Nov 20, 2014

New free security tool Detekt scans for hard-to-find surveillance spyware: just launched by Amnesty, EFF

anti-malware Detekt released by Amnesty and EFF

Activists, journalists or just the average concerned citizen who want to know if their computers and mobile devices are a target of unwanted surveillance now have access to a badly needed resource. A German security researcher named Claudio Guarnieri is behind a free new security tool named Detekt. It scans PCs and mobile devices for traces of surveillance spyware that everyday anti-malware programs are likely to miss.

According to Wired Guarnieri works with The Honeypot Project and Shadowserver Foundation developing open source tools.

Amnesty news describes what Detekt is and how it works:

Detekt is a free tool that scans your computer for traces of known surveillance spyware used by governments to target and monitor human rights defenders and journalists around the world. By alerting them to the fact that they are being spied on, they will have the opportunity to take precautions.

It was developed by security researchers and has been used to assist in Citizen Lab's investigations into government use of spyware against human rights defenders, journalists and activists as well as by security trainers to educate on the nature of targeted surveillance.

Amnesty International is partnering with Privacy International, Digitale Gesellschaft and the Electronic Frontier Foundation to release Detekt to the public for the first time.

The release of Detekt is certainly timely given the growing number of cyber threats. As this Guardian article reports the trade in surveillance technologies has shown massive growth over recent years. Surveillance software is being sold to governments and agencies that have no scruples about exploiting it in order to spy on PCs, email, text messages and phone calls of people on their watch list.

Wired UK quotes Marek Marczynski, head of security at Amnesty who had this to say about Detekt and the need for such a tool: "Governments are increasingly using dangerous and sophisticated technology that allows them to read activists and journalists' private emails and remotely turn on their computer's camera or microphone to secretly record their activities... Detekt is a simple tool that will alert activists to such intrusions so they can take action."

Detekt developer Claudio Guarnieri was part of a team that discovered that FinFisher surveillance spyware was showing up on the computers of government and law enforcement agencies worldwide. FinFisher command and control centers have been found in some 35 countries. Recently Wikileaks released copies of FinFisher software in order to further the effort of tech researchers in coming up with counter measures.

When it comes to comparisons between Detekt and commercial security software, Guarnieri is quoted in media reports saying: "Antivirus software is rigorously evaded every time this kind of spyware is released and used. We are using detection techniques that have proved to be successful up to this point, and the goal is to provide it to the public and have the quickest and largest adoption possible."

He went on to say: "I want to empower just about anyone, the ones that do not have resources to acquire noisy and intrusive security software and the ones that are perhaps even prevented from buying any due to economic embargoes... I'm not really interested in drawing a comparison with security vendors, they have a different audience and a different scope. I'm interested in empowering the people with a choice to opt out from surveillance. What companies are doing for profit does not interest me."

Amnesty International, Digitale Gesellschaft, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Privacy International are working together to get Detekt out to their networks.

If you would like to download the software and give it a try you can do so from When running Detekt disconnect from the internet and run the program as administrator.

Nov 17, 2014

Video of Syrian boy 'hero' under sniper fire exposed as fake: other Syria-related propaganda

Fake video stills of Syrian boy 'hero' rescuing young girl

In its coverage of a video that purported to show a Syrian boy braving sniper fire in the course of rescuing a young girl, the Daily Mail lauded the spectacle as an act of heroism. The accompanying article claimed the footage was believed to have been shot in Yabroud, a countryside town 50 miles from Damascus.

The Daily Telegraph also published the same story under the title: Watch: Syrian 'hero boy' appears to brave sniper fire to rescue terrified girl in dramatic video.

Both the Mail and Telegraph cited dubious claims while providing themselves an out along the lines of 'not verified as yet.' To hear them tell it you would have thought it was real breaking news.

The Mail noted that the video quickly got 500,000 views and was republished on YouTube by the Shaam News Network... "sham" being the operative word. The video was in fact an elaborate hoax put together by a Norwegian film crew on the vacation island of Malta.

The director, Lars Klevberg, admitted that "The little boy and girl are professional actors from Malta. The voices in the background are Syrian refugees living in Malta."  These extras can be heard yelling "Allahu Akbar"(God is Great) on the audio track, as they play act the part of excited onlookers watching a rescue drama unfold before their eyes.

Klevberg has attempted to justify the hoax by claiming that he was interested in highlighting the plight of children caught in a war zone. But in common with a lot of the other digital fabrications and outright lies coming from Syrian opposition sources, the underlying purpose is invariably to generate sympathy and/or outrage and with it the hope of increasing the odds of Western military intervention.

Stills beneath show Klevberg with the children and the filming of a scene:

Director Lars Klevburg and child actors in fake film
Syrian boy 'hero' in hoax film still

News of the fake video has made Klevberg a target of widespread criticism from a number of different quarters. Journalists and activists signed an open letter condemning the film as "reckless", "irresponsible" and "deceptive."

Here is a video that shows a scene being rehearsed followed by a clip of the fake rescue footage:

Klevberg isn't the first to spread false news about Syria and won't be the last.

Other proven hoaxes concocted by Syrian opposition supporters included the blog - Gay Girl in Damascus. It was allegedly written by one Amina Abdallah Arraf al-Omari, a half-Syrian, half-American lesbian supposedly living in Damascus. "Amina" gave interviews to news organizations and received kudos from journalists and activists around the world. When she was eventually exposed as an invention, we discovered that the real life actor behind the blog was a 40-year old American named Tom MacMaster who was studying at Edinburgh University.

Another act that drew international attention was so-called "Syrian Danny" - a British citizen who showed up regularly on CNN to talk with an impressionable Anderson Cooper. During one appearance, Danny is overheard saying "Well let the gunfire sound then," before asking someone off-camera "Did you tell him to get the gunfire ready?" Danny's tales were accompanied by appeals for military intervention by the US and even by Israel. Astute observers noted that the accounts of violence he claimed to have witnessed would change depending on which news network he was talking to.

Watch Danny faking it  - here.

Concerns about such story telling go back a ways. In a 2012 Al Akhbar article entitled - Hollywood in Homs and Idlib? - Sharmine Narwani addressed false reports perpetuated by elements in the Syrian opposition. She says:

By December, it occurred to me that a big part of the problem was the external-based opposition and their disproportionately loud voices. If you were actually in the business of digging for “verified” information on Syria last year, you would have also quickly copped on to the fact that this wing of the Syrian opposition lies – and lies big.

This discovery coincided with a new report by US intelligence analyst Stratfor that claimed: “most of the opposition's more serious claims have turned out to be grossly exaggerated or simply untrue, thereby revealing more about the opposition's weaknesses than the level of instability inside the Syrian regime.”

Narwani winds up her article with this observation:

Today, reporting from inside Idlib, Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught described the bombing as "earth-shaking and relentless." Bombing caused by who?

“Hollywood” in Syria? Oh yes. Scene-setting the likes of which we have not yet seen outside of celluloid fiction. Delivering lines to a rapt audience that seems incapable of questioning the plot. Some of what transpires in Syria in the future will depend on this: Do people want to go behind the velvet curtain and see the strings – or are they content to be simply led by the entertainment.

Nov 14, 2014

Whistleblower Udu Ulfkotte exposes CIA hand in German media: 'German politicians are US puppets'

Udo Ulfkotte reveals CIA manipulation of journalists

"We’re talking about puppets on a string, journalists who write or say whatever their masters tell them to say or write. If you see how the mainstream media is reporting about the Ukraine conflict and if you know what's really going on, you get the picture. The masters in the background are pushing for war with Russia and western journalists are putting on their helmets."

- From an interview with German journalist Udo Ulfkotte.

A new book by Ulfkotte entitled Bought Journalists: How Politicians, Intelligence and High Finance Control Germany's Mass Media has taken the lid off the tactics used by the CIA and other pro-Washington interests to manipulate what journalists say in print. The extent of the corruption, because there really is no other word for it, is surprising, even shocking for anyone with a naive belief in the integrity of Western media. 

Ulfkotte is a former editor of one of the largest newspapers in Germany - Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. He was an adviser to the Kohl government between 1986 and 1998, and according to a Wiki entry publishes a magazine - Whistleblower - that reports on topics not covered in German media. His revelations have caused a sensation in Germany, in part because it is rare for a journalist to essentially strip off the mask and reveal insider truths that are damning, to say the least.

Ulfkotte claims that members of the German media are paid or otherwise induced by the CIA to spin news in a manner that is favorable to US interests. Over time he admits he himself got in so deep, he "... ended up publishing articles under my own name written by agents of the CIA and other intelligence services, especially the Bundesnachrichtendienst."

CIA manipulation of Western media has a long and sordid track record as anyone familiar with the work of Carl Bernstein will be aware. What has changed over the years are the tactics employed by the agency which now adopts a strategy that involves "non-official cover." So while a journalist may be playing along with the CIA, he or she is not connected in any official capacity, leaving the agency free to deny any associations. Ulfkotte goes into the meaning of the term "non-official cover" in his interview.

In speaking of the rewards for compliance, Ulfkotte talks about gifts and incentives that went with playing the game:

I didn’t get money – I got gifts. Things like gold watches, diving equipment, and trips with accommodations in five-star hotels. I know many German journalists who at some point were able to take advantage of this to buy themselves a vacation home abroad. But much more important than the money and gifts is the fact that you’re offered support if you write pieces that are pro-American or pro-NATO. If you don’t do it, your career won’t go anywhere – you’ll find yourself assigned to sit in the office and sort through letters to the editor.

On a different yet related level Ulfkotte's revelations about CIA influence aren't altogether surprising. The American reach in Germany was highlighted by Edward Snowden when he made the claim that the NSA was "in bed" with German intelligence.

Ulfkotte is being punished for his book in ways that raise additional questions about the freedom of the press in Germany. During an interview he talked about some of the threats and resistance he ran into as a result of blowing the whistle:

When I told the Frankfurter Allgemeine that I would publish the book, their lawyers sent me a letter threatening with all legal consequences if I would publish any names or secrets – but I don’t mind. You see, I don’t have children to take care of. And you must know I was severely injured during the gas attack I witnessed in Iran in 1988. I'm the sole German survivor from a German poison gas attack. I’m still suffering from this. I’ve had three heart attacks. I don’t expect to live for more than a few years.

No German mainstream journalist is allowed to report about the book. Otherwise he or she will be sacked. So we have a bestseller now that no German journalist is allowed to write or talk about. More shocking: We have respected journalists who seem to have gone deep sea diving for a long time. It’s an Interesting situation. I expected and hoped that they would sue me and bring me to court. But they have no idea what to do. The respected Frankfurter Allgemeine just announced they will fire 200 employees, because they’re losing subscribers very rapidly and in high numbers. But they don’t sue me. They know that I have evidence on everything.

I'm also posting a video of the Ulfkotte interview. For some reason the audience and/or interviewer's questions have been cut, perhaps to shorten the duration of the video and keep the focus on Ulfkotte.

To view the video click 'read more' beneath:

Nov 9, 2014

Risk of 'accidental' nuclear war: Chomsky on the 'worst case scenario'

Chomsky on the threat of nuclear war

It's hard to imagine a scenario in which any world power would deliberately start a nuclear war given the dire consequence for the planet. Rational thinking and the will to survive prevents us from believing that any nation... any leader... could be crazy enough to intentionally unleash what could wind up being a terminal war of reciprocal destruction. But what is often overlooked is the increasing likelihood that a nuclear war might well be started by accident.

During a recent RT interview Noam Chomsky addressed this possibility:

The worst-case scenario, of course, would be a nuclear war, which would be terrible. Both states that initiate it will be wiped out by the consequences. That’s the worst-case. And it’s come ominously close several times in the past, dramatically close. And it could happen again, but not planned, but just by the accidental interactions that take place - that has almost happened. It’s worth remembering that just one century ago, the First World War broke out through a series of such accidental interchanges. The First World War was horrifying enough, but the current reenactment of it means the end of the human race.

Chomsky's reference to a nuclear war begun 'by accident' makes sense when you look at how this might come about. An escalation factor might be faulty intelligence, leading for example to a mistaken belief that the other side is planning an imminent nuclear strike. The decision may then be taken to use tactical nuclear weapons in order to seize first-strike advantage. Underlying intelligence failure of this sort could be a more general strategic misreading of the enemies' intent and other communications failures that fuel a pattern of escalation.

A report entitled Towards a Grand Strategy for an Uncertain World: Renewing Transatlantic Partnership lays out a new vision for the NATO alliance. It contains a number of statements that confirm the importance of nuclear weapons "in the quiver of escalation"... ostensibly to prevent "existential dangers." But in fact their use is also clearly about maintaining a winning edge however couched in the language of prevention, as this statement from the report suggests:  "What is needed is a policy of deterrence by proactive denial, in which preemption is a form of reaction when a threat is imminent, and prevention is the attempt to regain the initiative in order to end the conflict." Tactical nuclear weapons are very much a part of any so-called "proportional" response. This scenario opens the door for all kinds of potential disaster.

Tactical or non-strategic nuclear weapons are now part of the toolkit of the world's major militaries. These weapons can be calibrated to suit the challenges on hand. Variable yield allows operators to set the weapons' explosive power in consideration of target and conditions. Small-yield tactical nukes might encourage preemptive strikes especially if a conventional force is facing defeat. They may be used in other ways to seize the advantage. Under war conditions the step from tactical to strategic nuclear weapons might not be such a huge leap, especially on the part of a military staring down the barrel of defeat.

Bottom line, our continued use of these weapons raises the ante when it comes to the prospects of large scale nuclear war. Chomsky sums up the stark choice we face in this paragraph:

We can think back as far as 1955, when Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein produced an appeal, a joint appeal to the people of the world, in which they said to all of us, you have a choice that is stark, unavoidable, the question is, will you eliminate war or will you eliminate human race? These are your choices.

Right now we are making bad choices. The provocations of the West in Eastern Europe and the expansion of NATO's reach to the borders of Russia is fraught with risks that can't be taken lightly. Chomsky rightly characterizes NATO as a "US-run intervention force."

The official mission of NATO became to control the international, the global energy system, pipelines. That means, to control the world. Of course, its [a] U.S.-run intervention force, as in Kosovo and Serbia in 1999 – it was a U.S.-run intervention force. That’s the new NATO and it did expand to Russian borders...

The demonization of Vladimir Putin in Western media and the toxic cold war-like environment that is being whipped up is driven by geopolitical ambitions, energy and resource considerations and a very particular animus toward a major global power that is unwilling to alter its long held values and traditions. This offends some people, who over and above the larger geopolitical considerations, appear willing to risk heightening an already tense situation in the course of pressing a Western-centric rights agenda.

Dangerous logic

NATO - danger of nuclear weapons