A Link to the Murdoch Scandal? Under the Radar Firm Sells Phone Tracking Tools to Police, Intelligence Agencies

30/07/2011 16:36

 

 

 
Following revelations earlier this year by The Tech Herald that security firms with close ties to the Pentagon ran black ops for major U.S. banks and corporations, it became clear that proprietary software developed for the military and U.S. intelligence was being used to target Americans.

Those firms, including now-defunct HBGary Federal, parent company
HBGary, Palantir (a start-up flush with cash from the CIA's venture capital arm In-Q-Tel) and Berico Technologies had partnered-up with the Bank of America's law firm Hunton & Williams and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and devised a sub rosa plan of attack against WikiLeaks and Chamber critics.

And when the cyber-guerrilla collective
Anonymous published some 70,000 emails and documents filched from HBGary servers, it was off to the races.

In the intervening months since that story first broke, journalists and researchers have turned their attention to a dark web of security firms developing surveillance software for law enforcement, the Pentagon, and repressive foreign governments.

Last week,
Wired revealed that one such shadowy firm, TruePosition, "a holding of the Liberty Media giant that owns Sirius XM and the Atlanta Braves," is marketing "something it calls 'location intelligence,' or LOCINT, to intelligence and law enforcement agencies," investigative journalist Spencer Ackerman disclosed.

The Pennsylvania-based company has sold their location services system to NSA surveillance partner AT&T and T-Mobile, allowing those carriers to pinpoint "over 60 million 911 calls annually."

"For the better part of decade," Ackerman writes, "TruePosition has had contracts to provide E-911 services with AT&T (signed originally with Cingular in 2001, which AT&T acquired) and T-Mobile (2003)."

Known as "geofencing," the firm explains that location tech "collects, analyzes, stores and displays real-time and historical wireless events and locations of targeted mobile users."


Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported that amongst the services TruePosition offers clients are "products for safety and security applications, including family monitoring, personal medical alert, emergency number service, and criminal tracking."

Additionally, BusinessWeek reports, the company tailors its "enterprise applications" to corporations interested in "workforce management, asset tracking, and location-based advertising; consumer applications, including local search, traffic, and navigation."

But what should concern readers is the firm's "government applications" market which includes everything from "homeland security" and "military intelligence" to "force tracking."

According to a
press release posted on the firm's web site, the "TruePosition Location Intelligence Management System (LIMS)" is a "a multi-dimensional database, which uses probes within mobile networks to capture and store all mobile phone network events--including the time and the location of events. Mobile phone events are items like calls made and received, text messages sent and received, a phone powered on and off, and other rich mobile phone intelligence."

Deploying technology dubbed Uplink Time Difference of Arrival (U-TDOA), the system, installed on cell phone towers, identifies a phone's approximate location--within 30 meters--even if the handset isn't equipped with GPS.

Undoubtedly the system can save lives. "In one case," Ackerman reports, "a corrections officer ... was abducted by a recent parolee. But because her cellphone was turned on and her carrier used TruePosition's location tech, police were able to locate the phone along a Kentucky highway. They set up a roadblock, freed the officer and arrested her captor."

All well and good. However, in the hands of repressive governments or privacy-invading corporations, say Rupert Murdoch's media empire, there just might be far different outcomes.

A Link to the Murdoch Scandal?

The relevance of location intelligence in general and more pointedly, TruePosition's LIMS cellphone surveillance products which may, or may not, have been sold to London's Metropolitan Police and what role they may have played in the Murdoch News of the World (NoW) phone hacking scandal have not been explored by corporate media.

While the "who, what, where" aspects of the scandal are now coming sharply into focus, the "how," that is, the high-tech wizardry behind invasive privacy breaches, and which firms developed and profited from their sale, have been ignored.

Such questions, and related business entanglements, should be of interest to investigators on both sides of the Atlantic.

After all, TruePosition's parent company, the giant conglomerate
Liberty Media currently holds an 18 percent stake in News Corporation.

With corporate tentacles stretching from investments in TimeWarner Cable to Expedia and from QVC to Starz and beyond, Liberty Media is a multi-billion dollar media behemoth with some $10.9 billion in revenue in 2010, according to an
SEC filing by the firm.

With deep pockets and political clout in Washington the company is "juiced."

In 2011, Liberty's CEO, John C. Malone, surpassed Ted Turner as the largest private landowner in the United States, controlling some 2.1 million acres according to
The New York Times.

Dubbed "Darth Vader" by
The Independent, Malone acquired a 20 percent stake in News Corp. back in 2000 and "was one of the main investors who rode to the rescue of Mr Murdoch in the early 1990s when News Corp was on its knees."

The New York Times reported back in 2005 that Malone's firm was "unlikely to unwind its investment in the News Corporation" because he considered "the stake in the News Corporation a long-term investment, meaning that the relationship between him and Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of the News Corporation, was not likely to be dissolved any time soon."

After acrimonious mid-decade negotiations that stretched out over two years, the media giants cobbled together a deal in 2006 resulting in a $11 billion asset swap, one that gave Liberty control of the DirectTV Group whilst helping Murdoch "tighten his grip" on News Corp., according to
The New York Times.

Interestingly enough during those negotiations, investment banking firms Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan Chase along with the white shoe law firm Hogan & Hartson advised News Corp., while Liberty was represented by Bear Stearns and the Baker Botts law firm, long time Bush family consiglieres.

All this can be chalked-up to an interesting set of coincidences. However, the high stakes involved and the relationships and connections forged over decades, including those amongst players who figured prominently in capitalism's 2008 global economic crisis and Bush family corruption, cannot be ignored.

A Suspicious Death

Last week's suspicious death of former NoW whistleblower Sean Hoare should set alarm bells ringing.

When the scandal broke, it was Hoare who told
The New York Times last year that senior editors at NoW and another Murdoch tabloid, The Sun, actively encouraged staff to spy on celebrities and others, including victims of the London terror attacks, British soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq and the murdered teenager Milly Dowler; all in pursuit of "exclusives."

The Guardian reported that Hoare said that "reporters at the NoW were able to use police technology to locate people using their mobile phone signals, in exchange for payments to police officers."

"He said journalists were able to use 'pinging', which measured the distance between a mobile handset and a number of phone masts to pinpoint its location," The Guardian revealed.

Hoare described "how reporters would ask a news desk executive to obtain the location of a target: "Within 15 to 30 minutes someone on the news desk would come back and say 'Right, that's where they are.'"

Quite naturally, this raises the question which "police technology" was used to massage NoW exclusives and which firms made a pretty penny selling their wares to police, allegedly for purposes of "fighting crime" and "counterterrorism"?

It was Hoare after all who told
The New York Times just days before his death that when he worked for NoW "pinging cost the paper nearly $500 on each occasion."

According to the Times, Hoare found out how the practice worked "when he was scrambling to find someone and was told that one of the news desk editors, Greg Miskiw, could help."

The Times reports that Miskiw "asked for the person's cellphone number, and returned later with information showing the person's precise location in Scotland."

An unnamed "former Scotland Yard officer" interviewed by the Times said "the individual" who provided confidential information to NoW and other Murdoch holdings "could have been one of a small group entitled to authorize pinging requests," that is a senior counterterrorism officer charged with keeping the British public "safe."

Hoare told the Times "the fact that it was a police officer was clear from his exchange with Mr. Miskiw."

"'I thought it was remarkable and asked him how he did it, and he said, 'It's the Old Bill, isn't it?'"

"At that point, you don't ask questions," Hoare said.

Yet despite the relevance of the reporter's death to the scandal, police claimed Hoare's sudden demise was "unexplained but not thought to be suspicious." Really?

As the
World Socialist Web Site points out: "The statement is at the very least extraordinary, and at worst sinister in its implications."

Left-wing journalist Chris Marsden wrote that "Hoare is the man who broke silence on the corrupt practices at the News of the World and, most specifically, alleged that former editor Andy Coulson, who later became Prime Minister David Cameron's director of communications, was fully aware of phone hacking that took place on an 'industrial scale'."

Aside from the secret state, what other entities are capable of intercepting phone and other electronic communications on "an industrial scale"? Given Rupert Murdoch's close ties to the political establishment on both sides of the Atlantic, is it a stretch to speculate that a "sympathetic" intelligence service wouldn't do all they could to help a "friend," particularly if cash payments were involved?

How could Hoare's death not be viewed suspiciously?

Indeed, "the morning after Hoare's body was found," Mardsen writes, "former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson and his former deputy, John Yates, were to give evidence before a home affairs select committee. Stephenson had tendered his resignation Sunday and Yates Monday."

Conveniently, for those with much to hide, including police, "the death of Hoare means that his testimony will never be heard by any such inquiry or, more importantly, by any criminal investigation that may arise."

Yet, despite a pending coroner's inquest into the exact cause of the reporter's death, corporate media have rushed to judgement, labeling anyone who raise suspicions as being, what else, "conspiracy theorists."

This despite the fact, as the
World Socialist Web Site reported Saturday that information has surfaced "regarding the extent of News International links to known criminals."

Indeed, on July 6 left-wing journalist Robert Stevens reported that "Labour MP Tom Watson told Parliament that News International chief executive and former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks 'was present at a meeting with Scotland Yard when police officers pursuing a murder investigation provided her with evidence that her newspaper was interfering with the pursuit of justice'."

"'She was told of actions by people she paid to expose and discredit David Cook [a Detective Superintendent] and his wife Jackie Haines so that Mr. Cook would be prevented from completing an investigation into a murder'.

"Watson added," Stevens writes, that "'News International was paying people to interfere with police officers and were doing so on behalf of known criminals. We know now that News International had entered the criminal underworld'."

Although Hoare had suffered from years of alcohol and cocaine abuse, he was in rehab and by all accounts on the road to recovery. Hoare could have died from natural causes but this has not yet been established.

Pending histology and toxicology tests which will take weeks, and a coroner's inquest was adjourned July 21 until said test results were in, short of a definitive finding, nothing can nor should be ruled out, including murder, by a party or parties unknown.

While it would be a fatal exercise in rank stupidity for News Corp. to rub out Sean Hoare, would others, including police or organized crime figures caught up in the scandal and known to have been paid by News Corp. "people to interfere with police officers" and to have done so "on behalf of known criminals," have such qualms?

An Open Question

We do not know if TruePosition sold LIMS to London's Metropolitan Police, key players in the Murdoch hacking scandal, and the firm won't say who they sell to.

However, whether they did or did not is a relevant question. That security firms develop and sell privacy-killing products and then wash their hands of responsibility how and by whom their products are used--for good or ill--is hardly irrelevant to victims of police repression or private corruption by entities such as News Corp.

The issue here are the actions taken by our corporate and political minders who believe that everything in terms of smashing down walls between public and private life is up for grabs, a commodity auctioned off to the highest bidder.

While we are told by high-tech firms out to feather their nests and politicians that "law enforcement" require we turn over all our data to police to "keep us safe," the Murdoch scandal reveals precisely that it was police agencies corrupted by giant corporations which had allowed such criminal behavior to go unchecked for years.

And with Congress and Obama Justice Department officials pursuing legislation that will require mobile carriers to store and disclose cell-tower data to police and secret state agencies--all without benefit of a warrant, mind you--as well as encryption back doors built into the internet, we are reaching a point where a perfect storm threatens privacy well into the future, if not permanently.

A Looming Threat

Since LIMS 2008 introduction some 75,000 mobile towers in the U.S. have been equipped with the system,
FoxNews, ironically enough, reported two years ago.

That same report informed us that "LOCINT continues to operate in Middle Eastern and Asia-Pacific nations where no legal restrictions exist for tracking cell phone signals."

TruePosition's marketing vice president Dominic Li told Fox "when you establish a geofence, anytime a mobile device enters the territory, our system will be alerted and provide a message to the customer."

Li went on to say, "we realize that this has a lot of value to law enforcement agencies outside of search and rescue missions. It gives rise to a whole host of new solutions for national security."

In keeping with the firm's penchant for secrecy, risk averse when it comes to negative publicity over the civil liberties' implications of their products, "citing security concerns," Fox reported that "company officials declined to specify which countries currently use the technology."

TruePosition claims that while wireless technology "has revolutionized communication" it has a "dark side" as "terrorists and criminals" exploit vulnerabilities to create "serious new threats to the security of nations worldwide."

Touting their ability to combine "location determination and network data mining technologies," TruePosition "offers government agencies, security experts and law enforcement officials powerful, carrier-grade security solutions with the power to defend against criminal and terrorist activity."

Never mind that most of the "serious new threats" to global citizens' rights come from unaccountable state security agencies and international financial cartels responsible for the greatest theft of resources in human history.

For interested parties such as TruePosition, "actionable intelligence" in the form of "data mining to monitor activity and behavior over time in order to build detailed profiles and identify others that they associate with," will somehow, magically one might say, lead to the apprehension of "those who threaten the safety of citizens."

Unasked is the question: who will protect us from those who develop and sell such privacy killing technologies?

Certainly not Congress which has introduced legislation "that would force Internet companies to log data about their customers,"
CNET News reported earlier this month.

"As a homeland security tool," Wired reported, LIMS is "enticing." Brian Varano, TruePosition's marketing director told Spencer Ackerman to "imagine an 'invisible barrier around sensitive sites like critical infrastructure,' such as oil refineries or power plants."

"The barrier contains a list of known phones belonging to people who work there, allowing them to pass freely through the covered radius. 'If any phone enters that is not on the authorized list, [authorities] are immediately notified,'" Varano told Wired.

While TruePosition's technology may be useful when it comes to protecting nuclear installations and other critical infrastructure from unauthorized breaches and may be an important tool for investigators tracking down drug gangs, human traffickers, kidnappers and stalkers, as we have learned from the Murdoch scandal and the illegal driftnet surveillance of Americans, the potential that governments and private entities will abuse such powerful tools is also likely.

According to Wired while "TruePosition sells to mobile carriers," the company is "cagey about whether the U.S. government uses its products." Abroad however, Ackerman writes, "it sells to governments, which it won't name. Ever since it came out with LOCINT in 2008," Varano said that "'Ministries of Defense and Interior from around the world began beating down our door'."

That technological "quick fixes" such as LOCINT can augment the power of secret state agencies to "easily identify and monitor networks of dissidents," doesn't seem to trouble the firm in the least.

In fact, such concerns don't even enter the equation. As Wired reported, the company "saw a growth market in a field" where such products would have extreme relevance: "the expanding, globalized field of homeland security."

"It really was recession-proof," Varano explained to Ackerman, "because in many parts of the world, the defense and security budgets have either maintained where they were or increased by a large percentage."

Small comfort to victims of globalized surveillance and repression that in many places, including so-called "Western democracies," are already an ubiquitous part of the political landscape.

Consider the ease with which police can deploy LIMS for monitoring dissidents, say anticapitalist activists, union leaders or citizen organizers fighting against the wholesale theft of publicly-owned infrastructure to well-connected corporations (Greece, Ireland or Spain for example) by governments knuckling-under to IMF/ECB demands for so-called "deficit reduction" schemes.

As Stephen Graham points out in his seminal book
Cities Under Siege, "as the everyday spaces and systems of urban everyday life are colonized by militarized control technologies" and "notions of policing and war, domestic and foreign, peace and war become less distinct, there emerges a massive boom in a convergent industrial complex encompassing security, surveillance, military technology, prisons, corrections, and electronic entertainment."

"It is no accident," Graham writes, "that security-industrial complexes blossom in parallel with the diffusion of market fundamentalist notions for organizing social, economic and political life."

Creating a climate of fear is key to those who seek to manage daily life. Thus the various media-driven panics surrounding nebulous, open-ended "wars" on "deficits," "drugs," "terror" and now "cyber-crime."

That firms such as TruePosition and hundreds of others who step in to capitalize on the highly-profitable "homeland security" market, hope to continue flying under the radar, we would do well to recall U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis who strongly admonished us that "sunlight is the best disinfectant."

(Image courtesy of
PrisonPlanet.com)

 

Security Grifters Partner-Up on Sinister Cyber-Surveillance Project

 



 

 

Last week, the White House released its National Strategy for Counterterrorism, a macabre document that places a premium on "public safety" over civil liberties and constitutional rights.

Indeed, "hope and change" huckster Barack Obama had the temerity to assert that the President "bears no greater responsibility than ensuring the safety and security of the American people."

Pity that others, including CIA "black site" prisoners tortured to death to "keep us safe" (some
100 at last count) aren't extended the same courtesy as The Washington Post reported last week.

As
Secrecy News editor Steven Aftergood correctly points out, the claim that the President "has no greater responsibility than 'protecting the American people' is a paternalistic invention that is historically unfounded and potentially damaging to the political heritage of the nation."

Aftergood avers, "the presidential oath of office that is prescribed by the U.S. Constitution (Art. II, sect. 1) makes it clear that the President's supreme responsibility is to '...preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.' There is no mention of public safety. It is the constitutional order that the President is sworn to protect, even if doing so entails risks to the safety and security of the American people."

But as our former republic slips ever-closer towards corporate dictatorship, Obama's mendacious twaddle about "protecting the American people," serves only to obscure, and reinforce, the inescapable fact that it's a rigged game.

Rest assured, "what happens in Vegas," Baghdad, Kabul or Manama--from
driftnet spying to political-inspired witchhunts to illegal detention--won't, and hasn't, "stayed in Vegas."

Cyber Here, Cyber There, Cyber-Surveillance Everywhere

Last month, researcher Barrett Brown and the
OpMetalGear network lifted the lid on a new U.S. Government-sponsored cyber-surveillance project, Romas/COIN, now Odyssey, a multiyear, multimillion dollar enterprise currently run by defense and security giant Northrop Grumman.

With some $10.8 billion in revenue largely derived from contracts with the Defense Department, Northrop Grumman was
No. 2 on the Washington Technology 2011 Top 100 List of Prime Federal Contractors.

"For at least two years," Brown writes, "the U.S. has been conducting a secretive and immensely sophisticated campaign of mass surveillance and data mining against the Arab world, allowing the intelligence community to monitor the habits, conversations, and activity of millions of individuals at once."

Information on this shadowy program was derived by scrutinizing hundreds of the more than 70,000
HBGary emails leaked onto the web by the cyber-guerrilla collective Anonymous.

Brown uncovered evidence that the "top contender to win the federal contract and thus take over the program is a team of about a dozen companies which were brought together in large part by Aaron Barr--the same disgraced CEO who resigned from his own firm earlier this year after he was discovered to have planned a full-scale information war against political activists at the behest of corporate clients."

Readers will recall that Barr claimed he could exploit social media to gather information about
WikiLeaks supporters in a bid to destroy that organization. Earlier this year, Barr told the Financial Times he had used scraping techniques and had infiltrated WikiLeaks supporter Anonymous, in part by using IRC, Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites.

According to emails subsequently released by Anonymous, it was revealed that the ultra rightist
U.S. Chamber of Commerce had hired white shoe law firm Hunton & Williams, and that Hunton attorneys, upon recommendation of an unnamed U.S. Department of Justice official, solicited a set of private security contractors--HBGary, HBGary Federal, Palantir and Berico Technologies (collectively known as Team Themis)--and stitched-up a sabotage campaign against WikiLeaks, journalists, labor unions, progressive political groups and Chamber critics.

Amongst the firms who sought to grab the Romas/COIN/Odyssey contract from Northrop when it came up for a "recompete" was
TASC, which describes itself as "a renowned provider of advanced systems engineering, integration and decision-support services across the intelligence, defense, homeland security and federal markets."

According to
Bloomberg BusinessWeek, TASC's head of "Cybersecurity Initiatives," Larry Strang, was formerly a Vice President with Northrop Grumman who led that firm's Cybersecurity Group and served as Northrop's NSA Account Manager. Prior to that, Strang, a retired Air Force Lt. Colonel, was Vice President for Operations at the spooky Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC).

Brown relates that emails between TASC executives Al Pisani, John Lovegrow and former HBGary Federal CEO Aaron Barr, provided details that they "were in talks with each other as well as Mantech executive Bob Frisbie on a 'recompete' pursuant to 'counter intelligence' operations that were already being conducted on behalf of the federal government by another firm, SAIC, with which they hoped to compete for contracts."

In fact, HBGary Federal and TASC may have been cats-paws for defense giant ManTech International in the race to secure U.S. Government cyber-surveillance contracts. Clocking in at
No. 22 on Washington Technology's "2011 Top 100 list," ManTech earned some $1.46 billion in 2010, largely derived from work in "systems engineering and integration, technology and software development, enterprise security architecture, intelligence operations support, critical infrastructure protection and computer forensics." The firm's major customers include the Defense Department, Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon's geek squad that is busily working to develop software for their Cyber Insider Threat (CINDER) program.

Both HBGary Federal and parent company HBGary, a California-based security firm run by the husband-wife team, Greg Hoglund and Penny Leavy, had been key players for the design of malware, undetectable
rootkits and other "full directory exfiltration tools over TCP/IP" for the Defense Department according to documents released by the secret-shredding web site Public Intelligence.

Additional published documents revealed that they and had done so in close collaboration with General Dynamics (
Project C and Task Z), which had requested "multiple protocols to be scoped as viable options ... for VoIP (Skype) protocol, BitTorrent protocol, video over HTTP (port 80), and HTTPS (port 443)" for unnamed secret state agencies.

According to Brown, it appears that Romas/COIN/Odyssey was also big on social media surveillance, especially when it came to "Foreign Mobile" and "Foreign Web" monitoring. Indeed, documents published by Public Intelligence (scooped-up by the HBGary-Anonymous hack) was a ManTech International-HBGary collaboration describing plans for
Internet Based Reconnaissance Operations. The October 2010 presentation described plans that would hand "customers," presumably state intelligence agencies but also, as revealed by Anonymous, corporate security entities and public relations firms, the means to perform "native language searching" combined with "non-attributable architecture" and a "small footprint" that can be "as widely or narrowly focused as needed."

ManTech and HBGary promised to provide customers the ability to "Locate/Profile Internet 'Points of Interest'" on "individuals, companies, ISPs" and "organizations," and would do so through "detailed network mapping" that will "identify registered networks and registered domains"; "Graphical network representation based on Active Hosts"; "Operating system and network application identification"; "Identification of possible perimeter defenses" through "Technology Research, Intelligence Gap Fill, Counterintelligence Research" and "Customer Public Image Assessment."

The presentation described the social media monitoring process as one that would "employ highly skilled network professionals (read, ex-spooks and former military intelligence operatives) who will use "Non-attributable Internet access, custom developed toolsets and techniques, Native Language and in-country techniques" that "utilize foreign language search engines, mapping tools" and "iterative researching methodologies" for searching "Websites, picture sites, mapping sites/programs"; "Blogs and social networking sites"; "Forums and Bulletin Boards"; "Network Information: Whois, Trace Route, NetTroll, DNS"; "Archived and cached websites."

Clients who bought into the ManTech-HBGary "product" were promised "Rapid Non-attributable Open Source Research Results"; "Sourced Research Findings"; "Triage level Analysis"; "Vulnerability Assessment" and "Graphical Network and Social Diagramming" via data mining and extensive link analysis.

Undoubtedly, readers recall this is precisely what the National Security Agency has been doing since the 1990s, if not earlier, through their electronic communications intercept program Echelon, a multibillion Pentagon project that conducted corporate espionage for American multinational firms as researcher Nicky Hager revealed in his 1997 piece for
CovertAction Quarterly.

Other firms included in Lovegrove's email to Barr indicate that the new Romas/COIN/Odyssey "team" was to have included: "TASC (PMO [Project Management Operations], creative services); HBGary (Strategy, planning, PMO); Akamai (infrastructure); Archimedes Global (Specialized linguistics, strategy, planning); Acclaim Technical Services (specialized linguistics); Mission Essential Personnel (linguistic services); Cipher (strategy, planning operations); PointAbout (rapid mobile application development, list of strategic partners); Google (strategy, mobile application and platform development--long list of strategic partners); Apple (mobile and desktop platform, application assistance--long list of strategic partners). We are trying to schedule an interview with ATT plus some other small app developers."

Recall that AT&T is the NSA's prime telecommunications partner in that agency's illegal driftnet surveillance program and has been the recipient of "retroactive immunity" under the despicable FISA Amendments Act, a law supported by then-Senator Barack Obama. Also recall that the giant tech firm Apple was recently mired in scandal over reports that their mobile phone platform had, without their owners' knowledge or consent, speared geolocational data from the iPhone and then stored this information in an Apple-controlled data base accessible to law enforcement through various "lawful interception" schemes.

"Whatever the exact nature and scope of COIN," Brown writes, "the firms that had been assembled for the purpose by Barr and TASC never got a chance to bid on the program's recompete. In late September, Lovegrove noted to Barr and others that he'd spoken to the 'CO [contracting officer] for COIN'." The TASC executive told Barr that "the current procurement approach" was cancelled, citing "changed requirements."

Apparently the Pentagon, or other unspecified secret state satrapy told the contestants that "an updated RFI [request for information]" will be issued soon. According to a later missive from Lovegrove to Barr, "COIN has been replaced by a procurement called Odyssey." While it is still not entirely clear what Romas/COIN or the Odyssey program would do once deployed, Brown claims that "mobile phone software and applications constitute a major component of the program."

And given Barr's monomaniacal obsession with social media surveillance (that worked out well with Anonymous!) the presence of
Alterian and SocialEyez on the procurement team may indicate that the secret state is alarmed by the prospect that the "Arab Spring" just might slip from proverbial "safe hands" and threaten Gulf dictatorships and Saudi Arabia with the frightening specter of democratic transformation.

Although the
email from TASC executive Chris Clair to John Lovegrow names "Alterion" as a company to contact because of their their "SM2 tool," in all likelihood this is a typo given the fact that it is the UK-based firm "Alterian" that has developed said SM2 tool, described on their web site as a "business intelligence product that provides visibility into social media and lets you tap into a new kind of data resource; your customers' direct thoughts and opinions."

This would be a highly-profitable partnership indeed for enterprising intelligence agencies and opaque corporate partners intent on monitoring political developments across the Middle East.

In fact, a 2010
press release, announced that Alterian had forged a partnership with the Dubai-based firm SocialEyez for "the world's first social media monitoring service designed for the Arab market."

We're informed that SocialEyez, a division of
Media Watch Middle East, described as "the leading media monitoring service in the Middle East," offers services in "television, radio, social media, online news and internet monitoring across most sectors including commercial, government and PR."

That Barr and his partners were interested in bringing these firms to the Romas/COIN table is not surprising considering that the Alterian/SocialEyez deal promises "to develop and launch an Arabic language interface for Alterian SM2 to make it the world's first Arab language social media monitoring tool." Inquiring minds can't help but wonder which three-lettered American agencies alongside a stable of "corporate and government clients, including leading Blue Chips" might be interested in "maximising their social media monitoring investment"?

Pentagon "Manhunters" in the House

On an even more sinister note, the inclusion of
Archimedes Global on the Romas/COIN team should set alarm bells ringing.

Archimedes is a small, privately-held niche security firm headquartered in Tampa, Florida where, surprise, surprise, U.S. Central Command (
USCENTCOM) has it's main headquarters at the MacDill Air Force Base. On their web site, Archimedes describes itself as "a diversified technology company providing energy and information solutions to government and businesses worldwide." The firm claims that it "delivers solutions" to its clients by "combining deep domain expertise, multi-disciplinary education and training, and technology-enabled innovations."

While short on information regarding what it actually does, evidence suggests that the firm is chock-a-block with former spooks and Special Forces operators, skilled in the black arts of counterintelligence, various information operations, subversion and, let's be frank, tasks euphemistically referred to in the grisly trade as "wet work."

According to
The Washington Post, the firm was established in 2005. However, although the Post claims in their "Top Secret America" series that the number of employees and revenue is "unknown," Dana Priest and William M. Arkin note that Archimedes have five government clients and are have speared contracts relating to "Ground forces operations," "Human intelligence," Psychological operations," and "Specialized military operations."

Brown relates that Archimedes was slated to provide "Specialized linguistics, strategy, planning" for the proposed Romas/COIN/Odyssey project for an unknown U.S. Government entity.

Based on available evidence however, one can speculate that Archimedes may have been chosen as part of the HBGary Federal/TASC team precisely because of their previous work as private contractors in human intelligence (HUMINT), running spies and infiltrating assets into organizations of interest to the CIA and Joint Special Operations Command (
JSOC) throughout the Middle East, Central- and South Asia.

In 2009,
Antifascist Calling revealed that one of Archimedes Global's senior directors, retired Air Force Lt. Colonel George A. Crawford, published a chilling monograph, Manhunting: Counter-Network Organizing for Irregular Warfare, for the highly-influential Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

JSOU is the "educational component" of United States Special Operations Command (
USSOCOM). With a mission that touts its ability to "plan and synchronize operations" against America's geopolitical adversaries and rivals, JSOU's Strategic Studies Department "advances SOF strategic influence by its interaction in academic, interagency, and United States military communities."

Accordingly, Archimedes "information and risk" brief claim they can solve "the most difficult communication and risk problems by seeing over the horizon with a blend of art and science." And with focus areas that include "strategic communications, media analysis and support, crisis communications, and risk and vulnerability assessment and mitigation," it doesn't take a rocket scientist to infer that those well-schooled in the dark art of information operations (INFOOPS) would find a friendly home inside the Romas/COIN contract team.

With some 25-years experience "as a foreign area officer specializing in Eastern Europe and Central Asia," including a stint "as acting Air and Defense Attaché to Kyrgyzstan," Crawford brings an interesting skill-set to the table. Crawford writes:

Manhunting--the deliberate concentration of national power to find, influence, capture, or when necessary kill an individual to disrupt a human network--has emerged as a key component of operations to counter irregular warfare adversaries in lieu of traditional state-on-state conflict measures. It has arguably become a primary area of emphasis in countering terrorist and insurgent opponents. (George A. Crawford, Manhunting: Counter-Network Organization for Irregular Warfare, JSOU Report 09-7, The JSOU Press, Hurlburt Field, Florida, September 2009, p. 1)



Acknowledged manhunting masters in their own right, the Israeli settler-colonial security apparat have perfected the art of "targeted killing," when they aren't dropping banned munitions such as white phosphorus on unarmed, defenseless civilian populations or attacking civilian vessels on the high seas.

Like their Israeli counterparts who come highly recommended as models of restraint, an American manhunting agency will employ similarly subtle, though no less lethal, tactics. Crawford informs us:

When compared with conventional force-on-force warfare, manhunting fundamentally alters the ratio between warfare's respective firepower, maneuver, and psychological elements. Firepower becomes less significant in terms of mass, while the precision and discretion with which firepower is employed takes on tremendous significance, especially during influence operations. Why drop a bomb when effects operations or a knife might do? (Crawford, op. cit., p. 11, emphasis added)



Alongside actual shooters, "sensitive site exploitation (SSE) teams are critical operational components for Pentagon "manhunters." We're told that SSE teams will be assembled and able to respond on-call "in the event of a raid on a suspect site or to conduct independent 'break-in and search' operations without leaving evidence of their intrusion." Such teams must possess "individual skills" such as "physical forensics, computer or electronic exploitation, document exploitation, investigative techniques, biometric collection, interrogation/debriefing and related skills."

As if to drive home the point that the target of such sinister operations are the American people and world public opinion, Crawford, ever the consummate INFOOPS warrior, views "strategic information operations" as key to this murderous enterprise. Indeed, they "must be delicately woven into planned kinetic operations to increase the probability that a given operation or campaign will achieve its intended effect."

Personnel skilled at conducting strategic information operations--to include psychological operations, public information, deception, media and computer network operations, and related activities--are important for victory. Despite robust DoD and Intelligence Community capabilities in this area, efforts to establish organizations that focus information operations have not been viewed as a positive development by the public or the media, who perceive government-sponsored information efforts with suspicion. Consequently, these efforts must take place away from public eyes. Strategic information operations may also require the establishment of regional or local offices to ensure dissemination of influence packages and assess their impact. Thus manhunting influence may call for parallel or independent structures at all levels..." (Crawford, op. cit., pp. 27-28, emphasis added)



While we do not as yet have a complete picture of the Romas/COIN/Odyssey project, some preliminary conclusions can be drawn.

"Altogether, then," Brown writes, "a successful bid for the relevant contract was seen to require the combined capabilities of perhaps a dozen firms--capabilities whereby millions of conversations can be monitored and automatically analyzed, whereby a wide range of personal data can be obtained and stored in secret, and whereby some unknown degree of information can be released to a given population through a variety of means and without any hint that the actual source is U.S. military intelligence."

Although Brown's initial research concluded that Romas/COIN/Odyssey will operate "in conjunction with other surveillance and propaganda assets controlled by the U.S. and its partners," with a firm like Archimedes on-board, once information has been assembled on individuals described in other contexts as "radicals" or "key extremists," will they subsequently be made to "disappear" into the hands of "friendly" security services such as those of strategic U.S. partners Bahrain and Saudi Arabia?

We're reminded that "Barr was also at the center of a series of conspiracies by which his own company and two others hired out their collective capabilities for use by corporations that sought to destroy their political enemies by clandestine and dishonest means."

Indeed, "none of the companies involved," Brown writes, have been investigated; a proposed Congressional inquiry was denied by the committee chair, noting that it was the Justice Department's decision as to whether to investigate, even though it was the Justice Department itself that made the initial introductions. Those in the intelligence contracting industry who believe themselves above the law are entirely correct."

Brown warns that "a far greater danger is posed by the practice of arming small and unaccountable groups of state and military personnel with a set of tools by which to achieve better and better 'situational awareness' on entire populations" while simultaneously manipulating "the information flow in such a way as to deceive those same populations."

Beginning, it should be noted, right here at home...


Killing Democracy One File at a Time: Justice Department Loosens FBI Domestic Spy Guidelines

 


 
 
 
 
While the Justice Department is criminally inept, or worse, when it comes to prosecuting corporate thieves who looted, and continue to loot, trillions of dollars as capitalism's economic crisis accelerates, they are extremely adept at waging war on dissent.

Last week,
The New York Times disclosed that the FBI "is giving significant new powers to its roughly 14,000 agents, allowing them more leeway to search databases, go through household trash or use surveillance teams to scrutinize the lives of people who have attracted their attention."

Under "constitutional scholar" Barack Obama's regime, the Bureau will revise its "Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide." The "new rules," Charlie Savage writes, will give agents "more latitude" to investigate citizens even when there is no evidence they have exhibited "signs of criminal or terrorist activity."

As the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (
BORDC) recently pointed out, "When presented with opportunities to protect constitutional rights, our federal government has consistently failed us, with Congress repeatedly rubber-stamping the executive authority to violate civil liberties long protected by the Constitution."

While true as far it goes, it should be apparent by this late date that no branch of the federal government, certainly not Congress or the Judiciary, has any interest in limiting Executive Branch power to operate lawlessly, in secret, and without any oversight or accountability whatsoever.

Just last week,
The New York Times revealed that the Bush White House used the CIA "to get" academic critic Juan Cole, whose Informed Comment blog was highly critical of U.S. imperial adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The former CIA officer and counterterrorism official who blew the whistle and exposed the existence of a Bush White House "enemies list,", Glenn L. Carle, told the Times, "I couldn't believe this was happening. People were accepting it, like you had to be part of the team."

Ironically enough, the journalist who broke that story, James Risen, is himself a target of an Obama administration witchhunt against whistleblowers. Last month, Risen was issued a grand jury subpoena that would force him to reveal the sources of his 2006 book, State of War.

These latest "revisions" will expand the already formidable investigative powers granted the Bureau by former Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey.

Three years ago,
The Washington Post informed us that the FBI's new "road map" permits agents "to recruit informants, employ physical surveillance and conduct interviews in which agents disguise their identities" and can pursue "each of those steps without any single fact indicating a person has ties to a terrorist organization."

Accordingly, FBI "assessments" (the precursor to a full-blown investigation) already lowered by the previous administration will, under Obama, be lowered still further in a bid to "keep us safe"--from our constitutional rights.

The Mukasey guidelines, which created the "assessment" fishing license handed agents the power to probe people and organizations "proactively" without a shred of evidence that an individual or group engaged in unlawful activity.

In fact, rather than relying on a reasonable suspicion or allegations that a person is engaged in criminal activity, racial, religious or political profiling based on who one is or on one's views, are the basis for secretive "assessments."

Needless to say, the presumption of innocence, the bedrock of a republican system of governance based on the rule of law, like the right to privacy, becomes one more "quaint" notion in a National Security State. In its infinite wisdom, the Executive Branch has cobbled together an investigative regime that transforms anyone, and everyone, into a suspect; a Kafkaesque system from which there is no hope of escape.

Under Bushist rules, snoops were required to open an inquiry "before they can search for information about a person in a commercial or law enforcement database," the Times reported. In other words, somewhere in the dank, dark bowels of the surveillance bureaucracy a paper trail exists that just might allow you to find out your rights had been trampled.

But our "transparency" regime intends to set the bar even lower. Securocrats will now be allowed to rummage through commercial databases "without making a record about their decision."

The ACLU's Michael German, a former FBI whistleblower, told the Times that "claiming additional authorities to investigate people only further raises the potential for abuse."

Such abuses are already widespread. In 2009 for example, the
ACLU pointed out that "Anti-terrorism training materials currently being used by the Department of Defense (DoD) teach its personnel that free expression in the form of public protests should be regarded as 'low level terrorism'."

As I
reported in 2009, cit

 

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