Category Archives: Spying

America Is On The Same Glide Path As The Fatal Germanwings Flight

America Is On The Same Glide Path As The Fatal Germanwings Flight

Germanwing airplane plane

The pilot was locked out of the cockpit. That phrase finally revealed the full horror of the crash of Germanwings flight 9525.

Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz waited for the pilot to leave the cockpit then locked the door to prevent his re-entry. After which Lubitz, for reasons unknown and perhaps unknowable, deliberately steered the jet into a harrowing 8-minute plunge, ending in an explosive 434 mph impact with a rocky mountainside. One hundred fifty men, women and children met an immediate, unthinkably violent death.

Lubitz, in his single-minded madness, couldn’t be stopped because anyone who could change the jet’s disastrous course was locked out.

It’s hard to imagine the growing feelings of fear and helplessness that the passengers felt as the unforgiving landscape rushed up to meet them. Hard, but not impossible.

ISIS Tweet: We Are Coming to America
ISIS Tweet: We Are Coming to America

America is in very deep trouble and we feel the descent in the pits of our stomachs. We hear the shake and rattle of structures stressed beyond their limits. We don’t know where we’re going anymore, but do know it isn’t good. And above all, we feel helpless because Barack Obama has locked us out.

He locked the American people out of his decision to seize the national healthcare system.

He locked us out when we wanted to know why the IRS was attacking conservatives.

He locked us out of having a say in his decision to tear up our immigration laws and to give over a trillion dollars in benefits to those who broke those laws.

Obama locked out those who advised against premature troop withdrawals. He locked out the intelligence agencies who issued warnings about the growing threat of ISIS.

He locked out anyone who could have interfered with his release of five Taliban terror chiefs in return for one U.S. Military deserter.

And, of course, Barack Obama has now locked out Congress, the American people, and our allies as he strikes a secret deal with Iran to determine the timeline (not prevention) of their acquisition of nuclear weapons.

Was Andreas Lubitz depressed, insane, or abysmally evil when he decided to lock that cockpit door and listen to no voices other than those in his head? Did he somehow believe himself to be doing the right thing? The voice recordings from the doomed aircraft reveal that as the jet began its rapid descent, the passengers were quiet. There was probably some nervous laughter, confusion, a bit of comforting chatter with seat mates, followed by a brief period in which anxiety had not yet metastasized into terror. It was only near the end of the 8-minute plunge that everyone finally understood what was really happening. Only near the end when they began to scream.

Like those passengers, a growing number of Americans feel a helpless dread as they come to the inescapable conclusion that our nation’s decline is an act of choice rather than of chance.

The choice of one man who is in full control of our 8-year plunge. I wonder when America will begin to scream.

Dr. RICHARD S. WELLS

Russian Hackers Read Obama’s Unclassified Emails, Officials Say

Russian Hackers Read Obama’s Unclassified Emails, Officials Say

WASHINGTON — Some of President Obama’s email correspondence was swept up by Russian hackers last year in a breach of the White House’s unclassified computer system that was far more intrusive and worrisome than has been publicly acknowledged, according to senior American officials briefed on the investigation.

The hackers, who also got deeply into the State Department’s unclassified system, do not appear to have penetrated closely guarded servers that control the message traffic from Mr. Obama’s BlackBerry, which he or an aide carries constantly.

But they obtained access to the email archives of people inside the White House, and perhaps some outside, with whom Mr. Obama regularly communicated. From those accounts, they reached emails that the president had sent and received, according to officials briefed on the investigation.

White House officials said that no classified networks had been compromised, and that the hackers had collected no classified information. Many senior officials have two computers in their offices, one operating on a highly secure classified network and another connected to the outside world for unclassified communications.

But officials have conceded that the unclassified system routinely contains much information that is considered highly sensitive: schedules, email exchanges with ambassadors and diplomats, discussions of pending personnel moves and legislation, and, inevitably, some debate about policy.

Officials did not disclose the number of Mr. Obama’s emails that were harvested by hackers, nor the sensitivity of their content. The president’s email account itself does not appear to have been hacked. Aides say that most of Mr. Obama’s classified briefings — such as the morning Presidential Daily Brief — are delivered orally or on paper (sometimes supplemented by an iPad system connected to classified networks) and that they are usually confined to the Oval Office or the Situation Room.

Still, the fact that Mr. Obama’s communications were among those hit by the hackers — who are presumed to be linked to the Russian government, if not working for it — has been one of the most closely held findings of the inquiry. Senior White House officials have known for months about the depth of the intrusion.

“This has been one of the most sophisticated actors we’ve seen,” said one senior American official briefed on the investigation.

Others confirmed that the White House intrusion was viewed as so serious that officials met on a nearly daily basis for several weeks after it was discovered. “It’s the Russian angle to this that’s particularly worrisome,” another senior official said.

While Chinese hacking groups are known for sweeping up vast amounts of commercial and design information, the best Russian hackers tend to hide their tracks better and focus on specific, often political targets. And the hacking happened at a moment of renewed tension with Russia — over its annexation of Crimea, the presence of its forces in Ukraine and its renewed military patrols in Europe, reminiscent of the Cold War.

Inside the White House, the intrusion has raised a new debate about whether it is possible to protect a president’s electronic presence, especially when it reaches out from behind the presumably secure firewalls of the executive branch.

Mr. Obama is no stranger to computer-network attacks: His 2008 campaign was hit by Chinese hackers. Nonetheless, he has long been a frequent user of email, and publicly fought the Secret Service in 2009 to retain his BlackBerry, a topic he has joked about in public. He was issued a special smartphone, and the list of those he can exchange emails with is highly restricted.

When asked about the investigation’s findings, the spokeswoman for the National Security Council, Bernadette Meehan, said, “We’ll decline to comment.” The White House has also declined to provide any explanations about how the breach was handled, though the State Department has been more candid about what kind of systems were hit and what it has done since to improve security. A spokesman for the F.B.I. declined to comment.

Officials who discussed the investigation spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the hacking. While the White House has refused to identify the nationality of the hackers, others familiar with the investigation said that in both the White House and State Department cases, all signs pointed to Russians.

On Thursday, Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter revealed for the first time that Russian hackers had attacked the Pentagon’s unclassified systems, but said they had been identified and “kicked off.” Defense Department officials declined to say if the signatures of the attacks on the Pentagon appeared related to the White House and State Department attacks.

The discovery of the hacking in October led to a partial shutdown of the White House email system. The hackers appear to have been evicted from the White House systems by the end of October. But they continued to plague the State Department, whose system is much more far-flung. The disruptions were so severe that during the Iranian nuclear negotiations in Vienna in November, officials needed to distribute personal email accounts, to one another and to some reporters, to maintain contact.

Earlier this month, officials at the White House said that the hacking had not damaged its systems and that, while elements had been shut down to mitigate the effects of the attack, everything had been restored.

One of the curiosities of the White House and State Department attacks is that the administration, which recently has been looking to name and punish state and nonstate hackers in an effort to deter attacks, has refused to reveal its conclusions about who was responsible for this complex and artful intrusion into the government. That is in sharp contrast to Mr. Obama’s decision, after considerable internal debate in December, to name North Korea for ordering the attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, and to the director of national intelligence’s decision to name Iranian hackers as the source of a destructive attack on the Sands Casino.

This month, after CNN reported that hackers had gained access to sensitive areas of the White House computer network, including sections that contained the president’s schedule, the White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, said the administration had not publicly named who was behind the hack because federal investigators had concluded that “it’s not in our best interests.”

By contrast, in the North Korea case, he said, investigators concluded that “we’re more likely to be successful in terms of holding them accountable by naming them publicly.”

But the breach of the president’s emails appeared to be a major factor in the government secrecy. “All of this is very tightly held,” one senior American official said, adding that the content of what had been breached was being kept secret to avoid tipping off the Russians about what had been learned from the investigation.

Mr. Obama’s friends and associates say that he is a committed user of his BlackBerry, but that he is careful when emailing outside the White House system.

“The frequency has dropped off in the last six months or so,” one of his close associates said, though this person added that he did not know if the drop was related to the hacking.

Mr. Obama is known to send emails to aides late at night from his residence, providing them with his feedback on speeches or, at times, entirely new drafts. Others say he has emailed on topics as diverse as his golf game and the struggle with Congress over the Iranian nuclear negotiations.

George W. Bush gave up emailing for the course of his presidency and did not carry a smartphone. But after Mr. Bush left office, his sister’s email account was hacked, and several photos — including some of his paintings — were made public.

The White House is bombarded with cyberattacks daily, not only from Russia and China. Most are easily deflected.

The White House, the State Department, the Pentagon and intelligence agencies put their most classified material into a system called Jwics, for Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System. That is where top-secret and “secret compartmentalized information” traverses within the government, to officials cleared for it — and it includes imagery, data and graphics. There is no evidence, senior officials said, that this hacking pierced it.

Baltimore Police used secret technology to track cellphones in thousands of case

Baltimore Police used secret technology to track cellphones in thousands of cases

Baltimore police often surveil cellphones amid US secrecy

The Baltimore Police Department has an agreement with the U.S. government to withhold certain information about secretive cellphone surveillance technology from the public and the courts.

By

The Baltimore Police Department has used an invasive and controversial cellphone tracking device thousands of times in recent years while following instructions from the FBI to withhold information about it from prosecutors and judges, a detective revealed in court testimony Wednesday.

The testimony shows for the first time how frequently city police are using a cell site simulator, more commonly known as a “stingray,” a technology that authorities have gone to great lengths to avoid disclosing.

The device mimics a cellphone tower to force phones within its range to connect. Police use it to track down stolen phones or find people.

Related:  See How This Spying Technoloyg, Stingray, works.

FBI Stingray device technology listening cell phones
FBI Stingray device

Until recently, the technology was largely unknown to the public. Privacy advocates nationwide have raised questions whether there has been proper oversight of its use.

Baltimore has emerged in recent months as a battleground for the debate. In one case last fall, a city detective said a nondisclosure agreement with federal authorities prevented him from answering questions about the device. The judge threatened to hold him in contempt if he didn’t provide information, and prosecutors withdrew the evidence.

The nondisclosure agreement, presented for the first time in court Wednesday, explicitly instructs prosecutors to drop cases if pressed on the technology, and tells them to contact the FBI if legislators or judges are asking questions.

Detective Emmanuel Cabreja, a member of the Police Department’s Advanced Technical Team, testified that police own a Hailstorm cell site simulator — the latest version of the stingray — and have used the technology 4,300 times since 2007.

Cabreja said he had used it 600 to 800 times in less than two years as a member of the unit.

Nate Wessler, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said 4,300 uses is “huge number.” He noted that most agencies have not released data.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement says its officers have used the device about 1,800 times. Police in Tallahassee say they have used it more than 250 times; police in Tacoma, Wash., 170 times.

Former U.S. Judge Brian L. Owsley, a law professor at Indiana Tech, said he was “blown away” by the Baltimore figure and the terms of the nondisclosure agreement. “That’s a significant amount of control,” he said.

Agencies have invoked the nondisclosure agreement to keep information secret. At a hearing last year, a Maryland State Police commander told state lawmakers that “Homeland Security” prevented him from discussing the technology.

Wessler said the secrecy is upending the system of checks and balances built into the criminal justice system.

“In Baltimore, they’ve been using this since 2007, and it’s only been in the last several months that defense attorneys have learned enough to start asking questions,” he said. “Our entire judicial system and constitution is set up to avoid a ‘just trust us’ system where the use of invasive surveillance gear is secret.”

Cabreja testified Wednesday during a pretrial hearing in the case of Nicholas West, 21, and Myquan Anderson, 17. West and Anderson were charged in October 2013 with armed carjacking, armed robbery, theft and other violations stemming from an attack on a man in Federal Hill.

Cabreja took what he said was a copy of the nondisclosure agreement to court. It was dated July 2011 and bore the signatures of then-Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III and then-State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein.

Defense attorney Joshua Insley asked Cabreja about the agreement.

“Does this document instruct you to withhold evidence from the state’s attorney and Circuit Court, even upon court order to produce?” he asked.

“Yes,” Cabreja said.

Cabreja did not comply with a defense subpoena to produce the device in court. He said he was barred from doing so by the nondisclosure agreement.

An FBI spokesman declined to comment on the technology or the document.

The signatories to the document agree that disclosing the existence of the stingray would “reveal sensitive technological capabilities possessed by the law enforcement community and may allow individuals who are the subject of investigation … to avoid detection.”

They agree that “disclosure of this information could result in the FBI’s inability to protect the public from terrorism and other criminal activity” by rendering the technology useless for investigations.

The signatories agree that if they receive a public records request or an inquiry from judges or legislators, they will notify the FBI immediately to allow “sufficient time for the FBI to intervene.”

Cabreja testified Wednesday that his unit received information about a stolen cellphone. He said detectives obtained a court order to get the phone’s general location using cellphone towers from a cellphone company.

With that information, detectives ventured out to the Waverly neighborhood with the Hailstorm. The device is portable and can be used from a moving vehicle. Cabreja likened it to a metal detector for cellphone signals.

The device forces cellphones to connect to it. In this case, it was a Verizon phone, so identifying information from every Verizon customer in the area was swept up.

Cabreja said the data was collected but “not seen.” Detectives were interested only in the target phone.
Cabreja said the device allows police to make a stronger signal emanate from the phone to help them find it.

“It, on screen, shows me directional arrows and signal strength, showing me the phone’s direction,” he testified.

The detectives traced the phone to a group home and knocked on the door. They told the woman who answered that they were conducting a general criminal investigation and asked to come inside, Cabreja said, and the woman agreed.

Seven detectives entered the home, he said. They used the Hailstorm to make the phone ring before anyone knew why they were really there.

Amid growing questions about the stingray, details of the technology have been trickling out of some jurisdictions, and it is now relatively easy to find descriptions online of what it does.

Insley, the defense attorney, called it the “worst-kept secret,” and questioned why local police continue to be gagged.

Cabreja took notes with him to court that he said came from a discussion last week in which the FBI coached him on what to say in court.

The talking points included: “Data is not retained.”
Cabreja did not refuse to answer any of Insley’s questions, but he said his answers were constrained by the nondisclosure agreement.

Defense attorneys and privacy advocates express concern about the scope of the stingray’s powers, and whether the courts are equipped to provide proper oversight of the police who use it. They argue that the use of the device amounts to a search and requires a warrant.

Baltimore police obtain court orders under the state’s “pen register” statute. Insley says that law authorizes police to capture only the numbers that are called or received by a phone, not the more detailed metadata and location information the stingray collects.

He said those orders also require a lower standard of proof than a search warrant, and judges are not aware of what they are authorizing.

“They’re basically duping these judges into signing authorizations to use stingrays,” Insley said. “If they can increase the signal strength of your phone or make it ring, they can pretty much make it do anything.”

But prosecutors say the language in the orders authorizes real-time GPS location, and Cabreja testified that police only use the stingray to find “target” phones and not to spy on the innocent.

In Maryland U.S. District Court last fall, an argument about the stingray device was cut short when the suspects took plea deals. And on Wednesday, following Cabreja’s testimony, prosecutors and defense attorneys entered into plea negotiations instead of debating the merits of the stingray further.

In cases where the stingray becomes a sticking point, Wessler said, “defense attorneys are being able to get really good deals for their clients, because the FBI is so insistent on hiding all of these details.”

“There are likely going to be a lot of defense attorneys in Baltimore who may have an opportunity to raise these issues,” Wessler said. “They are on notice now that their clients may have some arguments to make in these cases.”

How the U.S. thinks Russians hacked the White House

How the U.S. thinks Russians hacked the White House

By Evan Perez and Shimon Prokupecz, CNN

Washington (CNN)Russian hackers behind the damaging cyber intrusion of the State Department in recent months used that perch to penetrate sensitive parts of the White House computer system, according to U.S. officials briefed on the investigation.

While the White House has said the breach only affected an unclassified system, that description belies the seriousness of the intrusion. The hackers had access to sensitive information such as real-time non-public details of the president’s schedule. While such information is not classified, it is still highly sensitive and prized by foreign intelligence agencies, U.S. officials say.

The White House in October said it noticed suspicious activity in the unclassified network that serves the executive office of the president. The system has been shut down periodically to allow for security upgrades.

The FBI, Secret Service and U.S. intelligence agencies are all involved in investigating the breach, which they consider among the most sophisticated attacks ever launched against U.S. government systems. ​The intrusion was routed through computers around the world, as hackers often do to hide their tracks, but investigators found tell-tale codes and other markers that they believe point to hackers working for the Russian government.

National Security Council spokesman Mark Stroh didn’t confirm the Russian hack, but he did say that “any such activity is something we take very seriously.”

“In this case, as we made clear at the time, we took immediate measures to evaluate and mitigate the activity,” he said. “As has been our position, we are not going to comment on [this] article’s attribution to specific actors.”

Neither the U.S. State Department nor the Russian Embassy immediately responded to a request for comment.

Ben Rhodes, President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said the White House’s use of a separate system for classified information protected sensitive national security-related items from being obtained by hackers.

“We do not believe that our classified systems were compromised,” Rhodes told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday.

“We’re constantly updating our security measures on our unclassified system, but we’re frankly told to act as if we need not put information that’s sensitive on that system,” he said. “In other words, if you’re going to do something classified, you have to do it on one email system, one phone system. Frankly, you have to act as if information could be compromised if it’s not on the classified system.”

To get to the White House, the hackers first broke into the State Department, investigators believe.

The State Department computer system has been bedeviled by signs that despite efforts to lock them out, the Russian hackers have been able to reenter the system. One official says the Russian hackers have “owned” the State Department system for months and it is not clear the hackers have been fully eradicated from the system.

As in many hacks, investigators believe the White House intrusion began with a phishing email that was launched using a State Department email account that the hackers had taken over, according to the U.S. officials.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, in a speech at an FBI cyberconference in January, warned government officials and private businesses to teach employees what “spear phishing” looks like.

“So many times, the Chinese and others get access to our systems just by pretending to be someone else and then asking for access, and someone gives it to them,” Clapper said.

The ferocity of the Russian intrusions in recent months caught U.S. officials by surprise, leading to a reassessment of the cybersecurity threat as the U.S. and Russia increasingly confront each other over issues ranging from the Russian aggression in Ukraine to the U.S. military operations in Syria.

The attacks on the State and White House systems is one reason why Clapper told a Senate hearing in February that the “Russian cyberthreat is more severe than we have previously assessed.”

The revelations about the State Department hacks also come amid controversy over formerSecretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server to conduct government business during her time in office. Critics say her private server likely was even less safe than the State system. The Russian breach is believed to have come after Clinton departed State.

But hackers have long made Clinton and her associates targets.

The website The Smoking Gun first reported in 2013 that a hacker known as Guccifer had broken into the AOL email of Sidney Blumenthal, a friend and advisor to the Clintons, and published emails Blumenthal sent to Hillary Clinton’s private account. The emails included sensitive memos on foreign policy issues and were the first public revelation of the existence of Hillary Clinton’s private email address​ now at the center of controversy: hdr22@clintonemail.com. The address is no longer in use.

Intent of Russian military aircraft near U.S. shores remains unclear

Intent of Russian military aircraft near U.S. shores remains unclear

Russia Russian bomber fighter airplane plane aircraft

The air is frigid and the wind is howling as Air Force Col. Frank Flores lifts a pair of foot-long binoculars and studies a hazy dot about 50 miles west across the Bering Strait.

“That’s the mainland there,” he shouts above the gusts.

It’s Siberia, part of Russia, on the Asian mainland.

Named for an old mining camp, Tin City is a tiny Air Force installation atop an ice-shrouded coastal mountain 50 miles below the Arctic Circle, far from any road or even trees. The Pentagon took over the remote site decades ago and built a long-range radar station to help detect a surprise attack from the Soviet Union.

At least from this frozen perch, America’s closest point to Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the Cold War is turning warm again.

U.S. F-22 fighter jets scrambled about 10 times last year — twice as often as in 2013 — to monitor and photograph Russian Tu-95 “Bear” bombers and MiG-31 fighter jets that flew over the Bering Sea without communicating with U.S. air controllers or turning on radio transponders, which emit identifying signals.

The Russian flights are in international airspace, and it’s unclear whether they are testing U.S. defenses, patrolling the area or simply projecting a newly assertive Moscow’s global power.

“They’re obviously messaging us,” said Flores, a former Olympic swimmer who is in charge of Tin City and 14 other radar stations scattered along the vast Alaskan coast. “We still don’t know their intent.”

U.S. officials view the bombers — which have been detected as far south as 50 miles off California’s northern coast — as deliberately provocative. They are a sign of the deteriorating ties between Moscow and the West since Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in March of last year and its military intervention to support separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Similar Russian flights in Europe have irked leaders in Britain, Ireland, Sweden, Norway and elsewhere. In January, British authorities were forced to reroute commercial aircraft after Russian bombers flew over the English Channel with their transponders off.

In all, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization says its jets scrambled to monitor Russian warplanes around Europe more than 100 times last year, about three times as many as in 2013. Russian air patrols outside its borders were at their highest level since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, NATO said.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in a statement in November, as tensions heightened over Ukraine, that Russia’s strategic bombers would resume patrols in both the Atlantic and the Pacific.

“In the current situation we have to maintain military presence in the western Atlantic and eastern Pacific, as well as the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico,” he said.

Although the Arctic draws less attention, Russia is flexing muscles there after years of decline. President Vladimir Putin’s government has announced plans to reopen 10 former Soviet-era military bases, including 14 airfields, that were shuttered along the Arctic seaboard after the Cold War.

A shipyard in Severodvinsk, the largest city on the Russian Arctic Coast, has begun building four nuclear-powered submarines for the first time in decades, according to Russian news reports. The Pentagon says the reports are accurate.

The Pentagon has responded by spending $126 million last year to upgrade Tin City and other coastal radar stations in Alaska. It also has added military exercises with northern allies — including flying U.S. strategic bombers over the Arctic for the first time since 2011.

Last week, four B-52s flew from bases in Nebraska and Louisiana on simultaneous, round-trip sorties to the Arctic and North Sea regions, the Air Force announced. Along the way, the bomber crews engaged in “air intercept maneuvers” with fighter jets from Canada, England and the Netherlands.

The Air Force has said it may base the first squadrons of next-generation F-35 fighter jets at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska starting next year.

The buildup comes as melting ice caps are opening valuable new sea lanes, sparking a scramble for oil and other untapped natural resources by the eight nations with territorial or maritime claims in the far north.

“We’re experiencing a reawakening of the strategic importance of the Arctic,” said Navy Adm. William E. Gortney, commander of the Pentagon’s Northern Command and of the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

“Is this a second Cold War? It doesn’t matter what we think,” Gortney said. “Maybe they think the Cold War never ended.”

Analysts say Putin’s government may be ordering the bomber flights as a morale booster for a military that saw its ships turned to scrap, its aircraft grounded and its bases closed after the Cold War.

“The ability to project military power from bases in the Arctic region is one area in which they are still capable,” said Christopher Harmer, a military analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, a nonpartisan public policy group in Washington.

“This is much less compared to what they were doing in the Cold War,” said Dmitry Gorenburg, a research analyst at the nonprofit Center for Naval Analyses in Washington. “I don’t think they’re threatening anyone. They just want to make sure that no one comes into the Arctic and messes with them.”

The U.S. military downsized but never fully disengaged in the Arctic after the Cold War.

If an alarm sounds, fighter pilots still sometimes slide down gleaming fireman poles at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage and run to F-22 Raptors kept idling in small hangars. The jets, in “hot-cocked” condition, carry fully armed cannons and missiles.

In an underground room on the base, rows of radar technicians sit at glowing screens watching small crescent-shaped blips, each representing an aircraft moving in Alaskan airspace. On the wall, four large screens track aircraft across the Arctic, including Russian airspace.

The wall also holds 261 plaques with red stars. Each represents a successful U.S. intercept of Russian aircraft. A total of 424 Russian planes have been detected since 1983, mostly during the Cold War.

“If they come this way, we’re going to track them, determine who they are and what their intent is,” said Maj. Carrie Howard, an officer in charge of the air defense squadron.

Most of the time, the blips are commercial planes that identify themselves by emitting transponder codes or communicating with regional air controllers. But some aircraft stay silent.

If commanders here decide to respond, they grab a tan telephone marked “scramble” in red letters. It rings in a wardroom by the runway where F-22 pilots are always on duty.

“When the phone rings, it stops your heart, it rings so loud,” said one pilot, who asked not to be named for his security.

Once airborne, the pilots are supposed to get a visual identification of the other aircraft. But the F-22 can fly nearly three times as fast as the lumbering Tu-95 bomber, so slowing down is the challenge.

“You want to go fast,” the pilot said. “The jet wants to go fast. But you just have to ease up alongside of them.”

On Sept. 17, he scrambled in pursuit of radar blips that turned out to be two Russian “Bears,” two MiG-31s and two refueling tankers. The American pilot drew close, radioed his sighting back to Anchorage and returned to base.

“Our presence was felt,” the pilot said. “That’s all that’s needed.”

It was difficult to feel much of anything but cold at Tin City on a recent afternoon, where the temperature was far below zero, the wind was bone-chilling and the world faded into a blinding white of snow, ice and fog.

Vance Spaulding, 53, and Jeff Boulds, 52, two contractors, spend up to four months maintaining the radar site before they fly out on break.

While here, they hunt musk ox, a long-haired, long-horned animal known for its strong odor, and Arctic hare, which they claim can grow to 20 pounds or more, on the surrounding coastal plain.

“We get cooped up here, so we try to get out in the open whenever we can,” Boulds said. “But I never seen no Russkies. Not yet anyway.”

A year after firestorm, DHS wants access to license-plate tracking system

A year after firestorm, DHS wants access to license-plate tracking system

A police car in Alexandria, Va., that has been equipped with a license-plate scanner. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

By Ellen Nakashima

The Department of Homeland Security is seeking bids from companies able to provide law enforcement officials with access to a national license-plate tracking system — a year after canceling a similar solicitation over privacy issues.

The reversal comes after officials said they had determined they could address concerns raised by civil liberties advocates and lawmakers about the prospect of the department’s gaining widespread access, without warrants, to a system that holds billions of records that reveal drivers’ whereabouts.

In a privacy impact assessment issued Thursday, the DHS says that it is not seeking to build a national database or contribute data to an existing system.

Instead, it is seeking bids from companies that already gather the data to say how much they would charge to grant access to law enforcement officers at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a DHS agency. Officials said they also want to impose limits on ICE personnel’s access to and use of the data.

“These restrictions will provide essential privacy and civil liberty protections, while enhancing our agents’ and officers’ ability to locate and apprehend suspects who could pose a threat to national security and public safety,” DHS spokeswoman Marsha Catron said in a statement. The solicitation was posted publicly Thursday.

Privacy advocates who reviewed a copy of the privacy impact assessment said it fell short.

“If this goes forward, DHS will have warrantless access to location information going back at least five years about virtually every adult driver in the U.S., and sometimes to their image as well,” said Gregory T. Nojeim, senior counsel for the Center for Democracy & Technology.

Commercial license-plate tracking systems already are used by the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration, as well as some local and state law enforcement agencies. Law enforcement groups say the fears of misuse are overblown. But news of the DHS solicitation triggered a public firestorm last year, leading Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to cancel it and order a review of the privacy concerns raised by advocates and lawmakers.

Over the following months, ICE and DHS privacy officials developed policies aimed at increasing “the public’s trust in our ability to use the data responsibly,” according to a senior DHS privacy officer. The DHS is the first federal agency, officials said, to issue a privacy assessment on such a solicitation.

Commercial license-plate-tracking systems can include a variety of data. Images of plate numbers are generally captured by high-speed cameras that are mounted on vehicles or in fixed locations. Some systems also capture images of the drivers and passengers.

The largest commercial database is owned by Vigilant Solutions, which as of last fall had more than 2.5 billion records. Its database grows by 2.7 million records a day.

DHS officials say Vigilant’s database, to which some field offices have had access on a subscription basis, has proved valuable in solving years-old cases. Privacy advocates, however, are concerned about the potential for abuse and note that commercial data banks generally do not have limits on how long they retain data.

ICE said it will restrict agents’ access to the data to the number of years corresponding to the relevant statute of limitations for any crime being investigated. For civil immigration cases, where there is no statute of limitations, the agency is adopting a five-year limit, officials said.

ICE officers and agents also will be required to enter the type of crime associated with each query to gain access to the database, and there will be random audits to ensure that no one is using the database to look up information on personal associates. Officers and agents may search only for particular plate numbers.

ICE queries will not be shared with other agencies, unless they are working on a joint investigation, a senior DHS official said. ICE personnel also will be able to put plate numbers of interest on an “alert list,” enabling those personnel to be notified almost instantly when a plate is spotted.

Ginger McCall, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s Open Government Project, said the new safeguards are not “meaningful.” She called the data retention requirements “exceedingly vague” and said tracking a person through alert lists without a warrant is troubling.

The senior DHS privacy officer said case law does not require the government to seek a warrant for such data.

“This is a step in the right direction, but it’s not nearly strong enough, given the particular acute privacy and civil liberties issues implicated by locational data,” McCall said.

DOJ: No contempt charges for former IRS official Lois Lerner

DOJ: No contempt charges for former IRS official Lois Lerner

She is still under investigation for a separate tea party targeting matter.

Former Internal Revenue Service (IRS) official Lois Lerner speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 5, 2014, during the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the the agency's targeting of tea party groups, where she invoked her constitutional right not to incriminate herself.  (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)

The Justice Department will not seek criminal contempt charges against former IRS official Lois Lerner, the central figure in a scandal that erupted over whether the tax agency improperly targeted conservative political groups.

Ronald Machen, the former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, told House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in a seven-page letter this week that he would not bring a criminal case to a grand jury over Lerner’s refusal to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in March 2014. The House approved a criminal contempt resolution against Lerner in May 2014, and Machen’s office has been reviewing the issue since then.

Lerner and other IRS officials, however, are still under investigation by the FBI for the tea party targeting matter — which is a separate probe entirely.

Lerner cited her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself during congressional testimony on March 5, 2014, although then-Oversight Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said she had waived that right by giving an opening statement at a hearing 10 months earlier when she asserted her innocence. Issa wanted her charged by the Justice Department with criminal contempt of Congress for failing to answer questions about her role in the scandal.

Machen said the Oversight Committee “followed proper procedures” in telling Lerner that it had “rejected her claim of privilege and gave her an adequate opportunity to answer the committee’s questions.”

However, Machen said DOJ lawyers determined that Lerner “did not waive her Fifth Amendment right by making an opening statement on May 22, 2013, because she made only general claims of innocence.”

Machen added: “Given that assessment, we have further concluded that it is not appropriate for a United States attorney to present the matter to the grand jury for action where, as here, the Constitution prevents the witness from being prosecuted for contempt.”

Lerner, unsurprisingly, was pleased by the announcement. “Anyone who takes a serious and impartial look at this issue would conclude that Ms. Lerner did not waive her Fifth Amendment rights,” said Lerner’s attorney, William Taylor III, in a statement. “It is unfortunate that the majority party in the House put politics before a citizen’s constitutional rights.”

“Ms. Lerner is pleased to have this matter resolved and looks forward to moving on with her life,” Taylor added.

Republicans were disappointed by the decision not to move ahead.

“Once again, the Obama administration has tried to sweep IRS targeting of taxpayers for their political beliefs under the rug,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel, urging the White House to “do the right thing and appoint a special counsel to examine the IRS’ actions.”

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), one of several House Oversight Committee members who says Justice has failed to take the IRS matter seriously, said the decision “offers little assurance to the American taxpayer that the department is actually investigating this abuse of power.”

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who led the IRS probe in the House, knocked Machen in a statement for “us[ing] his power as a political weapon to undermine the rule of law.”

“Mr. Machen … unilaterally decided to ignore the will of the House of Representatives,” Jordan said. “He and the Justice Department have given Lois Lerner cover for her failure to account for her actions at the IRS.”

Lerner, who led the IRS unit that subjected conservative nonprofits to additional scrutiny, quickly became the face of the scandal when she revealed the practice during an obscure tax conference on May 9, 2013. At the time, Lerner and the IRS blamed “frontline” employees in the agency’s Cincinnati office for any violations, though later it became clear that IRS headquarters in Washington, D.C., was holding up approval of the nonprofit groups’ tax status for years at time.

When initially summoned to Capitol Hill to answer for the scandal in May 2013, Lerner took the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer questions. Lawmakers would eventually hold her in contempt of Congress when she, again, asserted her Fifth Amendment privilege at the second hearing in March 2014.

GOP investigators on both the House Oversight and the Ways and Means committees have released numerous emails showing Lerner’s liberal political leanings. They’ve accused her of bias in the workplace, including using her position to try to persuade IRS auditors to probe and reject the nonprofit application for Karl Rove’s influential Crossroads GPS.

Republicans also noted Lerner’s private skepticism of political nonprofits, which are governed by complex rules originally designed to limit their direct role in elections. Republicans assert that Lerner tried to use her division to crack down on conservative political groups, something Democrats had been urging the IRS to consider.

Last June, more than a year into the investigation, the IRS announced it lost two years’ worth of Lerner’s emails in a 2011 computer crash. The agency said the emails were not recoverable because it had recycled her hard drive and written over relevant backup tapes.

The IRS inspector general later proved the agency wrong, unearthing backup tapes that investigators believe include the correspondence.

Lerner maintains her innocence and argues she was only doing her job — ensuring nonprofits follow the rules. Though Lerner refused to talk to lawmakers during the probe, her lawyer said Lerner cooperated with the FBI, answering its questions as needed. The results of the fuller FBI investigation are expected soon.

Lerner has given only one interview with the press, an exclusive with POLITICO, in which she talked about how the scandal has changed her life dramatically, including making her the object of public scorn. Even then, Lerner, at the behest of her attorneys, refused to answer specific questions about her role in the whole practice.

Facebook accused of tracking all users even if they delete accounts or ask never to be followed

Facebook accused of tracking all users even if they delete accounts or ask never to be followed

Network tracks its users so that it can give them more tailored advertising

ANDREW GRIFFIN

A new report claims that Facebook secretly installs tracking cookies on users’ computers, allowing them to follow users around the internet even after they’ve left the website, deleted their account and requested to be no longer followed.

Academic researchers said that the report showed that the company was breaking European law with its tracking policies. The law requires that users are told if their computers are receiving cookies except for specific circumstances.

Facebook’s tracking — which it does so that it can tailor advertising — involves putting cookies or small pieces of software on users’ computers, so that they can then be followed around the internet. Such technology is used by almost every website, but European law requires that users are told if they are being given cookies or being tracked. Companies don’t have to tell users if the cookies are required to connect to a service or if they are needed to give the user information that they have specifically requested.

But Facebook’s tracking policy allows it to track users if they have simply been to a page on the company’s domain, even if they weren’t logged in. That includes pages for brands or events, which users can see whether or not they have an account.

Facebook disputes the accusations of the report, it told The Independent.

“This report contains factual inaccuracies,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “The authors have never contacted us, nor sought to clarify any assumptions upon which their report is based. Neither did they invite our comment on the report before making it public.

“We have explained in detail the inaccuracies in the earlier draft report (after it was published) directly to the Belgian DPA, who we understand commissioned it, and have offered to meet with them to explain why it is incorrect, but they have declined to meet or engage with us. However, we remain willing to engage with them and hope they will be prepared to update their work in due course”.

The report does not have any legal standing, and was written by independent academics.

With respect to its European data, Facebook is regulated by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, who checks that Facebook is acting within the EU’s Data Protection Directive. As part of that regulation, Facebook is regularly audited.

Facebook has a page on its site that gives users’ information about cookies and how they are used on the network. The company makes clear that cookies are used for the purposes of advertising and other functions, and that users can opt out of such tracking if they wish to.

US Military Special Operations holding urban warfare drills in Broward County

US Military Special Operations holding urban warfare drills in Broward County

Police aiming at home DHS
Police In Boston in Armored Hummvee aiming at home

Police agencies in Broward County are assisting members of the U.S. Special Operations Forces who are undergoing urban warfare training.

The exercises began Monday, will last until March 27 and will be held at locations that the military will not disclose.

Related: US Military Train in Texas, Mid-West for Urban Civil Unrest

U.S. Special Operations is commanded out of Tampa and has staged such “routine drills” in cities throughout the country, a spokesman said.

The 200 military personnel are from the four branches: Air Force, Army, Marines and Navy.

The goal is to prepare participants in realistic, unfamiliar training conditions before they deploy for combat overseas. Those urban locations can’t be replicated on a practice range, the military said.

The exercises will happen in a variety of places but will not be held at the beaches, the Everglades, malls or large population centers, the spokesman said.

Local police departments are tasked with managing traffic and keeping spectators away.