Terrorists Have Known Their Cellphones Are Surveillance Targets For Over A Decade But Suddenly It's Greenwald And Snowden's Fault?

from the al-Qaeda-now-celebrating-'Snowden-Day'-every-June-6th dept

The NSA’s defenders (including those on the other side of the pond) have been making the claim for the last several months that each new revelation is enabling terrorists to find ways to beat the surveillance system. But much of what has been revealed has either been a.) something that was long suspected (the Section 215 program, communications being harvested from underseas cables) or b.) something any careful terrorist would have avoided (popular platforms, services and software).

Another minor ruckus was raised when the New York Times screwed up its redaction of documents (again, apparently Snowden’s “fault” because he turned sensitive documents over to incompetents) related to cell phone tracking and accidentally exposed one of the program’s targets: al Qaeda’s operations in Mosul, Iraq. It’s no secret al Qaeda has been public enemy #1 since before the 9/11 attacks, which makes claims that stuff like this “tips off” terrorists completely inexplicable. They’ve been targeted for well over a decade. Why would this be a surprise?

Tracing cellphones, tracking their location and intercepting communications have all been detailed by Snowden’s leaks, but not only is this fairly basic (and expected) surveillance, it’s also nothing new and nothing that hasn’t been previously reported by the national media.

Poyan Nahrvar, a Canadian engineer, tweeted this out on Friday.

The link in the tweet leads to a 2004 story by The Christian Science Monitor, which details all of the above in its rundown of the success these cellphone-tracking efforts were having in the fight against terrorism.

An ordinary-looking grid map of Riyadh adorns one wall of a command-and-control center deep inside a government building in Saudi Arabia’s capital.

The map is higher-tech than it appears at first glance. Tiny embedded lights flash red when certain cellphones – those belonging to suspected terrorists – initiate or receive a call. [O]fficials… decide instantly whether simply to watch and listen to the suspected terrorist – or to send in screaming police cars to nab him…

It doesn’t take long for terrorists to figure out how authorities are tracing them and then change methods. Still, the technology has proved helpful in rolling up cells in Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and America…

Terrorists, of course, catch on to the new tracking procedures and seek safer ways to communicate. Osama bin Laden, for example, stopped using satellite phones because he found out – with the delivery of a guided missile – that the US was tracking his position via the satellite…

After years of tracking terrorists, investigators have amassed a large database of land-line and traditional cellphone numbers they are watching (or listening to). All it takes is a call from one of those numbers to a phone with a SIM card to discover who’s using the undetectable phone.

All of this reported and yet no hand-wringing about how the government’s surveillance techniques had been exposed giving the terrorists the upper hand. Everything detailed here isn’t too far removed from what’s been published in the last seven months. Terrorists have known about cellphone tracking for well over a decade and have been making adjustments ever since.

To imply that it’s only now that terrorists are being alerted to surveillance techniques is to be deliberately obtuse and/or intellectually dishonest. Cellphones aren’t to be trusted and haven’t been for several years. Any terrorist who says, “But I only used it for Angry Birds” (the topic of the New York Times article with the faulty redaction) to his droned companions isn’t going to stay alive long enough for the US to finish him or her off. His colleagues will take care of that themselves.

Without a doubt, there are stupid terrorists out there who may only now be aware their cellphone is selling them out to a variety of intelligence agencies, but that’s only because they’re stupid, not because a majority of the information Snowden leaked is actually new or even unexpected. Snowden’s leaks exposed the NSA’s programs in greater detail and, more importantly, exposed the fact that the NSA’s activities aren’t always targeted at terrorism. He also exposed the “collect it all” mentality, which is the most dangerous aspect of its many programs, which goes far beyond its stated “national security” goals. But acting as though terrorists would only now be aware their cellphones are being tracked is asinine.

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Comments on “Terrorists Have Known Their Cellphones Are Surveillance Targets For Over A Decade But Suddenly It's Greenwald And Snowden's Fault?”

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Jay (profile) says:


This is beyond frustrating…

Seriously, no one cared about terrorism before 9/11 and it’s always been a quick way to spy on people.

Al’qaeda has never been Public Enemy #1. If we “connect the dots” as Alexander says, we come to a conclusion about who the divergent is protecting.

Who allows the FBI some great toys for surveillance?

Who allows domestic spying through the Hoover clause of Section 215 of the Patriot Act?

Who scares the government more, an informed public or a terrorist?

After ten years, massive surveillance, a war on journalism, the drone strike program covered in secrecy, and the suppression of civil rights in this country,it should be obvious who the government’s Public Enemy #1 IS.

It’s us. We, the people that has the government doing all this. The USG is paranoid and scared of a massive revolt from the public which can change all of their preconceived notions. They’re scared of a democracy where they haveto listen to U the public’s demands over their own. Keeping people in the dark isn’t anything new, but given all out the stories that have run on this site based on destroying the lives of people for special interests, it’s too much of a coincidence that most of the decisions of the government affect people’s rights to be informed more so than a terrorist who induces fear to a select few people.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: "Terrorists"

Final thoughts… The intelligence industry is angry because it has to answer tothe public which it hasn’t done since the 70s. And now, we see an angry animal that doesn’t know what to do next.

It’s time to push these individuals to be held account for their crimes against the public and force a stronger government, in some manner like maybe a democracy, to come in with more varied views which help people live better lives without do much heart ache.

Joe Dirt says:

Re: Re: "Terrorists"

It was a “Stronger Government” that established these programs.

When you are being bullied, you don’t hope for a stronger bully to take his place.

Lets weaken the government and learn to live our lives with some sense or self reliance and freedom and the responsibilities that go with it. Don’t push your problems off on some “government” to fix for you.

“Libertarians, diligently plotting to take over the world, and leave you alone.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: "Terrorists"

Here’s the problem with ideologies like Libertarianism: since they have hard and fast rules on what it’s looking for (read: small gov’t), it misses out on the nuances that makes a country work properly. I mean…

Gay rights? Sure, I want small gov’t, let states decide what is/n’t legal.
Legalizing non-physically-addictive drugs? Same.

Giant monopolistic companies want to buy each other out and have control over major parts of our lives? I’d be quite happy to have a large gov’t step in and stop that.

Large investment banks are fucking up our economy? Yea, I’d like the gov’t to step in, regulate the fuck out of them, and fine the fuck out of them for the shit they did, so that money can be used to help the people who got screwed, get their lives back together.

I’m not just saying there’s one bad way to look at things. I’m saying, if you try to apply one way of thinking to every issue, you get crap like we have now, where no one can really do the right thing, since they’re too busy following party lines.

Joe Dirt says:

Re: Re: Re:2 "Terrorists"

A similar problem is oversimplifying an ideology, like Libertarianism or Capitalism.

I don’t know of any of my libertarian friends that say we should have no oversight, or no government. That’s just silly rhetoric espoused by those who would rule you. There are many programs for regulation that make sense. Just as there are many social and economic programs that are indeed necessary in a nation as populous as the U.S.

However, when you try to employ these programs on the scale that is currently being tried (ACA, Welfare, Medicaid, Unemployment, etc…) you end up with most of the stories you read about in the MSM today. One sector complaining about being robbed to pay for another’s disinclination to do for themselves. And the other claiming that the first has too much of everything. Really? Too much money? Would they be saying that if the situations were reversed? I doubt it. And the 1% claiming that half the population doesn’t WANT to provide for themselves? If they spent one year in the other’s shoes, would they still think that? Again, I doubt it.

There are no simple answers for our very complicated society. Trying to fix it on the grand scale that has been attempted, over and over again, is not the answer.

If you try to please everyone, you end up being hated by all.

We need to begin at home. Focus on your local community. There are enough issues right down the street. To paraphrase a famous dead performer, if you want to make the world a better place, start with the man in the mirror.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Re:3 "Terrorists"

Thank you for clarifying this, Joe Dirt. I find that I agree with your second statement on this.

I think we need to consider what we mean by “smaller government” because it usually means tossing the poor under the bus and leaving the rest of us to the mercy of corporations. While I’ve often seen protestations to the effect that in a Libertarian society, there would be no corporations, I see none of the alleged Libertarian Congresscritters working to bring anti-trust legislation to bear on the main telcos, etc., so forgive me if I’m skeptical about their true intentions.

Suffice it to say I’m in favor of decentralization and devolution of authority to local governments to do what is best for their people, but we also need to keep a close eye on them and hold them to account for their actions.

Joe Dirt says:

Re: Re: Re:4 "Terrorists"

I am always amazed by those who espouse so much hate for corporations. It is these very corporations that not only employ large numbers of our population, they provide many or most of the products and services you depend on. They hire smaller, niche companies to provide the small bits that make up their products and services. They donate and volunteer to help improve their local communities. They sponsor students and provide scholarships. By donating Dawn detergent to the people cleaning up the Exxon Valdez spill years ago, Procter & Gamble single handedly saved countless wildlife.

So if we do away with corporations, who picks up all of the slack? Who hires the newly out of work? A large and increasingly powerful Government? No thank you. With a Corporation, I can vote with my feet and be assured my money is not misused. I can’t say the same for the Federal Government.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 "Terrorists"

“Who hires the newly out of work? A large and increasingly powerful Government”

That’s a totally false dichotomy. If there weren’t major corporations, there would be thousands of smaller businesses hiring the same people. And the economy, and society, woudl be much healthier for it.

“With a Corporation, I can vote with my feet and be assured my money is not misused. I can’t say the same for the Federal Government.”

I believe you have that backwards. With major corporations, you have no vote at all. Increasingly, if you can “vote with your feet” at all (and often you can’t, such as with broadband providers) your other choice is a different major corporation who will abuse you just the same.

However, with the government, you do have an actual mechanism to affect it. Sure, it’s hard and slow, but it does work.

Between the two, you have far more influence over government than corporations.

Joe Dirt says:

Re: Re: Re:6 "Terrorists"

You assume that most of those working for a corporation could conceive, design, and bring to market the goods and services currently provided by the large corporations. I think you are an optimist at best, but most likely just deluding yourself. The large majority of people who work for someone else do so for the convenience. They don’t have to worry about withholding taxes, where their next paycheck is coming from, and a host of other headaches that many choose to avoid. No, I think there would be more businesses, no doubt, but not enough to employ those left out in the cold with the demise of the Corporation.
Incidentally, at what point does a small or medium business become evil incarnate, out to control your life an liberty?
I have asked a similar question on here and have yet to receive an adequate answer. How much money is too much? How big does a company have to be to become a gasp Corporation?

As for the voting with my feet, how much sway does a company that can’t pay it’s bills actually hold? If no one buys the product, how long will they be around?
Just look at the recent efforts to slap a Scarlett Letter on businesses owned and operated by people not ashamed to express their religious beliefs, or similar actions to demonize performances like Janet Jackson’s Superbowl fiasco a few years back. Why try if you have no influence?
Businesses are more beholden to their customers than governments to their people. There have been a multitude of articles written on this blog that illustrate just this point, ( TPP, NSA, etc…)

No, there are many governments currently in power today that have proven they don’t need the approval of their citizens. I don’t think the the same can be said for a corporation.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Re:2 "Terrorists"

^This. A thousand times this. It annoys me when people bleat about “smaller government” because it seems dishonest and only appears to be about cutting services.

I believe a better government would be an accountable government working for We The People, not for corporate masters or simply to maintain the status quo. Programs ought to work as intended and resources should be used effectively. Sadly, that’s not always the case.

Joe Dirt says:

Re: Re: Re:2 "Terrorists"

I would argue that you are already at the mercy of these entities you fear so much. Who do you think gravitates to these positions of power in the wise and benevolent government? I find it oddly amusing that today, more than half or Congress is made up of millionaires. The majority of which are Democrats. That kind of clashes with their demonization of the wealthy.
And don’t get me going on charitable donations. http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0912/81529.html

In plain language. Most people make their money from hard work, long hours, and a little luck. Period.
As in any group of people, there are bad apples, but demonizing the majority for the actions of a few is something the Left and Right both know to be disingenuous.

So either stop pointing fingers and find a solution. Or shut up and eat your vegetables.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 "Terrorists"

“Who do you think gravitates to these positions of power in the wise and benevolent government?”

I love your use of sarcasm here — who said “wise and benevolent?” Your point here is true, but with government we at least have some hope at influencing them. We have no such hope with corporations.

“demonizing the majority for the actions of a few”

I’m confused by this. Where am I doing this?

“So either stop pointing fingers and find a solution.”

Right back at you. I have a number of things that would go far to make things better. Eliminate paid political advertising, thus the major reason that you need to have millions to run for office, which is the major reason why elected officials (of all parties) tend to be millionaires. Eliminate the ability of all non-actual-human-entities to donate to political candidates, parties, etc. Bring trust-busting back. Etc.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: "Terrorists"

It was a “Stronger Government” that established these programs.

Uhhh… No. 1929 was all about the rich and powerful passing austerity on the masses and being stymied by a progressive president that decided to listen to the public and forced him to do what they say or there would be revolution. That was 75 years ago. I think the lesson is that when the public wants change, you stop trying to blame the government and force it to do what you say.

When you are being bullied, you don’t hope for a stronger bully to take his place.

So why cuddle up with the billionaires that screw us over?

Lets weaken the government and learn to live our lives with some sense or self reliance and freedom and the responsibilities that go with it. Don’t push your problems off on some “government” to fix for you.

Sorry, I don’t envision utopias. You work to make the government work for the public or it works for the rich. Destroying the government while plenty of people are billionaires makes you ensnared to the demands of the rich and entitled.

TasMot (profile) says:

Well, here we have published evidence that The Christian Science Monitor, is in fact a terrorist organization that is against the US Government as far back as 2004. We have published proof that they released this top secret government information in a “National Publication” information just like those other terrorist reporters that the US Government is trying to track down.

Anonymous Coward says:

The problem with "intelligence services"

is that they are stupid and lazy. Actually tracking truly dangerous people and apprehending them is mind-numbingly boring and requires superior intellectual skills. This is far beyond the feeble abilities of the enormous numbers of staff at GCHQ et.al. They simply can’t do it. And their failures are, in many cases, available for all to see.

So in order to cover their incompetence and stupidity, they’ve resorted to all kinds of tactics that range from the illegal to the insane. And now, as we see here, they’re making excuses for their failures.

We should cull the ranks of GCHQ and NSA by a factor a 10 by using severe intelligence testing: anyone not adequate should be sacked and barred for life. They’re simply not good enough.

ECA (profile) says:

For a few that dont get it..

The Tech to do Cellphones and MANY MANY other devices has a BIG FLAW..
For more then a couple 1000 people in 1 area to use it..It has to have something special. CODING.
To get more then those 1000 in a LOCAL area able to use cellphones, there are codes in it. so the computerized system knows WHO is WHO. Their USED to be only a few channels to broadcast on.
A small code is placed into it, so that the PROPER phone # can send and receive it. And many many MORE people can talk to each other. the restriction is BANDWIDTH..how many calls a celltower can handle.

Blue tooth is a fun one..KNOW why the 1st restriction is 30 feet? They CAN interfere with each other. Its a very narrow bandwidth. And when it first came out..they forgot to CODE the channels. Anything with BT could be monitored and or Messed with. STILL can if you know what you are doing.

the first thing to remember, is that ANY wireless signal can be monitored..
Second..NOT ALL ARE CODED/SCRAMBLED/SECURE..(ask anyone thats played with FM microphones)

FM Hilton (profile) says:

Long before this

Of course the intelligent terrorists do not use cell phones beyond one or 2 uses, because they know for a fact that they’re traced and tracked.

Like this guy:

Is that why it took 10 years to find him? He knew about this?

I do believe Edward Snowden was just a kid then, or a teen. He must have started really early, I guess.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’ve made this same point before on this site. The point that demonstrates that al-Qaeda knew long long before Snowden ever came along that cell phones were monitored.

For years and years, Bin Ladin successfully hid from all the spy agencies. They could not find him on the communications grid. Yet anytime it seemed he wanted he could goose the US government into panic that another attack was immanent.

When his compound was finally identified and raided on that night, he had no cell phone, no internet, and no outside connection, yet he had a computer. When he wanted one of these messages sent out it was by thumb drive to some messenger to put on the net in some other city.

That is not the mark of someone clueless as to how they are being monitored.

While the US doesn’t like to talk about it, we’ve report after report of kids, wedding receptions, and even funerals being drone shot up with all sort of innocents dying while going after a terrorists that never appears to be there where the missile strikes. In the aftermath you rarely if ever hear of them crowing about getting their target like they do at other times when they actually do.

2 + 2 = 4

rapnel (profile) says:

Subjective Subject is Suspect and Suggestive

True story: When I was [redacted] I could sit in [redacted] and tune in to any [redacted] that was in range. That was well over 20 years ago. Was it allowed or permissible? Not anywhere at anytime, for sure, but it was OTS capabilities on “stock” gear. End of story.

Today, essentially, government, the executive branch specifically (materially supported by other branches), has stretched, manipulated, fabricated, lied and cheated regarding every and any existing law in order to *utilize* their capabilities on its public and the world at large. Was it for safety? Law enforcement? That can be debated ad nauseam. Sometimes winning, often times not.

What’s obvious is that you, me and anyone with any sort of insight at all knew, *knew*, we would and could do things to thwart the “bad people” and we allowed it, we allowed it mostly because we trusted that the best interests of a country and its peoples were being served to the best of abilities within the written parameters that defined us. We believed.

We are no longer being served. It would seem that treachery, by design, rules the day. The Constitution isn’t quite being what it’s supposed to be. It’s supposed to be limits, guidelines and the basic premise of our free existences. It is supposed to be what being “free” actually means. While staying free, on the other hand, is fraught with pitfalls, temptations, good old fashioned greed and stupidity and some degree of luck thrown in for good measure. That was at an individual level. We’re at a whole new level but with the same set of risk factors.

Any free people can not, under any circumstance, allow the sort of power that we have inexplicably allowed our intelligence services to wield and in a concerted semi-global collusion and conspiracy thriller, no less. As we’ve clearly seen it takes one person, just one, to subvert intent. What intentions have been misused, abused and manipulated by just one person? A group of people? An army of people? Too many I’d have to say.

Edge warfare is now imminent. There is no way around it. There is no trust. Freedom is now a fully conditional and controlled experiment (was it ever more?). Democracy is a new profit center and privacy is no longer free. COMSEC, communications security, learn it and embrace it. Today you may have nothing to hide. Tomorrow you may be better served by hiding everything.

Governing has been outpaced by technology and will, most likely, continue to be so. “Governing” is taking on a very different (and ancient) role where self-preservation has been successfully built back in and society is being caged in. Financials, informations and weapons – if society controls none of these (or, ideally, the most of each) then a free society can never exist.

And not one fuck bomb.. loosing my knack. Fuck terrorism and fuck FVEYS and fuck you lofty lot of self-absorbed fat, white, pricks. OK? OK.

wto605 (profile) says:

completely different

Terrorists (read: everyone) assumed and acted as if their cellphones were surveillance targets.

Type-1 Terrorists (read: actual terrorists) know and act as if their cellphones are surveillance targets.
Type-2 Terrorists (read: everyone else) know their cellphones are surveillance targets and are mad about it.

See! Look how much harder it is, they have to fight two types of terrorists!

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