NSA spygate expert James Bamford: The Secret War — Four-Star Gen. Keith Alexander can unleash Hell

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Illustrations by Mark Weaver

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http://www.wnyc.org/shows/lopate/2013/jun/18/james-bamford-general-alexander-head-nsa/?utm_source=local&utm_media=treatment&utm_campaign=daMost&utm_content=damostlistened

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https://curtisnarimatsu.wordpress.com/2013/06/20/how-edward-snowden-could-sidestep-extradition-jacques-semmelman/

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As of June 19, 2013,  WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is helping Edward Snowden seek asylum in Iceland. Assange wants to publish Snowden’s next series of revelations.

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/USA-Update/2013/0619/Julian-Assange-hints-WikiLeaks-might-publish-next-Edward-Snowden-revelations

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For critics of domestic spying, FBI Director Robert Mueller’s congressional testimony today, acknowledging that his agency has been using surveillance drones over American soil, confirmed our worst fears of totalitarian saturation level eavesdropping.

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“I think the greatest threat to the privacy of Americans is the drone and the use of the drone and the very few regulations that are on it today and the booming industry of commercial drones,” CNN quotes Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California as saying. Senator Feinstein chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Snowden saw Iceland as a possible haven should the US government try to extradite him.

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http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2013/06/general-keith-alexander-cyberwar/

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The Secret War

INFILTRATION. SABOTAGE. MAYHEM. FOR YEARS FOUR-STAR GENERAL KEITH ALEXANDER HAS BEEN BUILDING A SECRET ARMY CAPABLE OF LAUNCHING DEVASTATING CYBERATTACKS. NOW IT’S READY TO UNLEASH HELL.

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By James Bamford

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General Keith Alexander, a man few even in Washington would likely recognize. Never before has anyone in America’s intelligence sphere come close to his degree of power, the number of people under his command, the expanse of his rule, the length of his reign, or the depth of his secrecy. A four-star Army general, his authority extends across three domains: He is director of the world’s largest intelligence service, the National Security Agency; chief of the Central Security Service; and commander of the US Cyber Command. As such, he has his own secret military, presiding over the Navy’s 10th Fleet, the 24th Air Force, and the Second Army.

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Alexander runs the nation’s cyberwar efforts, an empire he has built over the past eight years by insisting that the US’s inherent vulnerability to digital attacks requires him to amass more and more authority over the data zipping around the globe. In his telling, the threat is so mind-bogglingly huge that the nation has little option but to eventually put the entire civilian Internet under his protection, requiring tweets and emails to pass through his filters, and putting the kill switch under the government’s forefinger. “What we see is an increasing level of activity on the networks,” he said at a recent security conference in Canada. “I am concerned that this is going to break a threshold where the private sector can no longer handle it and the government is going to have to step in.”

In its tightly controlled public relations, the NSA has focused attention on the threat of cyberattack against the US—the vulnerability of critical infrastructure like power plants and water systems, the susceptibility of the military’s command and control structure, the dependence of the economy on the Internet’s smooth functioning. Defense against these threats was the paramount mission trumpeted by NSA brass at congressional hearings and hashed over at security conferences.

But there is a flip side to this equation that is rarely mentioned: The military has for years been developing offensive capabilities, giving it the power not just to defend the US but to assail its foes. Using so-called cyber-kinetic attacks, Alexander and his forces now have the capability to physically destroy an adversary’s equipment and infrastructure, and potentially even to kill. Alexander—who declined to be interviewed for this article—has concluded that such cyberweapons are as crucial to 21st-century warfare as nuclear arms were in the 20th.

And he and his cyberwarriors have already launched their first attack. The cyberweapon that came to be known as Stuxnet was created and built by the NSA in partnership with the CIA and Israeli intelligence in the mid-2000s. The first known piece of malware designed to destroy physical equipment, Stuxnet was aimed at Iran’s nuclear facility in Natanz. By surreptitiously taking control of an industrial control link known as a Scada (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) system, the sophisticated worm was able to damage about a thousand centrifuges used to enrich nuclear material.

The success of this sabotage came to light only in June 2010, when the malware spread to outside computers. It was spotted by independent security researchers, who identified telltale signs that the worm was the work of thousands of hours of professional development. Despite headlines around the globe, officials in Washington have never openly acknowledged that the US was behind the attack. It wasn’t until 2012 that anonymous sources within the Obama administration took credit for it in interviews with The New York Times.

But Stuxnet is only the beginning. Alexander’s agency has recruited thousands of computer experts, hackers, and engineering PhDs to expand US offensive capabilities in the digital realm. The Pentagon has requested $4.7 billion for “cyberspace operations,” even as the budget of the CIA and other intelligence agencies could fall by $4.4 billion. It is pouring millions into cyberdefense contractors. And more attacks may be planned.

 

“We jokingly referred to him as Emperor Alexander, because whatever Keith wants, Keith gets.”

Inside the government, the general is regarded with a mixture of respect and fear, not unlike J. Edgar Hoover, another security figure whose tenure spanned multiple presidencies. “We jokingly referred to him as Emperor Alexander—with good cause, because whatever Keith wants, Keith gets,” says one former senior CIA official who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity. “We would sit back literally in awe of what he was able to get from Congress, from the White House, and at the expense of everybody else.”

Now 61, Alexander has said he plans to retire in 2014; when he does step down he will leave behind an enduring legacy—a position of far-reaching authority and potentially Strangelovian powers at a time when the distinction between cyberwarfare and conventional warfare is beginning to blur. A recent Pentagon report made that point in dramatic terms. It recommended possible deterrents to a cyberattack on the US. Among the options: launching nuclear weapons.

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In 2003 Alexander, a favorite of defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, was named the Army’s deputy chief of staff for intelligence, the service’s most senior intelligence position. Among the units under his command were the military intelligence teams involved in the human rights abuses at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison. Two years later, Rumsfeld appointed Alexander—now a three-star general—director of the NSA, where he oversaw the illegal, warrantless wiretapping program while deceiving members of the House Intelligence Committee. In a publicly released letter to Alexander shortly after The New York Times exposed the program, US representative Rush Holt, a member of the committee, angrily took him to task for not being forthcoming about the wiretapping: “Your responses make a mockery of congressional oversight.”

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The buying and using of such a subscription by nation-states could be seen as an act of war. “If you are engaged in reconnaissance on an adversary’s systems, you are laying the electronic battlefield and preparing to use it,” wrote Mike Jacobs, a former NSA director for information assurance, in a McAfee report on cyberwarfare. “In my opinion, these activities constitute acts of war, or at least a prelude to future acts of war.” The question is, who else is on the secretive company’s client list? Because there is as of yet no oversight or regulation of the cyberweapons trade, companies in the cyber-industrial complex are free to sell to whomever they wish. “It should be illegal,” says the former senior intelligence official involved in cyber­warfare. “I knew about Endgame when I was in intelligence. The intelligence community didn’t like it, but they’re the largest consumer of that business.”

Thus, in their willingness to pay top dollar for more and better zero-day exploits, the spy agencies are helping drive a lucrative, dangerous, and unregulated cyber arms race, one that has developed its own gray and black markets. The companies trading in this arena can sell their wares to the highest bidder—be they frontmen for criminal hacking groups or terrorist organizations or countries that bankroll terrorists, such as Iran. Ironically, having helped create the market in zero-day exploits and then having launched the world into the era of cyberwar, Alexander now says the possibility of zero-day exploits falling into the wrong hands is his “greatest worry.”

He has reason to be concerned. In May, Alexander discovered that four months earlier someone, or some group or nation, had secretly hacked into a restricted US government database known as the National Inventory of Dams. Maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers, it lists the vulnerabilities for the nation’s dams, including an estimate of the number of people who might be killed should one of them fail. Meanwhile, the 2013 “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure” gave the US a D on its maintenance of dams. There are 13,991 dams in the US that are classified as high-hazard, the report said. A high-hazard dam is defined as one whose failure would cause loss of life. “That’s our concern about what’s coming in cyberspace—a destructive element. It is a question of time,” Alexander said in a talk to a group involved in information operations and cyberwarfare, noting that estimates put the time frame of an attack within two to five years. He made his comments in September 2011.

Contributor James Bamford (washwriter @gmail.com) wrote about the NSA’s new Utah Data Center in issue 20.04.

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