The Lessons NSA Teaches When It Conflates Use of Encryption with Terrorism

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Just a few days after our Egyptian allies sentenced 3 Al Jazeera journalists to 3 years in prison, Turkey joined the club, charging 2 UK Vice employees and their Turkish fixer with terrorism. Today, Al Jazeera explained why the Vice journalists got charged: because the fixer uses an encryption technique that members of ISIS also use.

Three staff members from Vice News were charged with “engaging in terrorist activity” because one of the men was using an encryption system on his personal computer which is often used by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a senior press official in the Turkish government has told Al Jazeera.

Two UK journalists, Jake Hanrahan and Philip Pendlebury, along with their Turkey-based Iraqi fixer and a driver, were arrested on Thursday in Diyarbakir while filming clashes between security forces and youth members of the outlawed and armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

On Monday, the three men were charged by a Turkish judge in Diyarbakir with “engaging in terrorist activity” on behalf of ISIL, the driver was released without charge.

The Turkish official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera: “The main issue seems to be that the fixer uses a complex encryption system on his personal computer that a lot of ISIL militants also utilise for strategic communications.”

Note, the Vice journalists were reporting on PKK, not ISIS, but it wouldn’t be the first time Turkey used ISIS as cover for their war against PKK.

A lot of people are treating this as a crazy expression of rising Turkish repression, that it conflates use of encryption — even a certain kind of encryption! — with membership in ISIS.

But they’re not the only one who does so. As the slide above — and some other documents released by Snowden — makes clear, NSA makes the same conflation. How do you find terrorists without other information, this slide asks? Simple! You find someone using encryption.

While the US might not arrest people based on such evidence (though it did hold Al Jazeera journalist Sami al-Hajj for years without charge), they certainly make the same baseless connection.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

6 replies
  1. orionATL says:

    recently the u.s. dept of defense stepped up its fight against journalism by rewriting its rules about what it will allow journalists to do. the rules apply to a war zone, but as we all know, these days the war zone is anywhere and everywhere the generals say it is.

    all of these information-suppressing rules come from the military doctrine that controlling information is as important as controlling territory, communications, or supply routes.

    this doctrine in turn seems an extension of the neccessity and legitimacy of military lying, but extended way beyond the battefield. its origins are said to lie with the military’s belief that not controlling information during the vietnam war was costly – to military reputation if not to military victory :))

    thus in the 16 years of the bush-obama administration we accelerate our slide toward america’s velvet totalitarianism – fully rationalized and legalized.

  2. wallace says:

    “Today, Al Jazeera explained why the Vice journalists got charged: because the fixer uses an encryption technique that members of ISIS also use.”

    Next thing you know some stupid fucking government will insist that you are a terrorist if you view the same porn site as ISIS to get off.

    Meanwhile, I always knew Turkey was a degenerate, backwards, pathetic, sadistic, barbarian, goat fucking cesspool of scum sucking halfwitted inbreds with the intelligence of Jello…(which is an insult to Jello everywhere)..

    ..er…wait…my bad. I meant the CIA. nevermind.

    http://www.theguardian.com/media/2009/jul/17/sami-al-haj-al-jazeera-guantanamo-bay-journalist

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