Tag Archives: White House

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.

Obama emailed Hillary Clinton at private address, didn’t know ‘details’ of account

Obama emailed Hillary Clinton at private address, didn’t know ‘details’ of account

President-elect Barack Obama (left) stands with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., after announcing that she is his choice as Secretary of State during a news conference in Chicago on Dec. 1, 2008. (Associated Press) **FILE**
By Ben Wolfgang – The Washington Times

President Obama communicated with Hillary Rodham Clinton via email but didn’t know the “details” of how his secretary of state was using a private, off-the-books email address, the White House said Monday.

“They did have the occasion to email one another. … He was not aware of the details of how that email address and how that server had been set up or how Secretary Clinton and her team were planning to comply with the Federal Records Act,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters. “The president did email with Secretary Clinton. I assume he recognized the email he was emailing back to.”

It was revealed last week that Mrs. Clinton did not use an official government email address during her four years in charge of the State Department and conducted all business on a private account. The administration previously has said the president learned of the email scandal via news reports.

Mr. Earnest also said that all of Mr. Obama’s emails have been properly preserved in accordance with federal record-keeping requirements. As a result, all of Mr. Obama’s emails with Mrs. Clinton have been saved, Mr. Earnest said.

Secret Service testing drones, how to disrupt their flying

Secret Service testing drones, how to disrupt their flying


Secret Service Drones

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mysterious, middle-of-the-night drone flights by the U.S. Secret Service during the next several weeks over parts of Washington — usually off-limits as a strict no-fly zone — are part of secret government testing intended to find ways to interfere with rogue drones or knock them out of the sky, The Associated Press has learned.

A U.S. official briefed on the plans said the Secret Service was testing drones for law enforcement or protection efforts and to look for ways, such as signal jamming, to thwart threats from civilian drones. The drones were being flown between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because this person was not authorized to publicly discuss the plans. The Secret Service has said details were classified.

Some consumer-level drones, which commonly carry video cameras, are powerful enough to carry small amounts of explosives or a grenade.

The challenge for the Secret Service is quickly detecting a rogue drone flying near the White House or the president’s location, then within moments either hacking it to seize control over its flight or jamming its signal to send it off course or make it crash.

The Secret Service has said only that it will openly test drones over Washington, but it declined to provide details such as when it will fly, how many drones, over what parts of the city, for how long and for what purposes. It decided to tell the public in advance about the tests out of concern that people who saw the drones might be alarmed, particularly in the wake of the drones spotted recently over Paris at night. Flying overnight also diminishes the chances that radio jamming would accidentally affect nearby businesses, drivers, pedestrians and tourists.

It is illegal under the U.S. Communications Act to sell or use signal jammers except for narrow purposes by government agencies.

Depending on a drone’s manufacturer and capabilities, its flight-control and video-broadcasting systems commonly use the same common radio frequencies as popular Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies. Jamming by the Secret Service — depending on how powerfully or precisely it works — could disrupt nearby Internet networks or phone conversations until it’s turned off. Testing in the real-world environment around the White House would reveal unexpected effects on jamming efforts from nearby buildings, monuments or tall trees.

Signals emanating from an inbound drone — such as coming from a video stream back to its pilot — could allow the Secret Service to detect and track it.

Federal agencies generally need approval to jam signals from the U.S. telecommunications advisory agency, the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration. That agency declined to tell the AP whether the Secret Service sought permission because it said such requests are not routinely made public.

The Federal Aviation Administration has confirmed it formally authorized the Secret Service to fly the drones and granted it a special waiver to fly them over Washington. The agency declined to provide specifics about the secret program.

In January, a wayward quadcopter drone, piloted by an off-duty U.S. intelligence employee, landed on the White House lawn. At the time, the Secret Service said the errant landing appeared to be accidental and was not considered a security threat.

The agency had been looking at security issues surrounding drones before the January crash, but the crash of that drone led the agency to focus more attention on security issues surrounding small, unmanned aircraft that can be hard to detect. Previously published reports have disclosed that the Secret Service already uses jammers in presidential and vice presidential motorcades to disrupt signals that might detonate hidden remotely triggered improvised explosive devices.

Researchers with the Homeland Security Department’s science and technology directorate are working on strategies to interdict an unauthorized drone flying inside security areas. The research arm of DHS is trying to balance security concerns of the small, hard-to-detect devices, with the burgeoning commercial use and interests of hobbyists. Likewise, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration said last week it’s studying how the U.S. can resolve privacy risks with increasing use of drones.

The Homeland Security Department hosted a two-day meeting last month with industry officials, law enforcement and academics to discuss balancing security and commercial interests and establishing security practices. Days later, the Secret Service, which is part of the Homeland Security Department, distributed a three-sentence press release saying it will “conduct a series of exercises involving unmanned aircraft systems, in the coming days and weeks.”

Trying to keep drones out of a secure area can be tricky.

There are basically three ways to stop a drone, said Jeremy Gillula, a staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation: block the radio signals linking the drone to its controller, hack the aircraft’s control signals and trick it into believing it is somewhere else, or physically disable it.

Some drone manufacturers program a “geo fence” — location coordinates their drones treat as off-limits and refuse to fly past — into the drone’s programming. Police could physically knock a drone out of the air with a projectile or use a net to catch it.

“If it were me that would actually be the first thing I would think about doing,” Gillula said. “You would have to basically encase the White House in this net. It sure wouldn’t look pretty, but in some ways it would be the most effective way.”

Secret Service To Conduct Drone Exercises Over Washington

Secret Service To Conduct Drone Exercises Over Washington

By Josh Lederman, Associated Press

Predator Reaper UAV drone
Predator Reaper UAV (drone)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Secret Service says it will fly drones over the Washington area in the near future.

The agency isn’t disclosing exactly where the exercises will take place other than that they’ll involve areas where flights are typically restricted. Airspace above the White House, the U.S. Capitol and other sensitive sites in Washington is heavily restricted.

The Secret Service says the exercises have been carefully planned and coordinated with other government agencies, and will be “tightly controlled.”

The reason for the exercises isn’t clear. But they come amid heightened scrutiny about the security risks posed by drones. Last month, a government employee who was flying a drone recreationally crashed it into the White House grounds accidentally.

The Obama administration recently proposed long-awaited rules for flying commercial drones in U.S. skies.

White House that promised transparency refuses to cooperate with IRS probe

White House that promised transparency refuses to cooperate with IRS probe

Obama administration refuses to Congress in email search

By Stephen Dinan – The Washington Times

Jeff Sessions, Alabama Senator (R) Republican Congress
Jeff Sessions, Alabama Senator (R)

The White House told Congress last week it refused to dig into its computers for emails that could shed light on what kinds of private taxpayer information the IRS shares with President Obama’s top aides, assuring Congress that the IRS will address the issue — eventually.

The tax agency has already said it doesn’t have the capability to dig out the emails in question, but the White House’s chief counsel, W. Neil Eggleston, insisted in a letter last week to House Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan that the IRS would try again once it finishes with the tea party-targeting scandal.

“It is my understanding that in May 2014, Commissioner Koskinen responded to this request by indicating that the IRS would be able to address new topics such as these following its completion of document productions already in progress,” Mr. Eggleston wrote in a Feb. 17 letter. “To the extent that the committee continues to have an oversight interest in this matter, I encourage you to continue working with the IRS to address those questions.”

SEE ALSO: IRS to pay back-refunds to illegal immigrants who didn’t pay taxes

But IRS Commissioner John Koskinen’s letter last year didn’t say that. Instead Mr. Koskinen said the IRS was logistically incapable of performing the search because it would have required combing through 90,000 email accounts.

The White House’s stiff-arm comes even though it performed a similar kind of email search in the past after the IRS lost thousands of emails of former division chief Lois G. Lerner, a key figure in the tea party targeting.

Mr. Ryan is trying to figure out whether the laws that govern taxpayer information security are working, which is part of his committee’s jurisdiction.

The IRS has been under fire for years over several scandals, including its targeting of tea party groups for politically motivated scrutiny and its illegal release of private taxpayer information concerning the National Organization for Marriage. The IRS insisted the disclosure was accidental and not politically motivated, but it did pay a settlement to the organization.

Some outside pressure groups argue the IRS’s improper behavior goes further, and includes disclosing private taxpayer information to the White House. The groups point to comments by a top White House economic adviser who in 2010 said Koch Industries, the company run by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch, paid no corporate income taxes.

The IRS’s inspector general investigated that issue, but has refused to release documents and currently faces a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit over the matter.

Both the House and Senate are now investigating IRS and White House communications as well.

The White House didn’t assert any privileges in refusing Mr. Ryan’s request last week, instead insisting the IRS would work on it, so there was no need for the president to get involved. That conflicts with Mr. Koskinen’s 2014 letter making clear he didn’t think such a search was feasible from his end.

The IRS didn’t respond to a message seeking comment on whether it had rethought its stance in light of the White House’s promise, and the White House didn’t respond to a message asking why its chief counsel had misrepresented the IRS’s position as stated in Mr. Koskinen’s letter.

Congress and the White House faced a similar situation last year after the IRS admitted it had lost some of Ms. Lerner’s emails. The Ways and Means Committee then asked the White House if it had any such emails, and Mr. Obama’s aides complied with that request, even providing three emails that Congresshadn’t asked for.

At the time Mr. Eggleston also acknowledged the IRS had told the White House about the lost emails a month before the tax agency informed Congress of the loss.

Any official requests for private taxpayer information made by the White House are supposed to be personally signed by the president, and Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation is supposed to be notified of the request. The JCT issues an annual report on all requests for IRS information, and those reports don’t show any such requests from the president during Mr. Obama’s time in office.

Story Continues →

The Worst of Jen Psaki

The Worst of Jen Psaki

Jen Psaki State Department Spokesperson


Jen Psaki is leaving after two years as State Department spokesperson to become White House communications director, leaving a rich Foggy Bottom tenure in her wake.

Her time as John Kerry’s top PR flack included countless moments of sputtering to explain the Obama administration’s foreign policy missteps, a moment of hashtag diplomacy unparalleled in its cringe factor, and daily verbal floggings by dogged Associated Press reporter Matt Lee.

Let’s look back on the good times.

Obama Opens Muslim Extremist Summit at WH By Insulting Christians

Obama Opens Muslim Extremist Summit at WH By Insulting Christians

Obama Opens 'Extremism' Summit With Muslim Prayer And Christian Blame

What’s the best way to kick off a White House summit on “Countering Violent Extremism”? If you’re the dynamic duo, Obama and Biden, it’s to invite Islam right in to essentially preside over the event, opening it with Muslim prayer from an imam and making no mention of any other religion other than one disturbing note from Biden, blaming Christians for a myriad of violent murders.

According to CNS News, right at the start of the second day of the summit, Imam Sheikh Sa’ad Musse Roble, president of the World Peace Organization in Minneapolis, Minnesota, graced the group with a choice verse from the Quran, right after the apparent Islam-loving Obama administration officials and a few Democratic members of congress gave their two cents.

During the prayer portion of the event, which was the only access press had to the entire summit, Roble offered a verse from the Muslim holy book which was translated by Imam Abdisalam Adam of the Islamic Civil Society of America:

“In translation those verses of the Quran mean ‘Whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption in the land, it’s as if he has slain mankind entirely, and whoever saves one life, it’s as if he has saved mankind entirely,’” Adam said.

Essentially saying, kill all those believed to be in corruption of Islam (infidels), it’s what is right and acceptable. There is no verse in the Quran which would be appropriate at such a meeting as this — to allegedly combat terrorism — the very presence of the people who represent the religion that perpetuates the hate is an abomination.

The praise of all thing Islamic continued, with Adam encouraging mosques. “Mosques serve as (sic) beacon of hope,” Adam said. “While imams provide moral compass for the Muslim community in navigating life.” What he must really have meant, is that imams serve as assistants to terrorists to navigate their way into western cultures to destroy them from within.

If hearing what the imams had to say on the matter wasn’t bad enough, Vice President Joe Biden put the bow on the rhetorical gift by excusing Islamic violence by claiming Christians are also murderers.

An update on the mostly closed-door event said, “Biden just talked about the right-wing militias and the supremacist groups that are violent in the name of the Bible.”

Obama Opens 'Extremism' Summit With Muslim Prayer And Christian Blame

Has Joe officially lost his mind? I can’t remember the last time Christians conducted mass beheadings and burned people alive. In just this past week, the same week as this summit, Islamic terrorists have beheaded 21 Christians and burned 45 people alive — a total of 66 innocent individuals killed in the name of “corruption” because, as the verse stated here says, Allah says it’s acceptable.

Muslims-66, right-wing militias-0 … in just the past seven days. Write it down, Biden.

Obama says world should address ‘grievances’ that terrorists exploit, give in to their demands

Obama says world should address ‘grievances’ that terrorists exploit, give in to their demands


Islam Dominate World White House Muslim sign terrorist

President Obama defended his administration’s approach to the terror threat at a White House summit Wednesday, standing by claims that groups like the Islamic State do not represent Islam — as well as assertions that job creation could help combat extremism.

Obama, addressing the Washington audience on the second day of the summit, said the international community needs to address “grievances” that terrorists exploit, including economic and political issues.

He stressed that poverty alone doesn’t cause terrorism, but “resentments fester” and extremism grows when millions of people are impoverished.

“We do have to address the grievances that terrorists exploit including economic grievances,” he said.

He also said no single religion was responsible for violence and terrorism, adding he wants to lift up the voice of tolerance in the United States and beyond.

Obama’s address came as Republican lawmakers and others criticized the administration for declining to describe the threat as Islamic terrorism.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf has also come under fire for suggesting several times this past week that more jobs could help address the terrorism crisis.

On Tuesday, Rob O’Neill, former Navy SEAL Team 6 member who claims to have fired the shot that killed Usama bin Laden, told Fox News: “They get paid to cut off heads — to crucify children, to sell slaves and to cut off heads and I don’t think that a change in career path is what’s going to stop them.”

Obama also called on Muslim leaders to “do more to discredit the notion that our nations are determined to suppress Islam, that there is an inherent clash in civilizations.”

Obama acknowledged that some Muslim-Americans have concerns about working with the government, particularly law enforcement, and that their reluctance “is rooted in the objection to certain practices where Muslim-Americans feel they’ve been unfairly targeted.”

He said it was important it make sure that abuses stop and are not repeated and that “we do not stigmatize entire communities.” He also said it was vital that “no one is profiled or put under a cloud of suspicion simply because of their faith.”

Although Obama called for a renewed focus on preventing terrorists from recruiting and inspiring others, some thought his message seemed to miss the mark.

“He was meandering, unfocused and weak,” said Richard Grenell, former U.S. spokesman at the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration and a Fox News contributor. “He was talking about isolating terrorists. He doesn’t understand the threat that we face… People are being burned in cages and he’s talking about more investments?”

Leaders from 60 different countries traveled to Washington for the summit.

Community leaders from Boston, Minneapolis and Los Angeles were also in attendance and discussed how their cities could help empower communities to protect themselves against extremist ideologies.

White House cuts off information sharing programs with Israel

White House cuts off information sharing programs with Israel

The State Column, Tom Sherman

White House cuts off information sharing programs with Israel

The U.S./Israeli relationship has taken another awkward turn after White House press secretary Josh Earnest admitted the White House needed to quarantine Israel from any information regarding the current nuclear talks with Iran.

The level of diplomacy between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations has hit a new low Wednesday after the White House admitted that they are purposefully withholding information from the Israelis after repeated leaks to the media. White House press secretary Josh Earnest called to the repeated leaks as “a continued practice of cherry-picking” and criticized the Israelis for publicly trying to undermine the negotiations.

“There’s no question that some of the things that the Israelis have said in characterizing our negotiating position have not been accurate,” said Earnest. “There’s no question about that.”

The repeated incidents have hampered negotiations between the U.S., Iran and the five world powers, and frustrated both White House and State Department officials trying to broker a deal with very thin margins. According to the Charlotte Observer, senior officials in the White House blame Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for “changing the dynamic” of a once solid relationship.

“[The Israelis] tell part of the story, like how many centrifuges we might consider letting the Iranians hold,” said one American official, who spoke to the New York Times on the condition of anonymity as not to interfere with current negotiations between the State Department and Tehran. “What they don’t tell you is that we only let them have that many centrifuges if they ship most of their fuel out of the country.”

However, Earnest did try to keep a diplomatic tone towards the normally staunch ally. Over the past few weeks, a strained U.S./Israeli relationship has been showcased very publicly, as the respective heads of state have feuded via standoffish media stories.

“I think it is fair to say that the United States is mindful of the need to not negotiate in public and ensure that information that’s discussed in the negotiating table is not taken out of context and publicized in a way that distorts the negotiating position of the United States and our allies,” said Earnest.

Besides vowing to “thwart” any nuclear deal that Israel did not approve of, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepted an invitation to address a joint session of Congress from Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), unbeknownst to the Obama administration, which is a breach of standard protocol and courtesy visiting executives usually afford each other.