Archive for the ‘Espionage’ Category
Forty odd days into the new presidency and Putin is already telling his media minions to not talk about Trump anymore. The reason? Because Trump has become more unhinged and potentially uncontrolled by his possible handlers at the Kremlin is the going theory in the IC world. Personally I think that Putin is of two minds where this is concerned and this post will try to explain the possible blowback for him as well as the potential benefits of an unhinged president as well as maybe an impeachment. This gambit by Putin worked so well, too well, that perhaps the Kremlin and the ops guys (psyops/active measures/Gerasimov) could not have even gamed this out fully to have counter moves or plans on contingencies here.
The hacking of the DNC and all the active measures surrounding the 2016 election cycle from a strict operations standpoint was a thing of beauty to behold. Yes, it was carried out on us but as someone who appreciates a well planned out operation this one was pretty well done. The American populace was ripe for this and the political system was in a state where just a simple nudge with the right assets started the great Rube Goldberg device moving and it culminated in Trump winning the election. I will not cover the problems with our voting systems here I have done so in another post(s) a while back but let’s just look at it from the higher levels of disinformation shall we? The ‘Fake News’ thing was a perfect storm for the under-educated Facebook minions out there and the very nature of social media was the teflon sprayed slug that deployed it all. From the churnalists and the disinfo operations out there the sway and the echo chambering that happened allowed for a critical mass of Trump support that would in the end eek out the electoral win. This is a real feat given that three million or so people voted for Clinton and the overall popular vote was easily hers. This was some math that I do not believe Putin and his intelligence community thought was a real possibility. I think they were as shocked by Trumps win as Trump was on the night of the election.
Trump did win however and at that time it was in Putin’s interest to cater to the man, play him with praise and friendship in order to curry that favor. The reciprocal praise and love by Trump throughout the candidacy and into the presidency has been odd as well and plays to the whole ‘kompromat’ story too. For this piece I am not going to stray too far into the kompromat theory at the Trump level (another day soon) but it has to be mentioned here that at the very least, there seemed to be a bromance between them for whatever reasons. Likely on both parts at the base of it, the idea that if they are friends they can do deals together which is what Trump had said on more than one occasion. This idea plays for me outside the kompromat thing because this is Trump after all (The Art of the Deal etc) but on Putin’s part it was a contingency plan. Putin’s goal was to cause as much fractiousness as possible in the elections and to unbalance the US as he perceived Clinton had in Russia and he succeeded.
Now that Clinton was out and Trump was in Putin likely thought that it would be smooth sailing, but, he should have had an psychological monograph or assessment on Trump before assuming so. It seems that they did not and have been compiling one as of February after the win and spiral since then. This is where the blowback starts as well as the possible wins for Putin. On the blowback side, an uncontrolled Trump could lead to actual crazy actions that would impede Putin’s goals. What if Trump decides to go all out and attempt to block his actions in Ukraine? What if Trump does an about face on NATO? What if Trump just goes off the deep end and starts wars with proxies of Russia that would complicate Putin’s plans of regional control and power? All of these things have to be taken into account post the administrations rocky, to say the least, fits and starts these forty days or so. Add to this all of the attention by the media and the populace, who are now asking for independent investigations into the ties between Trump and Russia pre election and you have heat. This heat is anathema to Putin’s goals here and thus it is blowback for him. He has been distancing himself from Trump and if sudden unexplained deaths of certain Russians is any indication, he has been cleaning up loose ends as well. But these things lead back to the kompromat, and I am saving that for later.
Anyway, let’s look at the upside to the Trump instability for Putin. Trump is a wild card and his consistent instability is causing push back here in the US that may lead to serious investigations on him, his minions, and all of their connections to Russian money as well as the whole Emoluments issue. There are law suits being formed and registered as well as the notion of an independent counsel for the Russia investigation has been gaining momentum. With all of this friction, the wheels of the US’ foreign policy has been slowed as well. Suffice to say that with all that is happening it would be easy to not be able to respond properly to actions taking place in the world nor there being a real outcry to respond to things because we have all been thrust into self introspection and a certain protectionism mentality. With this slack space to work, even with Trump being an unpredictable and uncontrolled asset of the Kremlin, Putin would have room to work on moving his agenda forward rather unhindered.
Once again, the ‘Wilderness of Mirrors‘ can lead one to inaction because you just cannot tell what is real anymore and who is telling the truth. With Trump and his outlandish tweets (say like accusing Obama of a “wire tapp”) on Trump tower it is hard to tell what he believes and what he is trying to maybe throw shade on to unbalance us all. Putin might seek to enhance this behavior as well as use it to his advantage as well. I would expect more disinformation (fake news) that may well end up in the president’s tweet stream and not just stuff about internal politics here in the US. The goal overall is to keep us unbalanced because an unbalanced nation is a nation trapped in amber and a nation weakened to inaction is exactly what Putin needs to succeed …Even with blowback.
With all of the crazed tweets over the weekend from 45 I thought it would be appropriate to acquaint my readers with the notion of the “Wilderness of Mirrors” as James Jesus Angleton put it. Angleton is famous for his paranoia and his actions during the time he was chief of counter intelligence at the CIA from 1954-1975. Today we are in an unprecedented time of national intrigue with our very nations political system at stake with the issues surrounding the hack of the DNC, the manipulation of the US election process, and now the allegations and insinuations that the Trump campaign may have colluded with Russia. All of these things now fall under the auspices of Counter Intelligence in that there are actors within our government that may be compromised and have either been witting or unwitting accomplices to a foreign powers manipulation of our national transition of power. What’s more, these same individuals may in fact be assets of that foreign power while they are in the power within the White House and elsewhere within the new administration.
Take a breath there and contemplate that statement.
We potentially have reached what I personally thought was only a movie plot line as a reality today. There are actual reasons to question whether or not the President of the US today may be a witting or unwitting asset of the Russian state. There may be reason to believe that the minions of the new President may also be assets of the Russian state, and to even make it worse we have seen a litany of lies and half truths given by these people and their dissembling has been caught by the Fourth Estate and held accountable for them. While there is no smoking gun yet, there is a lot to parse out with every mornings headlines in the Times and other papers of record but I would like to lift the curtain a little for you on the counterintel side for you. If you are gonna play this game at home you need a primer on counter intelligence and the ‘Wilderness of Mirrors’
When Angleton made the comment on the wilderness of mirrors he was referring to his own deep paranoia and the nature of counter intel. You have spies upon spies that you must determine who they work for in reality. As the chief of counter intelligence it was Angleton’s job to assume that assets and agents within his own organization were in fact double agents or even triple agents. It was Angleton’s job to seek the truth of what his officers were telling him from intelligence reports and what their assets were saying in a time when the great game was at it’s highest point with the USSR. In essence, and this was his personality anyway, he had to assume at all times there was compromise within his organization and to determine who those assets that were doubles were and were working for in reality.
Now, in the current situation we are going through with 45 and the Russian efforts to destabilize the United States there is no internal mole hunt that we have heard about within the halls of the CIA but, there is a counter intelligence operation going on at least at the FBI concerning all the players we are hearing about in the news and likely other names we have not heard. The current players you know are;
- Paul Manafort (Worked for Yanukovich/Had affairs/Money troubles/Access to slush funds)
- Trump (No tax retturns/business with Russia/Love of Putin)
- Jeff Sessions (Lied about meeting Russian Ambassador twice at least)
- Michael Flynn (Lied about talking to Russian ambassador to Pence and everyone else)
- Carter Page (Business with Russia and seems disposed to them)
- Jared Kushner (Revelations of meeting with Russian ambassador with Sessions)
- Roger Stone (May have handed over DNC emails to Wikileaks physically)
- Un-named others TBD
There are likely more to be named as we go along but you get the gist. The people in the inner circle of the current presidents campaign and those he then added to his administration all seem to have had regular contact with the Russian government pre election and post. Not only are they talking to Russian emissaries but according to the IC, they are talking to Russian intelligence officers. This is not a good thing even if they were unwitting assets of the Russian intelligence apparatus. To lie about these contacts only makes the problem worse for the state and places more suspicion on them all, which leads to the wilderness of mirrors that the fourth estate is amplifying with the reporting (which they should be doing) on the leaks that are coming out of the IC. Leaks mind you to my mind, are a means to an end to get the word out because if they did not, the admin would attempt to bury them forever. To wit, we have agents of foreign powers and people within the admin who are all lying about their connections and discussions. This is a counter intelligence operation and a mole hunt potentially. Do we believe the people who have been sources of the Steele notes? Or do we think that maybe they are telling tales to muddy the waters even more? Since some of these people seem to be dying conveniently are they being killed off by Putin for talking and telling the truth or are they just being killed to muddy the waters some more?
This is how you have to approach this. No one is telling the truth and you have to discern what the truth of it all really is. Who do you believe?
We are in the wilderness of mirrors kids. Look at the news and try to parse out what is truth and what is fiction. It makes it even worse when there are factions out there like Alex Jones and the SVR that would like you to believe wild stories and disinformation campaigns set out to further their own agendas. All of this then, in a completely inconceivable twist today is re-tweeted by the president of this country who often does so as a diversion (one hopes) or actually believes these things (much worse for he may be mentally deranged) which unbalances us all. We are now all in Angleton’s shoes trying to determine what is truth today and this is one of the most destabilizing things happening today to the United States populace and government. I want you all to understand this as you watch or read the news with these revelations. Specifically now that we have reached peak crazy with Trump saying that the former President ordered a FISA warrant on himself and the campaign in 2016. There are many issues here to consider and if in fact the IC had intel that the candidate and his minions were in fact in touch with Russian intelligence ‘constantly’ then what actions would the IC and the president have at their command to take up to determine if this was in fact true?
The recent accusation by the current president may be complete lunacy and the product of his own reading or watching conspiracy sites, or, it may have some basis in fact. In that there may not have been a FISA warrant but instead foreign friendly intelligence agencies, monitoring not only Russia but by their outside mandate, the current president and his people’s conversations “might” have some telling information. Maybe they in fact got the conversations and there was no smoking gun but instead the conversations looked suspect and more digging was required. Perhaps then, some group like the FIVE EYES passed along this information and it is still being worked by the IC here in the US?
‘Wilderness of Mirrors” kids.
I have been in a funk of late. Since the election I have been less and less inclined to write anything and when I have of late I have only seen it stolen by politico hacks and taken in directions that lean to the more salacious. Now as I sit here this last week seeing the headlines as leaks keep dripping out from the IC and elsewhere on the Putin/Money/Russia connections for several of Trumps inner circle I feel some perspective is in order. Many of the pundits and journalists are holding court on TV and on radio asking why Putin may have done all this and the answers have been been interesting and somewhat consistent. Those in the know, those who have lived in Russia or have studied the country and the leader have given a pretty good assessment of his mindset and his brand of nationalism. One of them today actually called Putin’s Russia “Neo Soviet” which I would agree with very much. He of course was relating that comment to the state media there and the propaganda control that Putin has over it as well as the methodology updates given to it.
I myself was there in Germany when the wall fell (got a piece here somewhere in the bat cave) and I had been to Russia briefly so I have a taste of what it was like then. I have also spent a lot of time reading the history of the era as well as having lived through it so all of this new “Cold War” talk makes me feel at home again and at the same time rather twitchy about the whole deal. Suffice to say though, the cold war never really ended with Putin’s ascension to power after Yeltsin, perestroika, and Glastnost. Those who have not been paying attention, and those who fail to read about history need to open a book now and get a sense of what is playing out here today on the geopolitical sphere. This is an incredibly scary time with Trump in the White House and Bannon working the levers of power behind him. With that admonishment, I will ponder the angles here and maybe you all might get something out of it.
Assets and Useful Idiots
As the leaks keep coming out we are seeing more accusations of players within the Trump team of their having meetings with certain “intelligence” officials from Russia. That we have not heard names is vexing but here is another fun fact that will make it even more problematic. The salient fact is that many within the halls of power in the Putin kleptocracy also have intelligence backgrounds and this is something that Putin put into play himself by hiring on people that he could notionally trust or, more to the point, control. So when someone from Trumps team met with a Russian that they “thought” was just a business man or woman, may have in fact not only been a business person but also an asset for Putin and his services (GRU/SVR/FSB) So some of these people might be classified as “useful idiots” and by the vary nature of their so called communications or meetings, might have been unwitting assets for Putin’s Russia.
On the flip side of this there may be room for some of these players to have had “kompromat” used against them to make them more pliant to become an asset. This type of allegation has been made at least on Trump from the notes put together by Christopher Steele, the former MI6 case officer who has since gone underground after his notes were printed by Buzzfeed. Currently though, no one has come forth with a leak of intelligence saying that any of the six or so people around Trump (as of today) had been compromised by Russia. That is not to say that they haven’t been and one has to take this into account in trying to understand what may have played out with these contacts and meetings alleged to have been carried out as a means to an end.
Money: If these meetings took place the likely aegis behind this for many seems to be money in some way. Better relations with Russia, being in the inner circle of Trump should he win, would grant much more opportunity to make money right?
Access: Access to anyone within the inner circle of Trump would be something any country, person, or business would seek to curry right? In the case of the Russians desiring this access would be on the face of it the same. Additionally the access would also perhaps allow for chances of further access and kompromat too. This all would lead to the last point.
Control: Whether or not you have kompromat on the players and ultimately access to Trump (if there is no direct kompromat on him to start) then you are in a position to control your asset that is close to the president. Perhaps with this control you could seek means to affect policy, certainly with that conduit you would have a window into the inner workings of the highest office in the US so that is not bad too.
In all, these contacts with Russian case agents or assets of the Putin regime constitute a real problem for the US and as such they should be looked into fully to determine if there has been compromise to anyone near the president if not the president himself as some are claiming. Even had we not had all the hacking and active measures that we know happened in the run up to the election, I for one would be asking questions if my IC had information they were willing to commit to paper about connections between senior people in the campaign and Russian’s period. Now that all of this is coming out, it is kind of hard for me to countenance the Republicans resistance so far in calling for a fuller investigation of these reports. It seems partisan politics outweighs good conscience these days.
My final thoughts on the likelihood that there are Russian assets within the ranks of the inner circle at the White House is that on some levels these people, if they have been meeting with the Russians all this time, were talking about the campaign as well as what future state there would be regarding Russia and the US in a Trump administration. Whether or not there was kompromat or not, even at the lowest level the consciences of these people must have had the moral compass working enough to know that they were being used and or were part and party to manipulation. In as much as the players so far have been fired from the campaign before the election as well as lied to the VP and then tossed out (Flynn) concerning their connections to Russia and Russian assets of the intelligence community to me, kind of says a lot.
They know they were wrong. Enough to lie about it in order to hope to skate on this.
Were they plotting a soft coup of the US?
No. I don’t believe that really.
Where does that lead me? Well, that leads me to believe that there is room for investigation into this as well as room to question just how much connection Trump has to Russia as well. This plays to the whole money angle too. I am willing to bet he has a lot of Russian money and monies that came from intricate shell corporations that bespeak international players in the intelligence and crime worlds. Does this mean though that I think trump was a cutout Russian asset set to run for the White House?
I just think that he was the quintessential “useful idiot” who had needs that Russia was willing to fill because they could use him. It was just added bonus that he had said he would run for office so many times over the years. This was a bid to hedge the Russian intelligence communities and Putin’s bets …And boy did it pay off. Though now that chicken is coming home to roost and Putin ain’t so happy anymore.
Right, so what were the goals with the active measures that Russia took against the election? Well, for that you have to look into how Putin thinks and boiled down, what Putin wants is to put Russia back into the seat of power it had both pre and during (a hybrid) the Soviet era. At the core Putin is a control freak and likes an ordered universe that he can control. So, when the Clinton’s were pissing him off by pushing the boundaries of Russia with NATO as well as what Putin saw as provocateur-ism in the Arab Spring and Maidan, well, he got pissed off. Ultimately then Putin sought to stop the momentum that the US may have fomented elsewhere in the world and would have continued doing had it not been for the new autocratic and nationalist notions that Trump has for the US in his administration. Though it is thought that Putin did not think Trump had a chance to win (someday we will have the conversation again about hacking the vote, but not now) it would have served Putin’s raison d’être to cause as much static and instability as he could in our system to benefit him.
The hacks on the DNC were just one level of play that we saw because it was blasted out by Wikileaks. The successions of leaks, trolls, fake news, and the like caused a firestorm within the political system and the country. It exacerbated the problems already in situ with Tea Parties and the like and opened it all up to a coup of a sort for the Alex Jones’ of the world. If Putin had had a real sense of the outcome I think he may have peddled back a bit on the active measures because now in Russia no one talks about Trump anymore… Per order of Putin. You see, Trump is no longer an asset anymore …He has become an unstable liability. This is what happens when you elect someone like Trump and now we have to live with it for at least 4 years barring some spectacular flame out and impeachment.
Anyway, back to the goals here. I personally agree with the sowing of doubt and static to cause malaise theory that has been put forth. I also think that Putin is shrewd enough to have contingencies in mind. So if Trump had won he would have someone in office that he knew he could easily goad and or control with social engineering. By this I mean that there may in fact be kompromat on Trump and both these guys know it. Trump, may have money deals in Russia he would like to hide (those pesky IRS files) as well as having some low level compromising video of golden showers. Maybe there is just video of him (real or maybe edited) to make it look like Trump had a good time with the worlds best low class hookers in St. Petersburg! I guess time will tell but all of these things together and or apart could make Trump more maleable to sway from Russia right? All in all, this was well played by Russia and worked I think beyond their expectations. Frankly I think it is now bordering on complete blowback because Trump is so inconsistent and reactive that were he cornered he might become a little too random for the order loving Putin.
There is a win though for Putin that he will continue to play out in other elections. All of the movements toward nationalism in the US and other countries will free him up to act and attempt to get his Tsarist/Soviet greatness back. He will continue to push the borders in Ukraine and other places until he has more control over them and in the end, expands Russia back to what it was. This is his aegis, his love, and his end all be all.
Greatness in the eyes of his people.
So where is all this heading? Well, I think that Putin will continue his conquest and games unfettered while the US is in the hands of Trump. The inward looking nature of what Trump seems to be putting out there will allow for Putin to do his thing and if there is compromise on the part of this administration it will be used to profit Putin. If the IC and Justice cannot make a solid case that there was collusion on the part of Trumps minions, then the balls are all in Putin’s favor and he will use them to the max …Provided he can actually control Trump with some modicum. If however, the IC and Justice come up with the goods though, we are about to be in the middle of an ever bigger shit storm than Watergate and Nixon frankly.
Imagine the fallout should the goods be presented that Trump in fact did have kompromat on him and acted as an agent of Russia? Imagine if he is just found to have been played by Russia and his people around him were tools of that manipulation? Both scenarios lead to a Putin win in that Trump and the US will be in turmoil and encased in political amber. All of this bodes ill for the country and our politics. It really was just a matter of time though in my opinion, after all, we did have the notion back in the day with the Manchurian Candidate but this …Wow. My only hope is that the partisanship can be breached long enough to get at the truth … But I don’t have too much hope on that unless it is forced on them by the FBI.
in the meantime… smoke em if you got em kids. It’s gonna be a bad time.
I had some Tweet conversations this morning that led me to a need to make yet another post on the DNC hack debacle. @Viss and @mr0x20wednesday both struck up a conversation after I posted a link to the NYT article on the consensus that is growing within the government that Russia carried out the hack. The consensus building is coming from assessment by the CIA while the FBI has initiated an investigation into the hack and the subsequent dump of data to Wikileaks and to the web via the wordpress account for Guccifer2.0. It is important to take note of the previous statement I make here about who is “assessing” and who is “investigating” and that is something people in the general population do not quite grok much of the time. The FBI attempts to prove things in court and the CIA generates analysis and assessment to help leaders make decisions. These are two different things and I want you all in INFOSEC to understand this when you start to have conversations about spooky things like the hack on the DNC and the subsequent possible propaganda, psyops, and disinformation campaigns that may ensue.
I recently wrote a more irreverent post while I was in a more Hunter S. Thompson state of mind concerning American politiks and the mess we are in, but the core idea that Russia carried off this hack and the actions after it still hold true for me. Many of you out there are reacting more like how I reacted when the Sony attack happened and once again I also find myself asking the same questions and having the same concerns over attribution versus solid evidence. There are many issues at play here though that you have to take into account when dealing with an action like the Sony or DNC hacks where information warfare or “cyber war” are concerned. Most of the considerations you have to make surround the classification of much of what you might get in the way of evidence to start with never mind about the circumspect nature of attribution that is being released to the media. At the end of the day my question to the FBI was “Show me proof” which is their job right? FBI is part of the DOJ and should be leading to charges right? Well, none were proffered by the Obama administration, some sanctions were laid on DPRK but no charges, unlike the wanted posters for the Chinese agents that the FBI laid out for hacks and thefts of data. There is a distinct difference here and that is evidence that can be presented in a court versus attribution and analysis by companies like FireEye and Crowdstrike. True, both those firms can prove certain things but primarily, as you all know out there, attribution is hard to prove so it really stops at analysis, more like the intelligence agencies content and mission.
So where does that leave us with regard to the DNC hack? Well, the attribution data presented first off may only be a portion of what Crowdstrike may have. Other portions may in fact have been classified or asked to be held back by the government (I’d say pretty likely here) and may some day be revealed. If the Sony hack is any indication though of this process, not so much. I am still unaware of any real conclusive evidence of Sony’s hack being DPRK but like I said, the US government sanctioned DPRK over it. It is not likely the government and the president would do so without some more solid evidence but one must consider “sources and methods” when dealing with international intrigue like this right? Don’t like that? Well, get used to it because you are going to see more and more of this as we move into the golden age of nation state hacking and covert action. There will be things you John Q. Public, will never know and will be classified for a good long time. Just take a stroll through the Spy Museum in the cyber war section and look at some of those code names. I bet you haven’t heard of some of them and at least one of them, some of us, were VERY surprised to see on that wall already.
But I digress…
At the end of the day though I have to go with previous experience, Occams Razor, and a sense of Cui Bono concerning the DNC hack/dump/manipulation. Some may argue that the GRU and KGB (yes, once again old agencies don’t die, they just change names 😉 ) would not be as sloppy as to leave the breadcrumbs that are being found by Crowdstrike and others. I would remind you to look at at the last big operation that we busted in the US by the KGB as well as the recent posting of selfies by a KGB graduating class as examples of “everyone fucks up” For that matter, shall we mention our own CIA’s debacle with the Pizza Hut? Every agency screws up and every hacker does too. Humans and human nature insure that things will get messed up, there are no perfect operations. In this case the assets involved likely had access to the DNC as well as the RNC but decided to use this data to influence the elections in a manner that they could get away with it easily. This is the nature of spying, politics, and geopolitics, take a look at the history of the CIA and dirty tricks in the politics of South America and then picture it if they were doing the same (hint, they are) today in the cyber age.
That’s right kids, there have been other dumps and hacks. Perhaps some of those too were the US? Think about it.
Russia and Putin have been gerrymandering elsewhere, money and influence operations have always been around. Now consider yourself to be Putin and you have an operation that gave you easily funnelled information to the likes of Julian Assange and Wikileaks! Even more enticing, the fact that you all know that attribution is hard to prove in hacking! What do you have to lose if you are Putin or anyone else? So, if you look at how this plays out, and what more may play out come October, who, what nation, would have the most to benefit if we actually had trump in office?
Think… The answer is ANYONE who would like to take America down a peg and have more possible influence on world politics.
If you look though at the rhetoric by Trump you can in fact see that the big dog in the room would be Putin though. Just think about it! How much more power and sway would Putin have if Trump were in office and dismembers NATO? Come on now kids, think about it. Ask yourselves “Cui Bono?” here. So stop the quibbling about the attribution and the finger pointing. Take the analysis by the CIA and others as well as the eventual data the FBI comes up with and start looking to how can we fix the problems here? There are so many problems though that I too get disheartened. The political system is broken, the information systems are not properly protected, and we run headlong into creating more weaponized code? It is enough to make a man drink.
Ooh good idea…
It is not often that I find a book that I just want to read right away and put everything else in my busy reading schedule down for. In this instance I have to say that this book looked good right out of the gate for me so I put everything else on the back burner. At 150 pages give or take, it was a quick read yet quite informative on topics of espionage and counter-espionage tactics and techniques for the lay person. What really got me thinking though was that this book really could and should be a part of every companies security awareness program and not just for executives.
Of course with the prevalence of today’s electronic spying (by hacking or by outright hoovering of all data by nation states) one tends to think that old school HUMINT (Human Intelligence) is no longer as useful as it once was. This is not really the case though and I want you all to consider that as you think about your security programs or your personal security. Not everything has to be some technical HIDS/NIDS/AV/Firewall end run to get you into the network today and much of the time in today’s world you can see this at play with the simplest of attacks against end users with phishing and spear phishing. Truly the human element is the weakest and the most powerful at the same time when it comes to the success or failure of security machinations. In fact you will hear it often spoken as an aphorism of sorts but it is true that the “insider threat is the biggest threat” and it is literally true. This is where HUMINT is still useful in not only gaining access to a network let’s say, but also much more if you can leverage an asset into doing your bidding.
The book covers all the bases on how differing types of “collectors” aka spies both private and nation state can and will attempt to elicit, recruit, or blackmail the would be asset into working for them. Bencie also covers the issues of personal security around yourself and your technology that you carry (e.g. laptops, phones, tablets, etc) that are leveraged for theft and access as well. If a collector doesn’t need to recruit the target because the target left their laptop in their hotel room, on and logged in, well then no need right? Suffice to say that today we carry as much information and access on us as much as in our heads and this is what the industrial spy or nation state spy craves.
Now, one might at this point be asking one’s self “Well, what would anyone want from me? I mean, I am not that important, just a cog in my company that’s under appreciated, no one would send a spy after me.” … and you would be wrong to think this. Access is access and if a collector can get access to you and your technology (e.g.your network by hacking your laptop or phone) then they will. While there is a sniff test that a collector will make on people as they watch them, much of the math here is how vulnerable is the target and how easily could they be manipulated into what is needed to succeed. Bencie covers many scenarios that may seem like spy thriller pulp but take it from me, these things have happened and still do. In fact he uses real stories to back up the scenarios from the people that they really happened to. These are not just the things of spy thrillers and film and the general populace should be aware of this especially if they are on travel for work, more so if they are in a foreign country while doing so.
Finally though, as much as this book is something I am going to recommend to executives, I would also like to turn my eye inward to the community *cough* that I currently am in. That community is the information security community specifically. We INFOSEC people are probably the ones that I would consider to be some of the juiciest targets in today’s technical world where everything is network oriented. Whether you are a red team person or a blue team person, you all have information inside your heads and on your hard drives that the adversaries would love to have. As we are moving into the con season (Defcon and BlackHat to be specific) we all will descend on Las Vegas for serious convention learning and exchange of info… Oh who am I kidding? It’s a party festival of drunken debauchery and shenanigans right? If you have not considered just how many corporate or nation state collectors (spies) are also there looking at you dear con goer as a possible asset, then you just ain’t thinking straight!
I am hereby recommending that everyone going to these con’s read this book and take it to heart that YOU are a target at these two con’s if no other. Take heed of Bencie’s suggestions on controlling the drinking as well as what information you share with anyone. I also implore you to read and learn about the methods of elicitation that the spies use to get information from you when you may have no idea they are doing it. If you work in this field and you hold what we would consider secret information on the vulnerabilities of companies you have hacked in a red team event, or have been trying to remediate as a blue teamer, this book is important for you. But hey, Defcon is all a good time! Until you wake up in the desert with a note threatening to release the pictures of you to everyone unless you do what they say.
Go buy this book. Read it. Live it.
All business is warfare so don’t be the next dead foot soldier.
THE SNOWDEN AFFAIR:
Since the revelations began and the man without a country odyssey started all of our lives have changed at a fundamental level regarding our digital and private lives. The now million plus document trove is being parsed out by Glen Greenwald and others for the public to get a look into the inner workings of the state surveillance apparatus much to the consternation of the IC as well as the government and the dismay of the public. However you look upon Mr. Snowden and his choice you have to admit that the information does lend an insight into the great potential for abuse of the apparatus that the NSA has put together no matter what they may tell you they are doing or not doing to protect us. You see the point is no matter what alleged safeguards and altruism may lie within the apparatus and it’s employees it’s still ripe for abuse that will never see the light of day because it’s all classified and codified by the government. This is the point of the exercise as I see it from Mr. Snowden’s point of view and the aegis behind his doing what he did. Of course from day one darker minds would make assertions that there were darker geopolitical machinations at play and this was all just a dastardly plan to destroy us as a country. Of course as the passion play played out it was first China, the go to country for all our woe’s of late (APT etc) but as time wore on and Snowden found a perch in Russia, it’s now “clear” to some in the government that the plot was in fact Russian all along.
Mike Rogers has been the bell ringer on the idea that Snowden from the get go was in fact a handled and groomed asset by a foreign power. His most recent bellowing without any real evidence is that Snowden was in fact an asset for Russia from the start and furthermore that all of this was done to damage the US and seek primacy once again on the international stage. Of course as I mentioned already Mike cannot offer any evidence and he alludes to “secrecy” of the data but in reality until you have proof that you can emphatically state and present the people it’s all just wild speculation and a form of conspiracy or propaganda in and of itself. While it is possible that Snowden was from the start an asset of the
KGB FSB, the evidence thus far for motive, methods, and follow through are somewhat thin and I cannot go on the record as thinking he was handled from the start by Russia or any other nation state. The fact that Snowden ended up in Russia at Sheremetyevo may in fact be because of the machinations of Assange and Wikileaks brokering the deal to get him there and then to get him allowed into the country not as a plan all along. There is more evidence to say that this is in fact the case then there is of any KGB FSB actions.
Using the paradigm of “Occam’s Razor” here let’s run through the possibilities on whether or not the claims being made by Mike Rogers and others out there that this was a carefully planned operation that cultivated Ed Snowden to become the largest leaker in history.
- Ed Snowden is a naive individual who became through a sequence of events, an administrator within the IC networks and began to see things he thought were illegal and immoral
- He used his knowledge of hacking and technologies to accumulate data through his own administrative access and social engineering
- Once he saw the data he decided to leak all that he could and after seeing what happened to Manning made a plan to go to a country that in all the spy novels is easy to infiltrate and ex-filtrate out of
- The NSA itself had poor OPSEC and threats from insiders were poorly covered thus making this possible (proven to be the case)
- The NSA could not even keep track of internal access and exploitation (proven to be the case)
- He contacted the press and was turned down by some until he met Greenwald and Poitras who then planned with him how to release the data and to firewall Snowden off
- While in HK it became clear he could not stay there once the NSA/USA/UKUSA and other apparatus began working in the background to extradite him
- Poitras, Greenwald, and then Wikileaks ex-filtrated Snowden out of HK and to Russia where a brokered interim solution of the airport no mans zone was at least possible
- Snowden is a prize for the
KGBFSB after the fact from not only an intelligence perspective but also a political one that thumbs its nose at the US (a win win for Putin)
- Edward Snowden was a carefully orchestrated long term asset by the
KGBFSB trained by them to infiltrate the NSA and then use his domain admin/root access to steal them blind, exploiting their logical and technical vulnerabilities who they then ex-filtrated to HK and to Russia as a smoke screen for their own operational cover
- Snowden was handled by
KGBFSB for years while coming up the ranks as an UN-credentialed cleared individual clearly taking advantage of the US’ lax clearance and oversight process post 9/11
- Snowden was in contact with Russia from the start and is a consummate operator perhaps even a cleverly created cutout sleeper agent
- Once gathering all the data Snowden then passed it to Russia for them to digest and then leak to the world to cover their own operations and shame the US
- Snowden is now a hero of the state in Russia and will get a hero’s treatment with access to all that Russia can offer in the post Soviet Oligarchy (inclusive Anna Chapman visits)
Hmmm is it just me or does the razor only really cut one way?
My take on the whole affair is that Snowden was not a paid/cultivated/handled asset of the
KGB FSB nor do I think that he was aided in any way by Russia in carrying out this leak/exploit. What I do think is that he is naive but also that what he was seeing, what we are all now seeing today in the news made him feel that the accumulation of power in a central secret body was anathema to freedom and the American ethos. As we have seen in the news there have been many things that the government has allowed, even shall we say promulgated, that are clearly violations of the US Constitution no matter the inveigling that might occur by those in power as to it’s legality. So I for one can see why someone like Snowden might do what they did outside of their own propensities for spy novels and a sense of right and wrong.
The realities are that no matter the attestations by those running the programs and their need to use them, there is always a chance of their abuse and subsequent burial of the facts through classifications and National Security letters as we have seen these last years. Were egregious abuses happening and are they still today? I am sure there are some, after all this is nothing new and all you need do to confirm that is Google “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” or look just to recent history with the Plame Affair to see how abuses can and have happened. So is it really outside the pale for someone with a conscience and perhaps an overactive imagination to think that great wrongs are being committed in all our names? I think that while there may have been no abuses “may” I also think that the capacity for abuse and the infrastructure to hide them is easily seen within the current architecture of the IC apparatus of the NSA and their programs. After all, if you want to ask about the idea that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear, I ask you to tell me just exactly how you feel every time you go through a TSA checkpoint at the airport today.
Finally, I would also like to touch on the idea that the governments own hubris and now embarrassment is firing the boilers on this whole blame game that Snowden is in fact a handled asset of the Russians. I think that the NSA/USGOV and IC community feel the sting of their inadequacies as they have been laid bare for all to see. You see, Snowden did not carry out some 3l33t hacking here to gather the data. He used common techniques and vulnerabilities within the NSA and other government IC bodies to steal data and put them all on a USB stick and then walk out with them. It’s a simple trick and the top of that list is actually just socially engineering people for their passwords within the confines of the most secretive and secret IC shops in the world. Now that has to sting a bit wouldn’t you agree? So there is shame all around here on the part of the government and it puts them all in a weak position tactically. The reactions of all those at play seems to be more along the lines of dialogue from a playground spat rather than state or spycraft and it’s sad really. As the immortal words of GW Bush can attest;
“There’s an old saying in Tennessee – I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee – that says, fool me once, shame on – shame on you. Fool me – you can’t get fooled again.”
To me, it seems that Snowden just did what he did because of a myriad reasons that also include a certain amount of self aggrandizement. However, I can point to things in our own history and to popular media that may explain why someone might do something like this on the grounds that they think it’s illegal, immoral, and against the tenets of the USA. While POTUS is right about how important these types of programs can be in the war on terror and the every day intelligence gathering that every country needs to survive, it should also be possible to have some level of oversight to disallow for abuses of power to happen and happen with great frequency due to over classification. These are fundamental changes that should occur but the reality is that the very nature of the work being done and the culture within it’s halls will stoip any real progress being made. In the end nothing will change and the NSA will continue to collect all the data it can like a giant hoover-matic for later sorting and use.
Having grown up in the era of Nixon though, and other revelations like Iran Contra, I for one not only know that these things will continue to happen but that they have in the past and should be in our collective consciousness. Unfortunately many do not remember and the only entree into such ideas may in fact be cinema… I leave you with this scene from “Three Day’s Of The Condor”
Not everything in cinema is just fantasy…
“scr hrw lgihr kzpzz cwl nci pjwt”