Is Trump’s Revelation the Same as Craig Murray’s Revelation: An American Cut-Out?

Because security professionals are so confident in the Russian attribution of the DNC hack, they have largely ignored alternative theories from the likes of Wikileaks and Bill Binney. That’s unfortunate, because Craig Murray, in his description of his own role in getting the Podesta files to Wikileaks, at least, revealed a detail that needs greater attention. He believes he received something (perhaps the documents themselves, perhaps something else) from a person with ties to US national security.

[I]f we believe that Murray believes this, we know that the intermediary can credibly claim to have ties to American national security.

So on September 25, Murray met a presumed American in DC for a hand-off related to the Podesta hack.

I raise that because Trump is now promising we’ll learn something this week about the hack that may cast doubt on the claims Russia was behind it.

He added: “And I know a lot about hacking. And hacking is a very hard thing to prove. So it could be somebody else. And I also know things that other people don’t know, and so they cannot be sure of the situation.”

When asked what he knew that others did not, Mr. Trump demurred, saying only, “You’ll find out on Tuesday or Wednesday.”

If Murray met an American claiming to have done the hack, then Trump may have too. That doesn’t mean the Russians didn’t do the hack (though it could mean an American borrowed GRU’s tools to do it). It could just as easily mean the Russians have an American cut-out, and that while the security community has been looking for Russian-speaking proxies, they’ve ignored the possibility of American ones.

I have a suspicion that Trump’s campaign did meet with such a person (I even have a guess about when it would have happened).

I guess we’ll learn more this week.

Your Weekly Alarming Anonymous Friday Night WaPo Dump: Vermont Electrical Grid Edition

It seems like every Friday this month, there has been an alarming Friday night news dump in the WaPo based off anonymous leaks. This time, it’s a story claiming that,

Russian hackers penetrated U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont

The anonymous officials behind this story have just squandered the efforts of a slew of infosecurity professionals trying to get non-experts to take the attribution of the DNC hack seriously.

The story, which features WaPo White House bureau chief Julie Eilperin first on the byline (followed by the usually strong Adam Entous) but does not include WaPo’s cybersecurity reporter Ellen Nakashima at all, claims that “a code” associated with the family of signatures associated with several Russian hacking groups that Obama dubbed Grizzly Steppe for the purposes of yesterday’s CERT report was found “within the system of a Vermont utility.” The language of the report — what do they mean by “code”??? — exhibited no certitude about what the report actually meant.

The original version of the story included no comment from Burlington Electric Department, though added one after the Burlington Free Press revealed that the “code” was not actually in the grid at all, but in a laptop unattached to it. As the Free Press explained, there’s really no reason to worry this would affect the grid.

The utility found the malware Friday on a laptop after the Obama administration released code associated with the campaign, dubbed Grizzly Steppe, on Thursday.

The aim of the release was to allow utilities, companies and organizations to search their computers for the digital signatures of the attack code, to see if they had been targeted.

The computer on which the malware was found was not connected to the operation of the grid, Vermont Public Service Commissioner Christopher Recchia said.

Based on his knowledge, Recchia said Friday night he did not believe the electrical power grid was at risk from the incident. “The grid is not in danger,” Recchia said. “The utility flagged it, saw it, notified appropriate parties and isolated that one laptop with that malware on it.”

So here’s what appears to have happened.

Yesterday, along with all the sanction-related information, DHS released a US-CERT report attempting to draw together all the signatures from the two Russian related hacking groups accused of hacking the DNC. Numerous security experts have criticized it, noting that it reads like “a poorly done vendor intelligence report stringing together various aspects of attribution without evidence” and finding that “21% (191 of 876) of [IP addresses included in the report] were TOR exit nodes,” meaning there are a lot of worse-than-useless details in the report.

That in and of itself was a problem. But then potential Russian targets, including utilities, started scanning their system for the malware included in the report and one of two Vermont utilities found one malware signature on a laptop and alerted the government. The other one is spending its Friday night insisting it was unaffected.

At which point multiple “US officials” (which can include Congressional staffers) and one Senior Administration Official (who, given Eilperin’s involvement, is likely at the White House) ran to the press and insinuated that Russia had hacked our grid, even while admitting they don’t really know what the fuck this is.

American officials, including one senior administration official, said they are not yet sure what the intentions of the Russians might have been. The incursion may have been designed to disrupt the utility’s operations or as a test to see whether they could penetrate a portion of the grid.

Officials said that it is unclear when the code entered the Vermont utility’s computers, and that an investigation will attempt to determine the timing and nature of the intrusion, as well as whether other utilities were similarly targeted.

“The question remains: Are they in other systems and what was the intent?” a U.S. official said.

Of course, by the time this report was amended to make it clear the malware was not in the grid at all, the story itself had gotten picked up by other outlets, even in spite of the many many many security professionals mocking the report as soon as it came out.

So now a slew of people are convinced that Russia has hacked (a word that has lost all meaning in the last month) our electrical grid — I’ve even seen some people assuming this occurred this week! — even though no actual analysis of what is going on has happened yet.

Here’s the thing. Some of these security professionals are the same ones who’ve been saying for months that the DNC hack can be reliably attributed to the Russian state. I mostly agree (though I’ve got some lingering doubts). And while those of us who follow this closely can distinguish the two different kind of analyses, the general public will not. And — having been alarmed off a premature report here that was not sufficiently researched before publicized — they will be utterly justified in believing the government is making baseless claims to generate fear among the public.

As I said, I mostly agree with reports attributing the DNC hack to the Russians. But seeing inflammatory shit like this peddled anonymously to the press makes me far more inclined to believe the government is blowing smoke.

Sanctioning GRU … and FSB

While I was out and about today, President Obama rolled out his sanctions against Russia to retaliate for the Russian hack of Democrats this year. Effectively, the White House sanctioned two Russian intelligence agencies (GRU — Main Intelligence, and FSB –Federal Security Service), top leaders from one of them, and two named hackers.

In addition to sanctioning GRU, the White House also sanctioned FSB. I find that interesting because (as I laid out here), GRU has always been blamed for the theft of the DNC and John Podesta documents that got leaked to WikiLeaks. While FSB also hacked the DNC, there’s no public indication that it did anything aside from collect information — the kind of hacking the NSA and CIA do all the time (and have done during other countries’ elections). Indeed, as the original Crowdstrike report described, FSB and GRU weren’t coordinating while snooping around the DNC server.

At DNC, COZY BEAR intrusion has been identified going back to summer of 2015, while FANCY BEAR separately breached the network in April 2016. We have identified no collaboration between the two actors, or even an awareness of one by the other. Instead, we observed the two Russian espionage groups compromise the same systems and engage separately in the theft of identical credentials. While you would virtually never see Western intelligence agencies going after the same target without de-confliction for fear of compromising each other’s operations, in Russia this is not an uncommon scenario. “Putin’s Hydra: Inside Russia’s Intelligence Services”, a recent paper from European Council on Foreign Relations, does an excellent job outlining the highly adversarial relationship between Russia’s main intelligence services – Федеральная Служба Безопасности (FSB), the primary domestic intelligence agency but one with also significant external collection and ‘active measures’ remit, Служба Внешней Разведки (SVR), the primary foreign intelligence agency, and the aforementioned GRU. Not only do they have overlapping areas of responsibility, but also rarely share intelligence and even occasionally steal sources from each other and compromise operations. Thus, it is not surprising to see them engage in intrusions against the same victim, even when it may be a waste of resources and lead to the discovery and potential compromise of mutual operations.

Data provided by FireEye to War on the Rocks much later in the year suggested that the DNC hack was the only time both showed up in a server, which it took to mean the opposite of what Crowdstrike had, particularly high degree of coordination.

According to data provided for this article by the private cybersecurity company, FireEye, two separate but coordinated teams under the Kremlin are running the campaign. APT 28, also known as “FancyBear,” has been tied to Russia’s foreign military intelligence agency, the Main Intelligence Agency or GRU. APT 29, aka “CozyBear,” has been tied to the Federal Security Service or FSB. Both have been actively targeting the United States. According to FireEye, they have only appeared in the same systems once, which suggests a high level of coordination — a departure from what we have seen and come to expect from Russian intelligence.

The sanctioning materials offers only this explanation for the FSB sanction: “The Federal Security Service (a.k.a. Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti) (a.k.a FSB) assisted the GRU in conducting the activities described above.”

So I’m not sure what to make of the fact that FSB was sanctioned along with GRU. Perhaps it means there was some kind of serial hack, with FSB identifying an opportunity that GRU then implemented — the more extensive coordination that FireEye claims. Perhaps it means the US has decided it’s going to start sanctioning garden variety information collection of the type the US does.

But I do find it an interesting aspect of the sanctions.

John Brennan, Doing the Holiday Friday News Dump Wrong

On Friday, October 14 at 8:30 PM, NBC posted a story promising, “CIA Prepping for Possible Cyber Strike Against Russia.”

The Obama administration is contemplating an unprecedented cyber covert action against Russia in retaliation for alleged Russian interference in the American presidential election, U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News.

Current and former officials with direct knowledge of the situation say the CIA has been asked to deliver options to the White House for a wide-ranging “clandestine” cyber operation designed to harass and “embarrass” the Kremlin leadership.

The sources did not elaborate on the exact measures the CIA was considering, but said the agency had already begun opening cyber doors, selecting targets and making other preparations for an operation.

On Friday December 9, just hours after President Obama announced a review of the intelligence on Russia hacking the election, at least one senior US official (which I said at the time “seems primarily to come from Democratic Senators”) told the WaPo,

The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system.

Over the following week, caveats on that story got leaked to the press. But on Friday, December 16, literally as the White House press corps was waiting for President Obama to speak, the WaPo reported that John Brennan released a letter to CIA’s workforce telling them FBI and DNI agreed one reason Russia hacked the election was to get Trump elected.

FBI Director James B. Comey and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. are in agreement with a CIA assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in part to help Donald Trump win the White House, officials disclosed Friday, as President Obama issued a public warning to Moscow that it could face retaliation.

[snip]

The positions of Comey and Clapper were revealed in a message that CIA Director John Brennan sent to the agency’s workforce Friday.

“Earlier this week, I met separately with FBI [Director] James Comey and DNI Jim Clapper, and there is strong consensus among us on the scope, nature, and intent of Russian interference in our presidential election,” Brennan said, according to U.S. officials who have seen the message.

As I noted, the quoted parts of the letter didn’t actually say what the purpose of the hack was, and it made clear that Brennan had met separately with Jim Comey and James Clapper, meaning any claim of consensus was merely Brennan’s view of the serial meetings. In its report, the WaPo made no note that a week earlier it had reported that getting Trump elected was the (singular) goal of the hack, whereas here it was saying getting Trump elected was one of the goals.

On December 20, a senior intelligence official suggested to me this leakapalooza came from Congress, not the CIA. I noted I had made that so clear that a Harry Reid aide had given me shit about it. I also noted that the second leak came from a Brennan letter, which of course was carefully crafted and easily leaked.

On Thursday December 22 at 9:27 PM, NPR posted an interview between Mary Louise Kelly and John Brennan. It played the interview during Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Here’s the full transcript.

In one version of the interview, Kelly explained to Steve Inskeep that the interview wasn’t supposed to cover Russia at all but in fact spent 20 minutes (out of 52) on it.

He did not want to talk about Russia at all. When his team was confirming the interview with me they said, he’s not gonna go there, he’s not gonna talk about Russia. I said, well, I gotta ask about Russia. And they said, well, you can try. So I did and we ended up talking about Russia for close to 20 minutes.

After Kelly asked, “hand over heart, is [the intelligence] solid?” Brennan assured her Russia did in fact “try to interfere” in the US election. Brennan explained,

There is very strong consensus among not just the leaders of these organizations but also the institutions themselves. And that’s why we’re going through this review. We want to make sure that we scrub the information and make sure that the assessment and analysis is as strong and as grounded as it needs to be.

Kelly then goes on to prod him about motive specifically, mentioning that his letter said FBI and DNI agreed on the “nature, scope, and intent” of the hack. But she doesn’t yet raise what the conflict had been — whether Putin wanted to get Trump elected or not — or even any of the stated motives at all. Brennan responded by not addressing that issue either,

I will not disagree with you that the why is tough. And that’s why there needs to be very very careful consideration of what it is that we know and what it is that we have insight into and what our analysis needs to be. That’s why this review is being done, to make sure that there is going to be a thorough look at the nature, scope, and intent of what transpired.

Kelly reminds him that what had been appearing in the press is that Russia hacked the election “with the purpose of swinging it to Donald Trump.” Brennan responds,

Kelly: Is that an accurate characterization?

Brennan: That’s an accurate characterization of what’s been appearing in the media, yes.

Kelly: Is that an accurate characterization of where the CIA is on this?

Brennan: Well, that’s what the review is going to do. And we will make sure that President Obama and the incoming administration understands what the intelligence community has assessed and determined to have happened during the run-up to this election.

Which brings NPR to the big headline of their story from an interview in which Brennan didn’t want to discuss Russia at all. Kelly explains that Brennan doesn’t want to hack Russia in retaliation for its hack. Here’s why:

Well, this country is based on the democratic principles that our nation was founded upon. And there is a lot of challenges throughout the world to those principles of freedom, liberty, freedom of speech and the will of the people in order to govern as they see fit. And the election process is one of those foundational elements of our democracy. And I individually believe that there are certain things that this government, our country, should not be engaged in because it is inconsistent with those precepts, those tenets of the United States of America. So this was what’s making, you know, this challenging, which is how to safeguard our system, safeguard our digital domain, and make sure that there are decisions that can be taken that will deter, maybe sometimes punish those who violate the law, as well as try to attack our national security and try to undermine the democracy that we are.

Kelly asked how retaliating in kind would undermine American democratic principles.

Help me understand. Connect that line for me. How would retaliating in kind — so, a cyberattack against Russia — how would that undermine American democratic principles?

Well, I think if we hold dear the principles of democracy, liberty, freedom and freedom of speech and the right of people everywhere to have governments of their choosing, preventing the conduct of a free and fair and open election, devoid of interference and foreign manipulation, is something that I think the United States government, as well as the American people, would certainly want to make sure that’s going to be who we are.

And so there are a lot of things that those adversaries, enemies that we have, whether they be terrorists or proliferators or … whomever. Nation-states. They do some things that I think are beyond the pale. That’s why I don’t think we should resort to some of the tactics and techniques that our adversaries employ against us. I think we need to remember what we’re fighting for. We’re fighting for our country, our democracy, our way of life, and to engage in the skulduggery that some of our opponents and adversaries engage in, I think, is beneath this country’s greatness.

[snip]

We need to make sure that we are going to lead the way when it comes to allowing countries and people to choose their leaders, free of that foreign interference. And that’s the concerns we have, as we’ve seen, not just the United States but in other countries as well, the hand of foreign actors. And I don’t think it’s a secret that the the Russians have tried to influence the outcome of elections in other countries as well. So this is not just a question of their cyber activity. It’s a question of their using their influence in ways that are inconsistent, I believe, with what should be happening in these countries’ electoral processes.

Brennan goes on to state that the CIA has never tampered in elections in the 21st century (though he admits CIA does do what it can to ensure people get to vote), even while asserting that the rebels in Aleppo have not gotten adequate outside support.

So to sum up: CIA doesn’t want to retaliate against Russia because that’s not consistent with the democratic principles on which this country was founded.

NYT Kills the CyberCzars, then Translates Them into Russian

As I have suggested already, I am less enthused with the NYT’s big story on the DNC hack than most other people are. The story doesn’t explain its key conceit — why John Podesta still got hacked if an IT person instructed others how to protect him. It hides evidence that the DNC had enough information, from the start, to respond to the hack as a Russian-based attack (and in a number of other ways downplays the sheer ineptitude on the part of the DNC).

Moreover, especially as it writes articles about its own article, the NYT is treating this as the first comprehensive story on the hack, claiming credit for reporting done after the election that others managed to do before the election (story, story).  I’m pretty unsympathetic to any bid for a Pulitzer Prize (which I believe this is) that could and should have been completed before November 8.

Along the way, too, it has made some amusing edits. For example, an hour and a half after publication, the NYT decided to modernize the spelling of the neologism it had invented, from “cybertsars” to “cyberczars.”

Then, an hour and a half later, it killed off the cyberczars altogether.

That was easy!

Five hours after publication, the NYT admitted it should not have eliminated evidence of the WaPo’s great Watergate scoop from the article’s spooky lead picture.

Editors’ Note: An earlier version of the main photograph with this article, of a filing cabinet and computer at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, should not have been published. The photographer had removed a framed image from the wall over the filing cabinet — showing a Washington Post Watergate front page — because it was causing glare with the lighting. The new version shows the scene as it normally appears, with the framed newspaper page in place.

To the NYT, I guess, WaPo’s historic greatness counts as an annoying glare.

But now things have gotten interesting. Yesterday, the NYT posted a second version of the story, with a toggle to read it in Russian.

I’ve remarked on this practice at the NYT in the past, noting that NYT’s decision-making process about what it translates into Chinese seems arbitrary at best. But in at least once case — a case analogous to today, where the US was deciding how to respond to a massive compromise by an adversary (in that case, the compromise, the OPM hack, was even more damaging than what we know of this one so far) — an article seemingly addressing that issue got translated, in that case into Mandarin.

Maybe this is a great thing, to make it easier for Russians to get NYT’s partially misleading magnum opus on the DNC hack? Maybe this decision was made without any consideration of how to retaliate against Putin for this hack?

But amid accusations about fake news and official publications, the NYT really should be more transparent about how and why they do this.

 

 

[Photo: National Security Agency, Ft. Meade, MD via Wikimedia]

The Shadow Brokers: “A Nice Little NSA You’ve Got Here; It’d Be a Shame If…”

When President Obama discussed how to retaliate against Russia for hacking the DNC last Friday, he described the trick of finding “an appropriate response that increases costs for them for behavior like this in the future, but does not create problems for us.” Aside from questions of efficacy, Obama raised something that a number of people looking for a big explosive response seem to have forgotten: that any response may create problems for us.

Which is why I find it curious that — aside from this one piece by Krypt3ia — no one factored in another cyber-attack on the US in discussions about retaliation, one that is, at least in execution, on-going: the release of NSA tools by a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers.

I’ve put a rough timeline (!) below. But as it shows, several weeks after the initial release of the DNC emails led to Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation, the Shadow Brokers posted the first of what have thus far been 6 messages. Especially recently, the timing of the Shadow Brokers releases correlates in interesting ways with developments in the DNC hack. At the very least, the coincidence suggests the threat of further exposure of NSA’s hacking may be a factor in discussions about a response.

Release One: Burning US firewall providers

The first Shadow Brokers post announced an auction of Equation Group (that is, NSA offensive hacking) files. It released enough files to make it clear that a number of firewall companies, including several American companies, had been targeted by the NSA. Accompanying the release was a rant that indirectly pointed to the Clintons — discussing blowjobs and running for President — but at that point, there was not much focus about whether these files were related to the Russian hacking and, more importantly, not a ton of focus on the files in discussions of the Russian hacking. That is, while many people assumed Russia might be the culprit, that it might fell out of the discussion.

Two weeks later, the FBI arrested Hal Martin, a(nother) Booz Allen contractor that — the NYT story that revealed his arrested — served as a ready scapegoat for the files.

The very next day, Shadow Brokers posted its second message, the first of several proving that it was not, personally, Hal Martin. It was basically a play on Team America’s Kim Jong Il character, asking why everyone was so stupid.

A few days later, on September 5, President Obama gave Vladimir Putin the first of several warnings about the hacking — understood to be the DNC hacking (reportedly, no one knew about the Podesta hack yet, even though the emails had been stolen in March).

Almost a month passed before Shadow Brokers posted again, on October 1, basically whining about no one playing in the auction. The following two weeks are critical in the DNC hack rollout.

On October 7, two leaks distract from the IC attribution announcement

On October 7, three things happen (well, more, but I’ll come back to that): First, ODNI and DHS released their statement blaming Russia for the hack. The WaPo published the Access Hollywood “Grab them by the pussy” video. And WikiLeaks started releasing the Podesta emails.

Side note: This weekend, Podesta complained about the latter two events, describing how they came out just an hour apart. People even disputed the claim. But in neither Podesta’s comment nor the fact-check are people mentioning that it’s not so much the Podesta emails distracted from the Trump video (which I don’t think to be the case anyway, because the GrabThemByThePussy really did distract us for a while), but both — and especially the video — distracting from the Russia implication.

A week later, the same NBC team that has been the recipient of other DNC hack related leaks published a dick-wagging story promising that the CIA was about to cyber-retaliate for the hacks.

The next day, Shadow Brokers released message number 4 calling off the auction. The Shadow Brokers post also crassly spoofs airplane Loretta Lynch’s meeting with Bill Clinton (there a cultural reference here I don’t get), bringing the message content of the SB series still closer to the context of the Hillary emails.

Release Two: ID alleged NSA targets and threaten the election

Thus far, mind you, Shadow Brokers had just released enough to seriously compromise America’s firewall companies and their relationship with the NSA — but had mostly just been making noise since the first release. That changed on October 30, less than two weeks before the election.

Most of the focus on this release has been on the data released: a set of IP addresses seemingly showing the addresses NSA had hacked or used as a proxy. The IP addresses were dated, so the release wasn’t exposing ongoing operations, probably. But it did reveal a significant number of academic targets. It also showed that, several years before we drummed up the Iraq War, we were targeting the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Unlike the first release, then, this one didn’t so much help anyone hack. Instead, it identified who had been hacked, and the degree to which these were not obvious targets.

But the message from that release is, in retrospect, just as important. It includes a reference to the NBC dick-wagging story about CIA hacking Russia. It questions why the focus has been on the DNC hack and not the Shadow Brokers release, “hacking DNC is way way most important than EquationGroup losing capabilities. Amerikanskis is not knowing USSA cyber capabilities is being screwed.” It invited people to hack the election.

On November 8th, instead of not voting, maybe be stopping the vote all together? Maybe being grinch who stopped election from coming? Maybe hacking election is being the best idea? #hackelection2016.

And then it demanded payment or the bleeding would continue. “How bad do you want it to get? When you are ready to make the bleeding stop, payus,”

The next day, according to NBC, for the first time in his Administration, President Obama used the “Red Phone” communication system with Russia and discussed war, albeit in muddled terms.

Now, even aside from this timing, it makes more sense that Obama was reacting to the Shadow Brokers release than the DNC ones. Though Dems have suggested Russia kept hacking after the spring, that appears to have been more phishing attempts, not known theft of documents. As for the DNC and Podesta files, as Obama said on Friday, those files had already been stolen. Short of stopping WikiLeaks (and Ecuador had cut off Julian Assange’s wifi access by then, presumably in response to US pressure, though it had little impact on the release of the Podesta files), there was nothing that a call could do about the ongoing leaks pertaining to Hillary. There were, admittedly, the probes of state voter registration sites, but the IC has consistently stopped short of attributing those to Russia.

But a response to a threat to hack Russia?

Which would seem to suggest the IC believes that these Shadow Brokers files are coming from Russia.

Release Three: A broad array of alleged tools, including those that hacked Belgacom

Then things went quiet again for a while, until the leakapalooza starting on December 9, which was basically an effort by the Dems and some spooks to pressure Trump and/or delegitimize his election. Significantly, however, the December 9 WaPo story also reported, for the first time, that CIA knew who the cut-outs between Russia’s hackers and Wikileaks were, something James Clapper said the IC didn’t have as late as November 17. In addition, the NYT published its long piece describing the hack, told in a way to put the Dems in the best possible light (which is a polite way of saying it is not hard-hitting news).

So on December 14, a Motherboard post from a persona named Bocefus Cleetus points to a ZeroNet site with a set of files listed for individual sale (and aggregating all the past messages).

With regards to the files, here is HackerHouse’s analysis, here is the Grugq’s post on the technical aspect of the files, and a few of Shadow Brokers’ most recent tweets allegedly describe what some of the files are. The short version though is, like the original release, these are dated files, some of them triggering known interests of commentary on NSA’s hacking. There’s a good deal of variety in tools, some of which sound cool. One of them, at least according to Hacker House, is likely one of the tools used to hack Belgacom.

Interestingly, HackerHouse and the Grugq disagree as to what this array suggests about the source of the files. The Grugq argues that these files must come from inside the NSA, because there’d be no other explanation for all of them to be in the same place.

Why High Side?

The easiest way to tell this is high side [inside NSA’s classified networks] gear, not a back hack from an ops box is that there is simply too much here. Its hard for me to explain because it requires a level of information security knowledge combined with understanding how cyber operations are conducted (which is different from pen tests or red teaming.)

The TAO of Cyber

Cyber operations are basically designed with operational security in mind. The operators create a minimal package of tooling needed for conducting exactly, only and specifically the operation they are doing. This means, for example, if they are hitting a telco Call Data Records (CDR) box, they will plan for what they are going to do on that specific computer and prepare the tools for only that plan and that computer. If those tools are captured, or there is a back hack up to their staging point, the loss is compartmented.

But HackerHouse argues they must be from a staging site (that is, external to the NSA) because they are binary files.

The bulk of these projects are not provided in source code form and instead appear to be binary files, which further strengthens the hypothesis that these files were compromised from an operational staging post or actively obtained from a field operation. If they had been in source code format then this would suggest an insider leak is more likely, binary files are often used in operations over their source code counterpart.

For what it’s worth, in the first post, Shadow Brokers claims it tracked EG’s traffic. “We follow Equation Group traffic. We find Equation Group source range. We hack Equation Group.” But it is worth noting that, 4 months after the first leak, tech folks are still disputing whether these must have come from inside our outside the NSA.

Assuming no one buys these files, then, the release has done several things. First, it provided Belgacom and other potential targets of US hacking more evidence they might use to identify an NSA hack. As such, it seems consistent with the earlier releases: not so damaging for current operations as it is for the exposure of who and how the US targets civilian targets.

But it also tells the NSA more about what Shadow Brokers has — at least some of the tools it has (in the first post, SB claimed NSA didn’t know what it had), but also where they were obtained.

Cleetus’ close commentary on recent events

Which brings me to the message (post one, post two) of presumed Shadow Brokers persona, Bocefus Cleetus (as others have argued, a possible allusion to “ventriloquist dummy of FSB”), which the Grugq wrote about here. I suspect (this is a wildarseguess) Cleetus may serve as a temporally contingent way to alert the public to files that may have been out there for a while.

As the Grugq notes, the first message is interesting for its invocation of Rage against the Machine’s “People of the Sun” juxtaposed against a background and fake discourse targeting caricatured Neo-Nazi Trump voters. He reads the former as a warning about invading brown people, but I think — given the stylistic fluidity across the six Shadow Brokers’ messages — it might better be understood as mixed metaphors. RATM where one has been led to expect Hank Williams Jr.

There’s also a reference to fake news. As with the October 30 release (assuming Cleetus is a persona of Shadow Brokers), this is also a piece responding to very current events.

But Cleetus’ second message that is a far more interesting comment on immediate events. For example, from the first, it invokes NYT’s blockbuster (which is remarkably favorable to the DNC) story on the hack, which has now been translated into Russia. Here’s Cleetus’ first line:

After my shadow brokers tweet I was contacted by an anonymous source claiming to be FBI. Yep I know prove it? I wasn’t able to get’em to verify their identity.

Here’s an early line from the NYT story:

“I had no way of differentiating the call I just received from a prank call,” Mr. Tamene wrote in an internal memo, obtained by The New York Times, that detailed his contact with the F.B.I.

This line from Cleetus:

The NSA has the global surveillance capabilities to intercept all the DNC and Podesta emails.

Seems to reflect Bill Binney’s theory, which is that the NSA would know if there were really a hack because it would have seen the traffic.

In other words, any data that is passed from the servers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) or of Hillary Rodham Clinton (HRC) – or any other server in the U.S. – is collected by the NSA.  These data transfers carry destination addresses in what are called packets, which enable the transfer to be traced and followed through the network.

[snip]

The bottom line is that the NSA would know where and how any “hacked” emails from the DNC, HRC or any other servers were routed through the network. This process can sometimes require a closer look into the routing to sort out intermediate clients, but in the end sender and recipient can be traced across the network.

There’s the reference to the now-forgotten stink when Trump interviewed Mike Rogers.

Clapper and Carter tried to get Rogers fired. They also called for the breakup of NSA.

That was first reported by the same folks who set off this leakapalooza.

The heads of the Pentagon and the nation’s intelligence community have recommended to President Obama that the director of the National Security Agency, Adm. Michael S. Rogers, be removed.

The recommendation, delivered to the White House last month, was made by Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., according to several U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

Action has been delayed, some administration officials said, because relieving Rogers of his duties is tied to another controversial recommendation: to create separate chains of command at the NSA and the military’s cyberwarfare unit, a recommendation by Clapper and Carter that has been stalled because of other issues.

What ever happened to Trump’s imminent plan to replace James Clapper with Mike Rogers amidst a big rearrangement of the spook desk chairs, I wonder? Has he completely forgotten Clapper is out of here on January 20, at noon sharp, Clapper said?

In any case, those bits directly echo very current news. But the rest of the post posits a fight between DOD and CIA, some of it rooted in equally real, if more dated, pissing contests.

Look it up for yerself! DOD and CIA have had a turf war going back to the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars bout whose job it was to run paramilitary operations. A turf war over the next “domain of battle” with all the government cheese.

One reason Shadow Brokers’ positing of a NSA-CIA spat — which the Grugq argues could not be real — is so interesting is because most of the recent reporting has forgotten NSA’s centrality in all this and instead focused on an FBI-CIA split, which was artificially resolved by pre-empting the President’s press conference on Friday.

I don’t think there’s really an NSA-CIA pissing contest, though there may be an interesting detail here or there I’ll return to.

But it brings us full circle. President Obama, in urging calm, invoked the kind of retaliation that might, “create problems for us.” Those comments took place as if only the DNC and Podesta hacks were at issue (indeed, he made Martha Raddatz qualify what leaks the IC had blamed on Russia, and that’s what she said). But it appears likely that the IC connects Shadow Broker to the other two. And the whole time we’ve been talking about retaliating, the Shadow Brokers has not so much been undercutting the NSA’s bread and butter, but letting our allies and other neutral parties see precisely whom we conduct this dragnet on.

That sounds like something that might “create problems for us.”

On October 30, Shadow Brokers taunted, “When you are ready to make the bleeding stop, payus, so we can move onto the next game.” I think we’re still in that first game.


Shadow Brokers Timeline

August 13: Message 1 Equation Group Warez Auction Invitation

The name, in general, is a play on the villain from Mass Effect.

GitHub, Reddit, Tumblr (see note), with takedowns as stolen property

Message on Pastebin

Claims files obtained by following EG traffic, claims EG doesn’t know what it lost

We follow Equation Group traffic. We find Equation Group source range. We hack Equation Group.

[snip]

Equation Group not know what lost. We want Equation Group to bid so we keep secret. You bid against Equation Group, win and find out or bid pump price up, piss them off, everyone wins.

Rant about wealthy elites who don’t get blowjobs who run for President

We have final message for “Wealthy Elites”. We know what is wealthy but what is Elites? Elites is making laws protect self and friends, lie and fuck other peoples. Elites is breaking laws, regular peoples go to jail, life ruin, family ruin, but not Elites. Elites is breaking laws, many peoples know Elites guilty, Elites call top friends at law enforcement and government agencies, offer bribes, make promise future handjobs, (but no blowjobs). Elites top friends announce, no law broken, no crime commit. Reporters (not call journalist) make living say write only nice things about Elites, convince dumb cattle, is just politics, everything is awesome, check out our ads and our prostitutes. Then Elites runs for president. Why run for president when already control country like dictatorship? What this have do with fun Cyber Weapons Auction? We want make sure Wealthy Elite recognizes the danger cyber weapons, this message, our auction, poses to their wealth and control. Let us spell out for Elites. Your wealth and control depends on electronic data. You see what “Equation Group” can do. You see what cryptolockers and stuxnet can do. You see free files we give for free. You see attacks on banks and SWIFT in news. Maybe there is Equation Group version of cryptolocker+stuxnet for banks and financial systems? If Equation Group lose control of cyber weapons, who else lose or find cyber weapons? If electronic data go bye bye where leave Wealthy Elites? Maybe with dumb cattle? “Do you feel in charge?” Wealthy Elites, you send bitcoins, you bid in auction, maybe big advantage for you?

August 27: Hal Martin arrested

August 28: Message 2 “Why is everyone so fucking stupid”

A play on Team America’s “I’m so ronery

Additional details on auction, Pastebin

September 1: Message 6 files signed

September 5: Obama and Putin discuss DNC hacks at G-20

September 25: Sam Adams Award presentation; Craig Murray meets intermediary tied to Podeseta leak

October 1: Message 3 “Why you no like?”

More details on the auction. Medium

Q: Why saying “don’t trust us”?

A: TheShadowBrokers is making comment on trust-less exchanges. TheShadowBrokers is thinking is no thing now as trust-less. “Don’t Trust” is not equal to “Is Scam”. TheShadowBrokers is thinking no way to exchange secrets (auction files) without one party trusting other. If seller trust buyer and buyer no pay, then no more secrets. If buyer trust seller and seller no deliver, the no more sales. TheShadowBrokers is having more things to sell. Reputation is being another benefit of public auction.

October 7: IC Attribution of DNC hack to Russia, Podesta email release starts, Access Hollywood video

October 14: NBC story, CIA Prepping for Possible Cyber Strike Against Russia

Vice President Joe Biden told “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd on Friday that “we’re sending a message” to Putin and that “it will be at the time of our choosing, and under the circumstances that will have the greatest impact.”

October 15: Message 4 “Yo Swag Me Out”

Calls off auction and provides spoof (I’m missing what this is a reference to) of Loretta Lynch/Bill Clinton plane conversation

October 17: Ecuador cuts off Assange’s Internet access

October 30: Message 5 Trick or Treat for Amerikanskis

Medium announcement

A reference to October 14 NBC story and Biden’s threat to Putin, mocking relative focus on DNC hacks over Equation Group hacks

Why is DirtyGrandpa threating CIA cyberwar with Russia? Why not threating with NSA or CyberCommand? CIA is cyber B-Team, yes? Where is cyber A-Team? Maybe threating is not being for external propaganda? Maybe is being for internal propaganda? Oldest control trick in book, yes? Waving flag, blaming problems on external sources, not taking responsibility for failures.

A challenge about whether the DNC hack is more important that the EG hack

But neverminding, hacking DNC is way way most important than EquationGroup losing capabilities. Amerikanskis is not knowing USSA cyber capabilities is being screwed?

[snip]

Maybe political hacks is being more important?

A call for people to hack the elections

TheShadowBrokers is having suggestion. On November 8th, instead of not voting, maybe be stopping the vote all together? Maybe being grinch who stopped election from coming? Maybe hacking election is being the best idea? #hackelection2016. If peoples is not being hackers, then #disruptelection2016, #disruptcorruption2016. Maybe peoples not be going to work, be finding local polling places and protesting, blocking , disrupting , smashing equipment, tearing up ballots? The wealthy elites is being weakest during elections and transition of power.

A threat that it will get worse

How bad do you want it to get? When you are ready to make the bleeding stop, payus, so we can move onto the next game. The game where you try to catch us cashing out!

October 31: Obama contacts Putin on Red Phone for first time in presidency, reportedly warns he’ll treat an attack on the election as an act of war.

November 26: Anonymous White House statement on election integrity

December 9: Obama calls for a review of hacking; WaPo releases releases story claiming CIA believes Russia did the hack to elect Trump

December 13: NYT story on DNC hack that leads with detail that FBI called DNC but staffer didn’t believe he was FBI.

December 14 (?): Message 6 “Black Friday/Cyber Monday Sale” (file signed September 1; Mustafa al-Bassam seemed to know they were coming if not already out there)

December 14: Message 6B Bocefus Cleetus 1 “Are the Shadow Brokers selling NSA tools on ZeroNet?”

Reference to Rage Against the Machine People of the Sun

Possible reference to Hank Williams Jr, Dukes of Hazard (perhaps ventriloquist doll for FSB)

Reference to fake news

December 15: Shadow Brokers interview with Motherboard

December 16, 5:21 AM(?): Message 6A Bocefus Cleetus 2, ““New Theory: Shadow Brokers Incident is a Deep State Civil War between CIA vs NSA”

Reference to NYT story on how DNC got hacked

Reference to Bill Binney theory on hack

Seeming rewriting of perceived FBI-CIA feud

Reference to (now forgotten) Trump interview with Mike Rogers

Reference to larger discussions of bureaucratic organization

DOD and CIA have had a turf war going back to the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars bout whose job it was to run paramilitary operations. A turf war over the next “domain of battle” with all the government cheese.

December 16, 2:40PM: Obama press conference

January 1, 2017 [Update} Shadow Brokers complains it did not get included in Obama’s sanctions list

One Day After Senior Intelligence Official Leaks Details of “Red Phone” Call, Russia Cuts Back Communications with the US

Yesterday, I expressed alarm that someone identified as a “senior intelligence official” not only leaked to NBC that President Obama had used the crisis “Red Phone” with Russia for the first time in his presidency (at least in a cyber context), but characterized the communication as muddled.

A month later, the U.S. used the vestige of an old Cold War communications system — the so-called “Red Phone” that connects Moscow to Washington — to reinforce Obama’s September warning that the U.S. would consider any interference on Election Day a grave matter.

This time Obama used the phrase “armed conflict.”

[snip]

A senior intelligence official told NBC News the message ultimately sent to the Russians was “muddled” — with no bright line laid down and no clear warning given about the consequences. The Russian response, said the official, was non-committal.

But it alarms me that someone decided it was a good idea to go leak criticisms of a Red Phone exchange. It would seem that such an instrument depends on some foundation of trust that, no matter how bad things have gotten, two leaders of nuclear armed states can speak frankly and directly.

Without that conversation being broadcast to the entire world via leaks.

Today, Reuters released a bizarre report — really signals within signals — claiming that most channels of dialogue are frozen.

The Kremlin said on Wednesday it did not expect the incoming U.S. administration to reject NATO enlargement overnight and that almost all communications channels between Russia and the United States were frozen, the RIA news agency reported.

“Almost every level of dialogue with the United States is frozen. We don’t communicate with one another, or (if we do) we do so minimally,” Peskov said

I say it’s bizarre because it’s not a firsthand report. It reports that RIA reported that Peskov said this in an interview with the Mir TV station. So it lacks context.

Moreover, it appears to be false, given that John Kerry spoke with Sergei Lavrov yesterday (with whom he seems to have a pretty good relationship).

MR KIRBY: Well, as you know, we weren’t a party to the talks, but Secretary Kerry did speak today to both Foreign Minister Lavrov and Foreign Minister Cavusoglu, who were there. And they provided the Secretary a sense of how the discussions went.

Nevertheless, this may be a kind of signaling.

It’s precisely the kind of possibility that I worried about when I noted the leak.

Now the Spooks Are Leaking Criticism of Obama’s Sole Use of the “Red Phone”

NBC, which seems to be sharing the role of spook leak central with WaPo, has upped the ante on previous leaks. Last night, it revealed that on October 31, Obama used the “Red Phone” (which is in reality an email system) designed to avert disasters with Russia for the first time in his Administration to warn Vladimir Putin not to fuck with our election process.

A month later, the U.S. used the vestige of an old Cold War communications system — the so-called “Red Phone” that connects Moscow to Washington — to reinforce Obama’s September warning that the U.S. would consider any interference on Election Day a grave matter.

This time Obama used the phrase “armed conflict.”

The reason we’re getting this leak seems fairly clear. Not only are Democrats peeved that Obama didn’t manage to recall or suppress documents already leaked to WikiLeaks, but one “senior intelligence official” is angry that Obama laid down no bright line.

A senior intelligence official told NBC News the message ultimately sent to the Russians was “muddled” — with no bright line laid down and no clear warning given about the consequences. The Russian response, said the official, was non-committal.

I’m pretty favorable to leaks (though not their use to preempt deliberative assessment of intelligence). They serve an important check on government, even on the President.

But it alarms me that someone decided it was a good idea to go leak criticisms of a Red Phone exchange. It would seem that such an instrument depends on some foundation of trust that, no matter how bad things have gotten, two leaders of nuclear armed states can speak frankly and directly.

Without that conversation being broadcast to the entire world via leaks.

It would seem such a leak might lead Putin to take such exchanges less seriously in the future knowing that the spooks reviewing the exchange don’t take the gravity of it all that seriously.

Ah well. Good things these spooks are so successfully combatting the inappropriate leak of information by leaking more information.

16 Words: “The British government has learned that Vladimir Putin recently sought significant quantities of votes for Trump”

This morning, I managed to remind the NYT in the NYT of its role in spreading leaks that led us to war in Iraq. I did so not to defend Donald Trump, but to point out how the flood of leaks leading up to the Iraq War is similar to the one we’ve had in the last week, insisting that Putin hacked Hillary specifically to get Trump elected. Here’s the comparison, which you’re familiar with from my posts in the last week.

Trump is not quite right when he claims that, “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.” Neither the entire intelligence community nor even everyone at the C.I.A. was wrong about the Iraq intelligence. Rather, leaks like the ones we’re seeing now ensured elected officials didn’t hear from the skeptics who got it right.

That time, as members of Congress were demanding the Bush administration show its case for war, anonymous officials told this newspaper that aluminum tubes purchased by Iraq could only be used for nuclear enrichment. By the time Congress got a report, a month later, saying that might not be the case most members never read it; they had already been convinced that the case for war was a “slam dunk.”

This time, just hours after the White House revealed President Obama had ordered a (belated) review by the entire intelligence community of how hacks have tainted our democracy, the C.I.A.’s incendiary conclusion got leaked to the press: First, anonymous leaks said Russia had hacked Democrats not just to cause chaos, but specifically to get Trump elected. Last Wednesday the leaks went further: Putin himself oversaw the operation to put Trump in the White House. On Friday, another C.I.A. leak came out minutes before Obama started a news conference where he said, “I want to make sure … I give the intelligence community the chance to gather all the information.”

The point of my post is not — as numerous people who refute it without reading it suggest — to argue Russia didn’t hack Hillary. While I have lingering questions, I think that likely.

Rather, it is to ask why the CIA is so invested in the narrative that Putin specifically intervened to get Trump elected, rather than the more obvious explanation, which is that he intervened to retaliate for real and imagined CIA-led covert operations targeted at Russian interests?

Lefties Learn to Love Leaks Again

Throughout the presidential campaign, observers have noted with irony that many on the right discovered a new-found love for WikiLeaks. Some of the same people who had earlier decried leaks, even called Chelsea Manning a traitor, were lapping up what Julian Assange was dealing on a daily basis.

There was a similar, though less marked, shift on the left. While many on the left had criticized — or at least cautioned about — WikiLeaks from the start, once Assange started targeting their presidential candidate, such leaks became an unprecedented, unparalleled assault on decency, which no one seemed to say when similar leaks targeted Bashar al-Assad.

Which is why I was so amused by the reception of this story yesterday.

After revealing that Donald Trump’s Secretary of State nominee “was the long-time director of a US-Russian oil firm based in the tax haven of the Bahamas, leaked documents show” in the first paragraph, the article admits, in the fourth paragraph that,

Though there is nothing untoward about this directorship, it has not been reported before and is likely to raise fresh questions over Tillerson’s relationship with Russia ahead of a potentially stormy confirmation hearing by the US senate foreign relations committee. Exxon said on Sunday that Tillerson was no longer a director after becoming the company’s CEO in 2006.

The people sharing it on Twitter didn’t seem to notice that (nor did the people RTing my ironic tweet about leaks seem to notice). Effectively, the headline “leaks reveal details I have sensationalized” served its purpose, with few people reading far enough to the caveats that admit this is fairly standard international business practice (indeed, it’s how Trump’s businesses work too). This is a more sober assessment of the import of the document detailing Tillerson’s ties with the Exxon subsidiary doing business in Russia.

This Guardian article worked just like all the articles about DNC and Podesta emails worked, even with — especially with — the people decrying the press for the way it irresponsibly sensationalized those leaks.

The response to this Tillerson document is all the more remarkable given the source of this leak. The Guardian reveals it came from an anonymous source for Süddeutsche Zeitung, which in turn shared the document with the Guardian and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The leaked 2001 document comes from the corporate registry in the Bahamas. It was one of 1.3m files given to the Germany newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung by an anonymous source.

[snip]

The documents from the Bahamas corporate registry were shared by Süddeutsche Zeitung with the Guardian and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in Washington DC.

That is, this document implicating Vladimir Putin’s buddy Rex Tillerson came via the very same channel that the Panama Papers had, which Putin claimed, back in the time Russia was rifling around the DNC server, was a US intelligence community effort to discredit him and his kleptocratic cronies, largely because that was the initial focus of the US-NGO based consortium that managed the documents adopted, a focus replicated at outlets participating.

See this column for a worthwhile argument that Putin hacked the US as retaliation for the Panama Papers, which makes worthwhile points but would only work chronologically if Putin had advance notice of the Panama Papers (because John Podesta got hacked on March 19, before the first releases from the Panama Papers on April 3).

There really has been a remarkable lack of curiosity about where these files came from. That’s all the more striking in this case, given that the document (barely) implicating Tillerson comes from the Bahamas, where the US at least was collecting every single phone call made.

That’s all the more true given the almost non-existent focus on the Bahamas leaks before — from what I can tell just one story has been done on this stash, though the documents are available in the ICIJ database. Indeed, if the source for the leaks was the same, it would seem to point to an outside hacker rather than an inside leaker. That doesn’t mean the leak was done just to hurt Tillerson. The leak, which became public on September 21, precedes the election of Trump, much less the naming of Tillerson. But it deserves at least some notice.

For what it’s worth, I think it quite possible the US has been involved in such leaks — particularly given how few Americans get named in them. But I don’t think the Panama Papers, which implicated plenty of American friends and even the Saudis, actually did target Putin.

Still, people are going to start believing Putin’s claims that this effort is primarily targeted at him if documents conveniently appear from the leak as if on command.

I am highly interested in who handed off documents allegedly stolen by Russia’s GRU to Wikileaks. But I’m also interested in who the source enabling asymmetric corruption claims, as if on demand, is.

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