Talking John Brennan’s email breach on ABC’s PM

ABC logoOne of the more amusing information security stories last week was the news that CIA director John Brennan’s personal email account at AOL had been taken over by a couple of young hackers.

I ended up providing a few comments on ABC Radio’s PM on Thursday.

It’s a situation that would be deeply embarrassing for any CEO but for the director of the CIA to have his private email account accessed by hackers is beyond humiliating. Leaked emails appear to discuss the use of torture and to contain extensive details of the CIA chief’s private life. The CIA has condemned the hack as a crime, saying the hacked email was a family account. PM has obtained an interview with two people who claim to be the hackers. Sarah Dingle reports.

Here’s the entire 4-minute radio story.

Play

The audio is ©2015 Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and is being served directly from the program website, where there’s also a transcript.

ASIO’s got it easy, says terrorism expert

“ASIO don’t seem to realise how privileged they are compared to intel orgs in other Western democracies,” tweeted terrorism researcher Andrew Zammit (pictured) yesterday.

Zammit is a researcher at the Global Terrorism Research Centre (Monash University) and Australian Policy Online (Swinburne University), and he was responding to my blog post from yesterday, “Insulted, ASIO? That’s not really the problem, surely?” and the attached podcast.

Here are his subsequent tweets, turned into continuous prose:

CIA for example has ongoing congressional oversight (of actual operations) as opposed to our occasional parl[iamentary] inquiries, people can FOI CIA docs only a few years old (ASIO has 20-30 year exemption) and some of the CIA’s analytical roles are transparent, as in analysts will have CIA business cards whereas even an ASIO kitchen hand’s identity will be kept secret. And CIA isn’t even a domestically-focused agency. So yes, ASIO needs to be less precious about being asked questions.

I agree. From the perspective of the United States I’m a foreign national, yet I’ve spoken with officers from the FBI, NSA and the Secret Service — all of whom had business cards with their full names. The closest I’ve gotten in Australia is chatting briefly with a DSD chap, one of two attending Linux.conf.au in January this year — given names only, and I suspect that those given names were really in scare quotes.

The excuse always given is “operational security”, but I do think the world has changed. The tools and methods are surely not so different from SEKRIT agencies to private-sector security companies and even analysis in non-security realms, given that so much technology is now available off the shelf to all comers.

Surely these days OPSEC is more about protecting sources and the specific operations that are or are not being conducted?

Of course I really don’t know this stuff. I’ve never worked in this field. I’ve never even held a security clearance. I’m just an interested bystander mouthing off. But I am intrigued.

Talking total surveillance at the Sydney Writers’ Festival

I’m speaking at this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival in a free session on Sunday 20 May called iSpy.

Even before Google controversially demolished the privacy walls between its various products, we were already living in the total surveillance society. With every keystroke we are voluntarily telling companies, governments and heaven knows who else an awful lot about ourselves. Should we be worried about the uses to which this information could be put? Technology writer Stilgherrian discusses the implications of what we share with social media consultant Thomas Tudehope.

I daresay I’ll be covering material like that in my Sydney Morning Herald story You are what you surf, buy or tweet, and the more recent ZDNet Australia story The Facebook experiment, but the conversation will be up to you, the audience.

The theme for SWF this year is “the line between the public and the private”. As artistic director Chip Rolley says in his welcome message:

The question of the limits of what is personal is one of the hottest subjects around.

“Privacy is for paedos,” ex-News of the World journalist Paul McMullan told the UK Leveson Inquiry into the media. Now, via Facebook and Twitter, we voluntarily tell the world things we previously might not have told even our loved ones. Investigative journalists thrive on leaks and finding out what others don’t want us to know. And the state knows few boundaries (personal or political) in its need to prevent another 9/11.

(If you want a high-powered discussion of these issues, Sydney Town Hall discussion on Friday 18 May with former High Court judge Michael Kirby, former director general of MI5-turned-thriller writer Stella Rimington, former CIA interrogator Glenn Carle, media and news blogger Jeff Jarvis and investigative journalist Heather Brooke.)

iSpy is on Sunday 20 May 2012 at 2.30pm at the Bangarra Theatre, Pier 4/5, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay. It’s free, and you don’t need to book — but I’m told that it can sometimes get busy at SWF.

Before that I have speaking engagements on 27 April at DigitalMe in Perth and 11 May at the Saasu Cloud Conference 2012.

William F Buckley is dead

William F Buckley is dead. Given that “Mr Buckley’s greatest achievement was making conservatism — not just electoral Republicanism, but conservatism as a system of ideas — respectable in liberal post-World War II America. He mobilized the young enthusiasts who helped nominate Barry Goldwater in 1964, and saw his dreams fulfilled when Reagan and the Bushes captured the Oval Office,” I should probably know more about him, even though I’ll probably hate him. Perhaps you should too.

Limit Telephotography

Dugway by Trevor Paglen

Trevor Paglen has created some beautiful photos of remote military installations using a process he called limit telephotography.

Limit-telephotography involves photographing landscapes that cannot be seen with the unaided eye. The technique employs high powered telescopes whose focal lengths range between 1300mm and 7000mm. At this level of magnification, hidden aspects of the landscape become apparent.

The image at right shows the US Army’s Chemical and Biological Weapons Proving Ground at Dugway, Utah, from a distance of 22 miles.

Paglen was also involved in the project Terminal Air, which explores the interconnections between government agencies and private contractors involved with the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program.

Hat tip to 3 Quarks Daily.