USIP's Science, Technology & Peacebuilding Roundup


United States Institute of Peace


Center of Innovation: Science, Technology and Peacebuilding

Weekly News Roundup, August 29 - September 4, 2013

Table of Contents

"Black Budget" Leak

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Science and Technology

Terrorists, Jihadists Get New Mobile Phone Encryption Software
New mobile encryption software meant to give jihadists an edge over Western intelligence agencies has been released by an Islamist group that produces propaganda for terrorist groups like al Qaeda, Pakistan’s Taliban and Somalia’s al-Shabaab.
See the full article (NBC, Gil Aegerter, 9/4/13)
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Drone Lawfare
The rise of drone warfare makes people very uneasy for different reasons - some very good and some not-so-good. Among the latter: Despite their reputation as indiscriminate killing machines, and even using the most damning numbers, drones kill civilians at much lower rates than other forms of warfare, particularly other forms of aerial bombing.
See the full article (Slate, Joshua Keating, 9/4/13)
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The U.S. Isn't Bombing Syria Yet. But it is Providing Tech Support to the Rebels.
The United States hasn't decided whether to launch airstrikes against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. But the Obama administration long ago decided to provide the rebels with another form of assistance: hardware and software to help the rebels communicate more effectively and evade government censorship.
See the full article (Washington Post, Andrea Peterson, 9/3/13)
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Syria, Egypt Strife Sparks Surge in Cyber Attacks - McAfee
Syria's civil war and political strife in Egypt have thrown up new battlegrounds on the Web and driven a surge in cyber attacks in the Middle East, according to a leading Internet security company. More than half of incidents in the Gulf this year were so-called "hacktivist" attacks.
See the full article (Reuters, Matt Smith, 9/3/13)
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How to Use Cyber Weapons Against Assad
If the Obama administration does conduct military strikes against Syria, as seems likely, it should use military cyber weapons at the earliest possible moment to show the upside of military cyber power. Though this is risky, it is likely worth doing to show that cyber operations are not evil witchcraft but can be humanitarian.
See the full article (Atlantic, Jason Healey, 9/3/13)
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Iran's Teaching Hacking in High School
Courses in computer hacking will be added to the senior high school curriculum in Iran. The announcement was made in mid-August, in order, I assume, to drum up interest and excitement. The Iranians want to enlist high school students to hack foreign drones.
See the full article (Huffington Post, Micah D. Halpern, 8/30/13)
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Syrian Entrepreneurs Flee War-torn Country to Save their Tech Ideas
Like many in Aleppo, Louay Otba's hope for the future now lies under a pile of rubble. "I'm not worried about my life in Aleppo," he said over tea in Beirut. "But I'm an entrepreneur. If I stay in Syria, my idea will die."
See the full article (Washington Post, Nina Curley, 8/30/13)
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U.S. Plans Reports on Secret Court Orders to Telecom Providers
The U.S. intelligence community has pledged to disclose more data about government surveillance programs by reporting annually how many secret court orders are issued to telecommunications companies under certain legal rules.
See the full article (Reuters, Alina Selyukh, 8/29/13)
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Tech Companies and Government May Soon Go to War Over Surveillance
Everyone assumes that technology companies like Apple, Facebook, and Google don't care that their customers are being spied on. I don't believe that's true. On the very day the media dropped detailed documents on the NSA's X-Keyscore collection program, the Facebook engineering team published a blog post stating that all access to Facebook via apps and web browsers was now SSL encrypted.
See the full article (Wired, Patrick Gray, 8/29/13)
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"Black Budget" Leak

After Snowden Revelations, China Worries about Cyberdefense, Hackers
The latest revelations, in documents provided to The Washington Post, showed that China was among the top targets of cyber operations carried out by U.S. intelligence services in 2011. Now, officials in China's government and the cybersecurity sector are pushing for a national strategy to protect information in the country's computer systems.
See the full article (Washington Post, William Wan, 9/4/13)
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U.S. Documents Detail al-Qaeda's Efforts to Fight Back against Drones
Al-Qaeda's leadership has assigned cells of engineers to find ways to shoot down, jam or remotely hijack U.S. drones, hoping to exploit the technological vulnerabilities of a weapons system that has inflicted huge losses upon the terrorist network, according to top-secret U.S. intelligence documents.
See the full article (Washington Post, Craig Whitlock and Barton Gellman, 9/3/13)
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Brazil Angered Over Report N.S.A. Spied on President
Brazil's government summoned the United States ambassador on Monday to respond to new revelations of American surveillance of President Dilma Rousseff and her top aides, complicating relations between the countries ahead of Ms. Rousseff's state visit to Washington next month.
See the full article (New York Times, Simon Romero and Randal C. Archibold, 9/2/13) *NYT sign-up may be required to view the full article
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Report: NSA Spied on Al Jazeera
In the latest bit of information to come from documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, Germany's Der Spiegel reports that the NSA spied on Al Jazeera. The NSA hacked into the Qatar-based channel's "internal communications system."
See the full article (Slate, Daniel Politi, 8/31/13)
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Bin Laden Raid Had Help From Space, Secret Budget Documents Show
A fleet of satellites played a vital role in the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, according to intelligence documents obtained by the Washington Post from whistleblower Edward Snowden. The so-called "black budget" documents, which detail spending on spying, revealed the role of satellites in collecting masses of electronic and communications intelligence from Pakistan during the daring raid.
See the full article (Time, 8/30/13)
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U.S. Spy Agencies Mounted 231 Offensive Cyber-operations in 2011, Documents Show
U.S. intelligence services carried out 231 offensive cyber-operations in 2011, the leading edge of a clandestine campaign that embraces the Internet as a theater of spying, sabotage and war, according to top-secret documents obtained by The Washington Post.
See the full article (Washington Post, Barton Gellman and Ellen Nakashima, 8/30/13)
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Why Are We Spying on Israel?
The Washington Post's Barton Gellman has another blockbuster today from the mixed-up files of Mr. Edward J. Snowden. The report includes this striking detail: counterintelligence operations "are strategically focused against [the] priority targets of China, Russia, Iran, Cuba and Israel." The inclusion of Israel on that list might seem surprising, but the United States and its "greatest friend" have a long history of spying on each other.
See the full article (Slate, Joshua Keating, 8/29/13)
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NSA Paying U.S. Companies for Access to Communications Networks
The National Security Agency is paying hundreds of millions of dollars a year to U.S. companies for clandestine access to their communications networks, filtering vast traffic flows for foreign targets in a process that also sweeps in large volumes of American telephone calls, e-mails and instant messages.
See the full article (Washington Post, Craig Timberg and Barton Gellman, 8/29/13)
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