichi:

400 join anti-state secret law demonstration organized by teens

About 400 people participated in a demonstration that teenagers organized in Tokyo on Jan. 26 in protest against the controversial special state secrets protection legislation that was enacted late last year, organizers said.

They chanted, “We teenagers should move politics even though we have no right to vote,” and “Feel the danger of the secrets protection law,” while marching in the entertainment districts of Shibuya and Harajuku.

The demonstration was planned by university student Kazumi Nagashima, 19, high school student Fuka Shibano, 17, and other teenagers. The organizers had got acquainted with each other while participating in a demonstration calling for an end to Japan’s reliance on nuclear power held in front of the prime minister’s office every Friday.

The Mainichi has reservations:

Law enforcers voice concern about trials without baring secrets

Prior to the enactment of the state secrets law, the National Police Agency (NPA) and the Justice Ministry had questioned the government’s contention that defendants’ guilt in criminal trials could be established without revealing state secrets per se, according to NPA documents obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun through a freedom-of-information request.

The revelation comes as the government has postponed a conclusion on whether the new law complies with the Japanese Constitution which says in Article 37 that ‘’In all criminal cases the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial tribunal.’‘

Masako Mori, state minister in charge of the state secrets law, had maintained in Diet testimony that the central government can prove guilt of state secrets leakers and seekers without disclosing state secrets in court based on procedures for designating such secrets, their categories and reasons for classifying such secrets.

From intelNews, spooky misbehavin’:

South Korean ex-spy chief jailed for accepting bribes

One of the most powerful figures in South Korea’s intelligence establishment has been sentenced to prison for accepting bribes in return for helping a private company acquire government contracts. Won Sei-hoon headed South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) from 2008 to 2013, during the administration of President Lee Myung-bak.

The once supremely powerful organization, founded in 1961 as the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, was intimately involved in the murky South Korean politics of the Cold War era, during which the country’s political life was dominated by bloody military coups and political repression.

In the late 1980s, a process of democratization began in the NIS, and in recent years many intelligence observers believed that the agency had managed to shed its controversial reputation. On Wednesday, however, a court in South Korean capital Seoul sentenced Won to two years in prison for receiving kickbacks from the private sector while heading the NIS.

Breaking it with The Guardian:

Hackers break into Israeli defence computers, says security company

Palestinians are suspected of being behind email attack on civil administration machines that monitor Israeli-occupied territory

Hackers broke into Israeli defence ministry computers via an email attachment tainted with malicious software, according to an Israeli cyber-security company.

Aviv Raff, chief technology officer at Seculert, said the hackers temporarily took over 15 computers this month, one of them belonging to Israel’s civil administration, which monitors Palestinians in Israeli-occupied territory. The email attachment looked as if it had been sent by the country’s Shin Bet secret security service.

From the Assocliated Press, show and tell:

Crime records go online in Sweden amid protests

A website that lets Swedes check each other’s criminal records has sparked concerns over the privacy of ex-convicts.

Such databases are available in the United States, but aren’t common in Europe, where privacy protection laws are typically stricter.

By searching the Lexbase database, launched Monday by a Swedish company, users can instantly find out whether a person has any convictions in the past five years. A fee is required to get more information.

Military monkey business from the Washington Post:

Military brass, behaving badly: Files detail a spate of misconduct dogging armed forces

Brig. Gen. Bryan T. Roberts publicly warned his troops at Fort Jackson, S.C., last spring that he and the Army had “zero tolerance for sexual harassment and sexual assault.” Here’s what the Army didn’t tell the soldiers: At the time, Roberts himself was under investigation by the military over allegations that he physically assaulted one of his mistresses on multiple occasions.

Martin P. Schweitzer, a commander with the Army’s legendary 82nd Airborne Division, was respectful and polite when he met a female member of Congress to discuss matters at Fort Bragg, N.C. Afterward, however, he couldn’t resist tapping out e-mails to two other generals, describing the lawmaker, Rep. Renee L. Ellmers (R-N.C.), as “smoking hot” and jokingly referring to explicit sexual acts.

David C. Uhrich, a one-star Air Force general, kept a vodka bottle in his desk at Joint Base Langley-Eustis and repeatedly drank on duty, so much so that another officer told investigators that “if he did not have his alcohol, the wheels would come off,” according to the findings of an Air Force probe. The married Uhrich later sought treatment for a drinking problem, but not before he was also investigated for allegedly having an affair, something prohibited under military law.

The Energizer Bunny of Mercenaries rebounds, via the Wall Street Journal:

Erik Prince: Out of Blackwater and Into China

The former CIA asset on his latest venture: After being ‘blowtorched’ by U.S. politics, he says, this time he’s working for Beijing.

Erik Prince—ex-Navy SEAL, ex-CIA spy, ex-CEO of private-security firm Blackwater—calls himself an “accidental tourist” whose modest business boomed after 9/11, expanded into Iraq and Afghanistan, and then was “blowtorched by politics.” To critics and conspiracy theorists, he is a mercenary war-profiteer. To admirers, he’s a patriot who has repeatedly answered America’s call with bravery and creativity.

Now, sitting in a boardroom above Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour, he explains his newest title, acquired this month: chairman of Frontier Services Group, an Africa-focused security and logistics company with intimate ties to China’s largest state-owned conglomerate, Citic Group. Beijing has titanic ambitions to tap Africa’s resources—including $1 trillion in planned spending on roads, railways and airports by 2025—and Mr. Prince wants in.

Another retailer hacked, from Threatpost:

Michaels Data Breach Under Investigation

Officials at Michaels, the large craft and home goods retailer, are investigating a potential data breach that has apparently affected an unknown number of cards used in the chain’s stores in the last few weeks. The company has released very little detail about the compromise but said that it is still investigating the incident.

The apparent intrusion at Michaels is the latest in a string of data breaches at large retailers in the last few months, a run that started with the attack on Target in the fall that compromised financial and personal information of as many as 110 million customers. That breach reportedly involves malware being installed on point-of-sale devices in a number of the company’s stores. There also was an intrusion at Neiman Marcus around the same time, beginning in July and lasting through October and resulting in the compromise of data belonging to 1.1 million people.

The scope of the Michaels breach is unknown at this point, and company officials said they’re still not sure whether the attack was on their network or somewhere else in the payment ecosystem.

From The Guardian, news-gathering in the Murdoch empire:

News of the World reporter hacked phones a thousand times, he tells court

Dan Evans tells Old Bailey that when he arrived at paper he was given a list of celebrities including Simon Cowell and Cilla Black

A former reporter at the News of the World has told how he hacked phones a thousand times after he was handed a list of celebrity numbers when he joined the paper in 2005, the Old Bailey has heard.

Dan Evans, who has pleaded guilty to intercepting voice messages at the News of the World, also told the phone-hacking trial on Monday about the “kerching moment” when he met NoW editor Andy Coulson and mentioned how he had hacked phones at the Sunday Mirror in the past.

He said: “I told him about my background, the sort of stories I had been doing. Almost the sort of stuff I had been through before.”

Following prompting by the other News of the World journalist at the meeting Evans said he told Coulson: “I got on to voicemails and interception and I told him I had a lot of commercially sensitive data in my head and how things worked at the Sunday Mirror and I could bring him big exclusive stories cheaply which was the kerching moment. Bring exclusive stories cheaply equals job.

For our final item. Criminalizing speech from New Europe:

EU promotes criminalization of denial of crimes against humanity

On the occasion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the European Commission has called on Member States to correctly implement EU rules and criminalize denial of crimes against humanity. However, according to a new report published today, most EU Member States have not yet correctly implemented EU rules aimed at tackling racist and xenophobic hate crimes.

As Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner said: “Today, we have achieved peace between nations in the European Union. Yet another challenge remains: to continue the quest for tolerance within our own societies. Nobody should ever have to experience hate speech or hate crime. So today I am calling on all EU Member States to take action to fully transpose the EU Framework Decision and make sure it is applied on the ground.”

The 2008 Framework Decision on combating racism and xenophobia, aims to tackle racist and xenophobic hate speech and hate crime, by requiring Member States to define as criminal offences the public incitement to violence or hatred on grounds of race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin.

Show more