Ex-NSA Personnel Spied On Americans And Journalists For The United Arab Emirates

from the all-the-'good-guys'-doing-all-the-bad-stuff dept

When former NSA employees and contractors decide to start working for a journalist-murdering authoritarian, they should feel sick. Instead, after targeting journalists, dissidents, and other people the United Arab Emirates government doesn't like, they felt exhilarated.

Working together with managers, Stroud helped create a policy for what to do when Raven swept up personal data belonging to Americans. The former NSA employees were instructed to mark that material for deletion. Other Raven operatives would also be notified so the American victims could be removed from future collection.

As time went on, Stroud noticed American data flagged for removal show up again and again in Raven’s NESA-controlled data stores.

Still, she found the work exhilarating. “It was incredible because there weren’t these limitations like there was at the NSA. There wasn’t that bullshit red tape,” she said. “I feel like we did a lot of good work on counterterrorism.”

That quote comes from a disturbing account of UAE "counterterrorism" work performed by a unit of Americans linked to the NSA published at Reuters. That "bullshit red tape" is, for the most part, known as the Constitution. The quote comes from Lori Stroud, who worked with a unit of hackers known as Project Raven, targeting whoever the UAE felt needed targeting. She is the only person from that unit willing to publicly-out her identity. Everyone else involved either spoke anonymously or refused to say anything at all. Here's the deafening silence that accompanied the Reuter's article:

An NSA spokesman declined to comment on Raven. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment. A spokeswoman for UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment. The UAE’s Embassy in Washington and a spokesman for its National Media Council did not respond to requests for comment.

Lori Stroud's work with the NSA dates far enough back that it includes a stupendous irony: she recommended the NSA add Ed Snowden to her Booz Allen contracting team. A few months later, Snowden was gone, taking with him a pile of documents that Stroud's recommendation had helped him gain access to.

Hacking for the UAE meant hacking American targets and British journalists.

One of the program’s key targets in 2012 was Rori Donaghy, according to former Raven operatives and program documents. Donaghy, then 25, was a British journalist and activist who authored articles critical of the country’s human rights record. In 2012, he wrote an opinion piece for the Guardian criticizing the UAE government’s activist crackdown and warning that, if it continued, “those in power face an uncertain future.”

This is what counterterrorism looks like in UAE. This is what it can look like anywhere, once mission creep sets in and the government decides criticism is suspicious behavior. But this was done by US intelligence personnel who took better-paying offers to spy for a nation we somehow consider an ally, despite its stances on pretty much everything being antithetical to ours.

The quote opening this post was from the aftermath of an indiscriminate deployment of a virus that infected every visitor of a targeted Islamist forum. It swept up plenty of communications from Americans, but even with safeguards in place to remove inadvertent collections, it was clear UAE did not consider Americans' communications off-limits.

It should have. The UAE claims to be a partner in the War on Terror, citing its positive relationship with the United States as an intelligence partner. Even though Project Raven was run by the UAE using former US intel personnel, the NSA still was supposed to be notified before operation deployments or prior to presentations that might discuss classified techniques. What's published here shows either the NSA was cut out of the loop by UAE or that the NSA appears to have made no effort to keep tabs on operations run by its surveillance partner.

The UAE government took the project in-house, using a local tech contractor to create a company called DarkMatter that severed any ties the project might have with the US Intelligence Community. To their credit, at least eight former US intelligence analysts left when it became apparent targeting dissidents, journalists, and American citizens was going to be a large part of their work.

Lori Stroud eventually realized targeting Americans was a feature, not a bug.

When she questioned the apparent targeting of Americans, she received a rebuke from an Emirati colleague for accessing the targeting list, the emails show. The target requests she viewed were to be processed by “certain people. You are not one of them,” the Emirati officer wrote.

Days later, Stroud said she came upon three more American names on the hidden targeting queue.

Those names were in a category she hadn’t seen before: the “white category” — for Americans. This time, she said, the occupations were listed: journalist.

“I was sick to my stomach,” she said. “It kind of hit me at that macro level realizing there was a whole category for U.S. persons on this program.”

But sick or not, it was the UAE government that removed her from DarkMatter, terminating her employment when she kept objecting to the targeting of Americans. She was met by the FBI when she returned to the US. The entire operation is now under FBI investigation, but not necessarily for the illegal targeting of Americans. The FBI appears to be more concerned about possible leaks of classified surveillance techniques. It also wants to know if any US "systems" were targeted, suggesting it will be looking at attacks against US government entities and domestic corporations. It appears spying on journalists and Americans isn't worthy of an investigation.

Filed Under: journalists, lori stroud, mercenaries, nsa, project raven, surveillance, uae, united arab emirates
Companies: darkmatter


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Feb 2019 @ 4:08am

    Nothing to hide, nothing to fear. Privacy is as obsolete as copyright -- pure legacy. Just get used to it.

    Oh, I get it: people with a LOT to hide would fear this. Good.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Feb 2019 @ 6:21am

      Re:

      There is much to fear whether you think you have anything to hide or not.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 7 Feb 2019 @ 8:02am

      Re:

      "Privacy is as obsolete as copyright"
      - Anonymous Coward

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        Thads all, folks, 7 Feb 2019 @ 11:12am

        Re: Re: pogrom guidance?

        No offense intended /s, but T.H.A.D. seems to not know the difference between difference, and deference, if you continue to allow his scripts to autoflag original ideas, and controversial thoughts.

        Signed -

        Baruch Goldenbanker

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 7 Feb 2019 @ 11:03pm

          Re: Re: Re: pogrom guidance?

          You seem not to know the difference between reality and wherever it is you live.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            ADLification, 8 Feb 2019 @ 8:13am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: pogrom guidance?

            Um...where am I...?

            Oh, yeah - I am in Anonymoys Cowardland, a place where 50% of comments are anonymous, or flagged by scripts, or screened by the ADL /SPLC speech police, aka deplatforming agents and “trusted flaggers” who ironically are very white, very self -segregating, very pro -apartheid, and inauspiciously deferentialin their targeting of the speakers of "bad words and ideas” that, not incouncidentally, reeks of neocon political silencing .

            ....but how can we find our way home, Toto ? !

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Rekrul, 7 Feb 2019 @ 8:09am

      Re:

      Nothing to hide, nothing to fear. Privacy is as obsolete as copyright -- pure legacy. Just get used to it.

      Oh, I get it: people with a LOT to hide would fear this. Good.

      Says the person who posts anonymously. Unless you're willing to post your full, real name, your claims of not having anything to hide are just so much bullshit.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 7 Feb 2019 @ 5:09am

    When your recommendation is a better person than you are...

    Lori Stroud's work with the NSA dates far enough back that it includes a stupendous irony: she recommended the NSA add Ed Snowden to her Booz Allen contracting team. A few months later, Snowden was gone, taking with him a pile of documents that Stroud's recommendation had helped him gain access to.

    There's something seriously funny and warped about the fact that someone she recommended demonstrated more integrity and willingness to defend the american public than she did(she was fired, not quit remember, so despite her objections she kept working there), and yet he's vilified by the government while she apparently gets off without a scratch.

    It appears spying on journalists and Americans isn't worthy of an investigation.

    Well yeah, they're not going to argue that spying on journalists is bad, given that very same argument might/would be used against them in the future. Better to just brush that little tid-bit under the rug and ignore it, because really, it's not like they were spying on anyone important.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Feb 2019 @ 5:49am

      Re: When your recommendation is a better person than you are...

      However if they were spying on their actual spies expect there to be outrage. They're not like other people - they can feel pain.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Feb 2019 @ 10:26am

        Re: Re: When your recommendation is a better person than you are

        Outrage? - idk bout that

        Valerie Plame was outed as political revenge, I saw no outrage from the perpetraitors ( Yes - I realize that is misspelled)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 7 Feb 2019 @ 6:19am

    They would feel sick . . .

    They would feel sick if the check does not clear.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 7 Feb 2019 @ 8:06am

    With all of his daily tweets, it seems to me that our President should be classified as a journalist.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 8 Feb 2019 @ 6:16am

      Re:

      Being a journalist would make him an enemy of the people -- according to his own words.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Feb 2019 @ 8:11am

      Re:

      Using the criteria seen in commentary wrt the media, journalism and who should be allowed to call themselves a journalist and therefore have the right to protect sources ..... Donald is not a journalist.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Eldakka (profile), 7 Feb 2019 @ 8:25am

    Confused

    The entire operation is now under FBI investigation, but not necessarily for the illegal targeting of Americans.

    From this article, this appears to be a UAE operation, run by the UAE, from the UAE. Some of the personnel appear to be ex-NSA, that is, now private citizens and no longer US government employees, but employed by (or contractors to) the UAE government, i.e. civilian expats working in the UAE?

    In what way then would targeting Americans be illegal? Unless there are laws in the UAE that make it illegal to target Americans, wouldn't it be legal?

    What jurisdiction would the FBI have over an operation run by the UAE in the UAE?

    Or am I misunderstanding something?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Feb 2019 @ 9:19am

      Re: Confused

      It is illegal for American citizens, as either contractors or employees of foreign nations, to hack US networks or steal communications of US citizens. The FBI would have jurisdiction in these kinds of cases, as anything involving American citizens is under their jurisdiction regardless of whether it occurred in the US.

      It is unclear from the various publications, but it also appears that Project Raven was (at least originally) a joint operation between the UAE and the US, so while the UAE intelligence agencies would have no problem targeting Americans, the NSA (their US partner) is not legally allowed to do so, nor to form partnerships (like this one) that get around that rule by allowing the foreign partner to do so. It appears (though again, it's unclear) that the UAE attempted to cut the NSA out of the deal entirely once the hacking/surveillance capabilities were set up. If that's true, the NSA may be fine, but if this surveillance occurred while the NSA was partnering with them then that is also illegal, and subject to FBI jurisdiction (though the likelihood the FBI cares is slim).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Gary (profile), 7 Feb 2019 @ 9:20am

      Re: Confused

      The entire operation is now under FBI investigation, but not necessarily for the illegal targeting of Americans. The FBI appears to be more concerned about possible leaks of classified surveillance techniques. It also wants to know if any US "systems" were targeted, suggesting it will be looking at attacks against US government entities and domestic corporations. It appears spying on journalists and Americans isn't worthy of an investigation.

      Just what is said - classified leaks, targeting us systems and government entities. Stuff governments normally don't like being done to them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        SA Church Lady, 11 Feb 2019 @ 10:38am

        Re: Re: Confused

        Take a look at the last comment I made, at the bottom of these comments.

        That should give you a bigger picture

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rog S., 7 Feb 2019 @ 11:00am

    A huge part of what is colloquially called organized gang stalking (OGS ) is how female agents within these agencies participate in a culture of corruption.

    While we can whine about Reality Winner, we must keep in mind that womens partisan politics defy due process rights, and willingly forego due process protections BECAUSE womens politics ARE partisan.

    On one hand, it is exciting to see women blowing the whistle (no gendered pun intended ).

    And on the other, it is appalling to see womens complicity in the surveillance state (s ) that womens organizations built.

    So: what to do about it?

    Read: www (dot )fightgangstalking (dot )com

    or: www (dot )researchorganizedgangstalking (dot )wordpress (dot )com

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    BentFranklin (profile), 7 Feb 2019 @ 11:16am

    I don't know what UAE has to do with Jamal Khashoggi. It was Saudi Arabia's MBS ("Mohammed Bone Saw") who murdered Khashoggi.

    Other than that, a fine article sir.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Feb 2019 @ 10:03am

    Virus

    the aftermath of an indiscriminate deployment of a virus that infected every visitor of a targeted Islamist forum.

    IIUC, it's a computer virus that infected the devices of every visitor to an online forum. The quote makes it sound like biological warfare.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 9 Feb 2019 @ 11:43am

    But surely they ONLY have our best interests at heart

    I recall when questions were first raised about the Intelligence Community hoovering up all of our data. Their line was, "Trust us: we have only your best interests at heart." Echoed, of course, by their sycophantic supporters.

    Here we see the truth of the matter. Our data has become a commodity sold to foreign countries wishing to enforce their desires against US citizens. Tantamount to treason.

    Let's see how all you IC sycophants feel when you're being screwed by UAE, Israel, China, Russia, or Turkey, and you find out that it was done using data collected by the "trustworthy" IC you adored.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    SA Church Lady, 11 Feb 2019 @ 10:06am

    Well said, Tibbets. I live in such a foreign country where EXACTLY that is happening; and I personally know American /Israeli military trained spooks who are working here, teaching them how to hack our networks.

    Beyond Orwell, but right in line with globalist capital.

    You might also like to know that oversight of the largest identity management database in the world once resided in Pasadena, CA. It was designed by a Chinese national.

    That database is the one that the FBI/CIA /DHS / etc alphabet and every other agency uses to run background checks, and collect the fingerprints of any American who ever gave up a print.

    It changed hands from 3M Cogent, to Gemalto(who the NSA hacked in 2010) just after the Dems mined it for blackmail in the run -up to the 2016 elections, and now, it resides in Czeskoslovenska.

    Thats George Soros territory, lol.

    Thanks, America, for keeping "us " safe from “them,” whoever they are, lol

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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