2018 Senate Intelligence Global Threat Hearing Takeaways

Today was the annual Senate Intelligence Committee Global Threat Hearing, traditionally the hearing where Ron Wyden gets an Agency head to lie on the record.

That didn’t happen this time.

Instead, Wyden gave FBI Director Christopher Wray the opportunity to lay out the warnings the FBI had given the White House about Rob Porter’s spousal abuse problems, which should have led to Porter’s termination or at least loss of access to classified information.

The FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March. And then a completed background investigation in late July. That, soon thereafter, we received request for follow-up inquiry. And we did that follow-up and provided that information in November. Then we administratively closed the file in January. And then earlier this month we received some additional information and we passed that on as well.

That, of course, is the big takeaway the press got from the hearing.

A follow-up from Martin Heinrich shortly after Wyden’s question suggested he had reason to know of similar “areas of concern” involving Jared Kushner (which, considering the President’s son-in-law is under investigation in the Russian investigation, is not that surprising). Wray deferred that answer to closed session, so the committee will presumably learn some details of Kushner’s clearance woes by the end of the day.

Wray twice described the increasing reliance on “non-traditional collectors” in spying against the US, the second time in response to a Marco Rubio question about the role of Chinese graduate students in universities. Rubio thought the risk was from the Confucius centers that China uses to spin Chinese culture in universities. But not only did Wray say universities are showing less enthusiasm for Confucius centers of late, but made it clear he was talking about “professors, scientists, and students.” This is one of the reasons I keep pointing to the disproportionate impact of Section 702 on Chinese-Americans, because of this focus on academics from the FBI.

Susan Collins asked Mike Pompeo about the reports in The Intercept and NYT on CIA’s attempts to buy back Shadow Brokers tools. Pompeo claimed that James Risen and Matt Rosenberg were “swindled” when they got proffered the story, but along the way confirmed that the CIA was trying to buy stuff that “might have been stolen from the US government,” but that “it was unrelated to this idea of kompromat that appears in each of those two articles.” That’s actually a confirmation of the stories, not a refutation of them.

There was a fascinating exchange between Pompeo and Angus King, after the latter complained that, “until we have some deterrent capacity we are going to continue to be attacked” and then said right now there are now repercussions for Russia’s attack on the US.

Pompeo: I can’t say much in this setting I would argue that your statement that we have done nothing does not reflect the responses that, frankly, some of us at this table have engaged in or that this government has been engaged in both before and after, excuse me, both during and before this Administration.

King: But deterrence doesn’t work unless the other side knows it. The Doomsday Machine in Dr. Strangelove didn’t work because the Russians hadn’t told us about it.

Pompeo: It’s true. It’s important that the adversary know. It is not a requirement that the whole world know it.

King: And the adversary does know it, in your view?

Pompeo: I’d prefer to save that for another forum.

Pompeo later interjected himself into a Kamala Harris discussion about the Trump Administration’s refusal to impose sanctions by suggesting that the issue is Russia’s response to cumulative responses. He definitely went to some effort to spin the Administration’s response to Russia as more credible than it looks.

Tom Cotton made two comments about the dossier that Director Wray deferred answering to closed session.

First, he asked about Christopher Steele’s ties to Oleg Deripaska, something I first raised here and laid out in more detail in this Chuck Grassley letter to Deripaska’s British lawyer Paul Hauser. When Cotton asked if Steele worked for Deripaska, Wray said, “that’s not something I can answer.” When asked if they could discuss it in a classified setting, Wray said, “there might be more we could say there.”

Cotton then asked if the FBI position on the Steele dossier remains that it is “salacious and unverified” as he (misleadingly) quoted Comey as saying last year. Wray responded, “I think there’s maybe more we can talk about this afternoon on that.” It’s an interesting answer given that, in Chuck Grassley’s January 4 referral, he describes a “lack of corroboration for [Steele’s dossier] claims, at least at the time they were included in the FISA applications,” suggesting that Grassley might know of corroboration since. Yet in an interview by the even better informed Mark Warner published 25 days later, Warner mused that “so little of that dossier has either been fully proven or conversely, disproven.” Yesterday, FP reported that BuzzFeed had hired a former FBI cybersecurity official Anthony Ferrante to try to chase down the dossier in support of the Webzilla and Alfa bank suits against the outlet, so it’s possible that focused attention (and subpoena power tied to the lawsuit) may have netted some confirmation.

Finally, Richard Burr ended the hearing by describing what the committee was doing with regards to the Russian investigation. He (and Warner) described an effort to bring out an overview on ways to make elections more secure. But Burr also explained that SSCI will release a review of the ICA report on the 2016 hacks.

In addition to that, our review of the ICA, the Intel Committee Assessment, which was done in the F–December of 06, 16–we have reviewed in great detail, and we hope to report on what we found to support the findings where it’s appropriate, to be critical if in fact we found areas where we found came up short. We intend to make that public. Overview to begin with, none of this would be without a declassification process but we will have a public version as quickly as we can.

Finally, in the last dregs of the hearing, Burr suggested they would report on who colluded during the election.

We will continue to work towards conclusions  on any cooperation or collusion by any individual, campaign, or company with efforts to influence elections or create societal chaos in the United States.

My impression during the hearing was that this might refer to Cambridge Analytica, which tried to help Wikileaks organize hacked emails — and it might well refer to that. But I wonder if there’s not another company he has in mind.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

Media Criticism: The Press Needs to Get Far More Rigorous about Reporting on Cybersecurity

Four days ago, NBC reported, as BREAKING news, that in an exclusive interview, Jeanette Manfra had confirmed that the voter rolls of 21 states were targeted in 2016.

Russians penetrated U.S. voter systems, top U.S. official says

The U.S. official in charge of protecting American elections from hacking says the Russians successfully penetrated the voter registration rolls of several U.S. states prior to the 2016 presidential election.

In an exclusive interview with NBC News, Jeanette Manfra, the head of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security, said she couldn’t talk about classified information publicly, but in 2016, “We saw a targeting of 21 states and an exceptionally small number of them were actually successfully penetrated.”

The headline stated and this video (which has been viewed online by 50,000 people) stated explicitly that 21 states were “penetrated.”

I criticized all the breathless retweeting of the report in a subtweet.

Today, DHS did more than subtweet the report and the irresponsible sharing of it. It released a scathing complaint, in Jeanette Manfra’s (the woman NBC interviewed) name, about NBC’s reporting, specifically complaining that NBC reported the number as “breaking” news.

Recent NBC reporting has misrepresented facts and confused the public with regard to Department of Homeland Security and state and local government efforts to combat election hacking. First off, let me be clear: we have no evidence – old or new – that any votes in the 2016 elections were manipulated by Russian hackers. NBC News continues to falsely report my recent comments on attempted election hacking – which clearly mirror my testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last summer – as some kind of “breaking news,” incorrectly claiming a shift in the administration’s position on cyber threats. As I said eight months ago, a number of states were the target of Russian government cyber actors seeking vulnerabilities and access to U.S. election infrastructure. In the majority of cases, only preparatory activity like scanning was observed, while in a small number of cases, actors were able to access the system but we have no evidence votes were changed or otherwise impacted.

NBC’s irresponsible reporting, which is being roundly criticized elsewhere in the media and by security experts alike, undermines the ability of the Department of Homeland Security, our partners at the Election Assistance Commission, and state and local officials across the nation to do our incredibly important jobs. While we’ll continue our part to educate NBC and others on the threat, more importantly, the Department of Homeland Security and our state and local partners will continue our mission to secure the nation’s election systems.

To our state and local partners in the election community: there’s no question we’re making real and meaningful progress together. States will do their part in how they responsibly manage and implement secure voting processes. For our part, we’re going to continue to support with risk and vulnerability assessments, offer cyber hygiene scans, provide real-time threat intel feeds, issue security clearances to state officials, partner on incident response planning, and deliver cybersecurity training. The list goes on of how we’re leaning forward and helping our partners in the election community. We will not stop, and will stand by our partners to protect our nation’s election infrastructure and ensure that all Americans can have confidence in our democratic elections.

In response to my observation that NBC should never have presented it as “breaking” news and my subsequent suggestion that it’d be far more useful to educate people about what “compromise” can mean, Ken Dilanian got pissy, suggesting I don’t do reporting.

When I retweeted the video above (h/t K), suggesting maybe Dilanian could educate viewers about what both “compromise” and “penetrate” mean, he responded “Or you could focus on your own reporting.”

Only, we don’t need NBC to do that. We can go back to Manfra’s testimony from June, where she distinguished between “compromise,” unsuccessful compromise,” and “scanning.”

One comprehensive intelligence report published by the Office of Intelligence and Analysis in early October, cataloged suspicious activity we observed on state government networks across the country. This initial look, largely based on suspected malicious tactics and infrastructure, helped inform a body of reporting directly related to election infrastructure. While not a definitive source in identifying individual activity attributed to Russian government cyber actors, it established that Internet-connected election-related networks, including websites, in 21 states were potentially targeted by Russian government cyber actors. Although we’ve refined our understanding of individual targeted networks, supported by classified reporting, the scale and scope noted in that October 2016 report still generally characterizes our observations: a small number of networks were successfully compromised, there were a larger number of states where attempts to compromise networks were unsuccessful, and there were an even greater number of states where only preparatory activity like scanning was observed.

Admittedly, we’d all be better served if Manfra had provided more detail about precisely what these terms mean.

But absent that, the press should be far more cautious reporting on various degrees of hacking, as most people don’t understand the difference between a scan, a compromise, and damage from such compromise.

And lest Dilanian think I wrote this up just to document what a horse’s ass he was in response to well-earned criticism, I should note I’m supposed to be working on this issue in conjunction with a fellowship I’ve got — it turns out I’ve got a meeting this week where this example will come in very handy, thus the value of documenting it.

The explanation for Russia’s 2016 election-related hacking that everyone will agree on is that they did it to sow distrust in democracy. But shitty reporting on attempts to hack our democracy does that just as well.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

Under Cover of the Nunes Memo, Russian Spooks Sneak Openly into Meetings with Trump’s Administration

On December 17, Vladimir Putin picked up the phone and called Donald Trump.

Ostensibly, the purpose of the call was to thank Trump for intelligence the US provided Russia that helped them thwart a terrorist attack. Here’s what the White House readout described.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia called President Donald J. Trump today to thank him for the advanced warning the United States intelligence agencies provided to Russia concerning a major terror plot in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Based on the information the United States provided, Russian authorities were able to capture the terrorists just prior to an attack that could have killed large numbers of people. No Russian lives were lost and the terrorist attackers were caught and are now incarcerated. President Trump appreciated the call and told President Putin that he and the entire United States intelligence community were pleased to have helped save so many lives. President Trump stressed the importance of intelligence cooperation to defeat terrorists wherever they may be. Both leaders agreed that this serves as an example of the positive things that can occur when our countries work together. President Putin extended his thanks and congratulations to Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Mike Pompeo and the CIA. President Trump then called Director Pompeo to congratulate him, his very talented people, and the entire intelligence community on a job well done!

Putin, of course, has a history of trumping up terrorist attacks for political purposes (which is not to say he’s the only one).

In Trump’s Russia, top spooks come to you

That call that Putin initiated serves as important background to an event (or several — the details are still uncertain) that happened earlier this week, as everyone was distracted with Devin Nunes’ theatrics surrounding his memo attacking the Mueller investigation into whether Trump has engaged in a conspiracy with Russia. All three of Russia’s intelligence heads came to DC for a visit.

The visit of the sanctioned head of SVR, Sergey Naryshkin — Russia’s foreign intelligence service — was ostentatiously announced by Russia’s embassy.

SVR is the agency that tried to recruit Carter Page back in 2013, and which has also newly been given credit for the hack of the DNC in some Dutch reporting (and a recent David Sanger article). It’s clear that SVR wanted Americans to know that their sanctioned head had been through town.

As the week went on, WaPo reported that FSB’s Alexander Bortnikov and GRU’s Colonel General Igor Korobov had also been through town (GRU has previously gotten primary credit for the hack and Korobov was also sanctioned in the December 2016 response, and FSB was described as having an assisting role).

Pompeo met with Sergey Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service or SVR, and Alexander Bortnikov, who runs the FSB, which is the main successor to the Soviet-era security service the KGB.

The head of Russia’s military intelligence, the GRU, also came to Washington, though it is not clear he met with Pompeo.

A senior U.S. intelligence official based in Moscow was also called back to Washington for the meeting with the CIA chief, said a person familiar with the events, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive meeting.

Treasury defies Congress on Russian sanctions

These visits have been associated with Trump’s decision not to enforce congressionally mandated sanctions, claiming that the threat of sanctions is already working even as Mike Pompeo insists that Russia remains a threat. In lieu of providing a mandated list of Russians who could be sanctioned, Treasury basically released the Forbes list of richest Russians, meaning that the sanction list includes people who’re squarely opposed to Putin. In my opinion, reporting on the Forbes list underplays the contempt of the move. Then, today, Treasury released a memo saying Russia was too systematically important to sanction.

Schumer’s questions and Pompeo’s non-answers

Indeed, Chuck Schumer emphasized sanctions in a letter he sent to Dan Coats, copied to Mike Pompeo, about the Naryshkin visit (the presence of the others was just becoming public).

As you are well aware, Mr. Naryshkin is a Specially Designated National under U.S. sanctions law, which imposes severe financial penalties and prohibits his entry into the U.S. without a waiver. Moreover, the visit of the SVR chief occurred only days before Congress was informed of the president’s decision not to implement sanctions authorized the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which was passed with near unanimous, bipartisan support. CAATSA was designed to impose a price on Russian President Vladimir Putin and his cronies for well-documented Russian aggression and interference in the 2016 election. However, the administration took little to no action, even as Russia continues its cyberattacks on the U.S.

Certainly, that seems a fair conclusion to draw — that by emphasizing Naryshkin’s presence, Russia was also boasting that it was immune from Congress’ attempts to sanction it.

But Mike Pompeo, who responded to Schumer, conveniently responded only to Schumer’s public comments, not the letter itself.

I am writing to you in response to your press conference Tuesday where you suggested there was something untoward in officials from Russian intelligence services meeting with their U.S. counterparts. Let me assure you there is not. [my emphasis]

This allowed Pompeo to dodge a range Schumer’s questions addressing Russia’s attacks on the US.

What specific policy issues and topics were discussed by Mr. Naryshkin and U.S. officials?

    1. Did the U.S. officials who met with Mr. Naryshkin raise Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections?  If not, why was this not raised? If raised, what was his response?
    2. Did the U.S. officials who met with Mr. Naryshkin raise existing and congressionally-mandated U.S. sanctions against Russia discussed? If not, why was this not raised? If raised, what was his response?
    3. Did the U.S. officials who met with Mr. Naryshkin raise ongoing Russian cyber attacks on the U.S. and its allies, including reported efforts to discredit the Federal Bureau of Investigation and law enforcement investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections? If not, why was this not raised? If raised, what was his response?
    4. Did the U.S. officials who met with Mr. Naryshkin make clear that Putin’s interference in the 2018 and 2020 elections would be a hostile act against the United States? If not, why was this not raised? If raised, what was his response?

Instead of providing responses to questions about Russian tampering, Pompeo instead excused the whole meeting by pointing to counterterrorism, that same purpose, indeed — the same attack — that Putin raised in his December phone call.

We periodically meet with our Russian intelligence counterparts — to keep America safe. While Russia remains an adversary, we would put American lives at greater risk if we ignored opportunities to work with the Russian services in the fight against terrorism. We are proud of that counterterror work, including CIA’s role with its Russian counterparts in the recent disruption of a terrorist plot targeting St. Petersburg, Russia — a plot that could have killed Americans.

[snip]

Security cooperation between our intelligence services has occurred under multiple administrations. I am confident that you would support CIA continuing these engagements that are aimed at protecting the American people.

The contempt on sanctions makes it clear this goes beyond counterterrorism

All this together should allay any doubt you might have that this meeting goes beyond counterterrorism, if, indeed, it even has anything to do with counterterrorism.

Just as one possible other topic, in November, WSJ reported that DOJ was working towards charging Russians involved in the hack after the new year.

The Justice Department has identified more than six members of the Russian government involved in hacking the Democratic National Committee’s computers and swiping sensitive information that became public during the 2016 presidential election, according to people familiar with the investigation.

Prosecutors and agents have assembled evidence to charge the Russian officials and could bring a case next year, these people said. Discussions about the case are in the early stages, they said.

If filed, the case would provide the clearest picture yet of the actors behind the DNC intrusion. U.S. intelligence agencies have attributed the attack to Russian intelligence services, but haven’t provided detailed information about how they concluded those services were responsible, or any details about the individuals allegedly involved.

Today, Russia issued a new warning that America is “hunting” Russians all over the world, citing (among others) hacker Roman Seleznev.

“American special services are continuing their de facto hunt for Russians all over the world,” reads the statement published on the ministry’s website on Friday. The Russian diplomats also gave several examples of such arbitrary detentions of Russian citizens that took place in Spain, Latvia, Canada and Greece.

“Sometimes these were actual abductions of our compatriots. This is what happened with Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was kidnapped in Liberia in 2010 and secretly taken to the United States in violation of Liberian and international laws. This also happened in 2014 with Roman Seleznyov, who was literally abducted in the Maldives and forcefully taken to American territory,” the statement reads.

The ministry also warned that after being handed over to the US justice system, Russian citizens often encounter extremely biased attitudes.

“Through various means, including direct threats, they attempt to coerce Russians into pleading guilty, despite the fact that the charges of them are far-fetched. Those who refuse get sentenced to extraordinarily long prison terms.”

And, as I noted earlier, Trey Gowdy — one of the few members of Congress who has seen where Mueller is going with this investigation — cited the import of the counterintelligence case against Russia in a Sunday appearance.

CHRIS WALLACE: Congressman, we’ll get to your concerns about the FBI and the Department of Justice in a moment. But — but let me begin first with this. Do you still trust, after all you’ve heard, do you still trust Special Counsel Robert Mueller to conduct a fair and unbiased investigation?

REP. TREY GOWDY, R-SC, OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: One hundred percent, particularly if he’s given the time, the resources and the independence to do his job. Chris, he didn’t apply for the job. He’s where he is because we have an attorney general who had to recuse himself. So Mueller didn’t raise his hand and say, hey, pick me. We, as a country, asked him to do this.

And, by the way, he’s got two — there are two components to his jurisdiction. There is a criminal component. But there’s also a counterintelligence component that no one ever talks about because it’s not sexy and interesting. But he’s also going to tell us definitively what Russia tried to do in 2016. So the last time you and I were together, I told my Republican colleagues, leave him the hell alone, and that’s still my advice.

Schumer and other Democrats demanding answers about this visit might think about any ways the Russians might be working to undermine Mueller’s investigation or transparency that might come of it.

Three weeks of oversight free covert action

The timing of this visit is particularly concerning for another reason. In the three week continuing resolution to fund the government passed on January 22, the House Appropriations Chair Rodney Frelinghuysen added language that would allow the Administration to shift money funding intelligence activities around without telling Congress. It allows funds to,

“be obligated and expended notwithstanding section 504(a)(1) of the National Security Act of 1947.”

Section 504(a)(1) is the piece of the law that requires intelligence agencies to spend money on the program the money was appropriated for. “Appropriated funds available to an intelligence agency may be obligated or expended for an intelligence or intelligence-related activity only if those funds were specifically authorized by the Congress for use for such activities; or …”

The “or” refers to the intelligence community’s obligation to inform Congress of any deviation. But without any obligation to spend funds as specifically authorized, there is no obligation to inform Congress if that’s not happening.

Since the only real way to prohibit the Executive is to prohibit them to spend money on certain things, the change allows the Trump Administration to do things they’ve been specifically prohibited from doing for the three week period of the continuing resolution.

Senators Burr and Warner tried to change the language before passage on January 22, to no avail.

This year’s Defense Authorization included a whole slew of limits on Executive Branch activity, including mandating a report if the Executive cooperates with Russia on Syria and prohibiting any military cooperation until such time as Russia leaves Ukraine. It’s possible the Trump Administration would claim those appropriations-tied requirements could be ignored during the time of the continuing resolution.

Which just happened to cover the period of the Russian visit.

Our friends are getting nervous

Meanwhile, both before and after the visit, our allies have found ways to raise concerns about sharing intelligence with the US in light of Trump’s coziness with Russia. A key subtext of the stories revealing that Netherlands’ AIVD saw Russian hackers targeting the Democrats via a hacked security camera was that Rick Ledgett’s disclosure of that operation last year had raised concerns about sharing with the US.

President elect Donald Trump categorically refuses to explicitly acknowledge the Russian interference. It would tarnish the gleam of his electoral victory. He has also frequently praised Russia, and president Putin in particular. This is one of the reasons the American intelligence services eagerly leak information: to prove that the Russians did in fact interfere with the elections. And that is why intelligence services have told American media about the amazing access of a ‘western ally’.

This has led to anger in Zoetermeer and The Hague. Some Dutchmen even feel betrayed. It’s absolutely not done to reveal the methods of a friendly intelligence service, especially if you’re benefiting from their intelligence. But no matter how vehemently the heads of the AIVD and MIVD express their displeasure, they don’t feel understood by the Americans. It’s made the AIVD and MIVD a lot more cautious when it comes to sharing intelligence. They’ve become increasingly suspicious since Trump was elected president.

Then, the author of a book on Israeli’s assassinations has suggested that the intelligence Trump shared with the Russians goes beyond what got publicly reported, goes to the heart of Israeli intelligence operations.

DAVIES: So if I understand it, you know of specific information that the U.S. shared with the Russians that has not been revealed publicly and that you are not revealing publicly?

BERGMAN: The nature of the information that President Trump revealed to Foreign Minister Lavrov is of the most secretive nature.

Finally, a piece on the Nunes memo out today suggests the British will be less likely to share intelligence with Trump’s administration after the release of the memo (though this is admittedly based on US congressional claims, not British sources).

Britain’s spy agencies risk having their intelligence methods revealed if Donald Trump releases a controversial memo about the FBI, congressional figures have warned.

The UK will be less likely to share confidential information if the secret memo about the Russian investigation is made public, according to those opposing its release.

Clearly, this meeting goes beyond counterterrorism cooperation. And given the way that both Treasury and CIA have acted contemptuously in the aftermath of the visit, Schumer and others should be far more aggressive in seeking answers about what this visit really entailed.

Update: I’ve added the section on Section 504.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

FBI Decided Four Months after They Arrested MalwareTech that He Told Them He Hadn’t Been Drinking before the Arrest

Marcus Hutchins’ (AKA MalwareTech) defense team has replied to the government’s response to their motion to compel discovery; they are seeking evidence pertaining to his arrest and about the people (his co-defendant, Tran, and an informant, “Randy”) on whom Hutchins was incidentally collected. Here’s my post on the original defense motion, and the one on the government response showing that this case is all about incidental collection.

FBI’s discussions about what to do about a drunken MalwareTech

As I laid out, the defense claims that Hutchins was intoxicated and exhausted when he was arrested awaiting a transatlantic flight after a week of partying at hacker conferences in Las Vegas. The government claims they asked Hutchins if he had been drinking, and (they claim) he said no.

This latest filing shows that the FBI was concerned about just that. FBI Agents had an email discussion the day Hutchins was arrested discussing what they should do if he was drinking.

That production included one e-mail, dated August 2, 2017 (the day of Mr. Hutchins’ arrest), discussing what the agents should do if Mr. Hutchins started drinking at the airport (the plan: “pull him out of terminal”). This shows the agents’ contemporaneous awareness of, and concern about, the possibility of Mr. Hutchins being impaired. There surely might be other communications, including e-mails and text messages on agents’ phones, touching on the voluntariness of Mr. Hutchins’ supposed proper waiver of his Miranda rights, as well as the voluntariness of the resulting statement.

The government claims that the Agents asked Hutchins if he had been drinking as part of their interview (only part of which was recorded). Except they didn’t memorialize that contemporaneously. They wrote it up into a 302 “over four months after the arrest” — so sometime after December 2.

The government makes much of the fact that Mr. Hutchins was asked by FBI agents if he had been drinking. But even if the FBI 302 (which was written over four months after the arrest) is accurate, it does not mention exhaustion or other possible forms of intoxication (it only mentions drinking).

Consider how this looks, given another detail from the defense reply: that the FBI didn’t turn over that 302 (or the email showing the FBI was concerned that Hutchins might be drinking) until the day they submitted their response on January 19.

The government’s response neglects to mention that these records that the government references as being disclosed “recently” were produced to the defense earlier on the same day the response was filed.

Incorporating the details provided in this status report produces this timeline:

November 21: Defense and prosecution lawyers try to resolve these issues including questions about whether Hutchins was intoxicated, and conclude they weren’t going to be able to resolve them.

[C]ounsel for the government and counsel for Mr. Hutchins participated in a conference call in an attempt to resolve open issues related those discovery requests. Despite our best efforts, we have been unable to resolve those issues.

After December 2: FBI creates 302 memorializing claim that they asked Hutchins whether he had been drinking.

December 7: Hutchins’ lawyers tell the government they’re going to file a motion compelling this discovery.

[C]ounsel for Mr. Hutchins informed the government they intend to file a motion for an order that compels the government to produce certain materials to the defense.

January 5: Defense files motion to compel.

January 19: Government turns over 302 claiming they asked if Hutchins had been drinking when they arrested him and response to motion to compel.

In spite of the fact that FBI itself was worried on the day they arrested him about whether Hutchins would be sober enough for an interrogation, they never got around to claiming that they had made sure he was until after some time, potentially months, of discussions about that question and after they had decided they couldn’t get the defense to stop asking for it.

I’d say that’s pretty sketchy.

Government didn’t get around to surveilling Hutchins until July 26

In my post on the government response, I wondered why there would be a surveillance report from July 26, but not one from when Hutchins first arrived in Las Vegas on July 21.

The filing also reveals that there are,

two reports detailing limited surveillance of the defendant on July 26, 2017, and August 2, 2017.

Note, while August 2 is the day Hutchins left Las Vegas, the 26th was not the day he arrived; that was July 21. So they conducted surveillance of him on at least one day while he was in the US hanging out with other hackers at Black Hat, but won’t tell him if they conducted surveillance on the other days.

The defense reply explains it: for whatever reason, Agents in Wisconsin didn’t get around to asking Las Vegas FBI to start surveillance on Hutchins until July 26.

Since the agents started surveillance on July 26, 2017 and it ran through August 2, 2017, it is inconceivable that the agents actively surveilling him exchanged nothing but a single e-mail right before Mr. Hutchins’ arrest.1

1 The only other e-mail disclosed by the government appears to have been sent from an FBI agent in Milwaukee on July 26, 2017, and requests FBI Las Vegas assistance to conduct surveillance of Mr. Hutchins.

For some reason, the FBI either didn’t realize the guy they had just indicted on July 11 was coming to the US until well after he got here in spite of the fact that 1) he had been to Black Hat the year before 2) he was talking about coming again on Twitter 3) he tracked his flight into the country on Twitter, or they didn’t decide they were going to arrest him until after he had been here for a while.

So arresting Hutchins was so urgent they had to do it before he left the country (to avoid extradition), even if he had been drinking (and interviewing him while he was still confused and without counsel was such a priority they couldn’t let him just catch up on his sleep in jail).

But not so urgent they had prepared enough for his well-advertised arrival in the weeks before he arrived to have Las Vegas’ FBI ready to surveil him.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Government Built Its Criminal Case against MalwareTech Off Incidental Collection

The government has responded to MalwareTech’s (Marcus Hutchins) demand for more evidence by refusing everything. Along the way, they reveal that the bulk of the case against Hutchins arises from him being incidentally collected off two other criminal suspects, Tran (his co-defendant) and Randy (an informant who provided testimony against him in conjunction with his own criminal exposure).

Twenty-somethings claiming they’re not drunk occifer

As for rebuttals of the points made in his demand, the government has two rebuttals as to the substance of Hutchins’ argument, versus the law. First, they claim that Hutchins told the FBI he wasn’t drunk when they arrested him, contrary to the claim made to support a demand for materials on the surveillance of him leading up to his arrest.

Before the interview started, Hutchins told agents that he was not under the influence of alcohol.

Apparently they made a separate 302 (of unknown date) to memorialize their claim he told them he wasn’t drunk.

In addition to those materials, the government recently disclosed an additional FBI 302 report memorializing the defendant’s statement that he was not under the influence of alcohol at the time of his arrest,

The filing also reveals that there are,

two reports detailing limited surveillance of the defendant on July 26, 2017, and August 2, 2017.

Note, while August 2 is the day Hutchins left Las Vegas, the 26th was not the day he arrived; that was July 21. So they conducted surveillance of him on at least one day while he was in the US hanging out with other hackers at Black Hat, but won’t tell him if they conducted surveillance on the other days.

The government’s “intentional” fuckups may lead to superseding indictments

The government seems to cede Hutchins’ suggestion that it flubbed the language on “intention” versus “knowledge” on at least one and maybe a second charge against him.

Hutchins claims that the indictment is defective because Count Two of the indictment states that the defendant acted “knowingly” instead of “intentionally.” 3 Likewise, despite the fact that Count Six charges an attempt, Hutchins argues Count Six fails to allege that defendant “intentionally” attempted to cause damage to a protected computer.4 This, however is not an allegation of “error in the grand jury proceedings” under Rule 12(b)(3)(A)(v). It is an allegation of a defect in the indictment under Rule 12(b)(3)(B)(v). Thus, if Hutchins truly believes Counts Two and Six are facially defective, he can file a motion dismiss those counts under Rule 12(b)(3)(B)(v).

3 Count Two appears to contain a drafting error because Counts Three and Four, which also allege violations of 18 U.S.C. § 2512, state that the defendant acted “intentionally” rather than “knowingly.” This further undermines Hutchins’ speculation that the grand jury was erroneously instructed.

4 According to Seventh Circuit jury instructions, an attempt means to take a substantial step towards committing the offense, with the “intent to commit the offense.” Therefore, because Count Six is charged as an attempt to violate section 1030, including the word “intentionally” before “attempted” would be unnecessary and redundant.

But they generously offer to fix that problem in a superseding indictment.

The government has already explained to the defense that it will likely seek a superseding indictment in this case. That superseding indictment would address any possible drafting errors noted by the defense.

Given that elsewhere they say the informant, Randy, who provided information against Hutchins, discussed “involvement in creating the Kronos banking Trojan, among other criminal conduct” [my emphasis] with him in online chats, they seem to be suggesting that if the defense makes too big a deal about this they’ll add charges against Hutchins.

Incidentally collected defendants get nothing

Perhaps most interesting, this filing demonstrates the degree to which Hutchins’ prosecution stems from his incidental collection in investigative efforts targeting Tran and Randy. In fact, precisely because he was incidentally collected and not personally targeted, the government claims it doesn’t have to provide affidavits that might explain how — and more importantly, why — they decided to arrest Hutchins.

For example, the government argues Hutchins can’t have the MLAT requests, which are used to ask other countries to provide information for a criminal prosecution. In this case, MLATs obtained  information on Tran, the guy who sold the Kronos malware Hutchins is alleged to have helped write. The government refuses to hand these over, in part, because they don’t get signed by FBI Agents, but instead get signed by lawyers.

Here, the defendant relies on Rule 16(a)(1)(E)(i) in seeking disclosure of MLATs and search warrant applications. But that Rule is inapplicable. With regard to MLATs, they are not signed or attested to by law enforcement agents. Instead, they are signed by an attorney representing the United States. Information received in response to an MLAT that is subject to disclosure under Rule 16 has been, and will continue to be, turned over to the defense in this case. Indeed, the defendant acknowledges that he has received materials responsive to an MLAT request. Doc. #44 at 17. The MLAT request itself, however, is not subject to production. In fact, MLAT requests (rather than the responsive materials) are explicitly excluded from production under Rule 16(a)(2).

Moreover, because the MLAT was targeted at Hutchins’ co-defendant, and not him, he doesn’t get it.

Moreover, the MLAT request submitted in this case related to Hutchins’s codefendant and not Hutchins. As noted above, the government has disclosed materials received in response to the MLAT, but the MLAT itself is not subject to production under Rule 16, Giglio, Brady, or § 3500.

There is one still undisclosed search warrant affidavit in the case. But because that was used to incriminate Randy, the informant, Hutchins won’t get that either.

With regard to search warrant materials, the government has explained to Hutchins that no search warrants were executed that focused on Hutchins’ activities. There was a search warrant executed in an unrelated case that revealed statements made by Hutchins to CS-1, and those statements were turned over in discovery under Rule 16. But, there is no authority supporting the production of that search warrant affidavit or other documents relating to that warrant. The warrant was executed at a residence in the United States and did not involve Hutchins’ property or privacy interests. The affidavit is not subject to disclosure under 18 U.S.C. § 3500 because it was made in connection with an unrelated investigation. Given the separation between this case and the other investigation, the government does not believe at this time that the affiant’s statements in the affidavit supporting that warrant “relate to the subject matter of the testimony” to be presented in this case. 18 U.S.C. § 3500.

The government seems pretty lackadaisical towards Hutchins’ co-defendant

The government’s unwillingness to turn over information on the other alleged criminals in this case is particularly interesting given how uninterested they seem in him. The filing reveals that someone working undercover for the FBI did have discussions with Tran about Kronos (again, this is malware that had no significant US victims in the form Hutchins is alleged to have been involved in it), and they collected postings on it off the Darkode forum.

In support of this request, Hutchins asserts that such items “must be material to preparing Mr. Hutchins’ defense” because the indictment alleges a conspiracy; that “the government may be withholding information that could exculpate Mr. Hutchins”; and that he has a right to “locate the codefendant.” Doc. #44 at 8-9. Because the government has disclosed information relating to the codefendant, and there is no authority supporting the defendant’s request for additional information, his motion to compel the production of this information should be denied.

Of note, Hutchins’ codefendant has not yet been arrested in connection with this case. And, the government has disclosed certain information relating to the codefendant to Hutchins. This includes (1) the codefendant’s name; (2) materials responsive to an MLAT request that included a redacted copy of the codefendant’s passport; (3) undercover chats between the codefendant and the FBI related to the marketing, sale, and distribution of Kronos; and (4) various Internet postings related to Kronos that are attributable to one of the aliases used by the codefendant, including on the now shuttered Darkode forum.

But the government hasn’t obtained any information about the other things Tran was selling on dark markets.

Hutchins’ speculation that “the government must be withholding substantial additional information in its possession,” including information that may show the codefendant acted independently of Hutchins, is not supported. Doc. #44 at 8. While it might be true that the codefendant was involved in criminal activity in addition to distributing Kronos with Hutchins, the government is not suppressing that information. It simply does not possess such information. If additional records in the government’s possession are identified and deemed material, the government will provide those records to the defendant.1

That suggests he’s not really the target here.

More interesting still, the government claims it hasn’t yet identified any records from its AlphaBay seizure pertaining this malware they claim is so important they’ve arrested the guy who stopped the WannaCry malware attack.

1 In his motion, Hutchins states that “the government likely has records of the codefendant’s activities on AlphaBay.” Doc. #44 at 9. The government is still pursing information from the AlphaBay marketplace, but it has not yet located any materials subject to disclosure.

It seems virtually impossible that they wouldn’t find information in the seized servers,  if it was, at all, a priority. Which seems to suggest the opposite — not finding anything — may be a priority.

By providing evidence that suggests the government simply isn’t all that interested in Tran (if, as his name suggests, he’s Vietnamese, he may be beyond any extradition treaty), the government dismisses the possibility that Hutchins or his friends could find Tran (not an unreasonable possibility, because that’s how hackers roll).

[Hutchins] told agents that he knew his codefendant only by various online aliases; his dealings with his codefendant were all online; and he has never met his codefendant in person or even seen a photograph of the codefendant. It therefore makes no sense for Hutchins to claim that, if provided the requested “materials and communications,” he will be able to locate the fugitive codefendant and obtain exculpatory information from that individual.

But along the way, this prevents Hutchins from arguing that this case is all trumped up to go after him, for some reason.

Hiding Randy and the carding charges he’s working off

More interesting, still, the government is going to some lengths to hide Randy, the informant they call CS-1 who provided information on Hutchins.

The list of what they have provided in discovery provides some outline of how they got to Randy.

In reality, the government has produced the following materials related to CS-1: (1) A redacted proffer letter between the government and CS-1; (2) undercover chats between a government cooperator and CS-1 regarding the sale of stolen credit card numbers; (3) chats between CS-1 and Hutchins regarding Hutchins’ involvement in creating the Kronos banking Trojan, among other criminal conduct; and (4) a redacted FBI 302 report (which Hutchins refers to in his motion) memorializing a FBI interview of CS-1 regarding Hutchins and others.

It seems that a third part (the “government cooperator,” who himself may be an informant working off criminal charges) provided the FBI chats showing discussions with Randy of carding activity. This led to the FBI to go after Randy. He, in turn, made a proffer to the government offering to cooperate, presumably in exchange for leniency in his own case. That led to an interview with the FBI where Randy provided information on Hutchins “and others.”

Note that the government doesn’t tell us when all this happened?

The government argues that Randy is a mere tipster who wasn’t (yet) being controlled by the FBI at the time, and so they won’t have to let Hutchins question Randy about these underlying circumstances unless they put Randy on the stand, even though they concede he might (as someone working off his own criminal exposure) might actually be a transactional witness.

CS-1’s position in this case is more of a like a “mere tipster” than a transactional confidential informant. Hutchins sent a copy of the Kronos malware to CS-1 in 2015, but CS-1 was not acting as an agent for the government at that time. If the government called CS-1 as a witness at trial, his/her primary role would be to testify about the third-party admissions Hutchins made during chats with CS-1. Even if the Court found CS-1 acted more like a transactional witness, that finding does not automatically justify disclosure of CS-1’s identity. United States v. McDowell, 687 F.3d 904, 911 (7th Cir. 2012). The defendant would still need to establish that knowing CS-1’s identity is “relevant and helpful to his defense or is essential to a fair determination of a cause,” Wilburn, 581 F.3d at 623. Here, his request for disclosure of CS-1’s identity is based on speculation, which is insufficient. See Valles, 41 F.3d at 358 (“The confidential informant privilege ‘will not yield to permit a mere fishing expedition, nor upon bare speculation that the information may possibly prove useful.’” (quoting Dole, 870 F.2d at 373)).

The government argues that Hutchins is only speculating that learning who Randy is would be material to his defense, and uses that to argue that they don’t have to reveal Randy’s name so Hutchins can test whether it’s material to his defense.

The government generously agrees to give Hutchins Randy’s real name if they call him to testify, but then boast that Hutchins’ jail phone calls mitigate the need to put Randy on the stand.

Nonetheless, the government agrees to disclose CS-1’s identity to the defense if it determines that CS-1 will be a testifying witness at trial.2

2 To be sure, it might not be necessary to call CS-1 as a witness at trial because the defendant was shown the chats he had with CS-1 during his post-arrest interview and the defendant admitted that he was one of the parties in those conversations. Later, the defendant made phone call from jail in which he described the chats as “undeniable.” Therefore, the admissions Mr. Hutchins made to CS-1 are admissible non-hearsay statements, which Mr. Hutchins previously identified as accurate.

There are a slew of reasons Randy’s identity is of particular interest. Not least, that unknown entities engaged in serial credit card fraud to try to disrupt Hutchins’ defense fundraisers. As I’ve suggested, that means that entities engaged in probable criminal credit card fraud made a concerted effort to thwart Hutchins’ ability to mount the most robust defense.

Is the FBI even investigating who disrupted Hutchins’ defense fundraising efforts? Would they do so if it would hurt their case?

All of which leaves the distinct impression that the government isn’t all that interested in the two suspected criminals implicated in the case against him, but are very interested in ratcheting up the pressure on Hutchins himself.

And because they got to Hutchins via incidental collection — and not direct targeting — they might succeed in doing so.

 

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

Let the Pro-Oprah Resistance Beware: Scam in Progress?

A majority of Americans are really frustrated right now but they shouldn’t let their guard down at the first sign of hope. Tapping someone’s anger is an easy way for scammers and other hostile agents to get access to personal information and in some cases, money.

One likely example of opportunism is the National Committee to Draft Oprah Winfrey for President of the United States 2020. There have been emails sent to folks soliciting their support to recruit Oprah Winfrey to run for president in 2020 — except the entity sending the emails looks like vaporware.

There’s a simple yet attractive website with a countdown clock to Election Day 2020 and a sign up form as well as a donate button, along with a means to share the website across social media.

A press release announcing this effort is published as a separate page at the website, too.

Except that the press release — unlike authentic press releases — gives zero information about the organization except for an email address.

The website itself has no About Us, no Directors or Founders or Managers or Team page. There’s no information about a nonprofit or other political entity behind this, only an organization name, a claim to copyright, and the two pages — Home and Press Release.

And absolutely no Privacy Policy or Terms of Use provided, nor is the page set up for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) protocol (for this reason I am not providing a link to the site).

The website’s domain registration is masked, only showing DomainsByProxy as the registrar. Do a WhoIs lookup on the Democratic Party’s domain for comparison; you’ll find the domain isn’t masked at all and both a physical address as well as contact information are readily available.

The worst part of this is the repeated use of a quote by Winfrey’s long-time partner, Stedman Graham, as a justification for this ‘movement’. Yet nowhere on the site does Graham appear as a founder, director, manager, team member, or even an endorser.

If one of these emails should show up in my inbox, I’m going to treat it as a spearphishing attempt and mark it spam. Because I haven’t received and looked at one of these emails, I can’t rule out these emails are, in fact, phishing attempts of some kind.

The website itself should be treated with suspicion; without more evidence of a legitimate organization behind it, it’s merely a pretty address harvesting tool and an opportunity for a scam artist to pick up some easy liberal cash.

How easily could an outfit like Cambridge Analytica match up these harvested addresses against Facebook and voters’ records, to identify which voters to suppress with Oprah-flavored micro-targeted messaging via social media? It’d be worth a pretty penny to an opponent (and their sponsors) facing stiff headwinds in 2020.

If there is a real movement which is serious about recruiting Oprah, for goodness sake show up at local Democratic Party meetings and learn how to do this correctly. Don’t let Oprah get turned unknowingly and without her consent into another Russian tool to fragment the party by drafting her from outside the party.

P.S. Hey Tom Perez and Keith Ellison — perhaps a little tighter control on domains.democrat addresses is worth your time, to prevent Democratic Party supporters? Didn’t the DNC learn anything from the past two years about cybersecurity?

[Image on home page via National Committee to Draft Oprah Winfrey for President of the United States 2020, published here under Fair Use.]

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

The Government’s MalwareTech Case Goes (Further) To Shit

MalwareTech’s lawyers just submitted a motion to compel discovery in his case. It makes it clear his case is going to shit — and that’s only the stuff that is public.

DOJ is hiding what drunken MalwareTech understood about un-common law

First, the motion reveals that even though the FBI recorded its interview with Marcus Hutchins at the Las Vegas airport, where Hutchins allegedly admitted to creating the Kronos malware (though in actuality Hutchins only admitted to creating that code), they somehow forgot to record (or even write down) the Miranda warning part.

After Mr. Hutchins was taken into custody, two law enforcement agents interviewed him at the airport. The memorandum of that interview generically states: “After being advised of the identity of the interviewing Agents, the nature of the interview and being advised of his rights, HUTCHINS provided the following information . . .” A lengthy portion of Mr. Hutchins’ interview with the agents was audio recorded. Importantly, however, the agents did not record the part of the interview in which they purportedly advised of him of his Miranda rights, answered any questions he might have had, and had him sign a Miranda waiver form.

This is important for several reasons. First, Hutchins is a foreign kid. And while I presume he has seen Miranda warnings a jillion times on the TV, those warnings are different in the US than they are in the UK, contrary to whatever else we might share as common law.

Mr. Hutchins is a citizen of the United Kingdom, where a defendant’s post-arrest rights are very different than in the United States.4 The United Kingdom’s version of Miranda contains no mention of the right to counsel, and if a defendant does not talk, it may later be used against him under certain circumstances.5 Because of this, any government communications in advance of Mr. Hutchins’ arrest and regarding how to advise him of his rights under Miranda are important to demonstrate that Mr. Hutchins would not have understood any purported Miranda warnings and that he was coerced to waive his rights.

4 United Kingdom law requires the following caution being given upon arrest (though minor wording deviations are allowed): “You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in Court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.”

So the specific wording of the warning he got would be especially important to understand whether he was told how things are different here in the former colonies, where you’re always told you can have a lawyer.

Also Hutchins was drunk and — because he’d been at DefCon and Black Hat all week — exhausted. But the defense can’t show that because the government isn’t turning over any of the surveillance materials from the week the FBI was surely following Hutchins in Las Vegas.

The defense believes the requested discovery will show the government was aware of Mr. Hutchins’ activities while he was in Las Vegas, including the fact that he had been up very late the night before his arrest, and the high likelihood that the government knew he was exhausted and intoxicated at the time of his arrest.

The government doesn’t want you to know co-defendant Tran is just a convenient excuse to arrest MalwareTech

Next, the government is withholding both information about Hutchins’ co-defendant, and the MLAT request the government used to get that information. The co-defendant’s last name is Tran, but the government has been hiding that since it accidentally published the name when Hutchins’ docket went live. Tran has not yet been arrested, but apparently there was evidence relating to him in a country that would respond to an American MLAT request. The government hasn’t turned it over.

[T]he government may be withholding information that could exculpate Mr. Hutchins. For example, any material showing that the codefendant operated independently of Mr. Hutchins’ alleged conduct would tend to demonstrate that they did not conspire to commit computer fraud and abuse (Count 1). The indictment itself supports that notion: it alleges that the codefendant advertised and sold the Kronos malware independently of Mr. Hutchins. (Indictment at 3 ¶ 4(e)-(f).) Moreover, the indictment alleges that the malware was advertised on the AlphaBay market forum, which the Department of Justice seized and shut down on July 20, 2017 in cooperation with a number of foreign authorities.8 In connection with that case, the government likely has records of the co-defendant’s activities on AlphaBay that it has not produced (e.g., records obtained through MLAT requests).

They also haven’t turned over the MLAT application itself, which would explain why some country has turned over evidence on Tran, but not Tran himself.

To date, the government has produced materials responsive to a single MLAT request, and has declined to produce the MLAT request itself. The MLAT request, however, surely contains information regarding the government’s theory of the case and may have been signed by an agent who will testify at trial. MLAT requests vary from country to country, but they can be quite similar to search warrants, since they are often used to obtain documents.

DOJ won’t tell you which ham sandwiches the grand jury intended knowed to indict

Hutchins’ lawyers then ask for the grand jury instructions because the indictment as charged doesn’t get the mens rea necessary for the underlying charges. Basically, two of the charges against Hutchins were laid out as if the only thing needed for a crime was to knowingly do something, as opposed to intentionaly do it.

The defense needs the legal instructions for an anticipated motion to dismiss the indictment. One ground for that motion is that at least two of the charged counts are defective on their face, failing to include the appropriate mens rea. Since the two counts deviate materially from the required and heightened mental states set forth in the operative statutes, this demonstrates likely irregularities in how the grand jury was instructed on the law.

[snip]

Count 6 suffers from a similar defect. It charges that the defendants:

[K]nowingly caused the transmission of a program, information and command and as a result of such conduct, attempted to cause damage without authorization, to 10 or more protected computers during a 1-year period. In violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1030(a)(5)(A), (c)(4)(B)(i) and (ii), (c)(4)A(i)(VI), 1030(b), and 2.

(Indictment at 8 (emphasis added).)

But 1030(a)(5)(A) states it is illegal to:

[K]nowingly cause[] the transmission of a program, information and command, and as a result of such conduct, intentionally cause[] damage without authorization, to a protected computer[.] (Emphasis added.)

Likewise, the Seventh Circuit Pattern Jury Instructions state the elements of the offense are:

1. The defendant knowingly caused the transmission of a [program; information; code; command]; and

2. By doing so, the defendant intentionally caused damage to a protected computer without authorization. (Emphasis added.)

The plain text of 1030(a)(5)(A) and the Pattern Jury Instructions leave no doubt that Count 6, as it is pleaded, does not include the requisite “intentional” mens rea for causing damage without authorization, again failing to allege an essential element of the offense.

Effectively, they’re arguing that the government has charged Hutchins for knowingly done something when they had to charge him for intentionally doing something. Which, given that his code was probably used without his knowledge, is going to present difficulties. And so Hutschins’ team is going to attack the indictment itself.

Considering that Counts 2 and 6 misstate the required mental states specified in the statutes, there is a high likelihood the government did not properly instruct the grand jury on the law, and the grand jury returned a legally defective indictment, as a result of improper legal instructions.

What about “Randy”?

But the thing that intrigues me the most about this case is that some guy the government is naming “Randy” — because they don’t want to actually reveal anything about this dude — is a key witness against Hutchins. 

The defense expects “Randy” to testify at trial because he is alleged to have had extensive online chats with Mr. Hutchins around the time of the purported crimes in which Mr. Hutchins discussed his purported criminal activity. Any communications and materials relating to “Randy” are therefore material to defense preparations.

The defense argues that the government is treating Randy like a tipster rather than a witness as a way to hide who he is. This is worth citing at length (also note Marcia Hofmann and Brian Klein added local lawyer Daniel Stiller, who — I presume — is Seventh Circuit citing with great abandon).

The informant privilege does not permit the government to conceal a witness when, as here, disclosure “is relevant and helpful” to a defendant’s defense “or is essential to a fair determination of a cause.” United States v. McDowell, 687 F.3d 904, 911 (7th Cir. 2012) (quoting Roviaro v. United States, 353 U.S. 53, 60-61 (1957)). Indeed, the Seventh Circuit’s treatment of the privilege indicates that its reach is typically limited to background sources of information, as in a tipster who furnishes details that commence an investigation resulting in a prosecution premised on the fruits of the investigation, not the details of the background tip.

A mere tipster, according to the Seventh Circuit, is “someone whose only role was to provide the police with the relevant information that served as the foundation to obtaining a search warrant.” Id. Tipsters differ from what the Seventh Circuit terms “transactional witnesses,” who are individuals “who participated in the crime charged . . . or witnessed the event in question.” Id. For tipsters, “the rationale for the privilege is strong and the case for overriding it is generally weak.” Id. In contrast, “the case for overriding the privilege and requiring disclosure tends to be stronger” for transactional witnesses. Id.

Here, the government’s refusal to disclose even the identity of “Randy’s” attorney is apparently the result of miscategorizing an important witness as a mere tipster. “Randy” is a cooperating witness, one whose provision of information to law enforcement was facilitated by consideration—proffer immunity, at the least—from the government. This circumstance alone weighs against continuing confidentiality because “Randy” surely knows his cooperation will be revealed.

The government won’t even give the defense the name of this dude’s lawyer so the lawyer can tell them his client doesn’t want to talk to them.

Me? I’m guessing if the government were required to put “Randy” on the stand they’d contemplate dismissing the charges against Hutchins immediately. I’m guessing the government now realizes “Randy” took them for a ride — perhaps an enormous one. And given how easy it is to reconstitute chat logs — but here, it’s not even clear “Randy” has the chat logs, but just claimed to have been a part of them, in an effort to incriminate him — I’m guessing this part of the case against Hutchins won’t hold up.

It’d probably be a good time for the government to dismiss the charges against Hutchins and give him an H1B for his troubles so he can surf off the last 6 months of stress. But that’s not how the government works, when they realize they really stepped in a load of poo.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

Why I Left The Intercept: The Surveillance Story They Let Go Untold for 15 Months

The Intercept has a long, must-read story from James Risen about the government’s targeting of him for his reporting on the war on terror. It’s self-serving in many ways — there are parts of his telling of the Wen Ho Lee, the Valerie Plame, and the Jeffrey Sterling stories he leaves out, which I may return to. But it provides a critical narrative of DOJ’s pursuit of him. He describes how DOJ tracked even his financial transactions with his kids (which I wrote about here).

The government eventually disclosed that they had not subpoenaed my phone records, but had subpoenaed the records of people with whom I was in contact. The government obtained my credit reports, along with my credit card and bank records, and hotel and flight records from my travel. They also monitored my financial transactions with my children, including cash I wired to one of my sons while he was studying in Europe.

He also reveals that DOJ sent him a letter suggesting he might be a subject of the investigation into Stellar Wind.

But in August 2007, I found out that the government hadn’t forgotten about me. Penny called to tell me that a FedEx envelope had arrived from the Justice Department. It was a letter saying the DOJ was conducting a criminal investigation into “the unauthorized disclosure of classified information” in “State of War.” The letter was apparently sent to satisfy the requirements of the Justice Department’s internal guidelines that lay out how prosecutors should proceed before issuing subpoenas to journalists to testify in criminal cases.

[snip]

When my lawyers called the Justice Department about the letter I had received, prosecutors refused to assure them that I was not a “subject” of their investigation. That was bad news. If I were considered a “subject,” rather than simply a witness, it meant the government hadn’t ruled out prosecuting me for publishing classified information or other alleged offenses.

But a key part of the story lays out the NYT’s refusals to report Risen’s Merlin story and its reluctance — until Risen threatened to scoop him with his book — to publish the Stellar Wind one.

Glenn Greenwald is rightly touting the piece, suggesting that the NYT was corrupt for acceding to the government’s wishes to hold the Stellar Wind story. But in doing so he suggests The Intercept would never do the same.

That’s not correct.

One of two reasons I left The Intercept is because John Cook did not want to publish a story I had written — it was drafted in the content management system — about how the government uses Section 702 to track cyberattacks. Given that The Intercept thinks such stories are newsworthy, I’m breaking my silence now to explain why I left The Intercept.

I was recruited to work with First Look before it was publicly announced. The initial discussions pertained to a full time job, with a generous salary. But along the way — after Glenn and Jeremy Scahill had already gotten a number of other people hired and as Pierre Omidyar started hearing from friends that the effort was out of control — the outlet decided that they were going to go in a different direction. They’d have journalists — Glenn and Jeremy counted as that. And they’d have bloggers, who would get paid less.

At that point, the discussion of hiring me turned into a discussion of a temporary part time hire. I should have balked at that point. What distinguishes my reporting from other journalists — that I’m document rather than source-focused (though by no means exclusively), to say nothing of the fact that I was the only journalist who had read both the released Snowden documents and the official government releases — should have been an asset to The Intercept. But I wanted to work on the Snowden documents, and so I agreed to those terms.

There were a lot of other reasons why, at that chaotic time, working at The Intercept was a pain in the ass. But nevertheless I set out to write stories I knew the Snowden documents would support. The most important one, I believed, was to document how the government was using upstream Section 702 for cybersecurity — something it had admitted in its very first releases, but something that it tried to hide as time went on. With Ryan Gallagher’s help, I soon had the proof of that.

The initial hook I wanted to use for the story was how, in testimony to PCLOB, government officials misleadingly suggested it only used upstream to collect on things like email addresses.

Bob Litt:

We then target selectors such as telephone numbers or email addresses that will produce foreign intelligence falling within the scope of the certifications.

[snip]

It is targeted collection based on selectors such as telephone numbers or email addresses where there’s reason to believe that the selector is relevant to a foreign intelligence purpose.

[snip]

It is also however selector-based, i.e. based on particular phone numbers or emails, things like phone numbers or emails.

Raj De:

Selectors are things like phone numbers and email addresses.

[snip]

A term like selector is just an operational term to refer to something like an email or phone number, directive being the legal process by which that’s effectuated, and tasking being the sort of internal government term for how you start the collection on a particular selector.

[snip]

So all collection under 702 is based on specific selectors, things like phone numbers or email addresses.

Brad Wiegmann:

A selector would typically be an email account or a phone number that you are targeting.

[snip]

So that’s when we say selector it’s really an arcane term that people wouldn’t understand, but it’s really phone numbers, email addresses, things like that.

[snip]

So putting those cases aside, in cases where we just kind of get it wrong, we think the email account or the phone is located overseas but it turns out that that’s wrong, or it turns out that we think it’s a non-U.S. person but it is a  U.S. person, we do review every single one to see if that’s the case.

That PCLOB’s witnesses so carefully obscured the fact that 702 is used to collect cybersecurity and other IP-based or other code collection is important for several reasons. First, because collection on a chat room or an encryption key, rather than an email thread, has very different First Amendment implications than collecting on the email of a target. But particularly within the cybersecurity function, identifying foreignness is going to be far more difficult to do because cyberattacks virtually by definition obscure their location, and you risk collecting on victims (whether they are hijacked websites or emails, or actual theft victims) as well as the perpetrator.

Moreover, the distinction was particularly critical because most of the privacy community did not know — many still don’t — how NSA interpreted the word “facility,” and therefore was missing this entire privacy-impacting aspect of the program (though Jameel Jaffer did raise the collection on IP addresses in the hearing).

I had, before writing up the piece, done the same kind of iterative work (one, two, three) I always do; the last of these would have been a worthy story for The Intercept, and did get covered elsewhere. That meant I had put in close to 25 hours working on the hearing before I did other work tied to the story at The Intercept.

I wrote up the story and started talking to John Cook, who had only recently been brought in, about publishing it. He told me that the use of 702 with cyber sounded like a good application (it is!), so why would we want to expose it. I laid out why it would be questionably legal under the 2011 John Bates opinion, but in any case would have very different privacy implications than the terrorism function that the government liked to harp on.

In the end, Cook softened his stance against spiking the story. He told me to keep reporting on it. But in the same conversation, I told him I was no longer willing to work in a part time capacity for the outlet, because it meant The Intercept benefitted from the iterative work that was as much a part of my method as meetings with sources that reveal no big scoop. I told him I was no longer willing to work for The Intercept for free.

Cook’s response to that was to exclude me from the first meeting at which all Intercept reporters would be meeting. The two things together — the refusal to pay me for work and expertise that would be critical to Intercept stories, as well as the reluctance to report what was an important surveillance story, not to mention Cook’s apparent opinion I was not a worthy journalist — are why I left.

And so, in addition to losing the person who could report on both the substance and the policy of the spying that was so central to the Snowden archives, the story didn’t get told until 15 months later, by two journalists with whom I had previously discussed 702’s cybersecurity function specifically with regards to the Snowden archive. In the interim period, the government got approval for the Tor exception (which I remain the only reporter to have covered), an application that might have been scrutinized more closely had the privacy community been discussing the privacy implications of collecting location-obscured data in the interim.

As recently as November, The Intercept asked me questions about how 702 is actually implemented because I am, after all, the expert.

So by all means, read The Intercept’s story about how the NYT refused to report on certain stories. But know that The Intercept has not always been above such things itself. In 2014 it was reluctant to publish a story the NYT thought was newsworthy by the time they got around to publishing it 15 months later.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

Fake Russian Metadata that Will Do Nothing to Prevent Nuclear War

Apparently I’m not the only one troubled by Tom Bossert’s attribution of WannaCry to North Korea the other day.

In this post, Jack Goldsmith suggests the attribution will do nothing for deterrence.

He said that he thought the public attribution alone, without more, accomplished something important in holding North Korea accountable. As he put it, somewhat confusingly, later:

It’s about simple culpability. We’ve determined who was behind the attack and we’re saying it. It’s pretty straightforward. All I learned about cybersecurity I learned in kindergarten. We’re going to hold them accountable and we’re going to say it. And we’re going to shame them for it.

There you have it: The U.S. government thinks that naming and shaming by itself is a useful response to a cyberattack that caused billions of dollars of damage (though relatively little in the United States) and targeted precisely the types of critical infrastructure officials have long warned was a red line.

[snip]

it’s not just that name and shame is ineffective. For at least two reasons, it is counterproductive for the United States to take evident pride in an attribution of a major cyberattack that it at the same time concedes it lacks the tools to retaliate against or deter. First, the consequence of the attribution, and the emphasis on the damage caused by WannaCry, is to raise expectations, at least domestically, about a response. Second, the effect of such a drum-beating attribution and statement of damage, combined with a weak response, is to reveal what has been apparent for a while: “We currently cannot put a lot of stock … in cyber deterrence,” as former DNI Clapper last year. “It is … very hard to create the substance and psychology of deterrence.” When we overtly signal to North Korea that we have no tools to counteract their cyberattacks, we invite more attacks by North Korea and others—though to be fair, for the reasons Inglis stated, North Korea already has plenty of incentive, since cyber is a relatively inexpensive but very consequential tool for it, and since the United States has already imposed such extensive sanctions and seems out of tools.

I must be missing something here. Probably what I am missing is that the public attribution sends an important signal to the North Koreans about the extent to which we have penetrated their cyber operations and are watching their current cyber activities. But that message could have been delivered privately, and it does not explain why the United States delayed public attribution at least six months after its internal attribution, and two months after the U.K. had done so publicly.

In this thread, Emily Maxima notes that not everyone in the Infosec community agrees with this attribution (here’s an old piece I did on some oddities with it) and worries that the attribution might be used to justify war with North Korea.

So in the context of a potential hot-war with DPRK, the attribution chain from Wannacry to DPRK is *really* fucking important.

She then goes on to explain one of her concerns about the attribution to Lazarus group.

A few months back, I was doing some research into malware that used obfuscation mechanisms in their campaigns and code that could be used to misattribute them to other actors/nations.

It turns out, Lazarus group was one of these actors that had examples of misleading operation that made it seem like it was made in Russia, but was likely built to act as a false flag deus ex machina to lead researchers away from the true actors.

[snip]

[W]e’re talking about an increasingly tense situation where the largest attack on networked computer infrastructure in probably the last 5 years may be pinned on a group known for running false flag operations.

She points to this article that shows that some 2016 watering hole attacks that had targeted Polish and Mexican bank supervisor sites, which might be associated with Lazarus, used Russian words as a false flag to hide their origin.

In spite of some ‘Russian’ words being used, it is evident that the malware author is not a native Russian speaker.

Of our previous examples, five of the commands were likely produced by an online translation. Below we provide the examples and the correct analogues for reference:

Word Type of error Correct analogue
“ustanavlivat” omitted sign at the end, verb tense error “ustanovit'” or “ustanoviti”
“poluchit” omitted sign at the end “poluchit'” or “poluchiti”
“pereslat” omitted sign at the end “pereslat'” or “pereslati”
“derzhat” omitted sign at the end “derzhat'” or “derzhati”
“vykhodit” omitted sign at the end, verb tense error “vyiti”

Another example is “kliyent2podklyuchit”. This is most likely a result of an online translation of “client2connect” (which means ‘client-to-connect’). In this case, the two words “client” and “connect”were translated separately, then transliterated from the Russian pronunciation form into the Latin alphabet and finally joined to produce “kliyent2podklyuchit”.

[snip]

Internally, the ActionScript also uses transliterated Russian words, similar to the tactic seen in the bot code:

Transliterated Russian words used in AS Translated from Russian
Podgotovkaskotiny Preparation of farm animals
geigeigei3raza Hey, hey, hey 3 times
chainik Dummy (a stupid person)
chainikaddress Dummy’s address
poishemdatu Let’s search for data
poiskvpro Searching in ‘pro’
vyzov_chainika Calling the dummy (a stupid person)
daiadreschainika Get address of the dummy
runskotina Execute farm animals
babaLEna Old woman Lena

As seen in the table, while the words are technically Russian, their usage is out-of-context.

In one code fragment, the ActionScript contains both “chainik” and “dummy”:

01 private function put_dummy_args(param1:*) : *
02 {
03 return chainik.call.apply(null,param1);
04 }
05 private function vyzov_chainika() : *
06 {
07 return chainik.call(null);
08 }

As such, it is obvious that the word “dummy” has been translated into “chainik”. However, the word “chainik” in Russian slang (with the literal meaning of “a kettle”) is used to describe an unsophisticated person, a newbie; while, the word “dummy” in the exploit code is used to mean a “placeholder” or an “empty” data structure/argument.

The BAE analysis suggests that this incorrect usage is evidence proving the attackers are not native Russian speakers (leaving open the possibility they’re North Korean, though the report doesn’t attribute that aggressively).

I point to all this because of my continuing obsession with attacks featuring Russian metadata — starting from the first stolen Democratic files released by Guccifer 2.0 in June 2016 to faked Macron leak documents and extending to metadata ShadowBrokers left in some SWIFT files released in April — that served to deflect blame.

Perhaps it’s just fashionable to blame Russians these days.

Mind you, that other Russian metadata is for a totally unrelated watering hole attack, not for WannaCry. It’s worth remembering, however, that in addition to using Lazarus code, WannaCry also appears to have used code from Metasploit.

Ah well. I guess none of this will matter when North Korea nukes Seoul.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Bankrupt Attribution of WannaCry

I’ve been puzzling through this briefing, purportedly attributing the WannaCry hack to North Korea, which followed last night’s Axis of CyberEvil op-ed (here’s the text). The presser was … perhaps even more puzzling than the Axis of CyberEvil op-ed.

Unlike the op-ed, Homeland Security Czar Tom Bossert provided hints about how the government came to attribute this attack.

Bossert makes much of the fact that the Five Eyes plus Japan all agree on this.

We do so with evidence, and we do so with partners.

Other governments and private companies agree.  The United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Japan have seen our analysis, and they join us in denouncing North Korea for WannaCry.

He also points to the Microsoft and (unnamed — because it’d be downright awkward to name Kaspersky in the same briefing where you attack them as a cybersecurity target) security consultant attributions from months ago.

Commercial partners have also acted.  Microsoft traced the attack to cyber affiliates of the North Korean government, and others in the security community have contributed their analysis.

Here are the specific things he says about how the US, independent of Microsoft and villains like Kaspersky, made an attribution.

What we did was, rely on — and some of it I can’t share, unfortunately — technical links to previously identified North Korean cyber tools, tradecraft, operational infrastructure.  We had to examine a lot.  And we had to put it together in a way that allowed us to make a confident attribution.

[snip]

[I]t’s a little tradecraft, to get to your second question.  It’s hard to find that smoking gun, but what we’ve done here is combined a series of behaviors.  We’ve got analysts all over the world, but also deep and experienced analysts within our intelligence community that looked at not only the operational infrastructure, but also the tradecraft and the routine and the behaviors that we’ve seen demonstrated in past attacks.  And so you have to apply some gumshoe work here, not just some code analysis.

Nevertheless, Bossert alludes to people launching this attack from “keyboards all over the world,” but says because these “intermediaries … had carried out those types of attacks on behalf of the North Korean government in the past,” they were confident in the attribution.

People operating keyboards all over the world on behalf of a North Korean actor can be launching from places that are not in North Korea.  And so that’s one of the challenges behind cyber attribution.

[snip]

[T]here were actors on their behalf, intermediaries, carrying out this attack, and that they had carried out those types of attacks on behalf of the North Korean government in the past.  And that was one of the tradecraft routines that allowed us to reach that conclusion.

Taking credit for stuff the private sector did

In his prewritten statement, Bossert provides on explanation for the timing of all this. One of the reasons the US is attributing the WannaCry attack now — aside from the need to gin up war with North Korea — is that Facebook and Microsoft, “acting on their own initiative last week,” took action last week against North Korean targets.

We applaud our corporate partners, Microsoft and Facebook especially, for acting on their own initiative last week without any direction by the U.S. government or coordination to disrupt the activities of North Korean hackers.  Microsoft acted before the attack in ways that spared many U.S. targets.

Last week, Microsoft and Facebook and other major tech companies acted to disable a number of North Korean cyber exploits and disrupt their operations as the North Koreans were still infecting computers across the globe.  They shut down accounts the North Korean regime hackers used to launch attacks and patched systems.

Yet even while acknowledging that Microsoft and Facebook are busy keeping the US safe, he demands that the private sector … keep us safe.

We call today — I call today, and the President calls today, on the private sector to increase its accountability in the cyber realm by taking actions that deny North Korea and the bad actors the ability to launch reckless and disruptive cyber acts.

Golly how do you think the US avoided damage from the attack based on US tools so well?

Then Bossert invites Assistant Secretary for Cybersecurity and Communications at DHS Jeanette Manfra to explain not how the US attributed this attack (the ostensible point of this presser), but how the US magically avoided getting slammed — by an attack based on US tools — as badly as other countries did.

By midafternoon, I had all of the major Internet service providers either on the phone or on our watch floor sharing information with us about what they were seeing globally and in the United States.  We partnered with the Department of Health and Human Services to reach out to hospitals across the country to offer assistance.  We engaged with federal CIOs across our government to ensure that our systems were not vulnerable.  I asked for assistance from our partners in the IT and cybersecurity industry.  And by 9:00 p.m. that night, I had over 30 companies represented on calls, many of whom offered us analytical assistance throughout the weekend.

By working closely with these companies and the FBI throughout that night, we were able to issue a technical alert, publicly, that would assist defenders with defeating this malware.  We stayed on alert all weekend but were largely able to escape the impacts here in this country that other countries experienced.

Managing to avoid getting slammed by an attack that the US had far more warning of (because it would have recognized and had 96 days to prepare) is proof, Manfra argues, of our preparation to respond to attacks we didn’t write the exploit for.

[T]he WannaCry attack demonstrated our national capability to effectively operate and respond.

Ix-Nay on the AdowBrokers-Shay

Which brings us to the dramatic climax of this entire presser, where Tom Bossert plays dumb about the fact that his this attack exploited an NSA exploit. In his first attempt to deflect this question, Bossert tried to distinguish between vulnerabilities and the exploits NSA wrote for them.

Q    Had they not been able to take advantage of the vulnerabilities that got published in the Shadow Brokers website, do you think that would have made a significant difference in their ability to carry out the attack?

MR. BOSSERT:  Yeah.  So I think what Dave is alluding to here is that vulnerabilities exist in software.  They’re not — almost never designed on purpose.  Software producers are making a product, and they’re selling it for a purpose.

Pretending a vulnerability is the same thing as an exploit, Bossert pointed to the (more visible but still largely the same) Vulnerabilities Exploit Process Trump has instituted.

When we find vulnerabilities, the United States government, we generally identify them and tell the companies so they can patch them.

In this particular case, I’m fairly proud of that process, so I’d like to elaborate.  Under this President’s leadership and under the leadership of Rob Joyce, who’s serving as my deputy now and the cybersecurity coordinator, we have led the most transparent Vulnerabilities Equities Process in the world.

Hey, by the way, why isn’t Rob Joyce at this presser so the person in government best able to protect against cyber attacks can answer questions?

Oh, never mind–let’s continue with this VEP thing.

And what that means is the United States government finds vulnerabilities in software, routinely, and then, at a rate of almost 90 percent, reveals those.  They could be useful tools for us to then exploit for our own national security benefit.  But instead, what we choose to do is share those back with the companies so that they can patch and increase the collective defense of the country.  It’s not fair for us to keep those exploits while people sit vulnerable to those totalitarian regimes that are going to bring harm to them.

So, in this particular case, I’m proud of the VEP program.  And I’d go one step deeper for you:  Those vulnerabilities that we do keep, we keep for very specific purposes so that we can increase our national security.  And we use them for very specific purposes only tailored to our perceived threats.  I think that they’re used very carefully.  They need to be protected in such a way that we don’t leak them out and so that bad people can get them.  That has happened, unfortunately, in the past.

Hell! Let’s go for broke. Let’s turn the risk that someone can steal our toys and set off a global worm into the promise that we’ll warn people they’ve been hacked.

But one level even deeper.  When we do use those vulnerabilities to develop exploits for the purpose of national security for the classified work that we do, we sometimes find evidence of bad behavior.  Sometimes it allows us to attribute bad actions.  Other times it allows us to privately call — and we’re doing this on a regular basis, and we’re doing it better and in a more routine fashion as this administration advances — we’re able to call targets that aren’t subject to big rollouts.  We’re able to call companies, and we’re able to say to them, “We believe that you’ve been hacked.  You need to take immediate action.”  It works well; we need to get better at doing that.  And I think that allows us to save a lot of time and money.

We’re not yet broke yet, though! When Bossert again gets asked whether WannaCry was based off a US tool, he tried to argue the only tool involved was the final WannaCry one, not than the underlying NSA exploit.

Q    So you talked about the 90 percent of times when you guys share information back with companies rather than exploit those vulnerabilities.  Was this one of the 10 percent that you guys had held onto?

MR. BOSSERT:  So I think there’s a case to be made for the tool that was used here being cobbled together from a number of different sources.  But the vulnerability that was exploited — the exploit developed by the culpable party here — is the tool, the bad tool.

This soon descends into full-on Sergeant Schultz.

I don’t know what they got and where they got it, but they certainly had a number of things cobbled together in a pretty complicated, intentional tool meant to cause harm that they didn’t entirely create themselves.

MalwareTech took a risk doing what he always does [er, did, before the US government kidnapped him] with malware?

Then there’s weird bit — one of those Bossert moments (like when he said WannaCry was spread by phishing) that makes me think he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. When asked if this North Korean attribution changed the government’s intent to prosecute MalwareTech (Marcus Hutchins), Bossert dodged that tricksy question (the answer is, yes, the prosecution is still on track to go to trial next year) but then claimed that Hutchins “took a risk” doing something he has repeatedly said he always does when responding to malware.

I can’t comment on the ongoing criminal prosecution or judicial proceedings there.  But I will note that, to some degree, we got lucky.  In a lot of ways, in the United States we were well-prepared.  So it wasn’t luck — it was preparation, it was partnership with private companies, and so forth.  But we also had a programmer that was sophisticated, that noticed a glitch in the malware, a kill-switch, and then acted to kill it.  He took a risk, it worked, and it caused a lot of benefit.  So we’ll give him that.  Next time, we’re not going to get so lucky.

After dodging the issue of why the government is prosecuting the guy whose “luck” Bossert acknowledges saved the world, he has the gall to say — in the very next breath!! — we need to do the kind of information sharing that Hutchins’ prosecution disincents.

So what we’re calling on here today is an increased partnership, an increased rapidity in routine speed of sharing information so that we can prevent patient zero from being patient 150.

Whatever you do, don’t follow the lack of money

All that was bad enough. But then things really went off the rail when a journalist asked about what one of the poorest countries on earth — a country with a severe exchangeable currency shortage — did with the money obtained in this ransomware attack.

Q    Tom, the purpose of ransomware is to raise money.  So do you have a sense now of exactly how much money the North Koreans raised as a result of this?  And do you have any idea what they did with the money?  Did it go to fund the nuclear program?  Did it go just to the regime for its own benefit?  Or where did that money go?

MR. BOSSERT:  Yeah, it’s interesting.  There’s two conundrums here.  First, we don’t really know how much money they raised, but they didn’t seem to architect it in the way that a smart ransomware architect would do.  They didn’t want to get a lot of money out of this.  If they did, they would have opened computers if you paid.  Once word got out that paying didn’t unlock your computer, the payment stopped.

And so I think that, in this case, this was a reckless attack and it was meant to cause havoc and destruction.  The money was an ancillary side benefit.  I don’t think they got a lot of it.

Wow. A couple things here. First, of one of the poorest countries in the world, Bossert said with a straight face: “They didn’t want to get a lot of money out of this.”

He has to do that, because he has just said that, “They’ve got some smart programmers.” So he has to treat the attack, as implemented, as the attack that the perpetrators wanted. That apparently doesn’t mean he feels bound to offer some explanation for why North Korea would forgo the money that their smart programmers could have earned. Because he never offers that, without which you have zero credible attribution.

Still nuttier, at one level it cannot be true that “we don’t know how much money they raised.” Later in his presser he claims, “cryptocurrency might be difficult to track” and suggests the government only learned about how little they were making because, “targets seem to have reported to us, by and large, that they mostly didn’t pay. … So we were able to track the behavior of the targets in that case.”

Um. No. It was very public! We watched WannaCry’s perps collect $144,000 via the @Actual_ransom account, and we watched the account be cashed out in the immediate wake of the aforementioned MalwareTech arrest (as Hutchins noted, making it look like he had absconded with his Bitcoin rather than gotten arrested by the FBI).  That, too, is a detail that Bossert would have needed to address for this to be a marginally credible press conference.

But wait! There’s more! We also know that as soon as WannaCry’s perps publicly cashed out, Shapeshift blacklisted all its known accounts, making it impossible for WannaCry to launder the money, and adding still more transparency to the process. Which means Bossert should know well the answer to the question “how much did North Korea (or whatever perp) make off this?” is, zero. None. Because their money got cut off in the laundering process. (For some reason, Bossert gave Shapeshift zero credit here, which raises further questions I might return to at a later date.) Either attribution includes details about this process or … it’s not credible.

Bossert’s backflips to pretend Trump isn’t treating North Korea differently than Russia

Now, all this is before you get into the gymnastics Bossert performed to pretend that Trump isn’t treating North Korea — against whom this attribution will serve as justification for war — differently than Russia. After being asked about it, Bossert claimed,

President Trump not only continued the national emergency for cybersecurity, but he did so himself and sanctioned the Russians involved in the hacks of last year.

His effort to conflate last year’s hack-related sanctions with the sanctions imposed by Congress but not fully implemented looked really pathetic.

Q    Have all the sanctions been implemented?

MR. BOSSERT:  This was — yeah, this was the Continuation of the National Emergency with Respect to Significant Malicious Cyber-Enabled Activities.  President Trump continued that national emergency, pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, to deal with the “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.”

Pivoting to one of the most important private companies

Immediately after which, perhaps in an act of desperation, Bossert pivoted to Kaspersky, one of the most important security firms in unpacking WannaCry and therefore utterly central to any claim the answer to cyberattacks is to share between the private and public sector. Bossert said this to defend the claim that the Trump administration is taking Russian threats seriously.

Now, look, in addition, if that’s not making people comfortable, this year we acted to remove Kaspersky from all of our federal networks.  We did so because having a company that can report back information to the Russian government constituted a risk unacceptable to our federal networks.

And then — in the same press conference where Bossert hailed cooperation, including with private security firms like Kaspersky, he boasted about how “in the spirit of cooperation” the US has gotten “providers, sellers, retail stores” to ban one of the firms that was critical in analyzing and minimizing the WannaCry impact.

In the spirit of cooperation, which is the second pillar of our strategy — accountability being one, cooperation being the second — we’ve had providers, sellers, retail stores follow suit.  And we’ve had other private companies and other foreign governments also follow suit with that action.

In case you’re counting, he has boasted about cooperation in the same breath as speaking of both MalwareTech and Kaspersky.

Whatever. From this we’re supposed to conclude we should go to war against North Korea and their non-NK keyboarders the world over and  that the way to defend ourselves against them is to simultaneously demand “cooperation” even while treating two of the most important entities who minimized the threat of WannaCry as outlaws.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.