NSA/GCHQ Hacks SIM Card Database and Steals Billions of Keys

The Intercept has an extraordinary story: the NSA and/or GCHQ hacked into the Dutch SIM card manufacturer Gemalto, stealing the encryption keys for billions of cell phones. People are still trying to figure out exactly what this means, but it seems to mean that the intelligence agencies have access to both voice and data from all phones using those cards.

Me in The Register: "We always knew that they would occasionally steal SIM keys. But all of them? The odds that they just attacked this one firm are extraordinarily low and we know the NSA does like to steal keys where it can."

I think this is one of the most important Snowden stories we've read.

More news stories. Slashdot thread. Hacker News thread.

Posted on February 20, 2015 at 7:51 AM • 130 Comments

Comments

MatthijsFebruary 20, 2015 8:39 AM

"Gemalto security for 113 nationalities, 3,000+ banks, 450 mobile networks, 80 e-gov programs", pointed out by https://twitter.com/Cryptomeorg/status/568754045504131072 .

Gemalto partner list:

http://www.gemalto.com/companyinfo/partners/partners-list

It's perfectly understandable that spies seek access to this booty, including for democratically justifiable objectives, but I do wonder to what extent these sorts of hacks suffice (or can even be expected to suffice) requirements of necessity, proportionality, subsidiarity.

AndyFFebruary 20, 2015 8:46 AM

I do wonder if Gemalco can find some concrete evidence which matches the Snowden slides.

If they do then it could be treated as a criminal act with evidence against known organisations. I'd love to see extradition warrants being issued against persons in the UK and USA, pretty sure the persons wouldn't be sent for "justice" but it would be fun to watch.

Nicholas WeaverFebruary 20, 2015 9:35 AM

It really shows, the NSA's biggest mastery on the cryptography front is really Applied Kleptography.

And the use of "decryption oracles" in their systems (e.g. XKEYSCORE records start of encrypted traffic, asks another system "hey, can you give me the session key?", and its probably the same in the cellphone space) is to a great degree about hiding the applied kleptography even from their own personnel. "Do not speculate on how the decryption occurs".

It also shows the pernicious synergy between bulk and targeted surveillance: They use bulk surveillance to find targets, then exploit those targets.

Its also lazy, and assumes they would never get caught. But they did this because they wanted BULK access to cellphone traffic ANYWHERE they chose to monitor.

If they wanted targeted access on individuals, NSA/GCHQ could ask the Dutch to set up a pipeline to Gemalco of "hey, give us this key (or, hey, our Dutch friends will throw you in jail)" if they were willing to wait a day (there is no forward secrecy, so the old data is still recoverable) and willing to target actual bad guys the Dutch government would be happy targeting (basically, the PRISM front-door model).

Or they could just as easily have compromised the cellphone companies themselves in the targeted countries and get the data from there. But that would have required more work.

But instead, GCHQ and the NSA once again decided to let loose a big steaming load all over NATO. Gemalco is a NATO-cited company. Same with Belgacom. And telecom is critical infrastructure: I think Amsterdam and Brussles are now justified in asking the British Royal Air Force in help bombing GCHQ headquarters (not entirely joking here).

Jo BamaFebruary 20, 2015 9:51 AM

Gemalto is not Dutch but French. The company incorporated in the Netherlands for tax reasons and because Delaware is not in the EU.

kruemiFebruary 20, 2015 9:55 AM

But why could the NSA siphon the keys?
Because they were stored there. Which brings me to the question: Why do they need a backup/copy of all those keys anyway?

Marcos El MaloFebruary 20, 2015 10:02 AM

@Nicholas Weaver

Applied Kleptography. Good term!

I don't know that we can ascribe to laziness the successful attack on the Gemalto network. From the spook perspective it makes a lot of sense, both in terms of efficiency (as you note, why resort to brute force decryption when you can just steal the keys) and in terms of operational security (assuming the penetrators were able to cover their tracks). If not for Snowden's documents, we might never have learned about this breach, or if it had been discovered and made public, been able to trace its origin to the Five Eyes spying cartel.

Compromising many downstream entities isn't just more work, it's messier and more likely to be detected.

So, even if we take the government line that such work is only for targetted surveillance, it's not a matter of laziness. There are "valid" reasons.

More troubling or at least as troubling is that GCHQ attacked and compromised 3rd parties, individuals that worked for Gemalto, who have no connection to any criminal or terrorist enterprise, and that are citizens of allied nations or employees of companies located in allied nations. Crapping all over NATO is an apt description.

Anyway, back to laziness: as tempting as it is to ascribe a negative consequence to incompetence or laziness, I think we have to assume the worst, for our own operational security (as a society). If the Five Eyes are not already the operational arm of a shadow government aiming for totalitarian control, we should assume they are a nascent form of one.

mesrikFebruary 20, 2015 10:02 AM

@Bruce

We always knew that they would occasionally steal SIM keys. But all of them? The odds that they just attacked this one firm are extraordinarily low and we know the NSA does like to steal keys where it can."

Did I misunderstand something or could someone explain why going after master keys in some company would be low probability target instead going after each telecom separately?

As far I can understand the fore mentioned organizations teams build information gathering infrastructure and try to do keep in mind price performance ratio in mind also. If you can steal master keys and save costs in breaking every telecom separately it's great work from their part.

It appears, they have put lot of effort building these capabilities. It's like someone gathering tools in chest some time before there is even a need for. Having this tool chest available, they then put up products to their clients out of these capabilities enable them achieve.

Basically it's little bit reminiscent what a door to door salesmen have done. They didn't visit customers unprepared. Instead they had rehearsed they part well and knew exactly when customer says this, they answer that. Customer says then something else and they have an answer in their "answers tool chest". Being prepared happened whatever was key to success.

The same game appears to be happening here, breaking in, hacking and stealing crypto keys is building capabilities, and then once some investigator asks to get some information they already can have the tools to have that intelligence available or if not they could improvise and fill the gap later.

:-) riku

Bob S.February 20, 2015 10:03 AM

I am sure I read STINGRAY interceptors are capable of listening to cell phone conversations, besides tracking location and meta data. THUS, the question becomes if a key is necessary, WHERE DID THE KEY come from????

Also, might not the reluctance of the police disclose their use being at least in part be explained by the need to use stolen keys which is turn might annoy a judge, jury or the American people?

Anyone know?

Would the Stingray need the SIM key to work right?

Marcos El MaloFebruary 20, 2015 10:04 AM

@kruemi

Because the keys are required by the customers (the telcos that buy the SIMs).

SasparillaFebruary 20, 2015 10:06 AM

Reading the story really blew me away (keeping thinking I've heard enough of what the NSA etc. has done that this won't be the case anymore, but the new information just keeps doing it) - they obviously want all SIM keys from all the companies handing them out (without those companies knowing).

Keep waiting to hear the NSA (via Microsoft/Intel) inserted a back door into the UEFI standard that's in all the PC's now...

AlexFebruary 20, 2015 10:17 AM

Probably we need new telecom infrastructure that would allow everyone to set his personal key. End-to-end encryption will be nice too.

mesrikFebruary 20, 2015 10:17 AM

Anyone wondering why Gemalto, should recall what John Dillinger answered to a journalists question after conviction:

J: Why do you rob banks?

D: That's where the money is!

Doh!

:-) riku

zbootFebruary 20, 2015 10:19 AM

@mesrik

You misunderstand. He's saying the probability that just this one company was hit is low. It is likely they went after many (including the telcos) and got more than just the keys from Gemalto.

TomasFebruary 20, 2015 10:20 AM

The odds that they just attacked this one firm are extraordinarily low and we know the NSA does like to steal keys where it can.
Just because pretty much everybody confuses the use of "odds". Low odds means high probability, so you do mean that it was highly likely to happen?

Just checking!

SasparillaFebruary 20, 2015 10:22 AM

Just occurred to me - this is the Clipper Chip for cell phones (mobile products).

But you have to keep it secret for that to work.

How do we fix this now?

AnuraFebruary 20, 2015 10:24 AM

@kruemi

SIM cards use symmetric keys, so they need to be able to give the key to the network provider. If they stored a 2048-bit diffie-hellman key they would only need the public key. Of course, at that point unless they used ephemeral keys, the NSA could just steal the network provider's private key. If they used a 2048-bit RSA key, then that would also be sufficient provided the ISP sends a random key and it isn't just used for signing - this is still vulnerable if the NSA recovers the sender's key. If you combine two ephemeral keys, then the NSA can only perform a man in the middle.

kruemiFebruary 20, 2015 10:58 AM

@Marcos El Malo and @Anura

Thanx a lot. Symmetric keys explains everything. I was (wrongly) assuming that they were using asymetric crypto.

DanielFebruary 20, 2015 10:58 AM

@Nicolas Weaver

"Applied Kleptography".

Yes. You and I are on the same wavelength. In my view Applied Kleptography is part of what I call "gangster government". Stealing is one aspect of what gangsters so. Another aspect is that if one doesn't pay the tithe in the shakedown racket, the goons come out to break some legs viz. national security letters and Gitmo. It is all hidden behind a veneer of democratic jargon and intellectual water-carrying but when one strips away the folly swaddles it is difficult to separate what the American government is doing from a good old fashioned mob racket.

CallMeLateForSupperFebruary 20, 2015 11:07 AM

@Bob S. re: keys and Stingray

From what I've read, Stingray can decrease its xmt power, thus decreasing its signal as received by cell phones within its operational radius. From the phone's view, it is too far from the tower to use its default, most-secure freq./protocol, and so the phone and the Stingray renegotiate to use a different, less secure freq./protocol. That is, for example, switch from 4G (the most secure these days ... I *think*) to 2G (much easier to crack).

It is clear that phone-owner control over whether or not the phone "falls bacl" to less secure would be a very nice feature. I think - but don't know - that such control is not generally available, if at all.

KurzlegFebruary 20, 2015 11:11 AM

@ Alex: "Probably we need new telecom infrastructure that would allow everyone to set his personal key. End-to-end encryption will be nice too."

That's an interesting suggestion. Not being a tech person, would this be a workable solution?

Alex K.February 20, 2015 11:16 AM

I wonder if I'm the only person who, upon reading this story, immediately recalled the SSL certificate vendor attacks around 4 or 5 years ago....

CallMeLateForSupperFebruary 20, 2015 11:18 AM

I saw neither U.S.A. nor G.B. among the list of raped countries. Perhaps we shall learn down the road that GCHQ grabbed US Kis, NSA grabbed GB Kis. and a swap was accomplished (with adult beverages all 'round).

I did note that Canada - a 5 Eyes, no less - was among the raped. Wonder how Canadians feel about that.

65535February 20, 2015 11:28 AM

“The [SIM Chip] company targeted by the intelligence agencies, Gemalto, is a multinational firm incorporated in the Netherlands that makes the chips used in mobile phones and next-generation credit cards. Among its clients are AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint and some 450 wireless network providers around the world. [Gemalto] operates in 85 countries and has more than 40 manufacturing facilities. One of its three global headquarters is in Austin, Texas and it has a large factory in Pennsylvania.” –The Intercept

https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/02/19/great-sim-heist/

I would say that this is a prima facie case for mass spying [and probably gotten worse by now]. This is clearly illegal under the US Constitution. It must stop now!

This mass spying or dragnet surveillance must have vacuumed up a number of confidential client-Attorney conversations and Judge’s communications. These lawyers who are losing cases due to parallel construction and sheer eavesdropping are getting screwed and should go on the offense – same for the Judges. This is gross danger to the USA’s legal system and democracy in general.

The NSA and its tentacles have to be de-funded immediately! I see no other viable alternative.

Sure, the NSA can temporarily drain banks and ponzi-up their budgets. But, their $10.5 billion to $1.05 trillion appetite for cash per year is too great.


The NSA and their subsidiary/front companies will soon feel the pain in their wallets. The NSA will have to quit giving Senators "the least un-truthful answer" and pull back their mass spy programs – I hope!

Mobile workerFebruary 20, 2015 11:45 AM

Am I wrong to wonder whether people understand the value of SIM card IMSI and K(i)? Saw lot of tweets today mentioning eavesdropping of calls. Ok, so these governments already had the capability to listen to our calls by breaking into the service providers networks. Right?

Now that these guys have everyone's IMSI and K(i), they can clone SIM cards. And we use our SIMs for authentication and online banking. Operator logs showing SIM card position data is used as evidence in court, they can be used to put people in prison.

I think it would be childish to assume these agencies attacked Gemalto and others just to be able to listen to calls and read messages.

noodlesFebruary 20, 2015 12:10 PM

Gemalto uses many of the same OS/tools seen in java shops everywhere. Plenty of opportunity to break in undetected.

Why are encryption keys on a network? Data at rest loses again. This time at a global identity authentication company... Good job management. Good job.


$$$$$$$!!!February 20, 2015 12:15 PM

Oops, NSA just blew up another company.

https://twitter.com/AndrewDFish/status/568767858278309888/photo/1

The potential compensation or reparation cost is mounting.

Of course, injured parties could settle for satisfaction for NSA's illegal conduct, une activité préjudiciable à la sécurité de l'Etat. When Germany engaged in illegal warfare, we confiscated their industrial base. When Japan engaged in illegal warfare, we nuked 'em. When Iraq engaged in illegal warfare, we imposed genocidal sanctions.

Maybe the injured parties will settle for regime change and ODNI's top three echelons gibbeted.

RetiredOldFartFebruary 20, 2015 12:18 PM

@Bob S. Stingray breaks the key using a method they call "Active Key Extraction". They intercept the connection request then force a lower level of encryption which they can break in real time. See this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stingray_phone_tracker

Then scan for search in the document for "Interception of Communications Content" in the document.

Stingray can only be used for targeted surveillance to collect content on a specific target. It can collect meta data on any phone within radio range but not content.

QuinFebruary 20, 2015 12:30 PM

@Bob S. re: keys and Stingray

Stingray = cracked 2G encryption (i.e., no key required)
vs
SIM key = no need to crack any (e.g., 2G, 3G, 4G, LTE) encryption because they have stolen the key your cell's SIM uses to decrypt

Explanation via excerpt from The Intercept article that Bruce links to:

"Today, second-generation (2G) phone technology, which relies on a deeply flawed encryption system, remains the dominant platform globally, though U.S. and European cellphone companies now use 3G, 4G and LTE technology in urban areas. These include more secure, though not invincible, methods of encryption, and wireless carriers throughout the world are upgrading their networks to use these newer technologies.

It is in the context of such growing technical challenges to data collection that intelligence agencies, such as the NSA, have become interested in acquiring cellular encryption keys. “With old-fashioned [2G], there are other ways to work around cellphone security without those keys,” says Green, the Johns Hopkins cryptographer. “With newer 3G, 4G and LTE protocols, however, the algorithms aren’t as vulnerable, so getting those keys would be essential.”"

Re: "...which in turn might annoy a judge, jury or the American people?"

Amen brother. I'd like to think there is going to be massive judicial/public outcry for this overtly criminal act. But from what I've seen since the Snowden disclosures, I'll continue to hope, but I'm not holding my breath.

noodlesFebruary 20, 2015 12:35 PM

Judging by the way the article is written, GCHQ will have low-level access to all authentication technology using Gemalto products. In theory, this should not be a problem, but we all know programming is hard to do so well there are no security bugs.

For the uninitiated, a SIM card is a smart card. A SIM card, has a different application loaded than say an EMV payment smart card, or the smart card inside a usb security dongle. They are just applications for a couple of teeny tiny operating systems maintained by Gemalto.

Since Gemalto has EMV products, token authentication products, and likely involved in national ID projects as well, this is a big hack.

uh, MikeFebruary 20, 2015 12:47 PM

On a related note, I hope someone dumps most-to-all Social Security Numbers in directory form. That would end its value as an authenticator, once and for all.

HermanFebruary 20, 2015 12:53 PM

Well, it was glaringly obvious that they must have an exploit since the NSA admitted to listening in to Merkel's phone. This news just shows that the exploit is much simpler than we thought.

albertFebruary 20, 2015 1:13 PM

@65535
If it happened in Europe, it needs to be prosecuted there. If GCHQ did it, it would be nearly impossible to go after the NSA. A fools errand either way. Besides, we Americans don't really care about all that stuff anyway.

The US/UK bedroom arrangements place France* in the doghouse. They're not too happy about what they hear coming out of France these days. It could be a warning, as well as a practical matter of convenience.

With all due respect to our friends across the Pond, seeing Greece, Spain, Italy, & Ireland withdraw from the EU (and its subsequent dissolution) would warm the few cockles remaining in my heart. Financial alignment with BRICS would be cool, too.

Reducing US influence over Europe is a noble goal. Seeing ourselves standing alone on the world stage might be just what we need to wake up.

But the Elite won't go down without a fight. It'll be doozy!

...
* and Greece, Spain, Italy, Ireland... Those countries are finally seeing what side their bread is buttered on, and who butters it. And they are not happy.

Clive RobinsonFebruary 20, 2015 1:19 PM

Two thoughts arise,

The first as several have mentioned is the likes of PFS.

The second is we should consider the use of end to end encryption over the mobile network which only provides limited end link encryption. Because the network encryption was only supposed to provide limited privacy from evesdropping by the likes of "ham operators" and in later versions to protect the company billing.

Thus real call secrecy was never on the agenda, in fact you can see that from the way various IC representatives masquerading as technical representatives put the boot in at various GSM and other standards meetings. The British are past masters at this along with other 5eye members, it's why it's called "finessing" a term lifted from a card game called "Bridge" that was and is in some cases still popular with the "old school tie brigade" who have stuffed the personnel of the various MIs since WWII.

Preferably the "end to end" encryption should be only under the end users control not the networks or other organisation that can have keys or certificates pilfered.

Further it's preferable that the End to End encryption should be done outside of the phone, due to the fact that the OTA interface/update can not be trusted in any way.

aFebruary 20, 2015 1:31 PM

Redphone(Android)/Signal(iPhone)/Textsecure(Android) is the solution. We can't afford to put any degree of trust into the security of cellular networks.

Bob S.February 20, 2015 1:36 PM

Re: Relation of SIM Key to Stingray

Thanx all for the explanation(s).

Short version: 2G is easy for Stingray to circumvent, so Stingray jams higher level encryption to force 2G. However, to access 3G+ comms, the key is necessary.

I know I read the latest Stingrays can address higher level encryption. I wonder if having the keys is the secret sauce?

I am quite certain what GCHQ/NSA did was quite illegal, they stole the keys. I wonder if some kind of international prosecution will be pursued? That might be interesting.

Oddly, this episode tends to confirm encryption done right still works.

Eternal thanks to Ed Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, & Co.

BeancounterFebruary 20, 2015 3:03 PM

"GCHQ also claimed the ability to manipulate the billing servers of cell companies to “suppress” charges in an effort to conceal the spy agency’s secret actions against an individual’s phone."

Ok, money, and therefore the stealing of services was involved. Is that also legal according to secret courts?

wtf-reallyFebruary 20, 2015 3:07 PM

So this means that cell phone transmission content (conversations, texts, internet activity), if not encrypted using strong encryption apps (Signal/ChatSecure/Orbot/etc), could also be seen by other Fed. LEOs in a PRISM search, right?

AnuraFebruary 20, 2015 3:19 PM

@Beancounter

You're forgetting one thing: National Security.

"You stole..."
"National Security"
"But, then you actually caused..."
"National Security"
"But you are doing the opposite..."
"National Security"
"How exactly is this..."
"National Security"
"But you had the person your spouse was cheating on you with..."
"National Security"
"And you killed thousands of your own..."
"National Security"


See? Natioanl Security trumps all.

pwned4realFebruary 20, 2015 3:28 PM

I want to add that most likely NSA / GCHQ should also have the OTA keys for signing and installing Java Card applets using binary SMS. Applets are allowed to send SMS, change voicemail numbers, and query the phone location, among many other predefined functions. These capabilities alone provide plenty of potential for abuse.

VFebruary 20, 2015 3:33 PM

@ AndyF

"If they do then it could be treated as a criminal act with evidence against known organisations."

Gemalto could cite DMCA and ask for statutory damages -- $150,000 per SIM card. NSA would claim immunity ("We're the government, you can't sue us") but GCHQ might be vulnerable.

I know, I know, I'm dreaming.

noodlesFebruary 20, 2015 3:59 PM

wtf-really,

It's much worse than that.
In country like the USA, NSA already has full telco cooperation, so all your voice and data traffic is analyzed sort of passively. Other countries pursue similar collection activities. This is well known.

This this gives GCHQ access direct access to the phone. As pwned4real posted, very, very likely control the phone's SIM remotely.

Let's be clear, we're talking about controlling the SIM, not a smart phone's OS. (ex. Android) You wouldn't have a clue as a phone user that GCHQ is tracking your phone use, your location, and other things happening at the SIM level.

And, very likely it is not just phones. If they are compromising developer/admin workstations, then it's reasonable to assume that any Gemalto based security tokens are compromised. EMV credit cards as used in the Eurozone, hardware dongles, national ID cards, and more that rely on the now fundamentally compromised gemalto offices.

noodlesFebruary 20, 2015 4:14 PM

wtf-really,

Maybe I wasn't clear. The U.S. and U.K. are already monitoring your voice and data including Internet activity and have been for many, many years. They do this with full cooperation from the Telcos at the telco level.

Encryption would not matter if you are on a gemalto SIM and a person of interest. They know who, what, when, where at the SIM level. They then find your conversation because the telcos are giving it to them and decrypt as needed.

Is it possible there is encryption that would take very, very long to break? Sure. If they are that interested in you, you've got bigger problems than keeping secrets.

RickFebruary 20, 2015 5:11 PM

Consider the ramifications and potential uses of this data...

...perhaps blackmail of high level business and political leaders, the destruction of the careers of those the cabal disapproves of, false attribution, and resorting to (easily) planted evidence to destroy an enemy's credibility. Importantly, who decides who that enemy is? Unelected shadowy figures effectively abrogating the law of the land for their own convenience, no doubt. Conspiracy theory? I doubt it. Not with this sort of disclosure weighing in the balance. All is fair in love and war, right?

The discussion revolving around technical solutions to ameliorate attacks is akin to Don Quixote jousting windmills and is judged reactive at best. What we need (but realistically won't get for a long while) is a grass roots movement to cause fundamental reform in current, corrupt political institutions. The democratic political process works, by and large, when enough people unite under the banner of single-minded reform. Apathy is the greatest enemy, not side channel attacks and stolen keys.

I wish I knew a way to awaken the average person tethered to the digital world who is more concerned with the insignificant pleasures and petty distractions of life in the 1st World than with the sacrifices of those who fought to preserve the U.S. Bill of Rights. I speculate that losing those luxuries would be required first. Pity.

albertFebruary 20, 2015 6:33 PM

@Rick
Ralph Nader posited an interesting idea a while back: starting temporary, single-issue, grassroots campaigns. Example: 75% of Americans support raising the minimum wage. I don't have numbers, but I believe the majority support reducing the NSA spying powers, and that includes both sides of Congress. As Nader pointed out, regardless of the moneyed interests, Congress critters could easily get votes on an issue that almost everyone supports.

A lot of Republicans, Independents, Libertarians, and real conservatives have a big problem with Big Gov't stepping on their toes. It's gotten personal, and the gloves have to come off. These guys need the support of the Left. I would go so far as to say: 'If your district or state is going Republican anyway, swing your vote to the candidate supporting the reining in of the NSA.' The opposite applies for an all-Democratic district/state.

Wear 'em down, one issue at a time.

...

ChrisFebruary 20, 2015 6:55 PM

@clive
Further it's preferable that the End to End encryption should be done outside of the phone, due to the fact that the OTA interface/update can not be trusted in any way.
.....

-I find the new stuff disturbing at least but same conclusion, you probably would need to lift the encryption of the vocoding outside from the phone, i recall i saw this kind of hardware somewhere allready. and i think more of these products has to come, problem immediatly would arrise is compatibility, so how can we have an external microphone headset through a encrypted vocoding made in a way that its:
- compatible
- affordable
- easy to use
- opensource
- and last but not least secure :-)

I think its not going to happen but who knows, the chinese manufactoring companies
are keen to make money in massproducing stuff so it would be exactly as above.
however lets see... i have my doubts on that.

In this case i think there will arrse alot of stuff from the chinese producers
but they need to make it compatible and standardised and prefereably!!! opensource

65535February 20, 2015 7:10 PM

@ Albert

“If it happened in Europe, it needs to be prosecuted there.” –Albert
That would seem to be the case. But, American persons who commit a crime in the EU can be prosecuted [or as an accessory to a crime]. That’s not to say that an Agent of the NSA would not take a “private flight” out of the EU and remain at large in an unknown location… Cough, cough, Fort Meade.

“If GCHQ did it, it would be nearly impossible to go after the NSA.” – Albert
It would seem to be the case because once you are on American soil you can spout “National Security” in front of a judge and it is a get-out-of-jail free card.

Clearly, the term “National Security” has been stretch into a grossly contorted term to help certain “Agencies” keep out of prison and to help disguise what would normally be criminal acts as acts of “National Security.”

“…we Americans don't really care about all that stuff anyway.” – Albert

Not until we find out the cannon is pointed at us – that is a different matter. I would guess a number of high level American politicians, Judges, lawyers, and journalists are being target with these powerful weapons.

“Reducing US influence over Europe is a noble goal. Seeing ourselves standing alone on the world stage might be just what we need to wake up.” – Albert
Shame can be a powerful tool. I am not so sure it works with the NSA. We shall see.

@Bob S.

“Short version: 2G is easy for Stingray to circumvent, so Stingray jams higher level encryption to force 2G. However, to access 3G+ comms, the key is necessary… I read the latest Stingrays can address higher level encryption. I wonder if having the keys is the secret sauce? I am …certain what GCHQ/NSA did was quite illegal, they stole the keys. I wonder if some kind of international prosecution will be pursued? That might be interesting. Oddly, this episode tends to confirm encryption done right still works.” – Bob S.

Your question was a good one. If cell phone makers and equipment makers are using symmetric encryption then the easiest way “break the encryption” is to steal the actual keys – on a massive scale. The NSA has quite a criminal element built into its operations.

And, yes, I am sure stealing keys is highly illegal. And, I would assume using said keys in thousands upon thousands of ‘String Ray’ or ‘IMSI catchers’ is at least receiving stolen goods, and breaking multiple wire-taping laws on a large scale.

The makers of these devices should be in jail for knowingly "leasing" these mostly illegal devices to domestic law enforcement - and trying to hide the fact. I would guess these devices have trickled down to "private investigators" and other unsavory snoops - if not to criminal gangs.

It is no wonder Harris corporation [or any maker of IMSI catchers] what’s to hide their dirty deeds in a “confidentiality agreement” or “non-disclosure agreement” to keep from being indicated in a federal crime - although the Federal Marshall’s department seems to have no qualms about that crime – but then the Marshall’s service seems have no qualms using “parallel construction” to fool judges in criminal cases.

@ Rick

“...perhaps blackmail of high level business and political leaders, the destruction of the careers of those the cabal disapproves of, false attribution, and resorting to (easily) planted evidence to destroy an enemy's credibility.” – Rick

That is a huge problem with the Military being involved in civilian cases on a massive scale. The military could easily control the civilians – which are the opposite of the goals of US Constitution. This must be remediated - Now!

WaelFebruary 20, 2015 7:11 PM

@Clive Robinson,

Preferably the "end to end" encryption should be only under the end users control not the networks or other organisation that can have keys or certificates pilfered

Ahaaa! We're getting closer now! I need to change the definition of security to:

“The painless ability to protect the asset through complete awareness and total exclusive assured control by the owner of the asset.”

Needed to add the word "exclusive" because "total" alone, allows others to have control as well.

I'll aggravate @Nick P a little; it's the weekend after all... almost :)

Castle: Needs a single root of trust (or roots of trust)
Prison: By definition, it has a High counsel of roots of trust -- Not a single entity, but several.

Nick PFebruary 20, 2015 10:42 PM

@ Wael

Castle is how it's designed and built. Castle strategy plus P2P app with distributed, reference monitors. (e.g. my multinational SCM design) Castle has you covered against single points of failure. Took all of a few seconds to cover your strawman in gasoline and light his ass on fire.

That wasn't aggravating: it was fun. :)

ElyFebruary 21, 2015 2:36 AM

I notice how there is so much talk at every level about the various attacks against communications and information systems by whatever super-empowered clown, but so little discusses countermeasures, even fewer as an example, "A brutally simple and secure, variety store- $25 perhaps, snap-on phone encryption device for The People." But no, the attitude seems to be, That spanking was thorough and well done, so clever! That spanking hurt!... Oh my!

WaelFebruary 21, 2015 3:18 AM

@Nick P,

Took all of a few seconds to cover your strawman in gasoline and light his ass on fire.

Warning - R-rated language...
Don't play with gasoline and fire, you might get your ass whooped ;)

AlexTFebruary 21, 2015 3:27 AM

Call me cynical but i find some reassurance in the fact that the NSA had actually to hack Gemalto to get that information. In this day and age I would have fully expected the company delivering the keys (more or less) willingly to our overlords under some "national security" agreement.

WezFebruary 21, 2015 4:06 AM

One of the most important? Unless I am mistaken, I thought I have read stories that even hackers can pull GSM calls right out the air... Why would NSA or GCHQ need to steal encryption keys for the purpose of getting call data? If this has actually happened it must be for some other purpose. Maybe compromising some internal thing or something, firmware that is signed? Getting access to possible stored encrypted data that is not transmitted? Surely not calls?

Another KevinFebruary 21, 2015 8:05 AM

Ely - I think that the consensus here has been that none of us has the resources to withstand an attack against our security from a nation-state. What appears to have changed is that the 'defense' organizations of the nation-states have abandoned even the pretext of 'defending', and are simply attacking the security of all organizations and individuals. They indiscriminately include their own populace, leaders, and institutions as well as those of other states. I think they're working on the principle that the last man standing amidst the ruins wins.

A $29 device won't help with that. Its chipset has been compromised, anyway.

nordicFebruary 21, 2015 10:45 AM

Interestingly enough, Gemalto provides biometric passports and electronic ID to many countries, including Estonian ePassport, however, apparently not the Estonian ID card that is used as the authentication for Estonian electronic election system.

However, if Bruce is correct, the whatever company that does provide that ID card has most likely been a target of similar attack.

Next parliamentary elections will be held there in two weeks or so. Given the international political climate in Europe (the war in Ukraine), this ... well, at least it could turn out interesting.

Nick PFebruary 21, 2015 11:55 AM

@ Wael

Haha. He'd have ended up on the missing persons list if he tried it where I grew up.

@ Another Kevin

That consensus probably applies to most companies. However, we must modify that to be more accurate: any organization leveraging risky technology with insecure, operational structure is at high risk to nation states. There are ways to run your organization that don't make it easy for your opponents to get the information they need. Various criminal organizations and black programs have been doing it for a long time.

Nick PFebruary 21, 2015 12:09 PM

@ All

White House response:

“It’s hard for me to imagine that there are a lot of technology executives that are out there that are in a position of saying that they hope that people who wish harm to this country will be able to use their technology to do so. So, I do think in fact that there are opportunities for the private sector and the federal government to coordinate and to cooperate on these efforts, both to keep the country safe, but also to protect our civil liberties.”

- White House press secretary Josh Earnest per Intercept

RickFebruary 21, 2015 12:57 PM

@ Nick P.

To the White House Press Secretary's comments and to the Obama administration, I ask them to consider the following:

"The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."

US Supreme Court Chief Justice, John G. Roberts Jr.

And so in like-minded fashion, I say, "The way to stop civil liberties violations is to stop civil liberties violations".

VetchezFebruary 21, 2015 1:24 PM

@Nick P

It's always the same thing with these people..

"You shouldnt mind us hacking you... you aren't a terrorist, are you?!"

RequiredFebruary 21, 2015 1:32 PM

From the 90's "clipper chip" and mandatory key escrow days:

"Mary had an encryption key /
she kept it in escrow /
now everything that Mary said /
the Feds were sure to know"

Looks like they've got what they wanted by the back door.

SkepticalFebruary 21, 2015 7:14 PM


Hey, Signals Intelligence, terrorist/insurgency networks Q/I/T have to communicate with each other, and they swap SIM cards like lice. Can you do a better job tracking and listening to these guys?

Sorry, we'd need rapid access to entire sets of Kis to do that, and that would mean eavesdropping on a foreign company.

Gosh, you're right. Don't worry about it. Not like there are people whose lives depend on intelligence like this.

It's beyond naive to think that any intelligence service - any intelligence service - is going to be limited by a public/private property distinction in a foreign country. No intelligence service of which I'm aware has a rule which states: you may trespass on the property of foreign governments, but never upon foreign private property.

It's especially naive when you glance at the list of mobile providers GCHQ touted as successes in their trial runs (an Icelandic entity is on there, oddly, with entities in countries like Afghanistan and Somalia, but the document specifically notes that the Icelandic entity was unexpected). Signals intelligence in such countries is likely to be quite important - perhaps vitally important to those operating in such countries. If getting that intelligence requires eavesdropping on a foreign company, there is not a nation on earth that would not do so.

I'd only add that obtaining access to Kis doesn't necessarily mean bulk surveillance (they could be used for that purpose - but then we've already learned of the nations in which the NSA was doing so).

Acquiring data by requesting that another government compel a company do so can be unsatisfactory in various ways even if that data is part of a targeted surveillance operation.

To list merely three:

(A) the request by itself may disclose sensitive information to a varied set of individuals whose knowledge might compromise operational security;

(B) the request may take too long;

(C) legally compelling a multinational company to give data to the government can be complicated in many countries - the company may need to involve personnel or equipment in additional foreign nations, which may oblige the company to then comply with the law in place in those additional foreign nations - which may in turn require the informing of the governments of those additional foreign nations of the request -> good-bye security, good-bye timeliness.

There are others just as significant.

Indeed one might suspect that the authors of the original article had very targeted surveillance in mind when they decided to publish this, though of course the possibility of bulk collection is the angle that must be used to spur wider interest. To the extent the article harms efforts at such targeted surveillance, one might even suspect the authors would be pleased.

FluffytheObeseCatFebruary 21, 2015 8:39 PM

"It's beyond naive to think that any intelligence service - any intelligence service - is going to be limited by a public/private property distinction in a foreign country."

Yes, I think most of Bruce's readership is capable of understanding this, and even accepting it. Therefore, as you undoubtedly realize, it is not the issue.

It is the wholesale harvesting of encryption keys that is at issue. Keys to SIM cards produced by Gemalto and similar vendors can provide governments (and others, always) with more than voice or locational data. They are used in a vast and growing array of identification cards, EZ passes, credit cards, passports perhaps, and other small, personal communication or identification devices.

Here in the United States as well as abroad. Here, where the average citizen is believed to commit ~3 accidental felonies a day, because we have so many overwrought laws on our multi-tiered books that it's damned near impossible to do otherwise.

Acceptance of these "national security" practices is acceptance of the complete, turnkey elimination of a sovereign citizenry. I know, no one but Libertarian wackjobs uses this kind of language anymore, however it's just accurate.

Every time you write here, you advocate the total destruction of democracy -- as a real, functional thing. You do seem to love it's outward appearance, but the autonomy we need to have in order for it to exist in truth, is something you clearly find unnecessary.

驚ム訪しFebruary 21, 2015 8:44 PM

"public/private property distinction"

Thanks to consummate insider skeptical for clarifying that. We knew US intelligence officials were torturers, rapists, murderers, frauds, money-launderers, terrorists, drug dealers, aggressors, pedophile child traffickers, blackmailers, and enemies of all mankind for crimes against humanity. However we didn't know if they were thieves.

"To the extent the article harms efforts at such targeted surveillance"

Skeptical labors under this delusion that NSA's state secrets mean shit to anyone but secret-police scumbags. Skeptical thinks taxpayers give a crap about the effectiveness of NSA's targeted surveillance of State Senator Obama, Supreme Court Justice Alito, General Petraeus, Colin Powell, or journalists, bankers, attorneys, and everybody else in the world who they don't need to blackmail yet.

Maybe there was some East German asskisser who whined about the Stasi's compromised effectiveness in Januar 1990, but because the internet was undeveloped, he is consigned to merciful oblivion. By contrast, Skeptical's petulant public whining, in conjunction with his doxx on infotomb, will make him a famous historical object of derision.

Nick PFebruary 21, 2015 11:31 PM

@ Sancho_P

I've never heard of it. Glad you posted it though: bee hive optimization is really neat stuff. Might add it to my bag of tricks if I have time to study it.

Bong-smoking Primitive Monkey-Brained SockpuppetFebruary 22, 2015 1:38 AM

@ 驚ム訪, @Skeptical,

Bare with me on this one... I'll make it short, so it will contain some minor "inaccuracies"...

Long time ago, there was an old man who had three sons. He called one of them "Mustafa", he called the other "Mustafa", but called the third... also "Mustafa". On his death bed, the father brought his sons next to him and said: Mustafa inherits, Mustafa doesn't inherit, Mustafa inherits, and then died. The three brothers were puzzled who inherits their father's wealth and who doesn't! They buried their father and decided to go to the judge in the city.

On thier trip walking in the desert, they saw a Beduin who lost his camel. The Beduin asked them if they saw a camel passing by them. They said No! A few seconds later, they called the Beduin! One of them said: Is your camel blind in the left eye? The Beduin said yes! The other one said: Does your camel limp? He said yes! The third brother said: Your camel has no tail? The Beduin said yes! That's the camel, have you seen it? They said nope! We haven't seen it! The Beduin said you guys stole my camel! I'll take you to the judge! They said, come along, we're heading there anyway...

They met the judge and the Beduin told him the story. The judge asked them: How did you know the camel limps? One of them said: I saw the hoof tracks were deeper on the left side than the other, so I concluded the camel limps! The judge then asked how did you know he was blind in one eye? The second brother said: I saw the bushes were eaten on the right side and the left side of the bushes were intact, I concluded the camel eat from what he saw! The judge then asked them: How did you know he has no tail? The third guy said: I saw his droppings were in a pile, if he had a tail, stuff would be scattered around! So the judge told the Beduin you can leave now, they don't have your camel.

Then the judge asked them, what's your story? They said we have a puzzling story, and told him. The judge was flabbergasted, and said: You are my guests tonight. Have dinner, stay over night, I'll think about it then tell you in the morning.

They went to the guest room. One of the brothers said: Be careful, someone is spying on us! Dinner was brought in for them. One of them grabbed a piece of meat and before he ate it his brother stopped him and said: Don't eat it, this is dog meat! The second brother said: And the woman who baked this bread is nine months pregnant. The third brother said: And the judge is an illegitimate son!

The story reached the judge in the morning (the spy.) the judge asked them: What made you say this was dog meat? One of them said: The meat we normally eat starts with bones on the inside, followed by muscle, followed by fat on the outside and the meat you gave us started with bones, then fat, then muscles. The judge brought the cook and asked him is it true? The cook said you asked me late in the evening to feed the guests, and all I could find is a dog, so I cooked it for them.

The judge then asked: What made you say the baker was a nine months pregnant woman? One of them said the bread was flat on one side, and because the woman had a big stomach she couldn't turn the bread around in the oven, so it came out this way! The judge asked about the baker, and it was just like they described.

The judge asked again: And what made you say that I'm an illegitimate son? One of them said, what judge would send spies to spy on his guests? The judge ran to his mother and asked her, and she admitted he was an illegitimate son...

The judge came out and said: I'm ready to make my decision: Who said this was dog meat? One of them said: Me! The judge said: You inherit! Who said the baker was pregnant? One of them said me! The judge told him, you inherit. Then the judge asked who said I am an illegitimate son? The third brother said me! The judge told him you don't inherit!

The guy complained and asked for the reason! The judge said: Only a bastard can recognize a bastard!

The punch line? Me being a sockpuppet, you guys come across as state agent sockpuppets. One is German with a Japanese name, and the other, oh well... :)
Let the state agent sockpuppetry discussions continue... There was a Russian one, too :)

DripFebruary 22, 2015 6:12 AM

@Skeptical
"the document specifically notes that the Icelandic entity was unexpected"
That'll have been the brief moment Iceland was seen as a possible data privacy haven drawing Assange to visit.

I wouldn't want to be a British, American or 5 eyes national working for Gemalto just now - their colleagues will be reticent to trust them, or even hire them, now.

James TervitFebruary 22, 2015 6:21 AM

Bruce,

This debacle raises the point that trusting carriers is asking for trouble. Carriers can barely bill correctly never mind secure all of their customers. Security for all is not what the network was or is designed to do and wouldn't work anyway.

I have been quietly presenting to the UK business community that independent device encryption and authentication at the physical layer is required, therefore requiring the acquisition of the actual device, or again human social engineering, to acquire the keys to any phone.

On the other hand I trust those particular Authorities to use the access within the legal framework, e.g a court order being required to use the harvested key. I doubt they have the capacity and manpower / budget to record every single phone activity. While this leak has no doubt alerted organised criminals and terrorists and therefore poses more a threat to national security, it is not really big brother tactics.

On the bright side it will speed up the need for change on the carriers and that's a good thing for all concerned, personally I would rather trust my own encryption scheme than a carrier, especially when dealing with Intellectual Property.

This leak by Snowden, if true, depends more on an insider exploit than it does of a hack. Also looks like we have now entered an era of technological strategic and political chess.

SkepticalFebruary 22, 2015 3:21 PM


@Fluffy: Every time you write here, you advocate the total destruction of democracy -- as a real, functional thing. You do seem to love it's outward appearance, but the autonomy we need to have in order for it to exist in truth, is something you clearly find unnecessary.

Democracy in the US, as everywhere it actually exists, depends upon rule of law. The autonomy of citizens, and persons, derives not from a lock that the government cannot pick nor from a door that the government cannot break down. It derives from the establishment of institutions, practices, and values that restrain and restrict the abuse of government power.

At one point, it is true, to be autonomous one required a castle that the government could not easily breach. In many parts of the world, that is still true.

But of course, if castles are required to preserve essential liberties from government encroachment, then one is not living in a system that respects autonomy. The real problem in such a case is the system, not the lack of a castle.

What drove the independence movement of the American colonies was the sense that their governments were no longer their own, and their institutional protections were being chipped away, quite deliberately, by a group of interests determined to ultimately enslave them. Their answer was not to enable each individual to build a castle, but to enable themselves as a people to build a government capable of serving the public interest, including the preservation of their liberties as well as the enlargement of their welfare and prosperity.

It is in service to that same government which US intelligence agencies act today. The freedoms of speech and press, of expression in general, burn as brightly today as in any other period in history. The liberties of all are as protected, indeed more protected, and expansive, and enjoyed by more people, than in any other period in history.

There is not the slightest sign that anything the US and its allies have done with respect to intelligence has weakened democracy. Far from it.

I'm also curious as to what you believe intelligence services should do instead of this. Practically speaking, I don't see many alternatives to this type of endeavor, given their likely needs in certain areas of the world and given the disadvantages of alternatives. But perhaps you see something that I do not.

@Pseudo-delusional: Skeptical thinks taxpayers give a crap about the effectiveness of NSA's targeted surveillance of State Senator Obama, Supreme Court Justice Alito, General Petraeus, Colin Powell, or journalists, bankers, attorneys, and everybody else in the world who they don't need to blackmail yet. ... East German asskisser who whined about the Stasi's compromised effectiveness... petulant public whining... famous historical object of derision

Fortunately both of us are able to express our viewpoints regardless of whether "taxpayers" agree with either one of us. Only one of us seems to have any tolerance for disagreement, though, which makes the other one of those unfortunate types that hates people while proclaiming his love for humanity. Of course, in this persona you merely spew hatred. One has yet to see you express a love for anything, nor indeed to indicate a single positive sentiment about anything. If you are as truly unhappy as your posts indicate, then, to the extent you do well by others, or if your unhappiness is caused by illness or injury, I wish you better fortune. As to the Stasi, they had much the same attitude towards disagreement that you do. 0041004D0046

ofFebruary 22, 2015 3:32 PM

@ Sancho_P

Just a theory. Maybe the White House is saying, they know the public is behind the ball, they're inside the tech CEOs devices, only the tech CEOs would have the political clout to stand up against WH policy, real tech CEOs would stand with the WH, and any tech CEOs who'd stand against WH policy could be labeled as traitors by reason of arguably having giving material aid to terrorists. WH use of the word `harm' doesn't appear to have anything to do with invasion of privacy.

Nick PFebruary 22, 2015 3:44 PM

@ Skeptical

0041004D0046? Is that hexadecimal code for something? In decimal, it's around 270 billion. Were you suggesting with hacker-speak a specific, limit on DOD spending in all situations? :P

驚ム訪February 22, 2015 6:08 PM

The epistle of Saint Skeptical to fluffy is great. Sniffling with dimbulb patriotism at his purple prose, eating the shit of his regime's rights derogations and repression, Winston Loves Big Brother.

He's positively verklempt, so now flower child Skeptical, momentarily ceasing to obsess about all the lurking evil you have to spend half of GDP to fight and kill, demands Love, Love, Love, ♪ dunt da-dunt ♫, Love, Love, Love, ♪ dunt da-dunt ♫. His sentimental fit quickly wears off and he tries once more to condescend, diagnosing unhappiness with one of those phony Brennan-style passive-aggressive benedictions. Creepy culty Opus Dei shit. Wannabe secret police love that shit.

The cognitive rigidity and lack of insight is really something. Any competent interrogator could play that brittle identity like bongos. Good thing you get to hide behind a desk to fight your war.

SkepticalFebruary 22, 2015 6:39 PM


@Nick P: I have no idea. A friend of mine, who actually is technically conversant, suggested it as a "screwball pitch" in his words, which translated means a silly joke. He assured me that it was nothing offensive, and given his sense of humour it may actually be a meaningless string. Interesting guy - quite libertarian, but we have enough common ground on key principles to avoid acrimony. Also a very old friend, whom I've helped over the years on matters in my area, and who has helped me on matters in his area.

But $270bn would be about where the PRC's military budget probably is, so I wouldn't suggest it as a limit. :)

@Pseudo: I'm having a discussion, not engaging in a war. What are you doing?

GrauhutFebruary 22, 2015 7:24 PM

@Skep: "Democracy in the US, as everywhere it actually exists, depends upon rule of law."

Unperverted rule of transparent and widely accepted law following moral principles of universal Human rights! :)

Dirk PraetFebruary 22, 2015 7:52 PM

@ Skeptical

Practically speaking, I don't see many alternatives to this type of endeavor, given their likely needs in certain areas of the world and given the disadvantages of alternatives. But perhaps you see something that I do not.

I hardly know where to begin. For someone claiming to believe in the rule of law, you are in essence condoning a clear breach of EU data protection legislation, complete disregard of nation state sovereignty, economic espionage bordering on IP theft, defrauding dozens of telcos worldwide and willfully exposing a multinational corporation to massive damages in reputation, sales and stock value. Not to mention violating the privacy of millions of consumers who both under international law and those of their own countries - and not US law - have a right to have their information and communications protected from warrantless searches. From domestic as well as foreign authorities.

Makes you wonder just how many years in jail and billions of punitive damages this would represent if a Dutch entity would be revealed to have pulled this off in the US. Do you honestly believe there would be even one single soul on Capitol Hill defending this in any way?

There is a process in place for getting the required information, which consists of asking a telco for it and substantiating your reasons for doing so, preferably with a warrant. If this takes too long, the correct way of going about it is to negotiate a deal with Dutch/French authorities and Gemalco, as well as putting in place a number of controls subject to audit and oversight. I doubt they ever even tried because it was just way easier and way more convenient to penetrate Gemalco and steal whatever they needed. This is not a case of justifiable espionage, even more so because it was done against so-called allied nations. NSA/GCHQ did this not because it was necessary or could not be achieved in any other way, but because they could.

There are going to be interpellations about this both in Dutch and EU parliaments. There's no doubt in my mind that from a political angle, the US/UK hold enough pressure to make this go away. But it will be most interesting to see how it plays out economically. Gemalco has already suffered enormous damages, and someone will also have to pay up in case of telco and consumer class-action suits to have the affected SIMS and other cards replaced. I bet Barack Obama and David Cameron are not going to be happy with the bill. The tax payer even less.

... What drove the independence movement of the American colonies was the sense that their governments were no longer their own, and their institutional protections were being chipped away, quite deliberately, by a group of interests determined to ultimately enslave them.

Exactly the kind of feeling more and more of us continental Europeans are having about the US and the UK's activities here. You may wish to read up on a recently released report on US/UK mass surveillance by the EU Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. Nice quote from Alexandr Solzhenitsyn too: "Our freedom is built on what others do not know of our existences".

@ 驚ム訪

You're boring.

P/KFebruary 22, 2015 9:29 PM

Strange that hardly anybody noticed that stealing SIM card keys is only useful when you eavesdrop on the radio transmission between a handset and a cell tower. Which means you have to be nearby, and this kind of interception mostly takes place during military operations in countries like Afghanistan, a purpose that is also confirmed by the countries mentioned in some of the slides published by The Intercept.

I wrote more about this in a posting on my weblog:
http://electrospaces.blogspot.com/2015/02/nsa-and-gchq-stealing-sim-card-keys-few.html

SkepticalFebruary 22, 2015 11:41 PM


@Dirk: or someone claiming to believe in the rule of law, you are in essence condoning a clear breach of EU data protection legislation, complete disregard of nation state sovereignty...

Also known as espionage. But we've already had that dance.

Makes you wonder just how many years in jail and billions of punitive damages this would represent if a Dutch entity would be revealed to have pulled this off in the US. Do you honestly believe there would be even one single soul on Capitol Hill defending this in any way?

I don't need my imagination go very far. The defenders of Jonathan Pollard, and of Israeli spying in the US generally, are alive and well. Were the Netherlands stealing the data to use in a counterterrorist/counterinsurgency campaign, tips from which we had already benefited, I think you'd see Congress discussing the deplorable state of US cyberdefenses and the need for better cooperation with the Dutch. I don't think you'd see outright condemnation of the Dutch.

There is a process in place for getting the required information, which consists of asking a telco for it and substantiating your reasons for doing so, preferably with a warrant. If this takes too long, the correct way of going about it is to negotiate a deal with Dutch/French authorities and Gemalco, as well as putting in place a number of controls subject to audit and oversight. I doubt they ever even tried because it was just way easier and way more convenient to penetrate Gemalco and steal whatever they needed.

And when the Dutch discover that some of this is used to target and kill people? How much involvement do the Dutch want in such operations? How closely held a secret will be this be among the Dutch? Can Gemalto do this without informing its various affiliates in other nations? Would Gemalto be happy to do this, or would they transfer certain operations out of country at the earliest opportunity, greatly complicating matters legally?

The need for a Ki might be within the space of an hour, even minutes. There definitely isn't any time for a request. If you have it, great, you can exploit the opportunity. If you don't have it, tough shit, continue on mission.

While the Dutch may be - in fact they have been - grateful for the intelligence provided to them by the US, the UK, and others, regarding terrorist plots and movements touching upon their country, I suspect the Dutch would be considerably less eager to order its company to grant instant access to Kis so that the Americans can do a better job eavesdropping, tracking, targeting, and killing people in various regions of the world.

No one has time for that kind of diplomatic headache. The quiet theft solves everyone's problems. Who knows. Perhaps the Dutch security establishment winked at the operation.

@Pseudo: Who would be foolish enough to click on such a link?

Nick PFebruary 23, 2015 12:31 AM

@ Skeptical

Randomly thought to treat it like ASCII (standard) text encoded as hex. Comes out to be AMF with only a news site showing up in Google search. However, searching for it in framework of security leads to a bunch of "AMF" malware. Your friend get you to put malware in your signature as an inside joke for security pro's? ;) I'm done on guessing, though, as it would be pure speculation. I had to try ASCII, though, as it was a common trick back in the day. Had no Unicode tools on my machine so I couldn't do it. (shrugs)

GrauhutFebruary 23, 2015 2:13 AM

@Skeptikal: "No one has time for that kind of diplomatic headache. The quiet theft solves everyone's problems."


You should definitely stop talking about the rule of law. In your world is no time for the rule of law. :)

Gerard van VoorenFebruary 23, 2015 3:29 AM

@ Grauhut

(repeating myself)

Rule of law applies to everyone, but in practice not for the Bush jr adm and TLA directors. In practice they are above the law (and it is the practice that counts).

If a democracy depends upon rule of law, except for the executive branch and TLA directors that are above the law ...

It is corrupt and it stinks. It is Banana Republic smelly, no, in fact it is way worse. Banana Republics usually only care about what happen in the country itself. The US is usually 'trying' (wink wink) to bring democracy and freedom in other countries too, usually with significant military force.

Bush and Cheney belong behind bars for breaking the law!!!
Alexander, Clapper and probably Holden belong behind bars for breaking the law!!!

No ifs, buts or whens.

We are not talking about mistakes made by ordinary people. We are talking about House of Cards activity here. If a democracy depends upon rule of law these lying sons of bitches belong behind bars!

Today it is getting boring to talk about terrorism. Especially when the US itself if the biggest terrorist of all, by far. The US also has, and has used, WMD's in the battlefield, many, many times.

What is worse: Beheading with a sword or by drone missile shrapnel? Obama signs the drone killing orders each tuesday and while studying the orders he once in a while peeks at the Nobel Peace Price he got. After signing the drone killing orders he is completely relaxed as usual and does his other work, such as lying to the press.

Returning to rule of law: Obama whipes his ass with it. So far for democracy.

GrauhutFebruary 23, 2015 5:29 AM

@Gerard: "It is Banana Republic smelly, no, in fact it is way worse."

Of cause, but it doesnt smell like rotten Bananas, it smells like black leather polish and sheapers dogs.

This kind of system was coined a "Dual State" by Dr. Ernst Fraenkel

Fraenkel, who practised law in pre-Hitler Germany, finds that the Nazi régime consists, in fact, of two distinct states -- one "normative," the other "prerogative." In the first the administrative and judicial bureaucracy operate according to rules; in the second the Party, and more particularly the Gestapo, operate free of any ultimate legal restraint. The second, of course, possesses complete power arbitrarily to supersede the first at any or all points.

http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/103271/ernst-fraenkel/the-dual-state

Mark EdgarFebruary 23, 2015 8:38 AM

Gemalto leak documents.

Available from me@hakme.uk

Why delete my last post, are you not a security guy, or you work for the state also?

Dirk PraetFebruary 23, 2015 9:53 AM

@ Skeptical

Also known as espionage. But we've already had that dance.

Yes we have. You've made it abundantly clear that in your view the right to espionage and mass surveillance trumps all other laws, rights and liberties as long as it is done under the magical flags of "terrorism" and "national security". Again: nobody is buying the "terrorism" card anymore because there are just too few of them to provide any meaningful justification for these kinds of activities. There is a growing number of reports coming out of EU and UN committees that are completely at odds with your opinion and that of the USG. If the US were to be serious about terrorism, they'd be having boots on the ground in Syria and Iraq to fight ISIS instead. A problem they not only created themselves but also allowed to fester, by the way.

The rule of law is the rule of law. Full stop. What you're advocating in essence is the same thing as the argument of extremist clerics that the faithful are to obey the laws of man unless overruled by the laws of $DEITY that trump anything else. And the simple fact of the matter is that there is no rule of law as long as NSA, GCHQ, their leadership and other officials are above it. DNI Clapper is not above the law when he lies to Congress. And neither was Bush Jr. when he signed off on Stellar Winds. Like @Grauhut, I'm referring to Fraenkel's concept of the dual state.

In the case of Gemalto, there is no denying that the company is suffering massive damages and you have a sufficiently strong legal background to understand the difference between criminal and civil procedures if ever this goes to court. Stealing encryption keys is industrial espionage and theft of company secrets that can and at some point undoubtedly will be used for other purposes than just counter-terrorism. I can't think of any reason why some judge would not call it IP theft, something you have always claimed the US is not indulging in. And while we're at that dance again, I also present to you the case of A.G. Tolkachev who in '86 was executed for providing the CIA with R&D on Soviet avionics, cruise missiles and other technologies, some of which were eventually transferred to US companies.

I don't think you'd see outright condemnation of the Dutch.

Whereas I'm pretty sure you would. Admittedly, Washington has always shown quite some leniency when it comes to Israel. I have yet to hear any US official condemning Komodia following the recent Lenovo story. It would probably have been entirely different had Superfish been a Chinese malware pre-installed on Israeli laptops than the other way around. The Hill and Mandiant alike would have been screaming bloody murder all over the place. As to a Dutch operation b*ttf*cking a US multinational and potentially exposing it to billions in damages and liabilities, it's safe to assume POTUS would by now be announcing economic sanctions, whatever the reason they did it and however obscure the evidence.

@ Mark Edgar

Gemalto leak documents. Available from me@hakme.uk

Er, what kind of documents are you talking about and wouldn't it be better opsec to just upload them to pastebin or something similar ?


vas pupFebruary 23, 2015 10:19 AM

Power usage and phone privacy (fresh):http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-31587621:
"We are approaching the point where the only safe way to use your phone is to pull the battery out - and not all phones let you do that.", but you can hold your phone in small Faraday Cage (when not in usage - blocking all remote inputs/outputs OR use it with charger plugged in to avoid such tracking - educated guess, but Clive could grind it).

vas pupFebruary 23, 2015 10:35 AM

@Dirk Praet • February 23, 2015 9:53 AM: "The rule of law is the rule of law." Dirk, dear, that is illusion all people never worked inside legal system have. First, legislature creates vague laws giving folks within judicial branch option of very wide interpretation utilizing option of selective application of laws: "For friends everything - for others Law" + prosecutors discretion + plea bargain (when victims opinion does NOT matter at all). As I stated before on this respected blog, draconian laws are not iron laws, but capricious laws. There is huge distance between even good law and its proper implementation by executive and judicial branches. The key is that laws are written not to be understood by average Joe (I am talking about those laws which could put you in jail/prison), but by the team of highly paid law professionals, and only rich folks could afford their service.

NathanaelFebruary 23, 2015 12:08 PM

Fundamentally, the only function of mass, untargeted spying is for blackmail purposes.

Eventually people won't tolerate the totalitarian BS being pulled by the traitors at the NSA. (And yes, I believe they are traitors to the US and should all be executed for treason; they are making war on the United States, giving aid and comfort to its enemies.) At the moment, they seem to have successfully bamboozled or threatened enough Congressmen to avoid being impeached and arrested.

This is not going to last; the only question is how long it takes. In revolutions, the secret police HQ generally gets burned to the ground. It'll be a pleasure to see this happen to Fort Meade and Bluffdale.

For reference, countries where the secret police were both extremely invasive, and lasted a long time were either:
(a) being propped up by foreign occupying forces, such as in East Germany where it was Russian troops, or Saudi Arabia where it's purchased mercenary support from the US. This isn't going to happen in the US because there's no plausible occupying force.
or
(b) the government itself was economically competent enough that the secret police seemed like a minor annoyance. This includes the USSR, where the government presided over a massive economic boom until roughly 1970, China where the government is currently presiding over a massive economic boom, Saudi Arabia where the government hands out oil money like candy, etc. Arguably this *was* the US in the 1980s, but it sure isn't now.

Gerard van VoorenFebruary 23, 2015 12:35 PM

Sophie in 't Veld [1], a Dutch Member of the European Parliament for the social liberal party (D66) has some interesting tweets [2] about this subject (and I agree with all of them).

Democracy alone is not enough to guarantee fundamental rights and the rule of law


if this is "within the law" one wonders what could possibly be outside the law #GCHQ

#GCHQ hacking SIM card manufacturer in other EU countey is within the law?! The law of the jungle, no doubt

If the average IT whizzkid breaks into a company system, he'll end up behind bars.


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sophie_in_%27t_Veld
[2] https://twitter.com/sophieintveld
[3] http://www.sophieintveld.eu/alleged-hack-of-encypted-sim-card-producer-gemalto-by-nsa-and-gchq/

Gerard van VoorenFebruary 23, 2015 12:44 PM

Sophie in 't Veld also wrote [1]

"Year after year we have heard about cowboy practices of secret services, but governments did nothing and kept quiet. In fact, those very same governments push for ever more surveillance capabilities, while it remains unclear how effective these practices are. How is it possible that they have developed so much capacity, while the rise of IS stayed unnoticed?"

[1] http://www.sophieintveld.eu/alleged-hack-of-encypted-sim-card-producer-gemalto-by-nsa-and-gchq/

Sancho_PFebruary 23, 2015 3:54 PM

@ P/K (22, 09:29 PM)

It’s not only about listening to nearby phone calls:

So they have my SIM card (data) now.

But probably they’ve “lost” it already, like the Snowden files, who knows?

Who is paying the bill for calls I haven't made?

Would it be possible that Sancho’s SIM card was involved in a terror act in NY (AT&T) while Sancho’s SIM card at the same time was unsuccessfully tried to be used in the Yosemite NP (other provider)?
At which time would LE learn that there was a discrepancy in the data?
Would Sancho have any problems on trying to leave the US the next day?

Mark EdgarFebruary 23, 2015 5:25 PM

Document for download on www.hakme.uk

Read and see, leaked, they dont care about security, they gave it to me at a 2 day job interview.

Then RAIDED two houses claiming 200,000,000 damages if the public find out.

I never even worked for them! Very secure guys.

Have a look & read before site shut down.

Regards

Mark Edgar

Mark EdgarFebruary 23, 2015 5:36 PM

If they lied in the high court of Scotland 10 years ago for another company,
then would you trust them now?

Why would you give this document away at a job interview and then say it's best the public don't find out?

Ask the correct questions please people, these are solid FACTS i give you about how they operate not opinion like most posts here.

vas pupFebruary 24, 2015 3:57 PM

@Gerard van Vooren • February 23, 2015 12:35 PM:"Democracy alone is not enough to guarantee fundamental rights and the rule of law". Yes, and nobody should fall into logical fallacy of substituting democracy with republican form of government and election in particular. I want to remind all respected bloggers that NSDAP of Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933 through election process and by getting majority in Bundestag. The idea that democracy is process of selecting tyrants or mediocrity through election (as in South Park stated selection between 'douche bag' and 'turd sandwich') was compromised through the history. Currently democracy is privatized by big money (just level of privatization is different in different countries). That is just my humble opinion on important subject.

Clive RobinsonFebruary 24, 2015 4:21 PM

@ vas pup,

I rather like democracy and would like to have it, instead we have a Parliament full of representatives, which is nothing what so ever to do with democracy.

The test on democracy or elected representatives is simple,

1, Do you vote on actual issues?
2, Can you say "none of the above" when voting and have it count?
3, Can you vote to remove a representative at any time?

If the answer to any one of those is NO then you do not live in a democracy but a "con game" that pretends to be a democracy, but is more akin to a dictatorship.

SkepticalFebruary 24, 2015 7:45 PM


@Dirk: I'm going to quote some of your paragraphs out of order in answering them - I don't think this will misrepresent your points, but if that is an effect it's unintentional and I'm happy to correct it. Apologies in advance if I've missed anything in below. A brisk working vacation has left me slightly fatigued these past few weeks.

The rule of law is the rule of law. Full stop. What you're advocating in essence is the same thing as the argument of extremist clerics that the faithful are to obey the laws of man unless overruled by the laws of $DEITY that trump anything else. And the simple fact of the matter is that there is no rule of law as long as NSA, GCHQ, their leadership and other officials are above it. DNI Clapper is not above the law when he lies to Congress. And neither was Bush Jr. when he signed off on Stellar Winds. Like @Grauhut, I'm referring to Fraenkel's concept of the dual state.

You're mixing two different concerns here.

(A) Are intelligence services bound by the law of the nation on whose behalf they operate? So, for example, is the CIA bound (both de jure and de facto) by US law? Does it obey lawful orders and directives? When we speak of whether a nation has rule of law, this is the applicable concern. We're asking whether it is a nation of laws, notwithstanding the existence of violators of those laws, or a nation of purely power and corruption (which is not to imply that the question or answer is binary).

(B) Are intelligence services bound by the laws of foreign nations in which they might operate? For example, is the CIA bound by the laws of Iran (both de jure and de facto) when operating in Iran?

The first concern is most important from the vantage of democracy, because if there answer is no, then rule of law has been grievously damaged. This is why the focus in US reporting on the Snowden leaks has been whether the US intelligence services violated US law - and if so, to what extent and to what purpose.

The first concern goes beyond whether we can identify individual instances of corruption or other malfeasance in an institution, and attempts to capture whether the institution as such exceeds the restrictions of the law as a matter of practice.

So that Clapper was not prosecuted for perjury for lying to Congress in open session (in answer to a question that never should have been asked in open session, and about a fact which they were all aware of because it had been extensively disclosed to Congress on a classified basis) hardly establishes that Office of National Intelligence is operating beyond the law. Personally, I do not think Clapper's act merited prosecution. Whether it merited resignation is a question the answer to which depends on information I do not have, and I have no need to make such a judgment.

The second concern merely goes to the question of whether nations should commit espionage at all. It has nothing to do with whether rule of law exists in a nation or not. That Russian intelligence officers broke US law in conducting espionage while in the US, for example, does mean the US lacks rule of law; nor does it mean that Russia lacks rule of law.

... nobody is buying the "terrorism" card anymore because there are just too few of them to provide any meaningful justification for these kinds of activities. There is a growing number of reports coming out of EU and UN committees that are completely at odds with your opinion and that of the USG. If the US were to be serious about terrorism, they'd be having boots on the ground in Syria and Iraq to fight ISIS instead. A problem they not only created themselves but also allowed to fester, by the way.

This is a strange perspective. In your view the US isn't taking terrorism seriously, and if it were then it would use more ground forces in Syria and Iraq? I have to say that you have a strange test for whether a nation takes terrorism seriously.

As to whether there are "too few" terrorist incidents to justify grabbing Kis, I suppose the answer depends on where you sit. If you're seeking Kis to track terrorist and insurgent networks in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, then I'd say you're kidding yourself.

I'd ask you to recall that in 2010 the US was sending 30,000 additional military personnel to Afghanistan while adopting a counterinsurgency strategy that exposed US personnel to much greater risk.

Obviously, the US continues to have personnel both active and at risk in a wide spectrum of unstable nations, including Afghanistan, and intelligence that better provides for their safety while enhancing the probability of successful missions is extremely important - indeed, it is quite literally vital to such personnel.

So again, if the price of obtaining better intelligence on networks in Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Somalia, or elsewhere, is breaking into a foreign company's office to steal a file, then there is not an intelligence service in the world with an interest in those areas that would be unwilling to pay it.

In the case of Gemalto, there is no denying that the company is suffering massive damages and you have a sufficiently strong legal background to understand the difference between criminal and civil procedures if ever this goes to court.

As to damages, we'll see. The share price reacted to the news, but the share price is also still well above where it was at the beginning of the month. The company is having a press conference this morning at 1030 (GMT+1). The real question is whether key customers cancel contracts because of the news - I suspect that Gemalto will attempt a cautious answer today.

Even if they are, though, I'm not sure that would change the equation for any intelligence service. Please remember that the US is actively engaged in combat in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, and is undertaking a variety of operations of high risk in an even larger spectrum of countries. If obtaining better intelligence that enables those operations to be conducted with greater safety and efficacy means risking the share price of a company, an intelligence service would have to be a fanatical disciple of Ayn Rand not to do so.

Stealing encryption keys is industrial espionage and theft of company secrets that can and at some point undoubtedly will be used for other purposes than just counter-terrorism. I can't think of any reason why some judge would not call it IP theft, something you have always claimed the US is not indulging in.

The US does not conduct espionage for the purpose of enriching any particular company. It will not use its intelligence services to, for example, steal research from Novartis in order to give it to Merck.

In this case, I cannot think of any commercial use to which a US company, or any legal enterprise, could put the information taken.

And while we're at that dance again, I also present to you the case of A.G. Tolkachev who in '86 was executed for providing the CIA with R&D on Soviet avionics, cruise missiles and other technologies, some of which were eventually transferred to US companies.

Tolkachev reportedly transferred intelligence to the US regarding ground phase radar and other systems on advanced Soviet aircraft at the time. Reportedly, this intelligence was used in some fashion in the design of electronic warfare systems in US aircraft (one would imagine it was used to more effectively thwart the Soviet systems).

That's classic espionage for the purpose of national security. It doesn't come close to commercial espionage.

Whereas I'm pretty sure you would. [on whether one would see US condemnation of the Dutch if they stole information from a US company for use in counterterrorism and related operations]

This really depends on what the Dutch were using the information for. The US couldn't endorse such an operation, but any condemnation would likely be superficial if used for the purposes which the US is likely using any Kis acquired.

And for what it is worth, were the Dutch, or France, engaged in active counterinsurgency and counterterrorist campaigns across the world, which my nation benefited from, and if they pilfered Kis from an American company producing SIM cards for the purpose of aiding those campaigns, my reaction would be: (1) disturbed that foreign governments broke into "my" companies and possibly acquired the ability to eavesdrop on my phone under certain circumstances, (2) understanding as to why they did it - troops in combat is a high card, (3) question whether there are better ways of acquiring the same intelligence?

SkepticalFebruary 24, 2015 8:14 PM


@Nick P: Randomly thought to treat it like ASCII (standard) text encoded as hex. Comes out to be AMF with only a news site showing up in Google search. However, searching for it in framework of security leads to a bunch of "AMF" malware. Your friend get you to put malware in your signature as an inside joke for security pro's? ;) I'm done on guessing, though, as it would be pure speculation. I had to try ASCII, though, as it was a common trick back in the day. Had no Unicode tools on my machine so I couldn't do it. (shrugs)

lol Okay, thanks. Malware angle is a dry hole, but you've found out enough to figure out the "punchline" I think, and it looks to be about his speed. A little backstory: He and I find ourselves occasionally on the same flights, and in a gratuitous waste of money I'll sometimes browse to this site while he's unsuccessfully working his "charm" on the flight-attendant (or drooling over his pillow in a magnificent imitation of the Niagara Falls), and he'll peek over at it (since this is more squarely his area than mine). He's been impressed at many of the comments, and discussions. He caught a few of Pseudo's more hostile remarks, and noticed what seemed to be a deliberate effort to insert 60s/70s military slang into his remarks.

And that old slang is what appears to have brought us here, though I'll get confirmation next time we contact. "AMF" is an old piece of military slang. "AMF" -> Alpha Mike Foxtrot -> Adios MotherF*cker. Supposedly it can be used in a friendly and in an unfriendly sense.

Nick PFebruary 24, 2015 11:06 PM

@ Skeptical

Yeah, I'd never have guessed that lol. I lacked the context. My favorite one for military is Richard Marcinko's "doom on you". While sounding like a clean insult, he's actually saying is "do-ma-nhiue:" the Vietnamese phrase for "go f*** yourself" that sounds different to the uninitiated. ;)

Clive RobinsonFebruary 25, 2015 12:46 AM

@ Nick P, Skeptical,

Sometimes the "rude TLAs" happen by accident.

There was a company called GEC Plessey Telecom that did the Three Letter Name contraction common at the end of the last century, to GPT, which sounds innocent enough in English...

But... they decided that the UK-US market was not enough so pushed into Europe with a big bucks conference in Paris. They hired a US image consultant to train the sales staff up to be "effective" in the European area. Unfortunately no one spoke French or found a native French speaker to check the output of the image consultants...

One thing the image consultants impressed on the staff was that they should make a "bullish" approach to the conference audiance and said that they should march up to the lecturn and "own it" by grasping it firmly, giving their name and punching out the new company name with a faux French accent...

So with a fanfare type intro of sound and visual effects the show kicked off. The first speaker did as he was told marched up and was supprised to see bemused smiles, the next speaker actually got some polite gallic laughter.

On asking one of the senior conference center staff why, the senior sales manager was told that GPT when said with a French accent sounded like "J'ai pété," the French for "I have farted"...

But product names can get you into trouble if you follow US culture to closely... You may remember a US Western series called the "Lone Ranger" where the masked hero rather than actually being "lone" had a faithful side kick called Tonto, who got the ranger out of the "certain death" scenes the Ranger got himself into.

Well Bruce's previous employer British Telecom, back in the age of early personal computers, decided to re-brand one of Clive Sinclair's computers as the first of the "Digital Personal Assistants" and decided Tonto would be a good name... Again they did not check with native language speakers, apparently in Spanish Tonto means any or all of silly, stupid, mindless or idiot...

But British Telecom did themselves in well and truely with some cringe worthy advertising and rebranding, which now provides fodder in teaching marketing in the "How Not To" section... Just one of which was it's logo, some bright spark thought that they could invoke "high tech" communications by includding what looked like Morse Code to form the top bar of a capital T. So you had dah dit dit (_ . .) Forming the top bar with the T down stroke joining the right hand side of the dah. This actually looked more like 7" thus there were jokes about "having the big seven incher in" to fix a house wifes problems with lack of connection between her and her husband... There was also "the big yellow bird" and an actress called Maureen Lippmann playing a Jewish housewife... as once observed "you could not make it up if you tried", but for once BT succeeded where every one else had failed...

tlundFebruary 25, 2015 8:41 AM

Gemalto's press release reporting their findings:

http://www.gemalto.com/press/Pages/Gemalto-presents-the-findings-of-its-investigations-into-the-alleged-hacking-of-SIM-card-encryption-keys.aspx

3G and 4G cards could not be affected by the described attack. However, though backward compatible with 2G, these newer products are not used everywhere around the world as they are a bit more expensive and sometimes operators base their purchasing decision on price alone.

I would say you get what you pay for, but even the most expensive/premium subscriptions might use the cheapest SIM cards! Customers have no way of knowing..

Security is even higher for mobile operators who work with Gemalto to embed custom algorithms in their SIM cards. The variety and fragmentation of algorithmic technologies used by our customers increases the complexity and cost to deploy massive global surveillance systems. This is one of the reasons why we are opposed to alternative technologies which would limit operators' ability to customize their security mechanisms. Such technology would make it much simpler to organize mass surveillance should the technology unfortunately be compromised or fail.

What are they talking about here? Apple and embedded SIMs? http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/192316-apple-sim-and-the-death-of-the-sim-card

Dirk PraetFebruary 25, 2015 9:22 AM

@ Skeptical

You're mixing two different concerns here.

We seem to be back to our espionage discussion where your opinion is that it is a perfectly legal activity if the laws of the country on whose behalf it is executed make it so, and irrespective of the laws of the country it is perpetrated against. You even claim that principle to be enshrined in international law. To the best of my knowledge, the US is not at war with The Netherlands, and neither is this country considered a terrorist nation, part of some axis of evil. They are actually a NATO partner. So is Belgium (Belgacom), for that matter.

Dutch Home Secretary Plasterk has publicly stated that the Gemalto hack was unacceptable and illegal under Dutch law. The only correct way for the US/UK to go about this was to negotiate a deal with Gemalto and French/Dutch authorities. What's been achieved here is further erosion of trust within NATO and between the EU and the US, depicting both the US and the UK as rogue nations that don't give a rat's *ss about the laws and the sovereignty of their allies and partners. That's really clever foreign policy.

So that Clapper was not prosecuted for perjury for lying to Congress in open session hardly establishes that Office of National Intelligence is operating beyond the law.

That's not what I said. But Clapper did perjure himself and even admitted to it. Martha Stewart was indicted and prosecuted for lying to federal investigators about a stock trade. So was baseball player Roger Clemens for supposedly lying to Congress about drug abuse. Examples galore. To the best of my knowledge, US law does not recognize the protection of “national security” to be a defense to a charge of perjury. The fact that Clapper is still in office and wasn't even indicted raises more than one question about dual standards and certain people seemingly being above the law.

In your view the US isn't taking terrorism seriously, and if it were then it would use more ground forces in Syria and Iraq?

What I'm saying is that the US is so obsessed by squashing the mosquitoes in the toilet that they are ignoring the elephant pissing all over the living room (ISIS). How on earth is it possible that the rise of a neanderthal movement currently estimated at about 200k combatants has gone unnoticed despite a global surveillance dragnet? Either the NSA is looking for terrorists in all the wrong places or its analysts are completely incompetent. Talking about an epic fail ...

... if the price of obtaining better intelligence on networks in Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Somalia, or elsewhere, is breaking into a foreign company's office to steal a file, then there is not an intelligence service in the world with an interest in those areas that would be unwilling to pay it.

Only under the machiavellistic principle that the goal justifies the means, and especially in a climate of de facto immunity and impunity fostered by the idea that the right to spy trumps all other concerns. If the US really believed these keys to be such an important asset in their fight against insurgent networks in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia etc., they could have made very specific requests for very specific mobile networks to authorities and Gemalto instead of just collecting it all. If such a secret agreement - which I'm sure would have been pretty feasible - cannot be reached in 10 years time, than you either suck at negotiations or you're simply not interested in negotiating because it's faster and easier to obtain what you want by force. Even when dealing with allies.

The company is having a press conference this morning at 1030 (GMT+1). The real question is whether key customers cancel contracts because of the news - I suspect that Gemalto will attempt a cautious answer today.

It would appear Gemalto just pulled a Lenovo. Their one week forensic investigation has revealed that "the attacks only breached its office networks and could not have resulted in a massive theft of SIM encryption keys". I wonder if they actually believe that themselves because I don't think anyone else does.

Reportedly, this intelligence was used in some fashion in the design of electronic warfare systems in US aircraft (one would imagine it was used to more effectively thwart the Soviet systems).

Well, unless the USAF is building its own aircraft, this intelligence was passed on to a company that not only spared itself quite some costs in R&D but also profited from selling the resulting product. So yes, that falls under economic espionage. If tomorrow, someone steals Apple's private developer key allowing them to run software on devices/processors hard-coded with the company’s public key, than that's economic espionage. In my view, stealing the keys for Gemalto's SIM cards resulting in total pwnage of the communications of millions of civilians is the same thing, whether or not a US based commercial entity profited from it. Which technically also is the case if even one Booz Allen Hamilton, Halliburton or other contractor is involved in NSA operations making use of these keys.

@ Clive

But product names can get you into trouble if you follow US culture to closely

Check the Chevy Nova-awards for more of the same.


vas pupFebruary 25, 2015 9:39 AM

Germans are vulnerable for the same type of attacks and insider job:
http://www.dw.de/cyber-attacks-on-the-rise-in-germany/a-18278325:
"German companies have become an attractive target for cyber criminals and foreign intelligence services," Bitkom President Dieter Kempf said in a statement. "In the face of that, it's crucial for firms to keep their security measures up to date and invest more in mechanisms to ward off potential threats."
"the majority of encroachments occurred through leaks inside the companies polled, meaning that attacks were launched in-house by former or current employees who stole sensitive data directly or through the infiltration of malware-infected software".

GrauhutFebruary 25, 2015 6:01 PM

@Skeptikal: "The US does not conduct espionage for the purpose of enriching any particular company. It will not use its intelligence services to, for example, steal research from Novartis in order to give it to Merck."

This is simply a ly. Remember Enercon?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enercon#Patent_dispute


And the theft is well organized.

"The Office of Executive Support (OES) is seeking highly motivated individuals to join our multidisciplinary team of intelligence professionals in the Department of Commerce. OES is responsible for planning, coordinating and providing intelligence support to senior Department leaders and officials on a variety of international economic, political, technological and security issues as these relate to the Department's mission to foster, promote and develop U.S. domestic and foreign commerce. ...

OES serves as a focal point for foreign intelligence support within the Department and it establishes policies and procedures for providing intelligence support to officials and organizational components throughout the Department. ... This entails performing duties across the spectrum of intelligence cycle--including intelligence planning and direction, requirements management, collection, analysis and production, dissemination, use and evaluation in collaboration with senior managers and staff personnel across the Intelligence Community (IC)."

SkepticalFebruary 25, 2015 6:50 PM


@Dirk: We seem to be back to our espionage discussion where your opinion is that it is a perfectly legal activity if the laws of the country on whose behalf it is executed make it so, and irrespective of the laws of the country it is perpetrated against.

You've missed the distinction.

If Nation A's intelligence officers commit espionage in Nation B, those officers may be acting in violation of Nation B's law but in conformity with Nation A's law.

The crucial question from a rule of law vantage for Nation A is whether its intelligence services are bound by its laws - not whether its intelligence services are bound by the laws of other countries.

You even claim that principle to be enshrined in international law.

I've said, and shown, that there is nothing in international law that forbids espionage.

To the best of my knowledge, the US is not at war with The Netherlands, and neither is this country considered a terrorist nation, part of some axis of evil. They are actually a NATO partner. So is Belgium (Belgacom), for that matter.

War is not, nor ever has been, a prerequisite to conducting espionage. Indeed, one of the more salutary possible purposes (and effects) of espionage is the prevention of war.

Dutch Home Secretary Plasterk has publicly stated that the Gemalto hack was unacceptable and illegal under Dutch law. The only correct way for the US/UK to go about this was to negotiate a deal with Gemalto and French/Dutch authorities. What's been achieved here is further erosion of trust within NATO and between the EU and the US, depicting both the US and the UK as rogue nations that don't give a rat's *ss about the laws and the sovereignty of their allies and partners. That's really clever foreign policy.

It's theatre. At this point Gemalto's share price has regained about all the ground it lost when this story first broke. US cooperation with the Netherlands runs very deep and the mutual interests, cultural values, and history that bind the two nations together are as strong as ever. Indeed, given the percentage of the Dutch and Belgian population that has apparently been radicalized (to judge by the per capita figures of those who departed to fight for ISIS in Syria), I would say that these nations have a very strong interest in effective signals intelligence by the Five Eyes.

And who knows - as Russia continues to take a tactically astute but strategically mistaken course in Eastern Europe, perhaps cooperation among Western nations will grow.

That's not what I said. But Clapper did perjure himself and even admitted to it. Martha Stewart was indicted and prosecuted for lying to federal investigators about a stock trade. So was baseball player Roger Clemens for supposedly lying to Congress about drug abuse. Examples galore. To the best of my knowledge, US law does not recognize the protection of “national security” to be a defense to a charge of perjury. The fact that Clapper is still in office and wasn't even indicted raises more than one question about dual standards and certain people seemingly being above the law.

Very different cases Dirk. Whether to prosecute someone for perjury, or for making false statements to federal agents as in the case of Stewart, is heavily based on circumstances.

What I'm saying is that the US is so obsessed by squashing the mosquitoes in the toilet that they are ignoring the elephant pissing all over the living room (ISIS). How on earth is it possible that the rise of a neanderthal movement currently estimated at about 200k combatants has gone unnoticed despite a global surveillance dragnet? Either the NSA is looking for terrorists in all the wrong places or its analysts are completely incompetent. Talking about an epic fail ...

What exactly is it you think they missed? Are you asking why the NSA did not predict the course of the Syrian civil war, and the fortunes of ISIS in its battles against the Iraqi Army? The relativity of time notwithstanding, I do not think the NSA is yet capable of intercepting signals from the future, though I also believe certain reporters could charge the NSA with doing so without blushing.

Are you asking how the US failed to disrupt terrorist plots emanating from ISIS's territory? Which got through?

Frankly I agree that the US should have made ISIS more of a priority earlier, and in more dramatic fashion, but that's not an easy call to make, and it would have been a major policy shift in US counterterrorism strategy (which has been light footprint with reliance on raids and strikes on key targets). Obama's strategic detachment has its weaknesses as well as its strengths. However, the slow play, if effective, has the benefit of encouraging greater regional responsibility for extremist movements and with fewer losses of American lives in yet more fighting in Iraq.

Only under the machiavellistic principle that the goal justifies the means,

If the ends never justified certain means, Dirk, we would all be pacifists (and probably living under the rule of those who are not). The question is one of balancing the harm done by those means against the harm prevented, or the good accomplished, by the ends which are sought to be achieved.

If the US really believed these keys to be such an important asset in their fight against insurgent networks in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia etc., they could have made very specific requests for very specific mobile networks to authorities and Gemalto instead of just collecting it all.

I noted the reasons why this might not be feasible. If the Kis were being used to that end, especially in Iraq or Afghanistan, the rapidity with which access would be needed would have required special and (I'm guessing) extraordinary cooperation from various governments, some of which are lukewarm on certain US counterterrorist efforts (at least in public).

It would appear Gemalto just pulled a Lenovo. Their one week forensic investigation has revealed that "the attacks only breached its office networks and could not have resulted in a massive theft of SIM encryption keys". I wonder if they actually believe that themselves because I don't think anyone else does.

Judging by the reaction of the share price, quite a few people do.

Like you of course, I have no doubt whatsoever that the careful journalists at The Intercept drew the correct conclusion from 2010 documents reporting on GCHQ trial runs at detecting Ki deliveries - even if those same documents noted that many of the deliveries were protected by strong encryption, something Gemalto noted yesterday.

And like you, I found The Intercept's extrapolation of the number of Kis that must have ultimately been collected from those trial runs very rigorous and well supported.

We know that whenever a government tests a concept, the program which results (and one always does, right?) always produces at scale in a manner easy to extrapolate from little data.

Seriously, even truly cautious journalists have grossly misunderstood some of the documents in Snowden's archive. As for those perhaps overly eager for a sensational splash... I frankly don't know who is correct here, but on the basis of the evidence offered so far, neither side is persuasive.

Well, unless the USAF is building its own aircraft, this intelligence was passed on to a company that not only spared itself quite some costs in R&D but also profited from selling the resulting product.

The intelligence reportedly spurred an alteration in existing electronics packages to render them more effective against a Soviet adversary. It's a bit strained to call US espionage targeting Soviet military radar systems an instance of commercial espionage. The purpose of the espionage is quite clearly military in nature, not commercial. Air superiority in combat, not shareholder profit in peace, was the purpose.

And although this is all tangential, I also doubt it saved any company any costs on R&D. The nature of the changes that the espionage allowed were likely more in the way of effective countermeasures against the specifics of Soviet systems, and, reportedly, the acquisition of the intelligence required a redesign of the electronics package for a particular aircraft already under contract (i.e. costs would have increased).

Dirk PraetFebruary 25, 2015 9:25 PM

@ Skeptical

I've said, and shown, that there is nothing in international law that forbids espionage.

If I recall that thread correctly, I believe we agreed to disagree on that. Let's not go there again.

War is not, nor ever has been, a prerequisite to conducting espionage.

Perhaps I should have been a bit more clear. In international politics, it is generally held that partners and allies do not spy on each other. That was also EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding's response when it was revealed that the US had bugged EU offices. Angela Merkel reacted in a similar way when she found out that her phone was a US target too, which eventually triggered a response from POTUS that they were not going to do it again. So I repeat, clever foreign policy.

Indeed, given the percentage of the Dutch and Belgian population that has apparently been radicalized, I would say that these nations have a very strong interest in effective signals intelligence by the Five Eyes.

Which the respective governments will undoubtedly ask for if they need it, and with the necessary controls and oversight in place. If I need a loaf of bread, I'll get one at the local bakery. I don't need the baker to come and ring at my door when he thinks I'm hungry. And since you mention this, the Belgian mayor of Vilvoorde - a small town near Brussels that has seen quite some radicalisation - was invited to the White House by Joe Biden about a week ago to discuss what Biden called "his innovative approach" to the issue. I say again: invited. He didn't just go there on his own to ram his approach through the White House's throat.

And who knows - as Russia continues to take a tactically astute but strategically mistaken course in Eastern Europe, perhaps cooperation among Western nations will grow.

Which will undoubtedly require some serious mending of trust which the US and the UK have so frivolously squandered. You may have noticed that there is a serious rift over the Ukraine approach between US/UK on one side and France/Germany on the other.

What exactly is it you think they missed?

Like I said: the rise of ISIS and the incompetence of the Iraqi government and army to do anything about it. This was not an overnight event.

The question is one of balancing the harm done by those means against the harm prevented, or the good accomplished, by the ends which are sought to be achieved.

So very true. I'd very much like to know how many terrorist plots were prevented by the Gemalto heist. And at what price it will come in terms of damages to Gemalto, diplomatic incidents and further erosion of trust between allies.

I noted the reasons why this might not be feasible ...

Yes you did, but I ask again: was a negotiated deal even tried? I doubt it.

I frankly don't know who is correct here, but on the basis of the evidence offered so far, neither side is persuasive.

With the Gemalto statement that everything is hunky dory after less than a week of forensic investigation being the least persuasive element of anything that has been said and claimed so far. No single expert believes that for a moment. I don't believe we've heard the last of this story yet.

The purpose of the espionage is quite clearly military in nature, not commercial.

Perhaps so, but I wouldn't preclude that whatever corporation this R&D was passed on to did not incorporate it in other systems, design and sales of which to both USAF an other entities they also benefited from. There's plenty of originally military applications that at some point find their way into commercial solutions too.

Nick PFebruary 25, 2015 10:46 PM

@ Grauhut

It's a good report. However, it does support Skeptical's position on legality of espionage:

"In essence, the relevant laws prohibit only espionage by one industrial undertaking against another. It is doubtful whether they also restrict the activities of state intelligence services, since, on the basis of the laws establishing them, the latter are authorised to steal information. "

I agree with him, too. Most countries ban any espionage against their government or companies. Then, they create organizations in their own country to steal secrets and make that activity legal. How they use it seems to vary by country.

nobsFebruary 26, 2015 5:58 AM

Except it didn't...Gemalto Confirms It Was Hacked But Insists the NSA Didn’t Get Its Crypto Keys

Loony left leaks and lies do more damage than NSA. What lies are they selling us today? Maybe they'll have an ask Putin or ask Snowden forum to set us all to rights.

nobsFebruary 26, 2015 6:00 AM

Except it didn't...Gemalto Confirms It Was Hacked But Insists the NSA Didn’t Get Its Crypto Keys

Loony left leaks and lies do more damage than NSA. What lies are they selling us today? Maybe they'll have an ask Putin or ask Snowden forum to set us all to rights. Have hey political dolt night.

SkepticalFebruary 26, 2015 6:23 AM


@Dirk: In international politics, it is generally held that partners and allies do not spy on each other. That was also EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding's response when it was revealed that the US had bugged EU offices. Angela Merkel reacted in a similar way when she found out that her phone was a US target too, which eventually triggered a response from POTUS that they were not going to do it again. So I repeat, clever foreign policy.

And I repeat: political theatre.

Obama also refused to sign a "no spy" agreement with Germany. In fact, on the subject, can you name any two countries that have "no spy" agreements with each other?

Espionage conducted against allies is highly sensitive, and the cost/benefit will be different than that of spying on hostile or potentially hostile states. But nonetheless, it will sometimes be done. The responsibility of each government is first and foremost to its own people. And sometimes that responsibility requires collecting intelligence from a friendly state that the friendly state would have preferred not to share (alternatively such intelligence collection may actually verify something that the friendly state has had trouble persuading the other state to accept as true).

Which the respective governments will undoubtedly ask for if they need it, and with the necessary controls and oversight in place. If I need a loaf of bread, I'll get one at the local bakery. I don't need the baker to come and ring at my door when he thinks I'm hungry.

Do you think those governments haven't asked for such signals intelligence?

Which will undoubtedly require some serious mending of trust which the US and the UK have so frivolously squandered. You may have noticed that there is a serious rift over the Ukraine approach between US/UK on one side and France/Germany on the other.

Any differences have nothing to do with a lack of trust, and everything to do with different interests of the nations, political parties, and key individuals involved.

As to trust, we need to distinguish between the material put out for public consumption ("we're shocked, simply shocked, to discover that a multinational company that produces mobile technology equipment for areas of the world embroiled in conflict would be the subject of espionage") and what is actually occurring. Cooperation between the nations in question continues apace, and if anything, likely continues to grow stronger. That cooperation ranges from intelligence cooperation across the world to joint operations in Iraq and elsewhere.

Like I said: the rise of ISIS and the incompetence of the Iraqi government and army to do anything about it. This was not an overnight event.

Again, what makes you think that anyone missed the risks involved? Nor could the problems with the Iraqi Army begin to be rectified, if they ever really will be, while Maliki was still in power. Frankly, I'm still very dubious that sectarianism between Sunnis and Shi'ites in Iraq will not continue to undermine the effectiveness of the Iraqi Army, but there's a possibility that ISIS was a sufficient "wake up call" to Shi'ite Iraqi leaders, and Iran, that it is not in their interests to push sectarianism too far. Prior to ISIS, there was no chance that the US, or anyone except the Iraqis or Iranians, could do anything to correct the situation inside Iraq.

So very true. I'd very much like to know how many terrorist plots were prevented by the Gemalto heist. And at what price it will come in terms of damages to Gemalto, diplomatic incidents and further erosion of trust between allies.

Gemalto's share price has recovered fully and it isn't claiming any damages. This is all very inconsequential from an international relations vantage.

Yes you did, but I ask again: was a negotiated deal even tried? I doubt it.

I have no idea. The feasibility of such a deal would have depended on the use for which the Kis were intended and on the nature of the cooperation that would have been required (since Gemalto is a multinational company, this may have been considerably more complicated than an agreement with only one, or even two, governments).

With the Gemalto statement that everything is hunky dory after less than a week of forensic investigation being the least persuasive element of anything that has been said and claimed so far. No single expert believes that for a moment. I don't believe we've heard the last of this story yet.

The evidence on the other side is extraordinarily light as well, however. Which is why neither side has persuaded me of much of anything, other than that GCHQ conducted the trials in questions, and that Gemalto used varying levels of security for different products in different markets. It's possible that there was a massive collection of Kis. It's also quite possible that there was not, especially if alternative means of acquiring the desired intelligence (almost certainly, primarily, comms networks of insurgents and terrorists in certain countries) were discovered, and GCHQ found better ways to direct its resources.

RGP SecurityFebruary 26, 2015 4:16 PM

Having the Ki ("K sub-i") for a SIM chip means you own it.

From the documents that have been released about the Gemalto affair it is clear that hacking is only one part of the story.

A company like Gemalto is almost always going to be vulnerable, and one wonders if they have a clear understanding of what to do about it.

Dirk PraetFebruary 26, 2015 8:05 PM

@ Skeptical

In fact, on the subject, can you name any two countries that have "no spy" agreements with each other?

No I can't. By their very nature, I would suspect these to be either secret or gentleman's agreements. Anyway, POTUS has made it clear that the US doesn't do no-spying agreements with anyone. Which ticked off France, Germany and other European countries in a major way. Like you, I'm not too impressed with public statements by EU politicians because, yes, it's all theater. But rest assured that there will be consequences reflected in tougher trade negotiations and EU privacy & data protection legislation. Although the political blowback may remain limited, US companies will be facing increasing difficulties to do business with EU government organisations and in other environments where USG snooping is not welcome. Local alternatives - when available - will eventually get preferred over US tech and services. It's already happening in China and Russia. Haydn knows it, Alexander knows it and I'm pretty sure so do you.

Espionage conducted against allies is highly sensitive, and the cost/benefit will be different than that of spying on hostile or potentially hostile states. But nonetheless, it will sometimes be done.

What do you mean "sometimes"? Snowden has made it obvious that it's happening everywhere and all the time.

Do you think those governments haven't asked for such signals intelligence?

Chances are they have. But if they did, it's unlikely they asked for such SIGINT to be obtained by breaking into EU institutions, SWIFT, Belgacom, Gemalto and probably quite some other organisations. Unless of course you have evidence that Belgian and Dutch authorities knew all along what NSA and GCHQ were up to in their respective countries and secretly condoned it.

Any differences have nothing to do with a lack of trust, and everything to do with different interests of the nations, political parties, and key individuals involved.

Actually, it's a combination of both. France, Germany and most other EU countries want a diplomatic solution. The US - or at least powerful lobbies there - want a proxy war with Russia by supplying US arms to the Ukrainian kleptocrat government at the expense of the American taxpayer and from which only the US military-industrial complex benefits. As usual, the UK does the bidding of its US masters. Neither Hollande or Merkel trust the US in any way and would rather keep them out of the equation all together because they don't want yet another failed state in their backyard.

Again, what makes you think that anyone missed the risks involved?

Because the alternative is even uglier. Country 'A' under false pretexts (WMD programs, ties with AQ) invades country 'I' to topple an authoritarian leader ans his batsh*t crazy sons whose oil they want. They spend more than a trillion USD and after more than 8 years pull back out of a totally divided country they have left in shambles. The power vacuum proves fertile soil for the rise of a barbaric army operating under a flag of fundamentalist Islam, ranks of which grow to over 200k combatants. These militias terrorise and butcher by the thousands the local population not only in country 'I' but just as well in parts of adjacent country 'S' that 'A' has also been destabilising. As a side effect, the EU faces collateral damage by a new generation of jihadi terrorists returning from the battle grounds to their home countries.

Say what you want, but "keeping a light footprint in counter-terrorist strategy in the region" and blaming country 'I2' for what's happening in this context is a remarkable example of unbelievably cynical foreign policy that, quite frankly, makes me want to throw up.

Gemalto's share price has recovered fully and it isn't claiming any damages

I believe it's a bit early to draw any conclusions at this time. We'll just have to wait and see how this will play out in the weeks to come.

Dirk PraetFebruary 26, 2015 8:23 PM

@ Nick P, @ Grauhut

It's a good report. However, it does support Skeptical's position on legality of espionage:

Which report are you referring to?

Nick PFebruary 26, 2015 9:01 PM

@ Dirk

Oh yeah. I forgot to define that: the Echelon report linked in the article. Official report says same thing he does in one of its sections.

vas pupFebruary 27, 2015 9:39 AM

Clive Robinson • February 24, 2015 4:21 PM.
Agree on all three you've pointed to.
Regarding(1): currently when election is highly partisan, you vote (if do) for the package. E.g. you do support strong implementation of immigration laws, usage of Second Amendment for self defense, more real support for small businesses and middle class, but at the same time you are pro choice, pro good social support system (medicine, fair labor laws - like in Germany, retirement, paid maternity leave, affordable education, more regulation and taxation of financial sector).
How could you vote for issues when neither party (Republicans or Democrats) give you such choice? I'll prefer voting for personality with candidates own set of priorities/issues closely to mine, and if elected will be not affected by Party affiliation, but rater by reason and real good for majority of constituents.
I'll vote for Google Larry Page as next POTUS. I love their motto: NOT BE EVIL and how they treat their employees opposite to general trend in the country.

AnuraFebruary 27, 2015 2:34 PM

@vas pup

There is an easy solution to that problem (as in easy, to propose but good luck getting it passed): ballot measures providing some direct democracy. Many state and local governments here provide facilities for direct democracy, allowing you to vote outside the package, which is definitely a good thing in many respects, and the only reason why Marijuana is legalized in some states.

We can also restructure government to reduce that at the federal level, but until the public is ready to revolt, that's about as likely to happen as aliens from Venus stopping by to help us reduce our CO2 emissions.

SkepticalFebruary 27, 2015 3:19 PM


@Dirk: Anyway, POTUS has made it clear that the US doesn't do no-spying agreements with anyone. Which ticked off France, Germany and other European countries in a major way.

:) Neither does France or Germany. Nor are their governments so naive as to be "ticked off" that the US won't guarantee that no espionage will be conducted against them.

Local alternatives - when available - will eventually get preferred over US tech and services. It's already happening in China and Russia. Haydn knows it, Alexander knows it and I'm pretty sure so do you.

Sure - as I've said before, in most countries business and government are much more deeply intertwined than in the United States. I'd fully expect foreign companies to leverage "the NSA issue" as much as possible - along with "the Google issue" - in attempting to persuade their governments to carve out protected marketplaces against competitors that consumers would otherwise choose. And that's not to say that US companies wouldn't try to do the same if they were in the same circumstances.

What do you mean "sometimes"? Snowden has made it obvious that it's happening everywhere and all the time.

I've yet to see the documents relating to Operation Omniscience, much less detailing its success. The US must prioritize a finite amount of resources just like everyone else.

Chances are they have. But if they did, it's unlikely they asked for such SIGINT to be obtained by breaking into EU institutions, SWIFT, Belgacom, Gemalto and probably quite some other organisations. Unless of course you have evidence that Belgian and Dutch authorities knew all along what NSA and GCHQ were up to in their respective countries and secretly condoned it.

I have no idea. But I can't share your instinctive probability assessment.

France, Germany and most other EU countries want a diplomatic solution. The US - or at least powerful lobbies there - want a proxy war with Russia by supplying US arms to the Ukrainian kleptocrat government at the expense of the American taxpayer and from which only the US military-industrial complex benefits.

Okay, let's stop for a second.

Contrast your complaint about US inaction in Syria with your above theory.

In your theory above, the defense companies desire profits by increased sales of their goods to the US Government, and are therefore causing the US Government to adopt a foreign policy in which such sales will become necessary.

Yet in Syria, it's quite clear that US did not adopt a foreign policy that required it to purchase large amounts of military goods and provide them to foreign fighters. The presumable desires of defense companies to sell such goods apparently did not move foreign policy there at all - even though it would have been far easier for Obama to do so in that case.

So I don't think an explanation of US foreign policy in the Ukraine that relies on the incentive of defense companies to sell military goods is a good one. The weakness lies in its presumption of the influence of defense companies on foreign policy (answer: not much). Were the assumption true, US foreign policy in Syria would have looked like different over the last two years.

What's really happening then?

The US doesn't want a proxy war in the Ukraine. It's destabilizing, it forces the US to put military and intelligence resources into Eastern Europe rather than the Pacific or the Middle East, it weakens the European economy, it makes cooperation with Russia on areas of common interest more difficult.

Neither, though, does the US want to permit Russia to be permitted to use a special war strategy in Europe to accomplish its objectives. The US regards the successful use of such a strategy as dangerous, in that it may encourage Russia to attempt elsewhere in Europe where the US has actual military commitments, and in that it can be used as a threat to undermine existing, and relatively new, Eastern European democracies.

European interests are identical to those of the United States that I've described. Where they begin to differ is in the cost of economic pressure on Russia. The US economy is relatively robust and healthy, and is not dependent on Russia. Consequently the US can exert a tremendous amount of economic pressure on Russia without sustaining much damage itself. By contrast, Europe's economy/economies is much more fragile and so its ties to Russia's economy and finances matters more. Increased pressure by Europe is politically more difficult for each government to exert.

Calls from some within the US to provide military supplies to the Ukrainian Government are being made, but I suspect that the US (along with its allies) does not believe such aid would achieve the desired end. So, for the moment, that's not a part of US policy, nor a part of the policy of any nations in Europe.

But... that is all subject to change.

Because the alternative is even uglier. Country 'A' under false pretexts (WMD programs, ties with AQ) invades country 'I' to topple an authoritarian leader ans his batsh*t crazy sons whose oil they want.

The US didn't desire Iraq's oil, nor frankly does it need Iraq's oil. Contracts for extracting and selling Iraqi oil were awarded on an open basis by the Iraqi Government, mostly to non-US companies.

They spend more than a trillion USD and after more than 8 years pull back out of a totally divided country they have left in shambles. The power vacuum proves fertile soil for the rise of a barbaric army operating under a flag of fundamentalist Islam, ranks of which grow to over 200k combatants. These militias terrorise and butcher by the thousands the local population not only in country 'I' but just as well in parts of adjacent country 'S' that 'A' has also been destabilising.

Problem is that ISIS didn't rise in Iraq. It rose in Syria. Some of its leaders do derive from al-Qaeda in Iraq - but those leaders were in Syria because the ones not killed were driven out of Iraq. The Syrian Civil War furnished the power vacuum in which ISIS rose, but the US didn't cause the Syrian Civil War.

Years after the US left, ISIS pushed successfully into Iraq. The causes of ISIS's success are complex, but on the Iraqi side the major problems were: (A) corruption and sectarian division within civilian and police entities, particularly what Sunnis perceived (often justly) as the excesses of a Shi'ite dominated government and officer corps and (B) corruption and sectarian division within the Iraqi military, which rendered them less than fully effective as a fighting force.

As a side effect, the EU faces collateral damage by a new generation of jihadi terrorists returning from the battle grounds to their home countries.

People who made the decision to join ISIS before leaving Europe, Dirk. And many who made that decision before ISIS ever entered Iraq. You cannot lay the blame for the Syrian Civil War, or radicalized elements within various European cities, at the feet of the US.

Dirk PraetMarch 1, 2015 7:37 AM

@ Skeptical

as I've said before, in most countries business and government are much more deeply intertwined than in the United States.

That may be true for authoritarian regimes, but as a generalised statement, I disagree with it.

The US must prioritize a finite amount of resources just like everyone else.

True. But they do have far more resources in this field than the average country does. So from what we know so far, I'd say "sometimes" is a serious understatement.

Contrast your complaint about US inaction in Syria with your above theory.

Ukraine and Syria are two entirely different cases. Contrary to Ukraine, any ground intervention against ISIS in Syria and Iraq is just very hard to sell both to Congress and the American people in light of the previous disastrous interventions in Iraq and the cost at which they have come. The sales pitch for Ukraine is way easier: "restoring democracy" for those poor Ukrainians who are defending against the ancient foe Russia and its dictator Putin.

Problem is that ISIS didn't rise in Iraq. It rose in Syria.

Absolutely not.

ISIS (or Da'ish) grew out of Jamāʻat al-Tawḥīd wa-al-Jihād, founded in 1999 and led by the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. They became al-Quaeda in Iraq in 2004 when Zarqawi pledged his loyalty to Osama bin Laden. In 2006, they merged with a number of other insurgent factions to become ISI, the Islamic State of Iraq.

The US troops surge of 2007 pushed them out of most of their strongholds and by 2010, most of its leaders had been either killed or captured. When Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was appointed their new leader in May 2010, he enlisted a number of former Ba'athist military and intelligence officers who had previously served under Saddam Hussein. Their experience was put to good use, and by 2012 AQI/ISI had launched several new campaigns, reclaiming much of the territory lost in 2007-2008.

In August 2011, al-Baghdadi began sending Syrian and Iraqi ISI members experienced in guerilla warfare across the border into Syria to establish an organisation inside the country best known as Jabhat al-Nusra, and led by a Syrian known as Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani. In 2013, al-Baghdadi announced the merger of ISI and al-Nusra into the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham, or ISIL. This merger was heavily contested both by al-Jawlani and AQ's leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, which eventually led to AQ disavowing all relations with ISIL to the point that al-Nusra and ISIL were fighting each other around Aleppo in 2014. Al-Zawahiri even had to intervene to stop them.

In June 2014, al-Baghdadi officially proclaimed a worldwide caliphate led by himself and renamed his movement to IS, i.e. the current ISIS.

So in a nutshell: I most definitely lay the blame for the rise of ISIS at the feet of the US. And without ISIS and its barbarism, no foreign fighters returning back to Europe to continue their misguided jihad over here.

SkepticalMarch 1, 2015 7:34 PM


@Dirk: You're right re ISIS/Iraq. I wrote hastily, sloppily, and in error on some points, and I appreciate (honestly, I do) the time you took to point out the mistakes.

So acknowledging that, let me write more carefully and accurately this time.

Foreign fighters have traveled to fight in the Syrian Civil War beginning in 2011, though they were used in Iraq during ISIL's major offensives in 2014 and some are still present.

The rise of ISIL's foreign fighters, and the largest swelling of its ranks prior to its major offensives, occurred in Syria, under the leadership of personnel who had previously fought in Iraq and largely, by 2014, with independent funds.

So the threat of foreign fighters returning to Europe has everything to do with the Syrian Civil War, the humanitarian catastrophe of which, combined with radicalized pockets of persons in Europe who had not been assimilated well into their various societies and a slick outreach program by components of Nusra that later became part of ISIL, proved effective in drawing a few thousand Europeans to Syria. It's a mistake to blame for the US for this. US actions in Iraq are important to understanding the history of ISIL, but so are many other things, ranging from European colonialism and British policy post WW1 to the policies of Qatar and other states to the brutality of Assad's regime.

Until the offensives of 2014, the US and Europe focused primarily on tracking those foreign fighters, and upon developing intelligence of groups within Syria that sought to strike at Western targets. Although renewed US intervention had been discussed earlier than 2014, some argued effectively that inserting American forces would heighten the threat to the West, transforming conflicts internal to Syria and Iraq in which the US had little role into conflicts where the US became a major combatant and target. Since the prospects for an enduring resolution in Syria or Iraq were quite dim at the time, and remain so today, inserting American forces was considered a losing proposition.

That judgment was quite frankly an eminently reasonable one.

Indeed, even in the summer of 2014, when ISIL gains in Iraq and, apparently, the development of other intelligence, seems to have led the US to begin planning for more involvement, the US refused to become more involved until Prime Minister Maliki, who has been (with some justice) widely viewed as an enormous contributing factor to sectarian strife in Iraq, was removed and replaced with a leader, and with policies, more conducive to a stable Iraq. Iran quickly withdrew its support for Maliki, who was at last pushed from power, and US involvement began to increase.

As to the other points we discussed:

Ukraine and Syria are two entirely different cases. Contrary to Ukraine, any ground intervention against ISIS in Syria and Iraq is just very hard to sell both to Congress and the American people in light of the previous disastrous interventions in Iraq and the cost at which they have come. The sales pitch for Ukraine is way easier: "restoring democracy" for those poor Ukrainians who are defending against the ancient foe Russia and its dictator Putin.

No, you're not describing the problem correctly. It's not "sending US forces into Syria/Iraq vs. sending arms to Ukraine." It's "sending arms to 'moderate' Syrian rebels and the Kurds vs. sending arms to Ukraine."

Here's the explanation you gave me w/r/t the Ukraine:

A = US defense firms desire profits from a program in which the USG buys arms and gives them to Ukraine

B = US defense firms lobby/influence the USG to begin such a program

C = USG seeks to institute such a program.

AxB -> C

One problem is that this reasoning predicts that the USG should have long since been sending huge amounts of arms to certain Syrian rebels and to the Kurds. Proposals to do so were not only pushed by substantial portions of the Democratic party, but have also been very strongly supported by Republicans. And yet the USG did not adopt such a program.

Another problem with the explanation you give is that it's simply untrue that the US desires a proxy war with Russia. The US has been extremely limited even in the intelligence it has shared with the Ukraine precisely because it seeks to avoid such an outcome.

From the US vantage, as nations Russia and the US have deep areas of common interest. The problems arise in certain limited areas due to policy choices made by Putin that are actually strategic mistakes, but into which, even if he recognizes them as mistakes, he may feel locked.

The US would prefer Russia walks back the mistakes, allowing the US and Russia to develop stronger cooperation on areas of common interest. And contrary to the frankly paranoid and disturbingly xenophobic rhetoric emanating from Russian propaganda sources, that does not include weakening Russia. Certain groups in Russia seem mired in the 20th century, in old conflicts and old ways of thinking, unable to forge ahead to a better future along a cleaner path. What Russia needs is a competent and uncorrupted military (this has improved, though there is still some way to go - and I view this as important not only to Russian security, and to Russian national pride, but also to US security), judicial and political institutions with less corruption and better rule of law, and economic development not only of the resources it can extract from the soil but development of the resources of its people, i.e. the minds and ingenuity of the Russian populace.

Yet instead of this, they are being given an odd admixture of blatant corruption and an inability by some to let go of the Cold War.

Restoring Russian greatness does not require reviving the policies of the Soviet Union. Russian culture runs deeper, with better resources, and would those in power but grasp that, they would hand to their children and grandchildren an immensely better future.

So... no, the US does not desire a proxy war with Russia. This isn't 1980 and the Ukraine isn't Afghanistan. In 2015, the US and Russia have far more to gain by cooperation than by conflict. But the US is not willing to allow Eastern European nations to lose their independence to threats of military force from Russia. Neither is the rest of Europe.

But they do have far more resources in this field than the average country does. So from what we know so far, I'd say "sometimes" is a serious understatement.

The US has more resources, but also a great many more commitments. Prioritizing how those resources are used remains vitally important.

I'd also add that most US allies are open and democratic societies, in which open source intelligence is probably capable of answering most questions that policymakers might have in crafting policy.

Re intertwining of business and government in nations other than the US:

Again I'm speaking of most, not of all. The reasons are multiple. In some democratic nations, single companies (or tightly knit groups) can dominate the economy, resulting in tighter, interdependent relationships with the government. Other reasons include, in some cases, a longer, deeper history of mercantilist policies, or simply an economic and legal structure in which government and business are more tightly intertwined (which can vary widely, ranging from German corporatism to nationalized companies like Petrobras).

That intertwining can be beneficial in many ways - it may lead to better labor protection in some instances. It may sustain a vital area of research in other instances. And so on. There are entirely rational reasons why it may exist - I don't mean to imply that its presence or absence has anything to do with national virtue or wisdom (though sometimes it does).

That intertwining is much less the case in the US, which is in part why it has led the movement towards free trade, even when it has exposed its own industries to fierce foreign competition. For better and for worse, it means that firms in the US operate with greater independence from government, and that profit is more sharply determinative of their actions.

Dirk PraetMarch 2, 2015 8:56 PM

@ Skeptical

So the threat of foreign fighters returning to Europe has everything to do with the Syrian Civil War.. It's a mistake to blame for the US for this. US actions in Iraq are important to understanding the history of ISIL, but so are many other things ...

Although there are no statistics of how many of these foreign combatants are actually fighting in Iraq and how many in Syria, the Syrian civil war is indeed a much more appealing sales pitch for IS than merely joining forces with the brave mujahideen of the global caliphate in Iraq. (I remember only too well the appeal the Sandinista-Contra War in Nicaragua back in the eighties had on a much younger and way more impressionable version of myself). Some of them end up with Al-Nusra, others with the Free Syrian Army, but most of them probably with IS.

It goes without saying that there are several other factors that have contributed to today's situation, but there is no denying that the US invasion and occupation of Iraq was the catalyst that gave birth to IS, their rise in Iraq and subsequent push into Syria. They're also on the rise in Libya, another failed state after the US and its allies toppled Khadaffi. US drone activities in Yemen have only strengthened al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). In light of this gigantic mess, the decision not to go back is entirely understandable from a political and military point of view, but it does not absolve the US from its responsibility for the monster they have created.

There is no doubt in my mind that in a couple of decades from now history will be pointing a damning finger at US foreign policy and interventions as the main culprit for the destabilisation of the entire region and the blowback thereof both on Europe and the US itself.

But the US is not willing to allow Eastern European nations to lose their independence to threats of military force from Russia. Neither is the rest of Europe.

As I have pointed out in an earlier post, Russia considers Ukraine part of its backyard, not only historically but also because a majority of the populace in several regions is Russian. The ousting of elected president Yanukovych in the Euromaidan revolution and signing of an association agreement with the EU last year was a bridge too far for Putin to whom this was nothing more than a EU/US sponsored coup d'état. His reaction was actually quite similar to what the US did with the Castro regime in the early 60's, i.e. an economic stranglehold and covert, CIA-sponsored armed invasion (Bay of Pigs).

Any politician with half a brain could have foreseen the current outcome with Russia defending its interests in Ukraine in pretty much the same way the US would do if tomorrow the Mexican government is overthrown by a bunch of pro-Putin oligarchs canceling existing economic treaties with the US in favour of new ones with Russia. It really has nothing to do with restoring sovereignty or democracy, but everything with corporate and state interests. For now, the best thing the US can do is turn the rhetoric down a notch, hold off on arms shipments and see how this further plays out.

SkepticalMarch 3, 2015 10:05 PM


@Dirk: It goes without saying that there are several other factors that have contributed to today's situation, but there is no denying that the US invasion and occupation of Iraq was the catalyst that gave birth to IS, their rise in Iraq and subsequent push into Syria.

Eh, on the one hand, the absence of security in many areas post 2003 allowed insurgent groups, such as AQI, to take root.
On the other hand, the presence of US forces and their insistence on the creation of a functional system of democratic government, with a professional military, gave Iraq a shot at resisting these insurgents.

And with the new counterterrorism strategy implemented by Petraeus, they largely defeated the insurgency.

After that, 2009-2011, is really a decision point for the Iraqi Government. Do they build better cohesion in their military ranks, eliminate corruption, and make the dignified treatment of Sunnis a priority? Or do they instead turn a blind eye to the abuses of Shia militias, and worse?

They chose worse. And consequently they destroyed the efficacy of their fighting forces while further alienating the Sunni population.

And through all this - the diminishment of the Iraqi military, the corruption of the government, the abuse of the Sunnis - AQI continued a stream of car bombs, and sensing opportunity in the open battlefield of Syria, the skies clear of US planes and the rapidly falling boots of US soldiers, they sent a force to begin a new enterprise. It grew, became self-sufficient, and an internecine war began. But enough pledged to ISIL that major offenses were launched with success from Syria last summer.

Most of the story of the creation of ISIS has to do with the dynamics of Iraq, Sunnis, and Shi'ites, not the US. The choices being made by the Iraqi Government were the choices of greatest impact.

To be honest, I don't think ISIL was really avoidable. There's an aspect of equifinality here - multiple roads to the same destination. Zarqawi was to focus on Jordan, before turning to Iraq instead; who knows how that would have fared. AQI decided on Iraq for various reasons, but if not Iraq, they could just as easily have decided on another - such as Syria. We don't escape the general problem regardless of the decision take in 2003.

In any event, I hope we can agree that while trying to understand the multiple historical currents leading to the confluence of ISIS is fun, and useful, when it comes to ethical blame for their crimes, there is but one party to bear it: ISIS.

They're also on the rise in Libya, another failed state after the US and its allies toppled Khadaffi. US drone activities in Yemen have only strengthened al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

"On the rise in Libya" meaning existing Islamist/criminal groups saw an advantage in aligning with the ISIL brand, and changed their name accordingly. Some taxes not must go north, but in exchange they tap into ISIS's rich smuggling networks, so it may be a "win win" arrangement.

The allies did stop Qaddafi from massacring his people to retain power, and in the aftermath neither side has yet obtained full power. Is it a success or a failure? I guess we'll see.

In light of this gigantic mess, the decision not to go back is entirely understandable from a political and military point of view, but it does not absolve the US from its responsibility for the monster they have created.

I think as soon as you see this as a "monster they have created" you diminish the importance, and internal dynamics, of other organizations and forces that were at work here.

As to whether to undertake operations, the US has clearly decided to undertake significant operations, and is has been conducting them for some time now.

There is no doubt in my mind that in a couple of decades from now history will be pointing a damning finger at US foreign policy and interventions as the main culprit for the destabilisation of the entire region and the blowback thereof both on Europe and the US itself.

Dictators crumbled, whether under external forces (Iraq) or from within (Egypt, Tunisia - to some degree Jordan). History will look back on this as a time of enormous transition - as one in which the deep upwellings of sectarianism, corruption, and decay at last rose to the surface, and all at the same time, resulting in chaos, in the loss of some governments, in a civil war, in the gain of a functioning democracy.

As I have pointed out in an earlier post, Russia considers Ukraine part of its backyard, not only historically but also because a majority of the populace in several regions is Russian.

But in fact Ukraine is an independent state. Russia's claims to exert a sphere of influence over Eastern Europe as "its backyard" are from another century (and they weren't any more persuasive then either). Russia can continue to make these claims, and even pursue them peacefully. What sparked the anger of Europe and the US is the involvement of Russian arms and the threat of more - and not as a means of bringing stability so that Ukrainians may decide themselves, but as a means of equipping their favored side to win in battle.

Any politician with half a brain could have foreseen the current outcome with Russia defending its interests in Ukraine in pretty much the same way the US would do if tomorrow the Mexican government is overthrown by a bunch of pro-Putin oligarchs canceling existing economic treaties with the US in favour of new ones with Russia.

Mexico pursues trade deals with partners in South America, just as Britain pursues (and closes) rather far-reaching trade deals (among other things) with the rest of the nations composing the EU. Yet the US has not sought to send in military forces to disrupt their governments.

Putin's actions in Crimea were foreseeable. His action in eastern Ukraine less so, especially as sanctions ratched up, because the costs and risks climbed high while the end-game remained very uncertain. In some ways however his actions in Donetsk confirm the worst suspicions about Putin (that his actions are understandable only if one takes seriously a nationalistic quest to restore, in some form, what he views as the old glory of Russia in the ghost of the USSR).

What makes them all the more bewildering is that his actions have absolutely cemented the relationships of Eastern NATO countries with the Organization. He has guaranteed that NATO will now be more thoroughly considering a range of conflict scenarios with him, and training appropriately. From a security vantage, this is the very worst thing he could have done.

It really has nothing to do with restoring sovereignty or democracy, but everything with corporate and state interests.

For the EU and the US, this has everything, absolutely everything, to do with sovereignty and democracy. All of this carries eerie echoes of fall of the Iron Curtain, and the fear of the Baltic States is quite real. The US did not fight, and emerge the victor (though, really, the entire world did) from the Cold War to watch Russia once again turn Eastern Europe from fledging democracies into Russian-dominated client states in services to a hostile foreign policy. And Europe, if anything, feels this more keenly than the US.

If Putin does not understand that, then we are in a far more dangerous situation than I believed, as the odds of a Russian action to take a bridge too far go up considerably.

For domestic political reasons, Merkel will speak softly, but she makes clear the gravity of her concerns.

For now, the best thing the US can do is turn the rhetoric down a notch, hold off on arms shipments and see how this further plays out.

Putin can't afford to allow Ukraine to sit peacefully for long. He may be hoping that the government launches an offensive, but if not, his proxies will launch one themselves.

The key right now is helping restore the Ukrainian economy - which will be very tough, given the level of corruption. But desperate times can produce cataclysmic changes, and so we shall see. If the Ukrainians form a functional government, with laws and reforms on path to a sustainable democracy, then Putin's little adventure will be in serious trouble - as, at that point, arms transfers to Ukraine would become a very real possibility if the rebels remained intransigent on points on which they should compromise.

name.withheld.for.obvious.reasonsMarch 4, 2015 9:54 AM

@ Skeptical

Most of the story of the creation of ISIS has to do with the dynamics of Iraq, Sunnis, and Shi'ites, not the US. The choices being made by the Iraqi Government were the choices of greatest impact.

What? Do you read what you write?

Prior to the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, nearly 2 million people fled Iraq anticipating the occupation of Iraq by U.S. forces. That's nearly one in 12 Iraqis...how does this not involve the U.S.?

I believe my questions are pointless given the context in which you, Skeptical, continue to believe that we are blameless. It's like kicking a hornet's nest and blaming the hornets for getting all bent out of shape.

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