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Targeted Hacker Jacob Appelbaum on CISPA, Surveillance and the “Militarization of Cyberspace”

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Computer security researcher Jacob Appelbaum argues the measures included in the proposed Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) would essentially legalize military surveillance of U.S. citizens. “When they want to dramatically expand their ability to do these things in a so-called legal manner, it’s important to note what they’re trying to do is to legalize what they have already been doing,” Appelbaum says. He is a developer and advocate for the Tor Project, a network enabling its users to communicate anonymously on the internet, and has volunteered with WikiLeaks. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Our guest, Jacob Appelbaum, is back with us from last Friday. He’s a computer security researcher, developer and advocate for the Tor Project, a system that enables its users to communicate anonymously on the internet. He’s going to be holding a public education seminar today in New York City for people to protect themselves online and using their phones, using their computers. But right now, this legislation.

When SOPA was put forward, Jacob, the Stop Online Privacy sic Act, the Congress members, Republican and Democrat, thought it would sail through. And then there was just a wildfire on the internet, and they backed off. Michelle Richardson said she thinks it is possible it will pass tomorrow in the House, but the Obama administration has said it would veto it. They also said they’d veto the National Defense Authorization Act, and they ultimately didn’t. But what are your thoughts? What kind of online activism is happening right now?

JACOB APPELBAUM: Well, I think a lot of people are organizing around this. I think the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in particular, deserves a great deal of respect for the work that they’ve done and what they’ve written about this. For example, they show pretty clearly that this is a dramatic expansion of essentially powers of surveillance, not just in terms of the government, but in terms of corporations and their ability to be held liable. So there is this extremely scary part of the bill with a two-year statute of limitations. And the problem is that in the cases that the EFF has been fighting with the NSA, the government—

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

JACOB APPELBAUM: Yeah. So they—essentially, the government has said that they invoke state secrets privilege, and so they’ve been in litigation for six years on some of their cases. So, a two-year statute of limitation, it’s unlikely that we would even discover that our rights had been violated in that time frame. Additionally, FOIA exemptions would mean that companies wouldn’t even be able, maybe, or would not disclose that information. So it’s—the deck is essentially stacked against regular people. And this is basically what Bill Binney was talking about last week when he was talking about the warrantless wiretapping program. It’s as if this week they decided to legalize all the stuff that Bill warned about and said that was already occurring. So that’s a pretty scary prospect.

AMY GOODMAN: I just want to correct one thing: I said the “Stop Online Privacy Act”; it’s the Stop Online Piracy Act.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Piracy Act, right.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, I wanted to ask you about a recent report by the Brookings Institute, not exactly a liberal or progressive think tank. But they did a paper called “Recording Everything: Digital Stories as an Enabler of Authoritarian Governments.” And some of the quotes here are astonishing. They say, quote, “Plummeting digital storage costs will soon make it possible for authoritarian regimes to not only monitor known dissidents, but to also store the complete set of digital data associated with everyone within their borders.”

They go on to say, “When all of the telephone calls in an entire country can be captured and provided to voice recognition software programmed to extract key phrases, and when video footage from public spaces can be correlated, in real time, to the conversations, text messages and social media traffic associated with the people occupying those spaces, the arsenal of responses available to a regime facing dissent will expand. … Pervasive monitoring will provide what amounts to a time machine allowing authoritarian governments to perform retrospective surveillance.”

This is where the United States is heading, where other authoritarian regimes, much more authoritarian regimes than ours, are heading around the world. And yet, the level of public opposition, especially among some young people, to this continued invasion of their privacy is not that—I mean, it’s strong, it’s growing, but it’s not where it should be.

JACOB APPELBAUM: It’s pretty concerning. I think one thing that’s important to note here is that it’s not a theoretical thing. For example, the WikiLeaks “Spy Files” showed that this kind of dragnet surveillance of all the phone calls of a country is in fact a product that is often sold. I believe it was Libya that purchased some of this equipment from a company called Amesys in France. So, it seems to me that people will try to dismiss it and say, “Well, they’ll never be able to analyze that kind of data.” But that’s the problem they’ve been working on for the last 20 years, but especially in the last 10 years. So it’s not only that this data is being collected, but now they want to share it with the Department of Homeland Security, with the FBI and the NSA, essentially legalizing military surveillance over U.S. civilians—and the whole planet, frankly. So this has dramatic international implications in addition to national implications. And this is the same FBI that abuses the national security letters that have been given to them in the USA PATRIOT Act that abuses their authority on a regular basis. And they want to be without some kind of judicial oversight for all of their actions.

AMY GOODMAN: Last week, Laura Poitras, the filmmaker, and you, Jacob Appelbaum, and the NSA former official, William Binney, were on the show, and we played that clip from the Open Society meeting that you attended two Mondays ago. Can you introduce this clip for us? Who is this?

JACOB APPELBAUM: So, my understanding is that this is the deputy general counsel of the FBI.

AMY GOODMAN: And you questioned her.


JACOB APPELBAUM: Are you including national security letters in your comment about believing that there is judicial oversight with the FBI’s actions?

FBI DEPUTY GENERAL COUNSEL: National security letters and administrative subpoenas have the ability to have judicial oversight, yes.

JACOB APPELBAUM: How many of those actually do have judicial oversight, in percentage?

FBI DEPUTY GENERAL COUNSEL: What do you mean by that? How many have—

JACOB APPELBAUM: I mean, every time you get a national security letter, you have to go to a judge? Or—

FBI DEPUTY GENERAL COUNSEL: No, as you well know, national security letters, just like administrative subpoenas, you don’t have to go to a judge. The statute does allow for the person on whom those are served to seek judicial review. And people have done so.

JACOB APPELBAUM: And in the case of the third parties, such as, say, the 2703(d) orders that were served on my — according to the Wall Street Journal — my Gmail account, my Twitter account, and my internet service provider account, the third parties were prohibited from telling me about it, so how am I supposed to go to a judge, if the third party is gagged from telling me that I’m targeted by you?

FBI DEPUTY GENERAL COUNSEL: There are times when we have to have those things in place. So, at some point, obviously, you became aware. So at some point, the person does become aware. But yes, the statute does allow us to do that. The statute allows us.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, again, that’s the deputy general counsel for the FBI talking to you, who was just in the audience, Jacob Appelbaum. She said, “as you know,” so she must know you sounded like you had a national security letter, one of, what, hundreds of thousands given by the FBI, and if you even reveal that you have one, you could face five years in jail. Have you been handed an NSL?

JACOB APPELBAUM: So, to the best of my knowledge, no, though there’s some speculation that perhaps she was hinting at the national security letter which Google is trying to unseal right now in the Fourth Circuit, I believe. So it could be that she just accidentally disclosed that there is a national security letter about me, and “as I well know” could be some kind of allusion to that, which, if that’s the case, then I hope that they hold her accountable for that kind of disclosure, since that seems to be something like they like to do to lots of people. So we’ll see if they hold their own accountable, if that’s true. And otherwise, maybe she was just suggesting I know quite a lot about this.

AMY GOODMAN: But then the content of what she said and how this fits in with this legislation?

JACOB APPELBAUM: I mean, it sounds to me like they are trying to expand that power to include all facets of the government, including the military, over civilian life with regard to surveillance and essentially to make it impossible for anyone to resist or to have judicial oversight. And that is a serious problem, in my opinion.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And how would legislation, for instance, that—like this House legislation, affect the work of your organization, the Tor Project, or would it, if it was enacted? Because you are set up to be able to protect the anonymity of people communicating over the internet.

JACOB APPELBAUM: Well, I’d like to think that it would mean that we’d have a lot more people using Tor every day. But—

AMY GOODMAN: That’s T-O-R Project-dot-org?

JACOB APPELBAUM: Yeah. I mean, the network is made up of people who care, right? So someone downloads it and says, “I want to help,” and then the network gets bigger. We don’t run the network like Google runs the network. So, different people make it up. The problem is that if the U.S. government was allowed to spy on everything, they can try to watch all of the network. And that’s where it starts to break down. So one of the scary things here is that we’re just not even sure how to exist in a complete—what’s called “global passive adversary world,” where they can watch the entire internet. And so, this is, I think, an existential threat to anonymity online, to privacy and to security of everyday people.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, basic privacy practices that EFF recommends, like using the anonymizing service of Tor or even encrypting your emails, could be considered an indicator of a threat, under the Senate bills.

JACOB APPELBAUM: Yeah, I think that that’s a really interesting tell about this. They suggest that people who protect themselves online, especially from the state, which is known to abuse its authority and power against innocent people on a regular basis—to suggest that that means that you’re a threat is an absolute scary, scary prospect.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to William Binney, who you were on with last week, the National Security Agency whistleblower who appeared on Democracy Now! We asked him about the NSA’s practice of collecting and storing emails.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you believe all emails, the government has copies of, in the United States?

WILLIAM BINNEY: I would think—I believe they have most of them, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And you’re speaking from a position where you would know, considering your position in the National Security Agency.

WILLIAM BINNEY: Right. All they would have to do is put various Narus devices at various points along the network, at choke points or convergent points, where the network converges, and they could basically take down and have copies of most everything on the network.

AMY GOODMAN: That, again, National Security Agency whistleblower William Binney. He spent nearly 40 years at the agency but retired about a month after September 11, 2001, due to concerns over unchecked domestic surveillance.

WILLIAM BINNEY: But after 9/11, all the wraps came off for NSA, and they decided to—between the White House and NSA and CIA, they decided to eliminate the protections on U.S. citizens and collect on domestically. So they started collecting from a commercial—the one commercial company that I know of that participated provided over 300—probably, on the average, about 320 million records of communication of a U.S. citizen to a U.S. citizen inside this country.

AMY GOODMAN: What company?

WILLIAM BINNEY: AT&T. It was long-distance communications. So they were providing billing data. At that point, I knew I could not stay, because it was a direct violation of the constitutional rights of everybody in the country. Plus it violated the pen register law and Stored Communications Act, the Electronic Privacy Act, the intelligence acts of 1947 and 1978. I mean, it was just this whole series of—plus all the laws covering federal communications governing telecoms. I mean, all those laws were being violated, including the Constitution. And that was a decision made that wasn’t going to be reversed, so I could not stay there. I had to leave.

AMY GOODMAN: That was NSA whistleblower William Binney. I mean, he’s saying some explosive stuff. Six years later, in 2007, the FBI raided his home, pushing aside his son, his wife, held—he was in the shower. He also is a diabetic amputee. They put a gun to his head, the FBI. He was never charged with anything. This is a man who worked for the NSA for almost 40 years. Talk about the significance of what he’s saying here, from Narus to reading all the email.

JACOB APPELBAUM: Sure. I mean, basically what he’s saying is that the government is lying about what they are doing and what they have done, and they have not been held accountable in the last 10 years. And so, when they want to dramatically expand their ability to do these things in a so-called legal manner, it’s important to note what they’re trying to do is to legalize what they have already been doing and to suggest that they will be held accountable in a system where they already are not held accountable when they’re breaking the law. So if it were legal, it seems incredibly fishy that things would change and it would somehow improve, when in fact it seems to be just getting worse.

So what Binney is saying here is amazing, because he spent 40 years at the NSA. To get a guy like that to come onto a show like this and to talk with us is an incredible thing. I mean, that says to me that he believes that it is a threat to national security in a way that everyone should be concerned about.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to wrap up, but I want to go to the Whitney event you had, the Whitney Art Museum on Friday night, where a document was handed out listing the addresses of eight possible domestic NSA interception points. What are these points? What are they?

JACOB APPELBAUM: Well, I think it’s important for people to recognize the agency that they have every day in their life. And so, if the NSA is doing surveillance, as Mark Klein showed from AT&T’s side, I thought it would be interesting to—

AMY GOODMAN: He exposed AT&T spying on Americans’ phone calls.

JACOB APPELBAUM: With the NSA. So these addresses are addresses I believe are potential domestic NSA interception points, similar to the ones that Mark Klein exposed. And there’s a website. IXmaps is the name of it, and it’s a Canadian site. And they actually show when your internet traffic goes through potential NSA interception points, so you can actually test your internet connection. And that’s the Internet Exchange Maps project.

AMY GOODMAN: Where are they?

JACOB APPELBAUM: They are all listed on that website now as a result of it being released at the Whitney thing.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you know the cities? What the pamphlet said: St. Louis, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Bridgeton, Missouri.

JACOB APPELBAUM: Yeah. It would be great if people actually went and photographed these buildings and talked to the employees there and see if they’re NSA people going in and out. They’re not confirmed. This is something where people now have something that they can do. I mean, what they also need to do is visit the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s website, eff.org, and actually take action against CISPA. We have to stop this legislation from passing. It is an incredible threat to our privacy, and it is a militarization of cyberspace.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to point out one last thing, and that is that the chair of the Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers—he’s the former FBI agent—he made headlines in August of 2010 when he called for the execution of accused Army whistleblower Bradley Manning for allegedly leaking secret documents to WikiLeaks. Rogers appeared on MSNBC.

REP. MIKE ROGERS: Any of the operations of a soldier in the field that’s released could lead to their death. That is an act of treason. And an act of treason is a capital offense, and it should be. That’s my point. I argue that anyone that releases information of a classified nature to the enemy, to a third party that our enemy uses, is an act of treason.

AMY GOODMAN: That is the chair of the Intelligence Committee, Republican Congress Member Mike Rogers of Michigan, who is the author of CISPA. Final comment, Jacob Appelbaum?

JACOB APPELBAUM: Blowing the whistle on war crimes should not be a crime.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there. Jacob Appelbaum is doing a public security lesson today from 12:00 to 3:00 at 56 Walker Street in New York City. Jacob Appelbaum, computer security researcher, developer and advocate for the Tor Project—that’s T-O-R Project-dot-org—which enables its users to communicate anonymously on the internet.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the Supreme Court hearing SB 1070. Stay with us.

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