Interesting Links: July 1, 2015

Here are links to a couple of long and interesting news articles that I came across today. They are about two issues which appear to be unconnected, but in reality are just two diverse manifestations of the same basic problem- which I hope to write about in my upcoming posts.

Link 1: XKEYSCORE- NSA’S Google for the World’s Private Communications

XKEYSCORE allows for incredibly broad surveillance of people based on perceived patterns of suspicious behavior. It is possible, for instance, to query the system to show the activities of people based on their location, nationality and websites visited. For instance, one slide displays the search “germansinpakistn,” showing an analyst querying XKEYSCORE for all individuals in Pakistan visiting specific German language message boards. As sites like Twitter and Facebook become increasingly significant in the world’s day-to-day communications (a Pew study shows that 71 percent of online adults in the U.S. use Facebook), they become a critical source of surveillance data. Traffic from popular social media sites is described as “a great starting point” for tracking individuals, according to an XKEYSCORE presentation titled “Tracking Targets on Online Social Networks.”

The NSA’s ability to piggyback off of private companies’ tracking of their own users is a vital instrument that allows the agency to trace the data it collects to individual users. It makes no difference if visitors switch to public Wi-Fi networks or connect to VPNs to change their IP addresses: the tracking cookie will follow them around as long as they are using the same web browser and fail to clear their cookies. Apps that run on tablets and smartphones also use analytics services that uniquely track users. Almost every time a user sees an advertisement (in an app or in a web browser), the ad network is tracking users in the same way. A secret GCHQ and CSE program called BADASS, which is similar to XKEYSCORE but with a much narrower scope, mines as much valuable information from leaky smartphone apps as possible, including unique tracking identifiers that app developers use to track their own users. In May of this year, CBC, in partnership with The Intercept, revealed that XKEYSCORE was used to track smartphone connections to the app marketplaces run by Samsung and Google. Surveillance agency analysts also use other types of traffic data that gets scooped into XKEYSCORE to track people, such as Windows crash reports.

Given the breadth of information collected by XKEYSCORE, accessing and exploiting a target’s online activity is a matter of a few mouse clicks. Brossard explains: “The amount of work an analyst has to perform to actually break into remote computers over the Internet seems ridiculously reduced — we are talking minutes, if not seconds. Simple. As easy as typing a few words in Google.” These facts bolster one of Snowden’s most controversial statements, made in his first video interview published by The Guardian on June 9, 2013. “I, sitting at my desk,” said Snowden, could “wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge to even the president, if I had a personal email.” Indeed, training documents for XKEYSCORE repeatedly highlight how user-friendly the program is: with just a few clicks, any analyst with access to it can conduct sweeping searches simply by entering a person’s email address, telephone number, name or other identifying data. There is no indication in the documents reviewed that prior approval is needed for specific searches. In addition to login credentials and other target intelligence, XKEYSCORE collects router configuration information, which it shares with Tailored Access Operations. The office is able to exploit routers and then feed the traffic traveling through those routers into their collection infrastructure. This allows the NSA to spy on traffic from otherwise out-of-reach networks. XKEYSCORE documents reference router configurations, and a document previously published by Der Spiegel shows that “active implants” can be used to “cop[y] traffic and direc[t]” it past a passive collector.

Link 2: Cruel and All-Too-Usual

Cell extractions are supposed to be a last resort—say, when an inmate is attempting suicide. In a well-run facility, a staff member will knock on the door and attempt to reason with a prisoner who is not following orders. But Steve J. Martin, a corrections consultant, explained that with militarized teams on call, supervisors became accustomed to using them for minor matters, too. Refusal to return a food tray, for instance, is a surprisingly common reason cited by prisons. In a bad facility, “staff like to do cell extractions because it’s an excuse to kick the crap out of inmates,” said Jeffrey Schwartz, a correctional consultant who has advised prisons on disciplinary policies. “There is no question that many cell extractions are unnecessary and avoidable.” Schwartz called the procedure used against Jamie “wrong and clearly dangerous.” “The female inmate is choking as they first put her down on the bunk, and she is also yelling for them to get off of her,” he said. “The staff should have stopped what they were doing and gotten a medical staff member to the scene immediately.” Pressing the spit guard over her face, he added, increased the chance that Jamie could “have a panic attack” or “vomit and asphyxiate with vomit in her airways.”

In November 2013, months after PREA implementation began, Michigan interviewed teenage inmates held at Thumb Correctional to see if they felt safe. In affidavits collected by Michigan as part of the lawsuit, most said they did. However, one said that in September, a guard had told him he would “rape my fat ass if I wasn’t 17.” Another 17-year-old inmate said, “[A]bout three weeks ago, an officer … told me that he was going to make sure I go up North to be fucked in the ass.” Overall, reported assaults by staff are rarely penalized. Between 2010 and 2013, Michigan received 1,122 allegations from inmates of staff sexual harassment. They substantiated 10 of them.Some kids later signed affidavits saying that they had been pressured by Michigan to participate in the interviews and even threatened with isolation. (An attorney for Michigan called the claims of intimidation “absolutely false.”) One wrote to his lawyer, “I sign a paper without reading it and was mad because I didn’t realize he was using [his] power to trick me.” Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist who reviewed the interviews for the plaintiffs, said that the state violated “every single point in the protocol” for interviewing sexual assault survivors and was “very unlikely to uncover the truth.”

On May 1, I went to see Max again. He had been removed from the housing unit with the dogs and sent to solitary for punching an inmate, an assault he said he didn’t commit. (His accuser told me in a letter, “He hit me soo hard,” although another inmate on the scene testified that he hadn’t seen Max fight with anyone.) His lawyers said they believe evidence will show that Max has been retaliated against for his participation in the lawsuit and willingness to speak to the press, and plan to address the matter in court. When Max found out he was going back to segregation, he lost it. He lashed out against staff members, earning more misconduct tickets. In separate lawsuits filed against Max’s facility last year, two inmates allege that after they reported officer wrongdoing, they were targeted with numerous forms of retaliation, including “unprovoked beatings, gassings, forced cell extractions, food and water deprivation, extended deprivation of basic hygiene and health care, and fabricated misconduct tickets.” MDOC responded in a legal filing that “the injuries and damages sustained by Plaintiffs, if any, were solely or partly a result of their own conduct.” On April 14, as the video below shows, he was forcibly put on suicide watch for “making threats of self harm.” He refused to submit to a strip search—he told me that taking his clothes off in front of the guards gives him flashbacks to his sexual assaults—and was gassed with chemical spray. When I saw the video, I could hardly believe it was the same person. In our conversations, he was calm and straightforward, chatting about playing basketball and football growing up. In the video he is naked, yelling and crying, the burly officers eyeing him like a wild animal.

What do you think? Comments?

  1. ko
    July 6, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    power and control.thats all its about.humans deserve extinction.

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