Nel's New Day

August 19, 2014

Why We Can’t Trust the NPR

Filed under: Media — trp2011 @ 7:33 PM
Tags: , , , ,

People who ridicule the Fox network and get their news from National Public Radio (NPR) might want to read Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Fishman’s response to NPR’s spin on the government’s accusations that “former NSA contract worker Edward Snowden harmed national security and allowed terrorists to develop their own countermeasures.” A four-minute story on August 1 from national security reporter Dina Temple-Raston used information from “a tech firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.” Recorded Future supposedly worked with “cyber expert Mario Vuksan, the CEO of ReversingLabs,” to prove the government’s allegations against Snowden.

The first 80 percent of the story repeated the report’s key conclusion that “just months after the Snowden documents were released, al-Qaeda dramatically changed the way its operatives interacted online” and, post-Snowden, “al-Qaeda didn’t just tinker at the edges of its seven-year-old encryption software; it overhauled it.” Only 44 seconds at the end showed any skepticism with a quote from security expert Bruce Schneier, who questioned the causal relationship between the Snowden disclosures and the new terrorist encryption programs, as well as the efficacy of the new encryption.

Missing from NPR’s story is that Recorded Future is funded with millions of dollars by the CIA and U.S. intelligence community. In 2010, the firm filed forms to become a NSA vendor. Jason Hines, the company’s vice president, has refused to answer any questions about the current relationship between Recorded Future and the NSA. According to public reports, Recorded Future “earns most of its revenue from selling to Wall Street quants and intelligence agencies.” In July, 2010, Wired‘s Noah Shachtman stated that the company is backed by both “the investment arms of the CIA and Google.”

In-Q-Tel, the investment arm of both the CIA and other intelligence agencies including the NSA, has seats on Recorded Future’s board of directors. The company’s websites lists Recorded Future as one of the companies in its “portfolio.” The New York Times noted these connections in 2011: “Recorded Future is financed with $8 million from the likes of Google’s venture arm and In-Q-Tel, which makes investments to benefit the United States intelligence community, and its clients have included government agencies and banks.”

Temple-Raston had this information. In 2012, NPR’s Morning Edition broadcast her profile of Recorded Future and its claimed ability to predict the future by gathering internet data. At the end of her report, she noted that the firm has “at least two very important financial backers: the CIA’s investment arm, called In-Q-Tel, and Google Ventures. They have reportedly poured millions into the company.”

As Temple-Raston knows, “cyber expert” Vuksan also has significant financial ties to the U.S. intelligence community. In 2012, In-Q-Tel touted a “strategic partnership” with ReversingLabs to develop new technology for the Department of Homeland Security. Vuskan hailed the partnership as vital to his company’s future prospects.

To use this story as independent analysis is the same type of fear mongering that keeps the hawks threatening to attack more countries for the financial benefit of their constituents. Hiding CIA connections with Recorded Future, former NSA General Counsel Stewart Baker used the report to argue in The Washington Post that “the evidence is mounting that Edward Snowden and his journalist allies have helped al-Qaeda improve their security against NSA surveillance.” Long before Snowden’s release of information, however, terrorists have successfully developed encryptions and other methods to protect communications from electronic surveillance.

A 45-page, single-spaced manual called a “Jihadist Handbook,” last updated about September 2003 and translated into English in 2005 or 2006, appears to be an excerpt from a 268-page document called Abu Zubaydah’s Encyclopedia, self-described as the “cumulative result of efforts of the brothers who walked on the path of jihad.” It contains highly specific and sophisticated instructions for avoiding electronic surveillance. Included are directions on keeping landline and mobile telephone calls, emails, and online chats secure because SIM cards in cell phones can be used by the NSA as tracking devices.  Instructions explain how to remove both the battery and SIM card from cell phones. Also described are how code words should be used for all online communication. Many sections are identical to the 2010 manual from the British intelligence and security agency, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), to operatives explaining how to keep communications secure.

Recorded Future’s chronology gives September 2013 as the roll-out of “the first Islamic encryption software for mobiles,” but “jihadists” had been working in this area for at least a decade. Al-Qaeda’s release of software in 2007 and 2008 shows a continual approach toward message encryption. The software was popularized in the first issue (July 2010) of Inspire, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s quarterly online magazine, in a post entitled “How to Use Asrar al-Mujahedeen: Sending and Receiving Encrypted Messages.” Every issue since then has a “how-to” section on encrypting communications, recommending MS2 as the main encryption tool.

In February, 2001, USA Today reported that al-Qaeda and other groups have been using “uncrackable encryption” since the mid-1990s. Terrorists did not need Snowden’s material to know that the U.S. and its allies are working to monitor their communications.

Recorded Future did admit that Al-Qaeda has had at least one encryption product but described a “significant uptick” after the Snowden reporting with no data about this. One impetus may have been the federal government boasting in August 2013 to McClatchy and The Daily Beast that the State Department ordered the closing of 21 embassies because of what it learned from an intercepted “conference call” among Al Qaeda leaders. Daily Beast reported:

“Al-Qaeda leaders had assumed the conference calls, which give Zawahiri the ability to manage his organization from a remote location, were secure. But leaks about the original intercepts have likely exposed the operation that allowed the U.S. intelligence community to listen in on the al-Qaeda board meetings.”

As The New York Times reported one month later:

“Senior officials have made a startling finding: the impact of a leaked terrorist plot by Al Qaeda in August has caused more immediate damage to American counterterrorism efforts than the thousands of classified documents disclosed by Edward Snowden. The drop in message traffic after the communication intercepts contrasts with what analysts describe as a far more muted impact on counterterrorism efforts from the disclosures by Mr. Snowden of the broad capabilities of N.S.A. surveillance programs.”

Schneier thinks these leaks will “help U.S. intelligence efforts” because fear will make “people abandon good algorithms and software for snake oil of their own devising [that is less successful].” Chris Soghoian, technologist for the ACLU whose lawyers represent Snowden, noted that security companies occasionally put out reports “on the use of bespoke encryption software by terrorists, and then media eats it up.”

In response to this criticism, Recorded Future supplemented its report with a claim that the terrorists “are not using home-brew crypto algorithms” but rather “off the shelf” methods of cryptography. Both Schneier and Soghoian suggested that the developments claimed by Recorded Future make it easier, not harder, for the U.S. government to monitor the communications of extremists. According to these two experts, “using terrorist-specific encryption tools will only attract the attention of intelligence agencies.”

Basically, NPR used a report from a CIA-dependent company responsible for spreading pro-government propaganda, no matter how ridiculous. In the past, Recorded Future boasted that its monitoring media coverage of Occupy Wall Street detected Iran’s “growing influence” over that coverage. As Greenwald and Fishman wrote:

“None of these serious doubts, fallacies, or questions about this company and its ‘report’ were even alluded to by Temple-Raston in her NPR story, beyond a cursory and very limited Schneier quote tacked onto the end. It’s hardly surprising that these kinds of firms, linked to and dependent on the largesse of the U.S. intelligence community, produce pro-government tripe of this sort. That’s their function. It’s the job of media outlets to scrutinize these claims, not mindlessly repeat and then glorify them as NPR did here.”

The key revelation of the Snowden reporting is that the surveillance system built in secret by the NSA and its partners is directed at hundreds of millions of ordinary people and entire populations rather than “the terrorists.” People need to pay attention to the conservative bent of NPR since Koch brothers started “buying” it.

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1 Comment »

  1. Nothing is sacred.

    Like

    Comment by Lee Lynch — August 19, 2014 @ 9:44 PM | Reply


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