Category Archives: Spying

Phase Zero: Last Week in Review 4.27.15

The following posts appeared on Phase Zero last week:

Will The Death of Two Hostages Finally Force Us to Face Drone Killing?

U.S. Inadvertently Kills Adam Gadahn, Saves $1,000,000

An Intelligence Vet Explains ISIS, Yemen, and “the Dick Cheney of Iraq” : An Interview with Malcolm Nance

The Blackwater Murders Aren’t Blackwater’s Fault. They’re Ours.

Is Germany Really The Heart Of America’s Drone War?

April 19 Has Become Everyone-Is-a-Threat Day

The Creepy New Security Credit Score for Spotting “Insider Threats”

“Almost two years after Edward Snowden climbed the world stage, the intelligence community is just now putting the finishing touches on a computer-driven system for catching insider threats– one that promises not just to detect future Snowdens and Mannings in the act, but also to predict who the next leakers will be.

The new method, meant to identify leakers of classified information but also homegrown terrorists, drug financiers, school ground shooters, and even sexual predators, builds the security equivalent of a “credit score.” It would secretly attach to every individual, while automatically generating and changing scores as behaviors and associations trigger indicators of anomalous activity.”

Read more on Phase Zero.

Edward Snowden[Photo: AP Images]


Phase Zero: Spying on the U.S. Submarine That Spies For the NSA and CIA

As many of you now know, last week saw the launch of my national security site, Phase Zero, with Gawker Media. We’ll be posting some great material on that platform, and I encourage all of you to create a Kinja account in order to comment, share and above all, discuss the stories I’m hoping to bring to the public attention. My goal remains the same as it has always been: to engage, expose and explain the shadow world of spying and killing.  

Today’s story, a piece written by myself and Adam Weinstein, is timely and unique.  We’ve discovered that the submarine USS Annapolis, one of the crown jewels of the US Navy, conducts missions on behalf of the NSA and the CIA, and that it’s voyage last year included spying on Israel, Yemen, and Iran, just to name a few countries.  The story is important because of more than just exposing the capabilities of this submarine to collect on (and hack into) wireless routers and cell phones.   It’s also important because it is so rare for anyone to report, in real time, on submarine activity- that is, what they actually “do” out there, other than make port calls and participate in exercises.  These “hunter killer” submarines, as they are often called, may or may not play an important role in counter-terrorism or cyber war; they play some role.  But to appreciate their value, and thus the value of submarines in today’s world, a lot more transparency and reporting would be required.  Take a look at the story to learn more about why the Silent Service is such an integral piece of the cybersecurity realm, and why there should be more reporting tracking their stealth movements.

You can contact me at, and follow us at @gawkerphasezero. If you are into the theater of being underground, you can anonymously deliver tips through the Gawker Media SecureDrop. I’ve got a book on drones coming out in July called Unmanned: Drones, Data and the Illusion of Perfect Warfare. I’m open to your input and your questions, tough questions.

The Destruction of Gilgamesh at the Mosul Museum and Why It’s about so Much More than Artifacts

The sad part of this story is that neither ISIS nor anyone in the West really understands the importance of Gilgamesh. I ruminate about this extensively in my upcoming book, Unmanned: Drones, Data, and the Illusion of Perfect Warfare. As I say in conclusion:

“The Epic of Gilgamesh is about what it means to be human. In the original Sumerian version, laid down before Babylonian times, the king finds Utanapishti and receives not just the story of the flood but also long-lost information on practices and rituals that had fallen out of use after the deluge. Gilgamesh returns to Uruk to restore the old ways and be more civilized, which means, amongst other things, ruling wisely and caring for a human community. A hero who at the beginning of the Epic is clearly closer to the gods than to ordinary mortals, a bumbling superpower labeled a “wild bull on the rampage,” grows and learns that he is not all-powerful or all-knowing, that he will not live forever. He is a man, after all, even if he is divine. Beginning and ending with stanzas that emphasize the magnificence of the walls of Uruk, the whole narrative exudes the message that what man leaves behind is his only hope for immortality.”

Gilgamesh is also a crucial black box on American drones. One of those magic devices that has convinced us that what we are doing in the war on terrorism is logical and precise. We are all-seeing; they are all-seeing. No wonder we are in an era of perpetual warfare.

Click here to pre-order your copy.

Germany: : Das unterwanderte Land (The Infiltrated Country)

I’ve been working for a couple of months on an investigation of the totality of U.S. intelligence in Germany, out today in Stern magazine.  English translation coming soon.

Stern 31 October 2013

NSA Tailored Access Operations

Found a little more about Tailored Access Operations (TAO), the Computer Network Exploitation/Computer Network Attack (CNE/CNA) operation of NSA, long known, but mentioned in the Washington Post article last week revealing the National Intelligence Budget.  The Post describes TAO as “surreptitiously installing spyware and tracking devices on targeted computers and mobile-phone networks.”  I think that description is too broad.

Tailored Access Operations, or sometimes called Defense Tailored Access Operations, is part of the S3 Data Aquisition, or the Signal Intelligence Directorate.  It is made up of six subordinate elements (branches):

  • S321:  Remote Operations Center (ROC)
  • S323: Data Network Technologies (DNT)
  • S324: Telecommunication Network Technologies (TNT)
  • S325: Mission Infrastructure Technologies (MIT)
  • S327: Requirements & Targeting (R&T)
  • S328: Access Technologies Operations (ATO)

The Remote Operations Center is the primary CNE operation of the U.S. government to gain access and intelligence from computer networks in direct support to cyber security & network warfare missions.  It is made up of the following divisions:

  • NOC: Network Ops Center
  • ORD: Operational Readiness Division (Training)
  • IOD: Interactive Ops Division
  • POD: Production Ops Division
  • AOD: Access Operations Division

The Network Warfare Team (NWT) provides liaison between the military and TAO.

Two tool development organizations are also subordinate to TAO:

  • TNT- Telecommunications Network Technologies
  • DNT- Data Network Technologies.

Fusion Centers and the Homeland: Shouldn’t Somebody Say Something?

“Homeland security begins with hometown security, and fusion centers play a vital role in keeping communities safe all across America,” homeland security commandant Janet Napolitano said at the government-sponsored National Fusion Center Training Event held in Phoenix, Arizona last week.

Amid controversy over the federal government’s spending on lavish conferences (hence the rapid deployment of the name training event), Napolitano’s obsession with making all of America snitches under her See Something, Say Something campaign, continued controversy over ICE’s secure communities program, and even speculation that the former Arizona governor will step down if Obama wins a second term, no one actually paid attention to the Secretary’s central message.

The “war” on terror, the one over there that was supposed to have been a magnet for terrorists so that American itself would be safe, shows no sign of either ultimate success or conclusion, and it is turning these United States into an even greater battlefield.

Napolitano even says that the threat of home-grown terrorism is “increasing,” and she anchors federal government strategy to turn state-level fusion centers as increasingly essential links between local law enforcement and the Washington intelligence machine.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, looking stern. Source: AP

I know that Napolitano’s piece of this forever war is the homeland, but who would have thought that eleven years after 9/11, some federal government official could stand up before 600 state and local government intelligence officers cheering them on, and it’s a non-story?

To be fair to the locals, fusion centers represent not just threat early warning; they are also federal support at a time when police budgets are declining, they are a seat at the information table, and they are a new and exotic career pursuit, one that promises the big times.  Under the rubric of “all hazards” most fusion centers admittedly focus more on everyday crime.”  But the funding, and the push, is all about terrorism, and the justification, is that there are an abundance of terrorists in our midst.

Terrorists are “not just those coming from abroad we’re concerned about, it’s those that are U.S. citizens – that are home grown, that are right here,” Napolitano declares.

“It can be people who are right here and who we don’t have much knowledge about,” Napolitano said.

Not knowing much about them of course means information collection, Internet stalking, surveillance, even reconnaissance drones at the local level.

Ron Brooks, chairman of the Criminal Intelligence Coordinating Council and a San Francisco-area fusion center official told the Arizona Republic: “We’re worried about the al-Qaida attack, the self-radicalized homegrown extremism attack, the far-right violence, but we’re also worried about everyday crime that impacts our community.”

Brooks says a lot of work needs to be done to educate people about what to look for in their search for the home-grown.  “There are times when we get suspicious activity reported to us by law enforcement or the public, and it really is about how someone is dressing or talking or worshiping, and we push that back and say, ‘That’s not appropriate’…” he says.

But fear not, civil liberties and privacy is all being taken care of: as Napolitano says, there’s an organization at homeland security responsible for it.

And See Something, Say Something is working, according to Napolitano, because the campaign has recently expanded to include partnerships with sports teams, sports leagues, transportation agencies and colleges and universities.  Hooray!

Putting aside my view that there shouldn’t even be something called homeland security – it’s just law enforcement at home, not national security – is Napolitano right that homeland security begins with hometown security?  Are the states even intended to be so intimately involved in national security in the first place?  Isn’t that the fundamental role of the federal government?  The United States has transformed, and we are less secure, and what’s the news?  How much money some agency spends on conferences or the fact that sports leagues are now part of the homeland security reserves…