Category Archives: Business risks

Google-IO-2015

Shhh… Everything Google – Key Announcements at the Google 2015 I/O Developer Conference

Note: The announcements start from 50:25 onwards.

And here’s a nice article from Quartz that sums up the key Google announcements:

Everything Google just announced at its I/O developer conference

Brace yourself.(Alice Truong/Quartz)

As anticipated, Google made a flurry of announcements during the two-and-a-half-hour keynote at its I/O developer conference. The company debuted the new capabilities of its next Android release, along with a photo-sharing app with unlimited storage; updates to its lo-fi virtual-reality headset made of cardboard; and much, much more.

Here’s a rundown of what was announced today:

Android M: Google didn’t reveal what the M actually stands for, but the next major release of Google’s mobile operating system will be packed with new goodies (many of which are broken out below). A feature called Chrome Custom Tab will let developers use Google’s browser within their apps, so they don’t have to build their own from scratch. M also will include more nuanced app permissions, with apps prompting users to grant or deny permissions when a feature launches, rather than at installation. (Users would be able to easily modify permissions after the fact as well.)

M’s hardware changes: Though some smartphone manufactures, such as Samsung, have already added fingerprint readers to their devices, Google is officially adding support for this in Android M. In addition, it will support USB type-C, the next-generation standard for charging and file transfer. When users plug in a USB type-C cable, they’ll be able to choose the type of connection, depending on whether they want to charge the device, use the device as a battery pack to charge another device, transfer files or photos, or connect to external devices such as keyboards.

Android Pay: Google didn’t talk about the fate of Google Wallet, but it did introduce Android Pay. Like Apple Pay, it’ll allow merchants to accept tap-to-pay transactions at the store, as well as purchases made on mobile apps. So far, about 7,000 merchants have agreed to accept Android Pay. People with Android M devices will be able to authorize payments with their fingerprints, similar to how Apple Pay works with Touch ID.

Power conservation: A new M feature called Doze will help mobile devices conserve battery life. When a device has been left unattended for an extended period, it’ll automatically enter a power-saving mode that will still allow alarms and important notifications to come through. With this feature, Google says, smartphone charges can last twice as long.

Google Photos: The company launched a new photo and video service with unlimited storage. The interface of makes it easy to scan through years of photos and can group photos of the same person over time (even back to birth, as indicated by the conference demo). The app also can be used to create collages, animations, and movies with soundtracks.

Android TV, Chromecast, and HBO Now: Playing catch-up to Apple, Google announced that HBO’s standalone streaming service, HBO Now, will head to Chromecast and Android devices. The company also revealed that it’s sold 17 million Chromecast devices, and that 20,000 apps have been built for its streaming dongle.

Android Auto: Android Now now has 35 car manufacturers on board, including GM, Hyundai, and Volkswagen. Just this week, Android Auto made its way to its first consumer car: the 2015 Hyundai Sonata.

Android Wear: Updates to Android Wear, the software used in Android smartwatches, include a low-power, always-on mode. This will let people keep useful information, such as directions, on their wrist without the display going dark. New wrist gestures will allow wearers to navigate the menus of a smartwatch so they don’t need to use both hands. And users will be able to add emoji to messages by drawing them on the watch face—the software would then detect and select the proper emoji.

Project Brillo and Weave: Based on Android, Project Brillo is Google’s underlying operating system for connected devices. Google also introduced Weave, a language that will allow internet-of-things devices to communicate with each other, with Nest products, and with smartphones.

A smarter Google Now: Google Now currently helps users plan their days, letting them know when to commute or pulling up boarding passes when they’re at the airport. But the company’s vision is to make it smarter and more actionable. The service is getting better at understanding context, so it can pull up information such as reviews or show times when a movie is referenced. In addition, with more than 100 partners on board for a pilot, it’ll be able to do things like hail an Uber or Lyft, reorder groceries from Instacart, and make restaurant reservations on OpenTable.

Faster loading and offline support: Good news for the next billion: Google has streamlined Search, Chrome, YouTube, and Maps so they work faster on slow internet connections. A more lightweight version of search on mobile is about 10 times smaller and loads 30% faster. Changes to Chrome, such as putting in placeholder images instead of loading actual ones, mean sites are about 80% smaller and use less memory. In some countries, offline access is available for Chrome, YouTube, and Maps.

Cardboard VR: Last year, Google showed off its lo-fi virtual reality headset, which can be constructed from cardboard. The headset has since been redesigned so it takes only three steps to construct and can fit phones with displays of up to 6 inches. The software developer kit will now support iOS as well as Android. Google also announced Expeditions, which will let students take field trips to far-flung parts of the globe using Cardboard.

Immersive 360-degree video: To create immersive video for virtual reality, Google previewed a new multi-camera array that can shoot videos in 360 degrees. Though the idea is to make this system, called Jump, available to anyone, Google also tapped GoPro to build and sell its own array with 16 Hero4 cameras.

Tools to test and increase exposure of apps: Cloud Test Lab, a result of Google’s acquisition last year of Appurify, will let developers easily test their apps on 20 Android devices. Universal App Campaigns will help them advertise their apps across AdMob, YouTube, and search ads in Google Play. Developers only have to set their ad budgets and specify how much they want to spend to add each new user. Google also will offer granular analytics for Google Play listings, so developers know if the photos they’ve chosen are attracting (or deterring) new users.

GoogleCreepyToy2

Shhh… The Internet of Things – Google’s New Patent for a Creepy Wi-fi Connected Toy

Google snooping on your web browsing or email may now be the least of your worries.

Late last week, it became known that Google has filed its creepiest patents yet – for a toy that can control other Wi-fi connected devices. Well for starters, just imagine this: If that toy senses you’re looking at it, it will rotate its head and look back at you…

CancerFundUS

Shhh… Fraudulent Practices at Fake Cancer Charities

This is really sick…


Fake Cancer Charities Gave Sick Kids Expired Meds and Little Debbie Cakes

Michael Daly
Only in America05.19.159:39 PM ET

The family behind four so-called cancer charities enriched themselves on donations while giving junk food and bad drugs to sufferers, the feds say—but they’re not facing jail time.

If you think the worst of us are behind bars, consider what you can be accused of doing and not face so much as a minute in jail:

You and your family can run four cancer charities that raise $187 million on false pretenses in the name of kids with cancer and women with breast cancer and the terminally ill of all ages—but spend less than 3 percent of that money on cancer victims.

Meanwhile, you can pay yourself and your relatives big salaries and over-generous bonuses while using donated funds to pay for cars, Disney World trips, jet ski outings, luxury travel, and college tuitions.

And you can use company credit cards for personal expenses, including meals at Hooters, gas, car washes, cellphone apps and games, iTunes songs, and dating website subscriptions, as well as ticket to concerts, sporting events, and movies.

CancerFundUS2

“This is as about as bad as it can get: taking money away from cancer victims,” Jessica Rich, chief of the Federal Trade Commission Bureau of Consumer Protection, told reporters as her agency and the attorneys general of all 50 states brought a complaint against Cancer Fund of America, Cancer Support Services, the Breast Cancer Society, and the Children’s Cancer Fund of America.

To make matters even worse, one of the charities allegedly used some of what little it did spend on cancer victims to furnish sick kids with expired antibiotics that are in fact contraindicated for children.

Another of the charities provided breast cancer victims with drugs that, in the words of a federal complaint, “are not typically used for the treatment of breast cancer and, in some instances, are not recommended for use by persons who have had cancer.”

“Some have even been associated with an increased risk of cancer,” notes the complaint filed this week by the Federal Trade Commission.

The charities are said to have passed along as “direct patient aid” such donated items as adult diapers, sample-size toiletries, and Little Debbie snack cakes.

“They make people happy,” James Reynolds Sr., patriarch of the extended Tennessee family that runs the four charities, is quoted as saying by the complaint.

Reynolds then switched to Moon Pies.

“They make you happier,” Reynolds supposedly said.

And, even though the clan managed to get the Little Debbie snack cakes, the Moon Pies, the adult diapers, and the rest for next to nothing, the charities are said to have claimed the retail amount in financial filings. The idea, apparently, was to make it look like they devoted more of the donations to cancer patients than what little they did.

All the while, the charities are said to have raised ever more money with false and misleading claims, passing themselves off as being “on the forefront for the fight against cancer” and “on the forefront of actually helping needy children with cancer.”

In an alleged effort to squeeze more money out of unsuspecting donors, the charities scripted such telemarketing pitches as, “I understand [your hesitation to give]; however, we never want to have to tell a family that is stretching their finances to the breaking point that, ‘We’re sorry, but the CANCER FUND has fallen short of its fundraising goal, so we won’t be able to provide you with a wig for your child to cover the hair loss due to chemotherapy.’”

Never mind that these charities did not have a program to provide wigs to sick children.

The charities also claimed: “We help cancer patients anywhere in the United States. Men, women, and children with over 240 types of cancer.”

And although they seem not to provide hospice care of any kind, they still claimed: “We also do the hospice care for the terminally ill…We’re the ones that do the hospice care for the cancer patients afflicted with cancer from infants to adults…One hundred percent of our proceeds go to hospice care.”

The complaint notes that in fact “100% of the donations do not go to hospice care.”

On top of all this, the companies allegedly claimed millions of dollars in tax deductions for items delivered to cancer patients—even though the charities purchased nothing but rather served only as a conduit, if the goods existed at all.

And James Reynolds Sr. awarded plum jobs not only to his son, wife, sister-in-law, and mother-in-law, but also to his ex-wife, his stepson, and even a step-nephew.

One of the supposed charities, the Breast Cancer Society, was run by Reynolds’s son, James Jr.; the Children’s Cancer Fund of America was run by Reynolds’s ex-wife, Rose Perkins. Both have agreed not to contest the complaint and to shut those two charities down.

Under the deal they cut with the feds, the son officially faces a judgment of $65 million, but that will be suspended after he pays just $75,000. Perkins is hit with a $30 million judgment, but that will be suspended without her paying a penny due to her supposed lack of funds.

In the meantime, the son is insisting on the Breast Cancer Society’s website that he has not admitted guilt to anything:

“While the organization, its officers and directors have not been found guilty of any allegations of wrongdoing, and the government has not proven otherwise, our Board of Directors has decided that it does not help those who we seek to serve, and those who remain in need, for us to engage in a highly publicized, expensive, and distracting legal battle around our fundraising practices.”

And the patriarch, James Reynolds Sr., is promising to fight the allegations against himself and the other two charities, Cancer Fund of America and Cancer Support Services.

The feds and the combined attorneys general are resolved to press their civil case against him.

But the most Reynolds Sr. presently risks is a monetary judgment that he may escape paying the way his son and his ex-wife did.

He faces not a minute behind bars, where the very worst of us supposedly reside.

One should never wish anybody to fall terminally ill, but if Reynolds Sr. does, let him eat Little Debbie snack cakes.

Or, better yet, Moon Pies.

ChineseEspionage

Shhh… US Charges 6 Chinese Nationals for Industrial Espionage

(Above) photo credit: Jeff Nenarella/The Epoch Times

See also other related reports.

BrettKing

Shhh… Brett King on FinTech & the Death of the Retail Banking Branches

I have had the privilege to listen live in Hong Kong recently on technology futurist Brett King’s talk about a hot topic, FinTech – a contraction and combination of the words Financial and Technology, a ubiquitous term for any technology applied to financial services.

In sum, King’s argument is that with the way the millennials (those born at and after the turn of this century) get information and change the way they interact with the rest of the world, the financial services industry have to think seriously about FinTech because technology is re-defining the way we think about financial services. Put candidly, King ponders why are retail banks becoming more and more like Apple stores?

Here’s my original audio recording. Enjoy!

JackBarsky2

Shhh… Jack Barsky – The Spy Among US

(Above) Photo credit: CBS 60 Minutes

JeffreyASterling

Shhh… Former CIA Officer Sentenced for Leaks to NYT Reporter

(Above) photo credit: RT (Image from twitter.com @Manuel_Rapalo)

No matter what the judge thinks, one can’t help feeling sorry for Jeffrey Sterling (see the New York Times story below) considering how David Petraeus got away so lightly.

Ex-C.I.A. Officer Sentenced in Leak Case Tied to Times Reporter

By MATT APUZZOMAY 11, 2015

LEXANDRIA, Va. — A former Central Intelligence Agency officer on Monday was sentenced to three and a half years in prison on espionage charges for telling a journalist for The New York Times about a secret operation to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program. The sentence was far less than the Justice Department had wanted.

The former officer, Jeffrey A. Sterling, argued that the Espionage Act, which was passed during World War I, was intended to prosecute spies, not officials who talked to journalists. He asked for the kind of leniency that prosecutors showed to David H. Petraeus, the retired general who last month received probation for providing his highly classified journals to his biographer.

The case revolves around an operation in which a former Russian scientist provided Iran with intentionally flawed nuclear component schematics. Mr. Sterling was convicted in January of disclosing the operation to James Risen, a reporter for The Times, who had revealed it in his 2006 book, “State of War.” Mr. Risen described it as a botched mission that may have inadvertently advanced Iran’s nuclear program.

The Justice Department said that Mr. Sterling’s disclosures compromised an important C.I.A. operation and jeopardized the life of a spy. Under federal sentencing guidelines, he faced more than 20 years in prison, a calculation with which the Justice Department agreed. Prosecutors sought a “severe” sentence in that range.

Prosecutors maintain that the program was successful, and said Mr. Sterling’s disclosure “was borne not of patriotism but of pure spite.” The Justice Department argued that Mr. Sterling, who is black, had a vendetta against the C.I.A., which he had sued for racial discrimination.

Judge Leonie M. Brinkema gave no indication that she was swayed by the government’s argument that the book had disrupted a crucial operation, or harmed national security. She said she was most bothered that the information revealed in “State of War” had jeopardized the safety of the Russian scientist, who was a C.I.A. informant. Of all the types of secrets kept by American intelligence officers, she said, “This is the most critical secret.”

She said Mr. Sterling had to be punished to send a message to other officials. “If you knowingly reveal these secrets, there’s going to be a price to be paid,” she said.

Mr. Sterling, 47, spoke only briefly to thank the judge and court staff for treating him kindly as the case dragged on for years. Barry J. Pollack, a lawyer for Mr. Sterling, said jurors got the verdict wrong when they voted to convict. “That said, the judge today got it right,” he said.

Under federal rules, Mr. Sterling will be eligible for release from prison in just under three years.

The sentence caps a leak investigation that began under President George W. Bush and became a defining case in the Obama administration’s crackdown on government leaks. Under Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., the Justice Department prosecuted more people for having unauthorized discussions with reporters than all prior administrations combined.

For years, Mr. Sterling’s case was known most for the Justice Department’s efforts to force Mr. Risen to reveal his source. At the last minute, under pressure from journalist groups and liberal advocates, Mr. Holder relented and did not force Mr. Risen to choose between revealing his source or going to jail. Prosecutors won the case without Mr. Risen’s testimony.

Since the conviction, the case has been notable because of the stark differences in sentences handed down to leakers. Midlevel people like Mr. Sterling have been charged most aggressively. John C. Kiriakou, a former C.I.A. officer, served about two years in prison. Two former government contractors, Donald J. Sachtleben and Stephen J. Kim, are serving prison time. Thomas A. Drake, a former National Security Agency official, faced the prospect of years in prison but received a plea deal on a minor charge and avoided serving time after his lawyers won critical rulings before the trial.

By comparison, the F.B.I. investigated a decorated military leader, retired Gen. James E. Cartwright, after public reports described a highly classified wave of American cyberattacks against Iran. But that investigation has stalled because investigators considered the operation too sensitive to discuss at a public trial.

Mr. Petraeus, meanwhile, retains his status as an adviser to the Obama administration despite giving Paula Broadwell, his biographer, who was also his lover, notebooks containing handwritten classified notes about official meetings, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and the names of covert officers. Ms. Broadwell had a security clearance but was not authorized to receive the information.

Mr. Petraeus also admitted lying to the F.B.I., and the leniency of his plea deal infuriated many prosecutors and agents.

In court documents filed in Mr. Sterling’s case, the Justice Department argued that Mr. Petraeus’s crimes were not comparable. “None of this classified information was included in his biography, made public in any other way, or disclosed by his biographer to any third parties.”

SouthKorea2spies

Shhh… North Korea Exposes Two South Korean Spies

(Above) photo credit: CNN

The North Korean authorities hang out two allegedly South Korean spies to dry via this CNN exclusive:

MichaelVickers3

Shhh… Profile: Michael G. Vickers, the Retiring Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence

(Above) photo credit: US Department of Defense

Here’s an insightful piece from the New York Times (below) on a key man in the Pentagon previously featured in the Hollywood movies “Charlie Wilson’s War” and “Zero Dark Thirty”:

A Secret Warrior Leaves the Pentagon as Quietly as He Entered

MAY 1, 2015
The Saturday Profile
By THOM SHANKER

WASHINGTON — ASKED what he is looking forward to, Michael G. Vickers, who retired this week as under secretary of defense for intelligence, answered without hesitation: “Sleeping.”

Having participated in virtually every significant global crisis of the past four decades, either as a supporting player or just as often cast in a starring, if uncredited, role, he has missed a lot of that. “I get kept awake by near-term things and long-term things,” he says.

Most Americans do not even know the job Mr. Vickers is leaving, just days after his 62nd birthday, even though the Pentagon commands the intelligence community’s largest share of the vast federal budget for spying, about $80 billion, and manages the most intelligence employees, about 180,000 people.

For a man who once practiced infiltrating Soviet lines with a backpack-size nuclear weapon, Mr. Vickers has a mellow, professorial demeanor. In addition to Army Special Forces training, he has studied Spanish, Czech and Russian and holds a doctorate in strategy from Johns Hopkins University. (Of his 1,000-page dissertation, he says, “It’s a good doorstop.”) His answers to policy questions are disciplined, cautious and usually organized in two parts, or three, or more.

So ask: What exactly kept you awake? First, as the military would say, are the crocodiles closest to the canoe.

“Our immediate threats are terrorism, particularly from global jihadist groups that want to attack the United States. It is a constant danger,” Mr. Vickers said. “And cyber is now in that category.”

Add the rising Russian challenge to the European order, which Mr. Vickers categorizes as “a fairly near-term problem,” along with “the things that could happen on the Korean Peninsula.”

And the over-the-horizon threats?

“When you step back a bit and look at enduring strategic problems,” he said, “then you look at the Middle East, where you have terrorism and proxy wars and the danger of religious wars and dangers of sectarian conflict.” He warns that religious and sectarian wars tend to be viciously heartfelt, and therefore bloody and protracted.

Attention must be paid to what, he predicts, will be this century’s most dynamic region: “East Asia and the rise of China — how to engage and manage that relationship and that with our allies, and keep the peace in that region.”

Each of those regions poses a difficult challenge for American policy makers, but Mr. Vickers warned of the prospect of more than one exploding simultaneously, with individual risks turning into a cascade of crises from, say, Mali to Pakistan or across East Asia.

“The challenge in the current world is that, for the first time since early in the Cold War, you have more of a risk of crises in multiple regions turning into broader conflict,” he said.

DURING the Cold War, Mr. Vickers was a member of the Green Berets assigned to infiltrate Warsaw Pact borders should World War III break out. His mission: Detonate a portable nuclear bomb to blunt an attack by the overwhelming numbers of Soviet tanks.
Continue reading the main story

He was sent to Central America and the Caribbean during the era of small anticommunist wars, helping to end an airline hijacking and a hostage case involving Honduran government officials. He was also assigned to what a military biography euphemistically calls “contingency operations against the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua.”

Leaving the Army for the Central Intelligence Agency, he joined the invasion of Grenada. And after the Marine barracks in Beirut were bombed in 1983, killing 241 United States servicemen, he was given sensitive counterterrorism work in Lebanon.

As a rising C.I.A. officer, Mr. Vickers was the chief strategist for the largest covert action in American history, smuggling arms and money to Afghan mujahedeen battling Soviet invaders in Afghanistan.

After the collapse of communism in Europe, Mr. Vickers took a break in the policy world, writing white papers on budgets and strategy and how to restructure the military — until he was summoned to the Pentagon not long after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

The grim connection was not lost on Mr. Vickers.

Al Qaeda blossomed among those same anti-Soviet “freedom fighters” in the years when Afghanistan, which had received billions of dollars in covert American assistance during the Soviet occupation, was paid scant attention by Washington after Moscow’s army marched home in disgrace.

“We made a mistake at the end of the Cold War by disengaging from that region,” Mr. Vickers said, “and I don’t think we want to do that again.”

FOR the past eight years at the Pentagon, he first managed Special Operations policy and then intelligence programs. He was former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’s handpicked liaison to the C.I.A. for the SEAL Team 6 mission that killed Osama bin Laden.

Mr. Vickers’s efforts contributed to the accelerated expansion of Special Operations forces — doubling personnel numbers, tripling their budget and quadrupling the pace of deployments.

But there is another military truism — if your favorite tool is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail — and Mr. Vickers is aware of the dangers for the Special Operations forces.

“For all of the capabilities that S.O.F. has as a force-multiplier, as a small-footprint, big-impact force, it is not a panacea for all of your strategic problems,” he said.

Mr. Vickers’s Pentagon tour also witnessed growth in another signature weapon of the post-9/11 period: unmanned aerial vehicles for surveillance and attack. Early in the counterterrorism wars, the Pentagon could barely keep half a dozen drones airborne at one time; the ceiling now is 65.

“The combination of ‘armed,’ ‘precision,’ ‘reconnaissance’ has been one of the most dramatic innovations,” he said. “It has been a critical operational instrument in the successes we have had against core Al Qaeda, in particular.”

Yet the drone program has come under harsh public scrutiny, especially since President Obama revealed that a January strike by a C.I.A. drone on a Qaeda target in Pakistan killed two Western hostages, one of them an American. Mr. Vickers demurred when asked whether that portion of the lethal drone program now operated covertly by the C.I.A. should fold under the Pentagon.

But he addressed the broader issue of whether the benefits of killing terrorists with remotely piloted, pinpoint strikes by drones outweighs the risks of alienating the public.

“As precise as this instrument is, as important as this instrument is, it is one tool and it is not enough to bring stability to an area,” he said. Landing Hellfire missiles on terrorists does not end terrorism; policy has to address the underlying local grievances that lead to radicalism, he added.

To strategically defeat adversaries, he said, “you have to change the postwar governance to make the victory stick.”

With a résumé that reads like an action-movie character’s biography, Mr. Vickers has been depicted in one film, “Charlie Wilson’s War,” and drawn into controversy over another, “Zero Dark Thirty.” He was absolved after a two-year inquiry into whether classified information was leaked to the filmmakers behind “Zero Dark Thirty.” Critics had argued that administration officials hoped the movie could burnish the president’s commander-in-chief credibility.

Near the conclusion of his retirement ceremony on Thursday, Mr. Vickers said he already had a glimpse of his new, quieter life.

He said that when a Pentagon work crew removed a special telephone installed in his home for after-hours secure communications, he found that his cable connection was accidentally cut at the same time — and he had lost all access to the outside world via Internet and TV.

A version of this article appears in print on May 2, 2015, on page A5 of the New York edition with the headline: Action Role of a Lifetime, Often Uncredited.

Airbus

Shhh… AirBus Plans Legal Actions Against NSA/BND Spying Claims – NSA Involved in Industrial Espionage

(Above) Photo Credit: APA/EPA/GUILLAUME HORCAJUELO

It shouldn’t be any surprise if one has been following related news, including an earlier post this week on how the German foreign intelligence agency BND has been supporting NSA spying activities in Europe via a former US espionage base in Bad Aibling. Expect other similar actions against the NSA following the lead by Airbus (see video clip below).

And expect not just a tirade of questions on the German authorities but also the NSA and Obama administration. The NSA massive eavesdropping program was designed solely to protect America against terrorist threats? And nothing to do with industrial corporate espionage? Look who’s talking…

NSAdatacenter

Shhh… NSA Too Late With “Snowden-Proof” Cloud Storage

Or better late than never? Check out the article below:

Too little too late? NSA starting to implement ‘Snowden-proof’ cloud storage

Published time: April 14, 2015 10:28
Edited time: April 14, 2015 18:04

The NSA is implementing a huge migration to custom-designed cloud architecture it says will revolutionize internal security and protect against further leaks by data analysts with unfettered access to classified information.

Put simply, the NSA hopes to keep future Edward Snowdens out by employing a cloud file storage system it built from scratch. A major part of the system is that all the data an analyst will have access to will be tagged with new bits of information, including that relating to who can see it. Data won’t even show up on an analyst’s screen if they aren’t authorized to access it, NSA Chief Information Officer Lonny Anderson told NextGov.

The process has been slowly taking place over the last two years following the Snowden leaks. This means any information stored after the fact now comes meta-tagged with the new security privileges, among other things.

The agency has Snowden to thank for expediting a process that was actually started in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in 2001. The idea for storing all information on cloud servers had been in the making, but hadn’t come to fruition until it was too late.

Now it’s moving at an expanded pace to implement something called GovCloud, which is a scaled version of the NSA’s entire universe of mined data. It is set to become pre-installed on the computers of all 16 US intelligence agencies, a move that started with the NSA.

At first glance, the idea appears counter-intuitive. Edward Snowden pretty much used the fact that all the information was in one place to find what he needed and access it.

However, as Anderson explains, “While putting data to the cloud environment potentially gives insiders the opportunity to steal more, by focusing on securing data down at cell level and tagging all the data and the individual, we can actually see what data an individual accesses, what they do with it, and we can see that in real time.”

The agency’s cloud strategist Dave Hurry explained the strategy further: “We don’t let people just see everything; they’re only seeing the data they are authorized to see.”

And if a situation arises where an employee needs access to information that’s off-limits, the program tells them who to ask to get it sorted out.

A further advantage to this is accelerating the analysis of the log data generated when an analyst wants to access particular information. Edward Snowden’s computer history, for some reason, did not set off any alarms until it was too late. That’s because the security logs had to be manually reviewed at a later time, NSA officials told NextGov.

They say this could have been averted with GovCloud, which would immediately raise a red flag if an analyst attempted to “exceed limits of authority.” The agency would have the former analyst in handcuffs before he managed to pack his bags for the airport.

GovCloud isn’t marketing itself as just a security feature that rescues the intelligence agencies from outdated practices and hardware. It is also touted as the answer to privacy advocates, who had a field day with the NSA when it turned out it was indiscriminately mining citizens’ communications.

“We think from a compliance standpoint, moving from a whole mess of stovepipes into a central cloud that has a lot more functionality gives us more capability,” Tom Ardisana, technology directorate compliance officer at NSA, said.

It’s not clear whether the general public will know if the NSA is ‘complying’, but its officials claim that GovCloud is a step in the right direction. Outdated hardware and an over-reliance on data centers built before the shifts in privacy and security policies meant the process of compliance had to be manual and tedious.

“Whenever you bolt on compliance to address a particular issue, there is always a second- and third-order effect for doing that,” Anderson continued. “It’s an extremely manual process. There is risk built in all over that we try to address. The cloud architecture allows us to build those issues in right from the start and in automated fashion address them,” he explained.

In broader terms, the new trend toward automation will also ensure analysts can drastically cut the time they spend on doing a whole plethora of tasks like cross-checking information between databases manually.

“It’s a huge step forward,” Anderson believes, adding how entire agencies – starting with the NSA and the Defense Department – were being transitioned into the new operating environment starting three weeks ago, meaning all their work tools and applications will now also have to be accessed from there.

Other agencies will follow, but for now it’s all about trial periods and seeing how smoothly the system works.

The agency hopes the move toward cloud computing will herald the end of data centers, although whether the system is hacker-proof remains to be seen.

Assange2

Shhh… Julian Assange: Snowden Better Off in Russia Than Iceland

Despite recent reports that Snowden is edging closer to securing Icelandic citizenship, his pal Julian Assange argues that the former NSA contractor is better off staying put in Russia:

Obama-Laptop

Shhh… Obama Now Understands (Loss of) Privacy Pains?

Check out the original New York Times story.

BadAibling-Reuters

Shhh… Mangfall Kaserne in Bad Aibling – Surveillance-Proof Site for German Intelligence BND to Cooperate with the NSA

(Above) Photo credit: Reuters.

The former US espionage base, Bad Aibling, was supposedly returned to the German foreign intelligence agency BND back in 2004. But that’s what “happened” only on surface. Check out the Spiegel special report below:

Spying Close to Home: German Intelligence Under Fire for NSA Cooperation

US intelligence spent years spying on European targets from a secretive base. Now, it seems that German intelligence was aware of the espionage — and did nothing to stop it.

April 24, 2015 – 07:20 PM

It was obvious from its construction speed just how important the new site in Bavaria was to the Americans. Only four-and-a-half months after it was begun, the new, surveillance-proof building at the Mangfall Kaserne in Bad Aibling was finished. The structure had a metal exterior and no windows, which led to its derogatory nickname among members of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), the German foreign intelligence agency: The “tin can.”

The construction project was an expression of an especially close and trusting cooperation between the American National Security Agency (NSA) and the BND. Bad Aibling had formerly been a base for US espionage before it was officially turned over to the BND in 2004. But the “tin can” was built after the handover took place.

The heads of the two intelligence agencies had agreed to continue cooperating there in secret. Together, they established joint working groups, one for the acquisition of data, called Joint Sigint Activity, and one for the analysis of that data, known as the Joint Analysis Center.

But the Germans were apparently not supposed to know everything their partners in the “tin can” were doing. The Americans weren’t just interested in terrorism; they also used their technical abilities to spy on companies and agencies in Western Europe. They didn’t even shy away from pursuing German targets.

The Germans noticed — in 2008, if not sooner. But nothing was done about it until 2013, when an analysis triggered by whistleblower Edward Snowden’s leaks showed that the US was using the facility to spy on German and Western European targets.

On Thursday, though, SPIEGEL ONLINE revealed that the US spying was vastly more extensive than first thought. The revelations have been met with extreme concern in the German capital — partly because they mark the return of a scandal that two successive Merkel administrations have never truly sought to clear up.

It remains unclear how much the BND knew, and to what extent German intelligence was involved, either intentionally or not. More crucially, it demonstrates the gap in trust that exists between two close allies.

Humiliating Efforts

The German government will have to quickly come up with answers. It will also have to decide how it will confront Washington about these new accusations. In the past two years, Berlin has made little to no progress in its largely humiliating efforts to get information from Washington.

The issue that could have been cleared up, at least internally, shortly after the NSA scandal began in the summer of 2013. But BND decision-makers chose not to go public with what they knew.

When media reports began emerging that the NSA had scooped up massive amounts of data in Germany and Europe, and that this data surveillance was not being performed exclusively for the global fight against terrorism, BND agents became suspicious. In previous years, BND agents had noticed on several occasions that the so-called “Selector Lists,” that the Germans received from their American partners and which were regularly updated, contained some oddities.

Selectors are targets like IP addresses, mobile phone numbers or email accounts. The BND surveillance system contains hundreds of thousands, possibly more than a million, such targets. Analysts are automatically notified of hits.

In 2008, at the latest, it became apparent that NSA selectors were not only limited to terrorist and weapons smugglers. Their searches also included the European defense company EADS, the helicopter manufacturer Eurocopter and French agencies. But it was only after the revelations made by whistleblower Edward Snowden that the BND decided to investigate the issue. In October 2013, an investigation came to the conclusion that at least 2,000 of these selectors were aimed at Western European or even German interests.

That would have been a clear violation of the Memorandum of Agreement that the US and Germany signed in 2002 in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. The agreement pertained to joint, global surveillance operations undertaken from Bad Aibling.

Cease and Desist

Washington and Berlin agreed at the time that neither Germans nor Americans — neither people nor companies or organizations — would be among the surveillance targets. But in October 2013, not even the BND leadership was apparently informed of the violations that had been made. The Chancellery, which is charged with monitoring the BND, was also left in the dark. Instead, the agents turned to the Americans and asked them to cease and desist.

In spring 2014, the NSA investigative committee in German parliament, the Bundestag, began its work. When reports emerged that EADS and Eurocopter had been surveillance targets, the Left Party and the Greens filed an official request to obtain evidence of the violations.

At the BND, the project group charged with supporting the parliamentary investigative committee once again looked at the NSA selectors. In the end, they discovered fully 40,000 suspicious search parameters, including espionage targets in Western European governments and numerous companies. It was this number that SPIEGEL ONLINE reported on Thursday. The BND project group was also able to confirm suspicions that the NSA had systematically violated German interests. They concluded that the Americans could have perpetrated economic espionage directly under the Germans’ noses.

Only on March 12 of this year did the information end up in the Chancellery. Merkel administration officials immediately recognized its political explosiveness and decided to go on the offensive. On Wednesday, the Parliamentary Control Panel met, a body that is in charge of monitoring Germany’s three intelligence agencies. The heads of the agencies normally deliver their reports in the surveillance-proof meeting room U1.214.

Panel members suspected something was different at this week’s meeting when Chancellery head Peter Altmaier, a cabinet-level position in Germany, indicated that he would be attending. The heads of the parliamentary NSA investigative committee were also invited to attend. BND President Gerhard Schindler, however, was asked to stay away. The day after the meeting, the government announced bluntly that Schindler’s office had displayed “technical and organizational deficits.”

Recast in a Different Light

With that, Germany’s foreign intelligence agency has some explaining to do. The BND, after all, doesn’t just report to the Chancellery. It has also provided testimony on its activities at Bad Aibling several times to the Parliamentary Control Panel and to the NSA investigative committee. That testimony now appears in a different light.

According to a classified memo, the agency told parliamentarians in 2013 that the cooperation with the US in Bad Aibling was consistent with the law and with the strict guidelines that had been established.

The memo notes: “The value for the BND (lies) in know-how benefits and in a closer partnership with the NSA relative to other partners.” The data provided by the US, the memo continued, “is checked for its conformance with the agreed guidelines before it is inputted” into the BND system.

Now, we know better. It remains to be determined whether the BND really was unaware at the time, or whether it simply did not want to be aware.

The NSA investigative committee has also questioned former and active BND agents regarding “selectors” and “search criteria” on several occasions. Prior to the beginning of each session, the agents were informed that providing false testimony to the body was unlawful. The BND agents repeatedly insisted that the selectors provided by the US were precisely checked.

A senior analyst from the department responsible, known as “Signals Intelligence,” testified in March that BND lawyers would check “each individual search term” and “each individual selector” to ensure that it conformed with the Memorandum of Agreement. That didn’t just apply to government officials and German companies, he said, but to Europeans more broadly.

‘Prosecutors Must Investigate’

“Sneaking in” such search terms would “become apparent” in such a long-term operation, the witness said. “To try, over all these years, to sneak selectors by us to perpetrate economic espionage, I don’t think that is possible,” the witness said. He added: “We never noticed such a thing.”

Members of the NSA investigative committee now feel that they have been lied to, and the reactions have been harsh. “At least since the Snowden revelations in 2013, all those involved at all levels, including the Chancellery, should have been suspicious of the cooperation with the NSA,” says Konstantin von Notz, the senior Green Party member on the investigative committee.

“The spying scandal shows that the intelligence agencies have a life of their own and are uncontrollable,” says the senior Left Party representative Martina Renner. “There have to be personnel consequences and German public prosecutors must investigate.”

But as of late Thursday, the German government hadn’t even informed the public prosecutor’s office of the incident.

By Maik Baumgärtner, Nikolaus Blome, Hubert Gude, Marcel Rosenbach, Jörg Schindler and Fidelius Schmid