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

Hal Martin Sentencing Leaves All Questions Unanswered

Hal Martin was sentenced Friday. He received the nine years agreed upon as part of his plea agreement. But — as the many reports of his sentencing emphasize — closure on this case still doesn’t offer closure on the Shadow Brokers case. Of course the sentencing hasn’t solved the Shadow Brokers case, which has been true since Martin was charged in 2018 but was recently reiterated by AP.

But it also hasn’t provided much clarity on some of the other issues about this case. For example, his lawyer Jim Wyda seems to have confirmed that the cryptic DMs sent to some Kaspersky researchers in advance of the original Shadow Brokers release were his, denying that Martin intended the “Shelf life, three weeks,” DM to be an offer to sell the NSA’s exploits that would be offered for sale less than an hour later. [Note: this sentencing was difficult to cover remotely because the filings weren’t released in PACER, so I’m particularly grateful for other’s coverage, especiall this excellent CyberScoop story on it.]

Jim Wyda, Martin’s public defender, said Friday there was no indication Martin intended for any transaction to take place by that tweet.

I had noted that, given the lack of 2FA at the time of the DMs, hacking Martin’s Twitter account to send the DMs would have been child’s play, something an account claiming to be Shadow Brokers responded to fairly aggressively.

The government, however, offered no comment on those DMs. In response to Judge Richard Bennett’s reminder that the Tweets had been the subject of a Martin challenge to the warrants searching his house, prosecutor Zachary Myers refused to comment, even though classification wouldn’t prevent comment.

Bennett reminded U.S. attorneys of the tweet and the timeline on Friday in court. Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary Myers said the U.S. government would not be commenting further than noting that the timeline is, indeed, in the facts of the case.

Then there’s the question of whether Martin was a hoarder or a thief. His attorneys insisted his collection of documents was an expression of mental health issues. But the government pointed to how organized it all was (which is hard to square with the descriptions of the chaos of his house from the time of the arrest).

“This is not a case of hoarding, this is stealing,” Myers said Friday at a federal court house in Baltimore. The stolen information “was not in a disorganized manner,” he said, adding what the government found was “logical” and “repetitive.”

Bennett noted Friday he had concerns about the case regarding whether Martin’s alleged hoarding problem, noting that for someone who is a hoarder, he seemed well organized.

Martin’s wife described to CBS how he had recognized his illness before his arrest, but was afraid that if he sought treatment, he would lose clearance and his job.

Mental illness may explain why parts of Martin’s statement expressing remorse make no sense. WaPo:

Martin spoke for about 20 minutes, his voice calm, soft and sometimes difficult to hear as he read nearly verbatim from a letter he’d written earlier this month to the judge.

He made clear that what he’d done was wrong.

“The manner and method of my approach was unorthodox, unconventional, uncanny,” he wrote. “But also unauthorized, illegal and just plain wrong. One step beyond black. Please do not copy this. It is not the easy or correct path. I took shortcuts, went backwards, sideways and around things, crossing major borders and boundaries. It is not good, it’s very, very BAD.”

NYT:

He stood in a striped jersey labeled “Inmate” and read for nearly 30 minutes a rambling statement apologizing to family, friends and his former colleagues at the N.S.A.

“I have been called a walking encyclopedia,” he said, describing himself at another point as “an intellectually curious adventurer.” His words were often cryptic, at one point addressed to “that cool dude in a loose mood” and at another citing the N.S.A. motto, “They serve in silence.”

All that said, one of the most telling details from coverage of yesterday’s sentencing is in the the government’s press release on the sentencing. It emphasizes the resources diverted to investigating Martin’s activities, which sure makes it sound like they don’t think he’s the culprit behind the Shadow Brokers leak.

In court documents and at today’s sentencing hearing, the government noted that crimes such as Martin’s not only create a risk of unauthorized disclosure of, or access to, highly classified information, but often require the government to treat the stolen material as compromised, resulting in the government having to take remedial actions including changing or abandoning national security programs.  In addition, Martin’s criminal conduct caused the government to expend substantial investigative and analytical resources.  The diversion of those resources resulted in significant costs.

Bennett believes the nine year sentence will serve as deterrent for other intelligence personnel. But it’s not clear whether those are the people who need to be deterred.

The Logistics of the Julian Assange Indictment

The extradition request and indictment have been pending while Vault 7 and Roger Stone have percolated

According to a BuzzFeed report from yesterday’s bail hearing in London, Julian Assange’s extradition warrant was dated December 22, 2017.

That means the extradition request came amid an effort by Ecuador to grant him diplomatic status after which he might be exfiltrated to Ecuador or Russia; the extradition request came the day after the UK denied him diplomatic status.

Ecuador last Dec. 19 approved a “special designation in favor of Mr. Julian Assange so that he can carry out functions at the Ecuadorean Embassy in Russia,” according to the letter written to opposition legislator Paola Vintimilla.

“Special designation” refers to the Ecuadorean president’s right to name political allies to a fixed number of diplomatic posts even if they are not career diplomats.

But Britain’s Foreign Office in a Dec. 21 note said it did not accept Assange as a diplomat and that it did not “consider that Mr. Assange enjoys any type of privileges and immunities under the Vienna Convention,” reads the letter, citing a British diplomatic note.

Both events came in the wake of the revocation of Joshua Schulte’s bail after he got caught using Tor, in violation of his bail conditions. And the events came days before Donald Trump’s longtime political advisor Roger Stone told Randy Credico he was about to orchestrate a blanket pardon for Assange.

In early January, Roger Stone, the longtime Republican operative and adviser to Donald Trump, sent a text message to an associate stating that he was actively seeking a presidential pardon for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange—and felt optimistic about his chances. “I am working with others to get JA a blanket pardon,” Stone wrote, in a January 6 exchange of text messages obtained by Mother Jones. “It’s very real and very possible. Don’t fuck it up.” Thirty-five minutes later, Stone added, “Something very big about to go down.”

The indictment used to submit an extradition request yesterday was approved by an EDVA grand jury on March 6, 2018, 13 months ago and just a few months after the extradition request.

That means the indictment has been sitting there at EDVA since a few days before Mueller obtained warrants to obtain the contents of five AT&T cell phones, one of which I suspect belongs to Roger Stone (see this post for a timeline of the investigation into Stone). The indictment has been sitting there since a few weeks before Ecuador first limited visitors for Julian Assange last March. It has been sitting there for three months before the government finally indicted Joshua Schulte, in June 2018, for the leak of Vault 7 files they had been pursuing for over a year (see this post for a timeline of the investigation into Schulte). It was sitting there when, in July, Mueller rolled out an indictment referring to WikiLeaks as an unindicted co-conspirator with GRU on the 2016 election hacks, without charging the organization. It was also sitting there last July when David House testified about publicizing Chelsea Manning’s case to the grand jury under a grant of immunity. It was sitting there when Schulte got videotaped attempting to leak classified information from jail, making any prosecution far easier from a classified information standpoint; that happened right around the time Ecuador ratcheted up the restrictions on Assange. It had been sitting there for 10 months by the time Mueller indicted Roger Stone for lying about optimizing the WikiLeaks release of documents stolen by Russia, again while naming but not charging WikiLeaks. It had been sitting there for 11 months when Chelsea Manning first got a subpoena to testify before an EDVA grand jury, and a full year before she went public with her subpoena. It had been sitting there for over a year when Mueller announced he was finishing on March 22; likewise it has been sitting there ever since Bill Barr announced Trump’s team hadn’t coordinated with the Russian government but remained silent about coordination with WikiLeaks.

In short, the indictment has been sitting there for quite some time and the extradition warrant even longer, even as several different more recent investigations appear to be relentlessly moving closer to WikiLeaks. It has been sealed, assuming it’s the same as the complaint the existence of which was accidentally revealed late last year because, “due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.”

There’s a somewhat obvious reason why it got indicted when it did. As WaPo and others have pointed out, the eight year statute of limitations on the CFAA charges in the indictment would have run last year on March 7, 2018.

But that doesn’t explain why DOJ decided to charge Assange in this case, when Assange’s actions with Vault 7 appear far more egregious, or why the indictment is just being unsealed now. And it doesn’t explain why it got released — without any superseding allegations — now, even while WaPo and CNN report more charges against Assange are coming.

Here’s what I suspect DOJ is trying to do with this indictment.

The discussion of cracking the password takes place as Manning runs out of files to share

First, consider these details about the indictment. As I noted earlier, the overt act it charges as a conspiracy is an agreement to crack a password.

On or about March 8, 2010, Assange agreed to assist Manning in cracking a password stored on United States Department of Defense computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Network, a United States government network used for classified documents and communications, as designated according to Executive Order No. 13526 or its predecessor orders.

[snip]

The portion of the password Manning gave to Assange to crack was stored as a “hash value” in a computer file that was accessible only by users with administrative-level privileges. Manning did not have administrative-level privileges, and used special software, namely a Linux operating system, to access the computer file and obtain the portion of the password provided to Assange.

Cracking the password would have allowed Manning to log onto the computers under a username that did not belong to her. Such a measure would have made it more difficult for investigators to identify Manning as the source of disclosures of classified information.

More specifically, the overt act relates to some exchanges revealed in chat logs that have long been public, dating to March 2010 (see this post for a timeline of some related activities from this period, but not this chat; this post describes a chronology of Manning’s alleged leaks). This is a period when Manning had already leaked things to WikiLeaks, including the Collateral Murder video they’re in the process of editing during the conversation and the Iraq and Afghan war logs that were apparently a focus of the David House grand jury testimony.

In the logs, Manning asks whether WikiLeaks wants Gitmo detainee files (a file that, in my opinion, was one of the most valuable leaked by Manning). Assange isn’t actually all that excited because “gitmo is mostly over,” but suggests the files may be useful to defense attorneys (they were! to some of the same defense attorneys defending Assange now!) or if Afghanistan heats up.

Manning says she’s loading one more archive of interesting stuff.

This appears to be the Gitmo files.

Manning explicitly says that’s all she’s got, and then talks about taking some years off to let heat die down, even while gushing about the current rate of change.

Some hours later, amid a discussion about the status of the upload of the Gitmo files that are supposed to be the last file she’s got, Manning then asks Assange if he’s any good at cracking passwords.

He says he has, “passed it onto our lm guy.”

Two days later Assange asks for more information on the hash, stating (as the indictment notes) that he’s had no luck cracking it so far. Then there’s a six day break in the chat logs, at least as presented.

The next day Assange floats getting Manning a crypto phone but then thinks better of it.

These chat logs end the next day, March 18, 2010. As the indictment notes, however, it’s not until ten days later, on March 28, 2010, that Manning starts downloading the State cable files.

Following this, between March 28, 2010, and April 9, 2010, Manning used a United States Department of Defense computer to download the U.S. Department of State cables that WikiLeaks later released publicly.

It’s unclear whether Assange ever cracked the password — but the chat log suggests he involved another person in the conspiracy

Most people have assumed, given what the indictment lays out, that Assange never succeeded in cracking the password. I have no idea whether he did or not, but I’m seeing people base that conclusion on several faulty assumptions. (Update: HackerFantastic notes that Assange couldn’t have broken this password, but goes on to describe how using other code it might be possible; that’s interesting because Manning was alleged to have added additional software onto the network after the initial Linux device, on May 4, 2010.)

First, some people assume that if Assange had succeeded in cracking the password, the indictment would say so. I’m not so sure. The indictment only needs to allege that Assange and Manning entered into a conspiracy — which the indictment deems a password cracking conspiracy — and took an overt act, whether or not the conspiracy itself was successful. The government suggests that Assange’s comment that he’s had “no luck so far” shows that he has taken an overt act, trying to crack it. Nothing else is required for the purposes of the indictment.

Further, several things about the chat log, as received, suggests there may be more going on in the background. There’s the six day gap after that conversation. There’s the contemplation of getting Manning a crypto phone. And then the chat logs as the government has chosen to release them end, though as the government notes, ten days after they end, Manning starts downloading the State cables.

But the record at least suggests that this conspiracy involves at least one more person, the “lm guy.” Maybe Assange was just falsely claiming to have a guy who focused on cracking certain kinds of hashes. Or maybe the government knows who he is.

The reference to him, however, suggests that there’s at least one more person in this conspiracy. The indictment notes there are “other co-conspirators known and unknown to the Grand Jury,” which is the norm for conspiracy indictments. But there are no other details of who else might be included.

Yes, this particular conspiracy is incredibly narrowly conceived, focused on just that password decryption. But there’s also the “Manner and Means of the Conspiracy” language that has (rightly) alarmed journalists so much, describing the goal of acquiring and sharing classified information that WikiLeaks could disseminate, and describing the operational security (Jabber and deleted chat logs) and inducement to accomplish that goal.

In other words, this indictment seems to be both an incredibly narrow charge, focused on a few Jabber conversations between Assange and Manning, and a much larger conspiracy in which Assange and other unnamed co-conspirators help her acquire and transmit classified documents about the US.

The logistics of the conspiracy prosecution(s)

Which brings me back to how this indictment might fit in amidst several larger, parallel efforts to prosecute WikiLeaks in the last 16 months.

This indictment may be the formalization of a complaint used as the basis for what seems to be a hastily drawn extradition request in December 2017, at a time when Ecuador and Russia were attempting to spring Assange, possibly in the wake of the government’s move to detain Schulte.

The indictment does not allege the full Cablegate conspiracy. David House testified months ago. And the government currently has Manning in jail in an attempt to coerce her to cooperate. That coercive force, by the way, may be the point of referencing the Espionage Act in the indictment: to add teeth to the renewed legal jeopardy that Manning might face if she doesn’t cooperate.

But what the indictment does — and did do, yesterday — is serve as the basis to get Assange booted from the embassy and moved into British custody, kicking off formal extradition proceedings.

As a number of outlets have suggested, any extradition process may take a while. Although two things could dramatically abbreviate it. First, Sweden could file its own extradition on the single remaining rape charge against Assange, which might get priority over the US request. Ironically, that might be Assange’s best bet to stay out of US custody for the longest possible time. Alternately, Assange could simply not contest extradition to the US, which would leave him charged in this bare bones indictment that even Orin Kerr suggests is a fairly aggressive charging of CFAA.

Barring either of those things happening, however, the US government now has one suspect in any conspiracy it wants to charge in the custody of a friendly country. It has accomplished that with entirely unclassified allegations, which means any other suspects won’t know anything more than they knew on Wednesday. Anything else it wants to charge — or any other moving parts it needs to pursue — it can now do without worrying too much that Assange will be put in the “boot” of a Russian diplomatic vehicle to be exfiltrated to Russia.

It has between now and at least May 2 — when Assange has his next hearing — to add any additional charges against Assange, while still having them charged under the Rule of Specialty before any possible extradition. It has maybe a month left on the Mueller grand jury.

Meanwhile, several things have happened recently.

First, in recent weeks two things have happened in the Schulte case. His lawyers made yet another bid to get the warrants that justified the initial searches excluded from the protective order. Schulte and his lawyers have been complaining about these warrants from the start, and Schulte’s public comments or leaks about them are part of what got him charged with violating his protective order. From description, it sounds like FBI was parallel constructing other information tying him to the Vault 7 leaks, and fucked up royally in doing so, introducing errors in the process (though the Hal Martin case makes me wonder whether the errors aren’t still more egregious). The government objected to this request, arguing that the warrants would disclose how the CIA stored its hacking documents and asserting that the investigation is definitely ongoing.

The Search Warrant Materials discuss, among other things, the way that the U.S. Intelligence Agency maintained a classified computer system that was integral to the Agency’s intelligence-gathering mission. Broadly disseminating that information would permit a host of potentially hostile actors to glean valuable intelligence about the way the U.S. Intelligence Agency maintained its computer systems or its security protocols, which would harm national security.

[snip]

The defendant’s abbreviated argument for de-designating the Search Warrant Materials is speculative, conclusory, and misguided. First, the defendant claims that the “time for investigation is long gone.” (Def. Let. at 1). The defendant is neither in a position to judge nor the arbiter of when it is appropriate for the Government to end its investigation into one of the largest-ever illegal disclosures of classified information. Simply put, while details are not appropriate for discussion in a public letter, the Government confirms that its investigation is not done and can supply the Court with additional information on an ex parte basis if the Court wishes.

Meanwhile, the government suggested severing the most recent charges — in which it has video surveillance showing Schulte leaking classified or protected information — from the underlying child porn and Vault 7 leaks.

As the Court is aware, trial in this matter is currently set for April 8, 2019. (See Minute Entry for August 8, 2018 Conference). To afford the parties sufficient time to prepare the necessary pretrial motions, including suppression motions and motions pursuant to the Classified Information Procedures Act (“CIPA”), the parties respectfully request that the Court adjourn the trial until November 4, 2019. The parties are also discussing a potential agreement concerning severance, as well as the order of the potentially severed trials. The parties will update the Court on severance and a pretrial motion schedule at or before the conference scheduled for April 10, 2019.

The defense didn’t weigh in on this plan, which (it would seem) would go a long way to eliminating the government’s parallel construction problem. They were supposed to talk about the severance issue in a hearing Monday, but it sounds like the only thing that got discussed was CIA’s refusal to comply with discovery. My guess is that Schulte will try to get those initial warrants and any fruit of them thrown out, and if that doesn’t work then maybe plead down to prevent a life sentence.

Meanwhile, Ecuador has taken steps to roll up people it claims have ties to Assange.

Tuesday, it fired a staffer in the embassy who had been extremely close to Assange (which may be how he learned about the plans to arrest him last week). Then, yesterday, Ecuador detained Swedish coder Ola Bini, alleging he was involved in some of the hacking they’ve accused Assange of. They also claim to know of two Russian hackers involved.

I have no idea if these developments are just Ecuador trying to cover-up corruption or real ties to WikiLeaks or perhaps something in between. There are no trustworthy actors here.

But — as William Arkin also notes — there’s an effort to test whether WikiLeaks has been at the front end of many of these leaks. Aside from WikiLeaks’ reported source for its Saudi Leaks files from Russia, Arkin focuses less on the reasons there are real questions about WikiLeaks’ relationship with Russia. I think we honestly won’t know which of the untrustworthy sides is being more trustworthy until we see the evidence.

Whichever it is, it seems that DOJ is poised to start building out whatever it can on at least one conspiracy indictment against WikiLeaks. The indictment and its implementation yesterday seems primarily to have served as a way to lock down one part — the most volatile one — of the equation. What comes next may assuage concerns about the thinness of this indictment or it may reveal something far more systematic.

In the meantime, Assange is represented by some great lawyers, both in the UK and here. Which at least increases the chances any larger claims DOJ plans to roll out will be tested aggressively.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

Twitter Only Had SMS 2FA When Hal Martin’s Twitter Account DMed Kaspersky

In a post late last month, I suggested that the genesis of FBI’s interest in Hal Martin may have stemmed from a panicked misunderstanding of DMs Martin sent.

What appears to have happened is that the FBI totally misunderstood what it was looking at (assuming, as the context seems to suggest, that this is a DM, it would be an account they were already monitoring closely), and panicked, thinking they had to stop Martin before he dropped more NSA files.

Kim Zetter provides the back story — or at least part of one. The FBI didn’t find the DMs on their own. Amazingly, Kaspersky Lab, which the government has spent much of the last four years demonizing, alerted NSA to them.

As Zetter describes, the DMs were cryptic, seemingly breaking in mid-conversation. The second set of DMs referenced the closing scenes of both the 2016 version of Jason Bourne and Inception.

The case unfolded after someone who U.S. prosecutors believe was Martin used an anonymous Twitter account with the name “HAL999999999” to send five cryptic, private messages to two researchers at the Moscow-based security firm. The messages, which POLITICO has obtained, are brief, and the communication ended altogether as abruptly as it began. After each researcher responded to the confusing messages, HAL999999999 blocked their Twitter accounts, preventing them from sending further communication, according to sources.

The first message sent on Aug. 13, 2016, asked for him to arrange a conversation with “Yevgeny” — presumably Kaspersky Lab CEO Eugene Kaspersky, whose given name is Yevgeny Kaspersky. The message didn’t indicate the reason for the conversation or the topic, but a second message following right afterward said, “Shelf life, three weeks,” suggesting the request, or the reason for it, would be relevant for a limited time.

The timing was remarkable — the two messages arrived just 30 minutes before an anonymous group known as Shadow Brokers began dumping classified NSA tools online and announced an auction to sell more of the agency’s stolen code for the price of $1 million Bitcoin. Shadow Brokers, which is believed to be connected to Russian intelligence, said it had stolen the material from an NSA hacking unit that the cybersecurity community has dubbed the Equation Group.

[snip]

The sender’s Twitter handle was not familiar to the Kaspersky recipient, and the account had only 104 followers. But the profile picture showed a silhouette illustration of a man sitting in a chair, his back to the viewer, and a CD-ROM with the word TAO2 on it, using the acronym of the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations. The larger background picture on the profile page showed various guns and military vehicles in silhouette.

The Kaspersky researcher asked the sender, in a reply message, if he had an email address and PGP encryption key they could use to communicate. But instead of responding, the sender blocked the researcher’s account.

Two days later, the same account sent three private messages to a different Kaspersky researcher.

“Still considering it..,” the first message said. When the researcher asked, “What are you considering?” the sender replied: “Understanding of what we are all fighting for … and that goes beyond you and me. Same dilemma as last 10 min of latest Bourne.” Four minutes later he sent the final message: “Actually, this is probably more accurate” and included a link to a YouTube video showing the finale of the film “Inception.”

As it is, it’s an important story. As Zetter lays out, it makes it clear the NSA didn’t — couldn’t — find Martin on its own, and the government kept beating up Kaspersky even after they helped find Martin.

But, especially given the allusions to the two movies, I wonder whether these DMs actually came from Martin at all. There’s good reason to wonder whether they actually come from Shadow Brokers directly.

Certainly, that’d be technically doable, even though court filings suggest Martin had far better operational security than your average target. It would take another 16 months before Twitter offered Authenticator 2 factor authorization. For anyone with the profile of Shadow Brokers, it would be child’s play to break SMS 2FA, assuming Martin used it.

Moreover, the message of the two allusions fits solidly within both the practice of cultural allusions as well as the themes employed by Shadow Brokers made over the course of the operation, allusions that have gotten far too little notice.

Finally, that Kaspersky would get DMs from someone hijacking Martin’s account would be consistent with other parts of the operation. From start to finish, Shadow Brokers used Kaspersky as a foil, just like it used Jake Williams. With Kaspersky, Shadow Brokers repeatedly provided reason to think that the security company had a role in the leak. In both cases, the government clearly chased the chum Shadow Brokers threw out, hunting innocent people as suspects, rather than looking more closely at what the evidence really suggested. And (as Zetter lays out), Martin would be a second case where Kaspersky was implicated in the identification of such chum, the other being Nghia Pho (the example of whom might explain why the government responded to Kaspersky’s help in 2016 with such suspicion).

Mind you, there’s nothing in the public record — not Martin’s letter asking for fully rendered versions of his social media so he could prove the context, and not Richard Bennett’s opinion ruling the warrants based off Kaspersky’s tip were reasonable, even if the premise behind them proved wrong — that suggests Martin is contesting that he sent those DMs. That said, virtually the entire case is sealed, so we wouldn’t know (and the government really wouldn’t want us to know if it were the case).

As Zetter also lays out, Martin had a BDSM profile that might have elicited attention from hostile entities looking for such chum.

A Google search on the Twitter handle found someone using the same Hal999999999 username on a personal ad seeking female sex partners. The anonymous ad, on a site for people interested in bondage and sado-masochism, included a real picture of Martin and identified him as a 6-foot-4-inch 50-year-old male living in Annapolis, Md. A different search led them to a LinkedIn profile for Hal Martin, described as a researcher in Annapolis Junction and “technical advisor and investigator on offensive cyber issues.” The LinkedIn profile didn’t mention the NSA, but said Martin worked as a consultant or contractor “for various cyber related initiatives” across the Defense Department and intelligence community.

And when Kaspersky’s researchers responded to Martin’s DM, he blocked their accounts, suggesting he treated the communications unfavorably (or, if someone had taken over the account, they wanted to limit any back-and-forth, though Martin would presumably have noted that).

After each researcher responded to the confusing messages, HAL999999999 blocked their Twitter accounts, preventing them from sending further communication, according to sources.

Martin’s attorneys claim he has a mental illness that leads him to horde things, which is the excuse they give for his theft of so many government files. That’s different than suggesting he’d send strangers out-of-context DMs that, at the very least, might make him lose his clearance.

So I’d like to suggest it’s possible that Martin didn’t send those DMs.

Hal Martin Manages to Obtain a Better Legal Outcome than Reality Winner, But It Likely Doesn’t Matter

I’d like to comment on what I understand happened in a Hal Martin order issued earlier this month. In it, Judge Richard Bennett denied two requests from Martin to throw out the warrants for the search of his house and cell site tracking on his location, but granted an effort to throw out his FBI interrogation conducted the day they raided his house.

Hal Martin did not tweet to Shadow Brokers

The filing has received a bit of attention because of a redaction that reveals how the government focused on Martin so quickly: a Tweet (apparently a DM) he had sent hours before the Shadow Brokers files were first dropped on August 13, 2016.

The passage has been taken to suggest that Martin DMed with Shadow Brokers before he published any files.

That’s impossible, for two reasons.

First, it is inconsistent with Shadow Brokers’ known timeline. Shadow Brokers didn’t set up a Twitter account until after the first batch of files were initially posted. And both the Martin warrant — dated August 25 — and the search — which took place the afternoon of August 27 — preceded the next dump from Shadow Brokers on August 28.

But it’s also impossible for how Bennett ruled.

While the underlying motion remains sealed (like virtually everything else in this case), Martin was arguing the warrant used to obtain his Twitter content and later search his house was totally unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. It’s clear from a letter Martin sent the judge asking for his social media accounts as they actually appeared that he believes the FBI read the content of his Tweet out of context. And the judge actually considered the argument that the search was unreasonable to have merit, and in ruling that the FBI did have substantial basis for the search warrant, conceded that in another context the Tweet would not appear to be so damning.

Significantly, the Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule does not bar the admission of evidence obtained by officers acting in reasonable reliance on a search warrant issued by a magistrate later,found to be invalid. United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897,913-14 (1984). The evidence will be suppressed only if (1) the issuing judge was misled by information that the affiant knew or should have known was false, (2) the judge “wholly abandoned” her neutral role, (3) the affidavit was “so lacking in indicia of probable cause as to render official belief in its existence entirely unreasonable,” or (4) the warrant is so facially deficient that no reasonable officer could presume it to be valid. !d. at 923 (citations omitted).

[snip]

In this case, there was a substantial basis for the Magistrate’s fInding of probable cause to issue the search warrant for information associated with the Defendant’s Twitter account. See Upton, 466 U.S. at 728. The affIdavit provides that the Defendant’s Twitter messages [redacted] in which he requested a meeting [redacted] and stated “shelf life, three weeks” – were sent just hours before what was purported to be stolen government property was advertised and posted on multiple online content-sharing sites, including Twitter. (ECF No. 140-1 ~~ 14-23.) Further, and signifIcantly,the affIant averred that the Defendant was a former government contractor who had accessto the information that appeared to be what was purported to be stolen government property that was publicly posted on the Internet. (Id. ~~ 25-27.) Thus, although the Defendant’s Twitter messages could have had any number of innocuous meanings in another setting, these allegations regarding the context of Defendant’s messages provide a substantial basis for the Magistrate’s conclusion that there was a “fair probability” that evidence of the crime of Theft of Government Property, in violation of 18 U.S.c. ~ 641, would be found in information associated with the Defendant’s Twitter account. See Gates, 462 U.S. at 238.

You would never see language like this if Martin really were tweeting with Shadow Brokers, particularly not given the timeline (as it would suggest that he knew of Shadow Brokers before he ever posted). The warrant would, in that case, not be a close call at all. Indeed, the language is inconsistent with Martin’s interlocutor having anything to do with Shadow Brokers.

What appears to have happened is that the FBI totally misunderstood what it was looking at (assuming, as the context seems to suggest, that this is a DM, it would be an account they were already monitoring closely), and panicked, thinking they had to stop Martin before he dropped more NSA files.

Hal Martin got a similar FBI interrogation to Reality Winner’s thrown out

The sheer extent of FBI’s panic is probably what made Martin’s effort to get his FBI interrogation thrown out more successful than Reality Winner’s effort.

Their interrogations were similar. Ten FBI Agents came to Winner’s house, whereas nine SWAT team members, plus eight other FBI Agents, and a few Maryland State Troopers came to Martin’s. In both cases, the FBI segregated the NSA contractors in their home while Agents conducted a search. In Winner’s case, they also segregated her from her pets. In Martin’s case, they segregated him from his partner, Deborah Shaw, and when they did finally let him talk to her, they told Martin “you can’t touch her or any of that stuff.” When the NSA contractors wanted to get something from another part of their home, the FBI accompanied them.

Aside from the even greater number of FBI Agents and that Martin had a partner to be separated from, the biggest difference in Martin’s case is that that they set off a flash-bang device to disorient Martin, and the FBI originally put him face down on the ground and handcuffed him. Those factors, Bennett judged, meant it was reasonable for Martin to believe he was under arrest, and therefore the FBI should have given him a Miranda warning.

That is, on the afternoon of the interrogation, approximately 17-20 law enforcement officers swarmed the Defendant’s property. The Defendant was initially approached by nine armed SWAT agents, handcuffed, and forced to lay on the ground. During the four-hour interrogation, the Defendant was isolated from his partner, his freedom of movement was significantly restricted, and he was confronted with incriminating evidence discovered on his property. In this police dominated environment, a reasonable person in the Defendant’s position would have believed he was not free to leave, notwithstanding the agents’ statements to the contrary.

So unlike Winner, Martin will have his interrogation (in which he admitted to taking files home from his job as a contractor and explained how he did so) thrown out.

But it probably won’t matter.

As a reminder, the FBI charged Martin with taking home 20 highly classified files in February 2017, but they included no allegation that he (willfully) served as a source for Shadow Brokers. It’s possible they know he was an inadvertent source for Shadow Brokers (unlike Nghia Pho, who was likely also a source for Shadow Brokers, they charged Martin for 20 files, larding on the legal exposure; they charged Pho with taking home just one file, while getting him to admit that he could have been charged for each individually). But an earlier opinion in this case ruled that the government only has to prove that by taking hordes of files from of his employers that included National Defense Information, he knowingly possessed the ones he got charged for.

In any case, Martin has already been in jail for 28 months, almost half the amount of time that Pho will serve for doing the same thing, and his trial is not due to start on June 17, a full 34 months after he was arrested. As with Winner, the delay stems from the Classified Information Protection Act process, which ensures that — once the government successfully argues that the secrets in your head make it impossible to release you on bail for fear a foreign intelligence agency will steal those secrets — you serve the equivalent of a sentence before the government even has to prove your guilt.

Again, it may be that Martin unwittingly served as a source for Shadow Brokers. But if he didn’t, then the heavy hand they’re taking with him appears to stem from sheer embarrassment at fucking up with the initial panicked pursuit of him.

Update: Corrected the post to reflect that the search actually preceded the August 28 dump.

Has Hal Martin Finally Gotten the Government to Admit He Didn’t Feed Shadow Brokers?

Hal Martin may finally get a plea deal.

On Tuesday, Martin’s (excellent) public defender James Wyda asked to cancel a guilty plea to one of the 20 charges against him which had been scheduled for next week, stating that continuing negotiations may settle the whole case.

The defense requests a cancellation of the Rule 11 guilty plea hearing currently scheduled for January 22, 2018. The parties are continuing negotiations with the hope of resolving the entire case.

As John Gerstein had previously reported, last month Martin unilaterally moved to plead guilty to retaining one document described as “a March 2014 NSA leadership briefing outlining the development and future plans for a specific NSA organization,” though the government still threatened to ask for the maximum sentence on that one charge. But something changed since then to reinvigorate plea discussions.

I’m particularly interested in the schedule Judge Marvin Garbis had set in response to Martin’s bid to plead to one charge. The plea would have triggered a CIPA review, the process by which judges decide what classified information is necessary for a criminal trial, often in substitute form.

This is to confirm, as stated at the conference held this date:

1. On January 8, 2018, Defendant shall file a letter including its version of the statement of facts as to Count One of the Indictment.

2. Defendant Martin intends to plead guilty to Count One on January 22, 2018 at 10:00 A.M.

3. Defendant Martin expects to file a CIPA § 4 submission on January 26, 2018.

4. The Government shall make an ex parte presentation regarding its contentions and its pending CIPA § 4 motion in an on-the-record sealed proceeding on February 1, 2018 commencing at 10:00 A.M.

5. Defendant Martin shall make an ex parte presentation regarding its contentions and its forthcoming CIPA § 4 submission in an on-the-record sealed proceeding at a time to be scheduled by further Order.

That’s presumably an indication that Martin wanted to use classified evidence to mitigate his sentence. And all of this has happened in a six week extension Martin’s lawyers asked for on December 8, explaining that they had only just gotten access to information seized (back in August 2016) from Martin’s car and home.

On November 28, 2017, we had the opportunity to conduct an evidence review at the Baltimore FBI Field Office’s Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility for the first time of some of the items allegedly seized from Mr. Martin’s car and residence. In light of the volume of material made available for our review, we expect to return to the FBI multiple more times to review the remainder of the items.

All of which suggests the defense saw something in their classified discovery that made them think they can mitigate Martin’s sentence and, possibly, eliminate the government’s interest in trying him for those other 19 retained documents.

So to recap: on December 8, Martin’s lawyers ask for more time. On December 22, he moves to plead guilty. In the last few weeks, the judge set in motion the process to allow Martin to use classified information in his sentencing (and his lawyers submitted their version of what he would plead guilty to). And now a plea deal may be in the offing.

All that happened in the wake of Nghia Hoang Pho pleading guilty on December 1, after some interesting timing delays as well, timing which I laid out here.

The actual plea deal is dated October 11. It states that “if this offer has not been accepted by October 25, 2017, it will be deemed withdrawn.” The information itself was actually signed on November 29. Friday, the actual plea, was December 1.

So while there’s not a substantial cooperation component in the plea deal, certainly a substantial amount of time took place in that window, enough time to cooperate.

And consider the news coverage that has happened during that period. The initial plea offer was made in the week following a big media blitz of stories blaming Pho (and through him Kaspersky) for the Russian theft of NSA tools. In the interim period between the offer and the acceptance of the plea deal, Kaspersky confirmed both verbally and then in a full incident report that his AV had found the files in question, while noting that a third party hacker had compromised Pho’s machine during the period he had TAO’s tools on it.

In other words, after at least an 18 month investigation, Pho finally signed a plea agreement as the media started blaming him for the compromise of these tools.

In that plea deal, the government noted that they could have charged Pho as they had charged Martin, with one count for each retained file (though in reality Martin got charged for a tiny fraction of what he brought home).

During much of that period, Harold Martin was in custody and under investigation for a similar crime: bringing a bunch of TAO tools home and putting them on his computer. Only, unlike Pho, Martin got slammed with a 20-count indictment, laying a range of files, and not just files from NSA. Indeed, the Pho plea notes,

This Office and the Defendant agree that the Defendant’s conduct could have been charged as multiple counts. This Office and the Defendant further agree that had the Defendant been convicted of additional counts, … those counts would not group with the count of conviction, and the final offense level would have increased by 5 levels.

That is, the government implicity threatened Pho to treat him as Martin had been, with a separate charge tied to the individual files he took.

Now, perhaps that’s all that Martin’s lawyers were going to note, that a similarly situated defendant in the same district had been able to plead guilty to a single charge.

But I wonder if there’s not more, specifically related to that plea, pertaining to the real source of the Shadow Brokers files. That is, if Pho was permitted to plead guilty after having making the Shadow Brokers files accessible to third party hackers coming in after Kaspersky’s AV got shut down, then why couldn’t Martin, whose files were air gapped from such measures, obtain a similar plea?

The Spooks Struggle with Reciprocity

I’ve written a lot about the norms (or lack thereof) that the US might set by indicting nation-state hackers for their spying. Notably, I was the first to formally note that Shadow Brokers had doxed some NSA hackers in his April release.

On Friday, along with details about previously unknown, very powerful Microsoft vulnerabilities and details on the 2013 hacking of the SWIFT financial transfer messaging system, ShadowBrokers doxed a number of NSA hackers (I won’t describe how or who it did so — that’s easy enough to find yourself). Significantly, it exposed the name of several of the guys who personally hacked EastNets SWIFT service bureau, targeting (among other things) Kuwait’s Fund for Arab Economic Development and the Palestinian al Quds bank. They also conducted reconnaissance on at least one Belgian-based EastNets employee. These are guys who — assuming they moved on from NSA into the private sector — would travel internationally as part of their job, even aside from any vacations they take overseas.

In other words, ShadowBrokers did something the Snowden releases and even WikiLeaks’ Vault 7 releases have avoided: revealing the people behind America’s state-sponsored hacking.

Significantly, in the context of the SWIFT hack, it did so in an attack where the victims (particularly our ally Kuwait and an apparent European) might have the means and the motive to demand justice. It did so for targets that the US has other, legal access to, via the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program negotiated with the EU and administered by Europol. And it did so for a target that has subsequently been hacked by people who might be ordinary criminals or might be North Korea, using access points (though not the sophisticated techniques) that NSA demonstrated the efficacy of targeting years earlier and which had already been exposed in 2013. Much of the reporting on the SWIFT hack has claimed — based on no apparent evidence and without mentioning the existing, legal TFTP framework — that these hacks were about tracking terrorism finance. But thus far, there’s no reason to believe that’s all that the NSA was doing, particularly with targets like the Kuwait development fund.

Yesterday, the spook site Cipher Brief considered the issue (though mostly by calling on CIA officers rather than NSA hackers).

But I was surprised by a number of things these men (seemingly, Cipher Brief couldn’t find women to weigh in) missed.

First (perhaps predictably given the CIA focus), there’s a bias here on anonymity tied to location, the concern that a hacker might have to be withdrawn, as in this comment from Former Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs Todd Rosenblum.

It can lead to the recall of exposed and vulnerable officers that are hard to train and embed in the first place.

And this, from John Sipher.

They can arrest or intimidate the officer, they can kick the officer out of the country or can look to publicly shame or embarrass the officer and his/her country.

But the former NSA spooks who’ve been most vocal about being outed — notably Jake Williams, whom Shadow Brokers exposed even before he released documents with more NSA hackers identified in the metadata, but also Dave Aitel — are concerned about traveling. They largely hacked from the comfort of the US, so being doxed primarily will implicate their freedom of movement going forward (which is directly analogous to Russian hackers, who keep getting arrested while on vacation in US friendly countries). In addition to making vacation planning more complicated, doxing former NSA hackers may limit their consulting options going forward.

These spooks struggle with reciprocity. Consider these two passages in the post:

Russian, Chinese and Iranian governments might seek to retaliate in-kind – which among authoritarian governments often rhymes, rather than duplicates, Western actions.

[snip]

Perhaps most importantly, the intention is part of a larger attempt to create a false moral equivalence between U.S. offensive cyber operations and those perpetrated by adversarial nation-states such as Russia, whose cyber operations leading up Western elections have grabbed the media spotlight.

And this comment from former Chief of Station in Russia Steven Hall:

The Russians live and die by reciprocity. For them, that is one of the linchpins of how they deal with issues like these, and basic diplomatic and policy issues. Typically it has been that if we expel five of their guys, they are going to turn around and expel five of ours. They are always going to look for a reciprocal way to push back. But there are times were they do things that aren’t always clear to us why they consider it reciprocal. And this might be one of those things.

It’s clear they’d like to distinguish what Russia does from what US hackers do. But aside from noting that US doxing of foreign nation-state hackers comes in indictments rather than leaked documents, nothing in this post presents any explanation, at all, about what would distinguish our hackers. That’s remarkable especially since there is one distinction: except where the FBI flips criminal hackers (as in the case of Sabu), our former spook hackers generally don’t use their skills for their own profit while also working for the state. Though perhaps that’s because defense contractors make such a killing in this country: why steal when Congress will just hand over the money?

Other than that, though, I can think of no distinction. And until our spooks and policy makers understand that, we’re going to be the ones impeding any norm-setting about this, not other countries.

But I’m most struck by the rather thin conclusions about the purpose of Shadow Brokers’ doxing, which the post sees as about fear.

If the Shadow Brokers are in fact linked to the Kremlin, then the doxing of NSA hackers is designed to similarly impede current and former U.S. cyber operators from traveling and engaging in clandestine operations abroad – particularly should targeted countries, including allies, take legal action against the individuals for their past involvement in NSA operations. It is also designed to instill fear, as the information could potentially inspire violence against the individuals and their families.

I’m sure the doxing is about fear — and also making it even more difficult for the Intelligence Community to recruit skilled hackers.

But there are at least two other purposes the Shadow Brokers doxing appears to have served.

First, as I noted, the release itself revealed that the US continued to hack SWIFT even after Edward Snowden’s leaks. It hacked SWIFT in spite of the fact that the US has front-door access to SWIFT data under the TFTP agreement with the US. Hypothetically, the US is only supposed to access the data for counterterrorism purposes, but I’ve been assured that the US is in violation of the agreement with the EU on that front. That is, NSA was hacking SWIFT even after the international community had capitulated to the US on access.

By IDing the hackers behind one of the SWIFT hacks, the NSA may have made it easier for other entities to target SWIFT themselves, which has increasingly happened.

More important, still, by doxing NSA hackers, Shadow Brokers likely influenced the direction of the investigation, leading the NSA and FBI to focus on individuals doxed, distracting from other possible modes of compromise (such as the Kaspersky aided third person hacks that appears to have happened with Nghia Hoang Pho and possible even Hal Martin).

More than seven months have passed since Shadow Brokers doxed some NSA hackers, even as he bragged that he had gone nine months by that point without being caught. We still have no public explanation (aside from the Pho plea, if that is one) for how Shadow Brokers stole the NSA’s crown jewels, much less who he is. I’d suggest it might be worth considering whether Shadow Brokers’ doxing — on top of whatever else it did to support Russia’s bid for reciprocity — may have served as incredibly effective misdirection that fed on America’s obsession about insider threats.

10 Years of emptywheel: Key Non-Surveillance Posts 2016-2017

Happy Birthday to me! To us! To the emptywheel community!

On December 3, 2007, emptywheel first posted as a distinct website. That makes us, me, we, ten today.

To celebrate, over the next few days, the emptywheel team will be sharing some of our favorite work from the last decade. I’ll be doing probably 3 posts featuring some of my most important or — in my opinion — resilient non-surveillance posts, plus a separate post bringing together some of my most important surveillance work. I think everyone else is teeing up their favorites, too.

Putting together these posts has been a remarkable experience to see where we’ve been and the breadth of what we’ve covered, on top of mainstays like surveillance. I’m really proud of the work I’ve done, and proud of the community we’ve maintained over the years.

For years, we’ve done this content ad free, relying on donations and me doing freelance work for others to fund the stuff you read here. I would make far more if I worked for some free-standing outlet, but I wouldn’t be able to do the weedy, iterative work that I do here, which would amount to not being able to do my best work.

If you’ve found this work valuable — if you’d like to ensure it remains available for the next ten years — please consider supporting the site.

2016

Why Doesn’t Dianne Feinstein Want to Prevent Murders Like those Robert Dear Committed?

I’ve written a lot about how the focus on Islamic terrorism, based on a claim it’s foreign, creates gross inequalities for Muslims in this country, and does nothing to address some of our most dangerous mass killers (as the Stephen Paddock massacre in Las Vegas makes all too clear). This post is one of that series. It focuses on how the ill-advised efforts to use the No Fly List to create a list of those who couldn’t own guns would be discriminatory and wouldn’t add much to safety.

“Only Facts Matter:” Jim Comey Is Not the Master Bureaucrat of Integrity His PR Sells Him As

From the periods when Jim Comey was universally revered as a boy scout through those when Democrats blamed him for giving us Trump (through the time Democrats predictably flip flopped on that point), I have consistently pointed to a more complicated story, particularly with regards to surveillance and torture. I think the lesson of Comey isn’t so much he’s a bad person — it’s that he’s human, and no human fits into the Manichean world of good guys and bad guys that he viewed justice through.

NSA and CIA Hacked Enrique Peña Nieto before the 2012 Election

As Americans came to grips with the fact that Russia had hacked Democrats to influence last year’s election, many people forgot that the US does the same. And it’s not even just in the bad old days of Allen Dulles. The Snowden documents revealed that NSA and CIA hacked Enrique Peña Nieto in the weeks before he was elected in 2012. The big difference is we don’t know what our spooks did with that information.

Why Is HPSCI’s Snowden Report So Inexcusably Shitty?

In 2016, HPSCI released its Devin Nunes-led investigation into Edward Snowden’s leaks. It was shitty. Really shitty.

Now that the HPSCI investigation into the Russian hack (which has not been subjected to the same limitations as the Snowden investigation was) has proven to be such a shit show, people should go back and review how shitty this review was (including its reliance on Mike Flynn’s inflammatory claims). There absolutely should have been a review of Snowden’s leaks. But this was worse than useless.

Look Closer to Home: Russian Propaganda Depends on the American Structure of Social Media

As people began to look at the role of fake news in the election, I noted that we can’t separate the propaganda that supported Trump from the concentrated platforms that that propaganda exploited. A year later, that’s a big part of what the Intelligence Committees have concluded.

The Evidence to Prove the Russian Hack

In this post I did a comprehensive review of what we knew last December about the proof Russia was behind the tampering in last year’s election.

Obama’s Response to Russia’s Hack: An Emphasis on America’s More Generalized Vulnerability

Last year, in a speech on the hack, Obama focused more on America’s vulnerability that made it possible for Russia to do so much damage than he did on attacking Putin. I think it’s a really important point, one I’ve returned to a lot in the last year.

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

In December, I did a review of all the posts Shadow Brokers had done and suggested he was engaged in a kind of hostage taking, threatening to dump more NSA tools unless the government met his demands. I was particularly interested in whether such threats were meant to prevent the US from taking more aggressive measures to retaliate against Russia for the hack.

2017

On “Fake News”

After getting into a bunch of Twitter wars over whether we’re at a unique moment with Fake News, I did this post, which I’ve often returned to.

How Hal Martin Stole 75% of NSA’s Hacking Tools: NSA Failed to Implement Required Security Fixes for Three Years after Snowden

The government apparently is still struggling to figure out how its hacking tools (both NSA and CIA) got stolen. I noted back in January that an IG report from 2016 showed that in the three years after Snowden, the IC hadn’t completed really basic things to make itself more safe from such theft.

The Doxing of Equation Group Hackers Raises Questions about the Legal Role of Nation-State Hackers

One thing Shadow Brokers did that Snowden and WikiLeaks, with its Vault 7 releases, have not is to reveal the identities of NSA’s own hackers. Like DOJ’s prosecution of nation-state hackers, I think this may pose problems for the US’ own hackers.

Reasons Why Dems Have Been Fucking Stupid on the Steele Dossier: a Long Essay

I believe Democrats have been ill-advised to focus their Russia energy on the Steele dossier, not least because there has been so much more useful reporting on the Russia hack that the Steele dossier only makes their case more vulnerable to attack. In any case, I continue to post this link, because I continue to have to explain the dossier’s problems.

Other Key Posts Threads

10 Years of emptywheel: Key Non-Surveillance Posts 2008-2010

10 Years of emptywheel: Key Non-Surveillance Posts 2011-2012

10 Years of emptywheel: Key Non-Surveillance Posts 2013-2015

The Russian Metadata in the Shadow Brokers Dump

When I first noted, back in April, that there was metadata in one of the Shadow Brokers dumps, I suggested two possible motives for the doxing of several NSA hackers. First (assuming Russia had a role in the operation), to retaliate against US indictments of Russian hackers, including several believed to be tied to the DNC hack.

A number of the few people who’ve noted this doxing publicly have suggested that it clearly supports the notion that a nation-state — most likely Russia — is behind the Shadow Brokers leak. As such, the release of previously unannounced documents to carry out this doxing would be seen as retaliation for the US’ naming of Russia’s hackers, both in December’s election hacking related sanctions and more recently in the Yahoo indictment, to say nothing of America’s renewed effort to arrest Russian hackers worldwide while they vacation outside of Russia.

But leaving the metadata in the documents might also make the investigation more difficult.

[F]our days before Shadow Brokers started doxing NSA hackers, Shadow Brokers made threats against those who’ve commented on the released Shadow Brokers files specifically within the context of counterintelligence investigations, even while bragging about having gone unexposed thus far even while remaining in the United States.

Whatever else this doxing may do, it will also make the investigation into how internal NSA files have come to be plastered all over the Internet more difficult, because Shadow Brokers is now threatening to expose members of TAO.

With that in mind, I want to look at a Brian Krebs piece that makes several uncharacteristic errors to get around to suggesting a Russian-American might have been the guy who leaked the files in question.

He sets out to read the metadata I noted (but did not analyze in detail, because why make the dox worse?) in April to identify who the engineer was that had NSA files discovered because he was running Kaspersky on his home machine.

In August 2016, a mysterious entity calling itself “The Shadow Brokers” began releasing the first of several troves of classified documents and hacking tools purportedly stolen from “The Equation Group,” a highly advanced threat actor that is suspected of having ties to the U.S. National Security Agency. According to media reports, at least some of the information was stolen from the computer of an unidentified software developer and NSA contractor who was arrested in 2015 after taking the hacking tools home. In this post, we’ll examine clues left behind in the leaked Equation Group documents that may point to the identity of the mysterious software developer.

He links to the WSJ and cites, but doesn’t link, this NYT story on the Kaspersky related breach.

Although Kaspersky was the first to report on the existence of the Equation Group, it also has been implicated in the group’s compromise. Earlier this year, both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal cited unnamed U.S. intelligence officials saying Russian hackers were able to obtain the advanced Equation Group hacking tools after identifying the files through a contractor’s use of Kaspersky Antivirus on his personal computer. For its part, Kaspersky has denied any involvement in the theft.

Then he turns to NYT’s magnum opus on Shadow Brokers to substantiate the claim the government has investigations into three NSA personnel, two of whom were related to TAO.

The Times reports that the NSA has active investigations into at least three former employees or contractors, including two who had worked for a specialized hacking division of NSA known as Tailored Access Operations, or TAO.

[snip]

The third person under investigation, The Times writes, is “a still publicly unidentified software developer secretly arrested after taking hacking tools home in 2015, only to have Russian hackers lift them from his home computer.”

He then turns to the Shadow Brokers’ released metadata to — he claims — identify the two “unnamed” NSA employees and the contractor referenced in The Times’ reporter.”

So who are those two unnamed NSA employees and the contractor referenced in The Times’ reporting?

From there, he points to a guy that few reports that analyzed the people identified in the metadata had discussed, A Russian! Krebs decides that because this guy is Russian he’s likely to run Kaspersky and so he must be the guy who lost these files.

The two NSA employees are something of a known commodity, but the third individual — Mr. Sidelnikov — is more mysterious. Sidelnikov did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Independent Software also did not return calls and emails seeking comment.

Sidelnikov’s LinkedIn page (PDF) says he began working for Independent Software in 2015, and that he speaks both English and Russian. In 1982, Sidelnikov earned his masters in information security from Kishinev University, a school located in Moldova — an Eastern European country that at the time was part of the Soviet Union.

Sildelnikov says he also earned a Bachelor of Science degree in “mathematical cybernetics” from the same university in 1981. Under “interests,” Mr. Sidelnikov lists on his LinkedIn profile Independent Software, Microsoft, and The National Security Agency.

Both The Times and The Journal have reported that the contractor suspected of leaking the classified documents was running Kaspersky Antivirus on his computer. It stands to reason that as a Russian native, Mr. Sildelnikov might be predisposed to using a Russian antivirus product.

Krebs further suggests Sidelnikov must be the culprit for losing his files in the Kaspersky incident because the guy who first pointed him to this metadata, a pentester named Mike Poor, said a database expert like Sidelnikov shouldn’t have access to operational files.

“He’s the only one in there that is not Agency/TAO, and I think that poses important questions,” Poor said. “Such as why did a DB programmer for a software company have access to operational classified documents? If he is or isn’t a source or a tie to Shadow Brokers, it at least begets the question of why he accessed classified operational documents.”

There are numerous problems with Krebs’ analysis — which I pointed out this morning but which he blew off with a really snotty tweet.

First, the NYT story he cites but doesn’t link to notes specifically that the Kaspersky related breach is unrelated to the Shadow Brokers leak, something that I also  pointed out was logically obvious given how long the NSA claimed Hal Martin was behind the Shadow Brokers leak after the government was known to be investigating the Kaspersky related guy.

It does not appear to be related to a devastating leak of N.S.A. hacking tools last year to a group, still unidentified, calling itself the Shadow Brokers, which has placed many of them online.

Krebs also misreads the magnum opus NYT story. The very paragraph he quotes from reads like this:

The agency has active investigations into at least three former N.S.A. employees or contractors. Two had worked for T.A.O.: a still publicly unidentified software developer secretly arrested after taking hacking tools home in 2015, only to have Russian hackers lift them from his home computer; and Harold T. Martin III, a contractor arrested last year when F.B.I. agents found his home, garden shed and car stuffed with sensitive agency documents and storage devices he had taken over many years when a work-at-home habit got out of control, his lawyers say. The third is Reality Winner, a young N.S.A. linguist arrested in June, who is charged with leaking to the news site The Intercept a single classified report on a Russian breach of an American election systems vendor.

That is, there aren’t “two unnamed NSA employees and [a] contractor referenced in The Times’ reporting.” The paragraph he refers to names two of the targets: Hal Martin (the other TAO employee) and Reality Winner. Which leaves just the Kaspersky related guy.

Krebs seemed unaware of the WaPo versions of the story, which include this one where Ellen Nakashima (who was the first to identify this guy last year) described the engineer as a Vietnamese born US citizen. Not a Russian-American, a Vietnamese-American.

Mystery solved Scoob! All without even looking at the Shadow Brokers’ metadata. There’s one more part of the Krebs story which is weird — that he takes the same non-response he got from the known NSA guys doxed by Shadow Brokers from Sidelnikov as somehow indicative of anything, even while if he had been “arrested” as Krebs’ headline mistakenly suggests, then you’d think his phone might not be working at all.

There’s more I won’t say publicly about Krebs’ project, what he really seems to be up to.

But the reason I went through the trouble of pointing out the errors is precisely because Krebs went so far out of his way to find a Russian to blame for … something.

We’ve been seeing Russian metadata in documents for 17 months. Every time such Russian metadata is found, everyone says, Aha! Russians! That, in spite of the fact that the Iron Felix metadata was obviously placed there intentionally, and further analysis showed that some of the other Russian metadata was put there intentionally, too.

At some point, we might begin to wonder why we’re finding so much metadata screaming “Russia”?

Update: After the Vietnamese-American’s guilty plea got announced, Krebs unpublished his doxing post.

A note to readers: This author published a story earlier in the week that examined information in the metadata of Microsoft Office documents stolen from the NSA by The Shadow Brokers and leaked online. That story identified several individuals whose names were in the metadata from those documents. After the guilty plea entered this week and described above, KrebsOnSecurity has unpublished that earlier story.

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

Rick Ledgett’s Straw Malware

For some reason, over a month after NotPetya and almost two months after WannaCry, former Deputy DIRNSA Rick Ledgett has decided now’s the time to respond to them by inventing a straw man argument denying the need for vulnerabilities disclosure. In the same (opening) paragraph where he claims the malware attacks have revived calls for the government to release all vulnerabilities, he accuses his opponents of oversimplification.

The WannaCry and Petya malware, both of which are partially based on hacking tools allegedly developed by the National Security Agency, have revived calls for the U.S. government to release all vulnerabilities that it holds.  Proponents argue this will allow for the development of patches, which will in turn ensure networks are secure.  On the face of it, this argument might seem to make sense, but it is actually a gross oversimplification of the problem, would not have the desired effect, and would in fact be dangerous.

Yet it’s Ledgett who is oversimplifying. What most people engaging in the VEP debate — even before two worms based, in part, on tools stolen from NSA — have asked for is for some kind of sense and transparency on the process by which NSA reviews vulnerabilities for disclosure. Ledgett instead poses his opponents as absolutists, asking for everything to be disclosed.

Ledgett then spends part of his column claiming that WannaCry targeted XP.

Users agree to buy the software “as is” and most software companies will attempt to patch vulnerabilities as they are discovered, unless the software has been made obsolete by the company, as was the case with Windows XP that WannaCry exploited.

[snip]

Customers who buy software should expect to have to patch it and update it to new versions periodically.

Except multiple reports said that XP wasn’t the problem, Windows 7 was. Ledgett’s mistake is all the more curious given reports that EternalBlue was blue screening at NSA when — while he was still at the agency — it was primarily focused on XP. That is, Ledgett is one of the people who might have expected WannaCry to crash XP; that he doesn’t even when I do doesn’t say a lot for NSA’s oversight of its exploits.

Ledgett then goes on to claim that WannaCry was a failed ransomware attack, even though that’s not entirely clear.

At least he understands NotPetya better, noting that the NSA component of that worm was largely a shiny object.

In fact, the primary damage caused by Petya resulted from credential theft, not an exploit.

The most disturbing part of Ledgett’s column, however, is that it takes him a good eight (of nine total) paragraphs to get around to addressing what really has been the specific response to WannaCry and NotPetya, a response shared by people on both sides of the VEP debate: NSA needs to secure its shit.

Some have made the analogy that the alleged U.S. government loss of control of their software tools is tantamount to losing control of Tomahawk missile systems, with the systems in the hands of criminal groups threatening to use them.  While the analogy is vivid, it incorrectly places all the fault on the government.  A more accurate rendering would be a missile in which the software industry built the warhead (vulnerabilities in their products), their customers built the rocket motor (failing to upgrade and patch), and the ransomware is the guidance system.

We are almost a full year past the day ShadowBrokers first came on the scene, threatening to leak NSA’s tools. A recent CyberScoop article suggests that, while government investigators now have a profile they believe ShadowBrokers matches, they’re not even entirely sure whether they’re looking for a disgruntled former IC insider, a current employee, or a contractor.

The U.S. government’s counterintelligence investigation into the so-called Shadow Brokers group is currently focused on identifying a disgruntled, former U.S. intelligence community insider, multiple people familiar with the matter told CyberScoop.

[snip]

While investigators believe that a former insider is involved, the expansive probe also spans other possibilities, including the threat of a current intelligence community employee being connected to the mysterious group.

[snip]

It’s not clear if the former insider was once a contractor or in-house employee of the secretive agency. Two people familiar with the matter said the investigation “goes beyond” Harold Martin, the former Booz Allen Hamilton contractor who is currently facing charges for taking troves of classified material outside a secure environment.

At least some of Shadow Brokers’ tools were stolen after Edward Snowden walked out of NSA Hawaii with the crown jewels, at a time when Rick Ledgett, personally, was leading a leak investigation into NSA’s vulnerabilities. And yet, over three years after Snowden stole his documents, the Rick Ledgett-led NSA still had servers sitting unlocked in their racks, still hadn’t addressed its privileged user issues.

Rick Ledgett, the guy inventing straw man arguments about absolutist VEP demands is a guy who’d do the country far more good if he talked about what NSA can do to lock down its shit — and explained why that shit didn’t get locked down when Ledgett was working on those issues specifically.

But he barely mentions that part of the response to WannaCry and NotPetya.

The WikiLeaks Deterrent Theory, AKA the Arbitrary Official Secrets Act

Three outlets yesterday — first the WaPo, then CNN, then NYT — reported that DOJ is considering charges against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. The discussion of what charges, and for what leaks, differs between the reports.

While mentioning the Vault 7 leaks, WaPo also focuses on Chelsea Manning’s leaks and Assange’s discussions about how to gain access.

In March, WikiLeaks published thousands of files revealing secret cyber-tools used by the CIA to convert cellphones, televisions and other ordinary devices into implements of espionage. The FBI has made significant progress in the investigation of the leak, narrowing the list of possible suspects, officials said. The officials did not describe WikiLeaks’ exact role in the case beyond publishing the tools.

Prosecutors are also reexamining the leaks from Chelsea Manning, the Army soldier who was convicted in 2013 of revealing sensitive diplomatic cables. Manning chatted with Assange about a technique to crack a password so Manning could log on to a computer anonymously, and that conversation, which came up during Manning’s court-martial, could be used as evidence that WikiLeaks went beyond the role of publisher or journalist.

Alexa O’Brien tweeted out some thoughts and links to what any further prosecution of the Manning leak might entail.

CNN, which is the most certain charges have already been drawn up, explains that DOJ believes WikiLeaks’ actions changed in nature with Edward Snowden.

The US view of WikiLeaks and Assange began to change after investigators found what they believe was proof that WikiLeaks played an active role in helping Edward Snowden, a former NSA analyst, disclose a massive cache of classified documents.

I think that may be demonstrably true of Sarah Harrison, who helped a fugitive escape. But I’m not sure the US has equally compelling evidence against Assange.

Perhaps the most interesting discussion comes from NYT, which discusses the ongoing debate — with “senior Justice Department officials … pressuring prosecutors” over what is realistic and what authorities actually want, which is an Espionage conviction.

The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the details of the discussions remain secret, said senior Justice Department officials had been pressuring prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia to outline an array of possible charges against Mr. Assange.

But the official said prosecutors remained skeptical that they could pursue the most serious charges, of espionage, with regard to the documents Mr. Assange disclosed years ago with the help of an Army intelligence analyst, Chelsea Manning. Ms. Manning was convicted and sent to prison, but President Barack Obama commuted her sentence in January.

Given how few people Trump has confirmed into positions in government, these outlets should be a bit more descriptive. In that passage, for example, and the following from WaPo, what does “senior justice department official” mean when US Attorney Dana Boente is (as I’ve noted but none of these stories do) also acting DAG and acting AG for any Russia-related charges.

Prosecutors in recent weeks have been drafting a memo that contemplates charges against members of the WikiLeaks organization, possibly including conspiracy, theft of government property or violating the Espionage Act, officials said. The memo, though, is not complete, and any charges against members of WikiLeaks, including founder Julian Assange, would need approval from the highest levels of the Justice Department.

Would Boente be approving charges filed under Boente’s name?

Though that may not matter. Rod Rosenstein, who will become DAG shortly, has himself pursued excessive charges in leak cases, both against Thomas Drake and Hal Martin.

Perhaps the most interesting claim is that the FBI thought indicting Assange — who likely won’t be prosecuted in any case unless Ecuador suddenly changes their mind about their house guest — would provide some kind of deterrent effect.

Officials have said that the F.B.I. supports prosecuting Mr. Assange. Several years ago, the agency sent a series of documents to the Justice Department outlining charges that investigators claimed to have evidence to support. At the time, F.B.I. counterintelligence agents believed that charging Mr. Assange would deter him from posting new troves of American documents.

I think you’d have to be daft to think prosecuting Assange would deter him from posting more, assuming this happened while he was in the Ecuadoran Embassy. Prosecuting him would only mean he’d have less to lose — and, frankly, more reason to post things that might please America’s adversaries, like Russia.

But it might serve as deterrence for other publishing outlets that aren’t holing up in an Embassy. Short of some really distinguishing actions (and Harrison’s might amount to that in the Snowden case), indicting Assange would put everyone else with a SecureDrop on notice that they, too, might be prosecuted. Surely, DOJ would pick and choose who gets prosecuted. They might choose other easily easily targeted people — people who are gay, people who no longer live in this country, people who have too many dogs — to similarly make examples of (though pity the fool that challenges Glenn Greenwald’s First Amendment rights.

DOJ wants to start cutting away at the First Amendment. All the better for them, if in the name of prosecutorial discretion, Jeff Sessions’ DOJ could pick and choose which publishers’ speech gets curtailed.