I spy
September 12, 2019

The United States government believes Israeli agents planted surveillance devices near the White House and elsewhere in Washington, D.C., Politico reported Thursday.

Miniature surveillance devices that "mimic regular cell towers to fool cell phones into giving them their locations and identity information" within the last two years were discovered planted near the White House and other "sensitive locations" in Washington, "likely intended to spy on" Trump and his associates, according to the report, which cites three former senior U.S. officials.

The FBI and other agencies reportedly felt "confident" that Israeli agents were responsible, although the report says it's "not clear whether the Israeli efforts were successful."

An Israeli Embassy spokesperson denied the allegations, telling Politico they're "absolute nonsense" because "Israel doesn't conduct espionage operations in the United States, period," an assertion Politico writes intelligence experts "scoff at." Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office also called the report "a blatant lie," Axios reports.

Although the U.S. reportedly came to this determination that Israel was likely responsible for planting the devices, no action has reportedly been taken, with one former senior intelligence officials telling Politico, "I'm not aware of any accountability at all." Brendan Morrow

January 28, 2019

There's a chance the government shutdown was more dangerous than we thought.

About 800,000 federal workers went unpaid for more than a month during the shutdown, leaving some fed up with the government that's supposed to pay them. That number included national security workers — some of whom could've easily spilled American secrets in exchange for a foreign reward, ABC News reports.

The 35-day-long shutdown over President Trump's demand for border wall funding forced some federal workers to head to food shelters or fall behind on their rent. Some 420,000 employees had to work without pay, including FBI, homeland security, and State Department officials. That frustration and financial distress provides a perfect opportunity for foreign intelligence officers, who search for "people who aren't being paid, people who aren't being respected by their government," when targeting potential espionage agents, former CIA station chief turned ABC News contributor Darrell M. Blocker says.

Marc Raimondi, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice National Security Division, said his division "was not worried" about espionage threats "at this point." After all, missing two paychecks "was not going to cause a rational human being to commit espionage," former CIA analyst Nada Bakos told ABC News. But she added that if "there's somebody on the verge of it, that could push them over the edge."

Bakos said there's some combination of "money, ideology, coercion, and ego" that convinces intelligence agents to engage in foreign espionage. So with morale tanking along with some employees' bank accounts, experts say the odds are now higher that a national security employee could take the plunge. Read more at ABC News. Kathryn Krawczyk

May 22, 2015

That startling claim surfaced in interviews CNN conducted with two North Korean defectors, including Kang Myong Do, who said that in the 1980s, his job was to send North Korean spies around the world, a practice that still exists today. Kang says there are likely hundreds of agents working for North Korea in the U.S. at any one time, most of them Korean-Americans.

How do Kim's agents recruit Korean-Americans to help North Korea?

"There are three different tactics they use," he said. "First is to give them free visas to North Korea, second, to give them access to do business and make money there, and third, they use women to entice them. This tactic has been widely used since the '80s." [CNN]

The entire CNN report is worth a read and watch — it's full of fascinating nuggets on North Korean spycraft. But there's one important asterisk: "CNN is unable to independently verify [these] claims, as North Korea is one of the world's most secretive countries." Ben Frumin

March 10, 2015

Researchers at the CIA have been working secretly to decrypt and penetrate security mechanisms installed on some of Apple's wireless devices since as early as 2006, according to documents released by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and published by The Intercept.

The Snowden report reveals that researchers from the CIA and NSA have been meeting annually at a secret conference to share Apple-focused research, the purpose of which is to "provide important information to developers trying to circumvent or exploit new security capabilities," and to "exploit new avenues of attack."

Apple and other tech giants,The Intercept reports, have been "loudly resisting pressure from senior U.S. and U.K. government officials to weaken the security of their products," with Apple CEO Tim Cook leading the way.

The Hill reports that Apple upped the iPhone's encryption security in September to protect consumers from cybercriminals and foreign governments. The encryption technology made it impossible for Apple to extract data from phones, even with a search warrant. At the time, Cook said he wanted to be absolutely clear that "[Apple has] never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services. We have also never allowed access to our servers. And we never will."

In response to the more recent reports of government interference in personal communication, Cook had this to say:

"None of us should accept that the government or a company or anybody should have access to all of our private information. This is a basic human right. We all have a right to privacy. We shouldn't give it up. We shouldn't give in to scare-mongering." [The Intercept]

Teresa Mull

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