We begin today’s tales from the dark side with an ominous entry from Europe Online:

US private soldiers fighting in Ukraine

Soldiers from a private US security company with a record of alleged atrocities in Iraq are supporting Ukraine’s security forces in the volatile east of the country, the German newspaper Bild reported Sunday.

The report, citing Germany’s federal intelligence agency BND, said 400 of the heavily-armed men employed by the group formerly known as Blackwater were deployed in the vicinity of Lugansk where pro-Russian separatists are seeking self-rule.

The BND declined to comment on the report, while the security company – now known as Academi – dismissed similar reports in March.

Meanwhile, your daily dose of paranoia from the Observer:

Attempts to stay anonymous on the web will only put the NSA on your trail

The sobering story of Janet Vertesi’s attempts to conceal her pregnancy from the forces of online marketers shows just how Kafkaesque the internet has become

When searching for an adjective to describe our comprehensively surveilled networked world – the one bookmarked by the NSA at one end and by Google, Facebook, Yahoo and co at the other – “Orwellian” is the word that people generally reach for.

But “Kafkaesque” seems more appropriate. The term is conventionally defined as “having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality”, but Frederick Karl, Franz Kafka’s most assiduous biographer, regarded that as missing the point. “What’s Kafkaesque,” he once told the New York Times, “is when you enter a surreal world in which all your control patterns, all your plans, the whole way in which you have configured your own behaviour, begins to fall to pieces, when you find yourself against a force that does not lend itself to the way you perceive the world.”

A vivid description of this was provided recently by Janet Vertesi, a sociologist at Princeton University. She gave a talk at a conference describing her experience of trying to keep her pregnancy secret from marketers. Her report is particularly pertinent because pregnant women are regarded by online advertisers as one of the most valuable entities on the net. You and I are worth, on average, only 10 cents each. But a pregnant woman is valued at $1.50 because she is about to embark on a series of purchasing decisions stretching well into her child’s lifetime.

The Register adds fuel to the flames:

Hey, does your Smart TV have a mic? Enjoy your surveillance, bro

Little reminder: Your shiny new telly is a computer, it can run malware

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden told lawyers he met during his sojourn in Hong Kong to put their cell phones in his fridge to thwart any eavesdroppers.

But new research suggests he should have been worried about nearby TVs, too.

Smart tellies with built-in microphones and storage can be turned into bugging devices by malware and used to record conversations, security experts at NCC Group said. And they demonstrated exactly that just down the road from the Infosec Europe conference, held in London.

From Wired threat level, woes for the espionarchs:

How a Chinese Tech Firm Became the NSA’s Surveillance Nightmare

The NSA’s global spy operation may seem unstoppable, but there’s at least one target that has proven to be a formidable obstacle: the Chinese communications technology firm Huawei, whose growth could threaten the agency’s much-publicized digital spying powers.

An unfamiliar name to American consumers, Huawei produces products that are swiftly being installed in the internet backbone in many regions of the world, displacing some of the western-built equipment that the NSA knows — and presumably knows how to exploit — so well.

That obstacle is growing bigger each year as routers and other networking equipment made by Huawei Technologies and its offshoot, Huawei Marine Networks, become more ubiquitous. The NSA and other U.S. agencies have long been concerned that the Chinese government or military — Huawei’s founder is a former officer in the People’s Liberation Army — may have installed backdoors in Huawei equipment, enabling it for surveillance. But an even bigger concern is that with the growing ubiquity of Huawei products, the NSA’s own surveillance network could grow dark in areas where the equipment is used.

Vice covers wretched excess:

How a Power-Mad Illinois Mayor Launched a Police Crusade Against a Parody

On the night of April 15, police in Peoria, Illinois, raided the house of my friend Jon Daniel in response to his operating a parody Twitter account mocking Peoria mayor Jim Ardis. The incident sparked a media firestorm, with Peoria all of a sudden being covered by national outlets like Al Jazeera and the Washington Post, and Ardis was condemned for what looked like a clear violation of the First Amendment. (Daniel is not being charged with any crime in connection with the Twitter account because, obviously, it’s not illegal to mock a public official.)

What wasn’t clear at the time was how intimately involved Ardis and Chief of Police Steve Settingsgaard were in ordering the raid, but according to emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, city officials were so eager to nail the author of the parody Twitter account that they had a detective comb through Illinois statutes to find something to charge him with, in the process bungling the legal aspects of the case and drawing the ire of local citizens.

Ardis and others learned of the account on March 11 and sent dozens of emails over the next few days, apparently panicked by the idea that someone with a few dozen Twitter followers was making fun of the mayor. On March 12, Ardis himself asked City Manager Patrick Urich, “Any chance we can put a sense of urgency on this?” Urich passed that request on to Settingsgaard, saying, “Quickly please.”

From the Observer, when domestic insecurity leads to insecurity:

In the Breaking Bad city, trust in the trigger-happy police has broken down

Albuquerque’s people are struggling with poverty, mental illness and drugs – and have had enough of a police force that has killed 25 in four years

Last month the US department of justice issued a 46-page report that detailed a pattern of excessive force, including a policy of shooting at moving vehicles to disable them, and officers being allowed to use personal weapons instead of standard-issue firearms. “Officers see the guns as status symbols,” it said. “APD personnel we interviewed indicated that this fondness for powerful weapons illustrates the aggressive culture.”

Concern about police heavy-handedness is spreading. Elsewhere in New Mexico this week state police killed Arcenio Lujan, 48, outside his home after he allegedly pointed a rifle. Dozens marched on police headquarters in the Texas town of Hearne after an officer shot dead a 93-year-old woman, Pearlie Golden, who allegedly brandished a gun. Las Vegas and Los Angeles have also been rocked by anger at police shootings.

Police and sheriff departments in towns and hamlets from Iowa to Connecticut have fuelled anxiety by snapping up the Pentagon’s offer of mine-resistant ambush-protected armoured personnel vehicles, behemoths known as MRAPs, back from Iraq and Afghanistan.

South China Morning Post lawyers up, famously:

Spy case legend hired by Edward Snowden speaks about five-decade career

Veteran of high-profile US espionage cases believes his vast experience will help NSA whistle-blower, who fled to Russia from HK

A veteran lawyer who could hold the key to Edward Snowden’s eventual return to the United States has spoken of his fivedecade career cutting deals for some of America’s most notorious spies.

Washington-based legal heavyweight Plato Cacheris has been retained by the whistle-blower, who was granted temporary asylum in Russia.

And he spoke to the Sunday Morning Post as the first anniversary approaches of former National Security Agency contractor going public in Hong Kong with revelations that mass digital surveillance by the US extended to targets in China.

From New Europe, turning a blind eye:

Merkel in Washington puts unity above NSA spying investigation

United States President Barack Obama welcomed German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Washington last week. He gave her a personal tour of the White House and showed her everything from the vegetable garden to the birds nesting in the Rose Garden. But what Obama did not do, at least in front of reporters, was to address the NSA spying scandal and the contentious no-spy deal that has since collapsed.

According to the German weekly news magazine, Der Spiegel, Merkel is no longer committed to investigating the extent of NSA spying in Germany, despite the fact that her own mobile telephone had also been bugged.

In the world of diplomacy, moments of candour are rare, obscured as they are behind a veil of amicability and friendly gestures, reports Der Spiegel. It was no different last week at the meeting between Obama and Merkel in Washington.

From the Guardian, a day that will live in [fill in the blank]:

Glenn Greenwald: the explosive day we revealed Edward Snowden’s identity to the world

In the hours after his name became known, the entire world was searching for the NSA whistleblower, and it became vital that his whereabouts in Hong Kong remained secret. In an extract from a new book, No Place to Hide, Glenn Greenwald recalls the dramatic events surrounding the moment Snowden revealed himself in June 2013

On Thursday 6 June 2013, our fifth day in Hong Kong, I went to Edward Snowden’s hotel room and he immediately said he had news that was “a bit alarming”. An internet-connected security device at the home he shared with his longtime girlfriend in Hawaii had detected that two people from the NSA – a human-resources person and an NSA “police officer” – had come to their house searching for him.

Snowden was almost certain this meant that the NSA had identified him as the likely source of the leaks, but I was sceptical. “If they thought you did this, they’d send hordes of FBI agents with a search warrant and probably Swat teams, not a single NSA officer and a human-resources person.” I figured this was just an automatic and routine inquiry, triggered when an NSA employee goes absent for a few weeks without explanation. But Snowden suggested that perhaps they were being purposely low-key to avoid drawing media attention or setting off an effort to suppress evidence.

From the Guardian, ancient sins stay buried:

Foreign Office secrecy continues over archive of illegally held files

Historian Katie Engelhart reports on last week’s FCO ‘records day’ to discuss the fate of thousands of historic files, some containing evidence of murder and torture by colonial authorities

Last Friday afternoon, 50 historians and archivists piled into the Entente Cordiale room in London’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO). They were there to discuss the fate of hundreds of thousands of historic files dating back to the 17th century, some of which contain damning evidence of murder and torture by British colonial authorities.

In October, the Guardian revealed that the FCO had unlawfully retained millions of historic documents in violation of the Public Records Act at a maximum security compound in Buckinghamshire known as Hanslope Park, which the FCO shares with intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6.

Friday’s “records day” was a kind of public airing – to which the public and media were barred from attending – at which FCO officials detailed “plans for the review and release of these legacy records” to the National Archives.

Computerworld covers unintended [?] consequences:

Hackers now crave patches, and Microsoft’s giving them just what they want

At least one of next Tuesday’s updates looks like an excellent candidate to hackers as they sniff for bugs in the now-retired Windows XP

Hackers will have at least one, perhaps as many as four, patches next week to investigate as they search for unfixed flaws in Windows XP, the 13-year-old operating system that Microsoft retired from support April 8.

“Come Tuesday, Microsoft will be patching some vulnerabilities in Windows, and it is realistic to assume that at least one of these will also affect Windows XP,” said Kasper Lindgaard, director of research and security at Secunia, in an email Friday. “Generally speaking, newly discovered vulnerabilities in XP will be unpatchable for private users, and therefore we will see a rise in attacks.”

On May 13, Microsoft’s regularly-scheduled monthly Patch Tuesday, the Redmond, Wash. company will issue eight security updates for its software. But because it has stopped providing updates to owners of Windows XP PCs, those customers will not see any of the eight.

From Ars Technica, more online insecurity:

Significant portion of HTTPS Web connections made by forged certificates

Scientists unearth first direct evidence of bogus certs in real-world connections.

Computer scientists have uncovered direct evidence that a small but significant percentage of encrypted Web connections are established using forged digital certificates that aren’t authorized by the legitimate site owner.

The analysis is important because it’s the first to estimate the amount of real-world tampering inflicted on the HTTPS system that millions of sites use to prove their identity and encrypt data traveling to and from end users. Of 3.45 million real-world connections made to Facebook servers using the transport layer security (TLS) or secure sockets layer protocols, 6,845, or about 0.2 percent of them, were established using forged certificates. The vast majority of unauthorized credentials were presented to computers running antivirus programs from companies including Bitdefender, Eset, and others. Commercial firewall and network security appliances were the second most common source of forged certificates.

At least one issuer of certificates—IopFailZeroAccessCreate—was generated by a known malware sample that was presented 112 times by users in 45 different countries. The discovery helps to explain bug reports such as this one made to developers of the Chromium browser describing the mysterious inclusion of a TLS certificate on a large number of end users’ computers.

Meanwhile, the spooks want more. From IDG News Service:

DOJ seeks new authority to hack and search remote computers

The agency asks that judges be allowed to issue warrants to search computers outside their judicial districts

The U.S. Department of Justice wants new authority to hack and search remote computers during investigations, saying the new rules are needed because of complex criminal schemes sometimes using millions of machines spread across the country.

Digital rights groups say the request from the DOJ for authority to search computers outside the district where an investigation is based raises concerns about Internet security and Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

“By expanding federal law enforcement’s power to secretly exploit ‘zero-day’ vulnerabilities in software and Internet platforms, the proposal threatens to weaken Internet security for all of us,” Nathan Freed Wessler, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said by email.

Another case of insecurity in a familiar venue, via the Guardian:

Calls to class far-right Jewish settlers as terrorists after Israeli soldiers attacked

Senior ministers Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Aharonovitch condemn ‘price-tag’ attacks as author Amos Oz calls militants neo-Nazis

Calls are mounting for hardline Jewish settlers to be classified as terrorists after a spate of attacks on Palestinian property in the West Bank and Israel, and threats of violence towards Israeli soldiers.

Last week, the justice minister, Tzipi Livni, and the internal security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, both argued that rightwing extremists should be classified as terrorists following attacks on soldiers at the hardline West Bank settlement of Yitzhar.

And on Friday, the Israeli prize laureate author Amos Oz described the hardline Jewish settlers that carry out so-called “price tag” attacks on Palestinians as neo-Nazis.

And we begin today’s Game of Drones coverage with a bad from USA TODAY:

National parks say no to personal drones

A growing number of national parks are taking steps to prohibit the use of drones on park property, a move that has some drone users concerned.

A recent incident here in which an unmanned aerial system was seen separating several young bighorn sheep from adults in the herd spurred park officials to make it clear their use is illegal.

“If the young can’t find their way back to their parents they could actually die,” said Aly Baltrus, chief of interpretation for Zion National Park in Utah.

Marines go dronal, via Aviation Week & Space Technology:

U.S. Marine Corps Explores Extended-Range Blackjack

As the first RQ-21As deploy to Afghanistan, the U.S. Marine Corps is eyeing new payload and fuselage options

For a U.S. Marine Corps bent on remaining as light, mobile and lethal as possible on land and at sea, good things do come in small packages.

The service has deployed an early version of its newest unmanned aerial system (UAS), the small, rail-launched Block 1 RQ-21 Blackjack to begin early operations in Afghanistan in April in response to a Central Command urgent need for signals-intelligence collection there. The plan is to begin operations of the Marine Corps’ first full-up RQ-21As—different from their predecessors in that they are capable of shipboard operations—this fall.

Though the U.S. plans to sharply reduce the number of soldiers in Afghanistan by year-end, the Marine Corps expects to deploy on land in the future to support contingencies such as operations in the Horn of Africa. But as the Pentagon shifts its focus to the Pacific theater, the corps is also eager to reconnect with its roots as a premier amphibious force. The Blackjack will be used to support both goals.

And from the Guardian, sharing the wealth:

Iran claims copy of captured US drone will soon take test flight

Officer says on state TV: ‘We have broken its secrets’

White House blamed 2011 loss on technical problem

Iran captured the RQ-170 Sentinel Drone in 2011

Iran said on Sunday it had succeeded in copying a US drone it captured in December 2011. State television broadcast images apparently showing the replicated aircraft.

Iran captured the US RQ-170 Sentinel while it was in its airspace, apparently on a mission to spy on the country’s nuclear sites, US media reported.

At the time, the White House blamed the loss on a technical problem causing a loss of control. Iran claimed to have brought the drone down by electronically disrupting its GPS system.

And from the Yomiuri Shimbun, the Game of Drones meets the Game of Zones:

U.S. drone missions to monitor Chinese, N. Korean activities

Full-scale large military drone operations will start shortly in Japan and its nearby airspace to monitor Chinese military activities and North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.

The U.S. Air Force plans to deploy two Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles to its Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture late this month and the Air Self-Defense Force plans to procure three UAVs of the same type in fiscal 2015 and later.

However, experts warn that regulations on their flights must be put in place because Japan’s current aviation laws lack clear stipulations on large drones.

After the jump, the latest from the Asia Game of Zones, including new players of zome very old games, social engineering, recruiting games, and more. . .

For our first Asian item, another ongoing front with the Times of India:

Pakistani spies use spoof calls to gather information, intelligence agencies say

Pakistan seems to have stepped up its activities in India. According to reports by intelligence agencies, Pakistani operatives are making ‘spoofed calls’ to the offices of senior police, intelligence and Army officers besides bureaucrats under the assumed identities of mid-rung defence officers and are seeking information regarding government departments and officials. The alert was recently shared with police agencies.

To make sure that classified/secret information pertaining to government departments, intelligence agencies, police, defence and home ministry is not procured by Pakistani spies, office staff has been asked to be cautious while attending to calls where the caller identifies himself to be from the Army or an intelligence agency.

A “spoofed call” is where the origin of the call is masked and is shown as the place where the call is received. Usually, in cases of intelligence operatives seeking information from enemy countries, the calls are made from numbers located abroad.

From Global Times, same old hustle:

Worst spies ever

Overseas agents recruit youth to access databases, journals

Military enthusiasts may find themselves caught up in real life danger, as their online activities have reportedly become one major way for overseas intelligence agencies.

State security department in Guangdong Province said on May 4 that a resident surnamed Li from Sichuan Province was sentenced to 10 years’imprisonment for releasing military secrets to an overseas intelligence agent, People’s Daily reported.

The intelligence agent, named “Fei Ge,” which means   “Brother Fei,” reportedly contacted Li via the QQ instant messenger service and offered 3,000 yuan ($481) monthly payment for information.

Channel NewsAsia Singapore opts out:

ASEAN must be neutral in South China Sea row: PM Lee

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) must play a constructive role in managing problems in the South China Sea, said Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday.

And that also means not taking sides with the countries making various territorial and maritime claims.

Speaking at the 24th ASEAN Summit in Myanmar, Mr Lee echoed the sentiments of foreign ministers that ASEAN should have a common position on the issue.

He said incidents, like collisions between Vietnamese and Chinese vessels in the South China Sea within the past week, could easily spiral out of control and trigger unintended consequences.

From China Daily, drawing lines:

Company’s drilling activities are within Chinese waters: official

The drilling activities of China Oilfield Services Limited (COSL) are located only 17 nautical miles (some 31 kilometers) from China’s Zhongjian Island, completely within the country’s territorial waters, an official has said.

Yi Xianliang, Deputy Director-General of the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs of the Foreign Ministry of China, told reporters on Friday that the Chinese side was “deeply surprised and shocked” by Vietnam’s intensive attempts since May 2 to disrupt the Chinese company’s normal drilling activities in the waters off China’s Xisha Islands.

The Xisha Islands are an inherent part of China’s territory and there is not any dispute about it, said the official.

The Associated Press covers blowback:

Vietnamese protest over disputed China oil rig

Hundreds of Vietnamese on Sunday protested outside the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi China’s deployment of an oil rig that has triggered a tense naval standoff and raised fears of confrontation in contested South China Sea waters.

Scores of security officers kept a close watch on about 500 demonstrators as they shouted anti-Chinese slogans and held up banners in a park across from the embassy. The protest was state-sanctioned as it also included signs “Long Live the Communist Party.”

“We are infuriated by the Chinese actions,” said Nguyen Xuan Hien, a lawyer. “We want the Chinese people to understand.”

From Kyodo News, they’re makin’ a list and checkin’ it twice, they’re gonna find out who’s. . .well, you know:

Japan to create database on visa-free visits to Russian-held islands

The government will create a database of Japanese visitors to Russian-held islands off Hokkaido under a visa-free program to promote visits by new people and widen the understanding of the islands’ situation, a government source said Sunday.

Without data on the names of Japanese visitors and their destinations, often the same people, mostly former residents of the Japan-claimed islands and activists seeking the return of the territory, repeatedly traveled to the islands under the program aimed at promoting exchanges with Russian islanders, the source said.

The Japanese government will create the database by the end of next March and start using information for visa-free visits in the fiscal year starting next April.

From Kyodo News, Yar, matey:

Japan eyes enabling SDF to protect private-sector ships from pirates

The government has begun talks with the ruling coalition on developing legislation to enable the Self-Defense Forces to protect Japanese private-sector vessels when they are attacked by armed groups in the open seas, government sources said Sunday.

The legislation enabling the dispatch of SDF vessels or planes for the protection of private-sector ships is aimed at strengthening antipiracy measures in the Strait of Malacca and the Indian Ocean, the sources said.

The government is expected to call for examining such legislation in its basic policy to be announced as early as Tuesday by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on whether Japan should exercise the right to collective self-defense and on expanded roles overseas of the SDF, according to the sources.

The Japan Times compromises to stay in power:

LDP eyes stricter collective-defense criteria to appease New Komeito

Plans are underway to stipulate that the right to collective self-defense can only be exercised when Japan is directly threatened by regional “contingencies,” particularly on the Korean Peninsula, according to a government source.

Narrowing the definition of what constitutes a threat to national security is one way to put stricter conditions on using the banned right to defend allies under attack, the source said Saturday.

These conditions are being prompted by the Liberal Democratic Party’s need to persuade coalition partner New Komeito to back its effort to bypass the amendment process in revising the Constitution.

For our final item, the McClatchy Foreign Staff keeps an old sore open:

China cracks down on those remembering ‘89 Tiananmen crackdown

With the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown less than a month away, China has launched a broad effort to muzzle and detain citizens who are attempting to remember the victims.

On Tuesday, authorities detained human rights lawyer lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and at least five other activists who’d attended a Tiananmen seminar in Beijing three days earlier.

Then, on Thursday, state media reported that authorities had “criminally detained” prominent journalist Gao Ju — once jailed for her writings during the 1989 protests — and accused her of sharing a government document with a foreign website.

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