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Category Archives: NSA

What the Announced NSA / Cyber Command Split Means

Posted: August 25, 2017 at 3:48 am

The move to elevate Cyber Command to a full Unified Combatant Command and split it off from the National Security Agencyshows that cyber intelligence collection and information war are rapidly diverging fields. The future leadership of both entities is now in question, but the Pentagon has set out a conditions-based approach to the breakup. That represents a partial victory for the man who directs both Cyber Command and the NSA.

The move would mean that the head of Cyber Command would answer directly to the Defense Secretary and the National Security Agency would get its own head. Its a move that many have said is long overdue, and its exact timing remains unknown. So what does the split mean for the Pentagon, for Cyber Command, and for the future of U.S. cyber security?

The split will give the commander of Cyber Command central authority over resource allocation, training, operational planning and mission execution. The commander will answer to the Defense secretary directly, not the head of Strategic Command. The decision means that Cyber Command will play an even more strategic role in synchronizing cyber forces and training, conducting and coordinating military cyberforce operations and advocating for and prioritizing cyber investments within the department, said Kenneth Rapuano, assistant defense secretary for Homeland Defense and Global Security.

The Start of a Process

The move announced on Friday fulfills a mandate in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017. Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter hinted at the split back in May 2016. But it wont happen immediately.

Instead, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joe Dunford will nominate a flag officer to take over the new Cyber Command as well as the NSA. That person could be Adm. Michael Rogers, who currently heads both, or someone else. Trump has reportedly asked Mattis to give him the name of a nominee.Speculation has focused on Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville as the nominee to head Cyber Command.

Once that new person is nominated and confirmed and once Mattis and Dunford are satisfied that splitting the two entities will not hamper the ability of either Cyber Command or the NSA to conduct their missions independently, only then will Cyber Command and the NSA actually split.

What Does it Mean for Leadership?

Read one way, the announcement means Rogers will lose power. Even were he to become the nominee to the new elevated Cyber Command, he would still wind up losing the NSA eventually. If he were to stay on as head of NSA after the confirmation of a new Cyber Command head, as expected, he would briefly serve under Mayville until the formal split.

Read another way, the lack of a concrete timetable for the split, despite such a requirement in the authorization bill, represents a partial win for Rogers.

Rogers took over the NSA and Cyber Command in the spring of 2014. He has been resistant to the idea of a split, telling lawmakers in September that U.S. national security benefitted from the dual-hat arrangement. This view was not shared by then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper nor then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter. Rogers resistance was one of many issues that rubbed them the wrong way.

It got so bad that in November, unnamed sources told The Washington Post that Clapper and Carter were urging President Barack Obama to fire Rogers.

The truth is a bit more nuanced. Clappers goal was to split the NSA from CyberCom. He was not a strong advocate of removal, but was willing to defer to [the Secretary of Defense] if Carter felt strongly about selecting new leadership at Cyber Command, a source inside the intelligence community said. There were other concerns unrelated to the potential split.

Rogers outlasted both Clapper, who had long planned to retire at the end of the Obama administration; and Carter, a political appointee. Rogers attitude toward an NSA-Cyber Command split evolved. In May, he testified that he would support a split was done in a way that did not hamper either the NSA or Cyber Command.

The manner in which the split was announced is in keeping with what Rogers has said he wanted.

The move toward a conditions-based split also met with the approval of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, a longtime Rogers ally. I appreciate the administrations commitment today to ensuring that a future separation of the so-called dual hat relationship between Cyber Command and the National Security Agency will be based on conditions, rather than arbitrary political timelines, McCain said in a statement. While Cyber Command and the National Security Agency should eventually be able to operate independent of one another, the administration must work closely with the Congress to take the necessary steps that will make this separation of responsibilities successful, and to ensure that each agency will emerge more effective and more capable as a result.

What It Means for Cyber Command, the NSA, and Cyber Operations

The elevation of Cyber Command represents a big step forward for the militarys cyber ability, but it has yet to be catch up to the NSA in terms of collecting signals intelligence or creating network accesses, according to Bill Leigher, who as a rear admiral helped stand up Navy Fleet Cyber Command. Leigher, who now directs government cyber solutions for Raytheon, applauds the split because the NSA, which collects foreign intelligence, and Cyber Command, a warfighting outfit, have fundamentally different missions.This caused tension between the two organizations under one roof. Information collected for intelligence gathering may be useful in a way thats fundamentally different from intelligence for military purposes, he says. If you collecting intelligence, its foreign espionage. You dont want to get caught. The measure of success is: collect intelligence and dont get caught. If youre going to war, I would argue that the measure of performance is what we do has to have the characteristics of a legal weapon in the context of war and the commander has to know what he or she uses it.

This puts the agencies in disagreement about how to use intel and tools that they share. From an NSA perspective, cyber really is about gaining access to networks. From aCyber Command point of view, I would argue, its about every piece of software on the battlefield and having the means to prevent that software from working the way it was intended to work [for the adversary], he said.

The split will allow the agencies to pursue the very different tools, operations, and rules each of their missions requires, he said. Expect NSA to intensify its focus on developing access for intelligence, and Cyber Command to prepare to rapidly deploy massive cyber effects at scale during military operations and shut down the enemy. Both of this will likely leverage next-generation artificial intelligence but in very different ways said Leigher.

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Alleged stalker chops off girl’s hand, to face NSA charge – The Hindu

Posted: at 3:48 am

The Uttar Pradesh police is considering a case under the stringent National Security Act against a person accused of stalking a minor girl and chopping off one of her hands in a brutal sword attack in Lakhimpur Kheri district.

The accused, identified as Rohit Chaurasia, allegedly attacked the minor girl in broad daylight with a sword on Wednesday completely severing her left hand, while heavily damaging her right hand. She also suffered injuries to her head.

The attack took place near a busy market place in Lakhimpur.

According to locals, the accused chased down the girl and first struck her on the head, after which he targetted her limbs and chopped off her left hand completely.

He was on the verge of dismembering her right hand too when locals overpowered him and handed him over to the police.

The victim, who suffered immense blood loss, was referred to Lucknow for treatment. Incidentally, after an 11-hour surgery, doctors at the King George Medical University managed to fix back her hand, said Dr. A. K. Singh, head of the hospital’s plastic surgery department on Thursday.

The victim will be kept under observation for one week as the condition of the repaired hand is delicate, Dr. Singh said.

The victim’s right hand was also injured in the attack, with damages to its flexon tendon, fingers, palm and nerve fibres, the KGMU said.

The accused, who was the victim’s neighbour, was sent to jail. He was booked for attempt to murder, assaulting a woman with intent to outrage her modesty and voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapon.

Relevant clauses of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act were also invoked, said S. Chinappa, Superintendent of Police, Kheri.

Taking maximum action

The accused would be additionally booked under the NSA.

Asked on what ground was the police invoking NSA, Mr. Chinappa told The Hindu: “We are taking the maximum action in this case. It is a heinous crime, it can have [an impact] on society.”

The motive behind the attack is still not clear though the family of the girl alleged that the accused had been harassing her for a while.

The police, however, said the two got engaged in an altercation over a mobile charger leading to the attack that has left the district near the Indo-Nepal border in a state of shock.

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CIA’s secret spy tool helps agency steal data from NSA & FBI, WikiLeaks reveals – RT

Posted: at 3:48 am

Published time: 24 Aug, 2017 11:29 Edited time: 24 Aug, 2017 17:15

Details of an alleged CIA project that allows the agency to secretly extract biometric data from liaison services such as the NSA, the DHS and the FBI have been published by WikiLeaks.

Documents from the CIAs ExpressLane project were released by the whistleblowing organization as part of its ongoing Vault 7 series on the intelligence agencys alleged hacking capabilities.

Abranchwithin the CIA known as Office of Technical Services (OTS) provides a biometric collection system to liaison services around the world with the expectation for sharing of the biometric takes collected on the systems, according to afilereleased by WikiLeaks.

ExpressLane, however, suggests the system has inadequacies as it was developed as a covert information collection tool to secretly exfiltrate data collections from such systems provided to liaison services.

The user guide for the tool states that it was developed to support the branch in its efforts to verify that this data is also being shared with the agency.

ExpressLane v3.1.1 provides an ability to disable the biometric software if liaison doesnt provide the Agency with continued access.

ExpressLane is installed and run under the guise of upgrading the biometric software by OTS agents that visit the liaison sites.

OTS/i2c plans to revisit these sites with the cover of upgrading the biometric software to perform a collection against the biometric takes, a CIA document outlining test procedures for the project states.

Liaison officers overseeing this procedure will remain unsuspicious, as the data exfiltration is disguised behind a Windows installation splash screen.

ExpressLane was intended to remain secret until 2034, according to the files which originate from 2009.

The core components of the OTS system are based on products from Cross Match a US company specializing in biometric software for law enforcement and the Intelligence Community.

In 2011, it was reported that the US military used one of the companys products to identify Osama bin Laden during the assassination operation in Pakistan.

The White House and Department of Defense said facial recognition technology was one of the techniques used to identify Bin Laden but Cross Matchs involvement was not confirmed.

READ MORE: CIA CouchPotato tool captures video stream images remotely WikiLeaks

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Former NSA official named to M&T board – Buffalo News

Posted: August 22, 2017 at 11:39 pm

M&T Bank Corp. has named a former deputy director of the National Security Agency to its board of directors.

Richard H. Ledgett Jr., a Maryland resident, spent 29 years with the NSA, including serving as itsdeputy director from January 2014 until his retirement last April. M&T said Ledgett has a total of four decades of experience in intelligence, cyber security and cyber operations experience.

Richard H. Ledgett Jr. (PRNewsfoto)

As the NSA’s deputy director, Ledgett acted as the agency’s chief operating officer, and he also led the NSA’s 24/7 Threat Operations Center, which is responsible for identifying and countering cyber threats to the United States’ national security systems.

Robert G. Wilmers, M&T’s chairman and CEO, said Ledgett “will be an invaluable addition to our board, bringinga management, operational and technical perspective to cyber security and information assurance that will further strengthen M&T’s commitment to information security and risk management.”

With Ledgett’s appointment, M&T now has 15 directors on its board.

Ledgett was also named to the board of M&T Bank, M&T’s principal banking subsidiary.

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What the Announced NSA / Cyber Command Split Means – Defense One

Posted: at 11:39 pm

Cyberwar and cyber intelligence are diverging, as are Cyber Command and the NSA. Heres what that means for the man who leads both entities, the future of signals intelligence collection, and cyberwarfare.

The move to elevate Cyber Command to a full Unified Combatant Command and split it off from the National Security Agency or NSA shows that cyber intelligence collection and information war are rapidly diverging fields. The future leadership of both entities is now in question, but the Pentagon has set out a conditions-based approach to the breakup. That represents a partial victory for the man who directs both Cyber Command and theNSA.

The move would mean that the head of Cyber Command would answer directly to the Defense Secretary and the National Security Agency would get its own head. Its a move that many have said is long overdue, and its exact timing remains unknown. So what does the split mean for the Pentagon, for Cyber Command, and for the future of U.S. cybersecurity?

The split will give the commander of Cyber Command central authority over resource allocation, training, operational planning and mission execution. The commander will answer to the Defense Secretary directly, not the head of Strategic Command. The decision means that Cyber Command will play an even more strategic role in synchronizing cyber forces and training, conducting and coordinating military cyberforce operations and advocating for and prioritizing cyber investments within the department, said Kenneth Rapuano, assistant defense secretary for Homeland Defense and GlobalSecurity.

The Start of aProcess

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The move announced on Friday fulfills a mandate in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017. Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter hinted at the split back in May 2016. But it wont happenimmediately.

Instead, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joe Dunford will nominate a flag officer to take over the new Cyber Command as well as the NSA. That person could be Adm. Michael Rogers, who currently heads both, or someone else. Trump has reportedly asked Mattis to give him the name of a nominee. Speculation has focused on Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville as the nominee to head CyberCommand.

Once that new person is nominated and confirmed and once Mattis and Dunford are satisfied that splitting the two entities will not hamper the ability of either Cyber Command or the NSA to conduct their missions independently, only then will Cyber Command and the NSA actuallysplit.

What Does it Mean forLeadership?

Read one way, the announcement means Rogers will lose power. Even were he to become the nominee to the new elevated Cyber Command, he would still wind up losing the NSA eventually, or, as the eventual head of the NSA, lose CyberCommand.

Read another way, the lack of a concrete timetable for the split, despite such a requirement in the authorization bill, represents a partial win forRogers.

Rogers took over the NSA and Cyber Command in the spring of 2014. He has been resistant to the idea of a split, telling lawmakers in September that U.S. national security benefitted from the dual-hat arrangement. This view was not shared by then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper nor then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter. Rogers resistance was one of many issues that rubbed them the wrongway.

It got so bad that in November, unnamed sources told The Washington Post that Clapper and Carter were urging President Barack Obama to fireRogers.

The truth is a bit more nuanced. Clappers goal was to split the NSA from CyberCom. He was not a strong advocate of removal, but was willing to defer to [the Secretary of Defense] if Carter felt strongly about selecting new leadership at Cyber Command, a source inside the intelligence community said. There were other concerns unrelated to the potentialsplit.

Rogers outlasted both Clapper, who had long planned to retire at the end of the Obama administration; and Carter, a political appointee. Rogers attitude toward an NSA-Cyber Command split evolved. In May, he testified that he would support a split was done in a way that did not hamper either the NSA or CyberCommand.

The manner in which the split was announced is in keeping with what Rogers has said hewanted.

The move toward a conditions-based split also met with the approval of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, a longtime Rogers ally. I appreciate the administrations commitment today to ensuring that a future separation of the so-called dual hat relationship between Cyber Command and the National Security Agency will be based on conditions, rather than arbitrary political timelines, McCain said in a statement. While Cyber Command and the National Security Agency should eventually be able to operate independent of one another, the administration must work closely with the Congress to take the necessary steps that will make this separation of responsibilities successful, and to ensure that each agency will emerge more effective and more capable as aresult.

What It Means for Cyber Command, the NSA, and CyberOperations

The elevation of Cyber Command represents a big step forward for the militarys cyber ability, but it has yet to be catch up to the NSA in terms of collecting signals intelligence or creating network accesses, according to Bill Leigher, who as a rear admiral helped stand up Navy Fleet Cyber Command. Leigher, who now directs government cyber solutions for Raytheon, applauds the split because the NSA, which collects foreign intelligence, and Cyber Command, a warfighting outfit, have fundamentally different missions.This caused tension between the two organizations under one roof. Information collected for intelligence gathering may be useful in a way thats fundamentally different from intelligence for military purposes, he says. If you collecting intelligence, its foreign espionage. You dont want to get caught. The measure of success is: collect intelligence and dont get caught. If youre going to war, I would argue that the measure of performance is what we do has to have the characteristics of a legal weapon in the context of war and the commander has to know what he or she usesit.

This puts the agencies in disagreement about how to use intel and tools that they share. From an NSA perspective, cyber really is about gaining access to networks. From aCyber Command point of view, I would argue, its about every piece of software on the battlefield and having the means to prevent that software from working the way it was intended to work [for the adversary], hesaid.

The split will allow the agencies to pursue the very different tools, operations, and rules each of their missions requires, he said. Expect NSA to intensify its focus on developing access for intelligence, and Cyber Command to prepare to rapidly deploy massive cyber effects at scale during military operations and shut down the enemy. Both of this will likely leverage next-generation artificial intelligence but in very different ways saidLeigher.

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UP govt to use NSA, Goondas Act to curb power theft, award informers – Hindustan Times

Posted: at 11:39 pm

The Uttar Pradesh government has decided to slap the National Security Act (NSA) and Goondas Act against those obstructing electricity department officials from discharging their duties in checking power thefts and award those who give information about such thefts.

State Energy Minister Shrikant Sharma said honest customers suffer because of power theft and the government is committed to check the menace.

National Security Act and Goondas Act will be slapped on those obstructing officials from discharging their duties while curbing electricity theft. Power theft is a national crime. We are in the process of setting up 75 bijli thane (power police stations) for this, he said here.

Under the stringent NSA, a person can be detained without bail or trial and the authorities need not disclose the grounds of detention if they believe the detainee can act in a way that poses a threat to the security of the state/country or the maintenance of public order.

The Goondas Act aims at a year-long preventive detention of habitual offenders. According to the law, a goonda is a person who, either by himself or as a member or leader of a gang, habitually commits or attempts to commit or abets the commission of offences.

Meanwhile, in a bid to ensure adequate availability of electricity by minimising the line losses, the state Cabinet has given approval to the Protsahan Yojana (encouragement scheme).

In this regard, provisions have been made that a person informing about power theft will be given 10 per cent of the compounding fee (realised from a person indulging in power theft) as protsaahan (encouragement).

Similarly, 10 per cent of the compounding fee will also be given to the enforcement team, the Uttar Pradesh Cabinet said in an official statement.

Sharma said the state government would follow the Gujarat Model of power distribution and keep a check on pilferage and establish dedicated police stations in all 75 districts where cases of power theft would be taken up.

The tough Gujarat Model envisages constitution of dedicated vigilance squads and setting up special police stations to check pilferage.

The Uttar Pradesh government has already initiated name and shame policy for power bill defaulters under which names of big defaulters are disclosed in a bid to cajole them to pay their bills at the earliest.

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Bahrain rights groups accuse National Security Agency of torture – Reuters

Posted: at 11:39 pm

DUBAI (Reuters) – Three Bahraini human rights groups accused the Gulf Arab monarchy’s National Security Agency on Tuesday of systematic use of torture, and a security official said it would investigate their allegations.

The NSA has for decades been central to the Sunni Muslim-ruled kingdom’s efforts to overcome protests and occasional violence by members of the country’s Shi’ite Muslim majority.

The Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, the Bahrain Forum for Human Rights and Salam for Democracy and Human Rights accused the NSA of employing excessive force from its predecessor agency’s founding in 1966 to the present.

Giving examples, the report by the three groups entitled “Chambers of Death” alleged that female rights activist Ebtisam Alsaegh was subjected to torture and sexual assault during an interrogation by the NSA in May this year.

It accused the NSA of having arrested an opposition party official Adel Marzooq in the same month, “stripping him of clothes, pouring cold water several times on him, threatening him with rape, forcing him to repeat the slogans ‘I am a traitor to the homeland’ and forcing him to quit his legal activism”.

The rights organizations recommended that the NSA be relegated to gathering intelligence and be stripped of a role in arrests and law enforcement.

A Bahraini security adviser said the government took allegations of wrongdoing seriously and would investigate any violations.

“The NSA is committed to protecting and preserving Bahrains national security whilst upholding domestic and international law. We therefore take very seriously any allegations of wrongdoing by NSA staff,” said the adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

“We will be examining the report in detail and will provide a full response when we have looked into these allegations.”

In 2011, Bahrain put down an uprising by pro-democracy activists, many of them Shi’ites. The monarchy believes the opposition seeks to overthrow it by force and accuses Iran of aiding in deadly militant attacks on security forces.

Home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, Bahrain denies opposition claims that it marginalizes Shi’ites economically and in government representation. But U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration reiterated concerns about Bahrain this month.

“In Bahrain, the government continued to question, detain, and arrest Shi’ite clerics, community members, and opposition politicians,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said with respect to an annual report on global religious freedom.

Bahrain said Tillerson’s remarks were “inappropriate” and showed “a deep misunderstanding of the facts”.

Reporting By Noah Browning

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Trump elevates US Cyber Command, exploring split from NSA – CapitalGazette.com

Posted: August 20, 2017 at 5:58 pm

President Donald Trump announced Friday he has directed U.S. Cyber Command to be elevated to a unified combatant command and is exploring separating it from the National Security Agency.

In a statement, Trump said the move will strengthen our cyberspace operations and create more opportunities to improve our Nations defense.

Headquartered at Fort George G. Meade, the move will make Cyber Command a more influential institution within the Department of Defense.

The decision could have significant economic ramifications for western Anne Arundel County, where Fort Meade is based.

Tim OFarrell, general manager for the Fort Meade Alliance, said the decision is huge for the state of Maryland. Its huge for this region.

He said, What this means is greater emphasis on cyber and economic development around the region as companies want to come to a place that is so close to the center of it all.

Claire Louder, the former CEO of the West County Chamber of Commerce, said last year that a change in how Cyber Command is positioned within the Department of Defense could lead to more opportunities for cyber companies looking to sign military contracts.

Currently, the agency is a sub-unified command underneath the U.S. Strategic Command, and Adm. Michael Rogers is the head of the NSA and Cyber Command.

Eric Geller, a cybersecurity reporter for Politico, wrote on Twitter the move elevates Cyber Command to the level of nine other unified combatant commands within the Department of Defense, such as U.S. Strategic Command and U.S. Pacific Command.

Louder said because resources are allocated differently to full combatant commands rather than sub-unified commands, the change could lead to another significant economic boom for the region.

That could also lead to better positioning for county officials to lobby for additional funding for infrastructure and school improvements as more people move to the area following job opportunities.

OFarrell said Friday that while the move was largely expected Congress had authorized the president to make this move through its fiscal year 2017 defense policy legislation its impact on the cybersecurity community should not be understated.

If you want to understand what is happening in that space, youre going to have to come through here, OFarrell said. I think youre going to see, from Annapolis to Columbia, continued new companies coming into the marketplace.

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Baltimore County, whose 2nd District includes Fort Meade, lauded Trumps decision to elevate the agency in a statement.

Demand for cyber warfare capabilities is only going to increase and this decision will give the Command the power and resources it needs to better protect our country, he wrote.

Trump said in the statement the move will also help streamline command and control of time-sensitive cyberspace operations by consolidating them under a single commander with authorities commensurate with the importance of such operations.

The change follows years of intense debate as to how Cyber Command should be positioned within the Department of Defense.

Several high-ranking officials have proposed separating the agency entirely from the NSA.

Created in 2009 at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Cyber Command plays a more active and offensive role in military combat than the NSA, mostly over the internet rather than on the ground.

During President Barack Obamas administration, former Defense Secretary Ash Carter and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper argued Cyber Command should be independent of the NSA.

However, Arizona Sen. John McCain has been adamant he would block any plans to end the dual-hat leadership that oversees the NSA and Cyber Command.

In a statement, McCain said he was pleased by Trumps decision, adding there is much more to be done to prepare our nation and our military to meet our cybersecurity challenges.

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Trump elevates Cyber Command, setting the stage for NSA separation – The Verge

Posted: at 5:58 pm

The Trump administration this week elevated the US Cyber Command to a Unified Combatant Command, in a long-awaited move that underscores the growing importance of cyber warfare.

The decision, announced Friday, puts the Cyber Command on par with nine other combat commands, and may lead to its separation from the National Security Agency (NSA). In a statement, President Trump said that Secretary of Defense James Mattis will examine the possibility of separating the Cyber Command and the NSA, and that he will announce recommendations at a later date.

This new Unified Combatant Command will strengthen our cyberspace operations and create more opportunities to improve our Nations defense, Trump said in the statement. The elevation of United States Cyber Command demonstrates our increased resolve against cyberspace threats and will help reassure our allies and partners and deter our adversaries.

Trump says the move will streamline command and control of time-sensitive cyberspace operations.

Trump also said that the move will streamline command and control of time-sensitive cyberspace operations, and that it will ensure that critical cyberspace operations are adequately funded.

Proposals for creating an independent Cyber Command were first made under the Obama administration, with supporters arguing that the units mandate was sometimes at odds with the NSAs intelligence gathering operations particularly with regard to the fight against ISIS.

Cyber Command was created as a sub-unit of the US Strategic Command, with a mandate to conduct cyber warfare and defend government networks. Navy Admiral Michael Rogers currently leads both Cyber Command and the NSA.

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The US Spy Hub in the Heart of Australia – The Intercept

Posted: at 5:58 pm

A short drive south of Alice Springs, the second largest population center in Australias Northern Territory, there is a high-security compound, code-named RAINFALL. The remote base, in the heart of the countrys barren outback, is one of the most important covert surveillance sites in the eastern hemisphere.

Hundreds of Australian and American employees come and go every day from Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap, as the base is formally known. The official cover story, as outlined in a secret U.S. intelligence document, is to support the national security of both the U.S. and Australia. The [facility] contributes to verifying arms control and disarmament agreements and monitoring military developments. But, at best, that is an economical version of the truth. Pine Gap has a far broader mission and more powerful capabilities than the Australian or American governments have ever publicly acknowledged.

An investigation, published Saturday by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in collaboration with The Intercept, punctures the wall of secrecy surrounding Pine Gap, revealing for the first time a wide range of details about its function. The base is an important ground station from which U.S. spy satellites are controlled and communications are monitored across several continents, according to classified documents obtained by The Intercept from the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Together with the NSAs Menwith Hill base in England, Pine Gap has in recent years been used as a command post for two missions. The first, named M7600, involved at least two spy satellites and was said in a secret 2005 document to provide continuous coverage of the majority of the Eurasian landmass and Africa. This initiative was later upgraded as part of a second mission, named M8300, which involved a four satellite constellation and covered the former Soviet Union, China, South Asia, East Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and territories in the Atlantic Ocean.

The satellites are described as being geosynchronous, which means they are likely positioned high in orbit at more than 20,000 miles above the earths surface. They are equipped with powerful surveillance technology used to monitor wireless communications on the ground, such as those sent and received by cellphones, radios, and satellite uplinks. They gather strategic and tactical military, scientific, political, and economic communications signals, according to the documents, and also keep tabs on missile or weapons tests in targeted countries, sweep up intelligence from foreign military data systems, and provide surveillance support to U.S. forces.

An aerial image of the Pine Gap surveillance facility, located near Alice Springs in Australias Northern Territory.

Photo: BING

Outside Pine Gap, there are some 38 radar dishes pointing skyward, many of them concealed underneath golfball-like shells. The facility itself is isolated, located beyond a security checkpoint on a road marked with prohibited area signs, about a 10-minute drive from Alice Springs, which has a population of about25,000 people. There is a large cohort of U.S. spy agency personnel stationed at the site, including employees of the NSA, CIA, and National Reconnaissance Office, the agency that manages the spy satellites. Intelligence employees are joined by compatriots from the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force.

Pine Gap plays a significant role in supporting both intelligence activities and military operations, according to a top-secret NSA report dated from April 2013. One of its key functions is to gather geolocational intelligence, which can be used to help pinpoint airstrikes. The Australian base has a special section known as the geopit for this function; it is equipped with a number of tools available for performing geolocations, providing a broad range of geolocation capabilities in conjunction with other overhead, tactical, fixed site systems, notes an August 2012 NSA site profile of the facility.

Richard Tanter, a professor at the University of Melbourne, has studied Pine Gap for years. He has co-authored, with Bill Robinson and the late Desmond Ball, several detailed reports about the bases activities for California-based security think tankNautilus Institute. He reviewed the documents obtained by The Intercept and said that they showed there had been a huge transformation in Pine Gaps function in recent history.

The documents provide authoritative confirmation that Pine Gap is involved, for example, in the geolocation of cellphones used by people throughout the world, from the Pacific to the edge of Africa, Tanter said. It shows us that Pine Gap knows the geolocations it derives the phone numbers, it often derives the content of any communications, it provides the ability for the American military to identify and place in real-time the location of targets of interest.

The base, which was built in the late 1960s, was once focused only on monitoring missile tests and other military-related activities in countries such as Russia, China, Pakistan, Japan, Korea, and India. But it is now doing a great deal more, said Tanter. It has shifted from a national level of strategic intelligence, primarily to providing intelligence actionable, time-sensitive intelligence for American operations in [the] battlefield.

In 2013, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Pine Gap played a key role in controversial U.S. drone strikes. Over the past decade, drone attacks have killed a number of top Al Qaeda, Islamic State, and Taliban militants. But the strikes often taking place outside of declared war zones, in places such as Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan have also resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians, and in some cases are considered by human rights advocates to constitute potential war crimes and violations of international law.

The U.S. and its allies regularly use surveillance of communications as a tactic to track down and identify suspected militants. The NSA often locates drone targets by analyzing the activity of a cellphones SIM card, rather than the content of the calls an imprecise method that can lead to the wrong people being killed, as The Intercept has previously revealed. Its really like were targeting a cellphone, a former drone operator told us in 2014. Were not going after people were going after their phones, in the hopes that the person on the other end of that missile is the bad guy.

Concerns about such tactics are amplified in the era of President Donald Trump. Since his inauguration earlier this year, Trump has dramatically increased drone strikes and special operations raids, while simultaneouslyloosening battlefield rules and seekingto scrap constraints intended to prevent civilian deaths in such attacks. According to analysis from the group Airwars, which monitors U.S. airstrikes, civilian casualties in the U.S.-led war against the Islamic State are on track to double under Trumps administration.

Afghan villagers gather near a house destroyed in an apparent NATO raid in Logar province, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, on June 6, 2012.

Photo: Ihsanullah Majroh/AP

David Rosenberg, a 23-year veteran of the NSA who worked inside Pine Gap as a team leader for more than a decade, acknowledged that the base was used to geolocate particular electronic transmissions. He told The Intercept and ABC that the base helps to provide limitation of civilian casualties by providing accurate intelligence, and insisted that the governments of Australia and the United States would of course want to minimize all civilian casualties.

But that reassurance is unlikely to satisfy critics.

Emily Howie, director of advocacy and research at Australias Human Rights Law Centre, said the Australian government needs to provide accountability and transparency on its role in U.S. drone operations. The legal problem thats created by drone strikes is that there may very well be violations of the laws of armed conflict and that Australia may be involved in those potential war crimes through the facility at Pine Gap, Howie said. The first thing that we need from the Australian government is for it to come clean about exactly what Australians are doing inside the Pine Gap facility in terms of coordinating with the United States on the targeting using drones.

For more than 100 years, Australia has been a close U.S. ally; the country has supported the American military in every major war since the early 1900s. This relationship was formalized in 1951, when Australia and the U.S. signed the ANZUS Treaty, a mutual defense agreement. Australia is also a member of the Five Eyes surveillance alliance, alongside the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand. The countrys electronic eavesdropping agency, the Australian Signals Directorate, maintains extremely close ties with its American counterparts at the NSA. The agencies have a mutually beneficial partnership, according to one top-secret NSA document. While the NSA shares its technology, cryptanalytic capabilities, and resources for state-of-the-art collection, processing and analytic efforts, the Australians provide access to Pine Gap; they also hand over terrorism-related communications collected inside Australia, plus intelligence on some neighboring countries in their region, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore.

The relationships foundations are strong, but some cracks may be beginning to appear. This was highlighted in late January when, after just two weeks in the Oval Office, Trump had a contentious first conversation with Australias prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull. Trump berated his Australian counterpart over the terms of a refugee deal and abruptly ended the call, describing it as ridiculous and unpleasant.

Meanwhile, Trump has adopted a more confrontational tone with China Australias top trading partner and he has threatened North Korea with fire and fury over its repeated missile tests. The situation has created a degree of uncertainty for Australia, and some in the country are pondering whether it is time to re-evaluate its traditional alliances.

There are changing moods in the United States, said John McCarthy, one of Australias most distinguished and experienced diplomats, who formerly served as the countrys ambassador to the U.S. So, we then need to think, should we try and develop closer security relationships with other countries in Asia? Should we seek to improve our overall structural relationship with China?

Were entering into a very, very fluid situation in Asia, McCarthy added. I dont know what the outcomes are going to be. But we have to be very, very nimble in terms of trying to create new structures, create new relationships, to be able to look at new circumstances from a very independent security perspective, if we are to do the right thing by the Australian people over the next generation or so.

Because of Australias proximity to the Korean peninsula, the North Korea issue is a particularly sensitive one. The city of Darwin in the Northern Territory is about 3,600 miles from Pyongyang, within range of an intercontinental ballistic missile strike. As such, the implications are severe for Australia: It could be dragged into a devastating conflict if the U.S. were to become embroiled in war with Kim Jong-uns rogue state. And despite its isolated position in the outback, Pine Gap would likely be at the forefront of the action.

Pine Gap literally hardwires us into the activities of the American military and in some cases, that means we will cop the consequences, like it or not, said Tanter, the University of Melbourne professor. Pine Gap will be contributing hugely in real-time to those operations, as well as in preparation for them. So whether or not the Australian government thinks that an attack on North Korea is either justified, or a wise and sensible move, we will be part of that, Tanter added. Well be culpable in the terms of the consequences.

The NSA and the Australian governments Department of Defence declined to comment.

This story was prepared in collaboration with the Australian Broadcasting Corporations investigative radio program Background Briefing and ABC News. Peter Cronau contributed reporting.

Documents published with this article:

Top photo: Australian Defence Facilities Pine Gap on Feb. 19, 2016.

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