House Homeland Security Committee Apparently Knows Little about Homeland Security

Here are the first 36 words of an otherwise useful House Homeland Security Committee report on encryption:

Public engagement on encryption issues surged following the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, particularly when it became clear that the attackers used encrypted communications to evade detection—a phenomenon known as “going dark.”

The statement has grains of truth to it. It is true that engagement on encryption surged following the Paris attacks, largely because intelligence committee sources ran around assuming (and probably briefing the White House) that encryption must explain why those same intelligence committee sources had missed the attack. It surged further months later when FBI chose to pick a fight with Apple over Syed Rizwan Farook’s work phone which — it was clear from the start — had no evidence relating to the attack on it.

It is also true that ISIS had been using Telegram leading up to the Paris attack; in its wake, the social media company shut down a bunch of channels tied to the group. But there has never been a public claim the plotters used Telegram to plan their attack.

It is also true that an ISIS recruit, arrested and interrogated months before the Paris attack, had told French authorities he had been trained to use a Truecrypt key and an elaborate dead drop method to communicate back to Syria.

But it is not true that the Paris attackers used encryption to hide their plot. They used a great many burner phones, a close-knit network (and with it face-to-face planning), an unusual dialect. But even the one phone that had an encrypted product loaded on it was not using that service.

It is also not true that the San Bernardino attackers used encryption to evade detection. They used physical tools to destroy the phones presumably used to plan the attack. They hid a hard drive via some other, unidentified means. But the only known use of encryption — the encryption that came standard on Farook’s work phone — was shown, after the FBI paid to bypass it, not to be hiding anything at all.

Now it’s possible there was encryption involved in these attacks we don’t know about, that HLSC has gotten classified briefings on. But even if there was, it could not very well have led to a public surge of engagement last year, because it would not be public.

There are reasons to discuss encryption. But factually false claims about terrorists’ use of encryption are not among those reasons.

h/t to Access Now’s Nathaniel White, who pointed out this bogosity on Twitter.

Update: See this Grugq post laying out what little encryption ISIS has been known to use in any attack.

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. Evangelista says:

    “…factually false claims about terrorists…” by government agencies lead directly to discounting of all veracity per those agencies. Indications of apparent extraordinary incompetence, especially in serial instances, or assignments, as the Farouk/Farook case demonstrates, and brute-goon behaviours, as the Tsarnaev case murder-in-course-of-questioning demonstrated, lead to categorization of those government agencies, and all other agencies and branches of any and all governments that support, facilitate, cover for, justificate or actively ignore the demonstrated managed and manipulative falsifications as complicit and co-conspirators in “Public Servant” racketeering, usurpation and redirection of the abused government branches and agencies to private or third-party agendae. Such usurpation and redirection of a government, violating the government’s defining principles and legally established purposes constitutes Treason against the government, the forms of the government and the owners of the government, and is legally actionable (where a court system exists that has not compromised itself with participation) and provides legal grounds for rejection and repudiation of the government, the agencies, the branches and participating “public servants” and for reasoned and directed legal revolt against the government, the agencies, the branches and the participating actors.

    • P J Evans says:

      Can you maybe consider shorter sentences, so we don’t have to diagram the sentence structure to figure out what you’re trying to say?

      • SpaceLifeForm says:

        TL;DR – there are treasonist fascists inside the
        Government and they lie to further their agenda.
        Simple enough?

    • martin says:

      Fuck. Evangelista. .. your view coincides with mine at the Cartesian coordinates of x,y..and z.

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

    That is, when myth is more useful than facts, pretend the legend is true, even/especially when you know it’s false.

  3. martin says:

    At 71 yrs old, I am really wondering what year a major group of American citizens, finally destitute, on the street, but owning weapons, finally take on the task of disemboweling the DOJ/USG…. Cause the DOJ is the legal premises of the USG. In other words.. every Legal Imperialism finally succumbs to the lies and deceit of it’s legal scribes.

Comments are closed.