December 11, 2013
Verizon takes hard line on surveillance vote: activists
December 11, 2013BOSTON (Reuters) - Verizon Communications Inc told activist investors on Wednesday that it might skip a vote on a shareholder proposal that seeks details on the company’s cooperation with government surveillance efforts.
Verizon’s law firm Jones Day said in a November 25 letter that the company would exclude the measure from its 2014 proxy statement unless the activists did more to verify their eligibility to file the proposal.
The company’s response appears to be more aggressive than the stance AT&T Inc took against a similar proposal, said Jonas Kron, senior vice president for Trillium Asset Management, a co-filer of the measures at both telecommunications companies.
Kron said Trillium has provided more detail, but that Verizon’s action suggests it will sidestep the usual process in which companies ask the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for permission to skip votes on shareholder proposals.
"If they are going to challenge the shareholder proposal, I hope they will work within the SEC process," Kron said.
Verizon spokesman Bob Varettoni said the company’s response was routine.
"At this point, we have not taken any formal position on the proposal," he wrote. "The SEC requires shareholders to demonstrate their eligibility to submit a proposal. We’ve simply sought the information that we believe is necessary to determine the proponent’s eligibility."
A spokesman for the SEC declined to comment.
PREPARING FOR SPRING
The dispute at Verizon is just one of many playing out this month ahead of the spring when shareholder meetings usually take place. Generally, corporate shareholders who own $2,000 worth of stock for a year may file proposals for a vote by all investors.
But the rise of proposals with a social agenda or those put forth by labor groups has prompted many companies to push back, often by seeking SEC permission to skip the measures. The agency grants such permission about half the time.
To back up their requests, companies typically argue that shareholders are putting forth ideas that should be treated as “ordinary business” rather than subject to a shareholder vote, or that, if passed, their proposals could hamper other company operations. AT&T made both of those arguments earlier this month and Verizon could seek SEC permission.
Both AT&T and Verizon shareholders, including Trillium and New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who oversees the state’s pension fund, had filed measures calling for details of their cooperation with U.S. and foreign spy agencies.
In the wake of revelations by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, the shareholders cited media reports of intelligence agencies’ involvement with the companies and criticism from foreign leaders.
The activists asked both companies to schedule votes on a measure calling for the publication of semi-annual reports with details such as how often customer information was shared with government agencies.
In the November 25 letter, Verizon’s attorney at Jones Day told Trillum’s Kron the company intended to exclude the surveillance proposal from its proxy filing unless it corrected what it called “procedural deficiencies.”
Among other things, the firm wrote that material Trillium submitted had not demonstrated an investor was a shareholder entitled to vote the shares. Trillium responded to Verizon on December 9 with additional material, but said the firm did not concede the extra proof was necessary
Under Newly Passed Law, French Intelligence Can Spy On Anyone’s Internet Communications Without Authorization
December 11, 2013
French officials can monitor internet users in real time under new law
December 11, 2013
French intelligence and government officials will be able to spy on internet users in real time and without authorisation, under a law passed on Wednesday.
The legislation, which was approved almost unnoticed, will enable a wide range of public officials including police, gendarmes, intelligence and anti-terrorist agencies as well as several government ministries to monitor computer, tablet and smartphone use directly.
The spying clause, part of a new military programming law, comes just weeks after France, which considers individual privacy a pillar of human rights, expressed outrage at revelations that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had been intercepting phone calls in France. The president, François Hollande, expressed his “extreme reprobation”.
Article 13 of the new law will allow not just the security forces but intelligence services from the defence, interior, economy and budget ministries to see “electronic and digital communications” in real time to discover who is connected to whom, what they are communicating and where they are.
Despite concerns over the infringement of personal liberties, and the possibility of abuse of the blanket justification for snooping for the “prevention of crime”, the military programming law cleared its final hurdle on Wednesday after members of the Sénat, the upper house of parliament, voted by 164 to 146 on Wednesday. The bill was earlier approved in the lower house, the Assemblée Nationale, by a similar majority.
An amendment rejecting article 13, tabled by senators from the Ecology party, was thrown out.
Government officials say the measure is necessary to combat terrorism, organised crime and economic or scientific espionage, and to protect national security. The defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, insisted “public liberties will be covered” in the new law.
Until now, demands for phone taps or data intercepts had to be authorised by a judge of the National Commission for the Control of Security Intercepts.
The government says the spying will be overseen by an “independent authority and by parliament”, but technology firms belonging to the Association of Internet Services Communities (@SIC), including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Skype and AOL, have criticised the scale of the proposed snooping.
In a statement @SIC expressed concern that the new law was an opening up of previously controlled “exceptional” security measures used to fight terrorism and crime, and allowed officials to tap into data under the blanket “prevention of crime” clause in the bill.
It said even now there was no “clear picture” of how surveillance of internet users was being conducted in France, nor on the amount of demands [for surveillance] made each year.
"When civil society and many others are alarmed at the daily revelations over this question [of surveillance] it is inconceivable that the French government should launch itself into this wild race to extend what were exceptional measures and offer numerous officials real-time access to internet users’ data," it said.
It also criticised the “inaction” of the quango supposed to protect individual liberties in such cases, the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique and Liberties. CNIL says while it was asked to urgently report on other elements of the legislation, it was “not consulted” on article 13, but was reassured that there would be safeguards.
Opponents are considering whether to refer the legislation to the constitutional court, France’s highest legal authority, over the question of public freedom.
Loïc Riviere, Secretary General of the French Association of Software and Internet Solutions Editors (AFDEL), which represents 350 French software and internet companies said: “We understand the need to fight the explosion of cyber-criminality and we’re certainly not against those trying to ensure national security, but this [law] is not legally clear and is worrying.
"There is a suggestion that the government is only putting into law practices that already exist but there is concern that there are no concrete legal safeguards and that the only controls will be from administrators or ministers.
"It means for the surveillance services anything is possible and I fear this could be used for political ends, which has happened in the past."
Riviere added that the law was doubly worrying for his association’s members.
"Recent scandals have already made [internet] users wary, and this law does nothing to reassure them. What worries our members is that if data confidentiality is not assured users might put their data elsewhere in the world where security is more lax."
Newly Released Soviet-Era Documents Reveal How the Russians Covertly Got Nuclear Weapons In and Out of Cuba During 1962 Missile Crisis
December 11, 2013
The following news release and accompanying documents was placed online today by the National Security Archive in Washington, D.C.;
Last Nuclear Weapons Left Cuba in December 1962
Soviet Military Documents Provide Detailed Account of Cuban Missile Crisis
Deployment and Withdrawal
National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 449
Posted December 11, 2013
Edited by Svetlana Savranskaya and Thomas Blanton
With Anna Melyakova
Washington, DC, December 11, 2013 — The last Soviet nuclear warheads in
Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis did not leave the island until December
1, 1962, according to Soviet military documents published today for the
first time in English by the National Security Archive at George Washington
At 9 o’clock in the morning on December 1, 1962, the large Soviet cargo
ship Arkhangelsk quietly left the Cuban port of Mariel and headed east
across the Atlantic to its home port of Severomorsk near Murmansk. This
inconspicuous departure in fact signified the end of the most dangerous
crisis of the Cold War. What was called “the Beloborodov cargo” in the
Soviet top secret cables — the nuclear warheads that the Soviet armed
forces had deployed in Cuba in October 1962 — was shipped back to the
Soviet Union on Arkhangelsk.
According to the documents, Soviet nuclear warheads stayed on the Cuban
territory for 59 days — from the arrival of the ship Indigirka on October 4
to the departure of Arkhangelsk on December 1. U.S. intelligence at the time
had no idea about the nature of the Arkhangelsk cargo. Arkhangelsk carried
80 warheads for the land-based cruise missile FKR-1, 12 warheads for the
dual-use Luna (Frog) launcher, and 6 nuclear bombs for IL-28 bombers — in
total, 98 tactical nuclear warheads. Four other nuclear warheads, for
torpedoes on the Foxtrot submarines, had already returned to the Soviet
Union, as well as 24 warheads for the R-14 missiles, which arrived in Cuba
on October 25 on the ship Aleksandrovsk, but were never unloaded. The
available evidence suggests that the 36 warheads for the R-12 missiles that
came to Cuba on the Indigirka also left on Aleksandrovsk, being loaded at
Mariel between October 30 and November 3.
Check out today's posting at the National Security Archive -
December 11, 2013
US charges 49 Russian diplomats with fraud, says some were spies
December 11, 2013
The United States has filed charges against dozens of current and former Russian diplomats, accusing them of defrauding American taxpayers of over a million dollars. Meanwhile, sources have told CNN that some of the accused also engaged in espionage against the US. Last week, the US Department of Justice charged 49 Russian citizens with participating in a nine-year fraud scheme, through which they pocketed approximately $1.5 million from Medicaid. Created in 1965, Medicaid is a US government insurance program for persons of all ages whose income and resources are insufficient to pay for health care. Twenty-five of those accused of fraud are current and former Russian diplomats, while 24 are spouses of diplomats. Eleven of them are currently in the US, ten of whom work at the Russian consular mission in New York. The remaining diplomat is stationed at the embassy of Russia in Washington, DC. The members of the fraud ring are accused of falsifying applications for Medicaid benefits by systematically under-reporting or completely concealing their incomes. While receiving thousands of dollars in benefits from the American government, the diplomats and their spouses lived a frivolous lifestyle, purchasing luxury goods in some of America’s most expensive department stores, like Tiffany’s and Bloomingdale’s. On Monday, however, CNN’s Security Clearance blog reported that some of the 49 Russian diplomats involved in the fraud scheme are also believed to have engaged in espionage against the United States. The spies were in fact investigated “for quite some time” by Federal Bureau of Investigation counterintelligence agents in Washington and New York, said CNN. At the end, however, federal prosecutors decided they had insufficient evidence to file espionage charges, and passed the case on to the Department of Justice, which brought fraud charges against the Russians. Security Clearance said its sources did not specify how many of the accused are suspected of having engaged in espionage. Moreover, all 49 appear to have diplomatic immunity, and can only be arrested by US authorities if the Russian government agrees to waive their diplomatic status. As this is considered extremely unlikely, chances are the US Department of State will simply expel the 11 Russians who are currently on US soil. An unnamed US official told CNN that the incident will embarrass the Russian government more than it will hurt its espionage operations in America
December 11, 2013
The following news brief was published in today’s edition of Steven Aftergood’s “Government Secrecy” blog on the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) website:
Redacted Budget Book Provides a Peek at the NRO
The National Reconnaissance Office, which builds and operates U.S. intelligence satellites, has just released the unclassified portions of its FY 2014 Congressional Budget Justification, a detailed account of its budget request for the current year.
Although more than 90% of the 534-page document (dated April 2013) was withheld from public release under the Freedom of Information Act, some substantive material was approved for public disclosure, providing a rare glimpse of agency operations, future plans and self-perceptions. Some examples:
* NRO says it recently achieved an “88 percent reduction in collection-to-analyst dissemination timelines,” facilitating the rapid dissemination of time-sensitive data.
* The 2014 budget request “represents the biggest restructure of the NRO portfolio in a decade.”
* The NRO research agenda includes “patterns of life.” This refers to the “ability to take advantage of massive data sets, multiple data sources, and high-speed machine processing to identify patterns without a priori knowledge or pattern definition… to detect, characterize, and identify elusive targets.”
* Other research objectives include development of technologies for “collecting previously unknown or unobservable phenomena and improving collection of known phenomena; providing persistent surveillance; reducing satellite vulnerability; … innovative adaptation of video game and IT technologies…” and more.
* “A primary responsibility of the NRO is ensuring that the entire NRO [satellite] constellation is replenished efficiently and in time to guarantee mission success.”
* The NRO’s implementation of the Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise (IC ITE), an effort to establish a common IC-wide IT architecture, is discussed at some length. “The DNI’s IC ITE architecture paves the way for a fundamental shift toward operating as an IC Enterprise that uses common, secure, shared capabilities and services.”
* With respect to security, NRO employs “automated insider threat detection tools, analyzes collected data in conjunction with disparate data sources to produce investigative leads, [and] performs assessments to rule out malicious activity occurring on NRO networks.” NRO counterintelligence activities “concentrate on insider threat, traditional, and asymmetric methodologies.”
The National Reconnaissance Office has an annual budget of approximately $10 billion ($10.4 billion in FY 2012), according to classified budget documents obtained by the Washington Post. It employs around 975 people.
“I am proud to report that all of our major system acquisition programs are green– meeting or beating all performance, costs and schedule goals,” said Betty Sapp, director of the National Reconnaissance Office, at a March 2013 hearing. “Additionally, for the fourth year in a row, the NRO received a clean audit opinion on our financial statements,” an unprecedented feat in the U.S. intelligence community, which has largely eluded financial accountability.
“Over the coming years, the NRO will incorporate revolutionary new technologies into our architecture that will provide enhanced support to the warfighter while also improving the resiliency of our systems,” Director Sapp testified.
NSA Chief Defends Use of Bulk Collection of Telephone Records; Says There’s No Other Way to “Connect the Dots”
December 11, 2013
NSA chief on spying programs: ‘There is no other way to connect the dots’
December 11, 2013
Senior US officials, fighting to forestall a push to end the bulk collection of Americans’ phone data, told a Senate panel they would be “failing” the country if the controversial surveillance practice ceased, and suggested that a congressional move to stop it would not be the final word on the matter.
National Security Agency director Keith Alexander, in an indication of the political crisis roiling his agency, compared the bulk collection on Wednesday to “holding a hornet’s nest,” but said he did not know how to detect future domestic terrorist attacks without swooping up the phone records of every American.
"There is no other way we know of to connect the dots," Alexander told a nearly empty Senate judiciary committee hearing that was at turns heated, probing and humorous.
But Alexander – along with his colleagues, deputy attorney general James Cole and top intelligence community lawyer Robert Litt – declined to take a firm position on a bill before the committee, sponsored by chairman Patrick Leahy, that would end the bulk collection without a court order.
Although the bill’s text and stated intent would be to prevent suspicionless bulk data collection domestically, Cole said that the actual extent of the prohibition would “depend on how the courts interpret it.”
It was the first time the NSA or its allies have suggested that its dragnets on American phone data might not be stopped even if Leahy’s bill, which supporters claim has 120 co-sponsors in the House and Senate, passes through Congress.
Chuck Grassley, the senior Republican on the committee, who sounded skeptical of Leahy’s proposed USA Freedom Act, expressed disappointment that the Obama administration declined to say whether or not Congress should pass it.
"I would hope we would have a firm statement from the administration of whether this legislation is harmful or not," Grassley said. "I think the administration owes that to all of us."
Echoing earlier testimony over the past six months, Alexander, Cole and Litt said they were grappling with how to provide greater transparency to a process of legal oversight that currently occurs in secret. They said that in theory, they supported disclosing how many times Americans’ data has ended up in their dragnets, but said they feared tipping off terrorists under surveillance.
"I’m talking about a range," said Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat who is pushing a seperate legislative measure to compel the disclosure of those estimates. Franken, a former comedian, pantomimed fear at the occasional reference to terrorists who hypothetically lurked nearby, a rare moment of light-heartedness during surveillance testimony.
Alexander testified that the NSA does not necessarily know in all cases when it collects Americans’ data, particularly through its data collection overseas. The Guardian reported in June that the NSA has a datamining tool, known as Boundless Informant, that allows the NSA to examine incoming data by country of origin.
"The number isn’t that big," Alexander said. "When the American people understand that, they’ll know we’re doing this right."
The appearance is the last NSA leaders and their allies will likely make before Congress in 2013, a year to be remembered at their Fort Meade headquarters for the disclosures revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden. For Alexander, it is one of his final appearances on Capitol Hill, as he is slated to retire in the spring.
Yet even as NSA leaders – and President Obama himself – say they recognize that some curbs on their authority are inevitable, Congress will leave surveillance as they found it at the start of the year: without passing any reform legislation aimed at constraining what is perhaps the world’s powerful spy agency.
The Senate judiciary committee has yet to pass Leahy’s bill, nor have three committees in the House currently considering its legislative companion. Supporters pledge to renew the effort in the new year.
Obama, in an interview last week with MSNBC, said he would propose some restraints on the NSA in January, following the report of a review panel he announced in August. The panel is stocked with former intelligence officials and Obama’s political loyalists.
But even as the congressional calendar winds down, the NSA’s critics received additional support this week from several technology companies. Microsoft, Google, Yahoo – all participants in NSA’s online foreign communications dragnet known as Prism – and others issued an open letter to Obama calling for both additional restraint on surveillance and increased transparency surrounding what the government demands of their customer data.
Ed Black, the president of a tech-industry trade group, the Computer and Communications Industry Associstion, hailed Leahy’s bill. “US surveillance policy has been so focused on collecting more data that it failed to collect more input, and [failed] to see how this narrow national security strategy would be not only damaging, but ineffective,” Black said. Black said the NSA had “harmed US companies, US competitiveness, and the internet itself.”
In his first public comments since the Washington Post reported that the NSA collects location data on mobile devices from cellular towers, Alexander said that it was possible that Americans overseas had their cell phone geolocation information acquired by NSA without the NSA knowing.
"If an American travels overseas and his communcations are collected, the chances are in that collection, we may not know that’s been collected [and] that it was an American person, but the chances are that if it was collected, you’d probably get the cell site location with it there. Beecause that’s something that’s also been collected," Alexander said.
Alexander did not comment on a report Monday from the Guardian, the New York Times and ProPublica that the NSA has put virtual communities and online gaming under surveillance, although Leahy expressed consternation over the practice.
"Just because you can do something, does it really make sense to do it?" Leahy asked, later musing that infamous FBI director J Edgar Hoover would have envied NSA’s surveillance capabilities, drawing a sharp rebuttal from Litt, who swore the intelligence community was committed to the law and the constitution.
Alexander, in what is likely to be among his final congressional appearances before he retire, disclosed that he had taken “41 different actions” to better protect information collected by NSA to prevent future Edward Snowdens, describing them as “compartmentalizing and encrypting data” and providing access only to “communities of interest.” He also referred to “three cases” currently under NSA review that might result in penalties to employees or contractors related to the Snowden disclosures.
December 11, 2013
U.S. Confirms Suspension on Non-Lethal Assistance to Northern Syria
December 11, 2013
WASHINGTON — The United States has suspended all further deliveries of non-lethal assistance into northern Syria, the White House confirmed on Wednesday.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the Obama administration was concerned about reports that Islamic Front forces have seized buildings belonging to Syria’s Supreme Military Council.
"As a result of the situation … the United States has suspended all further deliveries of non-lethal assistance into northern Syria," Earnest said, adding that humanitarian assistance was not affected by the move.
The United States is consulting with Free Syrian Army General Salim Idriss and his staff to inventory supplies of U.S. equipment, Earnest added.
German Officials Admit They Have 17 Men Under Surveillance Who Have Returned From Fighting With Militants in Syria
December 11, 2013
Germany Monitoring 17 Fighters Returned From Syria
December 11, 2013
BERLIN — German authorities say they are monitoring the activities of 17 Islamic extremists who have returned to Germany after fighting in Syria.
An Interior Ministry spokesman says about 230 people have traveled from Germany to Syria since the start of the uprising against the regime of Bashar Assad nearly three years ago.
Spokesman Jens Teschke told reporters in Berlin on Wednesday that about 50 have returned, 17 of them with fighting experience. Several are converts to Islam.
European governments have expressed concern that battle-hardened Islamic extremists could carry out terrorist attacks upon their return.
Teschke says there is currently no legal basis for arresting those under surveillance and none appear to be planning attacks in Germany.
Daily Die Welt reported Wednesday that a 16-year-old Turkish-German extremists was recently killed in Syria.
December 11, 2013
19 Defect From Uganda’s LRA Rebel Group
December 11, 2013
KAMPALA, Uganda — The Lord’s Resistance Army has suffered its biggest defection in years after 19 members surrendered to an advocacy group and African Union troops hunting the insurgents in the Central African Republic, the advocacy group said.
Invisible Children said in a statement late Tuesday the LRA members approached a civilian fishing on a riverbank near the village of Tabane in southeastern Central African Republic on Dec. 6 with their weapons raised above their heads.
The fisherman contacted the advocacy group who took them in, the statement said.
The aid group said the defectors — nine adult males, four adult females and six children — is a severe blow to LRA’s strength. Ben Keesey, Invisible Children CEO, said it is the largest group to have defected from the LRA in five years.
"Most significantly, six of the nine males were Ugandan, including a lieutenant and a lieutenant colonel , representing a severe blow to the LRA’s strength and command structure," the statement said.
The leader of the 19 defectors, Lt. Col. Okello Okutti, was abducted by the LRA in 1989 and had risen to prominence within the group, the statement added.
Late last month, a senior LRA commander and 13 of his rebel fighters were killed by Ugandan forces in the Central African Republic.
Col. Samuel Kangul, believed to be the fourth in command of the LRA ,was killed using intelligence gathered by United States advisers, said Ugandan Army Deputy Spokesman Maj. Robert Ngabirano.
About 100 U.S. Special Forces are helping African troops to hunt down LRA leader Joseph Kony, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Kony’s LRA is accused by the United Nations and human rights groups of killing and mutilating innocent civilians and kidnapping thousands of children, forcing them to be soldiers and sex slaves
December 11, 2013
Russia May Answer Conventional Attack With Nukes
December 11, 2013
MOSCOW — Russia reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to a conventional strike and sees them as a “great equalizer” reducing the likelihood of aggression, a senior Russian official said Wednesday.
While Russia amended its military doctrine years ago to allow for the possibility of using nuclear weapons first in retaliation to a non-nuclear attack, the statement by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin reflected Moscow’s concern about prospective U.S. conventional weapons.
Weapons that have been developed in the United States under the so-called “prompt global strike” program would be capable of striking targets anywhere in the world in as little as an hour with deadly precision. Russia, which has lagged far behind in developing such weapons, has described them as destabilizing.
Without naming the U.S., Rogozin told lawmakers in comments carried by Russian news agencies said that those who “experiment with non-nuclear strategic weapons” should remember that “if we come under attack, we will undoubtedly use nuclear weapons in certain situations to defend our territory and state interests.”
He said that it should discourage any potential aggressor.
"We have never underestimated the role of nuclear weapons … as a ‘great equalizer,’" Rogozin said.
Asked for reaction, an official at North Atlantic Treaty Organization headquarters in Brussels said, “NATO has stated repeatedly that it does not view Russia as an adversary. Last year at the Chicago Summit, NATO leaders reiterated their desire to see a true strategic partnership between NATO and Russia. NATO is committed to the principles laid out in the Founding Act of the NATO-Russia Council, and works productively with Russia across a range of issues of common concern.”
The Russian doctrine mirrors the American strategy during the Cold War, when the U.S. would not rule out using nuclear weapons first, because it feared it might have to do so in response to overwhelming conventional attack on western Europe by Soviet forces.
Rogozin said that Russia is working on developing its own version of the “prompt global strike” weapons, but wouldn’t give any details.
The U.S. plans included modifying some of the existing nuclear-armed missiles to carry conventional warheads as well as designing new vehicles capable of traveling at least five times the speed of sound.
Russian officials said that such U.S. weapons wouldn’t fall under any restrictions but would have combat efficiency comparable to nuclear weapons, and thus should be included in any prospective nuclear arms reduction talks.
Russian suspicions about the U.S. intentions have aggravated tensions caused by a dispute over the U.S.-led NATO missile defense program, which Moscow sees as a threat to its nuclear deterrent.
Russia has increasingly relied on nuclear weapons in its military strategy to compensate for a post-Soviet decline in its conventional forces. The nation’s military doctrine says it may use nuclear weapons to counter a nuclear attack on Russia or an ally, or a large-scale conventional attack that threatens Russia’s existence.
Rogozin’s comment comes a day after President Vladimir Putin pledged to continue an ambitious weapons modernization program and to expand Russia’s military presence in the Arctic region. Putin has pointed at the U.S. navy presence in the Arctic Ocean as one of the reasons behind the buildup, saying that Russia is concerned because it takes U.S. missiles just 15 to 16 minutes to reach Moscow from a submarine in the Barents Sea region.
The statements reflected the current strain in Russian-U.S. relations, which have been hurt by disputes over the U.S.-led missile shield, Russia’s human rights record and, most recently, differences over Ukraine.