Surveillance powers backfire on US senator

US Senator Devin Nunes, who has been a promoter of greater secret surveillance of citizens, and has been a staunch defender of Donald Trump in the Ukraine saga that is progressing to impeachment proceedings has been awkwardly implicated by metadata obtained from surveillance.

Reason: Devin Nunes Supports Secret Surveillance of Americans, Finds Himself Under Surveillance

The call records are coming home to roost for Rep. Devin Nunes (R–Calif.).

Before he became a stalwart defender of President Donald Trump, Nunes consistently fought any and all efforts to restrain the authority of the National Security Agency (NSA) to secretly, warrantlessly collect Americans’ call records and metadata. He wasn’t quiet about this support for domestic surveillance.

When Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan (then a Republican, now an independent) tried to restrain the feds’ ability to access American call records, Nunes didn’t just vote against Amash’s legislation; he attacked Amash loudly and publicly. In 2014, one of Amash’s efforts prompted Nunes to call the congressman “Al Qaeda’s best friend in the Congress.” Nunes even donated $5,000 to Amash’s primary opponent.

Now this surveillance apparatus that Nunes has long supported has happily provided his political opponents with information that could destroy his career. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (which Nunes used to chair, and where he is now the ranking minority member) just published its impeachment report.

It shows calls between Nunes and Rudy Giuliani in 2016, as Giuliani was making the media rounds arguing that Ukrainian officials colluded to help Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. This information will most certainly be used to argue that Nunes is not just a defender of Trump but also an active participant in Giuliani’s Ukrainian push.

Nunes isn’t happy about that. Last night he tweeted a Washington Examiner piece in which Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R–La.) accuses Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D–Calif.) of “spying” on Nunes and asks, “Are there other members of Congress that he is spying on, and what justification does he have? He needs to be held accountable and explain what he’s doing, going after journalists, going after members of Congress, instead of doing his job.”

But there’s no reason to assume that Schiff was specifically targeting Nunes, and it’s unlikely that any laws were broken here. Nunes’ name and calls came up in the metadata of the impeachment’s investigation targets. What is happening to the California congressman right now is an easily foreseeable consequences of the surveillance system Nunes supports.

I think it would be difficult to exclude politicians from NSA data gathering, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they try to get special exclusions.

The surveillance data revealed more. Washington Post: Phone records from AT&T and Verizon obtained in impeachment inquiry spark controversy

The records were some of the strongest circumstantial evidence included in the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment report this week, revealing extensive contact between Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, and the Trump administration during critical points of the Ukraine saga. They also exposed calls between a Giuliani associate who has been indicted in New York, Lev Parnas, and the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.).

Republican lawmakers are blasting Democrats’ decision to publish the records of Nunes’s calls, as well as call records from John Solomon, a conservative columnist formerly at The Hill. Nunes said in a Fox News interview the inclusion of the phone records in the impeachment report is an infraction of his “civil rights” and promised to explore “whatever legal remedies I have.”

“They have now set a precedent where Adam Schiff can go get any phone number he has to AT&T and AT&T is going to comply,” Nunes said.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) called Schiff’s move “brazen and shameful” in an op-ed for Fox News yesterday. Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) asked Sen. Lindsey Graham to subpoena Schiff’s records in response, a move the South Carolina Republican shut down.

But Democrats deny legally asking the telecom companies for any phone records belonging to members of Congress or journalists. The report doesn’t say whose records the committee subpoenaed, but the records suggest they targeted the calls of Giuliani and Parnas. 

“The Committee did not subpoena call records for any member of Congress or their staff, including Ranking Member Nunes, or for any journalist, including Mr. Solomon,” Patrick Boland, a spokesman for Schiff, said in a statement.

This makes the already very murky and politically charged Ukraine and impeachment issues even more controversial.

And as Nunes is leading the political opposition to the impeachment inquiry, then evidence of possible complicity by him must surely be relevant.

In general, if politicians push for and allow wide ranging surveillance powers they should not be surprised if there are unintended consequences.

Yahoo spied on emails

Note that until very recently Xtra emails went via Yahoo.

Reuters: Exclusive: Yahoo secretly scanned customer emails for U.S. intelligence – sources

Yahoo Inc last year secretly built a custom software program to search all of its customers’ incoming emails for specific information provided by U.S. intelligence officials, according to people familiar with the matter.

The company complied with a classified U.S. government directive, scanning hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency or FBI, said two former employees and a third person apprised of the events.

Some surveillance experts said this represents the first case to surface of a U.S. Internet company agreeing to a spy agency’s demand by searching all arriving messages, as opposed to examining stored messages or scanning a small number of accounts in real time.

It is not known what information intelligence officials were looking for, only that they wanted Yahoo to search for a set of characters. That could mean a phrase in an email or an attachment, said the sources, who did not want to be identified.

This raises some important issues, like who else does this spying for spy agencies.

Experts said it was likely that the NSA or FBI had approached other Internet companies with the same demand, since they evidently did not know what email accounts were being used by the target. The NSA usually makes requests for domestic surveillance through the FBI, so it is hard to know which agency is seeking the information.

Reuters was unable to confirm whether the 2015 demand went to other companies, or if any complied.

Alphabet Inc’s Google and Microsoft Corp, two major U.S. email service providers, did not respond to requests for comment.

That’s also a concern, for US email users anyway. What about New Zealand email users?

But we all knew that our emails were at risk of being snooped on, didn’t we.


Amnesty International spy poll slanted to support anti-spying campaign

David Fisher, spy reporter at NZ Herald, writes about an Amnesty International New Zealand and global survey on spying – Most Kiwis reject Govt spying – survey:

Kiwis have rejected government surveillance of their own communications – and that of people in other countries, according to new survey.

An Amnesty International survey of about 1000 people shows 63 per cent of Kiwis surveyed are opposed to the government monitoring and storing their own internet and mobile phone use.

It’s not surprising that most people don’t want their communications monitored and stored.But they weren’t asked if they supported the monitoring of communications of possible criminals and terrorists.

Prime Minister John Key has rejected the claims, saying there is no mass surveillance of New Zealanders here or abroad.

Key also keeps emphasising that New Zealand law forbids mass surveillance of New Zealanders.

And it’s also not surprising to see Amnesty International do a global survey that shows opposition to spying. They publicised the poll in a press release yesterday – NZers part of global opposition to mass surveillance (Scoop).

New Zealanders part of global opposition to USA big brother mass surveillance

“Big brother mass surveillance” is a fairly loaded statement indicative of Amnesty International’s feelings.

The United States’ mass surveillance of internet and phone use flies in the face of global public opinion, said Amnesty International as it published a major poll to launch its worldwide #UnfollowMe campaign.

So the poll is part of a worldwide anti-spying campaign. That doesn’t give confidence of an impartial approach.

The poll, which questioned 15,000 people from 13 countries across every continent, including New Zealand, found that 71% of respondents were strongly opposed to the United States monitoring their internet use.

That’s not surprising, apart from it being only 71%. But it depends on what is meant by ‘monitoring their internet use’.

I don’t want a spy in the US monitoring everything I do on the Internet. But I don’t have a problem with the scanning of data looking for potentially dangerous intent.

“Today’s technology gives governments unprecedented power to watch what we do on the internet. We need independent scrutiny to watch the watchers so that power is not abused. Yet today there is little or no legislation in any country that really protects our human right to privacy against indiscriminate mass surveillance. Indeed, more countries are actually considering laws granting wider surveillance powers, at the expense of people’s rights.”

That’s blatantly misleading in a New Zealand context. We have laws that prohibits surveillance without having a specific warrant for a specific target, so it prohibits mass surveillance.

And we have an independent scrutiny via the Inspector General who’s job is specifically to “watch the watchers so that power is not abused.”

“Yet today there is little or no legislation in any country that really protects our human right to privacy against indiscriminate mass surveillance” is false. We have legislation for this in New Zealand.

Here’s some of the YouGov / Amnesty Survey Results.

Sample Size: 1008 New Zealand Adults
Fieldwork: 4th – 13th February 2015

Do you think the New Zealand Government should or should not intercept, store and analyse internet use and mobile phone communications of…
…all New Zealand citizens living in New Zealand
Should intercept, store and analyse internet use and mobile communications 22
Should not intercept, store and analyse internet use and mobile communications 63
Don’t know 15
…all foreign nationals in New Zealand
Should intercept, store and analyse internet use and mobile communications 43
Should not intercept, store and analyse internet use and mobile communications 40
Don’t know 17
…people living in other countries
Should intercept, store and analyse internet use and mobile communications 22
Should not intercept, store and analyse internet use and mobile communications 53
Don’t know 25

According to our law the New Zealand Government is forbidden from intercepting or storing communications of all New Zealanders. So our law is supported by the first question.

Thinking about the United States government, do you think the US government should or should not intercept, store and analyse internet use in New Zealand?
Should intercept, store and analyse internet use in New Zealand 13
Should not intercept, store and analyse internet use in New Zealand 75
Don’t know 12

I’d prefer not, but it’s a risk of communicating on a public Internet. However we can’t do anything about what other countries monitor on the Internet – not just the United States government. Why just target one country?

Some people think that any surveillance of internet use should have to be subjected to transparent and independent judicial and parliamentary oversight, whereas others say some surveillance such as that conducted by government intelligence agencies is too sensitive for such oversight.
Which of the following comes closest to your view?
Any surveillance of internet use should have to be subject to transparent and independent oversight 49
In some cases, it is acceptable for internet surveillance to take place without oversight 40
Don’t know 11

That’s a fairly vague question with a split response. It depends on what level of oversight is involved. There’s insufficient oversight of what Google and Facebook and Twitter et al monitor. They have more impact on most individuals than Government surveillance.

Please now assume that New Zealand’s intelligence and security agencies are intercepting and storing the data collected from the use of your internet and mobile phone. Please say whether you would be more likely or less likely to…
Criticise the government on social media, email or private messaging applications
More likely 15
Less likely 7
Make no difference – I would do this anyway 34
Make no difference – I wouldn’t do this anyway 34
Don’t know 10

“Please now assume that New Zealand’s intelligence and security agencies are…“...doing something that is illegal and we have had repeated assurances by the Prime Minister and the Inspector General that they can’t and don’t do.

Please now assume that Amnesty International has used this poll for slanted opposition to spying.

I’d be interested in a poll on spying that was impartial and balanced, and genuinely attempts to determine opinion on spying.

This poll isn’t and doesn’t. It is being used as a campaign tool. It seems to have been designed with that in mind.

Amnesty International have been misleading and dishonest.

If the NSA published a poll in the launch of a campaign to promote spying I’d be just as sceptical.

And why is David Fisher (a senior reporter for the NZ Herald) writing an article based on a campaign associated poll without critical analysis?

The GCSB has been operating under a questionable legal basis for more than three years.The GCSB has been operating under a questionable legal basis for more than three years.

That’s an odd statement with a curious timeframe without anything to support it, especially considering the legal basis was changed half way through the last three years.

The report didn’t mention the fact that the poll is being used to promote an anti-spying campaign.

Fisher has been reporting under a questionable agenda basis.

Spy ‘revelations’ a flood or a trickle?

Yesterday John Key tried to pre-empt the flood of spy revelations due today. TVNZ reported:

PM: Discount massively everything Nicky Hager says today

Investigative journalist Nicky Hager has promised a big reveal today about New Zealand’s secret spying operations, but the Prime Minister shot down the allegations before they were even made yesterday.

Mr Hager begins a series of revelations from today which he claims show which countries our spies have targeted, when and why.

He said he had spent the last year working through information collected by ex-US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

NZ Herald didn’t cover that but are leading the revelation charge this morning.

#snowdenNZ : Leaked documents show New Zealand spies on its Pacific friends and sends the data to the US

EXCLUSIVE: GCSB collects phone calls, emails and internet data from NZ’s closest and most vulnerable neighbours, secret papers reveal.

New Zealand’s spies are targeting the entire email, phone and social media communications of the country’s closest, friendliest and most vulnerable neighbours, according to documents supplied by United States fugitive andwhistleblower Edward Snowden.

Snowden’s files reveal a heavy focus on “full-take collection” from the Pacific with nearly two dozen countries around the world targeted by our Government Communications Security Bureau.

Information from across the Pacific is collected by New Zealand’s GCSB but sent onto the United States’ National Security Agency to plug holes in its global spying network, the documents show.

Being ‘exclusive’ makes this look like a carefully managed and packaged release.

That New Zealand collects information from across the Pacific is not a revelation, it would have been very surprising if they didn’t.

Mr Key said it was “bizarre” to reveal details about intelligence at a time when New Zealand faced a terror threat. “We’ve got the situation where we’ve Isil reaching out to cause harm to New Zealanders.”

He said he would not reveal details of intelligence but said it was done for “really, really good reasons”.

When quizzed mid-afternoon he said he had no idea what would be revealed. But, pointing to Hager’s election bombshell Dirty Politics, he said: “Nicky Hager was wrong last time. His information is old. I guarantee you it will be wrong this time.”

Challenged on claims of fabrication, John Key’s office couldn’t point to any basis for the claim.

Hager and the Herald have been researching this for months – Hager said “he had spent the last year working through information “. Key is just finding out today what they have chosen to uncover. We can expect him to fight back some more.


#snowdenNZ / The price of the Five Eyes club: Mass spying on friendly nations and sending vast amounts of intelligence to NSA

Another headline leading with a hash tag followed by a Twitter sized bite, obviously targeting a wide social media audience.

Leaked Snowden files show most of GCSB’s targets are not security threats to New Zealand, as Government suggests

New Zealand’s electronic surveillance agency has dramatically expanded its spying operations during the years of John Key’s National Government and is automatically funnelling vast amounts of intelligence to the US National Security Agency, top-secret documents reveal.

Since 2009, the Government Communications Security Bureau intelligence base at Waihopai has moved to “full-take collection”, indiscriminately intercepting Asia-Pacific communications and providing them en masse to the NSA through the controversial NSA intelligence system XKeyscore, which is used to monitor emails and internet browsing habits.

NZH balances this coverage with a link to something they published in September last year.:

John Key ‘comfortable’ that NSA is not spying on NZ

Prime Minister John Key says he can’t give an absolute assurance New Zealanders are not subject to mass surveillance by the US National Security Agency (NSA) but he is “comfortable” that is not happening.

Mr Key this afternoon said he was “sure it’s absolutely true” that former NSA analyst Edward Snowden had the capacity to see information about New Zealanders when he worked for the agency, but that information would not have come from mass surveillance programmes run by this country’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB).

They highlighted:

– Key concedes claim NZ data may be accessible through XKeyscore
– Says NZ contributes some information to Five Eyes databases
– “But not mass, wholesale surveillance as people might say”
– No evidence of mass surveillance, says security chief

These claims will no doubt be compared to the current flood of revelations.

This is all going to take some digesting and thrashing over to see if there’s anything damning to New Zealand.

And expect John Key to keep playing it down and claiming things have moved on from when Snowden got his data anyway.

It will take a day or few to work out if there are any remarkable revelations,or if it’s a trickle rather than a flood for Key and his Government.

Or if it’s little different to same-old spying that at the most most people will shrug at it and carry on with their lives, clinging to their mobile phones and tablets to keep them connected to the world wide web of intrigue.

Snowden leaks – “the worst is yet to come”…

…and New Zealand may feature in some of the revelations.

Spies worry over “doomsday” cache stashed by ex-NSA contractor Snowden

British and U.S. intelligence officials say they are worried about a “doomsday” cache of highly classified, heavily encrypted material they believe former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden has stored on a data cloud.

The cache contains documents generated by the NSA and other agencies and includes names of U.S. and allied intelligence personnel, seven current and former U.S. officials and other sources briefed on the matter said.

One source described the cache of still unpublished material as Snowden’s “insurance policy” against arrest or physical harm.

“The worst is yet to come,” said one former U.S. official who follows the investigation closely.

And John Key seems to accept that Snowden leak material will include New Zealand related information. On Firstline this morning – Spying leaks ‘politically motivated’ – Key:

“My expectation is that they’ll get some. I mean, it’s been going around the world, looks reasonably politically motivated, you know. They’ll go and do stuff.”

Documents already released have revealed New Zealand’s role in assisting the US in spying on other countries, as a part of the Five Eyes network. But Mr Key is confident further leaks won’t damage New Zealand’s reputation.

“I don’t worry that much about that sort of stuff. I’m aware of what they do – I don’t go down to every complete operational level, but I have a broad sense of what they do, and if it requires a warrant, I have to sign that warrant – so I’m aware of those things.

“But you know, there’s always going to be good reasons that back up any particular activities we’ve undertaken.”

What might come out is unknown so all we can do is wait and see.

Spying on us

Spying on us