CIA And NSA Directors Blame The Media For Terrorists Using Encryption

from the sorry dept

When it comes to the conversation that’s going on about the use of encryption, CIA director John Brennan and NSA Deputy Director Rick Ledgett have acquitted themselves rather poorly on a regular basis. It’s been an ongoing source of frustration to see the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks in particular devolve into a discussion on encryption, despite all evidence suggesting that those attacks weren’t planned using any kind of encryption at all. That didn’t keep Brennan from claiming that the CIA was unable to keep attacks from occurring due to encryption, nor has it stopped the calls from intelligence officials for even more data collection, despite the fact that those same officials have proven to be soft targets for hackers themselves. Ledgett, meanwhile, has proven to be an adversary of the free press, cheering on the destruction of computers from The Guardian.

And so it is with this backdrop that Brennan and Ledgett sat before Congress and claimed that terrorists were only using all of this encryption because of the god damned media. The hearing was supposed to be for questioning FBI Director James Comey about the dust up between the government and Apple over backdooring iPhones, except Comey essentially answered every question by shrugging his shoulders. Frustrated, the questioners turned to Brennan and Ledgett.

The oddest part came at the end, after everyone realized that Comey wasn’t actually going to say anything substantive. At that point, members of Congress asked CIA Director John Brenner and NSA Deputy Director Rick Ledgett about terrorists “going dark” by using encryption technology. “Going dark” has become an intelligence community slogan, a phrase to describe what happens when it has the legal means to search and intercept digital communications but can’t technically do it because of security protections.

“The ability of these terrorists to communicate with one another that makes it very difficult to uncover has been increasing. It’s very frustrating but very concerning,” Brennan said. “They follow the press, they follow these discussions.”

Ledgett poked his finger at the media even more explicitly. “We track when our foreign intelligence targets talk about the security of their communication,” he said. “And we see a growing number of them, because of what’s in the press about the value of encryption, moving towards that.”

Are we really to believe that the same terrorists of whom the American public ought be so terrified are chiefly informed as to their technological tactics by media and technology outlets? The suggestion appears to be that terror groups were unaware of encryption before coming across reporting on them. Reporting that really only ramped up, mind you, after intelligence officials falsely invoked encryption as the danger. In what world does that timeline result in the media being to blame for terrorists using encryption?

And, more interestingly, what would Brennan and Ledgett have happen, assuming anyone believed this nonsense? Is there to be a moratorium on discussing technology in the press? Some kind of strange silent treatment given to a technology that is in widespread use for all manner of legitimate reasons? What is the point of the comment? It can’t accomplish anything, other than to attempt to distract the public from the failings and lies of these same intelligence agencies for a moment.

Neither Brennan or Ledgett specified which reports were believed to be frequently dog-eared on ISIS squatters, but that doesn’t matter. Extremists are interested in privacy tools, and media reports on privacy tools. Saying that they read about which tools to use is just saying that any group with goals attempts to find information that will help achieve those goals. Implying that media reports are aiding and abetting the enemy—not to mention the notion that reports highlighting privacy protections are somehow devious—is just unfair and chilling.

And not only that, but also consider that it will achieve no end. Trying to reduce discussions about encryption doesn’t eliminate the technology itself. Try picturing an ISIS operation planner saying, “Man, we wanted to hide our communication, but we couldn’t find anything about it on Techdirt so we gave up.” If you can do so without laughing, it might be time for a brain tune-up, because something in your head is askew.

The point is that blaming the media is a tactic best left to talk radio shows. Our intelligence officials ought to be able to do better.

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Comments on “CIA And NSA Directors Blame The Media For Terrorists Using Encryption”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Be careful when treading in dangerous areas.

Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel. ~ Mark Twain

It really sounds like the government is getting desperate to try something new that might be effective. So far throwing money at it and shitting on people’s heads over their constitutional rights isn’t working.

Personanongrata says:

Encrypted or Not is Misdirection

CIA And NSA Directors Blame The Media For Terrorists Using Encryption

How convenient if it wasn’t Edward Snowden’s fault it must be the media.

Every time one of these worthless tax-feeders (eg Clapper, Comey, Brennan, etal) opens their gaping maw and testifies before a worthless/corrupt US congress you may rest assured they are lying.

These “official” clowns have wholly forsworn their oaths to the Constitution and are seeking to accumulate more/greater powers for their bureaucracies at the expense of every American citizens liberties.

The question du jour for the US governments worthless/lying tax-feeders with such official sounding titles is not whether terrorists are using encrypted communications but — why do people who live thousands of miles from the continental US want to harm Americans?

Do these people (living thousands of miles from the US) simply awake one morning and just suddenly decide it is a good idea to carry out an act of terrorism against the US?

Or, has the US government, over the past century, waged a wantonly sadistic and violent (tens of millions of innocent lives lost) global terror campaign thousands of miles from our shores for control of various regions of the globe that contain strategic resources (eg petroleum), strategic transit choke-points (eg Malacca/Singapore Straights) or for access to cheap/slave labor?

The debate about whether terrorists are using encryption or not using encryption is a well-played misdirection that is being used by the US government to escape accountability regarding it’s murdering/torturing ways (the terrorist generator).

If encryption did not exist and the US government still waged it’s global terror campaign some of the people on the receiving end of Uncle Sam’s “goodness” would still seek revenge.

The crux of the matter is: stop US state sponsored terrorism and you will stop the associated blowback.

Anonymous Coward says:

CIA, FBI, NSA, etc. complain about going dark

So let me get this straight.

CIA, FBI, NSA, etc. complain about going dark to the media in an effort to kick off their anti-encryption campaign.

Media reports about encryption and going dark.

Terrorists read the news, start using encryption.

Glad they realized they created their own problems……..

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Which media are they refering to?

The earliest known use of cryptography is found in non-standard hieroglyphs carved into monuments from the Old Kingdom of Egypt circa 1900 BCE.[1] These are not thought to be serious attempts at secret communications, however, but rather to have been attempts at mystery, intrigue, or even amusement for literate onlookers.[1] These are examples of still other uses of cryptography, or of something that looks (impressively if misleadingly) like it. Some clay tablets from Mesopotamia somewhat later are clearly meant to protect information—one dated near 1500 BCE was found to encrypt a craftsman’s recipe for pottery glaze, presumably commercially valuable.[2][3] Later still, Hebrew scholars made use of simple monoalphabetic substitution ciphers (such as the Atbash cipher) beginning perhaps around 500 to 600 BCE.[4][5]

1900 BCE, that means encryption has been around for roughly 3900 years. Mass produced media only became possible when the Gutenbergs printing press arrived circa 1439 so we could revise our time to about 570 years. But were talking media here, and the first newspaper was 1605 so maybe we should use about 400 years ago. Or do they mean some modern media? I wish they would say which media it was that taught about encryption to anyone. Both encryption and media have been around so long it is hard to know to whom they refer…

Now if they had told someone they wanted the whole concept of encryption to be secret, maybe they should have said something, around a hundred years before the United States was founded. At least maybe the Founding Fathers would have put something in the Constitution if it were important. It’s not like THEY didn’t know about encryption.

Anonymous Coward says:

In cryptography, a Caesar cipher, also known as Caesar’s cipher, the shift cipher, Caesar’s code or Caesar shift, is one of the simplest and most widely known encryption techniques. It is a type of substitution cipher in which each letter in the plaintext is replaced by a letter some fixed number of positions down the alphabet. For example, with a left shift of 3, D would be replaced by A, E would become B, and so on. The method is named after Julius Caesar, who used it in his private correspondence.

Me thinks these bureaucrats will have to get up a bit earlier on the going dark business. Looks like someone was ahead of them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Abouit this going dark, until modern electronics, the records of their activities that people and business kept were all rather limited. Most people did not keep the sort of detailed diary that a mobile phone phone now represents. Law enforcement managed just fine then, and had about as much success as they do now in stopping terrorists, that is somewhat limited.

justme says:

“We track when our foreign intelligence targets talk about the security of their communication,” he said. “And we see a growing number of them, because of what’s in the press about the value of encryption, moving towards that.”

So the belief is that once they have the ability to break widely used encryption solutions, that the terrorists will just use the them anyway or decide that there is no value in encrypting their communications.

The actual result would more likely be a diversification of the encryption methods in use. It doesn’t take much to use a one time pad and breaking it isn’t just a math problem, it’s requires access to the pad. So ultimately you’ll see 100’s of different way to communicate covertly and they have only weakened the security of millions of innocent people.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It doesn’t take much to use a one time pad

Anyone who neglects the key distribution, reuse avoidance and security problems involved with one-time pad use is just living in fantasy-land.

Sure, it’s easy to burn 750 MB of random numbers to a few CDs. But wait, where did you get those random numbers—dual_ec_drbg? Ooops. Okay. Maybe you got them from random atmospheric radio noise. Can your adversary influence your em environment? Ooops. . . 

So you got your random numbers on CDs. Now, how do get your random numbers to the communicating parties? Hand-delivered by courier? Does the courier travel through customs? Without or without a diplomatic bag? . . .

Now, do all the parties who to communicate have the right CDs? Oh, you have just one set of CDs for everyone? Someone gets captured? Ooops. Okay, maybe we need just a pair of CDs for every pair of communicators. Wait, that’s N². Okay, so we put the conspirators in small cells anyway. But what happens if the cell leader gets killed? How do the surviving members regroup and contact another cell? . . .

I’ll quit here. But the problems just go on. And on. And on.

Justme says:

Re: Re: Re:

I concede your points, But the thing i was trying to get across is that the result will be 1000’s of people using many different method to hide there communication. And that is just as big a problem to obtaining intelligence.

For instance, This is encrypted using a bash script i wrote very quickly, it isn’t ultimately secure but how much time and effort does cracking it require… try it yourself.
xhylusbdv pcnluhivy hucthqnvs tzlnpopvk olucrrpwj
yzsjljkuu gadwatnwp rkclchxmz isegsnsxf lvdrofpiu
tcmrwkupg kgqwfeesd esrqmcjht enmbzyals ecnpfsaml
uejsszfbo ueuopemkr isgdnnhxu kfirjcje

John85851 (profile) says:

An absurd argument

Technically speaking, there’s precedence for this idea. During Desert Storm in the 1990’s, didn’t the Iraqi insurgents watch CNN to figure out the US troop movements?

Though, it’s absurd that terrorists wouldn’t know about encryption until they saw it on the media. It’s even more absurd that Congress and the media aren’t pushing the fact that the Paris terrorists didn’t use encryption, which should make this argument irrelevant.

Ryunosuke (profile) says:

The NSA is looking less of something to be feared (except for their policy making) and more of a buffoonish cartoon villain. I mean, they are so incompetent that they cannot break UN-ENCRYPTED messages. Now to be fair, This is a US agency, and Americans sometimes have a hard time understanding someone from another country speaking English, let alone a totally foreign language, like French, let alone dialects and slang terms.

And so by extrapolating, the ONLY use the NSA has is to monitor rich white males from the USA. THAT is a scary thought.

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