Emails from Hacking Team Show Surveillance Firm’s Nervousness Toward WikiLeaks

Screen shot of spyware manufacturer’s logo from Twitter

The president of Italian spyware manufacturer, Hacking Team, joked about WikiLeaks publishing a leak about the firm’s technology on June 8.

“Imagine this: a leak on WikiLeaks showing YOU explaining the evilest technology on earth! :-),” CEO David Vincenzetti wrote in an email. “You would be demonized by our dearest friends the activists, and normal people would point their fingers at you.”

Vincenzetti was referring to an “end user,” who wanted the firm’s training to be recorded. He rejected the request fearing video would become “freely available on the Internet.”

“Leaks happen, happen to everyone including the NSA,” Vincenzetti declared. “It happened to me once when I was working as sales man for our technology. I was in Asia. One of the attendees pulled out a camera and started video recording my presentation. I immediately stopped and said: no way. He put the camera in his pocket again.”

Now, for the past few days, over 400 gigabytes of emails from Hacking Team dumped on the internet by hackers have been available. More than a million emails are in a searchable database at WikiLeaks for activists, “normal people,” and journalists to browse and uncover details related to business relationships Hacking Team had with law enforcement agencies in countries with repressive regimes.

WikiLeaks previously published a few documents from Hacking Team when it released “The Spy Files,” which exposed aspects of the global surveillance industry. A presentation, video, and brochure about “remote control systems” or RCS, which Hacking Team sells to law enforcement and intelligence agencies to use against users, were posted on the media organization’s website.

According to Privacy International’s briefing to the Italian government [PDF], RCS is an invasive surveillance technology that can “covertly collect, modify, and/or extract data from a device through the installation of malicious software on the device. The malware is inserted on the computer as a trojan, or a malicious code disguised in inconspicuous files or attachments, and is executed on the device.”

Hacking Team’s technology makes it possible to bypass encryption in “common communications services software” and to log Skype calls, emails, instant messages, web browsing data, deleted files and even shots that are taken with a computer’s webcam.

In September 2013, WikiLeaks published data that showed where Hacking Team surveillance salesman had traveled. It was part of a counterintelligence effort put together by WikiLeaks.

“This is BLATANT privacy violation! HOW did they collect such information?” Vincenzetti reacted in an email on September 5, 2013.

Alberto Ornaghi of Hacking Team replied, “If you are a TELCO operator with access to SS7 signaling it’s easy to know where a phone is,” and, “We could provide our key traveller [sic] a different phone number (when they are abroad) and see a call-forwarding from the old number (always in italy).”

One employee thought the information on Hacking Team operations was from a whistleblower in a telecom provider the firm used. The employee suggested switching to a new provider.

When documents were posted to WikiLeaks in December 2011 that called attention to Hacking Team, Marco Bettini, who would later have his travel on behalf of the firm exposed by WikiLeaks, worried about someone leaking information obtained at the Intelligence Support Systems (ISS) conference in Kuala Lumpur. Bettini believed posted documents came from an ISS event and exhibitors, which were in attendance. (more…)

WikiLeaks Publishes List of Phone Numbers from Merkel’s Office Which NSA Targeted

WikiLeaks - NSA Germany
WikiLeaks created this graphic for its release on NSA spying on German chancellor’s administration

There is absolutely no question: the National Security Agency spied on the phone calls of not only German Chancellor Angela Merkel but also officials in her office. The spying was ordered as early as 2002, when Gerhard Schröder was still Chancellor, according to new information published by WikiLeaks.

Officials in the German chancellor’s office were spied upon for political espionage.

Intercept summaries show the NSA spied on Merkel in February 2009, as she questioned how the US Federal Reserve was reacting to the global financial crisis. It was just over a month until the G20 Summit in London.

A conversation between Merkel and United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Prince Shaykh Muhammad bin Zayid al-Nuhayyan was intercepted. It involved the Iranian people’s views toward the United States.

In 2011, the NSA spied on Merkel’s discussion with two advisers about the European Stability Facility (EFSF), which was a solution developed by the European Union to provide assistance to countries in the eurozone struggling with debt.

According to WikiLeaks, one of the numbers on the list is the Vodafone cell phone number for Merkel that she was using in 2013.

On June 12, German prosecutors closed an investigation into the NSA’s spying on Merkel’s cellphone, which was spurred by disclosures made by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Prosecutors claimed the documents from Snowden did not contain “evidence of surveillance of the cellphone used by the chancellor” that would be “solid enough for the court.”

“There is now proof enough of NSA surveillance on German soil,” WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange declared. “It is time to reopen the investigation and for the NSA to stop engaging in its illegal activities against Germany.” (more…)

WikiLeaks Reveals List of German Officials Spied Upon by NSA, Confirms Merkel Had Calls Intercepted

WikiLeaks designed this graphic for its release of documents showing US spying on German officials
WikiLeaks designed this graphic for its release of documents showing US spying on German officials

WikiLeaks has revealed more details of political and economic espionage against German government officials by the National Security Agency.

The media organization published a list of 69 telephone numbers in the German government that were “high-priority” targets for the NSA. The targets include people who were officials when President Bill Clinton was still in office and confirm the NSA intercepted communications Chancellor Angela Merkel had with German government officials.

On June 12, German prosecutors closed an investigation into the NSA’s spying on Merkel’s cellphone, which was spurred by disclosures made by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Prosecutors claimed the documents from Snowden did not contain “evidence of surveillance of the cellphone used by the chancellor” that would be “solid enough for the court.”

On October 11, 2011, a document classified two levels above “Top Secret” indicates the United States closely monitored Merkel’s conversation with her personal assistant about how to address the Greek financial crisis:

Merkel - Personal Assistant Intercept


The intercepted communication was shared with the “Five Eyes” alliance—Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.

Another summary of an intercepted communication came from the British spy agency, GCHQ, and was shared with the NSA. It described how the German government planned to negotiate a European Union bailout plan for Greece. German Chancellery Director-General for EU Affairs Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut argued that it would take an increased level of involvement from the private sector to resolve the crisis.

The “high-priority” list of German targets published shows the US government’s focus on information related to economic affairs. Oskar Lafontaine, who was German Finance Minister from 1998 to 1999, had his communications targeted.

Other officials spied upon include: Werner Müller, German Federal Minister for Economics 1998–2002, Barbara Hendricks, former Secretary of State at the Federal Ministry of Finance and current Federal Minister for the Environment and Ida-Maria Aschenbrenner, Head of Office of Minister of Finance Theo Waigel from 1989 to 1998.

The NSA targeted ministers, staff members and groups working on G7 and World Trade Organization meetings. The phone number of the European Central Bank was listed.

“Today’s publication further demonstrates that the United States’ economic espionage campaign extends to Germany and to key European institutions and issues such as the EU Central Bank and the crisis in Greece,” WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange declared.

“Our publication today also shows how the UK is assisting the US to spy on issues central to Europe. Would France and Germany have proceeded with the BRICS bailout plan for Greece if this intelligence was not collected and passed to the United States – who must have been horrified at the geopolitical implications?”

The revelations related to US spying on German officials come after two releases highlighting US spying on French officials. (more…)

WikiLeaks Publishes NSA Documents Detailing Economic Espionage by ‘Five Eyes’ Alliance Against France

WikiLeaks French Economic Espionage Documents
Graphic created by WikiLeaks for release of documents showing French economic espionage

WikiLeaks published documents from the National Security Agency showing details of economic espionage against France by the “Five Eyes’ alliance, which consists of the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

One document is an “information need” spying order that was first created in 2002. It shows that the alliance sought information on economic relations with the United States, French business practices, relations with least developed countries and transitional states, foreign contracts, French trade, French views, views on G8/G20 developments/issues, budgetary constraints/contributions to NATO, and “questionable trade activities.”

The information gathered was supposed to support the CIA, Commerce Department, Federal Reserve, Treasury Department, State Department, US Trade Representative and Homeland Security Department. Any information collected was designated “releasable” to any of the “Five Eyes” countries.

Another document from 2012 shows particular interest in uncovering information on any “French contract proposals” or “negotiations for international sales or investments in major projects or systems of significant interest to the foreign host country,” especially those involving more than $200 million in sales and/or services.

Of particular interest was information on telecommunications networks or technology, electric power, natural gas or oil facilities and infrastructure, including nuclear power and renewable energy, transportation infrastructure, environmental technology, and health care infrastructure, services, and technology.

In one intercepted communication from about 2008, European Union Trade Section head Hiddo Houben and French Minister-Counselor for Economic and Financial Affairs Jean-Francois Boittin criticized US trade policy toward the World Trade Organization (WTO). Boittin was astonished at the “level of ‘narcissism’ and wasteful contemplation currently on display in Washington.”

Houben was especially critical of the Trans-Pacific Partnership initiative and how the US seemed to want to negotiate with every nation bordering China, “asking for commitments that exceed those countries’ administrative capacities so as to ‘confront’ Beijing.” If this took 10 years, Houben maintained China would grow disinterested in the process because the world would have changed so much. The US would have to return to the WTO, and it would prove that Washington had “no real negotiating agenda” for nations like China or Brazil.

In another summary of an intercepted communication that is believed to be from 2008, it is clear there was spying against French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte.  The diplomat considered confronting the US over corruption related to the United Nations’ oil-for-food program in Iraq after a report from the Iraq Survey Group.

“The ambassador termed the report scandalous, since it named no US companies and he claimed that many French companies with contracts under the OFF program were actually subsidiaries of US firms that also profited from the business dealings. He therefore planned, with foreign ministry backing, to present a list of these US companies to both the US Congress and the media,” according to the summary.

On July 31, 2012, a communication from Finance, Economy and Trade Minister Pierre Moscovici was intercepted. Moscovici indicated, “The French economic situation is worse than anyone can imagine and drastic measures will have to be taken in the next 2 years.”

The documents are the latest documents from WikiLeaks that have been released as part of a project, “Espionnage Élysée.”

“The United States has been conducting economic espionage against France for more than a decade,” WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange declared. “Not only has it spied on the French Finance Minister, it has ordered the interception of every French company contract or negotiation valued at more than $200 million.” (more…)

Documents Raise Concerns About Extent of CIA Spying Inside the United States

The American Civil Liberties Union published a batch of documents obtained from the CIA on how it complies with and understands Executive Order 12333, an executive order issued by President Ronald Reagan which mandates the powers and responsibilities of US intelligence agencies. The documents strongly suggest that the agency engages in an extensive amount of domestic spying operations that are largely kept secret from the American people.

Of the 49 documents released, many of them are policy briefings on what the CIA can and cannot collect on US persons when conducting spying operations. They largely have to do with the rules that the agency is expected to follow and how the agency goes about complying with them. However, many of the documents are highly censored.

The CIA claims much of the information in the documents involves “classified secret matters or national defense or foreign policy.” It also believes that the National Security Act partly exempts the agency from the Freedom of Information Act, which is why many of the documents have huge chunks of information missing.

What can be gleaned from the documents is that the agency has a secret definition of “monitoring” as it relates to surveillance of US persons that the public is not allowed to know:

Secret definition of monitoring - CIA

The definition of “electronic surveillance” in regards to US persons is partially censored too, however, the CIA will let the public know that “electronic surveillance” involves the “acquisition of a non-public communication by electronic means without the consent of any party to the communication or, in the case of a non-electronic communication, without the consent of a person who is visibly present at the place of communication.”

Part of the definition for “unconsented physical searches,” which requires Attorney General approval, is censored.

Details from a “memorandum of understanding” [PDF] between the FBI and CIA provides a glimpse at how the two agencies coordinate spying activities:

FBI-CIA Coordination

Another document, “CIA and EO 12333: Overview for the ICIG Boston Review Forum” [PDF], dated June 2013, outlines detailed talking points, which includes some details on the loopholes the agency might be able to use to obtain information on US citizens.

The CIA is allowed to “provide specialized equipment and technical knowledge to assist another department or agency in the conduct by that department or agency of lawful and authorized electronic surveillance in the United States.” (more…)

USA Today Gives Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales Platform to Spread Surveillance State Propaganda

Alberto Gonzales

USA Today has published an editorial by former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in which he uses fear, innuendo and legal jargon to argue more privacy cannot keep Americans safe from terrorism. The editorial rationalizes the increased reliance on warrantless surveillance by the United States government. It is especially stunning, given the fact that Gonzales lied to Congress about the warrantless wiretapping program in 2006.

Gonzales was asked on February 6, 2006, whether James Comey, who is now the FBI director, and others at the Justice Department, had expressed concerns about NSA warrantless wiretapping. He claimed in testimony their concerns were related to another program and not the wiretapping program.

In 2007, then-FBI director Robert Mueller gave testimony to the House Judiciary Committee that suggested there was disagreement among high-level officials, including himself, when it came to approving key aspects of the illegal warrantless wiretapping program. Gonzales had told Congress under oath that there was no serious disagreement.

Gonzales’ perjury, which went unpunished, was part of a coverup of the crimes committed by officials involved in the warrantless wiretapping program. Now, nine years later, the USA Today is giving Gonzales a platform to spread more lies and further obfuscate what really happened during President George W. Bush’s administration.

Gonzales ominously insinuates in the final paragraph of his column that the USA Freedom Act may lead to a terrorist attack by a “disciple” of the Islamic State.

…ISIL is on the move around the world. Seemingly every week there is a reported story of a takedown of an ISIL disciple within our borders, chilling reminders of the evolving threat. Without access to the classified threat matrix or an appreciation of the strength of our intelligence capabilities, it is difficult for the American people to judge whether this new law strikes the appropriate balance between security and liberty. What we do know is that because of the USA Freedom Act, it is now more difficult for the government to gather certain kinds of information. If we must win the war for information in order to win the war against extremists, then we have to question whether Congress and the president achieved the right balance. Only time will tell.

Gonzales expresses concern about the fact that the government will be unable to “access bulk collection of metadata from third parties,” or the phone companies. He does not bother to mention that the Privacy & Civil Liberties Oversight Board concluded [PDF], “We are aware of no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack. And we believe that in only one instance over the past seven years has the program arguably contributed to the identification of an unknown terrorism suspect.” Or, that the Obama administration’s own NSA review group, staffed by former deputy CIA director Mike Morell, found the collection of phone records was “not essential to preventing attacks and could readily have been obtained in a timely manner” using other conventional methods [PDF].

Or, that a study by the New America Foundation, a think tank in Washington, DC, concluded:

An in-depth analysis of 225 individuals recruited by al-Qaeda or a like-minded group or inspired by al-Qaeda’s ideology, and charged in the United States with an act of terrorism since 9/11, demonstrates that traditional investigative methods, such as the use of informants, tips from local communities, and targeted intelligence operations, provided the initial impetus for investigations in the majority of cases, while the contribution of NSA’s bulk surveillance programs to these cases was minimal.


Gonzales writes warrantless searches are not “necessarily illegal.” He cites a federal judge’s ruling in Oakland, which found AT&T customers lacked standing to challenge the government’s surveillance of Internet traffic. What Gonzales omits is that the ruling did not end the “part of the case concerning telephone record collection and other mass surveillance”—which is exactly what Gonzales defends in his column. (more…)

Podcast: The US Surveillance State Now That USA Freedom Act is Law

Marcy Wheeler

The USA Freedom Act was signed into law this past week. It was viewed as both a victory for those concerned with privacy and restricting the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance and also as a law that did not go far enough in restricting spy agencies. In fact, the USA Freedom Act further codified the post-9/11 legal framework for surveillance and resurrected Patriot Act provisions, which expired for a couple days.

The law did do away with the NSA’s control of all Americans’ domestic call records. On the other hand, it left other programs, policies and practices, which NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed to the public, entirely untouched. For example, “backdoor searches” under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act can continue, which means the NSA can collect emails, browsing and chat history of US citizens without a warrant.

On “Unauthorized Disclosure” this week, journalist Marcy Wheeler joins the show to discuss the current state of play now that this law considered to be reform has passed.

Wheeler has written more about the USA Freedom Act than any other journalist. Her work can be found at Emptywheel as well as, where she regularly contributes to the site’s “Right to Know” column.

During the discussion portion of the show, hosts Kevin Gosztola and Rania Khalek highlight how the US government declassified some of the torture memories of a former CIA detainee, Majid Khan. Gosztola talks about journalist Jason Leopold and how he was told to never file another FOIA request with a Pentagon in-house think tank. Khalek discusses a Texas law allowing people to carry firearms on college campuses and how President Barack Obama is trying to get an anti-slavery provision removed from the Trans-Pacific Partnership for Malaysia.

The podcast is available on iTunes for download. For a link (and also to download the episode), go here. Click on “go here” and a page will load with the audio file of the podcast. The file will automatically start playing so you can listen to the episode.

Also, below is a player for listening to the podcast. You can listen to the podcast this way or you can go to iTunes and find the podcast listed there. And follow the show on Twitter at @UnauthorizedDis.

Los Angeles Times Editorial Board Endorses Prosecution of Edward Snowden

"LA Times building" by jim Winstead from los angeles, usa - the los angeles times building. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board published an editorial that argues against granting NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden a pardon. It endorses the Justice Department’s prosecution of Snowden under the Espionage Act, despite the fact that his unauthorized disclosures were responsible for key reforms.

The “serious arguments” against a pardon, according to the editorial board, include the fact that America is a “society of laws” and “someone who engages in civil disobedience in a higher cause should be prepared to accept the consequences.”

“A stronger objection, in our view, is that Snowden didn’t limit his disclosures to information about violations of Americans’ privacy. He divulged other sensitive information about traditional foreign intelligence activities, including a document showing that the NSA had intercepted the communications of then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during a Group of 20 summit in London in 2009.”

“A government contractor who discloses details of US spying on another country is not most Americans’ idea of a whistleblower,” the editorial board declares.

The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board’s chief complaint amounts to the suggestion that Snowden is not a big enough nationalist because he revealed ethically dubious spying activities carried out against other countries. And, although there has never been a public debate about the extent to which the US government should be spying on all the people of the world, as well as leaders of countries, Snowden should not be shown too much leniency because this spying should remain secret from the American public.

Whatever “Americans’ idea of a whistleblower” happens to be, it has been influenced by government officials seeking to propagandize the public so that they oppose individuals like Snowden.

Jason Leopold, a journalist for VICE News, reported that a “group of bipartisan lawmakers solicited details from the Pentagon,” which could be used to “damage” Snowden’s “credibility in the press and court of public opinion.”

The Pentagon provided Congress with unclassified talking points on January 8, 2014. They may seem familiar because they have been repeated numerous times by US media organizations. (In fact, the second talking point is what the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board considers to be the most persuasive argument against pardoning Snowden.)

Much of the information compromised [by Snowden] has the potential to gravely impact the National Security of the United States, to include the Department of Defense [DoD] and its capabilities.

While most of the reporting to date in the press has centered on NSA’s acquisition of foreign intelligence to protect the lives of our citizens and allies, the files cover sensitive topics well beyond the NSA collection. Disclosure of this information in the press and to adversaries has the potential to put Defense personnel in harm’s way and jeopardize the success of DoD operations.

These unauthorized disclosures have tipped off our adversaries to intelligence sources and methods and negatively impacted our Allies who partner with us to fight terrorism, cyber crimes, human and narcotics trafficking, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Such international cooperation involving the pooling of information, technology, and expertise is critical to preserve our security and that of our allies.

The Los Angeles Times published a story on Snowden on June 28, 2013, that quoted anonymous officials who were speaking about classified information that they claimed showed Snowden had given an “edge” to “US rivals.”

“Russia, China and terrorism suspects have altered how they communicate to evade US detection, current and former U.S. intelligence officials say,” the media organization reported.

It is now abundantly clear that this story was based in Pentagon propaganda, which officials were prepared to feed to the public through journalists and members of Congress. (more…)

Obama Administration Expanded Warrantless Surveillance to Target ‘Malicious Cyber Activity’

Defense Department Photo

Documents from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden show warrantless surveillance was expanded by President Barack Obama’s administration to target “malicious cyber activity.”

After Congress legalized the warrantless wiretapping with the FISA Amendments Act in 2008, non-US citizens could be targeted abroad. The administration developed a new policy for cybersecurity and took steps that would make the difference between a spy and criminal nearly non-existent.

According to a report from the New York Times and ProPublica, the White House National Security Council decided in May 2009 that “reliance on legal authorities that make theoretical distinctions between armed attacks, terrorism and criminal activity may prove impractical.”

The NSA proposed that the government use the warrantless surveillance program for cybersecurity about the same time.

In May and July 2012, the Justice Department signed off on searches of “cybersignatures” and Internet addresses. The approval was tied to previously granted authority to spy on foreign governments obtained from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. However, the NSA soon grew frustrated with the limits this imposed on them.

“That limit meant the NSA had to have some evidence for believing that the hackers were working for a specific foreign power,” the report indicates. “That rule, the NSA soon complained, left a ‘huge collection gap against cyberthreats to the nation’ because it is often hard to know exactly who is behind an intrusion, according to an agency newsletter. Different computer intruders can use the same piece of malware, take steps to hide their location or pretend to be someone else.”

Before the year was over, the NSA pressed the secret surveillance court for permission to use the warrantless wiretapping program for “cybersecurity purposes.”

As this happened, the FBI’s authority to target Internet data and use it for its criminal and “national security” investigations expanded.

…[T]he FBI in 2011 had obtained a new kind of wiretap order from the secret surveillance court for cybersecurity investigations, permitting it to target Internet data flowing to or from specific Internet addresses linked to certain governments.

To carry out the orders, the FBI negotiated in 2012 to use the NSA’s system for monitoring Internet traffic crossing “chokepoints operated by U.S. providers through which international communications enter and leave the United States,” according to a 2012 NSA document. The NSA would send the intercepted traffic to the bureau’s “cyberdata repository” in Quantico, Virginia…

The newly claimed authority is but another example of an expansion of executive power the Obama administration arrogated to itself without any public debate whatsoever. (more…)

A Misleading Moment of Celebration for a New Surveillance Program


This is cross-posted with permission from

The morning after final passage of the USA Freedom Act, while some foes of mass surveillance were celebrating, Thomas Drake sounded decidedly glum. The new law, he told me, is “a new spy program.” It restarts some of the worst aspects of the Patriot Act and further codifies systematic violations of Fourth Amendment rights.

Later on Wednesday, here in Oslo as part of a “Stand Up For Truth” tour, Drake warned at a public forum that “national security” has become “the new state religion.” Meanwhile, his Twitter messages were calling the USA Freedom Act an “itty-bitty step” — and a “stop/restart kabuki shell game” that “starts w/ restarting bulk collection of phone records.”

That downbeat appraisal of the USA Freedom Act should give pause to its celebrants. Drake is a former senior executive of the National Security Agency — and a whistleblower who endured prosecution and faced decades in prison for daring to speak truthfully about NSA activities. He ran afoul of vindictive authorities because he refused to go along with the NSA’s massive surveillance program after 9/11.

Drake understands how the NSA operates from the highest strategic levels. He notes a telling fact that has gone virtually unacknowledged by anti-surveillance boosters of the USA Freedom Act: “NSA approved.” So, of course, did the top purveyor of mendacious claims about the U.S. government’s surveillance programs — President Obama — who eagerly signed the “USA Freedom” bill into law just hours after the Senate passed it.