Daily Archives: 15/05/2011

(alternet.orgWhen you think of domestic terrorists, you don’t tend to think of university undergraduates who engage in civil disobedience. But alongside men who are responsible for hundreds and even thousands of deaths, Tim DeChristopher has been labeled a terrorist and was recently convicted in federal court. His crime? At a sale where public land was auctioned off to private companies, he placed false bids alongside corporate giants to inflate the prices. Though Interior Secretary Ken Salazar later suspended the sale of most of the land, aggressive legal action was taken against DeChristopher’s rather smart, strategic and truly non-violent resistance. He’s currently awaiting sentencing and could receive up to 10 years in prison.

In his new book, Green Is The New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege, which is based on years of research and his popular blog of the same name, journalist and activist Will Potter delves into stories like DeChristopher’s and the widespread, disproportionate crackdown on so-called eco-terrorism since 9/11. With personal insight — Potter was once questioned by the FBI for handing out anti-cruelty leaflets in a Chicago suburb — he explores how animal rights and environmental activists like DeChristopher concerned with civil disobedience and property destruction as a consciousness-raising tactic are labeled domestic terrorists as part of a modern-day Red Scare, the Green Scare. Other domestic and foreign terrorists, who take dozens of lives as part of extremist groups, are given far less media scrutiny and treated as mentally unstable outliers by authorities.

“An unspoken tenet of any terrorism definition is that it does not apply to the systemic violence of people in positions of power against the powerless,” Potter writes. “It only applies when the flow of violence is redirected upstream, against government.” An engaging, enlightening probe into the federal government’s chilling effect on free speech and activism, Green Is The New Red is part personal narrative, part journalistic inquiry, part handbook for at-risk activists.

Brittany Shoot: Part of what you discuss in the book — whether or not to use violence to raise awareness and force social change — is perhaps the longest-running debate among leftist activists. How do you think violent action, even without human or animal casualties, influences public opinion of social justice advocacy?

Will Potter: I would extend that debate to the term “violent action.” I can remember back to the mid- to late-’90s when Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and Animal Liberation Front (ALF) crimes seemed to be a bit more prominent, and there was a lot of debate about what the word “violence” means, and I think that’s an important one to have, too. That automatically shapes the severity and tenor of the discussion when you’re talking about destroying an SUV. In the book, I talk a bit about this and why I don’t believe destroying property fits my and most people’s conception of what the word “violence” means.

BS: Many of the activists you profiled are discussing or campaigning for the end of different types of cruelty and destruction. For example, people who seek to end horrific abuses of animals might break windows in a laboratory, or environmentalists might burn an SUV, yet the public conversation then focuses on property destruction rather than the ways humans systematically use, torture, and kill animals or the devastating effects of climate change.

WP: Right! I never mean to downplay the severity of property crimes, but I think we, as a country, have totally lost perspective. Burning an SUV can be dangerous, and it’s a serious crime. It cost someone money, and it caused some harm. But you know, Osama bin Laden was just murdered. I’ve seen some really interesting discussions about this on Facebook within animal rights and environmental circles. A friend of mine said to someone who was going on about the greatness of Osama’s death, “You’ve condemned groups like the ALF in the past for doing things like releasing animals or for breaking windows. But it’s OK to cheer on this bloodshed?” The assumption with all of that is that property destruction or violence or illegality or radical action — whatever you want to call it — is always more appropriate if it’s in line with systems of power. I think that’s really the issue right now. BS: In light of the ways the post-9/11 climate of fear fuelled debates about domestic terrorism, how do you think Osama bin Laden’s death could alter the public discussion about eco-terrorism?

WP: What has stood out to me in the past couple of days is how little we as a country have changed — or to put it another way, how much this rhetoric, these policies, and this way of viewing the world has become institutionalized. President Obama made a statement in which he said that Osama bin Laden may be dead but we will never forget the legacy of what has happened.

I would actually argue that we have forgotten. We really have forgotten what and how much things have changed. We have forgotten the uproar that existed surrounding the Patriot Act that was passed in the middle of the night. We have forgotten how national security policies were completely overhauled in the name of fighting terrorism. We have forgotten when “terrorism” was not a household word heard on the news every single day. We have forgotten all of these things. To me, Osama bin Laden’s death really represents a pivotal moment in a long chain of events that is becoming more and more everyday life. I don’t want to be pessimistic, but I don’t think his death will lead to much change because it has become such a big part of not just the Bush administration but the Obama administration. Now that this threat has been killed, there will be another threat.

BS: In some ways, this doesn’t seem like it should be a partisan issue, but as you point out, the legal maneuvers and chilling effects passed under the second Bush administration have continued — much to many people’s disappointment — since President Obama took office. Why do you think that is?

WP: Going into the Obama administration, there was certainly reason to believe that he would be different. The example I use in the book is from a senate committee hearing on ecoterrorism where he submitted a letter of opposition, saying the hearing was a misplaced priority, a waste of government resources, scaremongering — it was really fantastic. But since being in office, his policies not just on so-called ecoterrorism but about national security issues in general have been quite awful. He has supported extraordinary rendition, which is sending people to other countries to be tortured. He supported immunity for the telecoms that illegally spied on Americans. The list goes on and on. I don’t know if that means that there’s no possibility of change with the Obama administration, but like you said, I think a lot of people are quite disappointed. And I think if more people knew the extent of how much Obama has not only supported but gone even further than the Bush administration, I think there’d be a lot more outrage.

BS: How do laws like the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act and the vague legal definition of terrorism in general contribute to the government’s ability to label eco-activists as criminals or worse?

WP: I’d argue there are two strategies going on at the same time that make this happen. One is pushing the limits of existing laws. So, for instance, with the [multi-agency ecoterrorist criminal investigation] Operation Backfire cases, the government pushed for terrorism enhancement penalties, which had never been used against environmentalists or animal rights activists before. They did this to officially classify them as terrorists and chalk this up as a victory in the war on terrorism. It has also led to disproportionately harsh treatment of ALF prisoners in the case.

The other simultaneous tactic is to push for new laws that go even further. The most important example is the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which passed in 2006. It took an already an already vague and broad law called the Animal Enterprise Protection Act and expanded it so much that it could be used to target non-violent civil disobedience as terrorism.

So you have these two things going on — ambitious prosecutors, and then ambitious corporations and politicians — not that they’re necessarily working in lockstep all the time but their combined efforts are what are really dangerous because all of it is in line with people’s personal self interests. The prosecutors want a victory to show their relevance and to show a victory in the war on terrorism. The politicians want a victory to show that they’re relevant to corporations and deserve their support. As a result, we’re getting some pretty outrageous court cases.

BS: In the book, you write about the discrepancies in public rhetoric between different types of activists. Why do you think some violent extremists, like people who murder abortion providers and bomb clinics, are treated as less of a threat by the FBI than less violent environmentalists who don’t harm living beings but may engage in property destruction?

WP: What we’ve had is a complete inversion of reality in a lot of ways because the most violent, politically-motivated crimes — for instance, by the anti-abortion movement, militia groups, Aryan Nations, KKK — meant to instill fear in the general public to push an agenda — in other words, terrorism — are not being labeled terrorism, either through media campaigns or in the courtroom or in legislation. Meanwhile, groups that have never actually harmed a human being in more than thirty years of so-called radical actions and extremism — according to their opponents — are the number one domestic terrorism threat.

As part of my work, I went through Homeland Security documents and FBI documents and one thing that really stood out was that, actually in the FBI annual terrorism reports, it does not list violence by anti-abortion extremists or any of these groups — Aryan Nations, tax protestors, or people who have murdered human beings, sent anthrax through the mail, or flown planes into buildings. In fact, in the FBI’s report after September 11, it said in the first five years after 9/11, every act of domestic terrorism was committed by animal rights and environmental groups. In that same time period, crimes of physical violence [by other radical groups] were occurring that didn’t receive that label.

BS: Tell me about some of your personal safety and security concerns as someone who both reports on and is involved in heavily monitored, aggressively prosecuted activism. WP: I wanted to talk about this a lot in the book, and in fact, in some ways, a main character in the book is fear because it’s there in every courtroom, in every interaction; it’s kind of behind the scenes in every component of this story. For me, it’s not something you think about — and this was something I heard from everyone I interviewed for the story as well — you just have to go about doing your work. Now, you’d kind of be out of your mind if you didn’t, at some point over the years, say, “Hey, all of this terrible stuff is going on. The FBI has come to my door. Maybe I should think about whether people are paying attention.” And, it’s unsettling to find information about my speeches and articles in counterterrorism documents. A real issue I’ve had in doing this work is feeling like it contributes to public fear in some ways, by raising awareness of these issues and makes people feel more afraid and makes people wonder if they’re on terrorist lists. I always try to emphasize that our fear is being used as a tool. The way we combat that fear is by being open about it and by talking to people — talking to your friends and to your community, talking about it through your work and fighting it head on.

BS: How can we get beyond the fear?

WP: I think the most important thing through all of this — the reason I wanted to write about this — is that when people learn what is going on, sometimes the first response is fear, and it can be overwhelming, intimidating, and depressing. But I also firmly believe that the more we learn about this, it can also be empowering. Tying back to what we talked about before, going through all of these court documents and interviewing people everyday, it is overwhelming but it’s also empowering because you realize what these corporations and politicians are doing. It’s not magic. It’s not a superpower. These are campaigns that have been done throughout history to social movements, and they’re largely the same tactics. I think by taking a close look at what’s going on, we can see it for what it is and be better able to fight back against it.

by Brittany Shoot


(The Register) The hackers who breached the security of Sony’s PlayStation Network and gained access to sensitive data for 77 million subscribers used Amazon’s web services cloud to launch the attack, Bloomberg News reported.

The attackers rented a server from Amazon’s EC2 service and penetrated the popular network from there, the news outlet said, citing an unnamed person with knowledge of the matter. The hackers supplied fake information to Amazon. The account has now been closed.

 Neither Sony nor Amazon commented on the claims.

Bloomberg doesn’t say how Amazon’s cloud service was used to mount the attack. If the report is correct, it wouldn’t be the first time it’s been used by hackers.

German security researcher Thomas Roth earlier this year showed how tapping the EC2 service allowed him to crack Wi-Fi passwords in a fraction of the time and for a fraction of the cost of using his own computing gear. For about $1.68, he used special “Cluster GPU Instances” of the Amazon cloud to carry out brute-force cracks that allowed him to access a WPA-PSK protected network in about 20 minutes.

And in late 2009, a ZeuS-based banking trojan used the popular Amazon service as a command and control channel that issued software updates and malicious instructions to PCs that were infected by the malware.

In both cases, those tapping the Amazon cloud did so as paid customers.

A top Sony executive recently implicated the Anonymous hacker collective in the PSN attack but has so far provided no convincing evidence to support that claim. The attack, which penetrated core parts of the gaming network, was used to steal passwords, names, addresses, ages, email addresses and other data associated with 77 million accounts.

The network has been closed for the past 23 days and Sony has provided no little indication when it will reopen. On Tuesday, the company said the exact restoration date “will likely be at least a few more days“. On April 30, the company’s CEO had predicted the site would reopen later that week.

By Dan Goodin


(WIRED) Hackers who breach and cause substantial harm to critical infrastructure systems would face a mandatory minimum three-year prison sentence if the White House gets its way.

The Obama administration is requesting the mandatory prison sentence in a legislative proposal it submitted to Congress on Thursday, which outlines a long but vague list of cybersecurity provisions the White House would like included in upcoming bills. The list includes a number of changes to laws governing hacking (.pdf), as well as laws authorizing the federal government to assist private companies in securing their computer networks when asked to mitigate threats.

The administration also wants to create a national data-breach law that would help standardize the patchwork of state laws and force companies that operate critical-infrastructure systems to produce a security plan customized to protect against threats to their systems. The plans would be subject to evaluation by an independent commercial auditor and give the Department of Homeland Security authority to request changes to the plans if the government deems them insufficient.

The government also wants to require critical infrastructure companies to report significant breaches to DHS and to give them immunity from civil liability for sharing information with the government.

Critical-infrastructure computers are defined as those that manage or control systems vital to national defense, national security, economic security, public health or safety. These include companies involved in production and management of oil, gas, water and electricity; telecommunication networks; finance and banking systems; emergency services; transportation systems and services; and government entities that provide essential services to the public.

Legal experts have panned the White House proposal as insubstantial and ineffective, particularly because it provides for no incentives — through fines or otherwise — to force critical-infrastructure entities to shore up their networks.

“We don’t expect industry to do anything without a legal incentive, so I don’t know why they think now they will get good cybersecurity just by asking for it,” says Fred Cate, law professor and director of the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research at Indiana University. “You’re absolutely free to set up the weakest security you want [under this proposal], and unless you’re in one of those regulated spots like financial services, there’s no consequence to it.”

Of all the items on the White House cybersecurity wish list, the provisions dealing with criminal penalties are the easiest for lawmakers to grant.

The criminal penalty for hacking into critical infrastructure is designed to emphasize the national security threat of such intrusions. According to the proposal, the three-year sentence the White House is seeking could not be served concurrently with sentences for other violations a suspect might receive, nor could the court use the three-year mandatory sentence to reduce a suspect’s other sentences as compensation.

The administration also wants lawmakers to extend the Racketeering-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, to cover felony computer crimes. RICO has traditionally been used to prosecute the mob and other organized crime groups but does not presently cover computer crime.

Other items on the government wish list, however, will be more problematic for lawmakers and will likely involve pushback from industry and civil liberties groups.

The first involves a provision that would authorize state and local governments as well as private entities(.pdf) to disclose information they possess to DHS “for the purpose of protecting an information system” from cyberthreats, except information that is subject to a court order or requires other certification for law enforcement to obtain.

DHS may share the information with law enforcement agents if it’s evidence of a crime which has been or is about to be committed. The entity providing the information would be immune to civil or criminal prosecution for providing the information.

DHS would be required to develop safeguards with unspecified “privacy and civil liberties experts” for how and under what circumstances such information should be shared. But Cate says these are empty words, because Congress created a privacy and civil liberties oversight board years ago that has yet to be seated.

“[President] Bush never appointed members to it, and Obama has nominated only two of the five [seats],” he says. “It has real power to oversee information privacy and security, but if no one puts members on it but keeps saying they care about privacy, it’s just a little hard to take it seriously.”

The government’s proposal for industry audits of security plans appears to be modeled in part after the Payment Card Industry standards — a system imposed by the credit card industry that requires companies processing credit and debit card transactions to adhere to a list of security protocols, such as encrypting sensitive information, and installing firewalls and antivirus and intrusion-detection systems. The companies are required to obtain third-party audits to certify that they adhere to the standards.

That system, however, has long been criticized by security professionals as ineffective, because companies pay auditors to certify them — allowing potential abuse of the certification process — and a firm can quickly fall out of certification once an audit is completed. And many of the biggest credit card breaches in the last few years — such as one at Heartland Payment systems — occurred on networks that were certified by auditors as PCI-compliant at the time they were breached.

Another part of the proposal that could get pushback involves the national breach-notification law (.pdf).

Forty-seven states currently have such notification laws that require entities to inform the public when intruders gain unauthorized access to personally identifiable information about them. But the laws vary in definition of “personally identifiable information” and also vary in their requirements about who companies have to notify and what they have to disclose, creating confusion for companies and consumers.

It’s possible that with White House support, a national effort could succeed this time, though it’s not likely to appease everyone. The government’s proposal expands and clarifies what constitutes personally identifiable information, including unique biometric data such as a fingerprint, voice print, retina or iris image, or any other unique physical representation.

But the proposal requires only businesses with data on more than 10,000 people to report a breach and allows 60 days after discovering the breach to do so. It also exempts an entity from notifying the public, if notification would impede a law enforcement investigation or cause damage to national security. The U.S. Secret Service would be required to report to Congress the number and nature of any breaches that fell under these exemptions.

Entities notifying the public of a breach would be required to provide only the most minimal information, such as a description of the information at risk and a toll-free number for inquiries. They wouldn’t, however, have to disclose when the breach occurred or how long an intruder was in the system before being discovered — information that would help people assess how long their information had been at risk.

Entities would have to notify DHS of any breaches that involved personally identifiable information of more than 5,000 individuals, or involved a database containing identifiable information on more than 500,000 individuals nationwide, or if the breach involves databases owned by the federal government, or that contain information of government employees or contractors involved in national security or law enforcement. The Federal Trade Commission would be charged with determining what information such notices to DHS would have to contain.


( Anonymous online dropbox

Aimed primarily at journalists, bloggers and activists, Privacybox is a free service from the German Privacy Foundation, it provides a way to anonymously exchange messages with others without the possibility of anyone tracking down the sender.

If your friend’s computer is seized or stolen and its hard disk looked into there will be nothing linking him to you other than the message contents, Privacybox can be compared to an online dropbox point where you simple drop the messages, including attachments (600Kb) with pictures or documents and it is anonymously forwarded to your contact, all you need to know before sending a message it is their personal contact URL.

Privacybox contact methods

When you create an account with Privacybox you will automatically be assigned four URLs, you can use any of them and pass it on to your contacts, or post it online.

Tor hidden service: A tor hidden service URL website in the form of .onion, only accessible for people using tor and not to the general Internet populace, anyone sending you messages using this URL will be protected by the tor proxy.

I2P anonymous network: You are assigned a .i2p URL, it is only accessible for people using the anonymous I2P network, an anonymous network that encrypts data and distributes it routing traffic through other peers.

Online anonymous dropbox messagingOnline anonymous dropbox messaging

Mobile device access: You will be assigned a .mobi URL for your people to contact you suing a mobile device.

Desktop computer access: You will be given a plain vanilla URL to be access through the normal Internet, this URL; like the others can be posted anywhere, forums, websites, etc.

The sender decides which is the best form to contact you, as long as they have your personal URL, which is not known to anyone unless you reveal it, you can create new contact URL and change your encryption keys anytime you like using Privacybox account management.

Retrieving anonymous messages

Anonymous messages and attachments can be retrieved using the German Privacy Foundation POP3 free SSL postbox, you can find the settings for this inside your Privacybox account, you can use a tor hidden service to receive the email, have the messages forwarded to an I2P mail account (without S/MIME encryption) or have the anonymous messages forwarded to an external email address, the message headers will not contain any identifiable information.

Anonymous onlineAnonymous online

In your account settings you can choose no encryption, S/MIME encryption, and PGP encryption, in order for encryption to take place (optional) you will have to supply your own OpenPGP public encryption key or a S/MIME digital certificate (in .pem format)

Interface is multilingual, available in English, German, French, Russian and Portuguese, for questions you can contact the admin team using their online form, PrivacyBox software is open source.

Message deletion and logging

Privacybox claims it does not log any data about the sender of messages and can’t provide any information about it even if compelled, it is impossible to supply what does not exist, however, because the system is open to abuse due to its anonymity, if abuse is reported to them the account will be deleted.

There is no reply function, PrivacyBox is a one way anonymous messaging system.You can erase your Privacybox account any time you like by entering your password in your account, all of the data is then erased straight away and the data backup vanishes one hour after that.

Visit Privacybox homepage


(AlJazeera) Vince Cable stripped of media portfolio after taped “declaring war” on media magnate and News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch.

Vince Cable, the British business minister, has been stripped of power over the media sector after he was secretly taped “declaring war” on Rupert Murdoch, the chief executive of News Corp, the global mega multimedia organisation.

David Cameron, the prime minister, regarded Cable’s comments as “unacceptable and inappropriate”, his office said in a statement which reprimanded Cable and curtailed his influence.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport, led by Jeremy Hunt, a Conservative, will take charge of media regulation including News Corp’s bid to take full control of pay TV operator BSkyB.

News Corp wants to buy the 61 per cent of BSkyB it does not already own for $12.2 bn to consolidate the business it helped build.

The European Commission on Tuesday granted unconditional approval for the bid, putting the ball back in Britain’s court.

Political analysts said the removal of Cable from the equation would reduce the chances of it being blocked.

Hunt has in the past praised Murdoch’s role in developing Britain’s television news market.

Cable, 67, is one of the best known members of the Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in the Conservative-led government which took office in May, the country’s first coalition government since World War Two.

His pivotal role in the party and the desire not to disrupt the coalition saved his skin.

“The coalition needs a Vince Cable, first of all to keep the Lib Dems on board, he’s the man who can communicate with them far more than (party leader) Nick Clegg,” Steven Fielding, director of Nottingham University’s Centre for British Politics, said.

Opposition Labour called Cable a “lame duck” and his diminished role could limit his ability to rein in on bank bonuses, an issue on which he has been outspoken.

Declaration of war

In comments originally made to two undercover reporters from the Daily Telegraph newspaper and obtained by the BBC, Cable said: “I have declared war on Mr Murdoch and I think we are going to win”.

Talking about the bid, Cable said: “I have blocked it using the powers that I have got and they are legal powers that I have got,” according to the recording.

Murdoch, an Australian-born US citizen, is one of the best known media figures in Britain. He was a strong supporter of Margaret Thatcher, the Conservative prime minister in the 1980s, and broke the power of the unions in the print industry.

News Corp, which owns British newspapers The Sun, News of the World, Times and Sunday Times, condemned Cable’s comments.

“News Corporation is shocked and dismayed at the reports of Mr Cable’s comments. They raise serious questions about fairness and due process,” it said in a statement.

Cable apologised for his comments.

“I fully accept the decision of the prime minister and deputy prime minister. I deeply regret the comments I made and apologise for the embarrassment that I have caused the government,” he said in a statement.

Fear of monopoly

The British communications regulator Ofcom is examining the BSkyB deal to see if it would give News Corp too much control of the media in Britain, with the focus on content types, audiences, media platforms, control of media enterprises and future developments in the media landscape.

Analysts said a more dispassionate approach would reduce the chances of the bid being blocked.

“It means that the issues are more likely to be looked at in an evidence-based and factual way rather than being dealt with by a minister who has already determined the outcome he wants,” Steve Hewlett, a media consultant, said.

“It’s now fair to say not that the deal will go through but that the scrutiny will be of a different character.”