No Minister

Posts Tagged ‘Intelligence and Security

Quote of The Year

On intelligence:-

Living in the past, this group can’t explain why US intelligence was sure there was a Capitol ‘insurrection’ and completely sure there would not be a Taliban insurrection.

Written by adolffinkensen

August 23, 2021 at 12:04 pm

Posted in USA

Tagged with

The hackers strike back

In a world, incredibly the Western world, where freedom seems to be under ever greater threat than before – due less to government than to people apparently not rating it as much as they used to – it’s nice to see an example of a fightback.

In this case the story is especially meaningful because there has been much coverage in recent years of how Information Technology (IT) is now enabling The Powers That Be to spy on us in ever more detailed ways. The old East German Stasi would have given up their first-born sons for the sort of spying tech that China’s security services are employing – and likely those of the West as well.

Belarus is one such country, never having recovered from its Communist culture when it found itself a new and separate nation after the collapse of the USSR (it having been of those “Republics”). Former communist bigwig Alyaksandr Lukashenka quickly figured out how to get on top and stay there in this new world, with all his totalitarian, authoritarian instincts born of a communist life having ameliorated not one bit. He’s been the leader of the nation since the early 1990’s, complete with the usual sham elections.

Naturally one of his tools was the internal security services, former KGB types, but now with extra computer power allowing huge centralised databases containing untold amounts of personal information on ordinary people.

Of course, while you can have such centralisation of data nowadays thanks to IT, you can’t actually centralise the IT itself. The very nature of modern IT systems is that they are distributed; the amount of computer power available to ordinary people is also vast, and increasing everyday, which means these ordinary people can do things that only nations could do – like finding ICBM sites from private satellite photos.

And so…

While refraining from naming an exact number of files, the hackers claim to have obtained classified passport records for the Belarusian security forces’ leadership, members of Lukashenka’s inner circle, plus State Security Committee (KGB) employees, including intelligence officers operating in the European Union.

On July 26, the group’s Telegram channel teased passport data for KGB Chairman Ivan Tertel;

Each individual’s dossier, the hackers claim, contains passport photos and data; his or her residence permit; the name of the government body or military unit for which the person works; the names of family members, “and so on.”

“Will many KGB agents be ready to operate abroad, knowing that data about them has already leaked?” one of the hackers asked rhetorically in a bot-assisted Telegram chat with Current Time.

Aside from passport data, the Cyberpartisans claim to have accessed the records of the Belarusian traffic police, which the hackers say include information on registered cars for the KGB, the anti-corruption police, and tsikhary (“silent men”), masked muscle men in plainclothes known for brutally rounding up suspected protesters.

It’s a great example of the lack of culture change since 1991 that Belarus still has an actual KGB, they didn’t even bother changing the name, so much in love with their totalitarian past are they.

The cyber hack is yet to be confirmed, but as the article points out:

To verify the Cyberpartisans’ claim of having hacked Belarus’ passport database, Current Time submitted to the hackers the names and dates of birth of two Belarusian citizens, who agreed to the information’s release.

After a few minutes’ search in their alleged data trove, the Cyberpartisans sent the two Belarusians’ complete passport details, their official places of residence and work, and also technical information — for example, that one passport no longer has the space to affix visas.

Seems like confirmation to me. The logo below is that of the hacker group.

Written by Tom Hunter

August 13, 2021 at 10:20 am

The undergraduate NRO

A couple of decades ago I read a SF story that had – as basically a throwaway commentary – a section on the future of private-sector Earth Observation satellites and national military security.

The concept was that in this future the planet was surrounded by so many such satellites generating vast quantities of imagery, that millions of people had taken up the hobby of scanning through the stuff looking for things that interested them, and that this included large numbers of people who simply loved looking to see what national militaries were up to around the globe.

The upshot was that in this future, national military forces found themselves more hemmed in than they had been in the days of military spying by the likes of the National Reconnaissance Office and their famous series of “KeyHole” spy satellites (plus whatever they have today).

That future is here now.

News recently broke that the Chinese were building new ICBM launch sites, adding to their nuclear arsenal for the first time in decades. While that was important news I just assumed that it had been discovered via the usual means of spy satellites and other intelligence gathering.

Not exactly:

The silos were spotted by Decker Eveleth, an undergrad at Reed College. He spent weeks poking around on satellite imagery until he happened upon the silos’ distinctive inflatable dome coverings. (Which, in turn, has led some people to describe them as “bouncy houses of death.”)

The reason he had something to “poke around” in was exactly as that old SF story described:

Planet Labs, however, created a new kind of small, low-cost imaging satellite and put up so many of them that it can take multiple pictures of every spot on Earth, every day. In this case, Planet had years’ worth of pictures of the area in question, and Eveleth was ready, willing and able to scour them pixel-by-pixel.

Moroever, once he had spotted this, he was able to get more detail:

Eveleth contacted Planet to see if they could use a larger breed of their satellites to take even higher-resolution pictures of the area with the domes. Planet could.

Lewis and Eveleth were able to log in to Planet’s service and see not just the domes but also trenches, for communications cables, leading out from underground facilities where the military likely has its launch operations. 

Naturally the Chinese denied the story, claiming it was a wind farm, until further evidence from Lewis and others shut down that propaganda. The US State Department said such a development was “concerning”. That comment made me wonder if they, the NRO and the US military and government already knew about this – given their spying capabilities and general interest in monitoring China’s military, you’d think they would – but had chosen to say nothing?

There’s more detail at the link, including a reference to New Zealand’s very own Rocket Lab company and the micro-satellite launches it has been doing. That last, in turn, brought me to this article; Rocket Lab launches secret payload from New Zealand:

After waiting out high winds, Rocket Lab’s low-cost Electron rocket launched a top-secret payload for the National Reconnaissance Office from New Zealand, halfway around the world from the U.S. spy satellite agency’s headquarters.

That is just the latest of several such launches, which probably makes the Mahia peninsula a military target, as Paul Buchanan pointed out a couple of years ago in very interesting article on that subject, Launching Into Trouble?:

If the contract to deliver military payloads is solely and exclusively with the US, then Rocket Lab has painted a target on Launch Complex 1 in the event that the US becomes embroiled in a large-scale conflict with a major power. Even if it allows nations other than the US to launch military payloads on Electron boosters, Rocket Lab has made the Mahia Peninsula a target whether or not weapons satellites are launched from there. After all, the main use of smallsats is for surveillance, tracking, mapping and telecommunications, all of which are essential for the successful prosecution of contemporary wars. So even if smallsats launched from the Mahia Peninsula do not carry weapons on them, the site becomes a potential target.

In fact he questioned whether this was even legal under the Space Laws written up to allow RocketLabs to operate in the first place (New Zealand had no such laws because…. well, we’re NZ).

The question is whether there is a legal basis to permit or prohibit foreign military satellites, especially weaponised satellites, being launched from NZ soil with NZ technologies. I am unsure if that is the case one way or another and have heard of no parliamentary or ministerial discussion of the matter.

Written by Tom Hunter

July 20, 2021 at 12:52 pm