‘Weaponizing Vulnerabilities’: New Snowden Doc Reveals Spy Agencies Targeted Smartphones

The ‘Five Eyes’ alliance exploited weaknesses in popular browser and planned to hijack links to app stores to implant spyware on mobile phones, new documents show

by:Nadia Prupis

The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and its intelligence partners in the Five Eyes alliance exploited weaknesses in cell phone apps to spy on users, new documents reveal. (Photo: Japanexperterna.se/cc)

The intelligence alliance known as Five Eyes—comprising the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Australia—exploited security weaknesses in one of the world’s most popular browsers to obtain data about users and planned to use links to Google and Samsung app stores to infect smartphones with spyware, a top secret National Security Agency (NSA) document published Wednesday has revealed.According to the 2012 document, leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden and published jointly by CBC News and The Intercept, the NSA and its international counterparts took part in a series of workshops between November 2011 and February 2012 to find new ways to exploit smartphone technology for spying operations.The Intercept reports:As part of a pilot project codenamed IRRITANT HORN, the agencies were developing a method to hack and hijack phone users’ connections to app stores so that they would be able to send malicious “implants” to targeted devices. The implants could then be used to collect data from the phones without their users noticing.CBC continues:The Five Eyes alliance targeted servers where smartphones get directed whenever users download or update an app from Google and Samsung stores….Ultimately, the spy agencies wanted to implant spyware on certain smartphones to take control of a person’s device or extract data from it, the document suggests.The spy agencies also sought to match their targets’ smartphone devices to their online activities, using databases of emails, chats and browsing histories kept in the Five Eyes’ powerful XKeyScore tool to help build profiles on the people they were tracking.The project emerged in part due to concerns about the possibility of “another Arab spring,” referring to the 2011 wave of revolutionary actions in Tunisia, Egypt, and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa where several autocratic, Western-backed leaders were ousted.”Respecting agreements not to spy on each others’ citizens, the spying partners focused their attention on servers in non-Five Eyes countries, the document suggests,” write CBC’s Amber Hildebrandt and Dave Seglins. “The agencies targeted mobile app servers in France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Cuba, Morocco, the Bahamas and Russia.”The spy agencies also began targeting UC Browser—a popular app in India and China with growing usage in North America—in late 2011 after learning that it had leaked information about its half-billion users.According to the reporting, the operation was launched by a joint surveillance unit called the Network Tradecraft Advancement Team, which includes spies from each of the Five Eyes nations.The document frames the plan as a move for national security, with the agencies seeking to collect data or spy indefinitely on mobile phones of “suspected terrorists.” But they did so without alerting the public or the phone companies of the browser’s weaknesses, which “potentially put millions of users in danger of their data being accessed by other governments’ agencies, hackers or criminals,” Hildebrandt and Seglins write.”Of course, the security agencies don’t [disclose the information],” Ron Deibert, executive director of digital rights group Citizen Lab, which identified security gaps in UC Browser and alerted the company to those issues in April, told CBC. “Instead, they harbor the vulnerability. They essentially weaponize it.”This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Source: ‘Weaponizing Vulnerabilities’: New Snowden Doc Reveals Spy Agencies Targeted Smartphones | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community

Scientists Conclusively Link BP Oil Spill with Unprecedented Dolphin Die-Off

Dolphins in the spill-affected areas ‘had some of the most severe lung lesions I have seen,’ says scientist

by: Deirdre Fulton, staff writer

Scientists have for the first time made a conclusive link between the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and an unprecedented dolphin die-off along the Gulf’s northern coast.Bottlenose dolphins in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama experienced an “unusual mortality event” beginning in February 2010 and continuing into 2014, according to the study, written by a team of 22 researchers, including scientists with the National Marine Fisheries Service, Audubon Nature Institute’s Aquarium of the Americas, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and a number of marine laboratories nationwide.By comparing tissue samples from dead dolphins found along the northern Gulf of Mexico—including 22 from Louisiana’s Barataria Bay, one of the most heavily oiled coastal areas in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster— with similar samples taken from dead dolphins found in the states that weren’t within the BP oil footprint, the scientists discovered that stranded and dead bottlenose dolphins within the spill range had lung and adrenal lesions consistent with petroleum product exposure.”Animals with adrenal insufficiency are less able to cope with additional stressors in their everyday lives,” said Stephanie Venn-Watson, the study’s lead author and veterinary epidemiologist at the National Marine Mammal Foundation, “and when those stressors occur, they are more likely to die.”The dolphins in the spill-affected areas “had some of the most severe lung lesions I have seen in the over 13 years that I have been looking dead dolphin tissues from throughout the U.S.,” added Kathleen Colegrove, the study’s lead veterinary pathologist based at the University of Illinois. Only 2 percent of reference dolphins had this lesion at all.Unsurprisingly, BP disputes the study’s findings. “The data we have seen thus far, including the new study from NOAA, do not show that oil from the Deepwater Horizon accident caused an increase in dolphin mortality,” said a spokesman for BP, Geoff Morrell.But with several more studies of dolphin-related issues underway, additional evidence is sure to emerge.The Times-Picayune reports:When complete, in about 16 to 18 months, the results of the studies will be added to other information being gathered as part of the federal Natural Resource Damage Assessment, required under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.Federal and state trustees and BP will then determine whether projects can be put in place to restore wildlife, including dolphins, or to compensate for their loss.Environment and conservation groups marked the five-year anniversary of the BP spill just last month, noting that the region remains vulnerable to drilling disasters even as it struggles to recover. “We are only now beginning to understand the true effects of the BP oil disaster,” Oceana vice president Jacqueline Savitz said at the time. A report released last month by the National Wildlife Federation estimated that at least 20 species are still being harmed by the spill and that the full extent of the damage may not be seen for years or even decades.”What story is the dolphin telling us about the Gulf?” asked Venn-Watson. “It’s not a question we can answer, but I think it’s an important question to continue asking. The dolphin science investigation has been very helpful in understanding the impacts of oil spills, that sub-lethal, chronic conditions do end up being deadly.”This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Source: Scientists Conclusively Link BP Oil Spill with Unprecedented Dolphin Die-Off | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community

The Silence of the NRA on the Bryant Heyward Police Shooting is Deafening

© Josh Sager – May 2015

On May 7th, South Carolina police shot a 26-year old black man named Bryant Heyward in the neck outside of his own home—while he survived, he is now permanently paralyzed from the neck down.


Heyward himself had called the police who shot him, as two armed intruders had broken into his home and shot at him at least twice. After calling the police, Heyward grabbed his brother’s handgun and chased the intruders out of his house. Unfortunately, when the police arrived at the scene, they saw him holding his gun in the doorway and shot him. While they claim to have demanded that he put his gun down twice, this is contradicted by the video of the event and even they admit that he never pointed the gun at them or acted in any way that could reasonably be considered threatening.

Yesterday, a dash-cam video with audio of this shooting was released, revealing that the police shot Heyward after giving him just over 1.1 seconds to drop his gun—in fact, the police shot him while in the middle of demanding that he drop his weapon for the second time.

According to the AASHTO, the average human perception-reaction time is 2.5 seconds (they use this to calculate driver reactions and the acceptable safety standards for our highways). By this accepted standard, the police gave Heyward absolutely no chance to react before shooting him—in effect, their spoken commands were irrelevant because they didn’t even give the recipient enough time to comprehend what they were asking.

While there is no proof that these police officers are overtly racist, they were negligent in this shooting and are part of a pattern of police shooting black men after giving them unreasonable amounts of time to disarm. Two of the most egregious incidents of this kind would be the Tamir Rice shooting, where the police gave a 12-year old with a toy gun less than 2-seconds to drop it before executing him, and the John Crawford III shooting, where the police shot and killed Crawford for carrying a toy gun in a Walmart (which was selling the toy gun) after giving him less than a second to drop it.

We live in a nation filled with guns and, for as long as this is the reality, police officers cannot just shoot any black man carrying a gun because they find him intimidating. Unfortunately, this is an issue that doesn’t appear likely to disappear in the near future and is one that is largely ignored by the usual “pro-gun” advocates.

The NRA’s Silence

Beyond the racial and police-violence concerns raised in this case, there is a very important issue that is almost completely ignored:

Bryant Heyward is a citizen of the United States who legally used a gun to defend his home from intruder who shot at him. While he followed the law and did everything right, he was shot by the police he himself called. His case represents a nexus of circumstances that should make the NRA immediately jump into action and turn him into a 2nd Amendment martyr.

First, his case represents the NRA’s ideal scenario for positive gun ownership, where a “good guy” uses his gun to defend his home and to stop “bad guys” who mean him harm.


Second, his case demonstrates the NRA’s argument that the police often cannot help anybody, both because these police were incompetent and because the armed gunmen were clearly such a present danger that police couldn’t arrive in time to help.

NRA Faster than 911

Third, his case is an example of the gun rights crowd’s greatest fear, where police officers shoot people who legally exercise their 2nd Amendment rights.

Despite these circumstances, the NRA and “gun-rights” activist base have been absolutely silent on this shooting. I can’t find even a single mention of it by the NRA, nor do I see any movement by the “gun-rights” supporters to rally behind Heyward and help him rebuild his life.

Put simply, I see no reason for this silence by the pro-gun movement on a shooting that so perfectly fits their ideology, other than the race of the victim. If Heyward were white, I have no doubt that this situation would be championed as the demonstration of how gun owners are begin threatened by the evil government and used to solicit donations to fight gun control.

While most pro-gun groups refuse to reveal their membership lists—largely due to a fear of registration and confiscation of their guns–polling on this issue makes it reasonable to assume that they disproportionately represent rural, white, male, and conservative Americans. These are the groups that consistently poll as having the highest levels of support for gun rights, and an anecdotal look at pro-gun rallies tends to back this assumption up.

Given their demographic privilege, the average gun activist may not being able to relate to the dangers a black person faces while walking down the street with a weapon. White open-carry activists can walk down the street with an assault rifle and not get stopped, while black men and boys with toy guns can get executed by police before it is physically possible for them to respond.

Compounding this lack of shared experiences, there is also the issue that a lot of gun-rights supporters are simply racist. This racist demographic within the gun-rights group extends well into the leadership of major pro-gun groups.

For example, here is a quote from NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre that pretty much illustrates my point:

“Eight years of one demographically symbolic president is enough.”

Wayne LaPierre – 144th Annual Meeting of the NRA

Additionally, Larry Pratt, founder of Gun Owners of America, has a well-documented history of belonging to white-nationalist, extreme militia, and anti-sematic organizations, as well as supporting vigilante death squads in Guatemala to murder leftists/communists.


With their reaction to this, and other, situations, the pro-gun establishment is demonstrating its biases (implicit or overt) and revealing its double-standard on gun ownership. A significant percentage of this crowd simply cares about the “right” of white conservative men to own guns and have survivalist fantasies about fighting government tyranny, while knocking back beers and shooting small animals—these people don’t care about the rights of black Americans and could care less about police shooting black gun owners. Within this group these is an even more extreme subset who fantasize about shooting black people and who raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to legally defend white shooters who kill black victims.

While I personally, support massive increases in gun control laws, I recognize that everybody must be treated equally in regard to gun rights. No one group can have privilege, just as no one group can face execution of they exercise their “right” to carry any legal weapon they choose.