Tag Archives: government surveillance

Snowden Documents: NSA Worked to Track Bitcoin Users

A new report from The Intercept reveals that the National Security Agency has been able to track users of the popular cryptocurrency Bitcoin since at least 2013. The revelation is detailed in newly released classified documented obtained by whistleblower Edward Snowden and provided to the The Intercept. The documents show the agency accessing the fiber-optic cables which allow internet traffic to travel around the world in order to gain access to private information of bitcoin users.

The Intercept reported:

“Classified documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden show that the National Security Agency indeed worked urgently to target Bitcoin users around the world — and wielded at least one mysterious source of information to “help track down senders and receivers of Bitcoins,” according to a top-secret passage in an internal NSA report dating to March 2013. The data source appears to have leveraged the NSA’s ability to harvest and analyze raw, global internet traffic while also exploiting an unnamed software program that purported to offer anonymity to users, according to other documents.”

An internal NSA report from March 15, 2013 stated that the agency was interested in monitoring traffic for other cryptos; however, “Bitcoin is #1 priority”. Another memo from March 29, 2013 indicated that the NSA collected users’ passwords, internet history, and a unique device identification number known as a MAC address. The memo suggests analysts were also tracking internet users’ internet addresses, network ports, and timestamps. The documents also indicate the use of the NSA’s powerful internal search engine, XKeyScore.

“As of 2013, the NSA’s Bitcoin tracking was achieved through program code-named OAKSTAR, a collection of covert corporate partnerships enabling the agency to monitor communications, including by harvesting internet data as it traveled along fiber optic cables that undergird the internet,” The Intercept wrote. The NSA used a sub-program of OAKSTAR – known as MONKEYROCKET – to gather data from the
Middle East, Europe, South America, and Asia.

MONKEYROCKET is also apparently falsely promoted to the public as a tool for anonymity. The documents describe MONKEYROCKET as a “non-Western Internet anonymization service” with a “significant user base” in Iran and China. One document notes that the goal of MONKEYROCKET was to “attract targets engaged in terrorism, [including] Al Qaida” to use the “browsing product,” which “the NSA can then exploit.”  This is known as a honey pot in computer security. The NSA deceives users into believing they are secure and anonymous and then uses the program to track the activities of users. The documents do not clarify what type of program or software MONKEYROCKET actually is, but the description aligns with a virtual private network, or VPN, which is designed to encrypt and mask internet traffic.

Matthew Green, assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute, told The Intercept that the revelations are “bad news for privacy.” Green also said he is “pretty skeptical” that using Tor, the popular browser which promises anonymity, could escape the eyes and ears of the NSA. Green’s comments are bolstered by recently released documents which indicate that the TOR project is nearly entirely funded by agencies with connections to the U.S. government.

Another disturbing aspect of the latest Snowden revelation is the possibility that this program may have been used to illegally gather information in the Silk Road trial. In that trial, Ross Ulbricht was sentenced to three life sentences after the court was convinced he was the accused mastermind who created the Silk Road website which allowed drugs to be purchased using Bitcoin. Ulbricht’s attorneys attempted to have the charges thrown out throughout his trial because they believed the U.S. government had illegally obtained access to Ulbricht’s computers and property. The judge overruled such objections, and the entire premise was dismissed as a conspiracy. The Intercept noted that “although the documents leaked by Snowden do not address whether the NSA aided the FBI’s Silk Road investigation, they show the agency working to unmask Bitcoin users about six months before Ulbricht was arrested.”

These new documents show that the NSA had access to Bitcoin users around the world around the same time that Ulbricht’s case was heating up, pointing to plausibility that the NSA used this program (or another still secret tool) go gain access to the private documents of Ross Ulbricht. The question remains as to how many other Bitcoin and cryptocurrency users’ information was accessed by the NSA or other agencies of the U.S. government. Until there is a transparent investigation with subpoena power that looks into the hidden activities of the NSA and other intelligence agencies, the American public remains in the dark regarding the depth and nature of the American surveillance state.

Filmmaker Brian Knappenberger on FBI vs Apple Controversy: ‘Do You Trust Our Government?’

In an exclusive interview with Truth In Media’s Joshua Cook, filmmaker Brian Knappenberger breaks down the issues surrounding the FBI/Apple controversy and explained what the media is missing as it relates to civil liberties in the U.S. and the safety of global activists.

One episode in Knappenberger’s series, Truth and Power, focuses on oppressive governments that target activists by spying on their cell phones and computers.

Cook noted that many of these activists are tortured, and some are even killed because these government use “backdoors” to spy on people’s cells phones and computers. Cook asked Knappenberger about how opening these “backdoors,” if Apple complies with the FBI, would affect the safety of global activists.

“Apple sells its products all over the world… and so if there exists this back door, this magic key that the government wants… I bet those regimes are salivating at the prospects of this,” said Knappenberger. 

Knappenberger discussed how the American government uses surveillance and other tactics to disrupt innocent protesters who seek social and political change. He believes that filming police officers and police abuse is making a positive difference and should be protected under the 1st Amendment.

On the FBI/Apple controversy Knappenberber poses this question: “Do you trust the government?”

Watch the entire interview below:


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6 Stories The Media Beat to Death in 2014 That Have Faded Into Obscurity

In a digital world the media often struggles to maintain the attention of its audience. Between horrific mass killings, viral outbreaks, violent authority figures, terrorists, and tantalizing political melodrama, the focus of our media shifts constantly.

The following six topics from 2014 were once a major focus of the fleeting attention of the media. Each of them at one point has received overwhelming media attention to become a fixture of American dialogue before fading into obscurity.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

Questions remain as to how and where Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 came to its unfortunate end. Two-hundred and thirty nine people were never heard from again after contact was lost with the aircraft in March 2014. Efforts to find the aircraft have not been exhausted as the search continues, but the national media’s unrelenting attention did little to provide substantive insight into the unsolved tragedy.

Since the airliner crashed in March, 24-hour news networks have shifted focus from sensationalized speculation to passive, intermittent reporting.

Israel-Palestine Conflict
Israeli aerial bombings, Operation Protective Edge, of Palestinian-controlled Gaza during the summer of 2014 overshadowed most television news coverage at the end of July and early August.

Since the operations, tensions remain high in the Gaza Strip and surrounding areas. Little, if any progress has been made, but the 24-hour news cycle has moved on to greener pastures.

Campaign Finance Laws
The 2014 midterm election was the most expensive midterm election in American history — totaling $3.67 billion. In part due to the Supreme Court’s April decision on McCutcheon v. FEC which increased the aggregate donation limits to candidates. Coverage of the decision’s possible effect of the decision on the political process remained peripheral throughout the course of the election season. Still, even after a report by the Center for Responsive Politics detailed the final cost, media attention remained elsewhere.

In January 2014, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie became the subject of a firestorm of media attention after allegations that political retribution affected the lives of NJ and NY citizens due to bridge closures and traffic congestion on the Washington Bridge. What became known as ‘Bridgegate’ was believed to be an act of revenge against elected officials that did not officially support Christie’s campaign. A probe into the incident has been conducted for months with no end in sight, but national attention has shifted following the end of the midterm election season.

Government Surveillance
Thrust into the American zeitgeist following Snowden’s release of classified documents, government monitoring and mass intelligence gathering became a controversial focus of media attention and public opinion. But, media attention on the subject has remained reactive and sparse.

For instance, at the beginning of 2014, a report addressed dealings between Internet providers and intelligence agencies over use of customer data. Coverage of government surveillance programs following these negotiations have been limited. In November, Congress blocked a bill that would reform information gathering programs used by the NSA. Yet, during the same period, the media and the nation remained focused on the decision of a St. Louis grand jury.

9/11 Report

The potential release of 28 pages of the 9/11 report received limited focus following the shooting death of Michael Brown. The report would implicate the Saudi government in having a larger role in the attack than previously expressed but the report received less attention than more sensational events.

The overall purpose of the media is to direct the audience’s focus and keep it. In an effort to do so, the media must constantly develop stories and shift focuses to meet the demands of their audience. But a danger exists; with so many sources of information constantly vying for our attention, how do we know that information we receive is anything but entertainment?

Justice Department Using Fake Cell Towers On Airplanes, Collecting Data From Countless Cell Phones

According to a new report from the Wall Street Journal, the Justice Department has been operating a surveillance program that uses fake cell phone towers placed on airplanes to collect identifying data from a vast number of cell phones.

In this program, Cessna aircraft operated by the US Marshals Service fly over most of the United States, embedded with small devices called “dirtboxes” by insider sources familiar with the program. The dirtboxes mimic cell phone towers which prompt cell phones to reveal their identifying information and location, including phones with encryption technology. The program has been utilized by the Justice Department and US Marshals Service since 2007.

In September, Benswann.com reported that fake cell phone towers, or “interceptors,” had been discovered near military bases throughout the United States.

The program insiders have said that this program is in place for the purpose of “locating cellphones linked to individuals under investigation by the government, including fugitives and drug dealers, but it collects information on cellphones belonging to people who aren’t criminal suspects.” The individuals providing information about the program said that data from tens of thousands of phones can be collected after one flight.

The sources claimed that the dirtboxes are able to determine which phones belong to suspects, but did not disclose whether or not the data belonging to unsuspected individuals is stored.

These devices bypass requests for location and identifying data from phone companies such as Verizon and AT&T by gathering the information themselves. A spokesman for Verizon said the company was unaware of such an operation, while AT&T and Sprint declined to comment.

Former CBS Reporter Claims Government Bugged Her Computer

Sharyl Attkisson, an Emmy Award-winning former investigative reporter for CBS News, has revealed a startling claim in her upcoming book detailing difficulties working with the Obama administration that a “government-related entity” placed spyware on her computer and planted classified documents on it.

Attkisson worked for CBS for nearly 20 years before resigning in March 2014. She resigned following months of alleged discord between herself and CBS. Attkisson reportedly grew frustrated with CBS allegedly attempting to whitewash several of her reporting endeavors, such as investigating the Benghazi scandal.

Attkisson told the New York Post that the media tends to avoid or minimize certain reports that news station advertisers might find offensive, using stories about investigating pharmaceutical companies or car manufacturers as examples. Sources at CBS countered that Attkisson was “polarizing” and had adopted an anti-Obama administration agenda in her reporting.

In an interview with the New York Post, Attkisson claims that while CBS lost interest in her investigative reporting, the White House voiced objection to her investigations of the Obama administration. She said that Deputy White House Press Secretary Eric Schultz once yelled at her about the Fast and Furious scandal, saying “the Washington Post is reasonable, the LA Times is reasonable, The New York Times is reasonable. You’re the only one who’s not reasonable!”

Attkisson has come forward with the bold accusation that a “government-related entity” bugged her computer to spy on her. She said that in 2013 she had her computer checked for spyware and it was discovered that an “otherwise innocuous e-mail” caused a security breach. Attkisson said her source, an individual she calls Number One “connected to government three-letter agencies,” told her that her computer was compromised by a “a sophisticated entity that used commercial, nonattributable spyware that’s proprietary to a government agency: either the CIA, FBI, the Defense Intelligence Agency or the National Security Agency.”

Attkisson said that the spyware included keystroke-monitoring, which allowed access to her passwords and bank accounts. “The intruders discovered my Skype account handle, stole the password, activated the audio, and made heavy use of it, presumably as a listening tool,” Attkisson wrote in her upcoming book Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama’s Washington.

Attkisson said Number One also discovered three classified documents “buried deep” in her operating system. “In a place that, unless you’re a some kind of computer whiz specialist, you wouldn’t even know exists.”

In 2013, CBS acknowledged that “Attkisson’s computer was accessed by an unauthorized, external, unknown party on multiple occasions in late 2012,” before Attkisson pointed to the federal government as the culprit. In June 2013, the Justice Department stated “To our knowledge, the Justice Department has never compromised Ms. Attkisson’s computers, or otherwise sought any information from or concerning any telephone, computer, or other media device she may own or use.” The White House has declined to comment on Attkisson’s book.

NSA Used “Loophole” to Search Americans’ Electronic Communications

In a letter to Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR),  Director of National Intelligence James Clapper acknowledged that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been exploiting a “loophole” to search through the electronic communications of Americans without a warrant. “These queries were performed pursuant to minimization procedures approved by the Fisa court and consistent with the statute and the fourth amendment,” Clapper wrote in the letter.

The so-called loophole, in Section 702 of FISA, allows thorough searches of communications of suspected foreign terrorists outside of the United States without a warrant which includes reading emails and listening to phone conversations. But monitoring of communications between suspected terrorists and Americans is what has come under criticism- monitoring Americans in addition to non-American suspects falls into a vague area of what is allowed under Section 702.

Senator Wyden and Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), both critics of government spying, have voiced concern that such searches are “unacceptable”. “It raises serious constitutional questions, and poses a real threat to the privacy rights of law-abiding Americans. If a government agency thinks that a particular American is engaged in terrorism or espionage, the Fourth Amendment requires that the government secure a warrant or emergency authorization before monitoring his or her communications. This fact should be beyond dispute,” read the Wyden-Udall statement.

This admission from Clapper directly contradicts a statement President Obama made last June when he said, “Nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That’s not what this program is about. As was indicated, what the intelligence community is doing is looking at the numbers and durations of calls. They’re not looking at names and they’re not looking at content.”

As it turns out Americans are indeed having their phone calls and emails sifted through, and in the statement from Wyden and Udall they responded to Obama’s past statement by saying, Senior officials have sometimes suggested that government agencies do not deliberately read Americans’ emails, monitor their online activity or listen to their phone calls without a warrant. However, the facts show that those suggestions were misleading, and that intelligence agencies have indeed conducted warrantless searches for Americans’ communications using the ‘back-door search’ loophole in section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.”

Wyden and Udall are both calling for a closure to this loophole, but the Obama administration has said that obtaining warrants is “burdensome” and time consuming.


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NSA Officials Split Over Considering Amnesty For Snowden


National Security Agency (NSA) agent Rick Ledgett said he would consider giving whistle blower Edward Snowden amnesty — as long as the leaks stop. Snowden, who was charged with espionage after releasing classified NSA documents, is currently in Russia where he has asylum.

The whistle blower allegedly stole 1.7 million private NSA documents, but only released 58,000 of them to the press.

Ledgett, head of the NSA task force investigating Snowden’s leaks, said on “60 Minutes,” “My personal view is, yes, [amnesty is] worth having a conversation about.”

In order to consider amnesty, Ledgett said Snowden would need to return his stolen, extensive document stash. Ledgett said, “I would need assurances that the remainder of the data could be secured, and my bar for those assurances would be very high. It would be more than just an assertion on his part.”

But General Keith Alexander, NSA chief, does not agree — giving Snowden amnesty would set a dangerous precedent, he argued.

Also appearing on “60 Minutes,” Alexander said, “This is analogous to a hostage-taker taking 50 people hostage, shooting 10 and then say ‘You give me full amnesty and I’ll let the other 40 go.'” He said that if Snowden got amnesty, other individuals could become encouraged to release classified information and put US security at risk.

General Michael Hayden, former NSA chief, agrees with Alexander. He said, “I wouldn’t do it. That simply motivates future Snowdens.”

Amnesty would need to be approved by the Justice Department, which has not commented on the situation.

The “60 Minutes” special is a part of the NSA’s large effort to re-brand itself and rebuild its reputation in the wake of Snowden’s leaks. As a part of this attempt, government agents have been traveling to academic institutions around the country, asserting that surveillance is necessary to keep Americans safe.


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