BREAKING! There Were State-Sponsored Terrorists Operating in the US in 2015

If we’re to believe the NYT’s explanation for why Yahoo was asked to scan all its email in 2015, there are (or were) state-sponsored terrorists operating in the US. That’s the only logical explanation for why the FBI would use an individualized FISA court order to obligate Yahoo to adapt their kiddie porn filter to search for a signature used by what NYT describes as state sponsored terrorists.

Although the digital signature was individually approved by a judge, who was persuaded that there was probable cause to believe that it was uniquely used by a foreign power, the collection was unusual because it involved the systematic scanning of all Yahoo users’ emails. More typical surveillance court orders instead target specific user accounts.

[snip]

In fact, according to the government official and other people familiar with the matter, Yahoo was served with an individualized court order to look only for code uniquely used by the foreign terrorist organization, and it adapted the scanning systems that it already had in place to comply with that order rather than building a new capability.

Now, I don’t find this explanation all that plausible, because if there were real state-sponsored terrorists operating in the US, the US would be bombing the shit out of the country in question. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia sponsor terrorists, but they’re our friends and we try to overlook the way they foster terrorism. So I’m betting these aren’t real terrorists, but instead entities the government has told the FISA Court are terrorists to make it possible to approve things they otherwise would find questionable. Plus, it sounds so much cooler when you make such explanations than if you admit you were scanning all Yahoo users’ emails to search for hackers.

I’m going to wildarseguess that this really means the US had a line on Iranian Revolutionary Guard hacking techniques. I say that because the government has long argued that Iran (or at least, the Revolutionary Guard) is a terrorist organization so it can use fancy spy tools that have only been approved for terrorism uses. It’s a bullshit claim, but one the FISC has consistently approved going back years, probably to 2006 (and one OLC almost certainly approved under Stellar Wind). If this operation had happened two months later, after USA Freedom Act expanded the definition of foreign power to within two degrees of proliferators, they might have used that excuse, but back then, piggybacking a terrorist claim onto the use of the foreign government tie would provide the most impressive claim to need to scan domestically.

We even know the IRGC uses Yahoo, because that’s what NSA was collecting on in 2011 when someone spamouflaged key IRGC accounts at precisely the moment we were trying to entrap a top IRGC commander in the Scary Iran Plot.

And while the request to Yahoo came at a later time, we know that the US was aggressively going after Iranian hackers at least in late 2014 because they were targeting banks. DOJ would go on to indict a bunch of Iranians for, among other things, hacking a very small dam.

So rest assured, Yahoo users! FBI only made Yahoo scan your emails because it was hunting terrorists in your inbox.

But remember, that also means there are real state-sponsored terrorists — and not just ISIS wannabes — among us.

Update: Revolutionary for Republican fixed.

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.

7 replies
  1. earlofhuntingdon says:

    This does sound like the FBI chose an excuse from column A, and indirectly from column B.  Any allegation of terrorism or state-sponsored terrorism is believed to have the same effects as an allegation of kiddie porn: it immediately impugns the character of any named actor and gives an investigator carte blanche without any offensive oversight.

  2. Peterr says:

    But remember, that also means there are real state-sponsored terrorists — and not just ISIS wannabes — among us.

    The first time I read this I thought it said “real estate sponsored terrorists” and thought you were bringing Trump into the discussion.

    My bad.

  3. Nick Torrent says:

    “If there were real state-sponsored terrorists operating in the US, the US would be bombing the shit out of the country in question. ”

    I doubt it. The US is hardly anxious to get into a shooting war with Iran.

    • emptywheel says:

      My implication is that what IRGC is doing in the US–DDOS attacks, as far as we know–aren’t terrorist attacks.

  4. martin says:

    So rest assured, Yahoo users! FBI only made Yahoo scan your emails because it was hunting terrorists in your inbox.

     

    right.  vs your closet. The ghost of King George lll must be laughing his ass off.  Next thing you know, Comey will ask Congress for unfettered power to search through every house in Murika..with a general warrant.. cause… terrahists are surely hiding in someones closet.

    sheeezuschrist.  This is exactly what the FBI  did.

    question.  What’s the difference between an email, and a closet  in your home.

    answer. One is where you can pretend the 4th Amendment still exists, while the other LOL at your stupidity.

  5. martin says:

    martin said
    quote”Next thing you know, Comey will ask Congress for unfettered power to search through every house in Murika..with a general warrant.. cause…This is exactly what the FBI did.”unquote
    Well I’ll be…even the EFF says the FBI used an unconstitutional “general warrant”.

    quote”
    Mass surveillance of Yahoo’s emails is unconstitutional for the same reasons that it’s unconstitutional for the government to copy and search through vast amounts of communications passing through AT&T’s network as part of Upstream. The sweeping warrantless surveillance of millions of Yahoo users’ communications described in the Reuters story flies in the face of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches. Surveillance like this is an example of “general warrants” that the Fourth Amendment was directly intended to prevent. (Note that, as we’ve explained before, it is irrelevant that Yahoo itself conducted the searches since it was acting as an agent of the government.)”unquote

    https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2016/10/yahoo-email-surveillance-next-front-fight-against-mass-surveillance

    I smell another EFF suit coming to the FBI’s front door, notwithstanding Yahoo. Hopefully, Melisa Mayer’s front door as well. Hopefully, they’ll class action suit vaporize her retirement too. Meanwhile, these scumbag tyrants think they can do anything they want in secret, and no one should call them on it. when caught. I have a feeling the EFF is raising their middle finger to the FBI.

  6. SpaceLifeForm says:

    Objection! EFF assumes facts not in evidence.

    Yahoo may have re-purposed some software to perform this new scan, but it does not mean that it is really doing DPI on all of the emails.

    It may not be looking at incoming emails at all. It may just be watching outgoing traffic.
    And that may not involve DPI either.
    They may be looking for an event, i.e., a msg
    from one facility to another facility.

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