Despite Growing Evidence of NSA's Omnipresence, State Dept. Hands Off 'Anti-Surveillance' Tech To Syrian Rebels

from the it's-the-thought-that-counts,-I-guess... dept

The government, at least some part of it, is out there trying to do the right thing. Unfortunately, a very powerful and influential part of the government is currently entangled in a few decades’ worth of doing the wrong thing. DJ Pangburn, writing for Vice, details the “stark irony” of the government (namely, the State Dept.) handing off “anti-surveillance” technology to Syrian rebels, as if completely unaware of the NSA’s globetrotting surveillance efforts and attacks on anything that might keep data out of its hands.

Now, the US State Department, through the Office of Syrian Opposition Support (OSOS), is once again publicly touting its delivery of hardware and software solutions to Syrian rebels. In total, $25 million is being dumped into the Syrian revolution for this purpose via the State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative and the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization. State Department Internet Freedom Grants are also doled out to software developers interested in helping dissidents worldwide. And, according to Time magazine, the US is even teaching dissidents communication security by way of non-profits such as the Institute for War & Peace Reporting and Freedom House…

The irony of the US government’s anti-surveillance efforts in Syria, as it defends its NSA surveillance programs in the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s leaks, should not be lost on anyone. But, hell, maybe we should be encouraged that at least some of the world’s population should be free of Big Brother’s prying eyes.

The government is too cursed with a career bureaucrat’s lack of self-awareness to recognize the irony of its efforts. All that matters is that the paperwork’s in order. “Snoop-proof” tech is being requisitioned with the left hand while the right hand installs backdoors before it’s boxed up and shipped. The dissonance of this act would be jarring, except for the fact that the president himself claims he’s getting most of his NSA info secondhand — from the press rather than from security briefings. The government strives to be all things to all people but is prevented from rising above “useless” by the counterproductive desires of its internal masters.

The State Dept. wants to help but it’s handing off equipment that may prevent the rebels’ opposition from listening in, but won’t keep the NSA out. That’s the price you pay for foreign government handouts — you’re now allies and being friends means doing lots and lots of sharing. The US government wants those it supports to stay alive and healthy, and that means handing out technology that can’t be easily subverted by its enemies. But if our intelligence agencies have left open holes to sneak their tendrils in (zero day exploits, for instance), then no technology is truly secure — what can be exploited by us can be exploited by others.

Beyond these sharp contrasts lies a question that needs to at least be asked, never mind answered.

The main issue here is one of principle. How can the US government so publicly support anti-surveillance technologies abroad, while carrying out programs like the NSA’s PRISM on a global scale?

No one wants to answer this question. No one who has sincerely offered anti-surveillance tech in the past wants to hear the answer. The answer means the efforts were meaningless.

The government can publicly support anti-surveillance abroad because it’s listening to everyone. We’re Good Guy America, handing out anti-snooping tech to our “allies,” a relatively meaningless word as regime changes and shifting allegiances continually blur the line between friends and enemies. We’re not completely evil. We want our guys to win.

And so we give them pre-compromised tech and a hearty thumbs-up. If one warring faction can keep another locked out of the communication loop, good for them. It’s a small victory for that group in that location, entirely limited to that particular instance. Overall, it’s a loss. Those we support can thwart their enemies, but not us. Not if we’re handing out the tech. And if we listen in on our allies, who could blame us? After all, we set them up with tools, training and technology. The least they can do is allow us to pick up on the party line.

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Comments on “Despite Growing Evidence of NSA's Omnipresence, State Dept. Hands Off 'Anti-Surveillance' Tech To Syrian Rebels”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Indeed, one of the reasons that a bunch of anti-war congressman are saying we should stay out of Syria is that Al Quada will take over Syria if the rebels win.

So, if they’re correct that the rebels are a part of a terrorist organization, we’re giving them tech to prevent the NSA from spying on them, even though terrorism is supposed to be the biggest reason why the NSA is breaking the law spying on the whole planet.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

al-Qaeda is only part of the rebel force. al-Qaeda is merely assisting the rebels, they aren’t all terrorists or members of al-Qaeda.

That’s not to say though that Syria won’t become a repeat of Egypt if Assad falls. In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood was a plurality of the opposition and basically seized all the levers of powers in the election because they were by far more organized then the splintered secular groups.

The Real Michael says:

Re: Re: Re:

Our soldiers went into Afghanistan fighting against Al Qaeda, but now Obama wants to help our enemy? Isn’t aiding and abetting an enemy we’re at war with considered an act of treason? What was the point of fighting them on their home turf if our government is now lending them their support? That’s like spitting on the sacrifice all of our soldiers made.

All of this is due to the fact that years ago Saudi Arabia wanted to run a gas pipeline through Syria into Qatar so that they could feed it directly into Europe (specifically France) but Assad told them no. Also, both Syria and Iran are the only two countries left in the middle east whose banks are not centralized and controlled by the IMF. By intruding in another sovereign country’s private affairs (inc. civil war), the US government is acting more like imperialist bullies. Obama said himself back during his 2007 presidential campaign that the US could not change another country’s internal ploitical affairs via military intervention, so what’s with the sudden about-face?

Where was this administration’s moral outrage when hundreds of thousands of people were being slaughtered in Africa and Asian countries?

Anonymous Coward says:

US citizen uses tor: Suspect. Marked for surveillance

Syrian rebel, A.K.A. possible gasser of civilians, A.K.A. enemy of the U.S. by virtue of having ties to pretty much every terrorist organization in the world, is given anti-surveillance tech by the U.S. itself: I don’t see a problem with that. What could possibly go wrong?

DeadBolt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Nothing could possibly go wrong!

Look at the Mujahideen from the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. US/CIA funded, trained and armed the locals during their fight. Now look at them! They are the US’s strongest ally!



Another note: “The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing”

Bullshit, they’re each grabbing someone by the throat.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Look at the Mujahideen from the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. US/CIA funded, trained and armed the locals during their fight. Now look at them! They are the US’s strongest ally!”

Hell, that’s what Rambo III taught me. Afghanistanese people are good people. Are you calling Rambo III a liar!? I mean, if you can’t trust big hollywood productions to give you an informative, fair and unbiased view of the world, who can you trust?


(it is funny how much the world changes in just a couple of decades, isn’t it?)

geral (user link) says:

surveillance, torture

USA intel use bio-chem weaponry, DEW, etc., on selective Targets foreign & domestic:

For twenty five years I have been surveilled 24/7 and for ten years I have been tortured by DEW by the fbi assassins in their efforts to imprison or kill me.

Very few credible persons have proof of the atrocities committed by the fbi/cia/dod/doj and the same few are often denied a forum to record same; all mainstream media block my posts and many Indymedia prevent my publications. The general population also shows little interest in holding murderous tyrants of the US government responsible for their crimes because they (the people) benefit in the main from the atrocities committed by their leaders in the name of the people. Nevertheless, my work must continue because *mankind as a whole and in its awakened senses, finds totally unacceptable torture, imprisonment (often by secret courts and in one’s own body), assassinations, mass murders, etc. as I and others describe.


My affidavit:


Additional bedtime reading:

federal burro of investigation:

fbi operative tells me: “kill yourself”:

We must hold fbi responsible:

fbi operative ‘paint me doubtful’ proclaims to the world that I am a possible “mass murderer”:

We must prosecute fbi:

fbi historically:

The Age of Madness:

A de facto overthrown government , USA:

Anonymous Coward says:

‘State Department Internet Freedom Grants’

not sure if you’re having a laugh, taking the piss or both!! the USG wants to help another people in another country have ‘internet freedom’ while at the same time doing whatever it can possibly think of to stop that very same thing in it’s own country!! forget the top two questions, it’s actually a fucking insult!!

The Real Michael says:

The rebel insurgents mostly came in through the borders, backed by the Saudis and supplied by the US government. They’re tied in with Al Qaeda, routinely slaughtering entire villages and beheading Christians. Turkey captured several of the rebels attempting to cross into Syria with chemical weapons earlier this year; it’s evident that the rebels are the ones who orchestrated the Aug. 21st attack in order to frame al-Assad and give the US pretext to start war. These are the people the government is backing?

This administration hasn’t provided the public with a shred of evidence to prove that al-Assad was the culprit in the attack, yet expect us to take their word at face value. They’ve been caught lying about practically everything else: the IRS scandal, Benghazi, Fast & Furious, NSA, etc. All of sudden, we’re suddenly supposed to believe them on Syria, while they’re throwing support behind a bunch of fanatical jihadists who torch buildings and dismember little kids?

Since when did unproven accusations supplant due process?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I find it somewhat surprising that the Saudis (apparently) aren’t concerned about backlash from their support of the rebels. Perhaps they think the US has their back in such a thorough fashion that it won’t matter, and perhaps they’re right.

But desperate people do desperate things. I do wonder what will happen if the Syrian regime decides that it’s doomed and elects to not go quietly.

The Real Michael says:

Re: Re: Re:

If Obama went ahead and attacked Syria, despite massive opposition both abroad and at home (we’re talking well over 90% of the American people), Russia might consider retaliating somehow against Saudi Arabia. Russia is giving Iran their S-300 missile defense system and supposedly a nuclear reactor as well, because they know that the US government’s real geopolitical objective is to draw a response from Iran so as to make war with them.

The bottom line is that the American people don’t want to assist Al Qaeda-backed insurgents, who routinely murder innocent Syrians in brutal fashion, in toppling Assad.

Anonymous Coward says:

Mike, you need to go double-check what “irony” means. Like it or not, providing tools to help rebels avoid surveillance, while also exploiting weaknesses in those tools to US advantage, is completely rational and consistent (even if it’s a policy one doesn’t prefer). The likely end result is – rebels benefit from being somewhat resistant to snooping by their main foes, and US can still listen in on them. Will the tech be secure? That’s a good question? Is that a good deal for the rebels? A good policy for the US? Those are different from the tech issue, but are good questions nonetheless. But it’s not “irony.

I also your post seems to have brought the wing nuts and Assad supporters out of the woodwork. Hi fellas!

Ninja (profile) says:

Well, the Govt is consisted of people much like me and you. In theory you’ll find in govt about the same people you’d find in society as a whole. This will range from “Mahatma Gandhi”-like to plain devilish one (I take my leave from Godwin here). In that sense Snowden would be the in the Gandhi part. The ones that decided to help the Syrian rebels could be near that group too, with good intentions and all. So the perceived dissonance is actually to be expected. The issue here is that it’s so damn intense that it burns.

Another interesting discussion I had recently also helps explaining the dissonance between the Governments and their citizens. We started from an interview with a person responsible for “filtering” what the Chinese can access. We reached the conclusion that one has to have a deep sociopathy and be tremendously megalomaniac to believe they are in any position to decide who has access to what. You see, positions of power, gatekeeping and so on tend to attract those kinds of people. Rogers, Keith, Clapper… There is the possibility they do think it is right and that they are doing what’s best for the citizens. Which is even creepier than if they were evil and knew it was wrong because it hovers to the plane of faith. And faith has been responsible for the most horrendous things throughout history.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Just testing the waters as it were

I’m betting the offer is along the lines of an intelligence test. First offer ‘anti-surveillance’ tech from a country that considers anyone who uses such terrorists, and who brag often about how they can cracks such tech, and if the recipients are stupid enough to actually use the offered tech, the officials will know that they are too stupid to be given more dangerous help like guns, as they’d likely shoot themselves with them.

Steve R. (profile) says:

Torubling Implications

Obama has publicly stated he is not after regime change in Syria. Yet Obama proposed to aide the rebels in various manners with their overthrow of Assad. Obama is being deceitful with the American public.

The Obama administration appears to lack “evidence” concerning the Benghazi attack by terrorists. Amazingly, the Obama administration has the (selective) capability to acquire “evidence that Assad used chemical weapons.

Conversely, rumors abound that it was the rebels who instituted the chemical weapons discharge in Syria. So what has US surveillance snooping disclosed concerning the rebels?

Given all of our vaunted surveillance technology why does the US apparently lack a real smoking-gun? Seems that the facts are being massaged for political gain, not to get to the truth.

Internet Zen Master (profile) says:

A few things you have to realize about the Syrian rebels

They are not one big homogeneous group. There are several different factions involved here, but there are two major groups that have the most weight in decisions.

>On the one side we have the Free Syrian Army aka the original rebels and the ones who started this whole thing. They’re (according to reports) a relatively secular, tolerant bunch. AFAIK, the FSA is the group that the US government deals with directly, and they’re the ones who are interacting with the outside world.

>The other faction (collectively speaking) are the radical Islamist groups, the two most ones prominent being the al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamist Qalamon Liberation Front. These are the gents going around chopping off the heads of Christian priests and terrorizing the Syrian Christian community in typical terrorist fashion/ Look up Maaloula, a Christian-majority village that was captured by Jabhat and the QLF two days ago and is currently being fought over between them and Assad’s forces.

I’m pretty sure that the FSA didn’t want to turn to guys like Jabhat al-Nusra and the QLF for help in the beginning (being secular and tolerant and whatnot). But when the civil war started dragging on longer than they thought it would take (maybe they figured it be like what happened in Libya all over again. I don’t know) they turned to the outside for help. After all, they couldn’t just give up and surrender because they’ll probably (read: most likely) be slaughtered like what happened to the Kurds in the ’91 uprisings against Saddam Hussein. But the West dragged it’s feet, and with Assad’s forces starting to shift the balance back in it’s favor, the FSA turned to extremists like Jabhat and the QLF for assistance out of desperation.

Point is, if we had actually backed the FSA back when it wasn’t slowly losing control of the very revolution it started, we wouldn’t have the issue of the Islamists/al-Qaeda affiliates possibly overthrowing Assad’s government and transforming a once mostly stable (albeit oppressive and autocratic) linchpin of a country in the Middle East into a volatile powder-keg of a Taliban-style Islamic Republic, or worse, dissolving another lawless ‘country’ like Somalia. That is the last thing that the Middle East needs.

As for the state department handing off anti-surveillance tech to the FSA that’s almost certainly covertly back-doored for NSA usage, I’m not exactly sure that I mind that too much. Then NSA would actually spy on foreign groups that are confirmed to be hostile toward the United States of America (and everyone else in the Five Eyes group).

Then we can have Gen. Alexander sit back in his Enterprise captain’s chair inside his Ops Center and have the NSA do its job for once instead of sifting around finding nonexistent threats in that giant Big Data haystack…

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