In 1999, I wrote an article for the bOING bOING Digital site about the CONET Project, a multi-CD collection of mysterious "numbers stations" heard on shortwave. For decades, intelligence organizations have reportedly broadcast one-way messages to their agents in the field via shortwave, and the transmissions happen to sound weirder than any Stockhausen score or minimalist electronica you've ever heard -- a child's voice, or the obviously synthesized intonation on what's known as the "Lincolnshire Poacher" station, named for the folk song accompanying the numbers. Wilco's album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is named for, and samples, a numbers station. The CONET Project has been available for several years for free download from various places online, including Archive.org. Now, the original compilers, Irdial-Discs MMX, have re-released The Conet Project in a special CD edition that includes the four original discs plus a fifth CD containing recordings of very strange "noise stations."
Aerospace contractor Bo Jiang, who is accused by U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) of being a spy, made a first appearance in federal court on Monday. The Chinese national worked on contract at NASA's Langley's Research Center in Hampton, VA.
Federal agents grabbed him over the weekend just as he was boarding a flight from Dulles airport (in DC) to Beijing. He is charged with making false statements to U.S. authorities by failing to disclose all of the electronic devices he was carrying on his one-way flight, and has since been jailed.
The Wall Street Journal reports that a Texas judge is asking questions about whether investigators are providing courts with sufficient detail details on technlogies that allow them to grab data on all cellphones in a given area, including those of people who are most certainly innocent of any crime. Snip:
One of the investigative tools in question is something called a “cell tower dump,” which allows law enforcement to get information on all the phones in a given area at a given time.
In two cases, Magistrate Judge Brian Owsley rejected federal requests to allow the warrantless use of “stingrays” and “cell tower dumps,” two different tools that are used for cellphone tracking. The judge said the government should apply for warrants in the cases, but the attorneys had instead applied for lesser court orders.
Among the judge’s biggest concerns: that the agents and U.S. attorneys making the requests didn’t provide details on how the tools worked or would be used — and even seemed to have trouble explaining the technology.
As reported earlier today, CIA chief David Petraeus has resigned after an FBI probe into whether someone else was using his email led to the discovery he was having an extramarital affair.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the investigation focused on his Gmail account, and that the traffic they observed "led agents to believe the woman or someone close to her had sought access to his email." The woman in question has now been identified as West Point graduate Paula Broadwell, author of "All In: The Education of General David Petraeus."
While Mr. Petraeus was still a general, he had email exchanges with the woman, but there wasn't a physical relationship, the person said. The affair began after Mr. Petraeus retired from the Army in August 2011 and ended months ago, the person said.
At CNET, Declan McCullagh reports on a federal judge's rejection of the FBI's attempts to withhold information about its efforts to make backdoors for government surveillance mandatory for internet firms.
CNET has learned that U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg ruled on Tuesday that the government did not adequately respond to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Seeborg, in San Francisco, ordered (PDF) a "further review of the materials previously withheld" in the lawsuit, which seeks details about what the FBI has dubbed "Going Dark" -- the bureau's ongoing effort to force companies including Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, and Google to alter their code to ensure their products are wiretap-friendly.
One almost-entirely-redacted document that the FBI turned over.
Above, "The Bravo 300," a tactical drone manufactured in New Orleans by Crescent Unmanned Systems. Weeks after New Orleans local investigative paper The Lens began digging into city officials’ plans to use a U.S. Homeland Security Department aerial drone to monitor crowds at the upcoming Super Bowl, a spokesman for Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced that the city is no longer pursuing those plans.
Spokesman Ryan Berni offered no reason for dropping the eye-in-the-sky technology, telling a reporter to submit a public-records request. In a brief phone interview, he would say only that the decision to ditch the drone was made “over the past several days.” In a follow-up email, Berni said Homeland Security would be providing a manned helicopter, equipped with a camera, and that “the City learned by phone in the last few weeks” about the switch.
Courthouse News Service has an extensive explainer on the state of a legal battle between The National Security Agency and a group of non-terrorist AT&T customers who claim that warrantless wiretapping violates their rights. The short version: NSA argues it is immune from their federal lawsuit because REASONS. — Xeni
Cyrus Farivar at Ars Technica: "Right now, if the cops want to read my e-mail, it’s pretty trivial for them to do so. All they have to do is ask my online e-mail provider. But a new bill set to be introduced Thursday in the Senate Judiciary Committee by its chair, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), seems to stand the best chance of finally changing that situation and giving e-mail stored on remote servers the same privacy protections as e-mail stored on one's home computer." — Xeni
The Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. military and border-patrol officials are teaming up on a new initiative to bring dozens of surveillance blimps from Afghanistan war zones to the Mexican border.
Over the next few weeks, the military will oversee a test in south Texas to determine if a 72-foot-long, unmanned surveillance blimp—sometimes called "the floating eye" when used to spot insurgents in Afghanistan—can help find drug runners and people trying to cross illegally into the U.S.
The project is part of a broader attempt by U.S. officials to establish a high-tech surveillance network along the border and find alternative uses for expensive military hardware that will be coming back from Afghanistan, along with the troops.
Russian security firm Kaspersky Lab claims to have uncovered a new "cyber-espionage toolkit" designed by the same people behind the state-sponsored Flame malware that infiltrated machines in Iran. The researchers claim this new malware has been found infecting systems in other countries in the Middle East, and targets online financial systems. More at Wired Threat Level and Reuters. They're calling this one "Gauss." — Xeni
Brian Krebs interviews Joe Stewart, a security researcher "who’s spent 18 months cataloging and tracking malicious software that was developed and deployed specifically for spying on governments, activists and industry executives." Speaking at Defcon in Las Vegas, Stewart says the "complexity and scope of these cyberspy networks now rivals many large conventional cybercrime operations. — Xeni
The other shoe is slowly dropping on the "Snooper's Charter" -- the proposed UK Internet spying legislation that will require ISPs to harvest and retain fantastic quantities of user activity and make it available to government and law enforcement without a warrant. In a bid to win support for the proposal, the government has offered a "blank cheque" to ISPs, with an offer to pay for additional equipment required to effect this mass surveillance system. They also continue to draw a wholly artificial distinction between "metadata" and "content" -- the URL of a web-page you visit can be had with out a warrant, but the content of the page can't be (unless the police then go look at that page). This obfuscation is intended to make spying into every corner of our digital lives without judicial review -- without suspicion -- somehow less terrifying.
The communications data police and others may seek about an individual includes email addresses and phone numbers of people who have been in contact, when this happened, and where, the details giving the police records of suspects' associates and activities.
The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) reports today that the US Justice Department made 1,745 requests last year to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) for permission to wiretap electronic communications or search for physical evidence in counter-terrorism cases.
That's up from 1,579 requests in 2010. Every single one of the requests submitted in 2011 were accepted, though 30 were modified by the court.
The new report says that the government filed 205 applications for business records (including “tangible things”) for foreign intelligence purposes last year, compared to 96 in the previous year.
But the number of “national security letters” (a type of administrative subpoena) declined last year. In 2011, the FBI requested 16,511 national security letters pertaining to 7,201 U.S. persons, the new report said, compared to the 2010 total of 24,287 letter requests concerning 14,212 U.S. persons.