Spy Games
January 28, 2020

Not long after Jeff Bezos' phone was allegedly hacked via a link sent by a WhatsApp account believed to belong to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, a New York Times journalist was reportedly targeted by Saudi-linked spyware.

Ben Hubbard, who has covered the kingdom extensively, wrote Tuesday that he received a "fishy" looking link in June 2018, which researchers from Citizen Lab determined contained software sold by the Israeli NSO Group and deployed by Saudi hackers. NSO Group denied its technology was responsible, and the Saudi government didn't provide comment, but Riyadh has denied any involvement in the alleged Bezos infiltration.

Hubbard didn't click on the link, which proved to be the right call, since it appears his phone wasn't compromised. But the mere fact that he received a harmful link is another example of Saudi's possible targeting of journalists and dissidents, which has been magnified since the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Per Hubbard, human rights experts think hacking technologies have reached the point where they require enhanced government regulation. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

October 24, 2018

U.S. intelligence agencies have learned that when President Trump uses his unsecured iPhone to call friends, Chinese spies are regularly listening in on his conversations, former and current officials told The New York Times.

Trump has been warned numerous times not to use his cellphone, with his aides urging him to make calls on his secured White House line, but he won't give the phone up because it has all of his contacts in it, the Times reports. Aides said when he does use his iPhone, they keep their fingers crossed that he does not bring up classified information.

U.S. intelligence has determined that China is taking note of who Trump talks to and what their conversations are about. The government then asks Chinese businessmen to share Beijing's point of view on various matters with Trump's friends, with the hope that these people, trusted by Trump, will pass these pro-China arguments along to the president. Russians spies are also routinely eavesdropping on Trump, the officials told the Times. Read more about the spying, and the people China is targeting to get through to Trump, at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia

November 28, 2017

A USAID officer working out of the American embassy in Uzbekistan may have been targeted, along with his wife, by an acoustic attack similar to the ones that have affected U.S. diplomats in Cuba, CBS News reported Tuesday. A spokesperson for the State Department, however, insisted to CBS "that no personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Uzbekistan have been diagnosed with the conditions that have been observed in Cuba."

The strange sonic attacks in Cuba began in November 2016, when several U.S. government officials in Havana began experiencing symptoms that included hearing loss, balance problems, dizziness, and brain injuries. These symptoms were apparently induced by high-frequency sounds. The Cuban government tried to claim last month that the attacks may have simply been the work of cicadas and insects whose high-pitched noises can cause hearing loss at a loud volume.

The Trump administration has withdrawn a significant amount of its staff from the U.S. embassy in Havana in response to the attacks, despite doubt within the White House that Cuba is responsible. A U.S. official told the Miami Herald in October that "it may have been Russia working with rogue elements of the Cuban government." The sources who spoke to CBS seem to believe that the incident in Uzbekistan adds credence to the idea of Russian involvement in Cuban attacks, as the former Soviet state of Uzbekistan remains close with Russia. Uzbekistan recently held joint military drills with Russia for the first time in 12 years as part of renewed ties between the two countries. Kelly O'Meara Morales

April 13, 2017

British spy agency GCHQ shared intelligence information with the U.S. that first alerted the Americans to the potentially troublesome ties between then-candidate Donald Trump's campaign team and Russian operatives, The Guardian reports. GCHQ alerted U.S. agents to suspicious "interactions" between Trump-orbit individuals and known or suspected Russian agents in late 2015, and alongside other European intelligence agencies informed the U.S. of the connections.

GCHQ was not conducting a targeted operation against Trump, but rather the alleged conversations were "picked up by chance," The Guardian notes. But apparently U.S. agents had to be shaken alert by their counterparts abroad:

[T]he FBI and the CIA were slow to appreciate the extensive nature of contacts between Trump's team and Moscow ahead of the US election. This was in part due to US law that prohibits US agencies from examining the private communications of American citizens without warrants. "They are trained not to do this," the source stressed. "It looks like the [US] agencies were asleep." [The Guardian]

Since July 2016, the FBI has been investigating whether Russia meddled in last year's election, and whether anyone involved in the Trump campaign may have aided their efforts if so. Read more about how British intelligence broke the story at The Guardian. Kimberly Alters

May 5, 2015

Four months after terror attacks rocked France, the lower house of the nation's parliament on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would broaden the government's spy powers. The bill, which passed by a 438 to 86 vote, heads to the Senate where it is expected to easily pass as well.

Drafted days after gunmen killed 17 people in separate attacks — including one on the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdothe bill would allow intelligence agencies to tap phones and monitor email accounts without first obtaining permission from a judge. It would also compel internet service providers to hand over user data upon request. Critics contend the bill is an unnecessary encroachment on liberty, likening it to America's Patriot Act. Jon Terbush

February 25, 2015

SIM card giant Gemalto said Wednesday that the National Security Agency and its British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters, were likely behind a "particularly sophisticated intrusion" of its systems a few years ago.

"The operation very probably happened," Gemalto Chief Executive Olivier Piou said, adding that it was "difficult to prove our conclusions legally, so we're not going to take legal action."

Gemalto launched an internal investigation after a report last week named the NSA and GCHQ as the culprits behind hacks on its systems in 2010 and 2011. Despite the breach, the company said the hackers did not compromise the encryption keys in its security chips.—Jon Terbush

December 31, 2014

Following the revelation from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden that German Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone was under American surveillance (which Obama himself may or may not have approved in advance), the president promised that mass spying on the German people — and monitoring of the chancellor's office — would cease.

Calling into question that promise, American spyware was reportedly found recently on a USB drive belonging to a top Merkel aide. The drive, which only contained an in-progress speech and no sensitive information, was infected with an NSA-developed virus called Regin which is built to steal information from governments and other high-security institutions.

At this point, it's unclear if the virus was intentionally deployed by American (or even British) intelligence agencies, or if the program has been commandeered by private hackers. Bonnie Kristian

August 12, 2014

U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers of Oakland, California, ruled in a lawsuit brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit which supports civil liberties and internet freedom, that the federal government is not required to disclose which phone companies cooperate with NSA spying programs.

Rogers argued that confirming these details would pose a national security risk, but in March a Chicago law professor who serves on the NSA review panel commented that "companies like Sprint, Verizon and AT&T are required to turn over (records) to the NSA" and that trio appears to be confirmed by the NSA's own mention of "three different providers" cooperating with the domestic surveillance agency.

"It's troubling to see courts sign off on government secrecy arguments when the general public knows the truth," said Michael Rumold, an EFF lawyer. Bonnie Kristian

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