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8378NEWS -- 2013.12.18.Wednesday

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  • James Martin
    Dec 18, 2013
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      1) Florida high school named after KKK 'grand wizard' to be renamed
      2) Repent now. Geographers map 7 deadly sins
      3) NSA goes on 60 Minutes: the definitive facts behind CBS's flawed report
      4) Edward Snowden's 'open letter to the Brazilian people' – in full
      5) Edward Snowden offers to help Brazil over US spying in return for asylum

      High school named after KKK 'grand wizard' to be renamed

      By Dylan Stableford, Yahoo News Tuesday 17 December 2013

      A Florida high school named after a founding member of the Ku Klux Klan is getting a new name after a campaign to change it went viral.

      The Duval County Public School Board voted unanimously Monday to rename Nathan B. Forrest High School in Jacksonville.

      More than 170,000 people signed a Change.org petition launched by a local resident urging the school board to rename the school.

      "The people who live here deserve better," Ty Richmond wrote in his petition. "I don't want my daughter, or any student, going to a school named under those circumstances. This is a bad look for Florida — with so much racial division in our state, renaming Forrest High would be a step toward healing."

      The petition continued:

      It is especially troubling that more than half of Forrest High attendees are African American — the school is named for someone who would have kept their ancestors enslaved and who helped lead an organization, the KKK, that went on to terrorize, intimidate, and disenfranchise Black people for nearly a century.

      Naming a public high school for so divisive a figure is a relic of a bygone era — a legacy that must be actively rejected. I urge you to reject the legacy of Nathan Bedford Forrest by renaming Forrest High immediately.

      In response, the Washington Post reported, the KKK wrote a letter to the board urging it to keep the name.

      The high school was named after Forrest, a Confederate general and the KKK's first "grand wizard," in 1959. In 2007, the school board voted 5-2 in favor of keeping the school's name.

      But on Monday, Duval County Superintendent Nikolai Vitti acknowledged it was time.

      "If you look at the history of the naming of Nathan B. Forrest High School, the students originally wanted the school to be named Valhalla," Vitti said. "Politics reigned, and as a response to desegregation and the civil rights movement, the school was named Nathan B. Forrest. That was not the will of the students, and considering the opinion of the students in this process, I think it is an opportunity to give voice to students whose voices were not heard in the beginning and can certainly be heard now."

      "I'm very encouraged," Richmond told Action News Jacksonville. "Jacksonville is too much of a beautiful city to have that ugly blemish."

      View Comments (4982)

      Repent now. Geographers map 7 deadly sins

      By Mike Krumboltz, Yahoo News Tuesday 17 December 2013The Sideshow

      The seven deadly sins (for those who don't concern themselves with such things and/or have never seen that creepy Brad Pitt movie) are, in no particular order: wrath, envy, greed, gluttony, sloth, lust and pride.

      Seeking to discover where in America those sins are most prevalent, a group of geographers from Kansas State University did some research using data on things such as number of fast food restaurants per capita (gluttony), number of thefts and robberies (envy), and average incomes compared with the number of inhabitants living beneath the poverty line (greed).

      The maps originally were created in 2009, but recently popped up again thanks to a blog at memolition.

      Here are a few examples, starting with wrath. Red indicates higher rates of violent crimes per capita. Blue indicates lower rates. The southeast and central California look particularly bad. Those seeking a peaceful (if chilly) life would do well to move to North Dakota.

      --- click on URL to read the rest and see the maps ---

      NSA goes on 60 Minutes: the definitive facts behind CBS's flawed report

      Our take on five things the spy agency would like the public to believe about its vast surveillance powers

      • Tech firms meet Obama to press case for NSA surveillance reform
      Spencer Ackerman in Washington
      theguardian.com, Monday 16 December 2013 13.56 EST

      The National Security Agency is telling its story like never before. Never mind whether that story is, well, true.

      On Sunday night, CBS’s 60 Minutes ran a remarkable piece that provided NSA officials, from director Keith Alexander to junior analysts, with a long, televised forum to push back against criticism of the powerful spy agency. It’s an opening salvo in an unprecedented push from the agency to win public confidence at a time when both White House reviews and pending legislation would restrict the NSA’s powers.  http://www.cbsnews.com/60-minutes/

      But mixed in among the dramatic footage of Alexander receiving threat briefings and junior analysts solving Rubik’s cubes in 90 seconds were a number of dubious claims: from the extent of surveillance to collecting on Google and Yahoo data centers to an online “kill-switch” for the global financial system developed by China.

      Reporter John Miller, a former official with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and an ex-FBI spokesman, allowed these claims to go unchallenged. The Guardian, not so much. Here’s our take:

      1. Surveillance is just about what you say and what you write

      If there’s a consistent thread to the NSA’s public defense of itself, it’s that the stuff NSA collects from Americans in bulk doesn’t actually impact their privacy. After all, as Keith Alexander told Miller, it’s just metadata – data about your phone calls, not what you said on the phone.

      “There's no reason that we would listen to the phone calls of Americans,” Alexander told Miller. "There’s no intelligence value in that. There's no reason that we'd want to read their email. There is no intelligence value in that … How do you know when the bad guy who's using those same communications that my daughters use, is in the United States trying to do something bad? The least intrusive way of doing that is metadata.”

      When Miller said the bulk metadata collection “sounds like spying on Americans”, Alexander replied: “Right, and that’s wrong. That’s absolutely wrong.”

      Notice the tension here. It’s the metadata – who you called, who called you, for how long, how frequently you communicate – that has intelligence value, not, in Alexander’s telling, what you actually say on the phone. The NSA is relying for its defense on a public conception of surveillance as the interception of the content of your communications, even while it’s saying that what’s actually important is your network of connections – which the agency is very, very interested in collecting.

      Senator Ron Wyden, an intelligence committee member who has emerged as a leading opponent of bulk collection, says the metadata provides NSA with a “human relations database”. For many, surveillance occurs when someone else collects anything on their interactions, movements, or communications, rather than when that other party collects certain kinds of information. And it hardly makes sense to say, as Alexander did, that surveillance on Americans doesn’t occur when NSA collects the sort of information that it believes actually has intelligence value.

      2. Snowden and the NSA’s hiring boom

      The NSA, for obvious reasons, isn’t fond of whistleblower Edward Snowden. It portrayed him to 60 Minutes as a weirdo. He wore “a hood that covered the computer screen and covered his head and shoulders”, NSA official Richard Ledgett said. He allegedly stole answers to a test to gain NSA employment and boasted about its hires of young geniuses ready to tackle NSA’s persistent intelligence and data challenges.

      The obvious question here is why the NSA considers it exculpatory to say an obvious eccentric was able to abscond with an unprecedented amount of data. That sounds uncomfortably like an admission that the NSA is less able to safeguard its vast storehouses of information than it lets on. Let’s also pause to savor the irony of a spy agency complaining that one of its employees cheated on an employment test. (Meanwhile, for an alternative take on Snowden, an anonymous NSA colleague told Forbes that Snowden was a “genius among geniuses” and said the NSA offered him a job at its elite Tailored Access Operations directorate.)

      Then there are all the smart codebreakers, analysts, officials and contractors that make up the NSA’s estimated workforce of 35,000 people. An intelligence agency that large, with a workforce that’s only grown since 9/11, is going to find it increasingly hard to keep data secure from future Edward Snowdens in the next cubicle. The NSA says it’s implementing new measures post-Snowden to limit data access. But even after Snowden, the NSA told the New York Times this weekend it has yet to fully understand the depths of its vulnerabilities. 

      3. The Chinese financial sector kill-switch

      Among the more eye-opening claims made by NSA is that it detected what CBS terms the “BIOS Plot” – an attempt by China to launch malicious code in the guise of a firmware update that would have targeted computers apparently linked to the US financial system, rendering them pieces of junk.

      “Think about the impact of that across the entire globe,” NSA cyber-defense official Debora Plunkett told 60 Minutes. “It could literally take down the US economy.”

      There are as many red flags surrounding the BIOS Plot as there are in all of China. First, the vast majority of cyber-intrusions in the US, particularly from China, are espionage operations, in which the culprits exfiltrate data rather than destroy computers. Second, the US economy is too vast, diversified, and chaotic to have a single point of cyber-failure. Third, China’s economy is so tied to the US’s that Beijing would ultimately damage itself by mass-bricking US computers.

      Fourth, while malware can indeed turn a computer into scrap metal, no one has ever developed a cyber-weapon with the destructive capability of Plunkett’s scenario.

      In 2004, for instance, Berkeley computer-science researcher Nicholas Weaver analyzed vulnerabilities to self-replicating malicious network attacks, including BIOS vulnerabilities, and concluded that a “worst-case worm” could cause “$50bn or more in direct economic damage”. That’s a lot, but not enough to “literally take down” the US economy.

      Matt Blaze, a computer and information sciences professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said that BIOS could be overwritten by malware, bricking an unsuspecting computer. But the vagueness of the description of the “BIOS Plot” made him suspicious.

      “It would take significant resources – and an extraordinary bit of co-ordination and luck – to actually deploy malware that could do this at scale,” Blaze said.

      “And it's not clear how you'd ‘thwart’ such a scheme if you found out about it if you were NSA, since it's basically a combination of a large number of vulnerabilities spread among a zillion computers rather than one big problem that can be fixed with a single patch.”

      The lack of specificity made cybersecurity expert Robert David Graham dubious that the plot NSA claimed to discover matched the one it described on TV. “All they are doing is repeating what Wikipedia says about BIOS Graham blogged, “acting as techie talk layered onto the discussion to make it believable, much like how Star Trek episodes talk about warp cores and Jeffries Tubes.”

      4. NSA isn’t collecting data transiting between Google and Yahoo data centers, except when it is

      Since it doesn’t own or operate any of the world’s telecommunications infrastructure, the NSA is significantly dependent on tech and telecommunications companies, such as Google and Yahoo. So when the Washington Post reported, based on Snowden documents, that the NSA intercepts data transiting between Google and Yahoo’s foreign data centers, the companies reacted with horror at what they considered a breach of trust – one that occurred without any court orders.

      Alexander pushed back against the Post’s story to 60 Minutes. “That's not correct. We do target terrorist communications. And terrorists use communications from Google, from Yahoo, and from other service providers. So our objective is to collect those communications no matter where they are. But we're not going into a facility or targeting Google as an entity or Yahoo as an entity. But we will collect those communications of terrorists that flow on that network.”

      If you take away Alexander’s “that’s not correct” line, the rest of his answer sounds remarkably like a confirmation of what the Post reported. “I think he confirmed it, feigning denial,” reporter Barton Gellman tweeted.

      Indeed, the Post didn't say the NSA went into a Google data facility or organized an operation going after Yahoo “as an entity”. Instead, it reported that NSA takes advantage of security vulnerabilities on data from Google and Yahoo customers as the data transits between its centers. The documents published by the Post indicate NSA got 181m records in a single month that way. How many of those were from “terrorists” remains unknown.

      The disclosure created a major tension between the two tech giants and NSA, since both companies are involved in the NSA’s Prism effort at collecting foreign online communications, and all sides have said that court orders compel that collection. Google and Yahoo are unhappy about giving NSA data through the front door while the agency collects more through the back. And NSA lawyers have stated publicly that US companies like Google and Yahoo are “US persons”, meaning they have fourth amendment protections that may be implicated in the data-center transit collection.

      5. The NSA wasn’t trying to break the law that got broken

      Give Miller credit for at least mentioning that “a judge on the Fisa court” overseeing US surveillance was alarmed that the NSA “systematically transgressed” the agreed-upon limitations on its abilities to query its databases. Alexander’s response: “There was nobody willfully or knowingly trying to break the law.”

      Actually, two different Fisa court judges – John Bates and Reggie Walton, the current presiding judge – raised major concerns about the way the NSA searches through its vast data troves on multiple occasions. Bates found that “virtually every” record generated under a now-defunct NSA program that collected Americans’ internet metadata in bulk included information that “was not authorized for collection”.

      In a different case, in 2011, Bates assessed that the discovery of thousands of American emails in NSA content databases designed to collect foreign data meant the “volume and nature of the information [NSA] has been collecting is fundamentally different from what the court had been led to believe”.

      And for most of 2009, Walton prevented the NSA from searching through its domestic phone data hives because it found “daily” violations of its restrictions

      Very few people think the NSA is staffed by mustache-twirling villains who view the law as an obstacle to be overcome. The real concern is two-fold.

      First, even if NSA doesn’t mean to break the law, the way its data dragnets work in practice incline toward overcollection. During a damage-control conference call in August, an anonymous US intelligence official told reporters that the technical problem bothering Bates in 2011 persists today. The NSA even conceded to Walton in 2009 that “from a technical standpoint, there was no single person who had a complete understanding” of the technical “architecture” of NSA’s phone data collection.

      Second, there is a fundamental discrepancy in power between the Fisa court and the NSA. The court’s judges have lamented that they possess an inability to independently determine how the NSA’s programs work, and if they’re in compliance with the limits the judges secretly impose. That leaves them at the mercy of NSA, the director of national intelligence, and the Justice Department to self-report violations. When the facts of the collection and the querying are sufficiently divergent from what the court understands – something the court only learns about when it is told – that can become a matter of law.

      In other words, it can be simultaneously true that NSA doesn’t intend to break the law and that NSA’s significant technical capabilities break the law anyway. Malice isn’t the real issue. Overbroad tools are. But that’s not something that NSA had to address during its prime-time spotlight inaugurating its publicity tour.

      My comment ---
      Can we trust our government now?

      Edward Snowden's 'open letter to the Brazilian people' – in full

      Read the NSA whistleblower's letter, which has been published by the Folha de S Paulo newspaper
      theguardian.com, Tuesday 17 December 2013 06.56 EST

      "Six months ago, I stepped out from the shadows of the United States Government's National Security Agency to stand in front of a journalist's camera. I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a world-wide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say. I went in front of that camera with open eyes, knowing that the decision would cost me family and my home, and would risk my life. I was motivated by a belief that the citizens of the world deserve to understand the system in which they live.

      My greatest fear was that no one would listen to my warning. Never have I been so glad to have been so wrong. The reaction in certain countries has been particularly inspiring to me, and Brazil is certainly one of those.

      At the NSA, I witnessed with growing alarm the surveillance of whole populations without any suspicion of wrongdoing, and it threatens to become the greatest human rights challenge of our time. The NSA and other spying agencies tell us that for our own "safety" — for Dilma's "safety," for Petrobras' "safety" — they have revoked our right to privacy and broken into our lives. And they did it without asking the public in any country, even their own.

      Today, if you carry a cell phone in Sao Paolo, the NSA can and does keep track of your location: they do this 5 billion times a day to people around the world. When someone in Florianopolis visits a website, the NSA keeps a record of when it happened and what you did there. If a mother in Porto Alegre calls her son to wish him luck on his university exam, NSA can keep that call log for five years or more. They even keep track of who is having an affair or looking at pornography, in case they need to damage their target's reputation.

      American Senators tell us that Brazil should not worry, because this is not "surveillance," it's "data collection." They say it is done to keep you safe. They're wrong. There is a huge difference between legal programs, legitimate spying, legitimate law enforcement — where individuals are targeted based on a reasonable, individualized suspicion — and these programs of dragnet mass surveillance that put entire populations under an all-seeing eye and save copies forever. These programs were never about terrorism: they're about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They're about power.

      Many Brazilian senators agree, and have asked for my assistance with their investigations of suspected crimes against Brazilian citizens. I have expressed my willingness to assist wherever appropriate and lawful, but unfortunately the United States government has worked very hard to limit my ability to do so -- going so far as to force down the Presidential Plane of Evo Morales to prevent me from travelling to Latin America! Until a country grants permanent political asylum, the US government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak.

      Six months ago, I revealed that the NSA wanted to listen to the whole world. Now, the whole world is listening back, and speaking out, too. And the NSA doesn't like what it's hearing. The culture of indiscriminate worldwide surveillance, exposed to public debates and real investigations on every continent, is collapsing. Only three weeks ago, Brazil led the United Nations Human Rights Committee to recognize for the first time in history that privacy does not stop where the digital network starts, and that the mass surveillance of innocents is a violation of human rights.

      The tide has turned, and we can finally see a future where we can enjoy security without sacrificing our privacy. Our rights cannot be limited by a secret organization, and American officials should never decide the freedoms of Brazilian citizens. Even the defenders of mass surveillance, those who may not be persuaded that our surveillance technologies have dangerously outpaced democratic controls, now agree that in democracies, surveillance of the public must be debated by the public.

      My act of conscience began with a statement: "I don't want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded. That's not something I'm willing to support, it's not something I'm willing to build, and it's not something I'm willing to live under."

      Days later, I was told my government had made me stateless and wanted to imprison me. The price for my speech was my passport, but I would pay it again: I will not be the one to ignore criminality for the sake of political comfort. I would rather be without a state than without a voice.

      If Brazil hears only one thing from me, let it be this: when all of us band together against injustices and in defence of privacy and basic human rights, we can defend ourselves from even the most powerful systems."


      Edward Snowden offers to help Brazil over US spying in return for asylum

      NSA whistleblower says in letter he is willing to help in wake of revelations that President Dilma Rousseff's phone was hacked
      Paul Owen, Jonathan Watts in Rio de Janeiro and agencies
      The Guardian, Tuesday 17 December 2013 13.40 EST

      Edward Snowden has offered to help Brazil investigate US spying on its soil in exchange for political asylum, in an open letter from the NSA whistleblower to the Brazilian people published by the Folha de S Paulo newspaper.

      "I've expressed my willingness to assist where it's appropriate and legal, but, unfortunately, the US government has been working hard to limit my ability to do so," Snowden said in the letterwrote.

      "Until a country grants me permanent political asylum, the US government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak out."

      Senator Ricardo Ferrão, chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, said on Twitter: "Brazil should not miss the opportunity to grant asylum to Edward Snowden, who was key to unravelling the US espionage system."

      Fellow committee member Senator Eduardo Suplicy said: "The Brazilian government should grant him asylum and the US government must understand that the NSA violated rights protected in Brazil's constitution."

      But a spokesman for the foreign ministry said it was not considering Snowden's appeal, because it had not yet received a formal asylum request.

      In his letter, Snowden – currently living in Russia, where he has been granted a year's asylum until next summer – said he had been impressed by the Brazilian government's strong criticism of the NSA spy programme targeting internet and telecommunications worldwide, including monitoring the mobile phone of the Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff.

      Revelations of US spying have stirred outrage in Brazil. Leaked documents have shown that the NSA spied on Rousseff's emails and phone calls, tapped the communications of Brazil's biggest oil company, Petrobras, and monitored those of millions of citizens.

      Rousseff has been one of the most vocal critics of the spying revealed by Snowden. In September she launched a blistering attack on US espionage at the UN general assembly, with Barack Obama waiting in the wings to speak next.

      The following month, she cancelled a visit to Washington that was to include a state dinner, and she has joined Germany in pushing for the UN to adopt a symbolic resolution that seeks to extend personal privacy rights to all people.

      Rousseff has also ordered her government to take measures including laying fibre-optic lines directly to Europe and South American nations in an effort to "divorce" Brazil from the US-centric backbone of the internet that experts say has facilitated NSA spying.

      Brazilian senators have asked for Snowden's help during hearings about the NSA programme's aggressive targeting of Brazil, an important transit hub for transatlantic fibre-optic cables.

      In his letter, Snowden used Brazilian examples to explain the extent of the US surveillance he had revealed. "Today, if you carry a cellphone in São Paulo, the NSA can track where you are, and it does – it does so 5bn times a day worldwide.

      "When a person in Florianópolis visits a website, the NSA keeps track of when it happened and what they did on that site. If a mother in Porto Alegre calls her son to wish him luck with his exam, the NSA can save the data for five years or longer. The agency can keep records of who has an affair or visits porn sites, in case it needs to damage the reputations of its targets."

      He added: "Six months ago, I revealed that the NSA wanted to listen to the whole world. Now the whole world is listening, and also talking back. And the NSA does not like what it is hearing."

      Snowden's offer comes a day after the White House dashed hopes that the US might be considering an amnesty for the whistleblower, insisting he should still return to the US to stand trial.

      Asked about weekend comments by senior NSA official Richard Ledgett suggesting that an amnesty was "worth talking about" if Snowden returned the missing NSA documents, White House spokesman Jay Carney said: "Our position has not changed on that matter – at all. He [Ledgett] was expressing his personal opinion; these decisions are made by the Department of Justice."

      Also on Monday a US district judge ruled that the NSA's bulk collection of millions of Americans' telephone records probably violates the US constitution's ban on unreasonable search. The case is likely to go all the way the supreme court for a final decision. Snowden responded to that decision with a public statement that said: "Today, a secret programme authorised by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans' rights. It is the first of many."

      The Guardian first published accounts of the NSA's spy programmes in June, based on some of the thousands of documents Snowden handed over to the Brazil-based American journalist Glenn Greenwald and his reporting partner Laura Poitras, a US filmmaker.

      Following the publication of Snowden's letter, David Miranda, the partner of former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, started a petition on the Avaaz activist website calling for Brazil to grant asylum. Miranda wrote: "We have to thank a person for bringing us the truth and helping us fight the aggressive American espionage: Edward Snowden. He is public enemy No 1 in the US. He is someone I admire.

      "Edward is running out of time. He is on a temporary visa in Russia, and as a condition of his stay there he cannot talk to the press or help journalists or activists better understand how the US global spying machine works.

      "If Snowden was in Brazil, it is possible that he could do more to help the world understand how the NSA and its allies are invading the privacy of people around the world, and how we can protect ourselves. He cannot do it in Russia."

      Following the extra media exposure prompted by Snowden's open letter, Michael Freitas Mohallem, the campaign director for Avaaz in Brazil, said his organisation was preparing to back the petition with a letter to all of the group's 6 million members.

      "I don't see a single reason why president Dilma would say no. Snowden is a hero. He's made a sacrifice to open our eyes, particularly in Brazil. Even DIlma was involved and Petrobras. This made big news. I think Brazilian people care about it and they will stand behind Snowden," said Mohallem.

      However the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has shown no inclination that it is ready to offer aslym to Snowden despite earlier campaigns by civil society organisations and social networks. One group, called Juntos, previously staged a group called Juntos outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which earlier indicated a reluctance to accept a request from Snowden.

      Laura Tresca from the South American office of the freedom of information group Article 19 said Brazil should grant Snowden asylum.

      "Brazilian society was deeply offended by the scope of the spying he revealed through his whistleblowing. Even now, social media actors are calling him a hero without a nation," she said. "As the Brazilian Government is leading the international debate about this surveillance, it should be consistent and grant asylum to the man who made this debate possible." Miranda is currently applying for a judicial review of his nine-hour detention at London's Heathrow airport in August.

      see also